Review: Cakewalk CA-2A Emulation Plug-In - EMusician

Review: Cakewalk CA-2A Emulation Plug-In

An LA-2A emulation with some tricks up its sleeve
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The classic Teletronix LA-2A leveling amplifier has long been revered for its smooth optical compression—especially on vocals. With its new CA-2A plug-in, Cakewalk is the latest software developer to try its hand at emulating it in plug-in format. The 64-bit only CA-2A is available in two versions: one for VST3/AU/AAX, and another one for Sonar’s ProChannel Module. I reviewed the former, and tried it in several hosts (Pro Tools, Studio One 3 and Digital Performer 9) on a MacBook Pro.

Onboard
The CA-2A gives you the same controls as the silver-faced LA-2A— the Limit/Compress switch, R37 (high-frequency pre-emphasis) adjustment, Gain and Peak Reduction knobs, switchable VU meter and power switch—and adds a few additional wrinkles of its own. One is a sidechain input, which allows you to control the unit’s compression or limiting with an external audio signal. Also added is a dBFS (dB Full Scale) setting for the VU meter, the standard for digital audio.

A dropdown Options menu can be opened from subtly placed disclosure triangle on the right “rack ear” of the GUI. It’s so subtle that I didn’t even see it the first time I opened the plug-in. The options it offers include a Fast Reset speed for the modeled photocell memory of the compression engine. Because of the nature of the LA-2A’s optical design, there were times it’s compressor would respond too slowly to a hard transient after a period of silence, resulting in a pop on that initial transient. The Fast Reset option eliminates that potential problem in the modeled optical circuitry.

Also in the Options menu is the enable/disable setting for the side chain, and a link to the manual.

Cakewalk did not include any presets with the CA-2A. The UI is so simple to set that it isn’t a major issue, but less experienced users will probably miss having the starting points that presets provide when setting the plug-in for different types of sources.

In Play
I tested the CA-2A out on vocals, drums, bass and acoustic guitar. Like the original, it allows for a pretty wide range of compression, based on how high you turn the Peak Reduction knob. It also adds the characteristic sheen to the source material.

I compared it with another LA-2A emulation in its price range, as well as one that’s quite a bit more expensive and runs on a hardware-based DSP-platform. The CA-2A completely held its own with the former, but lacked the same depth of detail as the latter.

Nevertheless, the CA-2A’s additional features—the Fast Reset, the dBFS meter, and particularly the sidechain—provide the user with more options than on other LA-2A emulations. I think it’s cool when emulative plug-ins offer features that expand the capabilities of the original hardware.

Last Word
Overall, the CA-2A responds authentically, and at $79, is a very good value.

STRENGTHS:
Accurate emulation of LA-2A
Adds sidechain, Fast Reset and dBFS meter option

LIMITATIONS:

No presets