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Analysis: Universal Audio's UAD-2 DSP Card Family Germantown MD

Which brings us to the UAD-2. Probably not that many EQ readers were recording when a typical studio was an MCI (or equivalent) 24-track tape recorder, a big mixer, and a rack of outboard gear. Sure, the mixer had EQ; but there were times you wanted that gentle, strange curve that only an old Pultec could deliver, or a beat-up limiter with an optical response—hence the rack o' gear.

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Analysis: Universal Audio's UAD-2 DSP Card Family

1_UniversalAudio

The Neve 88RS (right) is just one of many plug-ins you can run on the UAD-2 card (left).

Sometimes a review that covers only specs, pricing, and the reviewer’sreactions misses the point, because a product has a backstory withdeeper implications. At first glance, the UAD-2 DSP card might not seemthat novel: Offloading processing from your computer’s CPU tospecial-purpose DSPbased hardware dates back many years, and in someways, it’s easy to see the UAD-2 as simply a “more/better/faster”version of the UAD-1. Fair enough. But scratch beneath the surface...

AN INTRODUCTION

For those unfamiliar with the UAD-1, it was introduced in 2001, back when computers had a hard time keeping up with native processing. Yet even as computers became more powerful, the UAD-1 remained relevant because all DSP power is not the same. In a computer, the amount of power being drawn from the CPU is in constant flux as various processes engage and disengage. With DSP on a card, the power being drawn from that DSP is relatively constant. You can often “red-line” a DSP card with no problems, whereas trying that with a computer begs for trouble.

However, it wasn’t just the CPU angle that hooked people; it was the strikingly realistic, and musical, emulations of vintage (and not so vintage) gear. I knew a studio owner who had scored a vintage compressor on eBay, and set up a blind A/B test with the UAD-1 version so he could prove to himself once and for all that no matter how good emulations were, they couldn’t really outdo hardware. Surprise: Shortly thereafter, the compressor ended up back on eBay.

BACK TO THE FUTURE?

Which brings us to the UAD-2. Probably not that many EQ readers were recording when a typical studio was an MCI (or equivalent) 24-track tape recorder, a big mixer, and a rack of outboard gear. Sure, the mixer had EQ; but there were times you wanted that gentle, strange curve that only an old Pultec could deliver, or a beat-up limiter with an optical response—hence the rack o’ gear.

The UAD-2 (especially the Quad version, with four Analog Devices SHARC 21369 DSP chips) is much more powerful than the original UAD-1. Because of this, the UAD concept is no longer to replace a few cool pieces of gear, but to be the 21st century equivalent of that rack of special-purpose processors . . . or maybe even an entire mixer.

For example, the UAD-2 Nevana 128 bundle (based on the Quad card) can instantiate 128 mono instances of the Neve 88RS channel strip plug-in in 44.1kHz/24-bit projects with full EQ and filtering, and either the Gate/Expander or Compressor/Limiter engaged for each instance. Consider the implications: For a street price under $2K (list is $2,499), you’re getting the heart of a Neve 88 console. And of course, you can run other UAD-compatible plugs, including esoterica like the Roland CE-1 and Dimension D. Perhaps more significantly, those who are wary of “mixing in the box” can use the UAD-2 DSP card to fold in processors that are not...

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