50 Of The Best Compressor Plugins In The World 2016


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Fully updated and expanded for 2016, we’ve tested pretty much every compressor on the planet to bring you the ultimate compressor plugin round-up!

Several of the new entries were highlighted by readers in the Comments to the original post, so thanks to those of you who contributed suggestions and your own top selections :)

While there have been some significant releases since the last list update – notably Klanghelm’s MJUC and TDR Kotelnikov – many old favourites have also had their reputations cemented and become firm fixtures in many producer’s toolboxes.

As ever, it’s also important to remember that every compressor will produce subjectively better or worse results on different source material: some are great for drums, others for vocals, whilst some are specifically designed for buss, mix or mastering roles.

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. Take the compressors on this list as a round-up of the best options available in 2016, try out the demos (or full versions, in the case of the free plugins on the list) and decide which will make it into your regular go-to collection.

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Intro: The Legacy of Hardware Compressors

It’s worth bearing in mind just how much of an influence a few iconic hardware units still have over the software compressor world. The Urei 1176, dbx 160, and the Teletronix LA2A all represent modern compression touchstones: simple but sophisticated controls, musical coloration and a ‘warming up’ of the processed sound without flat-out distortion, and flexible enough to throw a range of different signals at and get great results, from pumping tube fatness to relative transparency.

You’ll notice that many of the plugins on the list reference one of these designs in some form, either as straight modelled emulations, or more subtly taking inspiration from the control layout.

Urei 1176 Hardware Compressor

Urei 1176

Urei 1176:

First introduced in 1967 and revised the next year with additional low-noise circuitry to create the 1176LN. An FET (field effect transistor) compressor, the 1176 was renowned for punch with clarity, and with it’s very fast attack and ratio set to the infamous ‘all-buttons-in’ (aka ‘British’) mode, this one was a beast when it came to applying particularly heavy compression to bass, drums and guitars.

Teletronix LA2A Hardware Compressor

Teletronix LA2A

Teletronix LA2A:

Introduced in California in the early 1960s. An electro-optical tube compressor, with a distinctively ‘silky’ sound much celebrated by producers. Ideal for more gentle compression in situations where super-smoothness counts for more than in-yer-face aggressive processing.

dbx 160 Hardware Compressor

dbx 160

dbx 160:

Introduced in 1976. dbx were renowned for their superior VCA (voltage controlled amplifier) design invented by founder David Blackmer, whose components found their way into many hardware units and mixing boards of the era. The 160 had a threshold ranging from zero compression to hard limiting, ideal for injecting some attitude into drums and bass parts.

If you’re interested in digging a little more into compressor history, some other models worth Googling are the SSL 4000, Fairchild 670 and Manley Variable Mu.

When choosing compressor plugins for your collection to fulfil certain mix roles, 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.

For much more detail on the specifics of compressor controls and how they work, you’ll find it all in our Ultimate Guide to Compression.

50 Great Compressors – The List

While the list is not in strict rank order and features a round-up of the very best compressors of all types, this time around we have condensed some of our very favourites into the top ten positions, providing something of a 10 Best Compressor Plugins list for those who asked. This should be taken with a grain of salt though, as there are a host of other “absolute favourites” dotted throughout!

We’ve got the top choices for any budget, from free and donation-only plugins to top-end hardware-slayers, and we’ve covered vintage, classic, modern, quirky, mastering, bundles and hybrid plugins, modelled, not modelled, FET, VCA, Opto, Variable Mu… if you can’t find exactly the right processor to meet your compression needs from this list, then frankly, nobody can help you…

And for a complete guide to getting the most out of these plugins in your own productions, don’t forget to check out our Ultimate Guide on the subject, right here!

Waves CLA-76 Blacky

1. Waves CLA Classic Compressors

We’ll get straight into the classic emulations with this collection from Waves, created with the aid of uber-rock producer Chris Lord-Alge. The four plugins are named ‘CLA-76 ‘Bluey’ and ‘Blacky’ (1176 emulations, fantastic for drums, guitars, bass… actually everything), and ‘CLA-2A’ and ‘CLA-3A’ (with the famous original LA2A’s nicely saturated sound).

Waves CLA-2A

Now we can all go “all buttons in” for that famous 1176 drum-crushing sound.

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.

Available in native formats for Mac (32/64-bit, all formats) and PC (32/64-bit, all formats), plus Waves Soundgrid options.

BUY NOW via Waves.

Klanghelm MJUC

2. Klanghelm MJUC

Released last year after two years of “excessive” (in the words of creator Tony Frenzel) research and development, MJUC has built on Klanghelm’s stellar reputation established with the DC8C and DC1A compressor plugins (also featured elsewhere in this list), and gone some way to setting a new precedent for both audio quality and value for money.
What makes MJUC so special? One of the reasons it took so long to develop the plugin is that it was clearly a labour of love, with many different variable-mu tube compressor designs analysed in order to come up with up with a plugin that incorporates all of the best aspects and nuances. Ultimately, MJUC is actually three different compressors in one, selected by toggling between the “Mk 1”, “Mk 2” and “Mk 3” buttons. Each iteration harks back to certain characteristics of tube compressors from different eras, so it’s also something of a history lesson in compressor evolution (but more fun than that sounds).
Bottom line: character and performance at a price that pretty much makes MJUC a must-have. If your budget still won’t stretch this far, there’s also the free “little brother”, MJUC jr.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, VST, AAX, RTAS and AU) and PC (32/64-bit VST, AAX, RTAS). Official site here.

Kush Audio UBK-1

3. Kush Audio UBK-1

Billed as a ‘movement generating character compressor’, the UBK-1 is fairly self-explanatory. What sets it apart from much of the competition is the style with which it imbues your source material with tasty analogue dynamics. This probably has a lot to do with designer Greg Scotts background, coming up with modern high-end analogue hardware. Spotting a gap in the current market and wanting to port his knowledge of real analogue signal processing into a plugin that truly represented the best of the real and virtual domains, the UBK-1 fulfils its aim in being one of the most musically satisfying plugins around. Recommended.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, VST, RTAS and AU) and PC (32/64-bit VST, RTAS).

Official site here.


4. FabFilter Pro-C 2

All the Fabfilter plugins look great and offer something a little different when you start ODing on 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. Updated to the Pro-C 2 in 2015, the latest version added several welcome enhancements including another 5 compression algorithms (Vocal, Bus, Mastering, Punch and Pumping), as well as 4x oversampling – making what was already one of the best and cleanest compressors available that much more useful as a precision dynamics tool.

Available in for Mac (32/64-bit, all formats) and PC (32/64-bit, all formats).

BUY NOW via PluginBoutique.

TDR Kotelnikov

5. Tokyo Dawn Records TDR Kotelnikov

Provided in both free and premium “Gentlemen’s Edition” versions, Kotelnikov has garnered a reputation for fantastically transparent compression. One of the distinctive features here is that the processor has two separate release modes, “peak” and “RMS”, that between them provide you with very precise and tailored control over how the compressor interacts with the audio signal with minimal colouration. This makes it a natural fit for mastering and buss compression applications.

It’s also worth mentioning that Kotelnikov is a successor of the popular TDR Feedback Compressor II, so for fans of that older plugin this is an essential download.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit VST, AU and AAX) and PC (32/64-bit VST, 64-bit AAX).

Official site here.

Softube Tube-Tech CL 1B

6. Softube Tube-Tech CL 1B

No list of compressor plugins would be complete without mentioning one of the greatest software emulations of a hardware classic ever created. It’s worth mentioning just how good the CL 1B is as an emulation of the “rather popular” hardware original. One of the most indefinably “musical” plugins of any type.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, all formats) and PC (32/64-bit, all formats).

BUY NOW via PluginBoutique.

Cytomic The Glue

7. Cytomic The Glue

A favourite of many producers for it’s ability to emulate the legendary SSL buss compressor from the 1980s, The Glue has a fantastic sound that defies it’s bargain price. Featuring a functional and attractive GUI, if you’re looking for that indefinable something extra to bring some analogue life and literally help meld your DAW tracks into cohesive mixes, this is a great place to start.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, VST, AU and RTAS) and PC (32/64-bit VST). Official site here.

SKnote Disto

8. SKnote Disto

A recent release at the end of 2015 and something of a hybrid monster, Disto was created by combining the characteristics of two hardware compressors from Empirical Labs, the Fatso Jr. and the modern classic Distressor. The Distressor’s ability to control and add bite to very dynamic material has made it a favourite for drum compression, particularly in modern rock and electronic genres. Meanwhile, the Fatso Jr. features an analogue tape simulation circuit for some luscious magnetic tape colouration. Bringing the qualities of both together in the Disto works so well that we expect see a raft of similar “hybrid emulation” plugins of various kinds being released over the next year or two.

One last interesting feature to note: Mid/Side functionality allows you to tweak the compression of your stereo image, opening up a wealth of technical and creative possibilities.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit VST and AU) and PC (32/64-bit VST).

Official site here.

FXpansion DCAM Dynamics CrossComp

9. FXpansion DCAM Dynamics

Dynamics from DCAM is actually a series of four compressor plugins.  Our favourite of the four is CrossComp, as it offers something a little different: providing frequency-selective compression (much like a multi-band compressor, but here we’re working with a single ‘band’), you can compress a very specific frequency range and then mix it back with the original signal. Simpler than getting bogged down in multi-band processing, and very useful for fast but precise tone sculpting.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, VST, AU and RTAS) and PC (32/64-bit VST and RTAS).

BUY NOW via PluginBoutique.

Slate Digital Virtual Buss Compressors

10. Slate Digital Virtual Buss Compressors

Started by Steven Slate when he first made commercially available some amazing drum samples that he had recorded for bolstering and drum replacement in his own projects, Slate Digital  has built an enviable reputation for delivering fantastic production tools that are clearly designed from the ground up with a working producers eye (and ear) for maximum usability. Virtual Buss Compressors is actually three plugins, FG-Grey, FG-Red and FG-Mu, each partially (and unofficially) modelled respectively on the SSL 4000 Console Compressor, the Focusrite Red 3 Stereo Compressor/Limiter, and, in the case of the FG-Mu, both the Fairchild 670 and the Manley ‘Vari-Mu’. Slate adhere to their usual strategy of focusing on the idiosyncracies of their distinctly non-linear analogue inspiration, so we get a good helping of harmonic and phase distortion, noise and EQ-type colouration, but far from detracting from the results, these features help push VBC into ‘must-have plugin’ territory for top-class drum and full mix processing.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, VST, AU, AAX and RTAS) and PC (32/64-bit VST and AAX).

BUY NOW via PluginBoutique.

Waves SSL G-Master Comp11. Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor

Despite stiff competition coming from Cytomics The Glue, the Waves SSL remains at the heart of my studio setup. I throw this plugin over the master output right at the start of a project and write / produce / mix into it (remembering to drop it out every now and then so you can hear what difference it’s actually making). It 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 nice.

Available in native formats for Mac (32/64-bit, all formats) and PC (32/64-bit, all formats), plus Waves Soundgrid options.

BUY NOW via Waves.

12. PSP Audioware VintageWarmer2PSP VintageWarmer2

I previously included this one specifically under the banner of “multi-band compressor”, but with it’s simple 3 band structure the Vintage Warmer strikes just the right balance whether you’re processing individual elements or busses and complete mixes. 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.

There are actually a couple of different flavours of the Vintage Warmer concept: the most recent VintageWarmer2 features a double sampling mode, making it especially recommended for mastering and buss processing, whilst the LE and MicroWarmer versions offer more CPU-efficient processing for more typical compression duties.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, VST, AU, AAX and RTAS) and PC (32/64-bit VST, AAX and RTAS).

BUY NOW via PluginBoutique.

DMG Audio Compassion

13. DMG Audio Compassion

From the makers of another GTPS favourite EQuality, Compassion continues the clever naming and the sound quality to match. There’s a lot going on with Compassion, from expansion, gating and transient shaping to limiting and regular compression functionality. It’s refreshing to use a penknife-flexible dynamics processor that actually delivers great results whatever you’re trying to do. It’s also not afraid to flaunt it’s digital-ness in these times of emulations with romantically grungey GUIs – an excellent, no-nonsense compression and general dynamics tool.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, all formats) and PC (32/64-bit all formats). Official site here.

Native Instruments Vintage Compressors

14. NI Vintage Compressors

Although they’re perhaps better known as creators of legendary synths like Massive and Absynth, and our favourite soft sampler Kontakt, Native Instruments here continue their quest to provide literally everything a studio producer could need to create music. Vintage Compressors is their take on the familiar dbx / Teletronix / Urei triumvirate, and is designed to be loaded through NIs Guitar Rig interface (don’t worry if you don’t own Guitar Rig, there’s also a free ‘Player’ version you can use for this purpose). Significantly, NI employed the emulation geniuses (genii?) at Softube to help them not only capture the authenticity and musicality of the originals in software form, but add a few welcome additions: sidechain inputs, very handy for modern pumping styles, as are ‘Dry Level’ sliders for easy parallel compression (mixing in a proportion of the unprocessed original signal with the compressed signal).

The three compressors can be bought as a bundle or separately, and are also included in NI’s huge Komplete 10 Ultimate Bundle.

Available for Mac and PC, running through Guitar Rig Player. Official site here.

Elysia Mpressor

15. Elysia Mpressor

An emulation of their own hardware processor (again in collaboration with the busy guys at Brainworx), Elysia delivered a great plugin with Mpressor. Eschewing any direct nods to vintage designs, Mpressor is a thoroughly modern compressor with a sleek interface and some smart features like Anti Log (switches to an alternate release curve for instant pumping effects) and the ability to set the compression ratio to negative values for some classy and highly usable dynamic effects.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, all formats) and PC (32/64-bit all formats). Official site here.

Universal Audio 1176 Collection

16. Universal Audio 1176 Classic Limiter Collection

Although UA plugins require DSP hardware to run and therefore arguably have a raw processing-power advantage over the other plugins on the list, and although we’ve already covered some excellent 1176 emulations, we thought it was about time we included the UA compressor emulations here as well – both for the sake of completeness, and because they are simply some of the best audio plugins available.

The UA 1176 collection includes three models, representing the original and two later revisions of the classic hardware unit: the Bluestripe, Blackface and Anniversary Edition.

As mentioned in the introduction, the 1176 became a studio staple because of it’s very fast response and ability to aggressively compress audio when all four of the ratio buttons were pushed in. As you would expect from Universal Audio, all of this performance and nuance is captured in painstaking detail for their plugin versions.

Available for Mac and PC users of a UAD-2 DSP Accelerator PCIe card (installed inside a PC), UAD-2 Satellite DSP Accelerator (standalone hardware units), or one of Apollo series of audio interfaces. The current lowest-budget DSP hardware option for gaining access to UA plugins is the Apollo Twin Thunderbolt Audio Interface with Realtime UAD SOLO Processing.

UA Teletronix LA-2A Collection

17. Universal Audio Teletronix LA-2A Classic Leveler Collection

We couldn’t mention the UA 1176 without also discussing their emulations of the LA-2A. Licensed by original hardware manufacturers Teletronix, the UA plugin collection again features three slightly different iterations that reflect the well-known LA-2A Silver and LA-2A Gray models, as well as the earliest version, the LA-2, that aptly exhibits a slower and more mellow response due to it’s age!

This is quite a different beast to the aggressive 1176. In the 1960’s the founder of Teletronix Jim Lawrence developed and patented a mode of “optical” compression – using photocells to control the audio gain – that resulted in a new kind of smooth and transparent compression that had never been achievable before.

Available for Mac and PC users of a UAD-2 DSP Accelerator PCIe card (installed inside a PC), UAD-2 Satellite DSP Accelerator (standalone hardware units), or one of Apollo series of audio interfaces. The current lowest-budget DSP hardware option for gaining access to UA plugins is the Apollo Twin Thunderbolt Audio Interface with Realtime UAD SOLO Processing.

Klanghelm DC8C 2

18. Klanghelm DC8C 2 / DC1A 2

One of those plugins thats so nicely thought out, you wonder why they can’t all be this good for this price. Users can toggle between Easy and Expert modes, Easy featuring a series of four ‘compression styles’ (Smooth, Punch, Snap and Crush), whilst Expert mode opens up access to a range of extra controls for more in-depth tweaking as necessary. What’s made this one so popular though, particularly since the free upgrade to version 2, is that it genuinely keeps up results-wise with plugins that would initially appear to be completely out of it’s league. For just €20, you can’t really go wrong here.

Klanghelm DC1A

As is customary from Klanghelm, there is also a stripped-down version of the DC8C in the form of the DC1A. The DC1A is undoubtedly one of the very best free compressor plugins around. Yes it basically has only two controls, but you’d be surprised how much sonic goodness you can wring from it.

Both versions are available for Mac (64-bit, VST, AU and RTAS) and PC (64-bit VST). Official site here.

Waves C6

19. Waves C6

An expansion of the tried-and-tested Waves C4 Multiband Compressor, the C6 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 is especially useful in meeting the needs of front-of-house live engineers, but with all those side-chained bands there’s also a lot of potential for creative misuse, interesting sound design mangling and crazy synth dynamics processing on electronic/club tracks. I also used it extensively in my noise reduction processing chain on a recent feature film sound design project, with excellent results.

Available in native formats for Mac (32/64-bit, all formats) and PC (32/64-bit, all formats), plus Waves Soundgrid options.

BUY NOW via Waves.

Softube Summit Audio TLA-100A

20. Softube Summit Audio TLA-100A

Softube teamed up with hardware manufacturers Summit Audio to model the latters classic TLA-100A Tube Levelling Amplifier, a fairly ubiquitous processor in professional studios the world over. What sets this one apart is the way that it effortlessly tames the dynamics of vocals and ordinarily tricky instruments like acoustic guitars. This is partly due to the silky valve-levelling/soft-knee design, wherein the compression gradually increases as the input level pushes the threshold, and partly due to the simple control design enabling quick and easy adjustments. Softube have also added a useful Saturation control, allowing you to pump up the character of the processing without having to actually overdrive the input (as was the case with the original); and a Low Cut filter for treating more bass-heavy signals.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, all formats) and PC (32/64-bit, all formats).

BUY NOW via PluginBoutique.

Image Line Maximus

21. Image Line Maximus

An impressive multi-band compressor/limiter from the company of FL Studio fame. I previously noted how this is one of the best plugins for increasing loudness and milking every spare dB from your tracks, and in a more crowded market Maximus continues to deliver the goods. A great visual display element to the GUI, generally straight-forward operation (not a strength of all multi-band plugins) and multiple dynamics options including gating, ducking, expanding and de-essing make this a winner for processing complete mixes, busses and stems or individual tracks.

Currently available for PC only unfortunately, but with an upcoming Mac version of FL Studio announced late last year, we hope to see other Image Line products follow suit soon.

BUY NOW via PluginBoutique.

112dB Big Blue Compressor

22. 112dB Big Blue Compressor

We’ve been big fans of 112dBs Red Reverb for several years, but for some reason it took us a little while to remember to demo their Big Blue Compressor. That was a mistake, because with it’s full and well thought-out feature set (classic VU meters, high- and low- pass filter knobs, dry/wet control for parallel compression, stereo imaging, ‘choke’, M/S and sidechain options), classic gold/blue GUI and top-notch sound quality and overall character, this compressor deserves some attention.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, VST, AU, AAX and RTAS) and PC (32/64-bit VST and AAX). Official site here.

Massey CT523. Massey CT5

The CT5 excels as an all-rounder, renowned for it’s ability to instill effective compression with transparency and a certain grace. With a relatively simple interface that belies the quality of its results, the Massey CT5 is a must for Pro Tools users – it’s just a shame it’s not available to users of other DAW platforms as well.

Available for Mac and PC (32/64-bit RTAS, AAX). Official site here.

Waves H-Comp Hybrid Compressor24. Waves H-Comp Hybrid Compressor

Although not getting as much attention as some other Waves plugins, H-Comp is a fantastic 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 satisfyingly large knobs. Steady…

Available in native formats for Mac (32/64-bit, all formats) and PC (32/64-bit, all formats), plus Waves Soundgrid options.

BUY NOW via Waves.

URS 1970 Classic Console Compressor

25. URS Classic Console Compressors

The 1970 Classic Compressor 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.

The URS compressors also now come in two variants: one with incorporated limiter and sidechain features, the other a more stripped down ‘compressor only’ affair.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, VST, AU and RTAS) and PC (32/64-bit, VST), plus TDM for Pro Tools users. Official site here.

A Note on Free Compressors

When it comes to free compressor plugins we’re really spoilt for choice but there are a few which really stand out – all of them present in our list here. Again, compressor choice is so subjective – you may very well find your favourite sound is from a freeware compressor rather than a higher-end emulation. It’s horses for courses, and a lot depends on what styles of music you’re producing and what specific sound you’re after.

VOS Density mk III26. Variety Of Sound Density MKIII

Variety Of Sound make some very cool and extremely well-regarded effects and processor plugins, all available for free from their blog. Since our original list, the Density compressor has been upgraded to MKIII, and is still one of the best freeware compressors available.

It is also still PC only though! Download from PluginBoutique.

Waves Kramer PIE

27. Waves Kramer PIE

There are several really strong contenders for drum buss compression duties, and the Kramer PIE is certainly one of them.

The Kramer PIE emulates the classic Pye hardware compressor, of the type used by Jimi Hendrix producer Eddie Kramer (amongst many others), who was involved in the development of this plugin.

This is a great example of a compressor that’s really designed for a pretty specific job – submixes, particularly drum submixes, and particularly rock drum submixes – so although it’s not multipurpose, it clearly does this one thing very, very well.

Available in native formats for Mac (32/64-bit, all formats) and PC (32/64-bit, all formats), plus Waves Soundgrid options.

BUY NOW via Waves.

Sonalksis SV-315 MK2

28. 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…

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, VST and AU) and PC (32/64-bit VST). Official site here.

Sonalksis Uber Compressor (new)29. Sonalksis Über Compressor

An unusual way to implement compression, the Uber Compressor is part of a series of similar one-knob effects by Sonalksis (the others being the Creative Filter and Digital Grimebox, both also well worth a look).

For quickly spinning through iterations of effects settings for sound design and creative destruction of your source material – particularly for all styles of electronic/club music – I can’t recommend these highly enough. And if you like the single control approach, also check out Waves OneKnob Louder.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, VST and AU) and PC (32/64-bit VST). Official site here.

Brainworx Vertigo VSC-2

30. Brainworx Vertigo VSC-2

Vertigo teamed up with German audio plugin developers Brainworx to produce this software version of the Vertigo 1979 Quad VCA hardware compressor, the self-described ‘Mercedes of compressors’. It’s another popular favourite for mix buss duties, taking the beautiful characteristics of the original unit and incorporating the kind of noise-free, precision signal path and flexibility that are the forte of the virtual world. Highly recommended.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, VST, AU, RTAS and AAX) and PC (32/64-bit VST and AAX). Official site here.

Waves Renaissance Compressor

31. Waves Renaissance Compressor

Still one of my regular go-to compressors 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.

Available in native formats for Mac (32/64-bit, all formats) and PC (32/64-bit, all formats), plus Waves Soundgrid options.

BUY NOW via Waves.

Waves API 2500

32. Waves API 2500

Another vintage emulation from Waves, the API 2500 stereo compressor is definitely one of the best modelled compressor plugins available. Primarily designed for use in stereo mode over the mix buss, the two channels can also be split to process two separate mono channels with a single comp setting. A classic for rock mixes, the API would also be at home with most aggressive electronic genres today. Not insignificantly, with it’s blue-black colour scheme it also looks the business :)

Available in native formats for Mac (32/64-bit, all formats) and PC (32/64-bit, all formats), plus Waves Soundgrid options.

BUY NOW via Waves

McDSP 6030 Ultimate Compressor

33. McDSP 6030 Ultimate Compressor / McDSP CompressorBank

Pro Tools users have long been lucky enough to have exclusive access to McDSP plugins. The two standout compressor plugins in their range both have a lot going on under the hood, each providing a whole range of processing and dynamics options all from within the single plugin.

With a name like ‘Ultimate Compressor’, you’d hope it would be pretty impressive, and fortunately the 6030 doesn’t disappoint. Using their established module format, the 6030 is actually ten different compressors in one, giving huge amount of flexibility and a lot of bang for your buck.

McDSP CompressorBank

Compressorbank meanwhile is similarly designed to emulate a whole range of modern and vintage compressors all from within the single interface. With this one though, there are 3 different variants of the plugin: CB101 is the basic compressor, CB202 adds prefiltering, and CB303 adds prefiltering and EQ to the interface. McDSP have a reputation for quality professional plugins, and the Compressorbank is a favourite in many studios for it’s flexibility and consistently great sound.

Available in all Pro Tools-supported formats for Mac and PC (AAX DSP and Native, TDM, RTAS, AU and AS), so Logic Pro and Live users are also covered, but Cubase etc. users are not supported. Official site page for Ultimate Compressor here and CompressorBank here.

Waves PuigChild 670

34. Waves PuigChild 670

Unlike most of the emulations and hardware-modelled plugin compressors on this list, the PuigChild 670 looks to a slightly earlier era for its inspiration. The original Fairchild 670 compressor came about from a design by Rein Narma in 1959 (generated while he worked on Les Pauls famous 8-track recorder – how many legendary innovations came out of that workshop?!). It’s still celebrated both for it’s unparalleled subtle and silky dynamics processing at the mixing and mastering stages, and also for it’s rarity – an original unit will set you back $30k, if you can even find the owner of one! Luckily for us Waves did, and this particular emulation is based on a specific unit owned by well-known mix engineer Jack Joseph Puig (hence the plugin name) of Ocean Way Studios fame, and also comes with a range of presets designed by the man himself – great for offering a peek into Puig’s working methods.

By the way, the 670 is a stereo version of the 660, also available as a plugin, and both are available as part of the JJP Analog Legends bundle from Waves.

Available in native formats for Mac (32/64-bit, all formats) and PC (32/64-bit, all formats), plus Waves Soundgrid options.

BUY NOW via Waves.

Ultimate Guide to Compression for louder, more powerful mixes

Stillwell The Rocket

35. Stillwell Audio The Rocket

An all-time 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 just $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.

And this is saying nothing of the “expensive studio meets steampunk” GUI… makes me want to line my studio desk with padded green leather…

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, VST and AU) and PC (32/64-bit VST). Official site here.

Flux Pure Compressor V3

36. Flux Pure Compressor v3

Flux, or to give them their rather more grand full title Flux Sound & Picture Development, specialise in plugins for high-end audio-visual and post-production tasks as well as music production. The Pure Compressor, now up to v3, delivers the kind of sheen and transparency that one would expect from tools designed for these kind of environments, but what really sets it apart are the slider for morphing between complex presets, and the ‘Angels Share’ (auto-adjusting the ratio, to allow an opening up the dynamics) and ‘Hysteresis’ (allows compression based on dynamic variations rather than simply the absolute input level) algorithm modes. I’m still wrapping my head around what’s precisely going on, but the best thing is to download the demo and try it for yourself – the results are better than any explanation.

Also worth a mention is the Pure DCompressor, specifically designed to restore the dynamics of sounds that have been over-compressed… great for when you get a bit carried away :)

Official site here.

Steinberg Neve Portico 5043

37. Steinberg RND Portico 5043

This is a software emulation of the highly regarded hardware Portico 5043 compressor created by Rupert Neve, the pioneering designer of some of the very earliest and most celebrated mixing consoles of the 20th Century (and also the founder of Focusrite in 1985). Now Mr. Neve (the RND stands for Rupert Neve Designs) has fed his analogue know-how into Yamahas VCM (‘Virtual Circuitry Modelling’) technology and come up with a new iteration. Which is put out by Steinberg, who are of course owned by Yamaha.

Phew, that’s a lot of background, but basically, it’s got a great pedigree and it sounds really good. Check it out.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, VST3 and AU) and PC (32/64-bit VST3). Official site here.

IK Multimedia T-rackS Opto Compressor

38. IK Multimedia T-rackS

Available in a number of different configurations and bundles, it could perhaps be easy to forget that T-rackS features emulations of the Fairchild 670, Teletronix LA2A and other classics slotted in amongst all the other processors, EQs and effects. Keeping compressor-centric for this list, we’d recommend the T-rackS Vintage Compressors Bundle, which features four somewhat recognisable designs: the ‘Black 76’, ‘White 2A’, ‘Model 670’, and ‘Opto Compressor’. Bonus points are available if you can name each of their antecedents…

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, VST, AU, AAX and RTAS) and PC (32/64-bit VST and AAX). Official site here.

PSP Audioware oldTimerME

39. PSP Audioware oldTimerME

ME stands for ‘Master Edition’, as this is an expanded version of the original oldTimer that brings extra controls to bear for mastering processing, on top of it’s general abilities as a truly vintage-style compressor/limiter. PSP never disappoint, and this one is well worth checking out if you’re in the market for an extremely musical compressor plugin.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, VST, AU, AAX and RTAS) and PC (32/64-bit VST, AAX and RTAS).

BUY NOW via PluginBoutique.

Slate Digital FG-X

40. Slate Digital FG-X

An innovative take on the mastering compressor, FG-X incorporates two modules: FG Comp, a master buss compressor, and FG Level, a sort of limiter/maximizer stage that uses a specially-created algorithm called ITP (‘Intelligent Transient Preservation’) to automatically keep things hot and saturated without overcooking it. This plugin is clearly optimized for mastering duties of the kind of styles where supreme loudness is the goal – with a transparent sound and default controls set up for wringing just a few additional dBs from a mix, its not for beginners but it certainly delivers.

Available for Mac (32-bit VST, AU, AAX and RTAS, with 32-bit VST and AU also working on 64-bit platforms) and PC (32/64-bit VST and AAX).

BUY NOW via PluginBoutique.

Vengeance-Sound Multiband Compressor

41. Vengeance Sound Multiband Compressor

Vengeance Sound are best known for their ubiquitous dance sample libraries, but their Multiband Compressor has won many plaudits amongst electronic music producers. As you can see from the screenshot, it can do a lot – and it looks good doing it, with a number of meters and displays providing welcome feedback on what’s happening to each of the selected frequency bands. Whilst not necessarily the most natural-sounding compressor ever, this would be missing the point – on dance music and all electronic styles, this one really comes into its own.

If you’re particularly interested in electronic dance music compression, you should also check out the related Vengeance Sound Multiband Sidechain3 plugin.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, VST, AU, AAX and RTAS) and PC (32/64-bit VST, RTAS and AAX).

BUY NOW via PluginBoutique.

vladg:sound Molot

42. vladg/sound Molot

With a design inspired by old Soviet military hardware, we couldn’t not mention the very popular free compressor Molot. It sounds surprisingly excellent, and at this price everyone should have it in their collection.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit VST and AU) and PC (32/64-bit VST). Official site, download and optional donation here.

Sonoris Mastering Compressor

43. Sonoris Mastering Compressor

I admit, at first glance it looks about as exciting as a grey box with a smaller black box in it could look. But the Sonoris Mastering Compressor is above all that GUI one-upmanship, airily delivering sonic quality that will definitely impress your ears. With up to 8x oversampling, the ability to separate colouration from dynamics with simple controls, A/B toggling, sidechain filtering and variable stereo linking, this as transparent and classy as software compression sounds.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit VST, AU, AAX and RTAS) and PC (32/64-bit VST, AAX and RTAS). Official site here.

Cakewalk CA-2A Leveling Amplifier

44. Cakewalk CA-2A T-Type Levelling Amplifier

Cakewalks iteration of the LA2A hardware compressor is a fine emulation, accurately finding the classy transparency and aptitude for mix gluing of the original. Additions include an ever-useful external sidechain input, a cool Photocell memory setting that can be switched between Classic and Fast Reset, and a little knob marked ‘R37′, which refers to the original LA2As ’emphasis’ circuit.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit VST and AU) and PC (32/64-bit VST).

Official site here.

Stillwell Audio Bombardier

45. Stillwell Audio Bombardier Buss Compressor

Featuring a GUI panel of rich mahogany that would make Ron Burgundy proud, Bombardier is a very full-featured mix-buss and mastering compressor. With controls and features borrowed from a raft of classic and modern compressors, Bombardier doesn’t directly emulate any particular classic, but Stillwells choices here are well thought out. One interesting feature is the ability to switch the plugins detector circuit between feedback and feedforward modes, echoing the difference between more vintage circuitry and more modern designs. Then there’s the side-chain, which can be set to either Flat, Punch, Heft, Firm or Lift, allowing you to literally massage your signals with a number of different processing profiles.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, VST and AU) and PC (32/64-bit VST). Official site here.

Xfer OTT

46. Xfer OTT Multiband Compressor

A wild-card entry from Xfer, the people behind the fun LFOtool. Xfer themselves describe OTT it as a “a re-creation of a popular aggressive multiband upwards / downwards compressor setting used by many dubstep and electro producers”, which pretty much sums up its appeal. It’s absolutely a one-trick pony – and you might not even like that pony – but if you do, this is free and worth a spin on your next house/trap/dubstep track.

Available for Mac (VST, AU and beta AAX) and PC (VST). Official site and download here.

VOS ThrillseekerLA

47. Variety of Sound ThrillseekerLA / ThrillseekerVBL

For a long while our favourite compressor from Variety of Sound has been the ThrillseekerLA, delivering the best free LA2A emulation around. More recently we’ve been delving into the charms of the ThrillseekerVBL. Based on a “vintage broadcast limiter”, the VBL works great on groups and the stereo buss, adding a satisfying dollop of mix glue. Recommended.

Available for PC only (VST). Download from PluginBoutique.

Native Instruments Vari Comp

48. Native Instruments Vari Comp

Yet another good reason to purchase NI’s Komplete 10 Ultimate Bundle, Vari Comp is another Native Instruments / Softube collaboration. This one uses as its inspiration the famed Manley Variable Mu compressor (unusual for its vacuum tube gain control rather than an optical/valve amplifier configuration). The processing could be more suitable for gentler genres than some of todays electronic and rock styles – with it’s bags of character it would work well for more jazzy or folky tracks, where you’ll appreciate the non-transparent warmth but without it getting too modern and aggressive.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit VST, AU, RTAS and AAX) and PC (32/64-bit VST, RTAS and AAX).

BUY NOW via Amazon.

Softube FET Compressor

49. Softube FET Compressor

Softubes discreet take on the 1176 doesn’t disappoint. Featuring the quality ‘hard and fast’ compression meticulously modelled from the original hardware, the ingenious Swedes have also switched the controls about and added a few new tricks to the old dog: rather than the famous four buttons we get a single Ratio knob with an ‘all’ setting, a parallel compression control, and ‘Detector’ section where sidechains and filtering can be applied. Not to mention the cool ‘vintage hi-fi’-style GUI.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, all formats) and PC (32/64-bit, all formats).

BUY NOW via PluginBoutique.

Nomad Factory Bus Driver

50. Nomad Factory Bus Driver

Drawing inspiration from the seminal processors of the 1960s – the “golden age” of tube compressor design – Bus Driver features a distinctive Tube-Driver Saturation control for adding the character of sound passed through a vintage tube amplifier to your compressed material. The compression section itself features familiar 1176-style ratio buttons and includes an Output Stage Soft-Clipping algorithm designed to produce smoother saturation/distortion and eliminate digital clipping.

The founder of Nomad Factory, respected plugin developer Bernie Torelli, very sadly passed away recently. As a touching parting gesture to the audio community that encouraged and supported him during his illness, he and Nomad Factory decided to make Bus Driver free to download, with the option of making a donation to help Nomad Factory continue on.
So show your love, find out more about Bernie and the details on the voucher code you need for the download here.

Soundtoys Devil-Loc Deluxe

BONUS 51. Soundtoys Devil-Loc Deluxe

Certainly one of the best and most celebrated audio plugin ranges around, Soundtoys have just released a long-awaited update to their complete bundle with Soundtoys 5. A full five years in the making, we thought this was as good a time as any to highlight a single plugin from the bundle: the Devil-Loc Deluxe drum compressor/limiter.
While many producers are also partial to using Soundtoys’ Decapitator saturation plugin for some dynamics control while gleefully crushing their signals, Devil-Loc is designed more specifically for producing crushing drum sounds, smashed and limited to within an inch of their lives – but all “with a vintage vibe”. There are two versions: Devil-Loc is a simple two-dial setup – for applying “Crush” and “Crunch” respectively – while Devil-Loc Deluxe adds Slow/Fast Release, Darkness (high cut) and Mix controls.
As with all the Soundtoys processors and effects, the presets are wide-ranging, inspiring and highly useable – yet it’s always easy to mould and fit processed sounds into a mix, and the possibilities for creative mis-use are endless. Ridiculously classy.

Available for Mac (32/64-bit, AAX Native/Audiosuite, VST and AU) and PC (32/64-bit, AAX Native/Audiosuite and VST).

BUY NOW via PluginBoutique.

That’s our pick of the very best compressors available. Agree? Leave your comments, thoughts, corrections below!

For more tips and techniques for getting the most out of compressors in your tracks, don’t forget to check out our Ultimate Guide to Compression:

Ultimate Guide to Compression for louder, more powerful mixes

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.



  1. you forget jscompshaper….. it’s a great sounding freeware compressor, really transparent, powerful, with oversampling and equalized sidechain.

  2. Slate Digital Virtual Console Collection is a great sounding plugin …
    and I agree on PSP Vintage Warmer 2, Slate Digital FG-X Compressor and Waves Renaissance Compressor …

  3. Unless host/DAW-native compressors are not considered for this list, then Logic’s native compressor should be included. Since it was updated with the multiple algorithms a few years back, it’s stunning what can be achieve. What it lacks in eye-candy interface, it certainly compensates for in usability and musicality. See Lagerfeldt’s SSL presets for this to get a taste of what it can do.

  4. Decent list but you forgot a couple notable compressors.

    The Massey CT5 needs to be on this list.
    As does the amazing TDR Feedback compressor

  5. More:
    – Voxengo Soniformer.
    – ReaComp, Realplugs.
    -ThrillseekerVBL, Varietyofsound.
    – TDR Feedback compressor II.

  6. Reacomp has almost 0% harmonic distorsion. And pre-comp section for most accurate compression. Reacomp rocks!!

    • Thanks for mentioning the Massey Joseph, good call :) Glad you agree with the rest of the choices too.

  7. hey,
    and you also forgot the dirty RoughRider by AudioDamage, top-high loss with this one but a damn nice dirty sound for drumbus or sometime on the 2buss when your highs are a little bit too harsh it can soften it. worth have a try dudes ^^

  8. Es curioso que no aparezca, al menos, la que es probablemente la más cara del mercado: LP Split Comp de Algoritmix

    • Yeah, I tend not to focus so much on speciality mastering processors in the GTPS plugin lists: typically they are so expensive and specialist that I’m not sure it’s that useful for most GTPS readers to list them all that often.
      Am I wrong here? Let me know if you’d like to see more super-high-end/mastering solutions featured!

  9. Why no Universal Audio units? Is this because of the required hardware? I really LOVE the ones I have, and I can’t imagine a better LA2A or 1176 simulation.

    Thanks in advance,


    • Hi Terry, yes I did make an editorial decision not to include UA plugins that required the additional UAD DSP hardware. It seemed that to stick to the title of the post, and with the vast number of other choices available, it would be more useful to readers to stick tightly to ‘pure’ software-only plugins. Highly contentious I admit, and especially as the UA range IS so good – I certainly have nothing against the DSP system in general!

      If more people would also like to see Universal Audio plugins included, let me know here!

    • It would be nice to hear in which place a DSP system compressor would be compared to software compressors.

  10. Yes I think UAD would be a very valid addition, they have a stunning range of compressors and they are software after all!

  11. I thought Native Instruments made everything in the “Vintage Compressors” bundle standalone? Im almost positive their no longer limited to only being ran in Guitar Rig. The Solid Mix bundle used to only run in Guitar Rig….but now thats no longer the case. I know that for a fact.

  12. I have almost all those that don’t require an ilok plus the UAD ones (I have nothing against dongles, obviously, that’s just the way things worked out) – it’s the UAD ones that always get used first – especially the fairchild, la2a, and 1176 variants. Just seems like the list isn’t complete without them.

  13. K S A V originals on

    URS does the job… same goes to WAVES … also VCL (“limiter”) Variety Of Sounds and Crysonic’s
    SPECTRA 2 are very sweet …. and list goes on … and on … thanks to all VST MAKERS!

  14. E. Irizarry - R&B Singer on

    The Kotelnikov Compressor emulates hardware compressor of outboard gear to the “T”/bone. Best digital compressor plugin ever. All jokes aside.

  15. I think it may be time for a full psychological analysis into the compressor phenomenon. Sound is always going to be very subjective and “program dependent”, personal taste plays a huge part in the choice of compressor. Even the cheapest and nastiest can sound identical to the most expensive and complex on the right settings. So why should there be more and more comp plugs appearing year after year? Clearly there is some sort of deep innate attraction to compressors -perhaps because they operate faster than the human ear – at a speed of microseconds, and at fractions of a decibel.

  16. And some thoughts on your list – fabfilter pro-c has a very cluttered GUI, not good for doing anything advanced, ditch it from the list. Replace it with the ffpromb! that thing really is special. Also I think the glue is excellent mostly because it has a double needle showing peak comp (click on it). Also note the latest version of molot is a little bug ridden imo but you can still get the older one. thanks for the list!

  17. As I own many of these, I think this is a good list. It might be a bit much for someone who doesn’t own any of them… and I must say that it is a little strange putting all of these compressors in the same category. It’s kind of like comparing beer… like a Belgium to a Pale Ale. They are two entirely different things with entirely different flavors. All plugins have their applications, and it’s a little strange seeing Bus Comps in the same list as Channel Comps.

    If I had ONE suggestion for someone with a budget and wanting a solid, fail safe, great sounding, easy to use compressor… I’d go with the McDSP 6030 Ultimate Comp. It’s my main comp (notably the SSL, Fairchild, LA-2A and OVER-EZ)… but I am definitely glad to see Kush’s UBK-1 high on this list. It’s super dope, but not exactly a “classic comp.”

    Great list!

    • Thanks Alex,
      Appreciate your thoughts – esp. the beer metaphor :) – it’s a good point, I guess part of the reasoning for putting these comps together is precisely because they have different flavours, so to me putting them side-by-side in a sense brings out the contrasts between them, allows us to highlight what’s unique about each. And on the other hand, to extend your parallel, they all ultimately get you ‘drunk’…

      Thanks for the suggestions also, cheers!

    • Now being farther into this, you could pull off most anything with the CLA bundle from Waves for channel compression, and the SSL Comp for mixbuss. And since you have to spend a bazillion on the SSL bundle, you get the added benefit of of the SSL Channel strips.

  18. I use the V-Comp from Waves at mix buss and also for single vocal channel and have been more than happy. Anyone else use it, or am I greatly mistaken that it should not have been in the Top 45? Truly Curious, kind of a noob at this.

  19. Hi George –

    Great list and I completely agree with pretty much everything you mentioned (at least, on the ones I’ve tried). I know this list is a year or two old, but I would lose sleep if I didn’t at least mention a couple of fantastic new additions from Boz Digital labs: The +10DB Compressor and The Manic Compressor. These babies are ridiculously amazing! Anyway, if you update the list again….please check these out for addition. ;o)

    Again, great list! Thanks!!

  20. David Keller on

    I would separate multi-band and full-band compressors into two different list as they are totally different in sound and application. While this list is more complete it could also include some really great compressors like Sonnox Dynamics, Avid Focusrite Red D3, Elysia Alpha Compressor, Plug and Mix PM-Electro Optical, If you’re including multiband the Waves LinMB Linear Phase Multiband Limiter is one of the best in the business but you could also include McDSP MC2000 etc.

  21. The +10db Bundle from BOZ digital is also an excellent comp that is worth mentioning. It has it´s very unique character and brings synths and drums to live, like you would always recognize a Chandler TG-1 on drums. Love it!

  22. Image-Line Maximus is a very good choice. I use it on a day to day basis. It’s definitely worth a try for anyone else out there!

  23. The Reviver saturation plugin (like any other saturator, but this one stands out) can also be used to make things louder and more coherent etc. Sometimes it doesn’t do much, sometimes it does wonders.

  24. One of the best software compressor summaries on the Internet. Good job. this page has become one of my references, a good starting point on the subject. Thanks

  25. Guilherme Radel on

    Awesome list! One of the few I feel there’s not an ounce of underlying marketing involved. Some very pleasant surprises on this one!

    • I agree, u-he PressWerk is a glaring omission. One of the most versatile and comprehensive compressors. Should be in the top 15 easily.

  26. ToneBoosters Bus Compressor needs to be here, in the top 20. The most transparent compressor I’ve ever heard. Maybe even more transparent than Kotelnokov, and one of the cheapest.

    • I second that, the Barricade and Reel Bus are excellent too, best loudness to distortion ratio I’ve heard, and nice analogue sound.

  27. One of the sickest plugin compressors I’ve ever seen was being used by a producer at Larrobee (Manny Marroquin’s joint in LA), the Pusher from the UBK-1 dude. It had a bunch of knobs I didn’t understand but he made the 808 kick and bass explode with the thickest grimiest bottom I ever heard, sounded like the speakers were gonna explode out of the cabinets!

  28. I rarely get outside of the compressors that go in Sonar’s ProChannel. The CA-2A(an LA-2A emulation, obviously) works so nicely on vocals and mid-to-down tempo bass lines, that I haven’t used anything else even though I have almost all of the other plugins on the list! The PC76 U-Type employs classic FET design with very fast attack and analog-style warmth. It’s modeled after a vintage, rack-mount, compressor(the Urei 1176) that uses transistors to emulate a valve sound and is generally used on single channel source material. In contrast, the PC4K S-Type Channel Compressor is modeled after a built-in, VCA based, channel strip compressor and is able to be pushed hard and yet remain transparent on a wide variety of sources.

  29. What a helpful list! Good to see the Fabfilter ProC2 comp there. I love the thing. I use mine every day for transparent narration: no music to hide artefacts!
    But of course the plugin handles music very well, too, with control of attack, release, hold, knee etc. and lookahead. Surely we can’t work without that one in the digital realm? Of course, you can make it overshoot if you want that for a creative purpose. And who wants to fiddle about with graphic knobs, and nostalgic backward-kicking meters! ProC2 has a brilliant interface.
    No, I don’t have shares in the company, just grateful to them for outstanding design.

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