Want an 1176 and an LA-2A, but can’t afford either? Then you’re like most of us. But don’t worry, because now you can have both – in a single unit! The Black Lion Audio B172A is an 1176-style FET compressor on one side, and an LA-2A style optical compressor on the other. It also gives you multiple options to combine the two. Sounds like a sweet deal, right?
The UREI / Universal Audio 1176 and Teletronix LA-2A are two of the most famous dynamic processors ever made. If you’re looking for inexpensive clones of one or the other, you have many options, including the Warm Audio WA-2A, UK Sound 276, Stam Audio SA-76ADG, and Klark Teknik 1176-KT, along with countless plug-ins. But to my knowledge, no one has ever done this: A single hardware unit that is both an 1176-style FET compressor, and an LA-2A style opto tube compressor. The Black Lion Audio B172A is just that, and at roughly US $1400, it’s actually very affordable for what’s inside.
The combination is especially interesting, because many engineers like to use the two famed compressors in series. Running the signal first through the 1176, and then through the LA-2A, or vice versa, is a tried-and-true studio trick. The B172A allows you to do that internally. You can route the signal through both sides in either direction, or use the FET and opto tube sides independently.
1176-style FET compression on the left
The left side of the 2U rackmount unit is occupied by the solid-state FET circuit, which is based on the Black Lion Audio Seventeen. As such, it’s not an exact 1176 clone, but rather “the Black Lion spin on what the ’76 should have been”, according to the company. I don’t know if that’s proof of a bold sonic vision, or rather marketing speak for: “We couldn’t quite get it spot-on, but trust us, it’s pretty darn good!” – but for what it’s worth, they aren’t claiming that it sounds exactly like an original 1176. It features the familiar switchable ratios (4:1, 8:1, 12:1, 20:1), although there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent to the 1176’s “all buttons in” mode. You also get controls for input, output, attack, and release, as well as selectable meter modes and a bypass switch.
LA-2A style optical compression on the right
The right side features a tube circuit based on a custom T4B opto element named T4BLA, according to Black Lion Audio. The company emphasizes that it paid “heavy attention to detail and design”, and claims that “the T4BLA is designed to be the single best T4B optocell available today.” The controls are simple, as an LA-2A should be: Gain, peak reduction, limit/compress switch, meter mode, bypass. Black Lion Audio says that the LA-2A side features a Cinemag input transformer, while both sides have the company’s own, Chicago-wound output transformers.
Flexible routing and link off mode
The center switch lets you choose from A-B or B-A, passing the signal first through the 1176 and then through the LA-2A, or vice versa. In the link off position, the two sides act as independent units. Both sides also feature stereo linking, with link jacks at the back, enabling you to stereo-link two B172As.
To me, the Black Lion Audio B172A looks like an interesting option if you’d like a couple of nice hardware compressors, but don’t have the funds or rack space for two original units. At around 1400 bucks, it’s a bit more expensive than a combination of the cheapest clones, but way less than you’d have to shell out for the originals. And you get easy AB/BA routing on top.