Slate Digital has launched the VRS8, their 8×8 recording interface for Thunderbolt-equipped Macs.
For home studio enthusiasts who want pro-level gear, there’s really only three ways to do it: Universal Audio Apollo, Slate Digital VRS and the Everything Bundle … or buy a standalone interface and collect your own plugins from lots of different vendors.
The UAD system relies on DSP chips in the Apollo hardware to run emulations of analog outboard gear. You have to buy these plugins separately, and they cost hundreds of pounds each. The results are fantastic, and not only well worth the money, but also far cheaper than buying (and maintaining!) the real outboard gear.
There’s just one problem, and it’s the reason why I haven’t bought any UAD plugins this year. The Apollo hardware is simply underpowered. It doesn’t take many plugins to max out the available hardware. And if you’re a home studio enthusiast, it’s a lot of money to move from the Apollo Twin up to the Apollo 8.
Enough money to consider looking at switching to something else.
Now Slate Digital has its own serious problem to take into account. It’s secured by an iLok key. Look at a modern Mac. Where the hell do you find a free port to plug the iLok into these days?!? One port is taken up by power, one by the external storage that the session is on, one by your audio interface, and one by your external monitor.
Yes, I know there’s a virtual iLok now. I live in the UK, where our broadband is about as reliable as a Trump tweet or a Brexit promise. I don’t want a (rare!) creative day ruined because of a broadband outage.
That said, the Slate Digital VRS looks really interesting. For pretty much the same price as the Apollo 8 Quad, you get 8 preamps and a year’s access to the Everything Bundle. (The equivalent UAD Ultimate Bundle is currently over £2,300 and doesn’t include all of the plugins). And your Mac will be able to run far more plugins at once than the quad-DSPs of the Apollo 8.
Thing is, if I’m going to use all 8 preamps, I’d want the Apollo 8p, not the Apollo 8. The difference? The extra Unison preamps, which model the electrical behaviour of whatever outboard gear you’re simulating. I’m a big fan, and a big believer that part of the organicness of a recorded tone comes from the interaction of the electrical circuit.
Question is, though: is it a difference that is noticeable in a final mix? And is it a difference that’s worth the extra money?
Another one from Michael Nielsen tonight. He’s done a great video looking at how several popular load boxes sound for vintage tones.
Around the 7 minute mark, he talks about a surprising aspect of load boxes – that they drive the amp harder than the real cab does. He then goes on to show the captured waveforms side by side. There’s a few surprises hiding in there too.
Please head over to YouTube to leave a like and a supportive comment if you enjoyed Michael’s video.
Check this out. Michael Nielsen has posted a video comparing a real mic + cab setup vs 5 different ways to record silently at home. And he’s picked a great way to do it too.
He’s recorded the best sound he could with each approach, and used them in a mix so that you can hear the kind of final results you might be able to get. Best of all: the guitar is soloed to begin with, to give you a taste of what it’s like to simply noodle through each setup.
It isn’t a straight comparison. The real cab has V30s in it, and is mic’d using an SM57. The impulse responses used are of G12M Creambacks with a couple of different mics, and I’d swear that the OX is emulating G12Hs not G12Ms. But that’s kinda the point. He’s gone and done exactly what we’d do ourselves – dial in what he thinks sounds the best.
Do have a read of the comments people have been leaving on his video. It’s clear that not only do people have different tastes, but that different people actually hear different things too.
The other thing that’s interesting? Play it back to back a few times. Once ear fatigue kicks in, just how much difference can you hear any more?
(And just how good does that BE-100 sound?!? Me want …!)
Please head over to YouTube to leave a like and a supportive comment for Michael’s video.
Universal Audio has released v9.5 of their plugin software platform today. The highlights are three new plugins to buy:
Helios Type 69 Preamp & EQ
Friedman Buxom Betty Amplifier
To promote the release, Universal Audio has posted some short promo videos over on YouTube:
If you’re not familiar with UAD … they’re custom software plugins that you buy and run on Universal Audio’s Apollo hardware. Each plugin is a faithful recreation of some of the finest studio equipment around. Although the hardwae and the plugins aren’t cheap – right now, the Ultimate 6 Bundle is £2,999 – they’re a lot cheaper than the real gear, assuming you could get it in the first place.
I’ve had the Apollo Twin for about 18 months now, and I wouldn’t go back. I’ll write some articles about my experiences with it soon.
Henning Pauly has just published an in-depth look at Universal Audio’s OX amp top box. It’s a much-anticipated reactive load box, attenuator, and digital speaker simulator all in one.
If you’ve not come across Henning before, he’s been doing great YouTube gear demos for years. He’s a professional musician and producer, running his own recording studio over in Germany. Anyone who makes living from running a recording studio is worth learning from – they have to know what they’re on about to stay in business.
A long video, so you might want to make a drink before you settle down to watch this one.
Personally, I’m reluctant to sink money into digital gear, as a rule. Digital gear isn’t cheap, and you’re unlikely to still be using it five years down the road. If you put the same money into analogue gear, that gear can last you 20+ years. And it often sounds better.
Universal Audio though is one exception to my rule. The Apollo gear isn’t cheap, sure, but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than the gear that the Apollo system models. Much of that gear is unobtainium to us home tone folks … and where would we put it even if we could get our hands on it?
The OX is an option for anyone looking to record real amps silently at home. You plug your amp’s speaker out into the OX, and take a line from your OX into your recording interface. No need for a real speaker, or the hassle of mic’ing up your cab.
You’re limited to the models that Universal Audio provides; this thing won’t run your favourite impulse responses. Henning covers that in his video. I imagine that UAD will make more models available in the future, if the OX sells well enough.
It sounds fantastic in every demo I’ve watched so far. And price wise, it seems very competitive with its main competitor, the Two Notes Torpedo Studio.
At the moment, I’ve gone down the Two Notes Captor route. I’ve built up a collection of impulse responses over the last 4 years, and they’re more than good enough for what I do. (I’ve also picked up a Kemper. More about that soon!)
But I will be keeping an eye on the OX. I really want to move more of the signal chain off the computer, and reduce the amount of work it has to do when I’m recording … and the OX would be a great way to do that.
Please head over to YouTube and leave a comment if you liked Henning’s video.