Universal Audio’s UAD-1, a sound processing platform built on DSP hardware add-ons for your computer, has gotten a much-anticipated sequel this week. The UAD-1 was always a favorite choice for sound production, delivering tasty analog-emulating sound tools on a PCI card platform. The UAD-2, on PCI-express cards, offer up to “ten times” the processing power of the original — supposedly even the single-processor model delivers a greater-than-twofold performance gain. The DSP hardware is just the platform, though, and Universal’s main push here is its plug-in developers. Sure, these days your CPU is a plenty-powerful sonic number cruncher, so I think it’d be a stretch to say anyone needs DSP cards. But what the platform can mean is plug-in goodies not available anywhere else, with a no-nonsense approach to sound that may not be as practical in native plug-ins. (And with support from software like Ableton Live, Apple Logic, and Cakewalk SONAR, you can then drop these into your host of choice.)

The UAD-2 will mark the return of many existing plug-ins, like this Fairchild emulation. But you’ll be able to run more of them. And there’s new goodness on the way just for the UAD-2.

Here’s a look from around the Web at what people are saying about the UAD-2.

Oliver Chesler at Wire to the Ear notes what could be a real “killer app” / highlight of the UAD-2: a Moog multimode filter.

Here’s a pretty new plug-in for the new Universal Audio UAD-2! It seems to have all the right stuff too: self-oscillation, drive control, stereo tonal shifting, good modulation options and yay a wet/dry knob.

The Moog Multimode Filter for UAD-2 [wire to the ear]

Not to argue with the “classic design” or the genius of Bob Moog, but I do have to observe that the Fabfilter Product Line Oliver recommends, native plug-ins rather than Universal Audio, have more innovative interfaces that were actually designed for software. Don’t get me wrong — I might still have a great time with the Moog emulation — but this illustrates that CPU-based plug-ins remain competitive, and I’m not sure that emulating analog interfaces always makes sense on a computer. Then again, if you don’t have a rack mount Voyager lying around, I can’t argue with the appeal of a UAD-2 plug-in.

For more on why the sound aspect is so appealing, check out UA’s “realism” explanation (propaganda, yes, but worth a look).

TRASH_AUDIO have been eagerly watching this one for some time:

UA is promoting the fact that up to Four of the UAD-2 cards can run in one system, but just ONE Quad card will allow you to have 128 Neve 88RS channel strips open, which essentially gives you a 128 channel Neve console right in your DAW. I am upgrading my UAD-1 the second I find a place to buy the UAD-2.

Universal Audio: UAD-2, Out Now! [TRASH_AUDIO]

Key of Grey notes that UA’s digital hardware (UAD-1/UAD-2) reflects some really fine-quality analog gear:

Universal Audio makes some of the best hardware out there. I’m especially a fan of their 610 and 6176. The warmth of the analog sound makes a big difference when most of your stuff has that digital edge.

… The UAD-2 continues this tradition. Depending on how many tracks you want it to handle, you can pay for increasingly powerful add-on cards, even up to supporting 128 tracks of Neve console. Unfortunately, I don’t have a desktop to put these in but they present fantastic value for those who can’t afford tonnes of analog gear.

Univeral Audio UAD-2 : A much needed upgrade to the UAD-1 [Key of Grey]

But Can You Lift It?

Incidentally, those wondering about portability, a couple of options:

1. Get an SFF PC. I’m kind of curious to try putting a UAD into one of the two PCI slots available on my Shuttle, thus creating a “luggable” system with these sounds.

2. Get an Xpander/Xtenda. UA does make a product specifically for ExpressCard-equipped laptops like the MacBook Pro, so mobile is definitely an option (as it is with the rival TC|Electronics PowerCore). At the moment, I can only find the desktop/laptop bridge Xtenda product on the UA site. Updated: as confirmed in comments, it seems a laptop-compatible UAD-2 project is in the works as a successor to the UAD-1 Xpander product; we’ll keep you posted.

UAD-2 and Compatibility

I’m curious to find more about whether the UAD-2 introduces any new compatibility issues with either plug-ins or hosts. A number of host developers only recently got all the issues with the UAD-1 ironed out. My uneducated guess would be that these should “just work” with the UAD-2, but I honestly don’t know, so it’s on the top of my list to go research. Host developers, feel free to chime in, off the record if you must.

So, readers, who’s getting a UAD-2? Budgets are tight for a lot of us at the moment, but then, the UAD compares favorably with a lot of the pricier Pro Tools plug-ins, for instance. US$500 gets you a ticket to ride, with generous plug-in vouchers as you upgrade so you can build your own bundle. (If you’re feeling poor, stay tuned for some Recession Special coverage coming your way soon … but UAD lovers, I’m sure, will sell their car before they miss a chance for a new UAD.)

Universal Audio Site with all the specs and whatnot