Skip to content

How to use a Compressor + Free Compressor VST Plugins

Compressor VSt & Hardware compressor

Mixing is an essential part of the music production process that requires several tools and techniques to create the final product. One of the most important tools in mixing music is the compressor.

In this article, we will explore what a compressor is, how it works, and how you can use to improve your sound. 

What is a compressor?

tube tech compressor

A compressor is a dynamic range processor that reduces the dynamic range of an audio signal. The dynamic range refers to the difference between the loudest and quietest parts of an audio signal. A compressor reduces the dynamic range by automatically reducing the level of the loudest parts of the audio signal and increasing the level of the quietest parts. There are two main types of compressors used in music production: Compressor VSTs (Virtual Studio Technology) and hardware compressors.

VST Compressor
A Compressor VST is a software-based compressor that runs within a digital audio workstation (DAW) on a computer. Compressor VSTs offer many advantages, including affordability, versatility, and convenience. With a Compressor VST, you can access a wide range of compressor types and settings, allowing you to experiment and find the perfect sound for your mix. Additionally, Compressor VSTs are easy to use and don’t require any special hardware, making them a popular choice for music producers of all levels.

Hardware Compressor
A hardware compressor is a physical device that is used to compress audio signals. Hardware compressors offer several benefits, including better sound quality, greater reliability, and the ability to process audio signals in real-time. Hardware compressors are often preferred by professional music producers because they offer a more hands-on approach to compression and provide a higher level of control over the sound. However, hardware compressors can be more expensive and less convenient than Compressor VSTs, making them a better choice for those who are serious about music production.

In conclusion, both Compressor VSTs and hardware compressors have their own unique advantages and disadvantages, and the choice between the two will depend on your individual needs and preferences. Whether you choose a Compressor VST or a hardware compressor, the important thing is that you have a compressor in your music production setup, as it is an essential tool for controlling dynamic range and achieving a professional-sounding mix.


How does a compressor work?

A compressor works by setting a threshold level. When the audio signal exceeds this threshold level, the compressor begins to reduce the level of the audio signal. The amount of reduction is controlled by the ratio setting, which determines how much the audio signal will be reduced once it exceeds the threshold level. The attack and release settings control how quickly the compressor begins to reduce the level of the audio signal once the threshold level is exceeded and how quickly the compressor stops reducing the level once the audio signal falls below the threshold level.

threshold and ratio compressor

What does the VU Meter indicate?

The VU Meter on a compressor can indicate different levels depending on the meter switch settings. Here’s a brief explanation of the input, compression, and output level meter switches:

Input Level
When the input level meter switch is selected, the VU meter displays the level of the audio signal before it enters the compressor. This is useful for adjusting the gain of the audio signal so that it falls within the optimal range for processing by the compressor. The input level meter switch allows you to set the correct level of the audio signal before it is compressed.

Compression Level
When the compression level meter switch is selected, the VU meter displays the level of the audio signal after it has been processed by the compressor. This is useful for monitoring the effect of the compression on the audio signal and to see how much the audio signal is being reduced in level.

Output Level
When the output level meter switch is selected, the VU meter displays the level of the audio signal after it has been processed by the compressor and is ready to be sent to the next stage of the audio chain. This is useful for monitoring the final level of the audio signal and ensuring that it does not exceed the maximum level that can be handled by the mixing console. 

vu meter on a compressor

Attack and Release settings?

Attack and release time are two important parameters on a compressor that control how it responds to changes in the audio signal level. Understanding how to use attack and release time effectively is crucial to achieving a balanced and polished sound in your music mixes.

Attack Time
Attack time in a compressor refers to the time it takes to start reducing the audio level once it exceeds the threshold. Measured in milliseconds, it determines the compressor’s reaction speed to audio transients (sudden changes in level). A fast attack time helps control excessively loud transients that can cause clipping or distortion, while a slower attack time preserves natural transients and maintains their impact.


Release Time
Release time in a compressor refers to the time it takes to stop reducing the audio level after it falls below the threshold. Measured in milliseconds, it determines the compressor’s reaction speed to release the audio signal after a transient has passed. A fast release time helps maintain a consistent audio level in fast-paced musical passages and prevents choppy or uneven sound. A slower release time adds sustain to the audio signal and smooths out the overall sound.

How to set your Attack & Release Time?
A faster attack time is usually used for controlling percussive sounds, while a slower attack time is used for sustained sounds like strings or horns. Similarly, a faster release time is used for fast-paced musical passages and a slower release time for slow-paced musical passages. Experimenting with different settings is crucial to finding the best settings for your audio.

attack and release time on compressor

Sidechain using a compressor

A sidechain function in a compressor allows audio signals from one source to control the compression of another source. It works by using a separate audio signal (the sidechain signal) to trigger the compression of the main audio signal. This allows you to create specific effects such as ducking (reducing the volume of one track when another track plays) or pumping (creating rhythmic volume changes in the main audio signal in time with the sidechain signal).

To use a sidechain function, you first route the sidechain signal to the sidechain input of the compressor. Then, you adjust the threshold, ratio, attack, and release settings to determine when and how the main audio signal will be compressed based on the level of the sidechain signal. Some compressors have dedicated sidechain controls that allow you to adjust the sidechain signal directly, while others may require more manual adjustment.

In music production, sidechain compression is often used to create rhythmic volume changes in electronic dance music, to reduce the volume of a backing track when the lead vocal comes in, or to create space in a mix by reducing the volume of certain elements when others are playing. The possibilities are endless, and the sidechain function offers a powerful tool for shaping the dynamic character of your mix.


Free Compressor VSTs

1. Analog Obsession - dBComp



This drum compressor is ideal for both studio and live use. Additionally, it can be utilized with acoustic and electric guitars, as well as bass guitars, to add punch and snap.


2. Analog Obsession - LALA Compressor

Analog Obsession LALA Compressor VST


LALA is a plugin from Analog Obsession that emulates the LA-2A Classic Leveling Amplifier. It includes the main features of the original hardware unit, as well as additional options such as an external sidechain input, 3-band sidechain filter, and mix control knob. The plugin offers the same gentle, warm compression that the original LA-2A is known for, making it ideal for vocal processing. The plugin’s main controls are the Gain and Peak Reduction knobs, which determine the amount of dynamic range reduction applied to the signal. The sidechain input can be shaped with the built-in filter, and the Mix knob blends the clean and compressed audio on the output.


3. Analog Obsession - Britpressor

Analog Obsession Britpressor Compressor VST


Britpressor is a digital recreation of a classic British channel compressor, made famous by a range of hit albums from the 60s and beyond, such as those by The Beatles and early Pink Floyd. It is one component of the BritBundle, a collection of three plugins that includes a preamp/filter, a compressor, and a full channel setup.


4. Klanghelm - DC1A Compressor

Klanghelm DC1A Compressor VST


DC1A is a top-notch dynamic range compressor, modeled after Klanghelm’s prestigious DC8C plugin. It is considered one of the best free compressor plugins available and is highly recommended by us. With a simplified control system, DC1A is an ideal choice for use as a go-to compressor in mixing processes.

5. Klanghelm - MJUC jr. Compressor

Klanghelm MJUR Jr. Compressor VST


MJUC jr. is a combination of the Mk1 and Mk2 versions of its larger counterpart MJUC. It blends the naturally dense compression traits of early-style compression with the more prominent, harmonic-rich sound of variable-mu compressors from the early 1960s. The best part? MJUC jr. is available for free!

6. Native Instruments - Supercharger Compressor

Native Instruments Supercharger Compressor VST


The SUPERCHARGER eliminates the need for manual fine-tuning of compression. The crucial element is the Compress knob. Simply set the input gain and then increase the saturation and prominence of harmonics, without worrying about adjusting the makeup gain. The single knob design of the SUPERCHARGER provides optimal results at every setting on the dial.

More Blog Posts

Are free beats on YouTube really free?

Are free beats on YouTube really free? Have you seen or downloaded a beat that is advertised as...

Break Free from Producer’s Block | FREE GUIDEBOOK

Break Free from Producer’s Block | FREE GUIDEBOOK Are you a music producer feeling trapped in...

Top 5 free libraries for high quality samples, loops and one shots

How to find high quality samples, loops, one shots and presets for free Finding high quality...