It’s true an artist can paint a painting with only one brush and one color, but most painters will use different brushes and different colors to achieve the beauty they envision.
Most of the sound of modern music is compression. And like brushes, there are different kinds of compressors that help you achieve different colors and results. If you don’t know what the differences are between an Opto and a VCA, or a Variable-Mu and a FET compressor, check my ‘Compressor Sheet List’.
Now that you know the kinds of brushes there are and what they are used for, here is a list of my top 5 free ‘brushes’ for compression. I tried to include one of each kind:
That’s right! The compressor that you already have in your DAW can be a powerful tool! Since I use Reaper, I’m used to ReaComp. What gives it first place in my list is its versatility. It comes with the possibility of using side-chain compression, pre-comp, soft-knee support, automatic release and wet/dry fader for easy parallel compression. It’s a jack of all trades and it is very clean and transparent.
Out of the few free emulations of opto compressors you find avaialable out there, the prize goes to ThrillseekerLA. Opto compressors are great for evening out the macro-dynamics of a bass or vocal track, but due to its characteristics, it’s good to have a side-chain available in order to avoid too much pumping in tracks with a lot of low frequency content. Thrillseeker offers you the controls you need with two switches. SC FILTER is modeled after a well known hardware unit and attenuates low frequencies while boosting the HF department at the same time, while SC ROUTE allows you to program your own sidechain filter. In adition to that you can add some analog saturation that just sounds amazingly sweet.
3. Seventh Sign
The greatest thing about FET compressors is that they give you punch and character. After comparing all the free plugin versions out there, Seventh Sign by Antress gets first place. Producers pay a lot in order to get an emulation of the classic Universal Audio 1176LN and the truth is that this freebie holds his own against those paid versions.
4. MJUC Jr.
Probably one of the rarest type of free compressor to bump into, variable-mu compressors are all about giving that last polish of warmth to a track. Klanghelm presents us with a free version of MJUC, MJUC Jr. It has only three controls which limits its versatility, but there is something magical about the warmth it will give to a track that is sounding too digital. It feels great on acoustic guitars and vocals.
Compressors other than shaping dynamics, can help you get all those separate channels under a buss or a song and blend them together into one more musical and unified track. That’s why having a good ‘buss compressor’ is so valued by mixers and producers. After trying all of the best-rated free VCA compressors out there we have to give it to Density MKIII. It offers adjustable saturation, sereo or m/s compressing and it can go from transparent to golden on your master buss or on a guitar buss, so try it out!