Compressor plugins, we just hear so much about them and with good reason. Compression is one of the vital components of a mix alongside EQ, and the two will combine to provide greater weight and depth in the mix. A mix crafted with quality compression across its tracks, busses, and groups will simply sound more musically balanced, fatter and have more attitude. Compression is an elusive art, and having the best compressor plugins at your disposal is half the battle! There are many different types of compressors, it’s good to revise upon those before reading on!
Fabfilter’s Pro C is a tremendous compressor that has a wide range of uses. It has three distinct modes of compression including Opto, Clean and Classic modes. The Fabfilter Pro-C has all the usual compression settings. These settings are optimised perfectly in terms of sound quality and response to user-defined settings. The Fabfilter Pro-C can accomplish anything from subtle to pumping compression or de-essing. What makes the Pro-C a real stand-out as one of the best compressor plugins is its M-S functionality. You can widen groups and busses by activating M-S mode and adjusting the relative level of mid and side channels whilst also compressing each individually. It functions as a side-chain compressor brilliantly, too. You can compress your middle channel of drum sounds whilst leave the side untouched or only lightly compressed, for example.
The PSP vintage warmer doesn’t look like much with its utilitarian styling. It really is a force to be reckoned with. Many will think ‘how did I ever go without this?’ when they use it. It functions as a single or multi-band compressor and utilises a very warm vintage algorithm. It’s a really flexible plugin that can be used to brick-wall limit or provide soft knee compression to any source. It basically tries to mirror analog tape recorders when pushed, and this is what PSP achieves masterfully. Analog emulation provides character and glue to your track. This plugin provides that elusive auditory ‘glue’ which pulls instruments together smoothly. It is a real workhorse and has a great set of presets to get you going.
The hardware version of this compressor was released in the 60’s and was used on classic recordings of Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin and many others. It’s a real classic and it has the capability to provide fast attack and release compression with a beautiful sounding output and flexible performance. This is a great compressor for adding character to your tracks and you can operate it with extremely quick attack/release settings. From very subtle, soft knee or transparent compression to out-and-out distortion, this compressor really adds that fizz to your tracks. It’s a fairly straightforward compressor so don’t expect too many bells and whistles – it’s simply a high-performance instrument compressor and rates as one of the best compressor plugins for this role.
Neve have an awesome reputation and this compressor allows you to recreate the non-linearities of classic gear on your tracks. It’s wonderfully smooth and characterful and can be employed on individual tracks, groups or busses to glue instruments and add a bit of warm grit. Neve have really modelled this perfectly and you can even use it for parallel compression. It’s no surprise that Neve have produced one of the best compressor plugins and the 33609 / 33609SE is beautifully musical. This compressor is great on vocals too and employing it in your vocal chain will provide great results.
The API 2500 is a Wave mainstay and it really lends itself towards any compression setting. The API 2500 is notoriously good at adding punch and attitude to drum groups. It has a dual design which allows users to compress two mono channels with a singular setting. There are a couple of different compression types, an analog switch for extra warmth and all your usual compression settings. Overall, the API 2500 can really juice your tracks and it has a certain rhythmic quality when used to compress fairly hard with a hard-knee setting. The API 2500 has a great array of presets and can be used for anything.
The H-Comp is an inexpensive workhorse from Waves. The H series of plugins seek to combine digital and analog-modelled features for flexibility and musicality. This compressor is modelled on the behaviour of analog gear like tubes and transistors and you can select the analog character from 4 distinct kinds. This compressor has a wet/dry too, adding easy parallel compression to its repertoire of flexible features. Something unique about this compressor is its Punch mode. This allows a portion of a transient through uncompressed, meaning you can retain some pure uncompressed attack before compressing the remaining signal. Furthermore, it has a tempo-sync setting so you can really lock the release in with your track. Really awesome! Waves have engineered some great plugins and this is entirely their own. It’s inexpensive and it has to rate as one of the best compressor plugins.
This mastering compressor is ubiquitous in top studios worldwide. The Solid State Logic G console is a famous unit that has inspired many plugins. Waves teamed up with SSL to create the 4000 series which contains EQs, channel strips, and this compressor. The SSL Master Buss Compressor is prized by top engineers. It has an elusive ability to glue mixes together with the analog warmth and energy that brings a track to life. This isn’t the most flexible plugin but you can work wonders with its small quantity of settings. It works great for compressing groups. For example, you can run your bass and drums to a group and compress together to get things bumping along with a rhythmic pump. The SSL Master Buss Compressor is easy to use, too. Its presets provide ideal suggestions. Easily one of the best compressor plugins from Waves.
Softube has come up with some superb hardware and this plugin is modelled upon the famous solid-state FET compressor. This compressor has a stunning range of features. It includes parallel compression, detection filters, super-fast attack capability and continuous ratio control. The FET is a real beast and it has a renowned aggressiveness. If you push it, it will respond in kind and it imparts a lovely layer of distortion. The Softtube FET likes being used to squash or slam tracks and it will reward you with some great warm harmonics.
Your DAW’s Compressors
Every DAW has built-in compressors. Some are better than others. Ableton’s are by far the best on offer. They offer a standard compressor for track compression and side-chain compression. Their Multi-band Dynamics plugin is designed for multi-band compression. Lastly, the Glue Compressor is designed for groups or mix busses. It’s pretty similar to the SSL Master Buss compressor. They’re all very well built and between them, you can get great results without the need to spend more on after-market compressors.
Choosing the Best Compressor Plugins
There’s a lot of quality compressors here and they can all contribute something special to a mix. You can never just have one compressor, so nailing one down as the best is just impossible. If you have a few combined with your stock DAW plugins then you should be all good. Ideally, it’s nice to have a compressor for individual instrument tracks, a compressor for groups and a compressor for M/S compression.