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Compress to Impress: The Top 10 Free and Cheap Audio Unit Compressors

Outdoors of EQ there isn’t an audio effect I attain for extra typically than the trusty compressor. Coming in all totally different flavours, shapes and sizes, no two compressors are the same and it’s one impact I find I can by no means have too lots of.

At the coronary heart of it, compressors work by decreasing the dynamic vary of an incoming sign. They are often transparent or add color or audibly distort your sign. They can be utilized correctively or creatively and even transform your sound.

Nevertheless, while there’s a plethora of respectable native compressors, wonderful choices by Waves, AD and Slate Digital, I would like to take a look at some compressors that wont break the financial institution. Here’s the dry drum monitor I’ll be using all through. Thanks to Stuart Pringle for the help recording these!

So, in no specific order…

A nice simple VCA compressor from the great individuals at Acustica. Maybe better recognized for their plethora of classic channel strip emulations, Acustica have a couple of freeware plugins out there; this and their Homebrew EQ.

The headline function of this compressor except for it ease of use is the SHMOD – or form modulation to you and I. This is fiddly to describe and isn’t detailed extensively in their guide however it allows nice tuning of the otherwise fastened place assault occasions.

I’m a new Tan consumer but I’ve been having fun plastering this on overhead mics using the dry/moist management for some pretend parallel compression.

Obtain it from their website.

Considered one of two Klanghelm entries on in this article, the DC1a is a slimmed-down version of the extra complete DC8C. While the DC8C is a massively versatile compressor the DC1A is intentionally restricted in its usage and that’s kind of why I adore it.

I’m very much right device for the appropriate job and because this compressor does so little it has a extremely specific sound – it’s colourful and brings up environment in acoustic recordings nevertheless it’s too smashy and aggressive.

Despite it’s limited buttons and knobs set there are some other cool features reminiscent of the power to unlink the stereo channels (DUAL MONO), a inbuilt high-pass filter (DEEP).

Get it without spending a dime from their website.

In fact this was going to come up somewhere! Considered one of my favorite instruments for obliterating drums or transient info. The default preset it masses up sounds incredible with minimal tweaking, but even with so few controls there’s a whole lot of mileage out of this beast.

The website claims it has a uniquely heat “vintage” with out name-checking anything it fashions immediately. Truthfully it’s like nothing I’ve ever heard. I’ve been using it rather a lot lately on room microphones to get that massive pumping environment heard in lots of basic breakbeats.

Maybe extra recognized for the eurorack modular, Audio Injury produce some awesome plugins, including all-destroying freeware Fuzz and a superb low cost Mutron Bi-Part clone.

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Whereas not technically a compressor I’ve been addicted to the ToneBooster range and particularly ReelBus. This can be a tape emulation with all of the added benefits (and disadvantages) of a real one (see what I did there?).

Tape saturation like other distortion can work very similarly to compression, and overdriving a very good tape machine is nearly interchangeable sonically. The Recording Degree acts a bit of like an enter achieve and ratio all rolled into one, driving this more durable will improve the impact.

And for some added vintage brownie factors there’s controls for wow & flutter, hiss, asperity noise and a spectrum management, allowing for a duller or brighter sound. The totally different tape-model algorithms will change the makeup of your sound from hardly at-all to virtually unsalvageable tape-deck.

While I’m not of the reel to reel era I did grow up on low cost shopper tape cassette machines and this even has an choice for that! ReelBus is on its fourth incarnation now these plugins are absolutely demo-able from their website, as should you want any more excuse to attempt them out.

Buy right here.

All £ to $ conversion is right at the time of posting.

What assortment of compressors can be complete without a minimum of one Distressor emulation? The Empirical Labs Distressor was a massively fashionable hardware compressor that was introduced to the world in 1995.

Very similar to the original Distressor, the SOR8 doesn’t emulate one specific compression type. It has ratio switches that range from delicate 1:1 low harmonic distortion to 2:1, four:1 compression proper the best way via to optical and what it referred to as NK (a nod to the unique’s Nuke brick-wall limiter setting).

Distressors sound great on snares, overheads, synth and electrical bass I’ve even using them on distorted guitars busses. Comparable to an 1176, the SOR8 doesn’t have a threshold control so all compression thresholds are decided by the enter achieve.

This is likely one of the few compressor that sounds actually good at super brief assault occasions and the inbuilt distortion, dry/moist control and input filter are a nice added bonus.

At this worth it’s arduous to look previous.

Buy from Cocell Productions.


I used to be launched to this plugin as a limited demo however I’ve used it so much I had to purchase. Usually priced at $89 it seems to be listed as a type of eternally discounted plugins on Don’t Crack.

Bus Driver is an FET compressor with the standard 1176 limited controls. The fastened ratio 2:1, four:1 and eight:1 are all current as well as a restrict choice (assuming that’s ∞:1) however what I’ve used this for more than anything is the delicate tube distortion.

Evaluating it to my TLA Ivory Mir Pre it sounds remarkably comparable with out the sound breaking up or dulling too much within the larger frequencies. So whereas I don’t use this as a blatant compressor and extra of a character/channel strip emulation, it makes my listing.

Purchase it now from Don’t Crack.

Should you’re after one thing easy, this couldn’t be simpler to function. With two dials, one for compression and the other makeup achieve, this tube-styled Vari-Mu* compressor is the younger brother of their MJUC and is designed to sit on the master bus compressor.

Dialing in a small amount of compression will subtly soften the upper frequencies and transients. More excessive values offer you prompt classic satisfaction. While it’s nice on the grasp channel I’ve discovered makes use of for it on drum busses, guitars and even vocals.

The type of compressors that this fashions have been usually used for radio broadcast earlier than discovering new life in musical purposes. For that purpose they’re clean and transparent, good for mastering.

*The time period Vari-Mu® is actually a registered trademark of Manley Labs, in reference to their stereo limiter (hyperlink), however while Klanghelm don’t immediately reference it, the comparisons are clear.

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While most compressors mannequin the likes of levelling amplifiers, dbx 160s or SSL Bus Compressor, Steve Duda’s OTT is likely one of the solely compressors that not solely models a digital compressor, but really it simply fashions a preset!

Any Ableton Stay users may properly be conversant in the Multiband Dynamics plugin that comes bundled with it. This performs upward and downwards compressor (a bit like an expander to you and me) over three bands. One of the presets was OTT (Over The Top) and this proved to be really well-liked with the dubstep and electro guys. So, Duda’s Xfer modelled it and gave it away totally free!

Even at pretty delicate settings OTT will color your sound fairly a bit, which is part of the nature of multiband compressors. Nevertheless simply using the expander on the upper band can breathe life into uninteresting breakbeats or overhead mics, permitting airey cymbals to breathe and pump in unnatural method.

While initially designed as a mastering plugin this is most of the time used as a sound design software to amplify every last harmonic hiding within the audio spectrum. Not for the faint hearted.

Obtain it free of charge, as well as a great deal of different nice Xfer plugins.

That is another self-styled Vari-Mu compressor in the vein of the basic Fairchild bus compressors. With direct design head-nods to Soviet period broadcast gear, the Molot could possibly be confused for being just a little difficult at first however all the standard suspects are right here.

While Molot is marketed as a Vari-Mu I’ve found the response occasions actually fast and sound nice on choosy disco guitar strains, percussion and shut mic’d drums.

If your version is plastered in Cyrillic, click on the EN button hidden within the bottom right nook ☭

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In the event you have been a fan of their Feedback compressor you then’ll love this replace. Label-come-plugin builders Tokyo Dawn Data (or TDR for short) have been creating free and low cost plugins for a number of years now and have established themselves as one of many more dependable and top quality choices.

According to their website Kotelnikov is “proudly digital” and isn’t making an attempt to emulate any of the large hitters we are so accustomed to, and in a age of vintage-emulation every little thing you could have to commend them for that.

As for its sound; I’ve all the time discovered TDR stuff very versatile without overtly colouring the sound an excessive amount of. Easily one of many more transparent compressors on this record. One function I am a huge fan of is the high-pass filter inside the sidechain evaluation circuit – extra builders should embrace this because it’s invaluable for sidechain compression!

Make sure to take a look at all of their plugins.

Notable  Omissions

I really like KUSH stuff after being introduced to it by a great pal of mine. Initially skeptical concerning the subscription mannequin (I still assume this can be a flash within the pan any plugin builders studying) but from quite early on I used to be hooked on these plugins.

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Whereas KUSH do produce some wonderful traditional compressors it’s their Ωmega pre-amps I attain for time and time once more, there are three in complete, the Model 458a (a rarefied tube mic pre), Neve-style Mannequin N and lastly the API-like Mannequin A, all priced at a very affordable £22/$29 each.

Whereas not technically compressors they do work in a not massively dissimilar style and I exploit them extensibly in my pseudo vintage recreations – much as I exploit compressors.

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This plugin appears to be as previous the web itself, or, no less than to me. Together with Inexperienced Oak Crystal Ichiro Toda’s Synth1, this was one of the earliest freeware VSTs I ever downloaded, so its inclusion is probably more nostalgic than anything.

HOWEVER the developers haven’t maintained the code for Intel based mostly Macs and I’ve not been in a position to check to see if their VST or PC versions work, however I felt it troublesome to compile an inventory with out no less than giving them a cursory point out, as if this was some type of eulogy.

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Sound sensible, BLOCKFISH  has two modes, VCA or optical compression. From what I keep in mind it was tremendous aggressive and actually introduced out all the breathiness in vocals and room sound in close mic’d drums. Perhaps more of an impact than a device, however perhaps that additionally says extra about the place I used to be with music manufacturing once I was first utilizing the plugin back in the early 00s!

Lastly listed here are some compressors that I’m yet to attempt however are beneath the £30/$40 mark and have come extremely beneficial from numerous colleagues and associates:

  • Resonance Sound MasterMix Buss Compressor – a hybrid compressor sitting someplace between a VCA-style and tube ’60s compressor. Hmmm!
  • Minimal System Group Punch Compressor – an ultra-fast attack time FET/1176 stye compressor.
  • Minimal System Group Punch Advanced – presumably an replace on the above that has EQ and mid/aspect processing inbuilt.
  • FXPansion DCAM – a VCA compressor free to these with an FXPansion account.
  • Minimal System Group Master Compressor – an ultra clear bus compressor with elective added harmonic distortion.

That’s it. Is there something I’ve missed? I’ve scoured every corner of my audio unit library to attempt and dig out one of the best free and low cost compressors but little question there’s some complete open objectives I’ve ignored so depart a comment to tell me what you employ.