There’s nothing more inspiring than a classic piece of audio gear and Acme Audio’s Opticom ($2,750) is precisely that: a modern day classic. Inspired by the Teletronix LA2A, the Opticom XLA-3 MKII is an all-tube optical limiter that offers a simple, elegant design with compression character that ranges from smooth and natural to aggressive and dirty. The 10.5 lb, 2U Opticom has a 20Hz to 20kHz +/- 1.4 dB frequency response and up to 29 dB of gain reduction (with 34 dB of makeup).
The retro-looking Opticom’s sleek, non-compromise design is centered around high-speed cadmiumselenide (CdSe) photocells. It includes custom Bakelite-esque analog control knobs, full-sized backlit kidney-shaped VU meters, a 15 dB switchable input pad, a hand-wired 2-stage bypass switch and a Cinemag input transformer.
Input and output are via male and female Neutrik XLR connectors mounted on the rear panel. A TRS jack, wired in parallel with the XLR input gives the option of using a quarter-inch male TRS plug for input. Also on the rear panel is a quarter-inch stereo link jack, the large power supply capacitor, the unit’s five tubes (mounted in Micalex tube sockets) and a ground lift switch.
During my review period, I used the Opticom nonstop and it sounds wonderful on virtually everything. Drum room mics squash beautifully, electric guitars become rich, thick and powerful and acoustic instruments recorded through the Opticom sit perfectly in the mix. All of this said, bass guitar and vocals are the bomb. I haven’t heard a vocal compressor that adds so much character and still sounds dynamic while being dramatically squashed. It’s like magic.
At first glance, the Opticom seems a bit pricey, as there aren’t many single- channel compressors that cost nearly $3,000. Once you give it a listen, you’ll be sold. It sounds simply stunning.
Russ Long lives and works in Nashville, engineering and producing a wide variety of music and film projects.