10 Best Compressor Plugins for Any Mix Situation




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Here is our condensed list of the best compressor VST plugins available (2021):

  1. Fabfilter Pro-C 2
  2. Softube FET Compressor
  3. Arturia Tube STA
  4. Tube-Tech by Softube
  5. UAD LA-2A
  6. UAD SSL 4000 G Bus Compressor
  7. Sonible smart:comp
  8. Xfer OTT
  9. GRIP Valve Drive Compressor
  10. Summit TLA-100A

Finding and choosing the best compressor VSTs in 2021 is a pretty difficult task. With so many different audio plugins to choose from, it can be a bit of a minefield. That’s why we spent hours devising a list of the 10 best compressor plugins available in 2021.

Check them out below!

Digital

Here you’ll find a list of the most incredible digital compressors available.

Fabfilter Pro-C 2 (best compressor plugin 2021)

fab filter pro c2 audio compression plugin

FabFilter Pro-C 2 is the best compressor VST plugin of 2021 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.

Sonible smart:comp

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.

Xfer OTT (best free compressor plugin)

xfer records ott compressor vst plugin

So what if you don’t have enough to splash out on a new, shiny compressor that will take your mixes to the next level?

Say hello to 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?

Features:

  • 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.

Virtual Analog

Here you’ll find a list of the greatest virtual analog emulations of legendary hardware compressors.

Softube FET Compressor

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.

Just take a listen to how it alters this drum sound below!

Arturia Tube-STA

arturia tube sta audio compression plugin

We already featured this Arturia beast in our 50 best vst plugins of 2021 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, with an emulation that sounds like the original thing.

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

Tube Tech Collection

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.

UAD LA-2A (best high end compressor plugin)

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.

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 apollo twin audio interface for uad plugins

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.

Summit TLA-100A

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.

Features:

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

UAD SSL 4000 G Bus Compressor (best mastering compressor plugin)

UAD SSL 4000 G Bus Compressor plugin vst

Like we said above, UAD are the best for analog emulations of original, vintage compression units.

Again, with almost anything UAD, you will have to purchase their audio interfaces to run the plugins, but if you’re serious about your audio production journey, then you’ll know they are well worth the money.

Fortunately for you, UAD have included a starting range in their line-up of audio interfaces, called the Apollo.

The SSL 4000 G Bus compressor is the ultimate glue compressors for your mix or master bus. And, like with anything UAD, 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.

UAD’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 UAD 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, then you should invest in UAD; simple as.

You can also check out our UAD plugins without hardware list, if you don’t have the cash to splash on an interface.

GRIP Valve Drive Compressor

grip valve drive compressor plugin vst

The GRIP Valve Drive compressor is a plugin that has extreme value for money and doesn’t kill your computer’s CPU.

And, did we mention it gives both incredible modern, precise compression & that warm vintage analog sound?

The valve drive compressor by CFA-Sound gets all its charm and charisma from the way it’s modelled. It’s the best of both worlds, featuring legendary, German vintage tube compressor modelling (of the 1960s) & a modern VCA compressor workhorse.

If you’re looking for a rich, warm analog sound, then the GRIP valve drive compressor offers that at a fraction of the price of other vintage emulations on the market.

From New York parallel compression to give your drums that edge, to warming up vocals – the valve drive compressor does it all.

(It also has a flexible, clean & intuitive design, which is awesome to use when mixing a track)

Alongside all this, as you probably already guessed from the name, the GRIP valve drive compressor offers two awesome drive emulation modes – Triode & Pentode mode.

Each one has it’s own sonic characteristics & can be used to warm up any sound.

Using Triode, you’ll get a more musical enhancement by adding harmonics to the sound. Whereas, using Pentode, you’ll get a beautiful, crunchy distortion effect.

We use the GRIP valve drive compressor on drums to squash, distort and push the sound. It adds a crunch and thickness to your drum mix & is perfect for parallel processing.

Final Thoughts

To round up here is our list of the 10 best audio compressor plugins available in 2021:

  1. Fabfilter Pro-C 2
  2. Softube FET Compressor
  3. Arturia Tube STA
  4. Tube-Tech by Softube
  5. UAD LA-2A
  6. UAD SSL 4000 G Bus Compressor
  7. Sonible smart:comp
  8. Xfer OTT
  9. GRIP Valve Drive Compressor

Having a good set of compression plugins for mixing and mastering is useful to the process. Although you can get decent results with stock plugins included in certain DAWs, none of them will be able to re-create the accuracy, precision & warmth that comes with investing in compressor plugins.

Whatever you’re looking for, this list of compressor plugins should have something for you!

Free Music Plugins from Pluginboutique.com