Compression pedals are often overshadowed by some of the more prominent units like modulation and time-based effects, but what those in the know understand is that a good compressor can really be the secret sauce that transforms tone from good to great.
Throw a quality preamp in the mix and you’ve got a real recipe for success. Universal Audio gets this, and their Max Preamp and Dual Compressor pedal might just be one of the rare true must-have stompboxes for any serious player’s board.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Review, we put the UA Max Preamp and Dual Compressor to the test. We took a deep dive into its features and performance and found ourselves truly impressed with the results.
If you’re thinking of adding compression to your board or upgrading your existing pedal, you won’t want to miss this!
Who is This For?
As with most compression pedals, we recommend the Max to experienced players, particularly gigging musicians. We also think it’s a particularly good option for anybody recording their music, too, especially if you tend to play with cleaner tones.
Compression does help to squeeze the best performance out of your gear, but newer players and those who might only noodle for fun at home are unlikely to find any real benefit from a pedal like this.
Appearance / Features / Controls
Unsurprisingly, the Max came in the same form factor as the other UA effects pedals: a well-made, all-metal stompbox with dual foot switches, six dials, and mode selector switches. Like the effect itself, the housing was subtle, coming in a matte silver finish but with a few pops of color from the red and blue knobs.
On the back side of the pedal were the in/out jacks, and consistent with the rest of the lineup, it came with both mono and stereo support, as well as a USB-C port and a pairing button for connecting via Bluetooth to the companion app.
The overall footprint of the pedal was quite large, and because of its solid construction, we found it to be quite heavy – something to think about if you’re conscious about the weight of your rig!
As nice as this pedal looked and felt, it’s not the exterior aesthetics that are the draw, it’s the tech on the inside. The UA Max is unique in the world of compressor pedals in that it offers a pair of identical compressor sets that can be stacked. The pedal emulates the MXR Dyna Comp, the Teletronix Opto LA-2A, and the Universal Audio 1176.
In addition to the compressors, it also featured a digital model of the UA 610 tube preamp and EQ circuit. This was controlled using the big red dial on the top left and did a great job of emulating this legendary preamp.
The other five dials controlled compression level, output, attack, ratio, and release – all standard fayre for a compression unit. Output took care of compression makeup gain, Attack set the onset speed of the UA 1176 model (labeled as FET 1176), Ratio adjusted how hard the compression was, Release adjusted the recovery speed, and Comp adjusted the squeeze and sustain. The comp dial had its own selector switch that allowed us to apply this setting to the left or right compressor individually.
Finally, on the left and right sides, there were 3-way toggle switches that let us move between the three emulated compressors.
Performance / Sound
Even though it’s not always easy to get excited about compression, we really thought a lot of the UA Max.
Starting with the 1176 emulation, we found that it sounded indistinguishable from the original – of course, this makes sense given that it’s technically a UA effect to begin with. We found that it compressed nicely, did a great job wrangling in fast dynamics, and managed to keep tabs on the early transients, too.
With the LA-2A, we got some fantastic tube-type warmth – again, not a surprise considering the nature of the original Teletronix unit. We had a lot of fun stacking this model with the 1176 – it delivered an incredibly tight end tone thanks to the smoothing of the transients from the 1176 and the way that the LA-2A kept the tail end of the signal in check, too.
Of course, to stack compressors like this under normal circumstances, you’d need to run the individual pedals into each other, so having the ability to do so in one unit was super convenient.
We also really enjoyed the MXR Dyna Comp setting. We loved the boosted sustain and found that it sounded fantastic when played clean. This particular model did tend to highlight the early transients, though, so running this as the second compressor, with the 1176 ahead of it gave us great results.
Out of the box, the Max stacked compressors in series, but we were able to use the UAFX app to switch it into parallel. The standard series setting kept things calm and polished, and with the parallel setting activated, we noted that it got a little more fizzy and punchy.
Using the preamp control, we were able to add some warmth at low levels and some mild overdrive with the level set past 3 O Clock. Even when actively trying to, we couldn’t find a bad tone at any level.
Final Thoughts on the Universal Audio Max Preamp and Dual Compressor
Compression isn’t necessarily going to be for everyone, but if you do think it’ll benefit your use case, the UA Max really does make a good case for itself being one of the best out there. We think it’s a great option for home studios – it tames even ultra-hot guitars with ease and offers a tone of tonal variety. We never once felt like all it was doing was squashing the sound, and each of the emulators sounded just like the original – although, we can’t act too surprised on this, as UA really is one the best in the business when it comes to digital replications of gear.
If you’re giving a compressor some serious thought, we’d highly recommend taking a look at the UA Max.