Universal Audio's Latest Plug-Ins

Universal Audio introduced some new plug-ins for the UAD2 platform during 2009, which are well worth covering due to their appropriateness for mixing.
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 Universal Audio introduced some new plug-ins for the UAD2 platform during 2009, which are well worth covering due to their appropriateness for mixing.

TRIDENT A-RANGE EQ

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This EQ is all about character. It emulates the inductor-based design of the original, including the quirky ability to create really unusual curves. Part of this is due to the lowpass and highpass filters; there are buttons for three different cutoffs per filter, but you can enable more than one button at a time, which steepens the cutoff and changes the overall character. Of the four main bands (high shelf, low shelf, and two bandpass), your choices are limited: four frequencies per band, and a boost/cut slider (no Q)—but they can also interact in interesting ways. The chosen Q is mild, so you can boost without the sound getting “annoying;” the cut seems more dramatic than the boost.

I feel the A-Range EQ is at its best when used subtly, as it can add character without creating an obvious “EQed” sound. It’s not a replacement for a “surgical” parametric EQ, but there’s a reason why the Trident ARange EQ is held in such high regard by mixdown engineers; in typical UA fashion, they’ve brought that analog quality to the digital word.

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EL7 FATSO

Fatso is one of those “magic wonder boxes” and again, UA has nailed what the original is all about—but also gone further, by including a “Fatso Sr.” version with additional controls for tweaking compression that aren’t in the hardware version. Part saturator and part compressor, Fatso can make drums bigger, basses rounder, and vocals stronger

It’s important to compare the peaks with bypassed and processed versions, as the effect can be subtle but if the output control is up, you’ll be fooled into thinking it’s more exaggerated. Of course, you can make Fatso into a caricature of “fat” sounds, but to my ears it’s at its best when used to add a few pounds rather than going the obesity route.

Fatso is quite complex, as there are multiple elements and they all interact to some degree—for example, the Tranny (transformer) option adds an entirely different quality to whatever else is dialed in. Fortunately, there’s a solid collection of presets that you can use without even knowing how Fatso works “under the hood.”

To get into all of Fatso’s details would take a couple pages, so here’s the bottom line: Anyone who’s a fan of “the analog sound” but uses digital because of cost and convenience will welcome what Fatso brings to tracks. The careful control of distortion, tape saturation emulation, “transformer sound,” and a very “analog-like” compressor can be downright magical for smoothing out any of digital’s rough edges. Granted this is Universal Audio’s forte, but even so, this is a very impressive plug-in.

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EMT 250

The EMT 250 is the antidote to crummy-sounding digital reverbs. It really does have that “plate/analog quality,” even though the original wasn’t a mechanical plate, but an early digital reverb. When I first called this up, waves of nostalgia kicked in—few digital reverbs truly capture the warm, enveloping sound quality of analog reverb, but the EMT 250 does an outstanding job—probably because it adapts the same code that powered the original.

For those unfamiliar with the EMT 250, it wasn’t just about reverb, but also included effects like chorus, delay, phasing, ambience, and echo. These processors are used to good advantage in the presets, which do a fine job of showing off what the EMT 250 can do.

If you want to take your reverb to the next level, this is a plug-in whose full, spacious sound adds an overlay of reality that many digital reverbs lack.

CONCLUSIONS

It’s no secret that Univseral Audio knows how to translate analog mojo to the digital world. When applied to mixing, this is crucial because mixing is an additive process—if each plug-in you use sounds “X” amount better than the norm, and that’s multiplied over several tracks, the overall improvement in sound quality is substantial. Although some of what accounts for the quality of UA plug-ins is having their own hardware platform, I’d have to give the lion’s share of the credit to those working on the code level—you can’t go wrong with UA’s plugs, and these three are no exception.

TIP: DON’T MIX WITHIN 24 HOURS OF FLYING

Airplanes mess with your ears, even if you wear earplugs, and it takes a while for them to bounce back to normal.

TIP: USE MARKERS FOR NAVIGATION

It’s much easier to mix when you can jump instantly to particular sections and compare them to other sections.