If you’ve always wanted to use vintage hardware in your studio but didn’t get the chance to buy the equipment, you should look at this plugin. It combines several devices into one compact interface giving you the warm, cozy sound that vintage gear is well known for.
UniChannel consists of a collection of vintage gear. This plugin was developed by Soundevice’s owner, Boris Carloff, who’s been collecting vintage gear for over 20 years. He always had some issue with it, be it the tubes failing, the lack of availability to purchase the devices, or the scarcity of similar equipment that limited him from using devices on various channels, so he chose to put them together into a single plugin. You’ll get a preamp, EQs, compressors, all combined into one interface. In UniChannel, you’ll find a ton of presets created for different purposes and instruments, so you’ll never run out of choices when it comes to using it in your mix.
The GUI was thought based on the vintage devices it resembles, and the developer achieved it very well. From the knobs to the colors used and the placement of every component, you feel like you’re using the real deal.
It’s loaded with many features in each section of the plugin, but it lacks some important elements in some styles (US, BR, GE).
Other than that, you have plenty of options, a good selection of frequency bands to boost or cut, effect mixing in the Compressor, the visual meter to check the compression level, input and output controls. It’s very well equipped.
It achieves the vintage sound well. The Compressor’s response and saturation of the overdriven valves are very present and distinguishable. It has a good set of options to shape the sound and give it the feel you’re looking for. The audio quality was very well achieved.
Value for the Money
A complete plugin but lacks just a couple of features. For its price, it’s got a ton of options and presets. Overall you’ll be very well covered when it comes to what it offers. It’s been very well designed with a lot of attention to detail in many aspects. It serves its purpose of putting together vintage gear extremely well.
Once you have acquired your license, you’re ready to go. Just go to unitedplugins.com and head to the “My Licenses” section. Here you can find all of the licenses you’ve purchased for this website with details of the product and the purchase date. You’ll find the option to download both the license file and the installer for the actual plugin. In this case, we’re looking at UniChannel, so download the license file and the plugin installer for that one.
Once you’ve downloaded the two files, open the installer to begin the process. From this point, it’s simply about setting options and clicking next. There’s no control center, just a standalone installer, making it easier to install. For my Windows setup, I chose to only install the VST2 64-bit plugin, but you’ve got a lot of options, both for 32 and 64-bit machines.
As you can see, it’s pretty compact and lightweight for the installation sizes. It won’t take up much HDD or SDD space, which is always great. From this point on, you can change the installation folder for the .dll or .aax files corresponding to what you chose to install, and then it’s just clicking next a couple of times, and you’ll be done before you know it. The actual installation takes just a couple of seconds.
Once you open the plugin, you’ve got the option to activate it either with a license file (we downloaded it at the beginning) or with your E-mail and password for online activation. I went for the offline activation with the license file. Once you’ve loaded it into the plugin, you’ll be prompted to restart it. After you’ve done it, the “Activate” box will disappear, and your UniChannel will be ready to go.
First Impressions and GUI
As you can see in the above picture, the GUI is divided into three main sections. Six if you consider the input and output meters and the Output Fader. From left to right, we have Input Meter, Preamp, EQ section, Compressor, Output Fader, Output Meter. Out of all of them, the EQ and Compressor change the interface according to your style. If you look at the top of the plugin, you’ll find the presets navigation, which contains several settings designed for specific uses—more on that in a few moments.
In each “Folder”, you’ll find several Presets designed and tested for those specific applications. You can create new folders, as well as new presets inside a particular folder. You can also replace an existing preset, but I wouldn’t recommend doing so with the factory ones because they’ve been designed and tested. It’s always a good idea to have a snippet of what a good setting looks like when you doubt the adjustments you chose.
Looking at the top left corner, you’ll find the Bypass button, which is always handy and quite necessary when you need to hear the sound difference your plugin introduced to the audio track. You’ll know the plugin is bypassed when you click on the button, and the word “Bypass” turns red.
As a side note, a very useful thing I found out is that if you double-click over any knob, you can manually set the value you want without dialing it with the knob, which can sometimes be less precise.
You’ll find three toggle buttons and three knobs for this first section. The first three allow you to choose the type of sound, or the Style, if you may, of the whole preamp section. As the buttons indicate, you can select a British sound, a US sound, and a German sound. The user manual states that these buttons change the preamp type. These toggles would vary the circuit through which the sound signal is routed in the real devices. Let’s say you input a voice track, and if you have the BR button pressed, the signal will be processed differently than if the US toggle was pressed. It comes down to the internal electronic design. With those toggles, you can choose completely different circuits that will process the signal differently. Sometimes a couple of sections are shared for simplicity and reduced costs, but the result is quite different.
Moving on to the lower section of the preamp, you’ll find three knobs named INPUT, MOJO, and OUTPUT.
- INPUT: measured in dB (decibel). Ranging from -24dB to +24dB, you’ve got a wide range of gain at your disposal.
- MOJO: measured in % (percentage). Ranges from 0 to 100% The user manual states that it changes the amount of the preamp color. In my experience, it’s a saturation knob. As you turn it closer to 100%, you can hear a slight and subtle saturation introduced to the track.
- OUTPUT: Controls the output of the signal chain consisting of “INPUT + MOJO”. Output: measured in dB (decibel). Same as the INPUT knob, it ranges from -24dB to +24dB.
Now things get a little more interesting. As you change the Style of the EQ, you’ll get completely different interfaces and functions. It’s a very interesting and immersive feature. I find it immersive because if you’ve ever used other hardware sound devices, you’ve seen how different they are, and this feature adds a little bit of “real feel” to this plugin, which I found very pleasant. To showcase the three styles, we will analyze them all:
In the previous picture, you’ll see them next to each other, from left to right: British, US and German. These three EQs have in common the top shelf of this section, where you’ll be able to switch between the three styles and turn them on or off. This on/off switch is very useful for the situations in which you don’t want to mess with the frequency balancing, and you wish to compress and maybe add a little “flavor” (by using the Mojo knob in the preamp).
- British EQ
Starting with the BR, you’ll see a High Pass Cut Frequency knob at the top, which controls the frequency at which the HP filter is applied. The decay of this filter seems to be around 18dB/octave, according to the tests I conducted comparing it to FabFilter’s Pro-Q3.
Next, you’ll notice the low-shelf section that consists of two knobs: the Gain and the FREQ controls. With the FREQ knob, you can choose the frequency at which the low shelf will take place, increasing or decreasing the gain with the Gain knob. The range of the Gain knob goes from -15dB to +15dB.
Moving on to the peak section of the EQ, and same as the low shelf control, you can choose the center frequency and the Gain for that center frequency. The FREQ selector allows you to choose 700, 1200, 2400, 3600, and 7000 Hz. According to the tests I made, the Q of this band-pass filter is around 0.75. Lastly, you’ll see the High Shelf Gain knob, which has a cut frequency for the HP filter of around 2KHz. All of the gain knobs in this EQ range from -15dB to +15dB.
- US EQ
Next up, the US. It has a ton of controls, so we’ll break it down into sections that are similar between them. You’ll find a Low Shelf, a High Shelf, four Peak controls that are band-pass filters, a High Pass Frequency knob, and a Low Pass Frequency knob.
There is a Frequency knob and a Gain knob for the Low Shelf. The available frequencies are 30, 40, 50, 70, 10, 200, 300, and 400Hz. The gain knob has a range of -14dB to +14dB.
The High Shelf is quite similar to the previous control, but the difference lies in the frequencies’ selection. These are 2.5, 5, 10, 15KHz, and air, meaning frequencies over 15KHz, the ones that are described as “air” or “breath” in audio. The gain knob also has a range of -14dB to +14dB.
The four Peak Controls are similar to each other. They all have Frequency knobs and Gain knobs, only different in the frequency selection between Peak controls. The main difference in the controls is that the frequency selector is toggled in the Shelf sections, so you can’t select a frequency between 300 and 400Hz, for example. But in the Peak controls, you can. For the Peak 1 control, the range is from 30 to 400Hz, Peak 2 is 75 to 1000Hz, Peak 3 is from 0.8 to 12.5KHz, and Peak 4 is from 2.5 to 20KHz.
Lastly, the High Pass and Low Pass knobs also offer a range of values, same as the Frequency knobs in the Peak Controls. The High Pass Filter ranges from “Off” (that means 0Hz) to 400Hz, and in the Low Pass Filter, it’s from 2.5KHz to “Off” (meaning 20KHz and above).
- German EQ
The last element in the arsenal is the German EQ, which has fewer options than the previous ones, conveniently chosen to achieve good results. First, you’ll find two Gain knobs corresponding to a Low Shelf and a High Shelf. The Low Shelf has a cut frequency of 60Hz, mainly designed to eliminate or reduce Very Low-Frequency buzz that can affect the signal down the chain if not considered when mixing. The High Shelf has a cutoff frequency of 10KHz, designed to reduce the “air” frequencies that could become a problem if not controlled.
Next up is the Präsenz control, consisting of a Gain knob and a Frequency knob. It’s basically a presence control with a Gain range going from 0dB to 12dB, and its Frequency selection consists of 0.7, 1, 1.4, 2, and 2.8KHz.
A complete EQ section should have control over the frequencies that constitute the High and Low Shelf, but we don’t get these options on this EQ. It’s a shame because it has a very good sound, and the other two EQs have a ton of options to customize. We do have to keep in mind, though, that this plugin was designed after real hardware, so what we get here is what the hardware had, and in that aspect, this plugin excels. It models the real gear very well.
The EQ section has three different styles, and when you change the Style, the interface also changes. In here, you’ll also find a shared area, from which you can also turn the Compressor on and off with a toggle, and there are three knobs.
- INPUT: measured in dB (decibel). Ranging from -40dB to +40dB, you’ll have massive control over the input to the Compressor.
- DRY/WET: measured in % (percentage). The amount of original raw signal (dry) vs. processed signal (wet) sent to the output varies.
- Output: measured in dB (decibel). This knob takes the already processed signal and sends it to the output fader of this plugin. Ranges from -20dB to +20dB.
Before we dive into the three Styles, just in case you don’t fully understand how a Compressor works, we’ll quickly mention the main functionalities of the different knobs since they’re all pretty similar over the three Styles. If you already know how they work, please skip to the BR Compressor section.
First of all, the Threshold. It’s simply the level at which the compressor starts kicking in. If it’s set at -15dB, when the input signal (in this case, it’ll be the output signal of the EQ section) exceeds the -15dB mark, the Compressor will start doing its thing.
Next, the Ratio, or Compression Ratio. It’s the amount of compression that is applied. If it’s set at 4:1, for example, then for every 4dB of audio that surpasses the Threshold value, the output will be 1dB. If it’s set to 10:1, then for every 10dB of audio that exceeds the Threshold level, 1dB will be outputted.
Attack is the speed at which the compressor will start working once the Threshold value has been exceeded. If it’s 1 ms, the compressor will kick in 1ms after the Threshold is exceeded.
Release is the same as Attack, but it sets the time delay when the Compressor will stop working after the signal drops below the Threshold value.
Lastly, a knob that not every compressor has, and could be quite useful, is the S/C HPF, which means SideChain High Pass Filter. SideChain is a technique used in mixing that consists of taking the original signal, creating two parallel channels, and processing the signal in one of them. In this case, the main signal is processed by the compressor, and an HP filter processes the SideChain.
Now that everything is clear, we can move on to the specifics for every Style.
- BR Compressor
For this Style specifically, you’ll find everything you could need, Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release, and the S/C HPF. The Threshold ranges from -50dB to -10dB. The Ratio lets you choose from 1.5:1 to 9:1. The attack goes from 1 to 5 ms. Release ranges from 10ms to 10s. Finally, the S/C HPF allows you to set an HP filter from “off” (0Hz) to 250Hz.
- US Compressor
In this one, we can only choose a Threshold with a range covering -40dB to 0dB, Release ranging from 200ms to 3s, and the S/C HPF ranging from 0Hz to 300Hz.
- GE Compressor
Here we can choose the values for Attack, Release, and the S/C HPF. For the Attack, we can select from 17ms to 61ms, from 0.015ms to 10ms. Finally, for the S/C HPF, the range goes from 0Hz to 300Hz.
One thing worth mentioning is that all of the compressors have a Gain Reduction Meter that displays whether the Compressor is working or not and how hard it’s compressing. The Comp Meter is a good tool, but it’s just indicative. I recommend that you train your ears to hear compression and don’t mix with your eyes. The actual analysis has to be done with your ears. That way, you’ll achieve the best possible results.- A downside for the US and GE Styles of this compressor is that they’re very limited in terms of options. Luckily the BR Compressor is equipped quite well, so you are covered with the options you might need.
As mentioned in the Features table at the beginning of this review, the sound style achieved with this plugin is very well accomplished. It’s based on the real hardware, and in combination with the factory presets, you’ll have a ton of options when it comes to applications. If you need to compress a vocal track and achieve a vintage sound, you’re pretty covered and have several presets to ease your work. Do you have a clean guitar that needs a vintage sound and also needs compression? You’re covered. Just check out the presets, and you’re good to go. With just a couple of tweaks, you can achieve the sound you’re looking for. If we talk about versatility, this plugin is incredibly versatile. You’ve got a ton of combinations just by changing the Styles and properly setting the knobs. And if you couldn’t achieve the sound you were looking for, you probably need to keep adjusting parameters, and eventually, you’ll get it.
I tested this plugin with bass, guitar, and voice, and I got the sounds I wanted for each instrument with very small tweaks. I always started with the presets for each instrument and worked my way from there.
The full price for the UniChannel is U$S181 (or €149), and with your purchase, you get the full plugin, no iLok needed, you can use it in every single one of your computers as long as you’re the user, and free updates for life, so your plugin will never be obsolete. You’ll also have the advantage of 64-bit audio processing at any sampling rate. If you want to give it a shot but you’re not fully convinced, you can always download a free trial that gives you access to the full plugin for 15 days. There are occasional sales on UnitedPlugins.com, so you might even get the chance to purchase it at a discounted price.
Lastly, if you want to hear some samples, head to the plugin’s website, and at the bottom of the page, you’ll find some audio examples.
You can Buy or get a Trial version here.
Vintage audio processing fits with almost any music style. I can definitely picture it being used in several music styles, ranging from rock, pop, country all the way to heavier music. UniChannel has proven to be a versatile and unique sounding plugin, with a lot of room for audio variety, customization, and a very good GUI. At Integraudio, we recommend you give it a try.
Check out this featured review video for UniChannel:
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Ignacio Ponce is a session musician, audio and electronics engineer, with a passion for rock, metal, electronics design, and video games. He specializes in instrumental thrash/groove metal songwriting.