Review: Universal Audio UAD-2 Fatso Plugin
Positives:* Each processor does wonders to different types of material
* Great set of features and controls added to the Sr processor.
* Adds Low Harmonics with the "Tranny" option that many other plugins fail at
* Can smooth out transients or gently round the peaks like saturated tubes or tape.
* can give the non-linearities of tape.
* Can not make it sound bad
* Eats CPU for dinner
* Must own Universal Audio hardware to run
Finally an Empirical Labs plugin that lives up to it’s analog counterpart
I am a big fan of Empirical Labs equipment ( See my Distressor review) and was thrilled to hear about them creating a digital version of one of their best sounding units, the EL7 Fatso, in collaboration with Universal Audio. Universal Audio has a reputation for being spot on when it comes to emulations and to have them recreate such a complex and great sounding unit, had me very excited. So what is the Fatso? Well, it stands for FULL ANALOG TAPE SIMULATOR & OPTIMIZER. It sounds like a mouthful, but it is basically a compressor, and a high frequency saturator, and a harmonic generator/soft clipper, as well as a tape head/transformer emulator. What the hell does all that do/mean? It means you can keep thing under control with your compressor, then take the brittleness out with the “warmth” control to saturate high frequencies, then add the Transformer into the circuit, known as “tranny,” which emulates the in/out of tranformer based equipment and tape machines and adds harmonic distortion to the low spectrum, which can make bass and kick drums easier to cut through on small speakers. There are many parts to this processor and many available options for shaping your tone.
The Plugin version, which only runs on the UAD-2 platform, consists of two plugins, Fatso Jr and Sr. Fatso senior sporting a few under-the-hood tweaks and controls that Dave Derr (founder of empirical labs) made available to the user, which the actual hardware unit does not have available. First thing I used it on was bass. You should set the compressor up first because it interacts with the other processors in the Fatso. So i first set up the compressor on the Fatso Jr. by choosing “G.P.” Four compressors types exist and each have different attack/release times. The attack and release are not controllable (except in the Fatso Sr) so the compressor type you choose will determine how the signal is being grabbed. G.P being “General Purpose,” has a medium attack that tries to sound transparent while still allowing the plucks of the guitar to come through. It was the right compressor for the job. I’m only knocking out 3-5 on the meters. I then add the “Tranny” option to spice up and control the low frequencies, while adding harmonics to make it easier to cut through my dense mix. That was all i needed. I could’ve used the “warmth” but decided it sat just right. Using the Fatso Jr on female vocals was another success story, as keeping the “warmth” circuit peaking at 2 or 3 every once in a while, helped me control her sibilance, and of course the brittleness that came with her badly recorded vocal. I began trying out the compressors and “Buss” compressor seemed to fit the material with it’s very gentle knee (similar to distressor 2:1) and I was just about satisfied, but then I tried the “tranny” and i loved what it did to the offensive midrange frequencies. although I felt it was too much. Unfortunately, Changing the amount of input to the tranny processor will also affect the amount going into the compressor, ultimately changing the control/punch/smoothness of where I had my compressor set. For this situation, I switch to Fatso Sr, and immediately used it to achieve the control I needed. The Fatso Sr has a separate control for driving the “Tranny” circuit which allowed me to use the tranny, but not have be overwhelming. I was able to control it to my taste. At the same time, I adjusted the Attack to grab a little faster and made sure the release was smooth enough. It also adds a control for threshold so I can back off the input knob, which is sending to the “Warmth” circuit as well, and I can still drop my threshold down to keep the same amount of compression going no matter how much I feed or starve the other individual processors. There is a control for a Sidechain eq, which I found incredibly helpful on the drum buss and the master fader, where the bass and kick where driving the compressor to pump and not compress the remaining range of frequencies. The Sr is the Jr on drugs! I’m glad Dave Derr decided to give you those set of controls and wish that they were included in the hardware. Unfortunately It does take a lot of processing power to pull it off (only allowing 6 stereo versions on a UAD-2 Duo), although sections can be shut off to conserve processing power (If DSP Loadlock is off. See UAD manual). The UAD-2 Fatso processor is one of the best sounding plugins I’ve ever used. It’s very close to it’s analog brother and can give life and warmth to a brittle, not so impressive mix. Its definitely a plugin worth demoing, although you will immediately want to buy it.