The Summit Audio TLA-50 is a tube leveling amplifier with a small footprint, a simple layout, and a very big sound. This is perhaps the best bang-for-the-buck piece of equipment in my entire studio. I find myself using it during tracking on nearly everything, including vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, and just about anything else that could use a little warmth and gentle control before hitting my AD converters. The compression is extremely smooth, even at fairly high levels of gain reduction, and the tube stage really helps to warm things up and add a nice sense of weight and size to anything you put through it. I have tons of very good classic compressor emulations from Waves and other developers, but I still find myself routinely running things back through the TLA-50 during the mixdown stage if I feel they need to be a bit warmer and/or bigger. I think this is important to point out, because with most compressors under $1K, I might use them for control while tracking, but I seriously doubt I would ever choose them over a software compressor during mixing...the TLA-50, however, is in an entirely different league.
I can't comment on how this unit compares to its big brother, the TLA-100, but I have heard several people say that the TLA-100 is one of their favorite compressors for rap vocals, and I can vouch that the TLA-50 excels in this area as well. With the attack set to medium and the release set to fast, the compressor helps keep rap vocals very focused and in your face, which is usually exactly where you want a rap vocal to be. On sung vocals, a medium release proves perfect for gently controlling any exceptionally dynamic passages without destroying the natural feel of the performance, while a faster release adds urgency and excitement without any noticeable artifacts. On acoustic guitars, the TLA-50 really helps to glue a performance together and adds a wonderful sonic polish to the sound, while controlling the boominess you find on some instruments (such as a Martin HD-28). Also, unlike many other compressors, the TLA-50 is very low frequency friendly...bass guitars and kick drums sound huge through it, although you will likely need to use at least a medium release on certain bass guitar parts to avoid distortion. The TLA-50 also works well on drums and other percussive sounds, and can add a lot of energy and attitude to room mics when pushed hard. Surprisingly, it compares very favorably to something like the Waves CLA-76 in this application, with perhaps just a touch more distortion, which is sometimes exactly what you want.
Don't be fooled by the seemingly utilitarian layout of this unit...it is extremely flexible, and can handle just about anything you might throw at it. It is also built like a tank...I don't see it falling apart anytime in the next 20 years or so. If there is a downside, it's that the unit doesn't have quite as much headroom as I might like, but if you record to digital and are already being cautious about recording too hot, this should pose no problem. The unit can also be a bit noisy if you are pushing the gain past the middle point on the dial, but in most applications, I rarely find myself turning the Gain knob past 3, so the noise level never really becomes an issue except in cases where I am applying extreme amounts of compression. I deducted a couple of points from the Features rating due to the lack of a ratio control or infinitely variable attack and release controls, but honestly, you don't need them...this thing will almost always sounds great no matter where you set the controls.
The best tube compressor on the market for the price. You can score a used one for 4-5 hundred bucks. They are amazing for kick and bass. I tend to use it a lot more for bass guitar. It can really tame the low end in a nice way. You can get real clean but crashing snare sound but hitting the meters hard. It's also great for clean electric guitars, rap vocals, and snyths. It just has a musical soft knee compression that is very versatile. Worth checking out!
I purchased two of these units for an insanely low price , the seller had the price wrong online and it was advertised for 279.00 less than regular price.
I think he caught his mistake because the price changed after I got mine, and
He really did not have to honor it and I wouldn't blame him if he didn't but he did.
These units are built like tanks and I am very impressed with the build quality.
Once I powered them up, I immediately noticed that I should have read and followed the instructions, which say to wait for the tubes to warm up. Without this step, they kind of sound hollow, Once the tubes warmed up they sounded much better. I tried them on lots of material and I really like them on vocals . On a synth sound It gave it more width and depth, but for me the best use for these compressors are for tracking it is so easy to just set it and forget it . I could not get a bad vocal using this comp everyone I tracked was impressed.
I put the comp up against the Softube TLA-100 plugin and was shocked that the plugin sounded just as good as the TLA-50 they sounded almost identical With the plugin being able to get a little bit grungier because of the drive knob. Putting both though their paces, in a blindfolded test it could have gone either way but I still preferred the TLA-50 for tracking duties. To me tracks had more depth and separation I was able to get vocals to sound more forward or back in a mix.
The TLA-50 will definitely get plenty of use in my studio and is a great buy .
I purchased the TLA-50 mainly to replace plugin compression on my vocal tracks. I am ok with using plugins for most things, but I wanted to use hardware compression on critical tracks. I don't think it is fair to compare this unit to the vintage modeled plugins I was using before, as they aren't supposed to be the same unit. However, I can say that since I switched to this TLA-50, I am getting better results.
The TLA-50 is silky smooth, and fairly soft sounding. Even at higher GR levels, you can't really hear it working as much as you can a plugin. Though the unit is not transparent, it is a very clean compression. I wouldn't call this compressor aggressive, rather the opposite. It is very polite and quiet. It adds a certain weight and depth to the signal that sounds pleasing, but it isn't heavy handed. There isn't an input transformer present in the circuit, so I didn't expect it to be as beefy as the heavy hitting classics of yesteryear, but it does a nice job of adding to the signal.
I have read other reviewers say that the unit is noisy, and doesn't have a lot of headroom. I am sending tracks to the TLA-50 at around -18dbfs, and I haven't had any issues with headroom or noise. The opposite really. It is very quiet, and has been able to handle the vocals tracks that I run through it, and seems to handle bass just fine. I am, however, using balanced mogami cabling.
I am in the process of tube rolling with it right now. The tube in this circuit makes a huge difference in the sound as the 12AX7 tube is directly in the signal path as outlined by the manual. They do encourage you to swap the tube to achieve your desired sound; however, the aluminum guard around the tube will only fit a certain type of tube - one cannot simply swap it out for anything. Alas, I managed to remove the aluminum assembly altogether to open up the tonal possibilities. I've tried a few tubes thus far: The stock JJ/Tesla, Tung-Sol, Gold Lion, Sovtek LPS, and currently a Svetlana current production 12AX7. I must say, all of these are a good fit for this unit, and if you can find a good NOS tube, that would be even better. The point of it is that you aren't limited to the stock sound at all, and you can tailor the sound to your application; and with only one tube to worry about, it doesn't seem as daunting of a task.
I like the way this unit looks, it's a beautiful piece of kit. My only complaint is that the meter isn't calibrated out of the box. With about 25 minutes of tweaking, the meter stays put at exactly 0dBVU and all is fine and dandy. The knobs are very loose feeling; I prefer a stubborn and slow moving knob, it gives me the illusion that I am using expensive gear. These knobs are the opposite. That being said, I love having this thing around. It's taken my vocal tracks up to a level that I couldn't achieve before, and I appreciate that. This unit is certainly more polished sounding than anything else in my personal studio.