The Effectrode PC-2A Compressor may at first seem like a humble, unassuming little pedal with its classy, understated appearance consisting of only 2 surface knobs and a few words upon a clean, light grey enclosure. But guitarists with some degree of studio experience will notice something of great significance in this tidy package with its name providing the biggest hint. The PC-2A is Effectrode’s take on an LA-2A in pedal form. If the hyphenated characters “LA-2A” mean nothing to you, please allow me to briefly explain why they should.
Teletronix LA-2A Leveling Amplifier
There is one studio compressor often regarded above all others, yes, even above the mighty Urei 1176, as the greatest compressor/limiter of all time: the Teletronix LA-2A Leveling Amplifier. This truly iconic piece of gear has a compression/limiting style that has been applied on countless classic recordings for over 5 decades and is still going strong today in hardware and software form.
The LA-2A is at its heart an optical tube compressor, owing its mythical style of organic and musical dynamic attenuation to an electro-luminescent panel and cadmium-sulfide photo resistors. Then there’s the all-valve signal path that helped impart a certain warmth that was lost in the LA-2A’s solid state successors (LA-3A, etc., although these siblings do have noteworthy qualities in their own right). The LA-2A could be super transparent, warm and colorful, or thick and saturated. And this range of qualities could be dialed in from just 2 knobs (Gain & Peak Reduction) and a Compress/Limit switch. Essentially, this piece of rack-mount royalty combines a trifecta of diverse application possibilities, amazing sound quality, and deceptively simplistic operation to be the ultimate compressor that many producers, engineers, and musicians still regard as the pinnacle of compression.
From LA-2A To PC-2A
Truly a labor of love, the PC-2A was the result of two years of devoted research, experimentation, and design that resulted in what is Effectrode’s best-selling pedal. Drawing upon his seemingly unparalleled expertise in combining tubes and guitar pedals, Effectrode designer, Phil Taylor, spared no attention to detail in his interpretation of the iconic compressor from which he drew inspiration.
The PC-2A isn’t trying to be a 1:1 replica of the LA-2A. What it aims to do is take the notable performance qualities of its muse and present them in a compact format for guitarists, bassists, and other musicians with a discerning taste for what Effectrode appropriately calls “audiophile pedals”.
The PC-2A retains an all-tube signal path, courtesy of a Philips N.O.S. military spec subminiature triode vacuum tube (that’s a mouthful) and a photo-optical attenuation circuit that has been carefully modified and smoothed for optimal performance with guitar. Similar Peak Reduction & Gain knobs are present as well as the Limit/Compress switch from the LA-2A. But while the LA-2A had a fixed attack and knee due to the nature of its design, the Effectrode PC-2A allows you to adjust these compression parameters via internal Attack & Knee trimpots for greater versatility. Attack & Knee are already preset from the factory for optimal use with guitar but can be adjusted for other audio sources such as a bass guitar with active pickups or an acoustic guitar with piezo pickup.
While there aren’t many candidates for best optical tube compressor or best LA-2A inspired compression pedal, our Effectrode PC-2A review is more of an exploration of this pedal on its own merits to see if it sets the standard. Here’s a feature rundown before we continue.
All Tube: 100% pure analogue vacuum tube audio path operating at amp plate voltages ensures the PC-2A compressor has huge headroom and very quiet, natural sound reproduction. Each tube is burned in for 24 hours and each PC-2A compressor pedal tested and hand assembled by the designer to make sure it is perfect.
Limit/Compress Switch: Select between two completely different compression curves. ‘Compress’ mode is a light, subtle compression that can be used to enhance tone and even out string dynamics – the tube and photo-cell yields beautifully natural and musical tone. ‘Limit’ mode is heavier for a punchier, ‘squished’ country tone.
Internal Attack and Knee controls: To allow bass players with high output/active pick-ups to adjust the compression response characteristic to tailor it to their needs. This little tube compressor performs exceptionally well with electric, active bass, 12-string and acoustic guitars – you really don’t need a separate dedicated bass compressor!
‘Proper’ side-chain: A-weighted pre-emphasis in the side-chain replicates the response of the human ear and allows for heavy compression without the excessive ‘pumping’ normally associated with compressors processing low-frequency material. Because the control side-chain circuitry is much less sensitive to low frequencies the PC-2A maintains a transparent low-end response making it an invaluable tool for taming mid-frequency transients caused by slapping or pulling strings on bass or NS stick.
Photo-optical gain control: The gain control attenuator is based on a resistive photocell which ensures the absolute minimum of distortion is introduced (much lower than V.C.A. and F.E.T. designs). Additionally, the natural decay characteristic of the photocell produces a smooth release characteristic which always sounds pleasing and natural to the ear.
Works as a tube boost pedal!: The gain is about 15dBu maximum with the ‘Peak Reduction’ knob fully anti-clockwise and the ‘Gain’ knob fully clockwise. This is enough to push a Fender ‘Tweed’ or ‘Deluxe’ amp into breakup and overdrive territory.
True Bypass Switching: With Effectrode’s unique ‘anti-pop’ or ‘thump’ footswitching circuitry utilizing sealed, gold-contact relay to eliminate the possibility of dirty contacts degrading the sound and minimal internal audio path.
Dakaware Knobs: Authentic phenolic Dakaware, Chicago 1510 knobs custom manufactured for Effectrode in the U.S.A using the original 1940s moulds.
Fitted with N.O.S Philips tube: Each PC-2A compressor is fitted with a hand-selected 6111 subminiature tube. This is one of the finest tubes ever built by any manufacturer at any time in history.
Includes 12V Wall-wart Power Supply: High quality low-noise switched mode 12VDC at 1.5A wall-wart compatible with all our pedals. Accepts 100V to 240VAC mains input and comes with different mains outlet adaptor plugs, so there is always a plug that fits the country that you are playing in.
The PC-2A’s enclosure is a little wider than your standard Boss-sized pedal with a couple sparse knobs and a foot-switch adorning its surface. If you’re concerned with pedalboard real estate, be aware that the PC-2A also has ventilation holes punched in the sides, so you may want to give it a little extra room to either side and not let the top-mounted jacks entice you into squeezing this pedal in too tight a space. I already commented on the pedal’s general appearance in the introduction, but I do rather appreciate the minimalist appeal of the PC-2A. Effectrode must have opted to let the sound to the talking.
When opening the pedal, you’ll that the component side of the PCB faces inward. What is visible are the 2 trimpots for Knee and Attack that’ll let you fine tune your sound if you need to. They’re clearly labeled and also have marks for “H” & “S” to indicate a hard or soft Knee and “F” & “S” for a fast or slow Attack.
The included 12VDC, 1500mA power supply emits high frequency noise when not plugged into the pedal. This disappears when you plug it in, so that shouldn’t be a concern. If you’re opting to use the PC-2A with an isolated multi-pedal power supply, the pedal’s minimum power requirement is 12 volts at 350mA. But before you plug it in and fry your pedal, know that the PC-2A’s power input is center positive, so you’ll need an adapter cable if you’re going to power it from a typical center negative PSU.
The foot-switch is indeed pop-free with a slight dip in signal volume as your wet signal fades in. This will spare your audience from loud clicks, but be sure to activate the pedal a split second sooner before you take your solo for the effect to fully kick in.
Sound & Performance:
More than with any other compressor I’ve played, the PC-2A imparts a certain smoothness to your signal that just seems to make everything you play sound and feel a little better. While the nature of the PC-2A’s optical compression circuit plays a critical role in determining how your signal is attenuated, it’s also the pedal’s subminiature vacuum tube that adds to the overall character of the sound that comes out of this pedal. In fact, the lively qualities of the tube’s influence on your tone are so appealing that you may find yourself leaving the pedal on without any Peak Reduction just to add the tube gain stage to your signal or apply a little clean tube boost. But doing that alone would deprive you of the full joy of using this pedal.
Throughout the Peak Deduction knob’s range on the left side of noon are plenty of tone enhancing sweet spots for having the PC-2A just barely massage your signal while imparting a little of its magic on your guitar playing. The compression itself has a reasonably fast attack that doesn’t choke off your pick attack. On lower Peak Reduction settings, it’s almost hard to hear any compressing happening at all. But as you turn the knob clockwise, you’ll begin to hear greater impact on your playing dynamics and come to appreciate the way the PC-2A compresses. As the compression becomes more prominent a gentle Gain boost compensates for a reduced signal level. The PC-2A’s sound is full-range, and it retains your highs and lows. While the signal is immaculate and near-transparent, you’ll hear some pleasing yet subtle tonal characteristics and harmonic content added to your sound.
You’ll also notice how turning up the Peak Reduction knob doesn’t bring up the noise floor. That’s partly because the Peak Reduction is simply setting the compression threshold (and ratio) as opposed to raising input signal level as on an FET compressor. Then there’s the fact that the PC-2A is built completely from audiophile components optimized for purity of tone while minimizing extraneous noise. It’s very surprising and indeed praise-worthy how Effectrode have managed to keep the PC-2A so quiet. After the stellar compression and tone-enhancing qualities, the low noise level is yet another reason why the PC-2A makes a great ‘always-on’ compressor.
Higher Peak Reduction settings result in heavier compression, and with some styles of playing or high level signals you may encounter some noticeable dipping and swelling (or ‘pumping’) of your signal level. I find best results by finding those Peak Reduction levels where this occurs and simply pulling the Peak Reduction back just a little although you can play into the effect for an ethereal, “blooming” compression sound. This is also more noticeable on Limiting mode (accessed by flipping the Limit switch upward).
Modes: Compress vs Limit
Compress mode is generally for lighter to moderate compression, although it’s still reasonably squishy at high Peak Reduction settings. But when you switch to Limit, you’ll immediately notice the difference as this mode compresses much harder. It doesn’t exactly do that ‘brick-wall’ limiting, volume ceiling type of compression, but it gives you a much harder squeeze if you need it. If you’re getting the funk out or bringing some tight country-style twang, you might want to experiment with Limit mode. For most general use you’ll probably leave the PC-2A in Compress mode.
Attack & Knee
The PC-2A packs a couple ‘guitar-optimized’ surprises under the hood that you won’t see on the front panel of an LA-2A Limiting Amplifier. There are dedicated Attack & Release trimpots inside if you open up the backplate. They’re both already adjusted from the factory (to noon), but I couldn’t help but get in there and give ’em a tweak. I’d recommend doing this at least once when you get the pedal to really make it suit your playing style. A fast Attack setting can choke down hard on your initial pick attack, a setting bassists may find more useful. Guitarists can dial it back a little if you want your initial plucking transient to be heard clearly. Or you can dial the Attack back to a slower setting for some less prominent compression that has more of a sustaining effect on your ringing notes. The Knee determines how quickly the PC-2A achieves maximum compression when your signal crosses the threshold. I’d recommend Softer Knee settings for more subtle compression effects and Harder Knee settings for more aggressive compressing/limiting, more suitable for very percussive styles of playing. The Attack/Knee settings in the photo above are somewhere around where I typically set them. But even if you never explore these extra options, the PC-2A sounds great as it is.
There isn’t much to complain about really. I would like to have seen some sort of visual gain reduction indication. A real LA-2A style VU meter would have been neat. But instead the PC-2A encourages you to really listen to what you’re hearing to find the results you want. Of course, it’s hard to dial in a ‘bad’ sound from the 2 surface knobs if you just keep an ear on the pedal’s response, particularly the release. If the “dip-and-swell” becomes too prominent, just cut back the Peak Reduction until it smooths out. But in most cases just activating the PC-2A produces great results. Be mindful of your power supply! The power input being center positive might result in some accidental mishaps (i.e. a blown out pedal) for users not paying attention when trying to connect the PC-2A to another power supply. The pumping sounds on higher compression settings might put off some players (unless you’re into that!) although players with solid dynamic control will be able to compensate for this and or even put it to use. A compressor isn’t a substitute for lazy playing or poor technique, and a well-controlled pick hand will be rewarded with excellent results. Add to that a keen ear for the right settings, and the results are mesmerizing.
The Effectrode PC-2A is a truly professional piece of gear for those seeking audiophile quality effects. Let’s see the final result.
The Effectrode PC-2A Compressor is an inspired take on the legendary LA-2A and is destined to attain similar classic status among ‘audiophile’ compression-loving guitarists. The PC-2A can do subtle to moderate and heavier compression while always providing a gentle sweetening to your overall guitar sound. The magic in this box comes courtesy of its unique photo-optical tube design that imparts a certain warmth to your signal that you’ll only get from this pedal. It’s deceptively simple to use, but dial in the settings that most suit your playing and witness stunning results. The Effectrode PC-2A is without a doubt the best optical tube compression pedal available today.
That concludes our Effectrode PC-2A Compressor review. Thanks for reading.
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