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Universal Audio Live Rack 2

Universal Audio Live Rack 2

Steve Reed

Universal Audio Live Rack 2 | Learn More:

What Is It: An external processor to run studio-quality plug-ins live

They say in order to move forward in the field of sound you have to go back. That’s because almost all advanced sound is either based on vintage gear or is a modernized technique of processed developed by legendary producers and engineers. When you start to peel back the layers of time you will notice a few names being repeated over and over, one of them would be that of Universal Audio. A company that has long been at the forefront in the world of audio.

While many people offer a version of equipment like the LA-2A and the 1176, they were the ones that actually invented them. This is a level of gear that until recently I didn’t know much about and didn’t realize how important it was to getting a great sound. Look at most any picture of a big recording studio and you’ll see racks and racks of them and with each unit costing in the low thousands of dollars (even today) it was a big part of what made recording studios desirable to work in and put a big roadblock to their use in a live setting.

Renting a studio with expensive gear has faded into the sunset with the advent of plug-ins (smaller programs that you can add to recording software). These digital counterparts can be quickly added to your project as many times as you need for a fraction of the price and once again Universal Audio is a leader in the field. While this modernization greatly improves the home studio, the digitization of a physical unit now created a new barrier to using them live, which was the processing power of your soundboard. Not everyone realizes that digital soundboards are actually computers with knobs and while they offer many similar features to high-end audio units (e.g., compression, eq, and effects) they are not as good. So rather than purchasing a new soundboard, there is now a way to add the processing power you need to allow you to run the same software used by so many top producers today.

The Live Rack 2 by Universal Audio is a relatively easy to use rack mount unit that is essentially a computer that is designed to process audio really fast. This allows you to run a large number of high-quality plugins without experiencing any lag in timing, something known as latency. To control which plug-ins are being used and to switch between settings you will need an actual computer to act as the interface to run a very light and simple program while the Live Rack 2 handles all the heavy lifting. For those who are already Universal Audio users and are familiar with vintage gear, this will be a breeze as it closely resembles their console program. Users will also be delighted to find that licensing works on all Universal Audio units so you don’t have to purchase separately for each device. If, however, you are not familiar with Universal Audio plug-ins (UAD for short) or vintage gear then this can be a bit of a steep learning curve and even though it’s offered at a fraction of what it used to cost there might be some sticker shock as high-end gear is not known for being cheap.

Connection to your soundboard is made through a MADI connection, no that’s not a typo, it’s MADI not MIDI. This is a network protocol that is lighting fast and is standard on high-end soundboards like DigiCo and SoundCraft but not so standard on most of the soundboards used by the average church. Behringer users get off easy as an interface card is relatively affordable, however those with a Yamaha can expect to pay quite a bit, and others are simply not available. This connection sends the signals from your soundboard to the unit and then returns the processed sound almost instantaneously.

One of the key features that this system allows is live pitch correction via a plugin by the industry-leading company Antares, which is included with both product price points. By selecting key, voice range, and effect intensity you can really help bend notes back to where you hoped they were going in the first place. This, of course, is just one of the many benefits as almost the entire arsenal of UAD plugins are compatible with Live Rack allowing you to dial in custom settings for each track and subgroup. While the physical unit is the same for both options, the first price point includes a limited but very useful assortment of plug-ins or if you want to go ‘all in’ the full version put all their tools at your fingertips. It is also possible to add plug-ins individually without the bundled discount. Demos of plug-ins are available so you can see what it does and know how it interacts with your gear.

Pros: This is pretty exciting stuff for people who are familiar with this kind of equipment because it really does sound better and based on relative price it’s a pretty good deal.

Cons: They are working on it but you can’t use the same computer for running LiveRack as you do for other Universal Audio products. One plug-in that is currently missing is a multi-band compressor as the one they have is mostly for mastering and is not compatible with LiveRack. For those who are not familiar or are just getting started it can seem pretty expensive and may take some education to reap the full benefits.

Bottom Line: Top notch gear

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