Wood Works is one of those plug ins which attempts the impossible - To turn an audio signal into something it isn't. Under saddle piezo pickups are so convenient and work so well that the fact that they sound artificial when compared to an actual recording made using a microphone is forgivable in live situations.
Modern digital mixers and the rise of AoIP make discrete multitrack recording at gigs routine and UAD's Wood Works attempts to help the rubbery quack of a piezo DI sound less artificial. In this video Russ tours the UI and auditions the plug in on a variety of sources.
To really put Wood Works through its paces I thought I'd put it through a fundamentally unfair test. Wood Works shouldn't be seen as an alternative to using a microphone, a sensibly mic'ed acoustic guitar will always sound better than Wood Works, but that is missing the point. When set up sympathetically Wood Works can significantly improve a DI recording and in the context of a mix where it isn't too exposed it can definitely pass itself off as a recording made using a microphone.
Piezo Vs Wood Works Vs A Microphone
These examples are of a recording of my friend Guy Fletcher, the owner of a lovely Martin guitar, recorded using a mic, the DI output and the DI output processed using Wood Works.
The first thing I need to say is to repeat that this isn't really a fair comparison as Wood Works' intended purpose is to make DI recordings less "plasticy". I don't believe it was ever intended to be an alternative to miking up an instrument in a studio environment. A fairer test would be to put it up against a recording made using a mic with all the onstage bleed of a typical live recording.
Sound Machine Choices
In this example I chose the closest sound machine model from the available alternatives. If you try this plug in you will be struck by how radically differed the alternatives sound and although the 000-16GT is an OM style guitar the best choice was number 5, a dreadnought. I gave it a little help with a -3dB tilt using the excellent Tonelux tilt EQ and I thought it sounded better with a touch of room from the studio B setting in the UAD Ocean Way reverb. I left that off this example as I thought it detracted from the comparison.
My choice of treatment is interesting as it addresses the two issues I found myself trying to address when setting Wood Works up - It often sounds over-bright and tends towards the scratchy (hence the tilt EQ) and the clever time domain processing it uses it can never totally disguise the speed of an under saddle pickup. The sound of an acoustic guitar comes from the belly of a guitar, not from the string itself and this fast attack it the thing which makes harsh piezos so difficult to EQ.
Guy usefully provided details of the equipment used:
- Martin 000-16GT
- Headway active under saddle pickup, without any preamp straight into MOTU 828Mk 2
- Audio Technica 4033 straight into MOTU 828Mk 2
- Yellow jack-jack lead
Many thanks Guy. If you have any opinions on the choice of a yellow jack lead please comment below...