We tested each compressor on the drum bus, both in solo and with the mix, as well as on the mix bus. Although each compressor has its own unique sound and features, we used the same settings on each one to help you hear the differences.
Watch our bus compressor shootout below and continue reading to learn more about each piece of gear used in the video.
Warm Audio BUS-COMP
Debuting at the 2020 NAMM Show, the Warm Audio BUS-COMP is a two-channel VCA compressor inspired by the silky-smooth tones of yesteryear. Based on classic circuitry, BUS-COMP utilizes fully discrete operational amplifiers for a retro sound that works great on stereo mixes, drum mixes, acoustic guitars, keyboards, voice-overs and more. For even more vintage vibe, press the transformer switch on the front panel to insert three USA-made CineMag transformers into the signal path, adding rich harmonics.
Capable of a wide range of tones, BUS-COMP is a studio workhorse. Apply everything from subtle bus compression to full-on limiting with ratio controls ranging from 1.1:1 to 10:1. Dial in the perfect release time with options from .3ms to 1.2 sec, as well as an automatic setting. Keep your low-end clean and punchy with the built-in variable high-pass filter and external side-chain. Best of all, the BUS-COMP is one of the most affordable options on the list at just $699.
TK Audio BC1-THD
The TK Audio BC1-THD bus compressor combines transparent sound with a variety of versatile features. Start by choosing from four common ratio options: 1.5:1 or 2:1 for subtle bus compression, 4:1 for moderate compression, and 10:1 for limiting and aggressive compression. The attack control offers 10 settings ranging from .1ms to 120 ms, while the release controls range from 50ms to 1.2 seconds, as well as an auto option. On the right side of the device is the Blend knob, which allows you to quickly dial in parallel compression. A dedicated mute button allows you to mute the dry signal and adjust the amount of compression without altering the blend controls. And for added convenience, all controls are stepped for easy recall-ability.
The BC1-THD also includes a built-in high-pass filter with three frequencies to choose from, as well as an external side-chain input for side-chain compression. Engage the THD button to instantly add more even-order harmonics, fattening up your sound and helping your track cut through the mix. For an even harder sound, engage the Grab button for a hard knee shape.
Overstayer Stereo Voltage Control
If you’re looking for bang-for-your-buck, the Overstayer Stereo Voltage Control is a top contender. It combines the punch of a VCA compressor with an ultra-smooth two-band shelving EQ and discrete analog circuitry for rich, warm harmonics. The unique Behavior control allows you to dial in a wide range of sounds, from fast peak limiting to smooth RMS compression. By default, the Overstayer Stereo Voltage Control operates with a 2:1 ratio, but two dedicated ratio buttons allow you to choose 4:1 or 10:1 for more aggressive sounds. You can even use the on-board Blend control to set up parallel compression.
The attack controls are continuously variable and range from .1ms to 50ms, and the knob can be pulled out to engage RMS mode. Similarly, the release controls are continuously variable from .1 sec to 1.1 sec, while pulling the knob engages a dual stage auto release function for a super-smooth sound.
The Overstayer Stereo Voltage Control also features an external side-chain input for side-chain compression, as well as a fixed 220 Hz side-chain filter for rolling-off the low-end. You can also add more low-end using the 100 Hz LF Boost, or add more high-end with a fixed HF Boost at 12 kHz. To add color, character, and plenty of harmonics, engage the HARMONIC button to drive the analog bus circuit.
Dangerous Music Compressor
The Dangerous Music COMPRESSOR combines unparalleled audiophile-grade circuitry with intelligent, innovative, and easy-to-use features for a truly one-of-a-kind compressor. The unit utilizes two totally independent RMS detectors for detailed stereo imaging. Each channel can be used as an independent mono compressor like on kick and snare, for instance. Or, you can “cascade” the two channels into each other for series compression. This technique works well when using a compressor with a fast attack time to tame the transients of a vocal, followed by a slower, more gentle compressor to even out the dynamics.
Use the SmartDyn button to engage The COMPRESSOR’s unique “dual slope” detector circuits, allowing you to compress fast transient peaks and sustained audio separately for an ultra-transparent sound. Dial in a wide range of sounds with a variety of tonal settings. Ratio controls range from 1:1 to 20:1 for subtle bus compression to aggressive limiting. Attack controls are continuously variable from 1ms to 100ms, while release times range from 10ms to 500ms. Plus, both settings include an automatic feature for a silky-smooth sound.
The COMPRESSOR also features two audiophile-grade side-chain EQs. Roll-off the low-end with a fixed Bass Cut at 60 Hz, or use the Sibilance Boost to engage an ultra-linear high-end shelf and push more treble content into the detector to automatically attenuate sibilance like a de-esser.
SSL G-Comp Stereo Bus Compressor
The SSL Stereo Bus Compressor is the quintessential bus compressor. Used on countless hit records over the last four decades, the SSL Stereo Bus Compressor utilizes the same classic design as the original module from the center section of the SL 4000 G Series console. While it still delivers the same great tone you know and love, the 500-series version of the SSL Stereo Bus Compressor includes a few updated features.
The attack controls now offer six positions, ranging from .1 ms to 30 ms, while the release settings range from .1 sec to 1,6 sec—as well as the dynamic AUTO setting. Extended ratio settings allow you to dial in smooth bus compression or aggressive limiting with ratios ranging from 1.5:1 to 10:1. Best of all, the new SSL Stereo Bus Compressor module also introduces a dedicated high-pass filter, selectable at 30 Hz, 60 Hz, 105 Hz, 125 Hz and 185 Hz.