Buyer's Guides

Best Compressor Plugins for Vocals (Paid & Free)

The human voice is a dynamic, weird, and wonderful musical instrument like no other. In contemporary music styles, the vocal must sit up front and close, with each word remaining clear and intelligible.

Given the very dynamic nature of recorded vocals, this can be a challenging task when it comes to mixing your production after the recording process. But fret not, this is where top-quality compressor plugins for vocals come in to make this process nice and smooth.

If you’ve already read up on the best general plugins for vocals and how to compress vocals, you’re ready to dive into the many choices for the best compressor plugins for your vocals, one of which is even free!

We’ve written this go-to guide for you so that you needn’t get bewildered by the enormous amount of options currently on the market.

FabFilter Pro-C 2


  • Both flexible and practical

  • Brilliant visuals aesthetically and for ease of use

  • Excellent sound results

FabFilter has never sought to be a digital imitation of any classic hardware units. What has always set them apart from the crowd is their mission to instead make the best digital plugins in their own right. Plus their stunning interfaces – which display all the scientific nuts and bolts of what’s going on – and parameters that you edit to your absolute heart’s delight, are all testament to this.

Quite simply a brilliant tool as a compressor plugin for improving vocal recordings. The variety of modes means all the common use cases for compression are covered.


UAD Distressor


  • Some of the best flexibility offered by a compressor plugin

  • Loads of dynamic and tonal control

  • Dry/Wet blend knob definitely comes in handy

UAD is certainly no stranger to great compressor plugins, and the Distressor is no exception to that, especially when working with vocals. And one of the great things about it are some of the really distinct results you can get when using it, particularly when you push it.

It offers an enormous amount of dynamic and tonal control, whatever you throw at it. Even if you apply over 10dB of Gain Reduction on vocals, it somehow can still deliver very natural-sounding results. There are very few compressor plugins able to achieve this.


Waves CLA-76


  • Stereo link

  • Make-up gain

  • Variable attack and release times

Another shoutout for Waves, because they really are a name you should strongly consider for compressor vocal plugins. This time, we have the emulation of the famed ‘60s CLA-76 unit. Its fast attack time sees it often used on drums, but it can equally be used to compress vocals if you’re after a similarly thick sound with a nice bit of edge.

As saturation and distortion are increasingly being sought for vocals, especially in certain genres, this compressor plugin is absolutely worth a look if that’s what you’re in the market for.


Best Free Compressor Plugin for Vocals: Rough Rider


  • Clean interface

  • Intuitive, ease of use

  • Trusted by users for over a decade

If you decide to go down the route of getting a free compressor plugin for your vocals, I’m afraid you’re setting yourself a bit of a challenge. However, Rough Rider provides a solid option if your budget happens to be zero. It’s one of the most popular free options available, and for good reason.

It’s also a great learning tool, if you want to simply try your hand at learning vocal compressor use before investing cash. This is largely thanks to its user-friendly interface. Rough Rider 3, the latest iteration of the plugin, offers external sidechain input, improved accurate metering, and a ‘warming’ filter that you can turn on/off.

For more great free plugins, check out our full list, here.


What Does a Compressor Do to Vocals?

A compressor will reduce the dynamic range of your vocals, making the louder and quieter parts of the performance closer to each other in level.

The human voice is naturally very dynamic (some vocalists more than others). Compression is usually desirable in contemporary music as, when applied carefully, it makes the vocal more intelligible and easier to sit in a mix.

Applying compression can also significantly change the character of a vocal recording — particularly the transients. Depending on the compression circuit type, a compressor can also add "colour" or character to the vocal, which depending on the music style can be desirable or not.

Like anything in life, you can have too much of a good thing. It's important not to over-compress your vocals, as this can squash the life out of a performance and even accentuate undesirable aspects, such as sibilance or breath sounds.

Check out our complete guide on how to apply compression to vocal records to learn more. In this guide, we explain the core controls of a compressor, including threshold, ratio, attack, release, and makeup gain.

By understanding the basics of how these controls affect your vocal records, you'll be able to make informed decisions about how to compress your vocal in a way that compliments rather than detracts from the original performance.