Universal Audio has been quietly updating some of their previously released plug-ins with new features that you may have overlooked if not watching closely. About four years ago, I purchased the dbx 160 UAD plug-in. At the time, I left a four out of five stars customer review on the Universal Audio site. Even though it sounded amazing, I always wanted a wet/dry mix control like their competitor’s plug-in already had. Fast-forward (gratuitous tape reference) to today, and Universal Audio has released version 9.14 for the Apollo and UAD accelerators. Buried in the fanfare of other new features, I noticed “Updated dbx 160 Compressor/Limiter.” Digging into the release notes, I saw that the dbx 160 plug-in had finally received the coveted wet/dry mix control. A fixed sidechain option was also added. And in case you also missed it, the LA-3A and 1176 UAD plug-ins got a mix control a couple of months earlier!
The hardware dbx 160 is sometimes referred to as the “dbx 160 VU” because of the large VU meter on the front of the unit – the UAD plug-in’s GUI faithfully reproduces that layout. There is a push-button for power, and three more buttons that select Input, Output, or Gain Change (reduction) meter modes. Three virtual knobs control Threshold, Compression, and Output Gain. Above the Threshold knob, two LEDs indicate if the incoming signal level is Below or Above the threshold setting (this can be a good starting point, but you know you want to mistreat it!).
The original hardware (or follow-on products like the 160X that I have in my rack) certainly did not have a wet/dry mix or sidechain control, but in the digital realm, all things are possible. On the front of the plug-in GUI, in the middle of the logo, is what resembles a recessed set Mix screw. On the actual hardware unit, that set screw is for calibrating the meter. On the plug-in, the set screw adjusts the mix ratio by clicking and dragging with a mouse. Clicking the label “Mix” above the set screw will set the ratio to 50% while clicking “dbx” or “160” located on either side of the set screw will increment or decrement by 10%. The sidechain filter is activated by “pulling” the threshold knob (accomplished via a shift-click).
I’ve always used the dbx 160 UAD plug-in on an aux bus for parallel compression of drums, but this means sharing one setting for all tracks routed to that bus, which is not always optimal. Alternatively, the plug-in can be inserted on each channel and the mix set individually to get the desired sound – and it can really add some squish or smack to specific drum tracks (if you want that). I frequently use it on kick, snare, room mics, and bass guitars. Whether you already own it or are considering it, now is the time to revisit the dbx 160 UAD plug-in. The added sidechain and parallel features made this even more valuable for me!