UNIVERSAL AUDIO HAS GAINED A REPUTATION FOR developing software plug-ins that successfully emulate the sound and response of classic audio hardware processors, many of which work wonders with acoustic and electric guitars. Here, we’ll examine three guitar-friendly ambience plug-ins.
The latest U.A. plug-ins are only compatible with the second generation of the company’s accelerator cards, known as UAD-2, which are available as internal PCI Express cards for use with desktop computers (Mac or PC), or external Firewire 400/800 devices for use with laptops (Mac only). The UAD-2 hardware supports VST, Audio Unit (AU), and RTAS plug-in formats. I tested AU versions of the plug-ins on a six-core 3.33GHz Mac Pro (OS 10.6.6/13GB of RAM) loaded with a UAD-2 Quad DSP Accelerator card. The topof- the-line Quad card sports four SHARC processors, providing enough horsepower to handle a plethora of even the most DSPhungry plug-ins. My primary host application was MOTU Digital Performer 7.2.2.
EP-34 Tape Echo
Following on the heels of U.A.’s excellent Roland RE-201 Space Echo plug-in comes the EP-34 Tape Echo ($199 retail), a remarkably realistic emulation of the ’70s-era solidstate Maestro EP-3 and EP-4 model Echoplex echo units. The user interface looks very similar to the control panel on the EP-4— down to the “sliding head” used to adjust delay time between Short (80ms) and Long (700ms)—though the EP-34 also provides some very handy features not found on the original, such as a delay time in milliseconds display, a Sync switch for locking delay times to your DAW’s tempo, Hi and Low inputs for affecting tape saturation, and an Echo Pan control for positioning delays within the stereo field. Another clever feature is the Echo Send On/Off switch, which lets you enable/disable signal sent to the delay input without affecting already occurring repeats.
If you have ever used an Echoplex you will find that the EP-34 responds and sounds very much like the real thing (factoring in the idiosyncrasies of individual hardware units, of course). Move the sliding head while playing and you can hear the tape hiccup and reset itself as the pitch and time increase or decrease. Increase the regeneration at the same time and the EP-34 goes into self-oscillation, creating spacey Bitches Brew-type effects. And being able to automate the EP-34’s functions opens up lots of creative possibilities. If you dig Echoplex sounds, but would prefer to get them without the bulky hardware and attendant maintenance hassles, the EP-34 is for you.
The U.A. UAD-2 Quad PCI Express card sports a quartet of SHARC processors.
Cooper Time Cube Mk II Delay
Created by Duane H. Cooper and U.A. founder Bill Putnam in 1971, the Cooper Time Cube is a rare electro-mechanical device that creates dual delays by routing audio through a pair of long hose-like tubes and capturing it at the other end. The Time Cube only produces 14ms and 16ms delays (30ms with the tubes connected in series), but it has a unique sound that is exceptionally pleasing and, among other things, enhances stereo imagery in a way that works beautifully with most musical instruments—including guitars. The Cooper Time Cube Mk II Delay plug-in ($149 retail) extends the maximum delay time for both delay lines to 2,500ms, allows you to sync the delay times to your DAW’s tempo, provides global EQ (Bass, Treble, HP Filter) and Decay controls, and lets you pan the delays separately. There is also a Coils switch for choosing between the sound of individual or combined coils, and a Color switch that selects between the original unit’s filtering emphasis and a flatter sound.
Despite its somewhat minimal controls, the Time Cube is capable of producing numerous sounds, from subtle stereo image enhancements to slapbacks and pseudo-spring reverb to longer and rhythmically synched echoes. But the main thing is just how good it makes everything sound, and the way in which it enlarges and emphasizes sounds within a mix without necessarily increasing their level. This is truly a magical effect, and if you are like me, you’ll be tempted to use it on everything.
The user interface for the EMT 250 Classic Electronic Reverberator.
EMT 250 Classic Electronic Reverberator
EMT introduced the Model 250 digital reverberator in 1976, and it is still considered by many to be one of the best-sounding digital reverb devices ever made. Universal Audio’s emulation was modeled on a cherry unit at Ocean Way Recording and incorporates the original algorithms. The interface for the EMT 250 Classic Electronic Reverberator ($249 retail) looks nearly identical to that of the hardware: Six pushbuttons select Reverb, Delay, Phase, Chorus, Echo, or Space mode, and four levers control various functions depending on the mode. For example, in Reverb mode they control decay time (400ms- 4.5 seconds), low-frequency decay time, high-frequency decay time, and pre-delay (up to 60ms). Delay mode provides up to a 315ms delay, and Echo mode adds delay repeats. The Chorus and Phase modes sound great, if not like what you might expect (e.g., there is no LFO to create modulation). The Space mode is unique to the EMT 250 and sounds much like you might imagine, enveloping any sound in deeply reverberant spaces with long decay times. As for the Reverb mode, the sounds are truly majestic, and suitable for everything from adding a touch of ambience to an individual instrument to imbuing complete mixes with a sense of shared space.
CONTACT Universal Audio, (877) 698-2834; uaudio.com
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