For those not wanting to spend thousands on tube preamps, Universal Audio (or UAD) has two excellent tube channel strip emulations that sound fantastic. The recent popularity of UAD means that many are buying Apollo Twins, or Arrows, and might be considering some of the more expensive plugin opportunities through UAD.
The Avalon VT-737 plug-in is their latest offering, a famous and recognizable piece that’s especially known for its use on vocals. The VT-737 also includes Unison support which means that “[T]he plug-in captures the hardware’s mic preamp impedance, gain stage “sweet spots”, and exact circuit behaviors, giving you all the detailed sonics of the original Avalon hardware — including its gentle high-pass filter for removing mud and low-end gunk.
Because the VT-737’s front-panel Hi-Z input is a legendary bass DI, the VT-737 plug-in’s Unison-enabled Hi-Z input endured rigorous evaluation, ensuring it was virtually indistinguishable from the original hardware.” (Universal Audio, Avalon VT-737 plug-in)
Looking at the harmonic analysis of the Avalon you can see that from a simple 1000 Hz sine wave, even order harmonics are being generated (saturation), as well as a pleasing amount of noise/distortion that is below a highly discernible level (non-linearity). This is what a tube does to analog audio and it’s extremely positive to see that the harmonics and noise level are consistent within the plugin.
The Avalon sounds great from our testing and can add depth and warmth to recordings in a confident manner. The midrange EQ offers a lot of flexibility and works equally well on vocals and instruments. We also appreciate the stepped controls for the “air” and low EQ bands. Overall this channel strip is well suited for extremely precise work and while the new Avalon sounds and works great, we still think the UAD Manley VOXBOX holds its own against the Avalon in a few regards.
UAD Manley VOXBOX has a mellow warm sound that is perfect for sharp-sounding vocals or conversely delicate instruments like piano, strings and horns. The Avalon on the other hand has a more saturated sound by default and is more “in your face”. It also features stepped controls for important controls like gain, attack, release, as well as de-esser and EQ frequency.
The Manley also has a unique signal flow where the modeled ‘opto’ compressor is before the preamp which allows you level the signal in a smooth manner. After the preamp the signal goes through the EQ and then the de-esser/limiter. The stepped controls are great for creating your own presets for specific vocalists or instruments in your studio.
We recommend the Avalon for people who primarily work on hip hop, R&B or EDM music. For people wanting more flexibility but a less hyped sound we recommend the Manley. Of course you can always use both if you have them, we found great success using the Manley first to control transients and tone, then went to the extreme on the Avalon for a luxurious ethereal pop vocal sound.
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