Best Optical Compressors in 2022 - LA2A & LA3A Alternatives

In this article, we will tell you about the top ten optical compressor VSTs. Optical compressors are one of the most used units in the mixing process. Its unique color, soft character, and warm compression effects make it one of the most used compressors. 

During the earlier days when hardware compressors were widely used LA2A, an optical compressor was the most used unit. However, the reason for its popularity was also because of its cheap price and low maintenance.

With the advancement of technology, now we have access to a variety of Optical compressor units in VST, AU, and AAX  formats.

What are Optical or Opto compressors?

The input signal in a compressor splits into 2 copies, one is goes to the variable gain amp, while the other works as a sidechain signal. Different compressor types use different Variable amps.

An optical compressor uses a photoresistor along with an illumination source. The input level controls the intensity of the illumination source. The intensity, in return, determines the amount of compression.

LA2A was the first-ever Optical compressor. It was invented by James F. Lawrence II, founder of the Teletronix Engineering Company. The original LA2A unit was actually a Limiting Amplifier. LA2A is a tube-based compressor and uses Cadmium-Sulphide as a resistor. T4 cell is the name of this assembly.

The character of the Optical compressors

Many producers think that because optical compressors use a light source for compression, it will be a fast compression. However, Optical compressors are the slowest compressors among all types. A typical optical compressor(like LA2A) has an Attack time of 10ms and a release time of about 60 ms for 50% release and 0.5 to 5 seconds for full release. The reason why Optical Compressors are relatively slow is that the light source takes time to have a full effect(Illumination or fading).

Optical compressors are relatively clean, their attack and release value depend on the frequency content, they have soft knee, and transparent sound.

Controls of Optical compressor and their uses

Optical compressors generally have 3 controls, Input Gain, Peak Reduction, and Gain Reduction. While the original Optical units have minimal controls, VST emulations of them are fairly advanced. For example, the T-Rack Opto compressor has Ratio, Attack, Release, and Compression amount controls as well. 

Due to their slow character, Optical compressors work great on Vocals, Piano, and anything that needs a smooth transient. However, They are not a good choice for Mix buses or Mastering.

Best Optical Compressor VSTs - LA2A & LA3A alternatives

Now that you have a basic understanding of Optical compressors, it's time to reveal the best optical compressor VSTs available in the market. These are the best optical compressor VST units - 

  1. UAD LA-2A Classic Leveler Collection
  2. T-Racks Opto Compressor
  3. Waves CLA-2S
  4. TELETRONIX LA-3A Auaio Leveler
  5. Waves CLA-3A
  6. IK Multimedia While 2A
  7. Softube Tube-Tech CL 1B

Let us look at each of these compressor plugins one by one.

UAD LA-2A Classic Leveler Collection

The UAD LA-2A is the benchmark of all-optical compressors. This compressor is made by Universal audio; the company responsible for the original Teletronix LA-2A. This optical compressor is famous for its character and warmth.

Best Optical compressors 2022 - UAD LA-2A Classic Leveler Collection

The UAD LA-2A consists of 3 units - LA-2A Silver, LA-2A Gray, and LA-2 model. Each unit has its own character, time constant, compression, knee, warmth, and Frequency-dependent attack and release.

You can buy the UAD LA-2A collection for just $299 from their official website.

IK Multimedia Opto Compressor

IK Multimedia Opto compressor faithfully recreates the behavior of an ideal optical compressor. It is one of the cleanest compressors available in the market. The compression effect is very gentle and works great on vocals, piano, keys, drums, etc.

Best optical compressors 2022 - IK Multimedia Opto Compressor

Opto compressor has standard Attack, Release, and Ratio settings of a compressor. Aside from that it also has a compression amount setting. As such, this compressor VST gives more freedom to mixing engineers while keeping the character of the Optical compression intact.

You can buy IK Multimedia Opto compressor for $49.99 from their official website.

Waves CLA-2A

Waves CLA-2A is another optical compressor unit that is famous for its character. Although this compressor works great for Vocals, Drums, and Piano, its effect on Guitar and Bass is equally beautiful. CLA-2A is designed by Waves audio. It gives the character of Mid 60s audio.

Best Optical compressors - Waves CLA-2A

The CLA 2A comes packed with many presets zero latency and a sidechain frequency filter. Thanks to the mix control, it is also an ideal choice for parallel compression.

You can get your hands on CLA-2A for just $35 from the official website of Waves Audio.

Teletronix LA-3A Audio Leveler

The Teletronix LA-3A is the best alternative to the classic LA-3A hardware unit. This compressor has the quality of the LA-2A with the clarity & punch of a solid state.

Best Optical compressors - LA-3A Alternative

While this compressor can add a sweet saturation to the vocals and acoustic guitars, it can also add textures to your synths and bass. This compressor can bring mixed elements up front.

The LA-3A compressor costs $199 on the official website of UAD.

Waves CLA-3A

This compressor/limiter by Waves is modeled after the legendary electro-optical tube compressor. Its smooth frequency-dependent behavior makes it a favorite among engineers. It sounds great on guitars and bass but really shines on vocals. The Waves CLA-3A is a fantastic choice for any studio.

Best LA-3A compressor alternative - Waves CLA-3A

The Waves CLA-3A comes with standard compressor controls, including threshold increments in two-dB steps, output gain control, and release options from 100 to 3,200 ms. The CLA-3A also features Waves' famous analog metering options, such as the 'V' or 'Y'.

The original price of CLA-3A is $249, however, you can buy Waves CLA-3A for just $29.99 from the official website.

IK Multimedia While 2A

The IK Multimedia While 2A preserves a feature of the original Distressor unit: stereo link. The stereo link feature allows you to mix audio from two different sources and automatically balance them. It also has a British Mode switch that emulates the 1176 compressor. This unit is very versatile.

Best Opto compressors - IK Multimedia White 2A

It is a must-have for tracking and mixing vocals and anything that needs gentle, warm, consistent compression. The controls include Gain reduction, Limit/Compress, Peak Reduction, and Gain.

IK Multimedia White 2A Costs €79.99 and can be purchesed from their official website.

The Softube Tube-Tech CL 1B

The Softube Tube-Tech CL 1B is an excellent vocal compressor plug-in. Its transparent, warm sound is reminiscent of the original Tube tech compressor, and it's able to deliver heavy compression levels without degrading the original signal. It's CPU friendly, too, and it features virtual old-school VU meters.

Best optical compressors 2022

The CL 1B's plugin interface is almost identical to its hardware counterpart. The only difference is that the plugin version lacks a selector for external sidechains and sidechain bussing. Other than that, it offers the same sound quality as its predecessor, but with unprecedented accuracy and VU meter behavior.

You can buy CL 1B from the official website of Tube Tech for just $199.

The Takeaways

Thanks for reading! By now you know about the optical compressors, their charecteristics, and uses. You are also familiar with the best VST emulations of the optical compressors. We hope that this article will help you find the best optical compressors and help you in your musical endeavours.