A mastering compressor is a dynamics processor used to help contain the peaks of an entire arrangement.
They can be added at the mastering stage or sometimes used in the output channel during mixing. Engineers rely on mastering compressors to glue the mix together, adding some flavor and tone.
In a nutshell, here is our list of the Best Mastering Compressor Plugins in 2022:
1. Unisum Mastering Compressor
Tone Projects’ Unisum Mastering Compressor offers flexibility for the basic and advanced needs of mastering engineers.
The Unisum offers super clean compression, delivering fidelity even in the heaviest scenarios. The extensive set of controls placed in the Edit Style window allows you to shape the song’s compression. Achieve punch and movement in no time. Also, the Channel Link and Mid-Side mode assist in achieving a naturally wider stereo image.
- Multi-band control
Even though the Unisum is a wideband compressor, it offers a multi-band detection path for extensive control. Shape the side chain information with the 3-band EQ, each containing its own RMS and Peak detectors. You get detailed level tracking and the ability to influence the compressor’s response to any of the three frequency ranges.
- Complete Response
On top of giving you flexible attack and release controls, the Unisum also offers modifiers for these parameters. The extended section lets you time the response to specific transients.
The plugin offers three quality modes: Real-Time, High, and Pristine, all of which use different high-fidelity parameters.
- Load parts of a Preset
So you found the right balance at the plugin compressor section. But now you feel like the Multiband Detector isn’t quite there yet. There is a solution. You can drag a preset into any of the four sections of the plugin and apply it only to that area. This way, you can blend your work with the plugin’s great-sounding presets for an even more precise approach.
Character and Sound:
The Unisum’s natural transparency is a great starting point for any project, serving most productions. But you can take it beyond with this plugin’s tonal controls. The discrete HYGGE button is a frequency-dependent tube circuit that adds warmth, weight, and thickness to any sound.
You can also engage the parallel secondary envelope for a smoother sound that preserves responsiveness.
Tone Projects’ Unisum Mastering Compressor is available for Windows as 32 or 64-bit VST3, or 64-bit only AAX. It is also available for Mac as 64-bit only VST3, AAX, and AU.
The Unisum is a highly versatile plugin that offers outstanding tonal possibilities and song-oriented parameters. This plugin is genuinely a mastering compressor. Therefore, to get the best from its parameters, you should use it across the entire track. This plugin is an excellent investment for those looking for a flexible compressor.
2. Brainworx Masterdesk
The BX_Masterdesk by Brainworx is an all-in-one solution for on-the-go mastering, offering a varied set of controls for sound processing.
Its user-friendly interface and multiple processing options help producers and engineers achieve an able final result in no time. Controls such as Link, Turbo, and Mono Maker, offer a signal chain that eliminates the need for extra plugins.
- Four compressor modes
Each of the compressor modes offers a different attack and release rate for a faster workflow.
- Resonance Filters & De-Esser
These knobs let you cut down the resonance of offending frequencies for a smoother result.
- Tone & M/S
The lower section of the plugin lets you shape your master’s EQ, as well as the stereo image’s width. Mono Maker helps focus the low-end information in the center, while Stereo Enhance opens up the stereo field.
Character and Sound:
As the volume knob feeds the Gain Reduction section, the sound starts getting crunchy. The THD knob controls the harmonic distortion being added to the signal, allowing a warmer sound to come through. The four TMT Compressor Modes go from hard to soft, making it exceptional for most musical genres. The Output Trim knob can increase or decrease the loudness, making this a clean and accurate plugin that gets loud.
The Masterdesk is available for Windows and Mac as a VST, VST3, AU, and AAX plugin.
Brainworx’s Masterdesk is an excellent plugin for delivering a fast, convincing master, even if you’re not a skilled mastering engineer. However, most engineers will swear the plugin off, stating that it can’t replace professionals’ trained ears.
And that’s true, but this plugin offers a solution that can save the day for most low-budget artists and producers.
3. Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor
This plugin emulation of a hardware classic reproduces the compressor’s original sound while bringing versatility to your workflow.
The Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor presents two-stage compression and complete dynamic control. The signal enters the Optical section and feeds the Discrete compressor with three different transformer modes: Nickel, Iron, and Steel. You can also choose to use the plugin in stereo or dual-mono situations.
- Optical Compression
With a fixed ratio of about 2:1 and no attack or release controls, this optical compressor works as the chain’s first step. Lower the threshold knob to start getting some gain reduction on the loud peaks. While mixing a bass, this will sound better cranked up as you look for a less dynamic sound. While mastering, though, about a dB and a half of gain reduction in this stage will be enough.
- Discrete Compression
This second compressor has six-step attack and recovery controls, which will be great for transient-heavy material, such as drums. The Dual recover function releases the gain reduction in two steps, the first being very fast and the second a lot longer. This process helps avoid a pumping sound that can be unpleasing in some situations.
- Nickel, Iron & Steel
Each of these transformer modes adds a slightly different texture to the sound. Nickel sounds brighter, with an even frequency response across the whole spectrum. Iron slightly bumps the low-end. Steel opens up the low-end a lot more and gives the sound a boomy feel.
- Separate parameters
Both stages of compression offer threshold and make-up gain controls, which provide precise two-stage dynamic processing.
You can apply side-chain filtering so the plugin doesn’t get triggered by the frequency range you select. Initially, the default was set on 90 Hz, so the low-end wouldn’t start the compressor. With the plugin’s native version, the Side-Chain Filter became available.
Character and Sound:
This hardware emulation sounds robust, bringing life into otherwise dull recordings. The output transformer modes offer increasingly deeper low-end control, great for bass and kick drum or distinct low-end heavy music. However, this is a very transparent tool, adding little to no distortion, even at wild levels.
This plugin is available in VST2, VST3, AU, and AAX formats running on macOS 10.9 or higher and Windows 7 or higher.
The already classic hardware becomes an essential plugin. Validated by some of the greatest artists and studios of our time, the Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor is a must-have. Whether you’ll use it for mastering or mixing, the two-stage workflow helps you achieve breathing compression that improves a recording.
4. SPL Iron
The SPL Iron is a hardware emulation that offers a distinctive sound resembling radio-era tube compressors.
The Iron is a mastering compressor, but you can also use it on single instruments. Attack and Release have a six-step knob each that goes from slow to fast. You get significant amounts of threshold attenuation and input and output compensation. You also have a four-step, predefined frequency side-chain for range control.
- Tube Bias
With three options, Low, Mid, and High, tube Bias adds some lifts up the volume, causing some tube compression and distortion.
- Air Bass and Tape Roll-Off
These are EQ options that you can bypass. AirBass adds two dB of volume to the lows and highs. Tape Roll-Off cuts down a bit of the high-end spectrum.
- Rectifier Knob
The six options presented here change the attack and release rates, changing the plugin’s whole sound. This is, in fact, an emulation of the six capacitor options the original hardware would have. The Germanium and LED ones have the slowest attack/release times, while the Silicon, Ge, and Ge/Si have the fastest.
- Side-Chain EQs
These four options allow the compressor to respond to specific frequency ranges. They each focus on reducing different frequencies, while all of them let the low-end pass through. EQ1 controls frequencies around 2kHz. EQ2 controls the 500Hz area. EQ3 controls the bass at 180Hz. And finally, EQ4 focuses on 3kHz, letting the top-end pass. Additionally, there is also an EXT function on this knob for external side-chain applications. There is also a High-Pass filter at the lower menu, so the low-end doesn’t trigger the compression.
- Headroom knob
This knob controls how much headroom the sound is allowed before hitting the compressor. Turn it down to tighten up your compression or up to make it more airy and dynamic.
Character and Sound:
The TMT technology present in this plugin provides a very accurate analog feel to its sound. You can choose from a range of modeled hardware units, so each number presents a slightly different sound. They do this to recreate better what having multiple hardware units would be like.
This is great for creating some diversity within your mix, using the same plugin. You get harmonic warmth from the get-go, which is only suitable for mastering when desired. Even soft compression brings a lot of character to the final sound.
A great plugin if you’re looking for a compressor that adds flavor to your project. The lack of precise attack/release settings can be confusing, making you trust your ears and experience to achieve pleasing compression. You can take some time to comprehend this plugin fully, but once you do, it opens up several sonic possibilities.
5. IK Multimedia T-Racks One
T-Racks One, by IK Multimedia, is an all-in-one mastering solution with straightforward controls.
The plugin’s layout is easy to understand. On the left-hand side, it offers EQ parameters, and on the right-hand side is the character section. The knobs closer to the middle are the input/output parameters, plus the width knob and a VU meter. There are no attack/release controls in this processor, although you get a Transients knob on the character side.
- EQ Section
This side gives you a three-band equalizer, named Body (lows), Focus (mids), and Air (highs). The key here is achieving a nice balance since too much of any band, and the limiter will distort or start pumping.
- Character Section
On the plugin’s right side, you also get three knobs: Bass Punch, Analog, and Transients. Bass Punch increases the amount of compression on the low frequencies, making it great for bass-heavy music. Analog adds a little bit of harmonic saturation while rolling out some of the higher frequencies. Meanwhile, the Transients knob adds a bit of clipping distortion to the left or extra gain reduction to the right.
One of the essential aspects of mastering is widening the stereo field without losing mono compatibility. This knob helps you do that easily, allowing you to back down on the stereo image if necessary.
Character and Sound:
The T-Racks One sounds very transparent. However, it can add a lot of weight and energy to a track. It all depends on the project’s goals. The plugin’s controls give you the freedom to shape saturation and color as you best see fit. The Push knob works almost like a limiter’s input gain, in which too much level causes saturation.
This plugin was made for 64-bit Windows and Mac computers in AU, VST2, VST3, and AAX formats.
An excellent-sounding, user-friendly plugin, although the lack of attack and release knobs makes it less versatile. Unlike other plugins on this list, this is exclusively a mastering processor, not very recommended for mixing purposes. A great plugin, nevertheless, that has its place among the best mastering processor plugins.
6. Brainworx Elysia Alpha Compressor
The Alpha Compressor emulates an analog compressor, endorsed by its creators and coded by Brainworx.
At first, the UI can look confusing and off-putting. Even so, these are all precise parameters that together make this one of the best mastering compressors there are. It is not a versatile compressor, per se, but it does what all mastering compressors claim to do. The difference is it does it so elegantly you almost don’t notice it’s there.
- Frequency Selective Compression
The side-chain knobs in this compressor engage the frequency-oriented compression it was designed to do. This allows the Alpha Compressor to work as a de-esser or as a groove emphasizer, depending on the project’s needs.
- Feed Forward
This button changes the order of the side-chain. Disengaged means side-chaining will act after the compressor. Engaged means it will act before the compressor section. Each has a different flavor, with Feed-Forward sounding like there is some kind of extra compression applied.
- Auto Fast
This option is present for both the attack and release parameters individually, on both channels. It uses the adjusted parameters set on the bigger knobs and improves their efficiency by going further. Attack will now be almost instant, and release will change the envelope curve considerably. Perfect for catching high-speed transients and breathing life back into the mix.
This button adds very subtle sound shaping to the compressed signal. It is a slew rate limiter that adds controlled overtones to the sinewave. Brainworx says they decided to make it elusive because of the mastering nature of the plugin.
The Mid/Side processing in the Alpha Compressor stands out for its ability to handle these as unlinked fields. If a mix has a different attack and release, or even tonality on the mid and sides, this plugin can handle it better than any other. The result will be an audibly better master every time.
Character and Sound:
This is a very clean-sounding mastering compressor. The Warm button is very subtle, and Soft Clip can cause excessive distortion. But there are extreme settings that you can use to achieve different yet desirable sounds. A good example is drum subgroup compression.
If you click the two Auto Fast and Feed Forward buttons and lower the threshold, you’ll start hearing the spatial elements a lot more. You can get up to 20db of gain reduction in this extreme mode. This will make the drums sound as if the microphones had been set a little further from the source, which gives a nice natural room effect.
This behemoth is available as VST2, VST3, AAX, and AU for macOS 10.9 and higher and Windows 7 and up, 64-bit only.
This is hardly an ordinary compressor. Its soft, discrete, and transparent approach elevates it to mastering royalty. The price-tag is reasonable, although out of range for a lot of producers. This is one of those plugins that have a special place on any engineer’s wishlist.
7. FabFilter Pro-C 2
FabFilter’s Pro C2 has already become an industry standard with its extensive controls and eight different compression styles.
The usual compressor parameters are extended by complementary functions, such as Knee, Range, Lookahead, and Hold. You can control the knobs in four different ways for precise adjustments. You can also thoroughly adjust the plugin’s side-chaining to your liking, with a set of controls and three-band EQ.
- Eight Compression Styles
The Pro-C2 offers eight different styles based on the most common compression uses. They are:
- Clean: a low distortion, feedforward compression, useful for most applications.
- Classic: compression with a vintage feedback approach. This does not apply texture.
- Opto: a softer compression style, with a slow attack and linear response.
- Vocal: this setting enables automatic knee and ratio values to bring the mix’s vocals upfront. Not recommended for mastering.
- Mastering: designed to catch fast transients and be as transparent as possible, with no added harmonic distortion.
- Bus: recommended for adding glue to a master or drum bus.
- Punch: analog-like compression is useful for most situations. It adds some harmonic saturation.
- Pumping: great for drums or EDM, this setting’s goal is to make your track bounce.
- Knob Control
You can control the knobs in this plugin in four different ways. By clicking its center and sliding the mouse up or down, you’ll get a fast-turning knob. By clicking the white arrow and dragging the mouse sideways, you’ll get a slower, more precise control. If you’re using an external mouse, bring it over the knob and roll the mouse wheel for a click-free adjustment. And lastly, for even more precise control, double-click the knob and type the desired value.
- Threshold Meter
Around the threshold knob, there’s a feedback monitor that makes it easy to identify the best threshold position. This signal is dependable on the chosen stereo-link option.
Apart from a slider that lets you control each side individually at 0% or the whole stereo field at 100%. You can also drag it further to choose from one of the four options: Mid, Side, Mid>Side (in which the mid information compresses the sides), or Side>Mid (in which the side compresses the mids).
Also worth mentioning is the Range control, which is not present in any other plugin on this list. This slider limits the maximum amount of compression, working as a countermeasure, or complimentary function, to the ratio.
Character and Sound:
Overall, the Pro-C2 sounds extremely transparent while adding the necessary dynamic processing. You can obviously push it over the top and get distortion since it has an up to 100:1 ratio, but this is not a character plugin.
Its purpose is not to emulate analog or sounding vintage. Instead, it aims at delivering the best possible compression by giving the engineer control over every possible aspect of the process.
The Pro C2 works in 32 and 64-bit Windows XP and up, and 64-bit macOS 10.8 or higher, VST, VST3, AAX, or AU plugin.
This plugin offers everything you’ll ever need from compression with entirely adjustable parameters and a user-friendly approach. It is a plugin for professionals looking for that extra level of control over a track’s dynamics. Suitable for mastering and mixing, the Pro C2 is the true definition of “versatile.”
8. Softube Drawmer S73 Intelligent Master Processor
Softube’s Drawmer S73 emulates an analog multi-band compressor with ten styles and many possible uses.
With a multi-band compressor, it can be easy to overdo your compression and get unnatural results. Enter the Intelligent Master Processor, which will make decisions based on the parameters you choose. This plugins algorithm makes it impossible to get lousy compression.
This switch is responsible for opening up the higher frequencies and bringing life back to muffled mixes.
The Drawmer S73 offers a series of ten styles divided into three groups. These are Clean, Bass Control, and Spatial. Let’s take a look:
- Clean: these styles improve the definition between vocals, instruments, and other mix elements, making it clearer overall.
- Bass Control: these two styles handle problems in the low end, like muddiness or lack of definition.
- Spatial: the styles in this group widen the stereo image, bring the existing ambiance up and lift the lead vocals.
- Multiple Styles
Sometimes, an instrument, or even the whole mix, needs more help than only one of the styles can give. By stacking S73s in your plugin chain, each with a different style, you can fine-tune your song into sounding great.
Character and Sound:
Right off the bat, the S73 shows a lot of character, as you pick any of the ten available styles. You can choose to cut the extremely low frequencies, push up the highs, open up a mix’s width, or many other available combinations. Try Clarity 2, for instance, to cut down come harshness and bring definition to the midrange. This plugin being an emulation, you’ll also feel the analog flavor it adds to the sound.
This plugin works in VST, VST3, AU, or AAX formats in 64-bit Windows 7 and up or macOS 10.12 or newer.
Softube’s Drawmer S73 is an accurate reproduction of the original hardware multi-band compressor. The ten available styles make it super easy to use and applicable for more than just mastering situations.
You might want to use this plugin to add punch to a bass track or gentle compression to drums. There are no limits for its applications, given that it just improves anything to which you add it.
9. Cytomic The Glue
Cytomic’s The Glue emulates the SSL-style bus compressor sound adding a few extra controls.
The SSL-style is a very famous compression technique that attempts at gluing a mix using the mixing desk’s bus compressor. In comes The Glue, a clear-sounding plugin that adds subtle, textured compression to your master track. Offering extra tricks not present in the original hardware, Cytomic’s plugin has an advantage over other SSL emulations.
This control limits the amount of compression without considering the threshold value.
- Ext In
This allows the compressor to work on the whole frequency spectrum. Disengage this button, and the side chain knob will become a high-pass filter that can help bring presence to the lower frequencies.
The Glue is a mastering compressor, but you can also use it during mixing. It comes packed with several presets for drums, bass, guitars, strings, keys, lead and backing vocals, sidechain, and mastering. These are very helpful when you need a hand to find a starting point for your compression. You can later fine-tune these presets into something that precisely fits your track.
Character and Sound:
Since this is a hardware emulation, there isn’t much room for improved sonic capabilities. The Glue is transparent, bringing forth an apparent hardware texture, but otherwise no coloration to the sound. It remains true to the analog piece it tries to replicate.
This plugin is available as AU, AAX, RTAS, VST for Mac and Windows.
The SSL glue technique has found its place in musical history and recreating it has been a goal for several producers since the eighties. This plugin delivers that iconic sound but lets you make it your own with the set of extra controls. If what you’re after is a plugin that can give you the best of this analog technique, you’ve found it.
10. PSP MasterComp
The MasterComp by PSP is a high-fidelity stereo processor with smooth, analog-like dynamic compression.
Around for several years, this plugin has stood the test of time. With a wide range of controls and a low distortion algorithm, this is a tool made for mastering. The Limiter switch engages a brick wall limiting algorithm for precise loudness control.
- Selectable channel
Choose to apply compression to the Mid, Side, Left, Right, or Stereo channels. Plus, the Link knob lets you balance control of the two tracks by connecting them, which can cause a more musical effect.
This button engages the low distortion algorithm, making soft, analog-like compression available. This option is more transparent but consumes about 2.5x more CPU power. Turning it off makes the plugin faster but not necessarily worse since the sound is quite similar.
- Rear Panel
By clicking on the frontal logo, you can access the plugin’s back, where you can find a new set of controls. These are specific for the VUs. They adjust the 0VU reference level, the PPM integration and return times, and the Overload counter. All these allow for better adjustment of the VUs, giving the producer a deeper understanding of the output signal.
Character and Sound:
Unlike a few options in this list, the MasterComp doesn’t have a dedicated input/saturation knob. Also, lowering the threshold doesn’t distort the sound. What it has is the Smooth button that makes the sound even more transparent. This is truly a clear-sounding plugin made for giving the perfect glue to your mix.
The MasterComp is a 64-bit only plugin available as VST, RTAS, and AAX for Windows; or AU, AAX, RTAS, VST for Mac.
This useful plugin can look old-fashioned but delivers incredible compression and is a worthy addition to any producer’s toolkit. The fact it also comes with a MicroComp version focused on mixing applications makes it worth the money. If a soft analog texture is what you’re after, this plugin’s for you.
11. Sonoris Mastering Compressor
The Sonoris Mastering Compressor delivers ultra-transparency while precisely tightening up the mix.
The unpretentious UI says nothing about the results this plugin achieves. The sixteen parameters offer a wide range of possibilities, with the plugin shining on soft-sounding materials. That’s not to say it sounds bland because you can also push it to apply character to a mix.
- Link Knob
Adjust the amount of compression added to the track. Choose to have it in split, left, right, mid, stereo, or a combination of all with the link control.
Up to eight times upsampling for an even more precise sound. Also, bother to look at the CPU as you increase it because it can strain your computer.
- Parallel Compression Fader
If you can’t get the perfect dynamics from the plugin, you also have the built-in option to try parallel compression. Bring it up to blend the dry signal back into the plugin.
Character and Sound:
The Mastering Compressor needs few tweakings before sounding gorgeous. By applying no odd-harmonics distortion, the resulting sound is a gentle compression that pleases the listener. Its advanced algorithm also ensures no pumping, making your tracks sound natural and musical.
If you’re looking for character, on the other hand, that’s also easy to accomplish. The feedforward detection brings a more aggressive approach that emphasizes even harmonics and brings warmth to the sound.
Sonoris made this plugin available in VST, VST3, AU, AAX, and RTAS format for 32 and 64-bit Windows and Mac.
Sonoris’ Mastering Compressor is an excellent choice for engineers and producers alike for its exquisite mastering results. Similarly, you can add it to a piano, acoustic guitar, or vocal track to achieve smooth compression. An excellent plugin that can compress beautifully without sucking the life out of your recording.
Best FREE Mastering Compressor Plugin
MeldaProduction’s MCompressor is a classic design compressor suitable for general tasks.
The MCompressor offers all of dynamics processing’s usual suspects, with advanced features such as channel linking and side-chain. Its most distinguished features are the Envelope Graph and the RMS knob. You also get 26 built-in presets.
These incorporate options for the most common compression applications, such as Noise Gate, De-Essing, Drums, and Mastering.
- Built-in Safety Limiter
This feature prevents excessive gain compensation from crossing the 0dB mark. It is a transparent brick-wall limiter that you must use carefully since it contributes to the sound’s loudness and uses a lot more CPU.
This knob controls the input levels being sent to the meters without changing the sound. By leaving it in its default position, you get a Peak Detector. If you increase the value, it becomes an RMS Detector that sends a more constant level to the meters based on the time selected. This setting provides approximated values, but you can change its mode in the Advanced Settings menu to show True RMS.
- Envelope Graph
The graph at the heart of the plugin lets you shape the envelope any way you want. You can use this conservatively to fine-tune the release or creatively to create impossible sound effects. The values on the X-axis represent input volume, while Y is the output. Edit or create any kind of shape imaginable by adding unlimited points to your envelope. Several types of adjustable curvatures can connect them with each point’s surroundings, also admitting smoothness edits. If that’s too much, draw the shape you want in the Drawing Mode. You can also choose from a series of pre-defined curves in the Envelope Graph Menu.
- Plugin Settings
This page lets you choose which style you want for your GUI. Other settings include Smart Bypass and Latency Report and Global System Settings, such as showing confirmation for destructive actions or intelligently sleeping when inactive.
Character and Sound:
While the MCompressor doesn’t add any characteristics to the sound, it lets you shape it however you want. The Envelope Graph is the secret weapon behind this plugin’s sonic capabilities. Matched with the Side-Chain controls that let you remove high volume peaks of specific frequencies, this is a very transparent and versatile plugin.
MCompressor can be downloaded as a VST, VST3, AU, and AAX plugin for 32 and 64-bit Windows and 64-bit Mac.
Even as freeware, the MCompressor has all the famous Melda features, such as multiple GUIs or up to 1024x up-sampling. Advanced users have enough controls to achieve high-precision compression for mixing and mastering. An excellent plugin that works as a free introduction to the Melda environment.
Compression has been an important part of the mastering process since the early lacquer-cutting days. Different compressors are to a producer like different colors to a painter. You can choose your compression according to what goals you’ve set for the project. Whether emulations of classics or masterpieces in their own right, these modern options all do the job very well.
Efforts like the Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor and the Elysia Alpha Compressor are hardware standards that every producer should have around. Plugins such as the Pro-C2 and the Unisum give you extensive control over the final result.
Other Plugin Roundups:
Reverb & Delay Plugins:
Amps & Preamps:
Audio Restoration, Calibration & Utility:
Processing & Sound Design:
Pedro Nascente is an artist, record producer, and mix engineer, currently operating his own studio and working with his band, Yellow Boulevard. Believing that music should convey experiences and feelings, Pedro is known for applying design thinking to his workflow to achieve different sounds and deliver the right messages.