Universal Audio 4-710d
The 4-710d is UA's its first product in decades to offer more than two channels. The centrepiece is four preamp channels utilising the 710 Twin-Finity architecture that blends solid-state and valve (tube) amplificationstages.
Each preamp houses a simple compressor, the design of which is based on UA's famous 1176. An A/D section allows for ADAT and AES/EBU output of these four channels, as well as four additional fixed gain line inputs at all standard rates up to 192kHz.
"The harmonic distortion possibilities make short work of adding bite and sustain."
Trial by fire
We received the review unit just before a recording session we were booked for outside my own studio, and being too lazy to pull any of our other preamps out of the rack, we decided to give the 4-710d a trial by fire hoping it would deliver on the day.
The number of switches and the small font size made navigation a little tricky to start with in the slightly dingy room we were recording in, but after a few times wondering why lifting the gain of one channel seemed to have no effect (it was the output of the previous channel) we soon got comfy.
Simply put the 4-710d is a great front-end for recording and despite our initial navigational confusion it is also very easy to use.
The VU meters provide enough feedback about what's going on with the four preamp channels: input drive, output level and gain reduction. The status of all eight output channels at the point of A/D conversion is covered by eight two segment LEDs that let you know the difference between a healthy signal and a clipped one.
When you start tinkering with the exciting regions of harmonic distortion that this unit opens up the VU meters can get pegged pretty easily when monitoring input and output levels, at which point they are not only useless but also in danger of being damaged.
Luckily the gain reduction (GR) mode cannot act so violently so this mode can be used just to spare the coils as well as check how much action the compressor is involved in.
The recording session we subjected the 4-710d to was focussed on creating oddball percussion/rhythm tracks. This involved many changes of mic and settings as layers were added.
Dynamic, condenser and ribbon mics were all used to capture loud and quiet sources both close up and from a distance, and no part of the frequency spectrum went unrepresented.
At every turn the 4-710d (oh for a more snappy name!) provided an excellent mix of clarity and transient accuracy without running out of gain or headroom.
Much of the time the difference between the solid-state (TRANS) and valve (TUBE) topologies was very subtle, but as we became more confident with the flexibility of the preamps began to explore the non-linear ranges (i.e. distortion) for a more coloured result, and it is here that the TRANS/TUBE blend knob comes up trumps.
As one would imagine the solid-state side is much harsher when overdriven, and though it adds some bite to transient sources (e.g. drums) it can quickly trash sustained sounds.
The valve side is softer and more pleasing when overdriven on sustained sounds as the harmonic distortion tapers off quicker up the frequency range.
The distortion characteristics of the 4-710d with synth basses/leads and drums is a real joy and these elements can be made to leap out of the speakers without destroying their power and tone.
The more subtle distortions are great for enriching a whole host of sources (vocals, guitars, electric pianos, horns, etc) without losing mid frequency definition or putting the low mids in a fuzzy box.
The DI inputs, which use a JFET amplification stage, sound great and manage to deliver a full can clean signal on guitars and basses with a pleasing low-mid response that often gets lost with overly bright and crisp DIs that seem to populate many interfaces and preamps.
The harmonic distortion possibilities make short work of adding bite and sustain to instruments before feeding into an amp sim.
The compressor section is a simple affair with a single switch but this is enough to do a great job. The switch engages the compressor in either fast or slow response modes, both at a 4:1 ratio.
We're fans of simple dynamics processors as they mean less creative time is spent fiddling - it either works or it doesn't. In this case it certainly does. In either mode (fast or slow) when the VU meter needle is just being tickled the compression is relatively transparent and easily allows for a non-destructive thickening of the source.
As an overt effect they can get pretty rude, especially in combination with someoverdrive (again, synth basses and leads really benefit), and yield results that outclass so many characterless standalone compressors.
The two speed switches are enough so that we didn't find ourselves wishing for an inbetweener - if we didn't like what it was doing, we switched it out.
Though the compressors can really help define a source in the tracking stage they also add to the unit's quality as a post-recording treatment source.
As the robustly utilitarian name suggests, this is four 710 Twin-Finity units in a 2U-rack case and, with the four compressors and A/D capabilities taken into account, makes for an excellent deal.
This presents the analogue signal path quality that UA are synonymous with in a recording front-end package that is surprisingly flexible. It's not only a tracking tool, but will also find much use in mixing and production due to the distortion and compression facilities.
The A/D section and analogue routing make sure that it can easily integrate into your setup without requiring additional investment. This is a unit you'd be hard pressed to turn off for long.
Simple and effective compressors. Full-sounding preamps with plenty of clean gain.
Initially confusing to navigate.
A complete front-end solution that delivers flexible high fidelity with creative tone shaping.
Four-channel solid-state/ valve blending preamp with compression and eight-channel A/D