With computer power increasing, are UAD plugins worth the hassle?
To clarify that question, let me bring up a little....
Falling under the Universal Audio company umbrella, UAD plugins rely on an external accelerator. This happens three ways:
The PCI-e option is the best option as it provides the most reliable speeds. This is in my system. It’s available for the PC or Mac.
The Satellite is an external based option connecting via Firewire.
The Apollo, like the Satellite, connects externally via Firewire. It also connects via Thunderbolt and includes an audio interface. As of early 2012, the external options are currently only available on the Mac.
There is also an ExpressCard option for laptops. This is available for both PC and Mac.
So the idea is to have these external accelerators handle the complex number crunching chores, freeing up your native CPU. This idea makes a lot of sense.
But the question remains: what happens when computer power catches up?
It certainly pays to keep an eye (and ear) on future trends, but what matters most is the present.
With that in mind let me share with you what’s presently in the UAD plugins portion of my toolset:...
UAD’s audio mastering software tools called the Precision Series. These are:
The Precision EQ has wide gentle curves that allow me to subtly give a mix what it needs while being as transparent and ‘complementary’ as possible. Important when respecting and preserving the artists mix intentions.
It’s also what I use for my bass enhancement trick without actually boosting any bass!
I hate multiband compression! I try to avoid it as much as possible.
If I have to use it, I start with the Precision Multiband.
It does what it’s supposed to, the way I expect it to, and...it does it extremely well!
Calling it a bread-and-butter tool is not an insult. It performs and operates simply.
I generally use this as a dynamic equalizer. I love how it can gently soften stray peaks in offending frequency regions when set correctly. A great mix balancer.
Admittedly, the Limiter and Maximizer don’t get as much use as they used to.
I find myself reaching for PSP Xenon more often to shape the final sound of a master the way it needs to be. If that fails, it’s over to Voxengo’s Elephant.
The Maximizer provides brickwall limiting with an analog flavour. But it’s main feature is harmonic enhancement. Again, if I use this, I prefer to use it as a spice to a track, not for volume boosts.
This is nothing against the Maximizer. It’s simply that for more character I prefer to use these...
The Pultec EQ's, and the classic Fairchild limiter are legendary.
With the UAD Pultec, just running a mix through it can produce magic (and a nice volume gain!) And it too can provide some nice bass enhancement without muddying up the low end.
Another magic spot on the Pultec is the 8 kHz region. A subtle, gentle and wide boost here can open up many mixes that may lack air or clarity. I’ve also found this setting to be a great restorative EQ on cassette transfers!
The UAD Fairchild is another 'magic box' when just running a mix through it.
I love to use its mid-side compression. This puts a nice glue to vocals, and the rhythm tracks. It also gently opens up the soundstage. When set just right, it gives a mix a wonderfully, almost subliminal dynamic enhancement.
While the Pultec and Fairchild can have a home in either full band mixes or lighter acoustic settings, the LA2A is best mostly on lighter acoustic tracks with small accompaniments.
Really! The LA2A can work as a mastering tool! Pleasant surprise for me and my clients!
I've been finding recently that the LA2A can work quite well on light acoustic mixes with just a gentle 1–2 dB gain reduction. My test for if it works: if something goes missing when I take it out, back in it goes!
Another compressor that gets occasional use is the Neve 33069.
It has nice gain enhancement with its built harmonics. It’s performed rather well for some of the jazz masters I do. However this plugin is a real power hog, and no doubt the catalyst for the increased power of the current UAD-2 accelerator.
Without the UAD-2, tools like these would be impossible:
Exclusive to UAD plugins, the Manley Massive Passive Mastering EQ is worth the price of admission. Certainly more ‘quirky’ in its operation than other EQ’s the results are worth it. I’ve used as successfully on Classical work as well as the more ‘standard’ rock and hip-hop tracks.
And while I love my Pultec-Fairchild chain, for ultimate character UAD's emulation of Dave Derr's Fatso unit is it! I prefer the Sr. version for control of its transformer and compressor section. This thing just makes everything bigger and warmer! Bass - Stereo Image - you name it!
In mastering, I rarely use reverbs - even less than multiband compression. That's because, even at 1 per cent settings, they can take off that edge and precision a mix has.
However when a mix is just too dry, or needs space, the presets in the RealVerb Pro and DreamVerb are where I go. For small spaces, the Jazz Club and Small Room presets in the RealVerb Pro are perfect. For larger ones, both units have great Warm Ambiance settings.
Reverbs are the one exception I have in my work where I rely on presets. And these UAD plugins solutions are my go to choice.
All issues about native and accelerator power aside, I wouldn’t be without UAD plugins.
They’re absolutely capable of providing superb masters.
And superb masters are all my clients are concerned about.