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Universal Audio Spark gives you native UAD plugins on subscription: use them in your DAW without UA hardware

It’s not quite hell freezing over, but Universal Audio’s decision to start releasing native versions of its UAD plugins on the new Spark subscription platform (VST3/AU/AAX), so that they can run in pretty much any DAW without any UA hardware, still counts as an abrupt change in philosophy. 

Initially available for Mac (Windows support is coming later this year), Spark is billed as an evolving platform that will cost you $20 a month (plus taxes outside the US), though you can try before you buy with a 14-day free trial. If you own one of UA’s Volt audio interfaces, meanwhile, you can try Spark free for a month.

It’s also worth noting that, if you’re a UAD hardware owner and have already purchased a perpetual license of a UAD plugin featured in Spark, you’ll get the native version for free (no subscription required). So, you’ll be able to take that plugin wherever you go, regardless of whether your Apollo or other UAD hardware has come along for the ride.

So, what’s included? At launch, Spark users will get the following classic UAD plugins:

  • Neve 1073 Preamp & EQ Channel Strip
  • API Vision Channel Strip
  • UA 1176 Classic Limiter Collection
  • Teletronix LA-2A Leveler Collection
  • API Vision Channel Strip
  • Lexicon 224 Digital Reverb
  • Studer A800 Tape Recorder
  • API 2500 Bus Compressor
  • Galaxy Tape Echo
  • Pure Plate Reverb

We’re assured that these use exactly the same algorithms as their ‘powered’ counterparts, so should sound the same, too (though their interfaces might look slightly different). How much of your native processing power they’ll require remains to be seen.

That’s not all, though, as Spark also contains four UAD instruments. The Moog Minimoog D and Ravel Grand Piano have been brought over from Luna, UA’s fledgling recording software, but the Opal Morphing Synthesizer is new, and exclusive to Spark customers. 

There’s also Waterfall, an exacting emulation of the Hammond B3 organ that will also be available to purchase separately for $199.

Universal Audio Spark

(Image credit: Universal Audio)

For electronic music producers, Opal is definitely the biggest news here; designed to blur the lines between analogue and wavetable synthesis, it comes with 100s of curated presets for “instant professional sound”. There are continuously morphing oscillators, noise, filters, and LFOs.

UA’s effect processing know-how is brought to bear, too, with reverb, tape delay, modulation effects and 1176-style compression. There’s also a typically vintage, hardware-style interface that’s designed for easy navigation and sound sculpting.

Universal Audio Spark

(Image credit: Universal Audio)

Waterfall, meanwhile, uses physical and circuit modelling to emulate every intricacy of the Hammond B3, and there’s also a “three-dimensional” emulation of a Leslie 147 rotary speaker cabinet. Again, UA says that you get plenty of mix-ready presets - more than 70, in fact - and the Keyboard Split option enables you to play the upper and lower manuals on a single MIDI controller.

The fact the Spark (not to be confused with Positive Grid’s digital modelling amp or Arturia’s beatmaker, by the way) is described as an evolving platform indicates that there should be more content on the way, but we don’t know how many plugins UA plans to include and at what rate they’ll be released.

What we can tell you, however, is that Spark will coexist with the powered plugins range - there are no plans to make the UAD platform a completely native one, basically. So, if you want guaranteed low latency and Unison technology, an Apollo interface is still the way to go.

Find out more and sign up for a Spark trial on the Universal Audio website.

I’m the Group Content Manager for MusicRadar, specialising in all things tech. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 20 of which I’ve also spent writing about music technology. 

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