Compressors indeed are the swiss army knife of music production and mixing. Sure, on the surface, a compressor controls a sound’s dynamics, resulting in a fatter and more powerful sounding record. But there is so much more than a great compressor can do.
Well, that is to say, there are so many things that suitable compressors can do.
Need More Free Plugins For Vocal Processing? We Got You…
And there are a lot of terrible plugins out there that aren’t worth you even taking the time to download them onto your computer! So if you’re looking for a compressor, don’t trust just anyone or anything on the internet. If you’re looking for a fantastic compressor that is entirely free, the compressors on this list are the best compressor plugins available.
So let’s dive into what a compressor is before diving into the best free options for them.
What Does A Compressor Do In Music?
Compressors are tools for music production used to even out the levels of an audio signal. They allow you to control how loud the recording is, resulting in more audible, more professional-sounding recordings when appropriately used.
Compressors are essential to understand when trying to get professional sound and radio-ready recordings. They can make tracks sound punchy and balanced while injecting coloration and tone. But you must be careful, as compressing too much will squeeze the life out of recordings. But even a basic understanding of how a compressor controls the dynamics of a sound will be enough for you to get the most out of this essential tool.
Xfer Records OTT
From Serum developer Xfer, OTT is a plugin specializing in aggressive sounds. This plugin is one you’ll love or hate. You probably won’t need it if you’re into delicate neo-classical recordings. But you’ll find it indispensable to create hard-hitting electro or festival-ready EDM.
Check Out This Comprehensive Bible Of Free Delay Plugins Right Here
Rather than using the standard dynamics control offered by compression plugins, OTT is one of the best plugins on this list used to make weaker sounds stand out in a mix. It can be handy for making vintage loops sound more modern, and its multiband design can be used to increase the presence of just the high, low, or mid frequencies in a track.
Of all the plugins available on this list, this compressor is more of a sound design tool than an actual mixing plugin. At least, that’s how I consider it.
We had to include the original Molot and its younger counterpart because they’re both so good. The new TDR Molotok has a massively improved interface and numerous workflow enhancements, including a preset manager, a resizable GUI, and a bypass switch. However, it lacks some features of the original Molot.
The Tokyo Dawn Records Molot GE plugin is a powerful tool for audio production. It includes many features that are not available in the free version, such as a limiter and the ability to remove mid-color sections. These features make it an essential tool for any serious audio producer.
ADHD’s Leveling Tool is a free compressor plugin inspired by the classic LA-2A Leveling Amplifier. More importantly, it’s one of the best LA-2A plugins you can get, free or not. Perfect for compressing vocals and applicable on any channel in your mix. Use this plugin to compress your recordings and add analog-style saturation.
The plugin takes the concept of a leveling amplifier. It expands with adjustable attack, release times, and many other incredible features (including adjustable gain reduction ratio, a side-chained high-pass filter, and a dry/wet knob).
MCompressor is a VST plugin developed by MeldaProduction that allows for great flexibility regarding compression shapes. This option will enable users to tailor the Compressor’s dynamic response to suit their needs. MCompressor’s standout feature is its standard compression knee modes (linear, hard, and soft), complemented by a sidechain input and the typical gain and time controls. You can manipulate the input and output volume, compression ratio and threshold, and the attack and release time values.
MCompressor also offers to oversample to ensure a crystal-clear sound on the output. The interface provides various color scheme options, a preset manager, and multiple gain metering options. This makes this a favorite compressor plugin in this list.
Scroll to Continue
DCAM FreeComp is a VST plugin designed to be a bread and butter type of Compressor. Its circuit-modeled design is based on an old analog console bus compressor, but the DCAM FreeComp doesn’t color the sound as much as the original. This plugin works great well on individual tracks and stereo buses.
The plugin’s interface looks like a classic hardware compressor, with threshold, compression ratio, and attack time parameters. I recommend DCAM FreeComp to music producers who want to learn how to use a compressor because it is slightly more complicated than DC1A but still more intuitive for beginners than TDR Kotelnikov.
SAFE Compressor is a VST plugin that is easy to use for beginners. In addition to a typical control layout, SAFE Compressor offers a lot of presets. Saving a preset in this free plugin allows you to store it on your computer or upload it to a cloud server to share with other users.
Different audio signals will require different settings on a compressor, so it’s essential to tweak the presets to get the best sound. A preset set can be a helpful starting point for inexperienced music producers.
The TDR Kotelnikov is an excellent free compressor plugin for audio mastering. The DSP experts at Tokyo Dawn Labs have developed a transparent dynamic range compression that is perfect for use on the master bus. The TDR Kotelnikov is a must-have compressor VST plugin for your mixing and mastering arsenal.
This plugin oversamples the signal path to create a fast, transparent compression character. It can reduce the dynamic range while preserving the tone and natural “punch” of the audio signal. TDR Kotelnikov doesn’t try to emulate analog compressors. This digital Compressor sounds clean.
D16 Group’s Frontier is primarily a limiter VST plugin. Still, it is so versatile that it can be used as a compressor in many situations. With its adjustable release time and fantastic auto-gain function, this free plugin can be used to rapidly boost the perceived gain of the signal without crushing the dynamics.
Frontier has another helpful feature: the soft clipping circuit on the output. Pushing the output volume above 0dB applies saturation and additional dynamic range compression for a more distorted sound.
If you’re still learning to use VST compressor plugins, a simpler limiter like Frontier can be a good place to start. A limiter is, by definition, a compressor with a fast attack time and a 10:1 (or higher) compression ratio. So, you can learn how to set the threshold and release time parameters with Frontier and then move on to a more complex compressor plugin later. If you need a compressor, that is a workhorse; this is the best of all the plugins on this list.
Molot is my favorite character go-to compressor plugin. It intentionally colors the audio signal on the input, so it shouldn’t be your plugin of choice if you want transparent compression. This free compressor is the way to go if you want to add some grit and a touch of analog compression flavor to your mix.
The GUI for the plugin looks like it’s from a Soviet nuclear submarine. This should give you a good idea of how extreme the audio signal can be processed if Molot is pushed to its limits. On the other hand, it’s also incredibly versatile. It does heavy compression exceptionally well but can also work as a more subtle saturation tool on the master bus.
Native Instruments SuperCharger
SuperCharger is an analog emulation tube compressor that sits between the dynamics effect and saturation plugin. It is included as part of NI’s free Komplete Start bundle, SuperCharger is a powerful tool for adding punch and grit to your tracks. SuperCharger can be customized to taste with three different modes, making it a versatile tool for various mixing and mastering tasks. There simply isn’t another compressor module like this.
The controls are pretty limited, though. Punch and Dirt modes offer some control over the amount and quality of the effect. Still, realistically, if you want fine-tuned dynamics,, there are many better options in this round-up.
What SuperCharger is excellent at is imparting a lovely touch of flattering distortion. Driven hard and used in a similar setup, it can be fantastic for adding a touch of gritty presence to bass-heavy kicks or slightly roughing up drums.
Audio Damage RoughRider 3
RoughRider is one of the most well-known and used dynamics processors available. For a good reason – it’s a classic freeware. While the third version adds a few new tools, it remains easy to use with a clean and straightforward UI that makes dialing in compression quick and simple. Is it the best compressor on this list? Probably not, but it’s better than 90% of the stock plugins you’re likely using right now.
The main selling point is the range of settings you can use to create the desired effect. The Attack setting goes from 0 to 100ms, and the ratio can be set as high as 1000:1. This makes it great for enhancing percussion loops or achieving the parallel compression ‘New York’ style. V3 also features a Full Bandwidth mode, which disables the ‘warming’ filter included in the original design. An external sidechain option is also available.