Compression is one of the most important tools in any music producer's arsenal when talking about vocal processing. No one can doubt that Vocal compression is an essential part of the recording process when it comes to vocals, as it can help control the dynamic range, ensuring that the vocals work well in the mix without simply getting lost in the background or vice versa.
Also, some of the best vocal compressors in the market allow music producers to smoothen out the overall tone of a vocal for a more polished and professional sound. In this blog, we will discuss top vocal compressors and other things touching on the topic.
If you do a google search about the Best Vocal Compressors, you will most definitely get lost in many options. This is why it is extremely important for you to understand some basic factors for making the right choice. By carefully considering the factors mentioned below, you can find a compressor that fits seamlessly into your workflow and enhances your music. Keep in mind vocal compressors are different from audio compressors.
The most important factor to consider about a vocal compressor is the sound characteristics you're looking for. Depending on your taste in music or requirement, you can take a compressor that gives a transparent, natural, colored, or highly characterized sound.
Compression ratio refers to the amount of compression applied to an audio signal. Different vocal compressors have different ratios. You can take a compressor with a lower compression ratio which will result in a more transparent sound, or a higher ratio which will produce a more aggressive compression.
Talking about the best vocal compressors, attack and release timings are one of the most important aspects to consider. A compressor's attack and release time will determine how quickly the compressor responds.
A faster attack time results in an aggressive result. On the other hand, a slower attack time allows a slightly more transient sound to pass through.
The release time in the compressor will determine how quickly the compressor releases the gain reduction. A faster release time will result in a pumping effect, while a slower release time will get you a sound that should sound more natural.
Buying a vocal compressor also depends on whether you want to use a hardware or software plugin. Hardware compressors usually offer a more tactile and hands-on approach to vocal processing. Still, they tend to be less flexible in providing options, while software plugins can offer a wide range of features and are easy to use with your existing Digital Audio Workspace. But even softwares have a few cons, as it might not provide you with the color and character you are looking for in your sound.
Before making a purchase, see if the vocal compressor you will buy is compatible with the DAW you use. Learning a different DAW just for vocal compression isn’t a feasible option.
Last but not least, if you are buying a vocal compressor, you need to look at your pocket and how much it allows you to spend on equipment. The best vocal compressors can cost you a lot of money, but you might not even need that for your purpose. So, remember that the most expensive vocal compressor is not always the best choice.
Now that you know what you need to consider before getting yourself a vocal compressor, let us tell you some of the best vocal compressors available in the market at the moment!
If you have been in the music production industry for long enough, you must know that the Universal Audio LA-2A is one of the most iconic compressors ever made. Originally released in the 1960s, the LA-2A is a tube-based compressor that uses an optical gain reduction element to control the signal level. This optical gain technique allows the LA-2A to produce a smooth and natural sound.
Thanks to its ease of use, Universal Audio LA-2A is one of the most widely used vocal compressors in studios around the world today.
The Empirical Labs Distressor is a solid-state compressor with several integrated circuits that allow compression of the incoming audio signal.
Empirical Labs Distressor is widely used in professional studios for its renowned feature, the "Distortion" mode. This mode allows music producers to add harmonic distortion to the signal, which adds a good amount of character and warmth to the track's vocals.
Along with the distortion mode, the Empirical Labs Distressor is considered one of the best vocal compressors because of additional features such as the "Opto" and "FET" modes, which can compress sounds like the optical and FET compressors.
This tube-based compressor is known for its warm and musical sound. Manley Variable MU’s attenuator gives music producers the freedom to change the amount of compression applied to the signal precisely.
The additional capability of the Manley Variable MU is the very fast attack time which helps in controlling the sibilance and other transient sounds in vocal performance, smoothening the rough edges, if any, in the performance. Also, this tube-based compressor is great if you want to achieve a warm and natural sound that adds depth and character to your track.
SSL G Series Bus Compressor is popularly known for the auto release mode, which allows the compressor to adjust the release time according to the incoming audio signal this is extremely helpful for music producers when working on vocals where the compressor needs to be quick in reacting to the performance.
The SSL G Series Bus Compressor adds a distinctive type of punch and definition to the audio signal, which is usually liked by many in the sound industry as it enhances the nuances of any vocal performance.
The dbx 160 is another solid-state compressor in this list because of its ability to automatically adjust the attack and release timings based on the incoming signal, which is especially helpful when compressing vocals.
Moreover, the dbx 160 is known for its aggressive sound used by sound engineers and music producers in set pieces where they want extra energy and excitement.
The Thrust circuit in this analog compressor adds a low-frequency boost to the incoming audio signal, along with the fast attack time, which helps add a certain weight and body to the vocals of the track. which can help to add weight and body to a vocal performance.
While the API 2500 is great at preserving the natural tone and character of the singer's voice, it is also extremely efficient in controlling sibilance and other transient sounds in the vocals.
Undoubtedly, hardware compressors are the most popular choice when using them by professional sound engineers and music producers. Still, with evolving technology, many are switching the vocal compression using software because of its convenience, flexibility, and affordability.
Again, there are many options for software plugins. Still, we have mentioned three of the best vocal compressors available in the market, which are tried and tested for effective performance by many.
Waves make the SSL G-Master Buss Compressor plugin one of the leading developers of audio signal processors. This new compressor avoids over-compression, a common mistake even by veterans in the field. It is widely known for its feedback compression design that controls the level without putting in the extra effort.
The best thing about the Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor is that it comes with dozens of presets, not just from any Tom, Dick, or Harry, but from Grammy-winning recording professionals who know what they are doing!
This $99 tool is an investment you will not regret as it is one of the best vocal compressors in the market. Thanks to its unique features that add grit, distortion, and character to a vocal performance. Soundtoys Devil-Loc Deluxe also offers a range of adjustable parameters which are absent in even some of the high-end vocal compressors like drive, compression, and tone.
While the Devil-Loc Deluxe may not be the best choice for every vocal processing application, its, Crush function can be a game changer for those of you who want to add extra saturation and distortion to your audio tracks, especially those who want to create rock, punk, and other similar genres.
The FabFilter Pro-C 2 is one of the best vocal compressors, known for its versatility. It allows music producers worldwide to use it for a wide range of vocal processing applications. FabFilter Pro-C2 allows the technicians to easily yet precisely change the threshold, ratio, attack, release, and makeup gain according to their preferences.
The "Lookahead" function in this vocal compressor allows users to minimize the distortion in the incoming audio signal. The compressor also features a wide range of presets and a "Visualizer" function that can help you understand after-effect of the compressor on the audio signal.
Universal Audio has been the flagbearer of top-quality audio plugins in the industry. And of their best vocal compressors is the UAD 1176LN Legacy plugin, a software emulation of the classic 1176 hardware compressor.
With its "All-Buttons" mode, music producers can create extra character and saturation in vocal performance. We should also put stress on the fact that UAD 1176LN Legacy is used widely for its fast attack time that produces an aggressive and exciting sound which is extremely critical in compression vocals in rock and pop genres.
So now you have the vocal compressor, which is perfect for you. Here’s a guide for vocal compressor settings to help you help started on the compressions for your music.
We can conclude from our experience that choosing the best vocal compressors for your need can be tough, but it is an important tool to achieve just the right output that sounds polished and professional.
With tons of options in the market, it will not be easy. Still, focus on the basic factors, such as the sound characteristics you want to achieve, the style of music you're working with, and the type of hardware or software you have experience in. You will be able to get the best of the best vocal compressors that suit your needs.
Before locking your options from a classic analog hardware compressor or a digital plugin, don’t forget that anyone can only tell you the basic guideline. At the end of the day, you need to experiment with different options to find the one that works best for you.