Universal Audio Flexi-PAK

One the annoying things about computer-based recording is how quickly you can run out of CPU power when using effects plug-ins. Universal Audio—which specializes in hardware and software versions of classic studio processors—is one of several manufacturers offering DSP acceleration cards to help your computer with the heavy lifting. In a new twist on the bundle concept, the UAD-1 Flexi-PAK ($899 retail/$699 street) gives you the UAD-1 DSP (a standard PCI card), 15 plug-ins (including the 1176SE dynamics processor, CS-1 channel strip, Pultec EQP-1A equalizer, RealVerb Pro room modeler, and the Nigel guitar processor), and a $500 voucher you can use to purchase additional plug-ins of your choice. If I had purchased the bundle for myself, I would have used my $500 voucher for the LA2A compressor/limiter ($149), Plate 140 reverb ($149), and Fairchild 670 compressor/limiter ($149).

I easily installed the UAD-1 DSP card in my 2.7GHz Macintosh G5, and I tested the Audio Unit and VST versions of the plug-ins within MOTU Digital Performer 4.6 and Peak 4. Of particular interest to guitarists, Nigel is a collection of seven modules: Preflex Amp/Cab simulator, Gate/Comp, Phasor, Mod Filter, Trem/Fade, Mod Delay, and Echo. Preflex provides 12 great-sounding models based on classic British and American amplifiers, which may be used individually or in pairs via the Morph slider (which can be automated for cool shifts between the two). The interface gives you two sets of Lo, Mid, and Hi controls—positioned both pre- and post-amp—along with very effective Bright switches, and Color and Bent knobs (which affect overall tone and gain, respectively). Cab gives you a generous choice of 23 cabinet types, although Nigel’s amp-miking simulation is limited to a Shure SM57 positioned on/off axis, on the speaker edge, or two feet away. You also get emulations of direct-recording devices by ADA, Line 6, and SansAmp. All of the effects modules sound absolutely killer—the modulation and filter effects are especially impressive—as well as providing enough programming options to occupy even inveterate tweakers indefinitely.

Guitarists will also fall in love with the 1176SE, LA2A, and Fairchild 670 dynamics processors (which are astonishingly accurate emulations of three classic compressor/limiters used on countless recordings by nearly every great guitarist you can think of), and the Plate 140 (which provides three of the most realistic plate reverb emulations available).

I’m totally nuts about all of Universal Audio’s plug-ins, and being able to run more than a dozen of them at a time without any noticeable affect on my Mac’s CPU is a dream come true. Considering that the hardware versions of many of these processors can cost thousands of dollars, the Flexi-PAK is an extremely economical way to endow your recordings with major-studio magic.