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
Brainworx Guitar Amp Simulators
EP 34 Tape Echo
Bermuda Triangle Distortion Peddle
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++