Audified u73b by Funkybot
· Product: U73b Compressor/Limiter
· Developer: Audified
· Formats: AAX, AU, RTAS, VST2/3 (Mac and PC, 32/64 bit for all except RTAS)
· Price: $149
· DRM: iLok2
· Website: u73b Compressor – Audified
Audified has created a plugin model of the U73b, which is an old German broadcast limiter/compressor based on a vari-mu design. Similar to a Fairchild, which I suspect more people will be familiar with even if never having used either piece of hardware, the U73b offers a fixed set of controls for the release time, with the last 3 (marked in red) offering a program dependent release. However, unlike the Fairchild, there’s no control over the threshold. Audified’s model does include some additions like input and output knobs, along with another knob to adjust the calibration. There’s even the option to disable the hipass filter on the unit to bring some of the bass back (tons of low end isn’t something that was desired when mastering to vinyl in the 60’s).
Full-size screen print of the interface.
The original U73b is a small piece of hardware fitting into a casette format and the plugin UI borrows from that smallness. At 1080p resolution on a 24” monitor, the U73b has a what I’d call a very small interface. Contrast isn’t high in some areas of the UI (the calibration, meter selection knob, input and output values are all small light grey text over a darker grey background), and the values written on the meters are barely legible to me (and I’ve got excellent eyesight). There’s no way to scale up the UI unless you’re relying on the OS or some other software to do that, so if you’re eyesight isn’t great or you don’t have a giant monitor, please consider yourself warned. That said, tooltips will automatically appear whenever you move a knob to show the current parameter value, and these are clearly legible.
The lefthand portion of the interface is the original U73b. To keep the plugin interface authentic to the original, the text in this section is all in German. “Kompr” indicates you’re in compressor mode, “Durchschalt” apparently means bypass, and “Begr” is limiter mode. “Rucklauf” indicates the release time (shown in seconds) with the values in red being the program dependent settings. There’s other UI elements in this section that don’t have any function, and are just there for authenticity.
The Compressor, Bypass, Limiter selection knob at top and release times at the bottom. Note: the items on the left are purely cosmetic.
The right section of the UI hosts the Calibration knob, meter mode switch, meter, and the Input and Output gain. This is the area that suffers from the particularly poor contrast mentioned earlier. Other than some poor legibility, everything else here functions as expected.
This section covers most of the new controls added to the plugin like Calibration settings, the meter and input and output gain.
At the bottom of the UI is a menu bar with options for Bypass, to disable the hipass filter (HPF), select which channels the sidechain listens to (individual for dual moni, left only, right only, and linked), and then options to select and save presets, along with some help/info options.
A larger interface with better contrast and more legible elements would have been appreciated, but once I became familiar with the interface, it didn’t slow me down at all.
I never expect any single compressor to be good at all tasks. Therefore, whenever I get a new compressor plugin, I’ll put it through it’s paces on various sources and make note of what I think it’s good at (if anything) and where I think it falls short. So in reviewing this, I think it makes sense to take the same approach.
First thing I did was was plugged my P-Bass into my Warm Audio TB12, got a good bass tone going in, then turned on input monitoring and added the U73b. In its default setting, you’ll immediately notice a roll-off in bass due to the hipass filter (HPF) in the circuit. This is not a HP filter in the sidechain, it’s actually built into the audio path! The hardware itself is designed this way, and the plugin is authentic to that. Now, the original release version of the U73b had no way to bypass this, but a subsequent update added an HPF button to the interface to disable this and get your lows back. Once you do that, the default settings work very well at smoothing out a deep finger bass part. The only thing left to do is figure out whether a the .6 or 1.2 sec Release works better, and adjust the Input knob to get the desired amount of reduction.
Next up, vocals. Here the hipass filter is less of an issue since you’re normally rolling off some bottom on a vocal anyway. Not only is there a decrease in the bass, it feels like the high end is also being mellowed out, which creates kind of a mid-forward sound that works very on vocals. Without adjusting the mode or release time, getting the vocal in my text project to sit will in the mix was easy as backing off the input knob until I got the desired amount of reduction, and compensating the output. Once I did that, the vocal didn’t sound compressed, it also sounded like it had been EQ’d and de-essed too. This compressor definitely imparts a vibe. This particular sound might not work where you a need a pop vocal with a sparkly top end, but I could see this working very well in just about any other vocal scenario.
Now one point I want to bring up: in compressor mode, the knee on this is incredibly soft. Over time, I became surprised at the amount of reduction that takes place just by inserting the U73b on a track in compressor mode, considering I’m not feeding it hot signals. As a result, I’d frequently find myself backing off the Input in Compressor mode and/or upping the Calibration. The Limiter mode has a much harder knee, so there’s far less compression taking place at the same Input gain settings in that mode. With that in mind, you can’t just easily flip between modes to compare settings because you’ll need to adjust your Input and Output knobs and there’s no A/B functionality to quickly compare. It’s also worth making note that just inserting this on a track can add a bit of gain so these Input and Output knobs will become your best friends when using the U73b.
Where else did I like the U73b? Acoustic guitar. This is another tricky instrument to compress due to the wide frequency response, sharp attack, and dynamic range. Shaving off 1-3db’s of compression and the HPF on or off (depending on what you’re going for), the U73b shines as an acoustic guitar and doesn’t choke on the attack like so many other compressors. And if it works well on acoustic guitars, the same is usually true on pianos, which I can confirm is the case here. There’s something about vari-mu style compressors on acoustic pianos that make them about the only compressor design that just “sounds right” on that particular source to me. The U73b doesn’t disappoint here.
When it comes to drums, the U73b is a mixed bag. In compressor mode, I found the overly soft knee and fast attack combined to make a clicky attack on transient materials. Limiter mode however was a different story, where I found this could be a decent drum leveler. It may not be my first choice in this application, but it’s certainly an option.
Lastly, this was originally built for use in mastering scenarios, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the U73b on the mixbuss. Remember what I said about the crazy soft knee in Compressor mode? Good. If you put the U73b on your mixbus, you’ll probably find way more compression going on than you’re likely to want so backing off the Input considerably and compensating on the Output is key. Don’t forget about the HPF too. Chances are you’re going to want to disable that. Once you do those two things you can get good results with the U73b on your mixbuss. Limiter mode has a harder knee so there’s less tweaking of the Input and Output knobs required, but regardless of the mode, expect a loss of some top end. If you started out by mixing into the U73b you’d end up with better results than just adding it to the end of an already finished mix because of the dulling of the highs.
The U73b is a character compressor/limiter with some definite quirks. It’s not going to work on everything, but on the right sources, it’s tone and compression characteristics may be just what a particular track needs. If you’re a compressor junkie, especially one that prefers the “few knobs” approach of vintage units, then you owe it to yourself to demo the U73b and try it out for yourself. You may find that it’s the perfect tool for certain jobs.
Sound Quality - 5/5: On the right sources, the tone and compression style imparted by the U73b can work extremely well and even save you some EQ’ing. There can be some quirks in terms of getting the best sound possible out of this, but once you figure out the ins and outs of the U73b, it can be very rewarding.
Ease of Use - 4/5: The small UI, difficult to read settings, and German text can take away from the user experience.
Features - 4/5: A larger or scalable UI, and built-in A/B system would have been nice additions. That said, the fact that you can disengage the HPF built into the hardware, along with the input/output/calibration knobs are nice additions that exist only in the software form.
Bang for Buck - 5/5: This is what I’d consider to be a mid-priced compressor, and even though there’s room for improvement with the GUI and some features, the audio quality warrants the price tag.