We’ll be going over what we at Logic Fiends believe are the best UAD plugins. With so many categories, it’s impossible to pick just one, so we’ll pick the top one or two for each category. We are going to assume that you already have all the Universal Audio free plugins, like the 1176, LA-2A and Pultec, since they come standard with any unit you buy. (Note: this list was updated in 2019 and only covers uad 2 plugins.)
The Best Universal Audio Plugins by Category
While using UAD plugins without hardware isn’t really viable, many people don’t realize that you can use a Satellite without requiring an Apollo, if you don’t need an audio interface and just want to run the plugins.
Some plugins really suck down resources quickly, so you may consider buying a UAD-2 Satellite before buying a bunch of new plugins only to find that you don’t have enough juice to run them all. (If you click that link, Logic Fiends gets a few bucks to keep the site running, so thank you in advance if you do.) You can also check out our article 5 Reasons You Need to Get the UAD Satellite Octo.
We’d recommend the Galaxy Tape Echo as the best UAD delay plugin. Aside from Echo, it has Reverb settings as well, so it can pull double duty. It’s the most versatile of all the offerings, and sounds the most analog. If you’re interested in the sounds of Stranger Things, the Galaxy Tape Echo is used all over the soundtrack. (If you’re a huge U2 fan however, you might opt for the Korg SD-3000 Digital Delay, as that was part of The Edge’s sound.)
The Dytronics Cyclosonic Panner is uber cool, but probably not all that useful if you’re shooting for something that’s commercially viable today. You can pan left to right or around your head in a circle, and sync the speed to the beat. It does it well, and would be super valuable for psychedelic or prog rock.
We have a review of UAD’s Cooper Time Cube Plugin if you are interested. It can be useful for thickening guitar and vocals, a bit like a doubler.
Hands down the must have reverb is the EMT 140. First off, it was used on Dark Side of the Moon, so that’s probably reason enough to own it. It’s just invaluable for adding depth to vocals, and depth overall really. It’s only shortcoming might be that it’s a bit of a short reverb (not as short as doubling by any means, but if you are looking for a long reverb, this might not be the best option.)
The runner up would be the Lexicon 224. It’s been used on countless hit records. A few of the presets will feel familiar and can be used right out of the box. It’s a bit of a resource hog (not as much as the AKG Spring Reverb though) so it has to be used very judiciously unless you have extra processing power.
You really want a few different reverbs as you might want to put the vocals or lead instrument on a short reverb and some of the background/pad tracks on a longer reverb to create more space.
We recommend the Manley Massive Passive as the best UAD EQ. This beast is a tweaker’s paradise. It’s a clean EQ that doesn’t add coloration. While that may be a negative to some, you could use the already included Pultec for coloration.
Interestingly, because of the band overlap, you can do the same trick as the Pultec where you both boost and cut the bass in that sweet spot. Two versions of the plugin are provided. The normal version can be used on a track or the mix bus. The mastering version is basically identical, but has less of a db range, and lets you get more into fine tuning the volume. One caveat is that it’s a little on the demanding side as far as DSP resources.
(Hint: you don’t need to have all 4 columns engaged. A beginner mistake is adjusting 4 frequencies, when only 1 or 2 need it, thus making it worse.)
If you aren’t comfortable with picking which frequency to boost or cut, then this plugin will be intimidating. The API 550A or Neve 1081 might be better for you because you are limited to the pre-chosen frequencies that are provided to you.
The Maag EQ4 is worth mentioning since its Air band is legendary. If you are doing vocal-centric songs that need that extra sparkle in the 40 Khz range, then this may be worth considering.
We were split on the best uad plugins for guitar, and picked two.
The Marhsall JMP 2203 is our first choice. Tony Platt, the man that actually mic’d Angus Young’s amps on “Back In Black”, did the mic’ing for this plugin. If you are going for that late 70’s/ early 80’s Classic Rock/Heavy Metal sound, this is it. Back in Black!!! Randy Rhoads also used the JCM-800 variant, so if you want that early Ozzy sound, definitely give this a try.
The Marshall Plexi Classic is one of Universal Audio’s free plugins. If you haven’t tried it out yet, make sure you do as it will give a taste of what the Marhsall plugins are like!
The Fuchs Train II is our second choice. Probably a little more versatile than the Marshall, the cleans are really clean and great for a Jazz or Country tone. If you want more of a modern metal sound, it can do that too. It can be quite an angry sounding amp!!!
We really wish someone would do a UAD Orange amp emulation! Are you listening Universal Audio?
Read the UAD Marshall Plexi review at guitarfiends.com, which is a free plugin.
Again, we’re split on the best UAD plugins for bass.
The first choice is the Ampeg SVT-VR. This is great at that really deep bass, Motown type sound. You want walking bass, this is it!
The Galien Krueger 800RB though is a bit more diverse, and the way to go if you want a more modern sound.
This is kind of the miscellaneous category. We’d have to go with the Ampex ATR-102 Mastering Tape Recorder. It has more options than you’d ever want to know about when it comes to recording on tape. You can pick tape speed, tenable wow and flutter, and even pick the type of physical tape to use. It’s a subtle plugin (unless you do the sun baked tape preset) that adds that extra 2% to your final mix to make it sound a bit more like a real record. Definitely put this one on the mix bus.
Alternatively, if you are looking to add saturation to your mix bus or would like to thicken up some 808s, then the SPL TwinTube is a good all around option. It’s a little more subtle than some other options out there, but also works well in multiple genres.
We also have a review of special processing plugin the SPL Vitalizer Plugin if you are interested.
You can never have too many compressors! But this is the best UAD plugins list, so if we had to pick just one, the API 2500 would win for best UAD compressor. This VCA compressor is probably the most versatile of the offerings. You can put it on the mix bus and treat it as your mastering compressor (as many do.) You can put it on the mix bus to “glue” it together just like an SSL, and “mix into it.”
It offers feed forward (also called new) and feed backward compression (which emulates an 1176.) The knee can be subtle to aggressive, and it has their proprietary Thrust detector to punch up the low end. The API is one of the standards for Rock, Hip-Hop and EDM. Hint: Try it on the Mix Bus with it set to 50% so that it mixes in the compressed with original.
Another good option if your style is a little less aggressive is the Summit Audio TLA-100A. (Al Schmitt is probably the most famous user of these.) It’s really good as a leveling compressor. Think of it as an LA-2A with the capability of a faster attack. It works anywhere an LA-2A works, but can also be great on the mix bus if you need subtle compression.
The dbx 160 is a must have compressor for drums, but the API is also a VCA that handles drums really well, so pick the API first.
Best UAD Plugins for Mastering
If you don’t already have a limiter, then we recommend the Sonnox Limiter. It’s great at preventing clipping, yet very transparent, and has the Inflator’s Enhance feature built in. Admittedly the look is a bit dated, and it doesn’t have that cool vintage hardware appearance, but it does it’s job well.
If you already have a limiter however, then we’d recommend the Sonnox Inflator. It adds “apparent” loudness by adding harmonics (so more frequencies.) A good analogy might be a computer “getting faster” by adding more memory, as opposed to putting in a faster CPU. This can add a bit (or a lot) of saturation, which may not be desirable for your style. If you are going for that modern “big radio hit” type sound, then this might be what you’re missing.
Another way to get the Saturation if you don’t want the Inflator, is the Vertigo VSM-3. (On an 808, the Vertigo may be the best UAD plugin for hip hop.) While we love this unit, the Inflator is a bit more practical.
If you want to go more old school with your approach, then the Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor is the way to go. First off, the actual hardware unit is about $8k, so getting a taste of that in a plugin is as close as most people can hope for. (Once you realize it’s two compressors in one, the cost makes a bit more sense.) The first section is an optical compressor akin to an LA-2A, which can be bypassed. Then the main section is a VCA compressor, which can be bypassed as well. Finally, you can pick from Nickel/Iron/Steel transformers to alter the sound in a subtle fashion.
Best Universal Audio Plugins for Vocals
As far as best UAD plugins for vocals, the Channel Strip plugins are a separate category, so we’ll exclude those here. If you are recording a lot of rap and hip-hop, then AutoTune would probably be essential. Also, we are all growing accustom to hearing perfectly in-tune vocals, so while a vocalist might have strong pitch control, few are perfect.
By far the coolest plugin for vocals though is the Townsend Labs Sphere L22 mic modeler (although it’s part hardware/ part plugin.) The microphone all by itself is a very nice and clean sound direct into an Apollo. It’s essentially two mics built into one, so you can adjust room placement after you’ve recorded! You can also put it between your head and an acoustic guitar, and mic both! Or put it over drums as an overhead stereo pair. The real value though is all the models it includes. Imagine the cost to own a U-67 and Sony C-800! Most people will never get the chance to hear all of these mics in person, let alone own them. And you can re-mic after the fact! No longer is re-amping just for guitarists.
This is the toughest category as it seems to be the holy wars of recording/mixing. Neve engineers hate SSL, SSL engineers hate Neve, the only thing they share is their hatred of API 😉
The Neve 1073 is probably the most legendary, and Steven Tyler is rumored to only sing through these, so that’s probably a good one to start with. The main negative is the lack of a compressor. Some people love the EQ though.
The API is known for being punchy on drums, and good for Rock/Metal style vocals. The API has stepped knobs, which makes EQ selection easier (or more limiting) whereas the SSL has continuous knobs. The SSL is revered in the Hip-Hop world and has been used to mix countless hit records of all styles. (Although the plugin is a bit of a resource hog.)
Supposedly Bono loves the VOXBOX, which is the most feature rich including a de-esser. The Helios is tied to David Bowie, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix … so there’s that.
We can’t pick just one Channel Strip and own all of them, but if we had to pick a default as probably the best UAD plugin for tracking, it would be the Neve 1073. It sounds good on everything, has a stepped EQ (good for beginners) and legendary status.
We hope that you found our list of the best UAD plugins helpful in your decision making process. Please leave comments letting us know if we’re doing a good job. If you didn’t find this useful, let us know how we can improve. In the meantime, check out our other plugin reviews.