Best LA-2A Plugin

The original LA-2A by Teletronix has been a beloved compressor for many music producers for over half a century.  It was quite the innovation for its time, as it was unlike any other compressor. 

It contained an electro-optical attenuation system that was driven by tubes, allowing for instant gain reduction without increasing the harmonic distortion.

LA-2A Plugins

Jim Lawrence, the founder of Teletronix, pioneered the use of photocells as a means of controlling audio gain back in the early 60s. 

OBS Studio - Best Streaming & Recor...
OBS Studio - Best Streaming & Recording Settings

This innovation revolutionized audio compression, as the optical compression technology surpassed the transparency and stability of previous compression circuits. 

This design was later patented by MT Bill Putnam, the founder of Universal Audio, who proceeded to manufacture the LA-2A compressor for many years after. 

This optical attenuation is responsible for the unique characteristics of this compressor.  This is why it is a much sought after compressor, and why it has been emulated by many digital plugins. 

We’re going to look at some of the best LA-2A emulator plugins, and we’ll discuss how authentically they emulate the sound of the original compressor.

There are a wide range of LA-2A plugins available, some of which are free and some are paid for.  In the following list, we will look at the features of each plugin, along with the pros and cons of each of them individually.  

Best Free LA-2A Emulators 

Sonic Anomaly – SLAX 

SLAX by Sonic Anomaly is a free compressor plugin that is loosely based on the LA-2A.  It is a vintage-style compressor with a distinctly dark character.  It works great on vocals, drums, and guitars. 

Features 

The SLAX compressor VST features the following controls:

  • Gain – The overall output volume 
  • Peak – The level of compression 
  • Emphasis – The level of high frequency influence in the side chain.  This is great for smoothing out any sibilants in vocal tracks. 
  • Comp/Lim – For adjusting the speed, ratio, and knee of the compressor.
  • Overflow – The output limiter indicator engages once the output goes above -0.1dbfs. 

Pros 

  • Free to download 
  • Simple interface 
  • Authentic vintage compressor plugin 

Cons

  • Limited features and functionality

AdHd – Leveling Tool 

The Leveling Tool from AdHd is another vintage-style compressor plugin that is also inspired by similar tube driven compressor units.  It features variable ratio controls, and useful attack and release controls.  

The best thing about this plugin is the tube emulation.  If you’re after the sound of the driven tubes of the LA-2A, this plugin can get you there. 

When driven, it can give a warm, fuzzy character to whatever you’re applying it too.  It sounds great on bass guitar, in particular.  

The plugin also features a side chain filter with a dry/wet control, so you can use the Leveling Tool as a gentle leveller, a tone box, or a peak limiter.  

Features 

  • 4 x oversampling 
  • 64-bit internal processing 
  • Windows or Mac compatible 

Pros 

  • Free to download 
  • Simple interface 
  • Great tube emulation 

Cons

  • Limited functionality 

Analog Obsession – LALA 

Analog Obsession’s first venture into LA-2A emulation, the LALA, is a plugin that delivers on all fronts in comparison to the original hardware, along with a few additional extras such as a sidechain input, 3-band sidechain filter, mix control, and fast and easy parallel compression functionality.  

Features 

  • 3-band sidechain filter 
  • HPF – Low-end cut control
  • MF/MG – Adjusts the sensitivity for mid-range frequencies 
  • HF/FLAT – Adjusts the sensitivity for high frequencies 
  • MIX – Adjusts the wet/dry signal levels 
  • Mac and PC compatible 

Pros 

  • Authentic LA2A emulation 
  • Extra features such as sidechain input and filter 
  • Free to download 

Cons

  • Limited features and functionality

Best Paid LA-2A Plugins

CakeWalk – CA-2A T-Type Leveling Amplifier 

This plugin brought to you by Cakewalk lets you bring the magic of the original LA-2A compressor to your very own tracks.  It features a simple interface that is easy to use as it only contains a few controls.  

With this plugin you can quickly and easily get professional-sounding results, without the need to endlessly tweak and change the different parameters.

It keeps all the characteristic traits of the original LA-2A unit, thanks to its tube emulation and T4 circuit emulation.  This meticulous detail is what makes the CA-2A really stand out from the competition. 

Another thing that makes this type of compressor different from other types of dynamic processors is that the gain reduction is different at various points on the frequency spectrum. 

This is different to most compressors that have a fixed ratio across the whole frequency spectrum, and it’s what gives this compressor its signature sound.

The result of these unique characteristics is a natural and transparent sounding compressor.  There’s a smoothness to its sound that is hard to come by with other types of compressors or compressor plugins.  This smoothness and transparency lends itself well to vocal performances. 

Features 

  • Modelled meticulously after the LA-2A
  • No latency 
  • Smooth, transparent gain reduction up to 40dB
  • Gain reduction is dependent on the frequency of the source input 
  • Classic and fast reset photocell modes 
  • Support for both Mac and PC

Pros 

  • Great for vocal tracking 
  • Meticulously modelled after the LA-2A 
  • Professional, transparent, smooth-sounding compression 

Cons

  • Mac minimum OS X 10.7.5

IK Multimedia – White 2A

The White 2A from IK Multimedia is another tube-based compressor emulator plugin that has a lot of unique characteristics. 

This is because it emulates the optical compression of other vintage units, such as the LA-2A.  

Although the White 2A does emulate the frequency dependent compression of the original LA-2A unit, it does not emulate its tube-driven sound. 

This could either be a benefit or a drawback, depending on what you want to get out of this plugin.  If you want to capture a performance in a transparent way, whilst smoothing out the transients yet maintaining a natural sound, this may be the plugin for you. 

Features 

  • High quality oversampling 
  • Transparent digital processing 
  • Modelled accurately after vintage analog compressors 
  • No latency 
  • Supports sampling rates of up to 192 kHz
  • Supports both Mac and PC 

Pros 

  • Transparent, smooth compression 
  • Precisely modelled after the LA-2A’s optical compression 
  • Perfect for vocal processing 

Cons

  • No tube emulation 

Waves CLA-2A

The CLA-2A from Waves is a faithful emulation of the classic LA-2A electro-optical compressor, as it encapsulates the original’s smooth, transparent characteristics that made it such a favorite of many. 

This plugin sounds just as good on guitar as it does on bass, but it really comes into its own when applied to vocals.  Best of all, this plugin features presets personally created by the legendary recording engineer Chris Lord-Alge himself.  

Features 

  • Modelled meticulously and accurately after the original LA-2A
  • Features both compressor and limiter modes
  • Features a sidechain with a frequency filter
  • No latency 
  • Supports both Mac and PC 

Pros 

  • Faithful emulation of the original unit 
  • Zero latency 
  • Features useful presets 

Cons

  • Rather slow attack time

Native Instruments – VC 2A

Made in collaboration with Softube, the VC-2A is a faithful recreation of the original LA-2A unit with a few additional features that the original didn’t have. 

These additional features include a sidechain input, allowing you to use this plugin for a wider variety of applications.  

Another feature that you wouldn’t find on the original unit is a dry control, which makes parallel compression possible. 

Also, a low-cut dial is also included which allows you to adjust what frequencies you want to compress.  This is a great tool to avoid the over-compression of bass frequencies, which can get out of control pretty quickly otherwise. 

Native Instruments’ VC-2A has all the smoothness of the original unit, thanks to its automatic attack and release controls. Its wide array of additional controls and parameters make this compressor VST an incredibly useful tool for a variety of use cases. 

Features 

  • High quality, smooth, vintage compressor emulation
  • Simple, easy-to-use interface 
  • Natural, transparent sounding compression 
  • Features a sidechain input and a low-cut detector 
  • Supports both Mac and PC 

Pros 

  • Authentic-sounding transparent compression 
  • Additional features for a variety of applications 
  • High pass filter to avoid over-compressing bass frequencies 

Cons

  • Can only be bought as part of the “Vintage Compressors” package from Native Instruments 

PSP – MixPressor2

The MixPressor2 from PSP is a real all rounder when it comes to compressors.  It can be used for entire mixes or individual tracks. 

Not only does it accurately emulate the signature characteristics of vintage compression units like the LA-2A, but it also has a wide range of modern compression types. 

The MixPressor has a useful sidechain feature that can be configured in multiple ways, changing the way the plugin operates and sounds significantly.  The plugin also contains a de-esser filter that works perfectly on vocal tracks. 

Features 

  • Multiple soft-knee style compression types 
  • Peak or RMS level detection 
  • External and internal side chain input with a bell-style filter
  • Can operate on a limiter or soft saturation system to preserve peaks over 0dBFS.
  • Supports both Mac and PC.

Pros 

  • Many different compression options 
  • Works on both individual tracks and entire mixes 
  • Can operate as a limiter or de-esser 

Cons

  • Lots of different controls to get a grasp on

Avid – Classic Compressors – BF-2A

The BF-2A is part of the Classic Compressors bundle pack, which features many classic hardware compressor emulations from different eras. 

The BF-2A is made by Digidesign, and it is a faithful recreation of the world renowned LA-2A electro-optical compressor. 

With this plugin, you get all the signature characteristics of the original LA-2A, such as its smooth, transparent compression along with its unbeatable warmth and tube emulation.

Features 

  • Modelled faithfully after the LA-2A
  • Classic compressed tones with signature tube emulation providing warm saturation 
  • Supports both Mac and PC 

Pros 

  • Accurate emulation of the original unit 
  • Characteristic warmth and saturation 

Cons

  • Only available as part of a bundle 

BrainWorx – bx_opto 

The bx_opto from BrainWorx takes all the signature characteristics of the original LA-2A and brings them into an easy-to-use plugin. 

This compressor operates in a characteristically musical way, and it works well on pretty much any type of audio signal, whether it be vocals, drums, acoustic guitar, or electric bass.  

New possibilities are created in this plugin thanks to its variable speed control, which simulates the changes in speed that you would get in the original LA-2A, from the variations in the photocell’s reaction to light. 

This knob allows you to control the release times that shape the transients of the audio signal in a way that would be impossible with an analog optical compressor. 

In this sense, the bx_opto is even better than the original hardware upon which it is based. 

Features 

  • Analog sounding compression
  • Provides a high degree of control 
  • Source-dependent gain reduction 
  • Variable speed dial creates a unique transient response 
  • Features a sidechain input with a fully sweepable filter 
  • Wet/Dry mix knob for parallel compression capability 
  • Support for both Mac and PC 

Pros 

  • Authentic optical compressor sounds
  • Lots of control and different functions 
  • Can go beyond what hardware optical compressors can achieve 

Cons

  • None 

Universal Audio – UAD LA-2A

Since Universal Audio own the patent to the original LA-2A optical compressor, it’s no surprise that they are also responsible for the most accurate emulation of this legendary compression unit. 

While it doesn’t have any additional features that the original doesn’t have, it stays true to the original more than any other compressor plugin on our list.

The UAD LA-2A from Universal Audio captures the signature warmth of the original hardware perfectly. Unfortunately though, Universal Audio plugins can only be run through their own proprietary audio interfaces or UAD units. 

Features 

  • Perfectly accurate emulation of the original LA-2A
  • Emulates the entire electronic path of the original for authentic analog character 
  • Easy-to-use interface 
  • Perfect for vocals, drums, bass etc. 
  • Contains many presets from famous recording engineers 
  • Support for both Mac and PC 

Pros 

  • Pitch perfect emulation of the original LA-2A
  • Features multiple useful presets 
  • Authentic analog emulation 

Cons

  • Can only be run on proprietary devices 

LA-2A Plugin Buyers’ Guide

Authentic Emulation 

If you want a true-blue emulation of the original hardware, and you don’t want any additional features that weren’t on the original LA-2A, then you should look for the most accurate representation of the original unit. 

The Universal Audio UAD LA-2A is the most accurate emulation of the original unit, as they are the company who own the patent to it. 

Additional Features and Functionality 

If you want extra features and controls, such as the emulation of different vintage units, more modern-style compressors, then you may want something that is more of an all-rounder. 

These plugins can be useful tools if you’re producing in many different styles of music, and you want a single plugin to do it all.

The MixPressor2 from PSP is a prime example of this, as this compressor plugin has a huge range of additional features and functionality. 

Latency 

If you want to use a compressor as you’re tracking vocals, then you will most definitely want to use a compressor plugin that has zero latency.  

Side Chain Input 

Side chain input is a feature that was not included on the original unit of the LA-2A, but it is a feature that is very commonly used and expected to see on more modern compressors. 

The side chain input can be used creatively for a range of different effects, such as the characteristic ducking or pumping you hear typically in EDM. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is An Optical Compressor?

Optical compressors use an optical photocell (a source of light and a light detector) as a means of audio gain reduction within a circuit.  Optical compressors are generally slower to engage compared to FET and VCA type compressors. 

What Is Attack Time?

On a compressor unit, the attack time is the length of time before the compressor engages in response to an audio signal.  A sound has to reach a specified amplitude threshold before the signal is dipped. 

What Is Release Time?

The release time is the length of time that elapses before the compressor disengages once the signal goes below the threshold. 

What Is The Knee?

On a compressor, the knee refers to the point at which the compressor is engaged.  A hard knee is a more distinct change in attenuation, whereas a soft knee is more gradual. 

What Is A Compressor For?

A compressor is a tool for many different circumstances.  It is typically used to regulate signal peaks, basically smoothing out the transients of an audio signal. 

On an acoustic guitar, for example, a compressor will even out the differences between hard and soft strums on the guitar strings, making the overall sound more even and “smooth”. 

Vinnie

I'm Vinnie, and I'm here to support you to create your own studio at home, whether it’s for photography, recording audio, podcasts, or videos!

Recent Posts