TC ELECTRONIC POWERCORE
(PCIe CARD $1,495, FIREWIRE OUTBOARD VERSIONS
FROM $995; WWW.TCELECTRONIC.COM )
SSL DUENDE MINI
(PCIe CARD $1,495, FIREWIRE MINI OUTBOARD
VERSION $995; WWW.SOLIDSTATELOGIC.COM )
UNIVERSAL AUDIO UAD-2
(EXPRESSCARD OR PCIe SOLO
CARD STARTING FROM $649;
So you want more processing power: These companies are happy to oblige with hardware DSP, either on a card that goes into your motherboard or laptop, as a separate FireWire box that lives outside your computer, or both.
But which is best for you? Although you can’t download demo hardware, you can narrow down your options until you find the right fit. And, the company websites will help explain the oft-confusing collection of bundles, upgrades, specials, and third-party support.Format.
A card eliminates FireWire fickleness, and also gives somewhat better performance—but FireWire is easily transportable among machines. If FireWire is a requirement, then it’s TC or SSL. With a laptop, Universal Audio’s ExpressCard is the most efficient choice (FireWire is still in the running, but a separate box and power supply works against the laptop’s portable nature). All handle VST, AU, and RTAS except TC PowerCore, which is VST/AU only.What comes with the package.
Duende provides a very nice SSL channel strip with EQ, dynamics, and sidechaining, and up to 16 mono instances. PowerCore’s Compact FireWire model includes 12 plug-ins; the “standard” versions come with 14, and there are more expensive versions that include more plugs. UA’s cards have their “Mix Essential” plug-ins—a great deal (1176SE Compressor/Limiter, Pultec EQP-1A EQ, RealVerb Pro Room Modeler, and CS-1 Channel Strip).Hardware expansion options.
All systems can be expanded via either hardware, software, or both. Expanding Duende Mini to 32 mono (16 stereo) instances runs $399; more plug-ins are optional at extra cost. To expand the number of devices you can run on the UAD-2, you can add more cards, or buy a more powerful card initially— choices are 1, 2, or 4 DSP chips ($649, $1,149, and $1,899 respectively). With PowerCore, the hardware upgrade path is buying another PowerCore.Software expansion options.
TC Electronic has the broadest range of optional-at-extra-cost plug-ins, including virtual instruments, amp sims, third-party options, and their own range of plugs. UA also has a wide variety of plug-ins, including significant third-party support. Duende is the new kid on the block; SSL offers five additional plug-ins, but there’s no thirdparty support yet. For all three, costs vary considerably among plug-ins— check the web. Typically, they’re considerably less than what you would pay for the hardware equivalent.Sound and character.
This is of course subjective—generalizations are risky, and as the old saying goes, “comparisons are odious.” However, having worked with and used all three extensively, I feel there are some differentiating characteristics.