With all the horsepower computers are now packing, you might be surprised at the idea of adding on dedicated hardware for sound processing. Or, you can look at it another way: with computers more powerful than ever, with digital processing sounding more convincing both as emulation of traditional gear and in imagining never-before-possible sounds, the digital studio in a backpack is even closer.

Into that picture, enter the Universal Audio UAD-2 Satellite. Enclosed in a metal housing about the size of a large-ish external hard drive, the Satellite could absolutely fit into the side pocket of a computer backpack or messenger bag. Coupled with a MacBook Pro laptop, you could very easily carry your entire studio on a bicycle. That’s not to take away from the joys of outboard gear, but if you’ve got some decent engineering chops, such a rig could really be a studio that can live anywhere.

I’ve had a chance to begin working with the Satellite as my main platform for UAD’s plug-ins for some months now, and it’s an extraordinary box. The most important thing to know about it is that it’s intended for select Intel Macs, and it’s equipped with FireWire 800. Dedicated DSP processing goes back to the very first days of digital audio on computers. (Early Digidesign products and even the IRCAM-developed predecessor of Max/MSP all used DSP hardware.) DSP also naturally appeals to sound engineers: it’s hardware built for the sole purpose of doing the kinds of number crunching in audio, as opposed to the general-purpose architecture of a computer CPU.

The challenge has always been how to get data between the computer and the DSP device. That’s led to an array of buses, like PCI Express slots (which requires jamming a card into a desktop computer) or ExpressCard. As Apple have largely phased out ExpressCard expansion, Mac users have found themselves without a solution.

The UAD-2 Satellite makes use of FireWire 800 instead, thus opening up compatibility with recent Intel-based MacBook Pro laptops as well as the iMac and Mac mini. The 17″ MacBook Pro continues to support ExpressCard, but FireWire 800 offers greater processing power (and is less prone to popping out, as cards in the ExpressCard slot have a nasty tendency to do). The Satellite is available as a “DUO” and “QUAD,” indicating the number of internal processors. (You do the math to work out how much more you get from a Quad than a Duo. I’ll wait…)

As an aside, readers routinely ask if something like the mini or, especially, the iMac could work for audio production. Resounding answer: yes, absolutely. The iMac in particular has a pretty compelling price/performance ratio if you want a compact machine to drop on a desk and don’t have a spare monitor. The mini’s no slouch, either, and seems a logical addition to, say, a project studio.

And that brings us back, full circle, to the reason the Satellite is compelling. It unlocks processing power exclusively dedicated to some tasty and useful processing, all emulating classic gear, while freeing up your computer to do other things. You might, for instance, focus on native processing for a software synth and some creative effects, then bring in the Satellite’s UAD-platform effects to add some historically-accurate compression. And even an entry-level, lowly Mac mini, coupled with the Satellite, is perfectly capable of handling typical compositional and mixing environments without bouncing to audio or freezing tracks.

You certainly need to be interested in the UAD catalog of audio processing tools before this really becomes relevant. For some insight into how Universal Audio does their development and conceives what they do, with the obligatory drool-inducing photos of some retro hardware, see our interview with Dr. David Berners:

Modeling Analog in a Digital Age: A Conversation with Universal Audio’s Chief Scientist; Gallery

But if you are looking for a platform on which you can run these effects – or if you’re ready to upgrade from a previous UAD system (your existing plug-in registrations will port right over) – read on.

What UA Says About the Satellite

Looking at a Satellite, you can’t really see much – it’s a magical, mystery box that processes sounds. It’s what’s under the hood that matters. So I talked with Amanda Whiting of Universal Audio about some of the technical details of the Satellite.

CDM: How has the Satellite evolved from previous UA gear?
UA: The UAD-2 Satellite marks the first Firewire-based external DSP unit offered by UA, for Intel-based Mac laptops and desktops. The Satellite provides up to a four-processor UAD-2 DSP Accelerator for the many people mixing and mastering on the road with their laptops, and for those who don’t have a desktop system that includes PCIe slots. It also allows for easy session compatibility — so you can take your UAD-2 plug-ins with you, and mix on another Intel-based Mac system that may not have a UAD-2 card installed. The FireWire 800 onboard provides twice the power of FireWire 400. This allows you to connect a UAD-2 Satellite and a FireWire audio interface together on the same FireWire bus, and still have enough bandwidth for lots of plug-ins.

Ed.: That’s an interesting detail, in fact – hard disks and most other accessories take advantage of only a fraction of the added bandwidth of FireWire 800, meaning for many applications, the “800” is a bit of a misnomer. Us audio folk are different – we really are talking about maxing out that additional bandwidth for the UAD-2.

Any rough practical info on the DSP horsepower? I’ve done some tests as far as what I can run simultaneously and it’s a great step from ExpressCard, but curious how best to quantify it.

The UAD-2 Satellite QUAD is four times as powerful as the ExpressCard-based UAD-2 SOLO/Laptop card, which has a single chip. For your reference, here’s a couple of links:

Also here is a link to the instance chart. The UAD-2 Satellite has the same theoretical instance counts as the PCIe cards, except at very high instance counts where the FireWire bandwidth is exceeded. Still you can run 152 mono plug-ins or 77 Stereo plug-ins with UAD-2 Satellite, so the FireWire bus is not typically a factor.

What real world uses are you seeing so far from your users? To me, it seems really practical for even live laptop performance, and of course mobile production … not to mention the ability to take your UA faves to a studio.

The UAD-2 Satellite definitely provides a level of portability that we haven’t been able to offer previously. It’s great to take into any studio and pull up your UAD-powered sessions, and it’s absolutely ideal for mobile production. As far as live use, latency is always an issue with running audio over Firewire, but with certain effects — particularly reverbs and delays that lend themselves to live tweaking — the latency may come across as a pre-delay and sound just fine. We’ve heard this more than once from our users. We’ve also seen a lot of adoption with Pro Tools HD Customers – these customers typically have all three PCIe slots taken up on a Mac Pro so the UAD-2 PCIe version may have been a non-starter, but with Satellite, they can keep their cards in the machine and simply connect UAD-2 Satellite via FireWire with great results.

Ed.: One note on latency: with a recent update, you can set minimum latency to an impressive 256 samples. So, at the very least, the software itself is not a limiting factor.

Setup and Use

Setting up the Satellite is fairly easy. I’d actually struggled a bit with an ExpressCard UAD-2 – firmware updates, a card that initially didn’t work, and difficulty, as with all ExpressCards, with the card popping out of the slot. (That’s not UA’s fault: it’s the result of overly springy slots on typical laptops, and the fact that the spring-loaded eject is itself a really terrible idea for something you want to stay connected.) The Satellite was much easier: plug in power, plug in a cable, boot up the machine, and go.

As with all UA products, the Satellite relies on a single, unified installer that gives you all of the plug-ins ready-to-use as VSTs, Audio Units, or, for Pro Tools, RTAS. (On the Mac, I’d recommend defaulting to the VST in hosts that support it.) You get a 14-day trial of everything; for longer use, you’ll need to purchase and authorize the plug-ins. (Various bundles with the hardware get you started with licenses for a range of tools.)

Download and open an authorization file, and you get access to the plug-ins you need.

On the hardware side, you need two cables to connect the Satellite: power and FireWire 800. (Bus power over FireWire 800 is insufficient to drive the Satellite.)

Stop and consider this for a moment: you get exactly the same power out of a Satellite that you would out of the equivalent internal card. That means the argument for a desktop chassis is greatly reduced versus a more convenient iMac, mini, or MacBook Pro.

Because the authorization is associated with the hardware, you can also move the Satellite between multiple locations. These days, a lot of us do production and mastering and such against tight deadlines or in time on the road. Now, you can do that, but still bring your arsenal of effects into a physical studio environment when you’ve got a couple of days booked for recording.

The hardware itself is really lovely; it’s definitely been rugged enough to hold up to all that travel. For anyone considering this for an institution or studio environment, there’s also a Kensington Lock so someone doesn’t walk off with your valuable gear and authorizations. There’s also a pretty, glowing UA logo that shows you power is provided. Unfortunately, the LED that shows you if you’re properly connected to the computer is hidden away on the back; it would have been nice if UA had associated that to the giant herald on the front, instead, so you could actually see it.

Also, I was surprised to learn that hot-swapping is okay. So long as you shut down your UAD software first, UA says you can feel perfectly safe disconnecting and reconnecting the hardware to an active or sleeping computer. That’s a nice boon to us laptop users.

The available complement of ports includes pass-through capability for other FireWire gear via daisy chaining, and a lock if you’re installing this in a studio or classroom.

“Ah,” you say, “this FireWire business is great, but I also use FireWire 800 for my project drive. And an audio interface.” The Satellite gives you a couple of options here. For one, it has a pass-through port, so you can daisy-chain additional hardware without a hub. Again, power becomes an issue. Most hard drives I’ve found have power ports, so you can simply bring along their power wall wart and power them separately. (You’ll want to bring along a little power strip.) UA suggests that for gear that lacks that – like certain Apogee audio interfaces – you can use a FireWire repeater, an affordable accessory which injects power externally.

Detailed installation instructions cover every conceivable configuration combo – including mixing in other FireWire devices without adversely impacting performance.

The more significant issue is bandwidth and speed mixing. Any additional device will take up some bandwidth, because they’re sharing the same bus. In my use, I chose to simply run audio over USB2 and connected, with the addition of my wall wart, a portable Glyph project drive to the FireWire 800 port on the UAD-2. If you’re doing something fancier than that, you can allocate bandwidth in the UAD software.

The trick is if you add a FireWire 400 device to the mix. If chained in the wrong order, any single FW400 gadget will cause the FW800 gear to slow to 400 speeds. The solution: just connect that 400 device (like, say, an old MOTU audio interface) last in your chain.

This, to me, brings up an unexpected reason the new Thunderbolt port on new-model Macs becomes useful. The UAD-2 Satellite, for its part, gets plenty of bandwidth from FireWire 800. Universal Audio has expressed an interest in supporting Thunderbolt in the future, but for now, FW800 works just fine. If you invest in a Satellite now, but you’ve got a Mac with Thunderbolt, you could in future connect a different accessory to that Thunderbolt port rather than the FW800 port, thus leaving the Satellite its own bus. (Got that?)

In the meantime, I’m absolutely, positively happy with my 2010-model MacBook Pro, which I picked up steeply discounted when the new Thunderbolt models came out. I maxed out the RAM and saved hundred of bucks, and the combination of 2x USB2 and FW800 more than suits my needs. No complaints here.

As Amanda indicates, the Satellite gives you a significant amount of processing power. For my use, this was perfect for experimenting with creative effects and adding UA’s excellent compression and channel processing tools. I’ve got some mixing and mastering projects coming up, and can’t wait to bring the UA stuff into the workflow.


This sticker really represents the only bad news (assuming you can get over the sticker shock of the gear itself – UA ain’t free plug-ins you found on KVR, either).

Whether you want access to the UAD platform is really dependent on your needs and tastes. Certainly, there’s a wide variety of native processing tools that don’t rely on external DSP hardware. The main appeal, as I’ve said in the past, is the unique, historically-informed modeling approach that Universal Audio take to their work. Their catalog is certainly extensive, and I’m especially happy with the quality of the recent additions, like the Studer multitrack tape emulation and some superb reverbs, compressions, and the like. (One new entry: the Lexicon 224.)

The question is really whether the FireWire 800 bus is big news for UA, and there, it’s tough to overstate how much this changes working with UA’s stuff on a variety of Macs and on the road. The SOLO I’d tested previously is nice enough, but the DUO and QUAD really give you the amount of processing power you’d want to do some real work, to experiment live across a number of tracks without running out of horsepower – and that’s, after all, the point of using a DSP platform.

A new Mac and a Satellite are really all you need to build an impressive digital studio. They now give you the freedom to make that studio exist anywhere, and with almost any set of tools. We’ve seen that kind of liberation with native processing, but to get that native power and DSP power at once is really a dream. For existing users, moving over is a no-brainer, since sharing authorizations is a cinch. For newcomers who’ve been waiting for the optimal hardware choice to unlock the UA catalog, this is it. (It’s worth looking into bundles to try to get your collection of effects rolling.)

Even with Thunderbolt on the horizon, external DSP on a MacBook Pro or mini is now finally accessible. UA’s stuff isn’t cheap, but if the value proposition makes sense to you, and you’re a Mac owner, you now have the combination you’ve been waiting for. The only bad news, really, is for PC users left in the cold – and there, we may just have to wait and see what direction laptop buses take in the wider market.

Universal Audio UAD-2 Satellite DUO and…
Satellite QUAD

Got questions for me, or for UA? Feedback on this gear or this review? Fire away in comments, as always, folks.

  • I got one this year and i can safely say that it's done wonders for my production. I have it hooked up in daisychain with 2 additional FW800 HD's to my MacBook Pro and it works flawlessly.

  • Dedicated DSP for audio: the easiest devices to predict total obsolesence for over the last 12 years that I've followed them.

    Company after company brings them out, a relatively small number of users love something about them, and within 12-18 months, the same amount of computing power is available "natively" and the DSP device that was for sale is suddenly very uncompetitive compared to native plugins.

    From ProTools own hardware to the Creamware Scope to the ill-fated Chameleon, its been the same pattern over and over. If you can really use this particular UAD box right now to solve a problem you face, then I'm sure you'll enjoy the quality they bring to it. Otherwise, you can be sure that within 2 years, there'll be a better way to do the same thing that any DSP does today.

    By itself, that's not a bad thing, but it would be good for more (potential) users to realize the downward spiral they are getting on before they do. DSP is always competitive in terms of $/computation in the present, but the price point lives on a curve that so far general purpose CPUs have beaten out for decades. When you use DSP like Digi did to provide super-low latency (e.g. 1-3 samples), it has a separate justification. But 256 samples? You could get better than that via an ethernet cable hooked into a 2nd dedicated laptop.

    I don't mean to knock the quality of this particular product, but I'm tired about the breathless claims that mislead people into thinking there's something better about DSP devices than there really is.

  • You raise some good points Paul.  

  • I considered some of the points they Paul made before purchasing a UA Satellite Duo a few weeks back. However, when purchasing the Flexi bundle that gives you $500 to spend on UA plug-ins, they also (temporarily) include full versions of the Manley Massive Passive, EMT 250, LA-2A, and 1176 plug-ins as well. That all adds up to the price of the hardware. The external DSP processing is a bonus and, essentially, free. I am extremely impressed and satisfied with my purchase. UA really knows how to write a manual too.

  • Peter Kirn

    Paul: I can't agree with you on this one, on a number of points.

    First off, UA has been around for most of that 12-year span. Like I said, you'd want to closely evaluate whether you wanted these particular processors before you even pondered a UAD-2, which is why I believe I steer clear of any breathlessness on the DSP portion. But UA has endured when the likes of Creamware have not, which suggests to me there's more here than whether you're DSP or native — like how you're running the actual business.

    Second, the obsolescence of this hardware has been a scaling up in DSP capabilities that has paralleled CPU improvements. DSP economics haven't stood still, either; I'm actually impressed that we haven't seen more DSP processing in music products, except that the makers are pretty invested in ASICs.

    Along those same lines, yes, DSP gets cheaper and more powerful, buses get faster, and *that* can cause some obsolescence — but by the same measure, so can improved CPU performance.

    Finally, I don't know that we are seeing the same performance gains every 12-18 months in native processing, partly because of reduced yields in processor economics (arguably, at least), and partly because of a slowing demand for processing power in the effects themselves.

    On Twitter, someone assumed that the availability of Thunderbolt would mean the FW800 here is obsolete, and I can't agree with that. Aside from the fact that Thunderbolt itself bundles together pins / breakouts for other connectivity, it seems that unless Apple drops FW800 ports, this remains just as useful.

    I don't question that it's a niche product, but as a platform for running the niche product, I think UA have improved the experience and usability greatly. It may not change anyone's minds about investing in DSP, but for anyone who does want to do it, it makes things easier.

    You could certainly make an argument against this, and you should weigh your options closely. But you could sure make an argument against some higher-end native effects, too.

  • Peter Kirn

    … all that being said, I'm still sad you can't run a UAD-2 with Ardour on Linux. 😉

  • @Paul, well I think you kind of touched on it. It's not about technology, it's about quality.

    I've got an old Line 6 "tone port" I bought ages ago that operates on the same principle of dedicated DSP hardware. I still use it from time to time because it has a couple really nice effects that just sound damn good, and nothing else I have sounds like that. People look at me funny and I'm like DAMN STRAIGHT, that's my cheap-ass USB audio interface from the wayback machine … I need it for something.

    As a musician, I don't give two shits about how they do it, really. I just care if it sounds really good. From what I've read UAD's models SOUND REALLY GOOD … if I need hard drive sized dongle at the end of a firewire cable to make that happen … well that might kinda suck, but if it sounds really good, I don't actually care that much.

  • Mac only is a huge downer for me. I've been rocking 2 UAD-1s for years and absolutely love those plugins. I rarely mix full bands so I've never used more that 80% of the cards. The newer plugs are tempting, but unfortunately I haven't upgraded to UAD-2 yet because my CPU purchases over the past 3 years have only been windows laptops (for DJing and live performance use). Aside from better DSP loading and the ability to use some of the newer plugs (aka spend more $$$) the Solo/laptop doesn't really offer enough power to justify an upgrade for me. I currently have 2 multicore based laptops, so buying a desktop just to upgrade my UADs would be expensive and way too gearslutty. UA really needs to clear the Satellites for Win 7, possibly come out with a Duo Expresscard, or else Win laptop guys are kinda screwed. IMHO

  • peter – UA's durability is a welcome break from the industry norm, but it doesn't extend to their actual hardware products.

    you can still run a significant chunk of current "native" software on an old machine, and likewise you can still run a significant chunk of old "native" software on a current machine.

    this doesn't work for add-on DSP processors, which become obsolete as soon as bus architectures or other low level details change.

    so yes, its true that DSP chips today are much faster than their counterparts from ten years ago, but it remains true that whatever you can do today on a DSP system, you'll be able to do natively next year. In fact, this is only getting more and more true and more and more developers figure out how to use the multi-processor systems that are now becoming ubiquitous. when i started work on ardour in 1999, a dual core PII-400 was hopelessly cutting edge in almost every way. today, just about every new machine sold is at least dual core (even laptops) and the understanding of how to distribute processing across the cores is spreading and improving.

    there are also huge benefits to be mined from assembler level programming of general purpose CPUs, benefits that most developers don't go after because it is outside their comfort zone (including my own). at least one company i know of got at least a 6 fold increase in the amount of "DSP" it could get from an AMD Opteron by hand-tweaking the assembler in question. this "investment" in performance tends to have more durability than learning a new DSP core, because the assembler stuff is general forward-portable to new processors for quite a long time.

    the secret to the appeal of DSP based systems is that the devices act as an innocuous dongle for the software. you can't run (most?) UAD software without UAD hardware, which for UAD is precisely the way they want it. you can make a good argument that this is a good arrangement for users too, and i might not disagree with you, but it does wash over the important alternative of not selling devices to users that come with more or less guaranteed obsolesence within a relatively short period of time.

  • Tim

    I bought one of these around 6 months ago.

    I LOVE the sound of the plugins, but I've had a really bad time with stability.
    There are some problems with freezing tracks in Ableton Live associated with this device (that I've been over with their tech-support and they've acknowledged. Whether it's a UAD software update in the pipes or an Ableton bug is not clear to me).

    It had not played nice with my M-Audio Projectmix desk which I had daisy chained to it. All sorts of inexplicable bugs & kernel panics. The device driver support from M-Audio is pretty shocking though, so I'm not really surprised that there were compatibility problems.

    I've actually sold my laptop and gone to a secondhand Mac Pro with a second firewire card in order to be able to run the 2 devices on their own busses … which is sort of negating the whole idea of it being a laptop solution, but luckily I didn't really need the portability factor any more.

    Now I think things are finally settling down and it's starting to become a stable system, but I still occasionally get random disconnection errors from the UAD box. Maybe the unit I got is faulty? I do think the UAD Satellite device drivers have a way to go until you could consider them stable. I'm really glad this is just a hobby for me and my income doesn't rely on this device, it would drive me insane.

  • What about firewire? Weren't there rumors that with the more recent Mac laptop lineups, we heard the first death knell for firewire?

    Plus, while a Mac laptop is, bar none, the most solid professional tool for performers who need computers, the snafu a couple months ago with Final Cut Pro X (basically, film people hate it, and for good reasons, or at least they did) made me think much more carefully about how open or closed the tools I'm using are. Long-term, what will serve me better?

  • Cmackg

    I'm with @Paul on this. As a super-happy now really bummed out owner of a Powercore card, I won't do DSP ever again. Tc Electronic dropped tue program this year, and there's nowhere to go. It's a dead-end, and in the power core case, some really nice plugins are dead now. As hardware interfaces, cables and ports diverge over time, I'm faced with trying to hack music on a card that works only on my 6 year old mac, or I learn to do without the POCO stuff I spent a lot of money on. Cards were cheap, it was the locked- in plugins that added up in cost.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Paul: Okay, they're I'll concede the point. Buses (ExpressCard, PCI Express slots, FW800, etc.) have changed more rapidly than processor architectures (x86, and … x86.)

    And yes, of course, you can do things on native architectures that you can do on DSP architectures. That comes back to the original value proposition evaluation. Even if it is a dongle, you'd want to evaluate whether the UA effects are worth the hardware investment, versus (assuming you're using them legally) the software investment for plug-ins. Because of paid upgrades for things like 64-bit compatibility, a lot of plug-in authors are also falling into the planned (or unplanned, depending on how you view it) obsolescence path.

    Assuming infinite, linear scaling for CPU power of course doesn't hold water, either. So, it seems that at some point in the future we may start to see embedded systems with general-purpose computing architectures that are nonetheless devoted to audio. (ARM, anyone?)

  • Peter Kirn

    …in the meantime, either the UA value proposition makes sense now or it doesn't. Comparing it to TC or Creamware when UA has some proven longevity to me isn't fair. But comparing to the native value proposition, yes, that's fair, and that's what you should naturally do when deciding whether or not to buy this.

  • Martin

    Its all software, and the companies trying to make money at selling it are having a harder time these days, for reasons we all know about. So they think, lets integrate our software with hardware and sell them that. Why not indeed, especially if there is a real advantage for the user in running some of the software on DSP, which there might well be with some, though not all of these things.

    The problem is that, for whatever reasons – driver problems, compatibility, changing strategy, pure greed and evilness – the end user often is unhappy with their experience. I personally have been completely turned off this approach by extremely negative experiences with SSL duende ( which went from pure on board dsp that didn't work properly to 'hybrid' – " you paid for on board dsp but its now a dongle for native" to " good news, now you can upgrade yoir duende tomfull native and throw away your card !") and teh whole NI Kore debacle (" it's the future of everything" to "its dead" in a nanosecond and a half) Friends and colleagues have been burnt bigtime by the TC fiasco, a studio I know near ruined by believing the Creamware hype and investing the farm on that. I have to say UA are probably the least guilty of all the dsp dongle
     hawkers, but they have their share of problems too, … but even if they didn't, frankly at this point I'm completely finished with this stuff unless someone comes out with a dsp dongle that does something fantastic that I can't do in either native software or autonomous hardware. The only thing that I can think of right now in that category is Kyma.
    Of course, if you are going to record an album on a laptop hafway up a mountain somewhere and you can't live without the
    sound of a UA Manley emulation, then a box like this will be on your shopping list, and fair enough, as for me, from now on I'm sticking with native plug ins, quality outboard, eurorack modular … and desperately trying
    not to lust after that Kyma 😉

  • Martin – just got a used Capy320 last month courtesy of eBay. (There's one listed now w/FW for $999.) Symbolic sells the old expansion DSP cards at less than half original price. You can assemble a pretty powerful system on the cheap….Be prepared to invest the time though. Deep deep deep. I also have one of the original PCI-e cards. Need to upgrade, would prefer the satellite but can't figure out if it works with my older MacPro (2,1 I think). UA website seems to imply it might but does not state it explicitly. If anon knows an answer, would appreciate a tip!

  • poopoo

    I liked those Korg oasys cpi cards but they never updated the drivers beyond Win98.
    You would think a top modern unit would use a hulking great FPGA instead of DSP's. Seems to be the trend for embedded signal processing.

  • I love UAD effects.  The plugins are amazing and i really felt it made a difference when working on my own stuff (especially their mastering tools). 

     the best tools for the job are the tools that are available now and the satellite is a damn fine tool and it's available right now.

  • Gobblebx

    Whats with the shot at KVR?

  • Gobblebx


    you know what time it is why you selling dongles?

  • Peter Kirn

    It's not a shot at KVR. There's some crazy, free stuff you can grab … an insane amount of plug-ins. It's a reference to the difference in cost of free plugs and spending a grand or so on this hardware and a bundle. (Hence the phrase "sticker shock.") And you get a completely different experience. Each has its place. Sometimes you want some insane, unpredictable plug, sometimes you want a polished model of historic gear, sometimes something in between.

  • s ford

    on the sound on sound forum now and again there's a huge pointless UAD DSP debate, which usually focuses on the following points

    1. it's too expensive
    2. my system isn't supported
    3. latency, stability issues
    4. some plugins take up all DSP power
    5. are the plugins really that good?  
    6. the plugins are out of the world makes everything else seem like crap. 
    7. the plugins are great as there's no fear of piracy.

    usually the debates don't really end that well as UAD seem to have their extreme fans and critics voicing the oppositions….

    i myself have never owned one or used one but can't see how controversial (if that is the right term) on tech/production forums.  in this day and age with so many great options for the hobby or professional producer that it could be said there is something for everyone, with UAD providing a product for the higher end of the market.  for what it's worth i hear some of their plugins are out of the world eg Manley, Fatso, Lexicon….  

  • ALTZ

    It reminds me the Focusrite Liquid Mix which is discontinued. Unlike the UA, Liquid Mix contains all the plugins and emulations rather than asking you to buy an add-on. They even provide new emulations for download. However, I do not know why Focusrite stop exploring that DSP thing. Maybe DSP is not 'future-proof-ing' ?

  • Martin

    Are you sure Liquid Mix is discontinued ? It seems to still be a curremt product on  the Focusrite site. I know that there were ( are ?) some problems with Snow Leopard, … and as for Lion … ??? … but AFAIK it is still available, and hence, at least theoretically, still supported, no ?

  • baubie

    @s ford or any UAD users,
    I've had the intention to buy a UAD for some time. I just have a question regarding the people who seem to have a latency problem. Is it usually associated with people trying to process live sound with it? Cause i'm just in it for the mixing and mastering process, if that'll make me invincible from this problem. I mean, if I already figured out how to parallel process tracks in my mix thru lower-end gear such as a monotron and TubePre from my ultralite, so that the returning signal is off by 0:00:003 on the waveform display (don't know how many sample that is), then i should be fine, right? It sounds good, don't seem to be phase problems. But then again i'm talking audio cables, where the satellite is firewire. I'm just a bit worried is all.

  • @baubie

    I haven't had any issues with mixing/playback latency. From what I have heard, that is only a concern for live tracking. I am using a UAD-2 Satellite Duo, Logic and daisy chaining an Allen & Heath Zed R-16 mixing board interface. Hope that helps.

  • baubie


  • last decade

    UA needs to have thunderbolt + Lion support in Q4 2011 

    lion + logic 9.xx and all my waves/soundtoys plugs work fine 

    I'm so ready to pull the trigger on one of these and totally respect their research on the old hardware, and of course the glowing reviews both users above and elsewhere have expressed. 

    however, their development being 6months behind the Lion introduction, and recent release just looks sloppy

    step it up UA, I want to give you my money, but you need to stay on top of moor's law with you dev cycle

  • hardware?

    if nothing else "REAL" hardware retains its resale value over the next 10 years

    my buddies are building tube pre's and summing systems, there are racks of reel at the local record store

  • Peter Kirn

    I continue to recommend against upgrading to Lion, until support improves (UA isn't alone). And since FW800 is providing all the bandwidth needed for the current UAD DSP, I don't see *any* problem with this being a FW800 device — you can use Thunderbolt with another gadget (video, audio, hard disk) later and then free up the entire FireWire bus, assuming Thunderbolt catches on. For now, most Thunderbolt hardware remains in the future.

  • Peter: You wrote:

    "Second, the obsolescence of this hardware has been a scaling up in DSP capabilities that has paralleled CPU improvements."

    From what I can tell, this just isn't true. The latest generation of SHARCs is somewhat faster than the SHARCs of 2004, but I doubt that the speed increase is 2x. Meanwhile, code that used to require a dedicated SHARC to run can now run on a fraction one of the cores of a low-cost ARM with floating point SIMD. The ARM code can be written in C/C++, instead of SHARC assembly (the VisualDSP++ compiler just doesn't do that good of a job with C unless you use intrinsics that map to SHARC ASM instructions).

    If you want to count the ARM as a DSP chip, then sure, DSP progress has kept track with CPU progress. The traditional DSPs from Analog Devices, Freescale and others have fallen WAY behind.

    I've been out of the embedded space for a few years (disclaimer: I worked at Analog Devices from 2001 to 2006, and provided some support to UA when they were first getting running on the SHARC, in terms of example projects and dev kits), so I haven't followed all of the trends. But what does seem obvious to me is that the huge speed increases of the past decade have been limited to companies that are either large enough to spend billions of dollars on state-of-the-art silicon foundries, or develop cores that can be made by outside foundries with high speed processes. Intel is in the first camp, ARM is in the second. Analog Devices simply isn't a big enough company to pump a few billion dollars into a new foundry with high speed processes.

  • LdC

    "It unlocks processing power exclusively dedicated to some tasty and useful processing, all emulating classic gear"

    Actually, it's not all emulated stuff, eg, there's the Precision series and Cambridge EQ. The emphasis nowadays does seem to be purely on emulations, though, and it's been that way for a while.

  • Arty

    Peter –
    I don't understand why are you being so pro on the DSP site. If you read the UAD website it all seems like a big justification for DSP.

    Neither I understand why you bought happily an old Mac Book Pro. The new chip architecture is so much better than the previous chips and it's quad core.

    UA plug ins are great but I want to use them on my 12 core Mac Pro natively without having to buy a DSP card that I don't really use. There are no gains compared to current quad core intel configurations. And for a dongle it is really to expensive. UAD should focus on selling the plug ins. Well programmed and optimized for multi core machines. Native Instrument is still trying to get this right.

    I reckon UA would sell so much more than it is now. So many people want some of the plug ins but aren't willing to buy an old fashioned piece of hardware.

  • Derek D

    I've been told that connecting any Firewire 400 device in the chain slows everything down to 400 speeds, even if it's after an 800 device. Can anyone confirm this?

  • Peter Kirn

    @Derek D: See the article above for an explanation. Yes, it does – it depends on order.

    @Arty: If by the fact that I'm not being actively anti-DSP, then yes, I'm not being actively anti-DSP. Neither am I being pro-DSP. It's a platform on which you can run these effects, and whether or not you wish to do that is dependent on whether you wish to run these particular effects and whether the value proposition makes sense to you. I was evaluating the success of this particular hardware relative to previous UA solutions.

    I'd encourage you to take a second look at the benchmarks for current-generation MBPs and the 2010 models. For one thing, the GPU actually suffered a very small step backward (and I just happen to prefer the NVIDIA card to the AMD card in terms of programmability). For another, if you can save $400-500 on a machine and invest it in things like storage and memory, you may not miss a marginal chipset performance improvement.

    I hope this answers your question. 😉

    @Sean: I appreciate your perspective here, and of course it's a great deal better-informed than my own. I certainly didn't mean looking back to 2004 or 2001. My understanding is that DSP chips have recently improved in cost and flexibility, but yes, I probably shouldn't go as far as saying that the *performance* yield is equivalent to CPUs. That said, I don't believe we're seeing Moore's Law-style CPU value/performance gains in very recent history (realizing that, of course, that wasn't what Moore ever had intended to talk about directly in the first place).

    I mean only to suggest that DSP offerings haven't stood still, either.

  • cpr

    @cmackg, TC Electronics actually offered a 'cross-grade' to Universal Audio,&nbsp ;http://www.tcelectronic.com/default.asp?Id=17032

  • I was the proclaimer of obsolescence on twitter and wanted to clarify my point in a few more than 140 chars.

    What I was getting at is a general trend of UAD's mismatch with digital technology.  It seems* like they've always been 1 step behind.  FW800 has been standard on MBPs since 2006, and UAD is just /now/ getting this memo?

    The Satellites are playing the game of portability, and the Airs are the most portable laptops in existence.  Also, that they're NOT MBPs indicates that they would benefit most from the external DSP.  That is, if (as Paul alluded to) these devices really are more than just dongle protection for UAD's plugins.

    It's unfortunate that UAD doesn't sell plugins that run without the DSP, since they sound so damn good.  It's even more unfortunate that they're always playing catch-up with Apple, especially if they're pushing an Apple-only product.

    That said, it's not like Apogee is doing much better, since we still haven't seen anything ThunderBolt from them.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Kevin: I think you've answered your own question.

    The life cycle of these technologies is such that the accessory hardware is often one step behind availability of the bus on a computer. 

    It's not as though it's just UA. It's not as though it's just *audio hardware*. You'll find this with almost everything running on the bus.

    So, just because it's on a shiny Apple *doesn't mean it's ready*.

    Anyway, if the FW800 bus works well enough to give you the DSP computational power of four processors on the internal PCI Express card, it's pretty clear you don't need Thunderbolt. Furthermore, as I've said, what, now multiple times in comments and once in the article, this means you can dedicate your FireWire bus to the UAD and use Thunderbolt for other things, like video and storage. 

    And yes, everyone's playing catch-up with Apple because Apple chooses to put the bus out there before there's any hardware for it. But you can't simultaneously praise Apple for doing that and expect hardware vendors to be in exactly the same place, unless you expect the third parties to develop time travel.

  • Ghuoru

    I'm wondering how well a MacBookPro firewire bus will handle all these things concurrently:

    FW800 card recording 8 mono tracks
    FW800 Hard disk playing 18 mono tracks
    FW800 UAD2 Satellite maxed out fully to 'Quad' capability

    I can certainly already do the first two things in the list, I'm wondering if adding the UAD2 in will make things choke?

  • firewire?    I'd be more interested in thunderbolt, but that's been taking some time for everyone:   Lacie, etc…


  • Wantless

    Sonnet's Echo Express PCIe 2.0 Expansion Chassis with Thunderbolt Ports…  Coming soon.  Possible to oll your own Thunderbolt UAD2???  

    I'll be interested to see if these products will work together.

    Check it (near the bottom of the page): &nbsp ;http://www.sonnettech.com/product/thunderbolt/index.html


    Been working with UA since the UAD-1 card in my MAC G5, Purchased a MPB and got the Sattelite Duo. Firewire interface 400 into my Glyph HD 400, Glyph HD 800 out to UAD 800, UAD 800 into MPB 800. My Glyph has multiple outs on it 400,800 and SATA. This things works flawlessly and my mixes keep getting better. It your are thinking about getting this unit, Stop now, GO GET IT!!!

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  • Alb

    Does this support Third party plugins like Waves for example?

  • Alb

    Does this support Third party plugins like Waves for example?

  • relurelu

    Not a complete studio because you need also an audio interface…and would be nice to support also the other plugins not just native plugins. As i know only native plugins goes on dsp processing… ?!

  • relurelu

    Not a complete studio because you need also an audio interface…and would be nice to support also the other plugins not just native plugins. As i know only native plugins goes on dsp processing… ?!

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