The name is a historic one, with a lengthy heritage in analog audio that dates back to 1958, but for many in our industry Universal Audio is more closely associated in modern times with plug-ins and interfaces, and that’s especially true for the latest generation of audio engineers. Thanks to their highly-successful Apollo line of interfaces, UAD-series plug-ins and the Luna Recording System, the company has established itself as one of the leading brands in today’s digi-centric universe. For many years, UAD plug-ins were tied to the hardware - PCIe cards, external Firewire/Thunderbolt accelerator units, or DSP-powered audio interfaces, but that all changed in 2022 when the UADx line of native plug-ins and the UAD Spark subscription service were launched: now everyone can access a range of premium plug-ins that are fully powered by their computers’ own CPUs and require no additional hardware to run.

Before we dive in to check out this impressive roster of plug-ins, it’s important to highlight that they are now available as AU, AAX and VST3 plug-ins for Mac or Windows computers, and Apple silicon native support is also available for all compatible DAWs. The UADx plug-ins feature low-latency and are extremely efficient on the CPU, allowing for their use across entire sessions - and that’s possible even on older/less powerful computers! Owners of UAD plug-ins included on Spark can also access the UADx versions for free, allowing for more flexibility when allocating system resources. Let’s check them out!

Equalizers
Equalizers are crucial to our craft and Spark gathers some of the best in the UAD catalog. Let’s start with the legendary Neve 1073, since it’s not only an iconic 3-band EQ with a variable high-pass filter, but it also features a preamp section that is perfect for gain-staging a mix and adding some delicious analog flavor.

Up next we have two 'collections': the Hitsville EQ Collection and the Pultec Collection. The first collection brings two models used extensively at the famous Motown Studios, a place where the Motown record label launched some of the most successful artists of the 20th century. The Hitsville EQ is a graphic-style EQ with seven fixed bands, while the Hitsville Mastering EQ also brings seven EQ bands but extends its functionality with a multimode filter, dual mono or mid-side operation, and an alternate “half-speed” mode that changes the frequency for each band, further enhancing its flexibility.

The Pultec Collection offers three different models from this famous EQ lineage: the MEQ-5 for the mid frequencies between 200 Hz and 5 kHz with two “peak” (or boost) bands and one “dip” (or cut) band, the HLF-3C that delivers high-pass and low-pass filters for taming the extreme ends of the spectrum, and lastly the coveted EQP-1A, which is known for its “push-pull” design that treats high and low frequencies in a very unique and desirable way. Since the plug-in recreates literally everything that made them so special, including the inbuilt tube amplifier, it imparts a special character even with the EQ knobs untouched.


Compressors
Compressors were given the proper care they deserve on Spark. Here UA has included the API 2500 Bus Compressor, a compressor that is perfect for mix buss duties and mastering, and also a couple of compressor collections featuring different versions of the LA2A and 1176, which are arguably the two most widely-used analog compressors of all time - or at least the most notorious!

The LA2A Collection is actually a bit more than the "two-As", since it also supplies the LA-2, an early version of the opto-based leveling amplifier with slower time constants that were later made faster for the upcoming 2As. This collection also brings the classic “silver” version with quicker time constants - definitely the most famous of the bunch - and lastly, we are given the “gray” model, which emulates the original hardware built in Pasadena during the mid-1960s and features compression timings that are a middle ground between the LA-2 and the ‘silver’ models.


The 1176 Collection follows a similar path by offering three different versions of the esteemed FET-based “limiting amplifier”: The Rev A or “Blue Stripe”, which is arguably the most sought-after thanks to its more aggressive sound, the Rev E (or 1176LN “Low Noise”) version with its famous black front panel (probably the most popular version and the benchmark for all 1176s), and finally we have the AE or “Anniversary Edition”, which is a limited-run version with a unique super “slo” attack time setting.

Channel Strip
What about a plug-in that combines equalization, compression, saturation and more? That would be the API Vision Channel Strip. This plug-in is not a direct emulation of one piece of API gear and instead it brings together several of their modules into one panel: it gives us the transformer-based input stage for characterful analog saturation, a dynamics section with a gate/expander and a compressor, two EQ models and also a set of high-pass and low-pass filters. For the EQ section UA has included the 550B four-band EQ and the 560 Graphic EQ, both studio staples used on countless hits since the 1970s. This is a true workhorse of a plug-in and an entire mix could be built solely around it, allowing users to create a classic “American” style console workflow and sound right inside their DAW of choice.

Saturation
Although we can achieve tasty analog-style saturation with plug-ins we’ve already mentioned (such as the Neve 1073 or the API Vision), there is a Spark plugin that is primarily dedicated to this task - it’s the Studer A800 Tape Machine, a plug-in that emulates one of the most revered multi-track magnetic tape recorders of all time. Before DAWs did the majority of multitrack work, tape provided not only a “certain special” tone but also added subtle compression that helped to make mixes more cohesive by “gluing” tracks together, and that’s precisely what this plug-in does, without having to have someone calibrate and line it up every morning!

Reverbs
For space-creation we have quite a diverse selection, from physical to digital with many different reverb flavors. The first is the Pure Plate, a plug-in created by Universal Audio themselves to capture the magic of these old metallic reverberators. Even though it’s not a direct emulation of any real-world equipment, it is largely based on the lush sound of classics such as the EMT-140. Still in the physical reverberation realm, we have the Hitsville Chambers, a plug-in that models two echo chambers that were an essential part of that “Motown Sound”. Created with UA’s Dynamic Room Modeling technology ( previously used on the highly successful Capitol Chambers and Ocean Way Studios UAD2 plug-ins), the Hitsville Chambers plug-in brings the original sets of speakers and microphones used in Motown’s golden era to faithfully recreate the magical echoes heard so many times on records from Detroit.


Finally, we have the Lexicon 224, a coveted reverb from the dawn of the digital age that established the Lexicon name and ushered in their legacy. The 224 brings eight classic reverb algorithms ranging from plates and rooms to concert halls and more that made the brand so famous and established the sound that we all understand as “modern” reverb. A true cornerstone of the 1980s, including the venerated 480L, which featured most of the 224’s original code.

Special effects
UA Spark includes three time-based effects for delay and modulation: the Galaxy Tape Echo, Brigade Chorus and Studio D Chorus. The first is an emulation of the illustrious Roland Space Echo, the sought-after vintage tape delay with a soul of its own thanks to its quirky hardware. It can also be used as a reverb with its own unique tone, making it a great option when unique spatial effects are needed.


We then have two different types of chorus. The first is the Brigade Chorus, and as its looks might imply, this is the classic effect one might expect from a guitar pedal: strong and bold, especially when coupled with its vibrato effect for modulation. Finally we have the Studio D Chorus, an emulation of the Roland Dimension-D SDD-320, a studio classic from the late 70s with a very lush sound that is more subtle than most chorus effects, and was used as a stereo widener on countless records.

Virtual Instruments
Although their reputation has been largely built around sound processors, UA has recently delved into sound generation as well. Here we have a true evolutionary timeline of virtual instruments (VIs) that starts with classics from the past and takes us bang up to the present day with the latest in sound synthesis technology.


Our journey through time starts with the Ravel Grand Piano and Waterfall B3 Organ. The Ravel carefully captures a Steinway Model B grand piano, made with thorough sampling via close and distant microphones that is combined with UA’s physical modeling tech for ultimate realism. The Waterfall brings the unmistakable tone of the famous Hammond B3 Organ along with a meticulous recreation of its accompanying Leslie 147 rotary speaker cabinet that emulates every nuance of this organic beast, including the famous rotary speed variations and braking capability.


Arriving in the 1970s, the decade when synthesizers really stepped into the limelight, there is no way we can avoid the Moog Minimoog. A breakthrough instrument that pioneered a musical revolution, this nifty monosynth is emulated here to unprecedented detail, and lives up to the expectations we can rightfully place on UA. The later part of the decade and early years of the 1980s also marked the rise in popularity of polyphonic synths, and that is represented here with the PolyMAX Synth. Instead of emulating one particular piece of gear, the Polymax brings together many aspects of what made the first “polys” so great, and it does so in a friendly interface with a familiar knob-per-function layout that is easy to operate. But it’s not all about yesterday’s magic, as shown with the Opal Morphing Synthesizer, a forward-thinking digital synth that combines analog-modelled oscillators and filters with wavetables and plenty of modulation options, featuring three envelope generators (including a Buchla-esque multi-segmented envelope), two LFOs and much more. The Opal is UA’s future synth - available today.


Where There’s A Spark, There’s A Fire

Universal Audio is on a rapid pace of development with UADx, and since the Spark subscription service was launched in late March 2022 we have seen a constant flow of new plug-in releases coming our way. Spark released with 17 plug-ins, but at the time of publication roughly eight months after Spark’s debut, we have a total of 26 plug-ins available, with 20 effects and 6 instruments. The list is bound to get bigger and bigger as time goes by and you’ll always be getting more for your money if you dive in.

The UAD Spark subscription service is available for $19.99 (USD) when billed monthly and annual subscriptions are available for $149.99, so there’s a substantial discount and a good incentive to be billed yearly.

Special offer: Until December 31st new users can get 3 months for $0.99 - keep in mind that this offer ends soon and is only available for those who haven’t tried UAD Spark before, so there’s no better time to do so!

For more information and to sign-up, please visit: https://spark.uaudio.com/