If you’re doing any kind of mixing, one thing’s for sure – you’re going to need quality compression.
Compression can help with smoothing out your mix, giving your tracks a more “even” sound, adding punch to your drums, and it’s a powerful tool at the mastering stage too.
Whoever says there’s a shortage of free compressor VSTs out there, though, clearly hasn’t done their homework. In this guide, we’ll look at numerous compressors that will help you get the perfect mix.
RoughRider 3 Free Compressor Plugin by Audio Damage
Audio Damage’s RoughRider 3 isn’t just a great compressor. It’s also one of the most popular dynamic processors available. It’s been around for over 10 years and has racked up over half a million downloads.
RoughRider 3’s interface is comprised of a simple gradient background with some flat vector style dials and visualizers. You can use the controls to change the input level, full bandwidth, sidechain HPF, external sidechain, ratio, sensitivity, makeup, attack, release, mix, and output level. Its interface can also be resized on your screen, which is not something every free VST can boast.
This compressor can give your tracks some extra punch, warmth, and it even tends to bring out the highs and extra clarity. In that sense, it isn’t a compressor without some coloration, but it’s a plus rather than a minus in this case.
This is a great VST to add to your library. It’s versatile and it has features you probably won’t find on your standard DAW compressor. You can use it in a variety of ways, on a variety of tracks, regardless of genre.
RoughRider 3 is compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Download: Audio Damage
DC1A by Klanghelm
Klanghelm’s DC1A is the little brother of their more fully featured and advanced compressor, DC8C.
The DC1A, though, despite its simplistic controls and appearance, is reasonably versatile, and great sounding. Turn a dial, and you will immediately notice a difference, which to me is always the mark of a finely tuned dial.
Which is perhaps giving too much attention to one thing. We can see, though, that the DC1A features controls for out, GR, input, output, deep, relaxed, dual mono, and negative. These are the shape shifters that will help you create different compression results.
True to form, you can achieve everything from smooth, gentle leveling, to full on crunch, punch, and pump. It includes features like negative (over) compression, parallel (New York style) compression, options to compress left and right channels independently (dual mono), peak and RMS compression (relaxed), and a high pass filter to reduce bass overload (deep).
We’re a big fan of its user interface, which mimics classic outboard gear. It’s got a semi-realistic to realistic look, with easy-to-use controls. And it just looks nice!
The compression works great on guitars, bass, drums, and more. It’s one of those compressors that always seems to add instead of taking away.
DC1A is available for Windows and Mac.
MCompressor by MeldaProduction
If you haven’t heard of the MFreeFXBundle, have you been living under a rock? It includes a lot of great essential mixing VST plugins, just like the MCompressor. Now, to get MCompressor, you will need to download the MFreeFXBundle, just so you know.
Another FYI is this – yes, you can get the bundle for free, and yes, it’s great. But if you want to unlock all the features, you’ve got to upgrade for $59. It’s still kind of a steal of a deal either way though.
Anyway, MCompressor features an adjustable compression shape as well as up-sampling options for added clarity.
Controls include input, RMS, output, threshold, attack, ratio, release, sidechain compression, and controls for sidechain compression – high-pass and low-pass. The visualizer makes it easy for you to see how you’re altering the sound too.
As with all MeldaProduction plugins, MCompressor features a nice, attractive interface that isn’t overly mechanical, technical, or intimidating.
Some producers have MCompressor as their favorite compressor, so that should give you a good sense of how good it is. It’s powerful enough to be used as a limiter too.
TDR Kotelnikov by Tokyo Dawn Records
TDR Kotelnikov is a powerhouse wideband dynamics processor. And in that sense, it’s almost like a transient shaper. What makes it awesome is that it’s quite transparent. It can change the dynamic range in a major way without losing the original tone, timbre, and punch of any signal. That makes it great for stereo bus compression, in addition to a host of other applications, including mastering, of course.
This VST features a 64-bit multi-rate processing structure, “Delta” oversampled signal path, “Crest factor” based control scheme, flexible sidechain highpass filter, advanced stereo linking options, Delta preview mode, latency compensated click-free bypass, and user interface rescaling (100, 125, and 150%).
Its main controls include threshold, peak crest, soft knee, ratio, attack, release peak, release RMS, makeup, dry mix, out gain, Delta, and bypass.
The design of Tokyo Dawn Records plugins often strikes us as “professional,” and that goes for Kotelnikov too. It features a simple interface, mostly centered around the knobs, with a single accent color (in this case, blue). It looks nice, and it works, so while we wouldn’t consider it “top notch, it’s still quite excellent.
Some users call it the most transparent mastering plugin available. So, if you’re a mastering engineer, this would be a must-have.
Download: Tokyo Dawn Records
TDR Molotok by Tokyo Dawn Records
TDR Molotok is yet another Tokyo Dawn Records creation, and while it is closer to a transient processor, knowing the quality of products TDR creates, we thought it was worthy of inclusion.
Molotok is a simplified version of their TDR Molot GE. “Molotok” means “small hammer” in Russian, and it gives you access to a wide palette of compression colors.
Molotok is perfect for drums, vocals, guitar, bass, and more, whether you want to add some crispness and impact, or enrichment and enhancement to specific tracks.
Its features included unlimited undo/redo, optional stepped controls, inline help tips, 11 compression flavors, various quality modes including zero-latency operation, and high-quality signal processing.
Its interface is a little different from the typical TDR plugins, but still intuitive and simply designed. You’ve got controls for SC HP, threshold, knee, attack, Alpha-Beta-Sigma weighting, release, ratio, makeup, bypass, and Delta. It’s got a bit of a “snake” vibe to it because of the color scheme.
Most producers seem to love this compressor, and it has a lot of controls that give you access to compression character you might not be able to achieve with other compressors. That said, dialing in your ideal tone may take some time, so be patient with the process.
TDR Molotok is available for Windows and Mac.
Download: Tokyo Dawn Records
MJUC jr. by Klanghelm
Klanghelm’s MJUC jr. often makes it on to best compressor lists like this. The truth is, it’s a little closer to a limiter, but it is a great VST and it’s worth trying out.
MJUC jr. is a variable tube compressor with smooth leveling and heavy pumping right at your fingertips. A deep, lively soundstage comes alive with the two gain stages and interstage transformer simulation.
The three-position timing switch gives you control over the attack and release times, as well as the slew rate of the transformers and other timing settings influencing the generated harmonics or saturation.
Again, we dig the Klanghelm interface. Beautiful, realistic, simple. And it looks like it could be a real piece of hardware gear. Your main controls are compress, time constants (fast, slow, auto), and make-up.
As you can see, it is a simplistic compressor, but it is powerful. It will add some coloration to your tracks, but in this case, in a good way. If you don’t like it, of course, you can always substitute it for another plugin.
You can get MJUC jr. for Windows or Mac.
DCAM FREEComp by FXpansion
DCAM FREEComp is a circuit-modeled compression plugin in VST, AU, RTAS, and AAX formats. It’s like a realistic model of a classic console bus compression that you can use to enhance the punch and definition of subgroups and entire mixes.
That said, it’s also a great compressor for shaping the tones of individual tracks, and it goes from tame to extreme, depending on the desired effect.
This VST features a classic peach colored interface. It has two sections, including compression with controls for attack, ratio, threshold, and makeup. Then, a master section with bypass, learn, in gain, and out gain. It doesn’t have a release control because it has an auto release time.
And overall, we find DCAM FREEComp to be a capable, easy to use plugin. It’s relatively transparent sounding from what we can tell, which can be nice when you want to keep the authentic tone of your tracks.
DCAM FREEComp is effective on a variety of instruments, be it guitar, bass, or drums. And just as advertised, it works great on entire mixes too, especially when you’re looking to tighten up your mix.
OTT by XferRecords.com
The multiband upward/downward OTT compressor is a unique entry here, and it’s anything but subtle. If you’re trying to create aggressive sounds that smash and pump, this is a good plugin to add to your arsenal. Otherwise, you may never find a use for it.
OTT is perfect for electronic music in its many forms, from dubstep to EDM. And if you’re an electronic music producer, this VST may quickly become your go-to.
Most compressors smooth and even out signals, but OTT basically makes weaker sounds explode.
Its interface is basic. You’ve got controls for depth, time (basically attack and release in one knob), in gain, out gain, upward, and downward, You’ve also got high, mid, and low knobs.
If you need to take your sounds from “kind of cool” to “maximum overdrive,” you need to get OTT.
Frontier Self-Adaptive Versatile Limiter by D16 Group Audio Software
The Frontier Self-Adaptive Versatile Limiter is an obvious choice for a list like this. It’s a little closer to a limiter than a compressor, but its versatility makes it highly usable for single tracks, busses, or even masters.
Its key features include configurable control input and optional soft clip, as well as automatic gain make up, which helps you take control of your sounds faster.
The beauty of its interface leaves us speechless, as it looks more real than fake. You’ve got controls for control input, release, threshold, output volume, soft clip, about/options, init/prev, reload/next, and save/browse.
Frontier is also quite easy to use. Threshold, release, control input, and output volume are your key controls. Play around with these, and you can quickly create stunning results.
With Frontier, you can smooth out the limiting of individual instruments, bring the volumes of your mixes up to commercial standards, or even add some saturation and drive to wherever it’s needed in your tracks.
Frontier is compatible with Windows and Mac.
Download: D16 Group Audio Software
Supercharger by Native Instruments
Native Instruments’ Supercharger is generously included in their Komplete Start bundle. This free package includes seven synthesizers, nine sampled instruments, two effects, Komplete Kontrol, Kontakt 6 Player, and Reaktor 6 Player.
It should be noted, of course, that this bundle is intended to be used together, inside the provided software. If you think Kontakt is the way to go, then you’ll love taking advantage of Supercharger. Otherwise, you might look elsewhere.
Anyway, Supercharger emulates the harmonic-rich sound of pure tube compression. Its user interface has been streamlined to help you achieve desired results fast. And whether it’s adding a bit of warmth or crushing your tracks like Godzilla, it’s a capable little compressor.
We love the sporty and eye-catching user interface. We also love the simplicity of the one knob design. At its heart is your compress knob, the main control you’ll be using to shape your tracks. Of course, it has a few additional controls – input trim, sidechain, punch, dirt, mix (wet/dry), and output for additional versatility.
Add some color and tube-like warmth to your vocals, guitars, bass, or even drums. Supercharger starts off transparent and subtle, but quickly transforms your sounds as you turn up the compression. Generally, to pleasant effect.
Komplete Start is available for Mac and Windows.
Download: Native Instruments
TAN by Acustica Audio
Acustica Audio offers several free VSTs (all available through their Aquarius application for Mac and Windows), and among them is the TAN compressor.
TAN was clearly designed to look like classic rackmount compression units. It’s got a gain reduction meter, and controls for thresh, ratio, attack, release, shmod (works like a high-pass filter), gain, dry/wet, and pre – everything you need to achieve perfect compression.
This is an incredible plugin, considering it’s free. We find it to be a relatively transparent compression, but the effect is quite noticeable. It works great on drums and even full mixes.
Download: Acustica Audio
SAFECompressor by Semantic Audio
Semantic Audio’s SAFECompressor is compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux.
It features a simple interface that reminds us somewhat of MeldaProduction’s plugins, with some pastel highlights. It gives you control over thresh, ratio, knee, attack, release, and gain, just as a standard compressor would.
What makes it unique, though, is that you can type in various preset terms into the text box (like warm, bright, punchy, and so on), and the plugin will find a setting that matches the term you’ve inputted. And we are big fans of this concept. SAFECompressor also gives you the ability to save your own presets.
Technically, it doesn’t differ that much from standard presets, but it’s great that Semantic Audio found a unique angle in using relatable human terms. Their other plugins work much the same way.
Download: KVR Audio Software
FR-COMP87 by eaReckon
FR-COMP87 is included in the FREE87 series, along with an equalizer, gate, and limiter, available for Windows and Mac.
These plugins were based on the ANALOG87 series, and as you might be able to tell from the name, they’re intended as analog-style VSTs.
FR-COMP87 is simplistic in that it features just two knobs – threshold and make up. That makes it relatively easy to use, although there is a downside (more on that in a moment). You’ve also got additional controls for attack, release, and peak limiter.
Its interface? It’s a little bland in our estimation. But looks certainly aren’t everything.
FR-COMP87 has got a nice sound, but ultimately it takes some fine tuning. So, while it is easy to use, it’s not as easy to find that elusive “sweet spot” with this plugin as it is with other compressors already mentioned.
ATKStereoCompressor by Matthieu Brucher
And now it’s time for a few free legacy plugins. These are plugins we dug up from the “archives,” as it were, but some of them aren’t all that old, and in some cases, still sound and work great.
ATKStereoCompressor is a dual channel compressor with stereo, middle/side, and serial or parallel.
Its interface is a little old school, and while it might have been something to behold in its time, today it just looks like a bunch of thrown together Photoshop layer style presets.
It gives you controls for both channels – attack, release, threshold, ratio, softness, and makeup, as well as a master dry/wet.
Amazingly, ATKStereoCompressor is available as a 32- and 64-bit Windows VST, as well as a Mac VST and AU on PLUGINS 4 FREE.
Download: PLUGINS 4 FREE
ATKColoredCompressor by Matthieu Brucher
Matthieu Brucher was obviously a prolific guy. Not content to create one compressor, he also created the ATKColoredCompressor, which is a mono compressor.
Again, it features kind of a bland design, but what we can tell from its name is that its meant to emulate old analog and tube compressors with a bit of unique coloration.
With controls for RMS, attack, release, threshold, slope, softness, color, quality, make up, and dry/wet, it gives you plenty of options for tweaking and optimizing your compression.
Again, it’s compatible with Windows and Mac.
Download: PLUGINS 4 FREE
BUSTERse by Analog Obsession
Analog Obsession is another prolific creator, and their plugins are almost universally loved by music producers and sound engineers.
BUSTERse is intended as a classic console compressor with some extra filter and transient sidechain options.
The stereo compressor module is made up of threshold, make-up, attack, release, ratio, and mix controls. Relatively standard stuff.
Then you’ve got the control module with main (general bypass), turbo (turbo mod affects the entire signal range), and xformer (in/out transformers).
Finally, the sidechain module offers controls for flat, mid, HPF, boost, tilt, mix, and ext.
We are nothing short of impressed with the aged, worn look of the user interface, and it’s clearly been designed to give you serious control over your compression.
If there’s any downside, it’s that the metering doesn’t seem to be 100% accurate.
All told, though, this is an awesome free plugin, even if it is legacy, and it’s available for Windows and Mac.
Download: PLUGINS 4 FREE
TLS 1295 LEA by TbT
TLS 1295 LEA takes after the Teletronix LA-2A unit (you can kind of tell from its design) and is therefore a vintage style compressor.
Its user interface is quite nice. You’ve got controls for attack, peak reduction, SC hipass, clean/driven, gain, and time constant. There’s a big meter in the middle with a GR/out switch. We like their font choice and minimal but semi-realistic design. No complaints here.
The compressor works quite nicely too, and it’s surprisingly versatile. As you’ll see in the video, it can give your drums some serious punch!
TLS 1295 LEA is available for Windows and Linux.
Download: PLUGINS 4 FREE
fircomp by Jon V Audio
Jov V Audio’s fircomp is a clean compressor featuring punchy attack, musical release, as well as optional lookahead smoothing. It works great on tracks and busses, and it can give you warm saturation if you crank it up.
Its interface is fine. Nothing revolutionary but it’s clear and easy. There’s SC filter, ratio, knee, attack time, release time, threshold, and makeup controls.
It has true zero attack, dual parallel release stage, easy sidechain filtering, and more.
From what I can tell, fircomp is an excellent punch booster, and that’s probably how I would use it! Great for drums.
Download: PLUGINS 4 FREE
TinyComp by EXE Consulting
The TinyComp compressor, as you can see, features a guitar effect pedal design. It comes with expansion, limiting, and gate modes, which is a little more than some compressors offer.
It includes sidechain functionality as well, for extra utility.
Its design is a little mid-2000s with some heavy Photoshop layer style effects, to be sure, but it’s still a versatile Windows plugin.
Download: PLUGINS 4 FREE
Top Free Compressor VST Plugins, Final Thoughts
With this many great options, you simply can’t go wrong.
Sure, there are some other experimental, exaggerated compressors out there. And they are fun to play with too.
But let’s just say unless you’re looking for something way out there, your bases are probably covered with the above. We have no doubt you found exactly what you’re looking for here. Have fun mixing!