Exploring Universal Audio's Compressor, Equalizer and Effect Plug-Ins

When purchasing UAD-2 powered gear from Universal Audio such as the Apollo Twin, Apollo 8, Apollo 8p, Apollo 16 or a UAD-2 Satellite, you gain access to some of the most powerful plug-ins in the world. Offering great digital replications of top audio gear like the Neve 1073Manley VoxBox, Neve 88r, Thermionic Culture Vulture and many more, Universal Audio has made these plug-ins so close that you forget you aren't using the real thing.

How do you get these plug-ins? While you can buy each individually, Universal Audio and Vintage King have teamed together to offer a bundle opportunity. When buying one of the aforementioned pieces of hardware from Vintage King, you can select any Universal Audio plug-ins in bundles of two, three, six, 10 and the complete set of plug-ins and save big on your purchase. Through August 31, 2017, Universal Audio is offering up to $3,500 of premium free Universal Audio plug-ins when you purchase an Apollo rackmount audio interface.

Using Universal Audio's Compressor, Equalizer and Effect Plug-Ins

Let's get down to business and talk about what's truly important, the plug-ins themselves. Today I'm going to focus on some of the top compressors, equalizers and effects that the UAD-2 platform has to offer. While some believe that Universal Audio is making these plug-ins to replace the real hardware versions, I look at them as simply being a different model of the original gear.

Every piece of analog hardware responds differently than the next, so even if you have two of the same series 1176 or LA-2A compressors, both of them will have a slightly different sound. The UAD plug-ins capture the vibe of the original hardware they model, but offer consistency if you are using multiple compressors, EQ or effects across the mix.

Since a lot of us still have a collection of great outboard analog gear, mix engineers are beginning to use a Hybrid setup, where they will put UAD plug-ins on the track inside their DAW, then send that processed signal out to their console, where they can then add a hardware insert for more vibe. The combination of the two is opening doors to endless creativity and flexibility.

UAD-2 Compressors

Neve 33609

The Neve 33609 is a two-channel compressor and has been a staple in recording studios and broadcast facilities for decades. It has been known for adding warmth and power to a mix or broadcast, even if there is no compression happening. It can be very subtle or have a crushing effect on drums, pianos, vocals, and guitars. The 33609 was often used to get those giant piano tones on old Billy Joel and Elton John records.

The compressor has five different compression ratio settings. The 1:5 ratio is great for mildly taming a mix, and has a sweet spot right below 4dB of compression. I see a lot of mix engineers use this on their mix bus, Andrew Scheps swears by this on the mix bus for his "In The Box" mixes. It has a "sound" with it's 100ms release time, but also has five other options to accommodate for any style of mix. It has a gain dial on each channel, that can be used subtly to add a bit of warmth, or cranked to add some series harmonic distortion. Also has a makeup gain on the output of each channel if you are doing some serious compression.

Additionally, there is a limiter built into the circuit as well, with threshold and recovery controls, and the option for fast or slow attack. This can work as a "brick wall" to make sure nothing is peaking your D/A converters, it can sound very transparent with its 50ms release time, but just like the compressor circuit, it has five more options available. 33609 can be run in stereo, or in dual mono so each channel can be compressed individually.

API 2500 Bus Compressor

One of Universal Audio's newest releases is the API 2500 Bus Compressor. Capturing the same vibe as the original hardware, but now with a couple extra features that aren't available on the hardware unit. The API 2500 Bus Compressor is world renowned for the way it can amp up a mix and how versatile it is across all genres of music.

The "Tone" circuit is the heart of the 2500, and is what makes it such a versatile piece of gear. Choose between "new" and "old" style compression, the "old' circuit acts just like the 525 series peak-detection compressors found in API's older console, where the "new" circuit acts in a more modern feed-forward style compression. The 2500 allows selection between three custom-voiced compression knees, soft, medium, and hard, which will determine the transition into full compression mode.

The "Thrust" control is what makes the 2500 stand out from other bus compressors, it has a filter before the RMS circuit, evening the low and high-frequency energy. In most compressors, the low frequencies will begin to trigger the compressor before the high frequency, with the "Thrust" control engaged, neither high or low frequencies trigger the compressor more than the other, giving you that signature, tight API compression sound.

Unlike most compressors, the 2500 has a link control that can adjust between the left and right channel interaction, allowing it to work as a dual mono compressor, or as a linked stereo compressor, but with precise control over each side. Lastly, the 2500 offers a wet/dry mix control, allowing parallel compression within the plug-in.

Fairchild 660 and 670 Tube Limiter Collection

The Fairchild 660 and 670 are renowned as some of the best hardware compressors ever made. The hardware version is loaded with 20 tubes, multiple transformers, and miles of wire. If you are lucky enough to find a hardware version, they are priced around $50,000 and up, which is not practical for most studio engineers hardware budgets. The 660 and 670 were the compressor of choice on thousands of hit records, and a favorite to The Beatles, Pink Floyd, countless Motown records and many more. To this day, engineers such as Al Schmitt use the hardware version on every vocal that comes across their desk.

The Fairchild is a Vari-Mu style compressor, using the vacuum tubes for gain reduction right in the audio signal path, with no re-routing to a compression circuit. This plug-in version of the Fairchild is modeled after the hardware unit inside of the world renowned Ocean Way studios. It has pretty simple controls for being so powerful, Input, Threshold, and Time Constant. The Input works great without any compression for make-up gain from the preamp, and additional warmth to the signal. Andrew Scheps uses a Universal Audio Fairchild plug-in on his mix bus with no compression happening, because it's not only modeling the compression, but all the additional circuitry of the plug-in, often referred to as "glow", and adds a special kind of warmth just by running through it.

The threshold works as it does on any other compressor, but the unique thing about a Fairchild is it's "Time Constant" release control. It is a six position switch with four of the settings having fixed attack and release controls, the final two options have the ability to adjust the compression ratio, and attack and release times. Normally the controls for those parameters are found on the rear panel of the Fairchild, but on this model, they are conveniently placed on the bottom of the plug-in.

The Universal Audio Fairchild has a wet/dry control, so you can do parallel compression directly inside the plug-in. Side chain filters can be adjusted to allow lower frequencies to pass through without triggering the compressor, and the Headroom control can be adjusted to allow louder signals to pass through the Fairchild, without completely crushing the dynamics of the original signal, you could use it in reverse to add some really nice harmonic distortion to the sound source.

UAD-2 Equalizers

Pultec EQP-1a

The Pultec EQP-1a is a tube-based EQ, and was the first commercial EQ ever to hit the market. Since its release, engineers have relied on this EQ to open up the top end and add warmth to any signal you pass through it. It has a very simple design, but works wonders on anything you run through it.

The EQP-1a has the ability to pick from four frequencies on the low end, and seven frequencies on the top end, and the option to boost or attenuate the selected frequency. The lower frequency attenuation is determined by the selected frequency on the bottom left dial, where the high attenuation is determined by the selector switch on the top right of the plug-in. The bandwidth control only works with the higher frequencies and can range from sharp to broad, and works as a gentle bell shaped EQ curve.

It is common that engineers will boost a frequency more than you normally would, then use the attenuation control to dial back the muddiness added by the boost. By doing this, you add a nice bump where the attenuation starts. The plug-in works wonders on drums and bass in the low end, and just a little bit of boost can make those instruments thump in a mix. The higher band works magic on vocals, and with a broader bandwidth can easily make it go from dull to polished in the mix. EQP-1a works great on the mix bus to add a "smily face" EQ curve, which will boost the low end and the high end across the entire mix, leaving less EQ to do on the individual tracks.

Maag Audio Eq4

Maag Audio EQ4 is another EQ with a simple design, but extremely powerful on individual tracks or the mix bus. It has four fixed frequency bands which are very musical, 40Hz, 160Hz, 650Hz, and 2.5kHz, each having the ability of boosting or attenuating 5dB. In addition, there is a SUB frequency band that adds a lot of depth to the low end, but doesn't muddy up the signal.

The most powerful aspect of this plug-in is the AIR BAND, which is a high shelf with five selectable frequencies ranging from 2.5kHz to 40kHz, and has the ability to boost up to 10db. Adding EQ4 to the mix bus can add a lot of shine, or "Air" to your overall mix, especially with the 20kHz and 40kHz frequencies. If the boost is overloading the plug-in, a peak signal indicator will turn on, and the headroom can be adjusted with the Level Trim control.

Brainworx bx-digital V3

This is one of the most versatile and powerful plug-ins that UAD-2 has to offer. It can be used on stereo tracks, but is really ideal on the mix bus. The plug-in runs two EQs at the same time each with five frequency bands, as well as a high-pass and low-pass filter per channel. The left EQ focuses on the middle section of the mix, and the right one focuses on the sides of the mix. This can be very useful when you want to add some shine to the sides, but not make the vocal or guitars panned in the center to bright, or to scoop some low end out of the sides of the mix without effecting the punch of the kick drum or depth of the bass guitar in the middle of the track.

With the auto-solo and auto-listen functions, the EQ allows you to hear only the selected frequency, making it easy to find the problem areas, or specific section you want to boost. The Bass Shift and Presence Shift are powerful functions for shaping the overall mix. Let's use the Bass Shift for the example, by adjusting the dial to the right, you boost the overall low end, and attenuate the high frequencies, making the overall mix more Bass heavy. It will also work in reverse by adjusting the dial to the left, attenuating the lows and boosting the high frequencies. The Presence Shift works in the same way, both bands are something to experiment with, and can either help, or destroy the mix. 

One of the most powerful controls on this plug-in is the width control. This works great for adding more width to the overall mix, giving it a real professional pop sound to the mix. Since every parameter can be automated, this can be used to make the verses narrow, and make the choruses wider, adding excitement and dynamics to the mix.

UAD-2 Effects

EMT 140 Plate Reverb

A plate reverb is something every engineer needs in the arsenal, and what better than one modeled after the same ones used in Plant Studios. This piece of gear is the signature sound of Pink Floyd, The Beatles and countless other hit records.

This Universal Audio plug-in offers three styles of plate reverb, "A" is a pretty dark sounding reverb, and very nice for adding room tone or a little bit of depth to a track. "B" keeps a bit of the dark characteristics of A, but a little bit more shine to the top end. "C" doesn't have too much low end, but has much more information in the top end.

The input filter can be adjusted to cut off low end of the signal before it hits the EQ, which are often the frequencies that cloud up the EQ. An adjustable width control can make the verb mono sounding, or extremely wide. EMT140 has a two band EQ, which work as a high and low shelf with up to 12db or boost or cut, a great way to tame the low end, or add a little more shine to the tail of the reverb.

The MOD circuit works like a chorus pedal, and can be used to add a little more depth to the tail of the verb, very 60's sounding. Unlike most hardware plates, the 140 has the option for pre-delay, and can be adjusted all the way up to 250ms. Last, but not least, the plug-in has a wet/dry control that can allow you to blend in the right amount of verb if inserted directly on a track, or turned all the way to WET if used in a send and return setup.

EP-34 Tape Echo

Modeled after the Echo Plex, this plug-in works great as a warm echo effect, but also as a saturator. Unlike the hardware model, this plug-in can be synced to the tempo of your song, making it easy to get perfectly timed rhythmic delays. You can also use it in free mode, which you can variably adjust the delay, good to close your eyes while dialing this in and just feel the effect. The repeats can be adjusted to a signal delay, up to infinite delays, which work great to take a track to outer space, adjust the delay time while the repeats are happening to get a really cool warped effect.

The volume of the echo can be adjusted, so you can make a very subtle echo, or the echo can be just as loud as the dry signal hitting the plug-in. The recording volume circuit will determine the sound of the echo, when the signal indicator is yellow or green, you will get a nice warm sounding repeat. When you crank the recording volume, you will begin to overdrive the EP-34, which results in a very pleasant harmonic distortion.

If you set the EP-34 to a very short delay time, and crank the recording volume, it works great as a parallel distortion unit, without any noticeable delay. Also equipped with a two band EQ for treble and bass, and a left/right panner for the echo.

Studio D Stereo Chorus

Modeled after the Roland Dimension D, another very simple but powerful plug-in, and has been a secret weapon on vocals since the 1970s. You can choose between Mono or Stereo modes, but often this plug-in is used in the stereo mode. You can then select between four different modulation modes, that range from mild to extreme. The parameters can't be adjusted, but they really don't need to be, Roland did an excellent job making each of them very musical. This plug-in can also be used as a saturator when you drive the input, but doesn't sound as pleasant as the EP-34 mentioned earlier.

The power of this plug-in comes out when you use it as a parallel send to a vocal. Used in a send and return setup, you can send a mono vocal to the stereo unit to add width and depth to the vocal, and used in this way, doesn't make the vocal appear to sound as if it's chorused. This is a great way to make the vocal more powerful and present, and also sit well in the mix, without adding any EQ. The same can be applied to background vocals to add some vibe and width.

I could go on all day about the power of the UAD-2 platform, but I highly recommend you try them out for yourself and find the best ones that work for you. All of these plug-ins and more are available to demo for 14 days in the Universal Audio online store, giving you plenty of time to try them all and pick which is best for your studio. 

If you're interested in learning more about Universal Audio products and taking advantage of bundling plug-ins together via Vintage King, please contact one of our Audio Consultants by email or phone at 888.653.1184.

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