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MACKIE DESIGNS UAD-1 POWERED PLUG-INS 2.2.2 (MAC/WIN)

By Erik Hawkins | November 1, 2002

Going head-to-head with TC Works' PowerCore system (reviewed in the April 2002 EM), Mackie has introduced the UAD-1 Powered Plug-Ins bundle, another option for getting more signal-processing power into your computer. The system, developed by Universal Audio, is based on the UAD-1 PCI card that, according to Mackie, features a single “groundbreaking super-DSP chip” for running extremely sophisticated plug-in algorithms. Eighteen stock plug-ins ship with the bundle, including Universal Audio's LA2A and 1176LN vintage compressors. Not surprisingly, Kind of Loud's much-admired RealVerb Pro is also included. (UA is Kind of Loud's parent company; see the sidebar “Solid Stock Plug-ins” for a complete list of plug-ins.)

PARKING THE CARD

The installation instructions advise you to first install the Powered Plug-Ins software and then the UAD-1. The installer CD-ROM that I received had version 1.1 software, which I knew to be outdated; I therefore got online and downloaded the current software, version 2.2.2. At just under 23 MB, that is time-consuming to do over a standard phone line. Nonetheless, it's worthwhile to download the latest software, because it includes bug fixes and two new plug-ins (the Pultec EQP-1A program equalizer and the Nigel guitar-effects processor).

The UAD-1 system requires a VST-compatible host and runs on either a Mac or a PC (MAS support was announced just as I was finishing this review). I installed and reviewed the system using an AMD Athlon XP 1.6 GHz computer running Windows 2000 and packing 262 MB of RAM. The host application was Cubase VST/32, version 5.1. With the UAD-1 software installed and the UAD-1 properly seated in a PCI slot, Windows' New Hardware Wizard found and installed all the necessary drivers with no hitches.

The system's plug-ins are placed in your VST Plug-ins folder, in a subfolder called Powered Plug-ins. You access the plug-ins from your host application, and they start up and function just like standard VST plug-ins. A program called UAD-1 DSP Performance Meter — a floating meter bar that can run in the background — lets you keep an eye on the card's DSP load (see Fig. 1). The meter shows usage as a percentage of the card's CPU and memory. (The UAD-1 has 4 MB of onboard RAM that is used for delay lines.) I positioned the UAD-1 meter next to Cubase's VST Performance meter for easy monitoring of both systems at a glance.

I was also curious to see if the system would work in a Magma single-slot expansion chassis (the CB1H) connected to my Titanium PowerBook G4 using its PC Card slot. It worked like a charm, offering a really great way of adding extra DSP to your laptop.

PLUG-IN LOWDOWN

The plug-ins come in two flavors: either single, dedicated processors or multi-effects. The single-processor plug-ins provide one specific effect (such as reverb or compression); the multi-effects are a group of complementary effects modules (such as amp simulator, gate, and compressor). There are two main multi-effects plug-ins: the CS-1 channel strip and the Nigel guitar-effects processor. All of the effects contained in these two groups are also available individually. The 1176LN, LA2A, Pultec, and RealVerb Pro are not included in either of the multi-effects plug-ins and only run alone. Most of the plug-ins have presets that sound decent and offer a good starting point for creating your own effects.

The CS-1 has a cool vintage look that is reminiscent of an old Neve console. It has almost all the processing capability you need for a channel in a single plug-in. In order, there are five bands of parametric EQ, a compressor (EX-1), a delay-modulation section (DM-1), and a room simulator (RS-1) that UA calls a “reflection engine.” If you don't need all of the CS-1's processing modules, you can defeat them to conserve CPU power or you can simply use the component plug-ins separately, which is also handy for inserting the plug-ins in a different order. The EX-1 plug-in is available in stereo or mono (the EX-1M), and the DM-1 plug-in comes in short and long (the DM-1L) delay versions.

The EX-1 and DM-1 plug-ins are useful and they sound good. I found the RS-1 a bit harder to fit into my mixes because it is more of a room-ambience effect than an actual reverb, but there are certainly times when such an effect fits the bill.

Nigel was first introduced in version 2.1 of the UAD-1 bundle. It contains six effects modules: gate and compression (GateComp), modulation filter (ModFilter), phaser (Phasor), an amp simulator (Preflex), tremolo (TremFade), and modulation delay and echo (which are combined with the Tremolo module to form the TremModeEcho plug-in). GateComp provides very basic dynamics control, but it gets the job done with a minimum of CPU power. The ModFilter, Phasor, TremFade, and TremModeEcho are wonderful for creating anything from thick and twisted effects to subtle flanges and echoes. You can do a lot with these four plug-ins, although I wish there were a way to sync the effects to a sequence's tempo. (Mackie reports that that feature is in the works.) Preflex sounds really good, from big and distorted effects to smooth and warm tones. There are a variety of amp and cabinet types to work with, and the cabinets even include different mic positions.

Bill Putnam's 1176LN solid-state limiting amplifier was first conceived in 1966. It went through several modifications over the years to improve its sound. The 1176LN (the LN stands for Low Noise) plug-in is based on the culmination of those modifications. It faithfully reproduces the sound of the original hardware units, imparting a distinctly high-end, solid-state flavor to tracks.

The LA2A plug-in is modeled after the Teletronix LA-2A Leveling Amplifier, first built in the mid-1960s, and it looks, acts, and sounds like the original. I was not disappointed by Mackie's UAD-1 version. It provides the ultimate in clean, clear dynamics processing with a minimum of controls.

The Pultec EQP-1A program equalizer has long been praised for its ability to dramatically boost or attenuate specific frequencies without sounding harsh. The Pultec plug-in looks like the original hardware unit and sounds equally as sweet, even adding a subtle analog flavor to tracks in its passive state.

The UAD-1 main reverb offering is RealVerb Pro. With the exception of the 5.1 parameters, it's practically identical to the much-revered RealVerb 5.1 TDM version. All the same great parameters for customizing reverbs are available, including the ability to choose an environment's composition (such as wood, glass windows, grass, fiberglass, or a combination of two different materials), precise control over the listener's position within the space, and morphing between presets. The fact that RealVerb Pro is part of the bundle is almost worth the price of the entire package alone.

HANDLING THE POWER

Keep in mind that only plug-ins written specifically for the Powered Plug-Ins format work with the UAD-1 — you can't run a normal VST plug-in using the UAD-1's processing power. The system doesn't actually give you more native processing power because the UAD-1's DSP isn't dynamically shared with your computer's DSP power. However, any channel's inserts can have a mix of Powered Plug-Ins and traditional VST plug-ins, so adding a UAD-1 card to your computer will net much more processing power overall. Moreover, the system's plug-ins are all useful and sound terrific.

Some digital audio sequencers don't automatically compensate for the delay caused by the Powered Plug-Ins effects processing. In those cases, you'll need to use the included DelayComp plug-in to manually adjust the tracks that are playing early in relation to the processed tracks.

To use DelayComp, first determine what the maximum number of Powered Plug-ins being used by any track in the project is, then subtract from that maximum number the existing number of Powered Plug-ins that any other audio track on the project has. Next, use that difference as the DelayComp setting. For example, if the maximum number of Powered Plug-ins being used on any track is three and another track has only one Powered Plug-in, you would assign a value of 2 (3 - 1) to DelayComp for the latter track. By the same token, if a track in the same project has no Powered Plug-ins, it would require a setting of 3 (3 - 0) to equal the maximum number of plug-ins being used.

Remembering to compensate for processing delays is an annoying speed bump in the road of one's creative flow. But without the DelayComp plug-in, the system would be unusable with some digital audio sequencers. For example, Cubase VST/32 automatically compensates for the delay on its audio tracks but not its virtual-instrument tracks. Logic Audio and Cubase SX reportedly automatically compensate for Powered Plug-Ins delay on audio and virtual-instrument tracks. However, I tried opening a Cubase VST/32 session in Cubase SX and there was still processing delay on the virtual instruments.

Keeping up with delay adjustments while you insert Powered Plug-Ins on audio and virtual-instrument tracks at the same time can get tricky. Thankfully, because delay values are given as the number of Powered Plug-Ins used, DelayComp is easy to understand. To be sure that you're always prepared to deal with delay times, I suggest creating a mixer template with DelayComp inserted on every channel.

All of the Powered Plug-Ins' parameters can be automated just the way standard VST — plug-in parameters can be. Mackie says that the plug-ins have a smoothing algorithm that makes digital zippering noise during automation obsolete, and indeed, I didn't hear any zippering.

PLUG-IN HAVEN

Between the computer's 2 GHz Athlon processor and the UAD-1 card, I was never in serious need of processing power. In a 16-bit, 44.1 kHz session I was able to run half a dozen LA2As, a couple of Pultecs, and two RealVerb Pros. (Of course, the number of plug-ins you can run will be lower for sessions with higher sample rates.) Some plug-ins, such as the Nigel and the 1176LN, did eat up a lot more processing power than others. My solution, especially with the Nigel, was to bounce the effect to disk to free up the UAD-1's processing power. Either way, the ability to run your reverbs and so many other cool plug-ins on the UAD-1 leaves your computer's CPU available for running still more native effects plug-ins and virtual instruments. Mackie also says that multiple UAD-1 cards, installed in the same computer, will soon be able to share processing power dynamically.

The fact that only those plug-ins written specifically for the Powered Plug-Ins format work with the UAD-1 card may present a problem for some users. Whether third-party plug-in developers will write versions of their plug-ins for this new format remains to be seen. Regardless, the included plug-ins are more than adequate, and combined with an arsenal of native plug-ins, you should have plenty of effects to work with.

My wish list includes Powered Plug-Ins that sync to your sequencer's tempo and some UAD-1-compatible virtual instruments. Otherwise, I have very few gripes about the bundle: it works well and comes with some great-sounding effects. Even the manual (PDF only) is well written. If you need more DSP power to augment your native processing power and have also been considering the Kind of Loud plug-ins, check out the UAD-1 Powered Plug-Ins bundle.


Visit Erik Hawkins's fledgling indie label at www.muzicali.com to hear music made with today's hottest studio gizmos. Also check out his new virtual-studio recording book, Studio-in-a-Box (ArtistPro/Hal Leonard).

Minimum System Requirements

UAD-1 Powered Plug-Ins

MAC: G3/233; 128 MB RAM; OS 9.0; compatible VST or MAS host application

PC: Pentium II/400; 128 MB RAM; Windows 98/2000/ME/XP; compatible VST host application

SOLID STOCK PLUG-INS

The following plug-ins ship with version 2.2.2. Some of the plug-ins are single effects, while others are collections. Each of the components of the multi-effects plug-ins can also be used as single effects.

Single Effects

1176LN vintage compressor
LA2A vintage compressor
Pultec EQP-1A EQ
RealVerb Pro reverb

Multi-effects

CS-1 channel strip
DM-1 delay modulator (short)
DM-1L delay modulator (long)
EX-1 EQ/compressor (stereo)
EX-1M EQ/compressor (mono)
RS-1 room-ambience modeler

Nigel guitar-effects processor
GateComp gate and compression
ModFIlter modulation filter
Phasor phaser
Preflex amp simulator
TremFade tremolo
TremModeEcho tremolo/modulation delay/echo

Utility

DelayComp delay compensation

PRODUCT SUMMARY

Mackie Designs
UAD-1 Powered Plug-Ins 2.2.2 (Mac/Win)
DSP card/plug-in bundle
$995

FEATURES 4.0
EASE OF USE 4.0
AUDIO QUALITY 4.5
VALUE 4.0
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: Great-sounding plug-ins. Includes the LA2A and 1176LN vintage compressors and Kind of Loud's RealVerb Pro reverb. Very good bang for the buck. Full automation and 24-bit, 96 kHz sessions supported. Works with VST-compatible host applications and MOTU's Digital Performer. The utility plug-in for compensating for processing delay is easy to understand.

CONS: Works only with its own plug-in format. Effects don't sync with the host sequencer's tempo. No virtual-instrument plug-ins.

Manufacturer

Mackie Designs, Inc.
tel. (800) 258-6883
e-mail info@mackie.com
Web www.mackie.com or
www.uaudio.com/PPI/home.html

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