Universal Audio are probably best known for the way their products effectively bridge the gap between hardware and software. The LA-2A levelling amplifier is a case in point: for just under £3,000, the California company will gladly sell you a hand-built recreation of the iconic Teletronix LA-2A compressor; alternatively, for $299, you can get your hands on the company’s own painstakingly modelled software emulations of three subtly different units.
The LA-2A is widely considered one of the best compressors ever made, with good reason. It’s a go-to unit for vocals and bass, but it can also work well on a range of other sounds, particularly kicks, snares and individual drum hits.
As with so many analogue classics, the LA-2A has been through a number of iterations over its lifespan, with minor circuit changes leading to minor differences in sound. As a result, Universal Audio offer three subtly different emulations of the same compressor (including the early LA2 version), each modelled on the behaviour of a specific incarnation of the hardware unit. Gregory Scott offered an incredibly insightful comparison for Attack back in 2013, explaining some of the differences in sound while also addressing the broader questions of how the plugins fared against the real hardware.
In Gregory’s words: “If you’re after things like ‘smoothness’, ’roundness’, ‘thickness’… these are the closest thing to the real deal that I’ve heard in the realm of software. Lots of plugins slap the classic two-knob GUI on and call themselves emulations, but UA also modelled the distortion character of the hardware and what they come up with, while not exactly the same, is still an extremely useful and sweet-sounding form of grunge.”