Universal Audio Max review: a twin compressor that draws on decades of signal-squishing expertise
The odd one out in UA’s latest pedal array swaps ambient effects for dual dynamic processors – but is it overkill for us plank-thrashers?
If Father Christmas were ever to design a range of grooming gadgets, wouldn’t he start with a beard trimmer? Yet it’s taken two years and three sets of stompbox launches for Universal Audio to offer a pedal that does what the brand is probably most known for: compression.
This is the UAFX Max, a dual compressor with built-in console-style preamp, and its main selling point is the ability to switch between two circuits or run one into the other, courtesy of individual bypass footswitches.
Each circuit lets you choose from three digitally modelled recreations of famous compressors, two of which have been plucked from UA’s own family tree: the UREI 1176 and Teletronix LA-2A (company founder Bill Putnam designed the 1176 in 1967 and acquired Teletronix in the same year). The third model is the only one that was originally created as a guitar effect: the MXR Dyna Comp.
And UA has raided another corner of the Putnam family attic for the preamp that completes this pedal’s feature set – it’s modelled on the input preamps of the UA 610, a modular recording console that’s legendarily iconic, or iconically legendary, or possibly both.
That preamp gets its own unmistakable red knob, while a toggle switch in the middle lets you decide which half of the pedal (comp 1 or comp 2) all knobs are affecting – the others being for compression, output, attack and release, with a rotary switch for six set ratios completing the panel.
Compressors can be hard to judge because you sort of want them to sound like they’re not doing anything. But it really doesn’t take long to work out that the Max is a good one.
The two rack-type algorithms both sound supremely classy, which is perhaps no surprise – the 1176 comes closest to complete transparency, while the LA-2A keeps things discreet but has a more noticeable flattening effect on the midrange transients. Neither will create the popping effect typical of cheaper guitar compressors.
The Dyna model is much more aggressive, and will pop like a firework display if you really want it to; but as with the others, there’s more than enough tweakability on offer from the compression, ratio and preamp gain controls. (If you’re not sure what to do with the attack and release times, set both to noon and pretend you haven’t noticed them.)
Chaining both circuits together can work well, but you might find it more useful to set one side of the pedal much more heavily compressed than the other then flip between them. There’s a wee bit of grit available in that preamp, and if you install the UAFX app you can even adjust its EQ – as well as changing the ‘both sides on’ arrangement from series to parallel.
There’s really nothing to dislike about this pedal; the only issue is that, for most guitar players, it’s colossally over-specced. When many of us don’t even have a compressor on our board, who really needs one with switchable circuits, stereo outputs and app control? The Max would surely have made more sense as a smaller, simpler, more affordable unit with the same three algorithms in a single mono circuit – if only the UAFX design template were flexible enough for that to be possible.
- PRICE £325
- DESCRIPTION Digital dual compressor pedal, made in Malaysia
- CONTROLS Preamp gain, compression, output, attack, release and six-way ratio switch; channel selector switch for all controls; three-way model switches for each channel; comp 1 and comp 2 bypass footswitches
- FEATURES Mono/stereo inputs and outputs, USB-C for firmware updates, Bluetooth for app control; buffered bypass, powered by 9-volt mains supply only (minimum 400mA)
- DIMENSIONS 148 x 92 x 62mm
- CONTACT uaudio.com
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