The Manley Labs Massive Passive is a favorite tool of high end studios and mastering engineers for its ability to open out and when needed color a mix.   For those that do not know; the Massive Passive is a 2 channel 4 band passive tube EQ.  It’s a complex beast and one that takes a long time to learn all its tricks and subtleties and comes with a price tag to reflect its complexity and quality.   Up until recently that meant that it was out of the reach of many engineers.   That was until the folks at Universal Audio spent the time modelling it so now you can run a bunch of them at once in a mix.

So that brings up the often asked question "How does it stack up to the real thing?”.

The Massive Passive is often referred to as a ‘Pultec on steroids’, but what does that really mean unless you can hear it for yourself (and compare it to an actual Pultec)?

So here is a couple of tests we’ve set up of the analog Massive Passive vs the UAD emulation and a vintage Pultec from 1971 so you can compare and decide for yourself.


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


Manley Labs Massive Passive

UAD Massive Passive

Pultec EQP 1A3




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There is really no disparity in the low end between the real Manley and the UAD on the low end - Granted there is not much low end in the sample to begin with.   The extension of the curve of the boosts into the lower mids seems effectively the same, whereas the Pultec, with its wider curves has an extended range and adds some 3-400Hz into the vocals.   You would potentially be able to get this same effect out of the Massive Passives with a wider curve of the boosts - but these were tested at a slightly different Q (to be more closer to many of our other EQs in Gearshoot) and the EQP 1A3 was tested with the Bandwidth set to 12 o’clock for the high end band.
From listening to the mid range boosts on this the analog Manley is cleaner than the UAD. The UAD is very very similar but as we find in general with analog pieces of gear, the analog Massive passive sounds wider and cleaner.   For whatever reason I don't think the UAD is quite recapturing this characteristic, but would you hear that amount of difference in a mix with 50 tracks, or on a standard home system?   Maybe not...   In saying that - they are still damn close.   Especially consider this is just compared with the sound of our Manley unit and other units sound different depending on factors such as tubes etc.

The Pultec on the mid-range is really smooth.   That's all there is too it really, not as much of an obvious peak point as the Massive Passive (both analog and digital) and a very smooth lush boost which shows why Pultecs are so popular for vocals.
In the top end the Pultec and the Massive Passives (both of them) are a lot more similar.   The analog Massive Passive has a bit more forwardness and fullness compared to the UAD plugin but again, we are impressed with how accurate their modelling is.



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On the low end the Pultec compared to the Massive Passive(s) brings up more of the harmonics on the bass.   Again this could be because of the very wide curves on the Pultec and could potentially be achieved on the Massive Passive by having a wider Q setting, although it could be the circuitry differences e.g. the (much sort after) transformers the Pultecs use.   When comparing the UAD to the original the analog Massive Passive sounds warmer and fuller and pulls the bass a bit more forward because of the that.   The UAD Massive Passive sounds ever so slightly tighter or less rich but they are very close.
On the midrange and top end it is the same sort of deal as exhibited on the vocal shootout. Very very close between the UAD and the analog Massive Passive, with the analog beasty having a touch more forwardness, lushness and spaciousness.

Acoustic Guitar

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In the low end the analog Massive Passive seems to have a little bit more warmth to the low end compared to the UAD version.   The Pultec has a wider Q so it extends up a bit more into the midrange of the acoustic.   On the mid range boost the UAD Massive Passive sounds a touch brighter whereas the analog Massive Passive retains its smoothness on the boost and gives some more width.   The Pultec sounds very very similar to the real Massive Passive with maybe just being ever so slightly less boxy in the low mids.

On the top end there are similar characteristics to what is exhibited on the mid range boosts. Both of the Manleys are lush however the analog Massive Passive is smoother than the UAD which has a slight bite to it.   The Pultec exhibits that same smooth tube feel on the top end and is very pleasant.


What We Think

Even though throughout this test the analog Manley has vibe and high end shine wise stood above the UAD plugin version the UAD version is a really accurate emulation of a legendary piece of gear, (we are happy we are lucky enough to have both options at our studio).   Weighed up against the Pultec, there are, we find notable similarities but also these two types of EQ have (unsurprisingly) very unique characters (go on, buy all of them ;) ).   When considering pricing of the units it is great how you can get a UAD plugin that comes so close to the original unit (as mentioned, would you notice the difference in one instance in a band mix? (you might though on a solo vocalist with guitar).   The analog Manley Massive Passive does have more lushness, forwardness and width whilst retaining ultra smoothness (probably something to do with the fact of having real transformer and tubes), which is a definite strength for mastering over the plugin.   Yes the Pultec does come off as fuller in some of the tests but that is possibly also due to its much wider boost curves than  the Manley in these cases (and with more bands and more selectable frequencies) and it has its own flavor of awesomeness (which is why people consider selling kidneys to buy the originals).

One thing to remember is that these reviews and the listening tests don't take into account the usability of the gear.   The no frills layout of the EQP 1A3 is nice and the large knobs are great for dialing in sounds, and is great for impressing other engineers.   One of the thrills of having a piece of gear like the real Massive Passive over one of the UAD plugins is of course the usability of it (especially re haptics). Having the sounds you want, a lot more literally put - at your fingertips is a definite advantage.   A piece of gear as intuitive and well laid out as the Massive Passive makes for a great workflow and is a pleasure to use.   Even though the UAD is of course laid out the same you don’t get the same feeling clicking and moving the knobs around with a mouse no matter how responsive it may be.   Outboard gear has the advantage that you don’t have to look at it in the same manner as a plugin on a screen, which means more of your brain can focus on listening rather than seeing (when we get a chance we’ll throw around some science to back this claim up).


Handy Links -

Check out the Manley Labs Massive Passive

Check out the UAD Massive Passive

Pulse Techniques has started up again, and here’s where you can find out more about them and their Pultecs

Check a cool article on the Pultec EQP 1A3 Here


Special thanks to Kog Mastering for the Analog Massive Passive and Roundhead Studios for the Pultec EQP 1A3 used in this test.


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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 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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