Extensive compressor reviews and FAQ

Bellari LA120: This is a tube comp in half-rack-width format. Like most other tube comps, it's actually an optical compression circuit with a tube make-up gain stage, and it is meant to be similar to the Urei LA2A. It has both balanced and unbalanced inputs, but it will not work at instrument level, i.e. with your instrument plugged straight in. It's only meant to work after a preamp.
 
It only has minimal controls: threshold, output volume, and a button to select between Comp (low ratio) and Lim (high ratio). The attack and release times vary depending on the level of your signal peaks. Also, within the high and low ratio settings, it operates with a "soft knee"--meaning the higher your signal goes over the threshold, the higher the ratio of compression it applies. There is also a needle-style VU meter to indicate gain reduction, but it is mostly just a decoration. It works, but only crudely.
 
The tone is really quite good! It is warm and smooth, but not exaggerated like an effect. There is no loss of lows, and the highs are darkened/attenuated slightly but not bad at all. It's not noisy, although it does seem to amplify existing noise in the chain a bit more than some other comps. The action is also very smooth and even. It can squash very hard in the Lim setting, but it doesn't dip/sag in an effect-y way. It's not quite a perfect peak limiter because it can act somewhat slowly in reaction to sudden big signal spikes--but with steady playing it will limit quite well. The Comp (low ratio) setting is good for general smoothing and fattening.
 
My one real complaint is the construction quality is not so great. It's good enough for at-home use, but I wouldn't take it gigging. I also think it might pick up more external noise in some settings because of how it's built. On the other hand, it was made in the USA! To be honest, the lesser construction quality is really the only thing separating the Bellari from units like the Summit and the Effectrode. But considering the big difference in price, especially since the LA120 is discontinued and only available used, you get what you pay for--and this is a really good unit for somebody wanting smooth "vintage" compression on a tight budget.
 
It takes an external 12V AC power supply. It doesn't have a bypass switch, but instead an "active" switch. This does not bypass the unit, it only turns the compression part on and off, so your signal goes through the make-up gain stage in both positions of the "active" switch.
 
Price in USD: used $80 to $120, no longer available new.
 

 

 
 
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