Compressor plugins are one of the must-have tools in your mixing arsenal. Without them, you can’t create great mixes and tracks.
Fortunately, today we have a huge number of great plugins. And the compressor is one of them. You can find many free or premium plugins that work great.
Every DAW comes with free, built-in plugins or effects. You can use them and it’s fine. But most of them lack some features and sound quality.
And because of this, I am here to find, test, and recommend some awesome compressor plugins you will love.
What Is A Compressor
A compressor is a tool for instruments or vocals. The primary usage of a compressor is during the mixing process. Sometimes during mastering. What it does is compress sound, which makes it more consistent. In general, the compressor smoothes high peaks and simultaneously brings up the low frequencies.
The compressed audio is more even. Sound becomes less dynamic. So, when you use a compressor, you must be careful. Because it can ruin your mix. And there are different kinds of compressors.
On most of the compressors, you will see controls like ratio, attack, release, threshold, and gain. Sometimes there is a knee knob for smoothing the compressor effect.
You may find a simple compressor that you can use on tracks. But also there are bus compressors. These compressors are for the master track. It acts as a glue to the whole mix.
Digital vs Analog Compressors
Like many things nowadays, compressors can be digital or analog. Digital compressors are becoming more popular in this digital recording era. They are cheaper, easy to use, and require no maintenance.
For example, compressor plugins are digital. They are programmed and do what the compressor should do. Some digital compressors are based on a real, analog compressor and emulate their sound.
On the other hand, an analog compressor is an actual device. It has inputs, outputs, and all the controls. Also, it’s called an outboard compressor. You have to install it on the rack and connect it to your computer and DAW.
In general, analog compressors have a more natural sound. They affect the sound in a good way and add flavor to it. And digital compressors are cleaner. What sounds go in, the same, unaffected sound comes out.
But many digital compressors emulate famous analog compressor sounds. So, if you love old, analog sounds, you can always use them.
Best Premium Compressor Plugins
Let’s dive in and see the best compressor plugins you can find. These are all premium plugins you have to buy. Have great features and sound quality.
FabFilter Pro-C 2
FabFilter Pro-C 2 is one of the most popular and my personal favorite digital compressors. It has many great features and awesome sound quality. Although it is feature-packed, it’s pretty easy to use. Has a great interface which makes navigating and understanding plugins easier.
Pro-C 2 has control knobs for threshold, ratio, attack, release. You can control range, hold, knee, and even mix dry signal with compressed signal too. Also, it has an auto gain feature that makes input and output levels correct. But I rarely use it.
One of my favorite features of it is the display where you can visually see how the audio is compressed. It makes the process easier. Also, you can see the input and output meters.
Other great things about mid-range Pro-C 2 are the sidechain feature and built-in compressor types like bus, mastering, etc.
FabFilter Pro-C 2 Features:
- You can use sidechain compression
- Has beautiful visual for audio compressing
- Auto gain
- Built-in compressor types
Tube-Tech CL 1B
Tube-Tech CL 1B by Softube is an amazing compressor. It’s based on a famous analog tube compressor of the same name. Has an amazing sound and is great for analog sound lovers. Working with it is like you tweak a real, outboard compressor. Looks and feels like an analog compressor even though it’s a digital one.
You get the ratio, threshold, attack, and release controls. Additionally, you can control output gain, parallel compression, and also have a sidechain option. With a little VU meter, you can see how much compression is applied.
Although originally it was a vocal compressor, it works great with instruments and you can use it on any style of music genre. There are no limitations with CL 1B plugin. With it, you get an analog sound in a digital format.
Tube-Tech CL 1B Features:
- Analog sound in a plugin
- Amazing sound and features
- Great for any music genre
- Used by top engineers
SSL 4000 G Bus Compressor
SSL 4000 G is another analog-based digital compressor. It’s made by Waves and is a bus compressor. And a good one. Original is a bus compressor of the famous SSL 4000 G Console and you get that sound in a plugin. With these bus compressors, your mixes will sound amazing.
Like all the compressor plugins this has an attack, release, threshold, and other controls a compressor needs. Also, a small VU meter with a needle and the option to choose analog sound. Works great on every genre and makes mixes great sounding.
Also, you can use it not only in mixing but mastering too. Just add a little compression to your tracks during mastering to add more glue to it.
SSL 4000 G Bus Compressor Features:
- Analog bus compressor in a digital format
- Great for mastering too
- Perhaps the best bus compressor
Empirical Labs EL8
Universal Audio’s EL8 compressor is based on one of the most popular compressors among engineers. It is based on Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor. With this, you can create amazing mixes because it sounds so awesome. It’s a versatile, fast, modern compressor with many colors. Great for analog sound enthusiasts.
Although it’s a compressor, it works as a limiter too. So you can use it on mixing and mastering too. It’s two devices in one. You get all the compressor features and additional options like a high pass filter, limiter, and is great for instruments and vocals.
Empirical Labs EL8 plugin is a must-have for every mixing and mastering engineer. Has a great price and everyone can afford it. It can be a great addition to your home recording studio.
Empirical Labs EL8 Features:
- Analog-based with a great sound
- Works as a compressor and limiter
- Adds color to your tone
CLA-2A by Waves is another compressor/limiter plugin based on analog gear. You get all the flavor and sound of an analog compressor in a digital format. So, if you love analog sound then it’s for you. Like EL8, it is a compressor and limiter too.
But it has a more minimalist design and you get only two knobs. You can control gain and peak reduction. Has a VU meter display and a switch to choose between compressor and limiter. It’s a simple yet powerful digital tool with an analog flavor for engineers.
Waves CLA-2A Features:
- Based on an analog gear
- Minimalist design
- Acts as a compressor and limiter
Softube FET Compressor
One of my favorite compressor plugins is FET compressor by Softube. Like many other premium plugins, it’s based on a real device and sounds great. Makes mixes alive and it’s very easy to use and understand.
It has VU meters for input and gain reduction, LED meters for peaks, ratio, attack, and release controls. You can use it for external side chaining and also allows you to control low and high cuts.
Not many plugins have these many features. But not only are the features great but also the sound is amazing. Adds analog-like saturation to the sound. If you like this kind of flavor, then you will love this plugin.
Softube FET Compressor Features:
- Adds analog saturation to the sound
- Low and high cut control
- Beautiful VU display
Best Free Compressor Plugins
If you don’t have a budget or want to get used to digital compressor plugins, then here is the list of free plugins. Like premium plugins, they sound great and have amazing features.
Kotelnikov by TDR is perhaps the most popular free compressor plugin in the world. And the reason is that it has great features and it’s an amazing sounding plugin. The interface is like an analog compressor. It’s a fast and natural-sounding plugin.
Kotelnikov is great for instruments and vocals. You can control threshold, ratio, knee, attack, and with the release, you can control peaks or RMS. Has a great reduction meter and you can mix dry signal with compressed sound.
If you want to try a great-sounding, easy-to-use, and free compressor plugin, then Kotelnikov is for you.
- Great sounding plugin
- Peak and RMS release control
- Comes with presets
Klanghelm MJUC JR
Klanghelm MJUC JR is a simple yet powerful compressor with just two knobs and a switch. This can work as a great bus or mastering compressor. With its simplicity, it makes mixing and compression easier and fast.
One knob controls the compression and the other controls the makeup gain. You have a switch for time constants to choose between slow, fast, or auto. Additionally, you get a VU meter to visually see the compression power.
I personally really love this plugin not only for sound quality but for simplicity.
Klanghelm MJUC JR Features:
- Simple and easy to use
- Powerful and great-sounding
- Great mastering compressor
D16 Frontier is another simple and powerful compressor plugin. Great free compressor plugin for home studios. It’s simple, powerful, great-sounding, and free. So, why not use it. Great for any music genre.
It has two big knobs for threshold and output level, VU display, and soft clip switch. You can set slow, medium, or fast release, and control the left and middle channel separately. Also, comes with various presets.
D16 Frontier Features:
- Easy to use
- Very powerful
- Left and right channel control
Rough Rider 3
Rough Rider 3 is another amazing free plugin. It has a very modern, beautiful, and kind of futuristic interface. I love working with this plugin. Apart from that, it has great features, sound, and comes with several presets.
What you can control with Rough Rider 3 is input, ratio, compression, make-up gain, attack, release, and output. Also, you can mix dry and wet signals and support the sidechain option. Great plugin for home studios.
Rough Rider 3 Features:
- Sound great
- Has amazing features
- Awesome design
DCAM FreeComp is a simple, old-looking plugin with great sound and options. It’s modeled after a console bus compressor. Great for beginner engineers or any home studio owners to make their mixes more awesome. Just drop it in and compress your audio.
The interface consists of two sides. On one side you get an attack, ratio, threshold, and makeup knobs. The right side consists of VU display, input, and output gain knobs. It’s a simple but powerful plugin.
DCAM FreeComp Features:
- Based on a famous console bus compressor
- Simple and easy to understand
- Great sounding plugin
And lastly my favorite free bus compressor among all free compressor plugins. BUSTERse is made by Analog Obsession, a team behind many great plugins. It’s a great free alternative to the SSL 4000 G Bus compressor. Has a similar look and feel.
It works great as a bus compressor and can be used during mixing or mastering. Sounds awesome. You can control all the compressor options and see the effect on the VU meter.
Also, it has sidechain options like HPF, boost, and dry/wet mix. The best free bus compressor you can find.
- The great-sounding bus compressor
- Analog feel
- Sidechain feature
If you have a home studio and record at your home, you need to have a good compressor. Premium and free compressor plugins make our job easier. They offer amazing features and sound in a digital format. You can choose between pure digital or analog-based compressors and make high-quality mixes.