12 Best Opto Compressor Plugins 2024 + 5 FREE Optos

12 Best Opto Compressor Plugins

Opto compressors, aka optical compressors, are some of my favorite plugins with their unique ability to control dynamics naturally, add warmth, and enhance the overall quality of audio. In this article, I will talk about some of the best Opto compressor plugins around, how to use them, and how they really work.

Opto compressors have been used in almost all popular tracks, from classic rock and metal to hip-hop and EDM, with their unique musical characteristics. The secret lies in how they work. Their compression is totally program-dependent, thanks to the anomalies in the light-dependent circuitry of the sidechain.

To make it clearer, for example, an opto comp will react differently to a short, loud peak in a quiet part of a song compared to a longer, loud section. This is because the photocells warm up over time, slowing the attack-release times. This creates a natural, ear-pleasing compression that became a staple in music history.

Best uses for Opto compressor plugins

They provide an organic and smooth compression while adding harmonic richness to your mix and work great with any track that needs a smooth transient. I mainly use them for vocals and bass, but today, there are many “optos” with a modern features added.

I also use these versatile ones for smoothing out vocals, enhancing bass guitars, balancing guitars, enriching pianos, and making drum records sound more punchy. I always use them individually on the tracks instead of on buses. The result is natural compression with a nice warmth and richness added to the tone.

What I also like about Opto compressors is the tonal color and sonic enhancement they add to the mixes. If you like the vintage analog sound like me and want your compression to sound natural, Opto compressors are the right address.

Due to their slow character, optos generally should not be used for mix busses or mastering. Actually you can, but they are better choice for individual tracks. 

Now that you have a general introduction to opto compressors, let’s look at some of the best opto compressor plugins today.

12 Best Opto Compressor Plugins 2024


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NEOLD U2A - 12 Best Opto Compressor Plugins + 5 FREE Optos

If you like authentic-sounding vintage compression sounds, Neold U2A is a great choice. It offers many flavors and makes your sound rich, thick, and bold.

The plugin comes with separate controls for makeup gain and THD injection, which gives you more control over your sound. This way, you can adjust the tube saturation and opto compression individually. A great addition is the aging knob, which lets you switch between different L2A compressor emulations from a new opto cell to an age-old vintage device. Plus, the recovery control allows you to adjust the release time, giving you even more versatility. I also like that it features an R37 sidechain filter network, onboard parallel processing, and a limiter mode switch, which are all great for musical and beefy leveling. 

I usually use U2A for vocals, but you can also use it for acoustic guitars, pianos, and other acoustic instruments. 

This plugin comes in VST, VST3, AU, and AAX plugin formats

2. Softube OPTO Compressor

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Softube OPTO Compressor - 12 Best Opto Compressor Plugins + 5 FREE Optos

This plugin finds the sweet spot between the vintage sound and modern controls. Its slow attack and smooth character offer analog sound while having some modern DAW-friendly features.

It is not only about the sound of this compressor but also modern touches like stereo link, drive, sidechain section, dry-wet mix, and the high-frequency makeup feature. These features ease my workflow significantly and give me more versatility for mixing and mastering.

You can control your tone with drive, gain reduction, dry-wet, and the sidechain section. I also appreciate that the plugin has the high-frequency makeup feature, which is handy when you don’t want those high frequencies lost in compression.

The unit also has a Stereo Link mode to link the right and left channels or to use them like dual mono channels, adjusting them separately.

I use it mainly with vocals, guitars, and bass. For vocals, I often use it as the second gain reduction stop after another compressor, like a FET compressor. The compression sounds natural and enhances the fainter parts of any performance.

This plugin can be in VST, VST3, AU, or AAX formats.

3. TELETRONIX® LA-2A (Collection)

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TELETRONIX® LA-2A (Collection) - 12 Best Opto Compressor Plugins + 5 FREE Optos

With their ease of use and smooth, transparent response, I love these three classic plugins when I work with vocal recordings.

This plugin collection comes with three variations of the most sought-after emulations of the iconic Teletronix processor: the LA-2A Silver, LA-2A Gray, and LA-2 models. These three models slightly differ in their headroom, compression knee, time constants, distortion, program, and frequency dependence.

I also like the user interface as it is simple with a few knobs, and also it comes with some great presets created by LA-2A users like Vance Powell and Ross Hogarth.

The Silver model is the most versatile one with its fast time constant. So, I use the Silver model for any type of vocals and drums, as it is transparent yet punchy.

The Gray model has great warmth but a significant reduction on higher frequencies. Also, it features slower recovery, so it is not as immediate as the Silver model. I would say it is a medium-speed compressor. It is suitable for acoustic instruments.

The classic LA-2 sounds similar to the Gray but has a much slower response rate. It is the slowest of all the plugins and has a unique mellow sound. So, it is better used with spacious vocals and legato tempos.

This set comes in AAX, AU, VST, and VST 3 formats.

4. Slate Digital FG-2A

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Slate Digital FG-2A - 12 Best Opto Compressor Plugins + 5 FREE Optos

Simplicity combined with good sound is a great mix for Opto compressors. That is what Slate Digital FG-2A offers with its smooth compression, less bright, and less in-your-face take on the analog hardware.

Slate Digital FG-2A sounds less bright and more subtle than other compressors. But it has the right characteristics with the smoothness and ease of LA-2A compressors. 

The interface is pretty simple, which I like. It only has peak reduction, gain, and mix knobs. It also has a small emphasis control, which makes the compressor less sensitive to low ranges. The unit also has Stereo Link mode, which increases the versatility. I like to use unlinked stereo limiting as, in some situations, it sounds more exciting and wider.

I used this plugin mainly for bass and vocals when I needed subtle compression. Thanks to the stereo link and mix control, you can also use it for drums or even mix buses. Using two instances in series with one limiting and the other compressing is also great. Or you can use a parallel compressor running into a wet one for controlling sources for different song parts and dynamic changes.

The FG-2A can be purchased in AAX, AU, VST, and VST 3 formats.

5. Apogee FX Rack Opto-3A

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Apogee FX Rack Opto-3A - 12 Best Opto Compressor Plugins + 5 FREE Optos

If you like the David Bowie guitar sound and Bryan Ferry’s vocals, this plugin should be on your list. It is based on the legendary LA-3A hardware compressor and can act gently and transparently when used with light settings or tight and aggressive with hard settings.

This vintage compressor and limiter plugin comes with a pretty simple interface. It has the usual suspects, peak reduction, and gain controls. There is also the graphmeter, which you can use to monitor gain reduction or output level.

What I like about this plugin is the flexibility it offers. It has extra features like HF contour with flat-boost-cut modes, a high pass filter sidechain, and a dry-wet mix to shape your sound. The high pass filter especially comes in handy for preventing over-compressed mixes and uneven dynamics.

Another great addition is the Side Chain monitor feature, which allows you to listen to the mix while adjusting the settings. It is a pretty handy tool.

I use this compressor when I want the high-frequency emphasis on my mix. It is helpful with vocals, bass, and guitars, especially when mixing rock music. Also, the HF Contour in Boost mode is great for compressing drums, especially cymbals.

The plugin comes in AAX, AU, VST, and VST 3 formats.

6. Tone Empire Opto Red

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Tone Empire Opto Red - 12 Best Opto Compressor Plugins + 5 FREE Optos

Some mixes need smooth and transparent compressors away from coloration. In these situations, a transparent Optical Attenuator like Tone Empire Opto Red can save your mixes.

If more transparency, smoothness, and clarity are what you expect from your compressor, Tone Empire Opto Red is the right one for you. It does not add coloration, saturation, or distortion to the sound but acts as a transparent compressor while still having hints of the Opto compressor flavor.

The unit has some extra features than the hardware, such as the built-in side chain feature, automatic gain, low pass filter, and wet-dry mix. So, it has some versatility to use the unit with different instruments other than vocals and bass. It works well with acoustic instruments, drums, and synths.

It sounds analog, making the drums crispier but smoother, adding more presence to the guitars and balancing the vocals. But, it does not color the sound like some other Opto compressors.

I also like that this compressor has a lo-cut filter to eliminate unwanted lows. So, it works great with bass-heavy instruments as well.

This plugin is available in AAX, AU, VST, and VST 3 formats.

7. Slate Digital Custom Opto

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Slate Digital Custom Opto - 12 Best Opto Compressor Plugins + 5 FREE Optos

This is an interesting Opto compressor as it offers timing and ratio controls and four new tone settings added to the standard Opto sound and controls. It inherits everything from the FG-2A but adds more for increased versatility.

I love the harmonic distortion and slight EQ curve this plugin adds to the mixes, even without any compression. Also, adding ratio control that can vary between 1:1 (no gain reduction) and 10:1 (effectively limiting) allows you to find the sweet spot of gain reduction. The same goes for the Speed control for attack-release adjustments.

But the most useful addition for me is Tone control. There are five different tones, and each adjusts the compressor sensitivity differently. So, the Tone control acts as a sidechain EQ facility. You have Smooth, Flat, Warm, Aggro, and Airy modes. The names describe the effect you will get.

For example, Smooth focuses more on midranges and removes the mix’s harshness. Aggro emphasizes low and high frequencies and gives punch and snap. Airy focuses more on high-end frequencies, opening them up. Warm adds great vintage fatness, and Flat is the standard mode with more transparency.

I use this plugin with almost any instrument, thanks to its versatility. I even use it as a mix-bus compressor. You can play with the tone control to adjust the compressor for different occasions.

First, I adjust the gain reduction I want; then, I try the tone presets to find the most suitable one. The five presets make the workflow quicker and easier, helping you significantly.

This plugin comes in AAX, AU, VST, and VST 3 formats.

8. Waves CLA-2A Compressor

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Waves CLA-2A Compressor - 12 Best Opto Compressor Plugins + 5 FREE Optos

The plugin comes with only two knobs and a compress-limit switch, and that’s all. It is a great plugin for beginners as it doesn’t complicate things and does the job.

The unit sounds pretty natural, even with hard compression. Its tube emulation sounds musical and harmonic saturation, which goes great with vocals. 

The limiter mode is handy when you want more sustain in your sound, and there is also the trim control, which works well for quick level adjustments.

I like the sound of this compressor, mainly when used with vocals and acoustic instruments. It adds depth and presence to the tone without coloring it too much. Also, it balances everything pretty successfully in the master section without being too intrusive.

The plugin also comes with plenty of presets, which makes things even easier. The presets sound well-prepared to me and can get your workflow even faster. That is why it can be a great tool for beginners.

CLA-2A is offered in AAX, AU, VST, and VST 3 formats.

9. ACME Audio Opticom XLA-3

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ACME Audio Opticom XLA-3 - 12 Best Opto Compressor Plugins + 5 FREE Optos

I like that plugins add a different touch to their vintage hardware origins. And that is what XLA-3 does. It provides smooth, natural compression like its origin, LA-2A, but has three different compression curves for treating mixes differently.

The unit features a simple interface with input and output gain knobs and a Response Control switch. It also has nice meters for threshold drive and output level to monitor the compression levels. 

The critical point of the unit is the Response Control knob. It has three modes: slow, normal, and fast, determining the overall color, release, and attack. 

The Slow mode has a well-defined peak limiter with smooth dynamic control, which is more loyal to the analog Opto compressors. It colors your tone, adding warmth, depth, and a defined top-end. In the Fast mode, you have significantly faster recovery times, aggressive dynamic control, and more harmonic distortion. This mode adds body and character to your sound but never gets too harsh. For me, this mode is the highlight of the unit. The Normal mode acts as a middle-ground between the two extremes.

I use the Slow mode for vocals, providing a great presence with a nice dark, mud-free tone. Fast mode colors the sound significantly with great harmonic overtones in the mid to low ranges. So, it goes well with drums, guitar, and bass parts.

XLA-3 is offered in AAX, AU, VST, and VST 3 formats.

10. IK Multimedia Opto Compressor 

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IK Multimedia Opto Compressor  - 12 Best Opto Compressor Plugins + 5 FREE Optos

This compressor is a loyal Opto compressor with a gentle, transparent, and organic sonic nature.

IK Multimedia Opto Compressor can be a great way to achieve precise vintage Opto compressor tones. Its unique technology provides a gentle, transparent, and organic sonic nature. 

The primary circuit of the unit acts like an electro-optical attenuator. This means its compression intensity depends on and is proportional to the incoming signal. But the second part of the circuit is different. It serves as a photoconductive cell, adjusting the resistance used on the signal by reading the light intensity. These two together allow the amp to set the gain level and create the compression.

It has plenty of controls to shape your compression, including Attack, Release, Input, Ratio, Compression Level, Output, and Sidechain Link buttons. I like the two graphmeters on the control panel for Right and Left signals.

As with almost all Opto compressors, the best use for this is with vocals. It is not for those who like to color their sound with saturation or add character. This one is more for mixes that need clean and steady compression where distortion-free gain reduction is required.

This plugin is available in AAX, AU, VST2, and VST 3 formats.

11. Brainworx bx_opto

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Brainworx bx_opto - 12 Best Opto Compressor Plugins + 5 FREE Optos

Brainworx bx_opto is a chameleon Opto compressor that combines different compressors’ characters, features, and colors. It offers quite a bit of versatility and content-dependent compression.

The main difference for me is the Speed control that functions by stimulating speed changes that the photocells in analog hardware compressors react to light.

You get the classic Opto flavor around 10-11 o’clock on the Speed control, but the game changes entirely with different settings. It creates a unique transient response.

When you slow the Speed down, the unit provides great punch and purr for drum and electric guitar parts. With fast speeds, it has a usable and exciting urgency. It does not feel choked until 11 dB of gain reduction, which is great.

My favorite setting is slow speeds with the mix knob around 50%. It gives life to thin-sounding vocals, especially backing vocals and reedy guitar parts. It gives fullness and weight to vocals, guitars, and drums without too much saturation. 

The unit also has fully sweepable sidechain filters and dry-mix control for parallel opto compression.

This plugin is available in AAX, AU, VST2, and VST3 formats.

12. London Acoustics – Brighton 2 Opto Tube Comp

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London Acoustics - Brighton 2 Opto Tube Comp - 12 Best Opto Compressor Plugins + 5 FREE Optos

For versatility lovers, this one is another custom-built integrated compressor to explore both extremes, from slow to snappy pumping compression. It gives you quite a bit of control with many knobs to shape your sound however you like.

Thanks to its analog origins and upgraded modern features, this unit serves like a sonic chameleon. It can act like a classic Opto with slow and smooth compression using normal settings. But it can also be aggressive and punchy at the extreme levels.

I like this plugin’s modern tube concept as it allows me to use it for different occasions. For me, it works best with vocals with fast attack and recovery. It is also pretty good with drums, guitar, and bass.

You can also use it for bus or master bus, which is uncommon for Opto compressors. But, the versatility of this one allows it with the right settings.

The controls you get are Peak Reduction, Makeup, Attack, Recovery, Transients, Saturation, Hi Pass Filter, Mix, and a Hot-Normal Tube Switch and Ratio. Although the sound you get is closer to the analog hardware tones, the controls are on the modern side of the unit, increasing the versatility for a wide range of uses.

This plugin is offered in AAX, AU, and VST formats.

Free Opto Comp Plugins

1. Analog Obsession Comper

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Analog Obsession Comper - 12 Best Opto Compressor Plugins + 5 FREE Optos

I love Analog Obsession plugins, and Komper is one of my top plugins from them. What makes it unique is its serial compressor circuit and its multi-mode design. 

There are two compressors: the top side, the internal compressor, and the bottom side, the internal-external compressor. You can set both compressors to act like different compressor types, such as  VCA, FET, and Opto. The great thing is that these modes are blendable to create VCAFET or FetOpto compressors.

So, you get many different tonal options to explore with this unit. You can have a straightforward Opto compressor for subtle compression or combine it with different types to use it basically for anything.

The plugin is available in VST3, AU, and AAX formats.

2. ADHD Leveling Tool

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ADHD Leveling Tool - 12 Best Opto Compressor Plugins + 5 FREE Optos

As a straightforward compressor, the unit does what it has to do. It has a simple user interface with control gain and peak reduction controls and extra knobs for dry/wet mix, ratio, attack, and release.

Using it with vocals adds a good character to the sound and tames the peaks successfully. It is a good plugin, easy to use, and adds the vintage flavor to the mix.

It is a good compressor with vocals but a one-trick pony. For compressing other instruments, you should look elsewhere.

This plugin is available in AAX, AU, and VST3 formats.

3. Bedroom Compressor MkII plugin

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Bedroom Compressor MkII plugin - 12 Best Opto Compressor Plugins + 5 FREE Optos

I appreciate this unit as it offers different compressor modes in a box. This can act like an Opto and VCA compressor to answer different needs.

It has plenty of controls, which I enjoy. You get Attack, Release, Threshold, Ratio, Input, Output Gain, Hi Pass Filter, Volume, and Mix controls. It also has Knee control for creating nonlinearities in ratio and threshold interaction.

The Opto sounds just as it should with vintage and smooth compression. The VCA is more versatile as it acts quickly and surgically. It also adds a good presence and or snap to your mix.

Opto mode is best used with vocals, while the VCA is more versatile, working great with kicks, snares, synths, and even guitar. 

The unit comes in AU and VST3 formats.

4. Optron 3A

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Optron 3A - 12 Best Opto Compressor Plugins + 5 FREE Optos

Compressors can be complicated to use for beginner producers. That is why compressors like Optron 3A are great with their ease of use.

The unit comes with a 2-knob design, gain, and peak reduction. Its attack and release times are fixed, making it easier to use for beginners. I like how simple the plugin is and how great it works for taming peaks.

The compressor adapts to the processed signal and works great with single tracks. Either vocals, guitar, bass, or drums, it gets the job done without adding too much color to the sound.

This plugin is only available in the VST3 format.


All of these plugins are great emulations of those legendary analog hardware compressors. Some stay loyal to their origin; others have modern features for different uses, increasing their versatility. Depending on your needs and budget, you can go with any of them to add different flavors and balance your mixes.

I recommend Neold U2A for its versatility and great performance with vocal mixes. Softube OPTO Compressor is a great plugin with plenty of control and natural sound if you are after an analog sound with some modern touches. TELETRONIX® LA-2A (Collection) is a great set of compressors for different uses with its multi-mode design for vocals. Lastly, if you want something easy to handle, the Waves CLA-2A Compressor is great for creating wonders with acoustic instruments.

So, some of the best Opto compressors today for different budgets and uses. Enjoy these great plugins, easing your workflow and adding great spice to your tracks.

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