The UAD VT-737 is a recreation of the renowned Avalon Designs 737 tube channel strip [Tape Op #28]. At a glance, the basic features of the channel strip include a preamp section with +45 dB of gain, a -20 dB pad, a phase reverse, a high gain switch for low output sources, selectable mic/line modes, a DI, a selectable high-pass filter, various sidechain features, a four-band EQ, and an optical compressor. Having never used the actual hardware, I opted to give the UAD's plug-in model of the VT-737 an objective test run while deep in mix-land this past month.
First I pulled up the UAD VT-737 up on the lead vocal of the country rock mix I was working on, and dove into the compressor section of the channel strip. The compressor has standard controls: Attack, Release, Ratio, and Threshold with input to the compressor controlled by the preamp section. I found the compressor to be really thick and smooth sounding in the upper mids. After some tweaking, I was able to dial in a nice vocal squish with a medium/slow attack, medium/fast release, 3:1 ratio and a healthy amount of reduction. I got similar results using the compressor on bass and backing vocals. The "X4" feature on the compressor section helped to dial in quicker transient sources such as drums and picked acoustic guitar, but in general, I found the VT-737 most usable in songs and sources where I could slow down the release time a little bit to let the compressor do its job without heavy pumping.
The EQ section of the UAD VT-737 channel strip quickly became my favorite part of the plug-in. It offers a top and bottom shelf, plus two mid bands with Hi-Q and X10 switches. The low shelf is spectacular. Only a couple dB on kick drum or bass was needed to make them feel enormous in the mix – the "Brauer Bass" plug-in preset in particular sounded perfect on my bass DI. Moving to vocals, I gave the lead track a little bump at 15 kHz to provide some clarity without bringing out any harsh sibilance. The high-pass filter set at around 80 to 100 Hz helped to clear out some mud while maintaining the chestiness of the vocal, and a little bump at 1.6 kHz brought the vocals forward. The mid bands are forgiving – they can carve or boost liberally before tones start sounding plastic-y or overly processed. The final EQ test I did was to throw an instance of the plug-in across my stereo mix bus. I gave the whole mix a little bump at 60 Hz and 10 kHz, followed by a subtle high-pass filter at 30 Hz to get rid of some of the unnecessary sub information on this particular song. The high shelf boost felt smooth and added clarity while the low shelf added weight to the bottom without feeling overly boomy. Perhaps a bit heavy-handed for a standard mix bus EQ, but ultimately it sounded really good!
If you have access to the UAD Console capability, all of the features of the UAD VT-737 are available as a tracking tool when using the Unison technology. The DI emulation on this plug-in sounds quite nice on bass guitar. My only (minor) gripe would be the output trim jumps from -8 dB to -40 dB with nothing in between, making it a little pesky to make a fine gain adjustment with a mouse while not messing with your gain staging from the input. UA comments that though the labels may look odd, this simply indicates that the pot fully attenuates. Overall, I found the UAD VT-737 to be a fantastic mixing tool – the EQ section alone would be a useful tool for any mixer to have available!