The latest additions to Universal Audio’s UAFX digital stompbox range offer faithful recreations of classic studio tape delays, reverbs, compressors — and even a vintage microphone preamp.
When Universal Audio (UA) launched their range of digital, compact pedals with the Starlight delay, Golden reverb and Astra modulation processors in 2021 (reviewed in SOS July 2021), their audio quality was never in doubt. But the absence of MIDI control and very limited preset handling was certainly viewed as a compromising factor for live performance when compared with some competing products. The second set of UAFX launches was another trio, this time of amp and speaker simulations of specific classic Fender and Vox models (SOS July 2022). Despite, in my opinion, setting a new benchmark for realistic digital modelling of the sound and feel of a miked‑up guitar amp and speaker, the continued absence of MIDI control and limited preset handling was still disappointing to some. Perhaps the only things that everyone agreed on, however, were that the ‘glaring omission’ from the amplifier line‑up — a classic Marshall or two — was bound to be addressed in the next round of releases, and that the somewhat underwhelming app would soon get a significant upgrade into a proper software editor.
Well, we weren’t right. The latest clutch of pedals, comprising the Galaxy ’74 Tape Echo & Reverb, Del‑Verb Ambience Companion, and Max Preamp & Dual Compressor, are still without MIDI control or expanded preset handling, and that managed to send certain corners of the Internet into ‘maximum outrage’. The Max and Galaxy pedals actually have no presets at all, just functional settings within the app, while the Del‑Verb has a choice of fundamental ‘voicings’ that you can assign to the different delay and reverb stages of the pedal.
I know there are some people who feel that a digital pedal at this price point simply must have MIDI control as an option, but to me, each of these releases is improved by its lesser dependence on the app for normal functioning. The app now does ‘choose and use’ stuff in these units, with everything else under your fingers for immediate tweaking. Not so much under your feet as some would like, perhaps: just bypass, tap tempo, on/off for separate stages, and a bit of wacky feedback runaway in the Galaxy. The frustration in some of the earlier UA pedals lay in the fact that they could do so much, whilst making so little of it instantly accessible in a live performance context. These models are perhaps a little less broad in their scope, but the end result is something that I find to be more focused.
These pedals are all housed in the now‑familiar UAFX dual‑footswitch metal casing, with two banks of three rotary controls, two or three mini‑switches, and no displays or readouts beyond switch‑associated LEDs. Bypass switching is buffered, seemingly instantaneous and noise‑free, although selecting a new virtual device (eg. a different compressor or delay type) does cause a brief audio interrupt. Two pairs of unbalanced TS jacks offer stereo audio input and output. A stereo input pair obviously facilitates maintaining any stereo element in the input source, but all UAFX pedals also run dual instances of their processes, so delays and verbs that have no real stereo element to them audibly seem to have some kind of subtle ‘imaging’ going on when you run them in stereo. Of course, if you want the most authentic experience of a Roland Space Echo from the Galaxy ’74 or the modelled MXR Dyna Comp in the Max, you’d run it in proper mono!
Powering, using the standard 9V DC centre‑negative format, needs to come from an external, isolated source with at least 400mA current capacity; there is no battery option and a PSU is not included in the purchase price. The remaining connection is a USB‑C socket, used only for firmware updates via the UA Connect desktop app. Pedal settings have to be done via a separate UAFX Control mobile app over Bluetooth. The Bluetooth ‘connection experience’ was faultless this time, although I and others had a few issues with the earlier units. Still, I fail to see why these settings can’t also be made available in the desktop app for anyone who is having trouble connecting, or just as a backup. Although clearly optimised for instrument‑level connection, they have headroom up to +12dBu and I’ve never had a problem using these with keyboards or nominally line‑level mixer sends. You won’t clip the unit with anything sensible, though you may affect the way the processing responds.
Del‑Verb and Galaxy have a zero‑latency, analogue dry path through them, but there’s about 3ms latency in the Max unit because it processes the ‘dry’ signal like the amp sims, which have circa 2ms. With no digital interconnect between them this is cumulative when you use them together, but in no normal application in which I have used these has this been a problem. I can’t feel anything amiss with a Max and a Dream or Ruby in series — you feel it long before you can hear it — but all latency is cumulative, so you might have to think about it if you are going to be passing a chain of these through other processes with further latency of their own.
To The Max!
I must admit, when I first learned about these units, the Max Preamp & Dual Compressor is the one I didn’t really understand. It has two ‘channels’, each offering a choice of one of three digitally modelled comp/limiters, namely UA’s 1176, a Teletronix LA‑2A and an MXR Dyna Comp pedal, as well as UA’s renowned 610 tube preamp. The channels can be used independently or together, in series or parallel. For anyone not familiar with these all‑time classics of the compression world, the 1176 is a FET‑based design, offering relatively clean and precise compression, whilst the LA‑2A is both tube‑based and uses an optical gain‑reduction element, making it warmer and more subtle, if less controllable. The MXR Dyna Comp might not be a studio hardware classic, but certainly deserves its place in history as the first really usable guitar pedal compressor. It’s noisy, dirty, lo‑fi compression with lots of side‑effects and almost useless with humbuckers — yet, it’s an effect that I and countless other guitar players still have a use for!
The MXR Dyna Comp might not be a studio hardware classic, but certainly deserves its place in history as the first really usable guitar pedal compressor.
A Dyna Comp, with its fixed ratio and attack and release times, distortion and noise, is something you’d only use in front of an amp, processing a raw guitar signal, in the real world at least. The 1176 and LA‑2A are line‑level devices that you’d normally use on an insert point or after a mic pre, not into the front of a guitar amp. So if I’m using a Dyna Comp, why would I want to shove some more level into it...
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