I had high hopes for this compressor. The idea of having three legendary limiters and an iconic tube preamp in a smallish pedal board form factor was intriguing. Being able to independently control to compressor circuits in one pedal and stack them was icing on the cake. Then you have the LEDs which indicate gain reduction, top mounted jacks, and simple 9 volt power requirements and the Max seemed like a slam dunk.
The packaging is gorgeous. The experience is much like an Apple product unboxing.
Sadly, the compressor falls short in many areas.
Notably, it is virtually unusable with bass guitar. The Universal Audio Max input simply cannot handle the signal from a bass guitar with onboard preamap. Frankly, it doesn't fair much better with a passive bass. I tested the Max with a trio of Sadowsky basses. A PJ configuration, a dual soap bar pickup configuration and a J/MM pickup configuration with the preamps engaged and disengaged and the Max was a distorted mess.
This review will be shorter than my normal comprehensive reading. Why? Because the Max is simply not ready for primetime.
I'm not sure how it managed to be released in its current state. I wish I had the opportunity to have beta tested for Universal Audio because this thing has so much potential but so much was overlooked. I'd be happy to help test revisions. In the meantime, My Universal Audio Max is on its way back. I returned it. Visit the product page on the Universal Audio website for more information about functionality and specs.
In a nutshell, this is an immediate pass and I cannot recommend it to anybody looking for a compressor for bass guitar.
It fairs better with guitar in terms of input slam but frankly, the Attack and Ratio controls are subtle at best. The LEDs do in fact change color to indicated gain reduction but in reality do little to help you dial in the compression. Why? Because the LEDs only illuminate green to indicate the compressor is on. They change to yellow if signal is over the threshold and change to red when the compression is slammed. Problem is, there are no interval states so yellow is helpful (maybe?) to tell you the pedal is compressing but then red is only good for suggesting the input is slammed. So, yellow means a little or a lot of compression is happening. Red means overload. Except that the Attack and Ratio controls are so subtle that you won't think compression is extreme when the LEDs illuminate red.
Oh, the LEDs don't indicate gain reduction out-of-the-box. An immediate firmware update is required to activate that feature and there doesn't appear to be anything in the documentation that indicates the firmware update requirement.
To use the pedal you will likely find you have to turn down the output of your bass until you find the sweet spot for this pedal. If you modify your onboard EQ at all, well, be prepared to adjust volume again. If you attempt to stack compressors, well, you'll need to carefully adjust the output of the first so as not to further overdrive the input of the second.
I did write Universal Audio about the matter of distortion and their response was to return the unit and that it "sounds amazing on bass here."
There are a couple of other documented examples of the same or similar performance such as this thread and this thread on Talkbass.com.
The pedal itself is heavy and solid feeling and looks great. It is bigger than I expected but has a quality feel to it. Since the Universal Audio Max is an all digital pedal a firmware update might/could address many of the issues. From a brand like Universal Audio I expected better. If, and when, new firmware is released I'd be interested in testing again and updating this review. In the meantime, it is a pass. Retail price: $349 UAudio.com