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