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5 Great LA-2A Compressor Plugins

The LA-2A is arguably one of the most popular compressors ever invented. Revered for its rich, warm tone and smooth, musical compression characteristics, the LA-2A has been a favorite amongst engineers for over 50 years.

In this article, we’ll break down some of the most popular LA-2A emulations to help you determine which one is right for you.

Teletronix LA-2A 

The LA-2A was the first compressor to use a tube-driven optical attenuator to achieve gain reduction. The T4 optical attenuator is entirely program-dependent, allowing the compression ratio and release time to vary greatly based on the source material.

The average attack time is fixed at 10 milliseconds, but the LA-2A’s signature sound comes from its unique release characteristic. The initial release time is fixed at 60 milliseconds for 50% of the release, and anywhere from one to 15 seconds for the full release, depending on the program material.

Due to the largely automatic nature of the LA-2A, it features very simple controls: Peak-Reduction knob, Gain Control for make-up gain, and a Limit/Compress switch to adjust the compression ratio.

About the Audio Files

We put some of our favorite LA-2A emulations to the test on drums, bass and vocals with approximately 3 to 5 dB of gain reduction.

Here are unprocessed versions of the three audio files …

Drums

Bass

Vocals

1. UAD Teletronix LA-2A

Universal Audio offers one of the most accurate LA-2A emulations available, which makes sense since they own the patent. While it doesn’t offer any new features, it does an excellent job of capturing the LA-2A’s signature sound and analog warmth.

In addition to the standard LA-2A Classic, Universal Audio also offers the LA-2A Classic Leveler Plugin Collection, which features emulations of the original “Gray” Teletronix version, the reissued “Silver” UREI version, and the exceptionally rare predecessor to the LA-2A, the LA-2. Each model offers a slightly different take on the iconic sound. 

For the purposes of this shootout, we used the “classic” leveling amplifier. 

As always, you’ll need some form of UAD DSP hardware to support these plugins.

UAD Teletronix LA-2A – Drums

UAD Teletronix LA-2A – Bass

UAD Teletronix LA-2A – Vocals

 

2. PSP MixPressor2

PSP’s MixPressor2 is easily the most advanced LA-2A-style compressor available. It emulates the classic characteristics of valve and opto-compressors as well as modern compression designs. 

The MixPressor2 features fully variable attack and release times, including automatic settings. It also offers options for look-ahead compression for a more modern sound, as well as selectable RMS and peak modes for a variety of sonic options.

It features a Mix control for parallel compression as well as an input for sidechain compression. It also offers a highly configurable sidechain filter — including an option to use the unit as a de-esser. 

The first thing you’re likely to notice about the MixPressor2 is its rich, warm analog saturation. Load it on any channel for an instant analog vibe.

The MixPressor2 is available as part of PSP’s MixPack2.

In order to emulate the sound of a traditional LA-2A, we used the “fast” attack setting, “slow” release setting in RMS mode. 

PSP Mixpressor 2 – Drums

PSP Mixpressor 2 – Bass

PSP Mixpressor 2 – Vocals

3. Brainworx bx_opto

The bx_opto by Brainworx is packed with versatile new features not found on the original LA-2A. The most notable of which is the Speed control, which allows you to dial in the transient response of the compressor. While the bx_opto does utilize the program dependent attack and release times, the Speed control enables you to shape the sound in ways the original LA-2A never could. 

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bx_opto also features a fully sweepable sidechain filter all the way from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. Choose between high-pass, low-pass, gentle band-pass or aggressive band-pass filter options. A dedicated Mix control lets you dial in the perfect amount of parallel compression.

In order to emulate the sound of a traditional LA-2A, we used the default Speed and Sidechain settings.

Brainworx bx_opto – Drums

Brainworx bx_opto – Bass

Brainworx bx_opto – Vocals

 

4. Native Instruments VC 2A

The VC 2A from Native Instruments sounds silky-smooth and offers an array of updated features. It still utilizes the original automatic attack and release controls, but it introduces a high-pass filter to avoid pegging the needle when compressing bass-heavy signals. 

It also features a dedicated sidechain gain control for sidechain compression and a wet/dry control for parallel compression. 

And at just $99, it’s one of the most affordable emulations on the list.

Native Instruments VC 2A – Drums

Native Instruments VC 2A – Bass

Native Instruments VC 2A – Vocals

5. IK Multimedia White 2A Leveling Amplifier

IK Multimedia’s While 2A Leveling Amplifier nails the unique program dependent characteristic of the original LA-2A. However, it doesn’t emulate the analog tube characteristics of the analog units, making it an excellent choice for smoothing out dynamic performances with transparency.

The White 2A Leveling Amplifier is also available as part of their T-RackS 5 Deluxe and T-RackS 5 MAX.

IK Multimedia White 2A – Drums

IK Multimedia White 2A – Bass

IK Multimedia White 2A – Vocals

Honorary Mentions

These are just five of our favorite LA-2A emulations — there are dozens available, each with their own sound. 

McDSP’s 6030 Ultimate Compressor features two modules modeled after the LA-2A: the Opto-C and the Opto-L, modeled after the compression and limiting characteristics of the original unit.

Waves offer a spot-on emulation with their CLA-2A, with optional analog noise.

Cakewalk also offers a meticulously modeled emulation with a variable high-pass filter called the CA-2A.

And the best part is, most of the plugins on this list offer free trials, so you can try them out for yourself!

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Brad Pack

Brad Pack

Brad Pack is an award-winning audio engineer and writer based in Chicago, IL. He currently owns and operates Punchy Kick, a professional mixing and mastering studio that specializes in pop punk, emo, punk, grunge, and alternative music. He has been helping artists connect with fans through emotionally resonant mixes, cohesive masters, and insightful guidance for over 10 years. Check out his website PunchyKick.com or say hi on Instagram @PunchyKick

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