Before diving into the best compressor plugins for vocal parallel compression, it’s essential to understand what parallel compression is and how it works.
Parallel compression, or New York compression, is a dynamic range compression technique used in sound recording and mixing. It involves mixing an unprocessed ‘dry’ signal with a compressed version of the same signal.
Instead of compressing the entire signal, you blend it with the original, preserving the natural dynamics while controlling peaks and enhancing sustain.
This technique is particularly effective for vocals in a mix, as it adds punch and presence without compromising the vocal’s natural tone and dynamics.
How to Apply Parallel Compression
- Duplicate the vocal track in your DAW (Cubase, Pro Tools, Studio One, Ableton Live, etc.).
- Apply compression to one of the tracks (the ‘wet’ track).
- Adjust the compressor settings to a higher ratio and lower threshold for a more pronounced compression effect.
- Blend this compressed track with the original (dry) track to taste, balancing the natural dynamics with the compressed signal.
Now, let’s explore some of the best compressor plugins for this purpose:
1. Waves CLA-76
The Waves CLA-76 is a renowned compressor plugin modeled after the iconic ’76-style FET compressors, known for their fast response and distinctive sound. It’s a top choice for parallel compression for many Waves lovers, including myself.
Best Settings For Parallel Compression: Set a faster attack (around 3 to 7) to catch the vocal transients or a slower attack to allow more initial transients. A medium to fast release (around 5 to 7) usually works well, ensuring the compressor doesn’t ‘hang on’ to the signal for too long. Start with a moderate ratio (4:1 or 8:1). The All-Buttons mode can also be experimented with for a more intense effect!
Buy This Plugin: Waves CLA-76
2. Universal Audio 1176LN
The Universal Audio 1176LN is a classic compressor known for its fast attack and release times. It’s great for adding energy and presence to vocals. It emulates the fast response of the classic 1176LN, a solid-state field-effect transistor (FET) hardware compressor.
The UA 1176 offers multiple compression ratios (4:1, 8:1, 12:1, and 20:1) to allow precise control over transient shaping.
Best Settings For Parallel Compression: Use a medium attack (around 10-20 ms) and a fast release (50-100 ms) with a 4:1 ratio. Adjust the input to achieve 5-7 dB of gain reduction, then blend this with the dry signal.
Buy This Plugin: UA 1176
3. FabFilter Pro-C 2
The FabFilter Pro-C 2 is a highly versatile and user-friendly compressor plugin renowned for its wide array of compression styles suited for various applications, including vocal processing. Its flexible side-chain options offer advanced EQ and routing capabilities that enable precise control over how the compressor reacts to different frequencies.
Best Settings For Parallel Compression: Opt for the ‘Vocal’ compression style, with an attack of around 20-30 ms and a quick release of 100 ms. Set the ratio to 3:1 or 4:1 and adjust the threshold to achieve subtle gain reduction, around -3 dB.
Buy This Plugin: Fabfilter Pro-C2
4. Baby Audio Parallel Aggressor
The Baby Audio Parallel Aggressor is an audio plugin designed to facilitate parallel mixing processing, specifically focusing on making it user-friendly and creatively versatile. The plugin features two parallel engines – one for compression (dubbed “Spank”) and one for saturation (“Heat”). This allows users to blend the original dry signal with compressed and saturated versions.
Best Settings For Parallel Compression: Begin by adjusting the balance between the dry signal and the Spank engine. A good starting point might be a mix where the compressed signal adds a noticeable punch without overwhelming the original sound. Adjust the Spank engine to achieve the desired level of compression. Start with a moderate setting and increase as needed for more aggressive compression.
Buy This Plugin: Baby Audio Parallel Aggressor
5. Softube Tube-Tech CL 1B
The Softube Tube-Tech CL 1B is a meticulously crafted plugin that emulates the revered characteristics of the classic Tube-Tech CL 1B tube compressor. A standout feature of the Tube-Tech CL 1B plugin is its continuously variable ratio, which allows users to make precise and subtle adjustments to the compression intensity.
The Tube-Tech CL 1B comes equipped with an inbuilt mix control. This feature simplifies blending the compressed signal with the original (dry) signal directly within the plugin.
Best Settings For Parallel Compression: Use a medium to slow attack (20-40 ms) and a medium release (around 200-300 ms) with a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio. Adjust the threshold for a gain reduction of about -5 dB.
Buy This Plugin: Softube Tube-Tech CL 1B
When using these plugins for parallel compression, the key is to experiment and adjust the settings according to the specific needs of your vocal track. Each plugin has its unique character, and the right settings will depend on the context of the mix and the desired result.
Remember, parallel compression in vocals is about subtlety and finding the right balance between the dry and compressed signals. Parallel compression on vocals helps keep them upfront in the mix, enhancing the detail and warmth while retaining the natural dynamics.
You can also use this compression technique on drum tracks, bass tracks, guitar tracks, orchestral instruments, and almost any sound where you want to enhance and shape audio tracks while preserving their natural dynamics and character.
While parallel compression can significantly improve your vocal tracks, nothing beats the touch of a professional. That’s where our online mixing and mastering services at SongMixMaster.com come in. Submit your audio project today, and we’ll make a free demo before delivering the final track.