Universal Audio have given their UAD2 DSP platform extra appeal with yet more accurate recreations of classic studio hardware, and a new version of the card that works with laptop computers.
A raft of new plug‑ins has been added to the range available for Universal Audio's UAD platform with the introduction of version 5.4 software (which also reduces latency for Pro Tools users). The company have also made the power of the UAD2 card available in a format that laptop users can benefit from, with the launch of the UAD2 Solo Laptop (see box elsewhere in this article), so this seems a good time to round up all the new plug‑ins, as well as one or two stragglers from previous updates that we haven't had space to cover before now.
The Helios 69 EQ is based on the passive circuitry used in Helios consoles, built between 1969 and 1979 and linked to innumerable classic British rock hits, as well as to international artists such as Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley. The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Roxy Music and Queen all made records on Helios desks at one time or another. Helios consoles were also popular in the private studios of their era, and the Type 69 was considered the model to aspire to. Universal Audio's plug‑in is modelled on the the EQ section of the very first Type 69 console, which was installed at Island's Basing Street Studio in London and currently resides with Jason Carmer in California.
Feature‑wise, it's very much an EQ of its time, with a switched‑frequency mid-section and a fixed 10kHz high-shelf control that has a ‑6 to +16 gain range. The bass band functions as a 50Hz shelf filter, offering five stepped gain values between ‑3 and ‑15 dB, or alternatively as a peak EQ with four stepped centre frequencies at 60, 100, 200 and 300 Hz. The mid band can operate in cut or boost modes, and has eight centre frequencies ranging from 700Hz to 6kHz. Bandwidth is not adjustable, and there is a 16dB gain range.
This EQ also features a phase switch, an EQ Cut switch (which leaves the level control and other circuitry still in circuit) and an output level control. Simple it may be, but this EQ has a wonderfully focused sound, able to lift instruments out of a mix in an effortless way. I particularly like the mid‑range, and though most changes can be made with relatively little EQ, this one still sounds sweet if you need to add a lot of boost. Internal upsampling is used to work this plug‑in's magic, which means that its latency may be noticeable if it's applied while tracking.
The UAD Harrison EQ plug‑in is modelled on the four‑band 32C channel EQ in Bruce Swedien's own Harrison 32 Series console, and as an added bonus, Swedien has also contributed some of his favourite preset settings. Michael Jackson's seminal Thriller album is but one of many classics made on Harrison desks, which Swedien favours.
This characterful equaliser is a four‑band peak design with high‑ and low‑cut filters plus Auto Q, which automatically adapts the effective filter bandwidth depending on the EQ settings. All four of the main EQ sections have swept frequency controls and ±10dB of gain adjustment, with separate 'In' buttons for the main EQ and the filters, while the low band can be switched to peak or shelving mode. Like the Helios, this EQ has that ability to lift elements within a sound or mix without compromising the overall sound, and it is easy to see why engineers liked to mix with it. In anticipation of the temptation to run multiple channels, there's also a DSP‑light version. Interestingly, both versions seem to make the sound very subtly louder and more airy‑sounding when in circuit, even with the EQ set flat.
Originally launched only for the UAD1 platform, the Moog Multimode Filter plug‑in now runs on the UAD2 as well, and sets out to recreate all the nuances of Moog's original, analogue, four‑pole, diode‑ladder filter designs, even when overdriven or forced into self‑oscillation. The plug‑in combines elements of Bob Moog's classic designs with features from his 21st Century Voyager synthesizer.
Low‑pass, high‑pass and band‑pass modes are on offer, plus an envelope follower and an LFO providing six wave shapes with host tempo synchronization. The filter can process mono or stereo tracks, and added features such as Spacing and Offset allow you to create stereo effects by processing the two channels slightly differently or at different times. and can be driven from the LFO or automated or triggered using the envelope of the input. A DSP‑friendly 'light' mode is also included, but the 'full fat' version's Drive control is not available on this version, as computing the characteristics of the overdrive takes a lot of CPU horsepower. The filter sound is extremely convincing, and if you want to make things go 'zwee', this is the plug‑in for you!
The Neve 31102 EQ is based on the EQ section of the Neve 8068 console, which has been used on many recent prestigious rock projects. This three‑band active EQ with high‑ and low‑frequency filters fits between the 1073 and the 1081 models. Its gain control has the same 30dB range as the original, and as with previous UA Neve plug‑ins, there's an included 'light' version for a higher instance count.
The three main bands each offer a selection of switched frequencies within the high shelving (10, 12 or 16 kHz), mid (350Hz, 700Hz, 1.6, 3.2, 4.8 or 7.2 kHz, with two Q settings) and low shelving (220, 110, 60 or 35 Hz) bands. As with the other EQ plug‑ins, there's a noticeable, if subtle, change in character when the EQ is in circuit with all the controls set flat. The GUI has the same 'bass on the right' layout as the originals, and makes use of dual‑concentric switches and pots originally chosen to conserve panel space. Tonally, the Neve sounds warmer and more coloured than the Helios and Harrison EQs, but that's part of its charm.
While EMT are probably most famous for reverb plates, they were also one of the first companies to introduce a digital reverb system way back in 1976 — and, what's more, it had both stereo and quad output options. The EMT 250 is still treasured by producers such as George Massenburg, Bruce Swedien, Daniel Lanois, Brian Eno and Allen Sides for its distinctive and musical sound, and having this emulation available as a UAD Powered Plug‑In adds a distinctively different sonic flavour. Apparently, the EMT 250's designer, Dr Barry Blesser, assisted in the plug‑in design to ensure that it works just as well as the original: indeed, it runs the same reverb algorithm, so it isn't really an emulation but more of a clone. Even the sound of those 1976 converters has been modelled!
With its quirky, lever‑operated control panel switches, the EMT 250 plug‑in produces a clean, open reverb sound, which may be a lot to do with the limited digital horsepower available when it was designed, and to my ears it has something of a plate‑like character but with noticeably less density. It is very flattering to vocals, and doesn't push them back in the mix to the extent that some reverbs do. In addition to reverb, the unit also produces up to 370ms delay, phasing, chorus, echo and 'space' (a long reverb where all frequencies decay at the same rate) effects. Relatively basic adjustment of the effect parameters is possible via the four lever switches, the functions of which (apart from pre‑delay) change with the effect mode. It's very simple but at the same time very characterful. The Register or clip indicator on this plug‑in indicates when its internal registers are at their maximum values, and by deliberately overdriving the plug‑in you get the same clipping as with the original.
The original Cooper Time Cube was an extremely bizarre delay/reverb device that was basically a speaker feeding a coiled length of garden hose with a mic at the other end, connected via impedance‑matching hardware. It was the result of a collaboration between Duane H Cooper and Bill Putnam in 1971 and, whatever its other attributes, I think it would be accurate to call it unique!
Though it sounds far from natural, the Cooper Time Cube became popular for its short delay and doubling effects, which have a somewhat dull and coloured tonality that helps them sit back in the mix. Many leading studios still have one tucked away for special occasions! The designers of the Cooper Time Cube MkII plug‑in have gone to great lengths to recreate the resonances and reflections that gave the original its character, but they've also added a few concessions to the demands of the new century, including Delay, Decay, Pan and Volume controls, plus tempo sync of delay time and automation for each of two independent delay lines (pipes). Incredible as it may seem from such an odd idea, the sound you get from this unit sits very well in a mix, lending a nice, vintage, homogenous character.
Empirical Labs' EL7 FATSO is, at heart, a multi‑mode compressor, but it also provides tape/tube‑style saturation, a transformer circuit for recreating the analogue tape 'head bump' and a frequency‑conscious saturation section for adding analogue smoothness to the high end. UAD's model is approved by designer Dave Derr of Empirical Labs, to ensure that it behaves in the same way as the hardware, even when pushed hard. One of the most important applications of the FATSO is to help glue a mix together, while also making it sound louder and more 'analogue'.
A bonus part of the FATSO Jnr Powered Plug‑In is the inclusion of a Senior version with an additional control panel based on Dave Derr's concept of a FATSO Senior model where side‑chain filtering, filter frequencies and time constants can be adjusted. While tinkerers may love this, the basic Jnr control set seems more than adequate for any 'normal' work. The Jnr controls consist of two presets, one for general‑purpose tracking and one for bus compression, plus a third setting called Spank, which modifies the chosen preset to produce a more assertive, limiter‑type compression designed to emulate that over‑the‑top squeeze from the older SSL talkback compressors, but with better overall sound quality. Perfect for making aggressive things even more aggressive! Adjusting the input drive controls the amount of compression, which is registered by a gain‑reduction meter at the bottom of the panel. Again, a DSP‑light SE version of the plug‑in is also included.
While there are countless applications of this plug‑in for treating individual tracks, it also makes a fabulous bus compressor for adding a touch of analogue magic and density to a mix, while at the same time seeming to bring all the elements into sharper focus. Definitely one to have on your team, if you can. (While the other plug‑ins reviewed here work on UAD1 and UAD2 cards, the FATSO, EMT 250 and Cooper Time Cube emulations are only available for the UAD2 platform.)
The Little Labs IBP (In Between Phase) is a phase‑alignment tool for optimising the phase relationship between two versions of the same signal: for example, a guitar that is both miked and DI'd. The mic signal will lag behind the DI signal (by approximately one millisecond per foot of mic distance), which can result in phase cancellation of certain frequencies when the two signals are combined. Corrective applications of theplug-in include combining direct and microphone signals, acoustic guitar mics and vocal mics, multiple drum‑kit mics and so on. It can also be used to introduce phase shift as a creative effect.
Of course, phase problems are best addressed by adjusting mic placement, and can often be dealt with using simple positive or negative track delay, but the Little Labs IBP's continuously variable time delay adjustment knob (range 0.0 to 4.0 ms) makes setting up much more intuitive. There's also a phase adjuster, implemented in the analogue version by a network of all‑pass filters. The amount of phase adjustment is necessarily frequency‑dependent, as phase is related to frequency.
The range of Phase Adjust is either 90 or 180 degrees, dependent on the setting of the Phase Adjust switch. Because the shifting effect is frequency‑dependent, you don't get perfect cancellation at a 180‑degree setting, but that's part of the character of the device. Switches are provided to bring the delay and phase‑adjustment knobs in or out of play, and you can also invert the polarity of the input signal. Lo/Hi sets the range of frequency emphasis of the filter, which can be useful on instruments that have a specific pitch, such as kick drums or toms.
The Little Labs IBP plug‑in uses internal upsampling and so increases latency when in circuit. As you're most likely to use it after recording, this won't be a problem as long as your DAW includes plug‑in delay compensation, which the majority do. Simple though this plug‑in seems, it can greatly improve the sound of a guitar amp with two mics at different distances, or a mic‑plus‑DI situation. You can also get some interesting guitar (and other) sounds by playing with the phase shift between the two sources until you hear a tone you like, so there's plenty of creative mileage here too.
While you can find all manner of EQ plug‑ins covering a range of vintage styles and genres, I don't know of anyone else who has tackled the Cooper Time Cube, the EMT 250 or the FATSO. You can get delay, reverb and compression by other means, but for the real vintage character associated with these particular units, I don't think UA have any rivals at the moment.
When the UAD2 range was launched last year, it comprised three PCI Express cards containing various numbers of Analog Devices SHARC DSP chips, with corresponding differences in the number of plug‑ins that each could run simultaneously. This meant that there was no easy way to access the UAD2's power from a laptop Mac or PC, a hole that has now been plugged with the launch of the UAD2 Solo Laptop.
As the name suggests, the Solo Laptop contains a single SHARC chip and is directly equivalent in terms of functionality to the bottom‑of‑the‑range UAD2 Solo PCI Express card. As long as your laptop has an ExpressCard slot, you should be able to use it; it's a narrow‑format card, but a clip‑on plastic extension enables it to be used without problems in wide slots like the one on my Dell XPS Windows machine. The business end of the card juts out, and is perhaps an inch and a half square. Green and red LEDs on the top surface indicate normal or problematic function.
Installation and plug‑in authorisation are handled in the same way as with other UAD platforms; the process is a little easier if your music computer is connected to the Internet, but straightforward enough even from another machine.
My initial experiences with the Solo Laptop were frustrating: it would work perfectly for a while, but then either Cubase or my entire PC would freeze dramatically, necessitating a reboot. Attempting to re‑load a saved Cubase Project containing UAD plug‑ins would bring about the same result. Fortunately, Universal Audio's technical support team were on the case, and advised me to check whether any BIOS updates had been issued for my laptop. I downloaded the latest BIOS from the Dell web site, installed it, and all was fine.
Beyond that, there's little to say except that it does what it's supposed to! I haven't noticed it imposing a significant load on the host machine, however much I hammer the Solo Laptop's DSP, and it appears to work without problems in Cubase and Reaper. Oh, and did I mention that the plug‑ins are rather addictive? Roll on the UAD2 Quad Laptop... Sam Inglis