Once again, the folks at Manley Labs have joined forces with Universal Audio for a new release—the Manley VOXBOX. Based on the classic 1997 3U-thick hardware monster, it’s a full software recreation of the original with full Unison support. The Unison integration means users can track in real time with super-low latency on Apollo and UAD-2 hardware. I won’t go into the layout specifics since it’s been around for a while, but basically it’s broken down into four distinct sections: Tube Preamp, Optical Compressor, De-Esser/Limiter and Pultec-Style EQ.
The first thing to realize about the VOXBOX is that it’s not just for vocals. In fact, I used it on bass, kick, guitars, percussion, loops and even after the output of an EMT 140 reverb to crush and shape it. But when I did use it on vocals, it adds an almost indefinable character of tube meets attitude meets just damn-good sound. There’s really no comparison between pre-and post-VOXBOX signal; in session, the singer (Krisite Coppola) was able to literally “play” the VOXBOX with the mic, especially when I pushed up the Input and lowered the Output.
The EQ is especially useful and deserves a bit of description. It’s based on a Pultec MEQ-5 midrange equalizer and is 100 percent passive (which is why it reminds me of my Massive Passive hardware unit). There are three bands available with the Low and High bands featuring up to 10dB of boost and Midrange offering up to 10 dB of cut. On vocals, its incredibly airy and musical, and the 8 to 10 kHz bands add a nice sheen to the top. Users can pop the EQ in and out with a switch, just to say, “oh, yeah!”
VOXBOX also offers a De-esser that couldn’t be easier to use. Simply choose your frequency (fixed) and push the Threshold for sibilance control. I used it on a clean Telecaster to gently roll off some of the top end, almost like a filtered EQ. Note that it can be disabled and used as a secondary limiter with a 10:1 ratio, something I did with a kick drum for a quirky attack-like sound.
If you really want to push the Input, there’s a multistep gain knob that goes up to 60 dB, which can drive the plug-in to distortion. I used this on a direct bass, getting a cool crunchy tube sound that was perfect for the track. I also drove a drum loop hard with it, then used a bit of 12 kHz to push the clarity and 100 Hz for the kick. I like to drive drums hard, most often using an 1176. This does that but in a different way; it’s not as aggressive and much more musically flexible. At this point, I’ve already created a handful of presets for just such purposes.
I can’t speak highly enough about the job Manley and Universal Audio did on the VOXBOX. It has balls, attitude and its own character with a ton of Class A vacuum tube tone. Most importantly, everything I put through it simply sounded better. Plus now I can use half a dozen or more of them in my mixes. That’s a no brainer.