Universal Audio has a decades-long reputation as one of the premier manufacturers of pro audio equipment. Bill Putnam started the company in 1958 and was a pioneer his entire life. Putnam designed many products under different companies throughout the course of his career, including the legendary LA-2A and 1176 compressors, as well as the 610 tube console. In 1999, Putnam’s sons re-founded Universal Audio to not only carry on their father’s legacy of building analog recording equipment, but also design brand new tools for the future of digital recording. Now, for over 20 years, UAD has been at the top of the software game, emulating dozens of classic pieces of analog gear. These are 12 of the best UAD plugins in 2021.
Best UAD Plugins in 2021
UAD plugins run on dedicated DSP chips provided by either a Universal Audio Apollo interface or a satellite. So, there is a hardware requirement for entry into their world, but UAD plugins are some of the most authentic emulations of analog equipment currently out there. The UAD library extends well beyond this list, so feel free to do some research on other plugins if this selection doesn’t quite suit your needs!
Studer A800 Tape Machine
The Studer A800 tape machine is one of the most celebrated multitrack recorders ever made. Engineers loved it for both its low-end fullness and top-end presence. Whenever we speak about analog gear we use a lot of ambiguous terms like ‘warm’ and ‘musical,’ but that’s exactly what this plugin can give. There’s a richness and punch that the Studer tape machine can add to any channel or mix that other stuff simply can’t.
Neve Dynamics Collection (33609 & 2254)
Neve’s most famous compressors/limiters are the 33609 and 2254. With the UAD Neve Dynamics Collection, you get both. Like all of the UAD stuff, these are end-to-end authentic software recreations of the original hardware. Naturally, some modern features work their way in for convenience and further tone-shaping, like more Attack and Release times on the 2254, and Mix controls on the 33609.
Neve 1073 Preamp & EQ Collection
The 1073 is the most well known preamp ever made. People still covet the sound, and there are many existing hardware and software emulations of the legendary unit. This plugin runs on UA’s Unison technology; that means if you have an Apollo interface, you can actually record through the 1073 in real time and print that sound directly into your DAW.
Manley Massive Passive EQ
Manley’s Massive Passive equalizer is one of the best UAD plugins for mixing and mastering. This incredibly unique piece of hardware is an ultra high-end tube EQ. Like any good analog equipment worth its salt, the Massive Passive has unusual filter curves and plenty of original character. It’s a great EQ for adding texture and tone to a recording.
Harrison 32C Channel EQ
Harrison 32C consoles sometimes fly under the radar next to better known giants like SSL and Neve. Despite that, Harrisons are certified hit-making machines, perhaps best exemplified by Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Engineer Bruce Swedien recorded that album on his Harrison 32 series console; and Universal Audio replicated the channel EQ straight from Swedien’s own desk! If you want to add an underrated and unique EQ to your collection, this is a great choice.
Teletronix LA-2A Collection
Every major studio in the world has at least a pair of iconic LA-2A leveling amplifiers. These are the most revered optical compressors ever made, period, and engineers still love them to this day. Suffice to say, no plugin collection is complete without an LA-2A emulation. For what it’s worth, no collection is complete without an 1176 either!
Now here’s something relatively unique. The Ampex ATR-102 is a mastering tape machine. It’s quite frankly the most popular 2-track tape machine ever made, and has been used to master countless huge records over the years. With this UAD plugin, you can capture some of that analog ‘magic’ in your DAW to add some expensive sounding polish to your mixes.
The dbx 160 is one of the most beloved VCA compressors of all time. This thing has a ton of mojo; engineers tend to love it on instruments with a lot transients, like kick and snare drum, bass guitar, acoustic/electric guitar, and more. Its voice is totally unique, making it a worthwhile addition to your plugin arsenal.
Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor
The Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor is a monster. It’s versatile enough to provide just a hint of gain reduction for the most delicate mastering purposes, or you can really crush it for heavy compression. Gain reduction comes by way of two-stage serial optical and VCA compression.
EMT 140 Classic Plate Reverb
EMT signed off on this recreation of the iconic 140 plate reverb. The average person has neither the money nor the space to house one of these 600-pound behemoths, so the UAD plugin will have to do. UA visited The Plant Studios in Sausalito, CA to model three of the EMT 140s housed there; luckily they brought the exact essence of these machines back with them!
Little Labs VOG
Voice of God by Little Labs is one of the lesser known secret weapons of many top mixers around the world. This deceptively simple unit helps shape the low-end content on any instrument or mix. People love it to beef up vocals, dial in the lows on drums, and add punch to the bottom of a mix. Among the best UAD plugins are hidden gems like this one!
Capitol Chambers Reverb
Before the days of digital reverb, engineers used the real thing. Hence, 30 feet below the legendary Capitol Studios are four echo chambers. This whole plugin is an incredibly rich emulation of what using a real echo chamber is like. It actually includes the amplifiers, speakers, custom preamps, and mics used in those very rooms.
Conclusion: Best UAD Plugins in 2021
There’s a little bit of something for everyone here: preamps, equalizers, compressors, tape machines, reverb, and more! If it isn’t clear yet, UAD makes amazing stuff. The best UAD plugins are really any that you may already own, or any that you have your eye on. Feel free to share some of your favorites with us!