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Compression is an indispensable tool for the music producer found across individual tracks, mix buses, and mastering chains. Compressors are used for narrowing dynamic range, manipulating amplitude envelopes, peak limiting, and more.
They’re also well-known for having distinct characteristics depending on the circuitry (or, in the digital world, the programming) of the particular model. This raises the question — which compressor works best for you?
All the plugins listed have versions compatible with both Mac and Windows and are relatively up-to-date with current operating systems. Some are available directly from Splice’s Plugins catalog. Be sure to check out the Splice project at the bottom of this article for a demo of the five plugins along with a download of our free custom presets!
1. Rough Rider by Audio Damage
As you might guess from the name, Audio Damage’s Rough Rider is a compressor best suited for aggressive pumping rather than subtle attenuation. The compressor has a warm, vintage sound that can add desirable harmonic content to a drum buss or lead guitar. If you’re going for transparency, look elsewhere, but for compression that leaves its mark, Rough Rider will do the job.
Download the free VST here: Rough Rider
Rough Rider is compatible with Mac OS X 10.8 and later versions, as well as Windows 8 and later versions.
2. MJUCjr by Klanghelm
Klanghelm’s MJUCjr is a compressor that gets a lot of mileage out of minimal controls. A single “Compress” dial manages the ratio and threshold of the compression, while the three-position “Time Constraints” switch simultaneously controls the attack and release times.
Its digital emulation of tube compression provides some colorful saturation, and the compressor can handle smooth attenuation as well as more aggressive pumping. MJUCjr certainly isn’t a compressor intended to be deliberately fine-tuned, but some experimentation can create surprisingly pleasing results (and save the headache of adjusting a dozen parameters).
Download the free VST here: MJUCjr
MJUCjr is compatible with Mac OS X 10.6 and later versions, as well as Windows 7 and later versions.
3. SAFE Compressor by Semantic Audio
The SAFE Compressor is a relatively transparent compressor that excels in subtlety in comparison to the biting Rough Rider or tube-emulating MJUCjr. It has all your standard compressor parameters (threshold, ratio, knee, attack, release, and gain) alongside a simple graphic display that offers a visual reference for your compression curve.
What makes the SAFE Compressor unique is how the user can upload and download custom presets made by other users via Semantic Audio’s server. This nifty feature allows for the SAFE Compressor to have an unlimited number of presets that can be experimented with endlessly.
Download the free VST here: SAFE Compressor
SAFE Reverb is compatible with Mac OS X 10.6 and later, as well as Windows and Linux.
4. DCAM FreeComp by FXpansion
FXpansion’s DCAM FreeComp is a circuit-modeled compressor that can deliver some extra punch to a track. Its ratio dial locks at three positions, delivering options of gentle attenuation, moderate compression, and near-limiting aggression.
The UI has a classic look featuring an analog-inspired meter that can toggle between output metering and gain reduction metering. Use DCAM FreeComp modestly to tame peaks and glue tracks together or crank up the settings for some energetic pumping and envelope shaping.
Download the free VST here: DCAM FreeComp
DCAM FreeComp is compatible with Mac OS X 10.5.8 and later versions, as well as Windows 7 and later versions.
5. OTT by Xfer Records
Xfer Records bring the same quality and edge found in Serum (their flagship wavetable synthesizer) to the OTT compressor. This compressor remains minimalistic in its controls while featuring unique functionalities such as upwards and downwards compression as well as multiband capabilities.
OTT shines brightest in genres such as dubstep or electro where it can be used for aggressive envelope manipulation or limiting at higher Depth settings. Used properly, the OTT compressor can rival many commercial compressors in the market.
Download the free VST here: OTT
OTT is compatible with Mac OS X, as well as Windows.
Download the demo project:
The project below showcases the five compressor plugins with custom presets from Splice. The project first plays an uncompressed drum groove and then loops with a different compressor plugin applied to each repeat.
Download Splice’s custom presets for all five free compressors. Pick and choose over two million royalty-free samples, loops, and presets for your production on Splice Sounds. Enjoy one month free with code SOUNDFLY.
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Harrison Shimazu is a video game and film composer passionate about communicating narrative through music and sound design.