Plugin Alliance Brainworx bx_opto by rhysmix
I picked this plugin up while purchasing another Plugin Alliance plugin (full disclosure, I'm a bit of a PA fanboy) for next to nothing, and after languishing in my plugin folder for a while I remembered it and gave it a shot…*and was initially unimpressed. The definitive opto compressor for many people is the LA-2A -- with its two knobs, perhaps the most minimalist compressor ever. Turn that Peak Reduction knob and listen to the magic happen. I was naively expecting the same sort of simplicity here, and while it is hardly a complicated device, bx_opto is a touch more subtle than that.
Two weeks later, though, and bx_opto is all over my mixes, including in places where an LA-2A used to sit. While those extra knobs clearly lend themselves to the sort of tweaking and therefore versatility not possible with a "traditional" opto (which is fantastic; there are all sorts of fun places to use this that just do not work with a traditional opto), what is almost more impressive to me is the excellent job this seemingly potentially fiddly device does at the old school rich, smooth, well-fed opto vibe. So often "chameleon" devices like this are sort of disappointing when employed in traditional ways, but for the most part even when I am looking for the classic opto sound I prefer bx_opto over the LA-2A emulations I have. (Around ten or eleven o'clock on the Speed knob seems to most closely resemble an LA-2A, if you would like to compare it yourself)
bx_opto saturates slightly less dramatically than the LA-2A ems I have been able to compare it to, but when overcooked it serves up a very pleasant punch and purr at slow speeds and a usable and exciting urgency at faster speeds, both without sounding choked until about 11dB of gain reduction. The mix knob makes these extremes very practical; I especially appreciate slower speeds at 50-65% mix, a combination that has helped greatly with thin sounding background vocals in one recent mix and reedy electric guitars in another.
Greatest strengths: Adding weight and fullness to vocals, drums, and guitars, without smothering them in saturation (unless you want to); transient shaping for kicks and basses
Weaknesses: I understand the logic behind using only one knob for both attack and release, but the idea of being able to use the heavy handed punch of a slow opto compressor but with a less sluggish release is intriguing. Perhaps a future version could have a knob for both, with the option to link the two? Or the release could still be dependent on the Speed knob but could also have a screw to modify it?
The closest competitors on the market that i am aware of are the Softube CL-1B (at twice the price) and the just-released Kush Novatron. If you are between bx_opto and a native LA-2A, get bx_opto, hands down.