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Ian Vargo’s Top 10 UAD Plugins (+ Mix Tips)

If you’ve seen my video tutorials, you know I tend to mix with a lot of UAD plugins.

Here’s a roundup of my ten go-to plugins as well as some mix tips for each.

1. Studer A800

If I had to choose just one plugin from UAD, this would be it. It’s a mainstay on my drum buss and other sub-aux tracks. It can also really warm up a master buss and is excellent on lead vocals and close-miked drums.

There are so many tonal options with this plugin—it’s like an EQ, compressor, saturator, signal destroyer all in one.

Tip: Experiment with the “bias setting”—try bringing it down to just before the signal starts breaking up, and then push the input for instant vintage saturation and excitement.

2. Neve 33609 Compressor/Limiter

This compressor, which models the classic Neve hardware, is a regular on kick, snare, drum buss and master buss.

If you’re looking to “glue” multiple sources together and add instant excitement without killing your dynamic range, this is my favorite compressor.

Tip: Send your bass in parallel to the 33609 and push the input to add excitement and vibe, while still maintaining the dynamics of the original signal.

3. Neve 1073

Depth, clarity, bite, mayhem—normally I choose a specialty EQ to add one of these qualities to my audio, but the 1073 can achieve all of it and more. It’s super smooth and I’d describe it as “forgiving” on vocals, but it works on pretty much anything.

Tip: Use this in Unison in conjunction with an Apollo interface, and set it to mic level when recording electric guitar (make sure to turn the output way down) for the most absurd, fuzzy, 70’s lead guitar tone I’ve ever achieved in the box.

4. Manley Massive Passive

The original hardware unit is one of the most widely used equalizers in mastering. Try this plugin, add a generous amount of 12 or 16 kHz to the two-buss and you’ll see why.

Tip: Run this in parallel on lead vocals or a vocal aux, and add a substantial amount of gain (anywhere from 1 kHz to 27 kHz) to add whatever the vocal might be missing—whether it’s bite, clarity or air. Be mindful not to push the volume of that aux track too much. The high-end is unmatched.

5. Harrison 32C

A great Swiss Army Knife equalizer. Intuitive, and easy to use, but also full of character and interesting tones.

Tip: Whereas the upper midrange of most plugin equalizers can be harsh and brittle, this EQ is really pleasing in that range. Try it on electric guitars, with a couple dB of gain (anywhere from 1 – 3 kHz) for bite without the fatiguing quality that other plugins can sometimes add.

6. LA-2A Collection

Despite having minimal controls, this emulation of the classic hardware compressor is extremely versatile. The fact that you get several variations makes the collection even more powerful.

Tip: These compressors have their own unique tonal characteristics in addition to being adept at managing dynamic range. Experiment with the different versions in the collection before reaching for an equalizer.

7. Ampex ATR-102

This tape emulation plugin is perhaps even more versatile than the Studer A800 given that it has a built in delay and additional tape characteristics. For warmth and midrange vibe, I’ll reach for the A800. For clarity and sheen, I usually choose the ATR-102.

Tip: Experiment with the Wow, Flutter and Noise features to make your VST synths sound more “drifty” and analog.

8. dbx 160

Use it on snare. It’s “that” sound, instantly.

Tip: Seriously: snare drum.

9. Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor

It can be intimidating to use this one for the first time if you’re not familiar with the original hardware unit or well-versed in compression, but get past the initial learning curve and it’s one of the most versatile plugin compressors.

Tip: To retain and even enhance the bass response of program material, make sure to engage the sidechain function, and choose the “steel” transformer setting.

10. EMT 140

Another emulation of a classic unit, this is one of the only reverb plugins that “feels” like a piece of hardware.

Tip: Between the different plates, input filter and EQ settings, you’ve got a ton of options. Try doing something drastic like adding 12dB somewhere between 1 kHz – 6 kHz with the plugin’s EQ engaged for any track you want to really stand out. I feel confident “pushing” a lot of these plugins, and the EMT 140 is no exception.

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Ian Vargo

Ian Vargo

Ian Vargo is a Producer, Mixer and Audio Professor based in Los Angeles. He has worked on numerous major label and independent records. Get in touch on his website or learn more from him in his new Mastering in the Box course.

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  • MV1U C0DE

    Great list and tips! Honorable mentions for me would be Cooper Time Cube for warm delays and haas effect, Lexicon 224 for warm and lush reverb on vocals, and the newer Neve 88rs which I use to track everything through my Apollo Twin Duo. Can’t wait to get the Studer though. Any thoughts on the FATSO? That was also on my radar.

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