The 10 Best Compressor Plugins In The World

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This has probably been the trickiest 10 Best… post I’ve put together so far, mainly because there are so many compressor plugins out there – even by normal audio plugin standards – and it’s pretty difficult to reduce the field down to only 10.

NEW VERSION: There’s a new version of this post updated for 2014 here!

Anyway, up for a challenge I’ve broken down the list into some simple categories to make my choices a little clearer. But don’t think of these as too definitive – several of the entries would sit just as well in at least one of the other categories). I just found it helpful to at least distinguish between compressors for every-day, go-to duties, and multi-band or “character” models.

It’s also important to remember that every compressor will of course produce subjectively better or worse results on different source material: some are great for drums but would be rubbish for vocals, for example, or vice versa.

Ultimately, the best compressor plugin is always the one that best suites the specific task you’re undertaking and gives you the sound you want with the greatest ease and efficiency. So take the compressors on this list as starting points or hints towards finding and refining your own collection of favourites: if you don’t own them, consider downloading the demos and giving them a spin.

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A Quick Salute To The Hardware
Urei 1176

Urei 1176

One last thing: putting this list together really made me realise what a debt we plugin users owe (rightly or wrongly) to the few hardware compressors after which so many software versions are modelled (either directly as emulations, or more indirectly, merely taking “inspiration” from the control layout). When choosing compressor plugins for your collection to fulfill certain mix roles, therefore, it really helps to know a little compressor history – once you know what each of the classic compressors is best known for, it can add an extra dimension to your use and understanding of your related plugins.

Teletronix LA2A

Teletronix LA2A

NB: I chose not to include the UAD emulations of the 1176 or LA2A, as they require additional hardware in the form of DSP cards to run. And also because I’ve covered more accessible emulations of the same gear in the shape of the CLA Classic Compressor collection.

 

1. Go-To Compressor:

Sonalksis SV-315 MK2

Sonalksis SV-315 Mk2

The SV-315 represents a great balance between imparting character and warmth and remaining flexible enough that you know you can throw any compression job at it, and it’ll do it well. It’s kind of analogue in design and sound, but a compressor like this could only exist in the digital domain – the best of both worlds. It has a handy external sidechain; if it had a simple wet/dry mix control too for parallel compression it would be the absolute icing on the cake… Official site here.

*Also see:Waves Ren Compressor

Waves Renaissance Compressor

Still my other go-to compressor for it’s solid sound and straight-forward interface. It’s relatively transparent, but does a good job of thickening synths, guitars or pretty much anything else. It’s also great for “glueing” tracks together when used on any sort of submix. In fact it’s actually quite difficult not to get a good sound with this plugin.

Official site here.

 

2. Character Compressor:

Stillwell The Rocket

Stillwell The Rocket

My current favourite character compressor, and not just because it can do decent impressions of 1176 and Distressor sounds. It just has a brilliant sound overall, especially for the price of $49 (or $25 for Reaper users!).

Features include the all-important “Parallel Compression” knob for fast and simple mixing of the compressed signal with the original uncompressed version.

This is not to say anything of the “expensive studio meets steampunk” GUI… makes me want to line my studio desk with green leather padding…

Official site here.

3. Multi-Band Compressor

Multi-band compression is one of those things: you have to really know what you’re doing to use it well; but by the time you get to that point, most experienced pro’s seem not to want/need to use it, preferring different approaches (and perhaps expert use of EQ) to achieve their desired results.

Anyway, here’s my pick:

PSP Vintage WarmerPSP Vintage Warmer

This could equally come under “Go-To”, “Character” or “Plain Awesome” categories. Perhaps not what you immediately think of when someone says “multi-band compressor”, but with it’s simple 3 band structure the Vintage Warmer gets just the right balance between nice flexibility and not tempting you to overdo it (which is so easily done with multi-band compression). It’s been around pretty much forever but never gets old, feeling like it grows with you as your compression skills and understanding improve – a sure sign of a modern classic. Official site here.

*Also see:

Waves C6

Waves C6This is essentially an update of the tried-and-tested Waves C4 Multiband Compressor – it has an extra 2 bands to work with, but most significantly each band can be sidechained (from either an internal or external source).

The C6 seems designed primarily to meet the needs of front-of-house live engineers, but with all those sidechained bands there’s so much potential for creative misuse, interesting sound design mangling and crazy synth dynamics processing on electronic/club tracks. Official site here.

*Also see:

Image Line Maximus

Image Line MaximusIf you’re interested in multi-band compression, I can guess you’re likely to be looking to self-master your mix for extra loudness. I won’t go into the whole “loudness wars” debate here, but I will say this is one of best weapons in the ongoing campaign… Of course, it can still be used on individual parts as well as on the complete mix. Official site here.

4. Flexible Compressor:

Waves H-Comp Hybrid CompressorWaves H-Comp Hybrid Compressor

Although it’s not as hyped as some other Waves plugins, H-Comp is a really great all-rounder – it’s capable of everything from simple transparent tasks to full-on tube saturation, has a staightforward but attractive interface, a no-nonsense external sidechain, and a satisfyingly large Wet/Dry mix knob for parallel compression. Official site here.

5. Classic Console Compressor:

Waves SSL G-Master CompWaves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor

I’ve found that putting this plugin over the the master buss right at the start of a project and writing / producing / mixing into it (remembering to drop it out every now and then for reference) adds an extra level of detail and almost indefinable “Pro Sound” glaze to my overall sound. One of those plugins that immediately makes your whole DAW system feel about twice as glossy and good. Official site here.

 

 

*Also see:

URS 1970 Classic Compressor

URS Classic Console Compressors

The 1970 Classic Compressor apparently models a classic Neve 2254 (“smooth and warm”), while the 1980 is similar to the SSL E Series compressor (“snappy and aggressive”). All are beautiful-sounding and well worth checking out. Official site here.

6. Unusual Compressor:

Fabfilter Pro-CFabFilter Pro-C

All the Fabfilter plugins look great and are a little different when you’re sick of all the classic emulation GUIs… but they’re also surprisingly ergonomic and easy to use once you get over the initially overwhelming (but undeniably cool) visualisations and meter displays. The Pro-C unusually features M/S compression which I find useful / fun for some sound design and film sound tasks. It also has the obligatory mix knob. Is anyone sensing my obsession with parallel compression yet?

Official site here by the way.

7. Free Compressor:

We’re really spoilt for choice here – for every classic emulation and glossy-looking commercial plugin, there are at least 5 that do anywhere from 80% to 100% as good a job. Again, compressor choice is so subjective – you may very well find your favourite sound is from a free/bargainous compressor rather than a higher-end emulation. It’s horses for courses!

Bootsy Density MkIIBootsy Density MkII

Bootsy is a “computer scientist / musician” who makes some very cool effect plugins, all available for free from his blog. Density MkII is simply the best freeware compressor I know of right now. Maybe it’s because it’s not trying to emulate a “classic” sound – it’s very much it’s own beast, and can be used on everything from drums to synths to mix buss processing. It is PC only though. The nearest thing to an official site here.

*Also see:Antress Fire Chainer

Antress Fire Chainer

There are several awesome Antress compressors, most of them modelled on the usual famous hardware units. The Fire Chainer is a “Classic Fairchild 660 Compressor clone”. Lots more info here.

8. Drum Buss Compressor:

Waves Kramer PIE

Waves Kramer PIE

I totally made up this category just so I could feature the Kramer PIE. Several of the other compressors on this list would be great on drums too, including the CLA-76 Bluey (all buttons in of course!) or the SSL G Master Buss Comp.

Anyway, the Kramer PIE emulates the classic Pye hardware compressor, of the type used by Mr. Eddie Kramer (amongst many others), who helped develop this plugin.

This is a great example of a compressor that’s only really right for one thing – submixes, particularly drum submixes, and particularly rock drum submixes – but it does this one thing so, so well. Official site here.

 

 

 

9. Hardware Emulating Compressor:

Softube Tube-Tech CL 1BSoftube Tube-Tech CL 1B

Some of the other plugins in this list could clearly fall into this category, but it’s worth mentioning just how good the CL 1B as an emulation of the “rather popular” hardware original. One of the most indefinably “musical” plugins, let alone compressors. Official site here.

*Also see:CLA-76 Blacky

CLA Classic Compressors

This is actually a bundle of four classic emulations, created with the help/endorsement of uber-rock producer Chris Lord-Alge. The four are the CLA-76 Bluey and Blacky (1176 emulations, fantastic for drums, guitars, bass… actually everything), and the CLA-2A and CLA-3A (with the famous original LA2A’s nicely saturated sound).CLA-2A

Finally, us in-the-box producers can go “all buttons in” for that famous 1176 drum-crushing sound (see No. 8 above).

If you’re producing rock music, or you want more rock-style aggressiveness and colour saturation in your electronic tracks, these are as good as anything available right now. Official site here.

10. Wildcard Compressor:

Sonalksis Uber CompressorSonalksis Über Compressor

It’s probably never taken me less time to get so excited about a new plugin that I’m actually bouncing in my studio chair than when I discovered the Sonalksis TBK (or “The Big Knob”) 3-piece collection of effect plugins. They were called TBK-1 (filter), TBK-2 (distortion) and TBK-3 (compressor), but in putting this together I notice they’ve dropped the “TBK” thing and are now slightly more descriptively Creative Filter, Digital Grimebox and Über Compressor.

Anyway, if you are into sound design (and frankly every producer should be a sound designer these days), and particularly if you make any style of electronic/club music and are used to abusing your raw material with extreme compression, I can’t recommend these highly enough. Official site here.

As ever, please leave your comments, thoughts, corrections below.

And if you like this post, you might also like these:

The 10 Best Reverb Plugins In The World

The 10 Best Delay Plugins In The World

The 10 Best Guitar Amp Plugins In The World.

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42 Responses to “The 10 Best Compressor Plugins In The World”

  1. ray
    30. Jul, 2012 at 4:32 am #

    cytomic the glue & brainworx vertigo are also very good.

  2. ray
    30. Jul, 2012 at 4:32 am #

    brainworx vertigo, cytomic the glue

    • GeorgeGTPS
      31. Jul, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

      I like The Glue too – very much looking forward to Cytomic’s forthcoming resonant filter plugin, The Drop. Sounds like it may well require updating the 10 Best Filters list…

  3. JoeyStevens
    01. Aug, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    Other good ones:
    Elysia mpressor,waves API 2500,Waves – PuigChild 670,Abbey Roads R124.

  4. valkyr
    05. Aug, 2012 at 8:33 am #

    Alt link for urs plugins in link above.

  5. GeorgeGTPS
    05. Aug, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    Classy selection Joey – there definitely are a lot of great Waves plugins… I hadn’t seen the Elysia mpressor, will check that out now :)

    Thanks valkyr, I’ve updated the link in the post to match :)

    GeorgeGTPS

  6. stonevans
    06. Aug, 2012 at 4:50 am #

    Other good ones:
    MCdsp The 6030 Ultimate Compressor,Kushaudio UBK,Flux Pure Compressor II,RND Portico 5043,P&M Retro Compressor.

  7. Chris Dion
    04. Oct, 2012 at 12:48 pm #

    Hello,

    I have to say that the fact that Antress is in your list makes me doubt about the rest of the info. DC1A is an excellent free compressor plugin.

    I found that the best compressor, that works for me, is the Elysia Alpha.

    • GeorgeGTPS
      25. Oct, 2012 at 10:56 am #

      Hey Chris, Thanks for your suggestions – I hadn’t seen the DC1A before so I’ll check it out.
      Not sure what you have against Antress per se: no, they don’t necessarily sound exactly like the originals they’re modeled after, but that would be to miss the point: it’s not hard to find something in the Antress range that gives good results, at least for some material. Also, for beginners they’re a good intro to the otherwise inaccessible world of classic/pro compressors, in terms of the various classic layout and controls configurations. An education if nothing else! :p

  8. martin
    04. Oct, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    goto : The Glue. It just does its job and sounds great.
    flexible : Compassion. Flexible like no other.

    • GeorgeGTPS
      25. Oct, 2012 at 10:38 am #

      Thanks martin
      Yes a thumbs up for DMG Audio’s Compassion too :)

  9. Devon Wau
    02. Dec, 2012 at 4:37 am #

    Don’t fall asleep on that Image Line Maximus. It impressed the hell out of me. Also The PSP Vintage Warmer has now become my go-to.

  10. Stefan
    10. Dec, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    How can you not mention Sausage Fattener!?!?

  11. Matt Lindley
    09. Jan, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    The sausage fattener is a limiter? Isn’t it?

  12. Shani Haider
    28. Jan, 2013 at 3:55 am #

    very strange ranking, you put wildcard and antares and forgot waves api 2500, IKmultimedia LA-2A, 1176, FAIRCHILD, UAD Distressor.

  13. Steve Downe
    04. Feb, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

    The Brainworx vertigo VSC-2 is a fantastic plug-in, very close to the hardware original

  14. Mark
    28. Feb, 2013 at 1:13 am #

    1. Go to: The Glue
    2. Character: CL1B
    3. Multiband: Proaudio DSP DSM V2
    4. Flexible: The Glue/DC8C
    5. Console: The Glue/Vertigo (ok not console but ALWAYS on the 2-bus now)
    6. Unusual: Mpressor
    7. Free: Density/ThrillseekerLA/Molot/DC1A
    8. Drum Bus: PIE/FET/CLA76
    9. Hardware Emulating: Vertigo/Alpha/Mpressor/CL1B/FET/TLA-100/CLA76
    10. Wildcard: Xfer OTT/Sausage Fattener

    Also…
    8a. Electronic Drum Bus: IK Opto to pull out some detail followed by Mpressor on antilog to then get funky with it.

    • GeorgeGTPS
      28. Feb, 2013 at 9:11 am #

      Thanks Mark, great list :) Good choices for wildcards, and I must try the Vertigo plugin.
      Also going to try 8a. now…
      Cheers!

    • Mark
      03. Mar, 2013 at 2:22 am #

      Yes try it, the Vertigo is amazing! Careful though, once you demo the Plugin Alliance comps it’s hard to live without them :) TBH Vertigo has started taking over The Glue recently, both are very versatile compressors that don’t compromise the highs, lows or stereo field.

      Re-reading, I shouldn’t have put CL1B as the Character compressor, it’s actually quite clean on it’s own. But I normally use it in series with the FET.

      Also, re-reading, it looks like I’ve just listed all the most expensive native compressor plugins going. For anyone just starting out that happens to read this, you can easily get by with the freeware plugins plus maybe DC8C & The Glue. In fact I’ve mixed whole tracks just using The Glue when it first came out :)

    • Jimmy
      07. Aug, 2013 at 10:55 pm #

      What is “8a”? I’m having trouble finding any info on it.

      Cheers.

  15. Free VST Plugins
    27. Mar, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    very very nice and useful list of compressors, thanks, I go for Waves and Vertigo

    • Johannes
      05. Apr, 2013 at 8:30 pm #

      Somehow remarkable how GeorgeGTPS avoid to mention the Glue :-D
      +1 for the Glue. It seems to work on everything.

    • GeorgeGTPS
      24. Apr, 2013 at 11:40 am #

      Thanks Johannes – The Glue might very well make it into the next update of this list… ;)

  16. seand
    13. Apr, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

    Great collection! I use the Softube Tube-Tech CL 1B on my vocals and its just got a special quality I cant get with any other compressor. I also love the waves SSL when comes to the master.

    Thanks for putting this up there’s a couple there I don’t have that I’ll be checkin out!

    • GeorgeGTPS
      24. Apr, 2013 at 11:54 am #

      Yes the Waves SSL is part of my default project template these days, adds a satisfying ‘sheen’ when (carefully) mixing into it right from the start.
      The Softube, yep – glad you found the list helpful for finding more potential favourites as well :)
      Cheers!

  17. billy
    26. Apr, 2013 at 5:32 am #

    Hey George,im going to buy a compressor(s) in the next couple of days and wonder if you could suggest a good all rounder,mainly want it to fatten/beef up my kicks and bass,with some warmth or saturation,to be tight on the attacks,grabby on release the threshold to be harsh and the ratio to be gradual and with enough welly to push it all back up again with out distortion and still b3ing smooth.its for deep and tec house production. my budget is $150,but could push for more if need be.
    Many thanks.
    Billy

    • GeorgeGTPS
      01. May, 2013 at 11:48 pm #

      Hey Billy, it sounds like you’re describing your ultimate deep house bass sound as much as a compressor. Be careful with expecting a particular compressor to be a magic bullet, there are other aspects to consider for a great punchy sound or mix – not least the sound you start with, and how it fits with the sounds around it in the mix.
      Some of the things you mention are obtained with standard controls you’ll find on every compressor – you’ll find that ‘tight attacks’ and ‘grabby release’ are up to how you set your attack and release times in a given situation, and aren’t (generally speaking) so much ‘features’ of a particular compressor model. So before you splash any significant cash, make sure you get up to speed with what your DAW compressor and freeware can (and can’t) do.
      After that I’d say definitely get the demos and full freeware listed above, try a few out and see if any jump out at you. Within your budget there are many choices (I’ve mentioned my ‘go-to’ all-rounders in the list, and the comments here are a great selection to look into too), but if you find the Bootsy does the job, for example (as many do), you’ve saved $150!
      Cheers

  18. Mar
    19. May, 2013 at 2:02 am #

    DC8C, actually I’m using only this and cl1b.

    • GeorgeGTPS
      19. May, 2013 at 11:27 am #

      Yeah Klanghelm have done a great job there with the DC8C, definitely worth checking for it’s versatility and nicely crunchy GUI :)

  19. Howard Ellison
    06. Jun, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

    Great summary, as I move on from faithful hardware comping. Even more helpful would be an assessment of each comp on solo unaccompanied speech. With no music to hide artefacts, and with the daily familiarity to everyone of live voices, it’s an acid test for transparency.

  20. Thomas
    19. Jun, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

    Hey there, interessting articel!

    Im a beatmaker/producer and have one question for the Waves SSL Master Compression, you write that
    “I’ve found that putting this plugin over the the master buss right at the start of a project and writing / producing / mixing into it … adds an extra level of detail”

    Does that mean you insert the SSL on the master channel in the empty project already and adjust every element you record/insert to fit the sound? How do you set up the threshold, ratio ect. in the SSL for that?

    Thanks!

  21. fivepeace
    30. Jun, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    Guess this needs update ? Don’t ya ever forget about the ddmf ! and the sonoris !
    cheers :)
    5

  22. mixey
    06. Jul, 2013 at 8:05 pm #

    MC dsp compressorbank. I love it!!!!

  23. Thanks for the list!!
    11. Jul, 2013 at 5:40 am #

    I have about 40% of them so far…. Great list!! I am surprissed that MASSEY didn’t make the list becasue it seems like everybody using the L2700.

    Thanks for sharing! Keep the info coming!!

    -Moshae Music

    • GeorgeGTPS
      12. Jul, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

      More articles and updates to lists being worked on right now… Thanks for the encouragement :)
      Cheers!

  24. JSB
    18. Sep, 2013 at 2:33 am #

    NI-Vari-Mu is really interesting on Masterbuss.. open sounding and 3D.
    +1 for The Snappy URS compressors !

  25. Rydubz
    09. Oct, 2013 at 2:56 am #

    some of the ones I own.
    1.Plugin alliance Vertigo
    2.Plugin alliance Mpressor(kills all the rest)
    3.Waves Pye
    4.Waves Puigchild
    5.Plug and mix retro compressor
    6.PSP Old Timer
    7.IK Opto compressor ( free right now from website)

    I’ve demoed almost every one and the rs124 is really nice,but the one that takes the cake is the mcdsp 6030.10 compressors in one and it has a internal analog like saturation limiter to get things ridiculously loud. Many other mcdsp products have this feature too. If I’m going to buy any more compressors or limiters it’s going to be mcdsp.

  26. karol666
    31. Dec, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    1.ElysiaPA Mpressor
    2.PSPaudioware Oldtimer
    3.112db Big Blue Compressor
    4.Cytomic The Glue
    5.Brainworx Vertigo

  27. HiFiMAN
    09. Feb, 2014 at 3:37 pm #

    Setup Brainworx – Vertigo VSC-2
    and
    Flux Epure
    THE BEST!

  28. Fraunz
    10. Feb, 2014 at 9:48 am #

    Mpressor and Alpha Elysia! Sooooo good :))

  29. Cranky
    10. Feb, 2014 at 10:04 pm #

    I tried all the Antress plugins, and my conclusion was that they are a waste of space in my plug-in list. Some of them had a very slight effect, others did absolutely nothing. Just a nice, pretty user interface.

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