The best free VST compressor plugins you need to have

Accumulating plugins is addicting and if you’re not careful it can get expensive. Luckily there are a lot of great software developers offering their plugins to the music production community for free. Here are a few incredible sounding compressor plugins that if they weren’t free I would gladly pay for.

All of these plugins are 100% free and available in VST, VST3, AU, and AAX formats.

Klanghelm MJUC Jr.

  • Emulated Variable-Mu circuit injected with ear-pleasing saturation.
  • Loosely based off of the legendary Fairchild 660.
  • Extremely good looking GUI.
  • Easy to use with a straight forward vintage design consisting of only Input, Output, and Time Constraint controls.
  • A more extensive version with added features and two other modeled circuits is available for less than $27.
  • Vari-mu compressors offer a unique compression style not commonly found in many plugins. A variable-mu circuit id designed, so the ratio of the gain reduction increases as you hit the unit harder, which yields very musically pleasing results even when you lay into it aggressively.

Klanghelm DC1A

  • Two knob compressors are f*cking awesome.
  • Go from a light, gentle squeeze to heavy pumping and crunchy distortion with only two knobs.
  • Negative mode offers upward or over compression. Downward compression is what everyone calls compression, but upward compression is when a quiet signal falls below the threshold the signal increases in level, which leads to embellished dynamics and a unique sound.
  • Deep mode adds a HPF to the sidechain.
  • Mono mode each side is compressing independently from the other.
  • Relax mode changes detection from Peak/RMS.
  • Built-in mix feature for quick and easy parallel compression

Tokyo Dawn Records Kotelnikov

  • Designed as a mastering compressor 
  • Not a vintage emulation
  • Able to tame transients and still sound transparent.
  • Unlike many free compressor plugins, this sounds great on the mix bus.

Tokyo Dawn Records Nova

  • Parallel dynamic equalizer
  • Parametric equalizer with an added dynamics section
  • Sounds excellent on a wide range of applications, a few common are de-essing, repairing clashing frequencies without effecting overall tonality throughout the entire track, frequency-selective compression, or changes in the movement for only specific frequencies.
  • The difference between a dynamic EQ and a multiband compressor is with a dynamic EQ; you can adjust Q curves while multiband compressors have overall frequency ranges.

Acustica Audio TAN

  • If you’re new to Acustica, then this is the place to start.
  • Classic VCA compression style similar to an SSL style compressor with an added vibe
  • The unique ShMod control sets this compressor apart.
  • “ShMod” (Shape Modulation) is a shape control for the attack curve of the compressor: it allows you to fine-tune the attack shape so that you can optimize the attack behavior for the specific source.

Analog Obsessions LALA

  • Smooth silky compression reminiscent of the most well-known compressors ever made.
  • Compare to CLA-2A and UAD.
  • One of the sexiest looking GUIs I’ve ever seen.
  • Additional features that are not found on the original hardware include a mix knob and more sidechain filter options, which make this classic even more versatile.

Link to the developers Patreon,

AudioFB SeteChave

  • Gritty and aggressive style of compression.
  • Although designed for a “pumping effect,” this compressor is very capable of achieving sonically pleasing results on a variety of sources.
  • Lack of metering may seem like a negative but it makes it a good plugin to use to train your ear.

Max1 by BeatSkillz

  • Extremely straight forward and easy to use with an intuitive GUI.
  • The soft clipping feature keeps me coming back; great for adding knock to drums. If you don’t know what clipping is, you can read all about it here.
  • RMS or Peak detection modes offer two different styles of compression. In peak mode, the compressor will react when any peak crosses the threshold. In RMS or Root Mean Squared mode, the detector calculates and responds only when the average level of the signal crosses the threshold. RMS is excellent for overall leveling.

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David Silverstein

David Silverstein began engineering at the age of 14 when he purchased a Fostex four-track cassette recorder. After high school, he enrolled at Five Towns College where he graduated with a Bachelor of Professional Studies in Business with a concentration in Audio Recording Technology. He has worked under renowned engineers and producers Jim Sabella (Marcy Playground, Nine Days, and Public Enemy) and Bryce Goggin (Pavement, Spacehog, The Ramones and The Lemonheads). David currently works out of his studio in East Harlem, NYC and Sabella Studios in Roslyn, NY.