by Bob Malkowski | 4,4 / 5,0 | Approximate reading time: 6 Minutes | Our Rating: 4,0 / 5,0

 ·  Source: Universal Audio

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In this Universal Audio Brigade Review, we look at the latest range of UAFX compact pedals, including the Flow tremolo and LA2A compressor/limiter. Has Universal Audio got the hang of compact pedals? Or are you paying for the badge on the box?

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Source: Universal Audio

Universal Audio Brigade, Flow and LA2A – Standout features

  • Compact DSP-based pedals offering vintage recreations of classic effects
  • Option of true or buffered bypass
  • Brigade – emulation of BOSS CE-1 Chorus ensemble
  • Brigade offers a switchable preamp, as per the original CE-1 unit
  • Flow – Tremolo pedal offering three switchable tremolo circuit models
  • Flow – offers tap tempo option for easy setting of tremolo speed
  • LA2A – emulation of legendary tube/optical compressor limiter
  • LA2A – offers switchable stock and fast release times

Universal Audio Brigade Review – UAFX compact Flow and LA2A

If you cast your mind back to August 2023, Universal Audio launched a new range of compact effects pedals. The idea, it seems, is to offer you the same high-end DSP recreations of classic gear you get in the full-size UAFX pedals. You get a smaller, more compact more affordable pedal for your pedalboard.

What’s the trade-off? Well, you only get one effect type per pedal. Equally, you only get a mono input and a mono output. I suppose the savings have to be found somewhere, right?

Undoubtedly, It’s an interesting concept; however, when I reviewed the first lineup of compact UAFX pedals I was left a little underwhelmed. However, Universal Audio has sent me their latest batch of compact UAFX pedals: Brigade, Flow and LA2A.

Can this new brace of UAFX compact pedals offer something new and of value to guitarists and musicians? Well, time to plug in and find out.

Brigade – BOSS CE-1 chorus emulation

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First up, let’s take a look at the Brigade, an emulation of the Bucket Brigade-driven (hence the name) Boss CE-1 Chorus Ensemble. The Boss CE-1 is THE original Chorus pedal; its circuit was pulled from the equally legendary Roland Jazz Chorus amplifiers. If you take listen to new wave and pop music of the late 70s and early 80s you’ll hear the CE1’s imprint everywhere.

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Universal Audio UAFX Brigade Chorus & Vibrato
Universal Audio UAFX Brigade Chorus & Vibrato No customer rating available yet

I plugged up the Brigade between my Fender Telecaster and vintage 1970s silver face Fender Twin Reverb. If you’re looking for that authentic new-wave guitar tone, then this pairing is it. Brigade gives you that instantly familiar, warm shimmer. If you’re after the tones of Robert Smith of The Cure, or Andy Summers from The Police, you’ll find Brigade invaluable.

Source: Universal Audio

You’ll find some additional nice touches with Brigade, too. The CE1- preamp is emulated here, along with the Vibrato function you’ll find in the original. So it’s a win-win all round then yeah? Well, not entirely…

Brigade has three major issues: Firstly it’s mono only, whereas the original CE1 was stereo. Secondly, at the time of review, you’ll pay around $200 to have this pedal on your board. Thirdly, Boss offers the CE-2W, an all-analogue, stereo recreation of the CE-1 and CE-2… which is also around $200.

With the exception of being a mono-only pedal, I’m struggling to objectively fault the tone or quality of Brigade. However, at this price point, there’s a lot of compelling competition…

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Boss CE-2w
Boss CE-2w
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Flow – Tube style, multi-mode Tremolo

Does the world need another Tremolo pedal? Well Universal Audio seems to think so, and looking at the specs you may agree. Flow is a multi-mode tremolo offering some very interesting tremolo models:

  • Dharma – Unique UA original harmonic tremolo effect. Harmonic tremolo combines tremolo and phasing
  • ’65 – Emulation of optical tube-style tremolo as found in Fender-style amplifiers
  • Square -Based on the 65 optical tremolo, but with a more aggressive, “chopped” tremolo sound.
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Universal Audio UAFX Flow Vintage Tremolo
Universal Audio UAFX Flow Vintage Tremolo No customer rating available yet

Once again, there are some nice features on offer here, which would be very difficult to achieve in a purely analogue pedal. Notably, you have a switchable tap tempo option accessed via the single footswitch. You can also choose between buffered or true bypass modes.

So is Flow any good? Well firstly, let’s look at that tap tempo option. The tap function works perfectly with the function LED blinking nicely in time with tempo. Unfortunately, you cannot bypass the pedal with the footswitch while tap tempo is engaged. This, for me, is a major oversight and dramatically limits the useability of tap tempo. My suggestion for UA would be to implement bypass (in tap tempo mode) as a long depressed button press. Coming to a future firmware update soon perhaps?

Source: Universal Audio

As regards the tone of the pedal itself it sounds, ok! Dharma, to me, sounds somewhere between a classic phaser pedal and a univibe. If that psychedelic 60s schtick is your thing, then you’ll love this mode.


As regards the two optical tremolo emulations, a back-to-back with a genuine Fender optical tremolo shows that ’65 is close, but not quite on the money. There’s a character to the envelope of the real thing that, to me, isn’t quite represented here. With that said, it’s a very pleasant, classic tremolo effect and extremely useable and musical.

Teletronix LA-2A Studio Compressor

Rounding out the trio of new compact UAFX pedals comes a digital emulation of one of the most famous studio tools of all time: the LA-2A compressor/limiter. I must admit, that out of the three pedals here, this is the one that made me scratch my head the most.

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Universal Audio UAFX LA-2A Studio Compressor
Universal Audio UAFX LA-2A Studio Compressor
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You see, the LA-2A is most famously employed on vocals, and yet here, we have it presented in a format which is most suited for sitting on a guitar pedalboard… curious! Well, there are some useful tweaks which make the LA-2A pedal a little more versatile for instrument use.

Firstly, you can choose between an authentic attack time, or a modified fast attack time. Also, the mix knob allows you to experiment with parallel compression techniques. What does this all add up to? Well, a very unique pedal is what it adds up to!

Source: Universal Audio

I’ve often praised Universal Audio’s emulations for their “feel” and playing interactivity. In this respect, the LA-2A pedal scores highly. Very quickly I was able to juggle compression thresholds and attack times to where the pedal was an inspirational tool to play with.

If you’re a devotee of Texas-style blues sounds, like Stevie Ray Vaughn, then you’ll love the LA-2A. You can take a completely clean amp and dial in some growly compressed tube character in seconds. It’s not the most versatile pedal out there; equally, I can’t remember playing through something that responds quite like this pedal, before.

Conclusion

Unlike Universal Audio’s last release of compact series pedals, Brigade, Flow and LA-2A offer better-executed designs. Brigade, for example, sounds absolutely fantastic and completely nails that new-wave Chorus tone. LA-2A offers a really unique compression/drive experience for guitarists. Flow, while imperfect, offers a bunch of good wobbly tremolo/phase options in one pedal.

However, I still have the same misgivings about the UAFX compact pedal series. At the time of review, each of these pedals hit the street at around $200 a pedal. That’s a lot of money for a mono, DSP-based, single-effect pedal. Especially so when there are some stereo, analogue re-issues available for less money.

These are all good pedals, but they’re not great in the way the full-size UAFX pedals are. A flaw that might be forgivable if they were substantially more affordable!

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