Waves CLA-76 is a software plug-in to be used in a DAW. It is a simulation of the famous 1176 hardware compressor. It was modeled off of the actually hardware compressors owned by Chris Lord-Alge. This plug-in actually contains two different 1176 models - a black-face (most popular model), and a blue-stripe (less common). Each compressor sounds a little different, but has the same controls.
Waves plug-ins are easy to install and authorize. Version 9 of their plug-ins has moved away from using an iLok. Now any USB stick can be used as the dongle, or the authorization can be done without a dongle if your computer connects to the internet.
The controls on the CLA-76 are pretty simple if you have a general idea about compressors, and even easier if you have any experience with an 1176 compressor. Although some people consider 'presets' in a plug-in to be blasphemy, I think they are actually pretty good in the CLA-76 for just getting started. The 'presets' are useful for getting the 'attack' and 'release' time set for a particular instrument. For instance, fast attack and fast release is the quintessential drum sound for the the 1176. Dialing up the drum 'preset' gets everything set right. What a 'preset' can't do for you is set the input gain correctly because this depends on the source material. In practice, I select a preset and then play around with the input gain until I get the right level of compression.
In all honesty, I have never used a hardware version of the 1176 so I can't tell you how close the model gets to the actual product. I have used several modeled versions (Bomb Factory, NI/Softube, IK Multimedia), and I like the sound of the Waves version the best. One feature that is lacking on the CLA-76 is a wet/dry or parallel inject control. The 1176 compressor is famous for heavy parallel compression. Ideally, I don't want to create two tracks in my DAW to achieve parallel compression, but it is necessary with the CLA-76. Many other modeled versions of the plug-in have this feature built-in. I wish Waves would update their plug-in with this control.
I have used the black-face model more often than the blue-stripe model, mostly because when I want the 1176 'sound', I am putting the compressor on drums. The black-face is my favorite compressor for drums. Chris Lord-Alge recommends the blue-stripe for vocals. I own the entire CLA Classic Compressors bundle. For a long time I used the CLA-3A on guitars because I had read a lot of commentary that the 3A is great for guitars. However, recently I had time to experiment more with the CLA-76, and discovered that I really like what is does with slightly overdriven electric guitars.
One other trick with the 1176 plug-in is to put it in series with the LA-2A. The 1176 is used first to tame the transients of the input signal, while the LA-2A boosts more of the sustain of the signal. I really like what the compressors do when working together.
In closing, I like the sound of the CLA-76 better than the other native models of the plug-in. Universal Audio has a critically acclaimed model of the 1176 for their UAD-2 DSP processors. I don't own their hardware, so I haven't tried the UAD stuff. Finally, I wish Waves would add the feature of parallel compression into the CLA-76 plug-in.
This is the third and final compressor in the CLA compressor series, and this one is actually two compressors in one. On top of that, it's the most versatile of them all. The plugin is modeled after the famous '60s Class A compressors that were called Blacky and Bluey. They have a fast attack that made them extremely popular back in the day. The coolest feature with this is that they have an "All" feature. This recreates that famous sound when you push all of the buttons in on the original compressor. It creates this crazy, edgy sound that can really push a mix and give it some unique character. Most people tend to use this on vintage sounding drums, and I especially like this on the snare, as well as the kick at times. I don't really use it on guitars as it's not as transparent, but it could work nicely on vocals at certain points if you're using automation.
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.
Being Class A, this isn't exactly the most desirable compressor for guitars. It may work, but most people prefer something a bit more transparent. Instead, this works great on drums, and it can even work quite nicely for vocals. The price over the overall CLA bundle isn't too bad when you consider what you're getting, so it's not worth going out and downloading them, in my opinion.
The Waves Ltd. CLA-76 is a compression plug-in that is modeled after the classic Universal Audio 1176, hence it's found in Waves' Classic Compressor bundle along with a number of other classic compressor emulations. Unlike the other compressors in this bundle, there is another 1176 plug-in out there that comes free with Pro Tools that is made by them through Bomb Factory. Installing this plug-in and the full Classic Compressors bundle is quite simple as long as you've got a compatible system as most should since they offer this bundle in all formats that I can think of. The CLA-76 has the same exact make up as a hardware 1176, so much so that it's kind of scary. Unfortunately I can't say the same thing about the sound, but at least it's got the same simple, familiar configuration. This configuration consists of parameters in the form of knobs for input, output, attack and release, and buttons to choose the ratio, which gives you ratios of 4:!, 8:1, 12:1, 20:1, and all in to choose from, just like the original 1176. It also has got a variety of VU metering options and two different skins to choose from.
I've currently got the Waves Ltd. CLA-76 and the Classic Compressors bundle installed and running on my Mac Book Pro lap top that has a 2.2 Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 4 GB of RAM. I run the plug-ins in Pro Tools LE 8 that I run with a Digi 002R audio interface or a Digidesign Micro Box if I'm editing and/or working on the go. This plug-in won't take up much of your processing power, but of course it's still necessary to have a decent amount of processing power to begin with. I'd say that as long as you're currently able to run plug-in smoothly on your system, you should be okay, but it's always hard to tell from system to system.
While the Waves Ltd. CLA-76 sounds pretty good overall, it certainly doesn't live up to the name, nor would I ask it to. Using a real 1176 would be the only way to get that sound, but this software version still sounds pretty good and is definitely a useful plug-in to have around. I'll usually only use this to get some quick compression going, as for real mixing or tracking I'll use a real 1176 when I've got access to one. I don't know that I'd recommend buying the Classic Compressors bundle at the price they are asking, but if you have the Waves Complete bundle, the CLA-76 is absolutely worth playing around with.