A year ago, Universal Audio changed the shape of high-quality audio processing with its release of the UAD-2 Satellite DUO and Satellite QUAD FireWire Accelerator mobile cards. These FireWire devices provide the processing power previously only available in an internal card to Macintosh laptop and desktop computers through a card mounted in an external chassis accessible via FireWire 400 or 800 connections. This means desktop computers without open card slots, laptops, Mac minis and iMacs can all share in the ability to utilize Universal Audio’s wonderful selection of plug-ins yet avoid taxing the computer’s processor.
The UAD-2 Satellite QUAD Accelerator is a 6-inch-wide x 8-inch-long x 1-inch-high box that weighs approximately 2 lbs. and utilizes an external wall-wart power supply. While retaining the classic Universal Audio vintage flair, the box’s design makes it look perfect alongside a new MacBook Pro or iMac. The device utilizes four Analog Devices SHARC floating-point processors (or two in the case of the Satellite DUO) and supports Mac OS X 10.6.4 Snow Leopard or higher, including Mac OSX Lion (32-bit or 64-bit mode). It is compatible with most Intel-based iMacs and MacBook Pros (check the Universal Audio website for current compatibility specs).
In addition to an available FireWire 800 or 400 port, it requires 512 MB RAM (1GB recommended), 200 MB available harddrive space (400 MB for UAD-1 and UAD-2 combined installation), and an Internet connection for registration, plug-in authorization and software updates. The UA drivers are optimized for modern multi-thread and multi-processor architectures and the Satellite supports VST, AU and RTAS formats at sample rates from 44.1 to 192 kHz, allowing it to complement virtually any DAW (whether Pro Tools, Cubase, Mixbus, Nuendo, Logic, Digital Performer, etc.) by allowing the user to utilize Universal Audio’s huge selection of classic hardware emulation plug-ins. All of the UA plug-ins support both real-time and faster-than-real-time processing for mix bounces.
There are three variations of the UAD-2 Satellite QUAD. Each package is built around the same box but with different plug-in collections. The UAD-2 Satellite QUAD ($1,899) includes the “Analog Classics” plug-in bundle (the LA-2A, 1176LN/1176SE, Pultec EQP- 1A, and Realverb Pro plug-ins) and a $50 UAD plug-in voucher. The UAD-2 Satellite QUAD Flexi ($2,249) includes the “Analog Classics” plug-in bundle and a $500 UAD plug-in voucher. The UAD-2 Satellite QUAD Omni v6 ($6,599) includes the complete collection of 53 UA-developed plug-ins up to and including UAD software v6.0 and a $100 UAD plug-in voucher.
Each of the UAD-2 Satellite configurations uses the same physical packaging, whether Duo or Quad processors are fitted. The Satellite’s are sold in various packages of hardware and software and software vouchers.
The UAD system setup and software installation is a breeze. In addition to the UAD plug-ins, the software includes the necessary drivers as well as the metering and control panel application that allows the easy management of authorizations and the ability to monitor system usage. I have to say, UA has done a wonderful job of making the integration between the hardware and software seamless. UA’s plug-in implementation is brilliant: All of the plug-ins are included with the software package. This means purchasing an additional plug-in is essentially just a software authorization that can literally be done in seconds. All of the plug-ins include fully functional 14-day demos that can be activated day or night.
One thing I love about the UAD-2 Satellite is that its plug-in authorizations live with the box instead of with the computer. If I’m mixing an album at another studio and I want to utilize the same UA plug-ins that are on my system and I have a UAD-2 internal card, there is no easy way to move these authorizations to another studio for a few days of work, even if I take my card with me. If I’m using a UAD-2 Satellite, I can bring it with me and all of my purchased plug-ins will work on the studio’s computer and I’ll have the processing power of my Satellite card as well as the studio’s internal card. Nice!
A criticism: I’ve become accustomed to mixing with my UAD 2 SOLO/Laptop card on the plane and I was sorry to see that powering the Satellite from the FireWire bus isn’t an option. Even if it draws a lot of power, I wish I had the option of using it during those times when I’m battery-bound. I’ve spent some time using the UAD-2 Satellite with Logic and Nuendo, but most of my time has been split between Pro Tools and Mixbus and, I must admit, I’ve been impressed with the box’s performance in every instance. The Helios Type 69 and Harrison 32C SE EQ’s are both fantastic on almost anything. I love the 1176LN, the LA2A and the dbx 160 compressors and the EMT 250 is a simple but stellar reverb.
I mixed a tune consisting of 35 tracks using Pro Tools 10 on my MacBook Pro and had enough processing to have the Studer A800 plug-in inserted on all 35 tracks (which I must say is truly amazing); it’s worth buying the Satellite to have access to this plug-in alone. Other inserted plugs include the Lexicon 224, EMT250, Roland Dimension D and over a dozen instances of the Harrison 32C SE EQ, and I still had a bit of processing room to spare (though not much). I also mixed a 25-track tune in Mixbus and had enough processing to have the Studer A800 plug-in and a compressor plug-in on every track. The Satellite’s performance was always best when using a FireWire 800 connection but I was impressed at how well it performed with a FireWire 400 connection, as it was only slightly less efficient.
The UAD-2 Satellite QUAD and your Mac Book Pro … then you’re good to go!
I found that I had better results with the Satellite QUAD when my session was located on an internal drive rather than an external FireWire drive as that put less demand on the FireWire bus. This only became noticeable if I was pushing the Satellite’s DSP beyond 85 percent. As recommended by UA, I always made sure that the Satellite was the first device in the FireWire chain although this isn’t possible with a bus-powered drive, as the Satellite does not provide bus power.
Where the Satellite uses the same SHARC DSP cards as the UAD-2 PCI card, the difference is the way the CPU interfaces with the card. The PCIe card in most instances will provide better performance, but the Satellite is portable and it has the ability to be used on computers without PCIe slots (e.g., the iMac, Mac mini and MacBook Pro). LiveTrack (low-latency mode) cannot be used with the Satellite, which some users will not like. This is because the latency due to the FireWire bus is too great to allow plug-ins to be used while tracking. I don’t typically use plug-ins during the recording process so this didn’t bother me in the least.
Between the amazing plug-in collection offered by UA and the quality, simplicity and ease of use offered by the UAD-2 Satellite QUAD FireWire DSP Accelerator, its purchase is a no-brainer to any owner of a Mac-based studio that has a PCIe-less computer or a computer with no open PCIe slots.
Prices: $1,899, $2,249 and $6,599 (UAD-2 Satellite QUAD FireWire DSP Accelerator; UAD-2 Satellite QUAD Flexi FireWire DSP Accelerator; and UAD-2 Satellite QUAD Omni 6 FireWire DSP Accelerator, respectively).
Contact: Universal Audio | uaudio.com
Russ Long is a Nashville-based producer, engineer and mixer as well as Senior Contributor to PAR.