As one of the most used processors in music production, compressor plugins are always in high demand with engineers & producers.

We use compressors to glue channels together, reduce the dynamic range, duck external signals, and even make channels bigger as opposed to quieter. So we should really talk about the compression plugins available in 2023.

Here, you’ll find a list of 10 plugins, with some paid but also some free compressor plugins too.

  1. FabFilter Pro C2
  2. iZotope Neutron 3 Compressor
  3. UAD 1176 Classic Limiter Collection
  4. Softube Tube-Tech CL 1B
  5. Brainworx Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor
  6. Waves Renaissance Compressor
  7. Arturia TUBE-STA
  8. Xfer OTT
  9. Audio Damage RoughRider 3
  10. Audio Fusion SeteChave

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1. FabFilter Pro C2 (£144) – best compressor plugin available today

First, we have FabFilter’s notorious Pro C2 compressor plugin, and I think it’s the best compressor VST you can get today. C2 is a feature-rich compressor that gives you eight different styles of compression to play with, all presented in a neat user interface that’s fairly simple & easy to use Retina user interface.

In fact, five of those compression styles are new with this latest version of the FabFilter compressor! Vocal, Mastering, Bus, Punch and Pumping are all new to Pro C2, and the redesigned UI features rich displays for precise signal metering in real time. Additionally, the C2 compressor offers a lookahead feature for more precise dynamic control, and it even offers auto-gain & auto-release too.

Pro C2 is such a well rounded compression plugin, and as a result it’s a great choice of compressor plugins for electric, bass, & acoustic guitars, drums, synths, pianos, and any instrument you may have in your project.

Aside from classic compressor controls, C2 gives you a few variable controls like hold (up to 500 secs), range, and knee, in addition to stereo linking and even mid/side processing. Meanwhile, the dedicated sidechain EQ module has customizable HP and LP filters and a freely adjustable filter too.

Further, you can map the FabFilter Pro C2 controls to your MIDI controller with MIDI Learn, and experiment with different settings with the A/B and undo/redo switches.

2. iZotope Neutron 3 Compressor (£320.53) – best for mixing

Neutron is an industry-standard software for mixing music, and its onboard compressor is something to behold. The software has AI-powered features designed to help you get a balanced mixdown easier, and the compressor module is filled with tools to help you do so.

For instance, it offers an oscilloscope that displays the waveform of your signal so you can meter its dynamics in real-time before and after using Neutron’s transparent or vintage compression modes. And you can set the frequency crossovers to Analog for zero-latency or Hybrid for transparency too.

Whether you use a clean or transparent compression mode, you can dial in some extra impact with Neutron’s Punch Mode after choosing from Peak, RMS, or transparent compression. Furthermore, you can apply compression to specific bands of an incoming signal or sidechain an external signal during both single and multiband compression modes auto-learn threshold and crossover frequencies for precise compression.

3. UAD 1176 Classic Limiter Collection (£149) – best vintage compressor plugin

In our third spot, we actually have an emulation of one of the most famous hardware compressors there is, and you can choose from three models: Rev A, Rev E, and AE`. Whichever you choose, the UAD 1176 Clasic Limiter Collection stays true to the original unit and prioritises simplicity and ease of use without compromising quality.

In practice, the 1176 emulations set the compression threshold & level automatically as the signal enters the compressor so that you can focus on dialling in attack & release settings. Meanwhile, the onboard VU meter display shows you how much gain reduction your settings are applying.

Meanwhile, the four Ratio buttons on the 1176 plugin allow for easy gain reduction without faffing around with knobs. While disengaging all Ratio buttons disables the compression altogether, the signal will still travel through the plugin and the compressor will continue to add colour. However, Universal Audio notes that users have long-requested “Multi-Button” combinations that were possible on the original 1176 unit, and the developer has since added this functionality, including an “All Button” sound.

Moreover, the UAD plugin has a few expanded parameters that allow you to control the amount of headroom, mix amount, and a custom Sidechain Filter to reduce low-frequency pumping too.

4. Softube Tube-Tech CL 1B (£299) – best compressor plugin for vocals

Created in partnership with Tube-Tech, Softube’s CL 1B compressor takes our fourth spot of best compressor plugins. It’s a plugin emulation of one of Tube-Tech’s most highly-prized analog hardware units, and Tube-Tech has endorsed this software emulation too.

CL 1B can add weight drums, smooth and add warmth to vocals, and add depth to basslines. Softube states that the compressor shines when used on vocals, but the plugin is more than capable of adding something fresh to any audio track. Further, the CL 1B offers a compression full of character with versatile controls for threshold & ratio, attack & release. And this second iteration of the CL 1 B has new side-chain low-cut filters and parallel blend controls too.

5. Brainworx Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor (£299)

Brainworx’s Shadow Hills Compressor is an emulation of the original Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor, and it offers dual-stage compression where you can dial in compression through its Optical or Discrete sections.

Moreover, the Shadow Hills plugin offers three different transformers that offer different sounds – Steel, Nickel and Iron. Nickel smoothens the low end and polishes the top, sounding optimal on subtle and sparse recordings as a result. Meanwhile, the Iron transformer adds colour to your signal while maintaining a pristine high-end and adding a small boost to the 100Hz range. Finally, the Steel transformer “has an extremely detailed and fast response” that adds a subtle boost in the 40Hz range.

No matter which transformer you work with, the plugin makes it easy to shape the dynamic range of your signal with stereo and dual-mono modes. Brainworx’s MH Compressor includes a Parallel Mix utility, External Sidechain and a Sidechain Filter, and you can prevent frequencies below the threshold from triggering any compression.

6. Waves Renaissance Compressor (£79)

Waves is a brand that needs no introduction, and their Renaissance plugin is one of the developer’s more infamous plugins.

Renaissance Compressor is designed to emulate the warmth that analog compressors add to signals, though the plugin also offers a transparent sound too. But the plugin offers additional features for adding clarity and definition to your signal at the same time.

For example, RC offers auto-release which reduces the gain of the signal even when pushed. In addition to the performance of the compressor, its parameters also control the feel of the plugin, meaning RC offers enough flexibility to handle different scenarios you’ll encounter regularly. However, RC doubles as an expander while using a ratio below 1:1.

7. Arturia TUBE-STA (£99) – best tube compressor plugin

Using its TAE modelling technology, Arturia has recreated the stalwart, valve compressor. TUBE-STA delivers a tube tone and analog warmth just as the original unit did, and the plugin offers a number of features that make signal manipulation and analysis easy.

Firstly, its analog-style clipping LED tells you when your signal is a little bit too loud. Freely link your input & output gain together with the dedicated switch, and feel able to experiment with different settings with the A/B comparison setting. Further, Arturia included the variable Recovery parameter found on the original unit before adding a number of new, creative features.

Now, you can trigger the compressor with an external side-chain source, and make use of 5 different detection modes including Mid/Side processing. The onboard sidechain EQ allows you to be precise when ducking your signal, and the plugin makes it easy to monitor sidechain signals directly. As a result, it doubles as one of the best sidechain compressor plugins.

8. Xfer OTT – best free VST compressor

Xfer’s OTT compressor plugin is a notorious bit of free software, and I think it’s the best free compressor plugin. It’s based on an Ableton Live multiband compressor preset and aims to give users of other DAWs that same sound.

OTT is a 3-band compressor that can compress downward and expand upward. Its ‘Depth’ control acts as a Dry/We control, ‘Time’ as an Attack/Release for all bands, while ‘In Gain’ & ‘Out Gain’ allows you to adjust the levels going in and out of the plugin.

Finally, OTT excels at making sounds and instruments more pronounced in a mix and it can add brightness by accentuating the mids and it can beef up the lows and add fatness. In short, OTT is a must-have free compressor plugin that electronic music producers must have in their arsenal.

9. Audio Damage RoughRider 3 – free

Audio Damage’s RoughRider 3 is easily one of the most popular free compressors around. Its primary use is to add punch to a signal and it does this elegantly. It does add some subtle warmth to a signal, and although it has limited controls, it does give you everything you need to control the dynamics of your signal.

Furthermore, RoughRider 3 is a great compressor for beginners because it only gives you the important controls – Ratio, Attack, Release, Sensitivity and Makeup, in addition to a Mix control designed to control how balanced the parallel compression is. In fact, it even offers a high pass filter for the sidechain module that you can turn on or off easily too.

10. Audio Fusion SeteChave – free

In our final spot, we have a fun little compressor by Audio Fusion. While a lot of compressor plugins offer as much of a transparent sound as they can, SeteChave is an analog emulation that does things differently. Rather than simply relying on ordered harmonics like many other analog emulations, SeteChave begins to distort the signal in interesting ways the more compression you apply.

So, the more you compress the signal, the more the signal distorts in a really cool way. In other words, SeteChave isn’t your traditional clean compressor, it’s a superb free mixing plugin for many music styles in rock and electronic genres.

Final thoughts

The truth is that you don’t need a paid compressor plugin to get the job done, and the last three plugins in our list will help you get the job done. Downlaod RoughRider 3 if you want a straightforward compressor, or download OTT or SeteChave if you’re looking for a compressor that’ll add a little bit of flavour to your music.

Be sure to let us know which of these top compressor plugins you choose!