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The Role of Compressor Plugins in Audio Mixing & Mastering

The Role of Compressor Plugins in Audio Mixing and Mastering

One of the most essential tools in my arsenal is the compressor plugin, and believe me, I have a lot, maybe too many 🙂 A compressor plays an important role in music production and audio mixing, helping to control the dynamics of an audio signal.

In simpler terms, a compressor reduces the volume differences between the loudest and quietest parts of a recording. This results in a more consistent and clear sound, making it crucial for professional-quality audio.

How Can Compressors Help Your Mixing & Mastering

Compressors are incredibly versatile, they can emphasize vocals, making them stand out more clearly in a dense mix. They can also help to blend instruments together, ensuring that no single element overpowers the others.

With the right settings, the audio compressor can shape the character and texture of your audio, adding warmth and even “gluing” the mix together for a more cohesive sound.

Also read: “Glue” Compression & Best Glue Compressors

Understanding the Difference Between a Compressor and a Limiter

Many people often confuse compressors with limiters, but I can tell you that while they are similar, they serve slightly different purposes. The main difference lies in how they handle audio signals.

Fabfilter Pro C2 Vocal Compression Ratio Settings

A compressor works with a variable ratio to gently reduce the dynamics of a signal above a certain threshold. This creates a more balanced sound by controlling peaks without completely squashing the dynamics.

On the other hand, a limiter uses a much higher ratio, often infinite, which means it rigorously cuts off or limits everything above a certain threshold.

Fabfilter Pro-L Mastering Limiter Plugin

Limiters are typically used in the final stages of mixing or mastering to ensure that the volume of the entire track stays within a specific limit, preventing digital distortion and ensuring the track meets streaming services’ loudness standards.

Both audio compressors and limiters are tools used to control the dynamics of an audio signal. They function by reducing the volume of audio that exceeds a certain threshold, making the loud parts quieter and helping to maintain a more consistent overall volume.

Can a Limiter Be a Compressor? And Vice Versa?

  • Limiter as a Compressor: Yes, a limiter can be considered a type of compressor. When a compressor is set to a very high ratio (typically 10:1 or higher), it effectively acts as a limiter, strictly controlling the maximum output level.
  • Compressor as a Limiter: Not exactly. While a compressor can perform limiting functions when set to a high ratio, it is not designed to be a true limiter. Compressors are meant to provide more nuanced dynamic control with variable ratios and settings, whereas limiters are specifically designed for strict peak limiting.

Is a Compressor Plugin Included in My DAW?

Most popular digital audio workstations (DAWs) come with pre-installed compressor plugins, also known as stock plugins. These built-in tools are often sufficient for many basic tasks and are a great starting point for any audio producer.

Here’s a list of compressor plugins included in some of the most popular DAWs:

Inside Logic Pro

Logic Pro Stock Compressor Plugin

  1. Compressor – A versatile and powerful compressor with several modes, emulating different types of hardware compressors (Platinum Digital, Studio VCA, Classic VCA, Vintage VCA, Vintage FET, and Vintage Opto).
  2. Channel EQ – Includes dynamic EQ capabilities that can act as a form of compression on specific frequency bands.

Inside Ableton Live

Ableton Live Stock Compressor

  1. Compressor – A straightforward compressor with three different algorithms (Peak, RMS, and Expand).
  2. Glue Compressor – Modeled after the classic SSL bus compressor, it’s great for adding cohesion to a mix.
  3. Multiband Dynamics – Allows compression and expansion across multiple frequency bands.

Inside Pro Tools

Pro Tools Dyn3 Compressor Limiter

  1. Dyn3 Compressor/Limiter – A basic, yet effective compressor/limiter plugin.
  2. Pro Compressor – A highly flexible compressor with multiple modes (Clean, Vintage, Opto, and Pump).
  3. Pro Multiband Dynamics – Allows compression across multiple frequency bands.

Inside Cubase

Cubase Blackvalve Compressor

  1. Compressor – A standard compressor with basic controls.
  2. Vintage Compressor – Emulates the sound of classic hardware compressors.
  3. Tube Compressor – Adds tube-like warmth and saturation.
  4. MultibandCompressor – Provides compression over multiple frequency bands.
  5. Black Valve Compressor – Emulates the characteristics of vintage tube compressors, adding rich harmonic distortion and warmth to your tracks.

Inside Studio One

Studio One Fat Channel XT Fet Compressor

  1. Compressor – A versatile compressor with standard controls and a sidechain feature.
  2. Tricomp – A three-band compressor for more precise dynamic control.
  3. Fat Channel XT – Includes classic FET compressor emulations, known for their fast attack times and punchy sound.
  4. Multiband Dynamics – A multi-band compressor for complex dynamic processing.

Inside FL Studio

FL Studio Maximus Compressor

  1. Fruity Compressor – A simple, easy-to-use compressor.
  2. Fruity Limiter – Doubles as a limiter and compressor with visual feedback.
  3. Maximus – A comprehensive multiband compressor/limiter with advanced features.

These stock plugins are a great starting point and are often sufficient for many standard mixing tasks. However, exploring third-party plugins can provide additional features and unique sonic characteristics to further enhance your production capabilities.

Why Use Third-Party Compressor Plugins?

Even though the compressors included with DAWs are powerful, there are several compelling reasons to use third-party compressor plugins. As someone who has spent countless hours fine-tuning mixes, I can attest to the benefits these plugins bring to the table.

  1. Unique Features and Sonic Characteristics: Third-party plugins often come with unique features and distinctive sonic qualities that set them apart from standard DAW tools. Many of these plugins are modeled after iconic hardware compressors, bringing the nuance and warmth of these legendary devices into your digital workflow.
  2. More Control and Flexibility: Third-party compressors often provide more advanced control options and innovative features that go beyond the basic functionalities of stock plugins. This opens up new creative possibilities and allows for more precise adjustments, which can be crucial for achieving a professional sound.
  3. Intuitive Interfaces: The user interface of third-party plugins can be more intuitive and user-friendly, making it easier to dial in the perfect settings quickly. This can significantly speed up your workflow and allow you to focus more on the creative aspects of mixing and mastering.

Also, be sure to check my list of Best Compressor Plugins and my list of the Best Free Compressor VST Plugins


A compressor plugin offers unique features, superior sound quality, and greater flexibility, making it a worthy addition to any audio engineer’s or producer’s toolkit.

By learning how to use a compressor, you can ensure your productions are clear, balanced, and engaging.

Also read: Understand Audio Compression Using “The Anticipation Method”

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