Get ready for some tablet patching. A developer has revealed a port of popular open source modular environment VCV Rack to the iPad.
Synth Anatomy gets the scoop on this one. New Zealand-based developer Vitaly Pronkin has been working on a project that promises to put the free rack synthesizer platform on the iOS app store soon.
The most encouraging thing here is probably seeing an easy interface for adding modules from VCV and third parties. That would open up an additional platform for developers’ modules.
Don’t get too excited too fast – this is best seen as a proof of concept, especially since it forks an earlier version (0.x rather than 1.0). But it could be a good indication of performance on Apple’s tablets, and might well be the basis for a more polished, finished project.
VCV Rack 1.0 is licensed under the GPLv3, which generally is not allowed on Apple’s App Store. (There are some loopholes, as we discovered when licensing the iOS port of Pure Data, libpd – but that has to do with the fact that Pd itself is under a more permissive license, and patches, for instance, are not compiled.)
Another way to go if this is what you want – try running Rack on a Surface or similar Windows tablet. That also allows greater compatibility with your usual audio tools than you get from iOS, and without Apple’s App Store restrictions.
I’m still happy with Rack on a PC, where it can take advantage of some unique performance enhancements, and instead externalizing control. (Playing live, I don’t really want to be re-patching at all, but that’s me…)
Arturia’s V Collection 7 continues to expand as the go-to software library of every vintage synth you would ever want. But let’s focus on one new gem: the brilliant CZ-101 remake.
First off, V Collection 7 is worth a look. Arturia keep making their mega-bundle software instrument bundle better. That means both reworking the modeling inside these tools, and adding new features, as well as – of course – continuing to expand the library of available instruments. As modeling has improved, these instruments have gotten more and more like the originals in sound and not just in function and look. At the same time, Arturia keeps beefing up those originals with new features – so the authentic sound engines get new sound design features atop them.
The EMS Synthi V makes an appearance in the new V Collection, too – if your tastes go more 70s than 80s. And it’s a big deal.
Version 7 continues to balance the desires of the casual keyboardist and the obsessive synth sound designer – and everything in between. So if you just want to add a convincing Mellotron or B-3, you’re covered – with an all-new Mellotron and a total ground-up sound engine overhaul for the B-3 V2. Jimmy Smith Strawberry Fields Forever, check and mate.
If the idea of a whole bunch of unfamiliar keyboards and control layouts is unappealing, V Collection 7 also includes the new Analog Lab 4, which consolidates all these things into easy presets and macro controls, and hundreds of new presets in their “Synthopedia.” That way if you do want to look up the way a familiar sound was produced – then tweak it yourself – you can.
Of course, if you read CDM, your favorite preset may be “default template,” and the idea of getting lost for hours in a vintage synth control layout may be the whole selling point. For that crowd, the V Collection 7 adds the EMI Synthi V and the CZ-101 from Casio, circa 1985.
The ability to just dial up a menu and say, “do I want an Oberheim SEM or a CS-80” is already pretty crazy, and the number of choices continues to grow. So my approach to V Collection is actually to ignore all those presets – apologies, dear sound designer friends – and try to focus on one instrument. It’s a bit like what you do in a packed studio – you pull out one piece of gear, and say, hey, tonight is going to be about me and this instrument and very little else.
I want to talk about the CZ-101 because it’s long been one of my favorite instruments, and it’s a fairly unsung one. The CZ is somehow too easy, too friendly, too compact, too inexpensive to have the kind of adoration of some of the other 80s and 70s throwbacks. It’s not a collectors’ item. You can still find them at flea makrets. So yeah, Arturia are quick to drop names who have used it, like Salt-N-Pepa and Vince Clarke. But to me the whole appeal of the CZ-101 is that it’s for people who love synths, not people trying to emulate their heroes.
Of course, you could for these reasons go get an actual CZ-101. That means Arturia has to sweeten the deal a bit so the software can compete. They did just that. Let’s dive in.
CZ V reproduces the simple hardware interface (at bottom) but also expands to this view with lots of additional visual feedback and features, at top.
Phase Distortion lovers, rejoice
The original CZ-101 is about two things: a simple front panel layout, and phase distortion. If you just want to drop the CZ into a session as-is, CZ V does that.
Phase distortion synthesis isn’t so much a different synthesis method as it is a compelling way of mucking about with two digital oscillators. It’s easy enough to dismiss PD as Casio’s cheaper, non-patented answer to Yamaha’s DX7 and frequency modulation (FM). But now as we grow more accustomed to digital, non-harmonic timbres, PD is better appreciated on its own terms – as a way of producing unique digital color.
In short, what phase distortion does for you is to add rich harmonic content to sound. It can be a distortion. It can sound something like a resonant filter – in its own way. And because it’s normally using synced oscillators – here’s the important bit – it’s way easier to control than FM generally is.
On the Casio, this allows some unique filtering and sound shaping and distortion sounds that can easily be controlled by macros. And on the Arturia remake, graphical access to envelopes and expanded power means that you can use that shaping creatively.
The CZ V kind of goes a bit nuts versus what an original CZ-101 would give you. Let’s compare 1985 and 2019.
Arturia’s effects mean you don’t have to listen to the CZ dry.
The modulation matrix makes this feel as much modern soft synth as 1980s hardware.
The original oscillators are there – sine, saw, square, pulse, resonance, double-sine, saw-pulse – as are the 8-stage envelope generators and vibrato and LFOs. You can even import SysEx from the original. But being able to program these features on a display makes sound design accessible.
In addition to making hidden CZ features more visible, Arturia have expanded what’s possible:
32-voice polyphony (the original had just 8).
A modulation matrix – no, really.
More modulation: a Sample and Hold module, 2 LFOs with 6 waveforms, 3 sources combinators and an Arpeggiator
New effects – while an authentic approach to the CZ might leave it dry, now you get all the Arturia multi-effects (adding things like chorus and reverb sound especially nice, for instance)
There’s visual feedback for everything, too.
Where the CZ fits in
In some ways, the CZ-101 is weirdly going from dated 80s thrift store find to … ahead of its time? After all, we’re seeing modular makers embrace these kinds of digital oscillator effects, and phase and phase distortion even inspired the upcoming sequel to Native Instruments’ Massive, the new Massive X.
Envelope editing is powerful – and includes animated visual feedback.
The CZ architecture is uniquely suited to making a lot of different sounds – including percussion and modulating timbres and edgy digital business – with a minimum of resources. So there’s a noise source built-in. You can modulate with the noise source. There’s ring modulation.
Using the CZ, DADSR, and multi-segment envelopes, you can them sculpt those percussive and metallic timbres over time – including using the DCW (Digitally Controlled Waveform) envelope that morphs between a sine wave and distorted wave.
The reason I’m using the CZ V to talk about the new V Collection edition, though, is that it’s an instrument where it feels like Arturia’s authentic side matches up with the “vintage on steroids” additions. So, by the time you have something like the new Synthi, you’re already presented with tons of sound design possibilities. Arturia has added some amazing ideas there – a step sequencer, a beat-synced LFO, plus onboard effects, atop all the new graphical options for working with envelopes and modulation.
The thing is, on a Synthi, that starts to feel like too much. I almost was tempted with the Synthi to force myself not to expand the tab full of new stuff. If I want an open-ended sound environment on a computer, I can use Reaktor, not try to recreate a 1970s take on the idea.
On the Arturia edition of the Casio, though, all these additions help the CZ graduate from fun toy to serious sound design tool. The visual envelopes make more sense. Effects are something most CZ owners invested in anyway. And more polyphony means you can run one instance and do a lot with it. Heck, even the matrix is easier to follow than on the original EMS Synthi because the architecture of the CZ-101 is so straightforward. In other words, because the original did less, it’s both a good match for software remake and for some thoughtful additions – which Arturia delivers.
Check these templates for an easy way to get started making your own sounds.
Here’s a little sketch I made with this. This is all one patch – noise and ring modulation and layering the ring source, plus some DCW and pitch envelope use, are what generate all those sounds. I added Arturia’s Trid-A Pre and some reverb from Softube’s TSAR-1 Reverb and … that was it.
Arturia have followed up their hit “3 Filters…” and “3 Preamps You’ll Actually Use” with the inevitable trio of compressors – but as with the other bundles, there are some twists (and lower intro prices on now).
Before they expanded into doing their own MIDI controllers and synth hardware, Arturia rose to prominence on their modeling chops. And they have tended to spin those modeling engines and competency in recreating vintage gear into spin-off products. The trick with the “3 [things] You’ll Actually Use” series has been rising above the crowd of vintage remakes now available to music producers. So that’s been about doing two things: one, picking three blockbusters to reproduce, and two, adding some functionality extras that lets producers get creative with the results.
And that’s to me what has made the series interesting – while lots of vendors will sell you reproductions of classic studio equipment, these have been ones you might well use in the production process. It’s not only about perfecting a recording or mix, but also about integrating into your creative process as you’re developing ideas.
The compressors trio go that route, too – so in addition to using these routinely in mixing or mastering, you can also use them for some inventive sidechain or saturation.
The three compressors getting the Arturia treatment – and the circuitry inside:
The 1176 is pretty ubiquitously desired at this point – and of course among other recreations you can keep it in the family of creator Bill Putnam Sr. and try Universal Audio’s own creation. It’s something you can use for subtle tonal shifts even at lower levels, in addition to cranking up compression if you want. So why add another reproduction to the pile? Arturia has added a “link” button for automatic volume leveling if you want – giving you the 1176 sound but more modern behavior on demand.
And you can use the 1176 as a sidechain. Oh – wait, that’s really huge. And there’s a creative “Time Warp” feature with pre-delay. So thanks to the fact that Arturia aren’t being quite as precious with the historical design as some of their rivals, you can choose either an “authentic” 1176 recreation, or something that’s 1176-ish but does things that were impossible on the original analog hardware.
It’s surprising enough for the 1176 to be new again, but the other models here have some similar ideas.
Next, you’ve got the “Over Easy” 165A, an essential compressor in a lot of studios, which has both some nice dirty, gritty timbral character of its own and punchy processing plus Mid/Side processing. For this model, Arturia have introduced a whole new panel of additional controls that fold out when you want them in the UI.
Don’t be fooled by the skeumorphic knobs; the original DBX didn’t have these options. That also includes their “Time Warp” pre-delay, convenient side-chaining (here with an easy “manual mode” trigger so you can preview what it’ll sound like), and now an integrated EQ. That EQ is modeled on SSL-style channels, so it’s a bit like having a pre-configured mixer rig to use with your sidechaining.
The STA-Level is maybe the most interesting of the three as far as rarity. It also gets (optional) modernization, with an input-output link for automatic leveling, a parallel compression mode that’s integrated with the software (plus an easy “mix” knob for adjusting how much parallel compression you want to hear), and sidechaining.
All in all, it’s an intriguing approach. On one hand, you get panels that look and operate and sound more like the original than a lot of software models at the low end of the price range. (For instance, the compressors added recently to Logic Pro X, while free, are more loose impressions than authentic recreations.)
But on the other, and here’s where Arturia clearly has an edge, you get new sidechaining and auto-leveling and other features that make these more fun to use in modern contexts and easier to drop into your creative flow.
Sidechaining these kinds of compressor models alone I think is a win; the convenience of the UIs and the fact that these are native on any platform to me makes them invaluable – maybe even compared to the existing filter and preamp offerings.
I’ve been playing around with them a bit already; I’m especially curious if I can run a couple in a live context – will report back on that. But I’m already impressed on sound and functionality.
Everything is on sale, so if you own existing Arturia stuff, you could get these for as little as $/EUR 49 (or half off if you’re new to the series), or in discounted bundles. You can also buy the compressors individually, if there’s one that really catches your fancy.
Plus, there are some new tutorials to get you started:
Strymon have already made a name for themselves in luxe effects hardware and pedals, including classic effects and reverbs like the BigSky. Volante moves into what’s likely to be hit territory – modeling magnetic tape loops and effects.
There are three tools in one here: magnetic delay, spring reverb, and a tape-style looper. It basically takes a bunch of things you’d do in a studio (back when studios did stuff with tape) — and crams that into a little box.
And it sounds great (Matt Piper here shares this music he made):
Tape delay: four playback heads with feedback, panning, and level for each.
Make tape-style looping: reverse, pause, splice, infinite repeat
Selectable models: drum echo, tape echo, studio reel-to-reel, with different sound characteristics
And still more control: choose low cut, mechanics, and wear, plus an input you can adjust (so crank it for extra tape saturation)
Stereo in and out
Foot friendly: tap tempo and even choose favorite settings with your foot, plus add an expression pedal if you like
MIDI in/out with full MIDI mapping of parameters and program changes
Strymon also promise premium audio fidelity, both on the analog front end and the digital conversion inside. And they build these in the USA.
It’s also a sign of the times: independent hardware is doing increasingly processor-heavy stuff. But just as the computer capacity has expanded, so has hardware – and more realistic emulations of nonlinear analog equipment is the result. This is still DSP-based, not ARM, for those interested – it’s a SHARC DSP – but those chips have grown in capability, too.
Why would you want near-zero latency on an effect? Well, maybe you want to run something like a vocoder – and that means the latest addition to Universal Audio’s offerings is a big deal.
Universal Audio continues churning out software updates with new analog emulations and other add-ons to buy; 2018 has been a huge year for them. But those effects often don’t come cheap, and they are tied to UA’s own hardware. So one of the selling points of working that way has been that UA offers near-zero latencies, letting you track through those effects. That is, plug-ins are great – until you need real-time performance, since they can add loads of latency.
This is meaningless, of course, if you’re just applying effects to recordings after the fact. But a vocoder is an entirely different story, so I suspect that the new vocoder included in this month’s UA update will matter to a lot of people.
Interesting, UA are so locked in the studio paradigm that they say you’ll want to “track” through the vocoder – record while monitoring. But I imagine this vocoder may find its way onstage. Lots of vocalists perform with laptops for greater flexibility, and the UA vocoder has real-time MIDI and keyboard control.
The new Vocoder comes from Softube, those Swedish masters of emulation, who have made themselves a big name both as a provider to UA and as an independent vendor (including with their own native platform, though it doesn’t provide the same real-time possibilities).
The result is a vocoder that looks promising in the studio and onstage. I need to test this, so disclaimer – this isn’t a review. But here’s what they’re promising.
Any vocoder is a combination of synth and vocal input, by default. Here, you get an emulation of an analog polysynth, and then a number of unique tools specific to this offering.
12-voice polyphonic “carrier” synth (that’s the synth you’ll combine with your vocals)
Analog synth emulation
Four waveform types, pitch modulation, pulse width modulation (and octave and attack/decay controls)
Variable bands – 4-, 8-, 12-, 16-, and 20-band modes – for simpler retro “robotic” effects to richer, modern digital vocoder styles
Resynthesis parameters – emphasis, spectral tilt (which adjusts how you shift between frequencies), shape, and parallel bend controls
MIDI control of notes and chords (also available from their built-in keyboard onscreen if you don’t have a MIDI source handy)
Synced freeze function – so you can capture a snippet of sound, and then use different clock divisions synced to a DAW or MIDI source
“Freeze” a snippet of sound, then manipulate that freeze in sync with your DAW or a MIDI source, with various clock division options.
Spectral controls give you more contemporary sounds, retro robot sounds, or anything in between.
And yeah, you can use this on vocals if you’re a terrible singer. You can use it if you’re a great singer. You can use it on things that aren’t vocals (hello, drums). And so on. Here are some nice tips from their even nicer studio:
This wasn’t the only addition to UA’s latest software. See also an AMS Neve console built especially for emulating the desk preferred by big budget Hollywood productions. That gives you the whole console strip you’d find at, say, Skywalker Sound – with Compressor, Limiter, Expander, Gate, and Dynamic EQ, plus four-band parametric EQ. Will it make you sound more Hollywood? No idea. Will it give you a psychological boost to try? Probably.
And also in this release, they’re unveiling the first-ever authorized emulation of the legendary Lexicon 480L. If you don’t know that 80s-era reverb by its model number, you might know it from its beige case and faders – it’s one of the more recognizable effects in history. Being authorized in this case matters, because they were able to derive the results directly from the original’s firmware. (Oh yeah – digital means a “model” can be very accurate indeed.) And again, you can use this live. First thing I would do would be to map some faders to those parameters.
DSP is a secretive art form. But maybe its best-kept secret is, musicians can learn it. You just need a great teacher – and Vadim Zavalishin of Native Instruments, working in Reaktor, is a perfect place to start.
This talk is from June, but just came online – and it’s a rare chance to hear from anyone like this in the industry, let alone in a way that’s this clear and friendly from someone who’s one of the better DSP artists around. Even if you have little interest in programming, you can skim through this video and learn how Vadim made a lot of NI’s recent stuff sound better through analog-style filter modeling. But it might just get you into some casual toying about with core DSP, because Reaktor makes it easy – and Vadim makes it clear why it’s relevant to music and sound.
Some background first: Digital Signal Processing describes the transformation of sound through math, now inside your plug-ins, your hardware, and quite a lot of of Eurorack modules.
DSP is math, but the math itself often is straightforward. Take summing. You know the equation for summing signals, because it’s literally adding. That’s 1+1 adding – that one. (For years I listened to DAW programmers chuckle as people posted on forums about “summing engines,” because very often it is really the stuff you did in first grade. Well, if in first grade you used floating point numbers instead of integers, but you get the idea.)
Depending on the task in mind, of course, this can get to doctoral-level stuff instead. But if there’s only a handful of people doing DSP in audio, the reason may be that it requires overlapping expertise. You need to get the math part and the coding bits, but you also need a musical ear and a sense of art. (And you need to be willing to work with music instead of take a high-paying job for, say, the petroleum business or defense contractors.)
Music is very often about sophisticated results from simple building blocks. And so it is with DSP. DSP is a unique intersection between music, sound, science, art, and alchemy.
Then again, that’s why it could be a lot of fun to explore as a musician, and not just as an engineer. There’s not time for everything – that’s why it’s great to be able to “stand on the shoulders of giants” and use existing DSP code, and existing research, to say nothing of going out and buying a nice guitar pedal or using the modules in environments like Reaktor or SuperCollider or Max/MSP or Pd or checking out a new plug-in or soft synth or keyboard.
But Reaktor’s visual environment, structured tools, and the ability to plug your latest filter or distortion into a larger context make this software an ideal way to learn or experiment. I think it’s more fun than brewing your own beer or something, anyway, and I kill plants when I try to grow them. Filters it is.
Yamaha’s guitar group is growing. Alongside products on their own brand and Line 6, they now will own one of the most legendary brands of all time: Ampeg.
That guitar group itself is nicely trans-Atlantic, with co-presidents Marcus Ryle, formerly of Line 6, and Shoji Mita.
And Ampeg is quite the acquisition. The company originates in 1940s New Jersey, and includes a heritage of products like the SVT amp. They’re best known for bass amps, but they’ve long had a portfolio of respected guitar amps and a history of instruments. Lately, that has rebooted some classic monikers for amps, alongside pedals.
The deal also means that LOUD Technologies Inc. – the company formerly known as Mackie Designs (as in the mixers) – will unload Ampeg, which it has owned since its 2005 purchase of Saint Louis Music.
Basically, you should expect to see Ampex’s amps (and presumably pedals, too) slotted in alongside Yamaha’s bass guitars and the full fleet of Line 6 modeled amp and effects products. Maybe down the road we’ll see an Ampex with built-in modeled Line 6 stuff. That’d have a nice historical precedent, as Ampex was the first company ever to add reverb to an amp internally, back in the 60s.
Now, we just have to wait to find out whatever the heck is happening over at Gibson.
Singing – it’s the simple most important human instrument, but it’s too often overlooked in technology. iZotope has doubled up on innovations there with Vocal Synth 2 – and in case you haven’t been keeping track, they’ve bundled all their production tools together into the new Creative Suite.
Vocal Synth 2 upgrade
Vocal Synth was already a compelling, semi-modular set of tools for processing vocals and applying vocal tech to incoming signal – something you can do creative stuff with whether you’re a singer, or a producer who sings, or a producer working with vocalists, or a producer pretending you can sing. (Yes, it’s useful even on other inputs, even if you lack the vocal chops yourself.)
It’s really, really good, but – the one thing I sort of expected when I first heard about the product was something like physical vocal modeling in the box. Now, sure enough, they’ve added just that.
So, Vocal Synth 2 delivers:
Biovox: A module for physical modeling of the human vocal track (with “science,” say iZotope), from nasality to formants. This isn’t something like Vocaloid – it’s not about voice synthesis or faking vocals – but in a way, it’s something more musically useful, a model of all the good stuff that happens inside your vocal tract and the resonant cavities in your head, delivered as an effect. That’s really important, because our perception is trained to take all this sort of nuance for granted.
There’s more, too…
Chorus and Ring Mod effects. Yep, less futuristic than Biovox, but very essential.
Improved Shred effect.
Advanced sound, advanced controls. So, hiding controls doesn’t always make things more intuitive – sometimes you actually want to dive down and get something that’s missing in the panel. iZotope say they’ve both improved the sound model, and added the ability to get advanced control over parameters, including “access to Vocoder band controls, per module Oscillator presets, and per module panning and filters.”
Integration with other plug-ins. Since iZotope are selling their production stuff as a suite, they’ve also added the ability for Vocal Synth 2 to show up in Neutron 2’s Masking Meter and Visual Mixer, and in Tonal Balance Control. That means a nice chance to apply Vocal Synth where it does – and doesn’t – belong.
I definitely will review this one soon; this stuff is very much up my alley, and a lot of yours’, I’m sure, too.
Okay, those of us who also do design or video editing work may shudder and think of big monthly subscription fees from Adobe when we read those words but – don’t panic.
Creative Suite is just the new bundle of iZotope production tools. While they may be more well known for mastering and post production offerings, iZotope have applied sonic science to an impressive and unique stable of stuff you’d use when actually making the music and designing sounds. So, what had been “Creative Bundle” is now the more complete “Creative Suite.”
Included: VocalSynth 2, Iris 2, Trash 2 Expanded, BreakTweaker Expanded, Stutter Edit, DDLY, and Mobius Filter. (I’m pretty sure someone caught on that filter, because I’ve heard it cropping up in new releases. Don’t know if that’s CDM’s fault in part or not. But it is great fun.)
You can buy Creative Bundle for US$349 now, a steep discount, and then get the bigger Suite when it ships – including the new VocalSynth 2. See:
Turn a knob, dial in a sound – that particular magic associated with specific hardware is showing up in software, too. Or such is the promise of the latest Universal Audio mic model.
Maybe that makes sense. As software gets better at modeling nonlinearity – the particular character of a sound, one that may lie a little outside rational, predictable behavior – it’s also possible to have fewer knobs.
Certainly, leading vendors keep upping the ante when it comes to believable models of classic gear. For Universal Audio’s part, the latest addition is a new set of models of classic Neve mic preamps. In UA’s case, they can tout not just their usual modeling prowess, but also the ability to integrate with their hardware – down to matching the model to the impedance of whatever you’re connecting, so it’s even more like plugging into real hardware.
And case in point: the press release sells you on “clarity,” “grit,” and “complexity” – even though those three things wouldn’t normally make sense together. (It’d be like describing lunch as “fresh,” “greasy,” and “subtle.” At the same time, I totally understand what they mean. There’s sound for you.)
Oh, and there’s a red knob, because who doesn’t like that?
So let me put it more clearly: this gets your sound dirty without getting it muddy.
The basic idea – start with a class-A Neve mic preamp, and combine both the 1037 and 1290 designs.
The original models.
Say what now? Well, the stock 1290 had just a mic input. Here, it gets combined with a padded input you can use with line ins, plus the 80 Hz cut filter from the 1073. That plus some additional signal modifications and impedance behavior borrowed from the 1073 have prompted the new moniker “1290A.” (UA confirmed some of those details to CDM.)
Or, for lay people, UA have cross-bred the best bits of two favorite Neve amps into a single model that never existed before.
Impedance matching with the hardware, though, is everything. A good mic preamp model is pretty meaningless if all you can do is feed it raw signal into your DAW. One place where UA unquestionably has an edge – at least technically speaking – is that they’re able to couple the impedance of their audio interfaces with behaviors of the software. On the Neve, that’s particularly important, because the character of the mic preamp will depend on what’s plugged into it.
Part of the UA pitch – their software is designed to emulate a mic preamp thanks to integration with hardware settings.
This is only meaningful in practice, though, so I’m interested to try it with UA’s new Arrow interface (as well as the other Apollos).
And while it’s meant to model historical gear, my feeling is, if it works, you should feel something even if you never used the originals.
This particular mic model also promises lower DSP hardware requirements than some other Unison plug-ins. So I’m curious to see if it’s a good match for the new Arrow, which has only one DSP chip – meaning it can’t normally run quite as many plug-ins at once.
The Neve is US$149, exclusively from UA for their UAD-2 DSP platform and Apollo interfaces.
Universal Audio are here with their winter lineup – the latest processing tools for their hardware platform – now including a sought-after compressor.
I know we’ve got some pretty hard-core UAD fans in our readership. For those of you just joining us, the idea is, you buy plug-ins that operate on dedicated hardware – DSP chips in various rack-mount and portable gear. Most popular among producers I know are the Apollo line, particularly the Twin models small enough to fit in a rucksack, which connect via USB or Thunderbolt.
The value proposition is, you get real-time tracking and monitoring on the hardware, plus a selection of the highest-end models out there. UA have made their name in specializing in classics and sought-after studio sounds, especially with collaborations and authorized recreations.
Making that investment isn’t cheap, and because they’re tied to the DSP hardware, you do need the interface connected. So that definitely creates two “camps” – watch our comments selection for a taste.
I haven’t tried these particular recreations yet, though I do know and love the original Distressor hardware. Word is, this is the most-requested device UA have added yet. But let’s run down the whole lot, as a number are interesting. Then I’ll leave it to commenters to decide whether this is good news or not.
Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor
The original: 1993, Empirical Labs. This is one of the compressors by which others are measured, and there’s a good chance there’s one in a recording studio near you. It’s based on a gain reduction circuit that uses transistor circuitry (FET, or field effect transistor) to control an analog amplifier (VCA).
The recreation: UA says they’ve built an “end-to-end” emulation of the circuitry. They have the exclusive endorsement of Dave Derr, the Empirical Labs founder who made the original circuit.
Cost: €/US$299 / £228
Softube Dytronics Tri-Stereo Chorus
The original: 1980s. Dytronics CS-5 “Tri-Stereo” Chorus. You know how chorus was … kinda overused in the 80s? This was what they were overusing on a lot of those recordings. The hint it in the name – you get three channels, so it’s thick. Clapton had one, plus… actually, Clapton’s enough, right?
Under the hood, it’s bucket-brigade delay lines that make the difference. That’s a distinctive sound – left, center, right, each independent and with its own delay response and feedback parameters. It wouldn’t be much of a chorus without some modulation, so the delays are swept by an LFO, with separate or parallel operation. The two modes are oddly named “preset” and “manual” – preset gives you a cool, “shimmery” sound.
The recreation: Here, UA are turning to Swedish DSP mavens Softube for the modeling, to recreate the sound of those three independent delay lines. It’s also an exclusive.
New in this version: stereo input, feedback (found only on rare MkII hardware), and a Rate knob for Preset mode modulation.
Cost: €/US$199 / £152
Gallien-Krueger 800RB Bass Amp
The original: 1982, 800RB. It’s legendary. Okay, I’d never heard of it – but I definitely have heard it, and so have you. Think Red Hot Chili Peppers, Radiohead, No Doubt, Guns n’ Roses, and more. Also, look at that nice panel.
Now, just because they don’t have their own line of consumer Bluetooth headphones (cough, Marshall), don’t overlook them. Who’s Gallien-Krueger? It may sound German, but it’s not – it’s a late 60s American company founded by an HP engineer (so it oddly shares that lineage with Apple Computer).
The sound is described as a “dry growl.” Like the chorus, there’s a distinctive 80s sound here, made possible by improved amplifier tech.
The original 800RB.
The recreation: Also a UAD exclusive, this time with Brainworx, another of the world’s top DSP developers (they’re in Germany). And this is also officially licensed, as Gallien-Krueger are still around.
New on the plug-in version, not on the original hardware: dedicated Recording Chains for each power amp, physical input impedance, and hands-on control of Gain staging (which in turn integrates with UA’s hardware via their Unison technology). There’s actually a lot in there: you get a bunch of included cabinet and mic options, and some 64 chains were recording with multiple speaker cabinets, so you have a little virtual studio in there.
Cost: €/$149 / £114.
Ocean Way Microphone Collection
The originals: There are different mics here – Neumann, Sony, RCA, AKG, and so on. (You probably guessed that from the pics.) They’re all from the collection of Allen Sides, the engineer/producer behind the Ocean Way Studios after which this series is named. Allen Sides produced… uh, kind of more stuff than there’s space to list.
Ocean Way Hollywood says their mics are so sensitive they’ll “pick up the sound of your soul.” That means you should let me absolutely nowhere near your recording session.
The recreations: This is actually really the bargain buy of the collection, as the idea is, you get a whole closet full of vintage microphones – albeit virtual ones. The Townsend Labs Sphere L22 microphone system is a set of models of those classic mics. In order to use these, you will need a specialized spherical mic from Townsend. What makes it work is that that mic picks up everything, allowing you to emulate the behavior of different mics, in software.
Townsend have developed this new software for the UAD platform in order to extend that mic’s capabilities. So this is the first-ever microphone to be powered by the UAD. Because it’s a spherical mic, you get off-axis response. You can actually change polar patterns after you record – like turning a directional mic into an omni or visa versa. And you can even adjust proximity effect, for some easy vocals. (I like sounding like God, don’t you?)
I know a lot of people imagine these DSP hardware systems are some kind of big dongle – hardware you have to buy to use the software. But when it comes to real-time performance, there’s objectively a major advantage. You’re able to track in real-time with the lowest latency available – something that’s comparatively far less useful on native systems.
That in combination with the spherical mic is something that promises to be really revolutionary. It’s sort of like microphone VR: one mic can transform into any mic, and then transform again after you’ve recorded. Bad for people who have trouble making decisions, but good for everyone else.
Cost: €/$249 / £190
For more, check out UA’s site. Let us know if you want some reviews of these – or more history of the gear involved.