Universal Audio UAD-2 Solo DSP Accelerator

The latest card from UA offers a serious processing boost to DAW owners with PCIe systems.
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What if you're a DAW user and you've spent the last six hours working on a mix and your processor suddenly hits that dreaded brick wall? Do you remove a few plug-ins, maybe "print" a few tracks, or make sacrifices you don't want to make?

We've all been there. However, there are products available that — with a few minutes of installation — can not only get you through the power shortage, but also light up the entire city block. Universal Audio's UAD-2 Solo is just such a piece: a combination of software and hardware that can jump-start most any DAW.

Features

The UAD-2 Solo is a small PCIe card that slips inside your PCIe-ready computer and seamlessly runs a wide variety of Universal Audio software plug-ins. Compatible with VST and AU DAW setups (RTAS support is thankfully around the corner), it supports sample rates from 44.1 up to 192 kHz. It's ready to run on Mac OSX Tiger/Leopard and Windows XP/Vista operating systems. Fully compatible with the company's UAD-1 card systems, it can be up to 2.5 times more powerful than its predecessor and up to seven times more when using certain plug-ins.

As you would expect from the company with a 40-plus-year audio heritage, it features a state-of-the-art, 32-bit, floating-point Analog Devices SHARC chip; these chips are monsters that can provide a serious amount of behind-thescenes processing power. They are not only more efficient than the chips on the original UAD-1 card, but they run cooler (no heatsink is needed).

A core Mix Essentials II plug-in package is also provided with the system, which includes the Pultec EQP-1A Program Equalizer, 1176SE Compressor/Limiter, RealVerb Pro Room Modeler, and CS-1 Channel Strip. Also provided is a $50 Universal Audio voucher, which can be used towards purchasing any additional UA plug-ins.

Installation

The rather large package comes with the UAD-2 Short PCI-e card and a UAD Installation CD-ROM, Quickstart DVD and Catalog DVD. I first watched the helpful Quickstart DVD, then popped in the Install disc, installed the Version 5 software for my Intel Mac Pro, and then slipped the card into an available PCI-e slot; according to UA, it doesn't matter which one you use except for certain Mac G5 models. Within 20 minutes and with a quick restart, I was ready to go.

While the computer boots up, an LED light on the UAD-2 card will flash red and green. It glows solid green once the computer is fully booted. Since this was my first time installing a UAD card, it gave me peace of mind to see the light on. I knew I was going in the right direction.

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In addition to the basic software plugins, an application called the UAD Meter is installed, a shortcut to which is installed on your Dock. When opened, a Control Panel opens with four tabs for System Info, Plug-Ins, Configuration, and Help & Support.

The next step is to authorize your product. Simply go to the Plug-Ins tab and hit the Authorize Plug-Ins button. You are immediately directed to the authorization page of UA's website. Then, within a few clicks, it's game on.

One caveat: I had to download the latest version 5 software (5.1.0), which required a full reauthorization. It's only a few minutes of work. Note that aside from the Mix Essentials authorizations, there are also 14-day, fully functional demos of all of the plug-ins. So if you want to check out that Neve 1081, Helios 69, LA3A, or Fairchild, just hit the "Start Demo" button. If you have both a UAD-1 and a UAD-2 card installed, you can also choose which card the plug-ins will run on.

Booting up Logic Pro 8, it quickly ran through the "new" UAD plug-ins, and I was ready to go. Found under the Audio Units > Universal Audio menu, the full list of plug-ins appeared. Simply insert the plugs into a session like any other plug-in and dial up your settings. Once opened, you can view an indicator on the plug-in toolbar that shows which type of card it's running on, as well as a dropdown menu with .FXP Preset Management settings such as Load, Save, Copy, and Paste. This would allow you, for example, to save the settings of your 1176 LN and paste them directly into a "lighter" 1176 SE version. I tried this a few times, and it worked perfectly.

On the plug-in GUI is also a cool "Help" button, which can access info from either the UAD manual or info for that software from the company's website. Of course, there's also a "Buy" button, which lets you immediately purchase that plugin online — a smart inclusion on Universal's part. Available only on the UAD-2, there is a "Low Latency" button that lowers latency to the point where you can use it live on an instrument while recording.

In Use

After using this card on a single session, I realized there was no going back. To be fair, I've been using UA plug-ins (especially the 1176) on my Pro Tools rigs since they first started developing them years ago. I still use them quite a bit on my HD setup, but now with this card, I have access to them for my Logic and Bias Peak work. To be able to put 1176s, Neve 1073s, Pultecs, Helios 69s, and DreamVerb on my tracks was a huge kick in the butt and far better than the standard Logic effects fare. There is literally no comparison to the before and after, especially with a Neve 33609 and UAD Precision Limiter on the Master fader.

This also applied to my Bias Peak Pro 6 work. I typically use Peak as a 2-track editor and master "assembler," but to be able to call up this bevy of plug-ins was sheer power at my fingertips. For RTAS users, UA expects to port all the plug-ins (except Nigel) to the Pro Tools platform before the end of the year. LE users with 003s and such will be able to have a huge power increase with the installation of just a single card.

Summary

The UAD-2 Solo is a compact and powerful system for those who need some additional plugin help on their computers. Aside from the software sounding great, it's expandable; not only can you purchase additional plug-ins as needed, but up to four UAD-2 cards can also be used in one setup (along with four UAD-1 cards). Also, the UA family of Duo and Quad cards joins the Solo, each with additional processing power. If you're a DAW owner who's running on the edge and wants to make your mixes sound better, I highly recommend a UAD-2 Solo.

Rich Tozzoli is a producer, composer, sound designer, and the software editor for Pro Audio Review. www.richtozzoli.com