Universal Audio’s amp simulator pedals are an affordable way to achieve compelling valve amp tones

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Image Credit: Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

The only thing to note here is that you can only update the firmware of the pedals using the desktop app via USB. Which is probably for the best, as I found that the Bluetooth connection to the mobile app can be a bit choppy. A recent firmware update has improved the situation, but it still crashes from time to time.

The last thing to mention before getting to the sounds is the build quality. UAFX modelers are just absolute bricks. While any pedal worth its salt is pretty sturdy and made from metal (it has to survive many times, after all), it’s in a class of its own. They’re a bit heavier than your average pedal, are cast from extremely dense aluminum and would certainly cause serious damage if dropped on an exposed toe – barefoot players beware.

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

Ok, so we’ve established that they’re well built, have great connectivity options (all three are also stereo) and sound great, but what about the sound that sets them apart from the rest of the modelers amps there? Well, the short answer is, feel.

I know, it’s a bit nebulous, but there’s something about the way these pedals react to your playing that feels more natural and authentic than many modelers, even those based on impulse responses (IR). An IR can give you a great sounding amp or cab sim, but since they’re audio file-based, they tend to be less dynamic than the real deal. UAFX pedals clean up considerably if you turn down the volume on your guitar or play very delicately. And they gradually separate as you start playing louder.

They also take effect pedals incredibly well, which is not something you would assume from my experience, especially when it comes to dirt. My Fuck Overdrive and Part Garden fuzz pedals posed no challenge, and honestly the overdrive probably sounded better with the UAFX modelers than it did with my Blues Jr.

This demo features some sounds from the Ruby ’63 Top Boost amplifier with only a slight correction done in post. The last part of the clip adds a delay pedal to the mix.

This is where we have to stop grouping the three pedals together, because they all sound incredibly different from each other. No one is better than the other, but your personal preferences will dictate which is the best choice for you. Do you want clean, crisp sounds that you can pair with signature spring reverb and vibrato? The Dream ’65 is the ticket. Need super bright chimy sounds that can be pushed into classic blues-rock crunch? Then this is the Ruby you are looking for. And if you want darker, dirtier sounds, go for the Woodrow.

Personally, I’m dreaming. Her cleansings are immaculate and glorious. And when paired with the onboard spring reverb emulation, it becomes a perfect machine for surf rock or more ambient styles where your pedalboard does a lot of the heavy lifting. It’s also a great vehicle for funk and soul where you want something sharp that will cut through the mix without stealing the show.

UAFX Universal Audio Amp Emulators

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

Even though I have a board full of fancy reverbs and a tremolo pedal that I’m raving about, I still found myself turning to the built-in versions of the Dream quite frequently. The spring reverb here is as close to the real thing as it gets. It drips and vibrates like the spring in my Blues Jr and I don’t think I could choose it as a digital effect in a blind taste test. The vibrato (which, again, is actually a tremolo) is just as great. It has a warm vintage feel that is closer to the tube vibrato of old than my new school tremolo.

I also think the three different boost channel options and six different cab simulations give you the most tonal versatility of the three pedals. Combining the stock boost with the GB25 cab delivers excellent clean sounds even at higher volumes. But go to the main mod and go for the EV12 cabin and you can rip some pretty searing solo.

The pedal even starts to break a bit if you hit it with too hot a signal. But it doesn’t cut like, say, a digital audio interface would. Instead, it crackles like a real amp. It’s those nice little touches that make UAFX pedals so compelling.

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