10. SlamPup - Beatskills
9. Yala - Analog Obsession
8. Clip Shifter - LVC Audio
7. Couture - Auburn Sounds
6. DC1A - Klanghelm
5. Varimoon - Analog Obsession
4. Loudmax - Thomas Mundt
3. Kotelnikov Mastering Compressor - Tokyo Dawn Records
2. RoughRider 3 - Audio Damage
1. Frontier - DC16 Audio Group Software
Compression is an incredibly important aspect of tracking, mixing, and mastering. Sometimes the stock plugins just don’t do the job, and the plugins out at the time are just a little too expensive to justify a purchase.
Stock plugins are great, but sometimes they don't provide the functionality or tone we need.
That’s why it's always helpful to know which plugins you can get for free, and which of these plugins are worth your time.
With that in mind, we comprised this list of our picks for the Top 10 Free Compression plugins that you can download and start using today. We’ve ranked these plugins from great to the best ones you can find for free.
Fortunately, there are many free plugins that offer distinct and valuable sounds and functions.
Although novel in design, the SlamPup plugin sounds great.
Despite its somewhat goofy and novel design, the SlamPup by Beatskills is a powerful and useful plugin best suited for parallel compression.
Its 5 functions include:
These 5 functions offer a surprising amount of flexibility and introduce complex tonality. The ‘Bark’ function works as saturation , in which compression is employed and harmonics are slowly generated.
The 'Bark' and 'Bite' functions are the main parameters to use if you want to affect change to your signal.
The ‘Bite’ function employs upward compression and greater amplifies the overall level of the signal. The ‘Bite’ function also introduces harmonic generation.
This plugin causes moderate to significant harmonic generation.
By blending the two functions together, you compress and saturate the signal in a complex and significant manner. This is balanced nicely with the Wet/Dry function which keeps the effects from becoming extreme and distracting.
What’s great about this plugin is that it allows you to compress in a creative and high influential way. Whereas some compressors are designed to be as non-invasive and unnoticeable as possible, the SlamPup provides an “in-your-face” sound.
Try this compression on a full mix or instrument group.
YALA models itself off of classic analog compressor tonality.
Yala by Analog Obsession is a seemingly simplistic compressor. At first glance the functionality seems straightforward enough; however, after experimenting with this plugin you’ll notice how quirky it is.
This quirkiness is offset by how great the compression sound, but it's worth noting some of these oddities nonetheless.
Its 6 functions include:
The strangeness of this plugin comes from the first 2 functions. Whereas one would think that Volume would be an input or maybe make-up gain, it is an input that doesn’t increase the amplitude of the signal, but insteadincreases the amount of signal being fed into the compressor.
At first, it's a little unclear what these functions do.
It’s a little difficult to explain, but most simply put, it increases the amount of compression occurring , without increasing the signals gain in any way - somewhat similar to a ratio .
The attenuation function, although seemingly meant to control the amount of attenuation, is make-up gain.
Release and threshold work as expected with the release function ranging from a very quick to very slow setting, and the threshold behaving as a typical threshold would.
Power is simply a bypass function whereas oversampling introduces filtering to alleviate any aliasing and intermodulation distortion.
The more you compress with YALA, the louder the harmonics become
What’s really special about this plugin is that the more you compress, the more harmonics get added into the signal. Also, the release affects the amplitude of the harmonics generated, with a quick-release resulting in the loudest harmonics, and a slow-release resulting in the quietest.
This allows you to really get some character out of your compression and makes the YALA compressor a fantastic option for parallel compression and bus compression.
ClipShifter is an unconventional plugin that introduces clipping distortion in tandem with compression.
The ClipShifter is different than most compression or limiting plugins. Whereas most compression plugins or plugins in general really attempt to avoid clipping distortion, Clip Shifter utilizes it as a creative tool.
No matter what you do with ClipShifter, if you’re affecting the signal in any way, you’re causing clipping. Although this seems to go against how audio should be processed, the clipping generated by this compressor can come in handy or be used creatively.
The compression-Esque functions of this plugin include:
Initial works similarly to a threshold, whereas End determines the ending amplitude of signal breaching that threshold.
The Initial function determines the point at which the compressor will begin to clip the signal, whereas the End function determines the final amplitude of the clipped signal.
Although this plugin is a bit unorthodox, it can be thought of like a compressor that instead of simply attenuating the signal, attenuates the signal with clipping distortion.
With that said, the greater the attenuation, the greater the amplitude of the distortion. This distortion can also be controlled with functions like ‘Clip Shape’ and ‘Harmonics’ both of which determine what harmonics are generated and to what extent.
This plugin may not be a go-to choice for traditional compression, but it does offer a unique form of processing that can be used creatively.
Couture introduces simultaneous transient expansion and compression
Another unique entry on this list, Couture by Auburn Sounds offers a way to affect the ADSR of a signal and to perform compression and transient shaping independent of that transients amplitude.
Typically compressors work when the amplitude of the signal reaches a certain point, but the Couture can amplify or attenuate aspects of the signal regardless of that signal’s amplitude.
With Couture, you can affect how transients are detected, and what part of the transient is either compressed or expanded.
The plugin includes multiple functions that you can use to affect how the transients are detected and how they’re affected.
Additionally, a wet/dry function allows you to blend this effect in with your signal.
When using the main transient shaping functions, you can either compress the transient and amplify the sustain and release of the signal, or you can amplify the transient and compress the sustain and release.
This operation can be incredibly apparent or done subtly based on how aggressively you alter the ‘Sharpen’ rotary.
The detection setting you choose also determines what transients get boosted or cut, depending on the frequency of that transient.
If you’re looking for a unique compressor, one that can both compress and expand transients, then try the Couture.
DC1A is seemingly simple at first, but it does offer advanced functionality.
One of the simpler plugins on this list, the DC1A by Klanghelm only utilizes two rotaries - or at least this is how it appears at first.
It is true that you can use this plugin in its most simple form - that is increasing the input to cause compression, you can also create some nuanced effects using its additional functionality.
These 4 functions can be used independently or used collectively.
Deep, Relaxed, Dual Mono, and Negative buttons at the bottom can be used to significantly affect the sound of your compression.
The Deep function introduces a High Pass filter to alleviate the effect of pumping. 'Relaxed' changes compression detection from peak to RMS.
Dual mono changes the input from stereo to two independent compressions that treat the left and right channels independently. And Negative inverts the ratio, causing expansion.
There's a wet/dry mix below the GR meter.
Additionally, a Wet/Dry mix function can be found below the metering - this allows for quick parallel compression functionality.
Lastly, the DC1A employs subtle harmonic generation to make your signal sound fuller and more complex.
Try this compressor out if you want a quick and effective way to add some character and punch to your signal, all while controlling your dynamics.
Varimoon is similar to YALA, the other Analog Obsession plugin listed here - but with greater functionality.
Varimoon is similar to the other Analog Obsession compressor listed earlier but includes additional functionality and more intricate harmonic generation.
First off, this compressor incorporates a variable release function , offering 6 settings. Settings 1 - 4 correspond to times ranging from 0.3 - 5.0 seconds, while settings 5 and 6 are dependent upon the incoming signal.
6 release settings allow for more control over your compression's timbre.
The AC threshold can be thought of as a typical threshold, whereas the input attenuation can be thought of as a ratio. The greater the ‘input attenuation’ function the more the compressor will compress (if the signal is breaching the threshold).
The DC threshold’s purpose is less obvious, as it doesn’t affect the signal in any direct manner. It only seems to affect the signal once significant compression is already applied. At which point it causes slightly more significant compression.
Varimoon also introduces harmonics when compression begins.
Like the other Analog obsession plugin on this list,the Varimoon employs harmonic generation that increases with the amount of compression being applied. This way, you not only compress your signal, but you also increase its complexity and fullness with mild to moderate distortion.
The Loudmax is very similar to the Waves L1 and L2
Loudmax by Thomas Mundt is simply put, a great plugin. It’s an incredibly close remake of the popular Waves L1 and L2 limiters, both in functionality and clean tonality.
What makes this plugin so useful is how cleanly it affects a signal. Just like the L1 and L2, the Loudmax plugin doesn’t generate any harmonics, nor does it cause any unwanted modulation or distortion - even at significant compression levels.
Loudmax doesn't introduce any harmonics into your signal.
this makes it a great option for mastering and for any compression in which you want to transparently compress your signal.
The Loudmax only employs 3 functions:
The threshold determines when compression begins and the output determines the output level of the signal. 'Link' causes these functions to work at the same peak dB level.
The Loudmax also uses an auto gain function that enacts whenever the threshold is lowered. That said, pulling down on the threshold increases the overall loudness and amplitude of the signal.
If you’d like to compress an instrument or mix without increasing the amplitude, simply Link the threshold and output and decrease both simultaneously.
Try the Loudmax on a full mix to preview what it would sound like when brought to a louder level, or use it to transparently compress an instrument.
However you choose to use it, the Loudmax is a simply but highly practical and useful plugin.
This mastering compressor offers the usual functionality, but with the addition of 4 functions allowing for much greater control of your compression.
If you’re looking for a compressor designed with mastering in mind, the Kotelnikov Mastering Compressor by Tokyo Dawn Labs aka Tokyo Dawn Records is a fantastic choice.
This compressor offers clean compression and provides the functionality needed to fine-tune your attenuation. The compressor houses the typical functions but also includes some very important settings allowing for nuanced compression.
These functions include:
The ‘Low-Frequency Relax’ setting is a High-pass filter that reduces the effect of pumping.
‘Stereo Sensitivity’ alters how receptive the compressor is to signal located outside of the mid-image.
Low-Frequency Relax, Stereo Sensitivity, Peak and RMS release, and multiple monitoring modes allow for some versatile compression.
‘Distinct Peak and RMS Releases’ allow you to alter the release time, and in turn the compression timbre of a signal measured by peak and RMS measurements.
And ‘Variable Channel-Based Compression’ allows you to switch your compression from the typical stereo to independent channels or sums like the Left, Right, Mono, Sum, or Difference.
The compressor also introduces subtle harmonic generation to create a fuller-sounding master.
RoughRider 3 sports a clean interface with easy to understand controls.
RoughRider 3 is an easy to understand yet advanced compression plugin that allows for side-chain routing. The clean interface and intuitive metering make it easy to understand how you’re affecting your signal, resulting in more intentional processing.
Although the RoughRider 3 looks as if the compressor it cleanly compresses your signal, it does introduce harmonics that result in a fuller mix or master.
RoughRider 3 offers side-chain functionality which allows for advanced compression techniques.
The primary reason to use this plugin, as opposed to some of the other free compressors listed here, is for the side-chain functionality. This means that you can perform some advanced compression techniques with this plugin, in a way that most other plugins don’t allow for.
Incredibly fast Attack and Release times mean you can easily alter the timbre of your signal with this compressor. Additionally, a side-chain high-pass filter offers control over your side-chain that other compressors rarely provide.
Try the RoughRider 3 if you’re looking for an easy to understand, yet versatile compressor.
Frontier is an incredibly useful and sonically pleasing plugin.
Of all the plugins on this list, Frontier by D16 Audio Group was the most enjoyable to use, aesthetically pleasing, and useful plugin I came across.
While all other plugins took some tweaking to result in an enhanced sound, the Frontier provided this almost instantly.
Frontier can be compared to number 4 on this list, the Loudmax plugin,except with additional functionality that augments its sound and practicality.
The soft clip function creates pleasant harmonics whenever the signal approaches 0dB.
A soft-clip feature employs subtle harmonic generation when reaching 0dB. The control input feature allows you to process your single as a stereo, left or right channel.
3 release settings provide some control over an algorithmic and input-determined release time. And lastly, the auto-makeup gain setting increases the overall amplitude of your signal while setting the threshold for your compression.
A variable control input, release, and threshold allow you to dial in an impressive sound.
All-in-all this plugin sounds fantastic and allows you the option of clean or distortion-based compression. This makes it a great choice for both individual instruments and full mix compression and limiting.
Although downloading this plugin requires setting up an account which is slightly time-consuming, it’s definitely worth it for the quality you receive. Try this plugin on your mix or master and share your results.
Compression is just as important now as it has ever been - finding the right compressor for your project is crucial to creating a unique and fully-developed sound.
Hopefully, at least one of the compressors listed here will prove useful and can augment your project, be it a mix or master.
Try any one of these plugins if your stock plugins are doing the job:
If you do, share your results with us! We’d love to hear your mix or master.