Of all the many categories of plugin effects on the market, probably the most overstocked is compression. From emulations of classic hardware units to forward-thinking inventions that could only every exist in software, the choice on offer when it comes to dynamics processing can be bewildering and overwhelming if you don't know your way around.
Thank the goblins, then, for this round-up of ten of the finest virtual compressors around. Each and every one is a winner, so read on to find out which is the one for you.
For much more on modern compression, pick up Computer Music 222, which is on sale now.
Slate Digital Virtual Buss Compressors
This plugin exquisitely models three ‘epic’ buss compressors: Focusrite’s Red 3, Fairchild’s all-valve 670, and SSL’s 4000-series compressor. Added modern twists include output drive and high-passing for the sidechain circuits.
"Three great buss compressor emulations with some welcome enhancements and a staggeringly convincing 'analogue' sound."
DMG Audio Compassion
An outrageously comprehensive compressor that offers very deep parameter editing. Experienced users can create practically any style of compression, and the preset list is augmented by character presets covering many types of hardware and usage scenarios.
"There's a lot to learn! An outstanding, musical dynamics tool that's a jack of all trades and master of most."
This alternative take on compression offers dynamic range analysis and target dynamic range. This is coupled with more typical compression settings, as well as adjustable look-ahead and onboard sidechain EQ. The ratio and threshold can be sourced ‘automatically’ from this clever processor’s analysis.
Read more: MeldaProduction MModernCompressor
This processor is actually a module within Ozone 6, but Advanced version (£679) users get it as an individual plugin, too. It’s a one-stop shop best suited to sub mix and mix bus duties, and with up to four bands of featureful compression - with various detection modes to choose from - there’s tone shaping aplenty.
"Yup, Ozone's still the greatest software mastering system money can buy. The Advanced version rules, and the standard version is an absolute bargain."
Read: iZotope Ozone 6 review
This deceptively powerful processor is capable of everything from drum reshaping to master bus gluing. Key features include dual-point knee shaping and excellent metering (including gain reduction history). X-Comp’s innovative Bleed feature allows frequency dependent parallel processing, too.
"Once you’ve got the hang of it, X-Comp delivers greater control than other Duende compressor plug-ins while retaining the sound quality that’s synonymous with SSL."
Read: SSL X-Comp review
A straight up, no-nonsense compressor/limiter with three main modes (Clean, Classic and Opto), auto release, auto gain make up, and a flexible side chain configuration with EQ and individual channel levels. The graphical display’s input, output and gain reduction traces help you to understand exactly what it’s doing, and the interface is slick and easy.
"The Pro-C is practically faultless, being suitable for users of all levels, and able to turn its hand to any type of material. It’s top class!"
Read: FabFilter Pro-C review
PSP Audioware VintageWarmer 2
A modern classic, PSP’s tape-saturation infused, retro-themed processor is actually packed full of thoroughly contemporary features. There’s single and multiband modes, flexible knee shaping, oversampling (FAT mode), auto release and a further brickwall limiter on the output. It comes with MicroWarmer, its leaner incarnation.
One of the very best plug-ins just got that little bit better. Buy it, install it, and then wonder how you ever got by without it.
u-he’s über-plugin is inspired by the past, bringing classic compressors into the 21st century. Features include feedback, feedforward and blended ‘interactive’ modes, alongside adjustable soft knee, non-linear release and a flexible RMS window. You also get saturation, comprehensive sidechaining and parallel processing.
"Presswerk is a veritable playground of analogue-style compression, with a fabulous sound and insane attention to detail."
Read: u-he Presswerk review
It may look simple on first launch, but in Expert mode, DC8C has oodles of advanced features. Three modes, S-shaped attack and release, and adjustable program-dependent release make it great, but extras like feedback/feedforward mix control, negative ratios and gain reduction smoothing are the very sweet icing on the bargain-priced cake.
"A compressor for all seasons at a price for all wallets."
Read: Klanghelm DC8C review
Tokyo Dawn Records Kotelnikov
This one’ll cost you nothing, but there’s a more advanced ‘Gentleman’s Edition’ available for €40. Influenced by their original Feedback Compressor, options include dual peak and RMS release controls, stereo sensitivity and sidechain high-pass filter, with the GE version adding two harmonics modes, frequency dependent ratio, and equal-loudness auto makeup.
Read more: Tokyo Dawn Records Kotelnikov
Get schooled in a universe of compression – over 14 pages and in 17 videos – with issue 22 of Computer Music, which is on sale now.