Universal Audio has a big set of updates to their DSP software out today. It seems worth sharing in part because I find the (faked) look of that Ampex reel-to-reel does give me a warm and fuzzy feeling, even if it mainly makes me want to get in a studio and hear the whir of the actual gear.

Here’s what’s in the update:

For Pro Tools users, there’s vastly-expanded support, including native RTAS plug-ins (instead of the VST-to-RTAS adapter), control surface support, proper automatable parameters, and correct naming and sorting, plus a quicker installation and workflow. I’m embarrassed to say, not having tried UA’s stuff in Pro Tools, I was unaware they’re missing – that sounds like the set of functionality that would make mixing UA and Pro Tools genuinely workable.

Full Mac OS X Lion compatibility is a big deal. We’ve seen a lot of Lion support arriving lately, and I saw readers specifically complain about the lack of support in the update. Seeing a hardware DSP platform with support seems to me a good sign, because it means both plug-in and I/O compatibility have to be in place. It’s getting to be about time to do a new compatibility update, and it may be an OS update that’s possible to recommend shortly (though Snow Leopard is working just fine for now).

Then, there are the plug-ins:

Brainworx bx_digital V2 EQ: This popular mastering EQ now comes to the UA platform, with M/S mastering, M/S recording, and L/R stereo modes. It’s kind of an EQ-plus, with M/S de-esser built in and mastering-specific EQ options, plus a mono plug for mixing.

SPL Vitalizer MK2-T is back in the emulation territory, modeled on the tube-based gear. Separate bass and mid-high modes give you frequency-specific loudness controls.

Ampex ATR-102 models the legendary two-channel tape, and has Ampex’s seal of approval. That means UA now models the two studio workhorses, the Studer A800 (see our previous coverage and shameless gear pr0n gallery) and the Ampex. ATR users and engineering titans Chuck Ainlay, Richard Dodd, Buddy Miller, and Mike Poole contributed presets, in a nice touch. US$349 buys you the plug … and yeah, that’s likely to make a few studios nervous on their rental fees. Then again, look at the names on the presets, and remember just how valuable engineers are, whether they’re behind an analog deck or a computer with a UA plug. (Take it from me – someone who’s not really an engineer.)

The SPL and Brainworx plugs were each developed outside UA. My guess is that Pro Tools support is a factor in seeing more third-party development. And while readers correctly noted the demise of other DSP platforms, UA’s is looking very healthy from a business perspective.

The only bad news: I’m confirming this, but there appears not to be support for 64-bit operation on Windows, which remains a significant omission in UA’s software.

Now, we need some double-blind A/B tests with both the Studer and Ampex (and maybe the real gear). Wonder if someone could help us set that up.

I really enjoyed some of the skepticism in comments on the last article. I think the questions “do I really need this?” and “will this give me the most value over time?” and “what alternatives should I consider?” are absolutely the questions you should ask about any music tech products. This is a news item, so I’m not anywhere near knowledgeable enough to comment in this case. I think the best thing to do is, beyond just reviews, continue to talk to producers and engineers about how they use software, and to developers about how it’s made. If you have specific questions, let us know.

And let’s have another look at the original. Simon Campbell on Flickr has this shot of one with the spools spinning:

We mastered onto this rascal at 30 ips using Dolby SR. Nice.

Recording the album ThirtySix at Gracieland Studios [UK], Rochdale

Photo is (CC-BY-ND) Simon Campbell, whose music you can go hear (linked via his name).

Universal Audio Downloads for the latest updates | Universal Audio Site

  • Such a transparent piece of Analog gear to emulate.  UAD has a solid conceptual approach to reverse engineering various types of artifacts into plug ins, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for their approach to DSP.  

    On the other hand, sometimes I think a plug-in is only as good as the artwork UI.  A good GUI photo goes a long way, and one has to wonder how close can anyone can really get to emulating the real thing, especially when it comes to those gorgeously lush sounding analog tape machines.  It's a worthwhile engineering pursuit of course, why not, if people will purchase these type plug-ins, but if analog tape is what you want to hear, then I'd say go record on some analog tape.  If I were a pro studio, with lots of $$$, perhaps I might 'dial me in' some tape artifact.    

  • Johnny Horizon

    How can something be both "transparent" and "gorgeously lush"? Unless everything that makes sound is gorgeously lush.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Johnny: Ha! Lushly transparent.

    Brian's right, though. Developers will tell you that the can change a UI and make people think they're getting a different sound, even anecdotally. It's why ultimately you'd need a double-blind test. The moment you're looking at a UI, it impacts how you feel. Now, that *can* be a good thing, even musically, too. It's just important to be aware of it.

  • The analog tape machine sounds "gorgeously lush", whereas a DSP emulation thereof attempts to sound "gorgeously lush".  That is the goal of the design.  However, because it's such a "transparent" or shall I say "clear" signal it might be difficult to detect the actual enhancement of the effect.  I used the term transparent as in reference to light, as in to pass with clarity.  Since tape emulation doesn't color the sound in the more obvious ways, such as phase shifting or delay generation etc., ones imagination might impair the judgement of ones hearing.  But again, it's a worthy engineering pursuit by all means, and my hats off to UAI for their efforts.  

  • 5meohd

    The director of my Audio Engineering program is totally not into this… I wonder why…

  • I am expecting the sonic imprint of the ATR102 to be subtle.  I always regarded the original machine as a pretty fully high-fidelity thing, not so much an agent for sonic transfiguration.

    I’m curious.  I think the people at UA are fantastic at what they do.

    – c

  • @5meohd: I find it strange that the director of an audio engineering program would have a problem with plug-ins that emulate vintage gear. For many people, that’s the closest that they’ll get to the real thing. I’ve downloaded the v6 update and have been reading the ATR section of the manual. The amount of detail put in with the virtual tape machine alignment controls and the use of different tape formulas is a wonderful learning experience for anyone without access to an actual tape machine.

  • Ryan

    I think the following info would be appreciated…

    ATR102 Frequency Response (30ips)

    More: http://www.endino.com/graphs/

  • heinrichz

    Having worked with the UAD laptop card  for a while i found the latency introduced to my DAW rather cumbersome and using the low latency mode was putting a big load back on the cpu, so no savings there. I'm dumping that card ..anybody interested.. and wait until they come out with a Thunderbolt interface.. a FW800 box is'nt going to cut it either.