Universal Audio UAD-2 Satellite DSP Accelerator
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by Barry Rudolph
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Universal Audio UAD-2 Satellite DSP Accelerator

The Universal Audio UAD-2 Satellite is the newest entry to their line of DSP Accelerator systems that provide access to their entire library of award-winning UAD Powered Plug-Ins processors. The UAD-2 Satellite runs externally with the included power supply with any modern, Intel-based iMac, MacBook Pro or MacPro tower. It interfaces the Mac (right now Mac only) using either the computer's Firewire 400 or 800 interface bus.

This is brand new and different from the original UAD-1 PCI card or the newer UAD-2 Solo, Duo and Quad PCIe cards that install in slots inside of your computer. Running externally over FW also opens up the UA Powered Plug-In processors to users of laptops without an ExpressCard™ interface that will hold the UAD SOLO/Laptop™, UAD-Xpander™ or UAD-Xtenda™ modules.

Akin to carrying your own huge outboard effects rack to every recording/mixing gig, the UAD-2 Satellite enables you to run larger mixes with numerous plug-ins in Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase, Nuendo, Digital Performer and other DAW systems without taxing your host computer's CPU.

All the plug-in emulations were developed in cooperation with the hardware's manufacturers using the original schematics, perfectly working vintage examples, and the "golden ears" of recording engineers who know what these units should sound like under optimal conditions.

Some of the companies who's gear is modeled and are part of the current collection of plug-ins include are: Roland, Neve, Studer, dbx, Solid State Logic, Lexicon, Manley, Empirical Labs, Trident, SPL, EMT with many more added all the time.

Satellite Smart

The UAD-2 Satellite comes in two variants: the Duo and Quad--so-named after the number of SHARC floating-point DSP chips within them: two or four. Using the UAD-1 card as a reference point, the Duo has five times as much processing power while the Quad (as review here) has ten times. The UAD-2 Satellite supports 44.1 through 192kHz session sample rates and there are drivers for VST, RTAS, and Audio Unit hosts.

The UAD-2 Satellite's current software, version 5.9.0, contains the entire collection of their plug-ins and requires a Mac-Intel computer running Snow Leopard OS 10.6 or above. All the processors show up in the Universal Audio plug-in drop down menu in any host DAW. UA updates the software whenever an improvement is made and/or a new plug-in emulation is added to the collection. I like that you download software only once and get them all.

To get you started, the unit comes with authorizations for both mono and stereo versions of: the full 1176LN and (the less DSP version) 1176SE Classic Limiting Amplifier, UA's CS-1 Channel Strip, Pultec® EQP-1A equalizer, UA's RealVerb Pro Custom Room Modeler, and the Teletronix® LA-2A Classic Leveling Amp. There are also many, specially priced plug-in combination bundles offered with specials announced at www.uaudio.com all the time.

Universal Audio UAD-2 Satellite DSP Accelerator

Satellite In My Rig

I installed the software into my Mac Westmere 8-core MacPro. I'm at OS 10.6.7, running Avid Pro Tools 9 HD 3 Accel and PT software version 9.0.2. Satellite's software includes the UAD Meter and Control Panel software--a kind of monitoring system that checks the status of the UAD-2 Satellite itself and other connected UAD processor cards--you can run up to four UAD-2 cards and two UAD-2 Satellites at the same time.

Authorization happens via the Control Panel where the Authorize Plug-Ins button opens the www.uaudio.com/my store. You can instantly try any of the plug-ins for a 14-day demo period by just inserting and using them in your DAW session. I followed installation instructions and went online to authorize the software and download the authorization file for the "starter" plug-ins. I finished the installation by connecting the unit using the included cable to my Mac's rear panel FW 800 jack.

Satellite In Orbit

In operation, I found that I must boot the computer first, launch Pro Tools and the session AND THEN turn on the Satellite with the rear panel switch. To turn off Satellite, you reverse the start-up sequence: save and quit your session, shut down the computer (if needed) and then power down the unit.

Upon power up, a brightly backlit UA logo on the Satellite's front panel comes on and, like all UAD products, there is also red/green status LED that indicates the operational state of the unit. Located on the back panel (and I'm not sure why it is there out of sight), an alternating red and green LED indicates that Satellite is powered up but the driver software is not installed, recognized or even loaded yet. A solid green LED indicates normal operation while a solid red or any other pattern means there is a communication breakdown between the driver, software or the unit.

Satellite is not FW bus-powered and so a wall-wart power supply comes with it. Nor does Satellite supply power over FW and the manual cautions connecting other bus powered devices to either of the extra rear-panel FW 800 and FW 400 connectors provided.

Universal Audio UAD-2 Satellite DSP Accelerator

Software Version 5.9

Besides adding a new plug-in version of the Lexicon 224 Classic Digital Reverb, version 5.9.0 software resolved many important issues (I had with ver 5.8) and improves the stability for all UAD-2 systems. Minimum latency is reduced to 256 samples from 512 and compatibility issues with Avid/Digidesign's 002 and 003 audio interfaces (which also operate over Firewire) have been sussed.

Now, when I turned on any hard drive on the FW bus, all I have to do is save and quit my currently running session and relaunch--no need to power cycle the Satellite or restart the computer as before.

These new operational features are wonderful to me as my previous experience (and distant memory) with other (now discontinued) Firewire-based DSP units was at best, a mixed blessing. I had learned to live with and "put up with" by restarting, power cycling and doing a lot of swearing during the middle of a mixing session. Not Good!

How Do They Work?

In Pro Tools, the UAD processors run as RTAS plug-ins under a built-in Wrapper. For the most part, they function the same as Native RTAS plugs with some exceptions here and there. For example the short cut in Pro Tools for selecting a parameter to automate doesn't work. (This is done by holding down the Control, Option and Command keys and clicking on the parameter you want to automate.) I also noticed sometimes glitchy parameter control knob behavior on certain plug-ins. When I touched a parameter, it immediately went to minimum and I'd have to return it to where it was previously. There are many more much worst quirks with the few wrapped plug-ins I have--the UAD plugs are, by far, the best integrated and most "invisible" wrapper I've used in Pro Tools ever.

Universal Audio Comments On Number Of Instances Possible:
"We support up to 77 Stereo or 154 Mono plug-ins with Satellite. Of course this will depend on which plug-ins you have loaded. You may run out of DSP before you run out of possible instances. And in the reverse case, if you run a ton of small plug-ins, you may run out of instance FireWire bandwidth before you run out of DSP."

How Many Can You Get?

I tested a few plug-ins for the maximum number of instances in my system. I used a blank Pro Tools session where my CPU meter in Pro Tools typically showed only 8-11%. Assuming you are using a qualified Mac computer and OS, the number of instances you get will depend which Satellite unit you are using, Duo or Quad, and the vagaries of your Firewire bus speed and its activity. If you were looking for maximum FW throughput, I would recommend turning off or even unplugging all other FW devices such as hard drives etc.

How Do They Sound?

As for sound quality, compared to other manufacturer's plug-ins of the same hardware units, the UA plug-ins sound as good or noticeably better. I can't cover all the UA plug-ins available but below are my initial impressions of a few favorites.

Neve 1073

This sounds as close to a typical 1073 module as I could ask for. It has the same sort of smoothing effect on overly hard and harsh-sounding digital recordings as those actual modules exhibit. I am starting to find that on all the UA plugs I've tested so far that, unlike the some of the real hardware units (on which many of these plug-ins are modeled) and many other RTAS plug-ins in my collection, these plug-in do not readily overload internally--within the plug-in themselves. It seems that the UA plug-ins have more headroom or a bigger dynamic range than I am used to with the original hardware units or any other of my plug-ins.

I got 80 instances of the Neve 1073.

Trident A-Range

This is a great rendition of the channel modules from those old consoles. To me, having done so many records on them, the way those modules saturated with big EQ boosts, was the main attraction for engineering Rock records. UA's plug-in incorporate that into this emulation--especially when they are slightly overdriven.

I was able to insert 76 mono instances of the Trident A-Range plug-in.

Neve 1081

The four-band 1081 plug-in is a more surgical or precise tool as compared to the Neve 1073. The Class-AB sound of the hardware unit is all there and because of it, the 1081 plug-in is excellent in producing "punchy" results on most any source.

I managed to get 64 mono instances of the 1081 inserted.

Lexicon 224

I've just started using this new plug-in and I think it sounds better than the original hardware unit. While this plug-in emulation and the original hardware unit are both digital reverb synthesizers, I find the UA plug-in quieter with a lower noise floor than I remember with those old 224s yet the sound is all there with full access to all the parameters.

I got 20 stereo instances of the Lexicon 224.

EveAnna Manley's Massive Passive

An incredible equalizer by any measure and it is faithfully modeled here! It is impossible to get a bad sound with this plug-in and I found it wonderful on any source. But due to its big use of the Satellite's DSP resources, I reserve it for lead vocals, bass or for the stereo mix bus. To me, having use of this equalizer in a Pro Tools mix is reason alone to buy the Satellite Quad.

I got four stereo and eight mono instances of the Manley Massive Passive.

Dave Derr's Empirical Labs' Fatso Sr.

The Fatso Sr. sounds incredible on drum loops, bass or keyboards--actually anything that needs to be thrown out into a filthy street for a little roughing up. Again nearly any setting from mild to mad is handled without overloading within the plug---overloading that might cause you to retreat from the mayhem this plug is capable of. UA should issue a user license with this plug.

I got 8 stereo instances of Fatso Sr. working.

A800 Tape Deck

Foggy old analog tape memories are relived with this plug-in. The A800 plug-in adds a "gauze-like" sheet over the sound of any source--it is the polar opposite to super high fidelity. By switching tape speeds, recording tape formulations (brands) and other old analog tape deck settings, you can dial in just the right sonic "frosted window" effect. I went for the 15-i.p.s. or 7.5-i.p.s. settings right away!

You can get 40 mono instantiations going on the UAD-2 Satellite.

EMT 250

Star Wars' R2D2 lives! That's what I use to call this odd-looking studio contraption. This German-made wonder seemed to stand at attention at all times in any high-end recording studio that could afford one. Inside it was filled to the top with room heating chips but sounded wonderful. And this plug-in achieves the same great sounding reverb as the EMT 250. But I also found use for the cool-sounding chorus and phaser settings--used rarely in the hardware days since there was usually only one available for reverb. Now I can have one for a reverb and others for chorus and phaser effects!

Up to 48 stereo instances of the EMT 250.

UA EP-34

Authentically accurate for processing electric guitars, the EP-34 is a careful emulation of the famed Maestro Echoplex. The EP-34 is great to "sprinkle" around on a "wire choir" of guitars in a song.

12 mono or stereo instances of the EP-34.

Number of instances of the included plug-ins.

88 mono instances of the 1176LN
64 mono instances of the CS-1
96 mono instances of the Pultec EQP 1A
105 mono instances of the LA-2A
40 Real Reverb Pro instances

World-Class Processors

As close as most of us will ever get to mixing and recording in a world-class studio with a giant console and many racks of classic outboard gear, the UAD-2 Satellite enables the same kind of creative processing freedom. A dream come true for any DAW user; anywhere you and your studio are located, you'll have the ability to use any or all of these virtual signal processors with just about no concern of DSP/CPU resource restrictions.

Prices start at $899 MAP and there are five models to choose from: DUO (Core); DUO Flexi (w/ $500 Plug-In Voucher); QUAD (Core), QUAD Flexi (w/ $500 Plug-In Voucher), and QUAD Omni v.5.7 (w/ 50 UAD plug-ins). Check out: www.uaudio.com.

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