Compression is an essential element in creating high-quality audio tracks. If you are a little low on cash, you may want to try out these 5 best free compressor VST plugins I listed out for you.
Some DAWs have built-in compressors that do the job well. However, there is no harm in trying something new. In my experience, trying new plugins every now and then can give you inspiration for new ideas, especially if you are stuck in a loop. Music producers will inevitably experience a creative block once in a while.
Break the cycle by trying out some of these compressor VSTs that I consider to be the best freeware you can download right now.
What is Compression?
A compressor is essential in mixing and mastering your tracks.
If EQ is responsible for each track to cut through the mix, a compressor makes every part of the track more coherent. It adjusts the loudness of each part of the mix, making the listeners get more into the song.
Getting familiar with compression is an excellent way to learn about dynamics. Basically, what compression regulates the volume of the tracks. It normalizes the quiet and loud sections, making them sound a little more connected and consolidated.
The plugins that I listed are some of my favorite go-to compressor VSTs. I chose them based on their effectiveness, user-friendliness, and overall design.
Now that you know why compression is necessary, let’s get started on that list.
The Klanghelm DC1A is a straightforward compressor that focuses on the important aspects of compression. It aims to immediately enhance a dull truck with a matter of a few adjustments. It does not have a lot of features and effects, but it excels in one thing; it does an excellent job with increasing the tone quality of just about any kind of track.
This compressor VST does not have a whole lot of features. Still, the compression engine on this free plugin is exceptional. It has a minimum set of parameters that focus on functionality and purpose. The DC1A’s moderate compression ratio is suitable for a wide selection of instruments and sounds.
The main parameter of this compressor is the input knob that works as both the level and threshold control. Aside from the central knob, it also includes four switches that can subtly change the character of the compression.
I recommend this compressor for vocals. It does a great job of trying to even out the volume of vocal tracks in a subtle but very satisfying way.
The deep setting on the DC1A applies a high pass filter that decreases the low-end of the frequencies. This setting also increases the envelope, which measures the signal volume to determine how much compression the track needs.
The relaxed option is excellent for making slow-moving textures and vocals more accurate. Using the dual mono function adds compression to the left and right channels individually, making the wide stereo sound more spacious.
The last function is the negative option. This particular setting engages negative compression ratios. It makes reduces louder sounds by squashing them. It gives the tracks some interesting effects that will vary by adjusting the audio levels. The negative option is the definition of the word compression.
Tokyo Dawn Records Kotelnikov
Tokyo Dawn Records is known for creating some of the best freeware, and the Kotelnikov is no exception to TDR’s collection of generous offerings. This compressor VST is a digital compressor aimed for mixing and mastering.
This compressor plugin puts its energy on transparent gain reduction, which is an integral part of compression mastery.
There is so much more to this compressor than just mastering and gain reduction. I consider this plugin to be an all-around compressor with tons of uses. The Kotelnikov can quickly adapt to different compression scenarios, such as smoothing out vocal performances and limiting.
Although this compressor VST does not add any dirt or grit to your tracks, expect it to enhance your records, making them cleaner and more precise.
The user interface looks like a full-blown paid compressor and surely deserves mention. Every control is responsive, and none of the parameters are a waste of space. If you are looking for an outstanding compressor with full functionality, you should definitely give the Kotelnikov a chance.
Each of the knobs adjusts smoothly. You can quickly notice a difference after tweaking the knobs with the mouse. You can also enter the value using your keyboard for more precision.
I recommend this compressor for someone who is looking for a professional mixing and mastering tool. This compressor VST can be the most useful tool in the shed that you can use for a variety of purposes. In my opinion, this compressor is far better than your DAW’s built-in compression.
This compressor VST is excellent for limiting. The process of limiting is a kind of compression that has a higher ratio that is used to block the sound. It safely trims out rouge peaks and sets a threshold or ceiling for the output to avoid clipping.
However, using this feature for all of your tracks will cause sounds to clash with each other, especially without EQ. Limiting can be an excellent tool, if you learn how to and when to use it. It may be useful for creating louder tracks, but the quality and dynamic will be affected.
Make sure you take it easy on the limiting. Think of the D16 as a powerful tool that you need to master before unlocking its true capabilities.
Generally, the D16 Frontier can make your tracks louder without the use of distortion. It reduces the possibility of clipping, but you still need to record audio tracks as clean as possible to maximize this compressor’s features.
This plugin does a remarkable job of limiting and maximizing loudness without compromising the quality and headroom. I really liked the results after trying this compressor VST for electric guitar and drum tracks.
However, every software will have its drawbacks, and the D16 is no exception. After trying this VST with my DAW (FL Studio), I noticed a 5ms latency when you activate the D16. Besides that, the D16 Frontier is still a fantastic compressor VST.
The levels of compression can be adjusted from mild to extreme, depending on your tastes. It may not have a lot of parameters, but it has all the essential aspects of an excellent compressor.
The user interface is not flashy, but I’m okay with that. I am more concerned about how it can affect the sound, and it does quite a good job. I am sure you will be satisfied with the overall functionality of this free compressor VST.
I recommend this plugin for limiting aggressive vocals, acoustic drums, and electric guitar. This plugin works well with louder instruments by reducing the chances of clipping.
You will need to set up a D16 account before you can download the plugin. But don’t worry, because it is totally worth it because the D16 Frontier is packed with functions and features that you need.
Audio Damage Rough Rider 2
This next compressor VST plugin is one of my all-time favorites in terms of simplicity and functionality. It is the very definition of sleek. It has a total of 7 knobs that work quite well, in my opinion (it feels especially nice if you happen to have a MIDI controller with physical knobs.
The Rough Rider is the best of both worlds. It can be subtle when you want it to, but you can crank it up to achieve unique and outrageous settings.
It has the traditional compression knobs, such as Attack, Ratio, Release, Gain Reduction, Sensitivity, Gate, and Mix. All of these knobs function smoothly and accurately.
The advantage of using the Rough Rider is that it genuinely enhances and lends its massive sound to your tracks without compromising the quality. A lot of compressors can do the same, but you will notice a decrease in sound quality.
This compressor VST is ideal for adding character and impact to instruments such as drums and other acoustic or percussive instruments. However, I would also use this compressor to improve vocal tracks. You can add slap and power to vocal hooks and bridges, making them dynamic and better to listen to.
The subtle power of the Rough Rider’s compression can make the listener hooked to your music, assuming everything is mixed and mastered properly.
The rough rider also comes with a handful of presets that are ready to use. You can also use the copy and paste function to duplicate the settings on multiple tracks. You can also save your favorite patches and save time for the next recording session.
I recommend this plugin for making dull tracks more aggressive by adding character. If you want to make your soft tracks louder without compromises, the Rough Rider is the compressor you need. It acts as the exact opposite of the Kotelnikov, which is recommended for making loud tracks quieter.
Overall, the Rough Rider is easily one of the best free compressor VST plugins you can download right now. I really like the minimalist approach to this plugin.
Tokyo Dawn Records Nova
Last but not least, I give you the TDR Nova. It is a multiband compressor that includes four bands and an optional wideband feature. Multiband compression is a combination of EQ and dynamic controls. The TDR Nova has all the traditional compression controls with the addition of EQ parameters, which makes this free software a total hit.
With the addition of the EQ and multiple bands, you can adjust the compression on the different frequencies. The functions may be more complicated, but it can be more precise if you master the software. Because of all the extra features, this blow-out VST is an all-around mixing and mastering tool.
Although it sounds complicated, it is not really that difficult if you understand the basics of EQ and compression.
The Nova’s most noticeable feature is the visual feedback, which indicates how the compression is being applied for each section. The visual aspect makes the Nova less intimidating for beginners in the world of compression and mixing.
It also includes a help icon to help you understand the different parameters.
I recommend this compressor VST for both intermediate users and beginners alike. Although it may seem complicated at first, beginners can adapt to the software quickly because of all the helpful features.
Unlike the Rough Rider, the Nova works better for dynamic adjustments rather than adding character to the sound. It can drastically improve the representation of the original sound without adding saturation or effects.
Of all the other choices, the Nova might be the most generous free software because of all the features and overall design. At first glance, it is hard to believe that it’s free. The only drawback (if you can even call it that) is the fact that it can be a notch CPU-intensive. If you notice difficulties running it, consider upgrading your PC.
- Are hardware compressors better than virtual software compressors? In terms of producing high-quality sound, I am all for using hardware compressors. However, you will still need software to fix pre-recorded tracks or MIDI tracks. For audio tracks recorded by using a microphone or direct input, hardware compressors will do the job of clearing the dynamic range pretty well. However, hardware compressors may set you back hundreds of dollars.
The ART SCL2 is an example of a compressor that is suitable for you if you want to get familiar with hardware compression. It is an affordable compressor that I would recommend for beginners.
- Is it better to use compression on the master track or for individual tracks? It depends on the kind of output you want. What I would do is add a little compression before recording to even out the levels and add the right amount of compression to each track post-production. You can try to add compression on the master track, but only if it works for your tastes. Every producer develops their own technique by experimentation.
Compression is an aspect of recording that most beginners commonly overlook. When I started music production, I focused more on modulation effects before I figured out compression and its importance.
Compressors come in different forms with specific purposes. Each of these items may look different, and some might even have fewer parameters. However, even with limited controls, it would still have a significant effect.
As a music producer, you will have to challenge your ear to hear even the subtlest of effects. Volume and compression work hand in hand, so make sure you keep that in mind when you are in the process of mixing.
Because the list includes various types of compressor plugins with their own sets of strengths and drawbacks, I suggest that you try each of them out for yourself. The good thing is that these best free compressor VST plugins do not take up a whole lot of hard drive space so that you can add them to your plugin library without a worry.
Last update on 2020-04-02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API