Cameleon 5000 + the UAD-1/UltraPak

Long a fan of sound design kingpin Richard Devine, I’d heard him speak at length about the beauty of sound design and spectral morphing apps like Composers Desktop Project, C Sound, and Super Collider, and I have long admired the patience that sonic architects like Richard and the industrious Brian Transeau (BT) behold to design sound at the code level. Yet, despite skipping two grades of math, I’ve concluded that I simply lack the mathematical patience to sit down and learn to design sound at the C:// prompt.

So I was delighted to test drive the Cameleon 5000, a software synth meets sound-design instrument. This puppy brings sound morphing to your fingertips, in one user-friendly interface — no hand-coding required.

Sound Design for Dummies

Instead of spending four hours weekly in sound design classes up at BT’s house or some other school of audio learning, you can now just fire up the Cameleon 5000 as a software instrument inside of Logic, Pro Tools, Ableton, or any other computer-based DAW or host that is VSTi, AU, or RTAS-friendly, or use it as a standalone app.

Once it’s launched, you can choose up to four sonic elements to blend together on the basis of the sound’s amplitude envelope, individual harmonics, or noise, and you can morph them along a timeline if you like to create sweeping rhythmic soundscapes. Like other apps like Reason, you can choose from some decent stock bass, pads, strings, synths, and other sounds that come with the app, or you can import your own sound files — Cameleon 5000 accepts either .WAV, .AIF or bmp files — to morph together.

Each imported sonic element can be further modified, based on its harmonics, before being blended into another sound, and the Cameleon 5000 also offers a kickass sounding Formant filter, which I found to be the coolest effect (other than the sound-morphing box) within the onboard effects palate.

The squash factor of the Formant filter alone was highly satisfying on pretty much anything I ran through it. This filter was intuitively designed and I found it was super easy to get a great sound out of it.

The Universal Truth

Outside of the Formant filter, the Morph box, and other Morph aspects of the Cameleon 5000 tool — which, by the way, are well worth the cost and convenience of the app — I wasn’t that impressed by the built-in chorus, reverb, distortion, compression, or delays. A lot of the time, it seems that software instruments scream out for tube warmth, or hardware component processing.

Well, luckily, I didn’t have to leave the box because my editor sent me a UAD-1 card to squash the Cameleon 5000 through. This smoking hot DSP card came with Universal Audio’s full UltraPak set of plug-ins and made a huge difference in the sound of, well, everything. Also lucky for me, I had an extra UAD-1 card sitting around my house, so I actually got to test drive the Cameleon 5000 through twin UAD-1 cards both running the luscious Universal Audio UltraPak, which I’ve concluded is one of the most delectable, rich, megahuge DSP card/effects combos currently available for less than an HD rig itself.

The UAD-1 effects instantly pumped up the sound of the Cameleon 5000, like a Camel on steroids. The UAD-1 is virtually like a hit of crack for any virtual instrument you’ve got on your computer, it will get your plug-ins HIGH.

I’m convinced that this DSP card was designed to awaken the undead. Hence, please use with caution while mixing near cemeteries or mortuaries.

God Is Found In the UAD-1

The sound of the UltraPak plug-ins, like the rich, tough Fairchild compressor, mega-manhandling LA2A and 1176, and the strangely real and dreamy sounding RealVerb plug-ins soon drove me to lay the faith-healing powers of the blessed DSP engine upon every track possible.

How can plug-ins possibly sound this good?

Well, I’ve been told that it’s because Universal Audio actually models the components themselves, versus taking the easy road and just modeling the signal or frequency response that comes out of the components. Whatever it is, they’re obviously doing it right because these plug-ins sound fantastic.

Image Is Everything

That being said, I was completely happy with the Cameleon 5000’s abilities as a sound morphing tool. And better yet, whilst frolicking about the app, I discovered a really cool additional feature: You can also import images as BMP files that will be converted into a sound file based on the pixels within the image. You can, in turn, morph these sounds together with other sounds, stock sounds, or other imported BMP images turned sound files.

I decided to have some fun and import the mugs of some of my favorite producers: Trent Reznor, Butch Vig, and Jack Dangers to see if their mugs sounded as good as the records they produce. Not so surprisingly, Butch’s mug emitted a soothing, yet spooky electronic tone, Jack’s mug put out a crashing, dub-like percussive tone, and Trent’s churned out a gritty, tinesque tone.

WARNING: Don’t try importing any compressed BMP files into the sound morph tool in the Cameleon 5000 app. Those will only upset the stomach of your Cameleon 5000, and your attempts at BMP-sound design will be quickly squashed, and not in a good UAD-1 way.