Compression is widely used in every single mix, and of course there are too many compressor VST/AU plugins out there to even count.
This is why I’m writing this post, to give you a rough idea of which ones you should be aiming for, be it good all-rounder compressors, bus compressors, or just free ones in general that you can try out before moving on to the premium ones.
Without further ado, here are the best compressor VST/AU plugins currently available.
|FabFilter Pro C2||$165||Windows/Mac|
|Teletronix LA-2A Collection||$99||Windows/Mac|
|Joey Sturgis Tones Bus Glue Series Bundle||$220||Windows/Mac|
|Summit Audio TLA-100A||$110||Windows/Mac|
|SSL G-Master Buss Compressor||$35.99||Windows/Mac|
|TDR Kotelnikov GE||$44||Windows/Mac|
|Presswerk by U-He||$145||Windows/Mac|
FabFilter Pro C2 ($165)
I will start off this list with one of the most used and loved compressors of all time, the FabFilter Pro C2.
Not only is this one an excellent compression plugin for giving your drums some punch, getting a more upfront lead vocal, adding “sonic glue” to your mixes, etc., but it’s also a great mastering tool, since it certainly works well on the master bus as well.
One of the things I like about this plugin is its real-time metering display, since it will give you a visual representation of what is going on with the sound and how compression is being applied to it.
Accurate level meters show the exact peak and loudness values, and the large side-chain EQ controller makes it extremely easy to filter the trigger signal in any way you like.
Additionally, it features 8 different compression styles; Clean, Classic, Opto, Vocal, Mastering, Bus, Punch, and Pumping.
Lastly, this compressor also includes interactive MIDI Learn, undo/redo and A/B switch, and more.
Find out more here: Fabfilter Pro C2.
Universal Audio Teletronix LA-2A Collection ($99)
The Teletronix LA-2A Classic Leveler Collection includes units from three different LA-2A eras — Gray, Silver, and the original LA-2.
The Silver LA-2A is generally appreciated for its faster time constant and its treatment of transients. This makes it a versatile performer that’s suitable for a wide variety of applications — including drums, percussion, and bass guitar.
The Gray model is typically used for material requiring a medium-speed compression — think lead and background vocals, keyboards.
The LA-2 model offers the slowest response time and a distinctive “mellow” sound, and it may be best used on legato vocals, strings, and horns.
These are probably some of the easiest compressors to use for the simple fact that they don’t have as many controls as most other ones; Attack, Release and Ratio are fixed, which is how the actual physical units worked.
The average compression ratio is always set at roughly 3:1, while the average Attack time is 10 milliseconds, and the Release time is about 60 milliseconds for 50% of the release, and anywhere from 1 to 15 seconds for the rest.
However, these are frequency dependent compressors, which means that they will react a little differently depending on what goes into them.
Here are two Audio Clips by UA where you can here how the compressor affects the sound;
Find out more here: Teletronix LA-2A Collection.
Joey Sturgis Tones Bus Glue Series Bundle ($185)
In this bundle you don’t just get one-, but a total of six compressor plugins all designed for a different purpose.
They are designed for Vocals, Keys, Drums, Master Bus, Guitars and Basses, and their different style of processing the sound is tailored towards that specific category of instrument.
You can get just one of these plugins individually or the whole bundle; however, each of these plugins sells for roughly $45 while the whole bundle costs $185.
Now, if you read any of my other content then you probably know that I love ease of use, since I think that having too many options just wastes time, and all of these plugins are extremely simple; just five or six controls per plugin and that’s it!
Now, of course you can use any of these plugins to add compression to any track, but having six different ones already pre-set to work well with certain instruments is a great place to start.
Find out more here: Joey Sturgis Tones Bus Glue Series Bundle.
MeldaProduction MTurboComp ($220)
The MTurboComp is one of those compressors that I would recommend to people who really love digging into every setting and who want to have the ability to adjust every little thing that is going on within the processor.
It has a simple mode where you get the typical compression controls; Threshold, Ratio, Compression, Saturation, etc., plus it comes with loads of presets that you can use to streamline the whole process.
However, once you click on the “Edit” button, it gets far more technical and it allows you to adjust everything in great detail, far more than most compressors out there can.
This is why I would NOT recommend MTurboComp to anyone who is just starting out, or even intermediates, because in order to take full advantage of all the tools it provides, you have to be an expert and know what you are doing.
Find out more here: MTurboComp.
Klanghelm MJUC ($27)
When purchasing the MJUC you actually get three compressors in one (the Mk1, Mk2 and Mk3), and they are just absurdly good, especially considering that you can get them for just $27.
The Mk1 seems to be emulating 50’s style compressors, the Mk2 seems to be a late 50’s 76 compressor, and the Mk3 is a modern version of the retro compressors.
You can also get the MJUC Jr., which is the free version of this plugin, and I will list it in the free section of this post as well with the download link.
However, what sets the MJUC and the MJUC Jr. apart is that with the MJUC you can adjust the Timbre, the Drive and use Side Chain Compression.
It also features a mix control for parallel compression, and it even has an Auto Gain/Make-up Gain function that works extremely well!
The parallel compression control can really come in handy since it can save you a lot of time because you basically don’t need to double the tracks, or send them to two aux at once and compress them in two different ways.
In all honesty, between the price and what this plugin is capable of, I have to say that it’s definitely my top choice of all the compressors on this list.
Find out more here: MJUC.
Softube Summit Audio TLA-100A Compressor ($110)
The TLA-100A is a compressor that has been used for decades on some of the most popular albums in history, and now it’s available as a plugin!
If there is one sentence that can be used to summarize this plugin, then it has to be ease of use; with very simple controls, similar to the original physical compressor, you can get it up and running in no time.
It features a Gain Control, which controls the output of the plugin, a Gain Reduction knob, which controls the compression, and simple Two-way Attack, Release, and Meter switches.
The TLA-100A, just like the Teletronix LA-2A, reacts differently to the source, depending on what kind of signal is coming in; If the signal has fast transients, the compression acts quickly, while on the other hand, if it’s a more sustained signal, the compressor acts slower.
Now, some additional features that this plugin has over the original unit are; The saturation- and Parallel compression controls, as well as a low cut gnob that will let you control if the compressor should act on the lower frequencies or not.
As far as simplicity goes, the TLA-100A definitely has got you covered.
Find out more here: Summit Audio TLA-100A.
Best Bus Compressor Plugins
Important Note: Some of the plugins I listed earlier can definitely be used as bus compressors, like the Summit Audio TLA-100A, the Fabfilter Pro C2, or even the bus processor from the Joey Sturgis Tones Bundle.
Additionally, most of the bus compressors I’m about to list can also work on any regular track.
I mention this because there is often no need to get separate compressors to use on regular tracks and the master bus since they mostly do the same thing.
Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor ($35.99)
The Waves SSL G-Master compressor is based on the master buss center compressor of the SSL 4000 G console, which is considered to be one of the all-time buss compression legends.
There are multiple emulations of this compressor around, but this one by Waves is probably the best one yet, and it captures the sound of the original console compressor quite well.
As far as ease of use goes, you can’t really ask for more; With just Threshold, Make-up, Attack, Release and Ratio controls, it’s really simple.
This makes dialing in the settings very quick, allowing you to compress the mix buss quickly and effectively.
What I like about this compressor is that it will get you where you need to be in a matter of seconds by helping you avoid that “option anxiety” that we sometimes get when we have too many knobs to play around with.
Lastly, it also features the “Analog” button, which will simply add some analog circuitry noise to the mix.
Find out more here: Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor.
Tokyo Dawn Labs TDR Kotelnikov GE (Free and $44)
Contrary to most compressor plugins in existence, this one doesn’t try to emulate any existing hardware compressors, quite the opposite in fact.
Named in honor of Vladimir Kotelnikov, who was a pioneer of digital sampling techniques, this plugin is purely digital and uses complex algorithms to provide the best control possible over the dynamics with minimum added color, which is something you may or may not like.
You have access to two different versions of the plugin; the free one and the “Gentlemen’s Edition” which costs $44.
What sets Kotelnikov apart from most other compressors, is its “Frequency Dependent Ratio”, which allows you to set a different compression ratio depending on the frequency (not available in the free version).
A similar feature is the “Low Freq Relax” that allows you to configure a high-pass filter for the side chain, which makes the compressor react less to those lower frequencies such as kick and bass, and this one can be found both on the free and premium version of the plugin.
In other words, when using the “Low Freq Relax” feature, you are effective lowering the threshold on the lower frequencies.
Another feature are the Ying and Yang controls, which add harmonics to the lower and higher frequencies respectively.
Lastly, when processing stereo channels, you also have the option to only process the Sum or Difference channels, otherwise known as the Middle or Side, and you can even use two instances of this plugin to compress the Mid and Side independently.
This plugin clearly does a hell of a lot of things, but it does them right, and for only $44, or even free, I honestly can’t complain.
Find out more here: TDR Kotelnikov GE.
Softube Weiss Compressor/Limiter ($177)
This plugin by Softube is based on the Weiss DS1-MK3 dynamics processor, which has been used on countless records and has even won an award in the Outstanding Technical Achievement category, and the plugin is basically an identical digital version of this unit.
It features a parallel mix control, as well as the general compression controls, such as Threshold, Knee, Ratio, Attack and Release.
Additionally, it has different filters as well as a Mid/Side control, just like the previous plugin on this list, which allows you to process the Mid and the Sides separately.
These are all available on the main interface; however, you can access the expert menu which will let you to manage all of the parameters in a much deeper way.
Additionally, it provides great visual feedback, since you can see the waveform and the frequency graph as well, and this basically gives you access to more information in a quick and simple way.
Not only can you use this plugin as a compressor/limiter, but as an expander as well by rotating the ratio knob to the left and then bringing the threshold in.
This in an awesome tool to have in your arsenal; however, the TDR Kotelnikov GE does similar things for $44 or even free, which is why I actually recommend it more.
Still, the Weiss Compressor/Limiter is fantastic!
Find out more here: Weiss Compressor/Limiter.
U-He Presswerk ($145)
Contrary to some-, or shall I say most plugins on this list, U-He have decided to add every potential control for sound, timbre, function and response to the GUI, which can seem a bit daunting at first, but having all the controls in one place can actually be quite useful.
However, if you want to see fewer knobs to be able to focus on some key aspects of the processing, then this plugin comes with six additional “views” which are designed for different processing purposes, such as; Drums, Vocals, Bus, Limiter, M/S Program, and Easy.
To access them simply click the Init view button and select the view you want… easy, right?
Now you can focus on the controls that really matter for each specific purpose without getting distracted.
Presswerk also offers M/S processing, allowing you to compress the mid and side signals separately. You can also unlink the left and right channels and individually adjust their compression.
Additionally, this plugin features MIDI learn capabilities, which lets you assign every knob and control of this plugin to the buttons of a connected MIDI controller.
As far as loudness goes, Presswerk does a great job on the mix bus. Its auto-makeup function recovers the reduction in signal for the same perceived volume in a very nice way.
These are just some of the features, but if you want to read more about everything this plugin has to offer, like the Detection section, the DPR (dual phase rotator) button, and more, then make sure to check it out.
Find out more here: Presswerk by U-He.
Softube Dyna-Mite Slam ($166)
The Dyna-mite is essentially a limiter or an expander, but through a sophisticated combination of switch positions, it is capable of more or less any manipulation of dynamics; from gating to RMS compression, from keying and ducking to extreme levelling.
You don’t actually just get the one plugin, but rather three; the Dyna-Mite, the Slam and the Gate.
It may be a bit controversial to why I included this plugin in the Bus compressor section, since it’s quite more aggressive than some other bus compressors out there.
However, since the recent addition of the “Slam” plugin, it can definitely be used for bus compression since it offers parallel compression with a Wet/Dry mix control.
This is a good compressor to use if you really need to glue the tracks together strongly.
Find out more here: Dyna-Mite.
Best Free Compressor Plugins
Klanghelm MJUC Jr.
I already mentioned the MJUC Jr. previously, and I think that it’s an excellent freeware compressor that everyone should try out, mostly because of its simplicity.
With just two basic controls, “Compression” and “Make Up”, the MJUC JR. makes everything extremely easy and fast to control.
Also, there’s the three-position timing switch which not only controls the attack and release times of the unit, but also the slew rate of the transformers and the timing of the other parts of the circuitry that are directly influencing the generated harmonics (saturation).
I tend to use this one the most when mixing really simple stuff like acoustic guitars plus vocals and not only does it sound great, but it takes about two seconds to set up, and that’s something I love.
Find out more here: MJUC Jr..
Minimal System Group Stereo Buss (Windows Only)
This is a free compression plugin specifically designed specifically for Master Bus compression.
Compression helps glue all the tracks together to create that sense of congruency in the mix, and while this is certainly doable with most compression plugins…
Stereo Buss does it better!
Basically, if you’re looking to add some finishing touches to your mixes, then Stereo Buss might be the free compression plugin you need!
Tip: Try introducing the Stereo Buss Compressor early in the mixing process.
This all depends on how you like to mix, but it often times helps with gluing the tracks together faster…
Find out more here: Stereo Buss.
Semantic Audio SAFE Compressor
The whole point behind the SAFE plugins by Semantic Audio is to provide the user with an easier way to control the plugins by using semantic terms such as “warm, bright”, etc. to make the whole process more intuitive.
You just type the word in and it will adjust the settings automatically.
On their website you will not only find a compression plugin, but also an overdrive, EQ and reverb.
So, make sure to check out their website and to give all these free plugins a try since they sound great and also are a bit different to most other plugins out there thanks to the semantic terms adjustments.
Find out more here: SAFE Compressor.
More free Compressor Plugins
Now, since I already wrote an entire post exclusively about free compressors, I’m not going to list all of them on this one.
However, you can read about those free compressor plugins here and try them all out!
It’s really hard to choose just a handful of the plugins on this list, mainly because all of them are fantastic in their own right.
However, as far as free plugins go, I absolutely love the Klanghelm MJUC Jr. for its simplicity and ease of use.
For Bus compressors I’d have to go with the TDR Kotelnikov GE since it think that it’s the most cost-effective one.
Now, like I mentioned earlier, most compressors can be used both on the bus or on any regular track, and I think that the two all-around best compressors are both the Presswerk by U-He, which can basically do everything that all the other compressors on this list can, and the Klanghelm MJUC simply because for that price, it can’t be beat.
Learning to use these compressors can be a daunting task, which is why I always prefer simple ones that don’t have too many knobs on them…
Got to avoid that option anxiety!!!
However, if you feel like you need to learn more about how to really use compressors, then check out this course on how to use it like a pro.
I have also written a full guide on how to process the mix bus, and compression is obviously a big part of it, so make sure to give it a read and who knows, maybe you find some of the points useful!
I hope this information was useful!
Have a wonderful day!