Best Unique Sounding Compressor Plugins, Hidden Gems.
We tend to stick with the big brand names when it comes to plugins, sometimes is because they are actually the best, sometimes is because of marketing, sometimes because we are used to their sound and sometimes just because clients send us their session and we need to have them all.
But there are so many amazing, mostly unknown plugins out there! Companies like Klanghelm with their MJUC and SDRR taught us that smaller companies can make the BEST plugins out there, so here my list of best unique sounding, mostly unknown, compressor plugins!
Audiority LDC2 COMPANDER
Let's start with a boom, Audiority has been cranking out great plugins lately, the LDC2 is a brilliant optical compressor with exchangeable optical circuits,
solid-state preamplifier and output stage, giving you a unique compression character, brilliant. Vintage tone and versatility, I'm loving this
Minimal System Group MASTERMIX Compressor
This relatively new brand will make the list more than once, this is their best offering, a great vintage style compressor with tape emulation, great on groups and on the 2bus, this stereo comp has a really nice action and grit, very dense harmonic enhancement, saturation and hiss have their independent knobs.
GRIP Valve Drive Compressor Resonance Sound came out with this nice gritty, nasty compressor that's perfect for drums, bass and aggressive vocals. This compressor combines
an accurate emulation of legendary german vintage tubes of the 1960s and a modern VCA compressor workhorse. Together they create a powerful fusion of both worlds – vintage and modern at once. Talk about unique sounding!
Both core elements featuring a mix control, so you can also make use of the famous “New York”/parallel compression. AND it also means, you can use GRIP as pure valve drive effect – to warm up vocals, give drums more egde or basslines a kick in the ass.
Futhermore the valve drive emulation features 2 different taste of drive – Triode aswell as Pentode mode. Triode will enhance the sound in a more musical way by adding even harmonics and that “warmth”, while the Pentode mode will add more odd harmonics and makes the sound more crunchy.
2x Oversampling for Aliasing-Free Sound
Sound Spot CYCLONE
Plugin Alliance Elysia Alpha Killer? For you to decide
A compressor diverse enough to glue sub groups, add groove to percussion, warm up synths and guitars, Cyclone is a real workhorse, it's super light on your CPU, meaning you can run multiple instances with ease.
But SoundSpot (I like many of their offerings already) didn't just make it pretty, this compressor has some serious features, very versatile with all the controls you expect to see on a hi-end compressor and more, probably the main reason because I put this comp in the list is the saturation.
The saturation is tape style soft clipping with 100% stereo linking, when applied equally to both channels. This preserves the stereo image making the Cyclone perfect for mastering.
The intensity of the saturation is dependent on the threshold and ratio of the compressor, or to the potential gain reduction of the compressor, with the saturation knob itself being responsible for mixing in the saturation.
As the saturation effect is dependent on the compressors threshold and ratio settings. This means that the harder the ratio and threshold parameters are pushed, the more pronounced the saturation effect will be. You can then use the saturation control to dial in a value that works with your mix.
When the saturation parameter is set to zero, there will be no saturation. Conversely when the parameter is set to full, the maximum saturation will be added based on the positioning of the threshold and ratio controls.
In addition, the saturation is smoothed out in a way it mimics "tape hysterisis".
The Mid/Side functionality of the Cyclone allows you to process the stereo information independently from the mono information. This is useful when a mixdown requires a wider feel to the stereo image, or the mid (mono) information greater definition from the sides, to achieve a better result during playback on mono sound systems.
The Mid/Side function is perfect for adding additional sparkle to a well mixed track, and also gives the user great control to correct any irregularities in the stereo image. Sound Spot CYCLONE
Minimal System Group PUNCH *Windows Only*
Talk about hidden gems! Almost nobody knows this comp is based on the 1176AE
Limiting Amplifier, no jokes..
The original Punch compressor is one of Minimal System Group most popular and respected plugins. Punch is an up-to-date version of one of the all time classic analogue compression and limiting processors, the 1176AE. The new Punch Evolved plugin takes this highly respected processor even further with a completely redesigned engine and the addition of new sound shaping features such as Mid/Side processing, EQ, and Gate sections.
This compressor is a real sleeper, but I feel that's not gonna be the case for long,
it sounds great, as the original Punch was one of the plugins that put MSG on my radar, this one with onboard gate and eq, make this perfect as a channel strip, a channel strip with an 1176AE on it! Not bad
I love the Ultra-fast attack time, it's Mid/Side, fully featured gate gate with controls for Threshold, Attack, and Release and very simple 3 band EQ with controls for Low/Mid/High. Custom Output Transformer Emulation design and FET, this plugin sounds great!
McDSP RETRO COMP
The Retro series from McDSP must be one of the most underrated out there, they don't really promote that much, in the end, they don't need to, McDSP made history in the plugin world and Colin keeps doing it now with the upcoming APB-16 unit we saw at NAMM. But let's talk about the Retro Comp, well, not much to say really! You know that thick heavy handed vintage grab you find on those 30, 50lbs giant broadcasting compressors? That's it. Thick, solid, but very subtle harmonic content at the same time, don't look for full blown distortion, more for the real mode of action of those old limiters while preserving the high fidelity of modern signal paths.
MASTER COMPRESSOR (TUBE)
Minimal does it again here. The classic bus compressor with a twist, look at that knob at the bottom right. They put a nice, as it, it sounds really nice!, tube algo in this otherwise very transparent, very versatile 2bus compressor which happens to be a workhorse on vocals and pretty much any track because the other great feature we find on this one is the Ratio that goes from 1 to infinity, from very subtle to full blown limiting, really nice on parallel when you want to squash something AND add saturation to it. Another great feature I'd love to see more often on compressors is the knee control, famous compressor like the SSL G Bus Comp have a set knee that changes when we change the Ratio, nothing wrong with that, but so many times I wish I could keep the knee curve I have at 4:1 but giving it a 1.5:1 ratio.
Well this does the trick.
Drawmer 1973 Multi-Band Compressor
Well, how could I not? You guys know I have the hardware, I had it since the day it was released and I used it in every mix. Where? It could literally end up anywhere, this compressor is so versatile and so musical, but is also an amazing problem solver. It can rescue messed up stems, unbalanced mixes, trouble vocals, or enhance drums like nothing else. 3 bands with such musical crossovers and one of my favorite FET circuits (color wise) the 1973 is a beast. Yet so simple to control, the 3 auto settings for the release are just amazing, they are fool proof, they just work, you will take 3 second to know which release you need for each band on any given track. One of the most difficult things to do is to setup a multiband right, Drawmer and Softube really makes this easy
The AIR band is not for everything but when it works, nothing sounds like it. The control you have on the low end with the different filters makes it perfect for EDM, Hip Hop and any bass-heavy material. Altho' I mastered rock albums with this all the time!
+10db COMPRESSOR BOZ DIGITAL
Dark, gritty, big, unique. This is what we're talking about here today, unique sounding, well, I started to like more and more Boz Digital Labs offerings, as the more you do this job, the more you want to fine tune your sound and expand your arsenal. This one emulates a very, very popular compressor that was somewhat a secret weapon back few decades ago. But it was probably the worst kept secret because everyone knows how absolutely amazing this hardware was on drums, and the plugin does a fantastic job capturing that tone and the action. With this, again, gain staging is everything! Not just for drums, synths and loop will come to life with this.
TUBE TECH CL1B
Yeah yeah I know, this is not unknown, but damn it's unique! I've had, used, tried probably every compressor on the planet, well almost, but nothing sounds likethe CL1B on vocals, period. It's not that is the best for every vocal of course, but oh so very often it is and it just sounds like top10. This is this is the sound of so many modern vocals, I just used the hardware few days before writing this article, I tracked vocals with it and man.. At first I was thinking "this is why we still use hardware" and it's true, tracking with hardware can't be replicated, hearing a singer pushing into a compressor with a ton of headroom and such pristine sound like this one, with that subtle tube shine is still a great experience in the control room. But Softube here did an amazing job and this one is really, really close to the real thing at the mixing stage, and like the original, nothing sounds like it. I wish they put a separate saturation knob on it, it would be on every vocal!
I reviewed this one when it came out, it was absolutely great back then, and still is. Along with the Klanghelm MJUC, arguably my favorite plugin compressor ever,
this is the most accurate recreation of that tube/vintage style compression we love. Simple controls and definitely not a compressor that goes well on everything but boy when it does it's really one of a kind. With controls for gain staging and some tweakable internal settings you can tailor this to react in a very dynamic way to the material, a much wider range than many comps out there. Try it, I love it on female vocals!
This compressor is weird! In the best way possible. It can slam loops to oblivion and it can gently level vocals, and everything in between. I learned how absolutely GREAT U-HE plugins are some time ago, and not just the latest offerings, the delay and the crazy good spring verb but also, and for me even more, the UBIK BUNDLE, now THAT would require a dedicated article that I'm going to write because, holy... But let's focus here, Presswerk could easily be the only plugin compressor you need to mix anything. It has probably the most amount of *useful* features packed in one GUI and the saturation sounds absolutely incredible! (hint: Runciter will be in another blog) they do know how to do saturation right, their Satin Tape Emulator is up there with the top dog. Knee control, extended sidechain controls, RMS window and more, you can really adjust this to any type of material, mind you tho', it has a very long learning curve, either take your time to learn how to use it or leave it alone.
I'm gonna close this one with what I think is probably the one plugin that has the most impact in my mixes:
Empirical Labs Arousor
Yeah no, nothing, nothing sounds like this one. Nothing sounds like the hardware either. There's a reason because you see the hardware in every studio on the planet, from home setups to million dollars rooms, because it's unique, because it sounds great and it basically shaped the sound of modern drums. I have 4 hardware units, and I wish had 8, the plugin stops me from going broke and still gives me all expect from a Distressor, arguably more with the added features in the plugin, adjustable saturation, mod attack, and more. While I still get the exact same smack on drums and control and grit on lead vocals, I can take things further and experiment with a Distressor on steroids,
and I can do it while I travel, on my laptop! No brainer.
This is it folks, share!