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The 15 Best Bus Compressor Plugins For Audio Engineers

Your Questions About Bus Compression Answered:

  1. What is a bus compressor?
  2. How do you set up bus compression?

Bus compression is a way to use a compressor on several audio signals at a time to make them feel more cohesive and affect the timbre. It's most commonly used on instrument busses, like a drum bus, to increase punch and clarity, or a heavy guitar bus to make them feel like a wall of sound. In this article, we will use our 8 years of music production knowledge to help shed some light on why is bus compression important, how it works, and how you can best adapt it to your mixes and masters.

What Is A Bus Compressor & What Do You Use It For?

A bus compressor is a compressor that is used on an aux channel to compress multiple signals together and provide a cohesive, glued sound to the group of instruments.

To better understand what “glue” is, imagine you have a mixing session with 12 drum tracks. You group them all, send them to a sub-group, and call it the drum bus. You'd like these individual drums to sound as if they exist in the same sonic context and are part of the same song, so you compress the drum bus.

The result is what's called “glue” because it's like gluing them all together.

This is what bus compression is commonly used for. You can additionally use bus compression for the master channel (called “master bus compression”). This does the same but provides the glue for the entire track.

How Do You Set Up Bus Compression?

1. Set the compressor before mixing

One of the most common mistakes people make is adding the bus compressor plugin at the end of the mix.

It's better if you mix through the mix bus compressor from the beginning after you make the first volume balance.

Otherwise, it will make your ears confused and you will end up mixing the track all over again.

bus compression DAW pro tools

In this particular case, we have a pretty common scenario of a beat and some vocals. So as soon as the balance was done, we added the Virtual Buss Compressor.

2. Set up the parameters

This step might vary from time to time depending on what you're doing, but typically, unless you're working on very aggressive music you'll be fine with a 2:1 ratio so that your compressor reacts smoothly and doesn't destroy your track's dynamic range.

slate digital bus compressor

You'll also need a slow attack time. 10 milliseconds is a pretty nice starting point because the compressor won't be too fast to catch every transient, nor too slow to let them all pass through.

Release time should be as fast as possible because otherwise it can squander the transients and damage the dynamics of the mix.

3. Threshold and makeup gain

Once done with the parameters, it's time to set the threshold. Keep in mind that bus compression is not the same as compressing an individual track since you can't do any aggressive move or it will affect your whole mix.

In that spirit, adjust the threshold until it hits somewhere between 1 and 3 dB of gain reduction.

Right after, set the makeup gain to whatever amount you're reducing and it's all set!

No bus compression

Compressor engaged

Notice how the details of the beat come forward and how the vocals feel more natural

What Are The Best Bus Compression Plugins?

Here's the complete list of the best bus compression plugins:

  1. Waves Audio SSL G Master Comp
  2. NI Supercharger
  3. Tone Empire Goliath
  4. Waves Audio Puigchild
  5. Fab Filter Pro C2
  6. UAD API 2500
  7. Klanghelm MJUC
  8. TDR Kotelnikov
  9. TDR Limiter no.6
  10. Softube Weiss DS1MK3
  11. Cytomic The Glue
  12. Slate Digital Virtual Buss Compressors
  13. Waves Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain
  14. JST Bus Glue Bundle
  15. Steinberg RND Portico 5043

1. SSL G master Buss compressor (or SSL Comp)

Compatibility: Win10+, macOS 10.15.7+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $249 (usually on sale for $39.99)

waves SSL G master bus compressor

Pros

✅ The rich harmonic addition can create the sought-after “larger-than-life” type of feel

✅ Close hardware model of the legendary SSL 4000 buss compressor

✅ Not a particularly aggressive compressor, which is helpful for mix bus compression case scenarios

Cons

❌ Needs too much fine-tuning to get it working, particularly on the mix bus

The SSL G Master Buss compressor plugin emulates the bus compressor of the Solid State Logic 9000 console, which had a compressor built at the end of the signal chain, right on the master buss for this purpose.

This plugin is one of our favorites because it does a really fine job recreating the unique punchiness and subtle harmonic distortion of the classic SSL 4000.

You should use Waves' SSL comp on your mix bus to get a richer sound, on your drum tracks to make them punchier, or on your backing vocals to make them more present and exciting.

It's a really good addition, especially for those who're looking for subtle coloration and compression for genres like hip-hop or rock music.

2. Native Instruments Supercharger

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

native instruments supercharger

Pros

✅ Amazing to use on rock drums and vocals to make them punchier and more energic

✅ Incredibly simple to use, doesn't require much handling to get it sounding good

✅ The harmonic distortion is great for guitars, drums, and bass to add character and aggression

✅ If you turn the dirt on, it's awesome to add subtle harmonics with parallel compression

Cons

❌ It can be excessively thrashy, so it only works on most aggressive, and distorted genres

❌ If you're not careful with volume matching with the unprocessed signal, it can go all over the place

The first thing that you need to know about this compressor is that it's pretty aggressive, so we don't recommend it as a mix bus compressor unless you're looking for a thrashier sound on a hard rock mix or something similar.

Supercharger is a free compressor plugin by Native Instruments that injects a very nice-sounding tube harmonic distortion to make things punchier and tighter.

This compressor is killer on a drum bus because it makes them sound so much bigger and powefull as soon as you load it up. The best part of it, it doesn't even bother your CPU. It's one of those free plugins that you can't believe they're free.

Bypassed

Engaged

3. Tone Empire Goliath

Compatibility: Win10+, macOS 10.13+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $29

Pros

✅ It's a great sound design tool to shape the timbre and dynamics of a track

✅ The distortion types are really colorful, which is great for aesthetic purposes

✅ The GUI is super interactive and inviting

✅ Multi-functioning tool great to add saturation, compression, and shape tonality

Cons

❌ Distortion can be excessively aggressive at times

❌ The saturation quality is good, but limited because it can be invasive

Goliath is a compressor and saturation plugin with a lot of character and great sound. This plugin is the ideal bus compressor to use in different scenarios, as it can emulate four analog processing chains and different transformer types.

Goliath emulates a FET-style compression envelope, which can make it great for vocals, drums, bass, and guitar busses, but a little too aggressive for the mix bus due to the short attack settings that are characteristics of compressors like this.

The reason why Goliath makes such a good compressor is that you can freely shape it to your taste and achieve amazing results that would require a lot of work to do otherwise. It doesn't have much of a learning curve either, since what you see is what you get.

This compressor plugin is ideal for rock, metal, and similar mixes where you usually want to make things sound more aggressive. With only one instance of this plugin you can simply fine-tune the timbre of your sound as well as regulate dynamics and even set it up for parallel compression with the mix knob.

4. Waves Puigchild 670

Compatibility: Win10+, macOS 10.15.7+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $349 (usually on sale for $35.99)

waves puigchild bus compression

Pros

✅ Great on almost any signal or group

✅ Use it on your backing vocals to make them feel bigger and wider

✅ Helps things sound more balanced and slightly more open

✅ It has m/s processing abilities

Cons

❌ Not a transparent compressor

❌ It's not the best analog model of this hardware because the tone isn't as close as the original hardware.

The Puigchild 670 is a classic compressor that's amazing to use on a mix bus or master bus. This plugin by Waves Audio can make your mix wider, and punchier, and increase depth thanks to its mid/side compression possibilities.

A couple of really cool ways to use this compressor plugin on your mixes is to set it for mid/side processing and compress the mid harder than the side image. The mid-image typically has more transient information, since it's where the kick and snare are usually panned.

If you use faster release and attack settings, you'll have a much more pronounced compression curve, which will make the mid-image pump a little when the compressor hits, so try not to go further than a couple of dBs of gain reduction.

While you're at it, compress the side image with a slow attack and intermediate release, similar to what we did with the SSL bus compressor. This will enhance the transient information on the sides and bring quieter details forward, which will make your mix sound wider.

Another cool way to use this mix bus compressor is to set it to dual mono and compress each side individually. This will make the mix sound more dynamic and will create a perception of stereo expansion.

Since both sides have different information, we recommend setting this up during the loudest part of the song, so that you can make sure that the compressor won't go crazy shoving down peaks and dulling your song.

5. Fab Filter Pro C2

Compatibility: Winvista+, macOS 10.12+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit, 32-bit
Price: $169

Pros

✅ Several compression modes for any material

✅ Great GUI design allows you to see how the compression is working and affecting the signal

✅ Internal and external sidechain allows better control over the compressed signal

✅ It's extremely versatile, combining the smoothness and punchiness of a hardware unit with the transparency of the digital world

Cons

❌ Couldn't find any

Everyone knows what this compressor is, but in case you've been living under a rock for the past decade or so, it's one of the very best compressors ever created because it can do almost anything.

This digital compressor can work great on your mix bus, drum bus, the master bus, and anywhere you want it.

A few examples of how you can use it in different situations are:

  • Vocal bus:
    • One of Pro C2's built-in styles is specifically for vocals. Use this and increase the RMS levels by setting a fast attack and slow release times.
    • Then, take the threshold down until you feel it's a little too far but doesn't break or pump.
    • Lastly, isolate the midrange with the internal sidechain and blend the mix knob until you hit the desired amount of compression you want.
  • Mix bus: With the mastering style selected, you can either set it up for parallel work or glue things together with similar settings as with the SSL and the PuigChild.
    • For a soulful track, you might want to use parallel compression to rescue as many details as possible.
    • For a dense mix, use lighter compression settings.

Pro C2 is a very unique plugin that gives you the opportunity to enhance the stereo field and fine-tune your compression to a point where most compressors don't seem possible. Also, the possibility to use higher ratios, the compression modes and the amount of control this Pro C2 gives you is outstanding.

6. UAD API 2500

Compatibility:Win7+, macOS 10.11+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $149

Pros

✅ The best compressor choice if you're aiming for a tight and punchy sound

✅ Great for genres such as hip-hop, rock, and pop, to create excitement across different elements of your mix

✅ Particularly good unit to use for mix buss compression and drum groups

✅ It can filter and split the stereo input, which can be very helpful to mold the dynamics of your track

Cons

❌ Attack and release settings affect tonality

❌ Can create awkward artifacts at times depending on the signal

❌ Need UAD Hardware to run it

❌ Expensive compared to Waves API 2500 which is practically the same

The API 2500 is an emulation of the rackmount unit by Automated Processes Inc.

The digital version by Universal Audio gets pretty close to the original hardware as it captures its punchy, tight, and round unique sound.

This compressor is amazing to use on your mix bus and your drum bus, because of what it does. We love to use it when mastering hip-hop tracks as it makes the entire mix feel huge and alive with just a few parameter changes.

If you set it on your mix bus/master bus of a rap mix, set the attack time to around 3 seconds and the release as fast as possible, and make sure the ratio is at the minimum (1.5:1).

From this point, you want to use a hard softer knee and loud tone, which basically sets how the compressor will react to the input. Then, you can unlink the stereo image to around 50% and you're set.

The result is a very nice glue, a tighter and punchy feel, with rounder low frequencies. Avoid compressing more than 2dB of gain reduction.

Waves has a version of this compressor as well. It is much cheaper and is about as close as the Universal Audio and the original sound. In case you don't have any Universal Audio hardware, it's good to know that Waves also has one available.

7. Klanghelm MJUC

Compatibility: Win7+, macOS 10.11+”, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $23.15 (Free version with fewer features available)

klanghelm MJUC compressor plugin

Pros

✅ Great to add warmth and round up low frequencies without hurting the dynamic range of your piece

✅ Sounds amazing when you use it on acoustic guitars and vocals

✅ The paid version has some extra features, including tube drive amount and a mix knob

✅ Very efficient performance, your CPU doesn't even notice

✅ Automatic and slow release settings work amazing every time

Cons

❌ If you use it on drum tracks, it'll likely dull the attack of the transient making them sound softer

❌ Fast attack settings can quickly cause pumpin

MJUC is Klanghelm's Vari-MU compressor. It has a free compressor version labeled “Jr,” which sounds amazing but has limited features. This compressor is super wide and great for backing vocals, lead vocals, bass, and guitars.

Now, this is one of those cases where the digital era makes it possible since this is not a stereo compressor, but it can work exactly as one if you load it up on a stereo channel.

We don't recommend using this compressor on your stereo mix bus because it can make your drums sound a little dull and feel softer which can ruin the dynamics of the mix.

The MJUC compressor can be very helpful to add some subtle but amazing-sounding tube warmth to your vocals, making them sound fatter and rounder. When you use it on bass, whether bus or not, it rounds up the low frequencies in a pretty special way, making it sound deeper.

Using this compressor on a guitar bus can sweeten the tone and make them sound larger. This is especially good for genres like blues, acoustic, and pop, where you'd like to have a very clean and balanced tone for the track.

Bypassed

Engaged

8. Tokyo Dawn Records Kotelnikov

Compatibility: Win7+, macOS 10.11+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit, 32-bit
Price: Free

tokyo dawn kotelnikov master bus compression

Pros

✅ Individual peak and RMS compression allow far more precision than most compressors

✅ You can achieve very high gain reduction amounts without sounding obvious

✅ The peak/RMS and sidechain features are helpful for tailoring the compression to the track's tempo and dynamics

✅ It's fairly simple to use and provides great results for any genre, making it great for your master buss

Cons

❌ Couldn't find any

The Kotelnikov is a free mastering compressor by Tokyo Dawn that's broadly known for its transparent compression capabilities. It also has some extra features that other compressor plugins don't usually have, such as the individual Peak and RMS compression settings.

The Kotelnikov compressor is fantastic for cases where you want to be very transparent while increasing the perception of loudness in a mix.

We encourage you to try it out and use it on your master bus. Once there, you can try a slow attack and set the peak crest all the way to RMS, this determines the compressor's behavior regarding peak detection.

There, set the release time to somewhere around the middle, this will enhance the sustain and make the subtleties louder and easier to appreciate.

Lastly, set the threshold to compress between 2 and 3dBs max. Here's the result

9. TDR Limiter 6

Compatibility: WinXP+, macOS 10.9+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit, 32-bit
Price: $50

Pros

✅ The HQ mode is great to increase transparency and doesn't take as much CPU usage

✅ Great for your master bus or mix bus compression

✅ Incredibly musical-sounding limiter/compressor

✅ Amazing results when used on your drum bus

Cons

❌ It can smash your transients in ISP mode, which can pretty much wreck your tack's dynamics

❌ It's many dynamic processes can give you mixed results from really good to particularly bad

Limiter 6 is a mastering limiter and compressor with 5 dynamic modules, featuring:

  • RMS compression
  • Peak limiter
  • High-frequency limiter
  • Clipper
  • True peak limiter

This is a free download from TDR and there's a paid edition with more features and compatibility that costs around.

This limiter sounds great with a lot of analog flavors that can help a lot in achieving that final glue for your mixes.

With the free version of Limiter 6, you can make your track more exciting by turning on the RMS compressor and the peak limiter, setting the latter to m/s processing.

Then, adjust the compressor to reduce at least 4 or 6 dB, and spin the mix knob to regulate the parallel work. Then, set the peak limiter to be more aggressive on the sides than the mids, trying to hit -2dBs of gain reduction tops on the sides and less than 1 for the mid.

This will make the details that often get lost from the side image come forward, making the track feel more full and alive.

10. Softube Weiss DS1MK3

Compatibility: Win10+, macOS 10.13+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $549

softube weiss DS1MK3

Pros

✅ Intuitive and user-friendly GUI design

✅ Crystal-clean linear filters allow transparent band-selective compression

✅ Doesn't introduce any digital noises or artifacts even at absurdly extreme settings

✅ Amazing mastering and mix bus compressor to solve almost any problem

Cons

❌ The preset browser could be better

❌ It's a heavy lifter on your CPU

❌ Very expensive

The Weiss DS1 MK3 is a fantastic-sounding compressor by Softube based on a legendary hardware mastering processor. It also features m/s and parallel compression modes that are pretty unique for this type of mix bus compression.

The analog version of this compressor has been used for decades by mastering engineers due to its ability to perform band-selective compression, which allows you to compress certain frequencies with more transparency than with a linear multiband compressor.

You can use Weiss DS1MK3 to do the same to your master buss instead of using a multiband compressor to control the low end of your mix, or use it if you're mastering a mix with tall peaks.

All you have to do is select a filter to isolate the problem area with the “frequency” knob control. You can monitor the filter by clicking on the red button that says “monitor” on your left.

weis DSMK3 filtering

Once you've selected a frequency range, adjust the settings of the compressor similarly to what you'd do with a multiband compressor.

This compressor is so special for this kind of processing technique because of the transparency of its filters and meticulous precision, not to mention that doesn't hurt your dynamic range as much either.

11. Cytomic The Glue

Compatibility:WinXP+, macOS 10.18+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit, 32-bit
Price: $99

Pros

✅ Does one heck of a job with transparent buss compression

✅ Works pretty good on individual elements

✅ The GUI looks and works great

✅ Ideal for subtle parallel compression

✅ Pretty versatile with

Cons

❌ Couldn't find any

The Glue is a mastering compressor that you can use on your mix buss, drum bus, or instrument bus to make your tracks more cohesive. We love using this compressor for mix buss compression and consider it one of the best compressors to mix into.

Starting with the fact that this compressor has a preset literally named after itself “the glue” and sounds amazing on almost anything without changing a thing, this compressor is very good at preserving the natural dynamics, and it's pretty transparent.

For us, it's the simplest compressor on the list to learn how to use effectively and comes with a lot of prests and options to help you get started.

One thing we love to do with this is use the “glue” preset on the mix bus and make subtle adjustments so that it fits perfectly with the input. It's not something too fancy, but that says a lot about how much it can help.

12. Slate Digital Virtual Buss Compressors

Compatibility: Win10+, macOS 10.14+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $149

slate digital virtual bus compressor plugin

Pros

✅ Ability to switch between compressors and see which one works best for your audio with the rack version

✅ Enhances the sound of any input just by running it through

✅ Each unit has its own character and flavor, making it an easy way to color your audio

✅ You can use them racked or individually

Cons

❌ Doesn't have mono versions

❌ The sidechain HPF has a very short range

❌ Requires an iLok dongle

Virtual Buss Compressors are three digital emulations of three classic hardware compressors:

  • SSL 4000 (labeled as FG-Grey)
  • FG- Red, which is based on the Focusrite Red
  • FG-MU, which is like a combination between the Manley and the Fairchild.

These three plugins come separately, but there's also a version called “VBC Rack” where you have all three at a time. This version is the most helpful because you can use it to test each compressor out and see which one works better for each occasion and save a lot of time trying to figure it out.

Something very impressive about these plugins is how much they can improve just about everything only by passing the audio through without any compression happening at all.

The color of each compressor is incredibly well done and you can use them all in series when turned on at the same time.

We recommend using the FG-Grey whenever you want to add punch to your mix, the FG-RED is great to make a mix come to life, and the FG-MU is perfect to balance the overall tone.

13. TG Mastering Chain

Compatibility: Win10+, macOS 10.15.7+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $199 (usually on sale for $39.99)

Pros

✅ Ideal for master buss compression when your work with instrumental genres

✅ The tone and limiter sections can make a great difference in sound

✅ The EQ section allows M/S processing and can be a great stereo image shaper

✅ Great analog sound on almost anything you throw at it

Cons

❌ The GUI misbehaves from time to time

❌ Not too good with electronic and synth-based genres

This is not only a hardware buss compressor model, but it's also a mastering chain that emulates a Neve console. The TG Mastering Chain features a preamp, an EQ, filters, a mastering compressor, and a limiter.

This emulation by Waves Audio is perfect for a smooth, balanced, and wide type of sound. We find this plugin to be extremely good with acoustic music or soft indie rock. It makes everything feel wider and more immersive while keeping the low-end round and sitting nicely.

We recommend using moderate compression with this plugin and being careful with the spread knob to avoid phase cancellation.

14. JST Bus Glue Bundle

Compatibility: Win7+, macOS 10.11+, VST, AU, AAX, RTAS, 64-bit, 32-bit
Price: $99

Pros

✅ Pretty straightforward GUI design that anyone can quickly understand and use

✅ Very low CPU consumption and latency

✅ Great for artists and producers to achieve quick good-sounding results

✅ The instrument-focused units can be helpful for more aggressive genres, like rock and metal

Cons

❌ The processing is pretty aggressive, so it's not convenient every time

❌ There aren't any clear indications of what the knobs actually do, making them pretty unpredictable

❌ Some modules can create unwanted and unpleasant distortion

JST Bus Glue is a multi-purpose bundle with 6 different bus compressors for vocals, drum bus, keys, guitars, bass, and mix buss channels. These are really cool additions to your mixing toolkit, as they're pretty flexible, easy to use, and particularly good-sounding.

Each buss compressor comes with four compression styles that can go from subtle to extreme as you switch between them. Something really cool and interesting about these compressors is that they're hardware-based and made to sound their best when they're working together due to the cumulative effect.

If you're just starting up these are a great investment, because for 100 dollars you're getting 6 compressors for each possible mixing scenario that already sound good and are not hard to use at all.

15. RND Portico 5043

Compatibility: Win7+, macOS 10.11+, VST, AU, 64-bit
Price: $277.98

Pros

✅ Low CPU consumption

✅ Feedback or feedforward compression possibilities

✅ Faithful emulation of the analog pair

✅ When pushed hard, you get a snappy, tight compression that's great for funky guitars or bass lines

Cons

❌ It has the same limitations as the analog unit

❌ Pretty expensive

Our last compressor is an emulation of the classic hardware buss compressor, the Rupert Neve Design Portico 5043. Like the original hardware, it allows dual-mono and stereo processing, just as very straightforward compression parameters.

What's really interesting about this compressor, is the feedforward and feedback compressor types. The feedforward is a lot cleaner and more modern-sounding, whereas the feedback injects harmonics that affect the tone of the unprocessed signal and smoothly shapes its dynamics.

To give you a practical example, if you use the Portico 5043 for mix bus compression in a pop record, you might want to go with the feedforward mode because it's cleaner and won't color the whole mix as much.

On the other hand, if you're using it on a vocal bus in a rock mix, you'd better use the feedback mode to enrich the vocal tone with the harmonics.

Summary

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

  1. Waves Audio SSL G Master Comp
  2. NI Supercharger
  3. Tone Empire Goliath
  4. Waves Audio Puigchild
  5. Fab Filter Pro C2
  6. UAD API 2500
  7. Klanghelm MJUC
  8. TDR Kotelnikov
  9. TDR Limiter no.6
  10. Softube Weiss DS1MK3
  11. Cytomic The Glue
  12. Slate Digital Virtual Buss Compressors
  13. Waves Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain
  14. JST Bus Glue Bundle
  15. Steinberg RND Portico 5043

Bus compression can make a huge difference in the sound of your mix, that's why it's so important to find the right one for each occasion since it can either give your mix a nice finish, or make it sound awful and misplaced, if not done properly.

In this list, we've included several tips and different options for all purposes, budgets, and tastes, so hopefully, this was helpful for you to find the right bus compressor for your mixes.

Our ultimate picks are Softube's Weiss DS1MK3 and Slate Digital's Virtual Bus Compressors because they bring the best quality compression. Even with FF Pro C's oversampling, it's hard to imitate the smoothness of the digital imitation.

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