Although the software industry offers a plethora of brand new compressor designs that address the concept of dynamics shaping from all sorts of novel directions, emulations of classic hardware units from decades past still dominate the plugin scene. The trusted tones and styles of the LA-2A, 1176, SSL Bus Compressor, and other vintage icons seem to be as coveted today as ever—here are eight of our favorites.
Lindell Audio 254E
Lindell's neat plugin emulates the standalone E version of the Neve 2254 compressor/limiter, which was introduced as a module in the venerable British company's mixing consoles in 1968. Built on an innovative diode bridge design, the 2254 was known for its warmth and character, and the 254E captures every aspect of the sound and functionality of the hardware, adding only a dry/wet mix control for parallel compression, a 100ms compress -Recovery setting, a slow attack time and a high-pass sidechain filter.
Since the signal hits an adjustable limiter before compression, and with its comparatively sluggish response, the 254E is ideal for leveling individual instruments and vocals and is particularly in its element on drums and mix buses. See and hear it in Julian's video below versus a FET compressor on a snare drum...
Empirical Labs Arousor
A standard in the recording industry since the late '90s, Empirical Labs' groundbreaking Distressor changed the game of dynamics processing with its carefully crafted preset compression curves, highly customizable response and distortion characteristics, and mind-blowing sound. The “official” plugin version,pathogen, not only gives you a supremely compelling view of the hardware in every way, but goes well beyond that with the transformative implementation of four additional ratios (1.5:1, 6.5:1, 7:1, and 8:1). original design. , two LA-2A inspired opto modes, attack stage shaping and variable saturation and soft clipping. There simply isn't a dynamic-wrangling situation that Arousor can't handle, and the punch and energy it brings to drums, bass, vocals and anything else you could throw at it is extraordinary.
Sonically superior, infinitely versatile, and regularly improved with significant free updates, the Empirical Labs Virtual Compressor is nothing short of a masterpiece - we'd honestly put it ahead of its physical counterpart!
Softube Tube-Tech Kompressorkollektion
Don't be fooled by the misleading name, as Softube's contribution to our list actually only includes the current and original versions of a single plugin: their emulation of Tube-Tech's CL 1B opto-compressor, itself a reinterpretation of the legendary Teletronix LA-2A is . Rebuilt from the ground up a few years ago, the Mk II incarnation added dry/wet mix control, a sidechain high-pass filter (fixed at 80 or 220Hz), high-resolution graphics, and improved the core algorithms to ensure a consistent sound to deliver closer to its hardware counterpart than the already impressive original version. With its sparkling attack, sluggish opto-release, ease of use and maximum ratio of 10:1, the CL 1B is, as you'd expect, particularly keen on vocals, basses, keys, guitars and the like, and is very much one of those compressors nicknamed ' Musical'.
Slightly overpriced at full MSRP but apparently on sale most of the time, this is as definitive a take on Tube-Tech's beautiful compressor as you'll find in software. However, the legacy version is really just for old project compatibility for previous CL 1B owners and adds the ‘collection' for newcomers.
Universal Audio Fairchild Tube Limiter Collection
For their emulations of the legendary Fairchild 660 and 670 limiters for UAD-2 and Apollo DSP systems (not yet available in the new Native format), Universal Audio lovingly recreated the "golden reference units" of Ocean Way Studios and added dry /wet mix- Knobs, sidechain filters and the headroom control to adjust distortion. Although the actual 660 was mono while the 670 upgraded the architecture to stereo, both plugins can be loaded in mono or stereo configurations, plus dual mono and mid-side options for the 670. The noticeable differences So there's not exactly depth between the two - notably a bit more punch than the 670 - but together they offer two subtly different but equally delicious compression flavors, with the headroom control proving very effective in dialing in the desired level of transparency .
Also included in the collection is the original UAD1 version of the 670 - 670 Legacy - which requires far less DSP usage and operates with slightly lower latency, but does not model the amplifier and transformer stages and therefore does not have the coloration of the newer builds.
Watch Russ put the Fairchild Tube Limiter Collection through its paces in his video review.
IK Multimedia Black 76
There are so many fantastic software remakes of the Urei/Universal Audio 1176 compressor out there that it would be foolish to pick a 'winner' - but we have a real soft spot for IK Multimedia's 1176LN emulation, loaded as can be a standalone plugin or within their T-RackS mastering suite.
With its meticulously modeled FET-based design that delivers super-fast attack times and a special coloration that's inherently desirable (with compression bypassed), and the famous "all buttons in" ultra-high ratio mode with its own dedicated button.Schwarz 76brings the authentic 1176 sound and experience to your fingertips. It also adds mid-side processing but surprisingly stops short of a dry/wet mix control.
Like the 1176, the Teletronix LA-2A Leveling Amplifier is well represented in the plugin section, and the sophisticated Waves emulation of multiple Grammy Award-winner Chris Lord-Alge's personal unit is without a doubt one of the best. There are few frills and extras over the original hardware spec — electrical hum can be switched (or turned off) between 50Hz and 60Hz streams, and the sidechain includes a high-pass filter — but all that really matters is, that Waves have managed to model the program-dependent, two-stage release of the electro-optical T4 cell that controls gain reduction and the glorious warmth of the tube amp. Switch between 3:1 compressor or 100:1 limiter modes, dial in the compression with the Peak Reduction knob, adjust the gain (and clip the tube) if necessary, and sunbathe in one of the most transparent, musical compressions you'll ever hear. A must especially for vocals.
Dan Cooper compares the CLA-2A to the Universal Audio LA-2A in this video.
Arturia Comp ROHR-STA
Once the most intriguing third of Arturia's 'Three Compressors You'll Actually Use' collection, alongside the equally excellent onesComp VCA-65AndComp FET-76DBX 165A and 1176 emulations,FROM ROHRis now available individually or as part of theFX Collection 3bundle up. As far as we know, this is one of only two existing software emulations of the classic Gates STA-level compressor from the 50's (the other being Sknote's).STA-Limit) and aims to faithfully recreate the Vari-Mu magic of this American-designed box via Arturia's proven TAE modeling technology. More specifically, it seems to emulate the 2014 remake of Retro Instruments' long-discontinued original, as evidenced by the addition of Triple Recovery Mode (faster attack) and Recovery Time knob. In addition, the Advanced section below the main control panel brings a comprehensive sidechain setup to the party with five stereo detection modes and a full-fledged EQ/Filter combo.
The comp TUBE-STA's delightfully non-linear attack/release and warming saturation make it particularly well suited to vocals and bass, but it also supports the drums bus beautifully and anywhere else that a touch of bass fattening might be needed.
SSL Native Bus Compressor 2
Another idolized high-end hardware processor that has been made abundantly available in software by a number of developers, the 4000 G-Series SSL console's onboard bus compressor is widely recognized as one of the most effective instant mix enhancers in the world History of music technology viewed, quasi-magical sticking effect that has spiced up countless hits since the late 80s. As you'd expect, SSL's proprietary virtualization is one of the most authentic versions out there - if not the most authentic - and the company has not only nailed the essential side of bus compression, but also expanded the brief, individual tracks better usable by expanding the ratio control up to and slightly beyond 20:1 and adding various new attack and release settings.
Sidechain filtering and a mix control are also on board, of course, and Native Bus Compressor 2 is the best way to give your mixes that signature in-your-face SSL sound without paying two grand compared to the original lose.
What are your favorite vintage and classic compressor plugins? Let us know in the comments.
Ronan Macdonald is a music and technology journalist with over 30 years of experience. Away from the day job, Ronan is an avid producer and drummer with a particular passion for '90s hip-hop, jungle, breakbeat and jazz, a hard drive full of unfinished projects and a plugin folder that he'll honestly tidy up someday. He is also the dep percussionist for seminal 80's/90's Italian house band Black Box.
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