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LA-2A vs 1176 and Compression Explained

Updated: Jul 29, 2021

Many producers dig the sound of 1176 and LA-2A clones and wonder why they like it. The reason they like is because they have good taste. The reason that a lot of things that we hear in audio that we actually like is because we've actually heard them before as explained Frank Socorro during a recent mixing masterclass.

"When people were like, I bought this vintage microphone or I have this vintage piece of gear, I love how it sounds", it's typically because it sounds familiar to you, it sounds like a record you listened to growing up, or just a particular sound that your brain is familiar with. It triggers something in your brain, a feeling.

A LA-2A is a really popular compressor from recording studios all the way to radio. It was really popular in radio. A lot of radio personalities would typically go through an LA-2A type compressor when they speak.

Really quick description of the two. The 1176, the black one is a typical FET compressor. It's typically a little bit faster and a little bit more aggressive. It also has more settings than the LA-2A. On the 1176, you can adjust how quick or fast the compression happens and then how quickly it releases the compression.

For the LA-2A is a very specific type of compression: It's called opto compression and the way it works it with a small light bulb. The more voltage that goes through it, the brighter that bulb gets. There is a small cell - the photo optic cell. The more light that picks it up the greater, the amount of compression that happens in the box is actually a pretty cool circuit. However, you have no control over how fast or slow it actually happens. The more compression that happens in the LA-2A, the longer it takes for it to let go.

That's why the LA-2A works well for speech, slow songs or singing because it just keeps everything kind of smooth out without having crazy peaks or transients. It works really well in vocals. It worked really well on bass. It works really well on things that aren't really like transient, meaning they have a lots of attacks are really fast.

The LA-2A on hi-hats, it's a disaster. It'll just like kind of smear the hi hats all over the place. It works really well on programmed material that's slow and it doesn't have a lot of peaks.

If he ever look up the definition, a typical textbook definition of compression when it comes to audio, people will say it makes loud sound softer and soft sounds louder. That's how it's explained to a lot of us, especially when we're going to audio school, they'll say it makes loud sounds softer and soft sounds louder, which really straightforward. It's something that's easy to remember, but what's actually happening is your audio has something called dynamic range. That's the distance between the loudest part of the audio and the softest part of the audio.

I'm going to, as an example, use a room that I'm in. This room has high ceilings. There are about 14 feet. The highest part of my room or my audio is 14 feet. The lowest part is obviously the floor. If I were to compress my room, I would start lowering the ceiling. As I lower the ceiling, everything in that room would feel like it was a lot bigger because I've reduced the dynamic range of the room. As my ceiling getting taller, everything that was low is not going to feel like it's much taller because it's a lot closer to the ceiling. That's essentially what you're doing when you're compressing things. You're reducing the distance it can travel.

So what happens is that the distance between the loud things and the soft things get so close, that everything seems like it's at the same volume. That's what they mean when they say makes loud sound softer and soft sounds louder. You're actually not making them louder. You're just pushing them closer together in volume so that they feel like they're at the same volume. It's not an illusion because you're doing it with actual voltage. You reducing the space that voltage can be in. Essentially what it does is just brings everything up and it makes everything almost be at the same level.

That being said, if you don't get compression now. If you don't get it next week, if you don't get a next month, do not worry, do not beat yourself up about compression.

Compression is really difficult to understand all the way. It's hard to hear in the beginning because you don't know what you're listening for. It's one of the most difficult things to fully grasp when it comes to this audio stuff. It's okay, folks, compression's hard. We know, but it doesn't mean that you should stop trying to do it. Cool.

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