Looking for the best compressor plugins? This Icon Picks roundup features a selection of analog-style compressor emulation plugins used to musically enhance dynamics of your mix.
What are Analog-Style Compressor Plugins?
Analog modeled compressors emulate the circuity and musical personality of their classic hardware counterparts. These types of dynamic processors are used to add, warmth, presence, punch, and character to your music. In other words, they inject authentic analog sound!
In the modern digital era, there is an overwhelming amount of available analog-based compressor plugins. This roundup breaks down the selection to twenty sought-after analog modeled compressor plugins from a variety of companies.
1. Waves | API 2500
The original hardware version of the API 2500 Compressor has become a permanent fixture on the stereo bus for many of the world’s top engineers and producers. This famed compressor adds punch, movement, and tone to both stereo mixes and bus groups with absolute accuracy. The Waves API 2500 emulation captures all the characteristics of this versatile dynamics processor. It also boasts a wide range of incredibly musical parameters that have made it a favorite of engineers around the globe. Load this workhorse on your mix bus to glue together your stereo mixes or try it out on bus groups to punch up low frequencies with API’s patented Thrust technology. This thing also sounds amazing on drums!
2. Slate Digital | FG-Stress
Introduced in 1993, the Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor is one of the industry’s most highly coveted analog compressors. This versatile compressor plugin is super fast and injects a ton of color. Slate Digital accomplished a faithful recreation of this legendary compressor with their FG-Stress plugin. They even captured the Distressor’s unique topology where every ratio is essentially a different compressor. The FG-Stress can also mimic the tone of some of the industry’s most famous compressors like punchy VCAs, fat tube compressors, and even vintage opto units. Moreover, this power player sounds good on everything you want to radically enhance.
3. Waves | SSL G-Master
Based on the renowned master buss center compressor of the SSL 4000 G console, the Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor captures the unique sound of the original design. Prized by top engineers for its ability to “glue together” tracks, the SL 4000 G-Master is ideal for making mixes bigger, more powerful, and punchy. It also does a great job taming piano dynamics or adding punch to drums and percussion. Furthermore, it’s famous for being the ultimate mix finalizer.
4. Universal Audio | 1176 Classic Limiter Collection
The legendary 1176 has lent its character and punch to some of the greatest recordings in history since 1967. This renowned compressor represented a breakthrough in limiter technology. It was the first true peak limiter to feature all-transistor circuitry and ultra-fast FET gain reduction. UA’s 1176 Classic Limiter Plugin Collection provides three distinct 1176 revisions, representing over 40 years of design iterations to the original 1176. These FET-style compressor plugins have an incredibly fast attack and release times making them perfect for taming high energy content. These units also inject pleasant coloration and have simplistic controls making them easy to dial in. Moreover, the 1176 sounds great on drums and bass!
5. Universal Audio | LA-2A Leveler Collection
The LA-2A is another legendary compressor introduced in the late-1960s that has become a staple in major studios around the globe. With its gentle, program dependent optical compression, and meticulously designed tube amplifier, the LA-2A is the go-to compressor for various applications. UA’s LA-2A Leveler Collection also puts three of the most coveted incarnations of the iconic Teletronix processor at your fingertips. Moreover, these optical compressor plugins are famous for treating vocals but also sound great on bass, drums, and anything else you wish to impart smooth compression.
6. Softube | Tube-Tech CL 1B
Denmark’s original Tube-Tech compressor has been a leader in high-end tube hardware for over 30 years. The company’s flagship CL 1B is another famed hardware compressor found in recording studios worldwide. Softube’s recreation of this versatile compressor gives you ultra-musical opto-based tube compression to smooth and caress any sound source. The CL 1B is also similar to the iconic Teletronix LA-2A limiter. However, the CL 1B yields a more colorful, modern character. It can be used subtly to achieve natural dynamic control or pushed harder to bring out punch and excitement. Moreover, this highly musical compressor plugin also works great for serving up weight, character, and personality to drums, bass, acoustic guitars, and vocals.
7. Vertigo Sound | VSC-2
The Vertigo VSC-2 Quad Discrete Compressor is known as “The Mercedes of VCA compressors.” The original hardware built its reputation largely on the four, custom hand-built, discrete “1979” VCAs used in its design. The plugin version of the VSC-2 captures every nuance of the hardware version and puts it right into your digital audio workstation. Although the VSC-2 was originally developed as a stereo bus compressor, the plugin version can be used on anything. This VCA also colors the signal the more you compress and “make up” the output, which gives your sounds a punchy precise without sounding dull – even when pushed hard.
8. Elysia | Mpressor
Developed by Brainworx, the mpressor plugin is a faithful emulation of the high-end, Class-A hardware. This modern compressor also captures the unique features of the original like gain reduction limiting, anti-log curves, and negative ratios. Moreover, this creative dynamics tool imparts a punchy sound with musical coloration, as well as more extreme processing options. It’s also famed for its ability to apply extreme compression without degrading the original sound. Try it out on your drum bus to add punch and clarity or use it to inject life into dull mixes.
9. Kush Audio | UBK-1
The UBK-1 is all about character, shaping, and groove. The plugin closely models the UBK Fatso hardware compressor which is Kush’s modified version of Empirical Labs’ Fatso compressor/saturator. This boutique dynamics tool offers three-stages of processing that includes separate sections for Saturation, Compression, and Density. UBK-1 also features five unique compression curves, multiple parallel signal paths, headroom and intensity controls, and sidechain filtering. Moreover, the UBK-1 sounds awesome on everything! Add thickness, punch, and color to drums, guitars, bus groups, and anything else you want to inject analog vibe.
10. Universal Audio | Chandler Limited Zener Limiter
Inspired by the iconic EMI TG limiters from Abbey Road Studios, Chandler Limited’s TG12413 Zener Limiter captures the sonic majesty of the vintage hardware used to record Pink Floyd and The Beatles. The Chandler Limited TG12413 Zener Limiter by UA is an evolution of the historic EMI limiter – with some modern additions. This prized dynamics mammoth is flexible enough for tracking, mixing, or mastering scenarios. However, it excels at sonically enhancing drums and taming high-frequency transients! The Zener also does a great job smoothing out and adding character to vocals, picked acoustic guitar, and percussion. In addition to its unique warmth and character, the Chandler Limited Zener Limiter can also add a bold, vintage vibe to your stereo bus or mastering chain.
11. Waves | dbx 160
Since its introduction in the mid-1970s, the dbx 160 is considered one of the best drum compressors ever designed. Waves’ emulation of the legendary dbx 160 hardware compressor/limiter faithful captures the sought after character of the original hardware unit. Famous for its simple control set and radical compression characteristics, the dbx 160 plugin features nonlinearities not found in other VCA compressors, giving it a sonic personality all on its own. Moreover, the Waves dbx 160 plugin incorporates unique and exclusive features not found in the original hardware, such as an MS Matrix, mix and noise controls, and a stereo component. The result is a versatile compressor/limiter that will drive your drums to the finish line.
12. IK Multimedia | Vintage Tube Compressor/Limiter Model 670
The original Fairchild 670 is one of the most coveted vintage compressor/limiters in the world. This 20-tube tone titan imparts an unmistakable silky warmth heard on hundreds of hit records. IK Multimedia’s faithfully models every control and nuance of the renowned Fairchild 670. This Vari-Mu type compressor/limiter delivers an incredible magic touch that makes everything that passes through it shine and sound more musical. Many engineers run audio through the 670 without applying any compression settings to impart its signature tube warmth and character. The 670 is often the preferred choice for stereo bus enhancement. However, it can be deployed to “gel” your drum bus or add presence and harmonics to vocals.
13. Native Instruments | VARI COMP
VARI COMP is Native Instruments take on Manley Labs’ flagship Variable Mu tube compressor/limiter introduced in 1994. The renowned Variable Mu is known for being a gold standard among mixing and mastering engineers. NI took the fame sound of the Manley and boxed it up in a streamlined plugin that adds some modern controls such as high-pass sidechaining and parallel compression. VARI COMP has a very transparent sound used to add clarity and cohesion to group buses or your entire mix. However, it’s worth noting that UA has a much better recreation of the Manley Variable Mu. Nonetheless, NI’s model is much more affordable and does a good job delivering classic tube-powered warmth and presence.
14. Universal Audio | Neve 33609
Since 1969, the Neve 33609 stereo bus compressor has been a studio mainstay. Its smooth character coupled with its ability to be transparent or extremely colorful has made it a renowned workhorse limiter. UA expertly emulates the ultra-musical compression curves and nonlinearities of this legendary dynamics processor. In addition, the Neve 33609 plugin also adds modern workflow enhancements not found on the original hardware, including output and headroom controls, and a link switch for grouped left/right control of all parameters. Moreover, this plugin does an excellent job of subtly taming transients and adding punch to a drum bus while also imparting a colorful compression character. It works great at enhancing the dynamics of pianos, background vocals, and strings as well.
15. Slate Digital | Virtual Buss Compressors
Virtual Buss Compressors is a suite of three unique-sounding dynamic processors modeled from some of the most iconic mix bus compressors in the industry: The VBC Grey is inspired by the classic SSL 4000 Console Compressor. VBC Red takes after Focusrite’s original Red 3 Stereo Compressor/Limiter. The VBC MU offers a hybrid design inspired by the Fairchild 670 and the Manley Variable Mu. In addition, Slate added some additional modern controls making VBC the ultimate mix bus collection. Slate also did an excellent job recreating the unique nonlinearities of the circuit paths that give each compressor plugin its distinct tone – including their transformers, tubes, VCA’s, amplifiers, phase distortions, harmonic distortions, and timing. Use the combination of all three models on the master channel and you’ll hear your mix come alive!
16. Klanghelm | MJUC
MJUC is a hybrid tube compressor inspired by various hardware variable mu emulations. The result delivers three different models that capture the essence of each generation. Each model also has a dedicated control set that enables you to tweak the overall tone and saturation of each model. Model Mk1 is based on the very early variable mu design from the 50s and is the most colored of the three models. Model Mk2 captures more complex designs of the 175 and 176 from the early 1960s, the all-tube-predecessors of the classic 1176 FET compressor. Lastly, Model Mk3 is the least colored and most hi-fi sounding model in MJUC.
17. Universal Audio | FATSO
Get the rich sound of magnetic tape, class A transformers, and tube circuits of the iconic, industry-standard Empirical Labs hardware. In true fashion, UA faithfully recreates the original FATSO Tape Simulator/Compressor. They also expanded its versatility with some additional controls for the modern era. Moreover, this diverse plugin offers a wide palette of possibilities for adding fat analog character and cohesiveness to your music. It’s also a creative tool, able to add varying degrees of saturation — from subtle to severe. For example, the FATSO’s Input control lets you dial in shades of harmonic generation and distortion, while the Tranny and Warmth features provide varying amounts of tape and tube tone. This means you can lightly color, or destroy, drums, vocals, and more with tube and tape saturation.
18. iZotope | Ozone 8 Vintage Compressor
The Vintage Compressor module is a single-band feedback compressor that delivers subtle warming and sweetening effects. While the most modern-looking compressor plugin on our list, it still imparts classic vibe. It’s also worth noting that this compressor does not emulate any particular hardware model like the others on this list. With that said, iZotope’s take on vintage sound is still a contender capable of serving authentic vintage character. This dynamics processor works great a thickening the mid-range, tightening and rounding out the lows, and letting the top sparkle.
19. Slate Digital | FG-401
The FG-401 is a hybrid emulation that draws its sound and character from several VCA compressors such as the SSL 4000 channel compressor, Empirical Labs Distressor, DBX 160A, and others. This versatile compressor provides a smooth and rich tone. Also, the FG-401 comes bundled in Slate Digital’s Virtual Mix Rack which offers an expanding collection of analog modeled plugins. You can run just about anything through this compressor and it will come out sounding good. Try it out on drums, bass, and vocals.
20. Waves | Renaissance Compressor
This multi-purpose compressor delivers musical results on any vocal or instrument. Don’t be fooled by its underwhelming aesthetics. Professional mixing engineers and musicians have been deploying this classic Opto compressor on numerous hit records since its release. Moreover, Renaissance Compressor serves a sound that is fairly transparent but yet warm and present. It’s also worth noting that it is easy to use and light on CPU. In other words, it’s smooth and simple!