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ART Pro VLA II Compressor - Any good?

Discussion in 'Electronic Repair Modifications DIY' started by Sean G, Sep 15, 2015.

  1. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    I have been thinking about adding an OB compressor to the rack recently, and, being on a budget I have come across the ART Pro VLA II. This thing seems to get a good wrap for the price, and general concensus in regards to feedback is they sound better when the standard stock chinese-made tubes are replaced with Mullard 12ax7 tubes.
    Iv'e heard it referred to as "the poor mans' LA-2A", which, would suit my budget. (its retail is around $800 bucks new here in OZ...(thanks shitty-dollar value due to the fall in commodity prices....)

    The question(s) I am asking would be the following :-

    a) - Has anyone who has had experience be willing to share their thoughts on this compressor?

    b) - In todays' world, where our choice of plug-in compressors are overwhelming and one is spoiled for choice, is it really a necessary purchase in regards to what plug-ins can do in comparison??

    I would be looking to use it as an aux send as opposed to front loading the unit, primarily for vox use.
    I know ART stuff is entry level gear and most of it should probably be steered clear of, but would appreciate any thoughts / feedback.
  2. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I've used it - and it's a "decent" tube compressor... but I certainly wouldn't call it a "poor man's LA2"... for that you'll want a Focusrite Red 3; and you probably won't be able to touch one of those for anything under $2000 or so, and that's probably a conservative guess... ;)

    Personally speaking, I wouldn't use it on an aux send/insert to then return to the DAW. I would rather front-load with it, but, that's just me.

    Or, you could use it as a stereo program leveler between two DAWs, using one of the DAW's as a capture system.

    Is it worth the $200? For what it is, yeah, sure ... But you're going to be really disappointed if you are expecting it to sound anything like an LA2.

    Just because both models implement a tube stage doesn't mean they are the same thing(s).

    Have you ever used a real LA2A? Just curious...

    One of the main pieces of the magic to the LA2 was the T4 photo/opto cell... and this don't have that. ;)
  3. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    For the $$$ I wasn't expecting it to sound like LA2A, but I have seen it referred to as the poor mans' version, having never used this one I thought it would be better to throw the question out there to those that had experience with it.
    No, unfortunately I can't say I have used one personally, not yet anyway.
    Thanks for the heads up with the aux send, can you expand why you would rather front load it?
    I'd love to get one for that price, they are closer to $800 here in Oz, I thought about whether buying one from O/S is worth the effort, but I have to take into account we run 240v AC power here, so I thought it to be safe to purchase one here new thats compliant & with the warranty that comes with it
    Do you think spending the money on a top-shelf plug-in compressor would be a better option? Maybe a LA-2A plug-in? (while I know its probably not going to be exactly the same, but what would you suggest???)
  4. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    Honestly, the most important question is why ?
    Do you want a tool to modify/correct dynamics or someting to color your sound.

    If it is stricky for dynamics, do it in your DAW with a transparent plugin. My favorite ; Fabfilter's Pro C

    If you want color, make sure you can't get it elsewhere, a nice EQ curve can get you a long way toward a warmer sound (if such a thing exist)
    OR save up for something closer to the LA2A if that's the sound you're after : Summit Audio TLA-50
    OR have a baby la2a bundled with a preamp with the UA LA-610

    In the end, you have much more to gain with a better room, mic and pre, before trying to color with a comp. I can color a behringer C-1 recorded in an audio Buddy all I want it'll still sound like crap..
    Maybe you have all that's needed, good room, mic and preamps.. Then why kill them with a cheap comp ?
    Unless, it's not for pro work, in that case, the ART is the perfect unit for you ;)
    Sean G likes this.
  5. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I think Marco asked some pertinent questions - what is it that you want to accomplish, Sean?

    Let's back up for just a second...

    You originally asked about the ART, because you were told that it's "a poor man's LA2A". So obviously, you are somewhat interested in a tube/opto compressor "sound".

    The ART won't even get you close. I don't know who told you that the ART was even remotely similar, or if maybe you read it somewhere, but let's dispel that notion right now:

    The ART isn't even close to the sound of an LA2, or a Focusrite Red 3, or any of the other tube/opto compressors that are out there. I promise you it's not. Trust me. I've used the ART several times, I've used the LA2 many times.
    With the exception of both having a tube stage, They're not even close. Okay?? :) Okay. ;)

    Let's start with what you want to have, what you'd like to accomplish, and how much you have to spend, total, in Australian $$.

    (...and figure in shipping and duty from the U.S. - because depending on the amount you have, and the availability in Australia of what you are looking for, You still might be better off buying something from the U.S.)

    And we'll see if we can come up with some viable options for you. ;)

  6. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    I thinking now that I should just look at the Waves CLA-2A option and just stay ITB...
    The reason I was looking at this was to add some color to vocal tracks.
    This is what I have read in a review of the unit.
    Maybe I should not have quoted this, as I did not for a second think that it would come close to the sound of a LA-2A and thought that the quote in the review was drawing a long bow.
    I do appreciate the feedback and honest opinions.
    pcrecord likes this.
  7. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    The chain I have for vocals at present is -

    Rode NT1-A -> TC Helicon Voicelive Rack -> Allen & Heath Zed12FX -> PC -> Studio One 3 Pro.

    The plan was to add a compressor in the chain via an Aux send then back into the Allen & Heath to have the ability to add some color / warmth to the vocal tracks, while keeping the budget around $1k AUD ($700-$800 US)

    I know with that budget I'm really limiting myself to what options are available unless I stay ITB and use plug-ins?

    -Any suggestions??
  8. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    I own both. My VLA is an original 1997 made in the USA version. I bought it new. I sent it to JJ Audio and they modded it, Now its a decent color type of comp. It wasn't originally an LA2A sound and its still not. My LA2A sounds just like one...imagine that. My Drip Audio Opto 6 sounds like an LA2A because thats what it is. Except the Drip has so much headroom and gain that you can use it as a mic pre. Yep. Nice sounding circuit.......

    THE ONLY REASON you should worry about a comp for your setup is gain staging and limiting going in. Do you NEED a comp for this? No. You may want one for the color they bring...the "mojo" to a voice or a special track of some source...leads....etc...

    Do you NEED an LA2A? well.....theres a real reason that after all these years that they are still the number one or two choice of basic compression in MOST studios. 1176 being the other. Marco hit right. A Summit TLA-50 is the poor mans LA2A. I love those too.

    If I was starting a rack with an eye on the future I would save my coin and buy a Langevin DVC and never have to think about much for a long long time.

    Oh and to answer your post...the VLA is a decent box. Much better than the price would indicate. Like I said...I've had one for almost 20 years and still use it. And I have many more to choose from
    kmetal, pcrecord and Sean G like this.
  9. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    Thanks for your imput Davedog.
    Food for thought...(y)
  10. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    What do you find it most suited for?
  11. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Which is good to know, Dave - except that yours has also been modded - so, I guess the question is; how much of the original VLA remains, as it came out of the box from ART, before you had it rebuilt? ;)
    (I for one would love to hear about how it was modded, if you don't mind sharing. :) )

    Dave's reply also brings up another excellent ( and related) subject, which is gear modification ( Also DIY and Kit Builds, but maybe that's for another thread ;) ).

    There have been many different types of gear - pre's, mics, compressors, channel strips, etc., that have been modified by guys - guys who are really good at what they do - and who can often turn your "average" piece of equipment into some seriously nice, unique, and even sought-after pieces. I wish I had that kind of knowledge and skill . ;)

    Cheaper ribbon mics are one of the more popular studio pieces you will hear about being modified; I've read articles, and have also actually heard the results of cheap, low cost ribbon mics being modded by a microphone expert; for example, someone like Michael Joly, who has modded many a mic - like the MXL R44 and R144 for example - where he might replace the cheap/stock XFO with something different (and better), or maybe even add or remove certain mechanical pieces, or filters; or maybe even adjust the ribbon tension, ( according to Joly, 50% of the 800 or so low-cost ribbon mics he has worked on from overseas have suffered from "ribbon sag"... and in those, often 80% of the ribbon is sagging out of the magnetic gap. )

    So, after someone like Joly is done modifying your "cheaper" mic, you end up having a mic that not only sounds much nicer, but is also worth more. And quite often, these mods are not as pricey as you would think, especially when you hear the words "expert" and "modify" and "rebuild" used in the same sentence... LOL...

    Joly's basic mod for an R144 is $349. In terms of mics and mods, that's very reasonable. If you paid $200 for a cheap ribbon, and put another $350 into it for the mods, you've got a total of only $550 into what is now a very nice ribbon mic.

    I think your only problem at that point would be, that because it's so reasonable in price to improve, a lot of people are having those mods done, so it's possible that you could end up on a waiting list. ;)


  12. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Kinda behind here...so relevance might be out of time....I used my VLA since it was new. It was always "okay" but not a "character" type of box. Pretty clean and you could use it as a compressor/limiter for things it would be needed on. My take on it being a 'decent compressor for the money' was said based on the thousands of hours logged with it. I had it modded because as my rack grew, it just wasn't getting used muc. I have lots of 'other' choices, so I had a mod done to it and now it has an attitude and a sound comparable to everything else in the rack.
    Specifically, these days, I use it in conjunction with the True systems P2 when I'm dumping a keyboard into the sessions. I take this direct out to the DI on the true and then patch the VLA behind it. It seems to give the field a little more width and adds a little texture. I also take a midi at the same time so I can add sounds with the same performance. Also works this way when I'm doin a demo session with the electronic drumkit.

    As far as what they did to it, it was your basic better transformers, better caps and such and a better grounding scheme. For true overview, I think its outlined on the JJ Audio site.
  13. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    Thanks Davedog for your reply...
    I think I'm going to change tack now and look at ways to further improve my chain before I consider anything OB to add to it down the track.
    But its good to get feedback from someone who uses this unit and also ways to improve it from the basic off-the-shelf model.
    Much appreciated (y)
  14. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I also do this, Dave.

    Anytime I'm recording a performance using any midi-based controller, I always record the midi data at the same time to its own track, as well as recording the audio track. I find it to be beneficial; in that I can always re-trigger any sample I choose, playing the same part(s) that I'd originally recorded the audio to. It's nice to have the option of changing octaves, or altering the velocities and durations of notes in a midi editor. Often, some further editing is required when doing this, anyway... because different samples/patches will react differently to the original midi data... as an example, if you record the midi data to a piano performance, and decide at some point you'd like to use that same data to trigger a string sample, the strings will respond quite differently, usually it's an attack/sustain situation.

    So, you mentioned using the ART VLA on keys ? ... Were you referring to a piano sample? Just curious, as you didn't specify when you said "keyboards". If it is piano, is there a particular setting on the VLA that you like for this?
    Understanding that it all depends on the song, sample, and performance, of course... I'm just interested in any particular settings you like to use; using compression on piano has always been a little elusive for me... I've always found that a little goes a long way. I generally shoot for GR that's as "transparent" as possible; kinda there but not there ? I can't say that I've ever used a tube compressor on a piano track, ( I've used plenty of SS and XFO compression on piano - DBX, 1176, as well as the built-in channel compression on the SSL E/G Series desks, etc. ) but to the best of my recollection, I've never used a tube model - (unless I was to include the use of something like an LA2A on the master bus for an entire mix with a piano in there somewhere) - so I'm interested to know how a tube model reacts.

    I know there are cats who love using tube GR on piano - Alan Parsons swears by his Fairchild on grand piano. Then again, if I had a real 670 - and a grand piano - I'd probably swear by it, too. ;)
  15. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Not a sample per se....justa setting from the piano's voices. With these Korg's he uses I'm sure theres SOME sample involved....but no, nothing in particular. I'm using it as a kind of circuit based buffer for the piano's output. I'm not really concerned about settings, I just want the circuit to be in the chain. The basic setting is rather neutral as I am using the preset attack and release set to 'fast'. The threshold are sitting at around -15 and the outputs are at 0 or 'unity'...the ratio is linked and the setting is about 3:1. Understand that this is patched after the pre. I'm using the DI section of a True System P2 as the direct in from the keyboard. I take the midi out to the in of the Apogee Rosetta 200. The Rosetta functions as my 'floating' converter. I use it on any 2 channel device as it has its own bus into PT via the Omni. I use the Eleven rack as an analog device through the Apogee and this keeps my direct recording feeds this way as a non-latency issue.

    It takes the digital edge off of the keyboard sounds . I guess if you wanted to use the word "organic", that would be it. Whatever it is it sounds good to my ears and thats what counts around here.

    I use the same chain for the electronic kit when I'm just recording from the drum module's internal sounds. Mostly as a quick song demo or song writing tool. But it sounds great and if I take the time to really balance the individual pads to match the song it makes a real decent drum track when played by an excellent drummer. This kit is also set up to take all its pads out to trigger Superior Drummer. There's still some language issues at this time but work progresses and I have confidence it'll all talk to one another in a fine way eventually. I also have recently added Steven Slate's trigger. After watching a cohort of mine use his I'm sold.

    As far as midi editing, I'm surrounded by industry pro's who can do this in their sleep. I am slow as hell with the tool part of these things but I know what I want to hear.
    kmetal and DonnyThompson like this.
  16. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    If it matters, the Korgs are both Kronos Workstations.....one weighted and one not.
  17. eric labrie

    eric labrie Active Member

    When using soft, these compressor works good. But like a lot of compressors within this price range, it's not made to make clean hard compression. For soft compression it's pretty decent. Nice little hybrid design. I've never investigate the design, nor the vactrol they use thought.

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