Ocean Way Studios Plug-in: Breakthrough?

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I am on record as being an unabashed fan of the UAD platform and its plug-ins, so when I first heard about the Ocean Way Studios plug-in, I was excited. Although primarily known for hit records, this studio, actually 2 studios, Studio A and Studio B, was home to lots of film and TV shows score recording sessions. I recorded an HBO series I was scoring there many years ago and it was a great sounding studio.

Universal Audio describes the plug-in as a “breakthrough” and says:
“The Ocean Way Studios Plug-In rewrites the book on what’s possible with acoustic space emulation. By combining elements of room, microphone, and source modeling, Ocean Way Studios moves far beyond standard impulse response players and reverbs — giving you an authentic dynamic replication of one of the world’s most famous recording studios.”

At $349 US, however, it is out of the no-brainer price range for most people, so is it a must have? Yes and no.

This is a complex plug-in so lets start with the basics. It has two modes: Re-Mic and Reverb and their intention is quite different.

Re-Mic is designed to replace the source material’s ambience with the sonic characteristics of Ocean Way’s acoustics and it gives you near, mid, and far positions with different mic choices available for each, i.e condenser, dynamic, and ribbon. Unless you are a full-blown engineer, you will want to start with the presets and experiment. As in the real world of using multiple mics, if you do not really know what you are doing with multiple mic positioning, it is quite easy to create phase issues for yourself when utilizing multiple mics, and most of the presets only choose one for this reason. There is also a built-in EQ.

I initially tried some software instruments and messed around with it for a while and my initial reaction was disappointment. Samples by definition are rather lifeless and the life I was hoping it would impart was not there. Sure I could move the mics around and the sound was definitely different, but was it better? The jury is still out because I suspect it would depend on the cue mix, but I heard little that I felt I could not do with other spatial positioning techniques and EQs. No magical “breakthrough” for me.

Could the Universal Audio guys have gotten this one wrong? Or was I maybe doing something wrong?

As is my wont, I persevered. This time I tried using it on actual recordings of real players and singers, and the difference was now clear to me. I realized the issue was the source material used.

I have a small project studio, not treated, OK sounding, but it is no Ocean Way. Just for grins, I did a quick demo of Henry Mancini’s ”Charade” and performed my best Bobby Darin-Frank Sinatra-ish vocal and it came off pretty well, I thought. I then added a Re-Mic preset for Studio B solo vocal and now I began to understand what this plug-in brings to the table. Within a short time, there was warmth and depth to my vocal that was not there before. It sounded considerably more like I had recorded it in an expensive studio, specifically of course, Ocean Way Studio A or B. I had the same experience when working with previous recordings of an actual acoustic guitar versus a sampled acoustic guitar. Ditto drums.

The bottom line for me is that Re-Mic mode will indeed change the sound of any source material you work with but it will make more positive difference with sounds that were recorded with an inherent “life” to the sound than samples. You know the old saw about putting lipstick on a pig, right?

There is however a second mode called Reverb mode. This paradigm is actually familiar to those who have already used convolution reverbs where a room’s ambience was sampled, like EastWest’s QL Spaces, Alitverb, or Logic Pro’s Space Designer. It is not intended to replace any sonic properties the source has, just add ambience to them.

This is actually the mode that Universal Audio recommends you track through with an Apollo but as I do not have one I cannot compare/contrast the two modes with it. Apollo users, feel free to respond to this article with your experiences with it. Alternatively, feel free to buy me one and ship it to me and I will report back. (Hey, you can’t blame a guy for trying, right?

Now my curiosity was piqued, so I went back and in Logic Pro and crated an Input Channel Strip and inserted the OWS plug-in on it, so I could actually record myself singing through it from my UAD-2 Quad. There was a little added latency, but nothing I cannot live with at a small buffer size. Apollo users would have a distinct advantage with this as they can instantiate the plug-in thin the Apollo console and there will be no added latency.

I added a UAD La2A silver and ooh-la-la. I will probably record all my vocals this way in the future and I cannot wait to try this with a flautist or sax player.

With material that is already recorded, typically, you would insert OWS in Reverb mode on a bus and send to it from the desired tracks rather than insert it on the track’s channel strip directly. I really liked doing this with recorded background vocals and acoustic drums regions. Still, it is essentially only two rooms but with lots of control. If you already have another convolution reverb with a bunch of rooms/halls/scoring stages IRs you like, is it a must have? If you are not an Apollo user, the answer is probably not. But it does sound good.

So, is it a ‘breakthrough’ or marketing hyperbole? Must have or just maybe have? Both.

If you regularly record real players and singer or mix tracks of real players and singers that are recorded in..err….undistinguished rooms, if you buy this plug-in you will use it…a lot. And the more you work with it and understand it, the better you will like it.

If in an unlikely scenario, you do not own a convolution reverb with IRs of rooms that you really like, you will use this a lot. If you do, then really it will come down to how much you like the sound of the Reverb mode If however, 90% of the work you do is only with sample libraries and virtual instruments, much as it pains me to write this, your money may be better spent elsewhere.

That said, one of the great things about being on the UAD platform is that you can demo fully functional versions for fourteen days. So you have ample opportunity to put this puppy through its paces and see what conclusions you reach.