This Dubspot Top Picks guide features a selection of our favorite compressor plugins based on professional quality sound, characteristics, and affordability.
Compressors and limiters are specialized amplifiers used to reduce the dynamic range of a signal, which is the span between the loudest and softest sounds. The use of compressors can make recordings and live mixes sound more polished by controlling maximum levels and maintaining higher average loudness. In addition, many compressors have a characteristic signature sound that can be used to inject coloration and tone into otherwise lifeless tracks or mixes. Compression can also be used to subtly treat a track to make it more natural sounding and intelligible without adding distortion, resulting in a song that’s more “comfortable” to listen to. Alternately, over-compressing your music can ultimately squeeze the life out of your mixes causing them to lose punch and clarity. For those who are unfamiliar with compressors, having a good grasp of the basics will go a long way toward understanding how compression works, and how to apply this essential treatment to your advantage.
UAD | Neve 33609 / 33609SE
Derived from the original Neve 2254 compressor, circa 1969, the 33609 stereo bus compressor/limiter utilizes a bridged-diode gain reduction circuit and many custom transformers. The uniquely musical character of this circuit has made the 33609 a studio standard since its release. The UAD Neve 33609 is the only Neve-sanctioned software recreation of the Neve 33609 (rev C). Every detail of the original unit is captured and matches its hardware counterpart with absolute precision. The 33609 is an excellent bus compressor/limiter and excels at treating drums and vocals
Slate Digital | Virtual Buss Compressors
Virtual Buss Compressors is a suite of three unique-sounding dynamic processors, all 100% modeled after top analog mastering gear. Every nuance of real analog compressors has been modeled, including the exact nonlinear characteristics of their transformers, tubes, VCAs, amplifiers, phase distortions, harmonic distortions, and timing. The suite includes the FG-RED, FG-GREY, and FG-MU compressors. The FG-RED is modeled after Focusrite’s classic Red compressor and is ideal for bringing your drums to life. The FG-GREY is modeled after the classic British “4000 series console compressor” and is ideal for tightening and “gelling” full mixes and group busses. The FG-MU captures the renowned sound of the classic Fairchild 670 and the Manley Vari Mu.
FabFilter | Pro-C 2
The FabFilter Pro-C 2 has been receiving a lot of great reviews and has become widely used by many demanding engineers. Whether you need subtle mastering compression, an upfront lead vocal, that magic drum glue or deep EDM pumping, this high-quality compressor can do the job. The Pro-C 2 is a workhorse that delivers precise compression but does not color the sound like many favorite analog modeled compressors. This more modern compressor sports an innovative interface and is equipped with flexible sidechaining and routing options, useful program-dependent presets, and advanced controls for achieving high-quality compression.
Kush Audio | UBK-1
The UBK-1 is based on Kush’s famous FATSO compressor and comes equipped with three engines that give you amazing control over Saturation, Compression, and Density. This satisfyingly great compressor also features a highpass sidechain filter to dial in paranormal shapes of compression resulting is coercive movement and dynamic motion. The UBK-1 is also capable of providing warm analog-esque saturation for treating all varieties of sound in your mix. The Density engine adds an extra level of frequency-selective compressor/harmonic saturation that works great for targeting the mids or highs with a switch. Load the UBK-1 on your master bus and witness your mix come alive!
Klanghelm | MJUC
The MJUC is is the result of several extensive years of research and development. Based on three different variable-mu style compressors, the MJUC delivers some serious tube compression. All three models capture the essence of each generation and sports their own dedicated signal path and control set. You can also tweak the overall tone and saturation of each model with the unique TIMBRE and the DRIVE control to musically enhance your sounds to taste. DRIVE controls the load of the input and output transformers as the saturation of the tube gain stages, if applicable. The TIMBRE extends MJUC’s use as a tone shaping device. The MJUC is ideal for gluing things together or giving any sound some extra character.
Waves | SSL G-Master
Based on the renowned master buss center compressor of the SSL 4000 G console, the Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor captures the unique sound of the original’s IC input and twin VCA gain-reduction amplifier design. Prized by top engineers for its ability to “glue together” tracks, the SL 4000 G master buss center compressor is ideal for taming piano dynamics or adding punch to drums and percussion. The SSL G-Master also excels at tightening up final mixes.
SKnote | Disto v.2
Disto is an emulation of Empirical Labs Distressor and FATSO Jr compressors. It is designed to merge each of their features to get a single processing system that captures the power from both devices. In addition, it is equipped with a Mid/Side matrix for Mid and Side processing. Disto is designed to be quite aggressive but is also great for “warming” sounds. Version 2 delivers several features such as a Dry Mix knob, a new model for light compression, various compression character selections and modes, updated saturation options, a “Hottitude” control to get independent control on dynamics, saturation, and Warmth, a “Warmth” filter to control brightness, and a host of other features.
Softube | Tube-Tech CL 1B
The Tube-Tech CL 1B has been around for awhile and is a favorite amongst many professional engineers. It is modeled after its hardware counterpart and is one of those units that has a defined personality while still being useful on a variety of sound sources in various situations. You can use the Tube-Tech CL 1B for either calm and natural dynamic control, or push it to bring out punch and life from any material. This compressor shines when used on sounds with a wide frequency range, such as an electric bass that may need low-end control and a snappy presence, or an acoustic guitar that needs to be large sounding and close to the listener. It also works great at giving your full mix that rich Opto character.
Tokyo Dawn Labs | TDR Kotelnikov
The TDR Kotelnikov is a modern wideband dynamics processor that combines high fidelity dynamic range control with deep musical flexibility. As a descendant of the venerable TDR Feedback Compressor product family, Kotelnikov has directly inherited several unique features such as a proven control scheme, individual release control for peak and RMS content, an intuitive user interface, and powerful, state of the art, high-precision algorithms. With a sonic signature best described as “stealthy,” Kotelnikov has the ability to manipulate the dynamic range by dramatic amounts, while carefully preserving the original tone, timbre, and punch of a musical signal. The concept is “proudly digital” in the sense that it doesn’t try to emulate any previously existing device.
UAD | 1176 Classic Limiter Collection
The 1176 Classic Limiter Collection is an amazing software recreation of one of the World’s most famous compressors. The original Universal Audio 1176 was designed by UA founder M.T. “Bill” Putnam, and represented a major breakthrough in limiter technology. It was the first true peak limiter to feature all-transistor circuitry and ultra-fast FET gain reduction and has lent its character and punch to some of the greatest recordings in history. This unrivaled emulation of all three distinct 1176 units are the go-to tools worldwide for treating vocals and drums. The collection includes the Rev A “Bluestripe” which represents the original Putnam FET limiter design, complete with its higher distortion and unique FET gain amplifier characteristics. The Rev E “Blackface” which covers the early ’70s Brad Plunkett “LN” (Low Noise) era, with variations including a more linear compression response, transistor gain amplification, and a change to the program dependence. Lastly, the 1176AE provides UA’s rare 1176 40th Anniversary Edition, complete with exclusive mods including its lower 2:1 compression ratio.
u-he | Presswerk
Presswerk is a modern compressor that delivers powerful dynamics with a musical soul. It features an easy-to-use interface and a rich feature set that gives you hands-on control over all details of your sound. Presswerk is not designed to emulate famous compressors; instead, it blends the warmth of classic hardware models with advanced developments that are only possible in the digital domain. This workhorse comes equipped with several enhanced capabilities that can dramatically transform your sounds. There are even independent modules designed for treating drum groups, bass, guitars, vocals, and even the full mix. Presswerk also excels at limiting, applying saturation for harmonic overtones and warmth, mid/side processing, and sidechaining.
Cytomic | The Glue
The Glue is an analog modeled compressor plugin based on the classic 80′s British big console buss compressor with some additional features. It uses the same high-quality algorithms used in circuit simulation packages but optimized for real-time use. Additions over the original circuit include an ultra-fast attack time and a Range knob, which backs off the compression to give incredibly natural sounding attacks and also limit the maximum amount of compression applied. There is also external sidechain support and an adjustable sidechain highpass filter. The Glue does exactly what the name implies, “glue” sounds together. It’s excellent ability to treat groups of sounds is why this popular compressor excels at tightening up your full mix and group busses.
Waves | Renaissance Compressor
The Renaissance Compressor is a multi-purpose processor that delivers musical results on any vocal or instrument, including drums, bass, and guitar. It has a warm and present sound that is as transparent as you want it to be. This classic plugin is the go-to compressor for professional mixing engineers and musicians around the globe. It is one of the most great-sounding and easy-to-use compressors on the market. Renaissance features vintage Opto and modern Electro compression modes, internal brickwall limiting, and the most basic controls.
Soundtoys | Devil-Loc Deluxe
The Devil-Loc Deluxe is based on the original Shure Level-Loc from the 1960s, which was a brick wall limiter designed to be used in public address systems. Its extreme compression and gritty sound eventually became a secret weapon of some well-known and very creative engineers and producers. Devil-Loc Deluxe is by far the most crushing, pounding, and aggressive compressor on this list. To take things beyond the hardware that inspired it and give you even more creative flexibility, the Deluxe version adds a “Darkness” control for tone, switchable slow or fast release times, and a Mix knob. This powerful compressor can take your drums to new levels and add some serious grit to anything you run through it.
Brainworx | Vertigo VSC-2
The VSC-2 is based on Vertigo’s “Big Impact Design” and captures all the fine nuances of this flagship VCA compressor. Also known as the “Mercedes” of compressors, the VSC-2 Quad Discrete Compressor sports four VCAs designed to capture the character of the best VCA based compressors of the 70s and 80s. This classic based sound is combined with a modern mastering grade signal path equipped with innovative features. The precision of the VSC-2 makes it a perfect choice for mastering and treating the stereo mix bus.
UAD | Teletronix LA-2A Classic Leveler Collection
The Teletronix LA-2A Classic Leveler Collection is an unrivaled software recreation of the most revered optical compressor ever. With its gentle, program dependent optical compression, and meticulously designed tube amplifier, the LA-2A is the go-to compressor for professional mixers around the world. The LA-2A Classic Leveler Plug-In Collection features immaculate models of three highly sought-after LA-2A units, giving you the most authentic emulations ever of this iconic compressor. No studio is complete without this widely used compressor. Test it out on your drums, vocals, and anything else to see why this classic is so revered.
Waves | PuigChild 670
The PuigChild 670 is a faithful software recreation of the renowned Fairchild 670 compressor. The PuigChild 670 captures every distinctive nuance and harmonic detail of the vintage Fairchild 670. The advanced compression techniques and incomparable sound of the 670 make it one of the best mix bus compressors on the market for bringing serious character and warmth to your mixes. This coveted compressor also excels at treating vocals and just about any instrument you run through it. The 670 also comes loaded with Mid-Side processing for superior stereo imaging, and a host of other features. Think of the 670 as a powerhouse compressor.
Elysia | Mpressor
The mpressor plugin is a spot-on emulation of its hardware counterpart. This outstanding universal compressor will significantly enhance any sound you run through it. Its Auto Fast feature for attack makes life easy even on longer attack settings. The Anti Log function offers an alternative release curve that can be engaged for instant pumping effects. In addition to standard ratios, the mpressor also provides negative values. Combine this with its extremely fast attack times, and you will be able to create completely new signal envelopes. Mpressor also features a Gain Reduction Limiter that regulates the virtual control voltage and keeps even the most extreme settings under control – completely independent from the threshold and ratio settings. The additional filter is also a perfect fit for changing the compressed signal in its sound character. This widely used compressor is ideal for any application and is a notable tool to add to your arsenal.
Native Instruments | VARI COMP
The VARI COMP is an all-purpose, easy-to-use, two-channel compressor with breathtakingly transparent sound. Modeled on the sound of boutique high-end studio gear, this first-ever software emulation adds high-pass sidechaining and parallel compression – all while running as a stand-alone plug-in inside your DAW. Highly usable and full of rich, natural sound, VARI COMP delivers the warmth and presence of top-of-the-line tube-powered hardware. Its pristine sound is ideal for use on individual tracks, groups, and mixes at the mastering stage. The sound remains smooth and musical at all times.
FXpansion | DCAM Dynamics
DCAM Dynamics offers a variety of different flavors of high-quality circuit-modelled dynamics processing. The included plugins are perfect for everything from taming tricky transients to heavy, creative sculpting effects, and everything in between. Classic console bus compression and channel limiting amp processors are provided alongside a transient shaper and frequency-selective compressor making DCAM Dynamics a great all-purpose dynamics toolbox.
Transform rough ideas and basic compositions into dance floor bangers and sonically pleasing commercial quality masters. Learn the well-kept industry secrets of EQ, compression, panning, level balancing, reverb and special effects.
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