Paul Lavigne from KMR Audio has written an interesting article on some of the more unusual UAD plug-ins.
Universal Audio have rapidly become highly respected for their emulation plugins of their own hardware as well as those by Neve, SSL, API and Manley through to classics by, Studer, Fairchild and more. Their plugins have been used on countless productions and are used daily in world class facilities worldwide.
However, there are some very unusual plug-ins in their catalogue which users may initially overlook, but these products bring innovative solutions to problems many engineers, musicians and producers face regularly. Here are a few of our favourites.
Developed by Brainworx for the UAD-2 platform in collaboration with mastering engineerGebre Waddell, bx_refinement lets you remove harsh frequencies in your tracks or mixes without affecting the tone and character of the original sound too much and attributing a valve-like analogue smoothness.
With very simple controls, bx_refinement makes it easy to remove harshness over a full mix, or guitars, keyboards, bass, vocals and more. The main focus is a big Damping control, which dials in how much harshness is removed. A great feature is that no matter how much damping is applied the processed signal remains at the same apparent level as the unprocessed signal making it extremely easy to hear the effect of the unit and compare between versions without being fooled by level differences. Saturation and Presence controls let you dial in more presence or thickness to compensate for the Damping effect while the mix knob lets you blend the processed and unprocessed signal in parallel.
A modulation section adds further controls over the damping behaviour. The first control is called Dynamics and makes the damping program-dependent. A Range and Speed control let you set the threshold and attack and release of the process. The second modulation section is called Oscillator and adds a form of “chorusing” effect to soften the overall harshness.
Since using it the first time bx_refinement has become a go to plug-in for mixing or mastering. Although originally designed as a mastering tool, the bx_refinement is extremely effective (perhaps even more so) on individual tracks. On guitars it can easily shine by removing a lot of harshness of a less than ideal mic’d amp or on a bus countering the effect of the harshness that sometimes happen when combining different amps while keeping the sound natural and open. When used on vocals, the dynamics settings lets you achieve forward sounding vocals while the Presence allows you to have forward sounding vocals. It also works on cymbals and other “metallic” sounds.
As a mastering tool it is no less powerful and the option to affect the Mid or both Mid and Side can be very useful for less intrusive processing. In such situations I find that a combination of saturation, Presence and Dynamic yields the best results.
Bx_refinement is a very powerful processor and like everything is best used sparingly, but if you haven’t tried or even considered it, you will likely find a situation where this plug-in is a life saviour, and before long you’ll very likely start finding yourself using it more than you originally thought you would.
UAD Precision K-Stereo Ambience Recovery Plug-in
While on the subject mastering processors, the UAD Precision K-Stereo Ambience Recovery Plug-in is a very specific and unusual processor that has had its fair share of use when mastering.
Developed in collaboration with renowned mastering engineer Bob Katz, the K-Stereo process is part of the UAD Precision series of mastering processors. What this processor does is quite clever. Using Mid/Side processing and elements of the Haas effect and other psycho-acoustic effects, the K-Stereo is capable of extracting natural ambiance from a mix to enhance the stereo depth of a track.
Ideal for mastering tracks that have been mixed “too dry” or need more space, the UAD K-Stereo is great at adding depth transparently. This plug-in has been a saviour many times when mastering for a particular producer I’ve been working with over the years who hates reverb. The K-Stereo is uncanny at adding natural depth without sounding processed however like many processors it has to be used with care.
The plug-in is composed of four sections starting from the top left and the Ambience Enhance, which is where the main process is added. It comprises a deep and wide buttons, which affect the stereo and the depth of the sound and central control, which sets the amount of processing.
To the right is a three-band filter with low-pass and high-pass filers and parametric mid section with bandwidth control which lets you focus the effect to a specific frequency band between 150Hz and 10kHz to focus on a specific band, for example to add more depth to a snare drum or vocals.
The Mid/Side gain section lets you affect the mono or stereo part of your track to narrow or widen your mix while the Left and Right lets you balance each channel individually to rebalance your stereo tracks.
The plug-in also comes with some great presets created by Bob Katz himself that can be used as great starting point and be tweaked to better suit the track. Going through the presets is also a great way to hear what this processor is capable of.
Inserting it on a stereo track and turning the ambience enhance mode will make the whole sound wider and deeper. The more pronounced, the more obvious the effect becomes and pushing it to the maximum clearly shows the principle behind this processor. In Wide mode the Left and Right tracks are delayed from each other creating the stereo width also known as the Haas Effect. This trick is often used to widen guitars. In Deep mode, with the ambiance enhance control all the way up the song becomes modulated by delay so my understanding is that the delay is caused in the mono component of the track being duplicated and delayed, causing the modulation. Returning to more sensible settings it is easy to see hear the effects work and how these processes can add the depth and width so transparently. It is also apparent that the relation between delays on the mid and the sides are carefully calculated so that the delay in the mono and the sides start to conflict with each other.
The EQ section is extremely critical as it serves as a side chain to focus on the effect on a particular band. I often tend to use around the vocals and snare frequencies to add more depth and width without affecting the bass, or to add width to the cymbals.
It is possible to overdo it and often a setting that I think sounds good, will later reveal itself to be too much so it's always good to A/B with and without a few times and come back to it to make sure the process is not doing too much.
The Precision K-Stereo is a very niche processor that will mainly benefit mastering engineers but when a mix or group needs more depth or wider sound-stage it is quite possibly the best way to do so transparently.
Interested And Want To Read More?
You can read the rest of this article by KMR Audio's Paul Lavigne on the KMR Audio web site here. Paul goes on to explore the Vertigo Sound VSM-3, Ocean Way Studios, and Sound Machine Wood Works.