The UAD systems by Universal Audio have been host to some of the best plug-ins available (in VST, AU, RTAS) for a number of years now, via their "Powered Plug-In" cards. Usually these are PCI-based cards installed inside a computer (they handle the DSP for authorized plug-ins), but in the case of the SOLO/Laptop the card has been reduced to a tiny bugger that slips into the ExpressCard slot of a laptop (for those that have this slot, check before buying one). A while back I got a good deal on one of the UAD-Xpander/UAD-1 rigs that basically dropped a UAD-1 card in a little powered box and connected to my laptop via an ExpressCard cable. It was nice to get access to UA's (always growing) collection of plug-ins, but I have to admit that dealing with the Xpander box (burning hot), a pesky wall wart and cables was such a pain I would usually skip using my UAD-1 and use Pro Tools' meager collection of plug-ins. The UAD did sound great, and I almost became addicted to the Precision Limiter at one point, but sometimes three or four open plug-ins would be all I could use -making it occasionally not worth the setup hassle. On the other hand, the UAD-2 SOLO/Laptop simply plugs into the slot with no cables, even when your laptop is powered up, and UA says it has three times the power of the older unit. Can it run a decent amount of plug-in "instances"? I could get ten of the "full power" UA 1176's going, whereas the UAD-1 might get four running. Nice. As this is a piece of hardware built to run proprietary plug-ins on, you need to know that it comes loaded with the UA 1176SE compressor, Pultec EQ, Realverb Pro, CS-1 Channel Strip and includes UAD $50 voucher good at their efficient online store. Along with great emulations of Neve, Roland, UA, Fairchild, Pultec, Helios, Moog and SPL hardware, some of my current favorite UAD plug-ins include the Little Labs IBP emulation (it does act like the real thing!) and FATSO -the first ever Empirical Labs plug-in. These run from $99 to $249, you can run 14-day trials, and there are monthly promo discounts and bundles available. Remember, you can open up as many copies of these plugs as needed (as much as the card can handle) and still not tax your trusty laptop. The SOLO/Laptop will work with Cubase, Nuendo, Logic, Digital Performer and Pro Tools at rates up to 192 kHz. The UAD-2 also ships with a nifty delay compensation plug-in for Pro Tools LE by Mellowmuse called ATA (see this issue) -a fix that really helps phase issues during mixing. It's pretty amazing to me to see the recording power available on a laptop these days, and the UAD-2 SOLO/Laptop only makes it more impressive. ($499 street; uaudio.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.