Universal Audio Capitol Mastering Compressor: What is it?
macOS: 10.15 Catalina, 11 Big Sur, 12 Monterey, or 13 Ventura.
Windows: 10 or Windows 11 (64-bit editions).
CPU: Intel, AMD or Apple silicon processor.
Buy at Plugin Boutique
Universal Audio’s meticulous software emulations of classic gear have recently started going native, so more and more of them no longer require UA gear to run; great news for all of us as we can simply run them in whatever DAW we use, just like any other plugin.
The US company’s core range of plugins used to largely focus on classic outboard gear but has now also branched out into instruments like Electra 88 and Moog Minimoog. But with this latest Capitol Mastering Compressor, we’re very much back to bespoke outboard gear, this time modelling Capitol Studio’s hand-built tube compressor, the CM5511. Only four were built for Capitol’s mastering suites but they’ve been used to master tracks on legendary labels like Capitol, Motown, Geffen, and Def Jam.
Thousands of tracks have been mastered with this suite of compressors and the new plugin models two of the original units. It’s designed to not only give your tracks that mastered pro sheen but also to add a rich, velvety, and smooth sound to instrument groups and even individual tracks. It’s the sound of one of the rarest pieces of studio gear… made available to the masses.
As ever with the likes of UA and other plugin companies like Waves, take the price as the maximum you’ll pay. There are many bundle deals and sales: the compressor is half-price as we type this, for example. You can also get it as part of a UAD Spark subscription for $19/month or $149/year which also nets you another 30+ native UA plugins.
Universal Audio Capitol Mastering Compressor: Performance and verdict
With standard Input and Output level controls per channel, plus a Threshold dial to set the level at which the compression starts, Ratio (the amount of compression) and Attack and Release controls to control the time it takes to kick in and out, we have typical compressor options. But this emulation throws in some extras too.
As well as stereo compression (where the top section compresses the left channel and the bottom the right) there’s a mid/side option to process both the middle and side of your stereo image independently.
Here, the top controls apply to the middle of the stereo image, and the bottom controls to the sides. There’s an internal sidechain that filters out low-end material when detected, and a mono-fold feature reduces the width of bass material. Very useful for controlling the impact of such frequencies.
The Headroom, Mix, and Saturator controls can be used subtly but are also tempters just to bring in some quick fix colour and level and to increase the impact of your finer tunings. Saturator and Shape are great for introducing some instant impact, for example.
The presets, produced by engineers including Evren Göknar, Rik Simpson, and Niko Bolas, are useful tools to get a feel for how the compressor works across a variety of uses. We cover the main mastering ones in the Mastering Compression section below, but stepping through other presets, you quickly find out how the plugin can add presence to individual tracks or instrument groups.
We especially love the more saturated ones for adding colour and sizzle to drums or livening and dirtying up bass, but there are equally useful, more nuanced limiting options. The Mid-Side ones too are exceptional, delivering tonal and spatial compression to parts of our width we hadn’t requested but certainly welcomed.
The Capitol Mastering compressor specialises in mastering complete mixes. A compressor’s role here is a fine balance of reducing the dynamic range to increase loudness and punch via the makeup gain, but also preserving the feel of the original mix.
Compressor settings are usually subtle and gentle, used to help ‘glue’ the mix together. Ratios are most likely to be between 1.2:1 and 2:1 (max); the threshold is set high to deliver only 2dB of gain reduction (to preserve the original dynamics) with soft-knee settings for less aggression.
Start with low attack times (10 to 40ms and experiment up to 100ms); too short and the transients get squashed. Release times should deliver a smooth gain reduction that follows tempo; try a fast 300ms for higher-tempo songs and up to 800ms for slower ones.
Capitol’s presets follow these rules – to a point – and it has several for different genres, with all low ratios and different attack/release times. Use these as a starting point and experiment… subtly!
With its meticulous recreation of one of what you might call the rarest pieces of studio equipment out there, UA has given us all access to a unique tool that can be used both subtly for mastering or creatively ‘per instrument’.
It’s not the cheapest way into vintage tube mastering, but with those modern enhancements and controls, is one of the most flexible.
Certainly, with this compressor in your plugin chain, you’ll need little else for exceptional masters and it comes highly recommended.
MusicRadar verdict: UA’s Capitol Mastering compressor is as useful for individual instrument tracks as it is entire mixes, and brings lovely modern touches into a very vintage-sounding and looking aesthetic.
Universal Audio Capitol Mastering Compressor: Hands-on demos
Matty Harris / Mix and Master My Song
Mixing With Mike
Universal Audio Capitol Mastering Compressor: Specifications
- macOS 10.15 Catalina, 11 Big Sur, 12 Monterey, or 13 Ventura.
- Windows 10 or Windows 11 (64-bit editions).
- Intel, AMD or Apple silicon processor.
- Buy at Plugin Boutique