As Universal Audio just released their long awaited UAD API 500 Series EQ Plug-in Collection for UAD Cards, Satellites and Apollo, comprising emulations of the legendary API 550a and API 560 EQs, we jumped on the occasion to compare them with Waves 's much celebrated API Collection, as well as the equivalent API Lunchbox hardware units.
There have been many emulations or clones of those two API classics but only two that have been approved by API themselves, namely Waves and Universal Audio. The API sound is famous for its characteristic punch, detailed low-end, and impressive imaging, and those units have impressed countless engineers worldwide for their ability to shape the sound of drums, guitars and bass..
API in a Box
UAD's API 500 series includes emulations of the 550a three-band parametric EQ and 560 graphical EQ, which are what most engineers would consider the two most popular units. The Waves API Collection on the other hand also includes emulations of the API 2500 compressor and API 550b four-band EQ.
Both the Waves and UAD emulations have modelled Saul Walker's original designs from the 70's and as such the 550a differs from our more modern lunchbox version which, offers more frequencies to select for further tonal shaping capabilities.
As such, UAD and Waves share a similar appearance obviously taken from the original API 500 modules, and although Waves GUI is ever so slightly bigger, the knobs are closer together to accommodate a VU-style meter, an addition that doesn't feature on the original but that could still be quite useful..
Another difference and perhaps more important is the output gain knob which displays different values. Indeed on UAD's API emulation the output goes from -24dB up to +12dB while Waves one goes to -18dB to +18dB. Although the total amount of gain from the lowest to the highest is 36dB, the UAD plug-in will only increase the sound by 12dB maximum compared to the waves that can be 6dB louder. However at unity gain Waves emulations are a couple of dB lower than Universal Audio's.
On my UAD Duo Satellite I was able to dial 22 mono instances of the API 560, and 27 mono instances of the 550a which is great news as the 560 is one of my go to EQs. I love how quick it is to shape the sound. In stereo, the numbers drop to 12 for the API 560 and 16 for the API 550a. Obviously used with other UAD plug-ins the number can vary greatly.
The API Sound
When comparing different emulations, it is important to keep in mind that different hardware units have been modelled and therefore just like with hardware they will sound somewhat different. Both the Waves and UAD emulations have modelled Saul Walker's original designs from the 70's and as such the 550a differs from our more modern lunchbox version which, offers more frequencies to select from.
To illustrate this differences, I first tried to match the settings of the API 560 and its emulations as closely as I possibly could. I did of course expect a difference but was quite taken aback when I heard how much of a difference it was. Using the Lunchbox 560 as the reference, I could not believe how the two emulations could sound so different from each other as well as the original.
With the settings matched, the UAD sounds a lot brighter, cutting through and aggressive compared to the Waves which in turns retains a lot of the bass frequencies and sounds muddy.
I then proceeded to match the sound rather than the settings to see I close I could get them to sound and after a few tweaks it became very difficult to tell which one was which. All exhibited the same characteristics, and added a lot of bite, personality and edge to the guitar.
Applying the same settings on the Api 550a and its emulations, the difference was a lot less noticeable, possibly because of the stepped knobs. Straight away all three units sounded really close as you can hear in the examples below. All managed to tighten the sound and focus on the really important parts of the sound. I can't think of many EQs capable of doing such a fine job with so much ease and the emulations did live up to the task.
As API are renowned for their tight bass sound and to put the emulations to the test, I then tried it with different instruments including bass guitar and drums. On toms, the 550a was really impressive adding a huge amount of fullness and presence and bite that not many EQs are capable of delivering on their own. Again both emulations did a great job at replicating this.
I applied the same settings to a bass line and then matched the sound as closely as possible spending a bit more time listening and comparing each band more closely. This revealed that some bands on the emulation didn't respond entirely like the Lunchbox version I was using with Waves displaying more aggressive low mids, while the UAD version again was much brighter (although it was a hard one to discern because of the lack of high frequencies on the bass I had recorded.)
The API 550a and 560 are both incredible EQs, both capable of shaping the sound very quickly and yielding some impressive results. Used on guitar, drums, vocals, bass and synths, I'm able to mould the sound giving it a huge amount of presence, focus and weight. When Universal Audio announced its partnership with API and released the UAD API 500 Series EQ Plug-in Collection, I knew the result would be great and to be able to compare it with the real thing was very informative. Although Waves API Collection, and UAD 500 Series Collection have their differences in terms of sound, they both capture the essence of the actual API units they sought to recreate.
By Paul Lavigne