Here’s a review of what I have found to be the best bus compressor plugins. I use these guys all the time on my mix bus – or the master bus – however you wanna call it.
There are a lot of plugins covered in this article and related video so let’s address one question first up: Do you have to have so many? Of course not. I’ve accumulated a lot of plugins over the years. Many of them I’ve bought but I also get a lot of plugins for free. I also work on tons of different types of material (I do my own music, but also mixing and mastering work for others), so I need different types of tools for different situations.
I’m only presenting you the stuff I like and have used personally. But please do not feel like you need to get a ton of different plugins in order to get good results. Take a look at what is available, demo different products and think about what do you really need and what kind of sound you are looking to achieve. If you’re consistently working with the same type of material, you might only ever need one good master bus compressor plugin that works for what you are doing.
The Best Bus Compressor Plugins
For your convenience, here is a list of all the included plugins with links. Continue reading for the video and blog post with further thoughts below.
- Waves SSL G-Master Bus Compressor
- Slate Digital FG-Grey
- Vertigo VSC-2
- UAD API 2500
- Klanghelm MJUC
- UAD Teletronix LA-2A
- TDR Kotelnikov
- Waves MaxxVolume
- Elysia Alpha Compressor
- Slate Digital FG-Red
- Waves BSS DPR-402
- FabFilter Pro-C2
- U-He Presswerk
Waves SSL G-Master Bus Compressor
This is a classic plugin, modelled after a classic compressor. This plugin has been around for a long time but I find it still holds up nicely. I am not sure how true it is to the original but I don’t really care – I like what it does.
I typically use this to create just a small amount of movement and the mix, barely making the needle move.
What I also like about the Waves SSL Compressor is that it’s very quick and easy to dial in and get a good sound going. It can be expensive but it’s often discounted, so look out for those.
Slate Digital VBC FG-Grey
This is another clone of the classic SSL bus compressor. It sounds great as well and has some additional controls such as the mix knob and high pass sidechain filter.
You should be aware that this plugin adds about 1,5 dB of gain as soon as you turn it on. This can give you a false sense of satisfaction. You can easily compensate for this by taking down the makeup gain an equal amount, but I really hate it as it can be deceiving for someone who is not experienced enough to be aware of it. It’s not a cool way to go about things.
Never the less, it’s a very good compressor.
The FG-Grey comes as part of the Slate Virtual Bus Compressors bundle with two other compressors.
Like the Waves SSL Comp and Slate FG-Grey, the Vertigo VSC-2 compressor by Brainworx is also a VCA type compressor.
Compared to the two aforementioned, it sounds smoother, perhaps more subtle and more full bodied in my opinion. This is the compressor I have used the most on my mix bus in the past 3-4 years.
I typically tend to use pretty low ratios and gentle gain reduction, but you can go in harder for more thickening or transient control.
Link: Vertigo VSC-2
UAD API 2500
This guy sounds fantastic. It’s modelled after one the most iconic compressors out there and you can really hear the amount of skill and work that was put into it. It’s a great compressor to use to get some thickness, movement and glue into your mix.
I often get asked about how does the UAD API 2500 compare to the Waves API 2500. I have had the Waves one for many years but I never really got along with it. As soon as I bought the UAD one though, I was in love. To me the two plugins are a world apart in how they sound and behave (sorry, Waves). To be fair, the Waves one is also more than 10 years old. It’s a complex unit to model and technology has come a long way since then.
Link: UAD API 2500
The MJUC by Klanghelm is inspired some optical tube compressors from the 50’s onwards. It is a superb sounding plugin and bafflingly affordable (24 EUR at the moment).
It’s full of features with three different compressor models and lots of bells and whistles. But the main feature is the sound which I would describe as smooth and organic.
Make sure to engage the HQ mode if you have the CPU. It makes the modelling more detailed and precise. You can hear the difference.
There is also a free MJUC jr. plugin available on the Klanghelm website. It has less controls but sounds just as good.
Link: Klanghelm MJUC
UAD Teletronix LA-2A (legacy)
The Teletronix LA-2A (legacy) is a model of another classic compressor. Also an opto-tube compressor, it’s sort of in the same ballpark soundwise as the Klanghelm MJUC.
It’s a slow reacting compressor and won’t work for all types of material. But when it does, it’s very nice.
There is a newer version of this plugin available these days, which goes into more detail and depth in terms of the modeling and sound. This legacy one still sounds great though and it comes bundled in with any UAD audio interface or satellite product.
I like this plugin not only because of how it sounds but also because it’s simple and easy to use. It encourages you to listen, make a decision and move on with your creative process.
Link: UAD Teletronix LA-2A
TDR Kotelnikov GE
Now, I’m first to admit that I’m biased with this one. I have been involved with beta testing the TDR Kotelnikov GE. I’ve also been releasing a lot of music on Tokyo Dawn Records (the label) back in the 90’s! So I go a long way back – more than 20 years now – with Tokyo Dawn. However it also means I know that TDR guys know what they’re doing.
The Kotelnikov GE (there is also a free version called simply Kotelnikov) is a super modern and transparent compressor for mastering and mix bus duties.
It has a whole host of innovative features including things like equal loudness bypass and frequency dependent ratio.
It’s an advanced plugin to use and because of the unique feature set there is a learning curve even for the more experienced guys out there. But all the information is clearly laid out for you in the interface as well as the manual.
Proudly digital, very trustworthy, great quality and affordable. Plus it comes with some presets designed by me! What more do you want may I ask?
Link: TDR Kotelnikov
The Waves MaxxVolume is quite an unique plugin in that it offers low level compression. It brings together algorithms from different Waves plugins such as the L2, C1 and Renaissance Compressor.
In a standard compression setting, any signal above the set threshold gets compressed and attenuated. With a low level compressor, any signal that goes below the set threshold gets compressed upward, resulting in increased gain. The dynamic range is thus compressed, pushing low levels up while leaving high levels as they were.
This is a set and forget type plugin. It’s very easy to dial in and quite safe provided you don’t go crazy with the gain reduction.
I typically do only 2-3 dB of both high and low level compression. This is enough to give me a nice boost in overall volume without changing the character of the mix much.
Link: Waves MaxxVolume
The Elysia Alpha compressor is a complex unit intended primarily for mastering duty. It is modelled after Elysia’s flagship hardware product (and a super expensive one too at around 10 000 USD).
This compressor definitely has a learning curve so I would not recommend it if you are new to compression. It took me a good while to figure out how to get good results with it.
The Alpha can be very transparent or more in your face. It has great facilities for M/S compression. I recommend checking out the presets – they do a good job in showcasing the different types of sounds you can get out of this plugin.
Link: Elysia Alpha Compressor
Slate Digital FG-Red
This one is my favourite out of the three compressors in the Slate Digital VBC bundle. It just works well on the type of busy and loud music I often work with.
The plugin is modelled after the Focusrite Red 3 hardware compressor. It is a fast reacting one, punchy and pretty aggressive. It’s easy to dial in great movement. This is one of the tools I reach for whenever I want to make things pump and breathe in a nice way.
Waves BSS DPR-402
The BSS DPR-402 is one of the newer plugins in the Waves lineup. Like the FG-Red, the DPR-402 is also quite punchy and explosive in character.
This is also a very complex plugin that can do tons of stuff from de-essing to limiting. On the mix bus I use it very subtly to create a pumping motion when the situation calls for it.
The Waves BSS DPR-402 is fantastic value for money if you can grab it at a discount.
Link: Waves BSS DPR-402
A true all in one workhorse. When I need to go clean and surgical, this is my weapon. The Pro-C2 has a ton of options including possibly the most fully featured sidechain filtering in any compressor plugin. It has several different compression modes including Bus but also Clean and Mastering which can also work equally well in a bus compression context.
It has great metering and visual feedback which is especially helpful for someone just trying to learn about compression. A great learning tool!
You can do just about anything with this plugin, which is also it’s downside. Personally I often rather reach for something quick and easy that I know will get the job done without too much tweaking.
Link: FabFilter Pro-C2
Last but definitely not least – the master of thickness – U-He Presswerk. This guy knows how to slam a mix!
It does sound fantastic, especially when you start to hit the saturation and soft clipping the right way. It’s also very easy to go overboard with this compressor.
The Presswerk has tons and tons of controls, and it’s all very useful. This plugin is a lot of fun to play around with! It also has several simplified modes that hide and automate many of the detailed controls and allow you to focus on what’s essential. It also has a fantastic preset manager complete with descriptions, and a resizable GUI.
If you’re after a thick and heavy analog type sound, definitely check this compressor out.
Link: U-He Presswerk
The Best Bus Compressor Plugins – Final Words
There we go – a review of what I think are the best bus compressor VST / AU / AAX plugins. What are your thoughts? Do you have some different favourites? Do you have any questions about any of the plugins?
Let me know in the comments.