Universal Audio (UA) has created — and recreated — some of the finest audio processing hardware around, so I was intrigued to check out the UAD-1 Ultra PAK ($1,495). Combining a suite of 24 virtual compressors, limiters, EQs, reverbs and such with a DSP-powered PCI card, the UAD-1 provides processing to free your computer’s resources.
Signal processing for Mac/PC with vintage compression, limiting, EQ, reverb and more emulations; on-board DSP; 1176s, LA-2As, Pultecs, mastering grade processors, more
The UAD-1 — with a single, un-partitioned processor on its PCI card — can handle 32 – 192 kHz sample rates with zero host load on your CPU. The number of instances to be expected depends on the exact plug-ins used, but ranges from a minimum of two with the Nigel Guitar Processor (a suite unto itself) to as many as 28 with the 1176SE vintage compressor (both at 44.1 kHz). This set of plugs contains the expected emulations plus a number of original “stock” plugs including the Cambridge EQ, Nigel Guitar Processor, CS-1 Channel Strip, RealVerb, DreamVerb and the acclaimed Plate 140. Additionally, UA presents its Precision Mastering Series with the Precision Limiter and Precision Equalizer, both claiming the highest possible quality signal processing for mastering applications.
The UAD-1 is both Mac- and PC-compatible, although newer Intel-Mac owners will want the UAD-1e for compatibility with their PCIe (PCI Express) slots. All platforms require 98 MB of disk space, at least 256 MB of RAM (512 recommended) and Internet access for registration purposes. Windows machines require Windows XP, 2000 or Server 2003, plus VST-compatible host application software. Mac machines require OS X 10.3.9 or higher and either a VST or Audio Units compatible host. Pro Tools 6.x and 7.0 are supported for OS X and XP; RTAS is also supported.
Installation was trouble free and smooth, although not exactly convenient. One installs the UAD-1 DSP card into a PCI slot, then installs the software from a CD and locates registration at the UA website. The UAD-1 Ultra PAK includes most everything UA offers except the Neve 1081 and 1073 EQs, the Neve 33609 compressor, a few classic Roland emulations, as well as UA’s own multiband compressor (mastering grade).
My first test was to see how many instances could be instantiated for the various plugs, and I was pleasantly surprised. I typically got exactly the number of instances that UA indicated I should before my handy UAD Performance Meter showed I was out of DSP power. I found myself constantly eyeing the UA meter — far more accurate than my Digital Performer 5.1 CPU meter — as I auditioned various plugs, noting the changes in overall usage and only occasionally going over the top and being notified that another plug-in had been disabled for my indiscretion. The most CPU-intensive were the Precision Mastering Series and the DreamVerb (with only five stereo instances at 44.1 kHz), but UA recommends up to four UAD-1 cards per computer for high-powered mixing prowess.
The 1176 LN compressor was quite authentic and just like a classic blackface (yes, you can push down all ratios at once for super-squeezing). But the 1176 SE (silverface style) with its limited DSP usage wasn’t as much to my liking for being a bit strident. The Teletronix LA-2A leveling amplifier was straightforward and pleasantly “velvet-y” — just like the real thing — and therefore it excels on vocals.
Pultec EQs were recreated exactly and offered that renowned “silkiness” and pleasant extreme boost. Musical and smooth, but gobbling up DSP, the Pultec Pro offers some serious power. In addition to the EQP-1A’s low- and high-band, the three mid-bands from the MEQ-5 are added — a “peak” from 200-1000 Hz, a “dip” from 200 Hz-7 kHz, and another “peak” from 1.5-5 kHz. Sexy stuff!
The Fairchild 670 compressor was quite laden with character and authentically complicated, but powerful and flexible. I found the Precision Limiter to be quite a workhorse, too. I really liked this plug with its clean, straightforward design and magnificent metering. I found them nearly equal in limiting transparency during a side-by-side mastering test against my Waves L2 limiter, with the UAD limiter sounding just a tad bit smoother and the Waves sounding a bit more forward.
All of the UAD stock plugs were useful and adequate, but not necessarily stellar. Plate 140 offers three distinct and smooth plate verbs (all quite nice), while Nigel had my favorite module: the Preflex. It offers this instant trash drum sound that is very nasty and quite likable. With compression, EQ, distortion and “Bent,” this is one fun plug for many kinds of mangled modern rock and pop tracks. DreamVerb and Realverb Pro are both already popular and widely used verbs, both eating up DSP but delivering smooth tails and abundant parameter control.
These premium plugs sound great and offers most of the processing needed for mixing, post, and mastering. The vintage emulations are professional quality and faithful, even if some stock plugs are a bit pedestrian (though useful). The thing that hooked me was that the onboard DSP really worked. Every plug I tested delivered exactly the instances promised: performance not realized in comparable “hardware-accelerated plug-in sets” I have previously tried. With authentic emulations, great interfaces and DSP that delivers, this bundle should delight all but the most discriminating of pro users.