While compression can enhance and control your tracks, there are so many ways to use and misuse the technique, it’s hard to know where to start. With feedback types, solid-state, Vari-Mu and many more, there are literally hundreds of plugins all with different responses. We decided to pull together our favourite compressors in a new top 10 list.
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The CL1B plugin models the optical hardware compressor of the same name developed by TubeTech and it’s capable of wonderful results; it’s just as suited to warm and subtle treatments on vocals as it is something more mangled and trashy on a drum parallel channel. In particular, it has a highly ‘musical’ response, which means that it translates extremely well to material with a wide frequency range, so that it is as happy working across the stereo output bus as it is on a single sound source. Recently ported to the UAD platform, it continues to flourish as a native plug-in as well.
UAD 1176 Collection
UAD’s original 1176 clone (one of the first to be released on the UAD-1 platform) was replaced in 2012 by the Classic Limiter Collection, a painstaking remodeling of Bill Putnam’s most famous dynamics controller by the digital division of the audio company he helped to set up. This suite features emulations from three ‘generations’ of 1176 hardware, which feature identical parameter sets but different sonic characteristics. By modern compressor standards, the range of controllable features seems low but as every component in every stage of the hardware has been carefully recreated for this plugin, the vintage nature of the original hardware is impeccably echoed here.
This is a compressor with a few tricks up its sleeve. For a start, it features negative Ratio values alongside the traditional positive ones, meaning that you can create ‘backwards’ compression effects – a novel feature for the creative producer. It also features its own unique EQ controls and responds beautifully to side-chained input signals, allowing its treatments to feature across the full range from ‘subtle’ to ‘slammed’. Again, this is a faithful emulation of the hardware on which it is based, with plenty of notable names among those offering their stamp of approval.
Slate Digital Virtual Buss Compressors
Slate Digital have developed a highly competitive range of processors in the past few years and alongside their Virtual Tape, Virtual Console and Virtual Mix Rack plugins you’ll find the Virtual Buss Compressors. These features three plugins, based on the dynamics modules of the SSL 4000 series consoles, the Focusrite Red compressor and a kind of hybrid between the Manley Variable Mu and the Fairchild 670. Across the three processors, this equates to an awful lot of compression royalty and whilst Slate Digital’s remit is to provide plugins at affordable prices, no expense has been spared at the emulation stage. For alternative dynamics processing, don’t forget Slate Digital’s FG-X loudness maximizer too.
FabFilter’s plugins neither look the same as anybody else’s, nor sound the same. The Pro-C is no different, with one of the most ‘tactile’ user interfaces you’ll ever find on a virtual product. The colour scheme, the size and response of the dials, and the real-time feedback of the way in which the compressor is responding to input signals all feel a little different somehow. These features will get you started but, much more importantly, the way that this equates to rich, musical dynamics processing is the key to the Pro-C’s success. Equally at home in subtle and critical mastering setups as it is when strapped across a drum kit’s overheads, FabFilter’s processor is a modern classic. Check out the Pro-L for similarly intuitive Limiting capabilities too.
Waves have a generous number of compression processors available but alongside those devised endorsed by prominent names in modern mixing, you’ll find the H-Comp. ‘H’ stands for Hybrid here, translating to an attractive feature set, including extensive modeling of the behavior of a number of analog compressors, a transient-sensitive approach which allows users to retain punch in sound sources and a Release response which can be synced to tempo. It might not set out to model the dynamics approach of a specific piece of vintage hardware but make no mistake, this is a compression plugin of note.
FXpansion DCam Dynamics
Another bundle, this time from the company which brought you BFD and the DCam Synth Squad. Four plug8ins comprise the suite, starting with BusComp which, as its name suggests, is aimed at classic buss compression, whether across a group of related tracks, or your stereo output master channel. For specific channel needs, ChanComp is a detailed and capable performer, whilst the CrossComp provides frequency-selective compression, allowing you to dynamically process high frequency material before blending this back in with the overall signal. Lastly, the EnvShaper allows for transient design, helping to warp the envelope response of percussive sound sources, in particular. That’s an awful lot of creative control for not a lot of money.
Perhaps best known for the extraordinary Equilibrium EQ, DMG’s dynamics processor manages to fly a little more under the radar. However, discount its capabilities at your peril. Among these, you’ll find mid/side or stereo configurations, your choice of compression, expansion, upward expansion and upward compression approaches and configurable EQ controls for frequency-sensitive dynamics processing. Add in the inbuilt transient designer and dry/wet mix dial for instant parallel treatments and you’ve got a processor which, like DMG’s other designs, are as at home at the mastering stage as they are in the mix.
Kush Audio UBK-1
If you’re drawn to compressors which echo the golden age of recording, the UBK-1 is well worth an extended look as it sandwiches classic compression in between two other processors – Saturation and Density – to produce tones which can vary between the warm and the heavily driven. This plugin also scores a big ‘easy to use’ tick as it offers a deliberately small range of tweakable parameters. The Compression section offers 5 ‘types’ before a rotary dial controls the amount of dynamics processing offered, making things extremely straightforward. This might even be a criticism were it not for the fact that sounds processed through the UBK-1 invariably sound richer and warmer.
Native Instruments Vintage Compressors
In this bundle, NI have teamed with Softube to point their collective emulation know-how in the direction of three classic compressors, namely the DBX 160, the LA2A and the 1176. They’ve added some mods of their own, most notably side-chain capabilities and a ‘Dry’ dial for instant parallel treatments but these retain many of the characteristics of the classic hardware they emulate. Also remember that if you’re tempted by the Native Instruments’ Komplete Ultimate bundle, alongside an array of synthesizers and sample libraries, you’ll find not only the Vintage Compressor bundle included but also other NI dynamics modules including the Solid range and Vari Comp.
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Editor’s Note: This is an old article and things have moved on considerably since the original publication date 🙂
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