Hands-On Review:Bomb Factory Plug-Ins
Review: Bomb Factory Plug-Ins
Part 1: Background on the Compressors/Review of Bomb Factory's Teletronix LA-2A
If you're looking for the simplicity, sound, look, and feel of vintage analog compression, Bomb Factory's software versions of the Urei 1176 and the Teletronix LA-2A are sure to please old-school analog and digital newbies alike. These plug-ins look and feel like the real thing and are more intuitive and useful than any other plug-in compressor I've used.
Ease of Use: 5
Before I discovered the joys of recording at home, I worked at a number of larger recording studios. Nothing would make me happier than walking into a studio and seeing a rack of Teletronix LA-2A or Urei 1176 compressors. The LA-2A was my compressor of choice for vocals and bass, while the 1176 was great for everything, including drums and guitars. There have been many hardware imitations of these classic compressors over the years, none of which have quite managed to recreate the sound and feel of the originals. When I learned that Bomb Factory was releasing an ambitious series of software emulator plug-ins, including versions of both of these compressors, I couldn't wait to check them out.
All Bomb Factory plug-ins are available in formats for Digidesign's Pro Tools LE software and Digidesign's high-end TDM systems. They are also offered as file-based plug-ins for the Audio Suite format. The installers come on a universal Install CD which is packaged in a stylish metal "film can." Authorization requires a floppy drive (though the version I reviewed used a Challenge and Response code). In addition to the Classic Compressors, Bomb Factory makes the Voce Leslie speaker emulators, the Moogerfooger Filter and Ring Modulator plug-ins, and a SansAmp emulator. They're all worth checking out, but this time around we're just going to concentrate on the Classic Compressors.
Bomb Factory's software version of the LA-2A looks exactly like the faceplate of the original hardware version. It has the simplest of controls: On the right is the "Peak Reduction" knob, which increases the amount of compression as it's turned clockwise; and on the left is a "Gain" knob that controls the volume of the output without affecting the amount of compression. There are also two switches -- one for switching the meter between displaying the "Output" of the plug-in and the amount of "Gain Reduction," and another to switch between "Compression" and "Limit" mode. Nothing could be simpler, really, and that's one reason why I loved the original LA-2A compressor so much. But not only did Bomb Factory faithfully re-create the look of the original; they've also maintained the sound and effect of the original.
My biggest problem with most modern-day software compressors is that the compression effect is very noticeable. It's difficult to find just the right compression settings without killing the sound fidelity. Using groundbreaking "opto technology," the hardware version of the LA-2A was always one of the cleanest compressors, able to compress heavily without affecting the high frequencies of the signal. The sound quality of Bomb Factory's plug-in is consistent with the original.
I did a little experiment using the lead vocal track from the Pro Tools demo "Be There," doing an A/B switch between the LA-2A and DigiRack compressor that comes standard with Pro Tools LE, and the difference was like night and day. Even with 10dB of compression, the lead vocal really opened up with the LA-2A compressor.
Check out EXAMPLE 1 to hear the results of this A/B test.
After trying the plug-in on a few other mono audio tracks, I wondered whether Bomb Factory's LA-2A could have some additional benefits over the original. Finding a studio with one LA-2A is tough these days; finding a studio with a pair of matched LA-2A's that can be used on a stereo track is a rarity. Even if you did find one, you'd still have to make sure that they were configured properly for handling stereo signals. Bomb Factory has made every engineer's dream come true by making the LA-2A (and the 1176) mono- and stereo-compatible.
Unfortunately, I couldn't really compress a stereo track more than 3dB before the "squashing" effect of the compressor became noticeable. I didn't have a set of vintage LA-2A's to compare it to, but I'm going to assume that they would act the same. Still, I can tell this would be a great plug-in to use for stereo background vocals.