If you are interested in hybrid mixing or want to expand your gear arsenal, this article is for you.
In a nutshell, here are the best analog hardware compressors in 2022 for mixing & mastering:
If you’ve been working “in the box” for a while, you may think you’ve exhausted the limits of your plugins, and it’s time to try something new. In that case, you may be interested in hybrid mixing, which combines work with both software and analog equipment.
The most crucial question here will be, “where do I start?” Luckily, we’ve got some good options for both mixing and mastering that won’t make you bankrupt.
Besides, this article will also be helpful for those who follow the latest hi-end equipment and want to improve their toolbox because we have gathered here a few must-haves that will be indispensable for any studio.
Top 10 Analog Hardware Compressors For Mixing & Mastering (On Any Budget)
1. Tube-Tech Cl 1B (High-End Mixing Compressor)
Tube-Tech’s legendary Cl 1B tube compressor can be one of the basic units of your studio.
The Cl 1B was developed by the Danish company Tube-Tech in the late ’80s and is still in great demand as a high-quality studio unit. It is a single-channel Opto compressor with many controls that are wonderful for vocals, bass guitar, and acoustic guitar.
Unlike other similar compressors, the Cl 1B helps to keep the audio signal clear and at the same time gives smooth and musical compression. Therefore, it is widely used for rap and pop vocals. But even so, it still does its job perfectly on other instruments as well.
- All the Settings You Need
The Cl 1B has all the compressor settings you might need. Among them is Make-Up Gain, which you can turn off or set from a minimum of 10 to plus 30 dB. Also, Ratio from 2:1 to 10:1, the Threshold ranges from off to -40 dB. Speaking of Attack and Release, you will be able to set both the fixed amount and manual. In addition, you can select two side-chain inserts or turn them off and use only one compressor.
- Clean & Transparent
One of the main features of this compressor is that it can even extremely compress your signal without giving any side effects to your source. By that, we mean distortion and some coloration. Of course, there are cases where side effects can provide a particular characteristic to the sound, but if you don’t need them, the Cl 1B is perfect for that.
- Sturdy & Nice-Looking
Not only does this compressor give an excellent sound, but it also looks great. Like the other Tube-Tech units, it has a royal blue color and looks good in any rack. In addition, its build quality is relatively high, as it has a sturdy metal body.
Character & Sound:
This unit will give you a clear and smooth sound without side effects. Playing with the attack and release, you will be able to choose whether the signal is fast and punchy or silky soft.
Cl 1B is one of the top compressors at the commercial studio level that will always give you a great sound. It will provide you with a lot of compression, but at the same time, it will also keep the signal clean, which makes this unit ideal for vocals. It also has a great look and a sturdy body.
Since it is a high-level compressor, its price is relatively high. As for usability, you won’t find detailed attack and release time notes here, which can be tricky to recall. Also, it is not suitable for you if you want to have a unit that will give a particular distortion and coloring to your signal.
Cl 1B is excellent for fast rap and smooth pop vocals. Its clean compression is also suitable for bass, acoustic guitar, and keyboards. Since it is a mono compressor, it is suitable only for mono tracks.
2. SSL Fusion (High-End Compressor For Mastering)
Not just a compressor, but a whole hi-end processor for mixing and mastering – it is the Fusion by SSL.
The British company SSL has long left its mark on the history of music production, both with its excellent analog equipment. For example, they are the creators of the legendary consoles, on which many musical masterpieces were mixed.
The next unit on our list is SSL Fusion, the top equipment for mastering and quite suitable for mixing. It is a stereo processor with many unique features to add a special character to your music. The SSL Fusion has an analog drive, high-frequency compression, width and depth control, and more.
- Vintage Drive Section
This section includes a non-linear saturator that will bring power to your mix by adding harmonics to the signal with soft compression. You will have two knobs: Drive gives the amount of saturation, and Density controls the ratio of harmonics to compression.
- Add Some Violet EQ
Fusion also has Violet EQ, a tube, and a minimum phase shift equalizer. Here you get bass and treble controls to choose which areas you want to affect. Thus, you will be able to add a kind of bottom-end and top-end enhancement to your music.
- High-Frequency Compressor
With this section, you can control the harshness of your mix to trim brittle sounds in the upper-frequency range. You will have two knobs at your disposal – Threshold and X-Over. The cool thing about this section is that it can work perfectly with the previous one. The Violet EQ adds brightness, while the compressor eliminates fizz frequencies.
- Adjust The Stereo Image
The operation of this section is based on the Mid/Side processing principle. The Width knob is responsible for the overall level of the side signal, and Space will help to manipulate the low frequencies in the side signal. With the right balance of these controls, you can open up the sound of your mixes more.
- Trim Your Signal
Your signal will get hotter with all these manipulations. And the good news is that you can always balance it with the Input and Output Trim knobs. A nice-looking signal indicator will help you keep an eye on the level.
Character & Sound:
The SSL Fusion is pretty versatile in terms of character and sound. You can use it to add a specific vintage feeling thanks to saturation, enhance brightness with Violet EQ while at the same time controlling transparency with the compressor. To summarize, this unit is a complete set of tools to help make your mixes impressive.
Among the pluses of this unit is its versatility. It will give you enough tools that you can use for any genre. Since SSL is one of the top companies, the quality of this piece of gear is also appropriate.
It is pretty challenging to highlight the disadvantages of SSL Fusion. But if we talk about it, one would be the high price. But on the other hand, this is a usual factor for such a high level of equipment.
First of all, Fusion is the most suitable for mastering. But despite this, you can use this unit for groups of instruments, such as drum buses. But nobody will forbid you to use it for single tracks to add an extra spark to your sound.
3. Drawmer 1978 (Stereo FET Compressor)
The Drawmer 1978 compressor will be best for live sound, tracking, or mix bus applications.
Drawmer is a well-known British company that has been in business since the early 1980s. During this time, they have released a lot of units, among which high-quality compressors, equalizers, and others. The nice thing about these products is that they have an excellent price to quality ratio.
The Drawmer 1978 is a 2-Band stereo FET compressor with many exciting features that make it versatile to use. For example, here, you can select different modes of the compression character, adjust the saturation, but the most impressive thing is a separate equalizer.
Thus, Drawmer 1978 will serve you as a compressor and as a tone shaping tool. Let’s take a closer look at its features.
- Four Flavors of Compression
All in all, you get to apply four different flavors of compression. The Release Curve mode will give you linear release and thus a less aggressive sound, especially at fast release settings. The Wide mode will provide you with a more comprehensive stereo compression picture. PGM introduces a second slower release time to remove some pumping. And the last option, Smooth, slows down the initial release and helps take some distortion out of the low frequencies.
- Saturation Control
A great feature of this compressor is the separate Saturation knob. It will give your sound a combination of harmonics, which can be pretty subtle as well as quite aggressive. The exciting thing is that when your signal contains saturation, the VU meter will let you know about it because its backlight will start flashing red.
- Shape Your Signal
Many compressors provide simple fixed hi or lo-pass filters. But Drawmer 1978 has some advanced features. For example, the Shaping section has low and high-frequency control as a shelf or bell shape. That way, you can add low frequencies or, conversely, remove them if the pumping is too strong. And the high-frequency control will help make them sound more clear and transparent.
- Add Compression in Parallel
Another nice feature of this unit is the Mix knob. Thanks to it, you can apply the parallel compression technique. If your signal is pumping and compressed, turn down the Mix knob toward Dry, thus adding more of the original signal. That way, you can find the perfect balance, which will help you sound more natural.
Character & Sound:
This compressor will give you a rich sound without contamination. In general, you can achieve different results thanks to the large number of settings and modes. In particular, the Tone Shaping section can provide you with really unique solutions.
The Drawmer 1978 has many functions and a relatively affordable price. Thanks to sufficient settings, you will get a pretty wide field for experimentation. Another point worth noting is that this compressor is made directly in a British factory.
The Tone Shaping section may seem somewhat limited. Also, some users have noted that they would like the saturation function to be before compression rather than after.
The Drawmer 1978 can serve as a beautiful 2-bus compressor. Because of its versatility, the unit can be suitable for different genres, from pop ballads and rap to rock and metal. In the same way, you can safely use it for other groups of instruments, like drums.
4. Empirical Labs EL8 X Distressor (Best Versatile Compressor)
Perhaps one of the most popular versatile compressors in history is the EL8 X Distressor from Empirical Labs.
The Distressor was released in 1995 and is still one of the most popular compressors today. Its developer is Dave Derr, the Empirical Labs founder, set a goal to create a versatile unit that could be used for almost any instrument and simultaneously get the powerful sound and energy that earlier tape machines gave.
That’s why the Distressor is digitally controlled equipment that can do just about anything from light compression to extreme.
- From Subtle to Nuke
The Disteressor has a Ratio button to adjust the amount of compression. The range of possibilities here is enormous: from a very subtle 1:1 to Nuke mode, the most extreme. By the way, the 10:1 mode is an emulation of Opto compressors.
- Distortion Flavors
In the audio section, you will see three modes: Hi-Pass Filter, Dist 1, and Dist 2. The first distortion will give you classic tape machine harmonics, and the second will provide you with transistor console harmonics. Notably, you can turn the Hi-Pass Filter off or apply it to each mode.
- British Mode
The British Mode switch will give you an emulation of the classic 1176 compressor, namely, all the compression ratio buttons of this unit pressed at once. This technique was popular among British engineers in the ’70s, hence its name. It is worth noting that this mode will work perfectly with the bass guitar.
- Detector Section
This section helps you tell the compressor precisely what you want to affect during compression. For example, a Hi-Pass filter mode will tell the compressor not to touch the low-end. In addition, you will find here mid boost and link modes. The latter one allows you to connect two distressors for stereo processing.
Character & Sound:
The main thing about the Distressor is that it can be almost any compressor. Thanks to the different mods, it will give you the fast and aggressive sound of a FET compressor, as well as a smooth Opto unit. You can also experiment with two different distortion colors, giving harmonics and a unique analog character to your sound.
It is an actual “Swiss knife” unit that will give you tremendous opportunities and room for experimentation since it emulates the operation of many other known types of compressors. It has stylish black coloring and white knobs that make it unmistakable to any other unit.
It is a mono unit, so it is only suitable for mono tracks. If you need to process a stereo signal, you have to get two such compressors and use them connected.
Disteressor is suitable for almost any instrument and purpose. For example, you can use it for fast and smooth vocals, drums, drum rooms, basses, acoustic and electric guitars. It is also ideal for instrument groups and even stereo buses. But for that, you need two of these units linked to each other.
5. Klark Teknik 76-KT (Best On Budget Compressor For Mixing)
The Klark Teknik 76-KT is one of the most budget-friendly clones of the classic 1176 FET compressor.
Perhaps it is not necessary to tell much about the significance of the 1176 compressors in music history. These FET class units are known for their fast attack and adding a specific character to the sound.
There are quite a few expensive models of these compressors. But we’re lucky enough these days to have a relatively budget-friendly version of 1176, and that’s the 76-KT from the British company Klark Teknik. Let’s take a closer look at what it is.
- Classic Look & Set of Settings
The first thing that catches your eye is the complete repeat of the legendary classic look of the 1176 compressor. So, there are two big Input knobs and Output knobs controlling the signal you get. Also, there are other standard options like Attack, Release, Ratio, VU Meter, and a Power switch.
- Extremely Fast
This category of compressors can work very fast. And that’s precisely what makes it the most popular. For example, this unit has an extremely fast attack, starting from 20 to 800 microseconds. As for release, it is adjustable from 80 to 700 milliseconds.
- Four Stages of Ratio
Just like in the original unit, you get to choose four ratio stages thanks to four separate buttons, namely 4:1, 8:1, 12:1, and 20:1. If you want to get a specific characteristic compression, it is even possible to press all these buttons at once.
- A Pretty Good Build Quality
Of course, an important fact is how the unit is perceived reliability. This one is made of a sturdy metal body. The quality of the knobs is also quite good and the quality of the buttons.
Character & Sound:
Thanks to the fast attack, the compressor gives you a lively and energetic sound. Many users also claim that it does not add or remove any top-end frequencies, which other units or plugins can do. To summarize, this compressor can be called pretty transparent.
The Klark Teknik 76-KT is a very affordable FET compressor that completely replicates the classic appearance of the legendary 1176 units. You get great functionality, reliability, and a pretty cool-looking rack with it. It allows you to get a clean and transparently compressed signal.
Some users argue that this unit cannot provide signal coloration. The sound will be too transparent and without a specific harmonic distortion. It could be a problem for those looking for a unit with precisely these purposes.
You can use the Klark Teknik 76-KT for almost any kind of instrument. For example, this unit performs well on bass guitar, drums, acoustic guitar, vocals, and keyboards. But let’s note that it is best suited for situations where you need to implement compression with a fast attack because it is a FET type of hardware.
6. ART Pro VLA II (Best On Budget Compressor For Mixing And Mastering)
If you need an affordable tube Opto compressor with nice build quality, the Pro VLA II from ART might be a good option.
You have to shake your wallet enough to get quality studio units, including used ones. But the good news is that there are individual units that can give you good quality for a reasonably affordable price. One such is the Pro VLA II from ART. It’s generally one of the cheapest compressors of its kind.
The good thing about this unit is that it has enough features, despite its price. First, it’s a two-channel compressor, which you can use both for individual tracks and on the master bus. Also, it has a pretty fast attack time – from 0.25msec.
It is also important to note that this is not an entire tube compressor. The tubes here only perform the function of amplifying the output signal.
- Can Work as Two Separate Compressors
In the middle of the front panel, you will see the Link button. If it is disabled, the compressor will work in Dual Mono mode with two separate left and right channels.
- Stereo Mode
The unit will work as a stereo compressor by turning on the Link button. It means that you can use it for both instrument groups and your 2-bus. Interestingly, in this mode, the left channel settings will become the main, and the output of the right channel will be responsible for the balance between the right and left channels.
- Control Almost Over About Anything
PRO Vla II has almost all the necessary compression settings. The threshold range here is quite wide – from -30 to +20 dB. The ratio here varies from 2:1 to 20:1, which allows this equipment to be both subtle and quite aggressive. As for the attack, the time is quite fast as on an Opto compressor – starting from 0.25 msec. It is the same for release – it begins at 0.15 msec. In addition to all this, you can add up to +20 dB of output level.
- A Lot of Meters
You will get two VU meters separately for the right and left channels. But, in essence, they will only show you the total signal level. As for gain reduction, the two LEDs below are responsible for this. Apart from that, you will have another signal indicator in the middle.
- Stabbed Knobs & Build Quality
The Pro VLA II has a pretty sturdy aluminum body and metal knobs, giving the impression of a rugged unit. The knobs are also stepped, making it easy to recall your settings. It will be handy if you use the unit for mastering.
Character & Sound:
The character of the sound of this unit is quite transparent and clear. Even if you go up to 6 dB of gain reduction, you won’t get a stifled sound or unpleasant pumping. It also does a pretty good job of gluing on the mix bus.
Great compressor for the price. Thanks to the Dual Mono and Stereo modes, it can be a pretty versatile piece of gear for you. It also has a transparent sound character and a pretty sturdy body.
The compressor’s VU meter does not show a gain reduction. It also comes with non-brand tubes. Some of the unit buttons are made of plastic.
Because of its smooth character, it can do an excellent job on vocals and bass. Also quite suitable for drums, both individually and as a whole. PRO Vla II can be safely used on a stereo bus as well.
7. Warm Audio WA-2A (Budget Opto Compressor)
Next on our list is a budget clone of the legendary LA-2A Opto compressor, the WA-2A from Warm Audio.
If you’re seriously interested in studio equipment, you’ve seen this light gray unit. The LA-2A is the legendary high-end Opto compressor from Teletronix, which top studios have used for decades. It is known for its long attack time and smooth character, making it fantastic for vocals and bass guitar.
The original compressor is priced in the $35,000 range, making it quite unaffordable for the general public.
Fortunately, you can get quite a few budget versions of this equipment. Now we’ll talk about one of the most famous clones, the WA-2A from Warm Audio of Texas. It almost wholly repeats the minimalistic design of the original unit and its sonic characteristics.
- The Compressor or The Limiter
The WA-2A has two modes of operation – Compressor and Limiter. Compressor mode operates with a fixed ratio and is somewhat source-dependent. If you switch to Limiter, the ratio will increase closer to infinity, behaving accordingly.
- Two Main Knobs
Your two central knobs will be Output Gain and Peak Reduction. Speaking of gain, you will have a range of up to +40 dB. The Peak Reduction knob adjusts the amount of compression by raising or lowering the threshold. In total, the unit can provide 40 dB of gain reduction.
- Set Your Meter
You will have the possibility to calibrate the VU meter of the compressor yourself, thanks to a separate knob. As for the indicator itself, you will choose what information the indicator will show you. There are three modes: Output +10, Gain Reduction, and Output +4.
- Pre-Emphasis Control
You will also have the Pre-Emphasis knob, which allows you to adjust the side-chain audio that directs the optical module to compress. In its initial position, the compressor will consider all the peaks of the frequency spectrum. If you turn the knob clockwise, the compressor will be less susceptible to low plosives, enabling a hi-pass filter.
Character & Sound:
The WA-2A provides a smooth and warm sound character. Transients become less presented. Also, the compressor somewhat subdues the hissing sounds, but at the same time, gives a silky high end.
This unit is an excellent budget Opto compressor from an American manufacturer that replicates the legendary LA-2A. It comes with branded tubes and has a reasonably high-quality assembly and housing. Also, it has a silky and smooth sound character.
The Pre-Emphasis and meter calibration controls on older WA-2A models were on the case’s back, which was somewhat inconvenient for operation. The character of this unit is different from the original, providing a slightly warmer sound.
Because of its slow attack time, this compressor would be ideal for vocals, providing you with a smooth and expressive sound. This unit is also quite suitable for bass guitar processing. In addition, you can also use it for acoustic and electric guitars, drums, and keys.
8. Warm Audio Bus-Comp (Budget Stereo Bus Compressor)
An excellent alternative to one of the most famous bus compressors is the Bus-Comp from Warm Audio.
VCA type compressors are the most suitable for mix buses. They allow you to get that “magic” that glues all the mix elements, making it consistent and musical. Also, with them, you can add punch to your music. One of the most popular compressors is the SSL Bus Compressor.
The nice thing is that we have a relatively affordable alternative to this unit – Warm Audio Bus-Comp.
It is a 2-Channel VCA Compressor, which performs its function perfectly. It even has slightly more features and functions than the original unit. Let’s see what the developers from Texas have filled it.
- 1.5:1 Ratio
What sets this compressor apart from others is the low starting ratio point. The thing is that in a lot of equipment, it starts at 2, but in the Bus-Comp, it starts at 1.5:1. It will be beneficial for soft genres of music when you don’t need a lot of compression.
- High Frequencies Control
Another exciting feature of this unit is the presence of a Hi-Pass filter. It is a separate knob that allows you to control the amount of low-end in your compressed signal. You can bypass this or put it from 30 hertz to 185. It will help get rid of the unwanted boomy effect.
- Engage Transformers
The Bus-Comp also has an Engage Transformers button. This function allows you to change the output circuit completely. The signal takes the default path during the off option, while the on passes it through the other two amplifiers separately for the right and left channels. But besides this, the sound is affected by two other transformers, which give an excellent round bottom-end and harmonic distortion. All in all, it brings the signal to life.
- External Sidechain
There is a side-chain XLR input on the back of the compressor. It will allow you to bring in an external signal and control the compression characteristics. For example, you can use this to boost the high frequencies, and the resulting equipment will be more sensitive to the high end of your mix. The same goes for the other ranges.
Character & Sound:
The Bus-Comp performs its primary function of compressing an entire mix bus perfectly. In addition, it is suitable for raising the subtle elements of the mix and making it more expressive. The unit also has a good effect on the bottom end, making it more cohesive.
It is a great stereo bus compressor for a relatively affordable price. In addition to the fact that it does its job perfectly, it also stands out with particular features like High Frequencies Control and the Engage Transformers function.
Some users argue that the Bus-Comp is still not up to the quality of the original SSL unit. They also claim that the compressor does not have the same auto-release schematic. Therefore, this option works differently.
The Bus-Comp is suitable for gluing mixes of almost any genre of music. You can also use it with groups of instruments like drums, vocals, and other stems. But despite that, it can also be suitable for individual stereo tracks.
9. FMR Audio RNC 1773 (Best On Budget Comp For Mixing 2)
FMR Audio’s RNC 1773 might be your best first compressor if you’re getting into hybrid mixing.
If you’re thinking about not only taking advantage of the digital realm in your music production but also starting to build a set of analog equipment, the following option may well suit you. These are probably some of the best budget compressors on the market. You may not be impressed with the appearance of this unit, but it will surprise you while you work.
It is the RNC 1773, also known as the “Really Nice Compressor” from Texas-based FMR Audio. A digitally controlled analog unit comes in a small box but has all the standard compressor settings. The most significant thing is that you can use it for both mono and stereo signals. Let’s take a closer look at its features.
- From Soft to Hard
This box can give an excellent soft compression for vocals or completely crush your drum room. The threshold range varies from 40 dBu to +20 dBu. Speaking about the ratio, you can choose from 1:1 to 25:1. The starting attack time is quite fast – it is 0.2 msec and can be set up to 200 msec. And the release time is from 05 sec to 5.0 sec.
- Use for both Mono and Stereo
On the rear panel, you will see the inputs and outputs of your unit. You can use the left channel only for mono sources. In stereo mode, you will have both channels at your disposal. The cool thing is that you can also use standard stereo patch cables for connections. It is an excellent feature despite the relatively low price of this compressor.
- “Super Nice” Mode
Another of this unit’s features is the Super Nice mode. Thanks to a separate button on the front panel, you can turn it on. In this case, the instrument will use the three internal compressors for a cascading effect to create only barely noticeable compression.
Character & Sound:
The RNC 1773 can be quite aggressive or barely noticeable, depending on the settings. It provides relatively clean compression but can add some distortion on low-end sources. As for the mix bus, it can quite well glue things together.
Budget compressor with good sound quality. A definite advantage of the RNC 1773 is that you can use it both on mono and stereo signals. A nice bonus will be the presence of the Super Nice mode. Also, the unit is relatively compact and will not take up much space in your studio.
This unit will not be what you need if you are looking for a compressor with a coloring effect. It has pretty clean compression with almost no side effects. So if you’re looking for one with coloring, you need to consider other options.
The RNC 1773 does a great job on kick drums, snares, and bass guitars. You can also safely use it for vocal compression. In addition to that, it goes well on mix buses, especially in Really Nice mode.
10. WES Audio ngBusComp (High-End Compressor For Mastering 2)
If you want to enhance your arsenal with a professional and versatile mastering unit – ngBusComp from WES Audio may be the right option.
WES Audio is known for its reasonably modern approach to product creation. They produce analog equipment that you can control digitally.
If you are interested in music production equipment, you have heard about such famous units of this company as _DIONE, _MIMAS, _HYPERION, and many others. You can operate all of them with special plugins, and the next gear is no exception here.
ngBusComp is an analog bus compressor with plugin control. It can be used both in stereo and dual mono mode. It also has Mid/Side switching, and the cherry on the cake is the IRON mode for saturation. Let’s take a look at all the features of this rack monster in order.
- Loaded with 4 VCAs
This unit has four 2181 VSAs on board for compression in the signal chain and one in the side chain. These are the same components responsible for the VCA compressor “gluing” function that we all love so much. Also, thanks to them, the sound will open up in almost any genre of music.
- Available Operating Modes
In the center of the front panel, you will see several buttons that will help you switch between modes. These options are Dual, which will give you Dual Mono, Stereo, and M/S. An exciting feature is that you will press and hold the Bypass button in the latter mode and mute the middle channel, letting you hear only the compression on the sides and vice versa.
- Total Harmonic Distortion
ngBusComp has a separate knob called THD, which will add total harmonic distortion to your sound. This option is available on other units of the company, but the most important thing is that in this unit, you get the possibility to adjust the level to your liking.
- Two Output Stages
You will have two stages of output at your disposal. The first is electronically balanced and is ideal for clean and transparent audio. On the other hand, you can apply the IRON option and pass your signal through the Karnheil transformer for extra saturation and tonal shaping.
- Fully Digital Controlled
You get a special plugin that allows you to control your unit directly from your DAW. And vice versa – all your manipulations on the equipment will be displayed in the software. The great thing is that this way, you can automate the work of ngBusComp, as you would do with any other plugin.
Character & Sound:
ngBusComp can give a glued but open and big sound to your mixes, whether light genres or heavier ones. In addition, you can experiment with two stages of saturation to add expression and drive.
ngBusComp is a very versatile piece of gear that has a lot of adjustments to make your sound quality and exciting. It is 100% analog but digitally controlled, making it usable for hybrid mixing and mastering. You get great compression options, as well as a bunch of tonal shaping possibilities.
The only disadvantage of this unit may be the high price, which makes it not very accessible to the average user.
ngBusComp from WES Audio is the most suitable for mastering. Thanks to its versatility, you can use it for almost any genre of music. In addition, it is pretty good for individual instruments and stems.
1. Tegeler Audio Manufaktur Vari Tube Compressor VTC (Budget Vari MU Compressor)
Perhaps one of the most affordable all-tube compressors you can find is the Vari Tube Compressor VTC from Tegeler Audio Manufaktur.
The Vari MU type compressors are known because they use the tubes not only for signal coloring but also directly for gain reduction. As a result, we get smooth and natural audio with a minimum of artifacts.
It is probably the most expensive category of such equipment. But the good news is that there are also relatively inexpensive options like the last unit in our list – Vari Tube Compressor VTC from German manufacturer Tegeler Audio Manufaktur.
VTC can mainly be used as a compressor for mastering. It will provide a good gluing of your mix and pleasant analog warmth. You can also use it to add a finished flavor to your tracks. Let’s see what it has onboard.
- Tubes and Transformers
The compressor has four triode tubes and three transformers. The latter will provide your signal with a tight and pleasant low end, while the tubes will enhance the richness and open flavor.
- Classic Vari MU Architecture
You won’t see the usual Ratio knob here because this unit has a classic design, which means compression occurs directly through the tubes. Therefore, to hear it more noticeable, you will need to increase the level of the Input signal.
- Side Chain Function
Another good thing about this compressor is the Side Chain function. Thanks to a separate switch for both channels, you can choose whether the compressor needs to consider the whole frequency range or filter it starting from 120 or 60 hertz. In this case, it will not affect the low-end.
- Stepped Control
The knobs on this compressor are stepped. It means that you can easily recall your settings, which will be especially useful for mastering.
Character & Sound:
VTC will provide a more open and rich sound to your mixes, thanks to the tubes and transformers. It also adds overtones and presence, serving as a great finishing touch on the mastering stage.
Relatively affordable Vari MU compressor, compared to other similar units. Easy enough to use. It can work in stereo or dual-mono modes and give an analog flavor to your sound.
It has a slightly long attack time. Also, it connects only by XLR. Therefore, you will either need to use adapters to connect, or use converters with the appropriate inputs.
Great for mastering in almost any genre. So that it can behave well with light and heavy music, providing a nice tube flavor in both cases. It can also be helpful for groups of instruments or individual tracks.
2. DBX 266 XS (Budget Stereo Compressor/Gate)
Another possible option for beginners is the 266 XS from DBX, including a compressor and a gate.
One gets the impression that the American company DBX has been around since the dawn of time. And indeed, it was founded quite a long time ago, back in 1971.
This manufacturer is known for its studio units at a low price. Some very cool nuggets among them can come in handy if you are starting your way into the analog realm. Especially if you need gear that will handle drums well.
Next on our list is the stereo compressor gate 266 XS. It has a pretty simple appearance, all the necessary settings, and a few features that make it a handy unit.
- Built-in Expander/Gate
This section includes only two knobs – Threshold and Ratio. Unfortunately, you won’t find any attack or release settings here. Nevertheless, this feature does its job well, especially where you’re used to using it most often – on kick and snare.
- OverEasy Mode
The DBX 266 XS features a patented OverEasy operating mode. Thanks to this, the signal passes through two threshold points, which allows the compressor to work a little softer.
- AutoDynamic Attack and Release
Another proprietary DBX technology this unit has is AutoDynamic. You will find the corresponding buttons also on the front panel. The compressor will constantly adjust the attack and release times based on the source itself.
Character & Sound:
The sound character of the DBX 266 XS is relatively soft and smooth. Nevertheless, it can give a fat sound to your drums and a sustained for guitars. If you use it on vocals, it’s quite capable of adding clarity and putting it at the forefront of your mix.
DBX 266 XS is a good budget stereo compressor with a gate function and two patented modes of operation – OverEasy and AutoDynamic. All in all, it can bring a more professional sound to your material.
It doesn’t give you any color. The Gate section has no Attack or Release settings, so it will be a bit difficult for you to set up the gate as concretely as possible.
This compressor is the most suitable for drums. In addition, you can also use it on acoustic, electric guitars, and vocals.
As you can see, the range of analog compressors is quite extensive. You can choose from quite budget options as well as more high-end hardware. Let us give you a few tips to avoid getting confused and wasting your money.
If you’re new to the world of hybrid mixing, it’s probably a good idea to try some budget units to see if this workflow suits you. In that case, we suggest you consider #5 on our list – the Klark Teknik 76-KT, #6 ART Pro VLA II, and #9 – RNC 1773 by FMR Audio.
If you want to start with a bus compressor, a good choice can be unit number 8 – it is Warm Audio WA-2A.
If you have the resources and want to expand your arsenal of tools, an excellent all-around option for you might be number 4, the famous Distressor from Empirical Labs.
Another good unit for your studio could be number 1 – CL 1B from Tube-Tech. And if you’re interested in mastering equipment, an excellent choice would be #2 – SSL Fusion and #10 – ngBusComp from WES Audio.
Experiment with your equipment and have fun. We are convinced that these tools will help you sound more professional and get more clients. Good luck!
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Recording, Mixing, Mastering & Restoration
Ilarion Ivanenko is a remote mixing and mastering engineer from Ukraine, a musician with more than 15 years of experience. Specializes in rock, metal, progressive and the other genres. He can’t imagine his life without music, as it is the biggest passion in his life