We're currently living in the age of digital audio, and in-the-box mixing within a digital audio workstation is commonplace. Plugins are, therefore, invaluable assets for the modern audio engineer. There are plenty of plugins that aim to emulate analog hardware in an attempt to make digital audio sound more like its [arguably] nicer-sounding analog counterpart.
There are plenty of excellent analog FET compressors and plugin emulations of such compressors. With so many options to choose from, I've compiled what I consider to be the 11 best FET compressor emulations plugins.
What is a FET compressor? A FET compressor is an analog compressor that utilizes a field-effect transistor at the core of the circuit. These compressors are fast-acting and offer greater transient preservation than other types of compressors.
For more information on FET compressors, check out my article What Is A FET Compressor & How Does It Work?
The top 11 best FET compressor emulation plugins for digital audio workstations are:
- Softube FET Compressor
- Waves CLA-76
- IK Multimedia Black 76
- Pulsar Audio Smasher
- Native Instruments VC 76
- Arturia Comp FET-76
- PSP FETpressor
- Plugin Alliance Lindell 7X-500
- Plugin Alliance Purple Audio MC77
- Slate Digital FG-116 Blue Series
- Universal Audio 1176 Classic Limiter Collection
It should go without saying that any “top X” article is subject to bias. I would expect the next person's top 11 to be different from mine but hope there would be plenty of overlap.
That being said, I believe these plugins to be the best FET compressor emulation plugin options today. The criteria I used to judge these plugins include the following:
- Sonic performance: how does the FET compressor emulation plugin sound subjectively/objectively?
- Graphic user interface (GUI): how does the FET compressor emulation plugin look when loaded in the DAW?
- Ease-of-use: how user-friendly is the FET compressor emulation plugin?
- Functionality: how many different functions does it serve and/or how many parameters are available for the FET compressor emulation effect?
- Accessibility/compatibility: how easy is it to acquire the FET compressor emulation plugin and what are the system requirements?
To learn why they made this list, let's discuss each of the top 11 best FET compressor emulation plugins in greater detail.
For my best advice on using compression, check out my article Top 11 Best Compression Tips For Mixing (Overall).
Softube FET Compressor
The Softube FET Compressor (link to check the price at Plugin Boutique) is the first of many superb plugins based on the legendary based on Urei 1176 FET compressor.
The Softube FET Compressor is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats. It's also compatible with Softube's Console 1 control surface (link to check the price at Sweetwater).
Each stage of Softube's FET Compressor has been meticulously modelled after the analog hardware unit to deliver the precise sonic performance of the 1176 in an audio plugin. The modelling includes superb analog distortion/saturation at the input and output and the beloved ‘All Buttons In' mode.
The aggressiveness of this compressor makes it a go-to tool for drum mixing and other sources that benefit from harder compression. Mixing with the FET Compressor is made even easier thanks to the Parallel Inject control, which offers user-friendly access to parallel compression.
Like the original, this Softube plugin offers 4 fixed ratio controls (along with All-Buttons mode). The input and output levels are adjustable, as are the attack and release times.
In addition to these classic controls, Softube provides a superb sidechain/detector section. This section includes a high cut (low-pass) and low cut (high-pass) filter, a lookahead control, and a parallel blend control to mix the program sidechain signal with an external sidechain signal.
To learn more about compressor ratio, sidechain signals, lookahead controls, attack and release parameters, and low and high-pass filters, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• Dynamic Range Compression: What Is The Ratio Control?
• The Complete Guide To Sidechain Compression In Audio
• Dynamic Range Compression: What Is The Lookahead Control?
• Dynamic Range Compression: Attack & Release Controls
• Audio EQ: What Is A Low-Pass Filter & How Do LPFs Work?
• Audio EQ: What Is A High-Pass Filter & How Do HPFs Work?
Along with the super-fast attack and wonderfully aggressive sound of the original hardware, the FET Compressor offers awesome modern functionality.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the Softube user manual.
Softube is featured in top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
The Waves CLA-76 (link to check the price at Waves) is the second plugin modelled after the Urei 1176. More specifically, it offers two models, fashioned after Revision B (Chris Lord-Alge's favourite) and Revision D-LN.
The Waves CLA-76 is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.
As per usual, Waves has developed a spot-on recreation of a classic hardware unit in a superb audio plugin. From the superfast attack to the assertive character of compression, the CLA-76 delivers, and with two different versions of the 1176, this plugin offers additional compression possibilities.
The interfaces of the CLA-76 look beautifully reminiscent of the original hardware versions, offering virtual push-button-style ratio and metering controls and knob controls to input, output, attack and release.
The CLA-76 also offers modelled pre-amp distortion and noise for an extra sonic edge. Note that the main differences between the two models are slightly different gain stages, time constants, total harmonic distortion, and noise levels.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the Waves CLA-76 user manual.
Waves Audio is featured in top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
IK Multimedia Black 76
Third up is the IK Multimedia Black 76 (link to check the price at Sweetwater), a compressor plugin modelled after the LN version, revision E of the Urei 1176.
The IK Multimedia Black 76 is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.
Modelled after one of the most sonically recognizable and sought-after compressors ever, IK Multimedia has meticulously crafted its Black 76 plugin to capture the character of the 1176LN revision E from the input transformer to the class A output stage.
The incredibly fast attack and famed ratio controls (including “All Buttons In”) have been modelled to a T, offering the vigorous compression we know and love in an easily accessible plugin.
With simple controls, users can dial in the input and output levels to achieve the desired gain reduction and fine-tune the sound of the Black 76 with the attack and release parameters.
This compressor sounds amazing on pretty much everything. Use the plugin in mono mode, stereo mode (linked or independent left/right channels) or even venture into mid-side processing if need be.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the Black 76 specifications at IK Multimedia.
IK Multimedia is featured in top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Pulsar Audio Smasher
The Pulsar Audio Smasher (link to check the price at Plugin Boutique) emulates a custom modification of the classic Urei 1176 compressor circuit, recreating the “All buttons in” / “British” mode of the legendary hardware units.
The Pulsar Audio Smasher is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.
This plugin is a very straightforward, faithful emulation of the beloved “All Buttons In” mode of the 1176. With its proprietary Topology Preservation Technology, Pulsar Audio has captured the magic of this particular mode of operation.
Slap this plugin on a track or bus and marvel in the heavy, aggressive compression that ensures. Dial-in the desired amount of gain reduction with input and output controls and easily achieve parallel compression with the dedicated Mix knob.
To enhance the original design without departing from the character, Pulsar Audio has programmed the Smasher to add definition to transients, further enhancing the natural aggression of the original 1176 without sacrificing performance.
The plugin is still programmed to feature the internal feedback configuration and colourful character from soft clipping to gritty saturation.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the Pulsar Audio Smasher user manual.
Native Instruments VC 76
The Native Instruments VC 76 (link to check the price of the NI Vintage Compressors at Native Instruments) has been produced in cooperation with Softube, bringing yet another superb emulation of the Urei 1176 to the world of audio plugins.
The Native Instruments VC 76 is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.
Native Instruments' VC 76 is a sonically accurate emulation of the legendary Urei 1176. It's punch, fast and versatile, offering the famed 4 ratio settings (plus all buttons and no buttons modes) and an attack time as fast as 50 µs. While the interface looks remarkably clean and modern, the character is distinctly vintage.
To add more functionality, Native Instruments and Softube have included external sidechaining and parallel compression to the VC 76 design.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the VC 76 at Native Instruments.
Native Instruments is featured in top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Arturia Comp FET-76
The Arturia Comp FET-76 (link to check the price at Plugin Boutique) is a superb emulation of the D/E model of the Urei 1176.
The Arturia Comp FET-76 is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.
Arturia's Comp FET-76 is a superb digital plugin recreation of the highly-celebrated original 1176 D/E from the 1960s. This compressor plugin captures the aggressive vintage tone of the 1176 in an easy-to-use plugin format with simple controls.
Thanks to the power of Arturia's exclusive TAE modelling technology, everyone can benefit from this compressor's legendary fast attack and tone-shaping in the convenience of an audio plugin.
From the Field Effect Transistor to the “Class A” amplifier, each component has been expertly modelled to provide the distinct tone of the 1176. Adjustable input level, output level, attack time and release time are all made possible with virtual knobs, and the ratios and metering have virtual push-button controls.
The Mix control improves upon the original design to offer simple parallel compression possibilities.
The bottom panel of the Comp FET-76 hosts the advanced sidechain control and equalizer. Choose between the internal sidechain signal and an external sidechain signal (with gain control) to control the gain reduction circuit.
The detection mode offers 5 different methods of reading the sidechain signal. Select from Reversed, Dual (left + right channels), Linked, Mid Only or Side Only modes. A Time Warp control offers a few milliseconds of lookahead time for snappier compression.
Use the three-band semi-parametric EQ to shape the sidechain signal to enhance the compression triggering.
To learn more about semi-parametric EQ, check out my article What Is Semi-Parametric Equalization/EQ In Audio?
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the Arturia Comp FET-76 user manual.
Arturia is featured in top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
The PSP FETpressor (link to check the price at Sweetwater) is not a specific recreation of any particular hardware compressor. Rather it's based on the sound of 1970s FET compressors at large.
The PSP FETpressor is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU, VST and RTAS formats.
With superb output transformer emulations and a distinctly smooth FET-style character, the FETpressor is a unique yet reminiscent FET compressor. The zero-latency plugin is an excellent choice for those who want FET compression without another 1176 clone.
Unlike the other 1176-based compressors on this list, the FETpressor has a dedicated threshold control, allowing users to define the compression effect's specific threshold. It also offers variable ratio control rather than the discrete ratio values we've seen thus far.
To learn more about compressor threshold, check out my article Dynamic Range Compression: What Is The Threshold Control?
The sidechain signal path features a variable high-pass filter (10 Hz – 1,000 Hz) to help diminish pumping, and the virtual Blend knob allows for easy parallel compression. The plugin works on stereo signals with linked and unlinked functionality.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the FETpressor at PSP Audioware.
PSP Audioware is featured in My New Microphone's Top 11 Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World.
Plugin Alliance Lindell 7X-500
As the name would suggest, the Plugin Alliance Lindell 7X-500 (link to check the price at Plugin Alliance) is a plugin emulation of the Lindell 7X-500 500 Series FET compressor, which is Lindell's take on the legendary 1176.
The Plugin Alliance Purple Audio MC77 is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and is available in AAX Native, AU and VST formats.
This plugin is a wonderful recreation of the 500 series hardware it emulates. This one-channel FET compressor/limiter features a high-pass sidechain filter and a Mix control for more versatile compression. It sounds like an 1176 but looks and performs like a 7X-500.
To learn more about the 500 Series, check out my article What Is 500 Series Audio Equipment & Is It Worth It?
The 7X-500 is a stereo plugin with adjustable stereo link functionality. Choose between 3 distinct ratios for smooth (4:1), strong (12:1) or extreme (100:1) amounts of compression. The attack and release times each also have 3 stepped settings (slow, medium and fast) along with virtual knobs for fine-tuning.
The beautifully modelled transformer balanced output sounds great and can be utilized for analog warmth and nonlinearities via a switch.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the Lindell Audio 7X-500 at Plugin Alliance.
Lindell Audio is featured in My New Microphone's Top 11 Best Audio Brands For 500 Series Modules/Equipment.
Plugin Alliance Purple Audio MC77
The Plugin Alliance Purple Audio MC77 (link to check the price at Plugin Alliance) is a plugin version of the Purple Audio MC77, which is itself an emulation of the classic 1176 “E” revision.
The Plugin Alliance Purple Audio MC77 is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and is available in AAX DSP, AAX Native, AAX AudioSuite, AU and VST formats.
This Brainworx/Plugin Alliance plugin utilizes Brainworx's patented Tolerance Modeling Technology to produce this exact digital plugin replica of the superb Purple Audio MC77 hardware.
Based on a recreation of the 1176 E revision, the MC77 from Purple Audio brought modern functionality to the classic design without losing the beloved vintage character. The lightning-fast response and forceful compression remained while onboard sidechain and stereo linking capabilities were added.
This plugin, like the others, is fully capable of aggressive compression and limiting without introducing overly severe distortion to the signal.
The plugin version of the MC77 offers Headroom control M/S processing, Brainworx Mono-Maker and a Stereo Width control, making it a top contender for the best FET compressor plugin on the market today.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the Purple Audio MC77 at Plugin Alliance.
Slate Digital FG-116 Blue Series
The Slate Digital Blue Series (link to check the price at Sweetwater) includes 2 vintage circuits and 2 modern circuits based on the blue-striped 1176AE FET compressors.
The Slate Digital FG-116 Blue Series is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and is available in AAX, AU and VST formats.
This plugin suite offers a perfect recreation and a custom mod of the most highly sought-after Revision A Blue 1176 FET Compressor. Slate's FG-116 Blue Series features 2 authentic-sounding vintage Revision A FET limiting amplifiers and 2 unique versions of a modernized FET circuit.
Vintage circuit 1 offers the classic mid-forward character of the original 1176AE, while circuit 2 is modelled after Revision A for a bigger sound.
Modern circuit 1 offers a slower attack for improving transient preservation, while circuit 2, again, yields a punchier low-end.
Whatever sonic character you choose, the Slate Digital FG-116 plugins will offer the standard input, output, attack, release and ratio controls. Beyond that, high-pass sidechain detection and parallel mix knobs bring these plugins to the modern day.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the FG-116 Blue Series at Slate Digital.
Slate Digital is featured in My New Microphone's Top 11 Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World.
Universal Audio 1176 Classic Limiter Collection
The Universal Audio 1176 Classic Limiter Collection (link to check the price at Universal Audio) is a complete package of Universal Audio/Urei 1176 plugins, including 3 famous versions (1176LN, 1176 and 1176AE).
The Universal Audio 1176 plugins, like all UAD plugins, require UAD hardware to function with your DAW. UAD hardware is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS, and the plugins are available in AAX, AU and VST formats.
Last but certainly not least, this bundle of plugins is the definitive plugin collection of the most famous 1176 compressor versions. After all, Universal Audio's founder, Bill Putnam, designed the incredibly forward-thinking Urei 1176. From conceptualizing and producing the first-ever solid-state compressor to starting what would be one of the biggest and best audio companies in the world, Bill Putnam has certainly made his mark on the audio industry.
Universal Audio's first release of a plugin version of the 1176 came in 2001. History shows that this plugin would also be the first to launch the company's UAD (Universal Audio Digital) division.
Since then, the plugins have come a long way and are now exact sonic models of the legendary 1176LN, 1176 and 1176AE compressors. Each version has had its entire electronic path modelled, including, of course, the transformers, FET gain reduction circuit, and transistor amplifiers. Every option has its own sonic colour, but all feature the well-known “All-Button” or “No Ratio” modes.
Expanded controls in the plugin form include the popular Headroom, Mix, and custom Sidechain Filter parameters.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the UAD Plugins manual.
Universal Audio is featured in top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Choosing the best audio plugins for your DAW can be a challenging task. For this reason, I've created My New Microphone's Comprehensive Audio Plugins Buyer's Guide. Check it out for help in determining your next audio plugin purchases.
Determining the best compressor for your audio needs takes time, knowledge and effort. For this reason, I've created My New Microphone's Comprehensive Compressor Buyer's Guide. Check it out for help in determining your next dynamic range compressor purchases.
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