A number of years in the past I developed an infatuation with guitar compressors – sure, these delicate and mysterious pedals that always go ignored in lots of rigs in favor of flashier and extra thrilling results which have a extra apparent impression in your general sound. Whereas the workings of compressors could be elusive to some guitarists, lots of you already know that a good compressor dialed in proper can cohesively bond your guitar together with your amp to create a extra constant and clean response which in flip can improve the sound and playability of your instrument and your whole rig for that matter. Guitarists who use a compressor typically regard them as indispensable and rightfully so.
Whereas there are various kinds of compressor pedals with delicate variations in how they compress your audio sign, I’d argue that the inherent sound high quality or audio constancy of a compressor ought to in all probability be the primary consideration made when shopping for one. Compressors sometimes have the inherent disadvantage of elevating the noise flooring as they degree out your quantity and improve the readability and maintain of your notes, so additional consideration must be made to decide on a compressor that boasts top quality, low noise operation. On this assessment we’re going to be looking at arguably the quietest and most superior compressor ever launched in pedal type: the Effectrode LA-1A Super High Resolution Leveling Amplifier.
Audiophilia in Pedal Type
Effectrode is a UK based mostly pedal builder that makes a speciality of constructing what they name “audiophile pedals”. Dwelling as much as that moniker (primarily as a consequence of an unparalleled experience in vacuum tube know-how) has helped them construct a rabid following of devoted followers who refill ready lists for the restricted batches of their newest releases. One such Effectrode providing that has garnered reward amongst tone aficionados is the PC-2A, a photo-optical tube guitar compressor impressed by the legendary Teletronix LA-2A Limiting Amplifier – sure, the identical LA-2A that’s extensively hailed as the best rack compressor of all time and which you’ve heard on nearly all of related albums launched prior to now forty or so years. Whereas the PC-2A is a really respectable inheritor to the LA-2A legacy and stays a formidable compressor that’s nonetheless in manufacturing, the brand new Effectrode LA-1A Super High Resolution Leveling Amplifier goals to set but a brand new normal in stompbox format guitar compressors.
From 2 to 1A
Effectrode began with the topological basis of the PC-2A and sought new methods to supply even larger constancy dynamic quantity attenuation. To realize the bottom noise flooring potential, Effectrode employed a parallel tube plate design sometimes solely present in high-end phono preamps for turntables. This kind of circuit has by no means earlier than been carried out in a guitar pedal or skilled grade studio leveling amplifier/compressor. The outcomes Effectrode achieved even led to their declare that the LA-1A is “technically the quietest pedal or studio leveling amplifier ever made”. Whereas that may be one of the crucial casually assured and hype inducing statements I’ve ever seen in print, the implementation of the parallel tube preamp within the LA-1A lends credibility to that assertion. For the technologically inclined, right here’s an entry within the Tube Cad Journal that explains how a circuit utilizing a number of tube levels in parallel lowers efficient resistance and resistance noise. We’ll talk about that extra in relation to the LA-1A in a second.
There are different notable design variances between the PC-2A and the brand new LA-1A. The PC-2A is a fairly compact compressor that has solely 2 knobs (Peak Discount & Achieve), and on the again is a Restrict/Compress change. This completes a easy parameter set-up that mirrors the convenience of use of the unique LA-2A. The PC-2A additionally has inner Assault & Knee trimpots that are helpful for calibrating the response of the pedal to carry out optimally together with your guitar or different instrument of selection. The trimpots’ default settings have been completely practical for many basic makes use of; nevertheless, some musicians and engineers needed to have these controls extra simply accessible. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd fame is understood for utilizing a modified PC-2A pedal with exterior Assault & Knee controls. I’ve additionally used one and may attest to the deserves of getting exterior Assault & Knee controls. The bigger LA-1A, housed in an Effectrode Blackbird fashion enclosure, attracts upon the PC-2A mod and offers devoted floor knobs for Assault & Knee. It additionally provides a foot-switchable Increase and another useful features. We’ll talk about these variations and features intimately as we go alongside.
Go to Effectrode for more information concerning the LA-1A.
Sound & Efficiency:
Whereas we’re not precisely doing a PC-2A vs LA-1A shootout, this evaluation will include notable references to each pedals all through, so it might be a helpful useful resource in the event you’re deciding whether or not to get one pedal or the opposite. The PC-2A is noteworthy for its simplicity. Simply set your Peak Discount to dial within the compression quantity after which set your make-up Achieve to match unity achieve or add a bit of increase if desired. The LA-2A retains that ease of use whereas offering extra tweaking versatility and a decrease noise flooring. And wow, is it quiet!
No hype or exaggeration meant, however I’ve been completely astounded by how clear and quiet the LA-1A is. The PC-2A is already one of many quietest guitar compressors obtainable, however the LA-1A someway surpasses it together with each different guitar compressor I’ve heard when it comes to low-noise operation. Anybody evaluating the 2 models side-by-side will discover this just by setting the pedals to an analogous compression response and A/Bing the pedals. In line with Effectrode the measured self-noise for the LA-1A is -6dB/oct decrease throughout the whole audio spectrum (20Hz to 20KHz) relative to the PC-2A. That gives some measured proof from a scientific standpoint, however I used to be satisfied simply by listening to the distinction for myself. Compressors typically pose the undesirable tradeoff of including sign noise in trade for the quantity attenuation and audio massaging qualities they supply, however the LA-1A doesn’t endure from this disadvantage even when pushing the Peak Discount into excessive compression territory and having to spice up the Achieve fairly a bit to compensate. It’s weird but refreshing to expertise first-hand as you’d usually anticipate to battle with the noise-floor when including extra compression. The unparalleled low-noise operation of the LA-1A in comparison with different guitar compressors will simply justify the price of admission for a lot of musicians.
The LA-1A is comparatively straightforward to dial in. I’d advocate beginning by setting the Achieve, Assault, and Knee at round midday after which elevating up the Peak Discount from its minimal place till you hear the compression kicking in when you play. As you get it set to the place it’s making use of a mild squeeze to your sign that sounds and feels good, you’ll be able to then tweak the Achieve to match your unity sign degree.
I need to talk about the Knee earlier than the Assault as this parameter is particularly necessary in altering the response of the compression. Should you set the Knee all the best way counter-clockwise, you’ll discover that the Peak Discount knob appears to have much less of an impact as you flip it. The Knee management modifications the response curve of the compression (re: how shortly it reaches most achieve discount), in order low settings it’ll appear to have a much less pronounced impact because the compressor releases whereas performed notes are ringing out earlier than ever reaching most compression, making for a really delicate impact. As you improve the Knee, the compression will attain most achieve discount quicker, leading to a more durable compression and appears to take longer to return to baseline. At excessive settings it has a way more pronounced limiting impact because the compressor achieves full Peak Discount instantaneously (after the Assault, in fact).
The Assault knob units how briskly the compression kicks in (with the Knee figuring out how shortly the compression reaches most achieve discount as talked about earlier than). Usually, you’ll need to have the Assault set slowly sufficient in order that your preliminary decide assault will get via earlier than the compression begins occurring. To set it up, simply crank the knob to completely clockwise and begin chopping it again whereas enjoying till you’re proud of the transient sound of your decide assault. You’ll be able to usually get away with pushing the Assault as excessive as round three o’clock with out killing your decide assault so long as you’re utilizing decrease to average Knee settings. I typically discover myself pulling the Assault right down to across the 1-2 o’clock space and setting the Knee to round 11-ish o’clock; then I’ll set the Peak Discount to style. Totally different types of enjoying might name for a unique really feel; for instance, attempt a quick Assault with greater Peak Discount for a sound that blooms in after your preliminary decide assault when the compressor begins releasing. As all the time, let your ears information you to what sounds good.
Maybe probably the most controversial change to the LA-1A from the PC-2A is the removing of the basic LA-2A type “Limit/Compress” change. On the PC-2A this change would allow you to take the compression from a smoother, gentler response to an excellent squished sound. It’s just like the change you discover on the entrance panel of an LA-2A rack unit (or any LA-2A emulation in your DAW software program). On the LA-1A, the devoted “Limit/Compress” perform is absent.
Earlier than I did my homework (which means earlier than I merely requested Effectrode engineer, Phil Taylor), I assumed that the Restrict/Compress change functioned by including parts to the compression circuit to induce the more durable compression response the Restrict setting is understood for. Genuinely the change “adds resistance in series with the photo-optical attenuator to make the limiting effect more subtle (aka compression)”. In different phrases the circuit’s pure response is extra outstanding earlier than parts are put in place to scale back the depth of the compression. Now at this level chances are you’ll be questioning what the absence of the Restrict/Compress change on the LA-1A means in precise use. Nicely…
The PC-2A already added parts to the basic LA-2A type of compression courtesy of the pedal’s Assault & Knee trimpots, and the Knee particularly is a parameter that takes the Peak Discount response from a smoother compression to a more durable limiting. In use it sounds and feels just like the Knee management is offering a clean taper between the basic LA-2A fashion “Limit” and “Compress” settings. With the LA-1A making the PC-2A’s trimpot features exterior, thus supplying you with faster entry to lighter compression or more durable limiting, the Restrict/Compress change could possibly be thought-about a redundancy among the many LA-1A’s floor parameter set. In any case, the Knee management on the LA-1A is actually permitting customers to dial in a customized “Limit/Compress” response fairly than being restricted to solely 2 static settings at both excessive.
I’m over-simplifying what’s going right here because the PC-2A and LA-1A are each attaining comparable types of compression response by barely totally different means due to the removing of the Compress/Restrict change, however primarily what the PC-2A achieves by way of a change and a couple of trim-pots the LA-1A is attaining with solely 2 exterior knobs. I discover the LA-1A a bit extra handy to make use of on this regard with its Knee parameter being noticeably simpler when setting a compress or restrict response in comparison with the PC-2A’s Knee trimpot and Restrict/Compress change.
Dynamic EQ – “NORM – JANGLE”
Instead of the PC-2A’s Restrict/Compress change is one other mysterious change on the far proper of the again panel subsequent to the Enter jack. (The check prototype unit in my pictures is unlabeled, however manufacturing models say “NORM – JANGLE”.) That is the LA-1A’s Dynamic EQ change. When within the lively place, the LA-1A boosts the extent of audio content material within the higher frequency spectrum. Why is that this vital and necessary? Nicely, a noteworthy side-effect of many compressors is that when quantity peaks are decreased, you’ll have a tendency to note a perceptual lack of high-end content material. Principally, many compressors kill your top-end. Typically this impact is fascinating, however the perceived alteration of tone can typically appear to uninteresting the sound of your supply materials. That is why you typically see further Tone controls on some compressor pedals – to compensate for any lack of high-end. However Effectrode’s strategy to this challenge is surprisingly distinctive and a moderately compelling answer. The Dynamic EQ perform boosts higher frequencies relative to the setting of the Peak Discount knob. Principally, the extra you compress your sign, the extra the Dynamic EQ will compensate by growing your high-end. It’s extremely delicate and musical. I think about the Dynamic EQ perform to be the LA-1A’s “secret weapon”, and I just about depart it on 100% of the time no matter which guitar I’m utilizing or what type of music I’m enjoying. As an additional tip when utilizing the Dynamic EQ perform, keep in mind to think about how setting the Knee knob impacts whether or not you want kind of Peak Discount to fine-tune your compression because the quantity of Peak Discount used will have an effect on how a lot Dynamic EQ compensation you’ll hear. Whereas these shades of subtlety might go unnoticed to some ears, these of you with a eager consideration to sonic element will probably respect the nuances you’ll hear.
LA-1A’s Tube Levels
The LA-1A, just like the PC-2A, has two tube levels. The primary stage is a grounded cathode tube stage. It’s precisely like the primary preamp stage of a Fender Twin Reverb or Blackface Deluxe Reverb. The output stage is a cathode follower circuit which additionally acts as a buffer. The PC-2A makes use of a single sub-miniature tube for these levels, however the LA-1A has much more tube muscle coming into play right here… and protruding from its floor.
For the LA-1A’s cathode tube stage, a pair of 12AU7s present 4 triode tube levels in parallel and are primarily answerable for the pedal’s extremely low-noise compression. These levels overlay four equivalent copies of your guitar sign, and with out altering your sign tonality, any self-noise from the tubes “is averaged, smoothed, and reduced.” For the cathode follower stage, two triode levels of a 12AT7 are carried out in parallel to complement the output sign.
Whereas the inventory JJ Digital tubes sounded advantageous throughout my testing, Effectrode additionally suggests making an attempt different N.O.S. tubes for private customization; Effectrode recommends Philips JAN 6189W or JAN 5814A within the 12AU7 positions and a JAN 12AT7WC for the 12AT7 place when you search even “sweeter and richer tones”.
Want a Increase?
With the LA-1A populating a bigger Effectrode Blackbird type enclosure, the rise in measurement afforded the potential of one other foot-switch perform. A devoted Increase perform looks like a fantastic pairing with a compressor as a compressor will usually be operating into different drive pedals or into an amp if it’s all you’re utilizing. The LA-1A offers as much as a modest +6dB of increase. That will not actually sound like so much in comparison with what you’ll discover of some pedals (+20dB? Significantly?), however skilled ears typically perceive that much less may be extra in relation to exact quantity degree changes and listening for the intricacies of tone variation that small changes could make. So the LA-1A’s Increase knob provides you an enormous sweep to rigorously dial in only a bit of additional quantity increase, and it is going to be greater than sufficient for the wants of the musicians that this pedal will most probably attraction to.
On a observe value mentioning right here, the Increase isn’t precisely a devoted “tube boost” as all of the pedal’s tube levels are already getting used within the circuit; nevertheless, because the Increase can solely be used when the pedal is engaged for compression, you’re already getting an audio sign that’s harmonically impacted by 6 tube levels earlier than the Increase jolts your sign slightly more durable into the remainder of your audio path. So you’re technically boosting a tube flavored audio sign, simply not making use of some other tube achieve levels that would probably alter or shade your sound. Positive, it might be neat if Effectrode might have crammed a subminiature tube beneath the hood one way or the other for much more tube-y goodness, however the strategy carried out is extra respectful to the painstakingly attuned audio sign produced by the compressor.
On a aspect notice, I did initially have minor considerations concerning the Increase not with the ability to be used independently from the compression, however then I noticed that I’ve actually been leaving the LA-1A on on a regular basis. With most “always on” compressors, I nonetheless discover myself typically turning them off every so often; for instance, a specific compressor might all the time sound nice for leads however sound a bit off when enjoying some types of rhythm. Prior to now few months I’ve been utilizing the LA-1A, it has turn into a staple of my sound. So sure, whereas I’d nonetheless argue from a essential standpoint that might have been good to have a minimum of had a dip-switch toggle choice to set the Increase for use independently (perhaps in a future PCB revision?), nevertheless it probably gained’t be a problem in precise use if you end up leaving the compressor all the time on.
The EXT. SELECT jack allows you to plug in a TRS cable to take distant management of the Bypass and Increase foot-switches. This provides you comparable management to that of utilizing a 2-button foot-switch together with your Fender Twin Reverb or different comparable amp. And the exterior switching performance is an indispensable lodging that customers of professional results switchers will respect. In case your switcher has at the least two “control out” or equally named output jacks, you have got use them to function the LA-1A. However what when you’ve got restricted management outputs and/or need to depart the LA-1A all the time on and simply operated the Increase remotely? Merely make a customized TRS cable and brief the “Tip” finish of the cable. It will make the pedal be activated by default. Then use the “Ring” aspect of the cable together with your switcher’s management output to toggle the Increase on and off as wanted.
Studio Use – Direct Out
For max versatility within the recording studio or different skilled audio surroundings, the LA-1A has a couple of additional nifty options in its arsenal. The “600 OHM BAL. OUT” jack is a ¼” TRS output that allows you to join the pedal (utilizing a TRS to XLR cable) to a mixing console or different vacation spot that has an XLR enter. This output is absolutely balanced and remoted with a Triad Magnetics audio transformer to remove floor noise and scale back hum to an absolute minimal. A achieve pad change with +6dB, +12dB, and +18dB choices facilitates matching the output degree with different line degree or instrument degree gear.
Stepped Achieve vs Variable Achieve
A captivating level of notice about utilizing the “Direct Out” choice is that it utterly bypasses the Achieve knob and Increase performance of the pedal. The thought behind that is that in some audiophile and pro-audio circles, stepped quantity attenuation is most popular to variable potentiometers for improved audio constancy. With the LA-1A this strategy shouldn’t be mistaken as a way to easily obtain extra transparency (because the Triad Magnetics audio transformer provides its personal delicate character and colorization), however as an alternative what’s occurring is that the Balanced Output is bypassing the Achieve and (switch-able) Increase potentiometers, eradicating any attainable parts that would probably add sign distortion. The three-position Pad change is as an alternative used to pick your fastened output degree whereas the enter achieve in your audio interface or the extent sliders in your mixer can be utilized for exact achieve adjustment. The professional-audio crowd will doubtless respect this stepped implementation for the way it facilitates integration of the LA-1A in skilled audio environments.
For enjoyable I related the LA-1A to my pedal chain by way of its Balanced Output utilizing the Tip plug of a TRS cable to feed my different pedals. It’s exhausting to say if the Triad Magnetics transformer was truly additional sweetening my tone or if the pedal was even quieter or extra “hi-fi”. It already sounds wonderful, and it’s the quietest compressor pedal I’ve ever performed, so it’s probably not mandatory for guitarists to aim to “hack” their approach into utilizing the Balanced Out in a typical guitar setup. Nonetheless, when you should toss typical knowledge to the wind, you would experiment with operating it this manner though bypassing the Achieve pot will not be ideally suited contemplating you’ll nonetheless want to make use of one other achieve stage (like your amp’s Achieve or one other pedal with quantity management) to exactly set your quantity degree. Additionally, giving up the Increase won’t be acceptable. Whereas studying the spec-sheet may encourage the creativeness to attempt issues like this, for pedalboard use you’ll be higher off sticking to beneficial use of the traditional Output. Save the Balanced Output for recording guitar or bass immediately right into a DAW (like Logic or Ableton Stay) for processing with amp plugins or re-amping your dry guitar.
Nonetheless No Achieve Discount Metering?
Apart from all of the reward I might persevering with heaping upon this pedal, there’s just one different factor I’d wish to have seen: achieve discount metering. Positive, it might doubtless be inconceivable to suit an actual LA-2A type VU meter on the LA-1A’s already packed floor space. And even a row of metering LEDs may need been troublesome and dear to implement. However maybe a single multi-colored LED that indicated Peak Discount might have been squeezed in someplace. As with the PC-2A, you’ll simply have to make use of your ears, however listening to may be deceiving and all types of things like listening fatigue and the Fletcher–Munson impact can play tips on how we expect we’re perceiving sound. The LA-1A typically performs greatest by including very delicate compression, and it might have been good to get some visible suggestions in addition to offering a useful coaching help for guitarists who’re much less skilled dialing in compression or actually listening to the distinction it’s making to their sign. The shortage of achieve discount metering isn’t a deal-breaker and doesn’t actually hinder efficiency or enjoyment of enjoying the LA-1A, however it’s more likely to be probably the most notable addition that would make this pedal a extra good guitar compressor.
The Effectrode LA-1A Super High Resolution Limiting Amplifier is a top-shelf photo-optical tube compressor for musicians who place the significance of premium low-noise operation above all else. For all of the variations of compressor pedals that exist and numerous iterations from numerous builders, the LA-1A is almost certainly to objectively be the quietest, reaching a brand new plateau I don’t anticipate one other builder to match anytime quickly. It even one way or the other manages to prime the venerable PC-2A because of its exterior Assault & Knee controls and tone sweetening Dynamic EQ performance – to not point out the candy Increase perform. (The PC-2A continues to be a superb unit, and if board actual property is a priority, that pedal is certainly value contemplating.) Whereas my general impressions are based on how exceptionally nicely the LA-1A performs as a pedalboard sure guitar compressor, the potential to make use of it within the studio as an alternative choice to an LA-2A rack unit may warrant consideration. Effectrode have spared no consideration to sonic element in designing a compressor that stands tall in all areas of operation and applicability, and within the few months I’ve spent with it, it’s grow to be my new favourite guitar compressor pedal.
That concludes our Effectrode LA-1A assessment. Thanks for studying.