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The Best 1176 Compressor Plugins for Audio Engineers

With so many emulations of the faithful 1176 compressor plugin on the market, it can be difficult to choose exactly which one is best when considering the price, hardware accuracy, and more. That's why we spent weeks testing the best 1176 compressor plugins and left our thoughts below, with sound examples of each plugin, so you can use your own ears to decide.

1176 compressor hardware unit

What Is An 1176 Compressor Plugin?

An 1176 compressor plugin is any plugin that emulates the classic compressor by Universal Audio. This FET compressor became extremely popular, and eventually legendary because of its incredibly fast attack and release times, among other things.

Although there are several plugins that can technically do the same thing, the digital models of this hardware unit try to emulate its unique sound, behavior, and near-transparent compression, which are some of the unique qualities that made this compressor so acclaimed by engineers.

What Is The 1176 Compressor Best To Use On?

The 1176 compressor works best when you need to add a gritty compression effect or if you have a signal which would benefit from a more distorted sound. An 1176 is the best compressor to use on almost any vocal chain, bass, and drums.

One of the most common ways you can benefit from this compressor is by using it on a bass signal to compress and color. With fast attack and release settings, you can quickly balance the tone and dynamics of a bass guitar.

Additionally, the harmonic distortion will round up the low end, making it sit much better in the mix.

What Are The Best 1176 Compressor Plugins?

Here's the complete list of the best 1176 compressor plugins:

  1. Waves CLA76
  2. Softube FET Compressor
  3. UAD 1176
  4. Slate Digital FG-116
  5. T-Racks Black 76
  6. PSP FETpressor
  7. Pulsar Audio Smasher
  8. Overloud GEM comp76 v2
  9. Avid BF-76
  10. NI VC 76

1. Waves Audio CLA 76

Compatibility: Win10+, macOS 10.15.7+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $249 (usually on sale for $29)

waves CLA 76 1176 compressor plugin

Pros

✅ Brings two revisions with different colors

✅ The Blue stripe revision is great for aggressive mixes where you can benefit from the british mode

✅ The blackface edition can retain the low-end of different signals, making it a great choice for bass guitars, kicks, and subs

✅The non-compression mode offers a very natural harmonic distortion

Cons

❌ There aren't any extra features, but rather focused on making it as similar to the hardware as possible

Waves Audio with Chris Lord Alge made one of the best and most faithful models of this famous FET compressor with two of the original revisions labeled as Blackey and Bluey, referring to the Rev A and the blue stripe respetively.

This model includes all of the classic settings and buttons from the original gear, including the all ratios in mode, and the no compression mode, to exclusively add the color of the equipment without compressing the signal.

CLA-76 on a drum bus

Overall, this plugin has a rich sound and the blue stripe is amazing to use on vocals, and the Blackface works great on drums, especially if you're looking for an aggressive sound for genres like pop, hip-hop, and rock/metal.

2. Softube FET Compressor

Compatibility: Win10+, macOS 10.13+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $199

softube FET 1176 compression plugin

Pros

✅ CPU friendly

✅ The additional controls allow more control over different aspects of the compression, including attack and release, parallel compression, and signal detection

✅ Offers you the possibility of compressing at lower ratios and higher ratios.

✅ Signal detection allow a very accurate compression

Cons

❌ Couldn't find any

This is a very innovative model of this classic unit with a bunch of additional features to give you more control over the signal without losing its unique harmonic distortion and character.

Softube stayed true to the original hardware's circuitry but added their own twist, renewing the GUI and making it more adjustable. This model features a mix knob for parallel compression uses and extra routing capabilities with sidechain options and filters (HPF & LPF), as well as lookahead for a smoother compression.

This modern-looking compressor plugin also brings a ratio knob control, which includes a 1:1 value to add the modeled pre amp distortion without adding compression.

FET Compressor is snappier than the CLA-76 and sounds cleaner.

3. Universal Audio 1176 Classic Limiter

Compatibility: Win7+, macOS 10.11+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $299

Pros

✅ Includes new features such as a mix knob for parallel processing and a sidechain filter

✅ Thorough recreation of the classic hardware unit

✅ Each modeled revision has an incredibly natural coloration and superb sound quality

Cons

❌ You can't access to UA plugins without their hardware, so it might require a greater effort to get this plugin if you don't own any.

It was expected for Universal Audio, as the original manufacturer, to have their own take on the digital realm for their legendary piece of equipment. In fact, they have a whole bundle with all three revisions of the unit, including Rev A, E, and blue stripe.

These are faithful digital recreations of the hardware compressor without any other additional features. It's pretty straight forward, sounds really natural and you could hardly tell the difference when compared to the hardware, as expected.

4. Slate Digital FG-116

Compatibility: Win8+, macOS 10.14+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $149

Pros

✅ Unique-sounding emulations with three different characters

✅ Sensible, automatable controls

✅ Extremely fast attack times are great to shape drums and vocals

✅ You can use these emulations with Virtual Mix Rack and as separate modules

Cons

❌ Requires an iLok dongle to activate the license

❌ No high-pass filters

❌ Lacks output level control for gain staging

Slate Digital's FG 116 is their take on the classic compressor. Differently from other models, it has fewer ratio controls, as it doesn't have the all buttons in separately, so you have to press all button at once for this purpose.

This emulations don't have the no compression mode either, although they did include a mix knob for parallel compression and 2 circuitry responses for the Vintage and Modern models.

The FET compressor reminisces on the Blackface revision of the classic, which has a lower noise level and produces less harmonic distortion. The Vintage model emulates the blue stripe with the addition of a high-pass filter, and the Modern one is more of a digital adaptation of this compressor.

5. IK Multimedia T-Racks Black 76

Compatibility: Win7+, macOS 10.10+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $79.99

Pros

✅ Stereo link and M/S processing possibilities make it better suited for bus compression

✅ It's the closest sound to the physical UA hardware

✅ Very user friendly

Cons

❌ Doesn't include a mix knob for parallel use

This version of the Blackface revision by IK Multimedia is a faithful recreation of the classic and has some additional features that are great to adapt this amazing unit to any situation.

The TRACK Black 76 introduces stereo linking posibilities, which can be L/R or M/S. This additional controls enable you use this unit for bus compression and can be particularly beneficial to enhance the stereo image.

It also works with very high sample rates, all the way to 192KHz, and includes all ratio, attack and release controls, just as the original unit. In terms of the sound it's very transparent and crisp, even when you push it hard. It's a really good one to use on your vocals for a crisp upfront sound without much harmonic distortion.

6. PSP FETpressor

Compatibility: Win7+, macOS 10.10+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $99

Pros

✅ Ultra-fast attack and release times enable a faster and more accurate compression

✅ Sidechain HP allow you to prevent low-frequency information from triggering the compression

✅ Dual mono and stereo processing possibilities

✅ The ratio buttons are summed up into a knob allowing you to freely select it and minimize distortion

Cons

❌ Couldn't find any

Here we have another true-to-the-original model by PSP, and they've included new features to give you more control over the compression.

This is one of the very few emulations of the 1176 compressor that includes a fully adjustable threshold, stereo linking possibilities, mix knob, sidechain high-pass filter, and fully adjustable ratio controls, all in the same plugin.

The one thing it doesn't seem to have is the classic all buttons in feature, and the non-compression mode, which would've been great to have as well. Nevertheless, this is a great-sounding emulation and can deliver amazing results on almost any source.

7. Pulsar Audio Smasher

Compatibility: Win7+, macOS 10.10+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $49

Pros

✅ Great for an aggressive pop, rock, or rap vocal sound due to the british mode's particular distortion

✅ Offers a rich sound with a very pleasant distortion

✅ Incredibly simple to use plug in

Cons

❌ It has a fixed threshold and ratio, which limit the possibilities of use for this unit

❌ The british mode might not work good with some signals, so it's not a very versatile plug in

Smasher distinguishes itself from just about any other 1176 emulation because it has all buttons in all the time. It's worth mentioning that it emulates the sound and behaviour of the blue stripe, which is more midrange-focused and has more noticeable character.

This plugin is great for a gritty and distorted compression, and gives you the ability to blend it with the dry signal with the mix knob. It's a pretty straightforward, yet powerfull plugin to achieve stuff like a very aggressive vocal, or a pretty nasty-hitting rock kick or snare.

8. Overloud GEM Comp76 v2

Compatibility: WinVista+, macOS 10.6+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit, 32-bit
Price: $119

GEM Comp76 compressor

Pros

✅ Offers the largest amount of controls over the processing and behavior of the plug in

✅ Lets you choose between three revisions of this classic UA hardware

✅ Universal output and input level, stereo/dual mono, and low-frequency sensibility enable you to achieve a more precise compression

✅ You can control the amount of saturation coming out of the unit, which lets you decide how you want to affect the input signal

Cons

❌ Couldn't find any

This is our favorite 1176 model because it has everything that the other plug ins have and combines it with a true-to-the-original sound quality.

This model includes the three classic revisions of the 1176 and matches their original response, for instance, the RevA is the blue stripe with a grittier compression and more present coloration, Rev D is the blackface with low noise and coloration, and lastly, Rev F is the latest version of the hardware with complete transparency.

You can use it for bus or parallel compression, or even for stereo imaging, as it offers stereo linking and mid/side processing possibilities. It also brings a bunch of other extra controls to fine-tune how the unit responds the input.

GEM Comp76 has the cleanest and roundest sound and also feels more open

9. Avid BF-76

Compatibility: WinXP+, macOS 10.11+, RTAS, AAX, 64-bit, 32-bit
Price: $Free (comes with the Pro Tools software)

Pros

✅ It offers very low coloration to the input, so it's great for clean compression

✅ Sounds pretty similar to the UREI 1176 when used in extreme settings

✅ Little to none CPU impact

✅ Really good to use on bass to round up the lower frequencies

Cons

❌ Doesn't allow all buttons in function

❌ It lacks a mix knob for parallel compression

Yet another 1176 Blackface emulation, Avid's BF-76 model is one really good and extremely overlooked plugin that comes with Pro Tools.

This one's pretty straightforward, as it gives you the same setting and controls as the original hardware, except for the all buttons in and no-compression mode.

However it offers you a really nice and gritty compression and distortion that works amazing on bass, drums, and pianos.

It sounds like a mix between the CLA-76 and the GEM, but BF-76 is less transparent and a better saturator.

10. Native Instruments VC76

Compatibility: Win10+, macOS 10.15+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $99

Pros

✅ Works as a limiting amplifier and as a compressor

✅ Easy to achieve a broad range of sounds and textures

✅ Simple to use GUI

✅ Can accept an external sidechain input

Cons

❌ You have to use it in Guitar Rig

❌ Parallel compression works odd

Last but not least, the VC 76 by Native Instruments is another true-to-the-original model that offers you the same settings as the original unit but with a mix knob and sidechain with a gain control.

It also features both the all buttons in and no buttons in modes and delivers a really nice gritty distortion that could really help making any signal more aggressive. It's very simple but still pretty effective.

VC76 is pretty subtle, but brings the midrange forward very nicely. The tone of the drums feels slightly fatter and fuller compared to the others.

Summary

To recap, here is the complete list of the best 1176 plugins:

  1. Waves CLA76
  2. Softube FET Compressor
  3. UAD 1176
  4. Slate Digital FG-116
  5. T-Racks Black 76
  6. PSP FETpressor
  7. Pulsar Audio Smasher
  8. Overloud GEM comp76 v2
  9. Avid BF-76
  10. NI VC 76

1176-style compressors are amazing to add aggressiveness to a source and are incredibly adaptable and simple to use, due to their few controls. These compressors aren't usually good for your 2-buss, but they can deliver incredible results and quality enhancements all across a mix.

Our absolute favorite one was the GEM Comp76 v2 by Overloud because it offers the highest amount of control over the compressor's behaviour and tonality.

Besides, the other extra features like high pass filter, mid/side processing, and harmonic level controls make it an extremely efficient plug in to add to your workflow.

FAQ

Is The 1176 A VCA Compressor? What Style Compressor is it?

No, the 1176 is a FET compressor, not a VCA. The main difference being that the FET reduces gain with transistorts, providing a grittier and more distorted compression, whereas a VCA would uses a control signal to determine whether gain reduction will be applied.

VCA compressors are usually a lot smoother and brighter than FET compressors. An iconic example of a VCA unit is the classic SSL bus compressor. These two types of compressors are both incredibly fast in action, but the way they react and sound is very different.

Is The 1176 Hardware Better Than A Plugin Emulation?

Not necessarily. Although it's true that hardware gear offer a sound that's unique to each unit, it doesn't necessarily make it better in the end result. On the other hand, hardware units sound great but they've got limitations that plugins don't have.

Plug ins these days are incredibly close to the original hardware sonically, and the additional features they bring to the table like sidechain, mix knobs, filters, and easiness of use make these tools a lot more efficient in practice.

When Was The 1176 Compressor Invented?

The 1176 Compressor was created in 1966 by Bill Putnam Sr., founder of Universal Audio. The initial units were released in 1967 by UREI, which he'd sell later on and be rebuilt by his sons Bill jr. and Jim Putnam, who re-issued the 1176LN as UA's first product in 1999.

Putnam crafted the first 1176 recently after the field-effect transistors (FET) were invented replacing vacuum tubes in his designs. He redesigned the 175 and 176 Vari-Mu compressors and created the first 1176.

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