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Using UAD Powered Plug-Ins with Pro Tools, Part 1
2010-01-19


Pro Tools and Universal Audio's UAD-2


After careful consideration and plenty of research, I finally decided to add the Universal Audio UAD system to my Pro Tools Rig, and let me tell you, I've never been happier with the sound of my mixes. Released in 2008, as a highly anticipated update to their popular UAD-1 powered plug-in system, Universal Audio's UAD-2 system combines dedicated hardware processing power with an available suite of meticulously crafted plug-ins aimed at turning your DAW into a mix-down monster. In this two part article, I will share my personal experience installing and using UAD powered plug-ins with Pro Tools as well as pass on a few tips, tricks and insights I've gathered along the way. In part one of this article, we will focus on the basic installation and configuration of the UAD-2 card, while in part two we will cove some unique considerations for using the UAD system inside the Pro Tools mixer.


Why UAD? I will be the first to admit, I was not always a fan of the UAD concept inside Pro Tools. The tricky configuration of the VST wrapper, dealing the latency considerations and lack of session portability all seemed like more than I wanted to manage. But the one thing I kept hearing from friends and peers was, "Dude, the UAD plug-ins sound amazing. You HAVE to check them out!" So I finally decided to give the system another look and to my surprise, it has really come a long way as far as Pro Tools is concerned. Today's UAD software now supports automatic RTAS configuration, super low latency "LiveTrack" mode, automatic synchronization with the Pro Tools H/W buffer and includes automatic delay compensation for LE/M-powered via MellowMuse's ATA plug-in.

UAD Control Panel


Now mind you, this was not an easy decision for me. Since my Mac Pro only has 3 open PCI-E slots, installing the UAD-2-Quad required me to pull out one of my HD Accell cards, so effectively I was swapping out a card whose list price is almost three times that of the UAD card I was replacing it with. But I would soon realize the insane DSP power offered by the UAD-2-Quad. Honestly I did not miss the third card at all, once I started using the UAD plug-ins I found that because I often chose them over TDM options I would normally use, I didn't need the extra DSP that I would normally pull from my third Accell card. Now I could have purchased an expansion chassis to put all my HD cards in with room to spare for the UAD, which I may have done if I was normally working at very high sample rates or insane track counts, but after using the now HD-2 plus UAD-2-Quad with a mix of TDM and UAD plug-ins in day to day production for a few weeks now, I almost feel as is I have more plug-in power than with just the HD3. If I was mixing in Pro Tools LE or M-Powered, the UAD-2 would be a slam dunk, combined with the power of a modern multi-core computer you would have more processing power than you could shake a stick at.

Some of you may remember back when UA sold versions of a few plug-ins for the TDM platform and may be wondering, "why can't Universal Audio just release their plug-in natively like Waves or McDSP does?" Well believe me, I had this very same question. Why can't the UAD plugs just be authorized with an iLok and run natively or as TDM plug-ins? Well, it turns out that the algorithms the UAD plug-ins use, many of which meticulously model sought after vintage pieces, require a very specific processing environment to run effectively. While your computer's CPU is great for general purpose processing tasks, the UAD's processing power is specifically tailored to running UAi, Universal Audio's unique analog modeling technology. All this is great news for your poor computer; while the hardware DSP off-loads the processing of plug-ins to the UAD card, you conserve precious resources (for things like power hungry virtual instruments) and can still run an insane amount of plug-ins at the same time. While this hardware DSP configuration is optimal, dare I say compulsory, for the caliber of analog modeling that UA provides, this presents a unique dilemma for users in the market for new plug-ins. In order to demo the plug-ins and decide whether or not you might want to purchase them, you must first own one of the cards in the UAD hardware line, so one could say that it takes a slight leap of faith to get in the game. But if you're like me and spend some time asking around, I think you'll find the system to be well worth the entry fee if your budget allows.

UAD Control Panel

Installing the UAD-2-Quad


Installing the UAD system for Pro Tools was way easier than I thought it was going to be. After creating an account at my.uaudio.com and downloading/installing the latest version of the UAD software (5.4.1) I simply plugged the card into the free slot of my Mac Pro and booted up the system. I am usually the type of person who installs the hardware first and asks questions later, but I read the manual on this one and it clearly states that installing the software first is the way to go. The UAD software automatically installs every plug-in available on the UAD system and wraps it to RTAS (you barely even see the custom FXpansion VST-RTAS wrapper open in the background during installation). This is really nice, if you want to try out a demo you don't have to download separate installers, you can simply activate the fully functional 14-day demo directly through UAD control panel and you are good to go. There are indicator lights on the back of the UAD-2 card itself, letting you know that everything is functioning correctly. These actually came in handy when I had some trouble with the authorization file. Upon inspection, it turned out that the indicator LED was red, letting me know the card was not communicating with the driver correctly. A simple cold reboot solved the problem instantly and everything worked flawlessly after that. All in all, the hardest part of the installation was removing the existing HD card from the machine to make room for the new UAD-2.

My Uaudio

Authorizing Plug-ins


You won't find any iLoks in the UA camp. Authorizing the plug-ins you received with the UAD card or purchased through the UA store with your vouchers or credit card is accomplished via an authorization file, which is automatically generated based on the installed card and your account on my.uaudio.com. Your authorizations are good for any card installed in the same system, so if you have additional cards installed you will be able to use those authorizations across the entire system. You can even mix and match older UAD-1 cards with newer UAD-2 cards, 4 of each, for a total of 8 cards per system! Unfortunately the authorizations stick to the card, so if you have multiple systems with UADs installed you will have to purchase a separate bundle of plug-ins for each system. However, if you own a UAD-2 PCIe card for your desktop as well as a UAD Solo laptop card for mixing on the go, your licenses can be linked and shared as a single system, without having to purchase a separate set of licenses. Of course the plug-in licenses can also be transferred from one system to another if you were to upgrade from UAD-1 to UAD-2, buy a new computer or sell the system.

Mixing with UAD


While the additional processing power offered by the UAD system helpsconserve system resources, it is really all about the sonics. I'll be the first to admit that a good mix is largely in the creative vision and technique of the mixer. In other words, it is not the tools that make the mixer but the other way around. However, having a great set of tools makes our job much easier, allowing us to focus more on creativity as opposed to struggling with the sound in our head. That said, I've tried out most of the modeling plug-ins on the market and have never been as instantly impressed as I was with the UA stuff. In the past, one thing I consistently experienced with "modeled" plug-ins was the lack of instant gratification associated with their hardware counterpart. Often I would find myself pushing the plug-ins way more than I would normally push the hardware it modeled to achieve a similar sound, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but just a different experience than using the real deal. This was not the case with the UA models, the plug-ins reacted and sounded virtually the same as their hardware counterparts. Because of my commitment to mixing in the box for the last few years, I quickly noticed how heavy handed I had become with my processing when first using the UAD powered plug-ins. Do you ever read those articles where mastering engineers talk about "a half dB here and a half dB there" and you start to think that you are just not hearing it like they do? It may just be the tools you are using. A half dB boost on the hi-shelf of the 1073 EQ is instantly audible, 2-3 dB of gain reduction is all you need to really get the mix gelling with the 4K buss compressor and the 1176LN and LA2A plug-ins sound like someone lifted the cotton out of my ears when compared to the competition. Even though I own a real Fatso Jr., the super-sensitive pots on my hardware unit make perfect recall near impossible for mixing scenarios, so I now use the UA plug-in version for easy recall and stereo linking of input/output gain and there is almost no sonic difference.

Pro Tools




Originally I thought aboutgetting the UAD-2-DUO but ultimately settled on the QUAD per a friend's recommendation. "You will want the quad once you start using the plug-ins" he told me. With the Quad I found that even without paying attention to the plug-ins I was using I still only breached 60-70% on the UAD DSP meter, and this is in a big mix using primarily UAD plug-ins. While I am sure I could have made the Duo or Solo work with a bit more selectivity in my plug-in choices (many plug-ins like the 1176 and 1073 have SE versions for higher instance count and sound nearly identical), I found the freedom of using the entire UAD collection carte blanche to be quite a treat come mix down.

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