Universal Audio is well known for recreating the classic studio preamps and compressors that were built by the company's original founder, Bill Putnam Sr. The reissues of the 1176 and the LA-2A from the re-launched Universal Audio sound every bit as good as the originals designed by Bill Putnam Sr. When they introduced the 610 preamp, UA created another great studio piece based on Bill's designs. Going one step further, they paired the 610 preamp with the 1176 compressor, calling it the 6176. It was inevitable that they would join the 610 preamp with the compressor circuitry of an LA-2A, creating the UA LA-610.
The LA-610 is a 2RU-sized, solid piece of equipment with a simple layout. The preamp knobs are large, easy to use, and familiar to anyone who has used a 610 before. The compressor section is to the right of the preamp section, and it thankfully provides a meter that is switchable to input so you can actually see that the darn 610 has signal.
We recently completed tracking with one of our favorite artists, Steve Wynn. This is our third record with Steve and his band, The Miracle 3. The first time we worked together, I discovered that Steve enjoys the sound of nicely distorted vocals. It's something that he knows how to control well and for the right reasons. On this recent record, we used the LA-610 as the vocal mic preamp of choice for most of the record. By overdriving the input stage of the preamp (which overdrives the compressor and ultimately the output stage), we were able to get some really cool sounds that moved dynamically with his performance. Steve really liked the way the unit followed his dynamic shifts and overloaded when it should have. On more open songs where we wanted less distortion, backing down the preamp gain allowed the LA-2A T4 circuit to do its job cleanly. This was great for really close-sounding vocals.
Because of the tube preamp in front, the compressor tends to behave a little differently than the classic LA-2A. This is because a third tube has been introduced in the topology of the two units. You get to drive not one, not two, but three 12AX7's! The 610 preamp allows you to set the initial gain setting in 5 dB increments from -10 to +10 dBu. With lower input values, I found that using the limiter setting was more effective. This came in handy for recording some clean acoustic-guitar rhythm beds. I used a condenser mic in this application for a nice, natural sound.
I also tried it on an acoustic with a Nady RSM-2 ribbon mic (see review this issue). I used the mic preamp and all of the makeup gain and was able to get a nice hot signal. I went back to the compressor setting and varied the threshold until I found the sweet spot. I then merrily tracked away.
Since I had such good luck with the condenser and ribbon mics, I decided to try using the LA-610 with a dynamic mic. I drove the level of the preamp up, boosted the EQ at 10 kHz, and compressed the hell out of the signal. The guitar sounded like it was going through an amp without that horrible pickup sound you normally get when you plug an acoustic guitar into an amp. The end result was a big, thick string sound with lots of attitude.
Of course, the most obvious application for this unit is using its DI input for electric bass. On our last Calexico session, the LA-610 was employed on all of the bass tracking. We tried it with Fender Jazz basses, a Hofner, and a Kay bass. Dialing up the tones was quick and easy. The bass tracks ended up sounding like we had mic'ed up a really great amp and cabinet.
We also got a chance to use it on some violins. String instruments can be particularly hard to record. The mariachi strings we do here in the Southwest have multiple bows that hit hard at the same time. When recorded improperly, this sounds like a huge squeak. The LA-610 was able to tame those bow downbeats. It made a great de-screechifier.
The LA-610 also has a line input in the rear panel where you can patch it into your mix. Unfortunately, we've been tracking so much that I haven't had a chance to try this out. Since the LA-610 provided such a wide range of musical possibilities as a mic preamp, I'm sure it will not disappoint as a mix device.
I honestly believe the employees at Universal Audio are working hard to create audio equipment worthy of the company name. 35 years from now, this piece will be as sought after as the original creations of Universal Audio in Bill Putnam Sr.'s day. ($1749 MSRP; www.uaudio.com )