Everyone Brags About UAD-2
Whenever everyone is flocking towards something, it’s been my life experience that I’m better off doing something else. When I saw how often EVERYONE talked up the UAD, I said, “Nope!”. It took me about five years of fumbling, blowing money on all kinds of inferior stuff, trying out quite a bit more review plugins (many of them never being “good enough” for me to post for review).
I finally decided to make the jump.
What Makes A Plugin “Good”?
Before I get into this review, I want to define what a “good” plugin is. Some of you guys may be wondering what makes these premium plugins better to the stock plugins found in your recording software. Better processors (either hardware or plugin) allow you to get the sounds you are looking more often and they allow you to do it quicker. Better tools never, in any way, guarantee better results. Swim at your own risk.
The Universal Audio UAD-2 Omni is probably the most effective purchase I’ve ever made in recording land (except for monitoring). I bought it used on Ebay for $2,300. I had a scare where the license was ALMOST not transferred to me (in which case I’d have a $2,300 trophy to place on the wall and little else). After it was all said and done I came out in the clear.
The Most Powerful Impact (Besides Monitoring) On My Recordings
I’ve got some fun toys. Nice mics, preamps, converters, a fun console, and a few hardware compressors. Life is pretty good in the gear department these days. In fact, I can honestly say that I seriously plan on finishing up my gear this year. (Yes, I’m serious…I realize that few can pull this off. I honestly think I can!)
With all of that said, I think the UAD-2 Quad has had the greatest impact when we rule out monitoring. Why? For one, $2,300 won’t get you far in the hardware world. That’s two used Distressors. I LOOOOOVE my Distressors (and now that I’m mixing projects tracked with other compressors, I’m hating it). However, when it comes to a mix, those two Distressors give you two channels. A little process used for two tracks doesn’t do much when you’ve got 40.
I’ve come to the conclusion that for the style of music I’m doing, processing is the name of the game. Dry tracks sound….well…..dry. The right compression and the right use of modulation, delays, and reverb go along way in pop/rock/metal these days. Jazz is a different story. So keep my rock, metal, pop, electronica perspective in mind.
Overall, the UAD-2 Quad has pretty much everything you need with only a few tiny gaps for select native plugins to fill in. The UAD-2 stuff, as a whole, sounds great. I think the plugins are one notch below the real deal hardware in terms of sound on gadgets where I was able to compare the UAD with the real one. What does that mean? It means the UAD-2 Quad card I picked up for $2,300 sounds ULTRA CLOSE to what would cost you easily $100,000 for a full-blown analog studio, but with all the workflow benefits of mixing in the box.
The 1176 comes with pretty much every package they make and sounds outstanding. It can do the fast attack thing very well and you can get this thing to pump like crazy. The Shift+Click to pull of the “all buttons in” mode sounds great when that sound is needed. I use it all the time. I love 1176 on aggressive vocals, electric guitars, and anything I may want to smash up a bit. Outstanding plugin.
The LA-2A is slower than the 1176, but has a character to it that I really like. It overloads very nicely, too. It’s more of a bigger, smoother kind of guy, but I find it making it’s way on many vocals.
There’s something about the harmonic content on the Fairchild that I just love. It brings tracks forward in a mix in a way that’s hard to describe. I love it. This was the first plugin I tried when I first fired up the UAD-2. I put it on on an electric guitar bus. In 2 seconds I said, “Oh. That’s what I’ve been missing all these years.” It’s DAMN GOOD.
This compressor has character out the wazoo. It’s not right in many cases and that’s what makes it so damn right when it is right. (Did I type that right?) Having compressors Plugins THIS BOLD are what separate the UAD package from pretty much everything else out there. It’s the vibe they give to their plugins that separates them. The Sonnox Oxford stuff is very good, for example. The Oxfod plugins are very usable, but their compressor never does THIS. THIS is what I NEED when I need it. The difference between finding the right extra “mojo” for each and every track vs simply compressing is hard to put into words, but it’s the difference between getting what you want and getting something not-quite-right in most cases.
I’ve had to make myself use the channel strips here lately. Why? I usually don’t think in terms of channel strips. I usually think “I need a compressor” and then reach for the most ideal compressor for the gig. Channel strips are more of a plan ahead kind of thing. However, I knew this review was coming up so I jumped on the channel strip thing here recently.
Neve 88RS – It sounds damn good. I figured that I wouldn’t be able to get the Neve strip to do what the more bold compressors and equalizers do. It has its own character and is just as adequate at making tracks sound good as anything else. You really get into splitting hairs mode, actually when deciding between this EQ or compressor and the other equalizers and compressors that come with the UAD-2 Omni. For guys on a budget who want to move up to great EQ and compression without springing for the Omni package, the Nevana package is a hell of a setup.
SSL 4k Strip – While definitely a different sound than the Neve, it’s just as good in every way. I’m not in that mindset of having to decide between an SSL console and a Neve console on mix day. (I’d gladly take either, thank you). This is just as adequate of a tool. I’ve not used either enough to find specific sounds in either that are my go-to solutions, but both are excellent.
UAD Harrison EQ – The Harrison equalizers are outstanding. They have character and they solve problems. You just have to play with one to get it. The Q narrows as you use more boost. It’s a sound that you don’t encounter with most plugins.
UAD Cambridge – I’ve used the Sonnox Oxford EQ for years and this is clearly in the same ballpark (maybe a hair less flexible). I may be crazy, but I swear there is more vibe in this one. It’s my go-to surgery equalizer. I love it and I use it all the time.
UAD Pultec – I’m still getting used to the controls on the Pultec. I guess I need to hit the manual. When I need to go big and bold, the Pultec is big AND bold.
UAD Manley Massive Passive – This monster is awesome. I don’t really consider it an equalizer because it doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever used before. It doesn’t work like an EQ really. It’s something else. I don’t know what, but it’s somehow different. On the 2bus it’s brutally good. When you need drastic changes this with BOOOOOLD character, it’s hard to find a better plugin. It’s a shame that it uses up 25% of the UAD-2 Quad card with one instance.
I’ve noticed something about the Massive Passive that I’ve also noticed in my hardware Lil Freq. Although both of these equalizers couldn’t be much different from each other in character and such, both of them are hard to sweep with to find problem areas. What do I mean? I mean that you can’t really make these sound bad. Even when you boost mud, you don’t really say, “I hate the mud.” Instead, I say, “Why is this mud not pissing me off?” When I’m sweeping I WANT to find problems. So that’s an interesting perspective that I’m still learning. (In case you aren’t up on the EQ Sweep Technique, check it out here.
Reverb / Delay
UAD EMT 140 – Big and dark, but in an expensive kind of way. Outstanding when you need this kind of 1940s reverb chamber kind of sound. I REALLY like this plugin and catch myself forcing it into genres when it’s not really necessary because I like it a bit too much.
UAD EMT 250 – Giant and lush. It sound exactly like you’d expect an expensive reverb to sound. It does that “orchestra reverb” thing extremely well. You’ve got to pick your battles with it in other situations. It can get a little too big. It has modulation, delay, and a few other toys that I find extremely useful. Great plugin!
UAD Roland Dimension D – This thing adds a subtle modulation that does the “stereoizer” thing well. I don’t think it’s quite that Eventide sound that I think I’m looking for (presumably), but it’s a step in the right direction.
UAD Cooper Timecube – This is one bold delay. It does a bunch of odd sounding things. It’s not a pretty (sonically) delay by any means. I like that. If you read on the Universal Audio website about the Cooper Timecube, the original sent sound through a garden hose. That gives you an idea of what we are working with here. [url]http://www.uaudio.com/blog/cooper-time-cube-power/[/url]
UAD EP-34 – This is a copy of an Echoplex. I struggle with finding things to use it on, but I’m going to know it when I hear it. It seems odd that I’m excited about a plugin that I haven’t used much. While having too many tools can be problematic, on some levels that’s the point. When you have so many good options, they all kinda compete for use. This one has a BOLD character, but when it’s right, it’s going to be VERY right.
Roland RE-201 – This sounds like a delay you’d get at a yard sale and fall in love with. Sometimes it’s ridiculously over the top. Sometimes it’s just right. I don’t know, but it’s another bold flavor to choose from.
[B]UAD Fatso Jr.[/B] – I’m still learning this thing, but I find it excellent whenever I need to distort something all to hell in an “old school” kind of way or whenever I need to knock off some top end. It’s saved my butt in numerous situations already.
UAD Studer A-800 – I tried this at first and wasn’t sure exactly where to go with it. Some clients have wanted their kick drums to pound a little harder (particularly in the low end). I had no idea the solution would be this easy. Step #1 Add Studer A800 to drum bus. Step #2 Turn up input level. Finished. Tossing another one on the 2bus has been awesome as well. While I love mixing into a 2bus compressor, I’ve found a few tunes that my Chameleon 7802 hasn’t thrilled me one (not sure why). I tried the A800 instead and it blew me away. It doesn’t work well on tracks that are already ultra-beefy as it can be too much, but any tracks that need more oomph down low and need the top end tamed are going to benefit DRAMATICALLY.
UAD Multiband – This is the best multi-band I’ve ever used. I’ve had other and there was always something about them that pissed me off. In particular, I found myself limited in how I could select various frequencies. I tend to use multi-bands in very sparse ways to solve very specific problems. This is the best one I’ve ever used. I love the fact that I can keep it slow or go as fast as 50 micro seconds. Outstanding!
UAD De-esser – This thing is not as good as my hardware ‘Lil Freq de-esser. However, it is damn good. I only have one ‘Lil Freq. When I have 6 vocal tracks, I need something else. I’ve used pretty much every VST de-esser out there that I know of. This one is the most transparent. Sometimes it’s a little too nice, but that’s better than the lisp sound.
UAD Brickwall Limiter
– On rock projects, this thing grits up in ways that I LOVE. It’s an awesome character. For dance music I’ve found the need to go back to the PSP Xenon as I can’t get the color out of this thing. I did try cascading two together and hated it. Way too bold! So when this thing is on, it’s VERY on. When the music calls for something cleaner, you may have to look elsewhere.
There are probably others that I’m forgetting. There are sooooo many different options for any given situation that it’s taken me a while to learn this thing. Even with daily mixing work there are just too many plugins. You guys looking for less expensive packages aren’t going to miss anything if you have to work with only a few of these plugins. The channel strips alone are worth a ton. If you can get those, the 1176, a few of the delays, and the UAD Precision stuff you’ll be VERY happy!
You can tell I’m excited about this thing. I’m mostly excited because I don’t have to be looking for new plugins anymore. In fact, I’m pretty much finished with plugins. If there is a better plugin package, I’ll be shocked. You can probably get different, but I don’t expect anyone to top this for years to come.
Anytime anyone asks for a suggestion of the various native options out there, I always tell them to just go ahead and get the good stuff now (UAD) because you are going to end up getting them later.
feegs – 04-05-2011, 11:13 PM
I have to agree 100%. After buying a UAD-2 card recently i have found myself purchasing every UAD plugin i try!
Apart from the UAD, i quite like the Waves CLA and API plugins also. UAD cant beat em!
camsown – 04-06-2011, 07:11 AM
I recently purchased a 2nd hand UAD1e card. It only came with 5 plugins…and I’m so impressed, I’m already looking to find ways of financing a UAD purchase worth more than my first car.
IMAWriter – 04-12-2011, 10:32 PM
Brandon…very entertaining, and pretty much dead-on descriptions, though being the old guy I am, I could show (on another thread) describe a VERY classic way to use the LA2A that Country producer/engineers used for years to keep a vocal riding above the track without it being unduly obtrusive over the music. (You and some here may already know to what technique with the 2A I refer)
OK…quickly…(heehee)..increase both knobs till there is a constant -5 to -7 compression with little or no movement. Basically, you’re first increasing Input to just below distortion..OK, maybe a leeetle bit of distortion, then adding gain reduction to create a more narrow dynamic range.
Though i am really impressed with the Fabfilter stuff, and my indispensable Waves Ren stuff, i usually find myself captive to UA (8 years at least) It also helps to conserve my Mac Pro Quad core’s cpu, as the UA stuff runs on it’s own power…though, as you mentioned some plug-ins are egregiously greedy. LOL
Last thing, the LA3 is also a cool thang on higher voiced male singers.
brandondrury – 04-16-2011, 01:24 AM
OK…quickly…(heehee)..increase both knobs till there is a constant -5 to -7 compression with little or no movement.
For this to work I’m assuming we’d need fairly not-so-dynamic material to begin with or we’d have to compress it with something faster beforehand, right? Just curious. I’m still learning the LA-2A. I own a hardware LA-3A (which I’m still learning as well). Now that I think of it, I can’t think of a compressor I own that I’m NOT still learning.
widnikprod – 04-30-2011, 10:31 AM
Brandon, I can’t thank you enough for your no BS discriptions of equipment.
ElCapitan – 05-11-2011, 10:50 PM
First comment here!!! Saw this and had to chime in. I LOVE the UAD plugs. I have nearly the full suite, and they’ve changed the way I mix. I have some very utilitarian eqs, like the Roger Nichols and the Sonnox (both excellent eqs), but it’s way too easy to eq with your eyes. I often found myself cutting or boosting too much, and making my mixes sound anemic in the process.
There has been much more of the elusive vibe since I’ve gotten used to doing the majority of my eqing with the emulations, in particular the Neve 1081, the 1073, and the 88RS. The GUI forced me to actually use my ears, not to mention that these plugs definitely have major character about them.
The comps are just stellar. I love cranking the 1176 and getting some distortion, setting the attack and release to their fastest setting, with the “all buttons in” mode. It sounds killer when you have a double in a dense chorus that you need to add some grit to. Fairchild is probably my favorite on overheads for washy rock cymbals.
The RE-201 is stellar. I love using it to put some ambience on a vocal. I probably use delay too much, but I like it better than reverb fairly often to get something to sit in the mix. The Re-201 gives the ambience without being overbearing, unless you want it to be. Plus cranking up the repeats for spaceship sounds is amazing.
I second Brandon’s notion on the multiband. It has saved my ass more than a couple of times. There are definitely many situations where using that is the better solution than reaching for an eq, such as when you’ve done something stupid in tracking and ended up with an uber bassy vocal. Yeah, that was me really recently. In my case, eqing the bass out enough to be presentable had the effect of making it sound harsh and brittle, even in context, and using the multiband allowed me to get it to a proper level while not screwing up the character of the vocal, and maintaining a nice roundness.
brandondrury – 05-26-2011, 03:22 AM
I wanted to make a quick update here. For years people have asked me why they shouldn’t just use the stock Cubase EQ or whatever. In many cases, I still use it for quick problem solving.
The other day I was mixing a project in which I was dealing with new clients who were essentially laying down scratch vocals with no headphones into a Shure SM7b (which they were basically eating). That wasn’t the right mic for this particular song, but the tracks ended up being keepers. Whoops. I ended up needing VERY large amounts of EQ.
I found myself being drawn to the Pultecs. What caught my ear was how damn smooth the Pultecs sounded when I was pushing them hard. Even with the boost on 10, there was none of this “yuck factor” that I hear so often in EQ plugins (but I don’t hear in my Lil Freq).
Anyhow, I just wanted to say that in this situation I would have probably needed to chain 2-3 EQs together, but with the UAD stuff I can just nail it with one. Cool!
BlackCatBonz – 05-26-2011, 03:34 AM
It sounds like the UAD stuff is really a cut above the rest.
sickvision – 06-02-2011, 08:39 PM
i always wanted a uad i cant get my hands on a cheep one ebay was a good shot thanks