As someone that owns every plugin UAD have to offer and someone that works with UAD plugins every day in a professional capacity. I have a good understanding of which plugins are essential and which plugins are not. Out of over 200 unique plugins I can quite honestly say there is maybe only 7 plugins that I will use day in day out. The other 190 plugins are either not as good or are simply doubles or a different flavour of plugin.
In this article I am going to go through the plugins I use religiously in almost every session I work with and why I use them from a mixing perspective as well as a mastering perspective. Be sure to read the final comment and conclusion as I tell you why it is that I don't use many of the 200 UAD plugins I own and have at my disposal when mixing and mastering.
AMPEX ATR 102
I listed this as the first plugin for a number of reasons. The main one being it is the best plugin UAD have and in my experience no other tape emulation even comes close to this tape emulation. This plugin will be added to most buses. It's one of those night and day plugins. If you add it to a mix then bypass all the instances of the Ampex you will certainly know about it. The Ampex brings the mix to life. Across the mix bus when mastering 9 times out of 10 it sounds fantastic.
LITTLE LABS VOG
The Little Labs Vog is a bit of a one trick pony in that it's functionality is simply to add bass resonance to your low end. That being said, it does such a great job at doing that. I have yet to use a plugin that claims to do a similar thing, come close to this. I will often add this plugin to kicks and bass when mixing. It can be handy on the mix bus whilst mastering to add fullness to the tracks overall low end.
CAPITOL CHAMBERS REVERB
The Capitol Chambers reverb has become one of my go to reverbs. It sounds incredible. Although it is only really 4 rooms, compared to something like the Lexicons, which have much more rooms. The Capitol Chambers reverb sounds in my eyes a million times better. I remember the day this reverb came out. I thought how many more reverbs do I really need. Turns out 1 more. I bought it instantly without even running the 14 day trial down. I will use this a lot as my drum room. I find it sounds really natural and will sound very pleasing to the ear. It works across all instruments such as guitars, synths, pianos literally everything.
LEXICON 224 REVERB
The Lexicon 224 is my go to vocal reverb. This isn't necessarily an essential plugin, but if you have it and want to use it on anything, the vocal plate on reverbs sound so warm and "lush". The only time I ever use the word lush is when describing how a Lexicon plate reverb sounds. I will use this reverb a lot for strings when I am working with film trailers. Incredibly good reverb well worth the price tag.
SSL G SERIES BUS COMPRESSOR
I have a Solid State Logic G Series bus compressor in my X-Rack sitting on my mix bus. So I know how this plugin should react compared to the real thing it is trying to emulate. It does a really good job. It will never replace my hardware version but as an in the box alternative it is brilliant. The best feature about the UAD version is the sidechain filter. When mixing drums this allows you to miss the low end of the kick and only compress the frequencies from around 180hz up. This results in your kick not sucking the rest of the drums down. A brilliant feature that makes this a go to bus compressor when working in the box.
MANLEY MASSIVE PASSIVE EQ
The massive passive is an incredible EQ. For both mixing and mastering. It is quite CPU hungry though so bare that in mind. A really good all round 4 band EQ that will bring any instrument to life. I use this EQ a lot over my buses. Especially my drum bus. I have found that the Fabfilter Pro Q3 has made a lot of my in the box EQ's obsolete such as the Cambridge EQ, Oxford EQ and Brainworx EQ. But the massive passive has always been a great EQ that has it's own unique sound you just don't get with a surgical EQ.
SONNOX OXFORD ENVOLUTION
The Sonnox Oxford Evolution may surprise a few people as it is essential just a transient designer. I own most if not all the transient designers on the market that are of a professional standard. I find this to be the best for a few reasons. Firstly it sounds brilliant and is easy to achieve the exact sound you are after. Secondly the visual representation of the waveform on the GUI. This is really helpful and gives me something no other transient designer does. Lastly the attack and release have a hold function. Which isn't available on such plugins as the SPL transient designer. This for me is the transient designer that has the most control and there for I am able to make sound the best.
Universal Audio plugins are incredible. They sound as close to the real hardware as you are going to get in the box. The only reason I do not use more UAD plugins while mixing and mastering is quite simply because I have the Plugin Alliance mega subscription. I have a powerful computer so CPU is never an issue. I often opt for the native version of most of the UAD plugins just because it saves space on my UAD chips for plugins that are UAD platform only like the Ampex and Massive Passive. The plugins on UAD and Plugin Alliance are identical. The only difference being one runs on UAD chips and the other runs native off your CPU.