Making a Scene Brings you a Review of the Universal Audio LA-610
The Universal Audio LA-610 MkII ($1,999) is an updated version of their classic 610 tube preamp and their LA-2A optical compressor that has been a favorites among recording engineers for many years. It is highly regarded for its warm and rich tone, as well as its versatility in a variety of recording applications. Considering the 610 Preamp alone sells for $1,200 and the LA-2A sells for $4,700, the $2,000 price tag of the LA-610 can be a real cost savings for a studio looking to add high end capabilities on a budget.
Universal Audio was Founded in 1958 by Bill Putnam Sr., since day one they have been known as creators of innovative recording products. Bill Putnam Sr. himself was a favorite engineer of of such legendary artists as Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles and more. In addition the late Bill Putnam Sr. was also passionate hardware innovator who is widely regarded as the father of modern recording — with many of his legendary studio and equipment designs still in use today.
Specifically, Putnam was the inventor of the modern recording console, the multi-band audio equalizer, and the vocal booth, and he was the first engineer to use artificial reverberation in commercial recording. Alongside his friend Les Paul, Putnam was also involved in the early development of stereophonic recording.
Putnam, started three audio hardware product companies during his long career: Universal Audio, Studio Electronics, and UREI. All three companies built equipment that still remain widely used decades after their introduction, including the now famous LA-2A and 1176 compressors, and the 610 tube recording console. The 610 console in particular stands as one of the most beloved designs in audio history, used to record everyone from Sinatra to the Beach Boys to Van Halen’s debut.
Today Universal Audio not only still manufactures the 610 Preamp, LA-2A and 1176 Compressors as well as a line of Apollo Digital Audio Interfaces, DSP cards and units as well as a line of extremely accurate plugin emulations of vintage audio hardware. All in all Universal Audio is one of the most respected companies in the recording industry and their hardware and software are part of some of the top studios in the world.
The updated LA-610 Mk II has the same great sound as the original LA-610 with some added improvements. The LA-610 features a single channel of preamplification with a 12AX7 tube, providing up to 60 dB of gain. It also includes a built-in optical compressor with a variable attack and release time, as well as a switchable high-pass filter. The front panel includes controls for input gain, output level, compression threshold, and a three-band EQ. There are also switches for phantom power, phase reversal, and compressor bypass. On the rear panel, there are XLR and 1/4″ inputs and outputs, as well as a send and return for external processing.
The most significant change is the implementation of “True Bypass.” With the original, the Bypass switch simply disabled the gain reduction sidechain from the circuit which often caused a jump in output gain making “A/B” compressed/uncompressed comparisons difficult. The LA-610 Mk II bypasses the whole compressor, including the make-up gain amplifier, making A/B comparisons much easier. Another benefit to this feature is that the preamp can be 100% isolated from the compressor when you only want the 610, and no other circuit coloration.
Next, they added a larger meter. The larger meter is much easier to read from across the room, not only because of its size, but also because we improved the lighting of the meter. No less than 12 LEDs illuminate the new meter. This also means you’ll never have to replace a meter bulb! And speaking of bulbs, we’ve also done away with the somewhat hard-to-find incandescent bulb used in the power lamp-this is now LED-based as well, and should last a lifetime.
Another improvement is an auto-sensing power supply. This means your LA-610 can travel the world without the need for various fuses! Plug it in anywhere you want. Lastly, we improved the way feedback-style EQ is implemented with the EQ circuit. It simply means much-improved consistency at the test bench for Universal Audio, without the occasional “squealing EQ” that would crop up on a unit from time to time.
The LA-610 features a single channel of preamplification with a 12AX7 tube, providing up to 60 dB of gain. It also includes a built-in optical compressor with a variable attack and release time, as well as a switchable high-pass filter. The front panel includes controls for input gain, output level, compression threshold, and a three-band EQ. There are also switches for phantom power, phase reversal, and compressor bypass. On the rear panel, there are XLR and 1/4″ inputs and outputs, as well as a send and return for external processing.
The LA-610 excels at adding warmth and character to vocals, guitars, and other acoustic instruments. The tube preamp provides a smooth and rich sound, while the optical compressor adds a gentle and musical level of compression. The EQ section is also very effective, allowing for precise shaping of the frequency response. The high-pass filter is a useful addition for removing low-frequency rumble or unwanted bass resonance. The compressor can be bypassed if desired, allowing for more transparent signal processing.
If you are familiar with the many LA-2A plugins on the market, or even some of the hardware units non really compare to the UA version. There is a certain sound and vibe that you can get from these units that is unique and very musical. Add to that the warm smoothness of the 610 Tube Preamp and you have a channel strip that is going to quickly become your go to when it comes to vocals, guitar, bass or anything else you want to through at it.
This is only placed here for those of you who are crazy critical about your sound. Many times I have purchased really nice gear only to change the tubes to NOS versions to warm them up a bit more. I do not recommend making any modifications if you do not know what you are doing or why. This can be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing and could void your warranty at the very least. But I present these here as these are modifications that has been tested and were presented by users with good results.
IMPORTANT!!! If you are not familiar with working with electronics and hi voltage circuits defer any modifications to a qualified electronic technician.
Modification 1: The easiest modification is to replace the stock tubes with vintage new old stock American/European (RCA, Sylvania, Tung Sol, GE, etc) tubes. Many of these tubes are available through Ebay, Tube Depot, etc. Make sure you test any tube you place in the unit to make sure it is well within specs. You may want to try several tubes to find the ones that sound best to your ears.
Modification 2: Replace compressor output tube replace stock V2 with your ECC82 (12AU7) tube (You can stop right here if you want and it’s still better than stock). NOTE you can find some great NOS 12AU7 tubes in old baldwin and hammond organs.
Modification 3: (Optional) Replace PREAMP output tube Replace stock V4 replace them with the ECC82/12AU7 Note: this will reduce the maximum PREAMP gain by 2.5dB.
Modification 4: ***VOIDS the warranty*** Find *R76 on the PCB. 47K, 5% , 1/2 Watt resistor. It is beside V2. Take a 56K ohm, 1W resistor and solder it in parallel across R76. This increases the current through the output tube, lowers distortion to be equal to the BYPASS mode distortion and flattens the response above 10Khz.
First of all, as a disclaimer, I purchased my unit as a used unit from Music Go Round in Duluth Ga. (A Great place to find Hi End Used Gear) I also own a UA Octo Card with a wide variety of UA Plugins. I am in no way affiliated or received any compensation for Universal Audio. So this review is totally unbiased.
Overall, the Universal Audio LA-610 is a versatile and high-quality preamp and compressor that is well-suited for a variety of recording applications. Its warm and rich tone, along with its useful features and controls, make it a favorite among recording engineers and producers. If you are in the market for a high-quality tube preamp and compressor, the LA-610 is definitely worth considering.