FET compressors are renowned for their unique compression style, so we have curated a list of the top 10 best FET compressor plugins you can get in 2021!
The infamous Urei 1176 compressor is probably the most emulated FET hardware unit of all time. However, there are many other gems, each with its unique quality and character, to be explored. In this list, we attempt to compile a variety of plugins with the most authentic sound.
What is a FET Compressor?
A FET compressor is an analog dynamic effect plugin that employs a field-effect transistor in its circuit to perform the gain reduction. Compared to other types, these compressors are fast-acting and provide a better transient response, making them ideal for percussive sounds like drums.
What is different about a FET compressor?
The most significant differences are its attack and release times, which are very fast compared to other analog-type compressors like VariMu, VCA, and Opto. In addition, FET compressors add harmonic distortion, and their compression isn’t linear like digital compressors.
Similarly, there are other minor differences. For example, the transformers used for gain staging at the end of the signal chain add further saturation. And it generally requires low-level input signals, at least in the hardware units. Software emulations often exploit the desirable effects while eliminating limitations and unwanted effects.
Now, let’s have a look at the plugins:
Top 10 Best FET Compressor Plugins 2021
1. Pulsar Audio Pulsar 1178 Review
Pulsar 1178 is an emulated FET compressor with modern tweaks that give it a pleasant interface, convenience, and a lot of versatility.
The plugin is an emulation of the Urei 1178 compressor, which was the stereo version of the infamous 1176. Both were recognized for their punchy and aggressive sound. Pulsar has included a sleek sidechain EQ, an optional saturation stage, and a mix knob in addition to capturing the tone.
The upper section of the plugin has a parametric sidechain EQ and a graph to display the gain reduction. In the lower section, you will find the main parameters for the compressor. In addition to being a stereo compressor, Pulsar 1178 also lets you compress in mid/side mode, which makes for a fabulous stereo image manipulating experience. Also, Pulsar offers a variety of presets you can choose from.
You can have both internal and external sidechaining in Pulsar 1178. Both of them make use of the elegant four-band EQ. In addition, the EQ has impressive cutoff bands with slopes as steep as 48dB per octave, giving this plugin a versatility and efficiency that could rival the most modern digital compressors.
- Sleek GUI
We would be lying if we said there is no use of modern metering on a hardware unit. Sure, we can and should use our ears, but having visual confirmation to make sure you’re not just hearing things after having had too many coffees is a blessing. Likewise, the resizable interface of Pulsar 1178 feels like it was made to make life easier with its gain reduction graph and peak meters.
The plugin has four kinds of saturation: Clip, Warm, Triode, and Tape. Each is distinct and adds a unique trait to the sound, even without the compressor enabled. Furthermore, the calibration knob lets you control the saturation from barely noticeable to heavy distortion. A small amount of the Clip or Triode saturation adds clear, top-end enhancements, which sounds great on drums, vocals, and even full mixes.
Pulsar 1178 has oversampling ranging from 2x to 8x for alias-free sound. In addition, it lets you select real-time and offline oversampling rates separately. To save CPU resources, we suggest using a lower value for the real-time oversample.
This plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher 32-bit or 64-bit and macOS 10.8 or higher 64-bit. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
The combination of the unique compression and the saturator makes Pulsar 1178 adds sheen to the high-end and an overall aggressive yet natural sound. We suggest trying it out on vocals and drums in particular. It is worth noting that the plugin is moderately pricey. And if you’d like to know more, check out our detailed review.
2. Softube FET Compressor Review
Softube is one of the biggest names when it comes to analog emulation and saturation, and their FET Compressor adds even more to the reason.
FET Compressor draws inspiration from the Urei 1176 units with its quick attack and unique ratio parameter with the ‘All’ mode. Furthermore, while sounding every bit as warm and fat as hardware emulations go, Softube still manages to give this plugin a few modern twists. And none of them feels out of place.
Softube’s sleek GUI with the glowing needle meters gives the plugin a modern-day look and added functionalities. For example, it includes a Parallel Inject knob to get parallel/NY compression right from the plugin. Similarly, it also features an external sidechain gain, filters, and a look ahead control.
- The Hardware Sound
All of the fixed ratio settings from the original hardware, including the infamous ‘All’ ratio setting, are present in FET Compressor, making it acoustically authentic to the original unit. Furthermore, every plugin stage was emulated separately to ensure the same behavior as the hardware. The result is the sonic warmth reminiscent of the original version of the Urei 1176 but with a low noise floor.
At the bottom right of the plugin, you will find the Detector section. The first knob is the External Side Chain, which lets you control the compressor’s sensitivity to the sidechain input it is receiving. This feature is helpful for taming basslines with the kick or creative uses like synth ducking.
The Detector section also features two filters: a low-cut and a high-cut. They are useful for cleaning up the sound generally. However, since the range of the filters is vast (20 Hz to 2 kHz low-cut and 100 Hz to 20 kHz high-cut), they could be used for targetting a specific frequency range as well.
- Look Ahead
As fast as hardware FET compressors are, the shortest transient peaks still manage to escape their hands. Enter Softube’s ‘Look Ahead’ feature in FET Compressor. It lets the plugin add latency of up to 1 millisecond in your DAW to ensure no peaks get to escape. So, you could actually even use this compressor as a master limiter. Although, make sure you check your True Peak levels externally too.
This plugin is available for Windows 10 or higher and macOS 10.13 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
The deeply emulated transformer components and individual stages make Softube FET Compressor one of the warmest and fattest sounding analog compressor plugins yet. We feel like it would perform exceptionally well on drums, and as for vocals and other instruments, you could add a touch of it to give them some color. However, it’s worth noting that the plugin feels slightly pricey, so we recommend waiting on a sale if you aren’t in a hurry.
3. Arturia Comp FET-76 Review
Modeled with Arturia’s TAE® technology, the Comp FET-76 the familiar Urei 1176 functionalities with deep controls.
When you first open this plugin, you will see the familiar controls of the newer iteration of the hardware unit. However, Arturia has added an additional page where you can get further controls.
Click on the double arrow in the main UI section to open a hidden, lower plugin section. There are sidechain settings, input detection modes, “time warp,” and an EQ in this section.
- Input Detection Modes
This parameter lets you select what kind of input should the Comp FET-76 detect: reversed stereo, stereo, linked stereo (mono), mid only, and side only. Linked (Left/Right mode) is the default setting. This mode works with the Stereo Left/Right signal, and detection is done by the maximum level between both channels and compresses them simultaneously.
- Input EQ
The plugin has a high-pass filter, a low-pass filter, and a single peak band to sculpt the input signal. In addition, you can turn the entire EQ section on and off. However, they have pre-selected values for frequency controls, so they aren’t quite as flexible as they sound.
- Time Warp
This innovative feature lets you change the timing of your compression a few milliseconds forward or backward in time. Moving the effect forward (max 5ms) is basically adding a look-ahead, whereas moving it back (max 10ms) lets loose some transients.
- Compression Range
This feature limits the amount of gain reduction applied, acting in practice as a gain reduction limiter. So, if your compressor was to apply a 10dB of gain reduction on a specific part of an audio clip, you can set the range to only 6dB to force it to avoid compressing the four more decibels of the peak. The default position for this parameter is Full (100dB range).
Comp FET-76 is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.10 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, NKS, and AAX formats.
When pushed hard, this plugin also provides decent saturation and character of analog hardware. We think it is well worth giving it a try, especially for the Time Warp feature. It feels like a much-needed innovation in the overdone market.
4. Softube Drawmer 1973 Review
This emulation of Drawmer Electronics’ 1973, a multi-band hardware compressor, is an offering by Softube, a well-known developer for in-detail emulations of analog studio hardware.
This plugin is a three-band FET multiband compressor, just like the actual hardware. Under license and in partnership with the creator, Ivor Drawmer, Softube has replicated all of its intricacies. The result is a highly adaptable and brilliant-sounding compressor with a unique sonic identity, especially with its fixed crossover slope that matches the original unit. It is often used to improve top-end clarity and tame the boomy low end.
- Faithful Look And Sound
Softube has gone at length to ensure the sound replicates the original hardware. It has the unique FET compressor aggressiveness and a couple of exciting features: big and air switches. They are used to add low-end character and treble clarity. The sound is undeniably sweet, especially on vocals and drums. Similarly, the GUI replicates the original hardware and is easy to use.
- Triple Bands
Drawmer 1973 is one of the best multiband compressors, so you will get three bands to utilize its compression. The frequencies for the crossovers are pre-selected. However, as a side note, you could keep all of the settings between the bands identical to effectively get a regular compressor plus some exciter features.
The ability to sidechain external audio wasn’t available in the original hardware, but it opens up a whole new world of possibilities. For example, you could employ it to tighten up the bottom end of a bassline only when there is a kick while keeping the mid and high frequencies untouched.
- Mid/Side Mode
Speaking of added features, Drawmer includes a toggle to switch between stereo, mid, and side modes. So, you could quickly give your audio an air boost on the stereo (side) information while keeping the mono (mid) sounds thick and characterful.
Drawmer 1973 is available for Windows 10 64-bit or higher and macOS 10.13 or higher, both 64-bit. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
You could certainly use this plugin as a simple compressor for general use, but we would recommend utilizing its exciter features too. In addition, it can also help you sculpt your sound using the three bands. However, if you already own a multiband compressor, you might be better off with a single-band compressor for convenience.
5. Overloud Gem Comp76 V2 Review
Double the compressor for double the control with Overloud’s take on the Urei 1176.
When you first open the Comp76 v2, you will see one of the compressors matching the functionalities of the hardware unit, including the infamous All ratio mode. However, there is a section below the compressors that adds several more drastic features to the plugin.
First, let’s talk about the mid/side mode toggle switch, which adds another compressor in the GUI for convenience. This feature, which wasn’t available in the original hardware, lets you add compression to the mono and the stereo information of your audio separately. Although, we would have loved to see a dedicated left and right channel compression mode as well. Second, we have the Parallel knob, which is essentially a mix knob to get a parallel compression effect. And the third idiosyncrasy is the LF Sens knob, which controls the low-frequency sensitivity of the compressor. Let’s talk about the rest below.
- Multiple Revisions
The Urei 1176 saw several revisions, each improving on the sound quality of the hardware. And so, in Comp76 v2, the first knob on the lower section labeled “REV.” lets you select various revisions of the hardware unit. The first one, ‘A,’ is the original version and has the warmest sound with a high noise floor. The one labeled ‘D(LN)’ is the newer black version with a cleaner sound. Similarly, the third one, called ‘F,’ is the newest revision of the hardware with the most transparent and cleanest sound.
- Harmonics Control
The Harmonics knob lets you control how much distortion the compressor should introduce in your audio. The saturation results from the emulation of the transformers in the original hardware, so a little bit of it makes your audio sound warmer.
- Quick Reaction
Just like the hardware unit, Comp76 also offers super-fast attack times ranging from 20 to 800 microseconds. This ability makes the compressor capable of catching the quickest transients in your audio. However, it doesn’t limit the usage of this plugin to only percussive sounds — 1176 has been used on just about anything, even for its subtle saturation, if not the compression itself.
This plugin is available for Windows Vista or higher 32-bit or 64-bit and macOS 10.9 or higher 64-bit. It comes in VST 2, AU, and AAX (only AAX64 for both OSes).
There isn’t any FET compressor plugin that gives you the option to select from three hardware revisions. So, we think that is a huge advantage the Comp76 has over the competition. Furthermore, its CPU usage is also relatively low, making this plugin a considerable candidate for your use.
6. IK Multimedia Black 76 Review
Based on the Urei 1176LN unit, the Black 76 offers authentic sound and lightning-fast reactions.
When we say lightning-fast, we mean it — this plugin literally works in microseconds (20 to 800μs), making it an excellent choice for percussive instruments. However, its aggressive sound also favors just about anything you throw at it, such as vocals, basslines, lead synths, guitars, etc.
If you like the warm and hard-hitting tone of the preamp, you could turn on the “off” switch to only retain its characters while using a different compressor entirely. This feature was also available in the hardware and went to show just how meticulous IK Multimedia is in capturing the details.
- User Friendly
The large knobs and resizable GUI make Black 76 one of the most user-friendly and convenient emulations of the Urei 1176 yet. You can also use this plugin individually in the left or right channel and mid/side mode, making this also function as the 1178 but with an even more distinct tone.
- Authentic Sound
The most important part of a FET compressor emulation is its sound characteristics. You want the hard-hitting punchiness and aggressive growl with these plugins, and the Black 76 delivers. We feel like the “All” ratio for limiting sounds remarkably accurate compared to the original unit. Furthermore, the audio headroom is relatively higher, making this compressor easier to handle and predict.
Before any gain reduction is applied, the Black 76 imprints a warm tone on your sound. And the more you drive the compressor, the more the character develops. If you turn on the All ratio, you will instantly hear your audio getting louder and more aggressive because of the emulated transformers and more. We imagine that a fan of analog saturation would utilize the preamp of this compressor even when no compression is needed.
This plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bits only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
The Black 76 is truly a universal plugin. In addition, its moderately low CPU footprint lets you become comparatively more unrestricted in terms of your usage. Unfortunately, this plugin doesn’t come with a mix knob for parallel compression. However, if you are after a simplistic super-fast compressor that sounds awesome, make sure you give this one a try.
7. Waves CLA-76 Review
The Waves’ take on Urei 1176 is almost a classic itself.
The plugin itself is a very simplistic model of the Urei 1176, in both the look and the functionalities. Whether or not it sounds akin to the hardware is up for debate, but the ease of use remains similar. There’s also an analog noise generator with 50 Hz or 60 Hz hum options. While the noise section is optional, we recommend the compressor’s use on vocals for character or on drums for aggressiveness.
- Two Variants
The CLA-76 offers emulations of two revisions of the original hardware: “Blacky” and “Bluey.” The Blacky is warmer in tone compared to the Bluey, which works great for audio rich in mid to high frequencies like vocals, saw pads, guitars, etc.
- Pre-amp Saturation
The CLA-76 has a saturation stage built before the compressor to give the audio warmth. So, you could actually use the plugin to add character without utilizing the compressor at all. That is, of course, if you enjoy what it does to your sound.
This plugin offers exactly what the hardware offered with no modern tweaks or idiosyncrasies. Hence, it feels like one of the easiest compressors to use. There are also some presets to help you get started. Try it out on percussive instruments and see if you like the sound.
CLA-76 is available for Windows 10 or higher and macOS 10.13.6 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
The plugin is brutally aggressive, and that’s exactly what it is meant for. It may not be the most accurate Urei 1176 emulation, but it sounds interesting on its own. In addition, with the constant sale at Waves, CLA-76 feels like a well-deserving addition to your collection.
8. Lindell Audio 7X-500 Review
This plugin is a take on the sound of the Urei 1176 but with plenty of differences.
The 7X-500 is a peculiar-looking FET compressor plugin with both continuous and three-step attack/release. The latter is used to give it a more hardware-like feel. Similarly, it has several other features to set it apart from the rest. The most significant difference being the ratio — there are 4:1, 12:1, and 100:1 ratio modes.
- Internal Sidechain Filter
There is a high-pass filter with 100 Hz and 300Hz options on the input signal detection. Thus, it can be helpful to avoid pumping effects due to the kicks on a full mix or drum busses.
- Optional Analog Emulation
Unlike other plugins that attempt to involve saturation and noise by default, the 7X-500 lets you activate or deactivate the analog emulation. This option adds output transformer saturation, noise, and power supply unit hum to your audio.
The plugin can work in stereo mode to apply the compressor freely on each channel or in the linked mode, where both channels are compressed at once. The linked mode is the default as that is the most common usage for a FET compressor.
This plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
The 7X-500 sounds quite decent and unique. It sounds almost nothing like the original hardware, but it still has some of the hardware’s character in the saturation stage. It sounds particularly well on instruments requiring aggressive sounds like growling basslines or even guitars.
9. Boz Digital Labs +10db Compressor Review
+10db Compressor is a model designed after one of the most iconic hardware compressors in the industry.
The sound of this plugin is particularly fantastic on drums, especially if you like the sounds of talk-back limiters. +10dB Compressor features both a compressor and an expander, each with fundamental controls. Similarly, there is also a limiter that checks unwanted peaks at the output.
- Expander and Gate
The expander section of the plugin has a “mode” switch that lets you either bypass the expander or turn it into a gate. A cool trick we like doing is to put this plugin on a snare track, enable the gate mode, add a big reverb before the +10dB Compressor, and then limit it. Then, finally, just tweak the gate until it matches the rhythm of your beat.
- Light On The CPU
This plugin was designed to be as light on your CPU as possible, allowing you to use it on multiple tracks without consuming too much processing power. This is especially important if you intend to use it on each of your drum stems.
- Huge Sound
The 1960s hardware unit this plugin is based on is renowned for giving a huge sound, especially to drums (think Led Zeppelin’s drums) and vocals, thanks to its combo circuit of the compressor and expander. The input saturation also helps it achieve a fuller and warmer sound. We also think it’s interesting when used on bass lines to add content around the mid-high frequencies.
+10dB Compressor is available for Windows XP or higher and macOS 10.5 or higher, 32-bit and 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and RTAS formats.
If you are on the hunt for a compressor that can turn your drums aggressive and mighty, make sure you download a trial and check this plugin out. With the mix knob, you can also experiment with parallel compression for even better control.
10. PSP FETpressor Review
This plugin is a stereo FET compressor with smooth-control parameters and zero latency.
FETpressor is smoother-sounding compared to some of the others on our list, which makes it a considerable choice for vocals, synths, guitars, and bass, as well as the usual drums. It’s made to give precise, practically immediate compression with character.
Furthermore, the plugin also features a makeup amplifier and output transformer emulation to add subtle character even with the ratio set to 1:1. So if you are looking for a versatile compressor that isn’t just for aggressiveness, you should definitely take a closer look at this one.
- Fantastic Sound
The FETpressor has a very smooth and controlled sound, compared to 1176 and other FET compressors. Thus, it is ideal for taming vocals; the subtle saturation adds clarity to the vocals and helps bring it out in a mix.
- Sidechain Filter
There is a high-pass filter in the input stage to clean up the sound. Interestingly enough, though, the filter can go as high as 1kHz, so it could open up some creative usage too.
FETpressor features stereo functionalities and can perform with the channels unlinked as well. Similarly, just like IK’s Black 76, you can also adjust each channel’s compression individually.
This plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.8 or higher, 32-bit or 64-bit. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and RTAS formats.
FETpressor is one of the most versatile and efficient compressors on our list. Most FET compressor emulations focus on being aggressive or warm, whereas FETpressor finds an outstanding balance between smooth and dirty.
The Best Free FET Compressor Plugin
Antress Modern DynaKiller Review
Simple and easy, Dynakiller is an emulated FET compressor capable of a wide variety of sounds.
The plugin is inspired by the 1176 unit, but we would consider this plugin more of an individual FET compressor with its own unique sound. The interface is convenient and shares parameters similar to the hardware. And it even features an analog pre-amp coloration.
- Ultra-Fast Attack
The attack parameter of this plugin can go as quick as 0.1 ms (10 µs), making this plugin useable for limiting and compression both, especially with its “Limit” ratio mode. The release parameter has a range of 50 ms – 2 sec).
Dynakiller features an emulated preamp stage for sound coloration and saturation. The compressor itself also adds character to your audio, becoming more apparent the harder you drive it. We suggest giving it a try on percussions and vocals.
Dynakiller is available for Windows 7 or higher 32-bit only. It comes in VST 2 format.
While it probably won’t replace your stock DAW compressor, this plugin worth keeping for when you want a peculiar character in your audio. Its aggressive nature can help pop your drums, vocals, etc., out in a busy mix as well.
While most of the FET compressors on our list are emulations of the Urei 1176, each still offers something different and innovative. So, make sure you look into each in detail before deciding on which you prefer.
For example, if this is your first time working with a FET compressor, we recommend something universal like the Pulsar 1178 or the IK Multimedia Black 76. And if you are looking for something aggressive, check out the Waves CLA-76 or the Lindell Audio 7X-500.
For vocals and other instruments where you want a smooth taming effect with sweet enhancements, nothing beats Drawmer 1973. Although, a close second would be PSP FETpressor.
Depending on what you intend to do, get started with downloading the trials and experimenting. After all, you are the only one who can decide what’s best for you. We hope this article helps you shortlist candidate plugins and choose one.
K. M. Joshi is a multi-award-winning composer and sound designer, specializing in film, game, and TV audio. He enjoys making cinematic music, rock, blues, and electronica.