As someone that uses UAD plugins on a daily basis and owns every plugin UAD have developed. I feel I can give a good insight into what plugins beginners should look at buying and what plugins are not worth buying. Within this article I will go in depth on the reasons why these plugins are so effective in their category.
If you haven't done so already make sure you read my "Everything You Need To Know About Universal Audio UAD Sales" article. This will help you buy the plugins listed below for the best price and teach you how to work the system in your favor to get plugins for as little as £9 each.
1. Tape Emulation
The Oxide Tape Recorder has it's place in your setup but it is far from the best and should only be purchased as a luxury extra or if you want a tape emulation plugin on a budget. Honestly though don't bother go straight to the Ampex and Studer.
The Studer is good, it sounds great and it will do everything you want a tape emulation plugin to do. Put up against the Ampex ATR 102 though and I personally find it falls short. I have all 3 of the tape emulation plugins and the one that gets used in every song is the Ampex. Having both the Studer and Ampex is a luxury. You will use both but believe me you'll find yourself using the Ampex more.
The main features I find that make the Ampex ATR-102 such a brilliant and widely used plugins are the bias control. Turning this to an 11 o'clock position almost gives your sound and instant 3D effect. The EQ above this can be used to great effect to brighten the audio track without generating any harsh frequencies.
2. Channel Strip
The Century Tube is the least of my favorites, maybe this is because it's the newest and hasn't been in my signal chains that much over the past few months. Not because it's bad, more because the others are so good. This is a good option if you are on a budget and don't want to fork out the high price for one of the big boys.
The 3 other channel strips are really and truly all the same with a slightly different sound to them. I personally find myself using the SSL's compressor most, the API's EQ and the Neve's gate. I know this doesn't help a beginner who is looking and getting one and believe me you only need one. If I were to say get one, get the SSL 4000 E Channel. It's the most versatile across all sounds and anything you through through it will come out sounding great.
It's also worth noting that all of these channel strips include unison pre-amp technology. The pres on all 4 are excellent. It's really a case of taste and how you want your pre to sound. What I would suggest is demoing all 4 and trying them out for 14 days. See which you prefer and get that one.
There are lots of EQ's to choose from and choosing one is based on preference. My EQ of choice for filter curves is the Cambridge EQ. The reason for this is that the EQ has a great deal of different curves to choose from with pin point accuracy. i have used almost every EQ that is available in the box and this is by far the best for filter curves.
As an all in one EQ there are a few contenders. The Maag EQ4 is brilliant because it has a really unique sound you won't find on other EQ's. The only problem with this because it is based on the 500 series unit it is quite limited compared to other EQ in terms of functionality.
If functionally is what you are after and lets face it as a beginner you are, get the Brainworx BX Digital V3. It has every feature you could ever dream of having in an EQ. It's not the best sounding EQ compared to others in this category but you are getting the best features all in one. You have a 4 band mid side EQ, dynancic EQ, mono maker, pin point accurate monitoring of your EQ. It really is a powerful all in one EQ with lots of extras.
The best sounding EQ is the Manley Massive Passive. It comes with 2 versions. A mixing version and a mastering version. Both very similar but the mastering version has a more subtle gain increase. A 4 band passive EQ that doesn't break or get brittle the more you push it. if anything the sweeter it gets. It's a brilliant all round EQ. Only problem is the processing power of this plugin is around 60% so it is quite hungry on your DSP.
Every reverb on the UAD platform is well worth purchasing. Each have their own personal character and flavour that will make into any mix. What we are looking at here through is what reverb should you get as a beginner who doesn't have any reverbs. I would recommend getting the AMS RMS 16. The reason I recommend this reverb is because it come stacked with algorithms, more than you will ever need to use. Everything from plates and halls to rooms and chambers.
Both the Lexicon reverbs sound the best. Get these for added colour for sure. They sound incredible and are my personal reverb of choice for the majority of instruments. You really can't go wrong with any of the UAD reverbs.
5. Other / Special Processing
There are a number of different processing units that will bring something to the table. But there is one that really does bring something special. The Bob Katz Precision K Stereo. It's essentially a stereo widener with a difference. I've used a lot of stereo wideners ain and out the box but never have I heard one do what the K stereo does. I recommend that you trial this plugin and add it to any instrument especially pads or leads. It'll widen the sound in such a musical way. One plugin i can not live without.
To conclude if you want to buy a tape emulation plugin buy the Ampex ATR-102. Best channel strip is any of the 3 big boys really but I prefer the sound of the SSL 4000 E channel personally. The most versatile reverb is the AMS RMX 16 reverb as it has the most algorithms but any of the two Lexicon reverbs sound the best of all the reverbs available. The best sounding EQ is the Manley Massive Passive but the Brainworx BX V3 is the EQ with the most amount of great features. Lastky the K stereo is the special processing plugin that will change the way your mixes sound in such a good way.