Last updated on October 3rd, 2023 at 03:20 pm
While most Digital Audio Workstations, or DAWs, provide you with loads of great stock plugins, compressors included, you might be looking for some new ones that have a slightly different sound to them.
Or maybe the compressors you already have lack certain settings which you would like to use, or maybe they are too complex and you just want something that offers 2 to 4 knobs, and that’s it!
Well, I’ve put together a list of the best free compression plugins available which should definitely add some flavor to your mixes.
List of the Best Free Compressor Plugins
Here I will be listing the different compressors in order from best to ¨worst¨ (all of them are great but I definitely think that the first ones on the list are better, easier to use, have more built-in functionality, etc.).
Note: I also wrote a post about the best compressor plugins in general, not just free ones. So, make sure to check it out as well!
Let’s get straight to it…
The THR (The Home Recordings) FreeComp is our first plugin release which is 100% free and mainly aimed at beginner music producers since it only features a handful of controls and is designed with the idea of allowing the user to perform quick moves, get the desired result, and keep moving.
The whole reason behind creating this plugin is that most beginners usually get overwhelmed when faced with a plugin that features a ton of controls and functionality, and we wanted to provide them with something simpler that allows them to learn more quicker.
The FreeComp has got a fairly gentle compression ratio, which allows you to really drive the compressor hard without completely squashing the signal, and features some basic compression/dynamics controls:
- Threshold: Turning this knob to the left reduces the threshold and applies compression.
- Dynamics Section: Here you will find two attack and two release controls which will set the compressor to either have a fast or slow attack, and fast or slow release, and that’s it!
- Output: This is the gain compensation, or makeup, module. Here you can control the volume level that’s being output after applying compression.
- Metering: The THR FreeComp offers right and left output metering (as seen on the right-hand side of the plugin), and a “Compression” meter that indicates how much compression is being applied to the signal, which is represented as a moving circle around the threshold Knob.
How does it sound?
The THR FreeComp is designed to be as transparent-sounding as possible and not at all reminiscent of any of the old hardware units which add their own flavor, making it a good choice for almost any kind of music, and since it’s got a fairly low ratio, the compression applied is also quite gentle as well.
Learn more about the THR FreeComp here: THR FreeComp.
Most Powerful Free Compressor!
Price: Free and $44 for the premium version.
Contrary to most compressor plugins in existence, the TDR Kotelnikov doesn’t try to emulate any existing hardware compressors and rather focuses more on fidelity.
The Kotelnikov is a program-dependent compressor, meaning that it can vary its response depending on the frequency content or amplitude of the signal allowing you to tweak these dependencies and add new features at the same time.
It offers the typical compressor controls such as Threshold, Ratio, Attack, and Release, with individual controls for Release Peak and Release RMS, as well as a Knee control, but it also lets you adjust the Gain Reduction Limit which essentially allows you to manually restrict the maximum gain reduction so as to not go overboard with the effect.
The GR Limit really comes in handy when you found the perfect settings for most of the track but in very specific sections the compressor just clamps down on the signal too hard. Setting the GR Limit to that “ideal” threshold means that the compressor won’t “over compress” those sections anymore, resulting in an overall better sound that requires less tweaking.
It also features a “Peak Crest” control which can go from “peak” all the way to “RMS” detection, and this knob essentially allows you to control how the compressor reacts to peaks, either by quickly reacting to them and compressing them (turned all the way to the left), or by averaging the input signal allowing for a smoother reaction (turned to the right), and you can use the Peak Crest knob to blend the two.
Another 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.
In other words, when using the “Low Freq Relax” feature, you are effectively lowering the threshold on the lower frequencies.
The Ying and Yang controls, which can be found on the bottom of the plugin, add harmonics to the lower and higher frequencies respectively, and there’s also the “inertia” button which allows the compression to slow down during low gain reduction and to speed up during high gain reduction (Option+Clicking Inertia does the opposite).
Another feature found at the bottom of the Plugin is FDR, which stands for Frequency Dependent Ratio. This ratio lets you adjust how much the compressor will affect specific frequency ranges and you can adjust the shape, frequency, and more.
User Interface: The user interface isn’t as friendly as the one on Fabfilter’s C2 and it also isn’t as “visual”, but it’s still a simple-enough plugin to navigate and get the hang of.
Character: Kotelnikov focuses mainly on audio fidelity and not so much on adding color or character, which is why it’s considered by many to be one of the best mastering compressor plugins, but this is also something that makes it stand out as one of the best vocal compression plugins.
- Low-Frequency Relax (High Pass Filter on the Sidechain).
- Frequency-Dependent Ratio.
- Peak and RMS detection.
- Stereo Compression (Mid and Side separately).
- GR Limit (Limit the gain reduction).
Uses: Kotelnikov is mainly designed for Bus Mixing or Mastering, but it can definitely be used to process individual tracks as well, and with its incredibly in-depth features you should be able to compress vocals, drums, any instrument, full mixes, etc. with ease and achieve great results.
Lastly, Kotelnikov allows the processing of the stereo channels and it gives you 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.
What’s funny is that I haven’t even mentioned ALL of the features Kotelnikov has to offer because it’s that many, but considering the price, how well it performs and all it can do, it has to be the most cost-efficient compressor out there!
Get TDR Kotelnikov Here: TDR Website.
Get TDR Kotelnikov GE Edition Here (Premium): Pluginboutique.
Best Easy-to-use Compressor!
With just two basic controls, “Compression” and “Makeup”, the MJUC JR. makes controlling the dynamics of the song extremely easy.
Also, there’s the three-position timing switch which not only controls the attack and release 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).
As far as simplicity goes, the MJUC Jr. just can’t be beaten, and it’s one of my favorite compression plugins of all time for just that reason.
User Interface: With just two knobs and the 3-way time constants switch, the MJUC Jr. provides you with a clean-looking and easy-to-understand interface. The Metering display is also very clear and easy to understand, however, you can’t just click on it and have it change from input, to VU (gain reduction), and to output, like some other compressors allow you to.
Character: The MJUC Jr., although not a really character-heavy compressor, still adds some coloration in the form of saturation when heavily compressed (great for punchy drum sounds).
- Simple UI with only three controllable parameters.
- Adds some saturation.
- Can be upgraded to the pro version that comes with a lot more built-in features.
Uses: I used to reach for the MJUC Jr. a lot back in the day when I was just getting started because of its simplicity. It’s great for mixing vocals, bass, percussion, etc., but I especially like it on snare and kick drum because of the added saturation, which is extremely minimal but still adds that little bit extra.
The MJUC Jr. is the ideal free compressor plugin for anyone who doesn’t like spending too much time tweaking multiple parameters but who instead wants a plugin that allows them to work fast and effectively.
Get the MJUC Jr. here: Klanghelm Website.
Most feature-rich freeware compressor!
The MCompressor isn’t just a simple one-dimensional compression plugin; it allows you to fully customize the shape of the graph which gives you the opportunity to be really creative with how the signal gets processed.
Important Note: This also means that, right out the gate, the MCompressor is far more complicated to use than most other free compressors, although this also means that it’s a much more versatile and powerful tool as well.
The MCompressor comes with the smart randomization feature which will instantly generate new settings, as well as all the typical compression controls, such as; Input, Output, Attack, Release, RMS, Threshold, Ratio, Knee Size, and the different Knee Modes (Hard, Linear, and Soft).
Additionally, it allows for side-chain compression, which is very rare to see in free plugins!
It can handle mono, stereo and even 8-channel surround processing which really comes in handy when mixing audio for films or movies.
A very useful feature is the “Utilities” section where you can engage a Limiter, do A/B Testing, and use the A to H switching, where you can have up to 8 instances of the plugin, copy/paste the A to H slots and freely switch between them.
User Interface: The one thing I never really liked about Melda’s plugins is the interface: It’s way too cluttered for my taste, but that’s only because all of their plugins come with so many built-in features that there’s really no other way around it.
Character: This is a transparent-sounding compressor that doesn’t really add any coloration or character to the sound. Ideal for vocals, acoustic guitar, etc.
- A/B Testing.
- A to H Switching.
- Side-chain capable with high- and low-pass filters.
Uses: Since it’s such a powerful compressor that doesn’t add any character to the sound, it can literally be used to mix any instrument. The A/B and A to H testing features are fantastic for comparing different compression styles and should allow you to get a great-sounding track (if you put the time into learning this plugin since it’s a bit more complex than some of the other ones on this list).
Melda has close to 100 available plugins, many are free and a lot of them are premium products. When downloading the MCompressor you also get access to an additional 36 free ones, all of which are astoundingly good.
The MModernCompressor is a premium plugin that they sell that is a bit more capable than the MCompressor and also comes with a lot more features.
Download the M-Compressor here: Melda Production.
Looking for free guitar VST plugins? Here are the 15 best ones.
Best Free Compressor for Drums with a lot of Character!
Price: Free or $50 for Molot GE Edition.
Molotok, the free version of the Molot GE edition, is a compressor designed to add grit and character to your tracks, making it an ideal choice for acoustic drums and electronic drums as well, in fact, I reach for it a lot when I’m mixing synthetic drum sounds since it makes them stand out in the mix much more.
That being said, if you’re looking for a transparent-sounding compressor, this one is definitely not it!
It features typical compressor controls such as Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release, Knee control, Dry/Mix control for easy parallel compression, as well as a Makeup Gain knob.
Let’s quickly talk about some of its features since it offers a lot, many of which aren’t even present on premium compressors, starting with the knob between attack and release labeled “α-β-σ”, or Alpha, Beta, Sigma, which changes many compression parameters to create different compressor styles.
It also offers sidechain capabilities with a high-pass filter for the sidechain, which is usually only available in premium plugins, A/B testing, Stereo or Mono compatibility depending on the signal, and it also lets you choose a more “Economic” mode if your CPU is struggling, or even a “Live” mode which introduces zero latency.
You can use the sidechain to, for example, compress the bass when the kick drum is hitting to make room for it since they both generally sit in the same frequency range.
User Interface: Although the Molotok offers plenty of built-in features, the interface is still not cluttered at all and really simple to understand. What’s more is that on the Threshold knob you can see the signal level, allowing you to very quickly dial in the Threshold. Lastly, the Attack and release controls are configured in such a way that you have much more granular control over the initial- or lower times, which is where you generally need to fine-tune things.
Character: The Molotok definitely adds a lot of character in the form of “Grit” and “Warmth” since it really saturates the signal as soon as compression starts kicking in. In fact, even without compression working and only having the plugin engaged it already introduces some coloration.
- A/B testing.
- α-β-σ control (changes a lot of parameters).
- Live, Economic, and Precise modes (no Latency, low CPU usage, More CPU).
- Sidechain and Parallel compression.
- High-pass Filter on the Sidechain.
Uses: This is the perfect kick drum compressor since it adds a bit of saturation and coloration to it in the process, helping it stand out more in the mix. Of course, it can also be used on the snare drum or even drum bus as well and the results are excellent.
If you’re looking for a free compressor for taming your drum hits and adding a lot of character to them, be it on single tracks or on the drum bus, then Molotok is by far the best way to go since it sounds absolutely phenomenal!
You can get Molotok here: TDR Website.
Easiest to use: Only 2 knobs!
The DC1A is, essentially, a stripped-down version of the DC8C, which is a premium compressor by Klanghelm, but with fewer knobs.
What makes this such an appealing compressor is that it only features two controls; Input and Output.
The input controls the level of the incoming signal and the output lets you control the resulting volume (Makeup).
Basically, all you have to do is increase the input and let the algorithm automatically apply the compression, and then adjust the level via the Output knob.
Additionally, thanks to the “DEEP” control, the DC1A is excellent at dealing with bass-heavy audio, since it activates a high-pass filter.
It also comes with some extra features, like parallel compression and dual-mono processing, which lets you compress the left and right channels independently.
Just like all other Klanghelm plugins, you can click on the “OUT” or “GR” buttons under the metering section to view the compression that is being applied as well as the output level.
User Interface: Since it only features two knobs and four “Switches”, the DC1A is an absolute cakewalk to use. The metering display works really well and being able to view the Gain Reduction as well as the output volume independently is quite useful.
Character: At least from my testing, the DC1A does add a bit of saturation to the signal, which makes it a more “Colorful” compressor than some of the others I listed.
- Only two knobs.
- Gain Reduction and Output Metering.
- High-pass filter.
- Compress the left and right channels independently.
Uses: I would mostly recommend using the DC1A on drums since that’s where I think it shines, plus the added saturation makes the drums sound a lot punchier.
If you are a beginner and need an easy-to-use compressor for your tracks, don’t hesitate to try out the DC1A. Or you could also consider the VocalMint Compressor (designed for vocal compression but can be used on other tracks as well), and this one only has one knob, even easier!
Download the DC1A by Klanghelm here: Klanghelm Website.
Interested in free Synth VST plugins? Here’s an entire post on that topic.
And last but not least…
Stereo Buss Compressor by MSG
Great Freeware Mastering/Bus Compressor!
Although now being a bit dated, this plugin is perfect for those producers looking to add the finishing touches to their latest mix. Modeled on legendary bus compressors from classic analog consoles, the MSI Stereo Buss Compressor can add that last bit of flavor that console compressors are known for.
Since it’s mainly designed as a bus compressor, its job is to mainly “glue” everything together and make the mix sound more cohesive. If you’re looking for a compressor designed to add tons of compression and punch, then you should reach for any of the previous ones on this list since the MSG Bus Compressor won’t fit those needs.
User Interface: Since it only provides 5 knobs and the metering display, it’s an incredibly simple plugin to use. The only issue I have is with the metering display since the needle moves way too fast, making it hard to really see what is going on.
Character: Since it’s a mastering compressor, it sounds completely transparent.
Note: It says in the description that the plugin comes with built-in presets but I could not find a way to access them.
- Analog Modeled Buss Compressor.
- Ideal for master bus compression as well as sub-groups, such as the drum bus.
- Visual feedback (Not the best).
- Great sound.
Uses: Since it’s a master bus compressor, that’s what you should mainly be used for: When subtle compression is needed.
Get the MSG Buss Compressor here: Plugin Boutique.
The compressors I’m about to list here didn’t make the main list either because they don’t sound as great or because they simply don’t offer the same amount of value.
DCAM FreeComp By FXpansion (Windows, Mac)
DCAM is modeled after a classic console bus compressor design and is intended to be used to “glue” mixes and subgroups together while enhancing punch and definition.
It can also tame peaks and create pumping compression on individual tracks; however, it’s one of those compressors that can certainly be used on the master bus to give your song that last punch and sonic glue it needs.
Note: You must register with their site and get a valid serial to use it, even though it’s free… yes, really!
It’s still worth doing, so try it out!
As far as the actual use of the plugin goes, it’s very simple and straightforward since it only features a couple controls; Gain in and Gain out, Ratio, Attach, Threshold and Make up, and that’s about it!
Download the DCAM FreeComp here.
Looking for free EQ VST plugins? Here are the best ones.
Super Charger by Native Instruments (Windows, Mac)
Super Charger is a one-knob compressor designed to be simple yet effective. It’s worth noting that the Super Charger is a part of NI’s free Komplete Start bundle which includes a whole host of free software as well, so make sure to check it out.
Since it’s designed with simplicity in mind, the controls are pretty limited: You have access to an Input/Trim knob, Dry/Wet, and an Output knob, as well as the big “Compress” knob in the middle. In addition to this, the Super Charger features Punch and Dirt controls which you can turn on or off, as well as sidechain compression.
Like I already mentioned previously, I’m a big fan of simplicity, and the Super Charger does this quite well, similar to the MJUC JR or the DC1A but with the advantage of having some extra “fine-tuning” capabilities.
Of course, if you want something more powerful, then get the TDR Kotelnikov (first one on this list), since it’s an absolute beast of a compressor.
Download the Super Charger here.
Leveling Tool by ADHD (Windows, Mac)
Continuing the trend of easy-to-use plugins, here we have another one of my favorites.
Leveling Tool is a compressor that can add some analog-style saturation to your tracks, and it was inspired by the Teletronix LA-2A Leveling Amplifier, a legend in its own right.
There are multiple compressors out there that are based on the LA-2A, but even the paid ones, such as the CLA-2A by Waves, don’t compare to this little freeware alternative.
Leveling Tool works really well on vocals as well as on the master bus, and it’s generally used to add some warm saturation at the same time as well.
It features adjustable attack and release parameters, adjustable gain reduction ratio, a side-chained high-pass filter, a dry/wet knob, and you can choose between to metering modes; Input volume and gain reduction.
Lastly, its design is simple and easy to understand, and with just a few simple knobs, you don’t need to be a pro to make it sound great.
Download Leveling Tool here.
Frontier by D16 Group (Windows, Mac)
Frontier is actually a limiter (basically a compressor taken to the extreme, or a compressor with a really high ratio), that is used to keep the audio from going past a certain threshold to avoid digital distortion, or peaking.
It features a “soft clip” switch, which allows you to add some subtle harmonics without distorting the sound, as well as the typical threshold and output knobs (With automatic make-up gain), a “Control Input” knob which allows you to control if only the right or left channels are being affected or both (Mid), and much more.
Despite being marketed as a limiter, Frontier definitely works really well as a compressor, and having the soft clip feature also lets you warm up the sound without having to use another plugin.
Lastly, it’s available for both Windows and Mac OS 32/64-bit in VST2, VST3, AU and AAX formats.
Oh, and you can download the plugin instantly but once you open it, it will prompt you to create an account, but luckily it’s not too complicated and takes like 15 seconds.
Download Frontier Here.
Rough Rider 3 by Audio Damage (Windows, Mac)
Rough Rider is a modern compressor with a bit of a “vintage” style bite to it and a uniquely warm sound.
This compression plugin was designed to mainly be used on tracks that can add some punch to your music;
E.g. The rhythmic tracks, such as drums, but also bass, synth bass, guitar, and more.
In addition to the typical compressor controls, Rough Rider 3 also features a Mix control for Parallel compression as well as a High-Pass Filter.
To be honest, I liked it for the same reason I like the MJUC Jr., and that reason is SIMPLICITY!
I don’t want to have to deal with loads of knobs and parameters, since this usually results in option anxiety and wasting too much time.
I want my compressors simple, to the point, and effective, and Rough Rider definitely fits the bill.
Another alternative to Rough Rider 3 would be the Punch Compressor by MSG, since it’s got a very similar interface and even simpler controls.
Download Rough Rider 3 here.
ReaComp by Cockos (Windows Only)
Cockos, the creators of the Reaper DAW, have a couple of free plugins that you can download to use with any DAW you want, and they are truly fantastic, with the only downside being that they don’t look as good as some other plugins on this list.
Of course, they do have their own free compression plugin called ReaComp.
This is a very simple-to-use yet powerful plugin and I believe that it should be in every producer’s toolbox.
Now, it does have a steeper learning curve than all the previous plugins on this list, but it’s also one of the best ones if you take the time to learn it properly.
It features a Feedback compression mode, Sidechain filters and sidechain inputs, variable RMS size, and more.
Download ReaComp here.
If you’re looking for the best free VST plugins in the world, I have a list of 225 of them.
ComBear by W.A. Production
ComBear is a powerful dynamic Parallel Compression effect plugin that brings an amazing sound and feel to Drums, Synth, Vocals, and anything else you can thank of!
It comes with the typical compressor controls, such as Compress, Mix, Input Gain, Make-Up Gain, and Bypass. By adjusting the Compress knob, you increase the Parallel Compression that ComBear adds to the element from value 0 to 100.
Bypass ComBear’s effects on an element by flipping the Bypass switch, correct the Make-Up Gain that is altered based on how much compression you add to the element by adjusting the Make-Up Gain, adjust how much gain comes in from the element by adjusting the Input Gain and finally adjust how much of ComBear you hear on the element with the Mix knob. The Idea behind this plugin was of course Parallel Compression.
Download it here.
FR COMP 87 By eaReckon (Windows, Mac)
FRComp 87 only has two knobs; Threshold and Makeup, just like the MJUC Jr. It also allows you to choose between fast, medium, and slow attack and release, as well as a Limiter.
And that’s it, believe it or not!
This plugin didn’t make the main list because I don’t think that it can compete with something like the MJUC Jr., plus the interface isn’t scalable (I have a 4k display and the plugin looked tiny!).
You can download FR COMP 87 here.
Looking for free Delay VSTs? Here’s a post I wrote about the best ones.
TDR Feedback Compressor
Note: Although it’s now been discontinued, the TDR Feedback Compressor is still a great tool that you can download and use for free.
The TDR Feedback compressor is a carefully dynamic range compressor that is mainly designed with bus compression in mind and is the result of an intensive study about the musical behavior of the feed-back compressor topology.
Most modern compressors analyze the input signal to control gain reduction. The feed-back compressor design, however, “listens” to its output which delivers an unobtrusive and highly musical compression characteristic that is able to handle complex signals with ease.
These unique characteristics were combined with a minimalistic audio path and state-of-the-art digital signal processing techniques. The compressor is carefully tuned for intuitive and musical operation.
- Beautiful “Feed-Back Compression” sound and behavior
- 64bit floating point precision for all relevant calculations
- Differential oversampling structure
- Internal re-sampling via high-quality linear phase filters
- Advanced stereo-linking (reduces audible cross-modulation)
- Adaptive integration time RMS detector. Optional PEAK and tunable RMS detection
- Freely adjustable compression knee
Download it here.
Conclusion & Recommendation
Any of these plugins should make a great addition to your arsenal, just remember that some of the ones on this list are extremely simple while some others are actually quite complicated to use and packed with features.
Depending on your needs you should choose one or the other;
If you’re a beginner, go with the THR FreeComp or maybe the MJUC Jr. by Klanghelm, otherwise, the TDR Kotelnikov and the MCompressor are easy to recommend as well!
Still, since they are all free, I’d recommend you try out as many as possible.
I hope this was useful!
Have a great day!