In this article and the accompanying video, we’ll be going over some tips and tricks to make the best possible recordings using Universal Audio’s Volt audio interfaces. In upcoming articles we’ll look at some specific recording situations such as recording vocals or recording guitar, so keep an eye out for them on Noisegate.com.au as well as our YouTube page.
Our video features a Volt 276 interface however operation is very similar regardless of which model you may be using. The main difference being that Volt 76 models include the 1176 compressor circuit which we’ll talk more about in a minute. The more affordable Volt 1 & 2 models also don’t have the wooden side panels, and most of their controls are on the front panel, as opposed to Volt 76 whose controls are on the top.
The first recommended step is to download and install the UA connect app from UA’s website. When you run the connect app you’ll be prompted to register your Volt which not only gives you access to the bundled software including Ableton Live Lite and some really nice plugins, but also the ASIO audio driver required to use Volt on a Windows computer.
From there you can just connect Volt to your computer via a USB cable which with the exception of the largest Volt 476 model, will also power the unit. Volt 476 is a little too large for USB power so you also need to use the included power supply.
With most audio interfaces, this is about the end of the story, but Volt interfaces pack in some really nice and unique extras derived from UA’s very high end and prestigious studio gear.
First is Vintage Preamp mode. This circuit is derived from UA’s classic 610 preamp and applies a warm valve-like character to whatever you plugin. And Vintage Preamp mode isn’t just microphones. Guitars and even line-level signals like synths can all benefit from this mode.
You may love the way Vintage Preamp mode sounds and just leave it on all the time and use it on everything. Lots of sounds can benefit greatly from a nice vintage preamp, but variety is a wonderful thing and Volt’s preamps sound great even without Vintage Preamp mode engaged. So think about whether you want to create the cleanest most detailed recording possible, or maybe you want to spice things up with a bit of vintage character. This will help you decide whether or not to use Vintage Preamp mode. But there’s no right or wrong here, and the preamps sound great either way.
Professional studios will often have a collection of different preamps for different situations. They may have one preamp which they know sounds great with a certain microphone and a certain voice type, and another preamp which they may prefer for a different voice type.
For anyone who isn’t a professional audio engineer, that’s probably way too much choice, so keeping things simple with Vintage Preamp mode accessible at the press of a button is very convenient.
You may like to experiment with Volt and make some recordings with and without Vintage Preamp mode engaged. The more familiar you become with the sound, the easier it will be to decide when or when not to use it. But don’t overthink it. Like I said, there’s no right or wrong.
Volt 76 models also feature a compressor circuit derived from UA’s classic 1176 compressor. This is an equally valuable addition to Vintage Preamp mode, but potentially a little more confusing for those just getting started with audio recording.
There are many ways to use a compressor, but it’s most often used to even out the dynamic range of a recording. Vocals for example are always going up and down in volume and the quiet parts may be hard to hear over the mix. By reducing the level of the loud parts, but not the soft parts, you can make the entire track sound better and easier to hear.
There are of course plenty of compressor plugins available to help you achieve similar results in software, but taking care of this during the recording phase with hardware means less messing around afterwards. You’re starting off with a strong vocal recording, as opposed to working towards one.
Compressors can also be tricky to use effectively. When used poorly they can really harm a track, but Volt makes it easy to find the best compressor settings for a variety of different applications via three presets accessed from the top panel.
The first preset called ‘vocal’ has a fast attack time. This means the compression kicks in quickly resulting in a smooth sound with no abrupt changes in volume. This will help a vocal recording sound controlled and consistent, but you can of course use it with any other type of recording where you’d like a similarly smooth controlled sound that sits well in a mix, without jumping out.
The second mode called ‘guitar’ has a slower attack time so the compression doesn’t kick in as quickly. This often results in a more punchy sound as it doesn’t completely squash the beginning of the sound like the sound of a pick hitting the strings. This will help bring out the quieter parts of the sound, without squashing the life out of those louder parts. This setting will also be great for things like synth basses for a more punchy aggressive sound.
Compression is usually applied fairly subtly and is often used more as a mixing tool rather than an obvious effect. The last compressor mode however is called ‘fast’ and is the most aggressive of the three settings. Chances are whatever you record with this setting is going to sound a bit squashed so go carefully with this one.
Fast mode might be just what you need for a wall of sound electric guitar or a synth pad to help parts sound large and dynamically controlled, but it may not be your first choice for delicate lead vocals or acoustic guitars.
So spend some time experimenting. Audio recording is as much a creative process as it is a technical one and some of the greatest audio engineers are the ones who broke all the rules. But keep in mind they also likely spent years fine-tuning their trade, so these preset compressor settings, as well as instant Vintage Preamp mode, are going to be incredibly valuable to anyone looking to make the best possible recordings, without dedicating their life to studying audio engineering.
Stay tuned for UA Volt tips and tricks coming soon.