I’ve been waiting for the near-ubiquitous ExpressCard slot on laptops to see some audio goodness, so one of the more welcome announcements of NAMM is that there’s now finally an ExpressCard-enabled version of the Universal Audio platform. The UAD is a DSP platform for computers, with an emphasis on high-quality, boutique mastering and effects plug-ins, including some recent, familiar emulations of classic Roland and Moog gear. UA’s stuff really does sound great, and host support has been improving (look for the key words “latency compensation” in your host of choice). So it’s about time that laptop users get in on some of the fun the desktop users have had.

The surprise is, the UAD-2 SOLO doesn’t cost that much – $500 includes the card plus the “1176SE Compressor/Limiter, Pultec EQP-1A Equalizer, RealVerb Pro Room Modeler, and CS-1 Channel Strip.” That’s a premium over native plug-ins, but then you have access to other UA plugs later on. In other news, Antares and Manley Labs signed onto UA’s platform, so more stuff is coming.

And by the way, while the forums rip into the choice of DAW, this stuff will work everywhere – even, via RTAS, Pro Tools.

Universal’s stuff isn’t for everyone, but I’m pleased that laptop users are getting something more out of a slot on their machine. (You’ll find ExpressCard on most PCs and the MacBook Pro, as well.) I hope this is the first of more hardware to come.


Mastering – spoiled for choice? This means in mastering choices, you’ve got the UAD, IK’s T-RackS 3 announced at the end of last year, and iZotope’s Ozone 4 announced at NAMM. I’ll be talking to some folks in New York who know something about mastering (i.e., are not me). (One of them is a big Cubase fan, so I expect he’ll also be all over Cubase 5 – and he makes records that make real money, whereas I make records that go nicely with experimental modern dance.)

Each of these products goes a different direction, but the honest truth is almost any DAW will start you out with a pretty great selection of effects tools, and for a small chunk of change, you can add on with something like the UAD, T-RackS, and iZotope. None of this changes your actual skill level or the quality of your ears, but it does help keep your wallet from being the major barrier.