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NAMM Coverage--What Do You Want To See?

Hey everybody--
As the years have gone on and more and more outlets are covering the NAMM show each year, we thought it would be a good idea to take the pulse of the community and find out what you like and don't like about the way NAMM is covered, not only by HC but in general. Obviously, we want to do more of the former and less of the latter.

For several years now, the focus has been on producing the short, from-the-floor demos and product overviews with folks from each manufacturer. Sometimes quantity is placed above quality, but the goal has always been to show you as much of the show and new products as possible.

Oftentimes, producing so many videos means late nights in the hotel room with room service, editing and rendering until the wee hours. As you probably know, there's a whole other side to NAMM, which is what goes on after hours at private events and parties, and our focus on show-floor videos means we really don't take part in any of that.

So, we're putting it to you. When NAMM rolls around in January, what's going to get you excited and make you feel like you're part of the action? Continue to crank out product vids? Less video, more photographs? After-hours coverage? Celebrity encounters/performances? Let us know!

We welcome your thoughts and suggestions and are looking forward to Harmony Central being the premier destination for NAMM coverage in 2015.
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  • Universal Audio Powered Plug-Ins

    I’ve often said every Pro Review has its own gestalt, and this one will – yet again – follow a different path. Here’s why.



    Ostensibly, this is about reviewing the UAD-2 Satellite Quad, a Mac DSP accelerator engineered to run Universal Audio’s series of powered plug-ins – so we’ll cover that first. But the hardware is only half the story; the plug-ins you can run on it are the other half. As a result, this thread will also provide a great place to discuss the Universal Audio line of powered plug-ins – not just which ones you like or don’t like, but when a new one comes out, we can cover it here.



    We’ll start with some background. Universal Audio makes hardware (processors, preamps, and the like), and also makes software plug-ins. However, the plug-ins will run only on UA’s DSP accelerator PCIe cards (they also make a DSP card for laptop ExpressCard slots). Given the power of today’s computers, the question inevitably arises of whether a DSP card is really necessary, or whether it’s just a giant dongle to protect the software.



    When UA introduced the original UAD-1 card, computers really did need some hardware assistance – something that was also acknowledged by Digidesign’s TDM DSP Farm, Creamware’s SCOPE system, and newer entries like TC’s PowerCore and SSL’s Duende and Duende Mini. In the UAD-1 era, software engineers really had to watch the clock cycles in their native plug-ins because computer processing could go only so far.



    By taking the DSP route, UA was able to throw more power into the plug-ins without disturbing the DAW. And they needed this power, because whether by accident or design, UA specialized in emulating classic analog gear (including some of their own). At the time, emulations were sort of in the “well of course they’re not the same, but they’re getting closer” category. However, UA’s really did do the analog thang well. In fact, one night an “analog/tubes forever” studio owner friend called me up because he had just A/Bed a vintage UA compressor with one of the emulations. He couldn’t believe his ears, and in fact, ended up selling the hardware unit so he could buy more plug-ins.



    That was then, and this is now. So do we still need DSP? Well, I have the next-generation UAD-2 Quad card installed in my PC Audio Labs 8-core Windows computer, so the computer itself is no slouch when it comes to power. Yet when I reviewed the UAD-2 Quad for Keyboard magazine, I saw that the specs claimed you could run 128 instances of their Neve Channel Strip plug-in, which is a fine-sounding plug-in. So of course, I had to check it out...and yes, it really did 128 instances. UA offers cards with one, two, or four SHARC DSP chips, but even the single-chip cards can run a lot of plug-ins—as anyone with their Solo/Laptop card knows.



    With this kind of DSP power, not only is UA willing to throw brute force processing power to get the sound they want, but from an end user’s standpoint, you can count on the performance. If you load in enough plug-ins to use 99% of the CPU power, you’re fine—it’s not like a computer, where adding just one more virtual instrument means your convolution reverb will start coughing and spitting, or you’ll have to jack up the latency to 1,024 samples.



    So do you need DSP acceleration? Well, not really; native stuff is great. But do you want DSP acceleration? Yes. It’s not just about giving your computer more breathing room; over the years, UA has assembled quite an interesting cast of plug-ins - both their own, and ones developed in conjunction with other companies.



    In our next post, we’ll look at the Satellite itself and describe similarities and differences compared to UA’s cards.
    _____________________________________________
    There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

  • #2
    The Satellite offers the same DSP as on the dual or quad cards, but in a portable, compact expansion box that doesn’t require a card slot. However, there are restrictions. It’s Intel Mac only (sorry, Windows fans), and although it works just fine with FireWire 400, to get the most out of it you need a FireWire 800 port. Interestingly, although my quad core Mac has a FireWire 800 port, the Satellite claims that it doesn’t perform to FW 800 specs, so it “downshifts” to FW 400. You also need to have Snow Leopard 10.6.4 or higher; the UA web site has up-to-date info on compatibility.



    UA provides its plug-ins in four formats: RTAS, AU, and VST (stereo and mono versions). Unlike some plugs, these are spec’ed to work all the way up to 192kHz sample rates. Will I test it at that rate? No, I think anything over 96kHz is pretty much a waste of bandwidth but if you’re a fan of 192kHz, you’re covered.



    When you open the package, here’s what you see:







    You get the Satellite itself in a sleek, all-metal chassis, AC adapter with global plug options (neither the Satellite Duo or Quad can be bus-powered), FW 800 cable, and CD-ROM with software and manual. If course, you’ll want to go to the UA site and get the latest software (and you really do – it’s not just about keeping the software up-to-date, but also, newer versions are usually accompanied by a trial version of their latest plug-in).



    Here’s what the Satellite itself looks like.









    As to connections, the rear panel has a FireWire 400 port, two FireWire 800 ports, Kensington lock, status LED, on-off switch, and AC adapter jack. That’s it – so it’s real simple to set up: Plug in the power, plug in the FireWire cable, done. It worked immediately with my Mac, so there’s not much more to say about getting it connected.







    Next, we'll cover the authorization process, and how the whole plug-in process evaluation, loading, and purchasing process works, as well as which plug-ins are included.
    _____________________________________________
    There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

    Comment


    • #3
      You know the old marketing adage: Sell the razor blade cheap, then get ‘em on the blades. But you can’t sell something with a bunch of SHARC 21369 chips for cheap, and you can’t gouge people on plug-ins, so it seems UA’s strategy has been to make plug-ins that cost considerably less than the expensive hardware they emulate.



      For example, Manley’s Massive Passive (“Made in Chino, not in China”) is a super-well-respected piece of hardware mastering gear that lists for $5,600 (and those who depend on it will say it’s worth every penny...but I digress). The list price for the UA Powered Plug-In emulation is $299. Well, at that price, it can’t really be any good...can it? Ask EveAnna Manley: I did. She had nothing but praise for the job UA did emulating the Massive Passive.



      Similarly, the idea of getting a Studer A800 to get “that” tape sound is daunting; buying a Studio A800 plug-in for $299.49—not so daunting. Their Lexicon 224 is $349 compared to around $900 on eBay for used hardware (when you can find one), so you get the idea of where we’re going with this. Now, $349 for a reverb is not a trivial expense...but it’s not $900, either. Most UA plug-ins run in the $149 - $299 range; you can see a complete listing of plug-ins and the price list at their online store.



      I think it was smart for UA to go after the high end, and approved emulations done in conjunction with various companies. Most DAWs these days come bundled with really good “bread and butter” plug-ins, and some even go considerably beyond that. But, they don’t have the specialty items, and that’s the “hole” that Universal Audio fills.



      However, there’s another interesting point. Back in the days when analog studios were king, and the “vintage” gear UA emulates was new gear , a typical studio had an MCI (or equivalent) 24-track tape recorder, a big mixer, and a rack of outboard gear. Sure, the mixer had EQ; but there were times you wanted that gentle, strange curve that only an old Pultec could deliver, or a beat-up limiter with an optical response—hence the rack o’ gear.



      However, with the introduction of the second-generation UAD-2 series, its greatly enhanced power (especially the Quad version) compared to the original UAD-1 meant that the UA Powered Plug-Ins concept was no longer just to replace a few cool pieces of gear. Instead, it became the 21st-century equivalent of that rack of special-purpose processors...or maybe even an entire mixer. Perhaps more significantly, those who are wary of “mixing in the box” can add processors that are not constrained by the computer’s limits. In a way, the Satellite marks a return to the more traditional studio paradigm—except that the computer is the multitrack recorder, sophisticated control surfaces provide the “hands-on” feel of traditional mixers, and DSP-driven devices replace racks of outboard gear.



      I just realized I've made a lot of assumptions about UA's philosophy. Well, at least that's the way it looks to me. If someone from UA would like to chime in and either confirm or deny , feel free.
      _____________________________________________
      There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

      Comment


      • #4
        Before signing off on this review for today and moving over to a parallel Pro Review, I should emphasize that the Satellite comes with several out-of-the-box plug-ins so you don’t have to break out the credit card as soon as you open the box. These plug-ins fall under the name “Analog Classics Bundle,” let’s take a look at what they are, and their GUIs. (Incidentally, you also get a $50 voucher to spend at the online store on the plug-in of your choice.)



        LA-2A compressor. This is the classic we all know and love (or at least have heard about). ‘Nuff said.









        1176LN compressor and 1176SE compressor. These are separate plug-ins, but I joined the screen shots together into a single image.









        Pultec EQP-1A equalizer. This has a special place in my heart, because I’ve worked in a lot of studios that had the original. I also loved the gentle, sweet EQ curves you could get with this, and used it all the time for general tone-shaping. Alas, I never had one in my home studio...but I do now . That particular sound was burned into my brain over a the years, and the UA version sounds just like what I remember (except for the hum with some of the older units).









        RealVerb Pro. When this was introduced, it was the hottest thing since sliced bread. Convolution and other reverbs have come along that make this not quite as coveted as it was, but then again, now you can get it for free and it’s a very flexible reverb. As far as I’m concerned you can never have enough reverbs. If there’s interest I can include some audio examples of this, but would rather take the time to generate audio examples for the Lexicon 224, which they just released.









        CS-1 Channel Strip. Some people look down on this because it’s not one of the “designer” plug-ins, but don’t be so quick to dismiss it – there’s a lot going on here, and even if you already have a compressor and EQ you love, don’t overlook the Reflections or the Delay Modulator plug-ins—which you can load as individual plug-ins, as well as the Compressor/EQ.



        _____________________________________________
        There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

        Comment


        • #5
          Subscribed - I'm definitely interested in learning more about your thoughts on this one Craig!
          **********

          "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."

          - George Carlin

          "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."

          - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

          "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."

          - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

          Comment


          • #6
            Happy to chime in, Craig. We'll be able to do so from time to time during the course of this review.



            As for our philosophy, your assumptions are pretty spot on. UA has a tradition of targeting really difficult-to-emulate, highly coveted pieces of studio equipment. In the "early days" of the UAD platform, say 2001 to 2004, the devices we emulated included some of the "bread and butter" classics — including our own LA-2A and 1176 compressors, which we knew intimately well, at a component level. However, it was still a feat to model them convincingly in software.



            Fast forward to today, and each of our last three major plug-ins (The Studer A800, Lexicon 224 & Manley Massive Passive) were true multi-year projects that had a similar air about them at the outset. Namely, we knew the emulations were going to be extremely difficult, due to the non-linearities of the hardware, and how complex our algorithms had to be to deliver the correct sound and behavior.



            In some ways, every plug-in release for UA is a test. Can we create something digitally that lives up to the lure and reputation of these classic analog pieces? Does it satisfy us? Does it satisfy our users? Is it the absolute best emulation possible? We strive to hear customers say, "I know XX hardware like the back of my hand. I can't tell a difference between my old hardware and your plug-in."



            With regard to our UAD DSP Accelerator platform, the obvious upside of using plug-ins (especially emulations) is that, instead of having 1 hardware compressor, you can have 50 of them, if your CPU is willing. With our newest, most complex UAD algorithms like the Studer and Manley, however, they would bog down modern host computers if available natively. It would be a frustrating, un-even user experience. So while some may see the UAD-2 PCIe and Satellite FireWire DSP Accelerators as a necessary evil to run our plug-ins, we consider them vital to being able to provide a professional, robust experience. UAD customers do not have to play the delicate balancing act of producing music versus managing CPU resources.



            If you want 40 Studers, 80 Neve 1073s, 24 Lexicon 224s — or a combination thereof — you've got it, no matter what else your system is doing. In that way, owning UAD hardware is very much like having a dedicated rack of outboard gear...it's predictable, reliable and professional.



            Let us know what other questions you guys may have for us.



            Cheers,



            Lev Perrey

            Director of Product Management

            Universal Audio
            Universal Audio
            Analog Ears. Digital Minds.
            www.UAudio.com
            Follow us on Twitter.
            Find us on Facebook.

            Comment


            • #7
              Lev, a quick question if I may - how is compatibility with Pro Tools setups? Can they run as RTAS plugins, or as VSTs with a "wrapper"?
              **********

              "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."

              - George Carlin

              "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."

              - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

              "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."

              - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

              Comment


              • #8
                ***11/14/11 — Note: Enhanced Pro Tools Compatibility is now available as of UAD Powered Plug-Ins v6.0***



                Hi Phil -



                Glad you asked. Our current version of UAD Powered Plug-ins (v.5.9.1) includes the FxPansion VST Adaptor software for compatibility in Pro Tools. This VST Adaptor is built into the UAD installer, so when you choose RTAS as an installation format, all UAD plug-ins get wrapped and placed in the Pro Tools Plug-in folder.



                Being a Pro Tools HD + ICON user myself, I can say that this system is currently very solid. In fact, many top Pro Tools mixers worldwide are using the UAD-2, with award-winning results.



                However, your question gives us a great opportunity to make a Pro Tools-related announcement: Coinciding with our next software release, UAD Powered Plug-Ins will be fully RTAS compatible.



                Specifically, with our next software release, we plan to feature: removal of the VST Adaptor; plug-in category support; numerous automation improvements; integration with all Avid control surfaces; system performance improvements, and more.



                We're expecting this UAD software release to be available mid-to late-summer, and it will be free to all UAD users on Mac OS &Windows.



                So there's the big news! Hope this helps and thanks for asking.



                Lev.
                Universal Audio
                Analog Ears. Digital Minds.
                www.UAudio.com
                Follow us on Twitter.
                Find us on Facebook.

                Comment


                • #9
                  You heard it here first, folks



                  Seriously, that's great news. Phil, I've tested the UAD-2 plugs with Pro Tools, and they work fine - including with path delay compensation. I generally find that I need to add at least the short delay, and sometimes the long one if I have a lot going on in the track.



                  One thing I need to investigate further - and maybe someone from UA can chime in - is restricting the number of cores that Pro Tools uses. I have a friend with a new 12-core Mac who was running a PT system with multiple UA plugs, and experiencing instability problems. At first he assumed it was an issue with path delay compensation, but when he cut the number of cores to eight, everything worked fine. It may be a system-specific (or phase of the moon-specific!) issue, but if the tech heads at UA know anything about this, feel free to comment.



                  But in any event...great news about the RTAS compatibility, and props to Angus at Fxpansion for holding us over in the meantime
                  _____________________________________________
                  There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Let’s look at some individual plugs, starting with the most recent – the Lexicon 224 reverb. This isn't included with the Satellite or any of the UAD-2 packages, but is one of the many optional-at-extra-cost plug-ins offered by Universal Audio to support their platform.



                    Now, doing an emulation like this isn’t something where you go “hey, I’m not doing anything this weekend...think I’ll emulate a Lexicon 224!” The more complex and unusual the device, the more difficult the emulation. If you think the peculiarities and non-linearities of analog are bad enough, early digital is even crazier. So, what would cause Universal Audio to think that emulating the 224 was a good idea? To understand that, we need a short history lesson.



                    The 224 was the second successful digital reverb, with the first being the EMT 250 (which Universal Audio has also emulated and makes available as a plug-in). The 224 was introduced almost 33 years ago – which is like several centuries in “digital years.” There was nowhere near the processing power we had now, and converters in those days were positively stone age – the 224 used 12-bit stepping converters. The electronics were housed in a 4U rack-mount box, with a hand-held remote to do the actual programming. So why wasn’t there a computer-based software editor? Well, remember that the Radio Shack TRS-80 computer was not quite a year old when the 224 was introduced. We’re talking seriously primitive.



                    The brains behind the 224, Dave Griesinger (actually Dr. David Griesinger, but hey, we’re among friends), had one foot in nuclear physics and another in classical music recording, so he had the right skill set to either blow up the world, or create a very cool digital reverb. Luckily for us, he chose the latter. He used several clever tricks to get around the limitations of early digital technology, like adding modulation to create more complex and interesting reverb tails. In fact, I always felt part of the “Lexicon sound” was the use of modulation, even on later models.



                    Not only did it sound good, it was introduced at a bargain-basement $7,500 (half the price of the EMT 250 – and that puts the $349 price of the UA emulation in perspective). As a result, studios snapped it up, and it became the go-to reverb for artists like Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, Vangelis, Grandmaster Flash, and many, many others (I logged quite a few 224 hours myself back in the day).



                    So now we have a Lexicon-approved version, but it’s not just about nostalgia. The 224 had a unique sound that we really haven’t heard since. As a friend of mine said, “You can never have enough reverbs” and the 224 adds a definite 80s character, not just because of its association with the acts of that time, but because it represents a particular moment in time in the evolution of digital audio. It has a certain character that’s appealing, character-laden, and not found in modern reverbs.



                    As to the emulation itself, UA made the decision (correct, in my opinion) to emulate not just the original algorithms and code, but the hardware as well, including the input and output stages. As far as I’m concerned as soon as a transformer is in the signal path, that becomes part of the sound and needs to be emulated.



                    Before we get into a detailed description and some audio examples, I should say that using the 224 for the first time was freakishly close to time-travel. They say music relates to memory, and those sounds brought back memories, to say the least. I don’t have a 224 sitting next to me for comparison, but that sound has been burned into my brain and the emulation is very, very impressive.
                    _____________________________________________
                    There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Let’s start simple. First of all, here’s the interface. It’s hard to understand now, but the idea of having faders to control reverb parameters was a big deal back then.







                      Now to a quick audio example. This plays a very simple drum pattern with lots of space between hits, so you can hear the reverb tails clearly. It’s mostly just kick and snare so you can hear what happens at the high end and the low end. The wet/dry mix is set to wet only, again to make the reverb as obvious as possible.



                      The main point I want to get across with this audio example is the “naked” reverb sound, so I’m just hitting the eight program buttons sequentially so you can hear the seven basic algorithms, as used in eight default presets that Lexicon voiced. So even though I didn’t do any other adjustments, these sounds are considered highly representative of the 224. You’ll definitely hear when the programs change. There’s a ninth chorus algorithm, which we’ll get into later. The reverb is the star of the show here.



                      In order, you’ll hear:

                      • Small Concert Hall B

                      • Vocal Plate

                      • Large Concert Hall B

                      • Acoustic Chamber

                      • Percussion Plate

                      • Small Concert Hall A

                      • Room A

                      • “Constant Density” Plate A, where the density, rather than increasing over time like a real reverb, stays constant

                      _____________________________________________
                      There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Quick question: Just out of curiosity, about how long did the 224 project take? Is this something that takes six months, a year, two years...inquiring minds want to know.
                        _____________________________________________
                        There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Hey Craig - the Lexicon 224 Digital Reverb plug-in project took over a year from inception to completion.
                          Universal Audio
                          Analog Ears. Digital Minds.
                          www.UAudio.com
                          Follow us on Twitter.
                          Find us on Facebook.

                          Comment


                          • #14






                            Quote Originally Posted by UniversalAudio
                            View Post

                            Hey Craig - the Lexicon 224 Digital Reverb plug-in project took over a year from inception to completion.




                            Wow...and you even had the original algorithms as a basis, so I guess that means you spent a lot of time on the rest of the signal chain other than the reverb algorithms themselves. Well, at least your efforts did produce tangible results
                            _____________________________________________
                            There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Indeed, in typical UA fashion we based our Lexicon 224 plug-in on the same algorithms and control processor code from the original Lexicon 224 hardware and version 4.4 firmware, and incorporated every piece of the signal chain into the design -- including the original unit's input transformers and early AD/DA 12-bit gain stepping converters.
                              Universal Audio
                              Analog Ears. Digital Minds.
                              www.UAudio.com
                              Follow us on Twitter.
                              Find us on Facebook.

                              Comment



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