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Compression is the process of evening out the loudest and softest parts of an audio signal. While it sounds fairly simple, there are various circuitries that these principles are based on, which make the results sound gritty, aggressive, colourful or transparent and polished. With the variety of compressor plugins available today, it can be difficult to know which one specialises in transparent compression. In this article, we’re going to dive into the types of compressor plugins that offer transparency, along with the top transparent compressor plugins.

Types of Transparent Compression

There are a different types of transparent compressors, so let’s go over the different types first:

What Is An Optical Compressor?

Opto compressor plugins are modelled on optical compressors that use an electro-optical attenuator to alter the dynamics of the audio signal. This attenuator is made up of a light source and a photoconductive cell. When the audio input increases, the light intensity increases and the resistance of the photocell decreases, leading to gain reduction.

They are known for their smooth, transparent, and musical sound, with an initial soft knee followed by a ̃mild distortion influenced by the LDR (light-dependent resistor). 

Unlike FET compressors which work great with snappy transients due to their lightning-fast reaction times,̃ Opto compressors have an innate delayed response to light. This makes them perfect for recording vocals, bass, and acoustic instruments as they encourage expressive performances. They also sound great on mixed buses.

What Is A VCA Compressor?

A VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifier) compressor uses the control voltage to adjust the input level. It works by routing the signal through an IC chip (semiconductor) that separates it into two paths – the output path and the detection path. The VCA compression process occurs in the detection path, and the IC housing allows for fine-tuning and minimal distortion.

VCAs are versatile compressors, best suited for mixing applications as they can come across as being quite ‘transparent’.

They are faster than Opto and Vari-Mu compressors, making them a popular choice for drum busses, master busses, and parallel compression. 

However, it is important to use them in moderation as they are quite sensitive. Cranking a FET compressor will add character to the sound, but cranking a VCA beyond moderation would destroy the liveliness of the track.

What Is A Digital Compressor?

Digital compressors are devices that use software code to precisely emulate the behaviour of real analogue hardware, or to create a colourless, pristine, unbiased gain reduction, in a clinical way that only computers can. Since they aren’t circuitry dependant, they are also the best way for a beginner to learn about compression concepts.

Known for their transparency and control, they offer all the compression parameters that you can think of-attack, RMS/Peak release, threshold, sculptable knee with lookahead values, ratios, multiple side chain permutations and combinations.

What Are The Best Digital, VCA & Opto Compressor Plugins?

Here’s the complete list of the best transparent compression plugins:

  1. Tone Empire Opto RED
  2. ACME Opticom XLA-3
  3. Brainworx/Plugin Alliance Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor
  4. Brainworx Townhouse Buss Compressor
  5. Waves eMo D5
  6. Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain
  7. Arturia Comp VCA 65
  8. Millennia TCL-2
  9. Waves H-Comp
  10. FabFilter Pro-C 2
  11. Waves R-Vox
  12. SSL Native Bus Compressor 2

1. Tone Empire Opto RED:

Compatibility: Win10, macOS 10.13+,  Apple M1 supported, Only 64-bit. Supports VST3, AU, and AAX formats.
Price: $79 list price $19(currently on Sale)

Pros

✅ Designed to sound incredibly clean & doesn’t over-compress or add any unwanted colouration with artefacts to the sound. 

✅Transients on the snare & cymbals sound crisp but smooth. That’s the best way to check a genuine opto emulation plugin.

✅ Adds the right amount of presence in the mids on guitars. Can instantly add the recognizable Opto sound to polish a guitar group bus.

✅ Lo-Cut filter eliminates unwanted lows resulting in a low-latency compressed signal that is perfect for tracking vocals & guitars.

Cons

❌ Can’t think of any!

The Tone Empire Opto Red Compressor plugin is based on the American Classic Tube Optical Compressor, a hardware that has been used for decades. Tone Empire states that the idea behind the plugin was to create an exact emulation of the original and add additional features to enhance its capabilities.

One of the first reactions we had upon listening to the before and after sound samples of this plugin, was how truly analog it sounds. Its ability to make the drums sound crisp but smooth and add just the right amount of presence in the guitars makes it instantly recognizable as a legitimate Opto hardware emulation.

Transparency and versatility are the golden words when it comes to Opto compressor plugins, and the Tone Empire Opto Red stays true to that.

It also comes with a variety of features, including a built-in side chain circuit, a low-pass filter, automatic gain, wet/dry mix, and more. These added features allow the plugin to be versatile and suitable for use on a wide range of instruments, including vocals, bass, drums, synths, percussion, and electronic and acoustic instruments.

One of the key features of OptoRED is the Lo-Cut filter, which allows for the elimination of unwanted low frequencies during the tracking process, resulting in a low-latency compressed signal that is perfect for tracking.

In contrast to the original classic compressor, OptoRED is designed to be incredibly clean and does not add any unwanted “Coloration” to the sound. 

2. ACME Opticom XLA-3:

Compatibility: Win8+, macOS 10.11+, Apple M1 supported (except for AAX) , 64-bit. Supports VST2, VST3, AU, AAX DSP, AAX Native formats.
Price: $299

Pros

✅ Believable vintage Opto sound, with non-linear analog harmonic distortion, & add-ons like adjustable analog noise. 

✅ ‘Amp’ toggle adds harmonics and distortion, by negating the compression processing, letting you over-drive the unit.

✅ ‘Slow’ mode gives smoother highs & body in the mids. A perfect fit for blues, jazz, or slow pop vocals and piano.

✅ ‘Normal’ mode lends a fast attack, and fast release, tones down the highs, & pushes the mids more. Ideal for overdriven electric Gtr. chords.

✅ Like vintage limiters, ‘Fast’ mode starts with slight Att. & gets stronger when cranked. Instant Rel. crushes highs, resulting in classic distortion. Great for DI bass & drum buss.

Cons

❌ Design could’ve been less confusing. One VU meter is for IN/Out with a toggle & another one is for GR. Placed left & right, it looks like stereo metering.

❌ $299 is quite expensive!

The ACME Opticom XLA-3 plugin is modelled after the tube-powered audio optical limiter which goes by the same name. Unlike some of the purely transparent plugins on our list, this one is designed to provide harmonic colouration along with optical compression. 

One of the standout features of the Opticom XLA-3 is its ability to provide the classic smooth and seamless “LA-2A” sound, along with added benefits such as distortion, dry/wet controls, and adjustable analog noise. It also comes with a variety of features that make it easy to achieve the desired sound, such as drive input, three response times, and level control.

The Opticom XLA-3 basically boasts three distinct response times, which can produce a wide range of sounds, from clean levelling to dirty, smashed sounds. This makes it a versatile tool for any producer or engineer looking to add analogue depth and character to their recordings.

While drums, bass, and vocals sound transparent and smooth, there is a sense of non-linear analogue harmonic distortion that you can sense when you crank it. In fact, set it up on the ‘Fast’ limiter mode, and this plugin sounds fantastic when you crank it!

Additionally, there is also an option to engage the ‘Amp Mode’ in the bottom right. This will run the plugin by negating the compression processing. This gives you added harmonics and distortion, without having to crank it.

Besides that, there is also an option for engaging and disengaging the inherent analogue noise in hardware units, which makes this plugin emulation as realistic as one can get!

The Opticom XLA-3 also features accurate metering that displays input drive, gain reduction, and overall output level, making it easy to monitor and adjust your levels as you work. 

Overall, the ACME Opticom XLA-3 is a powerful and versatile tool that’s worth having in your arsenal.

3. Brainworx/Plugin Alliance Shadow Hills Class A Mastering Compressor:

Compatibility: Win8+, macOS 10.11+, Apple M1 supported (except for AAX) , 64-bit. Supports VST2, VST3, AU, AAX DSP/Native formats.
Price: $329

Pros

✅ Optical section emulates the LA-2A Leveller & Discrete section giving the VCA sound of the SSL or Dbx160. Being transparent, both are ideal for mastering.

✅Tube-based comp. with transformer-based colouring section. You can turn off the comp. & run vox. directly into the 3 transformer types

✅ Discrete ratio called ‘Flood’ lets you go till 20:1, allowing you to crank your audio. Great for Epic film music-adds amazing body but without distortion.

✅ ‘Steel’ transformer offers max. saturation amongst the three, with a high-end presence. Great for rock vocals & electric guitars.

✅ ‘Iron’ is a bit low-mid-focussed & adds even harmonic distortion. ‘Nickel’ is the cleanest, offering excellent transparency.

Cons

❌ Too intimidating for a beginner. This is ‘Pro’ level territory.

❌ In order to emulate the hardware’s looks, the knobs have been cramped too closely. The text isn’t legible. Could’ve resized the knobs.

Being in the industry for a decade now, the Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor is a digital version of the legendary hardware compressor, which is known for its musicality and versatility. 

This one made it on our list specifically for its ability to switch between the optical stage and the VCA or discrete stage for compression. Basically, the plugin has two sections: the Optical and the Discrete sections. 

The Optical section offers traditional Threshold and Gain settings, and a two-stage release time similar to an LA-2A. This section is great for shaping the dynamic range and bringing up the overall level. 

The Discrete section, on the other hand, offers more precise control over the attack and release settings, along with the Ratio, making it suitable for a wide range of materials.

The two sections have three switches for the two display meters, which can be switched from optical to discrete, along with standard gain reduction and output. Dual mono and stereo options are placed in the centre, below the meters. 

You can also switch between the three output transformers for shaping your tonal character. The three different transformers are Steel, Nickel, and Iron. Since we’re on the topic of transparent compression, the Nickel transformer is best suited for doing that.

The Nickel transformer adds smoothness to the lows coupled with clarity in the highs, making it perfect for mild compression. The Iron transformer provides more grit and character while preserving high-end clarity.

The manual states that there is a slight amplification at 100Hz. The Steel transformer has a highly accurate and fast response. There is a slight amplification at 40Hz, giving rise to more presence low end.

Along with the Parallel Mix control that allows you to blend the compressed and uncompressed signals, the internal and external sidechain functions make sure that frequencies that lie below the threshold don’t interfere, which prevents muddiness. This makes it extremely potent while creating rumbles in electronic music. 

However, it’s worth mentioning that the plugin is full of different knobs, which might get daunting for a beginner. But given that we’re dealing with a high-end emulation of a $9500 mastering compressor, it’s mainly aimed at professional engineers. 

4. Brainworx Townhouse Buss Compressor:

Compatibility: Win8+, macOS 10.11+, Apple M1 supported (except for AAX) , 64-bit. Supports VST2, VST3, AU, AAX DSP/Native formats.
Price: $299

Pros

✅ No-brainer on a drum bus. Adds a bit of thickness to the low-mids, especially the 220-250Hz of the snare. Instant body& presence.

✅ You can add a bit of analog hum to your guitars & drums with the “V-Gain” function which emulates inherent analog noise in the circuits.

✅ ‘Rate•s’ dial syncs with a duration of the Auto Fade(1-60secs) which when engaged, pulses gradually in sync with the fading signal.

✅ ‘Headroom’ manages the comp’s operating level. Rotate it right for less compression as the audio is cranked before compressing. Rotate it left for more GR & colour. 

Cons

❌ Excellent at precise emulation. But could’ve offered more versatility for the price.

The bx_townhouse Buss Compressor, created by Brainworx, is a digital recreation of the first outboard SSL bus compressor ever constructed.

Originally constructed in 1978 by the Townhouse maintenance staff using components supplied by Solid State Logic, it was designed to emulate the master bus compressor in an SSL 4000 B console.

Brainworx was granted exclusive access to the one-of-a-kind hardware, and has done a great job at emulating it!

While the basic functions like attack, release, and threshold are quite standard and function like any other SSL unit, there are a few interesting additions that are worth noting.

One unique feature of the bx_townhouse is the Auto Fade function. When engaged, the blinking light on the plugin pulses gradually in sync with the fading signal. This occurs in sync with the time value that you’ve set at the ‘Rate’ knob. 

The fade-out cycle is completed when the light stops blinking. Upon initiating again, an Auto Fade In kicks in, with the light pulsing faster, indicating a fade-in at the value of the rate, and the same process follows again.

The ‘Rate • s’ dial we spoke about, basically controls the duration of the Auto Fade, with a range of 1 to 60 seconds. The “Headroom” manages the compressor’s operating level, allowing for variable gain reduction. 

Rotating it towards the right causes less compression as the signal is cranked before compressing. Rotating it towards the left decreases headroom and increases the gain reduction and colour added to the signal. 

The headroom function can be used to match the dry and wet audio levels as well as to refine your sound for transparency as opposed to character. 

The “V-Gain” function emulates the inherent analog noise found in the circuits, which is quite common in emulation plugins nowadays. 

Along with a sidechain filter, there is an added high-pass filter for it, which can be disengaged when the values are set to nil.’

5. Waves eMo D5:

Compatibility: Win10, macOS 10.11.6+, 64-bit. Supports VST2, VST3, AU, and AAX formats.
Price: $35

eMo 1

Pros

✅ Opto & VCA plugins are transparent due to the circuitry while D5 is transparent & clean as it works on processed & un-processed signals at the same time.

✅ Extremely versatile. Completely re-patchable gate, leveller, de-esser, compressor, and limiter. Great for EDM and sound design.

✅ De-esser, limiter, & compressor are extremely transparent & can be used surgically for mastering. 

✅ An affordable plugin to learn about all the different dynamic processors in one place for an intermediate producer.  

Cons

❌ Quite a steep learning curve. You need to be well-versed with comp, limiter, de-esser & gate before entering this space.

The Waves eMo D5 is by far the most innovative of all the transparent plugins on our list. While a lot of the Opto and VCA plugins are transparent due to the circuitry of the hardware compressors they’ve been emulated on, the Waves eMo D5 is different. 

It provides transparency and precision as a result of being a processor that works on processed and un-processed signals simultaneously. While it’s built as a gate, leveller, de-esser, compressor, and limiter, it doesn’t work as a multistage unit.

The Waves eMo D5 uses Waves’ Parallel Detection technology to process the incoming signal and the processed at the same time, which completely removes the need for gain staging different plugins. 

This lends instant real-time control over the output signal, allowing you to get a precise, clear, and transparent sound without over-compression.

The de-esser, the limiter, and the compressor are extremely transparent and can be used surgically without the fear of colouration if you’re using it in the mastering stage.

We tried this plugin on a drum bus and found the de-esser to work great on the overheads while having the limiter working on the kick and snare, and the dual-speed settings working on the overall character of the drums. Having so much control inside one plugin, without gain–staging issues is quite phenomenal.  

Similar to a modular synthesizer, the plugin has the ability to be completely re-patchable. This means that you can set the de-esser before the limiter and vice-versa while having a combined metering for the compressor and limiter.

With options for setting a closed and an open threshold, the Waves eMO D5 is also an excellent way for a budding producer to learn about all the permutations and combinations within dynamic processors.  

Before

Arp Synth

Guitars

Toy Piano

After

Soft Compression along with Leveller, gate and Limiter.
Soft Compression along with a De-esser dip at 145Hz. Activated the Expander mode, with the Leveller and Limiter activated too. Notice how the sudden decibel spikes have been tamed down.
‘Normal’ Compression along with a De-esser roll-off at 4.49kHz. Notice the slight crispness in the transients of the fast arpeggio.

6. Waves Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain:

Compatibility:Win10+, macOS 10.15+, 64-bit Only. Supports VST2, VST3, AU, and AAX formats.
Price: $39

WavesTG 1

Pros

✅ Being modular, you can design customized signal processing layouts within the mastering unit.

✅ 2 Modes-Modern & Original. Modern is clear & transparent while Original is ’70s styled gritty.

✅ Input module has +/-90 degrees phase options instead of 180. You can automate your phaser, flanger, tremolo, etc. in your FX chains for interesting movement.

✅ Tone/EQ section is great for adding a bit of air to your highs and thump to your lows in the drum or mix bus. You can go extreme as it sounds very musical.

Cons

❌ None!

The Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain is a plugin that mimics the EMI TG12410 Console, which has been utilized in all of Abbey Road’s mastering consoles for the last 5 decades.

This plugin basically lets you design your own customized signal processing layouts within the mastering unit, with the added flexibility of the digital workflow, while staying true to the original sound of the unit.

While it’s ideally used on the stereo bus, instrument groups, or in mastering, there are ample presets to try them out on individual instruments too.

The solid-state transistor used on the TG12410 has been a favourite among professional engineers and producers for decades as it has an extremely characteristic sound.

It has been used on some of the biggest hit records ever made, most notably in Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. Bands like Radiohead and Nirvana have had their albums run through these as well.

Due to this collaboration between Waves and Abbey Road Studios, the TG12410 is now accessible to anyone looking to bring that same magic to their own productions.

The idea behind the plugin is to provide flexibility for you to mix and match as you see fit. Other than the input/output modules, you can pretty much alter the signal flow between all the modules. Isolated or clusters of modules can be used on separate tracks, drum buses, instrument groups, or the mix bus. 

The compressor limiter module is made of two modes – Original and Modern. The Original mode is gritty and stays true to the sound of the 70s when the original console was designed. The Modern mode is a new intervention done by  Waves and Abbey Road and follows the same TG topology.

This Modern module is amazingly clear and transparent and falls under our category of best transparent plugins. The perceived loudness, without the introduction of artefacts, is quite commendable.

There is also a Meter Bridge, which is an add-on that can be used on separate channels. Besides being able to see the VU meter, check the Peak vs RMS, and reverse the Phase instantly, the GUI is extremely compelling.

Having such cool-looking vintage metering on your DAW channel strip adds to the charm of owning this plugin.

Before

Arp Synth

Guitars

Toy Piano

After

‘Original’ Mode with a ratio of 36:1 with M/S processing and Recovery set to option ‘1’.
‘Limiter’ Mode with a ratio of 50:1 with M/S processing and Recovery set to option ‘6’. Also used the ‘Tone’ and ‘Filter’ sections to dial the harshness down a bit.
‘Modern’ Mode with a ratio of 29:1 with M/S processing and Recovery set to option ‘3’.

7. Arturia Comp VCA 65:

Compatibility:Win8, macOS 10.13+, 64-bit. Supports VST2, VST3, AU, NKS and AAX formats.
Price: $49

Pros

✅7 detection modes, with M/S and its variations, time-warp, & an advanced side-chain EQ section lets you automate complex digital parameters with an analog VCA sound.

✅Peakstop Limiter, like in the original hardware, gives amazing distortion, letting your guitars or drum bus a boost in attitude.

✅Manual sidechaining allows for complex production possibilities. Background Vox. can be ducked manually by the lead vox, in M/S with a pad, with automation being recorded.

✅ At 5ms, ‘Snap’ works like the quick lookahead found in a compressor’s knee. ‘loose’ delays the detection to 10ms. Great at catching/suppressing a snare/rim shot.

Cons

❌ None!

Arturia has come up with a virtual recreation of the iconic DBX 165A compressor, which goes above and beyond the original with some fantastic modern-day additions.

The original compressor was known for its unique solid-state VCA compression effect and cutting-edge RMS dynamics detection, along with the fabled auto attack-decay, which made it highly sought-after by producers and engineers alike. 

However, with time it has become increasingly difficult to find a working original. With Arturia’s advanced TAE modelling, you can now experience this legendary compressor in your DAW.

While there are countless DBX 165A replicas in the market, there are some additions that it quite compelling to buy. The original auto attack-decay detection has been recreated, making it easy to use, while the peak stop limiter adds a touch of a vintage flavour.

The bottom section has seven different detection modes, comprising M/S and its different variations. Additionally, there is a time-warp function to control the attack times, an advanced side-chain EQ, and a dry/wet mix knob for parallel compression.

While high and low-pass filters are common, the addition of a band EQ, shaping the sidechain trigger, opens new rhythmic possibilities, especially in electronic music. 

The software also includes comprehensive presets and integrated tutorials, making it easy for beginners to get into the game.

8. Millennia TCL-2:

Compatibility:Win8, macOS 10.11+, 64-bit. Supports VST2, VST3, AU, NKS, and AAX formats.
Price: $199

Pros

✅ Its USP is its balanced design. Sounds smooth + adds tube warmth + is free of colouration + preserves details well.

✅It’s like having 2 compressors in 1. You can toggle between the Triode vacuum tube limiter & the Solid State J-Fet with the TT knob.

✅Ability to work as a Solid State or Tube configuration adds a lot of control and versatility when running your mix or drum bus through it.

✅ Great at gentle compression without creating artefacts, making it great for vocals busses, mix busses, & mastering applications.

Cons

❌ Excellent at precise emulation. But could’ve added more sidechain functions like VCA65 for the price.

While being called an Opto compressor, the Millenia TCL-2 is surely transparent, but very different from the LA2A-style designs. It sounds way smoother with an added element of Vari-Mu style vacuum tube warmth, while still being free of colouration or loss of detail.

Being mainly used as a mastering and mix buss compressor, the Millenia TCL-2 is a high-end class A compressor plugin, modelled exactly on the Millennia TCL-2 hardware unit.  

The name ‘Twimcom’ comes from the fact that while being an Opto compressor/limiter, its twin design can function as a vacuum-tube-based Vari-Mu compressor or as a J-Fet-based solid state compressor. 

While subtle compression is its main forte, its ability to provide powerful and driven compression without creating artefacts is worth mentioning.

Besides the usual sidechain filter, it includes quite a few presets to get on with it without getting caught up on the various details. While there are more inexpensive options for Opto and Vari-Mu plugins available separately, the TCL-2 sits in a unique space within the compressor market. 


 9. Waves H-Comp:

Compatibility:Win10, macOS 10.15+, 32-bit & 64-bit. Supports VST2, VST3, AU, and AAX formats.
Price: $29

HCOmpp 1

Pros

✅ Options to choose between digital or transformers, tubes, and transistors lets you toggle between different vocal comp. settings in one place.

✅Punch control allows you to hybridize your settings by having a fast attack of 0.5ms on a snare and emulating a slow punch setting, to let transients pass through and be heard.

✅ A mix of transient pass-through punch control +BPM-sync functions are ideal for adding subtle colours to your side-chained EDM kick.

Cons

❌ None!

The Waves H-Comp, also known as the Hybrid compressor is a blend of digital precision and analogue modelling with an option to dial in one or the other. 

It does this by mixing the modelled behaviour of transformers, tubes, and transistors to make a dynamics processor which offers the best of analog and digital compression in one unit. The 4 positions offer different analogue circuitry options, while ‘Off’ makes it digital. 

Widely known for its characteristic transient pass-through punch control and BPM-sync controls,, it makes it ideal for Electronic styles of music. This punch control can also be used on acoustic kick drums, bass guitars, toms, and drum buses.  

While punch control sounds like it might distort the signal, it actually retains a lot of transparency even when rolled all the way up. While the list price of $179 on some platforms might scare new users away, know that it’s a Waves plugin, and it’s mostly available for the standard $29 on their website.

Sound Samples:

Before
On Guitars

On Toy Piano

On Synth
After
Without the Analogue modes engaged you get a crispy bright sound. Ratio 3.31:1, Attack:0.91ms and BPM synced Release
Analogue mode 4. Ratio of 22:1, with Attack of 5.18ms and Release of 47ms.

With a Ratio of 9.8:1, Attack of 2ms and release of 251ms, notice the width. Analogue Mode 2 is set with a Punch of 13.9.

10. FabFilter Pro-C 2:

Compatibility:Windows Vista+, 32/64bit,, macOS 10.12 Sierra+. Supports VST2, VST3, AU, and AAX Native.
Price: 169 Euros

FF proc2 1

Pros

✅ The 8 program-dependent comp. options are versatile enough to handle vocals, drums, EDM side-chaining, and mastering.

✅Auto-Gain reacts to your attack time & compression curve combined, so you don’t need to re-tweak manually.

✅ Being able to go from 6dB/Oct to 96dB/Oct on the sidechain’s HPF & visually see it, allows for creative compression moves.

✅When dialled to the extreme, ‘Hold’ can be used for rhythmically complex sound design by dialling in a fast attack on a drum roll.

✅ Animated level/knee display + sidechain input meter for threshold + sidechain EQ controller make it best for understanding & learning compression concepts.

Cons

❌ 169 Euros is quite expensive. But bundles offer better prices.

As the flag-bearer of quality digital compression, a FabFilter compression plugin was bound to show up on this list. The FabFilter Pro-C 2 compressor plugin is a top-notch tool used by engineers that provides precision and clarity.

With its 8 unique compression options that are program-dependent, the Pro-C 2 can be used for a variety of purposes, including mastering compression, lead vocals, drum tracks, and EDM side-chaining. 

The plug-in offers advanced features such as smooth lookahead, which allows the compressor to anticipate the upcoming peak.  It offers oversampling rates of up to 4x, and an auto-gain and auto-release function which is useful for beginners.

The user interface of the Pro-C 2 has been fully redesigned, offering insightful metering and real-time displays that improve workflow.

The large animated level/knee display shows exactly when and how compression is being applied, and the level meters accurately display peak and loudness values. 

The round side-chain input meter allows you to set the threshold setting easily, and the large side-chain EQ controller allows for easy filtering of the trigger signal.

As with all FabFilter plugins, the Pro-C 2 includes interactive MIDI Learn, going back and forth with your compression moves with arrows, and the compare switch. 

With its crystal clear compression and enhanced digital precision, combined with optimized workflow and advanced features, the FabFilter Pro-C 2 is a must-have in your digital plugins’ arsenal!

Sound Samples:

Before
On Guitars

On Toy Piano

On Synth
After
Ratio of 1:1, Attack of 15ms and release of 56ms. Minimal Opto-Style Compression.
Ratio of 1.4:1, Attack of 2ms and Auto-release. ‘Mastering’ mode Compression chosen. Notice how the attack is captured, affecting the onset of each phrase.

Ratio of 6:1, Attack of 30ms and Auto-release. Curbs the higher harmonics a bit and makes it more controlled.

11. Waves R-Vox:

Compatibility:Win10+, macOS 10.15+, 32-bit & 64-bit. Supports VST2, VST3, AU, and AAX formats.
Price: $29

RVOX 2

Pros

✅Quick high-quality vocals at your fingertips for pop, hip-hop, or even podcasts, by moving three simple knobs.

✅ Simple interface-central ‘Comp’ slider increases compression. Great for compression newbies, who just want to make their vocals sound great.

✅ Great at pairing with the R-Comp which has the Attack, Release, and Threshold controls if you need to fine-tune your vocal compression.

Cons

❌ Can’t think of any!

R-Vox is a vocal compressor plugin that has revolutionized modern music and is widely used by beginners and professionals around the globe. Its simple layout, featuring just three controls for gating, compression, and output gain, makes it super simple to achieve a refined vocal sound in minutes. 

Many experts in the industry, including the producer for artist Drake, Noah “40” Shebib, have praised R-Vox as one of the most essential vocal plugins ever created.

Mainly being used in series with the Waves R-Comp, it’s become a simple combo option for most producers. While not yet as common as the LA2A and 1176 pairing, it’s still worth trying out.

R-Vox offers a unique but simple combination of gating, compression, and limiting, all under one hood. The Gate is placed on the left and the output gain is on the right side of the plugin window.

Pulling down the central ‘Comp’ slider increases the amount of compression. If you would like to control the compression parameters and add more transparency, you can add the R-Comp after this. With Attack, Release, and Threshold controls in the R-Comp, you can quickly refine your vocals. 

The reason it works so well is due to its dynamic curve that allows vocals to stand out in a mix, with a defined rich body and clarity. The plugin is also versatile enough to be used with a variety of vocal material, from podcasts to dialogue to music of all genres.

With its sleek interface and intuitive design, R-Vox is the most effective way to attain high-quality vocals in a few minutes, by just tweaking three knobs.

Vocals (Before)

Vocals (After)

Bringing the central dial to -10.5dB, the ‘Energy’ and ‘Gain’ have been dialled to the extremes. Notice the presence in the mids and how warm and filled up it makes it sound.

12. SSL Native Bus Compressor 2:

Compatibility:Win8.1+, macOS 10.14.6 Mojave+, 64-bit. Supports VST2, VST3, AU, AAX Native formats. UC1 integration.
Price: $329

Pros

✅ Pure SSL-style presence, punch, and glue from the G-series’ console with add-ons like the HPF & 2x/4x Oversampling.

✅ Slowest attack with auto rel. & 2-3dB of gain reduction is a great starting point for Rock mixes. You hear the SSL sound as you pull back.

✅ Dialling above 65Hz on the HPF here lets the SSL react to the full mix instead of the kick. Best way to tuck the snare in & get the SSL sheen.

✅ The original “Auto” release which is preserved in the plugin, & the presets get you the classic SSL 2 Buss, with min. tweaks.

Cons

❌ Excellent emulation. But could’ve added more features like VCA65 to cater to a larger audience.

❌ $329 is quite steep.

We saved the best for the last as the SSL Native Bus Compressor 2 is by far the most sophisticated in terms of transparency, coupled with the nostalgia of using a plugin modelled on the famed SSL G-series’ 1980s compressors from the console.

Used on numerous hit records, the simple yet powerful unit adds presence, and punch, and glues your mixes together in a way that only SSLs can! The Bus Compressor 2 Plug-in builds on the hardware’s heritage with a range of new features. 

These include new Attack, Release, and Compression Ratios, wet/dry and S/C HPF control, and switchable 2x and 4x Oversampling.

However, the one that most engineers look for is the “Auto” release feature that remains a trademark of the Bus Compressor. The plugin is also compatible with the UC1 controller, for ease of integration. 

Summary

Here’s the complete list of the best transparent compression plugins:

  1. Tone Empire Opto RED
  2. ACME Opticom XLA-3
  3. Brainworx/Plugin Alliance Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor
  4. Brainworx Townhouse Buss Compressor
  5. Waves eMo D5
  6. Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain
  7. Arturia Comp VCA 65
  8. Millennia TCL-2
  9. Waves H-Comp
  10. FabFilter Pro-C 2
  11. Waves R-Vox
  12. SSL Native Bus Compressor 2

Which Compressor Type is Best for Transparency?

Optos like the OptoRED, Shadow Hills, TCL2 or Acme are the best if you’re purely looking for a transparent emulation. VCAs like the VCA65 or console models like Waves TG or SSL Buss behave differently when cranked, so their transparency depends on the specific plugin. Digital ones like the C2, eMO D5 are transparent due to their code, so they’re devoid of character.

Waves H-Comp has an interesting blend of analogue components and digital makeup. While none are better or worse, it depends on what you use them for.

In a nutshell, Optos for transparency with subtle character, VCAs for transparency with more warmth, and digital ones for complete transparency with added tweakability and precision.

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