About a week ago, UAD released a very mysterious teaser. Something new was going to be released on March 30, 2022. What was it going to be? No one knew, but it was certain that this announcement was not for the release of a simple plugin, but for a completely new concept. What is Spark? How to use it? Is it worth it? Answer here!
Spark is a new subscription system created by UAD that allows, by paying $19.99 per month, to have access to a selection of legendary hardware emulation plugins. Among these plugins, we find for example the API-2500 compressor, or the classic 1176. And as good news never comes alone, here is another one: Spark runs natively (for Mac users only… for now…). Let’s take a closer look!
Here is what we will see in this article :
- The two major new features of Spark
- How it works
- What’s included in Spark
1. The two major new features of Spark
Universal Audio has always been on top in the world of plugins. Their emulations of legendary hardware devices and third-party plugins like Softube or Antares have never disappointed and are still used in the biggest studios in the world today.
The particularity of UAD plugins (UAD stands for Universal Audio Digital) is that they have always been particularly inaccessible, for two reasons :
- Price : The price of UAD plugins is particularly high. When you know that most of Waves’ plugins are 30$ and UAD’s are around 100 to 150$, you quickly understand that you won’t choose UAD for its accessibility.
- Dependence on external DSP : UAD plugins have always been DSP plugins (well… until now! We’ll talk about that later…). This means that you will need either one of their Apollo interfaces or a Satellite device.
This makes us understand one thing : UAD’s business model is very smart. Because if you want to take advantage of their plugins, you have to buy one of their hardware products. And when you buy one of their hardware products, you will be offered a selection of plugins for free, which will push you to buy more. A real ecosystem!
A. UAD plugins go native
Things are completely changing at Universal Audio. After releasing Volt, a much more affordable interface than usual, about 2 years ago, they are surprising everyone by entering a field they never entered before : Native processing.
Yes, it’s a new era for UAD, which now offers a selection of 13 of its plugins native. For those people whose purchase of an Apollo or a Satellite was an obstacle, no more excuses!
With Spark, UAD confirms its intention to attract new users, more modest financially, and probably more amateur.
If you want to learn more about the difference between native and DSP plugins, click here!
B. Subscription-based model
We are increasingly living in an era where, in the digital world, the subscription system is becoming a norm and taking over from direct product purchases. Netflix, Amazon, your phone subscription,… we are in the middle of this new era!
In the world of audio, it’s recently Waves and Slate Digital that have started to do it. Universal Audio had to follow this model to continue to compete with its rivals. It’s now done!
By subscribing to Spark, you’ll pay the modest sum of $19.99 per month to have access to a selection of 13 high quality plugins.
The excuse of the exorbitant price of Universal Audio’s plugins is now obsolete.
With Spark, what were Universal Audio’s two major flaws (price and dependence on external DSP) are now transformed into great qualities.
2. How Spark works
The way Spark works is very simple. As soon as you subscribe (you will have a 14 day free trial), UAD will give you access to its selection of plugins. As long as you pay, you have access.
As with any other plugin, make sure you have an iLok ID to allow the software to be used.
If you don’t have one, you can create one from the iLok website and follow the simple instructions that will be given to you. If you haven’t purchased any products from UAD yet, you will need to create an account and also install the application that will allow you to link this account to iLok.
The whole process is very well explained. You shouldn’t have too much trouble installing the Spark plugins. If you have any problems, don’t hesitate to visit the help center where you will surely find answers very quickly.
You’re now ready to use Spark in your DAW!
Note : If for any reason you are not satisfied with Spark within the 14 day trial period, you may cancel your subscription. Universal Audio will not charge you anything.
3. What’s included in Spark
As already mentioned in this article, Spark includes 13 plugins, among these plugins we will find :
3 legendary compressor emulation plugins are available in Spark. The first is the LA-2A, an optical compressor that will allow you to add robustness and warmth to your vocals. This historical compressor will allow you to compress your elements smoothly, while adding that vintage touch that is hard to find these days.
The second one is the API-2500 emulation. Probably one of the best VCA compressors in history. By placing it on your mix or drum bus, you will add punch and solidity. A luxury choice in the glue compressor range.
And the last one is the well known FET compressor, the Universal Audio 1176. The most professional solution when it comes to adding character to a vocal. The plugin will also work very well on all percussion elements like a snare or a kick, to enhance the snap.
3 Reverbs and delays
The first effect you will find is an emulation of the legendary Lexicon 224: probably the most famous studio reverb in music history. This emulation is a real success, you will get the retro side that makes the charm of this reverb, while enjoying its versatility that will take you in all possible directions. On vocals, on synths, on snares,… You will find your happiness!
The second plugin is Pure Plate. One of the best reverb plate on the market at the moment. Pure Plate is a tool that will add lightness and warmth to all your vocals, adding an incomparable vintage color.
And the last plugin is an emulation of the Galaxy Tape Echo. This delay plugin is a must when it comes to adding a sound universe behind a sound element. The way this unit creates impressively rich delays and textures will probably remind you of your favorite 70’s tracks.
3 EQ’s, preamps and Tapes
The coolest plugin in this category is probably the API Channel Strip Vision. A real monster. This emulation has everything to add presence, punch, harmonic richness and analog color to all your audio sources. A must have!
The second one is the Neve 1073 preamp / EQ. Because of its simplicity, this plugin can be used both in recording and in mixing to boost your sound elements and process them with uncommon precision.
The last one is the Studer A800 tape emulation, which is, in my opinion, the best tape emulation available on the plugin market today. It is the only one that offers that aggressiveness and distortion that every good producer or engineer is looking for to add an obvious vintage color to a mix.
In this selection of 4 virtual instruments, you will find the brand new Opal Morphin Synthesizer. A wavetable synth that will only be available to Spark users (what a privilege, sir!).
You will also find an emulation of the Minimoog and the Hammond B3. I let you discover them, they are simply majestic!
The very last instrument in this list is the Ravel Grand Piano, which contains samples of the great Steinwey Model B. You can enjoy 9.6 GB (that’s huge) of samples bank to create the sound and texture you want. This virtual piano sounds pretty good, but I don’t think I would choose it as my #1 piano.
Need a professional sound engineer specializing in pop and hip-hop mixing ? Great! Take a look at our services and let’s blow up your career together!
Let’s start now!
Ah! It’s time for the review! What did I think of my first (2) days of testing Spark? Well… A lot of things!
First of all, the big positive point: UAD finally changes its approach, after many years of creating plugins that only worked with external DSP and with a piecemeal purchase. I think this new era for Universal Audio will also create a new generation of users, younger, but also surely more enterprising! This is a real benefit for the audio community.
As far as the plugins included in Spark are concerned, it’s simply the high-class stuff that UAD has been making us used to for years. The sound rendering of each plugin is incredibly good, the interfaces are well designed and the emulations are more than ever faithful to reality.
The selection of plugins is a bit thin, 13 plugins is not much. But this is just the beginning for UAD. Spark is probably a subscription system that will evolve to include more and more plugins. Also, let’s not forget that these plugins are all worth over $1000 between them.
To sum up, I think I’ll still wait to see the evolution before committing to Spark. The idea is good and the base is even better. But compared to what other manufacturers like Waves, Slate Digital or Native Instruments can offer, it’s obvious that UAD has some catching up to do!
In creating Spark, UAD’s goal is clear: to create a new community of users. They are probably aware that we are moving towards a society where the subscription-based model will take a considerable place, and now the journey begins for Universal Audio.
Will UAD continue to focus on DSP plugins and continue to put Spark second? I doubt it very much. To me, UAD wants to grow Spark and make it as important as its DSP plugins. The proof is that they already include a plugin that is only available for Spark users. A good way for the company to attract not only a new community, but also its current users to use Spark.
Will it be able to compete with the subscription systems of its major competitors? Dude, it’s Universal Audio! I’m convinced that Spark has all the assets to become one of the best subscription systems in the plugin business. But… Patience!
My favorite tools for mixing pop and hip-hop music:
In the field of auto-tune, I’m convinced that nothing’s better and more efficient than Antares Auto-Tune Pro. As for the EQ’s, FabFilter Pro-Q3 and Slate Digital Infinity EQ are, in my opinion, the best tools. For compression, I have 2 favorites plugins: Waves RComp and UAD EL8 Distressor.
As for reverb, I’m a big fan of the Soundtoys Little Plate, but generally, I go for the Valhalla VintageVerb for its versatility. I also love the Arturia Rev PLATE-140 and the UAD Pure Plate for its organic side.
The closed headphones I love and will always love using for mixing pop and hip-hop music are the Beyerdynamic DT-770. As for the best open-back headphones, I use the Sennheiser HD600 headphones, and I’m really happy of them!
Having a pair of Yamaha HS7 in its studio or home studio is always cool for more excitement while listening to your mixes. The Adam Audio T7V monitors are also super accurate. In my studio, I also have a pair of Genelec 8030 for their reliability.
For anyone who wants to start using hardware in their mixes, I always recommend these 2 units from Klark Teknik: the EQP-KT and the 76-KT. Don’t forget to use good converters, such as the Apollo interfaces. This is essential for a good rendering.