Sonic LAB: UAD2 Satellite Quad Review

DSP Power on the FireWire bus      08/09/11

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11:51 mins    

Amazingly enough, this is a first for me - for as long as both me and the UAD platform have been around, our paths have never crossed. In recent times though, there’s been a growing tide of influence from professional acquaintences who’ve had nothing but Good Things to say about this powered plug-ins system. So better take a look then...

What we have here is the UAD2 Satellite Quad - its a Firewire connected (400+800) unit, externally powered (not bus powered) box with 4 SHARC2 DSP chips inside. You can also get it in Duo form - with 2 SHARCS. These chips are specifically designed for high-powered real-time DSP processing. They allow you to run specially written plug-ins from inside your DAW with the processing offloaded to these SHARC chips.
The unit is about the size of a 2 DVD cases with 2x800 FireWire ports allowing daisy-chaining and one 400 port. LED Indicator, power connector and power switch complete the rear panel. The front panel sports a pretty, backlit Universal Audio logo.

At the time of writing, the Satellite is only supported by OS X 10.5 and above - no PCs I’m afraid. Though you can grab a PCIe version which will work on the PC platform.

Currently at V6.0, the software is a simple download and install process, then its a matter of activating your account and downloading the authorizations for the specific plug-ins.
All the authorizations and setup is handled via the UAD Meter & Control Panel.  This also gives you a way to measure DSP resources, plug-in count, FireWire bandwidth and usage including limiting the amount the UAD2 Satellite can use and what any other devices connected to the FW bus consume. Handy if you have limited connections. You can also bypass all effects with a single button - very dramatic and can make you realize exactly what the Satellite can do.

With any of the base UAD2 units you get the Analog Classics plug-in bundle:
LA-2A Classic Audio Leveler, 1176LN / 1176SE Classic Limiting Amplifiers, Pultec EQP-1A and Realverb Pro plug-ins. Plus the UAD CS-1 channel strip and UAD RealVerb Pro

For a full list of available plug-ins and promotions,  check the website. We received our unit during a promo which gave us the Studer A800 tape saturation, Manley Massive Passive EQ and EMT-250 reverb.

All available plug-ins are installed and can be either purchased online or activated for a demo period of two weeks without limitation - just enough time to find you cant live without them...

In Use
Once installed, I fired up Reaper with a basic drum kit recording (Kick, Snare, O/Heads and toms) and started to pile on the processing.
Most modern DAWs have delay compensation, so that wasn’t an issue, and I soon found that a liberal sprinkling of plugs took my rather dull, dry sounding kit into another dimension - I mean it sound more like a record.

Highlights for me from the included plugs - UAD CS-1 Channel strip - designed it seems for vocal and musical content - I found it worked  very nicely on Kick and Snare in combination with additional limiting from the 1176LN and LA2A respectively. I also was really blown away by the EMT-250 reverb - really great sounding with a lovely stereo depth and smooth quality. On the overheads I again found the UAD CS-1 was more useful than the Pultec EQ1 (included).

Where I really fell in love was with the SPL Transient Designer - simply turns most drum sounds into something else - unfortunately this one I had to use in demo mode, but I would seriously consider a purchase for sculpting drums - the control over the smack and body (attack/sustain) is impressive and really brought my bass drum to life.
I was also very impressed with the SSL G Bus Compressor - it glued everything together nicely and the 1176LN when pushed hard made the kit pump and grind impressively. In short, its a plug-in heaven, but watchout - purchasing additional plugs is iTunes app store easy - you could do some serious damage to your wallet.

Powered Plug-Ins  UAD-2 QUAD  
Mono Stereo
1176LN 88 80
1176SE 244 192
4K Buss Compressor 140 116
Ampex ATR-102 20 12
CS-1 Channel Strip 64 60
Boss CE-1 192 156
EMT 250 48 44
LA-2A 108 96
Manley Massive Passive 8 4
Pultec EQP-1A 96 64
RealVerb Pro 40 36
Roland RE-201 28 28
SPL Transient Designer 108 92
SSL G Series Bus Compressor 140 116
Studer A800 40 24


The UAD2 system is not a cheap one, its a lot less than the ProTools equivalent, but you still could spend a real chunk of change on plugs in addition to your hardware, especially as Universal Audio have got some exclusives here, but it feels like value to me as the models do sound great, even down to the noise they add when the gain is cranked. There are drawbacks - you cant really use these in real-time - the latency is just too great (apart from perhaps for reverbs) and when it comes to bouncing, you aren’t far from real-time  (I clocked 1.2x real-time)- so no time saving if that’s often in your work-flow.

Of course, you can get a lot of these types of plug-ins elsewhere, Waves make some excellent (though not cheap) native versions,  but not all. So you’d have to actually buy the gear in hardware to get access to the sound  - not at all practical or affordable.

Many top mix engineers swear by this package and I can honestly hear why, they sound great and they are cheaper than owning the real thing. Sure the DSP hardware is perhaps the wrong side of affordable to some, but if you make any kind of living from your audio work, then you have to consider this option seriously.

UAD2- Satellite Duo £929/ $1149 Flexi  comes with $500 voucher
UAD2 Quad  £1549/$1899
UAD2 Omni £4559/ $5625 -  Satellite Quad + 50 UA plugs



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