UAD Plugins & Dance Music Production

So what's the deal with UAD plugins?

Are they worth it and are they worth using in dance music production?

In my opinion, yes and yes.

UAD or Universal Audio has a long history in music production. Founded by Bill Putnam a long time ago, his son has taken the company into the 21st century with the UAD platform released in the 2000s.

The UAD platform has come a long way since I bought my first PCI card around 2004 or so.

I had a UAD 1 card and didn't know what the hell I was doing.

Fast forward about 9 years and I was in the market for a studio purchase that would take my sounds to the next level.

I was unsure of the best way to spend about $1,000. New monitors, new interface, or a UAD Quad with new plugins.

I already had decent monitors, pair of the original Event 20/20 powered monitors. They were great but too big for my smaller desk and room.

My interface was adequate with a Motu Traveler Mk1.

What about plugins.

Truthfully the stock plugins in Ableton and Maschine are adequate. But the UAD stuff will get you where you need to go faster. And my gosh, that Studer tape machine emulation...I've never heard anything so awesome. I'd have no idea how to do something similar in the box.

So here we go.

Here are the ones I own.

Studer (here's a Studer Video I made a few years ago - where you can listen to it)
Empirical Labs Fatso
Lexicon 224 Reverb
EMT Plate 140 Reverb
Neve 88rs Channel Strip
API Vision Channel Strip
Upgraded LA2A
Upgraded Fairchild
Helios EQ
Maag EQ
Brainworx Guitar Amp Simulators
EP 34 Tape Echo
Bermuda Triangle Distortion Peddle
Raw Distortion
Little Labs Voice of God
Precision K Stereo Ambiance Recovery

A bunch of other free ones.

Since 2013 I spent $706, that included a custom bundle at $399 with my purchase of a Satellite Quad Card.And I have an Apollo Twin Solo interface.

Has it been worth it?

Absolutely, it's a joy to use.

Here's what I use the most.

The Fatso has found a place on my master bus. Is it great for things like NYC/parallel compression. For sure, I just don't need to use that technique often to add fatness to drums because I'm covered on that front. It's very nice for the sonic glue you'd be going for with Ableton/Cytomic's glue compressor or an SSL G series compressor.

1-2 dB of compression, with the compressor on the bus setting which has a low ratio and the input is set in the middle. A button or 2 of warmth, I can set it to ignore the lows and I'm off. Subtle, warmth, fatness, and glue. I load up a master bus preset, adjust the input and threshold and within a few clicks, bam, I'm done. I do send my mixes to mastering with the Fatso on. This is not something I just mix with.

Lexicon reverb, I don't use it ofen. Underused on my part.

EMT 140 - very nice and easy to use. I have 1 or 2 set up for cymbals and claps/snares.

The UAD Studer A800. I use this a ton and love it! I buss my lows together so the Studer always goes on that channel to give a little extra heft. Tape speeds and settings have their characteristics. I usually stick to 30 IPS on the "repro" tape formula. The input and output settings are very important long with the secondary EQ controls. I find that the HF and LF controls help me dial in just the right sound for lows and hi's of the kick.  I used the Studer tape emulation on the low-end in these free samples.

Teletronix LA2A, has been getting a lot of use on my mic input channel when recording videos, but it's also amazing synths and bass parts. Anything that's not moving too fast with tons of transients that I need to stand out in the mix a little more. There's only a few parts to move on the device so it's easy to get the right sound.

This is not the case for the API Vision Channel strip.

The thing sounds great but it's not too easy on the eyes.

I'm partial to the Neve 88rs because that was my first channel strip and it's very easy to use aside from the gate/expander thing.

The Neve 88rs. It's a great swiss army knife and channel strips definitely have their place in the mix. The legacy version is super DSP friendly because it's an older plugin.

The new one is a DSP hog but it's sounds great. I just got it so I can't speak to it in great detail yet.

The legacy version was used to EQ some of the low-end parts on my tune Friction which was tricky because I had a big kick, with reverb to make the rumbly low end, and some tom drum parts to add extra low-end rhythm. This was tricky to get right and surprisingly I was able to get it done with the 88rs instead of a surgical modern EQ like Ableton's EQ8.

The LA3A is another solid compressor, also older and light on DSP. UA also made a hardware unit of this. It's designed to emulate the best of the 1176 and LA2A. The software version is quite nice.

The Helios Type 69 EQ. Great for giving kicks a little extra punch in the 60hz range.

The Pultec EQ. The legacy free version is great! I'm sure the upgrade is nice, I just haven't gotten there yet. Great for adding to low or higher frequencies. I don't use it much for mids.

Some tips if you're considering making the leap.

Look for deals, they happen a lot. Right now accelerator cards are on a price drop. If not that they are often bundled with software. When I bought my Satellite Quad Firewire card it came with the EMt 140, the Neve 88rs, and the EP-34 tape delay.

They have nice sales when retailers promote. Like Christmas and around Thanksgiving. Summer sales and in the fall. As of March 2017, there's a March madness sale. And they are generous with coupons.

I just scored the new Neve 88rs for $49 because it was on sale and they had a $50 coupon ready for me in my account.

To wrap up, I'm not here to tell you UAD is better than other plugins out there, however the Apollo interfaces are excellent and if you need a new or upgraded interface they are great way to get into the UAD world.  For example if I was purchasing today I'd get the new Apollo Twin Quad.  If you often record synths and want the ability to print your tracks with effects, it's also solid.

The accelerator cards are also very nice, but be sure to be strategic on your plugin purchases.  Use custom bundles if your really want the latest and greatest plugins that seldom go on sale (Studer, Ampex, Ocean Way, API, Manley) otherwise you can stretch your dollars rather far with coupons and sales.

Have you ever considered UAD plugins, do you want to hear what some of them sound like in future articles?

++update - UAD just released some very cool new stuff from Moog and others, so it looks like they are starting to make plugins for us electronic music makers++


Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Lynn Brannon - January 2, 2019

Do you have to have a apollo interface to run a satellite quad 2 I have a Imac Computer, Focusrite 8 pre interface and have ableton live suite as my Daw will this setup work with the UAD Satellite Quad 2

    eric - January 2, 2019

    Hi Lynn,

    No you don't need an apollo interface to run the satellite. I started w/ a satellite quad 5 years ago now and got an apollo twin 2 years after that. U should be all set, for any other questions it's best to contact UAD directly.

    Good luck! THe UAD stuff is great.

whitman bransford - March 13, 2019

Hi Eric,

I recently got into the world of UAD and am absolutely bedazzled. Was planning on adding the API vision to my collection as I have heard great things about it. I agree with you that it's not easy on the eyes, but do you feel it has practical applications in electronic music? Thanks much!

    eric - March 13, 2019

    Hi Whitman,
    THe UAD stuff is great, I've been using for almost 6 years now. wow time flies. I do own the Vision as I got a "deal" on it. Basically I owned the EMT 140 Plate reverb and the 140 was a bonus at the time of buying my Apollo twin so UAD is great in that you can get something you want instead if you already own something they are giving away.

    Anyhow, I don't use the vision that much, as it is a bit of a DSP hog. Every mix gets the Fatso across the 2 bus for subtle compression, LOVE the Studer Tape, the free pultec is great, you can hear a difference just adding it on a track. Back to the vision - yes very useful for electronic music. It has hi and low pass filters, compression and EQ. Though I have no idea how the gate expander works. I use the Neve 88rs which also has much of the same features and never learned how the gate thing works. I believe it can work like a transient shaping tool which is also helpful for our music.

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