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Universal Audio Guitar Pedal: The Best Amp Emulators for 2023

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For decades, Universal Audio has made waves—or maybe that's waveforms—in the music industry by developing world-class recording interfaces, legendary analog tone shapers, and painstakingly simulated low-latency channel strips and vintage instrument plug-ins. Recently, this commitment to a rich presence in the mix was demonstrated with the introduction of the additional $20 per month subscription service, UAD Spark, as well as the release of the Sphere DLX and LX modeling microphones. Now, this multi-dimensional processing philosophy has found its way into Universal Audio's inaugural guitar pedals, which come in the form of sleek, durable football boxes loaded with powerful texture-shaping motors and versatile connectivity options.

I recently had the opportunity to try out all three Universal Audio UAFX amp emulator pedals, from the classic Fender-esque Reverb Dream '65 amp and Woodrow '55 Instrument Amplifier in the British Invasion inspired Top Boost Ruby '63 amp. If you're looking for ultra-portable, abundant authenticity that easily separates a mix, here's a quick rundown of everything that makes each UAFX amp emulation pedal special.

Universal Audio Guitar Pedals Comparison

All of the Universal Audio UAFX amp emulator pedals are priced under $400 and share similar design cues and basic functionality. Here's a closer look at the unique electric guitar sounds – shaped by signal paths that can include components modeled after legendary gear from Celestion, Oxford, JBL, Korg, , beyerdynamic, Royer, Sennheiser, Neumann and AKG – to help you decide which one is right for you.

ο Universal Audio Dream '65 Reverb Amplifier The pedal is an homage to the venerable Fender '65 Deluxe Reverb, a tube-powered guitar amp that has found its way into countless recordings and performances over the decades by players from Marr and Muddy Waters to St. Vincent and Mac DeMarco. In addition to emulating the Deluxe Reverb's iconic rich clean tones and pleasing overdrive collapse, the Dream '65 pedal includes built-in spring reverb and vibrato effects—a classic combination not often seen in a single pedal (the Milkman F-Stop and Strymon Flint are some fantastic exceptions). Via a set of onboard switches, users can toggle between (or bypass entirely) a series of historically accurate speaker, mic, and room tone modifiers—technology borrowed from the $1.200 UA OX Amp—to sculpt surf rock song saturation , Texas blues , jazz, punk and pretty much everything in between.

Hearing the Dream '65 produce the refined and dynamic richness of a Fender Deluxe without a real speaker was equally rewarding and challenging if you're used to the experience of filling a room with the sounds of a real amp. Monitoring the pedal through headphones and studio monitors gave an experience more akin to listening to a high-quality recording than air movement in a physical space. Still, that sweet glow and tube-like hang spoke to the Dream '65's potential to record great guitars in less-than-ideal acoustic spaces—just add a digital audio workstation and an interface. Say you're a session player looking for maximum tonal flexibility, or want to hit the plush highs that swept from Sunset Sound to Muscle Shoals in the 70s. In this case, the Dream '65 Reverb's faithful modeling of its versatile namesake makes it a no-brainer.

ο Woodrow '55 Instrument Amplifier is a leaner, meaner cousin of the Dream '65 pedal, designed to deliver all the full, harmonically rich tone and bark of a vintage Fender Tweed Deluxe amp from the mid-1950s. by many players as the holy grail of guitar tone, with an unmistakable forward midrange bite and woody reverb that's perfect for playing punchy leads and thick chords, a la Neil Young and Blake Mills. The Woodrow '55 emulates some of the most defining features of the original Fender Tweed Deluxe: it offers a unique dual-input channel setup, with a brighter “instrument” and a “mic” input channel that can be combined for a wide range of tones; It also lacks a spring reverb circuit, opting instead for a “room” knob that adds a studio vibe to the overall sound. Like the Dream '65, the Woodrow also features a three-way speaker selector switch, but the second pedal switch has been replaced with a push switch, allowing users to "hot rod" their setup by switching between stock, tape machine, and base delay preamp tones.

When put through its paces, the Woodrow '55 delivered an impressive depth and range of tone plus a dynamic, responsive playing experience uncannily similar to the Fender Tweed sound it was modeled after. As with the Dream '65, it was a bit of a strange experience to hear a pedal produce such an accurate representation of a powerful amp in a room without the actual sound pressure, but the Woodrow's particular behavior and dynamic range suggest it would be a particularly solid choice to add tons of character to a clean solid-state amp like the Roland JC-40.

If British-style tone is more your thing, the Top Boost Ruby '63 amp offers a fantastic simulation of a vintage Vox AC30, another historically renowned amp used by Dave Grohl, Jonny Greenwood and The Edge of U2. Compared to the ubiquitous sound of an American-style Fender amp, the Vox AC30 generally produces brighter and more harmonically complex clean tones. Delivers a lean and crisp pipe squeal when overclocked. The UAFX Ruby '63 effortlessly emulates the classic Vox jangle and ring with a three-way speaker selector and a second switch to toggle between normal, bright and vibrato channels.

The Ruby does not have a reverb circuit, just like the original Vox AC30, but the pedal includes a room ambience knob similar to the one found on the Woodrow '55 pedal. Each of the three channels on the Ruby also has its own specific type of boost circuitry to further add to the range of tones available, without all the eccentricities. The Vox AC30s are big and heavy amps that need to be cranked really hard to achieve their characteristic overdrive, but the Ruby produced the same punchy tone and crispness for no accounting reason.

What about Universal Audio effects pedals?

Universal Audio's line of UAFX pedals started with the Golden Reverberator, Starlight Echo, and Astra Modulation Machino, effects stompboxes that feature the same overall design as their amp emulator counterparts, but with an emphasis on expansive soundscapes rather than an in-the-room experience. Sculpt the clangs and grainy tails of reverb springs and studio reverbs, spread the hazy haze of wacky tape and drum brigade echoes, or surf the saturated undulations of chorus/flagging/tremolo. Since they first appeared, additional tape echoes, reverb and delay, and preamps and compressors have been added to the composition. We haven't had a chance to test these effects yet, but if they're as well-built and versatile as amp pedals, they're definitely worth considering if you're looking to expand your sonic palette on stage and in the studio.

What makes Universal Audio guitar pedals so appealing?

The main appeal of UAFX guitar pedals lies in their ability to reproduce guitar tones from several classic guitar tube amps without any of the associated initial cost, bulk, ground loop noise or maintenance. Modern versions of the guitar amps simulated here are expensive—usually running over $2.000—and vintage versions can run well into the five-figure range. Unlike an amp, a UAFX pedal can also be tossed into a backpack and randomly transported to another location for studio recording or live performance, even more easily than a practice amp. Their switchable speaker, effects and pedal channels also offer a wider range of tonal options than a traditional amp, giving them an edge in creative situations.

All pedals in the product line are compatible with Universal Audio's UAFX Control smartphone app, which allows users to change and recall custom artist sounds and personal presets, customize footswitch functionality, and even install additional emulations for free cabinet and microphone so you can modify signal chain wirelessly via Bluetooth. A desktop version of the control software is also available and includes the same features as adding firmware updates via USB-C.

Universal Audio I/O guitar pedal and bottom panel
Julian Vittorio

Universal Audio Guitar Pedal Comparison:

Universal Audio's UAFX pedals all share the same form factor and feature striking aluminum and plastic housings with high-quality knobs and switches that feel satisfying to use and reminiscent of those found in high-end recording studio equipment. Each pedal includes two footswitches that toggle between active and amp/effects circuits by default, but users can also link them to custom functions/presets using the smartphone app. On the back of each pedal is an abundance of I/O, including a minimum 400 milliamp 9 volt DC input, two TS/TRS unbalanced inputs and outputs, and a USB-C port for desktop control and firmware updates. In addition to being able to function like a traditional guitar pedal with a simple input and output, all UAFX amp emulation pedals feature a unique “four-wire mode” that allows them to be routed into the effects loop of any amp, giving players the option to change easily back and forth between their own amp's built-in preamp and the UAFX amp pedal of their choice without having to commit to one or the other.

So, which Universal Audio guitar pedal is best for you?

Universal Audio's range of UAFX Guitar Pedal Amp Emulators are priced the same and all use a combination of high quality hardware and software emulation to give guitarists and producers a really interesting and intuitive creative alternative to a traditional amp without the need to interact with a computer screen . In an ideal world, you'd grab all three to give yourself the widest range of creative options to create subtle tones yours tuna fish. Still, if you have to stick with one, the UAFX Dream '65 Reverb Amp it will pull the vast majority of traditional pop, rock and blues tones thanks to the wide range of sounds and effects included. The UAFX Woodrow '55 Instrument Amplifier it's the best pedal in the lineup for getting bright country twang tones and in-your-face punchy guitar tones and UAFX Ruby '63 Top Boost Amplifier it's the best choice for bright Britpop-style cleans.


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