The LA-2A (aka Leveling Amplifier) is by far my favorite compressor. Doesn’t matter what I’m working on; Video games, Sound Fx, Instrumentals for TV, or Voiceover work. The LA-2A is going to be somewhere in the project(s). The hardware version is great but can be expensive. Companies like Slate and Waves make emulations, you can check out FG-2A vs CLA-2A, but before spending a dime check out some of the free LA2A compressor plugins, some are really good.
What Are LA-2A Compressors?
The LA-2A is an Opto Compressor invented by James F Lawrence and widely used by many producers and engineers around the world.
What makes this compressor a favorite amongst audio professionals is its sonic character. The warmth and smoothness it gives to the audio source (vocals, synths, etc) is incredible.
How To Use The LA2A Compressor
The LA-2A Compressor is very easy to use. There are only two knobs you ‘need’ to understand
1. Peak Reduction: This allows you to determine when the signal starts to release (sort of like a threshold)
2. Output Gain: This is your makeup again after Peak Reduction. Do not confuse this with ‘input gain!’
3. VU Meter: Displays your levels
There are no knobs to adjust attack, release, threshold, or ratio. Those are all fixed.
- Attack time: Around 10ms Release Time:
- The release is about 60 milliseconds for the first half of your signal. The entire release time, depending on the signal could be anywhere between 60ms to 5 seconds.
- Compression: This is a 4 to 1 ratio (or close to) some are 5 to 1.
- Limiter: 10 to 1 or Infinity to 1 ratio, depending on the emulation.
The slow attack and release are what’s responsible for the smooth compression industry professionals love.
The input level (program) is what governs the amount of compression as well as how the unis attack and release settings react making it program dependant.
So, the louder the signal you send in, the more compression you get.
Where Do LA2A Compressors Shine?
Everything, if you know what you’re doing, but more traditionally; vocals, synths, basses, drones, etc. Basically, anything that isn’t short with snappy transients.
Why Use A LA2A Compressor?
The LA2A warms up everything. If you want fat kicks and bass, use an LA2A. Want meaty drums, use an LA2A. It sounds good on everything, you’d have to really put some effort into making this compressor sound bad.
Very magical on busses and pairs nicely with FET compressors, like an 1176.
Download Any Of These Free LA2A Compressor Plugins
Lala is probably one of the more popular or better known free la2a compressors on the market. It’s made by a company called Analog Obsession and like the real thing, it’s very easy to operate but offers a couple more features.
I was very surprised to learn that Analog Obsession changed its business model. They offer all of their plug-ins for free and give you the option to donate. That’s a unique business model but it seems to work for them.
This is one of my favorite LA2A compressors although it might be hard to find now. It was free when Cakewalk was owned by Gibson. Bandlab is the new owner. They give the DAW (Cakewalk) away free, I can’t imagine them charging for the CA2A.
It might be a good idea to reach out to them and check. If you can get it (or find it) do so as it is a good ‘sounding’ free la2a compressor and it has a side chain feature. If I’m not mistaken, there was a time when Cakewalk offered their LA2A free as a Reason Rack Extension.
So. if you’re a ReasonStudios user, that would be worth looking into as well.
S.L.A.X By Sonic Anomaly
Unfortunately, this isn’t going to be for everyone. If you use Reaper DAW or use Windows (operating system) then you’ll have no problem installing using this compressor. On the other hand, if you’re a Mac user who does not use Reaper DAW then you’re a little out of luck.
Download S.L.A.X vst
ADHD Leveling Tool
It’s not pretty, but it gets the job done. IMO, it leans a little closer to a 3A as opposed to a 2A. With that being said, it reminds me a lot of Waves CLA-3A plugin, but free! You get the same peak reduction and gain level knobs, but with a few more options you can ‘control’.
- Attack: Controls when the compression starts
- Release: Allows control over when the compression begins to fall
- Ratio: How much compression is being applied to the signal
- Dry/Wet: This allows you to blend the compressed and uncompressed signal
- Sidechain (High Pass Filter)
- Drive: Used to introduce saturation
Now, remember the LA2A has a 10ms attack and 60ms is release, you have more control over those values with this emulation.
Visit ADHD to Download their Leveling Tool
LA-2A Compressor Conclusion
This is a shortlist right now but there are a lot of la-2a emulations out there. We just haven’t tried them all (yet) so I can’t recommend them. If there is one you know worth mentioning, please let us know.
If you’re looking for a good versatile compressor (in general). Check out the IK Multimedia Comprexxor.
More to come soon, if you’ve found this post beneficial please pass it along.