UAD SPL Transient Designer

UAD released a couple new plugins, a transient designer and a bus compressor, both of which I’m trying out as I mix things. I’d rather not buy more plugins right now but these are proving to be extremely useful for the exact things I’m working on right now.

Transient designers basically allow you to re-shape the volume envelope on an existing sound. For example, you can take an existing snare track and make it punchier by increasing the attack of the sound, so that they very beginning of it is emphasized and sounds quicker and snappier. Or you can do the opposite, and de-emphasize the attack so that an overly crisp sound is toned down a bit. With the UAD plug, this is accomplished by just turning one knob, the “Attack”.

The UAD plug also lets you change the sustain of the sound. So if your existing snare track trails off with say an extended reverb tail that you decide you don’t like, you can chop it off by decreasing the sustain value. Or if you want to emphasize that reverb tail and make it more prominent, you can increase the “Sustain” knob. I’d been using the Sonalksis gate plugin to accomplish this on a lot of the drum tracks with some success, now I am trying it using this plug and it’s sounding great.

The cool thing about the UAD plug is that those two knobs are basically all you need to tweak, and the plugin is all sweet spot. This is in contrast to the built in Logic envelope shaper, which also works great but has a million parameters and is easy to get lost in. It is cool to have those million parameters when you need them for a particularly tricky bit of envelope surgery, but 95% of the time you don’t need them and it’s also really nice to have a plug that just does what you want by turning one or two knobs. The UAD plug also just tends to sound “right”, whereas sometimes even with all those knobs (or maybe because of it) the Logic plug just doesn’t do what you want it to. I’d compare the UAD plug to playing with a Roland SH-101 synth, where every sound you make sounds great but you are limited in the sorts of sounds you can make. The Logic enveloper plug would be more like playing with the Alesis Andromeda, where you have every feature and function and option you could ever want but figuring out the synth takes a long time and it can take a lot of effort to get things sounding just how you want even when you are familiar with the synth. I really think that a lot of the appeal of vintage gear is that they spent a lot of time finding the sweet spots for you, limiting what you could do with a very basic user interface, but making sure no matter what you did it sounded pretty good. Newer equipment and most plugins give you all sort of crazy options, which is nice when you happen to need them, but gets in the way when you don’t (again, 95% of the time) and by supporting so many features and options the creators don’t have the luxury of making sure all the paths and positions sound great. That’s my theory at least…

Anyway, I have been trying the UAD plug on lots of drum tracks, especially the ones with older and cheaper analog drum machines that don’t have any way to change the sounds (CR-78, 606, Maestro Rhythm King). It works great. This plug along with some EQing lets me shape the individual sounds nicely, sharpen them up a bit when needed, and then I add a little reverb and throw some compression on top of the entire drum buss to gel everything together. I’ve found it particularly useful on CR-78 and Rhythm King hi-hats and maraca type sounds, which typically sound sort of primitive and weak, as well as punching up things like kicks and snares a little bit.

The plug has proved useful other places as well. For instance I have some synth tracks that sounded good in isolation, but once I started mixing them into the song I realized I wanted them to be in the background a bit more. One method I had been using to do this was to chop off some of the highs, which tends to sit sounds back in the mix a bit. It works, but it can also obviously change the sound a lot, which sometimes isn’t what you want. So I’ve been using the UAD transient plug to de-emphasize some of the attack on these sounds, which accomplishes the same trick of pushing it back in the mix while retaining the original sound. This can also be useful on effects sends, if the echoes or reverb or whatever are too prominent you can stick a transient shaper on the bus too so that all of the effects sounds are still audible but less prominent, and interfere less with the other tracks. Since all of my synth sounds are created with the Nord Modular, changing the envelope a bit can also just make a particular track sound a little different from the others, which is very helpful.

Another use for the transient plug that I plan to try is creating stereo effects by shaping the left and right sides of a sound differently. By de-emphasizing the attack on one side, and making it more prominent in the other, you can get some really interesting psycho-acoustic effects that could be particularly useful on an ambient album.

Finally, I’m planning to automate the plug subtly to emphasize different parts of different tracks during a song. For instance during a chorus things might pop out a little more, or during a solo a particular sound might sound a little sharper and cut through the mix more. This is just another alternative to doing the same thing with volume, EQing, chorus and other automated effects, and is a subtle thing that nonetheless sounds good and is missed once it’s taken away.

I’ll talk about the new bus compressor in the next post, it is (apparently) modelled after an SSL bus compressor and looks like it will be particularly useful for drums.

Anyway, to sum up my review of the new UAD transient plugin… it’s great, and very useful during the mixing stage.