Acme Opticom XLA-3 Plugin

Brainworx recently released a plugin emulation of the ACME Opticom XLA-3, which is an LA-2A inspired optical hardware compressor.

So how does it compare to the Universal Audio LA-2A plugin that comes standard with just any about any piece of UAD Hardware. (By the way, I love my Apollo, and if you’re in the market for one, please click that link, as the site will get a few bucks, which keeps the servers running.)

The XLA-3 is an optical compressor, just like the LA-2A. One of the shortcomings (if you can call it that) of the LA-2A is that it is a “slow” compressor. (Meaning it doesn’t have as fast a response and release time as a VCA or FET compressor.)

So how does the XLA-3 improve upon that? Like the LA-2A it has a peak reduction knob, called Input Gain, and a volume makeup knob called Output Gain. I found the Input Gain to be much more sensitive than the LA-2A It was very hard to just trim 1db (at least according to the needle.) The needle would be in the 3 to 5 range, and just a small movement of the knob would make it not move at all. Not having used the hardware, I can only assume that the emulation is accurate.

The XLA-3 offers a toggled response selector, Slow/Normal/Fast are the three options. I’m not sure what the response time is of each, but I found that it added coloration (to put it mildly) each time I went faster.

I tested it on a drum track, and put the Input Gain on 5 (12 o’clock) just to make the effect obvious to hear in the clips provided.

Here is the dry track.

I thought the Slow setting was slower than the LA-2A (just slightly) and the Normal setting a hair faster. I tried to compare the fast setting to an 1176, but since that offers attack and release options, it was hard to really judge.

XLA-3 on Slow
LA-2A, Peak Reduction at 12 o’clock

Moving from Slow to Normal required me to put the output gain down a bit to match the dry signal.

XLA-3 on Normal

Moving from Normal to Fast added “color” to say the least. I had a hard time gain matching because of the distortion. It might be a useful effect, but I can think of better ways to create that.

XLA-3 on Fast

Overall I’m not sure where this compressor would fit it. I found the LA-2A to be smoother or mellower (I guess it became an industry standard for a reason.) It does offer coloration and seems to distort easily, which may be an advantage, although I can think of several other options that I’d prefer to use for that. Perhaps an entire drum track isn’t the ideal situation for this, but I thought the snare affecting the release into the kick would be a good test.

If you already have an LA-2A, LA-3A, 1176, API-2500, TLA-100, and dbx-160, then this might be worth adding to your arsenal. Although I think I might put the Vari-Mu or Zener Limiter as must haves before this one. If nothing else, it seems to be a less popular choice, and may help with a more unique sound.

Check out our other Plugin Alliance Reviews.