Best FREE VST Compressors

Compressors are one of the most used audio processors you will ever use in your mix (the other one being EQ).

Despite the fact that they are used almost religiously on virtually every song you hear nowadays, they have historically proven to be enigmatic to the general music production community.

With this article, I will not only list what I believe to be the “Best 5 Free VST Compressors”, but will also describe a few different compressor types and suggested uses for them. We’ll start with the different compressor types and end with the “best of” list.

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Types of Compressors

VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifier)

The VCA compressor offers several advantages that the others on this list don’t. For starters, hardware VCA compressors don’t require the pricey discrete components needed by other compressors and are normally more affordable as a result. They are quite flexible and able to adapt to various kinds of use case scenarios such as gluing a mix bus together or suppressing transients. The best use for them is with percussive elements because of their fast attack and release.

In addition, VCA compressors are transparent and won’t add color to the sound of the audio signal, but can tend to sound thin. Adjust the release time to smooth out the signal a bit. So for those times when you need to compress, but want to retain the integrity of your audio, this is the compressor you reach for.

Use a VCA compressor to tame peaks on your drum bus and other percussive elements on individual tracks in your mix. Use a longer release time to smooth out the signal if it becomes too harsh. Notable compressors in this category are the SSL G-Series Console Bus Compressor and the DBX 160.

FET (Field Effect Transistor)

FET compressors are well known for adding a distinct character to the sound. If you’re looking for subtlety, this isn’t the compressor you want to use. Because they don’t have a dedicated threshold knob, the compression amount is controlled by the input level. You can then adjust the output knob until the desired sound is achieved. This compressor loves to be driven and will add a rich and warm type of distortion to louder signals passing through it. For this reason, it’s not ideal for use on your mix bus, for mastering or when a transparent signal is desired.

 It also boasts lightning-fast attack and release times which make it ideal for parallel compression, adding punch, or pushing a lead vocal track right to the front of the mix.

Use FET compressor to add punch to drums, vocals and just about any other track that needs a little extra snap to it. Try turning the compressor off by deselecting all of the ratio buttons and insert it on a bus (or even the master chain) to add only the character of it. The most famous FET compressor is most definitely the iconic UREI 1176 Limiting Amplifier.

We haven’t been able to find a good free 1176 compressor plugin, though Minimal System Groups’ Punch Compressor is a pretty good 1176 emulator and will only set you back the price of a cappuccino (well depending on where you live). Check it out below:

Punch Compressor is only available for Windows 32-bit VST. For a more complete solution compatible with mac and windows 32 and 64 bit, check out Comp FET 76 by Arturia, though this will set you back more than a coffee.

Opto (Optical Compressor)

The Opto compressor is slow acting and smooth in contrast to the two previous compressors and offers a more musical type of gain reduction. It is slow, 10 milliseconds attack and seemingly 2-stage release makes it more suitable for use on signals without sudden transient spikes such as strings, guitar and bass. If you want to compress anything naturally and musically, this is the compressor for the task. Newer emulations of optical compressors may have faster response times and with careful adjustments can even be used on drums.

Although optical compressors are very transparent, they do add pumping to low end signals. However, you could use a high pass side chain filter to control this. Optical compressors are more “RMS” style as they work throughout a mix to even out the average levels in a track or complete song.

Use an optical compressor on the mix bus and/or instrument bus to even out the dynamics of an entire song without affecting transients. The most notable compressor in this category is the legendary Teletronix LA-2A.

Now for the best 5 compressor freebies:

Molot by Vladg Sound

Want some serious character to your mix?

Look no further than the Molot compressor. This offers a tube powered type of compression that adds a lot of color to everything and has a massive sound with lots of very useful controls for getting your signal just right.

If you’re a beginner then this isn’t the plugin for you as it can be difficult to dial in the sound you want.

I love the GUI and it comes in 2 flavors: English and Russian. Only the names display differently in the 2 versions, besides that, everything else is exactly the same.

Here is a video from Point Blank showing how to tame this beast:

Molot Compressor is available for Windows 32/64-bit VST & Mac OS X 32/64-bit VST/AU.

TDR Kotelnikov by Tokyo Dawn

This is a fantastic digital wideband dynamics compressor with loads of useful ground-breaking features.

Tokyo Dawn has stated that this model is the original and is not an emulation of any classic hardware design. Kotelnikov uses 64-bit floating point internal processing gives it a transparent high quality sound.

It has individual release control for peak and RMS signals as well as a unique “DELTA” button which allows you to hear the difference between the input and output.

The ultra-fast, compression makes Kotelnikov quite suitable for mastering but can be equally as usable on the mix bus. Check out the demonstration video below: 

TDR Kotelnikov is available for Windows 32/64-bit VST and Mac OS X 32/64-bit VST/AU/AAX.

Density MK III by Variety Of Sound

Density MK III is a character compressor with a VCA color knob on the GUI that allows you to dial in the desired amount of saturation.

It has been out for some time now and has gained lots of recognition for its flexibility and feature set. Different compression settings can be set for both of its 2 channels or the channels can be linked together.

There is an internal/external SC filter option which is optimized to better decouple the subsonic frequencies below 90Hz, a limiter mode, M/S, stereo and mono compression. Turning the “TIMING” knob to P5 or P6 introduces low-end program dependent release time behavior.

The only drawback I could find is that it’s only available in 32-bit for Windows users and doesn’t have support for Mac OS. If you are skeptical about using 32-bit plugins on your system (assuming you’re running a 64-bit system), this is definitely one you might want to reconsider.

Download Density MK III

MJUC jr. by Klanghelm

MJUC jr. is a variable-tube compressor capable of smooth leveling, but also heavy pumping effects.

It has a three-position timing switch to control not only the attack and release times but also the timing of other parts of the circuitry that affect the saturation of the resulting signal.

The GUI is very simple with only 2 knobs, 1 for the amount of compression and the other to adjust the make-up gain.

MJUC jr. is available for Windows 32/64-bit VST and Mac OS X 32/64-bit VST/RTAS/AAX/AU.

Rough Rider 2 by Audio Damage

Described by Audio Damage as a “modern compressor with a bit of ‘vintage’ style bite and a uniquely warm sound”, Rough Rider is not a subtle compressor.

Its suggested use is on your drum bus, synth bass, clean guitar and backing vocals. But honestly, I think it’s best served being used to add punch to drums, but that’s not to say that it’s unusable in any other scenario, it’s just personal preference.

At any rate, when you instantiate Rough Rider on any channel in your mix, you will immediately hear a difference.

Rough Rider is available for Windows 32/64-bit VST and Mac OS X 32/64-bit VST/AU.

And that’s it folks! The plugins listed here are great if you’re not looking to break the bank, but if you do have some extra change, we highly recommend heading over to plugin boutique and checking some of the alternatives.

Softube Tsar-1 – modern classic reverb review

In the world of reverb plugin emulations of classic hardware, it’s always refreshing to find one with superb sound quality that separates itself from the fray.

Softube’s TSAR-1 is a modern take on classic algorithmic reverbs capable of producing everything from vintage plates to Lexicon 224-type halls.

Its True Stereo Algorithm is what sets the TSAR-1 apart enabling it to be useful in mixing and creative situations.

True Stereo Algorithm and Presets

The architecture of the TSAR-1’s True Stereo Algorithm is such that it can process a stereo input as two discrete channels.

This feature enables you to control early reflections and the main reverb tail separately.

Softube describes the TSAR-1 as “alive and vibrant, gentle and dreamy and natural and believable”.

This is because it’s able to add a distinct character to various audio sources. Using the DENSITY slider in the center of the interface allows you to mimic the sound of a variety of vintage reverbs such as EMT plates and halls, Sony Digital Snare and of course the Lexicon 224 among others.

To my ears, the presets sound great on their own and you might find yourself using them without a lot of tweaking, if any at all. They are divided into two sections, modern and vintage. The modern presets are application specific while the vintage presets mimic the sound of vintage reverb units. Names like (Scoring Stage, Vocal Whisper, 224 Room, EMT Plate, etc.) offer you a fantastic starting point from which to dial in your desired sound.

The TSAR-1 isn’t modelled after any particular reverb.

It merely offers you the ability to mimic a variety of classic units.

This distinction is important in the event that you are expecting this to be an emulation because it most certainly is not.

Its powerful modern reverb algorithm heavily contributes to its signature sound and overall sophisticated quality.

It truly surrounds itself around the source material creating the illusion of actually being in that particular stereo space.

The Interface

Softube designed the TSAR-1 with ease of use in mind. Included with the package is the TSAR-1R plugin (more on this later) which has an even smaller set of intuitive controls.

The TSAR-1 has only five sliders (Pre-delay, Time, Density, Tone and High Cut), and 3 knobs (Output Volume, Reverb/Early Reflections and Reverb Mix). There are also a couple switched parameters for Diffusion and Modulation.

The display in the center of the interface shows the current settings for the various parameters. Clicking on any of them will toggle from the current setting to the most recent setting.

Parameters in the display illuminate briefly when either selecting a new preset, moving a slider or knob, or clicking on one of them. This is helpful because you are able to see at a glance, which parameter you are affecting.

You have up to 1 second of Pre-delay and a reverb time range of 150ms – 15 seconds.

By default, each preset is loaded with the Reverb Mix knob set to 100%. Take any sound, instantiate an instance of TSAR-1 and set the Time slider to about 10 seconds, play with the Density and Tone sliders, then bounce that to audio and get an instant unique ambient sample.

The High Cut slider limits the frequencies of both the early reflections and the reverb tail, although it sounds to me as if it affects the reverb tail a bit more. Also worth noting is that although both the TSAR-1 and TSAR-1R plugins support automation, parts of the reverb get muted when parameters change in order to limit noise artifacts. Softube suggests in their pdf manual:

Do not use automation to modulate or gradually change parameters.

A constantly moving parameter can lead to the reverb being muted.” 

Check out the plugin in use:

Tsar-1R

As mentioned earlier, TSAR-1 comes bundled with the TSAR-1R which is has an even more streamlined interface.

It uses the same algorithm as its big brother, but has only 3 reverb parameters and focuses mainly on natural reverberation types.

Pre-delay is limited to 200ms and the Time parameter adjusts an internal pre-delay, the early reflections, diffusion, density and delay time simultaneously.

Tsar-1 Rack Extension for Reason

There’s special version ported to the Rack Extension format. For my eyes it looks much better a rack-mounted device and it is has same great sound and presets and ability to modulate some of its parameters with CV-inputs.

Get Softube Tsar-1 Rack Extension

Conclusion

This is a very lush sounding and flexible reverb. I would have liked to have seen a low cut filter as it’s often necessary to cut the low frequencies of reverb to some degree. It would also be nice to be able to automate parameters without worrying if the processed sound if going to be muted. But all in all, both the TSAR-1 and TSAR-1R are sophisticated units holding true to the standard of high quality products Softube is known for.

Get Softube Tsar-1 for the best price:

BEST DEAL: Get Softube Volume 3 Bunle (Tsar-1 included with 13 other Softube plugins)

Overloud Tapedesk – new Console + Tape Machine Emulation Plugin

Overloud’s TAPEDESK is a tape simulator and a console emulator packed together into a single plugin that replicates the warm tones of an analog mixing workflow.

Simulates three legendary analog consoles

Simulates a 2-inch 24-track tape machine

Recreates the interactions between the console and the tape machine

Offers precise metering of any point in the sound chain

Simulates all of the transformers in the original units

Very low CPU usage: open the plugin on each track of your session

Many presets designed during real mixing sessions

Top 5 Free Reverb Plugins (VST/AU)

Reverb is one of the most widely used effects by audio engineers to give audio signals a sense of space in a mix. Over the years, the quality of free reverb plugins has greatly improved, often rivaling paid plugins.

Though I use many of the paid plugins (including some very expensive like Altiverb and UAD Reverbs) – this nice free  reverb plugins can still find its place in any production. Some of these are Windows compatible only, while few are also available for Mac OS X.