Universal Audio''s Manley Massive Passive plug-in looks—and sounds—amazingly close to the original.
Universal Audio has an impressive track record of accurately emulating some of the most revered analog gear for its UAD Powered Plug-In platform. Its newest offering, the Manley Massive Passive EQ ($299), is based on Manley Labs'' stereo tube equalizer, which engineers have cherished for more than a decade.
The plug-in (VST/RTAS for Windows and Mac; AU for Mac) is only available to run on Universal Audio''s UAD-2 PCI-e or Express Card processors, and like the original hardware, it comes in two stereo versions: Standard and Mastering. Both versions have four bands per channel, and each band can either cut or boost, can operate as either a bell or shelving curve, and has a bandwidth control. The frequency selections for each band are also the same, and range from 22Hz to 1kHz in the low band and 560Hz to 27kHz in the high band. The differences between the Standard and Mastering versions are the band gain ranges (20dB for Standard, 11dB for Mastering), the overall gain range (-6dB to +4dB for Standard, ±2.5dB for Mastering), and the high- and lowpass filter frequencies (22Hz to 220Hz for Standard, 12Hz to 39Hz for Mastering), plus the Mastering version has stepped gain and bandwidth controls. The left and right channels can be stereo-linked, individually controlled, or bypassed in either version.
The original hardware achieves its equalization by using passive components, with the active tube stage used only for makeup gain. The UAD plug-in models this behavior, which makes the Massive Passive the most power-hungry UAD plug-in to date, by a factor of four—you can only run one stereo instance on the UAD-2 Solo card. Plus, there''s no SE (“DSP-lite”) mode, which exists for other heavy-duty UAD plugs. I was able to get four instances (plus a few other UAD plug-ins) running at 96kHz on my Quad card in Pro Tools HD 8.0.4 on an 8-core Mac Pro, but only with Pro Tools'' buffer set to 512; any lower and the Massive Passive negatively affected Pro Tools performance. (Note: UA says many HD users can run at 256 without issues, but 512 is recommended for best results; for Pro Tools LE, 1024 is advised.) I tested the Massive Passive on various instruments and got great sounds on drums, bass, guitars, and vocals, but I focused most of my time with the plug-in on stereo apps. As a drum bus EQ, the cymbals sparkled, the kick thumped, and the snare cracked, without any negative phase shifts or harshness often imparted by software EQs (see Web Clips 1 and 2). On the mix bus, as well as in mastering sessions, it was clear why the hardware unit has garnered so much respect over the years. The exact frequencies, bandwidth settings, and cut/boost amounts varied greatly depending on the program material, but it was often hard to find settings I didn''t like. I pushed the gain settings further than I normally would in a mastering session as the curves are so gentle and pleasing to my ear (see Web Clips 3 and 4). The unit''s 27kHz is magical, making the mixes pop out of the speakers unlike any software EQ I''ve used. I was in the middle of two different mastering sessions when the Massive Passive license arrived, and both clients were floored by the difference when I swapped out UAD''s Precision Equalizer (a fine EQ, I might add) with the Massive Passive EQ with roughly the same settings.
The only downside to this plug-in is the massive amount of the UAD-2''s CPU it uses, but it''s worth the strain. The Massive Passive will not replace all of your other more surgical or more colored EQ plug-ins; however, what it does sonically, it does incredibly well. I''ll never do another in-the-box mastering session without it, and it brings me one step closer to wanting to mix exclusively within my DAW. The way it simultaneously gently lifts and thickens a mix is close to how the UAD Pultec sounds, but with more precision and control. I''ve used hardware Manley Massives in the past, and even without a direct A/B, I can confidently report that Universal Audio has managed to capture the spirit of the original, and in so doing has produced a truly stellar plug-in.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 5
Manley Massive Passive EQ Product Page