UJAM add some vintage vibes to their range of user‑friendly effects plug‑ins.
UJAM may be best‑known for their range of ‘virtual musician’ instruments, covering drums, bass, guitar and orchestral strings (see the Striiiings review in SOS April 2021: www.soundonsound.com/reviews/ujam-striiiings), but they also have the Finisher range of effects processors including Retro, reviewed here, Fluxx, Voodoo, Neo and a free taster plug‑in, Micro.
Each Finisher effect is built around the same underlying multi‑effects engine but has been designed around a different theme. For example, Voodoo is intended primarily for processing acoustic and electric guitars, whereas Fluxx offers something for more creative sound‑designer types. Behind the scenes, they all emulate a large number of individual effects, and these are combined into some 50‑plus multi‑effects chains that can include two or more individual effects. The complexity of the chains is deliberately hidden from the end user, who has access to five macro‑style knobs that typically control multiple parameters in the effects chain. A Finisher preset is, essentially, a combination of one of the effects chains (which UJAM call ‘modes’) and initial values of the five macro knobs. As with UJAM’s instrument plug‑ins, the UI design is all about allowing you to be creative, without getting bogged down in parameter paralysis.
As the name suggests, Retro is built around a ‘vintage’ theme and UJAM describe the effect as being similar to Instagram filters for your audio. I’ll describe this in more detail below, but the vintage description applies both to the types of effects chains that are recreated here and to the plug‑in’s more general ability to add a dollop of ‘vintage‑ness’ to modern or clinical sounds.
Stylised graphics aside, Retro’s UI is identical to the other Finisher plug‑ins. A preset menu sits at the top, while beneath the Retro logo you get a second selection system for the 50 modes (effects chains). Each of the modes can draw on up to 20 individual effects, and UJAM have organised the modes into four, decade‑based categories: ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Each includes effects options reflecting the style and sound of those periods and to get you started, there are 100 presets built around these modes. Clicking on the list/eye icon expands the mode selection system into the upper half of the display for easier browsing.
The lower portion of the screen contains the input/output level controls, the four ‘variation’ knobs and the large Finisher knob. The variation knobs target different parameters within each of the effects chains but, usefully, the labels also change to indicate what each control does. Inevitably, as these are macro‑style knobs those labels can sometimes seem rather general: they may change more than one parameter in the underlying algorithms. The Input and Output controls shouldn’t be overlooked: the latter ensures a suitable signal level is passed on to subsequent plug‑ins but the former can influence, for example, how hard you drive any virtual saturation elements in the effects chain.
The Finisher knob is apparently also a macro control but, on the whole, whatever the processing is being applied, if you want more of it you just increase the Finisher value. All these controls can be automated.
So, how well does Retro deliver, er…. retro sounds? Actually, I think it does pretty well, and a quick scan through the mode presets is enough to give you a pretty big hint as to what’s on offer. For example, in the ’60s category you’ll find a number of modulation modes, some vintage amps, a couple of tube emulations and a vinyl emulation (which itself can be switched between four decades). Whether it’s amp, reverb or modulation simulation, there’s definitely a believable ’60s vibe to the effects processing. The other decade categories offer similar, true‑to‑period options, with further combinations of amp, reverb, delay, modulation and saturation modes. Across the mode categories, the reverbs in particular capture the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s vibes very well.
How convincing you find the ‘make it vintage’ end results is only part of the story... almost without exception, the effects will add an extra dimension to your original audio...
How convincing you find the ‘make it vintage’ end results is only part of the story, though. Where I think Retro really wins is in making things sound interesting more generally: almost without exception, the effects will add an extra dimension to your original audio, but this is particularly true for individual sounds. I had a lot of fun skipping through the different modes with a drum mix, bass guitar/synth, piano and electric guitar, for example. It’s both cool and addictive, and while it is of course possible to have too much of a good thing, a bit of Retro applied to a couple of key elements in a mix can really make them pop; sounds can just be made more interesting (eg. ’60s DuoVibe mode), bigger (’90s Subharmonics on bass), more stereo (’90s Double Tracker on guitars), quirky (’70s Filterbank on keys), more lo‑fi (’60s Too Old Tube) or, indeed, just more vintage (’60s Vinyl History).
Retro can also do very interesting things to a full mix, courtesy of the various modes centred on saturation effects, whether tube‑based, console‑style, vinyl, fuzz or the very cool Four Track Recorder mode from the ’80s category. Yes, very little will go a long way with such mix‑level processing, but if you find yourself needing to give your track a little vintage vibe, Retro has some genuinely interesting options to explore.
If you’re happy with the idea of a somewhat abstract macro‑based control system, then Finisher Retro is a lot of fun. It’s all so fast and easy: if you have a sound that needs a lift to turn it from bland into grand, you can quickly explore whether Retro has a suitable sonic trick without getting slowed down by irrelevant detail. It’s a concept I’m personally more than comfortable with, though it’s perhaps worth noting that if you’re the kind of mix engineer who likes to have control over every tiny detail of your effects signal chain, it will probably trigger you!
On their website, UJAM describe Retro’s modes as a “web of up to 20 interconnected sound modules” and liken it to having a combination of huge pedal board and studio rack gear all hooked up, with everything set just right. That’s quite a marketing claim but in use it’s actually not so wide of the mark. It’s rather like your studio has employed some effects‑mad intern to create a collection of custom effects chains for you, so you don’t have to do all that yourself. You get to do the easy bit: ‘playing’ with these effects chains by tweaking a super‑streamlined set of top‑level controls, and seeing what creative surprises it throws up. And while the results do often give you ‘vintage’, even more often they’ll give you ‘vibe’. Be warned, though, like lots of ‘make it better’ effects, Retro can be quite addictive.
UJAM offer a 30‑day trial of all their plug‑ins, and I can happily recommend a trial run: with so much sonic fun in a competitively priced package, Finisher Retro is well worth a look.
- Can add interest to almost any sound.
- A wide range of vintage effects flavours on offer.
- Streamlined control set (if you need fast results).
- Not one for the control freaks out there.
Finisher Retro offers vintage, vibey coolness in an easy‑to‑use format and at a price that won’t break the bank.