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The 18 Best Compressor Plugins for Music Producers & Engineers

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Compression is one of the most valuable tools in your VST plugin arsenal. It has a variety of applications in music production and can be utilized to level out vocal performances, thicken drums, improve guitar tone, make bass sound tighter, and add considerable impact to sounds. With so many different compressors on the market, all each with their own pros and cons, finding and choosing the best compressor VSTs in 2023 is a pretty difficult task. That’s why Whipped Cream Sounds spent hours devising a list of the 15 best compressor plugins available in 2023, so you don’t have to scour the internet for them. By the end of this article, you’ll have a good idea of which compressor is best for you.

Alongside EQ, every producer should learn how to use compression. Using just a combination of these two effects alone, can make an incredible difference to your sound – creating louder, punchier, cleaner and more in-your-face mixes, as well as adding subtle glueing & cohesion to your music’s different elements.

It’s particularly useful on tracks like Kick & Bass, which can make them sound like one element rather than two separate ones. This aids in the creation of a more coherent and blended production.

Of course you don’t need every compressor on this list, in fact you only really need a few you know inside and out. This article serves as a reference to discover which compression plugins are better suited to your style. All of them have free trials, so you can test them all out and see which is best suited to your workflow.

And on top of all that, we spent a lot of time to include different price points, and different uses, so there should be a compressor plugin for everyone on this list.

What is The Best Compressor Plugin?

Here is the complete list of the best compressor plugins available (2023):

Our Pick
The Reference
Best Value Option
The Free Pick

Denise Audio's Dragon Fire is a dynamic processor plugin with a unique combination of saturation, compression, and EQ to add warmth, character, and clarity to audio signals.

Pro C2 is a transparent digital compressor with eight compression character styles, lookahead gain reduction, 4x oversampling, stereo link/unlink ability, and has one of the most incredible interface designs plugins we have seen.

"Schlap" by Caelum Audio is a powerful analog-modeled compressor plugin designed to add character and punch to audio tracks, making it well-suited for drums, bass, guitars, and vocals.

Xfer's OTT is the answer to getting this ubiquitous effect, onto DAW's that aren't Ableton Live.

Our Pick

Denise Audio's Dragon Fire is a dynamic processor plugin with a unique combination of saturation, compression, and EQ to add warmth, character, and clarity to audio signals.

The Reference

Pro C2 is a transparent digital compressor with eight compression character styles, lookahead gain reduction, 4x oversampling, stereo link/unlink ability, and has one of the most incredible interface designs plugins we have seen.

Best Value Option

"Schlap" by Caelum Audio is a powerful analog-modeled compressor plugin designed to add character and punch to audio tracks, making it well-suited for drums, bass, guitars, and vocals.

The Free Pick

Xfer's OTT is the answer to getting this ubiquitous effect, onto DAW's that aren't Ableton Live.

  1. Denise Audio Dragon Fire
  2. Fabfilter Pro-C 2
  3. Waves SSL EV2
  4. Xfer OTT (free pick)
  5. Waves SSL 4000 G Bus Compressor
  6. Softube FET Compressor
  7. Arturia Tube STA
  8. Caelum Audio Schlap
  9. Tube-Tech by Softube
  10. UAD LA-2A
  11. Sonible smart:comp
  12. Summit TLA-100A
  13. Baby Audio IHNY2
  14. United Plugins Royal Compressor
  15. EL8 Distressor
  16. Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor
  17. T-Racks Quad Comp
  18. Sonible smart:comp

1. Denise Audio Dragon Fire (Best Compressor Plugin)

50% off
Denise Audio Dragon Fire

Dragon Fire is the most versatile multiband compressor we’ve seen. The push/pull compression and the ability to change between classic analog styles are a delight. Dragon Fire is setting a new bar for audio compression. It’s truly remarkable.

  • Wide range of tonal shaping and dynamic control options by combining saturation, compression, and EQ in one plugin
  • Unique and characterful sonic signature
  • Very user-friendly interface with clear and visually informative controls
  • Useful for both creative sound design and enhancing instruments, vocals, and overall mixes
  • Parallel mix out of the box
  • Very good value for money
  • CPU hungry
  • Pretty steep learning curve
  • Known for DAW compatibility issue, double check that it works with your DAW and system
OS Compatibility: Windows, Mac
Plugin versions: VST, AU, AAX
denise audio dragon fire best compressor plugin

Denise Audio’s Dragon Fire has stolen the spot of best compressor plugin in 2023, from FabFilter Pro-C2, and rightly so.

It’s a 3 in 1 compressor that has a compression module and 2 EQ modules – one for before compression, and one for after.

Dragon Fire is an absolute, powerhouse when it comes to clean or dirty compression.

You can use it for clean, clinical mixing, but also for creative mixing, injecting warm, analog style SSL compression settings, LA-2A settings and a number of analog style compressors.

Alongside all that, the Dragon Fire is a multiband compressor, that uses clever push pull technology.

  • Push – is an EQ style graph, that pushes more of the selected frequency band into the compressor. You can also use it to tame certain parts of the frequency spectrum.
  • Pull – is a percentage slider that adds an inverse EQ to your push settings, which tames the added gain and makes your compression sound natural.

The multiband section of Dragon Fire can also be used for its other modes.

So you can add individual saturation to frequency ranges, using the Drive option, or you can change the Curve setting, to change the compressor curve response between Opto or VCA (DBX – LA-2A)

RMS also allows you to change the behaviour of your compressor from SSL like reaction, to Tube-based compression. Giving it either more transparent or punchy compression or somewhere in-between.

Great for mastering, vocals, drums or adding cohesion – you won’t be disappointed with Dragon Fire.

How Does Denise Audio Dragon Fire Sound?

Dragon Fire sounds amazing on all kinds of audio signals. The drive setting adds so much punch and grit to drums, bass guitar and more. And the different compressor types make this compressor the most versatile plugin we’ve used.

You can get an analog or digital sound out Dragon Fire, and it actually models old hardware compressors that are sought after.

Here are some sound examples of Denise Audio’s Dragon Fire compressor:

Full Master
after, all mixed + mastered with dragon fire

2. Fabfilter Pro-C 2 (Best Transparent Compressor)

FabFilter Pro C2

Pro C2 is a transparent digital compressor with eight compression character styles, lookahead gain reduction, 4x oversampling, stereo link/unlink ability, and has one of the most incredible interface designs plugins we have seen.

  • Modern-looking, graphic, and beautiful GUI that lets you know exactly what's happening to the input
  • The Knee slider control is amazing to rapidly find the best knee balance for each track
  • Fully-featured int./ext. sidechain filter (EQ) to fine-tune what's triggering the plugin
  • Includes an algorithm optimized for mastering specifically
  • Doesn't add any character or coloration to your signal
OS Compatibility: WinVista+, mac OS 10.12+
Plugin versions: VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit, 32-bit
fab filter pro c2 audio compression plugin

FabFilter Pro-C 2 is one of the best compressor VST plugins of 2023 due to its sheer popularity, sound quality and vast features.

The original Pro-C (its predecessor) was one of the most popular, highly acclaimed compression plugins at the time. With the new addition, the FabFilter has continued to dominate the compression plugin market, with the C 2.

Like with most FabFilter plugins, the C 2 is a multifaceted compression plugin that’s extremely precise and clean. And, with so many compressor plugins on the market adding colour to sound, it’s difficult to find a digital compressor as precise and clean as the Pro-C.

It has little to no sonic characteristics, and is one of the most versatile compressors for mixing & tweaking sounds. You can use the Pro C on absolutely anything!

We’ve used it for mastering, vocals, bass, glue compression, drums, acoustic guitar, piano and a whole lot more.

Fabfilter’s Pro C 2 gives astounding results every time, and the flexibility, accuracy and sound of this compressor plugin is beyond anything we’ve seen on the market.

The Fabfilter Pro-C 2 features a wide array of options including:

  • 8 different compression styles for all your mixing needs.
  • An incredible UI that has animated level & knee displays, with exceptionally accurate peak & loudness metering.
  • Side-chain EQ, with high pass & low pass filters – allowing you to dial the sound of your sidechain even further.
  • Intelligent auto gain
  • Exceptionally accurate auto release
  • Smooth lookahead of up to 20ms.
  • Gain reduction knob

Considering the sheer amount of possibilities you gain with this plugin, the Pro-C is the best value for money compressor plugin available. It will do almost everything you need it to & is a must have for any music production or audio finatic.

How Does FabFilter Pro C2 Sound?

FabFilter Pro C2 works best for a clean, digital mixing and mastering tool. It’s fantastic when you want to thicken up a sound, but don’t want to add any colour to it. It sounds extremely transparent, and does the job it’s supposed to do – precise, clean compression that sounds incredible.

Here are some sound examples of FabFilter Pro C2:


3. Waves SSL EV2 Channel Strip (Best Channel Strip Compressor Plugin)

Waves SSL EV2
$249 (on sale for $29.99)

The Waves SSL EV2 is a stellar emulation of the SSL4000E console channel strip, that has been re-modelled from the ground up. If you’re looking for a channel strip that provides incredible grit, drive and punch, get the SSL EV2. 

Ease of Use:
Sound Quality:
User Interface:
  • Has a beautiful pre-amp knob that injects an amazing warmth to vocal signals.
  • The EQ section gives you a lot of tonal shaping possibilities after compressing
  • Natural and faithful recreation of the SSL 4000 and SSL 9000 channel strip compressor
  • The noise gate is incredibly clean, combined with the compressor stage it can make your vocals tighter
  • This compressor is very aggressive with peaks, and it's easy to squash the performance
  • The attack times are prefixed and only have two options, which doesn't allow much precision
  • Extremely heavy CPU usage
OS Compatibility: Win10+, macOS 10.15.7+
Plugin versions: VST, AU, AAX
waves SSL EV2 ableton

Waves SSL EV2 is a phenomenal channel strip plugin that models the classic SSL 4000E.

It includes a compressor, mic pre-amp, EQ, filtering, and stereo control.

The SSL EV2 is absolutely incredible for getting crunchy, driven signals with punch, and is one of our favourite compressors to use on drums.

It’s exceptionally good for parallel processing, and the pre-amp, linked with great compression settings can make any kit smack through a mix.

On top of the the SSL EV2 gives you access to all the rich, warm, analog colour of the original SSL 4000E, and models the two EQ types that original units were shipped with.

Solid State Logic originally made two different channel strips, one containing a brown knob, and the other a black knob. The circuitry of these EQ’s have been modelled with pinpoint precision, and are fantastic to use to add different flavours to your compression.

You also get all the analog charm of the original compressor unit, having been fully licensed by SSL themselves! It’s more of a dynamics processor though, offering compression, expansion, limiting and gating.

How Does SSL EV2 Sound?

The SSL EV2 is for you if you’re looking for crunchy, driven compression that will add thickness, and vintage colour to your sound. It sounds fantastic especially on drums, and can breathe life into dull, flat signals.

Here are some sound examples of the SSL EV2:

off & on throughout (listen for the changes)
Piano with piano preset. Off from 0:00 – 0:06. On between 0:06 – 0:09

4. Xfer OTT (Best Free Compressor Plugin)

Xfer OTT

Xfer's OTT is the answer to getting this ubiquitous effect, onto DAW's that aren't Ableton Live.

  • FREE to Download
  • Simple way to excite dull sounding tracks
  • Easy to Use
  • Using OTT less subtly can start to sound weird.
  • Useless, if you already have Ableton Live
OS Compatibility: Windows, Mac
Plugin versions: VST, VST3, AU
xfer records ott compressor vst plugin

So what if you don’t have enough to splash out on a new, shiny compressor?

Say hello to the best free compressor – OTT…

Xfer OTT is the staple of EDM, but it’s not the only thing it can be used for. It’s an extremely versatile multi-band compressor that can be used to spice up your music production sessions.

The OTT stands for: “over the top” compression, and that’s exactly what this little beast does.

It’s best suited to be used on sounds that you want to bring out in a mix. We like to call it the caffeine of music production – if you drink too much, you’ve ruined it, and now you’re jittering all over the place & it feels like the walls are breathing

BUT, if you use a small amount it gives you that perfect edge & lift you need to stay alert.

We like to use the OTT as a tone-shaping tool. It’s incredible for bringing out the mid – high range frequencies of a sound

You don’t want to miss out on this valuable tool for mixing by Xfer records. After all… it’s free! What is there to lose?


  • Low, Mid & High compression bands, with individual gain controls.
  • Upwards & Downwards compression modes.
  • Depth knob for dialling in the perfect amount of compressor action.
  • In & out gain control.

How Does OTT Sound?

OTT provides an over-compressed sound, that can either be squashed or expanded, making things incredibly exciting and loud in the process. Our favourite thing to do with OTT is apply it after reverb at around a mix of 30%. It makes atmospheres sound out of this world.

Here are some sound examples of OTT in action:


5. Sonible smart:comp (Best AI Compression Plugin)

(Best AI Compression Plugin)
Sonible smart:comp

Sonible's smart:comp is an intelligent compressor plugin designed to provide transparent compression with adaptive processing, making it accessible for both beginners and experienced users.

  • The sidechain function now includes an EQ with HPF/LPF and two bells or shelving filters to shape the plugin's frequency response
  • It's possible to unlink input channels for stereo image and mid-side processing
  • The spectral ducking has “style” and “color” knobs to change the reaction and tone of the resulting compression
  • You can use the spectral ducking to limit the low and high-frequency range of operation
  • The AI assistant tends set the threshold either too low or too high when tracks are too dynamic, which beats the purpose of it suggesting you the best settings
OS Compatibility: Win7+, macOS 10.8+
Plugin versions: VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
sonible smart comp an assisted AI compressor vst

Smart:comp, by Sonible is an AI assisted audio tool for compression.

It’s a unique digital compressor that uses spectral compression technology to analyse the input of your audio in real time. With over 2000 frequency bands to do so, smart:comp is the best spectro-dynamic compressor on the market.

But what does all that wizard talk mean?

To put it simply, smart:comp only applies compression where it is really needed. This means, that when putting it to use on a mix or master, you’re not going to experience horribly squashed or un-dynamic tracks.

It ensures a consistent tonal and dynamic balance throughout.

And, that’s not just where smart:comp shines. It also has the speed and precision that’s missing from many of the other AI assisted compressor plugins available in 2020.

None of them come close to the smart:comp’s ability to get a good compression setting that sounds great.

The smart:comp features:

  • AI assisted compression that gets it right
  • Over 2000 frequency bands for accuracy
  • Frequency dependent ducking side chain mode
  • All the usual compression controls you’d expect (attack and release etc)
  • Spectral ducking

If you’re looking for a compressor that saves you time & is perfect for mixing & mastering, then the smart:comp is a great choice.

How Does smart:comp Sound?

Sonible’s smart:comp is scarily good at compression, and suggesting the right settings for your sound source. The AI compression engine is extremely accurate, and the compressor adds a lot of character to sounds. It adds a really nice tone to things, without altering the EQ.

Here are some smart:comp sound examples:


6. Waves SSL 4000 G Mastering Compressor (Best Mastering Compressor)

Best Mastering Compressor
Waves SSL G Master Bus Compressor

The SSL G-Master Buss Compressor is a legendary hardware emulation plugin known for its iconic bus compression sound, favored by professional engineers and mixers for achieving punchy and polished mixes.

  • It emulates the iconic SSL bus compression sound, known for its punch and glue that it adds to mixes.
  • Widely used in top studios, it offers a professional-grade compressor for your digital audio workstation (DAW).
  • Suitable for a wide range of audio material, from individual tracks to the master bus.
  • Typically, SSL emulations come with an easy-to-understand interface that mimics the hardware counterpart.
  • Often includes presets that make it easier for users to achieve classic SSL compression settings.
  • High-quality SSL emulations can be relatively expensive compared to other compressor plugins.
  • Depending on your system, it may be resource-intensive, potentially causing latency or performance issues on less powerful computers.
  • The detailed controls and features might be overwhelming for beginners or those unfamiliar with SSL-style compression.
  • It's important to ensure the plugin is compatible with your specific DAW and operating system.
OS Compatibility: Windows, Mac
Plugin versions: VST, AU, AAX
waves ssl g master buss compressor

Waves are the best for analog emulations of original, vintage compression units, at a cheap price. They’re not 100% accurate, but they’re damn near the mark.

The SSL 4000 G Bus compressor is the ultimate glue compressors for your mix or master bus. And, like with anything Waves, it has been re-modelled with stunning accuracy.

As you can probably already tell, this is a re-model of the legendary Solid State Logic bus compressor, which was used widely by audio engineers and mixing & mastering professionals everywhere.

The re-creation brings you all the charm, charisma & warmth of the original, but with some added extras, and they are an exceptionally welcome addition to the original unit.

Wave’s SSL bus compressor comes with the addition of side chain, filtering, mixing & headroom controls.

It’s known for its power, cohesion and drive & we think you’ll adore the sound of the SLL 4000 G bus compressor.

Just take a listen to how it works!

The Waves SSL 4000 G Bus Compressor features:

  • All the charm & charisma of the original unit
  • Warm compression that can give drive to any audio source
  • State of the art bus compression
  • Side chain abilities, filtering, mix & headroom controls
  • A simple, navigable interface that looks gorgeous
  • Dry wet knob for parallel processing
  • Threshold & ratio controls
  • Attack and release knobs, featuring an incredible auto release option
  • Make-up gain

If you’re looking for the best digital emulations of analog gear, for a low price, then you should invest in Waves… simple as.

How Does Waves SSL 4000G Sound?

Waves SSL mastering compressor is fantastic for providing a little bit of glue to your final mixes, masters and works really well for adding thickness, punch & warmth to groups/busses. It provides a beautiful warm, analog sound, and adds a nice character.

Here’s some sound examples of the SSL 4000G:

7. Softube FET Compressor (Best FET Compressor)

FET Compressor

This compressor plugin is ideal for extremely dynamic performances thanks to its faster attack and release times.

  • Great to manage highly dynamic performances
  • Ideal compressor plugin for aggressive hip-hop and rock vocals with a lot of transients and peaks
  • Unlike other compressors that emulate the 1176, this one offers much more control over the compression settings
  • More ratio options to achieve a cleaner compression
  • It can easily squish your vocals and make them pump if used too hard
  • The plugin's GUI looks a lot more complex than others
OS Compatibility: Win7+, macOS 10.11+
Plugin versions: VST, AU, AAX
softube fet compressor vst plugin

The Softube FET Compressor is the software giant’s answer to the digital version of an absolute, world renowned classic – the Universal Audio 1176.

Originally released in 1968 as a hardware unit, the 1176 became an instant favourite of producers and mix & master engineers.

The distinctive lightning fast attack and release times & wide range of compression options from light to completely smashed, made it one of the best compressors of all time.

And this bad boy only used to be available as an expensive hardware unit, until Softube changed that with their above par 1176 emulation.

The Softube FET Compressor not only sounds just like the original hardware, but adds on it, offering more features to play around with.

One of the best things to use the Softube FET compressor on, is drums. Due to the rapid attack and release & the aggressive, tasty distortion obtained using this compressor, drums sound every bit of gnarly, gritty & punchy.

You can also choose to absolutely smash the signal (great for parallel processing drums) or use light, transparent compression that retains the beautiful dynamics of your mix.

But drums aren’t just where the FET compressor shines…

The Softube FET is an incredibly versatile compression plugin and we’ve used the 1176 emulation on Bass, Acoustic Guitars, Pianos & more to bring out bite & edge, or to round off unwanted transients in our music production sessions.

It’s also great at nipping fast transients in the bud, and can also be used on vocal compression to catch large dynamic changes quickly.

The Softube FET Compressor features:

  • Beautiful input and output stage distortion
  • Rapidly quick attack and release times (like the original)
  • The classic all buttons in compression mode, which enables all ratios for compression.
  • Ratio from 1:1 – 20:1 and an ‘All’ mode which smashes sounds so explosively.
  • Sidechain options with low pass and high pass filters.
  • A separate parallel compression knob.
  • Lookahead in case the original attack time isn’t enough.
  • Gain reduction.

How Does Softube FET Compressor Sound?

Drums Unprocessed
Drums Processed

8. Arturia Tube-STA (Best Analog Compressor – Valve)

Arturia Tube STA
  • The Arturia TUBE-STA plugin offers a stunning recreation of the classic valve-driven compressor, providing that warm and harmonically rich vintage sound.
  • Featuring simple controls, it is user-friendly and accessible for both beginners and experienced producers.
  • The non-linear attack and release characteristics are forgiving with various input sources, allowing for dynamic and musical compression.
  • Known for its versatility, it can be used on a wide range of audio sources, including vocals, bass, and more.
  • It adds a touch of subtle saturation, contributing to a unique and vintage warmth to the audio.
  • While faithful to the original design, it includes modern touches to enhance its usability and functionality in a modern DAW environment.
  • The vintage character of the TUBE-STA may not suit every production style, as it imparts a distinct, colored sound.
  • For those seeking precise and detailed compression control, the simplicity of the controls might be seen as a limitation.
  • Depending on your system, the plugin's modeling technology may be resource-intensive, potentially affecting your DAW's performance.
  • The preference for vintage tube sound is subjective, and some users may prefer more transparent or modern-sounding compressors for certain tasks.
  • The cost of the plugin may be a consideration for budget-conscious producers.
OS Compatibility: Windows, Mac
Plugin versions: VST3, VST3, AAX
arturia tube sta audio compression plugin

We already featured this Arturia beast in our 50 best vst plugins of 2023 list, but we thought it deserved another mention here, because it is simply extraordinary.

If you don’t know who Arturia are already, they are among the best software (and hardware) companies for creating emulations of legendary hardware units. And, with the Tube-STA, they pulled out all the stops.

The Arturia Tube-STA is a stunning recreation of the Stalwart, valve-driven classic hardware compressor that was used in early broadcast & recording studios.

(which also has similarities to the well respected classic fairchild 670 compressor)

It’s a vacuum tube compressor that has been used widely on vocals and bass since 1950, which Arturia have bought into the digital world.

The Arturia Tube-STA is a versatile, well rounded audio compression plugin, but where it operates best is vocals & bass. It’s classic sound is well know for its intimacy, air and subtle saturation that can warm up any signal.

It has the ability to transform weak sub range frequencies into phat, harmonically rich bass tones. And, it’s incredibly simple to use, with a clean UI and a couple knobs to turn, it’s easy to get the right sound using the Tube-STA.

(it’s also extremely quick)

A great thing about the Tube-STA is the value for money. Digital emulations of hardware units that get it right (like Arturia have done), usually cost an arm and a leg.

But, Arturia have made access to this compressor in the digital environment pretty cheap! It’s a lower-ranged price compressor that pulls out all the stops.

If you’re looking for a compressor that can give your mix & masters that magic vintage feel & warmth that you just can’t get from anything else, then the Tube-STA is for you.

The Tube-STA Features:

  • Original tube electronic path of the hardware unit
  • Original Single, Double & Triple modes
  • Original recovery parameter
  • External sidechain source
  • 5 creative detection modes, including mid side processing
  • Dry/wet mix knob used for parallel compression
  • Gain reduction & input
  • A/B comparison setting
  • A comprehensive list of presets

How Does Tube-STA Sound?

Arturia Tube STA compressor is a warm-sounding, vintage tube compressor. It’s fantastic for boomy vocals, and adding thickness + punch to vocals. The original was used for radio broadcast, and it gives a very similar, boomy, clear sound to what you’d hear on Radio One for instance.


9. Caelum Audio Schlap (Most Affordable Compressor Plugin)

Caelum Audio Schlap

Schlap is an outstanding re-creation of the dbx160. Incorporating a modern twist, Schlap retains the thickness & punch of the original unit, and includes beautiful, driven, warm and boomy compression, at a very low price tag. This is a must-have for producers looking for an affordable analog sounding compressor.

Compression Sound, Aggression & Punch:
Transient Transparency:
Ease of Use:
Level of Control:
Value for Money:
  • Excellent value for money, offering high-quality virtual analog compression.
  • Known for its aggressive and impactful sound quality.
  • Modeled after the classic dbx160 VCA compressor/limiter, known for its punchiness.
  • Utilizes RMS values for compression, allowing transients to cut through and maintain dynamics.
  • Well-suited for enhancing drums, bass, guitars, and other instruments with its characteristic "Schlap" effect.
  • Effective as a parallel processing tool, adding aggression and punch to tracks.
  • Particularly useful for vocals that need smoothing and bringing to the forefront of a mix.
  • Individual preferences may vary, and some users might prefer different compressor models or styles for specific tasks.
OS Compatibility: Windows, Mac
Plugin versions: VST3, AU, AAX
Caelum Audio Schlap compressor plugin

Schlap is a fantastic analog-sounding compressor for those of you on a budget.

It’s one of the best value for money virtual analogue compressors that you’ll find, and has an incredible aggressive quality.

It’s a compressor modelled on the dbx160 VCA compressor/limiter, and packs a punch.

Based on RMS values instead of peak, it stands out from the rest of the plugins on this list, because it provides a slow response compression, that allows transients to cut through the compression.

This makes it a great choice for drums, bass, guitar, and anything you want to, well… “Schlap”.

Great as a parallel aggressor, and for adding punch, thickness. Also fantastic on vocals that aren’t too peak-y. Smoothes them out, and pushes them front and centre of a mix.

How Does Schlap Sound?


10. Tube Tech Collection (Best Tube Compressor)

Best Tube Compressor
Tube Tech Collection

The Tube-Tech Compressor Collection consists of meticulously crafted plugin emulations of classic analog hardware, offering the warmth, musicality, and precision of the original Tube-Tech units for modern digital audio workstations.

  • These plugins faithfully recreate the warm and rich analog sound of the original Tube-Tech hardware units, providing a vintage character highly sought after in audio production.
  • The Tube-Tech CL 1B is known for its smooth and musical compression, making it a favorite for vocals, bass, and various instruments.
  • The Tube-Tech PE 1C offers precise equalization with its Pultec-style EQ, allowing you to shape and enhance the tonal characteristics of audio sources.
  • Both plugins feature user-friendly interfaces with intuitive controls, making them accessible to both beginners and professionals.
  • While often used on individual tracks, they are versatile enough to be employed on the master bus, adding analog warmth and character to entire mixes.
  • These plugins allow for easy automation and recall of settings within your digital audio workstation (DAW), improving workflow efficiency.
  • High-quality emulations like the Tube-Tech Compressor Collection can be relatively expensive, potentially limiting access for producers on a tight budget.
  • Depending on your computer's processing power, these plugins can be resource-intensive and may cause performance issues in some cases.
  • Although user-friendly, achieving the best results with these plugins may require some understanding of analog compression and EQ principles.
  • The plugins impart a distinct vintage character, which may not be suitable for every musical genre or production style.
  • Always check for compatibility with your specific DAW and operating system, as it can vary depending on your setup.
OS Compatibility: Windows, Mac
Plugin versions: VST 2.4, VST 3, AAX
softube tube-tech cl1b compressor plugin

Softube Tube Tech collection is a virtual emulation of the modern classic compressor – the Tube-Tech CL 1B (which is worth £4000 btw). The collection includes both the original CL 1B and the MkII version.

The CL 1B is an all tube optical mono compressor that delivers an excessively smooth & musical compression. It’s an incredible emulation that preserves the clarity of your audio source, even at the highest settings (which most compressors don’t do).

Primarily it’s a vocal compressor, that does absolute wonders to any vocal recording. However, with it’s smooth, warm opto gain reduction it is a surprisingly flexible compressor.

If you’re looking for more opto compression options, check this guide on opto compressors.

Due to this, it has become widely used across a number of genres as the go to compressor. It’s been used of rock, pop and all the way to EDM. You can use the CL 1B on almost anything.

The Softube Tube Tech compressor is incredible at clear & smooth, musical compression which preserves the quality of your audio at the highest settings. This means it’s great for dialling in on a mix or master, without causing any unwanted muddiness or distortion.

One of the best things about the Tube Tech, is the ease of use. When putting settings on compressors, it can often be difficult to hear what the compression does. With the CL 1B emulation you don’t have this problem.

Designed so you can hear the action immediately, you won’t sit there wondering whether the change you made has added anything or not – it’s clear and audible.

The CL 1B is most popular among big Hip Hop & Rap stars and is how many of them get their vocal performances to sound so great.

The Softube Tube Tech features:

  • A ground-breaking emulation of a modern classic, which side by side would be difficult to tell apart.
  • Improved sound; a total remodel from the ground up
  • New features including: sidechain, low-cut filters & parallel processing
  • Spectacular UI & high resolution graphics
  • Easy to use interface that will get your desired sound
  • Characterful, but flexible compression

If you’re looking for a compressor with clarity & precision for anything from vocals to an EDM master, the the CL B is an incredible pick up.

How Does The Tube Tech Collection Sound?

The Tube Tech CL 1B sounds extremely punchy, and warm. It will add an almost transient shaping effect, bringing out the peaks of your audio. It’s also a tube compressor, so it’s great on vocals, and adds a lot of warm, in-your-face character to them.

Here are some sound examples of the CL 1B compressor:

Vocals Unprocessed
Drums Unprocessed
Vocals Processed
Drums Processed

11. UAD LA-2A (Best LA2A Compressor Emulation)

Best LA2A Compressor Emulation

The UAD Teletronix LA-2A Collection is a highly-regarded plugin emulation of the classic Teletronix LA-2A optical tube compressor, renowned for its warm and musical compression characteristics, available exclusively for Universal Audio's DSP hardware and software platform.

  • The UAD LA-2A is highly regarded for its faithful emulation of the vintage hardware, capturing the warm and smooth compression characteristics of the original.
  • It excels at adding a musical and transparent compression to vocals, instruments, and even on the master bus, enhancing the overall mix.
  • The plugin features a simple interface with only two main knobs (Gain and Peak Reduction), making it accessible for users of all experience levels.
  • UAD plugins are known for their efficient use of DSP resources on Universal Audio hardware, allowing users to run multiple instances in their sessions.
  • It imparts a subtle analog warmth and character, often sought after for achieving a vintage sound in modern productions.
  • UAD plugins require UAD hardware, which can be expensive, making the initial investment higher compared to native plugins.
  • Using UAD plugins requires UAD hardware, and the number of instances you can run simultaneously is limited by the DSP processing power of your UAD device.
  • While it's straightforward to use, understanding how to apply the LA-2A effectively in different mixing scenarios may require some experience.
  • UAD plugins are compatible only with UAD DSP hardware, limiting their use to users who have invested in this ecosystem.
  • The LA-2A imparts its own character, which may not be suitable for all musical genres or mix scenarios.
OS Compatibility: Windows, Max
Plugin versions: UAD
UAD LA-2A compressor vst plugin

UAD are the absolute kings of software compressor plugins that model their hardware counterparts. They continually produce some of the best audio compression plugins on the market &, in 2020, that statement still holds true.

If there were enough UAD compressor plugins to put on this list, then we’d list them all. But unfortunately, with UAD comes a huge price tag. Not only do you have to buy the plugin, but you also have to invest in UAD audio hardware to run it.

Using UAD plugins without hardware is difficult. There aren’t many options available to do so, but if you’re willing to invest, these units are well worth their money.

uad apollo twin audio interface for uad plugins

To use UAD plugins, you need to invest in one of their audio interfaces, and the Apollo is a cheap starting point to do so.

UAD hardware units & plugins have been used commercially in recording studios everywhere since their birth & rise in popularity.

(they’ve been around since 1958)

The UAD LA-2A is a complete re-model of the highly acclaimed Teletronix la 2a.

It’s an optical compressor with a tube amplifier that sounds great.

Having been created in 2001, the digital compressor of this hardware classic has set the standard in analog emulation.

The LA-2A has been consistently improved on throughout the years, so that means you’re getting 19 years worth of improvements when investing in this plugin.

One of the best things about owning the digital version of this compressor, is that you don’t just get access to a single plugin, but you are actually able to track & mix with the three historic compressor plugins of the Teletronix LA-2A.

Each version has the distinctive sonic attributes of the real thing & adds all the colour and warmth you’d expect to hear.

The UAD LA-2A features:

  • Smooth, warm optical compression you’d expect to hear in real vintage units.
  • Three historic versions of the revamped LA-2A, with distinctive sonic attributes.
  • An option to record in real time along with the Apollo interfaces.
  • Presets from the likes of Ross Hogarth, Darrell Thorp & Vance Powell.
  • A simple, clear, easy-to-use interface that gets incredible audio compression results, fast.
  • All the classic features from the hardware unit.

If you’re looking for that vintage sound, UAD offer some of the best compressor plugins around. Although the price is high, if you’re serious about audio, then you’ll know the investment is worth it.

How Does The UAD LA-2A Sound?

The LA-2A sounds like the original hardware unit (or as close as you can get digitally).

It’s surprisingly close to the original, and has 3 different options, and each compression setting has its own characteristics:

  • The original LA 2 – provides a more dynamic sound, with gentle compression that adds a bit of colour to your sound.
  • The Silver LA 2A – provides a punchy, thick, and transient heavy sound that cuts through a mix. The silver has a much faster attack time, giving it the ability to work with transients better.
  • The Grey LA 2A – provides a thick, squashed sound, that dials back on the transients. The grey has a slower attack time and is better for slower compression

Here are some sound examples of the LA-2A:

Drums, Vocals, Guitar

12. Summit TLA-100A

Summit Audio TLA-100A

The Summit Audio TLA-100A is a classic tube leveling amplifier known for its warm, harmonically-rich sound and versatility in enhancing the dynamics and color of audio sources.

  • The TLA-100A imparts a warm and harmonically rich character to audio, making it suitable for adding vintage warmth and color to various sources.
  • It's a versatile tool, working well on vocals, acoustic instruments, and even across the stereo bus for mix glue.
  • The TLA-100A features a straightforward interface with easy-to-use controls, making it accessible for both beginners and experienced engineers.
  • The release time is program-dependent, which means it adapts to the input signal, making it forgiving and musical.
  • It includes a side-chain high-pass filter, allowing you to tailor the compressor's response to specific frequency ranges.
  • High-quality hardware emulations like the TLA-100A can be relatively expensive compared to other compressor plugins.
  • Depending on your system, running multiple instances of the plugin can be resource-intensive and may cause performance issues.
  • Achieving the best results with the TLA-100A may require some understanding of compression principles, especially when dealing with its program-dependent release.
  • The TLA-100A imparts its own distinct sound character, which may not be suitable for every musical genre or mix scenario.
  • Ensure that the plugin is compatible with your specific DAW and operating system, as it may vary based on your setup
OS Compatibility: Windows, Mac
softube tla-100a compressor plugin

Summit Audio TLA-100A is another incredible replication of the classic LA-2A, and is the next best thing when comparing it to UAD’s beautiful, analog emulation.

If you’re looking for a vintage replication that you don’t need to spend a tonne on to get it to work, then Summit Audio have got your back.

The classic compressor offers gentle, natural sounding compression, that won’t destroy your transients. It preserves the clarity & presence of your orginal audio source, offering transparent gain reduction.

Summit Audio have done an impeccable job of not only getting it to sound like the original, but adding some much needed, welcome additions to the compressor such as the parallel inject control.

Using the parallel inject control, you have the ability to set compression levels higher than what you’d be able to achieve with the original unit. Allowing you to squash and drive sounds more heavily through it.

This will give your sound a certain thickness & when mixed in properly will retain dynamic range, while giving the sound extra clarity & bite.

The TLA-100A is also tremendously easy to use, with it’s beautiful, simple UI. It’s one of those plugins, that no matter how much you mess around with it, it’s almost impossible to return a bad sound from it.

It has that warm, analog feel &, when driven, gives an incredible distortive sound, which can be perfectly blended using the saturation knob – a new addition from the original hardware compressor.


  • Fast & slow, attack and release settings.
  • Low cut filter control.
  • Metering controls.
  • Saturation & parallel inject for beautifully warm sounds.
  • Gain & gain reduction control.

How Does Summit TLA-100A Sound?

The TLA-100A adds a brilliant presence to vocals, and provides awesome vintage character, giving upfront transients, and an in-your-face sound. It also works fantastically on drums, beefing them up, giving punch and thickness.

Here are some sound examples of the TLA-100A:

Drums, Vocals, Guitar

13. Baby Audio’s IHNY2

Baby Audio IHNY-2

Baby Audio’s IHNY-2 makes every sound you throw at it, thicker, warmer, punchier… just better. Clean, punchy, warm New York-style compression without the unwanted harmonics and hiss, giving the punch you need for a modern, in-your-face sound. A must-have for all producers and audio engineers.

Ease of Use:
Sound Quality:
User Interface:
Warmth and Colour:
Applications on Buses and Individual Instruments:
Compression transparency:
  • Incredibly clean, punchy compression that doesn't introduce unwanted harmonics or hiss
  • Fantastic and unique tweak settings such as the punch, harmonics, and shape controls
  • Sounds great! Not just on a bus, but on individual instruments too
  • Exceptionally quick workflow. With a few button presses, you'll get great-sounding compression
  • Intuitive UI makes using the plugin fun whilst discovering new options that you may not have thought of in another plugin
  • Not too heavy on the CPU
  • Whilst visually pleasing and intuitive, sometimes the UI can make visualizing what the compression does to the sound difficult, which may be unhelpful to beginners using this product.
OS Compatibility: Win7, Win8, Win10, Win11 Apple Silicon, 10.7+
Plugin versions: VST, VST3, AU, AAX, 64-bit
baby audio i heart ny 2 parallel compressor

 Whilst visually pleasing and intuitive, sometimes the UI can make visualizing what the compression does to the sound difficult, which may be unhelpful to beginners using this product.

IHY2 is an exceptional tool that can instill warmth, richness, and personality to any recorded sound or blend. I have observed its effectiveness to be especially notable when applied to percussive, low-end, and vocal elements, but its capabilities are applicable throughout the entire frequency spectrum. The layout of the program is user-friendly and straightforward, allowing for effortless experimentation with distortion and saturation levels that flawlessly complement the mix.

IHY2 boasts an exceptional feature that enhances sound by adding depth and dimension. With the Width and Depth controls, users can create a dynamic spatial effect that animates the mix. The functionality of IHY2 maximizes when used with other plugins, such as reverb and delay, elevating the audio experience. Additionally, IHY2 is equally commendable for being affordable.

The IHY2 from Baby Audio is a wallet-friendly choice that engineers and producers can opt for to infuse some analog warmth in their mixes. Despite its reasonable cost, the plugin boasts of exceptional sound quality and can compete with pricier plugins easily. In my opinion, the IHY2 is an outstanding choice to introduce a unique personality and warmth to any mix.

Producers and engineers at any stage can rely on it as a dependable choice for its affordability, user-friendliness and exceptional sound quality.

14. United Plugins Royal Compressor

United Plugins Royal Compressor

The Royal Compressor is a distinctly colourful vari-mu compressor with an instantly recognizable vintage sound. While being highly reactive to your signal, the Royal Compressor is excellent at adding subtlety. The random saturation algorithm creates true valve saturation, making it a no-brainer on vocals, acoustic guitars, and drum buses.

Sound Quality:
Analogue Colour and Warmth:
Applications on Vocals, Synths, Guitars, Drum Busses:
User Interface:
Versatility across various genres:
Ease of Use:
  • Instant Analogue Colour.
  • Random saturation algorithm creates genuinely creamy and pleasant saturation
  • Reacts well when used in tracking vocals, bass, and synths.
  • Free second-hand version with vintage broken knobs and all.
  • Elaborate Release and Hold parameters inside the recovery section.
  • Highly useful Trim function which cuts your signal up to -100dB.
  • Up to 8x upsampling with hardly any latency.
  • Doesn't react well to quick transients. A lot of peaks don't pop out.
  • Too colourful to be applicable in different production scenarios.
  • Unless you're primarily going for an analogue sound, $154 is overpriced.
OS Compatibility: Windows 8/10, 32 & 64 bit. Mac OS X 10.10+, 64-bit only) Intel AMD Processor equipped with SSE2.
Plugin versions: VST, VST3, AU, AAX, NKS, 64-bit
Royal Compressor WET VHS Tape Synth

The Royal Compressor from United Plugins is a software program that mimics the characteristics of vintage analog compressors. It boasts an uncomplicated and user-friendly design suitable for all levels of expertise.

The Royal Compressor has a plethora of features that make it a versatile tool. It boasts a multitude of controls for adjusting the attack and release times, ratio, threshold, and makeup gain, which permit you to modify the sound to your liking. Its wide range of applications includes vocals, drums, guitars, and other instruments.

The Royal Compressor boasts excellent sound quality as one of its prominent advantages. It replicates the inviting, opulent sound of vintage analog compressors that injects richness and texture into your recordings. Additionally, the Royal Compressor comes equipped with a saturation control feature that enables you to incorporate harmonic distortion into the signal, augmenting its richness and depth.

The Royal Compressor has been my go-to dynamic controller and warm-toned recording tool. It has reliably delivered results by smoothing out vocal recordings while adding weight and depth to bass and drum tracks.

If you’re searching for a compressor plugin that can enhance your recordings with warmth and personality, the United Plugins Royal Compressor is a versatile and top-notch option that shouldn’t be overlooked.

15. EL8 Distressor

EL8 Distressor

The EL8 Distressor is a versatile analog compressor that has become a studio staple known for its adaptability, range of coloration, and precise control over dynamics in audio processing.

  • Very close emulation of the original hardware. Hard to tell the difference.
  • Quite rare to find such realism. Can make drum busses alive and full by tweaking just the attack, release, input & output.
  • Dist2 and Dist3 control second and third-order harmonics. Engaging them can add character and grit to your vocals in the chorus.
  • The famous Dbx160 Slow attack-fast release, soft-knee comp. It works great on a full mix here and helps to let the mix breathe more.
  • The headroom control keeps your overall gain stage under check as it's easy to go overboard.
  • Can't think of any!
OS Compatibility: Windows 10+, macOS 10.13 high Sierra+, 64bit only.
Plugin versions: VST, AU, AAX.

An emulation of the coveted Empirical Labs Distressor hardware compressor, the UAD EL8 Distressor software packs a punch with its adaptability and potency. Its prevalence in the professional music realm is owing to its capacity to manage dynamics, impart uniqueness, and mould the timbre of separate tracks and mixes.

The EL8 Distressor boasts a gamut of features and controls that make it stand out. It provides diverse compression modes – Opto, Electro, and British – each with its own unique personality and response. Not to mention, it comes equipped with numerous extra controls like Ratio, Attack, and Release, granting users flexibility to modify the sound in an array of ways.

The EL8 Distressor offers a significant advantage in terms of sound quality. It has been engineered to reproduce the rich, forceful sound of the primary hardware, allowing for more dimension and personality in your audio recordings. While it can specifically enhance drums, bass, and vocal tracks, it has the versatility to elevate any audio source with vibrant tonality and individuality.

Based on my personal usage of the EL8 Distressor, it is safe to say that this compressor has tremendous capabilities and is adaptable to a variety of tasks. Its proficiency is especially evident in the marked improvement of sound clarity in drums, imparting a punchier sound. Similarly, it is instrumental in managing vocals, deftly controlling dynamics and adding warmth to the mix.

If you’re in search of a compressor plugin that can enhance your recordings with richness and versatility, the UAD EL8 Distressor could be just what you need. As a renowned emulation of a vintage hardware, the plugin has gained a reputation among industry experts as a reliable and effective tool for producers and engineers alike. The Distressor is definitely worth considering for anyone looking to add complexity and depth to their sound.

16. Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor

Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor

The Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor is a high-end analog hardware unit and plugin emulation, renowned for its transparent and versatile mastering-grade compression, offering precise control and pristine sound quality.

  • It's great for subtle and detailed compression appliances during mastering
  • Besides mastering, it's a really good option to give attitude to vocals in a mix
  • The optical section is great to tighten up the overall signal
  • Suitable for a variety of situations, including individual instruments, bus compression, and mastering
  • The GUI feels unnecessarily cluttered, and could be easier to use
OS Compatibility: Win8, Win10, Win11 Apple Silicon, 10.11+ No VST
Plugin versions: VST3, AU, AAX, 64-bit

The Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor emulates a hardware compressor intended solely for mastering purposes. Professionals in the music industry utilize this dynamic and effective tool to manipulate sound by regulating dynamics, incorporating warmth, and molding the overall mix.

The Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor boasts a distinctive selection of functions and dials that set it apart. With three compressor sections, each equipped with a specific set of controls for sound customization, the possibilities are endless. Moreover, adjustable features like the Drive, Wet/Dry Mix, and Sidechain Filter provide users with even more sound-shaping capabilities.

The high-quality sound of the Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor is a significant advantage. It is crafted to imitate the warm, rich sound of the initial hardware, which can provide depth and personality to your mixes. It’s highly effective when applied to full mixes, as it can add warmth and cohesiveness by fusing individual components together.

My time spent with the Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor was undoubtedly enlightening. Its remarkable ability to cope with an extensive variety of mastering duties proved why its potency and versatility are unmatched. Above all, I was impressed with its aptitude for generating warmth and depth in sound quality, and its deft handling of dynamics and ability to add a certain oomph to tracks.

The Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor is a top contender for anyone seeking a compressor plugin with the capability to imbue mixes with character and dimension. It is an emulation of a time-honored piece of equipment, providing exceptional quality and trusted versatility utilized by numerous mastering engineers of note.

17. T-RackS Quad Comp

IK Multimedia T-RackS Quad Comp Plug-in | Sweetwater

T-RackS Quad Comp is a powerful software plugin that combines four different compressors in one unit, providing a versatile tool for dynamic control and sonic shaping in audio production.

  • 4 Opto comps, each with its own frequency band.
  • Slope steepness doesn't affect the filter's musicality.
  • More user-friendly than most complex plugins on this list.
  • Can't think of any!
OS Compatibility: Win7, Win8, Win10, Win11 Apple Silicon, 10.10+ No VST
Plugin versions: VST3, AU, AAX, 64-bit

The T-Racks Quad Comp plugin operates differently than typical audio compression software. It dissects the signal into distinct frequency bands and compresses each individually, granting the user more precise control over the dynamic range of targeted frequencies. This capability is especially valuable in mastering scenarios.

With its multi-band mechanism, this product provides a unique advantage in terms of flexibility. Independently compressing specific frequency ranges is made possible through this particular feature. Its exceptional solution is highly efficient in addressing the needs of situations wherein some frequencies require more or less compression than others.

Additionally, the Quad Comp is filled with opportunities for more control. The Crossover Frequency, Threshold, and Makeup Gain options give room for crafting the perfect sound in a multitude of ways.

The T-Racks Quad Comp holds a unique advantage of providing exceptional auditory excellence. Its construction emulates the mellow and grandiose sound of vintage compressors, and its intricate design grants precise control over the dynamics of various frequency ranges. This feature enhances the depth and substance of your recordings, particularly when utilized for mastering purposes.

During my experience with the T-Racks Quad Comp, I discovered its ability to adapt to any situation and enhance my recordings with heightened warmth and regulated dynamics. With its multi-band configuration, I was able to target compression adjustments to specific frequency ranges, making it an invaluable asset during mastering. This allowed me to have precise control over the dynamic nature of the mix, which ultimately contributed to its overall success.

When searching for a high-quality multi-band compressor, the T-Racks Quad Comp plugin is definitely an option to consider. It provides exceptional control over the dynamics of each frequency range.

18. Sonible smart:comp

(Best AI Compression Plugin)
Sonible smart:comp

Sonible's smart:comp is an intelligent compressor plugin designed to provide transparent compression with adaptive processing, making it accessible for both beginners and experienced users.

  • The sidechain function now includes an EQ with HPF/LPF and two bells or shelving filters to shape the plugin's frequency response
  • It's possible to unlink input channels for stereo image and mid-side processing
  • The spectral ducking has “style” and “color” knobs to change the reaction and tone of the resulting compression
  • You can use the spectral ducking to limit the low and high-frequency range of operation
  • The AI assistant tends set the threshold either too low or too high when tracks are too dynamic, which beats the purpose of it suggesting you the best settings
OS Compatibility: Win7+, macOS 10.8+
Plugin versions: VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
smart comp

The Sonible smart:comp is a highly innovative software that incorporates artificial intelligence to optimize compression parameters for your audio. With its versatile features, it can cater to different needs such as dynamic adjustments and giving a distinct personality to your recorded tracks.

The Sonible smart:comp is highly praised for its intelligence. Its array of advanced algorithms perform a thorough analysis of the audio, which then determines the most effective compression settings automatically. This feature effectively streamlines the process of configuring the compressor and guarantees a uniform, polished result. The time and energy saved with this exceptional feature makes it a highly useful tool for obtaining that coveted professional sound.

The Sonible smart:comp has a variety of options that provide flexibility, making it an advantageous tool. You can personalize the compression behavior to meet your requirements by exploring its various modes and settings. You have the ability to select from distinct attack and release options, tweak the ratio and threshold, and activate a sidechain input that will activate the compressor when receiving an external signal.

From my own firsthand usage of the Sonible smart:comp, I discovered that it was an immensely beneficial and user-friendly instrument for managing dynamics and molding the quality of my recordings. The auto mode proved to be especially handy, conserving valuable time by configuring the compressor for me and allowing me to prioritize other aspects of the blend.

The Sonible smart:comp is a compressor plugin that can save time and effort by offering intelligent compression settings. Its flexibility and advanced algorithms make it a worthwhile tool for recording and mixing engineers seeking a powerful solution. Consider it as it may benefit your workflow.

Final Thoughts

To round up here is our list of the 12 best audio compressor plugins available in 2023:

  1. Denise Audio Dragon Fire
  2. Fabfilter Pro-C 2
  3. Waves SSL EV2
  4. Xfer OTT (free pick)
  5. Waves SSL 4000 G Bus Compressor
  6. Softube FET Compressor
  7. Arturia Tube STA
  8. Caelum Audio Schlap
  9. Tube-Tech by Softube
  10. UAD LA-2A
  11. Sonible smart:comp
  12. Summit TLA-100A
  13. Baby Audio IHNY2
  14. United Plugins Royal Compressor
  15. EL8 Distressor
  16. Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor
  17. T-Racks Quad Comp
  18. Sonible smart:comp


What Is A Compressor VST Plugin

A compressor VST controls the dynamic range of an audio signal. Compression VSTs work by squashing the highest and lowest amplitude points of your audio signal closer together, reducing the gain and dynamic range.

This makes an audio signal more coherent, and levelled out.

For instance, if you have a vocal take that has high changes in volume, a compressor can be used to make the performance sound more consistent – gluing the high and low points together.

Compression has many uses in mixing, and is one of the most used tools for engineers.

You can use compression to thicken up drums, make vocals more consistent, glue entire mixes together, add punch to recordings, drive, colour, warmth, and in general… give your music character. There are many ways to use compression, and you’ll be using it a lot if you are working with any kind of audio.

It’s an essential tool to have in your music production arsenal, and is also essential to understand. So make sure you know what compression is, and how to use it before investing in compressor plugins.

Which Compressor Should I Use in My Mix?

Different kinds of compression will have different effects on your audio. Some will provide transparency, and thickness – others will give warmth, drive, and colour. It’s important to understand which compressor you should use in your mix in detail, but we’ll briefly cover it here.

There are 5 kinds of compression, and they have different qualities:

  1. VCA Compression fast, transparent, clean compression, with minimal distortion. Use for transient heavy signals to smooth out, and add punch. Use VCA on anything its versatile.
  2. FET Compression – fast, colourful, aggressive compression. Use for adding aggression, warmth, colour and drive to any signal. Great for parallel compression.
  3. Tube Compression – slow, warm, smooth compression. Perfect for vocals, or anything that needs thickness, warmth or drive. Do not use for transient control as the response time is too slow.
  4. Optical Compression – fast, smooth, transparent compression. Applies a glossy sound. Use to add warmth, & thicken up sounds cleanly. Great for vocals especially. Not for transient control.
  5. Digital Compression – precise, clean, transparent compression. Use for anything you want to add thickness to, without applying any colour.

A quick thing to note about digital compression is that you will only have a clean sound if the compressor is fully digital (like FabFilter Pro C2). A lot of digital compressor plugins will model old analog compressors. These will apply colour, warmth etc.

If you’re using digital compression and want clean, precise compression – make sure you’re using a fully digital compressor plugin.

Is Hardware Compression Better Than Digital?

Plugins and hardware both have their uses, and neither is better than the other. When talking about vintage sound, hardware is better. However plugins provide convenience and portability, while providing an analog sound that is almost identical to hardware.

As plugins continue to improve, and software that re-create analog circuitry get more advanced, plugins sound more and more like the original piece of hardware.

The sound of hardware reproduced digitally by plugins like Waves emulations and even the popular analog synth Diva, is almost identical to the original thing, but is not as rich, and doesn’t give the truly authentic hardware sound.

The difference is negligible, and unless you’re an incredible mixing & mastering engineer, you’re going to have a hard time really telling the difference.

This means that your average listener on Spotify won’t really be able to tell the difference between whether you used a Waves emulation, or the real thing.

I wouldn’t worry too much if you’re on a budget. If you have the money to invest in studio equipment, you can’t beat the sound of hardware, and having hardware is a bonus when trying to get clients.

Do I Really Need To Buy Compressor Plugins, or Will My Stock Plugins Do?

Yes, in time, you will need to buy compressor plugins. Stock plugins will get you by to begin with, and we encourage you to learn them, before investing in paid gear. But, you can’t beat the sound of virtual analogue emulations, or hardware.

You don’t need to purchase compressor plugins right away, and we don’t recommend anyone buy compression plugins until they know a compressor inside and out.

Compression can be confusing for a lot of music producers starting out, and it’s really something that comes with time and development of your ears – you can’t rush intuitively knowing when something needs a bit extra thickness, punch, glue or drive.

Learn on your stock compressor before you buy a plugin. Know it inside and out, and then consider purchasing some of the plugins on this list.

Which Waves Compressor Is Best?

There are many great Waves compressors, but here are some of the most popular:

  1. CLA2A
  2. CLA76
  3. API Collection
  4. RCompressor
  5. SSL Master Bus Compressor

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