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Essential 1176 emulation - Reviews Waves CLA-76

Waves CLA-76 is a software plug-in to be used in a DAW. It is a simulation of the famous 1176 hardware compressor. It was modeled off of the actually hardware compressors owned by Chris Lord-Alge. This plug-in actually contains two different 1176 models - a black-face (most popular model), and a blue-stripe (less common). Each compressor sounds a little different, but has the same controls.

Waves plug-ins are easy to install and authorize. Version 9 of their plug-ins has moved away from using an iLok. Now any USB stick can be used as the dongle, or the authorization can be done without a dongle if your computer connects to the internet.


The controls on the CLA-76 are pretty simple if you have a general idea about compressors, and even easier if you have any experience with an 1176 compressor. Although some people consider 'presets' in a plug-in to be blasphemy, I think they are actually pretty good in the CLA-76 for just getting started. The 'presets' are useful for getting the 'attack' and 'release' time set for a particular instrument. For instance, fast attack and fast release is the quintessential drum sound for the the 1176. Dialing up the drum 'preset' gets everything set right. What a 'preset' can't do for you is set the input gain correctly because this depends on the source material. In practice, I select a preset and then play around with the input gain until I get the right level of compression.

In all honesty, I have never used a hardware version of the 1176 so I can't tell you how close the model gets to the actual product. I have used several modeled versions (Bomb Factory, NI/Softube, IK Multimedia), and I like the sound of the Waves version the best. One feature that is lacking on the CLA-76 is a wet/dry or parallel inject control. The 1176 compressor is famous for heavy parallel compression. Ideally, I don't want to create two tracks in my DAW to achieve parallel compression, but it is necessary with the CLA-76. Many other modeled versions of the plug-in have this feature built-in. I wish Waves would update their plug-in with this control.


I have used the black-face model more often than the blue-stripe model, mostly because when I want the 1176 'sound', I am putting the compressor on drums. The black-face is my favorite compressor for drums. Chris Lord-Alge recommends the blue-stripe for vocals. I own the entire CLA Classic Compressors bundle. For a long time I used the CLA-3A on guitars because I had read a lot of commentary that the 3A is great for guitars. However, recently I had time to experiment more with the CLA-76, and discovered that I really like what is does with slightly overdriven electric guitars.
One other trick with the 1176 plug-in is to put it in series with the LA-2A. The 1176 is used first to tame the transients of the input signal, while the LA-2A boosts more of the sustain of the signal. I really like what the compressors do when working together.
In closing, I like the sound of the CLA-76 better than the other native models of the plug-in. Universal Audio has a critically acclaimed model of the 1176 for their UAD-2 DSP processors. I don't own their hardware, so I haven't tried the UAD stuff. Finally, I wish Waves would add the feature of parallel compression into the CLA-76 plug-in.