Best Compressor Plugins
Having compressor plugins in your DAW is not something new. Actually, if you do not have one it would be weird, cause no mixing or mastering engineer should go without one of those. Now, in the modern days, we have VST plugins for those compressors, so you wouldn’t need to spend a big chunk of money to get a hardware model for your studio.
We are not going to dive deeply into the compression process (you can find other articles on our website about it) and we are going to review a lot of compressor VST plugins that you can get and end up with amazing results.
Since this might be a challenging process, picking the one that will suit your needs, we compiled a nice list of 18 models that you can go for and upgrade your production and mix bundle of tools with plugins that actually are good. So without any further ado, let’s dive deep into our article on the best compressor plugins and hopefully, you’ll find something that you’ll use daily.
What are Digital Compressor Plugins?
In case you are completely new to this and you end up opening this article, I am going to simplify this whole thing briefly for you. Compressor plugins are digital recreations of the hardware rack units that we are all seeing in huge professional studios. The reason we have digital versions of those hardware models is to step into the future and have it all on a computer and also, the price is much more affordable for beginners.
The compressor is used to even out performance and make it more consistent, meaning that the quieter parts and louder parts of the wave are more equal and to avoid having any sudden boosts or dips in the signal. Get your head around this process, because I assure you, you will need it for sure.
Now that everybody knows what a compressor is, let’s head to the main part of the article and actually briefly review some compressor VST plugins that you can get to improve your workflow.
We just want to point out that this list will be randomized and we will not list these plugins in any order – have that in mind.
Best Premium Compressor Plugins
1. Waves RComp
I can freely say that this plugin can be found in probably 100% of the projects I personally worked on for several reasons. When I started learning the craft, the professor who was transferring the knowledge used this plugin and I learned everything about compression on this plugin. Secondly, the simple interface is an amazing plus because you will not need to figure out where is everything.
This compressor VST is a classic and not only me but many producers and engineers worldwide are using it as well. The RComp from Waves will always find usage in my work.
In terms of features, you have the threshold slider on the left and makeup gain on the right, with the ratio feature in the center along with a nice visual meter to see how the compressor is acting according to your changes. Below that, you have the standard attack and release features and some extra features to select the sound and operation feats below.
I can also state that there are many other compressors on the market as well, and lots of them even better than this one, but if you are after something simple, effective, and great, you won’t need to look any further.
2. FabFilter Pro-C2 Compressor
When it comes to having all the features and even more, also the modern appearance and amazing visual representation of your signal and how the compression is applied, I think that there is nothing better than the Pro-C2 from FabFilter. To be completely honest, all the plugins from FabFilter plugin bundle are amazing and you cannot go wrong if you pick them.
This compressor has an amazing user interface and even though it is more complicated compared to other plugins, you will easily get around it because all the main knobs are laid out properly so you cannot miss them. Besides that, you will have a help hints that will guide you through it and help you understand the interface.
This is a great plugin that requires from the user to be above the beginner level to get around it and use it to its maximum. Once you learn the compression craft properly and know what actually you are doing, we suggest switching to this one. Then you will understand why we are saying this. All in all, an amazing beast of a compressor plugin that I also use frequently. Check it out below.
3. FET Compressor Softube
The developers were really creative with the name of this one when they were making it. This is the FET Compressor from Softube and it is a FET compressor plugin J
Jokes aside, another powerful unit that we also used quite a lot when it came out the first time. This plugin is an emulation of the world-famous Urei/UAD 1176, just with a different interface and not an exact copy of the hardware. If you ask me, this one is an improved interface, since you have 3 visual meters to follow your compression and what exactly you are doing.
This compressor has a detection circuit that you can use and it consists of 4 knobs, along with external sidechaining, low and high cut filters, and lookahead you can use this section to additionally shape the compression of the signal you are working on.
Also found on this compressor is a wet/dry knob that is a great feature and will save you the work of manual parallel compression and you can easily blend the compressed and uncompressed signal with a single twist of a knob. Great compressor and you should give it a try if you are after some FET compression.
4. Empirical Labs Mike-E Comp
This is the second emulation we are having till now on our list and it is an amazing recreation of the classic Distressor from Empirical Labs. Besides the regular compression functionality, this one has a nice saturation feature as well that you can use to color the signal you are working on, of course, if you have a need for it.
When it comes to the features that his plugin provides, it has practically all. One of the nice features that we can separate from the regular ones are custom gain control circuit that is shaped to give the user nice and warm analog-sounding compression, which is something really similar to the original. With clever usage of saturation, you will avoid or tame all the harsh sounds and end up with a smooth response, all thanks to the soft-clipper.
In terms of usage, can be applied to many various sources that are in need of some analog-sounding compression and in need of something musical that will complement the style of music you are working on. Very a unique compressor that we really like using on more acoustic elements and vocals.
5. Arturia Tube STA
Drawing inspiration from early American studios that were into music production and broadcasting, the TUBE-STA from Arturia is an honest recreation of those models, based on the valve technology and type of compression. And now in the modern era, you will have access to something that is historical in terms of hardware, in your DAW. Isn’t that amazing?
The Tube STA will give the signals you are working on the sense of air with a touch of saturation that is enough to just round up the signal and make it smoother. If you are after a piece of history and type of sound that is recognizable for the 50s of the last century, this will give you that.
All the needed features are there to inject some compression along with the analog signature sound of the original model. The VST plugin is compatible with all DAWs and you’ll have no troubles in that manner. Enjoy recreating some of the signature sounds and sonic specs that were found in many old-school hit records.
6. Waves CLA-3A
Another recreation of an old-school sounding type of compression, but this time from the 1970s, in close relation to solid state type that will give the user a nice and quick response time and nice and subtle saturation embedded into the sound. Similar to the hardware, this compressor will work really nice on every signal but is especially good when added on vocals, basses, and guitars. Also, it is really easy on your CPU and you will be able to add a lot of units in your DAW.
Even though this unit doesn’t give you attack and release settings, you will still be able to find usage of it, because the internal settings that are put in are created in that way to improve the signals we mentioned above. Also, even when it has a touch of distortion in it, the results in signals will be really clear and transparent. I really love it and frequently add it on bass tracks, cause it makes them stand out from the rest.
Check it out if you have the chance, you will not regret it, because it is cheap and will give great results when used with care.
7. UAD 1176 Compressor Plugin
Do not get confused about why this model is placed 7th because we already stated above that the list will be randomized. Now we are the emulation of the 1176 that probably we most frequently reach out when we are in need of such compression. The UAD 1176 is the closest recreation we ever heard and that’s why it is most used.
Every single circuit from the original model was closely recreated, which is the reason that it sounds really close to the hardware. For features, it has attack from 20 ms up to 800 ms, the legendary “All Buttons In” and the No Ratio feature that will add no compression, but a slight harmonic distortion to the sound.
With this bundle, you will have access to all Blackface, Blue Stripe, and LN models of 1176 and now with the latest updates from UAD, you won’t even need to have a UAD audio interface to run the plugins, but you can start them natively and use them without any troubles.
8. Drawmer 1973 Multiband Compressor
Another of Softube compressor plugins is here and now we present the Drawmer 1973. What separates this from the ones above is that this is a multiband compressor and will react on 3 separate bands, the low, mid, and high band. The plugin works in FET design, which immediately classifies it as a more vintage and classical-sounding compressor, meaning if you are working in this type of music, will be good to have it in your arsenal.
The plugin is really affordable and you can get it from the Softube website. Another interesting thing is that the plugin can be used on mastering stages as well to shape the final dynamic range of your song. We also frequently use this compressor when we are in need of multiband compression and we are after some more vintage-sounding outcomes.
Once you get your head around the multiband compression, you will see that this one is a gem and you will find usage really easy. The analog feel is what separates it from the other multiband compressors, which are mainly made digitally and are pretty transparent in comparison.
9. UAD LA2A Compressor Plugin
Gem. We will start with that. Even though this might be enough to explain this compressor, we will say more about it. The UAD LA2A is probably the most recognizable compressor that is out there and it is been used and abused for many years now.
This is a tube-driven compressor with a fixed attack and release setting, but actually, that is what makes this a go-to compressor for many purposes, especially when you have some snares and vocals to process.
There is a reason why this compressor has been widely used for so many years now, and as time passes, it gets more and more expensive to get a hardware unit – making a VST option more attractive to the regular user. No more need to explain and review this model, because the hit songs processed with it will say it all. To the next one!
10. FabFilter ProMB
The second multiband compressor plugin is here and probably the most used one around. The ProMB from FabFilter is a great digital choice if you are in need to use a multiband compressor on your song. It is compatible with all operating systems and the plugin doesn’t drain your CPU very hard, making it really nice for weaker PCs.
In terms of features, it has all the needed parameters to precisely shape the dynamic curve of the signal you are working at hand and the nice and intuitive interface will show you where and how much exactly compression you are using.
You can also use it to compress or expand your signal, pick different types of compression knee, activate lookahead, and many other important features that you can reach out to in order to shape your sound to your liking. The compressor is also very transparent and will not color your sound, making it great for modern types of music. A great one indeed!
11. Waves SSL EV2
If you are after something that is more general than a simple compressor, then you can reach out to a channel strip plugin that will have additional features like EQ, saturation, gating, etc. Well, we have one here and that is the SSL EV2 from Waves (yes again) and it is an amazing recreation of the SSL 4000E mixer channel strip.
The emulation was done properly, all thanks to Waves, and every part of it is created with care and resemblance to the original unit. They were also authorized and the product was confirmed by SSL to be released for sale, which only tells us that they approved the sound of it as well.
The only thing that might be difficult for a newcomer is the cluttered interface, but if you are already familiar with all the processes and how the plugin actually works, you will need a little bit of time to get around it and actually use it to your benefit. Another amazing tool that we love to use and use frequently.
12. Soundtoys Devil-Loc Deluxe
The Devil-Loc Deluxe compressor plugin from Soundtoys is yet another plugin that you can reach out to if you are in need of a simple and effective way to compress your signals. Invented back in 2011 and pretty outdated now, the plugin still finds usage in regular sessions by many mixing engineers worldwide.
The interesting thing that can be found on the plugin is that besides the simple compression process, you will also be able to add saturation to the signal with the Crush and Crunch knobs. This is what really separates the plugin from the others, and with the simple interface, you will be able to easily add the desired effect to your song.
On the Deluxe model, you can also find the Darkness knob, which is practically a high-cut filter to tame down any upper frequencies that might be exaggerated by the compression or the saturation that you will be adding previously.
Also, in terms of regular compressor controls, you will only have the option to choose between slow and fast release settings that you will need to find the best usage depending on working with the other knobs as well. Neat plugin for specific purposes, I hope that you will be able to find one.
13. Baby Audio IHNY2
This is a plugin whose interface is not widely found on many compressor plugins, and that is what really separates it from the bunch. The Baby Audio I Heart NY 2 is an X/Y modular compressor plugin that is really easy to use, but also really easy to overuse.
The simple and effective design will come in handy once you test it out and play around with it to see how much compression you are adding when you are moving the curve around.
We really like the new way of compression with this plugin and we really find its purpose in more electronic music that requires hard compression. We think that you need to try it out as well if you are in need of something innovative, maybe that will be your next go-to compression plugin.
14. Caelum Audio Schlap
Giving the Schlap process to your tracks is now available with the Schlap plugin from Caelum Audio. This is a very nicely designed plugin that will give some character and color to your songs, depending on how hard you push it. If you decide to go for a smooth and light compression, the compressor will give you a really clear output which many of us are after.
The compression with this tool is really dynamic yet tight because of the internally set attack and release. Schlap’s RMS detection algorithm finds the average loudness and acts toward it based on the internal analysis of the plugin.
An amazing plugin to use on many various sources, but we find the best usage to be on drums, basses, and vocals since it allows the initial transients to pass through and compress the signal to increase sustain and equality throughout the signal.
15. Denise Audio Dragon Fire
The Dragon Fire plugin from Denise Audio is not a multiband compressor, even though it looks like one. The multiband compressor can apply different compression settings on each of the bands that it has, while the Dragon Fire has an internal sidechain that you can tweak and push different tonal bands in terms of frequencies.
If you are after some more complex tonal control of the signal you have at hand, you can also send the equalized sound through the output and trigger the compression. In terms of features, is really reach and you will have amazing control over the frequencies and the dynamic range as well.
So if you need to add serious compression with a lot of control over the whole process, this might be the plugin for you and we highly suggest that you try it out, since it is really effective and innovative as well.
16. Waves Renaissance Vox
Probably one of the most popular plugins from Waves, the RVox is here and this plugin can be found in countless sessions and recordings around the globe – all for a good reason. The easiness of usage makes it one of the best plugins if you need professional and even-sounding vocals in your track. Besides the simple interface, you also will have a high-quality sound that should not go unnoticed.
There are 3 simple parameters on this plugin, the gate, the threshold, and the gain control. With these 3 parameters, you will be able to even out the signal and get a tighter dynamic range of the recording you are working on. Also, it has a clip guard feature that will not let you overburn the signal and will let you stay within the normal boundaries.
Many Grammy-winning engineers swear by this plugin which truly states the quality of it. So if they are using it, why not us? Well, now you know which one of those plugins is frequently used by the pros in this game and you can try and recreate what they were doing. Another true gem from Waves – the RVox!
Best Free Compressor Plugins
17. D16 Frontier
Now we will share the two compressor plugins that are free of charge and if you are really limited on budget, that you can go for. The first one is the D16 Frontier plugin which is a nice recreation of the LA2A by Teletronix because it functions with only two main knobs that are on the left and right of the gain reduction meter, like on the original.
Besides the main knobs, you can also find 3 release modes, control input, and a soft clip feature that additionally will help you shape the sound you are working on.
The interface is really simple and you will get around it really easily, you just need to work on it for a little bit and you will be familiar with every knob that there is. Even though it is a freebie, this is a reliable compressor that will carry out its task and provide you with a punchy and clear outcome.
18. Audio Damage Rough Rider 3
Rough Rider 3 will ride you in the compression with ease since its interface is laid out perfectly and even though a digital plugin, it gives an amazing warm compression outcome to us all. When I tried it out, I really loved how it felt on synths and backing vocals. As a parallel compressor, also does magic to the sound + it has the wet/dry knob so you won’t need to go through the whole routing process.
Audio Damage, the developer, did a good job and this is a free VST plugin as well. It has all the required features that one compressor needs to have and you’ll be able to shape the dynamic range of the sound at hand easily and very precisely.
With this one, we close the list of plugins of compressor VSTs that you can get to improve the sound, workflow, and dynamic range of your songs.
18 plugins are probably enough to pick from. You can narrow them down even further and definitively you do not need them all. In our humble opinion, you can have around 5-6 plugins that will be with you for life and will help you on the road you are already on.
Our suggestion is if you own analog compressors, go with them in the first place, but if you need something for your DAW, you can reach out to a compressor VST plugin that can be found here in this great list.
So if you are having any questions about the topic we covered or any of the plugins listed, please let us know in the comments and we can discuss it further after that.