“Legendary Vocal Compressor from the ’60s”
HISTORY The LA-2A is considered one of the most legendary vocal compressors in recording history. I first learned about it through a friend and mentor of mine, John Agnello (Sonic Youth, Kurt Vile, Dinosaur Jr.). In fact, the specific LA-2A that I’ve used in sessions is his piece of gear. John was our busiest client at Headgear Recording. He’d bring over racks of gear and just leave them at our studio, so this LA-2A was always in my control room.
HOW IT’S USED This particular LA-2A was destroyed, like so much equipment, by Hurricane Sandy. John lost all of his gear when Water Music in Hoboken, NJ was flooded with over six feet of water. He was a mentor to a lot of engineers and we’ve all come to know his gear – not just theoretically, but tangibly. I used the LA-2A whenever I had an opportunity during mixing. After tracking a vocal, I would almost always send the lead through this compressor. It basically just touched it a few dB and it was mixed. It didn’t require any EQ, which is why I’d say it’s my favorite piece of gear – it’s invaluable.
When you ran vocals through this LA-2A, it attenuated the low end so it could sit in the mix perfectly. It’s this weird EQ bump, which reminds me of old school ’60s and early-’70s recording, where the vocal didn’t really have a lot of low end, it just pops out. I’m always chasing that sound. This specific piece of gear – not just any vintage LA-2A, but John’s in particular – had it. It produced one of those “ah-ha” moments.
For me, what especially distinguishes a great piece of gear is that I use it and it gives me a nostalgic feeling of a cool, seminal record. It’s not scientifically good or bad, it’s just from a historically important time in music. So if I put a piece of gear on and it sounds like something I’ve heard by, say, The Kinks, I’m going to get really excited. I’d say that’s my non-scientific approach to recording music/
MODERN EQUIVALENT There is a re-issue of the LA-2A by Universal Audio, but I wouldn’t say that it’s a modern equivalent. I love the new LA-2A but it doesn’t sound the same. There’s a lot of gain and distortion. It’s gnarly sounding, which is fantastic! Just totally, totally different.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Alex Lipsen is a producer, composer and engineer whose many credits include projects with Nada Surf, Phosphorescent, The Jealous Girlfriends and Santigold. After 13 years as the owner and engineer of Headgear Recording in Brooklyn, Lipsen embarked on a new endeavor this fall at Russell Street Recording in Greenpoint, Brooklyn with partner Carlos Hernandez. Visit them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RussellStreetRecording for news and updates.