Breaking Down the Best Compressors for Music Production

Breaking Down the Best Compressors for Music Production

Music Production

You have options when it comes to compressors for creating music. Check out this guide for a breakdown of the best compressors for music production in 2024.

Table of contents

It might surprise you to learn that the 1176 limiting amplifier, one of the most popular compressors of today, was invented in 1967. These are some of the most powerful tools you can use as a music producer, and the right compressor can give your sound the fullness and uniqueness you strive for. However, not everybody understands the best compressors to use during music production.

We created a brief guide on how you can leverage some of the most notable to take your music career to new heights. Let's explore what you need to know.

1. Neve 33609

This compressor excels at working with drum stems, stereo bus compression, and generating robust output. It has an independent compressor and limiter for each channel.

This offers solid flexibility during mixing and tracking. Many people find that this compressor delivers a large, full sound. It's difficult to go wrong with this option if you're looking for something with plenty of intensity.

2. Tube-Tech SMC 2BM

The SMC 2BM is the world's only all-tube-based multiband compressor. There are three bands to choose from, and each has variable crossing points. This gives you abundant control over your track's lows, mids, and highs.

Details like these make it amazing for working with acoustic instruments. Live drums are a great example due to their timbre.

3. Chandler Limited TG12413

Users will be pleasantly surprised to discover that the Chandler Limited combines modern compression with vintage tonality. Since sounds from decades ago have seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years, engineers today have made ample use of this compressor.

The hardware offers input impedance and sidechain filtering, giving you greater dynamics control. It even has multiple compression and limiting modes. Out of all the compressors on this list, it's one of the best for mastering and creating music.

4. Rupert Neve Designs Portico II

The Portico II's primary claim to fame is its ability to control harmonic ratio and tonal character. It achieves this through its Silk and Silk+ modes.

You can achieve greater sonic versatility by using its feedback VCA detection. As with many compressors, it comes with a sidechain filter to tame bass frequencies.

5. Manley Slam!

Most producers are left in awe when they see this product for the first time. "SLAM" stands for "Stereo monitor and microphone." A special mastering version is available with additional hardware for controlling dynamics.

It also offers different modes and additional limiters. When used correctly, this is the only compressor you'll need when mixing and mastering. Keep this in mind when moving forward if you're on the fence about which compressor to choose.

6. Universal Audio Teletronix LA-2A

This brand has been one of the most acclaimed since the 60s, and it's not difficult to understand once you use the LA-2A. It's ideal for compressing and limiting vocals while maintaining transparency. It has a notably simple control set that will help you get started as soon as possible, allowing you to avoid steep learning curves.

7. Wesaudio NgBusComp

If aesthetics are important to you, give this compressor some serious thought. It's one of the sleekest available on the market.

It combines a 100% analog signal path with digital control. You can even use a plug-in to automate it from your digital audio workstation (DAW).

Those who prefer to use touch-sensitive controls for automation can do so as an alternative. With a spectral shape sidechain EQ at your disposal, you can't do little with the ngBusComp.

8. Dangerous Music

The Dangerous Music compressor gets its name from its stellar sound quality. Even with the heavy gain reduction, it doesn't colour audio. This is achievable due to its dual slope detection circuit.

In context, it maintains average compression levels while limiting peaks. You can take advantage of sidechain filtering and auto attack/release, as well. Dangerous Music hardware is ideal for people looking for fast results and transparent sound quality.

9. API 2500+

It's worth noting that the API 2500+ isn't your standard compressor for all types of music. The API 2500+ is specifically designed for metal and rock mixes.

This model implements frequency-dependent operation That brings out lead vocals and guitars without triggering from bass and drums.

With its mix control functionality, you can blend the dry and wet signals. Once you integrate this compressor into your workflow, your mixes will easily become pro-quality.

10. SPL Iron

The SPL Iron's parallel tube design allows it to compete with other mastering compressors. It has an impressive sonic variety and six selectable rectifier circuits.

You can use this for passive EQ modes to further shape sound. However, its primary feature is its audio bypass. This toggles the compressor's bypass on and off automatically, allowing you to A/B test.

Compression Best Practices

No matter what compressor you use, it is imperative to understand how to work with it correctly. The good news is that this information is easier to understand than you might anticipate. Listed below are some of the most notable tips to consider.

🀝 Recognize Times You Don't Need It

Contrary to popular belief, you don't always need to use compression. Many of the sounds you work with don't have a large dynamic range, making compression unnecessary.

In these cases, it can even have a negative impact. Common examples include distorted guitars and synth pads. These are already compressed to a certain degree, and additional compression will be redundant.

πŸ§‘β€πŸ¦― Don't Bury Important Parts

Your compressor should review important segments of the sound instead of burying them. As you adjust the compressor's intensity, pay attention to what parts of the sound begin to surface. You can then build from here and achieve the desired results.

πŸ₯Using Slow Attack on Drums

It's often tempting to use an aggressive attack on drums to make them hit harder. This pushes transients too far down to the body of the drum sound.

The result is drums that sound robotic and flat compared to dynamic. This mistake can easily make an otherwise good track sound lifeless.

🎚️ Avoid Low Thresholds

Amateurs often gravitate toward using low compression thresholds to increase the intensity of the effect. While this will make the audio louder and fuller, it will sacrifice its dynamic range.

This can make the music less pleasant because it will sound unprofessional. This situation is most obvious when you set the low threshold that the compressor never releases. You should see the compression needle moving in time with the beat.

πŸš† Use Parallel Compression

This term might sound intimidating at first, but implementing it is simple. Parallel compression involves using multiple compressors with lower intensity instead of one with high intensity.

For example, let's assume you have a harsh guitar sound with dynamics everywhere. You notice that when you make large cuts with a single compressor, the sound becomes flat and unappealing. Instead, you can use multiple compressors to make small individual cuts.

You can even use multiple of the same compressor if necessary. This is something often seen with software, as people duplicate the instance of a plug-in to make additional cuts. At the beginning of your compression chain, use a faster attack time on your first compressor.

Follow this with a compressor that has a slow attack time. The slower compressor will control the sound overall and allow you to reduce gain gradually.

πŸ—œοΈ Don't Compress Instead of Level

Proper mixing is essential regarding the quality of your exported track. Some people make certain sounds louder through compression instead of adjusting the gain.

As previously mentioned, this kills dynamic range and makes it more difficult for overcompressed sounds to sit well in the mix. People often make this mistake with vocals.

Instead, proper leveling is key. This will help you preserve dynamic range and make the mastering process easier.

πŸ‘Ύ Hardware vs Software

There's a major debate on deciding between hardware and software compressors. It might surprise you to learn that the answer is straightforward.

In almost every circumstance, hardware compressors can't do something software compressors can't. However, you should consider the convenience of having a physical device as part of your setup.

This allows you to overcome many potential issues, such as software conflicts. To clarify, someone might update their operating system and find that their favorite software compressor no longer works. This is something often seen with MacOS due to the abundance of differences between the new versions.

Having a hardware compressor also provides extra flexibility in arranging your workflow. At the end of the day, the best choice for you should be left up to personal preference.

Don't Overlook the Best Compressors

Information in this guide about the best compressors available will help you decide which one is right for you. From here, you should have no trouble taking your music career to new heights and making a stronger impact on your audience.

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