AF’s Weblog

May 7, 2012

Universal Audio Apollo Review

To read the full detailed article see:  Universal Audio Apollo Review

Universal Audio is a brand like no other in the pro audio world. The company has been competing in the hardware market for over 50 years with preamps, compressors and channel strips. But it has also been present in the plug-in market for about a decade with the famous UAD DSP platform. We have always wondered what would happen if Universal Audio were to combine their analog and digital technologies. Introduced at the NAMM 2012, the Apollo is the first answer. Focus on the Universal Audio interface!

… one giant leap for DSP technology!

We have often asked ourselves why a manufacturer offering high-quality preamps, hardware compressors and plug-ins never conceived a product including all this know-how. They have finally done it with the Apollo, a digital audio interface with four preamps and the famous UAD-2 DSP. We dreamed about an audio interface with a Twin-Finity preamp or even a 1176LN (hardware), but Universal Audio decided to focus on digital audio and to allow the user to work with UAD plug-ins like with classic analog gear. To achieve that, the engineer team developed a system that allows to decrease the latency to less than 2 ms — a bit like Pro Tools HD does —, giving the musician and sound engineer the possibility to process the signal directly during recording sessions. Since the latency time is imperceptible, the musician can play freely and record without any hassles.

Look after your musician

Universal Audio Apollo

Some of you might have doubts about processing the signal during a recording session when using a fully digital system. A couple of decades ago, when recording studios were analog, it was usual to process the signal during recording, for example by inserting a compressor or an EQ in the signal path. Back then plug-ins didn’t exist and the number of compressors and EQs available in the studio was limited. So it was usual to insert processors during takes, even if it meant taking risks and artistic decisions on the spot: there was no other choice! This way of working is still used in modern production environments where some engineers like to take risks and insert hardware compressors and/or EQs during the recording. However, we could ask ourselves whether this workflow makes any sense within a fully digital system. In fact, plug-ins always process the signal after the AD converter. As a consequence, a compressor plug-in won’t be able to reduce the risk of clipping at the converter stage. The same applies to EQs: why should we use destructive processing during the recording, while digital audio technology gives us the possibility to record the settings and edit them later? Modern sequencers give us this chance — it would be a pity not take advantage of it!

Universal Audio Apollo

But inserting plug-ins during the takes can have other advantages. To record a singer you can use a dedicated bus for his monitor headphone mix with the sequencer return and the voice of the singer captured by the microphone in front of him. We all know that musicians need to feel comfortable to perform at their best. When a musician plays well, 50% of your work is already done! That’s the reason why you have to look after the musician: offer him a cup of tee at the right temperature, a bowl of M&Ms without the brown ones, or a flattering sound in his headphones. The Universal Audio interface allows you to insert up to four plug-ins into the channel of the musician/singer with less than 2 ms latency time (1.1ms @ 96kHz, from the analog input to the analog output) and to assign the recorded signal to the monitor headphones adding a bit of compression, a flattering EQ setting and a whiff of reverb so that the musician feels like he’s playing in his favorite cathedral. This can seem superfluous, but it isn’t. The performance of the musician has a direct impact on the final quality of the recording.

But let’s have a look at our all-gray Apollo.

Conclusion

The Apollo was eagerly awaited by many Universal Audio fans and home studio owners — and we must admit that it’s a great achievement! The manufacturer offers you the possibility to insert its famous plug-ins with a latency of less than 2ms, which is more than enough for recording applications. The look and the manufacturing quality are perfect. The mixer is very practical and easy to use. When it comes to audio, the interface offers good quality converters and pretty linear preamps considering the price. We only regret that the mixer is still limited (in the number of Aux buses, for example), that the Thunderbolt option is too expensive and that the interface offers no MIDI or USB connections. But as soon as the plug-ins are available in 64 bits, the interface supports Windows and the mixer offers a couple more features, the Apollo package will be nearly perfect. The user will still have to decide if he “marries” the UAD platform, which forces him to stay faithful to the brand’s plug-ins, otherwise the advantages of the Apollo are limited. But considering the overall quality of the UAD plug-ins, this forced marriage might quickly become a perfect match!

Advantages:
  • Good quality converters
  • Transparent-sounding preamps
  • Less than 2ms latency with inserted plug-ins!
  • One UAD-2 under the hood
  • Nice design
  • High quality construction
  • Simple and easy-to-use mixer
Drawbacks:
  • No MIDI connectors
  • Only FireWire support
  • Thunderbolt option too expensive
  • Currently, only two AUXs in the mixer
  • No Windows support yet
  • No 64 bit plug-ins yet

To read the full detailed article see:  Universal Audio Apollo Review

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April 20, 2009

Universal Audio – Moog Multimode Filter: The Test

Mojo Filter
Universal Audio – Moog Multimode Filter: The Test

While there is a huge choice of filter effects available on the market today, it could be argued that many of them lack the character and warmth of some of their hardware counterparts and while some claim to capture the sound of vintage hardware, the reality is few have come close. It’s just possible that all this is about to change though, as one of Universal Audio’s latest offerings for the UAD platform is the Moog multimode filter. With a well respected pedigree in emulating prized vintage hardware, Universal Audio are perhaps the best people to attempt the recreation of the classic Moog sound.

MIDI Learn CC

Most of us are accustomed with multi mode filters and have used them in our productions at one time or another. Obviously some genres call for these tools more than others but its safe to say that many of us see them as an integral part of our production arsenal.

For those of you that aren’t so familiar with multimode filters, they are simply filters that allow various modes or models to be set by the user. For example a typical plug-in will present the choice of low pass, high pass and band pass filter models, as opposed to a hard wired low pass filter, seen in some filters and synthesizers.

Some filter plug-ins not only offer this multimode flexibility but additional features such as resonance, overdrive and modulation capabilities are not uncommon and offer the user the ability to create diverse effects.

Gearing Up

Of course one issue some people will have with any Universal audio plug-in from the offset, is the fact that they only run on the UAD1 platform and lack any kind of native support. In the platforms defense, the UAD1 and newer UAD2 are now extremely popular amongst all levels of engineers and musicians alike and the entry level cards are extremely affordable making the plug-ins a realistic option for most budgets

As is the case with all of the UAD plug-ins, the Moog Multimode supports VST, Audio Units and RTAS formats, so most DAW users can join the party. Installation is a breeze as the plug-in will already have been installed with your UAD software. If you don’t see it in your plug-in list fly over to the Universal Audio site and grab the latest UAD driver release.

Once the appropriate UAD software is installed you can enjoy a nice feature supplied by the UAD folks and that’s the full 14 day demos that come as standard. Every plug-in you haven’t yet purchased is available to preview and this is a nice way to try the processors out in your projects before you lay down your hard earned cash.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

This is hands down the best software filter I have ever come across. It sounds truly analog and it has an interface that even a beginner would find accessible. It is slightly CPU hungry but considering Universal Audio has recently released the all powerful UAD2 range of DSP cards and that a light SE version of the plug-in is bundled with the full version, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem for most users. If you are in the market for a filter plug-in and own one of the UAD DSP cards this is certainly a must have. It is so good it is even worth considering buying a card just to run it, as a hardware filter of this quality would cost an arm and a leg.

Stunning emulated analog filter effects
Warm, fat and fuzzy drive input circuit
Easy to understand, well laid out interface
Cost effective

Possibly slightly too CPU hungry for UAD1 owners
Might not contain enough routing for some power users

To read the full detail article see:  Universal Audio – Moog Multimode Filter Test

February 16, 2009

Review: Universal Audio UAD-2

Filed under: Hardware — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:39 am
WMD: Weapon of Mass DSPs
Universal Audio UAD-2: The Test

Universal Audio continues its arms race against other DSP card manufacturers, like TC Electronic (PowerCore) and SSL (Duende), by releasing the UAD-2, which comes in three models that dwarf the original in power. We tested the most powerful of all: the UAD-2 Quad.

UAD-2

In the world of computing, multicore processors and multithreading are booming industries. Manufacturers have realized that the future of our dear microprocessors will no longer be in increasing frequency, but in multiplying cores and/or processors. Universal Audio has understood the lesson and offers its DSP card in three models: the first, known as Solo, has, like its predecessor, one processor, the second, Duo, features 2, and the third, Quad, has no less than 4 processors! Knowing that the new processor is, according to the manufacturer, 2.5 times faster than the UAD-1, the Quad is therefore 10 times (2.5 x 4 processors) faster than its predecessor! The first UAD suddenly looks old. If you add to this the ability to chain together up to 4 UAD-2 cards in the same system (40 times the power of the original UAD), you start to grasp the enormous power potential of these cards.

Out of the box

As you take the card out of the box, you see the first new feature: the UAD now uses a 1x PCI Express bus, faster than the old PCI. You should definitely check to see if your motherboard has an available bus. Note that the card is also compatible with PCI Express 16x, which is normally reserved for video cards. It was on the latter that the card was tested by yours truly, the only available 1x PCIe bus was already being used by an RME Multiface …

Once the card is inserted into an appropriate slot, you have to startup Windows and run the .exe found on the supplied CD or downloadable from their site. It’s probably better to download the latest version which includes new plug-ins (like the UAD Equalizer Harrison 32C and the UAD phase aligner Little Labs IBP) and the latest version of the driver which is more stable and RTAS compatible. Once you’ve installed everything, you have to create an account on Universal Audio’s website, download a small file to authorize plug-ins and drag it onto the UAD-2’s configuration window. It’s simple, fast and efficient. Now you can start using the card!

Let’s take a closer look at the control panel …

Conclusion

While not surprising, Universal Audio has updated its range of DSP cards with brio by largely increasing their power plus retaining backwards compatibility and an already pretty strong plug-in selection . The UAD is still “the solution” for those who want to integrate a set of quality plug-ins without hampering their computer’s performance. The quality of the plug-ins from Universal Audio’s catalog is well established and one is sure to find things they like. Lastly, the price remains relatively reasonable in view of their quality.

The gain in power compared to the UAD-1
Compatibility with existing UAD plug-ins
Interesting new plug-ins
Possibility of chaining multiple cards
Low latency mode: LiveTrack
Interesting bundles

Not a lot of new plug-ins
CPU usage in low latency

To read, the full detailed article see:  Universal Audio UAD-2

January 30, 2009

NAMM 2009: Video Demo New Products from Universal Audio

Filed under: Computer music reviews, namm 2009, Official Announcements — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:02 am

Dave Crane from Universal Audio tells us about the new UAD2-related products, including the UAD2 laptop solo Xpress card.

To watch all NAMM 2009 video demos visit us on Audiofanzine NAMM 2009.

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