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Universal Audio LUNA Honest Review (Worth It?)
Free to all Mac and Thunderbolt Apollo owners, Universal Audio's LUNA Recording System is a new full-featured music creation and recording system with a unique set of advantages (and disadvantages) to make it a DAW like no other.
Database saving foundation allows for essentially unlimited undos.
LUNA does not care about the sample rate of the files you import.
Free if you're a Mac or Thunderbolt Apollo owner.
Lack of 'key' features may immediately turn off potential users.
Expensive once you take into account the hardware requirements extensions you'll pay for.
It has been a little over a year since Universal Audio released the LUNA Recording System out into the wild.
Since I have been an Apollo user for roughly 7 years, I downloaded LUNA and like many other people, I did not think it was ready to compete with anything yet.
Riddled with bugs like export errors and the program itself was pretty taxing to most systems that weren’t maxed out led many other users to complain of the issues and led to most people discounting it as a DAW – I mean “recording system.”
Later that same year I would be forced onto an M1 Mac where to my surprise, it was not the only thing working on the new operating system. My key 3rd party plugins worked, and they had done a ton of work on the program – implementing user requests and fixing bugs.
With a few not so crucial features still not available, I switched to using LUNA for “most” of my DAW needs.
LUNA is free to all Mac and Thunderbolt Apollo owners. While that’s technically all you “need” to run it, it helps to have some good power on your machine. Especially when it comes to using their extensions like the Neve Summing.
Certain plugins like the Ampex ATR-102 and all the other tape machine plugins – normally DSP hogs in any other DAW, are instead run natively in the LUNA Recording System.
This means that instead of those admittedly intensive plug-ins being run on your Universal Audio Recording System, they are running on your CPU.
If your computer is beefy enough this will definitely get you excited, but if your computer is not quite up to date, it dissuades you from using the DAW/Recording System entirely.
So, is there enough power in an entry model Apollo Solo to run LUNA?
Yes, but since you won’t have that much DSP to lean on you’ll mostly be running third-party plugins over some of the Universal Audio options, which is totally fine.
I’d say that if you were super determined to use LUNA and get the full experience, I’d grab at least a quad satellite to add to your system to help out with all that lifting. Especially if you record.
All in all, I’d say that LUNA has one of the higher costs of entry than other DAWs once you take into account the hardware requirements and the extensions you’ll ultimately purchase – despite the fact that it’s free.
What Makes LUNA Unique?
While the old adage that all DAWs are more or less equal is mostly still true, LUNA operates in a slightly different way which brings a whole new set of advantages (and disadvantages).
This database foundation also allows for essentially unlimited undo – all the way back to the very beginning of the project.
It also retains all of the files you bring into the project, though this can really bloat the file size of the actual project.
If you’re familiar at all with how Universal Audio’s interfaces and plugins work in a recording situation, you might be curious about how LUNA handles recording in real-time.
As you might expect from Universal Audio, the whole experience of LUNA was designed from the ground up with their flagship feature taking center stage.
So much so that you can record at any time during the project latency-free using accelerated real-time monitoring or ARM mode.
In ARM mode, LUNA will actually offload what processing it can onto the DSP chips, freeing up your CPU to handle other latency-free processing while also recording with effects going into your signal chain.
Leading me to another huge advantage to LUNA – it does not care about the sample rate of the files you import.
When you record with all of these effects and post-processing going on, that can actually start introducing a tiny bit of latency into your chain. In LUNA, however, there’s a trick to getting that near-zero latency tracking by simply recording at a sample rate of 192 kHz.
Just change the sample rate at the bottom of the screen before you toggle the record button, and then change it back to whatever sample rate you were at before you recorded, and that’s it! No networking PCs or having an insanely spec’d out PC or a $10,000 rig HD rig.
LUNA has some very innovative approaches to almost every aspect yet it still remains familiar. A good example of this can be seen in its default key commands.
If you are anything like me and have been bouncing back and forth between DAWs like Logic and Pro Tools, you may have experienced the frustration of getting key commands mixed around. In LUNA, the key commands are something of a hybrid between Logic’s key commands as well as Pro Tools.
It is almost like they took the most intuitive key commands from each and went that direction with it. Editing feels this way too. UAD used some of the great group editing features in Logic and kind of made a hybrid between that and how Pro Tools handles it.
LUNA almost takes it a step further in what might be one of my favorite creative editing tools, as each individual audio clip not only has easy-to-access volume controls right on the clip itself, but also a pitch fader to adjust the pitch of individual clips.
Possibly the most defining unique feature – albeit very expensive, are the extensions. Extensions act like plugins but are specific to only Universal Audio’s LUNA environment.
LUNA has access to “summing” as well as console emulations, and a couple of instruments. Summing refers to gathering all the source signals and running them through a summing box – but instead, you are doing it “in the box” (your computer).
Console emulations mimic the circuitry of famous mixing desks so you can have that classic sound at your fingertips as you produce. At the moment, they only have the API Vision console available but as one could expect, more will be coming soon.
The console emulations are very cool as they allow the user to essentially convert LUNA into that console – even down to the aesthetics.
Both the console emulations and the summing extensions use your host computer’s native DSP to process everything. This brings me to maybe the one you’ve been scratching your head about…summing.
Now, I’m not here to debate whether or not there’s an audible difference in using summing, but LUNA’s summing does somewhat make the job of mixing much easier. Things fall into place much easier and I find myself having to do much less EQ to get the parts to fit together.
Normally neither analog nor digital summing does anything to really change a mix much, if anything. I’m not sure if it’s actually emulating anything or just making things sound better. At the end of the day, it’s kind of irrelevant unless you mix for a living and want to speed things up a little in the long run.
Limitations / Planned Features
LUNA also has some unique limitations at the moment. When it comes to some features like being unable to edit video, a lack of controller support, and a lack of side-chaining, some would-be users may immediately be turned off from the recording environment.
These features or lack thereof are not deal breakers for some of us. The DAWs themselves don’t “speak” to the controller of Console One like they would any other control surface unless it’s in MIDI mode and you turn off the software. If I really need to side chain, I can do that real quick in Logic or any other DAW that allows for that.
Every once in a while I might have to do a workaround but it’s things like this that breed creativity and is one of the reasons I like LUNA more than many other DAWs.
In Logic, it felt like they had it good, and then they broke it more and more over time with “improvements”. Many of these features that are lacking in LUNA are supposed to be coming out this year to the platform – and so far Universal Audio has been remarkably true to their word.
Is Universal Audio’s LUNA Recording System Right for You?
I’ve touched on a lot that affected me personally and why I like LUNA – and here’s where I’m going to change my tone on things.
I’ve been lucky enough to own an Apollo for the past 7 years and over that time, I’ve acquired more plugins from Universal Audio and even more from elsewhere. When I had to switch to an M1, these and some of my other staple plugins were the only plugins that worked for me (including Logic), and that’s why it made sense for me to switch.
As I mentioned earlier I work as a mixing engineer and my perspective is coming from that set of needs. Earlier in my career so many people tried to get me off Logic and onto Ableton. But at that time, I was still more of an engineer.
It made no sense for me to get on Ableton. The DJ/Producer part of my life was winding down and Logic was more intuitive for me and it did what I needed it to do – but most importantly – in a way that made sense to me.
Everyone is going to be a little different and will have different needs. The workflow of a certain DAW may not be to your specific liking and that’s okay. I will always suggest to anyone to use what works best for them, not what everyone else is telling you to buy.
If you edit videos and want a DAW that can do that right now, LUNA may not be for you. If you produce dance music where you need to side chain to get the desired effect, LUNA may not be for you – yet. If you don’t own an Apollo interface – it may certainly not be for you.
But if you just got an Apollo, a Thunderbolt equipped Mac, and don’t have a DAW you prefer yet – LUNA might just be right up your ally.
It makes a ton of sense to try out LUNA if you’ve been on the UAD platform for a while, but I’m not sure if it makes sense to buy an Apollo if you’re a newer producer/engineer.
At the end of the day, Universal Audio is a company that wants to make money, and LUNA is potentially a great way to do this. It gives people a whole new way to engage with their products, and while some of their plugins are overpriced – many are justified when you consider how great they sound.
This DAW is definitely worth checking out if you’re curious about its unique workflow and innovative features. While there are still some kinks to be ironed out, this is to be expected from any software this new. Overall, LUNA is an exciting new development from one of the most respected names in professional audio!