Compressor plugins are vital when it comes to shaping the sound of your track.
They play a crucial role in controlling the dynamic range of audio signals, making sure the quiet parts aren’t too quiet and the loud parts aren’t too loud.
There are so many compressor plugins available today, ranging from digital compressors to analog compressors, each with their unique features and compression styles.
It can honestly be hard to choose the right ones… and that’s where we come in.
In this article, we’ll dive deep into the world of compressor plugins and unveil the top 14 best compressor plugins of 2023 that will maximize your mixes.
From analog emulations to cutting-edge digital compressor plugins, we’ve carefully curated a selection that caters to a diverse range of genres, applications, and creative styles.
We’ve also included expert tips to further enhance your compression skills.
Whether you’re looking for transparent compression for mastering or creative coloration for your instruments and vocals, our list has you covered.
Let’s dive in…
Table of Contents
- What Is Compression?
- Top 14 Best Compressor Plugins of 2023
- #1. Unison Audio’s Sound Doctor: Best Overall Compressor Plugin
- #2. FabFilter Pro C 2: Best Compression Plugin For Versatility
- #3. Universal Audio Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor: Best Creative Coloring Compressor
- #4. Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor: Best Bus Compressor Plugin
- #5. UAD 1176 Classic Limiter Collection: Best FET Compression Plugin
- #6. The Klanghelm DC1A: Best Free Compressor Plugin
- #7. UAD LA2A: Best Optical Compressor Plugin
- #8. Waves PuigChild 660 & 670: Best Vintage Tube Compressor Plugin
- #9. Soundtoys Devil Loc Deluxe: Best Compressor Plugin For Adding Character
- #10. Softube Tube-Tech Compressor Collection: Best Tube Compressor Bundle
- #11. Maag Audio Magnum-K Compressor: Best Transparent Mastering Compressor
- #12. Arturia Comp VCA-65: Best VCA Compressor Plugin
- #13. Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor: Best High-End Compressor Plugin
- #14. Slate Digital Virtual Mix Rack 2.0: Most Flexible Compressor Plugin
- 10 Expert Compression Tips
- 1. Understand the basic compression controls
- 2. Use parallel compression for added punch
- 3. Choose the right compressor for the job
- 4. Avoid over-compression
- 5. Use sidechain compression for clarity
- 6. Utilize the attack and release settings creatively
- 7. Don’t forget about your stock DAW compressor
- 8. Learn the different compression styles
- 9. Use compression as a tone-shaping tool
- 10. Trust your ears
- Final Thoughts
What Is Compression?
Before we jump into the list of the 14 best compressor plugins, let’s quickly recap what exactly compression is.
Compression is a dynamic audio processing technique that reduces the dynamic range of an audio signal.
In simpler terms, it makes the loud parts quieter and the quiet parts louder, ensuring a more balanced and consistent overall sound.
This is achieved by applying gain reduction to the audio signal whenever it exceeds a predetermined threshold 一 with the amount of reduction determined by the compressor’s ratio setting.
Compression is used for a variety of purposes in music production.
This includes controlling peaks, adding sustain to instruments, enhancing groove and rhythm, and providing a polished, professional sound to a mix.
With the right compressor plugin, you can sculpt your audio and bring out the best in your music, creating mixes that captivate and engage listeners.
Top 14 Best Compressor Plugins of 2023
Now that we’ve touched on what compression actually is, let’s jump in and get to the good stuff: the best compressor plugins of 2023.
They will cover everything you’ll ever need out of a compression plugin, and so much more.
#1. Unison Audio’s Sound Doctor: Best Overall Compressor Plugin
Unison Audio’s Sound Doctor is a top pick for the best overall compressor plugin.
Its versatility makes it suitable for a wide range of applications for both mixing and mastering processes.
The plugin’s user-friendly interface and high-quality sound make it an excellent choice for both beginners and experienced producers.
The Sound Doctor offers a combination of transparent compression and colorful saturation, allowing users to achieve both subtle and aggressive compression settings.
With its adjustable attack and release parameters, this plugin can handle various musical styles and genres.
It also features a unique detection filter feature, which lets you focus the compression on specific frequency ranges.
This is especially helpful when you want to target problematic areas in the mix without affecting the overall sound.
Additionally, Sound Doctor comes with a built-in sidechain input, enabling you to apply compression triggered by an external audio signal.
This can be useful for creating a pumping effect, which is popular in electronic music genres.
Sound Doctor also offers a mix control that allows for parallel compression, blending the processed signal with the original audio for more nuanced results.
- Transparent compression with optional saturation
- Detection filter for frequency-specific compression
- High-quality sound and intuitive interface
- Sidechain input and mix control for parallel compression
#2. FabFilter Pro C 2: Best Compression Plugin For Versatility
The FabFilter Pro C 2 builds upon the legacy of the original Pro C.
It offers significant improvements and advanced features that make it an incredibly versatile and powerful.
With its enhanced side-chain filter capabilities, expanded compression styles, and unique gate-like features, the Pro C 2 is one of the best compressor plugins around, hands down.
One standout feature of the Pro C 2 is the advanced side-chain filter, which includes three bands for handling low, mid, and high frequencies.
This allows you to target specific frequency ranges for de-essing, de-harshing, or emphasizing particular elements in your audio signal.
The Pro C 2 also comes with five additional compression styles.
These compression styles are Vocal, Mastering, Bus, Punch, and Pumping – each with tailored attack and release curves to suit various applications.
The Pro C 2 boasts faster attack and release times, oversampling, and a look-ahead feature to minimize distortion and aliasing.
Additionally, it offers auto make-up gain, hold, and range controls typically found in gate plugins.
These unique features enable you to create exciting and dynamic compression effects that breathe life into your mix.
- Advanced side-chain filter with three bands for precise frequency targeting
- Five additional compression styles: Vocal, Mastering, Bus, Punch, and Pumping
- Faster attack and release times with oversampling and look-ahead features
- Gate-like controls such as hold and range for creative compression effects
- Auto make-up gain for maintaining consistent levels
#3. Universal Audio Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor: Best Creative Coloring Compressor
The Universal Audio Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor is an authentic emulation of the world’s most popular modern compressor.
It offers unparalleled creative control and coloration options for your tracks.
This plugin is perfect if you’re looking to add character, warmth, and texture to your instruments and vocals.
One of the most famous features of the EL8 Distressor is its “Dist 2” and “Dist 3” modes.
They offer a wide range of tonal variations, from subtle thickening to burnished tape saturation.
Combined with low-frequency filtering, these distortion modes let you focus the Distressor’s textures precisely where you want them in your mix.
Its custom detector filtering also makes it easy to embellish, pump up, or even destroy bass, synth, and room mics for a unique sound.
This plugin also includes exclusive features such as Dry/Wet parallel processing and user-customizable Headroom for adjusting the operating level.
The Distressor’s sidechain control helps you focus your dynamics with ease, while the high-pass filter eliminates unwanted low-frequency pumping and breathing.
This combination makes it perfect for drum bus processing.
Lastly, the Band Emphasis feature can tame strident vocals or hone in on harsh instrument midrange peaks.
Use it in combination with the high-pass filter for even more control over your mix’s tonal balance.
- Authentic emulation of the famous EL8 Distressor compressor
- Dist 2 and Dist 3 modes for creative coloration and texture
- Custom detector filtering for versatile dynamics control
- Dry/Wet parallel processing and user-customizable Headroom
- Sidechain control, high-pass filter, and Band Emphasis for precise dynamic shaping
#4. Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor: Best Bus Compressor Plugin
The Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor is a highly regarded plugin that adds a smooth, satisfying quality to your mixes.
Licensed and validated by Solid State Logic, this versatile compressor brings the legendary sound of SSL’s renowned hardware unit to your digital home studio.
With dozens of presets crafted by Grammy-winning recording professionals, the SSL G-Master Buss Compressor caters to a wide range of music production needs.
One of the key features of this plugin is its ability to avoid overcompression.
When pushed hard, the compressor softens the knee, resulting in a more natural, unobtrusive sound.
Its feedback compression design ensures levels are controlled without sacrificing audio quality.
The SSL Bus Compressor also includes added Trim and Mix controls for quick level adjustment and easy parallel compression.
In addition to the original sidechain and fade functions, this plugin faithfully reproduces the distinctive analog character of the hardware unit (the legendary SSL 4000).
It comes complete with subtle hiss and harmonic distortion.
Or, you can opt for a pristine digital implementation, providing you with the flexibility to achieve the perfect sound for your mix.
- Licensed and validated by Solid State Logic
- Dozens of presets from Grammy-winning recording pros
- Overcompression avoidance for a more natural sound
- Feedback compression design for unobtrusive level control
- Added Trim and Mix controls for quick adjustments and parallel compression
- Faithful analog character reproduction with optional digital implementation
#5. UAD 1176 Classic Limiter Collection: Best FET Compression Plugin
The UAD 1176 Classic Limiter Collection is a collection of emulations of the iconic 1176 hardware compressors.
They’re known for their fast attack times and unique FET compression characteristics.
This collection includes three different versions of the 1176:
- The Rev A “Bluestripe”
- The Rev E “Blackface”
- The ultra-rare AE “Anniversary Edition”
Each version offers its own distinct sonic characteristics, providing a range of compression flavors to choose from.
These FET compressors are known for their ability to add punch and presence to a mix, making them particularly well-suited for drums, bass, and vocals.
The 1176 Classic Limiter Collection provides the full range of controls found on the original hardware units, including input, output, attack, release, and ratio settings.
This allows you to fine-tune the compression to suit your specific needs and achieve the desired sonic results.
The UAD 1176 Classic Limiter Collection also includes a mix control for parallel compression.
This enables you to blend the compressed signal with the original audio for more nuanced results.
With its iconic sound and versatile controls, the 1176 Classic Limiter Collection is a must-have compressor plugin for any music producer.
- Emulations of three iconic 1176 hardware compressors
- Fast attack times and unique FET compression characteristics
- Full range of controls for precise adjustment
- Mix control for parallel compression
- Adds punch and presence to drums, bass, and vocals
#6. The Klanghelm DC1A: Best Free Compressor Plugin
The Klanghelm DC1A is a remarkable free compression plugin that delivers excellent sound quality despite its simplicity.
This stripped-down version of the more feature-rich Klanghelm MJUC offers a user-friendly interface with only four controls: input, output, deep, and relaxed.
Don’t let its minimal design fool you; the DC1A is a powerful tool capable of providing smooth compression and subtle saturation.
The “deep” control offers more aggressive compression with a slower attack time, making it suitable for adding sustain to instruments like drums and guitars.
The “relaxed” control provides gentler compression with faster attack and release settings.
It’s perfect for leveling out vocals or smoothing out the dynamic range when mixing music.
The combination of these controls allows you to quickly dial in the desired amount of compression without getting bogged down in complex settings.
It may not have all the bells and whistles of some of the other VST plugins on this list.
However, the Klanghelm DC1A is a fantastic free option for producers looking for a straightforward, high-quality compression plugin.
- Simple, user-friendly interface
- Smooth compression and subtle saturation
- Deep and relaxed controls for versatile compression settings
- Excellent sound quality for a free compressor plugin
#7. UAD LA2A: Best Optical Compressor Plugin
The UAD LA2A is an accurate emulation of the legendary Teletronix LA2A Leveling Amplifier 一 an iconic optical compressor known for its smooth, natural-sounding compression.
The LA2A is a favorite among audio engineers and music producers for its ability to effortlessly control the dynamic range of a signal while maintaining its tonal characteristics.
The LA2A’s unique T4 optical attenuator provides a smooth and transparent gain reduction.
Therefore, it’s an excellent choice for vocals, bass, and other instruments that require gentle dynamic control.
The UAD LA2A also offers a warm, vintage sound thanks to its tube-based circuitry emulation.
This compressor VST plugin accurately captures the harmonic distortion and subtle nonlinearities of the original hardware unit, adding warmth and character to your audio signals.
- Accurate emulation of the legendary Teletronix LA-2A Leveling Amplifier
- Smooth, natural-sounding optical compression
- Simple control set for easy operation
- Warm, vintage sound with tube-based circuitry emulation
#8. Waves PuigChild 660 & 670: Best Vintage Tube Compressor Plugin
The Waves PuigChild 660 & 670 plugin is a faithful emulation of the rare and highly sought-after Fairchild 660 and 670 tube compressors, known for their smooth, warm, and lush sound.
These vintage tube compressors have been used on countless classic recordings and are revered for their ability to add character and depth to audio signals.
- The PuigChild 660 一 A mono version of the compressor.
- The 670 一 A stereo version with additional controls for linking and unlinking the left and right channels.
Both versions offer the full range of controls found on the original hardware units, including input, threshold, attack, release, and output settings.
This compressor VST plugin also includes a sidechain high-pass filter.
Therefore, you’ll be able to prevent low frequencies from triggering the compression, which is particularly useful for maintaining low-end clarity in a mix.
The Waves PuigChild 660 & 670 is not just a compressor plugin but also a powerful tone-shaping tool, adding warmth, saturation, and presence to your tracks.
The plugin’s tube emulation adds harmonic richness and imparts a classic, vintage vibe to your audio signals.
With its faithful recreation of the original hardware units and its unique sonic characteristics, the PuigChild 660 & 670 is an excellent choice for procuring that vintage tube compressor sound.
- Faithful emulation of the rare Fairchild 660 and 670 tube compressors
- Smooth, warm, and lush sound characteristics
- Full range of controls for precise adjustment
- Sidechain high-pass filter for low-end clarity
- Adds warmth, saturation, and presence to tracks
#9. Soundtoys Devil Loc Deluxe: Best Compressor Plugin For Adding Character
Soundtoys Devil Loc Deluxe is a unique compressor plugin that adds character, color, and intensity to your tracks.
Inspired by the legendary Shure Level-Loc, this plugin goes beyond traditional compression to deliver an aggressive, gritty sound that can be both exciting and inspiring.
Devil-Loc Deluxe features two main controls:
- “Crush” for compression.
- “Crunch” for distortion.
These controls can be used individually or together, allowing you to dial in the perfect balance of compression and saturation.
Soundtoys Devil Loc Deluxe also includes a “Darkness” control, which acts as a high-frequency filter.
As well as a “Mix” control for blending the processed signal with the original audio.
This compressor plugin excels at adding weight and impact to drums, guitars, and other instruments.
However, it can also be used more subtly to add warmth and character to vocals or entire mixes.
Devil-Loc Deluxe, like other digital compressors, tend to be ideal if you’re looking for a creative and unconventional compression tool that can inject life and energy into your tracks.
- Inspired by the legendary Shure Level-Loc
- Adds character, color, and intensity to tracks
- Simple controls for compression, distortion, and filtering
- Perfect for adding weight and impact to drums and other instruments
#10. Softube Tube-Tech Compressor Collection: Best Tube Compressor Bundle
The Softube Tube-Tech Compressor Collection is a bundle of three meticulously emulated tube compressor plugins:
- The CL 1B
- The ME 1B
- The PE 1C
These classic tube compressors are known for their warm, smooth sound and have been used on countless hit records.
The CL 1B is a versatile and transparent compressor, ideal for vocals and other instruments that require gentle dynamic control.
The ME 1B is a passive equalizer that offers precise frequency shaping, perfect for adding warmth and presence to your tracks.
The PE 1C is a tube-based program equalizer designed for mastering applications, providing smooth and musical adjustments to your mix.
Together, these compressor VSTs offer a comprehensive suite of tube compression and EQ tools that can add warmth, character, and dimension to your tracks.
Speaking of EQ, don’t forget to check out the best EQ plugins of 2023 for top-tier equalization.
The Softube Tube-Tech Compressor Collection is an excellent choice to emulate the classic sounds of tube compressors in a versatile and easy-to-use plugin format.
- Bundle of three meticulously emulated tube compressor plugins
- Warm, smooth sound perfect for vocals and other instruments
- Comprehensive suite of tube compression and equalization tools
- Versatile and easy-to-use plugin format
#11. Maag Audio Magnum-K Compressor: Best Transparent Mastering Compressor
The Maag Audio Magnum-K Compressor is a high-quality, transparent mastering compressor designed to provide precise control over the dynamic range of your mixes.
It features a dual-stage compressor with a parallel soft-knee compressor and a brick-wall limiter.
This will ensure that your audio signals remain clean and distortion-free even under heavy gain reduction.
The Magnum-K also includes Maag Audio’s signature AIR BAND® equalizer, which allows you to add clarity and sparkle to the high frequencies of your mix.
The combination of transparent compression and high-frequency equalization makes this plugin an excellent choice for audio mastering applications.
Especially when attempting to maintain the natural character and balance of your mix.
The Maag Audio Magnum-K Compressor is also a versatile tool for mixing.
It’s capable of delivering smooth and musical compression on individual tracks or buses.
Its transparent gain reduction and precision controls make it a valuable addition to any music producer’s plugin arsenal.
Speaking of mastering, you need to check out the best mastering plugins to polish your tracks like a professional.
- High-quality, transparent mastering compressor
- Dual-stage compressor with soft-knee compression and brick-wall limiting
- AIR BAND® equalizer for added clarity and sparkle
- Versatile tool for both mixing and mastering applications
- Maintains natural character and balance of the mix
#12. Arturia Comp VCA-65: Best VCA Compressor Plugin
The Arturia Comp VCA-65 is an emulation of the classic dbx 165A VCA compressor, known for its fast and transparent compression.
This plugin captures the character and performance of the original hardware unit, providing you with a powerful and versatile VCA compressor plugin.
The Comp VCA-65 features a range of controls, including threshold, ratio, attack, and release.
It also includes a sidechain high-pass filter and an external sidechain input.
This will enable you to create advanced compression techniques like sidechain compression and ducking.
With its transparent gain reduction and fast attack and release times, the Arturia Comp VCA-65 excels at controlling the dynamic range of drums, guitars, vocals, and other instruments.
Known as the “Over Easy” compressor, its auto attack-decay detection made meticulous compression simple.
Its harsh Peakstop limiter adds a touch of vintage filth when things really hit hard, and its unique compression sound gives even extreme settings a natural feel.
This plugin is an excellent choice if you’re looking for versatile and high-quality VCA compressors.
- Emulation of the classic dbx 165A VCA compressor
- Fast and transparent compression
- Sidechain high-pass filter and external sidechain input
- Versatile performance on a wide range of instruments
#13. Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor: Best High-End Compressor Plugin
The Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor is a highly regarded hardware compressor used in many professional studios for its exceptional sound quality and versatility.
The plugin version, developed by Universal Audio, accurately emulates the original unit, providing you with the same level of precision and control for your mastering needs.
It features a unique dual-stage compression design, with an optical compressor followed by a discrete VCA compressor.
This combination allows you to achieve smooth and transparent compression while retaining the natural character of your mix.
The Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor also includes a switchable output transformer stage, offering three distinct tonal options.
These unique options are Nickel, Iron, and Steel, and they all offer unique sound characteristics.
With its exceptional sound quality, precise control, and versatile tonal options, the Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor is a must-have plugin.
Especially for professional studios and serious music producers looking to elevate their mastering game.
- Accurate emulation of the highly regarded hardware mastering compressor
- Dual-stage compression design with optical and VCA compressors
- Switchable output transformer stage for distinct tonal options
- Exceptional sound quality and precise control
#14. Slate Digital Virtual Mix Rack 2.0: Most Flexible Compressor Plugin
Slate Digital’s Virtual Mix Rack 2.0 is a game-changing compressor plugin that stays true to the company’s mission of delivering the most authentically modeled analog sound.
The Virtual Mix Rack (VMR) is packed with four world-class mix modules.
This includes two classic equalizers and two highly versatile mix compressors (with plans for further module expansion).
This powerful plugin suite is designed to bring the sought-after warmth, character, and sonic magic of analog compressor hardware into your digital audio workstation.
The FG-116: This compressor module is the most accurate digital replication of the legendary American FET limiter.
Slate Digital spared no expense on every nuance of this classic-sounding compressor.
From its trademark timing characteristics to the incredibly musical sound of its transformer, the FG-116 imparts a rich and fat tone that has contributed to the hardware’s enduring fame.
The FG-116 is extremely versatile and excels on a wide range of sources, such as lead vocals, drums, and bass guitars.
The FG-401: This compressor module started as a recreation of the classic British console channel compressor but evolved into something much more remarkable.
First, variable attack and release times were added, increasing the tonal options available.
Next, the famous transformer from the British Class A Console was introduced, imbuing the compressor with a beautiful warmth and sheen.
Finally, an entirely unique second circuit path was developed, providing an additional smooth and rich tone.
The FG-401 is perhaps one of the most versatile mix compressors in the world, capable of delivering outstanding results on any input source.
- High-quality analog modeling, capturing the nuances of classic hardware
- Four world-class mix modules, including the FG-116 and FG-401 compressors
- Faithful replication of classic FET and British console channel compressors
- Multiple tonal options with variable attack and release times
- Renowned British Class A Console transformer for added warmth and sheen
- Unique second circuit path for an additional smooth and rich tone
10 Expert Compression Tips
Now that we’ve covered the best compressor plugins of 2023, let’s dive into some expert compression tips.
They’ll help you make the most of these powerful tools in your music production and excel your skillsets.
1. Understand the basic compression controls
Knowing how to use the basic compression controls – threshold, ratio, attack, release, and makeup gain (and gain reduction) – is essential for shaping your audio signals effectively.
Spend time learning what each control does and how they interact with each other to achieve the desired compression effects within your compressor VSTs.
2. Use parallel compression for added punch
Parallel compression, also known as New York-style compression, involves blending a heavily compressed version of a track with the original, uncompressed audio.
This technique can add punch and energy to drums, vocals, and other instruments without sacrificing dynamic range or introducing unwanted artifacts.
3. Choose the right compressor for the job
Different compressor plugins excel at different tasks.
For example, FET compressors like the UAD 1176 Classic Limiter Collection are great for fast, aggressive FET compression on drums.
Additionally, optical compressors like the UAD LA-2A offer smooth, transparent compression on vocals.
Experiment with different compressor plugins to find the best fit for each element in your mix.
4. Avoid over-compression
While compression can help tame dynamics and add polish to your mix, over-compression can result in a lifeless, squashed sound.
Use your ears and be mindful of the amount of gain reduction you’re applying.
When in doubt, dial back the compression and opt for a more natural sound.
5. Use sidechain compression for clarity
Sidechain compression can help create space and clarity in your mix by reducing the level of one audio signal based on the input of another.
For example, sidechaining the bass to the kick drum can help prevent frequency masking and make both elements more audible in the mix.
6. Utilize the attack and release settings creatively
Experimenting with different attack and release settings can drastically change the character of your compression.
Fast attack times can help control transient-heavy material like drums.
Slower attack times can add sustain and smoothness to vocals or guitar.
Similarly, adjusting the release settings can influence the groove and feel of your mix.
7. Don’t forget about your stock DAW compressor
While third-party compressor plugins offer unique features and character, don’t underestimate the power of your stock DAW compressor.
These plugins often provide transparent compression and can be an excellent choice for many applications in your mix.
8. Learn the different compression styles
Familiarize yourself with the various compression styles (VCA, FET, optical, tube) and their unique characteristics.
Understanding the differences between these styles will help you make more informed decisions when selecting a compressor plugin for a specific task.
9. Use compression as a tone-shaping tool
Compression can be used not only for dynamic control but also as a creative tool for shaping the tone and character of your tracks.
Experiment with different compressor plugins and settings to find new and exciting ways to enhance the sound of your mix.
10. Trust your ears
While it’s essential to understand the technical aspects of compression, trusting your ears is just as important.
Continuously refine your listening skills, and don’t be afraid to break the rules if it leads to a better-sounding mix.
After all, the ultimate goal of compression is to serve the music, not the other way around.
Check out these other 25 mixing mistakes while you’re at, so you never produce a basic, sloppy, unorganized mix again.
Finding the best compressor plugins is crucial for crafting top-notch mixes and achieving the perfect balance in your music productions.
With this comprehensive list of the 14 best compressor plugins of 2023, you’re now armed with the knowledge to select the ideal compressor for your specific needs and preferences.
Remember, a great compressor plugin is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to producing exceptional music.
To further enhance your production arsenal, check out our article on the Top 8 Powerful VST Synths Every Producer Needs.
This guide will introduce you to an array of high-quality virtual synthesizers that can elevate your productions to the next level.
Ultimately, the key to success in music production lies in experimenting with different plugins, techniques, and approaches.
So, don’t hesitate to dive into these fantastic compressor plugins and see what they can do for your sound.
Until next time…