For the first time ever, Universal Audio’s acclaimed plug‑ins are available in a native format.
Universal Audio have built a considerable reputation for the quality of their plug‑ins, many of which — processors, preamps and instruments — provide emulations of classic, highly sought‑after (expensive!) hardware, and they are widely regarded as some of the most authentic recreations available. However, these plug‑ins require UA hardware with its dedicated DSP to run...
Well, they did; UA’s new Spark suite delivers a subset of the same plug‑ins in a native format. The initial release provides 13 audio processors and four instruments and is Mac OS (using Rosetta on M1 systems) only. However, Apple Silicon support is on the way, Windows versions due before the end of the year, and UA have indicated that the plug‑in collection itself will expand over time. The other key thing to note is that access is subscription‑based, with monthly or annual options available. So, if you like the idea of using UA’s impressive plug‑ins, but are not currently in the market for new UA hardware, is Spark a viable option?
UA’s Connect software provides a no‑fuss install and licensing process for the Spark suite. In terms of the plug‑ins themselves, you get seven dynamics options via the LA‑2A collection and the 1176 collection (both of which offer three different flavours of their respective hardware originals), and the API 2500 bus compressor. For channel strip/EQ, Spark includes the Neve 1073 preamp/EQ and the API Vision channel strip. The Studer A800 Multichannel Tape Recorder provides tape emulation, while a combination of the Pure Plate reverb, Lexicon 244 digital reverb and Galaxy Tape Echo provide the ambience options.
The four virtual instruments include the Moog Minimoog, the Ravel Grand Piano (which is where most of the 10GB of disk storage is required), the Waterfall B3 Organ and one brand new synth that’s exclusive to Spark: the Opal Morphing Synthesizer. I’ll come back to the latter in more detail below, but it looks like a very interesting addition to UA’s growing virtual instrument line‑up.
Clearly, this initial suite of native plug‑ins represents only a modest selection of those currently available to users of UA’s hardware‑based plug‑in collection, but it covers the core mixing needs with dynamics, EQ, ambience and saturation. Incidentally, if you are a UA hardware user with a license for any of the plug‑ins within the Spark collection, you will automatically have access to the new native versions.
SOS have reviewed many of these plug‑ins in their hardware DSP‑based formats, so I’ll focus here on how they translate into the native world. Having previously used a number of these same plug‑ins via an Apollo‑based system, I certainly didn’t notice any compromises in the Spark versions. Yes, there is the expected CPU hit but, if you have a modern, up‑to‑date computer host, then a busy mix populated just with Spark plug‑ins ought to be totally possible. It will be very interesting to see just how they fly when M1 compatibility is added.
Just like the DSP versions, the Spark plug‑ins do an excellent job of bringing the character of the hardware they are emulating. For example, just like the original hardware classic, Spark’s various 1176 emulations can do magic things to an acoustic kit when placed on a drum bus, whether that’s taming it for a ballad, or making it big and splashy for...