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Universal Audio Verve Analog Machines

Universal Audio Verve Analog Machines

UA have an enviable track record of creating analogue modelling plug‑ins. But typically these have been emulations of specific gear that offer the user lots of control. Verve Analog Machines and its ‘lite’ sibling, Verve Analog Machines Essentials, tread a different path: they present a choice of different emulated devices, each of which has only one or two controls that allow you to refine the sound. Both versions are available for desktop Mac and Windows hosts and run natively (you can’t run them on a UA DSP interface or accelerator card).

These plug‑ins are all about warmth and distortion, and the flavours on offer range from gentle saturation at the subtler end of the scale through to crunching overload and squelchy obliteration. In Verve Analog Machines Essentials, there are just four modelled devices, all based on analogue tape machines. The full version adds more tape machines but also gives us a range of preamp models, to give us 10 flavours in total.

As you scroll to the right, the emulated machines get progressively older and warmer/dirtier.As you scroll to the right, the emulated machines get progressively older and warmer/dirtier.

Rather than being named for what they emulate, the virtual devices’ names describe their tonal effect and in Essentials, these are Sweeten, Warm, Thicken and Vintagize. An Info button brings up a short description, which focuses on the era of the device, but all you really need to know is that the machines get progressively older, warmer and dirtier as you step through the models from left to right. You then have a single control, Drive, with which to tweak the effect: turn clockwise for more effect. For Essentials, that’s pretty much it. But the modelling itself is top‑notch, as you’d expect from UA, and between the ‘EQ’ of the tape machines (complete with head bump, restricted bandwidth and any other quirks in each machine’s response) and the saturation (from both the modelled electronics and the virtual tape), there’s a surprising range of usable sonic characters here. With so few controls, it’s incredibly quick and intuitive to use, and it should appeal to those music‑makers who don’t want to spend an age tweaking their effects to perfection.

Warble can serve up some very interesting results, particularly when you’re using Verve on multiple parts.

As well as adding more models, the full version allows a hint more control. Again, the models are arranged with the cleanest on the left and the filthiest on the right. The models are Sweeten, Edge, Glow, Warm, Thicken, Vintagize, Distort, Overdrive, Fire and Sputter. Again, the Drive knob determines how much colour they’ll add. A second control changes according to the selected model: for tape machines it’s a modulation effect called Warble (simulated wow and flutter) and for the preamps it’s Tone. Tone gives you scope to shape the overall effect, and can be invaluable for tailoring the sound for a mix (you can do that with EQ too, but it’s good having access to this on the GUI when previewing models/presets). Warble can serve up some very interesting results, particularly if using Verve on multiple parts: perfect for wobbly synth pads, texturising layered backing vocal ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’, or generally for building up rich and evolving soundscapes. Finally, you can also set the output level — and I should say that the omission of this welcome but simple touch from Essentials puzzled me.

There are lots of presets to get you started, and a browser that makes it easy to search by the effect you want, rather than the machine used to create it.There are lots of presets to get you started, and a browser that makes it easy to search by the effect you want, rather than the machine used to create it.

The tape machine emulations can certainly sound very cool, but I found myself drawn more to the preamps. Perhaps it’s a personal taste thing, but I can see why the preamps are all ‘paid extras’! The additional models to those in Essentials begin with Edge, the politest of the preamps on offer here and aptly named: it adds a sort of hard, slightly crunchy edge to the sound that never suffocates the signal unless you really overcook things — reminiscent of a solid‑state console preamp. Meanwhile, Glow is a valve preamp, and when you start to turn Drive you’re greeted with more clarity and solidity than from any of the tape emulations. It sounds wonderful on rock drums, and can give a nice tight edge to a vocal. The sound dulls a little at more assertive settings, but the Tone control can counter that. Distort is another valve pre but, as the name suggests, it’s rather further into effect territory. It offers a different character from Glow, the breakup being both more obvious and softer (‘warmer’, if you like).

The full version of Verve features not just tape machines but also a number of valve and solid‑state preamps.The full version of Verve features not just tape machines but also a number of valve and solid‑state preamps.

Next comes Overdrive, an old tape machine with Warble control, not much headroom and a very obvious character. It sounds somewhat boxy and claustrophobic, and generally you’ll find that it acts as a crude but lovable compressor too, bringing up low‑level details and smearing transients. Fire, another tape machine, sounds less vintage, but seems to be pushed harder for much more crunch. Finally, we have Sputter, a preamp and probably my favourite of the lot, simply because there’s so much range in the Drive control that it’s easy to dial in an enticing effect. Things seem fairly solid‑sounding at the lowest settings, and there’s a fairly long and gentle transition as you turn the knob towards, eventually, a very spitty, spluttery breakup.

The minimalist control set is clearly deliberate and generally it’s a Good Thing. Still, a wet/dry blend control wouldn’t go amiss (Reaper’s insert slots have a wet/dry control and I found myself reaching for that often!). The Tone control would have been just as handy for adjusting the tape models as the preamps. And really, I reckon every plug‑in should feature both input and output level controls, particularly those costing what these do.

I should also note that there’s a little lag on some changes, but this can be helpful depending on what you’re trying to do. For example, with a tape machine on an aux send and Warble set about midway, the effect swooshes as the dry and wet signals come in and out of phase. Change that parameter to zero, and the swooshing continues for a few seconds before settling on the new setting. The delay can throw you when auditioning presets, but it’s all in sync with the DAW and that means you can use automation or a controller without having to be too precise.


Despite the very gentle caveats above, I have to say that there isn’t a bum note in this performance: the models sound every bit as good as we’ve come to expect from UA, and Verve Analog Machines is so intuitive that you can fire it up and start getting creative straight away. It’s not quite like any other plug‑in I’ve used, and well worth checking out.


Verve Analog Machines £199. Verve Analog Machines Essentials £99. Prices include VAT.

Verve Analog Machines $199. Verve Analog Machines Essentials $99.