API-550A EQ Shootout review 

API vs Waves vs UAD vs Volko

In this Comparison/Review we will be checking out the legendary API 550A and some of its emulations.

So what is the API 550A? (If you already know all there is to know about the API 550A go straight to the review here)

The API 550A is a discrete 3 band EQ that was designed in the late 1960s by Saul Walker. These EQs were built into many custom consoles and then put into the Consoles API started building in 1971. After being discontinued for a long time the 550A’s got resissued in 2004 (Thanks heaps API!).
With the high and low band as selectable shelves, and all of the EQs bands being proportional these are very versatile EQs. Proportional bands means a changing Q. With different boost amounts the EQ has a different Curve shape. The larger the boost the steeper the Q - this is a very good thing to listen out for in the test (and see if the emulations recreate faithfully). But aside from all the technical stuff, what makes them legendary (and hence worthy of emulations by the likes of Waves and UAD) is the tone you can get from using them (which is obviously considered to be pretty nice). The API 550A’s have been a fundamental part of the sound of some many classic recordings that it makes sense to spend some time working how what specialness they add and also how close (or not) the available emulations of them are.

So we will be comparing the Analog API 550A - Ours were out of an API 7600 Channel Strip, and comparing them to the UAD API 550A and the Waves API 550A emulations.

As an added update for this review in relation to requests we have added the Volko's version of the API 550A, the Volko QA!

Here’s what they look like -  If you want to go direct to the SHOOTOUTS CLICK HERE

SURPRISE SURPRISE THEY ALL LOOK PRETTY MUCH EXACTLY THE SAME (except the Volko, which obviously doesn't...)

API 550A

API 550A


Waves API 550A

Volko QA

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SHOOTOUT 1 - Low End Drums

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What we think

At the 6db boost the analog API 550A is a nice punchy sounding EQ that doesn't smear the transients and retains a nice vintage punch to the kick, it has a slightly different (more open , lush or spacious) top end than the UAD or Waves, this may be due to subtle differences between the two analog units component tolerances (compared to the UAD and Waves plugins which would be effectively identical for left and right channels). The UAD 550A is very similar but not quite as ‘clean’ sounding (the analog API almost sounds a touch scooped in the low mids in comparison). The Waves 550A has a bit more of a warm harmonic feel to the kick and oomphs a bit more than the other two EQs in the sub.

On the 9db Boosts it does not sound as though the Waves 550A has the quite the same the same proportional Q style that the analog API 550A has. The analog API 550A sounds a bit steeper and tighter than its Waves counterpart which definitely sound like it has a wider Q on this boost. At this dB boost the UAD 550A sounds like it is recreating the proportional Q style of the analog API 550A a lot more accurately. The analog API 550A and UAD 550A sound quite close in this low end test. with the UAD maybe not being quite as smooth as the analog API.   The Volko QA overall sounds a bit more harmonic than the Waves 550A but without the slightly higher low mid range slap the Waves API brings in. The Volko QA sounds slightly tighter and more controlled in the low end than UAD API and compared the original API it doesn't bring in as much of the Sub lows. When listening the 9dB boosts the Volko QA has warmth that extends up much further into the mid range than the other EQs (listen to the warmth in the low end of the cymbals and snare) this could be because of the proportional Q not tightening up as much as the other EQs but it does bring a much warmer feel to the Volko QA   But let’s be honest, they all sound pretty similar, so well done to Waves, UAD and Volko.   We think you probably would have a challenge noticing or picking the differences of an individual stereo channel in a total mix… (However, this may not be the case if you were stacking up 20 channels - we'll leave that for another test).


SHOOTOUT 2 - Mid Range Drums

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What we think

In the mid range boost the analog API 550A brings some more life into the mid range slap of the kick in a nice and tight way, and adds some more snap to the snare. In comparison the UAD 550A sounds a little bit crunchier than the analog API 550A - Listen to the bite in the mid/upper mid range of the cymbals. This might be because of some extra harmonic content being bought in by the UAD API. The mid range on the Waves 550A is really nice - it actually sounds a bit wider than the other EQs (this could be because the Waves API sounds like it has a slightly different Q and is extending more into the top end hence giving more width) and has a similar harmonic content to the UAD 550A, but there also seems to be a little more happening in the 4kHz region that makes the Waves 550A seem the most aggressive of the three (with the API 550A being the smoothest). Putting the Volko QA into this test it sounds the tightest and punchiest in the mid range. It is doing a very so slightly high frequency boost than the other EQs (3kHz as opposed to 2.5kHz). Listen to the relationship of the kick in this test compared to the Waves API and the original API. However, when moving our attention to the cymbals the Volko QA is definitely not as smooth in this area and sounds like it has more bite or harshness than its analog counterpart which could be used to good effect in the right situation.   So as a summary, the digital emulations are not as smooth as the original API 550A, but still really good and capture the originals feel and tone really well. These characteristics are also exhibited in the 9dB boost with the original API 550A being the tightest and punchiest of the bunch.


SHOOTOUT 3 - High Frequencies Drums

Our comments below player - to open the player in the shootout window so you can add to it or do a blind shootout click here

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What we think

Similar characteristics show up in this text except that the analog API 550A sounds ever so slightly the widest and smoothest in the top end. The Waves 550A sounds the most harmonic and forward of the three EQs, but only slightly and the UAD 550A is really similar to the API 550A.   The Volko QA does not seem to extend into the the ultra high frequencies as much and as with the mid range test it does not exhibit the same smoothness in the to end as the original analog API550A but it definitely does have the most forward sounding harmonic crunch on the area it is boosting which actually lends for a slightly scooped feel compared to the original analog API 550A - listen for the hi hat and how it changes between the different EQs.   Generally we find that it is in the top end that digital emulations of analog EQs diverge the most, but here it seems that they are the closest of the three tests.   We are impressed with how well they nailed the top end, and you'd be most likely totally happy with any of them in your kit.

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Handy Links and if you have been so inspired you would like to buy one of these -

Check out the original API550a here

Check out the UAD API550a here

Check out the WAVES API550a here

Check out the VOLKO QA here


Extra info for those interested in how we make our calls on what stuff sounds like -

Listening tests and assumptions are determined, double checked or signed off at Gearshoot HQ on ATC110ASL Pro monitors.   We reckon that they give us a pretty good chance at getting it pretty well in the ballpark of what it is going to sound like on most other people’s monitors.   We also headphone check on Extreme Isolation EX-29’s to hear what is going on in that spectrum and to hear what the world of headphones can show us.


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