If you’re a budding producer, you will quickly learn that compression and EQ are two of the most important allies you will make in your production process. You’ll most likely find yourself applying them to every track in your session as you complete the mixing process.
So, needless to say, you’ll need to equip yourself with the best compressor plugins you can get your hands on. And with thousands to choose from, it can be a daunting selection, especially for newbies.
Not only that, but not every compressor plugin is necessarily the right one for each job you will come across. To remove any intimidation from this process, Headliner is here to take you by the hand and walk you through the different types of compressors, what they do and offer, and, crucially, which are the best compressor plugins to spend your hard-earned dollars and pounds on.
What is a compressor?
The name may conjure up thoughts of a dusty piece of gear that faintly hums whenever it’s switched on, but the idea behind a compressor, whether it’s the original outboard physical version or a plugin, is relatively simple.
An audio compressor is a tool used to control the dynamic range of audio signals, which is the difference between the loudest and softest parts. It works by reducing the volume of loud sounds while allowing quieter sounds to remain unaffected or boosted, ensuring a more consistent overall volume. This helps in preventing abrupt volume spikes and making recordings sound more polished.
There are different ways of going about this. Most of the methods are classic ones from the good old days of analogue outboard gear, and many approach compression with the wish to get a result as close to the analogue sound as possible.
Don’t start sweating at the notion of trying to find space for an old compressor and forking out the big cost that would entail — in this golden age of plugins, many digital emulations sound absolutely brilliant and truly close to the original sound. Let’s get compressing!
Optical Compressor Plugins
If you want to talk about the classic compressor sound, many a producer’s thoughts would quickly turn to the optical compressor variety. These classic bits of gear compress music and sound using photosensitive light cells. It’s one of the earliest methods of compression, found in a lot of the earliest compressors.
Its proponents love the fact that the photocell produces a pleasingly musical sound. Compared to the FET compressors, it’s a little more subtle, with a gentler process. A famous example is the Teletronix LA-2A, which many seasoned engineers will get misty-eyed about. If you think this could be the sound for you, here are the best compressor plugins that replicate the optical compressor style.