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Universal Audio Sphere DLX & Sphere LX

Modelling Microphone Systems By Sam Inglis
Published April 2023

Universal Audio Sphere DLX & Sphere LX

Universal Audio are bringing their cutting‑edge mic modelling technology to new markets with the more affordable Sphere LX.

The price of vintage gear continues its upward trajectory, even in these uncertain times. Luckily, so does our ability to recreate that gear digitally. If you want the sound of legendary studio mics without the price tag, there are now three very tempting options.

Slate Digital were first to market, and their Virtual Microphone System has been continuously developed since its launch. It now offers several expansion packs, as well as modelling the sound of two classic mic preamps. Antelope Audio’s range, meanwhile, is notable for offering a number of different source microphones to choose from, including the only stereo and USB modelling mics I know of. The algorithms can also be run on Antelope’s Synergy Core interfaces, allowing the modelled sound to be monitored in real time at very low latency.

Finally, there’s the Sphere system developed by Townsend Labs, which I reviewed in SOS November 2017. From launch, this also offered the option of real‑time low‑latency monitoring, thanks to a tie‑up with Universal Audio. UA went on to buy Townsend Labs, and we’re now seeing the first UA‑branded Sphere microphones.

White Light

The plural there is important, because unlike Antelope, Townsend Labs only offered a single source microphone. This was called the L22, and like some of the Antelope Edge mics, it used a Y cable to deliver the outputs from the front and back of the capsule to separate inputs on your audio interface. Recording with it required precisely matching the gain across two preamp channels, but once you’d done this, you were rewarded with features that went way beyond simply mimicking the on‑axis frequency response of a target microphone. The Sphere L22 system could also model the off‑axis response, polar pattern, proximity effect behaviour and much more.

The down side of this was that the Sphere L22 was more expensive than its competitors, and that’s something UA have sought to address in their refreshed Sphere offering. Consequently, there are now two Sphere mics.

Cosmetics aside, the Sphere DLX is identical to the original L22, meaning that it offers state‑of‑the‑art noise performance and front‑to‑back matching. Its new baby brother, the Sphere LX, is both more affordable and smaller, though very similar in overall appearance. It lacks the DLX’s pad switch, but still presents the front and back outputs separately, allowing the multi‑pattern characteristics of target mics to be modelled. However, it has a marginally less impressive self‑noise figure of 10dBA to the DLX’s 7dBA, and front‑to‑back matching is less tight, meaning that the stereo mode of the L22 and DLX is not officially supported (but still works).

The Sphere DLX is essentially identical to the Townsend Labs Sphere L22 that preceded it.The Sphere DLX is essentially identical to the Townsend Labs Sphere L22 that preceded it.

As usual with UA, the packaging is extremely smart, and both mics are supplied in tough padded cases. That of the DLX is much larger than that of the LX, which is less to do with the relative size of the two mics, and more down to the fact that the DLX comes with both a shockmount and a standmount, whereas the LX includes only the latter. Whilst I understand the need to preserve a differential between the two products, this does seem a tiny bit stingy, given that much more affordable mics like the Rode NT1 and Lauten Audio LA‑220 come with good shockmounts.

The Sphere DLX comes with a 25‑foot Y cable, but LX buyers get only a 10‑foot cable, so may need to have a couple of extra standard mic cables on hand. In terms of the build quality of the mics themselves, there’s nothing to mark the LX out as the poor relation, and both mics feature the distinctive white LED illumination that was a feature of the original L22.

In The Locker

Perhaps the biggest differentiator between the two products is that whereas the LX comes with 20 virtual mics, the DLX collection has now grown to 38, including four all‑new models. As before, these models can all be accessed either in the Sphere Mic Collection plug‑in, which runs natively on your Mac or PC, or in its UAD equivalent, which is hosted on the DSP chips in an Apollo or Satellite. This UAD version can also run within the UA Console application for low‑latency monitoring when used with an Apollo. In this role they can even be used in conjunction with UA’s Unison modelled preamps, though of course the mic modelling should really be applied before rather than after the preamp modelling. The AAX DSP version of the Sphere plug‑in offers similar low‑latency functionality in Pro Tools HDX.

Apollo and Satellite owners (but not HDX users) also get the option to buy two additional bundles of virtual mics. The Ocean Way Collection models a number of individual mics from the world‑famous LA recording studio owned by Allen Sides, including two separate AKG C12s, a prototype Sony C800G, Neumann M49, M269, M50, KM53 and KM54, a vintage Shure SM57, and the less well‑known Sony C55p and RCA KU‑3A. The C55p is particularly interesting because its capsule has a pivot mount that allows it to be rotated through 90 degrees. The sonic effects of this have been faithfully recreated and assigned to the Sphere plug‑in’s Axis control.

UAD owners can access expansion packs such as the Bill Putnam Microphone Collection.UAD owners can access expansion packs such as the Bill Putnam Microphone Collection.

The second additional mic bundle is the Bill Putnam Collection, based on the favourite mics of Bill Putnam Sr, legendary studio owner and father of UA boss Bill Putnam Jr. This is an equally mouth‑watering selection that includes not one but two Telefunken ELA M251s, a Neumann U47 and U67, an AKG C12A, an RCA 44 and a Shure 545, the precursor to the SM57 — someone at UA must really love SM57s — plus two further highlights in the shape of a stunning Sony C37a emulation and an intriguing take on the old Sennheiser MKH105/405 RF capacitor mics, distant ancestors of the current MKrange that are possessed of a distinctive charm.

UAD‑enabled LX owners get an additional benefit from buying either of these expansions: doing so unlocks the full range of 38 mics in the core collection, essentially bringing the LX up to parity with the DLX in that respect. The four new models, incidentally, are based on the Neumann TLM103, Brauner VM1, Royer 121 and Beyer M160. All of these sound like you’d expect, although I’m slightly surprised UA didn’t adopt their usual policy by also modelling the M130 and having that as the figure‑8 option for the M160 pattern control.


Much of the development work that UA have done to bring us the DLX and LX seems to have been focused on closer integration with the rest of UA’s software ecosystem. Registration and installation of the native Sphere software is thus accessed through the UA Connect front end, which provides a friendly and intuitive introduction to the system. UAD owners, meanwhile, can install and access the DSP versions of the plug‑ins in the usual way. It’s all very slick.

There do remain one or two quirks. The additional collections can only be accessed through their own dedicated plug‑ins, not through the basic Sphere Microphone Collection plug‑in (although both optional plug‑ins include all the standard Sphere mics too). And as the UAD platform doesn’t support stereo‑to‑mono plug‑ins, the UAD Sphere plug‑ins are all stereo‑to‑stereo, whereas the native Sphere Microphone Collection is stereo‑to mono. None of this is really a problem in practice, though, except in those cases where you want to audition every single virtual mic in your collection in turn.

The ability to retain the on‑axis sound of a mic you like in one polar pattern, whilst switching the actual polar pattern to figure‑8 and cleaning up the spill with Off‑Axis Correction is close to magical.

Apart from the introduction of Isosphere (see box), the Sphere plug‑ins are mostly unchanged since I reviewed the original L22. This is not a criticism, because the software was already very fully realised then. Having not used the system in the meantime, I was reminded afresh just how impressive some of its non‑modelling‑related features are. In particular, the ability to retain the on‑axis sound of a mic you like in one polar pattern, whilst switching the actual polar pattern to figure‑8 and cleaning up the spill with Off‑Axis Correction is close to magical. Does it work quite as well in the LX, with its slightly less well matched front‑to‑back response? It’s hard to be certain, but it’s still mighty effective.

Like most of the more advanced Sphere features, Off‑Axis Correction is accessible only in Dual mode, which also lets you blend the sound of any two mics in any proportion you like. This too offers a very deep rabbit hole for the tonequester, though I still wish there was some way of panning the outputs of the two mics independently.

The only major Sphere DLX feature that’s not officially supported on the LX is stereo recording, whereby you use the front and back of the mic as left and right sources in a stereo capture. Unsurprisingly, this requires extremely close matching between the two sides of the capsule to maintain a stable stereo image. It’s also a rather unusual stereo technique at the best of times: most classic coincident stereo techniques use a pair of directional mics at a mutual angle of between 90 and 120 degrees, whereas the front and back of the Sphere mics naturally have a 180‑degree mutual angle. There’s nothing to stop you trying it with the DX, and with the review mic it gave plausible enough results. I don’t think I’d ever buy a Sphere mic for the stereo feature, but it’s a nice bonus.

Full Circle

The Sphere microphone has been part of the UA family for a couple of years now, and this relaunch is clearly about refreshment rather than major development. The DLX is functionally identical to the original L22, so there’s no reason for existing owners either to upgrade or to feel left behind. The LX, though, should attract plenty of attention from people who might otherwise have gone for a cheaper rival. Cut‑down or more affordable versions of established products sometimes feel unsatisfying, or mean forgoing the one feature you really wanted, but I really didn’t find that to be the case with the Sphere LX. In the overwhelming majority of recording situations it performs just as well as its big brother — very well indeed, in other words — and UAD owners can effectively upgrade it almost to parity by buying one of the expansion packs. When modelling is this good, it gets harder and harder to justify spending top dollar on vintage.

Isolation Stations

Universal Audio Sphere DLX & Sphere LX

The Sphere plug‑in is largely unchanged since Townsend Labs days, with the exception of one major new feature called Isosphere. Clicking the In button brings up a menu where you can select devices such as the sE Reflexion Filter, Aston Halo, Kaotica Eyeball and IsoVox Portable Vocal Booth. Initially I thought this feature was intended to emulate said devices, but as a sharp-eyed reader pointed out, that's not so. In fact the aim is to optimise the off-axis correction and other features for recordings made with a specific filter. So if, for example, you are recording inside an sE Reflexion Filter, you would choose that model within Isosphere and specify the position of the mic within it, whereupon it would correct for some of the negative sonic side-effects introduced by the geometry of the filter.


  • The Sphere LX offers 95 percent of the performance of the full‑fat DLX for about two thirds of the price.
  • Optional UAD expansion packs sound great in their own right, and unlock the full core library for LX users.


  • No shockmount supplied with the LX.


UA’s relaunch of the excellent Sphere modelling mic system integrates it more closely into their existing product range and introduces a welcome, more affordable second model.


Sphere DLX £1420; Sphere LX £995. Prices include VAT.

Sphere DLX $1499; Sphere LX $999.