There are probably two groups of people reading this review. First is the group that shelled out around $4800 for a hardware Massive Passive. This gang (myself included) wants me to conclude that the plug-in is not the same as the real thing. The second bunch is comprised of those who have suffered through the rest of us raving about our hardware. That group wants me to conclude that the plug-in is a virtual twin, hence removing the need to purchase a physical version.
I’m in trouble no matter what.
The Massive Passive plug-in requires a UAD-2 Card (Tape Op #67, 73, 76) to run. One stereo instance takes up more than half of the DSP of a UAD-2 Solo, while a Duo can run two, and a Quad can support four — with change to spare for other plug-ins on all three cards, depending on the DSP footprints of the other plug-ins. Mono instances of Massive Passive require half the DSP power. Sample rates of 44.1–192 kHz are supported. The license also includes the mastering version. The differences are filter values more suited for mastering and the re-creation of the stepped controls. Mastering engineers like those kinds of knobs for recall purposes. Since the plug-in can already recall values exactly, I don’t see a need to use the mastering version unless you want different filter values. Also, you can’t sweep the controls the way you can on the regular version. I think sweeping the controls is one of the hallmark experiences of using a Massive Passive.
I already see there are questions from the audience. I’ll take a few now. Isn’t this just a newly built Pultec? No, it has Pultec-like characteristics at times, but it’s very different. I’ve heard it’s a very colored box, and some people don’t like it. Why is that? Mastering engineers might find it to be colored, but mixing engineers will consider it to be musical and even neutral. In my opinion, there is a difference when comparing the Massive Passive on individual tracks versus a whole mix. Do you have any tips for using it? Yes, ignore your eyes and use your ears; the values that provide good results on this EQ are different from other hardware you’ve used. What else is different about the Massive Passive? Well, the bands are in parallel instead of serial; therefore, they interact. The bandwidth controls can create some crazy response curves, so it’s best to experiment with them. Also, bandwidth changes the amount of boost or cut. This is commonly referred to as proportional-Q. Conversely, small changes have wider curves, and bigger changes have narrower curves. Where can I go to learn more about this thing? Everyone, and I mean everyone who engineers, should download the manual from Manley’s website. It contains a very detailed discussion of EQs, history, and topology from Craig Hutchinson, who was the long-time Chief Designer at Manley Labs. I’ll take more questions in a moment. I need to get back to the review.
One problem with an exact comparison between the plug-in and the hardware is that the plug-in lives in the digital domain, and the original gear is analog. For some, this is obvious, while others may need to draw a picture. Depending on your source (digital or analog) there will always be an extra D/A and/or A/D conversion.
I hate to get all “audio-snob magazine writer” and go through setup, but I think it’s warranted in this case.The first task was to try to get the UAD-2 plug-in to null against my hardware version. Taking different sets of raw tracks (bass, female vocal, drums, and piano), I processed them with my hardware Massive Passive. I noted the settings then used the same source tracks through the UAD-2 version. Right away, they sounded very similar. But I was concerned about the converter’s influence on the test. Dave Hidek (another Tape Op contributor) came up with the idea of running the UAD-2 versions through my DAC and ADC. (Note that the conversions weren’t in the same order comparing the software and hardware versions, but it did help to even out the converter’s signature between both versions.) I level-matched the two groups and reversed the polarity on one for playback. Although they did not null 100%, there was over 20 dB reduction in level. When you consider that my unit was not the unit modeled by UA (tubes and components age differently) and that my controls may not be calibrated exactly as the model unit, we’re getting as close as a guerilla laboratory can achieve. Put another way, if I wheeled in another hardware Massive Passive and tried to null it against my box, the results might not be any better. From a clinical point of view, the plug-in is doing very well. But the real proof is in the listening.
The next task was a set of blind tests. I routed both versions, level-matched and sample-aligned, to two inputs of my Avocet monitor controller. Another engineer scrambled the tracks, and I did A/Bs, selecting the version I found more pleasing. I chose the hardware 50% of the time. I called in Dave, and he chose the plug-in 100% of the time. Next, I used full-mixes in the tests. I chose the hardware 75% of the time (but Dave had to go and didn’t do this test).
At this point, let’s return to questions from the audience. Are you convinced the UAD-2 version sounds like a real one? YES. Should mix engineers buy this plug-in? YES. If they don’t have a UAD-2, should they buy one just for this plug-in? YES. You’re also going to want a license for the FATSO and Cooper Time Cube as well. Are you going to sell your hardware version? NO. Wait, I thought you said they sound the same? For mixing individual tracks, I can’t tell the difference. Plus one of our engineers always picked the plug-in. But for mastering a 2-track mix, I’ll keep my hardware. (The tubes keep me warm during cold Pennsylvania winters.) Seriously, is it that good? YES. After doing the A/B comparisons, I was sweating bullets trying to tell the two apart.
In private conversations, I have always lamented that there are some “mastering” boxes that belong in the hands of every mix engineer. One of them is Manley’s Massive Passive. (Another is the Crane Song STC-8, but that’s a review for another day.) The input components and human hours required to assemble a Massive Passive results in a cost beyond the reach of many users. Mix engineers can now have a bunch of these EQs as UAD-2 plug-ins — with full recall. Universal Audio’s achievements in capturing the sonics of equalization, transformers, and control interaction need to be recognized. This goes beyond software models; they’re getting to the heart of the gear. ($299 MSRP; requires UAD-2 Card; www.uaudio.com)
–Garrett Haines, www.treelady.com
by Kirt Shearer
Twenty years ago, there really wasn't much of a market for "plug-ins." Sure, there were some limited software tools for audio, but they were mostly proprietary to a specific editor. Very little...