Review by Paul Vnuk Jr.
Universal Audio has teamed up with Manley Labs to craft an “input to output and all valves in between” model of the Manley Variable Mu. It’s exclusively for use on UAD-2 Powered Plug-in devices as well as all of UA’s Apollo interface boxes.
Like UA’s previous Manley models, The Variable Mu is a knob for knob and control for control creation that looks and functions exactly like the original. It’s based on the current T-Bar mod version, without stepped controls (unlike the Manley Massive Passive model, which was compared to the hardware and reviewed in our February 2015 issue).
In addition to the real-world controls, UA has also included a few plug-in-only additions. These include an optional Mid/Side mode, and more importantly a headroom control. That’s essential for getting the plug-in to distort and saturate like its real-world counterpart without clipping the channel in your DAW. Lastly the plug-in also has a wet-dry mix control, so you can do instant blending and parallel processing.
- DECEMBER 2017: Presonus Studiolive Ar12 USB Mixer/Interface
- NOVEMBER 2017: Focal Shape 40 and Shape 65 Studio Monitors
- OCTOBER 2017: Mojave Audio MA-1000 Condenser Mic
- SEPTEMBER 2017: Empirical Labs Arousor
- AUGUST 2017: Mackie DL32R 32-Channel Digital Mixer
- JULY 2017: API TranZformer GT
- JUNE 2017: Reviewed & Revisited: Steinberg Cubase Pro 9
- MAY 2017: LEWITT LCT 440 PURE
- APRIL 2017: Reviewed & Revisited – Acoustica Mixcraft 8
- MARCH 2017: Prism Sound CALLIA USB Audio DAC/Preamplifier
- FEBRUARY 2017: Universal Audio Manley VOXBOX Channel Strip Plug-in For UAD-2
- JANUARY 2017: SPL Transient Designer TDx
The UA Variable Mu uses the least CPU of all of the UA-Manley family, at 16.3% for a mono instance and 25.0% for stereo. That gives you 6 mono/ 4 stereo instances on a UAD-2 SOLO device, up to 48 mono or 32 stereo instances on an OCTO. Not that I can see why you might need that many Variable Mu on a mix, but hey, it’s your mix…
Mastering engineer Justin Perkins and I set up and compared his mastering version of the Variable Mu alongside the plug-in with test tones for proper input levels. As I often experience with plug-ins vs. hardware, the input level controls of the two are rarely the same, but matching the attack, release and threshold was pretty spot on ballistically.
As with my previous UA-Manley comparisons, these units are sonically so close it’s scary. Similar to what we found with the Massive Passive plug-in, the most noticeable difference between the hardware and software was in the 3-dimensionality of the low end, more than the high end “air” like it often is with other plug-in models.
Once again, UA have freakin’ nailed it on the Manley front and both Universal Audio’s and EveAnna Manley’s high standards have paid off. According to Justin, the Manley UA models are the main reason he bought an Apollo Twin, so he could master and tweak projects in progress on the road!
More from: Universal Audio, www.uaudio.com