The CLA-2A is a software plug-in to be used in a DAW. It digitally emulates the processing of the famous LA-2A compressor.
Waves plug-ins are easy to install. You just download it off their webpage, then authorize it using a USB stick as a dongle, or using a software application if you computer connects to the internet.
Waves plug-ins are stable. I have never had any problems with bugs or anything like that.
This is the easiest compressor I have ever used (Waves Ren Axx is a close second). Essentially there are just two knobs. The knob on the right is used to control the gain reduction (i.e. how much amplitude of the signal gets compressed). The knob on the left is used to control the overall volume of the output signal. There are no controls for attack/release/knee/etc. Basically, all these settings are fixed and set internally. It is worth noting that the attack and release of this compressor are not very fast (especially compare to an 1176). Therefore, it is typically used for things like vocals, bass, and guitars. Using this compressor with drums can be tricky because it has the slow attack time. One popular technique is to use an 1176 first with fast attack and fast release to control the transients, followed by an LA-2A to control the sustain of the drums. Another good thing to do it to use the side-chain HPF to cut the low frequencies of a bass drum.
The LA-2A compressor is famous for 'smoothing' out audio tracks. If you can spend the money to buy a hardware version, more power to you. For the rest of us, we can be glad that many software companies are digitally modeling the signal processing. I own several modeled versions of the LA-2A (Waves CLA-2A, BF-2A, NI/Softube VC 2A, Line 6 Tube Comp). I definitely like the sound of the Waves version the best. I would like to see them include the feature of parallel inject/mix on an update version of all the CLA compressors.
The LA-2A is an essential signal processor for any studio. I definitely wouldn't want to try to mix without it. With that being said, it would be a great idea to buy this plug-in as part of the CLA compressors bundle because the 1176 is also essential.
Waves has a series of three popular compressors that are modeled after their old school counter parts. This one is modeled after the electro-optical tube compressor that was used throughout the 60s and 70s. On top of that, they include some special presets you can test out. To begin with, this compressor actually doubles as a limiter. For those that don't know, compressors and limiters are extremely similar. The main difference between the two is that a limiter isn't as adjustable. Basically, a limiter is a compressor that has a very high ratio. This means that it won't let anything past the threshold it's set at. There is a switch on this that allows you to choose between the two, and I can't say it's the most versatile switch out there. The compressor itself isn't that versatile as you only have a gain and peak reduction knob with some different hum you can introduce for character and a toggle switch to select between the two different types of compressors (or limiters, depending on how you want to classify them). I find that this works nicely on clean to low gain guitars, but it seems to struggle with anything higher as it sounds too vintage for me.
Waves plugins are pretty well renowned in the business as being some of the most stable and popular plugins in the audio world. For one, they're cross platform. That means Mac users like me can use pretty much every single one of their plugins without a problem. Granted, they run at 32 bit instead of 64 bit, but Logic kindly provides a nice application that allows them to run without harming the 64 bit environment. I've never once experienced a crash that was directly correlated with inserting a Waves plugin on a buss. They're extremely stable, and I can't say enough about them. The biggest issue would be the overall cost as they cost a ton of money. I've never read the manual, so I can't really comment on that. These plugins are super easy, and the only main hurdle is figuring out what the names mean.
I prefer some of the other compressors on the market to this one mainly because of the style of music I play. This is geared towards those wanting a much more vintage sound. For me, I generally prefer something a bit more transparent and with a lot more versatility. If you're someone who is more on the vintage side of things, this could easily be what you're looking for.
The Waves Ltd. CLA-2A is a compressor/limiter plug-in that is part of the Waves Classic Compressors bundle. The CLA-2A is modeled after the classic Teletronix/Universal Audio LA-2A compressor that has been used on so many different recordings over the years and is known as one of the best compressors out there. I'm not sure if you can purchase this plug-in individually or if it's only available in the bundle, as I've got the full Waves bundle that contains this plug-in. Installing it and all that is really simple and not unlike installing any other software, so as long as you have a properly compatible system to run it on, I can't foresee users having any installation problems. The interface of the CLA-2A is a dead match for the original LA-2A, as it's got the same exact make up. Even if you aren't familiar with an LA-2A's make up, which is the simplest of all compressors, you'll be able to figure out this one on your own without the help of a manual. The only parameters that it has are for gain (make up) and peak reduction (compression), as well as a switch to use it as either a limiter or a compressor.
Right now I'm running the Waves Ltd. CLA-2A and the Classic Compressor in Pro Tools LE 8 on my home recording rig. I'm running the software on a Mac Book Pro that has a 2.2 Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 4 GB of RAM, along with a Digi 002R audio interface for Pro Tools and a set of Adam A7 monitors for listening. This configuration has been able to handle a good work load, and the CLA-2A hasn't presented it with any performance issues thus far. I also haven't had a need to run more than one or two of them at a time, as this isn't a great all purpose compressor in my opinion.
It's definitely cool to have a plug-in version of the LA-2A, which is probably my favorite compressor, but having the Waves Ltd. CLA-2A really just makes me long for having a real LA-2A. The sound definitely isn't comparable by any means, but it's still cool to have the same make up and ease of use going on here. The sound certainly isn't terrible, but it's nothing too noteworthy. I find myself using it every now and again, but it lacks a certain fullness in my opinion. Perhaps it's because it will be judged according to the LA-2A, which isn't really fair, but there are definitely other plug-in compressors out there that I will use before this one. I don't think I'd purchase the Classic Compressors bundle or the CLA-2A if it didn't come with the entire Waves package, but I'm definitely not complaining about having it around...