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The 12 Best Mastering Compressor Plugins For Music Production (& 5 Free Picks)

In the mastering stage, you'll often need a compressor to either adjust the dynamic range of the piece, add subtle saturation to mold the frequency spectrum in a certain way, or straight-up improve the level of perceived loudness. In this article, we'll focus on this side of the mastering process and go through several compressor plugins that you can add to your plugin chain to produce professional-quality music.

What Is Mastering Compression & Where Is It Useful?

Mastering compression is the use of compression during the mastering process. Here, compression can be useful to add harmonic distortion, control the dynamic range, improve the perceived loudness of the track by compressing harmonics, and the list goes on.

For example, they might use a multi-band compressor to attenuate dynamically specific areas in the frequency spectrum, upward compression to bring the subtle quieter details of the track forward to be more present, or just add smooth compression to glue the mix together.

What Are The Best Mastering Compressor Plugins?

Here's the complete list of the best mastering compressors:

  1. iZotope Ozone
  2. Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain
  3. TDR Kotelnikov GE
  4. Fab Filter Pro C2
  5. Sonible Smart:comp2
  6. Softube Weiss DS1-MK3
  7. Brainworx Elysia Alpha Compressor
  8. Unisum Mastering Compressor
  9. UAD Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor
  10. Fab Filter Pro MB
  11. Cytomic The Glue
  12. Plugin Alliance Vertigo VSC2

1. iZotope Ozone

Compatibility: Win10+, macOS 10.15+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $199

Pros

✅ Offers a variety of modules specifically designed to fulfill the needs of any mastering engineer

✅ The AI feature is a great tool for novice engineers and artists looking to master their own music with a top-of-the-line sound quality

✅ Very understandable GUI that lets you see with lots of detail what's happening on each step of your mastering chain

✅ Countless presets based on genre, style, and intention

Cons

❌ Couldn't find any

Ozone is iZotpe's mastering suite that brings you several tools and an AI assistant to help you find your way through the mastering process of your tracks.

It includes a very transparent multi-band compressor with stereo and mid/side processing capabilities, as well as different modules for equalization, stereo image, harmonic excitation, limiting, metering, the possibility to load and let the AI master using a reference track, and much more.

One of the most interesting and unique features of the latest versions of Ozone is their master rebalance module. It can be amazing to accommodate levels that can be altered by processing or didn't sit as well in the mix, to begin with, like vocals, drums, and bass.

However, we advise not going further above 1.5dB with this approach to avoid phase cancellations.

2. Abbey Road TG Mastering chain

Compatibility: Win10+, macOS 10.15+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $199 (Typically on sale for $64.99)

Pros

✅ Vintage sound based on Abbey Road's EMI TG12410 Transfer Console

✅ Fully-featured mastering suite great for any instrumental music production

✅ The tone and limiter modules sound great

Cons

❌ Doesn't sound so good with some styles and genres, especially with EDM

Another fully equipped mastering processor, but more analog-oriented. The TG Mastering Chain is an amazing plugin that's good for professional mastering engineers and beginners that need a hand.

It has five modules with preamp, EQ, compression, limiting, and output, and all of these are capable of channel linking/unlinking. It offers a very pleasant harmonic distortion that resembles Abbey Road's EMI TG12410 Transfer Console.

It additionally includes several, amazing-sounding presets to help you start the mastering process correctly and get a result that actually sounds good without all the hastle. This and Ozone are especially great tools if you're mastering your own music because they're easy to use and have a fast-paced learning curve.

3. TDR Kotelnikov GE

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

Pros

✅ Possibility of setting a Gain Reduction limit to avoid over-compressing your signal

✅ It's one of the most versatile mastering plugins, so you can use it on any type of signal

✅ Frequency-dependent ratio allows a very specific compression curve, which can lead to a cleaner result after mastering

✅ Best bang for buck compressor

Cons

❌ Couldn't find any

Kotelnikov is one of the most versatile, transparent, and tweakable compressors out there. It has a free version that you can just get at TDR's website and a Gentleman Edition (GE), which is paid but very inexpensive.

This great compressor can help you achieve great mastery if you know how to use it, and we can assure you it's not too hard to learn. Its independent peak and RMS compression possibilities are great to enhance the harmonic content and control the dynamic range, adding no unwanted distortion whatsoever.

4. Fab Filter Pro C2

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

Pros

✅ 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 EQ to fine-tune what's triggering the plugin

✅ Includes an algorithm optimized for mastering specifically

Cons

❌ Doesn't add any character or coloration to your signal

Yet another wonderful and very talked-about compressor plug-in, the Fab Filter Pro C2 is one of the best mastering plugins for overall compression that you'll find available.

It has a great-looking GUI with fully adjustable parameters, look ahead, sidechain filtering and processing, stereo and mid/side processing, and a mix knob for parallel use, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

This compressor can deliver from the most gentle compression to an aggressively overcompressed sound without causing any unwanted distortion. It has several compression styles with dedicated algorithms for different appliances, among which there's one specifically tailored for mastering situations.

5. Sonible smart:comp 2

Compatibility: Win7+, macOS 10.8+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $129

Pros

✅ 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

Cons

❌ 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

Sonible did it again developing a unique compressor with an innovative twist. Similar to their other plugins, like the smart:EQ or the smart:limiter, the smart:comp 2 has a visual and understandable GUI with an AI that analyses your signal and displays how the compression is affecting it.

However, the real magic here comes in with the addition of the spectral compressor feature, which you activate by enabling the AI analysis.

What this spectral compressor does is compress the frequencies with the most energy in the audio spectrum to level them out (which is something you don't see in other mastering compressor plugins).

This spectral compression is helpful in a variety of cases during mastering, as it can make a mix sound cleaner and do it transparently. With the combination of spectral compression, color, and shape provided by this plugin you can correct a track's dynamics while making it perceivably louder.

6. Softube Weiss DS1-MK3

Compatibility: Win10+, macOS 10.13+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $329

Pros

✅ Crisp and transparent mastering unit, perfect for hi-fi and pop appliances

✅ Incredibly versatile, you can use it as a DeEsser or as a single-band parallel compressor

✅ It offers multi-band control over the signal and several fine-tuning options

✅ The best mastering plugin to control and enhance the low-frequency range

Cons

❌ Not the most user-friendly unit for beginner users, as it might take some research and experimentation to get a glance at how to adapt it to your mastering workflow

❌ Pretty expensive

❌ Very CPU intensive

Here we have a code-by-code recreation of a classic hardware unit that everyone's been using for years in mastering. The DS1 MK3 plugin is an excellent mastering compressor capable of stereo mid/side processing, and multi-band compression, and it's most commonly used for selective band compression.

This is a wonderful compressor to include on your processing chain as a mastering engineer since it's really helpful on bass-heavy mixes with less-than-desirable crest factors.

Sometimes, a multiband compressor isn't the best choice during the mastering session, as they can bring many problems, especially with the low-end information, which can make the mix lose power while trying to create headroom.

In these cases, experienced mastering engineers would use this plugin for selective band compression, because it gives you precise control over the compressed signal and its filters are amazingly transparent.

This technique can help you fix a spikey kick that's preventing you from getting louder, and level it up with the rest of the low frequencies, making the overall track sound thicker and more powerful.

7. Brainworx Elysia Alpha Compressor

Compatibility: Win8+, macOS 10.11+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $249

Pros

✅ Feedback and feedforward possibilities allow a broader range of compression appliances

✅ Incredibly punchy and transparent, it's great for mastering, but also to use on a drum bus or bass

✅ Awesome-sounding digital version of this classic hardware unit

✅ Includes saturation, soft clipping, and light ratio settings

Cons

❌ The UI is a bit cluttered and can be hard to follow at first sight

❌ The UI is not resizable, and some labels are hard to read

Brainworx made a digital version of the Alpha Compressor hardware to provide engineers with a transparent, yet powerful stereo compressor.

This great mastering compressor has feedforward and feedback processing possibilities, supports mid/side processing, includes a tilt EQ, internal/external sidechain, parallel compression, and even includes a tilt EQ.

This is a great compressor to use when you need to add glue to a mix (or mix bus) without making it sound squashed, because it's incredibly transparent even at very extreme settings, keeping the mix sounding natural and tight.

The tilt EQ is amazing to shape tonality, as it works similarly to pultec-style EQ plugins, and it can be very helpful at reinserting frequencies that might get lost due to compression.

8. Unisum Mastering Compressor

Compatibility: Win7+, macOS 10.11+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $199

Pros

✅ Extremely clean and transparent compression with the possibility of adding character when needed

✅ Features several different compression styles and presets specifically tailored toward mastering

✅ The sidechain emphasis increases the compressor's sensitivity towards specific frequencies, which can be helpful in cases where compression might bring forward unpleasant frequencies

✅ The “relax” control adds a non-linear algorithm that softens the effect of the compression, making it more transparent even with extreme appliances

Cons

❌ Couldn't find any

Imagine everything you love about the best mastering plugins out there in one unit with a bunch of unique features that will allow you to tailor it to just about any input signal, that's Unisum by Tone Projects.

One outstanding thing about this plugin is how simple and straightforward it is to achieve very complex and advanced compression techniques. It provides you with a lot of options for fine-tuning that will prove extremely helpful for infinite different situations.

It's important to point out that Unisum is a wideband mastering compressor, which means it doesn't have any crossovers, phase shifting, or distortion, but still, it's capable of working as a multi-band compressor because of its three detection bands, which you can also tweak customizing the attack and release, peak detection and RMS detection settings.

Unisum is packed with a bunch of advanced settings as well, such as the “Relax” control knob, and the sidechain emphasis, which make it even more appealing to produce a great master. Overall it's a fantastic unit and one of the best mastering plugins available.

9. UAD Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor

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

Pros

✅ 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

Cons

❌ The GUI feels unnecessarily cluttered, and could be easier to use

Shadow Hills mastering compressor gives you extensive control over the tonality and dynamic range of your tracks. Includes a mix knob, a sidechain high-pass filter, and three coloration options.

Nickel is the most transparent one, it's perfect for subtle applications, really good for transparent analog-like compression without coloration, and is good for situations where you want to control tall transients without adding distortion.

Iron engages a class A second harmonic distortion circuitry, which is great to achieve a round and pure distorted sound. This style of distortion comes in handy in situations where you have a mix that lacks energy or that feels thin to make it come to life.

Finally, Steel gives you the most aggressive behavior and coloration, while tightening the low-end altogether, which might be really good on a rock or metal mix where you'd be aiming for a grittier compression to make it sound more aggressive.

10. Fab Filter Pro MB

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

Pros

✅ Incredibly clean and transparent multiband compressor

✅ 8x oversampling, linear phase processing and the ability to freely select the frequency range of the crossover make it a fairly clean multiband processor

✅ Each band is fully customizable, making it easier to achieve the ideal settings for each frequency range

✅ The frequency analyzer includes a freeze function, which comes in handy when you need to locate a problematic area in your mix

Cons

❌ It's not possible to create narrower bands, so it's not very helpful for surgical use

You're probably aware of Fab Filter's Pro MB at this point, as it's widely used by mastering engineers of all levels and thoroughly recommended for its nearly infinite mixing and mastering applications.

This plugin gives you the ability to split the signal into multiple crossover bands on any part of the frequency spectrum and hands you absolute control over how you compress or expand a signal.

Pro MB is an amazing tool to rebalance the spectrum of a mix by creating multiple bands and setting them up to do different things.

For example, you might want to create a low shelf with a relatively slow attack and release settings to control this range, use upward expansion on the mid-range with faster configurations to enhance the definition of this area, or add a high shelf to control sibilances and high-mids with a quicker approach. All in just one instance of this plugin.

11. Cytomic The Glue

Compatibility:WinXP+, macOS 10.8+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit, 32-bit
Price: $99

Pros

✅ Sidechain filtering allows you to tweak the compressor's response

✅ Incredibly easy to use and still sounds good regardless of its old age

✅ Mix and rage knobs make it easier to adjust it to different situations

✅ Very light CPU usage

Cons

❌ Doesn't have automatic makeup gain

The Glue is an SSL-style compressor by Cytomic and one of the most practical and useful mastering compressors available. It's incredibly simple to use, and it has a full, punchy sound that's better than most other SSL-style compressors, the SSL G Channel bus compressor by Waves.

Not only the Glue is practical because you only need to tweak a few controls and have a great sound coming out of it, but also because it has some presets that are carefully designed to sound good even if you don't know what it's doing, making it great for beginners too.

SSL-style compressors like The Glue is great for genres like hip-hop, rock, EDM, and pop music because these genres are typically upbeat and you'd benefit from a more aggressive sound. It's also great to emphasize transients.

12. Plugin Alliance Vertigo VSC2

Compatibility: Win8+, macOS 10.11+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit
Price: $149

Pros

✅ Extremely versatile and great-sounding

✅ Great to add punch to any mix without causing distortion or coloration

✅ You can use it as an analog limiter with the brick wall ratio option

✅ Easy to use with understandable controls

Cons

❌ The GUI is pretty small and not resizable

Brainworx Vertigo VSC-2 is a thorough emulation of the classic VCA compressor going by the same name. It's pretty transparent and can be useful in mastering situations where you need to control excessive dynamics in a mix.

As a VCA compressor, the VSC-2 has an incredibly fast attack and release times, the fastest attack being as quick as 0.1 ms and 0.1 sec for the release. It also gives you the ability to work in stereo mode or dual mono to process both channels separately.

In a mastering situation, you might want to use it to bring forward very quiet details of a mix or to reduce transients without squashing the dynamic range.

What Are The Best Free Mastering Compressor Plugins?

Here's the complete list of the best free mastering compressor plugins:

  1. TDR VladG Molot
  2. Analog Obsession SPEComp
  3. Audio Damage Rough Rider 3
  4. Analog Obsession Kolin
  5. Melda Audio Mcompressor

1. TDR VladG Molot

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

Pros

✅ It's incredibly intuitive and you can hear the results

✅ Includes oversampling and dithering

✅ It's a great option for situations where you need to make a track punchier

✅ Thanks to its natural compression, it can be very helpful to create movement in a mix with very few tweaks

Cons

❌ Couldn't find any

Molot emulates the sound and behaviour of the classic vari-mu Fairchild compressor and includes a few extra features.

A pro tip with this compressor is setting a 2:1 ratio, rolling the sidechain HPF to above 200Hz to avoid low frequencies triggering the compressor, setting a hard 0.28 knee, 11ms attack time, 0.25 ms release, setting the threshold to compress a dB or so, and blend with the unprocessed signal to increase the depth and add dimension to your mix.

What's unique about this compressor is the alfa-beta-sigma knob, which gives you control over its reaction. The alfa mode is the most aggressive towards transients, while the beta and sigma modes are cleaner. In the previous example, you'd move this knob somewhere in between beta and sigma to achieve a better effect.

2. Analog Obsession SPEcomp

Compatibility:Win7+, macOS 10.9+, VST, AU, 64-bit, 32-bit

Pros

✅ Great to add glue or flatten an input

✅ Effective to attenuate resonating frequencies easily

✅ Little to no CPU impact

✅ Its low ratio and fast response make it easier to dial in the ideal amount of compression

Cons

❌ It doesn't include any filtering for external sidechain inputs

It's no secret that Analog Obsession has been making awesome plugins for a while, and one of the most recent ones they've made makes for a great mastering compressor. SPEComp is suitable for mixing but has functionalities that make it great for mastering appliances.

Its low ratio, soft knee, and understandable attack and release controls make it easy to find the best compression for your track. The fastest release time is 50ms, which is ideal to achieve a louder master.

It has a dial in the middle, under the gain reduction meter, which works as a mix knob to combine the uncompressed signal, making it also good for parallel compression.

3. Audio Damage Rough Rider 3

Compatibility: Win 8.1+, macOS 10.11+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit

Pros

✅ Understandable controls and GUI

✅ Includes a graphic visualization of how compression is being applied to the signal

✅ Versatile sound great for adding analog character or applying clean processing to any input

✅ The HPF is great to enhance the perceived loudness of a kick and bass in a mix

Cons

❌Couldn't find any

Rough Rider 3 has a unique, very punchy sound and a very straightforward GUI, is a really good plugin for bus and parallel compression. It makes controlling the amount of compression much easier with its dedicated internal sidechain high-pass filter.

You can use this HPF to cause less compression and create a tighter kick and bass and make the full track feel bouncy and exciting. You can also create some drive with the input and output and dial it in with the mix knob for a much cleaner effect. Then fine-tune the knee, attack, release, and ratio accordingly.

4. Analog Obsession Kolin

Compatibility: Win7+, macOS 10.9+, VST, AU, 64-bit, 32-bit

Pros

✅ Variable attack, release, and filtering settings make it very good for subtle bus compression

✅ Easy-to-use and understandable GUI

✅ Great for situations where you need your input to be punchier and tighter

Cons

❌ It's very colorful, which limits its use compared to other mastering plugins

Yet another wonderful Analog Obsession plugin, Kolin is a limiting amplifier and great master bus compressor with a distinct sound and simple interface. Its mix dial combined with its variable attack and release times makes it a great option for subtle colorful analog compression.

To use this plugin you only need to dial the input until gain reduction begins, to the top left you'll find the attack and release controls which range from 1-50ms and 100-3000ms respectively.

One really cool thing you can do with Kolin is to drive the input to get an aggressive compression, reduce the output to distort the signal, and then reduce the mix knob to blend the distortion with the unprocessed sound.

5. Melda Audio MCompressor

Compatibility: Win8+, macOS 10.14+, VST, AU, AAX, 64-bit, 32-bit

Pros

✅ You can draw the most accurate compression curve for any signal

✅ The ratio values work a bit differently and more precisely than many other similar mastering plugins

✅ You can introduce natural-sounding tube saturation to add character and analog warmth to any signal

✅ The GUI is completely customizable, which makes it easier for you to adapt it to your workflow

Cons

❌ It's pretty hard to understand how the custom shape operates at first, it could've been easier

❌ Changes are hard to notice when you incorporate the custom shape option and tweak the parameters above

Last but not least, we've got an amazing and flexible compressor by Melda Productions which is included in their free plugin bundle, the MCompressor. It gives you the typical controls to fine-tune compression, but it gets interesting when you try the custom shape function.

You can create unique and non-linear compression and expansion. You can add several points by double-clicking the line and dragging them around to cause unique compression curves that wouldn't be possible with any other processor.

Summary

To recap, here's the complete list of the best mastering compressors:

  1. iZotope Ozone
  2. Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain
  3. TDR Kotelnikov GE
  4. Fab Filter Pro C2
  5. Sonible Smart:comp2
  6. Softube Weiss DS1-MK3
  7. Brainworx Elysia Alpha Compressor
  8. Unisum Mastering Compressor
  9. UAD Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor
  10. Fab Filter Pro MB
  11. Cytomic The Glue
  12. Plugin Alliance Vertigo VSC2

Knowing how and when to use compression is one of the hardest skills to develop in audio engineering because it can either make people move along and even dance with your music or completely wreck your track.

To help you find a practical solution while you develop this skill we've included the best mastering compressors for all kinds of budgets and levels of expertise for you to choose from and add to your mastering workflow.

Our favourite plugin is the Unisum by Tone Project for its amazing amount of features that basically exceed all of the other mastering plugins mentioned in this list.

Also, we want to shout out to Sonible's smart:comp as our second favourite because the spectral compression with the AI assistant is mind-blowing and delivers pretty interesting results.

FAQ

Is Compression In Mastering Necessary?

For the most part, yes. Compression in mastering can help with making a mix feel more cohesive, punchy, or even balanced. It can also help to even up the dynamics of a song when needed, and make the audio feel bigger and with movement.

A mastering engineer would use compression on a regular basis to achieve any of these results, as well as solving problems related to dynamic and/or tonal balance control.

Where Does Compression Come in The Mastering Chain?

There's not a specific placement for compression in mastering, so depending on the case it could go virtually anywhere in the chain. However, compression is typically used somewhere at the beginning of the chain and around the end.

For example, you can use compression at the beginning of the chain to level up an excessively dynamic track or if the mix isn't as punchy as it should, to enhance the transients before any EQ or other processing kicks in.

Can I Use Multiple Compressors on The Master?

Absolutely, in fact, using several compressors with subtle settings leads to a more transparent compression and a perceivably louder master. This idea also applies to limiting, as it's often better to use more than one limiter for a cleaner outcome.

The reason why is better to use more than one mastering compressor is that you can set them up in a way that they work more optimized.

Should I Compress or EQ First in Mastering?

If you EQ first, you're more likely to produce a rounder tone as the compressor will focus on the EQ curve. If you compress first, the compressor will level the signal out and the results will be cleaner because it is easier to identify issues to be corrected with EQ.

It depends on what your track needs, but in mastering, you'd tend to lean towards compression first since you want to work with as much transparency as you possibly can.

There's not a specific amount, although in a mastering situation you'd typically try to compress no more than a dB or 2 of gain reduction with ratios somewhere between 1.5:1 and 2.5:1.

However, mastering plugins often give you the possibility of compressing more without being noticed, so it could be more than that depending on the case.

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