I'm not a plug-in hound. I tend to stick to a few families of plug-ins that I know and trust. These days, I think I could do 99% of my work with plug-ins from Universal Audio and Wave Arts (Tape Op #55, #56, and this issue), as well as Waves Tune (#54). Up until a year ago, I had a dual G4 Mac with Pro Tools HD2 and a UAD-1 DSP card (#41). Now I'm running native DAWs on a Mac Pro. Because the Mac Pro has PCIe slots, I replaced my original UAD-1 with a UAD-1e Extreme PAK. Included with this PAK are 32 plug-ins. My favorite are Plate 140 (EMT Plate, Tape Op #47); Boss CE-1 (the classic chorus pedal); Fairchild 670 (probably the most sought after compressor); Pultec Pro (combines the MEQ-5 midrange EQ and the EQP-1A program EQ into one plug-in); and Precision De-Esser (with both classic full-band and frequency-selective compression-I prefer the latter mode). And every now and then, when I need some extra character added to a sound-be it guitar or not-I pull out Nigel (an ultra-comprehensive guitar processor). When I had the dual G4, the UAD-1 was critical for offloading plug-in processing. With the Mac Pro, it seems I've got unlimited native processing power, but the UAD plug-ins sound so good that I installed the UAD-1e into the new Mac. I'm even considering adding a second UAD-1e card to my rig. Luckily, each UAD plug-in that you own (whether purchased with a hardware bundle or individually) can be authorized for up to four UAD cards.
A few months ago, when friend and Tape Op contributor Neil Mclellan was buying a new laptop and rethinking his gear and software choices, I set him up with a UAD-Xpander. The Xpander is functionally equivalent to a UAD-1e card encased in a rugged box that connects via ExpressCard to the host computer. Many newer laptops (including Macs) have ExpressCard slots instead of the older CardBus slots. Also, you can purchase a PCIe to ExpressCard adapter (e.g. UAD-Xtenda) to allow use of the Xpander with your desktop. For road warriors who rely on both a laptop and a desktop, the Xpander/Xtenda combination would be ideal. Anyway, Neil quickly took to the UAD-Xpander Xtreme bundle (32 plug-ins), and it's now an integral part of his music-making kit. Neil returned recently from a trip to London, where he worked on new material with the bands Senser and The Prodigy. While he was playing back rough mixes for me, I asked him for his thoughts on the UAD-Xpander. He ran down his list of favorite UAD plug-ins and said this about them:
"1176N is as true as you like. It's a bog standard that everyone can use everyday. It makes the Bomb Factory plug-in sound like it's stuck in quicksand. All buttons in gives me texture, and it's haywire-exactly what you want. LA-2A is just beautiful on vocals, like the real thing. What's not to like about it?
"Nigel is wicked on synths. It puts on all the dirt you need while retaining the original quality of the sound-all the nuances. It's extremely musical, and it's really versatile. But CS-1 is really cool because it doesn't take up a huge amount of the Xpander's DSP. It has distortion built-in. It has 5-band EQ. It sounds good, and it's much more usable across the whole board-for anything really.
"Precision EQ? I don't use it much. The CS-1 is just as good for what I'm using it for. I get everything I need out of CS-1. Precision Limiter is beautiful on the mix bus. Be warned-it makes a Finalizer look lightweight. They say
Precision Multiband is for mastering, but I've been using it on snare and bass. Am I cheating? It can do just wicked notched compression when you have something annoying to remove but you still want to add punch elsewhere. Or say your vocalist is honky and you want to remove the annoying honk. You could go the traditional route and chain an EQ and compressor and so forth together. With Multiband, I'm able to keep the feeling of natural dynamics from the original track without having to carve a hole in it; I just compress the annoying honk in the middle. It's really precise on snare-same principle. I can remove or add ring. Ping too.
"Pultec EQP-1A. The thing I love about it is not so much the boost, but I use it a lot to pull out little bits of bottom end. It's not precise enough for adding. But going into HF, it seems higher than spec. It puts some wonderful air on things. I've used a real one for years, and this sounds a lot like it.
"All buttons in on Roland Dimension D is amazing on vocals and bass. I like to bring it up super low in the mix-wicked when you bring it up below the dry signal. Roland RE-201 Space Echo is so real it's spooky-so fucking real it's absolutely insane.
"Plate 140 is phenomenal. Honestly, the dog's bollocks for reverb. Just like the real EMT is the bollocks-but you can't have one of those in your carry-on bag, can you?
"Neve 33609. I had a real one for over thirteen years. Well, this one is like the real McCoy. I like to pump the fuck out of it-with a really short release time on it-and take it into distortion. When I do, I get a wicked "thwack". Put it across the mix bus or your drum bus, and you're in a beautiful place; and you feel confident and comfortable that it's the right thing. And the Neve 1073 and 1081 EQs are out of this world.
"I'd have to say that the UAD plug-ins blow similar TDM plug-ins out of the water-pretty much all of them except the Sonnox. They're so damn musical. But I do have to be fair and add that there were a few spinning wheels, but that's not abnormal for anything in Pro Tools land.
"By the way, the plastic suitcase that you carry it around in? See here-it's a pile of shite. Look at this. The latches lift off and open too easily. How many times I've almost dropped the bugger out of the suitcase when I've caught the latch on the edge of something-I can't tell you. And the suitcase is too big for what it is. I had to do some serious talking to carry it on the plane along with my laptop bag. And why isn't it powered from the computer, or at the least, an airplane adapter like the one I have for my laptop? I have to carry a Radio Shack power inverter with me on the plane. I've had some funny looks, and I've had to reply, 'It's cool. It's music.' [ExpressCard doesn't supply enough bus power for the Xpander's DSP.]
"I already did demos of the new Prodigy mixes for Liam Howlett. I sat down with Liam, who went off TDM because of the crazy expense, and I got out my laptop with my Mbox 2 Mini and UAD-Xpander, and-I kid you not-I gave him a demo right then and there, whilst sitting in a cafe in London. It just blew him away. He's sold. He's going to get one for himself." ($500-$1500 street for various UAD hardware/software bundles; www.uaudio.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.