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The Best LA2A Compressor Plugins for Audio Engineers

All Our Best Compressor Plugin Lists:

LA2A || Diode Bridge || Bus || Mastering || 1176 || Vocal

The Teletronix LA-2A is an all-time classic program-dependent optical compressor originally released by Teletronix in the '60s. The patented technology went from Teletronix to Babcock Engineering and was finally purchased by the son of Universal Audio founder, Bill Putnam jr. This is a one-of-a-kind compressor because of its ingenious optical compression design. Since this meticulously designed tube amplifier is so widely used by professional mixers to level up basically any audio signal. In this article, we've listed the best LA-2A emulations after testing each one meticulously and using them in our productions for over 3 years.

What Is The LA-2A Compressor & What Does It Do?

The LA-2A compressor is an optical compressor. It uses an electroluminescent panel and a light-dependent resistor to achieve gain reduction, which enables it to preserve dynamic performances while accomplishing extreme-level regulation.

The LA-2A compressor's program-dependent optical compression relies on a tube-driven optical attenuator with a largely automatic nature, which is extremely helpful for vocals, bass guitar, and acoustic instruments. These elements can be very dynamic, which is why other compressors are not as suitable because they can cause distortion or unwanted pumping.

The Famous LA-2A & 1176 Combination

Combining compressors is a pretty common thing to do when mixing. One of the most famous combinations, particularly on vocals, is 1176 followed by the Teletronix LA 2A.

The idea behind this combination is to use 1176 for peak reduction due to its remarkably fast attack time, and then the Teletronix la 2a compressor to level up the signal. The result is a perfectly upfront vocal nicely compressed and levelled.

This combination is often used in Hip-Hop and pop vocals but can be applied to a wide variety of situations where you might need this effect.

What Are The Best LA2A Compressor Plugins?

Here's the complete list of the best LA-2A plugins:

  1. Black Rooster Audio VLA-2A
  2. Waves CLA2A
  3. IK Multimedia T-RackS White 2A
  4. Slate Digital FG-2A
  5. Overloud GEM Comp LA
  6. UAD LA-2A leveller collection
  7. PSP Mixpressor (included in MixPack)
  8. Brainworx_opto
  9. Native Instruments VC2A

1. Black Rooster Audio VLA-2A

Compatibility: Win7+, macOS 10.9+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit, 32-bit
Price: $129

Pros

Incredibly easy to use

Great to use on percussive elements and make them feel tighter

Amazing to apply large amounts of gain reduction unnoticeably

Makes the sound feel fuller and a bit gritty

Cons

❌ Doesn't have the high-frequency pre-emphasis

❌ Doesn't include a mix knob for parallel use

❌ Can't filter out low frequencies

Black Rooster Audio brought us a fine true-to-the-original model of the Teletronix la 2a compressor.

Similarly to the original hardware, the VLA-2A is incredibly simple to use as it doesn't have but a few controls: the peak reduction knob, input gain, compressor and limiter modes, and different monitoring options.

The sound of the VLA-2A is fairly comparable with the original unit. It's very well-balanced and full, although it doesn't have the classic filter sidechain screw, to filter out the low frequencies.

How does it sound?

Before
On vocals
On bass
On ukulele
After
It sounds deeper and fuller. Compressing more than 5db and still pretty clean
Really good at maintaining low frequencies without losing clarity
Also good on acoustic guitars, it adds nice harmonics to the mid-range

2. Waves Audio CLA-2A

Compatibility: Win10+, macOS 10.15.7+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $249 (usually on sale for $39)

Pros

✅ It adds high-frequency harmonics, making it very good to add clarity

Good to bring detail and brittle to acoustic instruments and electric rock guitars

Great for bus m/s compression, particularly on drums or an entire mix

✅ Low CPU usage

Cons

❌ It can be too aggressive and cause pumping

❌ It's brighter than other LA-2A models, which can make some sources harsh

❌ It's too thin compared to other plugins

Next in line, we have Waves Audio's CLA-2A, which is another emulation of Teletronix's hardware, but with a few more additions than Black Roosters.

Waves' version includes plug-in presets, a 50Hz and 60Hz hum generator for more analog sound, which is also present in several of their other analog emulations, and a little screw at the bottom right, which is an internal sidechain high pass filter.

The latter is a pretty important control because you can prevent low frequencies from triggering the compressor allowing a cleaner sound.

If you turn this little screw clockwise, it'll go to “flat”, meaning that the CLA-2A will compress all frequencies the same. However, if you turn it counter-clockwise, it'll introduce high frequencies into the compressor's sidechain, making it more sensitive to high frequencies rather than the lower ones.

How does it sound?

Before
On vocals
On bass
On ukulele
After
Very similar to Black Rooster's, but cleaner
Much better at keeping low-frequency information
It works better than Black rooster for cleaner results, also pretty good with glueing similar signals together and making them sound fuller.

3. IK Multimedia T-Racks White 2A

Compatibility: Win7+, macOS 10.10+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $79.99

Pros

✅ It has a very warm and full tone, which can be great for vocals

Great for bus m/s compression, particularly on drums or an entire mix

It offers one of the cleanest compression qualities in the entire list going even beyond 10dB without any audible distortion or pump

Cons

❌ Lacks a low-frequency filter

❌ Can't be used for parallel

❌ Doesn't include a high-frequency detector

IK Multimedia gives us their White 2A plugin emulating this iconic compressor. In this case, they've improved the aggressiveness of the CLA-2A, making it react a lot softer to the source material and the simpleness of the VLA-2A, by adding some stereo processing features and a reset button.

The White 2A has a cleaner sound than its previously mentioned competitors and introduces a very distinctive harmonic distortion to the top end, which helps make the input source feel more present and natural.

Its compression is pretty transparent, even when it goes above 7dBs of gain reduction, and it's a really good option to make a very dynamic vocal consistent without pumping or over-compression.

4. Slate Digital FG-2A

Compatibility: Win7+, macOS 10.11+”, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $149

Pros

It's particularly smooth and not as upfront as other models like the CLA-2A or Black Rooster's

It's effortless on vocals and bass with a great definition on the high-mids

Simple design makes it easy to find the best settings fast

Mix control and stereo link switch enable it for bus processing and parallel use

Cons

❌ The compression knob is too soft, so you need to drag it further than with other models

Slate Digital has its own particular version of the Teletronix LA 2A compressor but they've included the sidechain high pass filter that you saw in Waves' plugin, stereo link/unlinking possibilities as in IK multimedia's, and raised the bet including a mix knob for parallel compression.

Compared to all of the above, it's the most balanced in terms of sound. Although it does introduce some harmonic distortion to the upper mids, it does it in a very smooth way. It also has very simple controls, and it's the best option so far to use on bass-heavy signals, because of the sidechain filter and the mix control.

5. Overloud GEM Comp LA

Compatibility: WinVista+, macOS 10.9+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit, 32-bit
Price: $119

Pros

Full control over the tone and character of the compressor

Low-frequency sensitivity knob makes it amazing for low-frequency-based sources like kicks and bass

Includes an LA-2A optical compressor and LA-3A solid-state compressor models, increasing its versatility

Lets you dial in as much distortion as you need for the track or remove it completely for cleaner results

Cons

❌ Couldn't find any

Overloud made one of the best 1176 models available and now they've done it again with this classic and the LA-3A. Just as with the FET compressor, they've included several different features that make this plugin one of our favourites from this list.

With the GEM Comp LA, you'll be able to control different aspects of the behaviour, like low-frequency sensitivity and harmonic distortion, you get a mix knob for easy parallel compression, stereo and mid/side operation, and you also get a model of the LA-3A, with its own distinctive sonic attributes.

The best part about this one, though, is not just the 2-for-1 deal they give you bringing the LA-3A to the table, but also the fact that you can use either as a saturator since you can basically turn off the compression.

We definitely recommend using this plugin to process guitars, vocals, and bass, and using the harmonic distortion control to dial in subtle saturation. Particularly with strummed guitars and bass, you'll find the most benefit out of this option.

How does it sound?

Before
On vocals
On bass
On ukulele
After
Even with the harmonics almost at maximum, this is the most transparent of them all after UAD's.
Unlike Waves' and Black Rooster's Gem Comp isn't as good at fattening up the low-end.
It's really good for taming harshness, listen to how it shaped the attack of the strums and left it just perfectly balanced

6. UAD LA-2A leveller collection

Compatibility: Win, macOS, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit, 32-bit UAD hardware or Spark required
Price: $149

Pros

Thorough emulations of different versions of the LA-2A

Easy-to-use interfaces, designed after the original hardware units

Transparent and smooth response to any audio input

Amazing to use particularly on vocals

Cons

❌ Makeup gain control is boosted by default

Universal Audio has its own model of this Opto compressor and it's the most natural so far in this list. It brings to the table a very punchy sound with seamless compression and a very satisfactory distortion in the high mids that brings air to anything it touches.

This version of the LA 2A doesn't add any extra features to the Opto compressor model, but rather it thoroughly recreates the sound characteristics and unique distortion that made the LA 2A as famous as it is.

Universal Audio provides us with this collection of three generations of this iconic optical compressor: the LA 2A silver, the LA 2A grey, and the LA-2. All of these different Opto compressors emulate the entire electronic path of the original uad hardware as well as their unique sonic characteristics.

7. PSP Mixpressor

Compatibility: Win7+, macOS 10.11+, VST, AU, AAX, RTAS, 64-bit
Price: $199

Pros

✅ It lets you set the knee, and includes a variety of fine-tuning options for you to nail the best settings

The GUI feels effortless, allowing you to locate and fix any parameter in less than a second with great precision

✅ It's ideal to bring life to drums and bass

Incredibly versatile compressor with optoelectric circuitry

Cons

❌ Couldn't find any

This is a very dope model of the LA 2A compressor as PSP decided to get out of the box and give it their own twist. This interesting model is suitable for just about any program material, including a full mix or instrument bus.

Mixpressor gives us more than the original automatic attack and program-dependent release time, it provides fully operational attack and releases controls, a mix knob to mix compressed signal with the original, fully sweepable sidechain filters, lookahead, an RMS control, and two different limiters options.

This plugin can easily become your go-to compressor as it gives you full control over its behaviour like no other model of this optical compressor has and sounds amazing.

8. Brainworx bx_opto

Compatibility: Win8+, macOS 10.11+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $199

Pros

Free if you have a Presonus interface or mixer, and a MyPresonus account

Fully customizable sidechain compression and filtering

The speed control works like an attack knob, and it's really helpful when you use this plugin on vocals

Crystalline and precise

Cons

❌ Couldn't find any

Brainworx is very well known for its superior plug-in emulations and here they give us a simple, yet amazingly effective optical compressor emulating the classic LA 2A with some unique additions.

Bx_Opto doesn't offer nearly as much control as the Mixpressor by PSP, except for a mix control knob. Instead, they've decided to preserve the original program-dependent release time and average attack time, although they've included a speed knob to control how fast the compression will engage.

However, the magic of this optical compressor lies in the sidechain section, where you can choose between four different filters, including bell and bandaxal filters, to set up what triggers the compressor and a knob to adjust the frequency range of the filters.

The latter is extremely useful to do things like band-selective compression, de-essing, or filtering. In plain English, you can enhance the low end of a mix in mastering, increase the punch and body of your drums, or enhance the midrange of vocal performance, to name a few examples.

9. Native Instruments VC2A

Compatibility: Win10+, macOS 10.15+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $49

Pros

Suitable for parallel use

Lets you set the level of the external sidechain input, which makes it easy to find the perfect balance

It's particularly transparent, so it's great for clean results

✅ Includes a filter to fine-tune the reaction high-frequency detector

Cons

❌ Couldn't find any

Finally, we have Native Instrument's LA2A compressor plugin, which is pretty transparent and natural-sounding. It features a high-pass filter, mix control, and a dedicated sidechain gains control, which is good to create pumping and similar effects with sidechain compression.

It's a pretty straightforward compressor plugin, and it's particularly good with midrange-based program material like pianos, guitars, and vocals. It's not the most faithful model, but it's one of the most transparent models on this list.

How does it sound?

Before
On vocals
On bass
On ukulele
After
It sounds very clean on vocals, and it's good at rounding them up
Not particularly good on bass, it doesn't do as well at keeping the lower frequencies as its peers.
It's best to use it on mid-range-focused sources.

What Are The Best Free LA 2A Compressor Plug-ins?

Here's the complete list of the best free LA-2A plugins:

  1. ADHD Leveling Tool
  2. Analog Obsession Lala
  3. Klanghelm DC-1A

1. ADHD Leveling Tool

Compatibility: Win7+, macOS 10.11+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit

Pros

Different compression ratio options

Has the most fine-tuning options for the compressor's detector and behaviour

Internal sidechain high-pass filter lets you filter out low-frequencies from 0 to 250hz

Lets you dial the amount of tube distortion or keep it completely clean

Cons

❌ Doesn't include any user presets

Leveling Tool is a free LA 2A-style software compressor with several unique controls, such as different compression ratios, parallel compression, and variable attack and release time.

It comes with a very comprehensive GUI that keeps everything at hand, making it outstandingly easy to use. This plugin is amazing to use on vocals and drums to make them sound big and exciting.

This Opto compressor is pretty subtle and allows you to reach the ideal optical compression sound for your input within a few moments. Although it doesn't include presets, it makes controlling audio gain reduction fairly easy and transparent, and its sound quality and versatility are just as good as the Gem Comp LA. This plugin is an absolute steal.

How does it sound?

Before
On vocals
On bass
On ukulele
After
It adds a pretty nice harmonic distortion and allows a very transparent compression, although it's far more sensible than its peers
It's amazing at keeping low-frequency information, just as good as the CLA2A and the VCLA.
It's also very versatile and allows transparency and aggressive processing and colouration.

2. Analog Obsession Lala

Compatibility: Win7+, macOS 10.11+, VST, AU, 64-bit

Pros

Amazing sound quality, even comparable to the LA-2A plugin by Universal Audio

Includes an HPF to prevent lower frequencies from triggering the compressor

The mid-frequency filter knob is great for filtering out awkward high-mids from your input, like 7KHz in a vocal, or 7.5KHz in an overhead

Cons

❌ Couldn't find any

LALA by Analog Obsession is well known for being a thoroughly close recreation of the LA 2A compressor. Its sound is subtle and very clean and it's great for compressing bass-heavy signals and making them shine thanks to the sidechain filter it includes.

It's hard to say which one works better on vocals, but compared to the previous LA 2A emulation, the Leveling Tool, LALA captures the natural tone and distortion of the original hardware and its unique program-dependent characteristic.

Lala does sound crispier and more open whereas Leveling tools sound more transparent even when applying more than 7dB of gain reduction, which is amazing for a vocal bus.

3. Klanghelm DC1A

Compatibility: Win7+, macOS 10.11+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit, 32-bit

Pros

Transparent and warm compression tone

RMS and peak reduction possibilities

Upward and downward optical compression are great to recover subtle details in any source material

Cons

❌ Couldn't find any

The DC1A compressor by Klanghelm is yet another optical compressor inspired by the LA 2A. This plugin has four buttons at the very bottom of the GUI that make it suitable for several mixing appliances and alter its functionality.

This compressor is capable of negative (upward) compression, dual mono processing, and also RMS or peak reduction which you can set by activating the Relaxed and Deep buttons. You can, of course, use it parallelly and it's best to use it on highly dynamic materials, like vocals, or acoustic guitars to get the best out of it.

How does it sound?

Before
On vocals
On bass
On ukulele
After
It adds a nice warmth to vocals and it's pretty efficient in taming their harshness
Similarly to other emulations, it's particularly good at rounding up the lower frequencies of a bass
It adds a lot more definition without causing any audible distortion or artefacts. It's definitely great on guitars, ukuleles, pianos and much more.

Summary

To recap, here is the complete list of the best LA-2A plugins:

  1. Black Rooster Audio VLA-2A
  2. Waves CLA2A
  3. IK Multimedia T-RackS White 2A
  4. Slate Digital FG-v2A
  5. Overloud GEM Comp LA
  6. UAD LA-2A leveller collection
  7. PSP Mixpressor (included in MixPack)
  8. Brainworx_opto
  9. Native Instruments VC2A

LA-2A-styled compressors are amazing to use on your drums, bass, guitars, and vocals. These are useful to make your mixes sound bigger and punchier or to just level up an awfully dynamic instrument, like an acoustic guitar playing an arpeggio, or a snare drum playing ghost notes.

In this list, we've selected the ones we consider to be the best, based on their easiness of use, sound quality, similarity with the original gear, and effectiveness. We've included a wide variety of plugins to fit any budget, from none to high.

Our absolute favourite paid plugin was the Gem comp LA by Overloud because it brings the possibility of using both LA-2A and 3A, as well as dialling the distortion by hand and it's great to use on just about anything.

Our favourite free LA-2A emulation is the Leveling Tool by ADHD because it's the best amount of features, you can dial in the tube amplifiers to drive the signal and it just sounds great, as well as being extremely efficient.

FAQ

What Gives The LA-2A Its Distinctive Sound?

Teletronix la 2a compressor gets its distinctive sound from its unique release characteristic. Its initial release time is fixed at 60ms for half of the release and 1-15s for the full release depending on the audio signal.

This allows the compression ratio and release to vary greatly based on the source.The cadmium-sulfide photo-cells on its electro-luminiscent light panel provides this unique 2-stage release, which results in a much more transparent compression knee.

What Does The LA-2A Sound Best On?

  • Vocals – it's perfect to level a vocal up and bring more definition without getting overly hars thanks to its hf pre-emphasis control. Works even better with the 1176
  • Drums – perfect for parallel compression and to use aggressively on room mics.
  • Bass – ideal to round up the tone, especially with amp recordings to bring definition and smooth compression.
  • Guitars – gives them a particularly great and crispy tone, particularly amazing on acoustic guitars. It's also good to make electric guitars feel fuller

What Ratio Is An LA-2A?

The fixed ratio for the compression function of the LA-2A is considered to be 4:1. However, due to the frequency dependence of its behaviour, the ratio might vary, so it's technically somewhere around that value.

The LA-2A also has a prefixed attack value, which is estimated to be around the 10ms in average, with a soft knee. Additionally, according to the original Teletronix LA-2A manual, the release is estimated to be around the 6oms for half of the release, and then it gradually releases over a period of 1 to 15ms.

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