Universal Audio UAD-2 OCTO Core Card by Leveuho
Yes, I'm biased, I'm a huge fan of UAD stuff. Yes, I know, they use old, clunky SHARC technology. No, they don't support VST3, no side-chaining so far. Yes, they are pricey, not the cheapest thing on market.
But the SOUND you get from UAD plugins, man. I mean, well, can't compare them to anything I've used before.
A couple of examples:
I used C1 by Waves as my workhorse compressor, used also some other comps from Waves, lihe H-comp. Then came Kotelnikov and MJUC, wow, what a difference! But hey, switching to Distressor, backed by LA-2A and 1176 AE was one of biggest changes I've experienced in my mixing work. For mastering purposes I go for Shadow Hills or Manley Vari-Mu (thought I still reach for VintageWarmer 2 from PSP sometimes, also tested SPL Iron recently and was very happy with the results).
For most EQ-ing purposes I go for Pro-Q3 and TDR Nova, but when it comes to mastering, I can't even imagine my life without an excellent MassivePassive emulation. It gives amazing body and life to all of my work, even if touched just slightly.
The biggest change came with reverberation. This can be a real CPU hog when mixing a film work. Yes, sure, you can play with automation more when reaching CPU peaks, you can choose some "optimised" reverbs, suffering quality loss, but it is all gone with UAD. For now I switched exclusively to UAD reverberation: Lexicon 480 (an excellent reproduction!), Lexicon 224 (same thing!), Capitol Chambers (the most insane, lush, rich, musical space I've ever heard), DreamVerb (harder to tweak, old GUI, yet very efficient when emulating some larger, real life spaces). A couple of instances of each on and still lots of CPU to use for other tasks, no lagging, no extending the buffer to more than 256 samples!
I still keep my Lexicon PCM bundle plus Sonnox Oxford Reverb, I got Waves H-Reverb on a promo recently, but really, more than 95% of my work go through UAD with excellent results.
Other uses? Amazing Moog filter emulation, SPL Transient Designer, Softube Vocoder, OTO Biscuit 8-Bit Effects.
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Ok, so now some cons, because there are cons.
1. Prices. Expensive stuff, buy only during promos, avoid regular prices. Look for second-hand DSP cards. I got my three octo core as new units only because couldn't find used ones when I needed them (large film projects, lots of tracks, eq-ing etc., lots ith urgent DSP needs, no will to go for anything like Pro Tools HDX, being extremely happy with my Nuendo software).
2. Old SHARC tech. Yes, this is getting old. You need many single SHARC processors to make reasonable use of UAD plugins, not just one or two stereo instances running. Expanding to new (FPGA?) hardware with compatibility kept? Who knows when, who knows the prices? Helllooo, anybody? (Silence.)
3. No VST3, no sidechaining. This is ridiculous and makes UAD plugins very, very limited sometimes. Bad thing.
4. External vendors: Brainworx, Softube, they deliver great stuff for UAD, but also for native systems. They may stop delivering for UAD soon. Why?
5. More and more computing power from native systems, thats' why! I can still hit the ceiling, having an OC'd i9 9900K + 64 GB fastest RAM + .m2 ultra drives, but native computing power is growing and growing, so is library of native plugins from Softube, Plugin Alliance ad other quality vendors. I love what UAD is offering, but they have no monopoly for quality, virtual SPL Iron is a great example of such situation.
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Hard to tell the future, but I'm sure that UAD plugins will remain my main choice for reverberation / compression and mastering purposes for a long time and a big help with releasing CPU stress for, well, some time.
And this is the best one sentence review I can give. Cheers!