When I first saw the Lindell Audio LiN2A Vintage Leveling Amplifier, I admit I got excited. I use my Lindell Audio LiN76 [Tape Op #153] quite a bit, so I couldn’t wait to try this one. As soon as I pulled the LiN2A out of the box, I saw that one of my minor nitpicks of the LiN76 had already been addressed – no outboard power supply; a proper IEC jack and cable instead!
But let’s back up, because I’m getting ahead of myself. The LiN2A takes inspiration from the renowned Teletronix (Universal Audio) LA-2A [#26]. And speaking of UA; as much as I love the UAD plug-ins, I prefer using a hardware compressor while tracking vocals.
The LiN2A, like the LA-2A, has two main knobs – Gain and Peak Reduction. The two-rack space LiN2A has a large, backlit VU meter in the center and heavy-duty toggle switches for power and selecting compression or limiting mode. A smaller rotary switch selects the signal displayed by the VU meter (gain reduction or output). The Gain and Peak Reduction potentiometers are fully detented, although I noticed the “clicks” didn’t always land on an indicator. On the back is a jack for the IEC power, an input voltage selection switch (115/230V), a small potentiometer for meter calibration, and 1/4-inch TRS jacks for input and output. Like the LiN76 there are no XLR jacks, but I don’t mind since I’m going to a patchbay anyway.
A major sonic influence on the LA-2A is the T4 (or later variations) optical module. A modern Black Lion Audio T4BLA optocell is used in the LiN2A. This module, which slips into an octal socket (like a vacuum tube), contains an electro-luminescent panel and a pair of photocells (one for audio, one for the meter). The LiN2A is a feedback-style compressor. A sidechain circuit, controlled by the Peak Reduction control, sends more signal to the optical module, which then applies more compression or limiting to the main audio signal. In other words, there’s a light and a sensor, and the light gets brighter when the input signal is louder. When the light is brighter, more compression occurs. Of course, all this occurs inside the cell so don’t expect to “see the light” except for maybe a slight glow of tubes. The optical module affects the compression, attack and release characteristics, which are a big part of the overall sound. The LiN2A’s compression is fixed around 3:1, or ∞:1 in limiting mode, attack time is around 10 ms, while the release is variable and level-dependent.
I mentioned tubes, didn't I? Yes! They amplify the signal and drive the compression circuitry and VU meter. The LiN2A’s tube complement is slightly different than an LA-2A to allow for more widely available modern tubes. If vintage correctness is your thing, it is possible (after moving a jumper and utilizing an alternate socket) to use the exact same tubes as an LA-2A. Inside, Cinemag transformers are on the input and output as well as a massive toroidal transformer for the internal power supply (a toroidal design can help keep power supply EMI out of the audio signal). The tubes and a voltage regulator use the rear panel as a heatsink and generate some heat, so I recommend leaving an empty rack space above the unit.
On the LiN2A, there is no sidechain pre-emphasis potentiometer – that’s the one you need a screwdriver to set. With an LA-2A this was to allow for more compression of the high-frequency signals to prevent it from over-modulating when broadcasting on FM radio. It was recommended to run it “flat" in the studio. However, some studios found that this could be useful for applying some modest de-essing on vocals or cymbals, etc. I’ve only rarely done this myself (with plug-ins), so I probably won’t miss it.
I ran a bass guitar track through the LiN2A where I had previously used a plug-in. The Gain and Peak Reduction knobs were in different positions, but the end result was very close, with the plug-in having a slight boost in the sub frequencies. I also compared a vocal track where I was using the same plug-in. Once again, I could get a similar sound, but in this case the LiN2A was less sibilant, while still adding a smooth midrange presence boost and working better in the mix. When tracking a vocal, the LiN2A did an excellent job of keeping the level consistent while adding a subtle thickness to the track.
Once again Lindell Audio has found a way to build an affordable “classic” for those that don’t own (or don’t have the budget for) the original. I will definitely purchase this review unit, and can’t wait to use it on more sessions!