We first received some sketchy details on UA's new Luna recording system in December, enough to write a short advance item for the News section in Sound On Sound's February print edition. But one of the things that puzzled us was that UA were reluctant to the point of inscrutability to describe their system as a DAW, which rather threw us. From the little we knew, Luna was computer-based, could record and mix multiple channels simultaneously, and could host virtual instruments and processors. Frankly, we thought, if it looks like a DAW and works like a DAW... then surely there was an existing three-letter acronym that would describe it quite nicely, beginning with 'D' and ending with 'AW'?
Well, Luna is here at last, and clearly, it IS a DAW. But as Universal Audio explain in the detailed interview conducted by SOS Features Editor Sam Inglis at NAMM yesterday (linked above), there is a little more to it than that.
Firstly, it's designed to work solely with UA's existing Apollo and Arrow DSP-enhanced Thunderbolt audio interfaces, with the exception of the older Apollo FireWire and Apollo Twin USB. In fact, from later this Spring, Luna is going to be shipping with every single recent Apollo sold, completely free. Because the application will be completely tied to UA's own hardware, the integration between the software, hardware, the interfaces' DSP and UA's existing armoury of well-regarded plug-ins promises to be extremely tight — something which isn't always the case with other DAW systems composed of software, hardware and processing from completely different manufacturers. As a further result, UA can also claim that recording with Luna is an analogue-style experience, because Luna users can now benefit from the low-latency recording approach already offered by UA's DSP-enhanced interfaces.
So what's in it? Luna is a 'full production environment' which offers non-linear recording and editing with a fairly standard-looking DAW tracking window. It will record, edit and output MIDI, has built-in mixing and routing, and will host and run virtual instruments — a first for the company, which has always been highly regarded for it emulated processing plug-ins, but has never supported VIs per se. Luna, however, not only ships with emulations of analogue tape and Neve summing circuitry — so far, so 2010s — but also comes with Luna-specific instruments which run not on the UAD DSP, but natively on the host computer, although they will not be usable by third-party plug-in hosts. At launch, the so-called Luna instruments amount to Minimoog and grand piano emulations, and Shape — a multi-layered virtual instrument plug-in offering real instrument sounds based on samples, an emulated synth engine, and orchestral content from Spitfire Audio. There's plenty more detail on the composition of the system in the linked video interview above.
Can this prove popular? Is it madness to launch a completely new DAW in 2020? Well, the biggest objection we've heard about Luna so far at NAMM 2020 and on forums since the launch (aside from the fact that there's no news on any kind of PC version — certainly at launch Luna will be Mac-only) is that established users won't want to unlearn their existing favourite DAW and start from scratch with Luna. This will undoubtedly be true for some people, but UA are clearly hoping that their attractive plug-in offerings and cleverly designed DSP interfaces will swing such users over time, now that they are all integrated into one production environment. And we think it likely that UA are also playing a long game. Offering such a versatile system for free with the interfacing hardware new users have to buy anyway is likely to be an irresistible proposition for many; we can imagine that lots of teenagers who are just getting into audio production on a computer in 2020 will be immediately attracted by the idea of obtaining a complete software production environment and instrument host free with their audio interface. And in (say) five years, those users could form a significant slice of UA's future customer base.
Of course, the success of Luna will depend on the user experience, about which it's difficult to form a lasting judgement at present. We look forward to trying out the system in a few weeks!