When it comes to the world of simple compression, there are not too many variables that can steer you into a confusing situation. However, with the huge variety of plugins available these days, it can get very confusing on choosing which ones to use. Waves makes some of the highest quality, professionally sounding VST/ RTAS plugins known throughout the mixing world, and their selection of compressors lives up to just that. (Refer to 3 Common Types of Dynamic Compression for a better understanding on how to use each plugin).
From two-knob compressors to more controlled compressor-limiters, I am going to share with you five of the compressor plugins that I find the most helpful when trying to control dynamics.
Quicklook: Best Waves Compressors
This two-knob compressor/limiter is one of the more versatile plugins on the list. It is also, in my opinion, the most complicated one to wrap your head around which is why it gets the number five spot on the list.
There are not many compressors in my library that sound better on raw instrument and vocal tracks than the CLA-A2. The tube emulators in it help deliver a warm, analog sound that will allow you to really open up the body and depth of most instruments. (Definitely try it on bass & female vox!)
The simple design makes for easy navigation of the plugin interface. The gain knob reflects the output gain of the compressor and the peak reduction knob basically acts as your threshold. There is a VU meter available so you can visibly see your gain reduction as well as switch between input/output volumes. This plugin definitely takes some practice and getting used to; but once you understand the parameters are doing you won’t veer far from using it almost every mix you do!
The Waves C1 Compressor is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a more basic looking compressor; while still wanting all the essential parameters needed. The C1 is a great all-around compressor and I use it on everything from basic drum tracks to sub-mixes and group buses.
This is what your basic compressor plugin is generally going to look like, and a very similar interface to the one I learned while I was first learning. There are three separate digital meters; two for the input and output gains, and one for the gain reduction being done during compression. What makes this compressor useful is that it gives the user control over the attack, threshold, ratio, and release; which in return allows you more total control over the compression being done at hand. There is also a section for makeup gain; so you can increase your volume once you have compressed your audio.
I would definitely recommend this plugin to any novice audio engineer who is first dipping their feet into compression. It’s easy to throw this thing on every track that you think needs it, and practice to help familiarize yourself with the different parameters that make compression work.
Another one of my favorite compressors on the list is the RCompressor from the Waves Renaissance bundle. This compressor though simple; packs a huge punch in when trying to control heavy dynamics within a mix.
What makes this plugin so great is what it doesn’t do rather than what it does. There are few meters in it; which allows it to be very hard to make sound bad. It gives you control of all the major parameters (attack, threshold, release, ratio), but also has a few functions that give your sound an extra flair of character which can be nice.
The ARC function is a nice automatic release control feature that when enabled; changes the release time based on the program data. It will adjust your release time depending on the transients of the sound waves traveling through (pretty cool!). It also has optical and electro functions which can be toggled between. The electro function will compress your sound hard, and the optical function will allow sound to breathe and sound more open.
Overall, this plugin is a fantastic option for a bright, clean-sounding compressor. It will leave your dynamics controlled; but also leave them with a sense of character and life, instead of sucking them dry.
Now, this compressor is the real deal, and made a tough run for the number 1 spot on my list! The SSL Compressor from the SSL 4000 bundle is one the best compressors I have ever used, and many who have used it would gladly agree.
Modeled after a top of the line SSL console channel strip, the SSL Compressor delivers that beautiful, textured warm sound that all musicians are seeking to achieve from their mix.
Though some engineers might find this compressor useful on single channels; I tend to find this plugin extremely useful when submixing and mastering! It’s the perfect one to go to when putting final on things in the mix. It adds what I call “a nice shine on top”.
The only thing that I wish the plugin had was total rotary control over the modulation knobs. The threshold and gain makeup are completely controllable; but the attack, release, and ratio have fixed amounts that you have to choose from. It does, however, have an auto release setting, and fade off feature that acts sort of like a knee.
Even with those minor critiques; this plugin is far superior over so many other compressors in my opinion. Artists fly from all around the world to record their music through SSL consoles, and now you have that same power of a compressor channel strip in your DAW.
Alright; we’ve talked about a lot of great compressors. All could easily probably get the job done for anybody doing basic mixing and editing. You’ve been patient with me long enough, and now it’s time for my all-time favorite compressor found within the Waves bundles…(drumroll please)
Introducing the H-Series H-Compressor! This plugin has a vast variety of knobs and parameters, and does an excellent job at gluing the different parts of our mixing together!
The first thing to highlight in this plugin is the analog knob. It has four different output transformers or, sounds, it can give to whatever you’re compressing at the time. This is an awesome way to get more character out of your mixes and instruments.
It has your standard attack, threshold, ratio, and release knobs. The release portion is unique because you can link the release of the compressor to the bpm of the song. Definitely a useful feature for drums and rhythm tracks. It also has a mix knob on the far right which allows you to control how much compression you are actually hearing. I usually keep this set at 100 percent, but experiment around and see what you like.
The H-Compressor also comes with a punch feature, which allows you to give an extra boost to the lox end of your signal. I use this feature all the time on my kick drums to get more fullness.
No matter if it’s vocals or heavy instrumentation; the H-Compressor is powerful and versatile enough to help with all your dynamic processing needs!
The important thing to remember is that in the end, this list is not “gospel”. When it comes to mixing music there is no one master plugin that rules over all others.
You can manage to achieve what you are wanting with any one of these five great plugins. Just remember to trust your ears, and keep experimenting with the plugins features themselves. Listen to see what happens when you combine a fast attack with a large ratio or a slow threshold with long release time, and soon enough you’ll have an ear for compression. I hope this steers you in a helpful direction the next time you may be wondering what to use for a compressor.
Keep on mixing!