Top UAD Vocal Chains
Pro producers reveal the UAD plug-ins used by the world’s biggest vocalists.
There are no rules when it comes to building a plug-in chain for lead vocals. But using certain combinations of effects can get you great sound quickly. We enlisted award-winning producers to share the vocal chains used by some of the world’s biggest artists.
Looking for the best vocal chain for any style? Scroll down where we reveal the two best UAD plug-ins to buy when building your first vocal chain.
What is a Plug‑In Chain?
A plug‑in chain is any combination of software effects added to a track in your DAW to achieve new sounds.
In a recording studio, producers typically add multiple plug-ins and analog processors to tracks, depending on the genre and desired sound. For example: adding a preamp, compressor, and EQ is a classic combination for lead vocals.
Why UAD Vocal Chains Give You Pro Sound
UAD plug‑ins are authentic emulations of the same gear used on the greatest albums ever made. Just like the pros, you can add these effects to your vocals to get recordings that sound more professional. Learn more ›
Plug-In Chains for Rap Vocals
Rap vocals can be dry or heavily affected. Whether you're going for old school, in-your-face vocals like Nas or Kendrick Lamar, or a more spacious and modern sound like Drake or Travis Scott, here’s what top producers use to get it done.
“For vocals, the 1176 compressor is a go-to. It adds attack, roundness, and warmth that immediately makes my job easier. I also use the API 500 Series EQ and Sonnox Oxford Inflator to push vocals through the mix with brightness and volume.”
Read our entire interview with Louis Bell to learn how he produced chart-topping hits for Post Malone.
“The UA Neve 1073 gives my vocals the same warmth as the vintage hardware, while the Tube-Tech compressor gives me that ‘in-your-face’ presence that we all know and love.”
Watch a Hip-Hop and R&B mixing masterclass with Anthony Cruz.
“A typical vocal chain would look like this: Neve 1073, then a Pultec EQP-1A or FabFilter EQ. For compressors, a Bluestripe 1176 or Fairchild 660.
“I used the SPL Vitalizer MK2‑T on a lot of the pitched vocals on Igor, and it even found its way onto the grand piano sounds, which needed a little enhancement and richness. For saturation and harmonic distortion, I love the Thermionic Culture Vulture.”
Read our entire interview with Vic Wainstein to learn more about his mixing strategies.
“Once I discovered UAD plug-ins, it became really easy to get results. I didn’t need to ‘tweak’ to get good sound.”
— Louis Bell (Post Malone, DJ Khaleed)
Plug-In Chains for Rock Vocals
Since they often have to compete with guitars, rock vocals tend to be heavily compressed, less bright, and feature fewer added effects like reverb and delay.
When deciding which plug-in order to use in your rock vocal chain, here are a few go-to combinations used by the pros.
“I always start with a de-esser, even if the singer doesn’t need it. From there the Neve 1084 is my jam for EQ and grit. I crank the gain knob to get it barely clipping, then hi-pass around 50-80 Hz and add a little top end at 10-12 kHz.
“Then I use the Fairchild with a fast release time, and the Massenberg for a little extra EQ if needed.”
We sat down with Butch to discuss how he produced Green Day’s Father of All Motherfuckers.
Read the Interview
“The UA 1176 brings all of the qualities I want in a vocal to the front. Then I follow that with the Neve 1073, which is essential to my records.
“Finding the perfect reverb plug-in has always been key to getting a successful mix for the band. The AMS Digital Reverb really gives vocals that spacey, textured reverb sound.”
“I use either the API 560 EQ or UA Harrison 32C for tonal shaping. Then a Fabfilter Pro-Q for additional fine tuning, a hardware insert of a Highland Dynamics BG2 compressor, and then the Precision De-Esser.
“Sometimes, I’ll add a Fairchild 660 on the end of the chain with a high threshold for a bit more control. Even with a lot of hardware at our disposal, I used the UA EMT 140 for a majority of the songs.”
“For a bigger room sound, Capitol Chambers gives vocals the space I need.”
— Will Yip (Circa Survive, Panic! At The Disco)
Plug-In Chains for Pop Vocals
Lead pop vocals are bright and forward in the mix, often with heavier use of pitch correction, compression, and modulation.
To get the sound of female vocalists like Beyoncé and Ariana Grande or male pop-stars like Chris Martin, Justin Beiber, and Ed Sheeran, you’ll typically need a larger plug-in chain with multiple types of effects.
Here’s what the world’s biggest pop producers use to achieve that platinum sound.
“For the song ‘Just Look Up’ I wanted Ariana’s vocal to sound very close, natural, and 3D. My recording chain looked like this: Telefunken 251 mic into a Neve 1073 and Tube-Tech CL 1B.
“On the mix, our vocal chain included a Fairchild 670 for compression and a multi-band compressor for control. The Ampex ATR-102 gave that extra bit of smoothness and body, and for effects I used the EMT 140, Capitol Chambers, Echoplex, or Eventide H910.”
“I generally use two de-essers. It allows me to tailor the compression and tame harsh sounds without giving the artist a lisp. I also use two compressors, often with a fast release on the 1176 into an LA-2A. I love that combination. The Korg adds a gritty 1/4 note delay that sits in the background.”
“When I mix vocals, my primary compressor is either a UA 175B & 176 or an 1176, sometimes both! The 175/176 gives vocals presence and fullness.
“For effects, I always run a bit of slap from the ATR-102, and then either the Lexicon 224, or the Pure Plate Reverb for more depth.”
Best Vocal Chain for Any Genre
Curious which UAD plug-ins to buy when building your first vocal chain? Here, Universal Audio product specialist Drew Mazurek breaks down two plug‑ins you can use to get great sound in any genre.
“The Neve 1073 is amazing. It’s one of the most popular UAD plug-ins and is used by many engineers to impart analog color and shape recordings with its EQ and filter.
“The 1176 is a ubiquitous solid-state compressor that has been used on thousands of hit recordings. It has tons of character, and when used correctly, can push your vocal to the front and center of the mix.”
For further reading, be sure to check out these related articles: How to Build a Vocal Chain, How to Use Plug-Ins on Vocals, How to Record Hip-Hop Vocals, How to Record Vocals, How to Record with Apollo Interfaces
— McCoy Tyler, Ezra Meijer Barnett