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Top 10 Vocal Compressors

  • Pro-C2: FabFilter
  • Comp Tube STA: Arturia
  • Presswerk: U-he
  • Weiss De-ess: Softube
  • Soothe2: Oeksound
  • Oxford Inflator: Sonnox
  • MV2: Waves Audio
  • Ozone 9 Dynamics: Izotope
  • Mu - Pulsar
  • LALA - Analog Obsession

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Pro-C2: FabFilter

The plugins in this list are some of my favorites and go-to’s for personal projects, but let me know in the comments which ones you use.

You probably predicted the Pro-C2 would be on this list, so I figured I’d put it first - I personally enjoy it for it’s incredibly clean sound, making it a great tool for dynamic control without changing the vocal’s timbre. For a truly modern vocal, try to Upfront preset.

It engages the plugin’s vocal algorithm and pushes the vocal right to the top of the mix.

Let’s take a listen using a tweaked version of this preset.

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Comp Tube STA: Arturia

This is a great replication of a vintage tube compressor which works well at creating a smooth and consistent vocal indicative of classic recordings. I like the addition of the triple mode which utilizes a faster attack and release time, making it more suitable for modern vocals.

The advanced section gives us an internal side chain, where we can emphasize certain vocal frequencies - for example amplifying around 2kHz would add a unique character to a vocal’s presence.

It also allows us to isolate compression to a specific frequency range.

I usually use this on BGVs to smooth out the sound and help it blend in with the lead.

But, let’s listen to it on a lead vocal to better understand its effect.

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Presswerk: U-he

If you’re really interested in complex compression, this is a great compressor with a lot of options. When working with vocals, I like using Interactive detection which combines feed-forward and feedback compression, resulting in a great mix of program-dependent and static amplitude attenuation.

I love the auto-make-up gain feature, optional non-linearities in attenuation, and up top, the dual phase rotation feature which causes mild phase cancellation to transients, resulting in a perceived warmer and fuller sound.

The expansion option is also great which introduces subtle gating or downward expansion, in turn increasing the dynamic range of the vocal without affecting its peaks.

It can introduce both peak and RMS compression, making it easy to control a vocal, and best of all, if this interface feels too time-consuming or intimidating, there’s a vocal compressor setting that combines some of the best aspects of what we’ve been discussing so far.

Let’s use this Vocal compressor view and notice how well it controls our vocal dynamics.

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Weiss De-ess: Softube

This is by far my favorite vocal de-esser, due its transparent sound at moderate settings, and still incredibly pleasant sound at higher levels of attenuation. Now if you like the sound of this de-esser, you could use the full DS1 compressor, which this de-esser is pulled from.

However, I find I’m always using this compressor for de-essing anyways, so might as well keep it simple, and use the de-essing version.

I really like the ability to change the latency, wet/dry, and various behaviors like the attack and release, knee, and more.

Lastly, the mid-side option makes this perfect for vocal bus processing, in which you want to affect the sibilance more so that any effects like reverb or delay which may be in the same frequency range, but on the side image.

Let’s take a listen.

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Soothe2: Oeksound

You might be wondering why I put this plugin on here since it isn’t really considered a compressor - but when you think about it, you realize it’s a multi-band compressor, made up of lots of bands, with a side-chain emphasize or de-emphasize EQ prior to compression.

That’s why it includes an attack and release, a depth or range function, sharpness or band crossover, and selectivity or a threshold.

Behind the scenes, I’m not sure if there are different ratios for each band, or how many bands there are in total - regardless, this is a fantastic tool for balancing a vocal’s frequency response by dynamically attenuating it in a frequency-specific way.

Let’s take a listen.

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Oxford Inflator: Sonnox

The inflator can be seen as a maximizer or an upward compressor, that measures and amplifies quieter parts of the signal. On vocals, I like to use the effect at 100% and then adjust the input to compensate for the gain changes, while keeping the curve at 0.

It also introduces harmonics which will fill the vocal and help cover some of the noise floor that was amplified by the upward compression.

Let’s take a listen.

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MV2: Waves Audio

MV2 is similar to the inflator in that instead of compressing from peaks down, it amplifies quieter aspects of the signal, intern reducing the dynamic range. With plugin doctor, we can see that it works similarly, but has a different characteristic, especially when processing higher amplitude signals.

Let’s take a listen and notice how it’s somewhat similar to the last plugin, but has a distinct, slightly more aggressive effect.

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Ozone 9 Dynamics: Izotope

Although this is typically used for bus or master bus dynamics processing, I think Ozone dynamics is a great option for vocals. You can create up to 4 independent bands, making it a great option for de-essing, or just generally controlling your vocal’s dynamics in a frequency-specific way.

So other useful features include various detection types, adaptive release, auto-makeup gain, and in the settings section - lookahead to control the transients.

Let’s take a listen and notice how it lets us fine-tune the vocal’s compression.

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Mu - Pulsar

Mu is an emulation of a variable-bias compressor; this makes the ratio program and threshold-dependent and causes a slower attack. For vocals, this will result in a smoother, more natural sound, but it isn’t the best for controlling dynamics - that said, I recommend this on a vocal bus.

The side-chain section lets us emphasize vocal presence into the compressor, and the look-behind setting will let more transients pass through unaffected.

Let’s take a listen, using the same demo for consistency’s sake, but notice how it would likely work better at subtly controlling a group of vocals.

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LALA - Analog Obsession

Last up we have an emulation of an LA-2A, but this free version from Analog Obsession has even more features than most paid-for versions. The attack and release are fixed and program-dependent, but we can control the compressor’s detection of the incoming signal.

The limit option results in a higher ratio, but in most examples, the original ratio will be perfect for creating a smooth, warm, and dense vocal.

Lastly, we can click the Analog-Obsession logo to enable oversampling, resulting in more accurate emulation of the original hardware, especially at more aggressive settings.

Let’s take a listen.

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