Video Review: UA LA 2A vs NI Softube VC 2A Shootout

Both the Universal Audio LA 2A and NI's Softube VC 2A are modelled on the original LA2A hardware compressor. Paul Bissell puts both to the test in this video review shootout.  
The VC 2A and LA 2A stack up very well against each other.

The VC 2A and LA 2A stack up very well against each other.


As an owner and daily user of Universal Audio’s LA610 mic pre (610 mic pre, LA2A compressor combo) I have the LA2A sound well ingrained in my head. I also have the UAD LA2A plug-in as a first call go-to in many vocal chains. With Native Instruments and Softube releasing a native (non-hardware accelerated) version, I was eager to see how it compares with both the hardware, and Universal Audio’s own digital emulation.

Whereas UA kept their LA2A emulation completely faithful to the original unit, Softube added a few additional features. The VC 2A (VC = Vintage Compressor), includes a mix/blend control allowing for parallel compression, a sidechain circuit for ducking or effects, and a high pass filter in the detector circuit. This keeps the compressor from reacting adversely to low frequencies.


Stacking Up - LA2A and VC2A

So how did the Softube emulation stack up? Really, really well. They both will get you “that sound”. You can watch and listen to the audio shootout between the two below and make your own judgements. But there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind. No two original hardware LA2A’s are ever going to be the exact same. Thus, if the hardware units are different, then the emulated or modeled plug-ins are going to be different as well, and that’s exactly the case here. 


IMPORTANT: Paul conducted this shootout using the OLD version of UA's LA-2A plug-in released 10 years ago. Universal Audio recently released a vastly improved emulation (NOT USED IN THIS REVIEW). Find out more info here:

http://www.uaudio.com/store/compressors-limiters/teletronix-la-2a-collection.html




As you may have noticed above, identical parameter settings will not produce identical outputs. Surprisingly however, this difference includes just the Gain knob (different by 5 dB!). While the basic two-knob settings were different, when matched by ear, what wasn’t dissimilar was the aural result. With the GR meters giving the same indication on both units, the sound that was produced by both devices was nearly identical. I went so far as to polarity invert one of the channels and got them to almost completely cancel for the sustaining portions, with the biggest level variation (15 db) being on the very front attack (the first 10 ms or so) during the transition from 0d B to the desired amount of GR.


The Verdict

What does this mean? Well, the soft tube VC2A gives that smooth, silky sound that the LA2A is known for. At higher compression settings, the VC2A has the same characteristic artifacts; producing a thick transient bump at the attack and slightly over-esssed sibilance on vocals. 

In essence, both of the plug-ins had the same desired sonic quality and give you the same vibe that one usually wants when inserting an LA2A into the signal chain. While the 5 dB gain difference was admittedly more radical than I would have expected, since both the Gain and the Peak Reduction knobs are marked with meaningless arbitrary units (0-100), getting the an appropriate sound out of an LA2A has always been about turning the knobs until it sounded right. The VC2A sounds right.

The VC2A plug-in can be purchased on its own for $99.00 outside of the Komplete 9 Ultimate package, and is available in AU, AAX, RTAS, and VST formats.

Find out more: http://www.native-instruments.com/en/products/komplete/effects/vc-2a/

Paul has being teaching music technology since 1992. He's exhausted and getting older by the minute... His compositions have been published for a mixture of ensembles and solo instruments, and as a performer, Dr. Bissell has played with a variety of orchestras and ensembles. You can hear him on the Spy Kids 2 soundtrack and Eric Jo... Read More

Discussion

shiftjam
Hi paul,

What about the waves plugin? I think is waves cal 2a?

I know the topic is little sensitive and depending on such factors as taste, sound... And asking which one is the best might sound a little bit strange, but which one you would pick?

How does the waves compare with the others?

Best regards,
Leonard
Paul Bissell
Hi Leonard,
The simple answer is that I don't have the Waves version :)
I just did a quite Google search for "UAD Waves LA2A" and I see many. many posts about this already. Softube and NI are pretty much new comers, and so to be honest, I thought it would 'sound like a compressor' and that would be that. I was surprised how it captured the vibe - which is what you want in the end - well, what I want at least. The polarity invert / sum to cancel thing was just to give some kind of objective measure to my subjective opinion.
There are quite a few LA2A emulations - or at least plug-ins that compress and put a "two knobbed, simple silver interface" on the front. Therefore, the comparisons and shootouts could go on and on.

I don't mean to push back on your question, but honestly, the term "best" is one that is completely contextual, and since the context is so different in every song it is pretty much impossible to quantify.
The LA2A does 'that thing' which could be characterized as a smooth, silky, and warm - BUT it also exacerbates sibilance in vocals and leads to a front end bump that can be so "wrong" in many situations. A fast attack 1176 wouldn't have those same issues - but would have its own.

My article was written to say that these plug-ins by Softube/NI that come as a part of the larger Komplete 9 Ultimate package (which is mostly about sample instruments - not plug-ins!) are of similar quality to those of UAD - who in this case also make the hardware units of this model. Waves is native as well so that would be another kind of shootout I guess, and then there are the CLA versions which have their own thing...Bombfactory.....etc

Paul Bissell

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