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For decades, Universal Audio has made waves—or maybe that’s produced waveforms—in the music industry by developing world-class recording interfaces, legendary analog tone shapers, and painstakingly emulated low-low-latency channel strip and vintage instrument plug-ins. Recently, this dedication to a lush punchy presence in the mix has been exhibited with the introduction of their $20-a-month plugin 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 inaugural Universal Audio guitar pedals, which take the form of stylish, sturdy stompboxes loaded with powerful texture-modulating engines and flexible connectivity options.
I recently had a chance to test drive all three of the Universal Audio UAFX amp emulator pedals, from the classic Fender-esque Dream ’65 Reverb Amplifier and Woodrow ’55 Instrument Amplifier to the British Invasion-inspired Ruby ’63 Top Boost Amplifier. If you’re looking for ultra-portable, ampless authenticity that easily cuts through a mix, here’s a quick rundown of everything that makes each UAFX amp emulator pedal distinct.
Universal Audio guitar pedal comparison
All Universal Audio UAFX amp emulator pedals are priced at $400 and share similar design elements and basic functionality. Here’s a closer look at the unique electric guitar tones—shaped by signal paths that can include components modeled after legendary Celestion, Oxford, JBL, Korg, Shure, beyerdynamic, Royer, Sennheiser, Neumann, and AKG gear—to help you decide which one is right for you.
The Universal Audio Dream ’65 Reverb Amplifier pedal is an homage to the venerable Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb, a tube-powered guitar amp that’s made its way into countless recordings and performances over the decades by players from Johnny Marr and Muddy Waters to St. Vincent and Mac DeMarco. In addition to emulating the Deluxe Reverb’s iconically rich clean tones and ear-pleasing overdrive breakup, the Dream ’65 pedal includes built-in spring reverb and vibrato effects—a classic combination that’s not often seen in a single pedal (the Milkman F-Stop and Strymon Flint being a couple of fantastic exceptions). Via a set of onboard switches, users can toggle between (or bypass altogether) a range of historically accurate speaker cabinet, mic, and room tone modifiers—tech borrowed from the $1,200 UA OX Amp—to sculpt singing saturation for surf rock, Texas blues, jazz, punk, and almost everything in between.
Hearing the Dream ’65 produce the nuanced and dynamic richness of a Fender Deluxe without a real speaker was equally satisfying and perplexing if you’re used to the experience of filling a room with the sounds of a real amplifier. Monitoring the pedal through headphones and studio monitors gave an experience more akin to listening to a high-quality recording than actually moving air in a physical space. Still, this sweet tube-like sparkle and sag spoke to the Dream ’65’s potential for recording great-sounding guitars in less-than-ideal acoustic spaces—just add digital audio workstation and an interface. Suppose you’re a session player looking for maximum tonal flexibility or want to crank the velvety highs that swept from Sunset Sound to Muscle Shoals in the ’70s. In that case, the Dream ’65 Reverb’s faithful modeling of its versatile namesake makes it a no-brainer.
The Woodrow ’55 Instrument Amplifier is a leaner, meaner cousin of the Dream ’65 pedal, designed to deliver all the full-bodied, harmonically rich tone and barking overdrive of a vintage Fender Tweed Deluxe amp from the mid-1950s. The “tweed sound” is considered by many players to be the holy grail of guitar tone, with an unmistakable midrange-forward bite and woody resonance that’s great for playing growly 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 bassier “microphone” input channel that can be blended for a wide range of tones; it also lacks a spring reverb circuit, opting instead for a “room” knob that adds studio ambiance to the overall sound. Like the Dream ’65, the Woodrow also features a three-way speaker selection switch, but the pedal’s second switch has been swapped for a boost selector, allowing users to “hot rod” their setup by toggling between stock, tape machine, and rack delay preamp tones.
When put through its paces, the Woodrow ’55 delivered an impressive depth and range of tone plus a dynamic, responsive play experience incredibly similar to the Fender Tweed sound after which it’s modeled. As with the Dream ’65, it was a bit of an odd experience to hear a pedal produce such an accurate depiction of a loud amplifier in a room without any of the actual sound pressure, but the Woodrow ’55’s particular attitude and dynamic range suggested that it would be a particularly solid choice for adding tons of character to a clean solid-state amp like the Roland JC-40.
If British-style tone is more your thing, the Ruby ’63 Top Boost Amplifier offers a fantastic emulation of a vintage Vox AC30, another historically renowned amplifier used by the likes of Dave Grohl, Jonny Greenwood, and The Edge of U2. Compared to the ubiquitous sound of an American Fender-style amp, the Vox AC30 produces generally brighter and more harmonically complex clean tones. It delivers a lean and crunchy tube grit when overdriven. The UAFX Ruby ’63 effortlessly emulates the Vox’s classic jangle and chime with a three-way speaker selector and a second toggle for switching between normal, bright, and vibrato channels.
The Ruby lacks a reverb circuit, just like the original Vox AC30, but the pedal includes a room ambiance knob similar to that found on the Woodrow ’55 pedal. Each of the three channels on the Ruby also features its own specific type of boost circuits to further add to the range of tones available, all eccentricities intact. Vox AC30s are large and heavy amps that need to be turned up very loud to achieve their signature overdrive, but the Ruby produced all the same full-throated tone and crunch without any logistical considerations.
What about the Universal Audio effects pedals?
Universal Audio’s UAFX line of pedals kicked off with the Golden Reverberator, Starlight Echo, and Astra Modulation Machine, effects stompboxes that feature the same overall design as their amp emulator counterparts but with a focus on expansive soundscapes rather than a like-you’re-in-the-room-with experience. Sculpt the clipping clangs and grainy tails of spring reverb tanks and studio plate reverbs, spread the whooshing haze of eccentric tape and bucket-brigade echoes, or surf the saturated ripples of chorus/flanging/tremolo. Since these debuted, additional tape echoes, reverb and delay, and preamps and compressors have been added to the lineup. We didn’t get a chance to test these effects yet, but if they’re as well-built and flexible as the amp pedals, they’re definitely worth a place mong the best guitar pedals 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 the UAFX guitar pedals lies in their ability to recreate guitar tones from several classic tube guitar amplifiers without any of the associated upfront cost, bulk, ground-loop noise, or upkeep. Modern versions of the guitar amps emulated here are expensive—usually above $2,000 used—and vintage versions can reach well into the five-figure range. Unlike an amplifier, a UAFX pedal can also be thrown into a backpack and casually taken to another location for studio recording or live performance, even more easily than a practice amp. The pedals’ switchable speakers, effects, and channels also give them a wider range of tonal options than a traditional amp, giving them an edge in creative situations.
All of the pedals in the product line are compatible with Universal Audio’s UAFX Control smartphone app, which allows users to change and recall custom artist tones and personal presets, customize footswitch functionality, and even install free additional cabinet and mic emulations so you can tweak your signal chain wirelessly via Bluetooth. A desktop version of the control software is also available and includes the same features with the addition of firmware updates over USB-C.
Universal Audio guitar pedals comparison: Design
Universal Audio’s UAFX pedals all share the same form factor and feature eye-catching aluminum and plastic housings with high-quality knobs and switches that feel satisfying to use and are reminiscent of those found on high-end recording studio equipment. Each pedal includes two footswitches that toggle between live and amp/effect circuits by default, but users can also bind them to custom functions/presets using the smartphone app. At the rear of each pedal is an abundance of I/O, including a 400-milliamp-minimum 9-volt DC input, two unbalanced TS/TRS 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 of the UAFX amp emulation pedals feature a unique “four-cable mode” that allows them to be routed into the effects loop of any amplifier, giving players the option to easily switch back and forth between their own amp’s built-in preamp and the UAFX amp pedal of their choosing without having to commit to one or the other.
So, which Universal Audio guitar pedal is best for you?
The UAFX amp emulator line of Universal Audio guitar pedals all cost the same and all use a combination of high-quality hardware and software emulation to offer guitarists and producers a really interesting and intuitive creative alternative to a traditional amplifier 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 make signature tones into your tone. Still, if you need to stick with one, the UAFX Dream ’65 Reverb Amplifier will pull off the vast majority of traditional pop, rock, and blues tones thanks to its wide range of sounds and included effects. The UAFX Woodrow ’55 Instrument Amplifier is the best pedal in the product line for getting bright country twang and growly, in-your-face guitar tones, and the UAFX Ruby ’63 Top Boost Amplifier is the best choice for bright, jangly Britpop-style cleans.