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My Experience With Universal Audio UAD Plugins

It’s not news to engineering buffs that UAD-2 powered plugins have been hyped up a lot, but nonetheless musician/producer friends of mine often ask if 1: the hype is true, and 2: which ones are the best and how they should buy (I’ll explain the “how” in a second).

First off, let me say that I’m an intuitive, artistic engineer.  Yes, I’ve internalized the science of music engineering, learned how to compare eq curves and A/B frequency responses, but I’m a creative guy so when I’m working, I FEEL the sound.  All of my technical moves are based on vibe, ease of use, and overall result.

So YES – UAD plugs are worth the hype.  The user interfaces are nice and true to the original units.  Every different plugin sounds great, works smoothly, and for the most part seems to react similarly to the hardware unit it mimics.  The classic EQ’s and compressors especially seem to replicate their hardware units as far as feel goes.  For compressors, I personally use the 1176LN model the most.  The attack and release is super fast, and the gr needle seems to move like the units I’ve used in the past. I frequently use the neve 1081 for most instruments and vocals.   I also use the fairchild comp, but to be honest I prefer Wave’s Puigchild more, because of the faster attack time.

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My favorite category of the UAD bundles are the reverbs.  My god I love them.  The EMT 140 gives my mixes that retro plate sound that you’ve heard in so many classic recordings.  It’s instant vibe, and it’s in my production template.  If I want a more modern sound I’ll mess with the dream verb, and I’m constantly pulling up the Lexicon 224 digital verb when I find myself wanting to reach for the 480L I’m used to in bigger studios.

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For delays and spacial vibe, I love using the space echo and the tape echo, but their sounds are so specific that I reserve them for special scenarios such as atmospheric guitars or ramped delay effects.  The tape machine emulators are great for getting that tape warmth on my overall mixes.  When the music calls for it I’ll use the ATR-102 on my master fader before the UAD precision limiter, which for the past 2 years has been my brick wall limiter of choice.   For modulation fx, it’s the MXR flanger all the way for me.  It has so many uses like drum overheads, rhodes, synths and vocal pads or vocal fx .  There are many other plugs that I use regularly, especially the various EQ’s, but to keep this post shorter I’m only mentioning my top go-to’s.  I need to also note that I bought the ultimate bundle a couple years ago, so there are a few plugins that I don’t own but would love to try; for example the Shadow Hills mastering compressor and the Ocean Way Studios plugin.  This leads me to “how to buy.”

What I mean by “how to buy” deals with the price issue. They’re expensive!  They require you to buy them with a processor pci card, or an audio interface with an on board processor. If you have the dough, I suggest getting one of the bundles that are available.  I bought the Octo-Ultimate bundle and although it was pricey, it was BY FAR the best bang for my buck.  If you aren’t buying a bundle, you have a lot of tough choices ahead of you.  Thankfully there’s a trial period where you can experiment with everything.  There are a lot of exciting options, but if I were you I’d start with their classic EQ’s and compressors, the reverbs, and work towards the tape machines, modulation fx, and delays.   Don’t forget about their amp simulations.  And their SSL plugins.  And API. And Brainworx plugs.  Too many…fuck……

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It’s fair to mention that these plugs are best used for mixing.  The processing cards handle the cpu load, but there is latency, so I don’t use too many on audio tracks during tracking scenarios.  I hear that you can use them on the front end of their audio interfaces which sounds AWESOME.  I heard it’s great but haven’t tracked with them myself.

PS – I’m not endorsed by Universal Audio, but wish I was.  I’m just an enthusiast who’s asked about them a lot.