My top 5 compressor plugins for mixing

I love talking about gear (real or digital), so I thought I’d start a blog series to share what tools I’m currently using for mixing and why I like them, starting with the compressor.

Here is a list of my top 5 compressor plugins that I use the most on a day-to-day basis while mixing.

1. Universal Audio UAD 1176


I’ve had the UAD plugins for a few years now, and they’ve quickly become my go-to plugins. It’s funny, I was never really got into 1176s when I worked in analog rooms, mainly because I found the input and output settings a bit finicky for tracking.

I used them on bass a lot while mixing, but since getting the UAD plugins, they have become my go-to on lead vocals, drums and bass. Above is a screenshot of one of the plugins I’ve had on overheads for the last album I worked on. For vocals and bass, I generally have the attack closer to 3, but this one I needed it a bit faster.

2. Waves Renaissance Compressor

R Comp

This plugin has been a staple in my mixes for years. Even when mixing on analog SSL consoles, I’d often have an Renaissance Compressor in Pro Tools just to level things out a tiny bit before it hit the desk line inputs. It’s by no means a sexy compressor, but it’s found its way into my utility belt for when I just need things to be a little less dynamic, or when I want to control the level going into a more coloured piece of gear.

With plugins, I love exploring and finding settings that work for specific situations, but sometimes presets are great. On a lot of vocal tracks, I’ll have an Renaissance Compressor on the vocal preset, shaving about 2 DB off before it hits any of the more colourful compressors.

3. Universal Audio UAD LA2A

LA2AThis is actually the newest addition to the list. Again, another classic compressor that I didn’t use much when I worked in an analog mixing room. Although many other mixers and tracking engineers loved them on vocals and guitars, I always found it hard to get them into a sweet spot where they weren’t doing too much. But I’ve definitely come around.

I received a Pro Tools session recently where the producer had left his rough mix up and there were LA2As on everything. I liked the way they sounded so much I bought the plugin, and it’s come into daily use on guitars, vocals and kick drum. The different models yield very different results, and playing with the compress and limit switch really changes things up. Also, I’ve been getting into trying different revisions, as they all have a very different sound.

4. Slate Digital Virtual Buss CompressorSlate Buss

Okay, I know this is actually three compressors, but I figured I’d lump them into one slot. When I first started my entirely “in-the-box” mixing adventure a couple of years ago, the UAD SSL G Buss Compressor was my go-to. But after having a mastering engineer mention that he thought I’d benefit from finding a buss compressor with a high pass filter on the detector for certain mixes, I found Slate’s VBC.

I now find myself using the SSL compressor (FG-Grey) or Red 3  (FG-Red) emulation on the buss for many rock mixes. The UAD still wins much of the time, but the Slate compressors hold their own and get at least auditioned up against the UAD SSL compressor on every mix. One thing I find a bit weird though is that the fairchild emulation really colours the sound and changes the EQ of a mix. It adds a bit of presence that I often don’t want, so it doesn’t get as much use as the other two.

5. Universal Audio UAD SSL G Series Buss Compressor

SSL BUSSThe first record I mixed with this compressor, the mastering engineer I had been sending mixes to regularly emailed me and asked “What was the buss compressor on that track? It sounded great!” I’d been sending him analog and in-the-box mixes, and he had never commented or asked before. So, I was pretty convinced from the start that this one was special. It has become a go-to on my parallel drum compression buss (or back buss as some call it), as well as my main mix buss compressor about 60% of the time.

What are your go-to compressor plugins?

2 Responses
  • Dominik
    Aug 8, 2016

    Hey Josh, love your posts. 🙂
    What are your go to settings with the UAD G Bus Comp when used as a Crusher on the Drums and on the Mixbus?

    Dominik Aug 8, 2016
    • Josh G. Bowman
      Aug 8, 2016

      Great question!

      For a drum “crush” or parallel compression bus, I set it by ear depending on be song- but I usually do 10:1 ratio- hit it hard getting at least 8-12 db gain reduction. This is mixed in pretty low under the drums and also is just close microphones usually.

      For the mix buss, I usually never hit it very hard. 4:1 ratio, 1-3db gain reduction, slowest attack, fastest release.

      Josh G. Bowman Aug 8, 2016

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