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:
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.
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.