UAD Lexicon 480L Review
Universal Audio has just released version 9.7 of their UAD software and as usual, have included five new plug-ins including an emulation of the Lexicon 480L digital effects system.
A (Very) Brief history of the Lexicon 480L
The Lexicon 480L was released in 1986 and rapidly became the ultimate digital reverb by which all other reverb and digital effects were measured. Designed as the successor of the 224XL, it included a mainframe and the Lexicon Alphanumeric Remote Control (LARC) to give you controls of all the different aspects of the reverbs.
It also used 18-bit quantisation and a sampling rate of 48kHz, offering a dynamic range of 98dB for the wet signal which was very impressive at the time. It also benefited from some of the latest computational power available which helped create lush and realistic-sounding reverbs and two different engines that could be used simultaneously, dramatically extending the possibilities on offer.
The 480L saw the inclusion of the Random Hall that is often associated with the “Lexicon Sound” and the Ambience algorithm that was used so prominently on drums in the 80s.
Recreating a Classic
After the success of the UAD Lexicon 224, Universal Audio went all out to recreate the legendary sound of the 480L, using Lexicon 480L’s final firmware (v4.10).
Just like for the 224, the plug-in GUI is based on a recreation of the LARC with an alphanumeric Program select buttons to let you dial the chosen program, eight global utility buttons which give you quick access to important functions and six faders to adjust parameter values and an additional six buttons at the bottom. All these give you access to all the controls of your reverb with notable workflow improvements over the original.
First of all, all the algorithms are directly accessible by a click on the main display. Universal Audio have also re-assigned certain functions to some of the buttons that were not useful in the plug-in removing the need for multi-function buttons.
For example, the Bank and Page buttons have been moved to the buttons below the faders while the blue Prog and Rec buttons have been recommissioned as Machine A/B select. A hidden panel access unveils input and output gain controls.
Just above the fader can be found a Parameter display which shows the name of the parameter and its value which is controlled by the slider below it.
Universal Audio have included five of the most popular reverb and algorithms of the original hardware including Reverb, Effects, Twin Delays, Random and Ambience. These algorithms have been organised in banks.
- Banks 1 to 4 use the Reverb algorithm
- Bank 5 uses the Effects algorithm
- Bank 6 uses the Twin Delays algorithm
- Bank 7 and 8 use the Random algorithm
- Bank 9 uses the Ambience algorithm.
- Bank 0 uses a variety of these algorithms based on your selection.
Each of these banks has certain specificities that are represented in the controls available. For example, any bank using the Reverb algorithm will have access to Lexicon’s Shape and Spread parameters combined with its popular split decay.
The Effects algorithm uses randomly varying time delays and can be used to create a wide range of sounds such as reverse Effects, modulated delays, doubling, tremolo, chorus and more.
The Twin delays algorithm is based on a four-voice delay with independent level, feedback and delay time
The Random Algorithm is possibly what the 480L is most known for. It is very similar to the Reverb algorithm but adds random delay elements which deliver a smoother reverb tail with none of the unwanted resonance that can occur with simple or no modulations.
Finally, the Ambience algorithm is a short reverb designed to help place an instrument in a space. It can be used to add realistic depth to a source recorded with close microphones.
The Lexicon 480L is fairly easy to use. Choose your Bank and program from the Main display drop-down menu or by cycling through them with the buttons located below the sliders. Once you have a reverb that you like you can simply turn the faders up or down for each control. For finer controls of the slider, simply press the shift key and drag your mouse.
Since only six parameters are visible at any one time, clicking the page buttons will show you the additional controls available to be modified. It would seem that during the time I spent with the plug-in that there are no more than four pages to cycle through for each program.
The Global Utility Buttons include a Wet solo which I found very useful when using the reverb as an aux which was most of the time. Additional Dry/Wet Mix controls are provided when using the plug-in as an insert. Pressing on the Mix Dry will decrease the amount of reverberant signal while clicking on the Mix Wet will increase it. One click represents 1% in either direction.
The Aux Outs button lets you select the sound of the Main output or the auxiliary outputs, offering some subtle sonic changes based on the modelled hardware.
A Lexicon of Sound
I have to confess that I don’t have much experience with the hardware 480L and while I have used some Lexicon reverbs in the past I cannot comment on how accurate the emulations are based on that. What I can say however is that while working with the plug-in there were many instances where it immediately sounded strangely familiar. But it wasn’t the “Lexicon sound” I was hearing, it was the sound of the records I grew up with and loved! Suddenly I realised how some of my favourite tracks had been done. It was just simply using a Lexicon 480L.
As I was playing with the different banks and programs something that really surprised me was how naturally the decay was blending with the rest of the music. Even as I was pushing decay and levels way past where I would have them normally on any other reverbs, they blended really well with the music.
I first wanted to hear it on a snare drum, and dialling a few settings I really loved how expansive and huge the Large Hall sounded. I tried the gated reverb for fun and it was actually pretty good. I was also curious to hear the difference with the 224 so I dialled it up and tried to replicate the settings as much as I could. Both reverbs sound completely different! The 480L was very imposing and present with huge decay fading, while the 224 with similar decay sounded much thinner.
I then decided to try it on a horn section comprising of real trumpets mixed with virtual instruments and after playing with a few settings I really loved what the Ambience algorithm brought. It added a noticeable space and the instruments seemed to blend together much better.
And then I decided to try it on vocals, I played with a few settings going through some of the artists presets provided and settled on the same “ambience” algorithm which just added bright space without clouding the vocals.
I don’t normally gravitate towards digital reverbs. If I want a plate for vocals I’ll choose the EMT140, if I want to add Ambience, I’ll use the UAD Precision Reflection Engine and if I want to add Room, I’ll go straight to the UAD Ocean Way Studios which lets me think in terms of placement instead of numbers.
However, spending some time with the UAD Lexicon 480L really changed that. Yes, it sounds like what I know of Lexicon, but more than that it evokes to me the sound of the music I’ve listened to over the years in a very tangible way. It’s lush, it’s rich and it’s extremely versatile, it’s all very impressive, and while I’ve only had it for a few days, I really want to explore all the possibilities this plug-in has to offer.