It’s difficult to describe Universal Audio’s plug-ins until you’ve tried them. It’s a bit like having chocolate sauce at your disposal, sonically speaking. Whatever your higher-level brain may have to say, somewhere deep in your mammalian brain, you hear only … mmmmmm. Chocolate. It’s the word I get from UA users, and I’ll also have an interview with UA to post next week in which we get deep into the philosophy of sound, software design, and modeling, a conversation that transcends any one product. They’re not for everyone – they demand a price premium, to be sure, versus rival CPU-native options, and those with access to a studio might just use the real thing. But for enthusiasts, they can be a delight.

The trick is actually having access to UA’s extensive library of analog-modeling effects. Even as CPUs have marched forward in performance, dedicated DSP chips haven’t stood still. That makes these number-crunching brains a convenient platform for sound, as they are on UA’s effects. If you’re not using a desktop PC with a PCI slot, that means you need an external bus through which the hardware and your computer can connect. ExpressCard is a big boon, but especially for Mac users, it’s been an obstacle. A powerful MacBook Pro is now available for around a grand, but to get ExpressCard, you now need the wallet-busting, messenger bag-cramming 17″ model. It’s clearly a deal breaker.

The UAD-2 Satellite DUO and QUAD should greatly broaden the appeal of the platform, making it accessible to inexpensive, recent iMacs and MacBook Pros. I’m sure Universal Audio is smiling at the idea that you can take that $1000-2000 premium and spend it on UA instead of Apple.

By connecting via Firewire 400 or 800 on a “select” (recent) Intel Mac, the Satellite gives you access to models of vintage hardware UA has made with the likes of Roland, Neve, Moog, Studer, dbx, Solid State Logic, Lexicon, Manley, Empirical Labs, Trident, SPL, and EMT.

On the PC, I’d still recommend the inexpensive ExpressCard option to get started. It’s cheaper, and won’t have the strict compatibility requirements. On the Mac, though, with $500 plug-in vouchers or 50 plug-ins included, the US$899 starting point on these models doesn’t look bad at all. In fact, someone out there may be over at the Apple Store already pricing out one of the “low-end” iMacs or MacBook Pros, as they represent desktop-class performance from just a couple of years ago, particularly with what you can do now with USB2 and Firewire.

UA also recently added Pro Tools compatibility, so that combined with FireWire options means just about anyone can now consider their platform. If it’s something that interests you and you’ve got questions, fire away in comments and I’ll pass them on to the engineers at UA.

UAD-2 Satellite DUO Product Page (the entry-level model … more specs on compatibility forthcoming)

Darnit. Now I mentioned chocolate, so I have to go eat a chocolate.

  • cool. looking forward to that interview. what happens re this if Apple is slowly retiring firewire, as it seems?

  • gunboatD

    i LOVE my uaudio xpander. LOVE LOVE LOVE. I want to upgrade, but I really wanted to go with a duo or quad so i have some more headroom. But the new Solo Laptop, while an attractive piece of gear in in its own right, just didnt have enough juice for me. But THIS(!) has juice. i'll be interested to see how latency is handled with the FW interface.

  • cocteau

    I am very excited to see this come out – the 27" iMac i7 core machine is real beast and relatively portable … I wonder how this new UAD will play with firewire audio interfaces ( MOTU 828mk3 / new RME, etc ) … Do most modern machines with firewire actually have more than 1 bus ?

  • cocteau

    To refine my question a bit – given that new model iMac and MBPs have only 1 firewire port ( bus ) – is there enough bandwidth for both the UAD and an audio interface like the MOTU 828mk3 ?

  • Peter Kirn

    @cocteau: That seems a very appropriate question. I'm also curious if this isn't also possible via USB2 if Firewire works.

    I don't think Apple is end-of-lifing Firewire yet, though. It's clear that, for now, any model that's "Pro" (including iMac, MacBook Pro, and Mac Pro) retains the FireWire port. And generally, Apple seems to reduce the quantity of ports. But part of the reason that the bus is still there is that the support is part of what's on the chipset.

    If not USB2, maybe we'll eventually see USB3 with UAD, and I'd imagine Apple won't drop FW until USB3 is available as a high-bandwidth (higher, of course) replacement.

    I'm speculating, though, so I'll ask. (Not Apple, but at least Universal Audio!)

  • Mike

    This satellite system is very attractive- When I saw this my first thought was "will there be an option to turn my UAD-2 solo internal card into an external card?". I do live recording on my Macbook Pro, but transfer those projects to my Mac Pro to do the heavy lifting later. It would be nice to share the solo card between both systems though..

  • Scott

    Apple's FW isn't in the chipset, it's provided by a separate PHY host controller chip that links to the internal PCI-Express lanes of the logic board's chipset. nVidia has to the best of my knowledge never integrated a FW controller.

    FW's prevalence is still related to the fact it is more efficient than USB, in that the PHY handles a lot of stuff that gets off loaded to the computer's main CPU, this allows it to be better than USB2 in raw throughput; additionally, in our realm of music, as an I/O or outboard DSP, FW's DMA (direct memory addressing) capabilities shine providing low latency and less jitter.

  • rich-o

    "On the PC, I’d still recommend the inexpensive ExpressCard option to get started."

    The new firewire UADs are mac only, so less of a recommendation, more of a 'this is your only PC laptop option'

    For now, at least