by Stefan Wyeth | 4,0 / 5,0 | Approximate reading time: 6 Minutes
The Best Compressor Plugins For Beginners

The Best Compressor Plugins For Beginners  ·  Source: Universal Audio

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Learning how to use compression can be a challenge. However, the best compressor plugins for beginners can help you master the process.

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No matter which style of music you make or which area of audio you specialize in, compression is an incredibly important part of the process. From recording to mixing and mastering, there are times when compressors are used both correctively and creatively.

The Best Compressor Plugins: What is a Compressor?

In simple terms, a compressor is an audio processor that limits and shapes the dynamic range of a signal. However, there are many variables to this statement, often determined by the various parameters of a compressor and its circuitry design.

As compressors were first used as hardware processors rather than the plug-ins we use in a DAW nowadays, it can help immensely to understand the different types. These include FET, VCA, Optical, Tube, and diode bridge designs.

If model numbers like LA-2A, 1176, 2254, 2500, or CL 1B mean nothing to you, please check out this article about the classic compressor types you find in recording studios.

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Which are the Best Compressor Plugins?

Before you start adding purchased plugins to your collection, it’s worth noting that many DAWs already have some great compressors included. In DAWs like Apple Logic Pro, Ableton Live, Steinberg Cubase, and Avid Pro Tools you’ll find compressors for both busses and single channels within their native plug-in libraries.

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In addition, there are some excellent freeware compressors like the TDR Kotelnikov that you can acquire without spending anything. Meanwhile, be sure to follow our Free Plug-ins column every Sunday for more useful suggestions.

However, do keep in mind that just because a plug-in is free doesn’t make it better for inexperienced users. Like any discipline, sometimes you have to invest in your craft a little in order to advance your skills.

Universal Audio Teletronix LA-2A

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a commercial studio without an LA-2A in its racks. Furthermore, now that Universal Audio has gone native with most of its plug-ins anyone can get their paws on the famous optical compressor collection.

Universal Audio Teletronix LA-2A Classic Leveler PlugIn Collection
Universal Audio Teletronix LA-2A Classic Leveler Plugin Collection · Source: Bonedo

Because the operation is so unbelievably simple, the LA-2A gives you a chance to train your ears. From the optical circuit to the tube amp, the behaviour of each part of the compressor has been carefully modelled in each of the three versions.

No matter which instrument you use it on, it allows you to develop a sense of how the compressor is affecting the signal. When you begin to hear the gain reduction, rather than reading the VU meter you know you’re on the right track.

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Universal Audio UAD Essentials Edition Native Download
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Softube Tube-Tech Blue Tone

Tube-Tech tube audio processors are some of the most sought-after studio tools available. Renowned for the musicality and transparency of the sound, engineers and producers use it in tracking, mixing, and mastering workflows.

Softube Tube-Tech Blue Tone: Use It On Everything!
Softube Tube-Tech Blue Tone: Use It On Everything! · Source: Softube

If you’re new to compressors or you’re simply partial to time-saving plug-ins, the Softube Tube-Tech Blue Tone is right up your street. By combining elements from key Tube-Tech hardware devices, Softube has created a versatile one-knob compressor.

With an interface that gets straight to the point, it’s easy to use it while you’re still learning about compression. However, its clever design means you’ll still achieve great results, and the 2-band EQ is a nice touch.

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Softube Tube-Tech Blue Tone
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Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor

When mixing, a bus compressor is an important tool to use on channel groups to get a more unified sound. From drums and guitars to your entire mix, a bus compressor is designed for dealing with more complex material.

SSL bus compressor
The Waves SSL G-Master Buss is one of the oldest plugin versions of the G-comp · Source: Waves

If you don’t have the budget for the SSL version of the plug-in, the Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor is a great starter option. Now you can learn why the famous Glue compressor from the 4000 series consoles is such an essential studio tool.

As a beginner, the Auto-Release setting will be your best friend. Furthermore, the limitation of having fixed Attack and Release times, as well as Ratios will help you to better understand the compressor’s behaviour.

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SSL Native Bus Compressor 2 Download
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Soundtoys Devil-Loc Deluxe

While it may sound counterintuitive to smash drums with compression to make them sound better, this is possible with the right processing. The Soundtoys Devil-Loc Deluxe, for example, is a simple but extremely aggressive plug-in modelled on the Shure Level-Loc.

Soundtoys Devil-Loc Deluxe
Soundtoys Devil-Loc Deluxe · Source: Soundtoys

This brick wall limiter from the 1960s was designed for use with PA systems. However, its colourful saturation lo-fi tonality has helped artists like Tame Impala get some of our favourite drum sounds.

If you’re looking to add character to your drums, guitars, or even your vocal effects bus, the Devil-Loc Deluxe is an easy way to do it. Furthermore, it has a mix knob, so you can dial in the exact amount of processed signal you want.

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FabFilter Pro-L 2

When it’s time to mix down, a plug-in with extensive loudness metering will ensure that your track is at the appropriate level for whichever social or streaming platform you’re using.

FabFilter Pro-L 2
FabFilter Pro-L 2 · Source: FabFilter

Although the Pro-L 2 is a professional plug-in that is certainly not designed for beginners, the operation of a limiter is relatively simple. In addition, as with many of FabFilter’s excellent plug-ins, you can reach for the more advanced features once you are more familiar with the workflow.

Besides the master bus, limiters are very effective in mixing for precisely controlling the dynamics of your drums, guitars, or vocals. This set-and-forget plug-in will save you plenty of time in studio.

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FabFilter Pro-L 2
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The Best Compressor Plugins For Beginners

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One response to “The Best Compressor Plugins For Beginners”

    The Hills Have Eyes says:
    1

    Kids, the HARDEST one to start off with is any emulation of the Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor. Don’t even bother until you’ve had a go with the others!

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