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 straightforward 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. With a variable-mu circuit, the ratio of the gain reduction increases as you hit the unit’s input harder, which can yield very musically pleasing results even when you lay into it aggressively.
- Two knob compressors are f*cking awesome.
- Go from a light, clean, gentle squeeze to heavy pumping with crunchy distortion with only two knobs.
- Negative mode offers upward or over compression. Downward compression is what everyone calls compression, but upward compression increases the level of the signal when it falls below the threshold, which leads to embellished dynamics and a unique sound.
- Deep mode adds a high-pass filter to the sidechain input.
- Mono mode compresses each channel independently.
- 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
- Original design, not a vintage emulation
- Able to tame transients and still sound transparent.
- Unlike many free compressor plugins out there, 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 compressor with added vibe
- The unique ShMod control.
- “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 compressor ever made.
- Compare to Waves CLA-2A and UAD LA-2A.
- 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 making this classic even more versatile.
Link to the developers Patreon,
- Gritty and aggressive style 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 for training your ear.
Max1 by BeatSkillz
- Extremely straightforward 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.