Top 11 Best Audio Compressor Brands In The World 2021


Dynamic range compression is one of the most important audio mixing tools to ever be introduced to the audio industry. It should come as no surprise, then, that there are plenty of compressors on the market from a wide variety of manufacturers. Navigating the market to find the best compressor unit for certain applications can be difficult. So in this article, we’ll discuss the top brands/companies that produce compressors.

This article will focus on hardware compressors, though there are certainly a ton of options when it comes to plugins. Many plugins are actually designed to emulate hardware, so even if you’re more interested in plugin compressors, this list may very well help you out.

If you’d like my take on the best plugin brands, check out my article Top Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World.

Though obviously subjective and prone to biases, I’ve done my best to list out these brands based on the following metrics (in no particular order):

  • Company reputation
  • Variety of compressors
  • Performance of compressors
  • Longevity of compressors
  • Currently in operation

With all that being said, let’s list out the brands.

The top 11 best [hardware] compressor brands, overall, on the market today are:

  1. Empirical Labs
  2. Universal Audio
  3. Manley
  4. API
  5. Rupert Neve Designs
  6. Thermionic Culture
  7. Solid State Logic
  8. dbx
  9. Chandler Limited
  10. SPL
  11. Tube-Tech

Let’s get into each of these brands in greater detail and explain why they belong in the top 11 best compressor brands. I’ll share their country of origin, a bit of history, an example of a notable compressor, and a link to their official website.

Related article: The Complete Guide To Audio Compression & Compressors.


Click here to return to My New Microphone’s articles on musical equipment brands/manufacturers.


Empirical Labs

Let’s kick this list off with Empirical Labs: the makers of the famous Distressor. This company’s philosophy reads “to make products that work a little easier, a little better, and a lot longer – and make sure they’re fun to use.” From their preamplifiers to equalizers to, of course, compressors, Empirical Labs’ products are proof of such philosophy.

This American company manufactures everything in the USA and passes all its hardware through rigorous testing before reaching the end-user. This expert craftsmanship is met with forward-thinking design to produce compressors that will work for long periods of time without ever needing updating. This mode of operation has kept the company’s product line relatively small but their hardware (and compressors) running in studios for decades.

Since 1988, Empirical Labs has been building its reputation as one of the top companies to produce hardware compressors (along with other outboard gear and now even software plugins). Their list of enthusiastic customers continues to grow, and the number of future customers rises steadily.

Notable Compressor: Empirical Labs EL8X Distressor (link to check the price at Sweetwater)

Empirical Labs EL8X Distressor

The legendary Distressor is the compressor that started it all for Empirical Labs way back in 1988. Originally developed by Dave Derr and his love for classic compressors (1176, LA-2A, Gain Brain, etc.), the Distressor has become one of the best-selling high-end compressors of all time with over 28,000 units sold (and counting)!

Empirical Labs was founded in 1988 by Dave Derr. The company headquarters is located in Lake Hiawatha, New Jersey, USA.

Official website: empiricallabs.com


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mnm_USA-e1557772655914.jpg

Universal Audio

Universal Audio has a history extending all the way back to 1946, when Bill Putnam, Sr. founded Universal Recording Corporation. Since then, a lot has happened, including Universal Audio’s acquisition of Teletronix’s patent for the now-famous LA-2A leveling amplifier compressor, along with the technology that would become the equally legendary 1176LN peak limiter compressor (under the name UREI).

The Universal Audio company that we know today maintains this same elite level of hardware compressors and a highly impressive plugin division known as Universal Audio Digital (UAD). The company’s legendary compressors are emulated in software.

Professionals in the audio industry highly regard universal Audio, and the company’s compressors back that fact up fully.

Notable compressor: Universal Audio 1176LN (link to check the price at Sweetwater)

Universal Audio 1176LN

The Universal Audio 1176LN Limiting Amplifier is one of the most legendary compressors ever and is certainly the most cherished FET compressor ever produced. Since its introduction in 1967, the 1176 has become an iconic compressor and has been used on recordings of Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, and many more.

For more information on FET compressors, check out my article What Is A FET Compressor & How Does It Work?

Universal Audio was founded in 1958 by Bill Putnam as the United Recording Corporation’s manufacturing arm in Los Angeles, California. After a few acquisitions/mergers, the UA brand was practically phased out by 1967 after a rebranding as United Recording Electronics Industries. In 1999, Bill Putnam Jr. and Jim Putnam reestablished Universal Audio. The brand has since grown spectacularly to become one of the best-known and most cherished audio interface brands on the world market. The company is headquartered in Scotts Valley, California, USA.

Official website: uaudio.com

Universal Audio is also featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
• Top Best Audio Interface Brands In The World
• Top Best Microphone Preamplifier Brands In The World
Top Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mnm_USA-e1557772655914.jpg

Manley

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mnm_Manley_Logo.jpg

Manley Laboratories has a history that stems back to 1980 in South Africa but was officially made into its own brand in 1988 in the United States. Since the late ’80s, Manley has become a huge name in the pro audio and hi-fi audio worlds.

Drawing from expert experience and inspiration from other legendary designs, Manley Laboratories manufactures their very own products (including compressors) that have carved their name in the history of high-end audio equipment.

The company’s compressors are among the best in the world. Manley proudly maintains the great analog traditions upon which the company was built while pushing forward to design and produce the future’s top-performing audio equipment.

Notable compressor: Manley Variable Mu Stereo Compressor Limiter (link to check the price at Sweetwater)

Manley Variable Mu Stereo Compressor Limiter

The Manley Variable Mu is a flagship hardware tube/”variable-mu” compressor in the audio industry that has developed its legendary status since its initial release in 1994. Manley even owns the trademark “Variable Mu” name. This all-tube, all transformer, all-American legend is widely regarded as one of the best buss/master compressors and is Manley Labs’ best-selling product, beating out other deeply impressive compressors such as the Elop+, Nu Mu and Slam!

For more information on variable-mu/tube compressors, check out my article What Is A Variable-Mu (Tube) Compressor & How Does It Work?

Manley Laboratories, Inc. was founded in 1988 by David Manley in Chino, California. The company headquarters is located in Chino, California, USA.

Official website: manley.com

Manley Laboratories is also featured in My New Microphone’s Top Best Audio Equalizer Brands In The World.


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mnm_USA-e1557772655914.jpg

API

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mnm_API_Logo.jpg

Automated Processes Incorporated, better known as API, is an American manufacturer/brand of high-end professional-grade audio equipment for recording studios. API offers several high-end compressors that make the company fully deserving of a top spot on this list.

The design and build quality of API compressors truly show its mission to create the highest possible quality professional audio gear. In addition to superb compressors (and other equipment), API also offers some of the industry’s best customer service.

Since 1968, API has been continuously making a name for itself as an innovator of top-notch audio equipment.

Notable compressor: API 2500+ (link to check the price at Sweetwater)

API 2500+

The API 2500+ is a stereo bus compressor based on a VCA gain reduction circuit. It features “old” compression (feedback) and “new” compression (feed-forward) circuitry that can be selected depending on the application. Add in API’s proprietary Thrust circuit (eq-levelling compression) and external sidechain inputs, and the 2500+ is a very powerful compressor.

For more information on feedback and feed-forward compression, check out my article Feedback Vs. Feed-Forward Dynamic Range Compressors In Audio.

Automated Processes, Inc. was founded in 1968 by Saul Walker and Lou Lindauer in New York City, New York, USA.

Official website: apiaudio.com

API is also featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top Best Microphone Preamplifier Brands In The World
Top Best Studio Recording/Mixing Console Brands

Top Best Audio Equalizer Brands In The World
Top Best Audio Brands For 500 Series Modules/Equipment


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mnm_USA-e1557772655914.jpg

Rupert Neve Designs

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mnm_Ruper_Neve_Designs_Logo.jpg

Though Rupert Neve Designs was only founded in 2005, the company draws on the late Rupert Neve’s impressive experience and knowledge.

With some of the world’s most brilliant engineers, Rupert Neve Designs crafts some of the greatest compressors on the market today (among other products). The company is particularly known for its superb diode-bridge compressors, which are rare among other manufactures. Neve got that design right and has made some amazing compressors from it.

These compressors are largely based on proven classic design concepts along with modern innovations. High-quality components and ingenious designs are part of these superior compressors. With a passion for crafting timeless musical tools, RND brings forth amazing compressors.

Notable compressor: Rupert Neve Designs 5254 Dual Diode Bridge Compressor (link to check the price at Sweetwater)

Rupert Neve Designs 5254 Dual Diode Bridge Compressor

The 5254 is a dual/stereo diode bridge compressor with onboard parallel processing, stereo linking and external sidechain inputs. Based on the topologies found in the legendary vintage Neve 2254 80 Series console module, the 5254 has been optimized for the modern studio and performs incredibly well on virtually any source.

For more information on diode bridge compressors, check out my article What Is A Diode Bridge Compressor & How Does It Work?

Rupert Neve Designs was founded in 2005 by Rupert Neve in Wimberley, Texas, United States, where the company is still headquartered today.

Official Website: rupertneve.com

Rupert Neve Designs is also featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top Best Studio Recording/Mixing Console Brands
Top Best Audio Equalizer Brands In The World

Top Best Audio Brands For 500 Series Modules/Equipment


Thermionic Culture

Thermionic Culture was founded to bring Vic Keary’s all-valve studio equipment designs to the market. Since its humble beginnings in 1998, the company has developed an impressive catalogue of high-end tube equipment.

The company’s goal is to prove that tubes are far superior to their solid-state counterparts when it comes to audio applications. Though this argument is highly subjective, the company’s variety of Phoenix compressors make a very compelling argument.

In addition to tube circuits, Thermionic Culture also maintains tradition by point‐to‐point hand-wiring much of their products.

Notable compressor: Thermionic Culture Phoenix Mastering Plus (link to check the price at KMR Audio)

Thermionic Culture Phoenix Mastering Plus

Thermionic Culture’s Phoenix Mastering Plus is a superb stereo tube/variable-mu compressor designed for mastering applications. However, it can be used to achieve superb results on other sources as well. This highly versatile compressor is the top model of Thermionic’s impressive Phoenix line of compressors.

Thermionic Culture was founded in 1998 by Vic Keary and Jon Bailes. The company headquarters is located in Harlow, Essex, United Kingdom.

Official website: thermionicculture.com


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mnm_Union_Jack-e1557772587725.jpg

Solid State Logic

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mnm_Solid_State_Logic_Logo.jpg

Solid State Logic is one of the most well-respected names in the audio industry. This is due, in large part, to the company’s industry-leading mixing consoles. These legendary mixing consoles, by affiliation, also have legendary compressors. Most notable among these console compressors are the 4000 Series E and G units.

These compressors (and full channel strips) have been emulated many times by plugin manufacturers, and today SSL offers a few of their compressors in rack-mount and 500 Series formats. This means that we can now enjoy these legendary compressors without having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an SSL mixing console!

Since 1969, SSL has been building its reputation as an industry-leading manufacturer of audio consoles. The company’s dedication to innovation and pristine audio quality has produced some of the world’s greatest compressors as a result.

Notable compressor: Solid State Logic G Comp 500 Series Stereo Bus Compressor (link to check the price at Sweetwater)

Solid State Logic G Comp 500 Series Stereo Bus Compressor

Solid State Logic’s G Comp brings the beloved sound of the 1980’s G-Series analog consoles to the 500 Series format. This VCA compressor has been “glueing” mixes for decades now and has achieved legendary status long ago.

Solid State Logic was founded in 1969 by Colin Sanders in Stonesfiled, Oxfordshire. Audiotonix Group acquired the company in 2017. It is headquartered in Begbroke, Oxfordshire, England.

Official Website: solidstatelogic.com

Solid State Logic is also featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top Best Audio Interface Brands In The World
Top Best DAW Control Surface Brands In The World
Top Best Live Sound Mixing Board/Console Brands
Top Best Microphone Preamplifier Brands In The World
Top Best Studio Recording/Mixing Console Brands

Top Best Audio Equalizer Brands In The World
Top Best Audio Brands For 500 Series Modules/Equipment


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mnm_USA-e1557772655914.jpg

dbx

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mnm_dbx_Logo.jpg

Since its founding in the 1970s, dbx has been making a name for itself as an innovative audio equipment manufacturer. With the invention of the dbx Blackmer gain cell, dbx was actually the first company to produce a commercially available VCA compressor.

Innovation and experience are combined in every dbx product, including, of course, the brand’s compressors.

With a focus on professional-grade audio hardware and accessories for the pro studio, dbx ranks among the best of the best for audio processing equipment and dynamic range compressors.

Notable compressor: dbx 160A (link to check the price on Amazon)

dbx 160A

The dbx 160A is based on the same classic sound as the original 160 from the 1970s, which marked the introduction of the VCA compressor. The 160 series is one of the most popular compressor lines ever. The 160A delivers a performance worthy of its namesake with plenty of modern functionality to make it a truly remarkable compressor.

To learn more about VCA compressors, check out my article What Is A VCA Compressor & How Does It Work?

dbx Inc. was founded in 1971 by David E. Blackmer in Sandy, Utah. After several acquisitions, dbx was bought by Harmon International Industries, which Samsung Electronics own. The dbx brand is still headquartered in Sandy, Utah, USA.

Official website: dbxpro.com

dbx is also featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top Best Microphone Preamplifier Brands In The World
Top Best Audio Equalizer Brands In The World

Top Best Audio Brands For 500 Series Modules/Equipment


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mnm_USA-1-e1557772616184.jpg

Chandler Limited

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mnm_Chandler_Limited_Logo.jpg

Chandler Limited is a company that made a name for itself by producing near-perfect reproductions of classic outboard gear (most notably the Neve 2254 and 33609 and the EMI Abbey Road console processors).

Since then, Chandler has begun producing its own original products, which have further solidified the company’s reputation as a producer of top-notch audio processing equipment.

Whether it’s vintage replicas or modern novelties, Chandler Limited’s compressors are among the best of the best.

Notable compressor: Chandler Limited Germanium Compressor (link to check the price at Sweetwater)

Chandler Limited Germanium Compressor

The Germanium Compressor is part of the Chandler Limited magnificent Germanium line of outboard gear. This FET compressor uses Class A amplifier circuitry and offers plenty of versatility, making it a superb choice for tracking, mixing, and/or mastering.

Chandler Limited was founded in 1999 by Wade Goeke in North Hollywood, California. Today the company is headquartered in Shell Rock, Iowa, USA.

Official website: chandlerlimited.com

Chandler Limited is also featured in My New Microphone’s Top Best Audio Equalizer Brands In The World.


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mnm_Germany-e1557772648479.jpg

SPL

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mnm_SPL_Logo.jpg

SPL is an innovative and experimental company from Germany that has been steadily pushing the envelope of audio processing equipment since its beginnings in 1983.

This company boasts a spectacular range of products and a rather deep catalogue of top-of-the-line audio equipment. SPL offers advanced products for discerning studio professionals.

Though SPL doesn’t specialize in any particular product, their compressors are certainly among the greats.

Notable compressor: SPL Iron Mastering Compressor (link to check the price at Sweetwater)

SPL Iron Mastering Compressor

Inspired by legendary compressors from Fairchild, Collins and Gates (all companies which are now defunct), the SPL Iron tube/variable-mu compressor possesses a vintage character with all the modern functionality and more energy and power with the advantages of the 120V technology.

Sound Performance Lab was founded in 1983 by Hermann Gier and Wolfgang Neumann. The SPL headquarters is located in Niederkruechten, Germany.

Official website: spl.audio

SPL is also featured in My New Microphone’s Top Best Audio Equalizer Brands In The World.


Tube-Tech

Tube-Tech has made a name for itself and a modern classic, producing some of the best vacuum tube processors on the market today. The company takes much of its inspiration from legendary processors from years past but certainly makes them their own for the modern market.

Tube-Tech’s motto is “gear for life,” and the company strives to produce long-lasting, easy-to-use equipment. Only the finest components are selected, and only the purest signal paths are incorporated into the designs.

This brand offers various styles of compressors, each of which sounds incredible in its own right.

Notable compressor: Tube-Tech CL 1B Tube Optical Compressor (link to check the price at Sweetwater)

Tube-Tech CL 1B Tube Optical Compressor

The CL 1B is an all-tube optical compressor and is easily Tube-Tech’s most popular unit. This compressor sounds beautiful and is very user-friendly. The wide variety of sonic performance is obvious as users adjust the knobs, making it easy to dial in the perfect settings using our ears.

For more information on optical compressors, check out my article What Is An Optical Compressor & How Does It Work?

Lydkraft ApS was founded in 1977 by John G.Petersen in Denmark and the Tube-Tech brand was first launched in 1985. Today the company headquarters is located in Rødovre, Denmark.

Official website: tube-tech.com

Parent company: Lydkraft ApS


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mnm_USA-e1557772655914.jpg

Bonus Brand: Warm Audio

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mnm_Warm_Audio_logo.jpg

Warm Audio has the worthy goal of helping aspiring musicians & engineers gain access to fully professional recording equipment. The company bases its products on designs of old, manufacturing them in ways that allow for more reasonable price tags.

Don’t expect much out of the ordinary with Warm Audio. Rather, be prepared for cost-affordable recreations of classics that sound great and perform well.

Warm audio carefully chooses its product components from select suppliers to ensure the highest quality-to-price ratio. This process allows them to run a boutique-style shop that provides top-of-the-line compressors at affordable price points.

Notable compressor: Warm Audio WA-2A Tube Optical Compressor (link to check the price at Sweetwater)

Warm Audio WA-2A

The Warm Audio WA-2A is an affordable recreation of the legendary Teletronix (Universal Audio) LA-2A. This optical compressor is designed with Class-A circuitry, large-core CineMag USA transformers, four premium vacuum tubes, and the legendary Kenetek opto-cell, which is considered by many to be the world’s finest.

Warm Audio was founded in 2011 by Bryce Young in his garage in Austin, Texas, USA. The company is headquartered in Austin, Texas, USA.

Official website: warmaudio.com

Warm Audio is also featured in My New Microphone’s Top Best Microphone Brands You’ve Likely Never Heard Of.


Honourable Mentions

It’s difficult to set a defined number of “top” brands in most categories, let alone the category of hardware audio compressors. There are plenty of other superb brands on the market today that could have easily made the list. Some honourable mentions include:

  1. Elysia
  2. Black Lion Audio
  3. Smart Research
  4. Retro Instruments
  5. AMS Neve
  6. Tegeler Audio Manufaktur
  7. FMR Audio

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

Recent Posts