Over the last 30 years, we’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the world’s top engineers, producers, and creators. One question we always like to ask is, “What are some of your favorite compressors?” We’ve compiled a few of our favorite responses here to help you find the right dynamics processor for your studio. Read on to learn which compressors pros like Marcella Araica, Elton "L10MixedIt" Chueng, and Tucker Martine are using. 

Gena Johnson

I would say it’s a tie between the 1176 and the Distressor. Well, and of course, LA-2As too. All three of those are studio staples, and I have them in my studio as well. They’re versatile and create a killer vocal chain. Some day I’ll own a Fairchild and probably run everything through it.

Erin Tonkon

LA-2A, 1176, and Distressor in equal proportion. As far as plug-ins, I also love Eventide’s Omnipressor.

Dweezil Zappa

I have too many favorites! I love different categories of compression. I tend to like Vari-Mu compression the most, but I also lean heavily on my Urei 1178. I recently did a shootout between my RCA BA-6A and my Locomotive 14B and discovered some very cool things about both when it comes to harmonic distortion. I’m going to go even deeper down that rabbit hole because the gluey character and distortion is so much fun!

Kim Rosen

My D.W. Fearn VT-7 is a cornerstone of my chain. I’m hardly using it for compression and more for gain staging. I often reach for my Pendulum Audio 6386 for louder more rocking records that need more energy and glue.

Gloria Kaba

As far as hardware, I love Distressors, those are my favorite. I’m a big fan of the 1176 too. Sometimes I use the UAD emulation which sounds really good. The CL 1B is my go-to for vocals. 

Marcella Araica

I’ve got three outboard compressors that I love using: the Tube-Tech CL 1B, the Neve 33609 and the dbx 160X. I have the Universal Audio versions of those plug-ins as well and I love using them. Another plug-in I love using is the Fairchild 660. I love putting those either on a drum bus or just on the kick. The Universal Audio 1176 is another compressor that I love using, especially on snares or vocals. I love using a lot of the CLA plugins, like the 1176, the LA-2A and the LA-3A. There are just so many great plug-ins now. I remember when I first started, Waves was everything but it’s just grown so much now.

Justin Meldal Johnsen

I have an Inward Connections TSL-4, which is a stereo limiter that’s vaguely like an LA-2A circuit. Have you ever heard people say “I just run stuff through it and it makes it sound better”? I had never really subscribed to that, it seemed like one of those glib, catch-all phrases like describing gear that “sounds musical”. But that particular box does something cool to signals even if I just have it on bypass. Transformers, tubes... I don’t know what it is, but I like it. It’s a fixed attack so it’s pretty slow but it sounds so good. I also have some Overstayer Imperial Channels [Model 8776A] that have a compressor circuit in them that sound phenomenal. Those have a real sonic imprint. I have a Retro 176, that’s great for fast attack stuff. I have a Purple Audio MC77, that I also dig, though it does tend to make things very dark. Distressors, even. Super useful.

Miles Walker

In the plug-in world, I think some of the UAD hardware models are really fantastic. If I’m going for a vocal, I love their 1176 line. I think it’s so good and they really nailed the tonal differences between the Rev A and the Rev E. The Rev A has a great high-end and the Rev E is fantastic for that gluey thing. That’s my favorite for vocals.

Nick Breton

I’ve been doing a lot of tracking without compression these days. It depends on the artist and their mic technique, but I like the open dynamics going in. I use the Tube-Tech CL 1B for clients who want the “standard pop sound,” but I prefer an LA-2A. When a client lets me have my own way with the sound, I run our Telefunken U73, which is a really unique tool. It’s got nearly identical circuitry to the legendary Telefunken V76 preamp, but it has a fixed ratio of 100:1 and the character is very unique. When I get to run both the V76 and U73 at the same time it’s got crazy mojo.

Elton "L10MixedIt" Chueng

I’ve been using my stereo pair of Empirical Labs Distressors a lot. I love the LA-2A a lot, too. That thing doesn’t get talked about enough. I use it on vocals all the time. I love the warmth and fullness it brings. We have a couple here at Classick that we use all the time. They sound great.

Marc Daniel Nelson

I'm a huge fan of compressors. I have six stereo compressors in my room. The one I use most is the Analog Tube AT-101, which is a recreation of an original Fairchild 670. It doesn't even need to be compressing anything as much as it's just the line amplifier and the whole sound of it really makes things super thick and inviting. It sounds really good. And a new one added to my collection is the SSL The BUS+. That thing is wicked awesome. It’s got so many options and is one of those compressors that just sounds right.

Lenise Bent

I use the LA-2A and the 1176 a lot for blending and compressing. But when I was working with Mike Chapman back in the day, we had a lot of female artists with a lot of dynamics in their voice. Besides learning the song and riding the vocal, I would use the dbx 160. It has a very natural sound to my ear and could hit a vocal pretty hard without pumping. At the time they were fairly inexpensive, I think around $200 but I could be wrong. Studios usually got a pair of them since they fit in one rack space together. Today, I want a lot of dynamics for the type of music I do and they are great. They really stand the test of time.

Jennifer Decilveo

I have an LA-2A that I love on vocals and drums. I use the Universal Audio 6176 on acoustic guitar a lot. I use a lot of compressor plugins too, especially the Fairchild 670 and the Helios.

Chris Tabron

I’ve got a lot of analog compressors because I think it’s an area where plug-ins haven’t really caught up yet. I will say that the FabFilter Pro-C is very good for a plug-in.  At the top of the outboard compressors is my UnderTone Audio UnFairchild 670. I’ve only used an original Fairchild 670 a handful of times in my life, and neither of those units sound the same, so I couldn’t tell you if the UnderTone sounds like the original... but I couldn’t care less because it sounds good. It’s been a workhorse for me on lead vocals. The Dangerous Compressor is great for when I want very few compression artifacts, but I want to bring details forward on something. It’s unreal on piano, even with lots of sustain which is usually tough. On the stereo bus, I have a 90s SSL G384 that usually wins for more dense or faster tempo songs. The UnFairchild has also been magic on the stereo bus with a slow attack and fast release. I just got a Vertigo VSC2 from you guys that I want to try out on the stereo bus too. I have a lot of compressors but I always think of the Michael Brauer quote: “A lot of compressors but not a lot of compression.” I don’t look for a compressor to do the work that a detailed fader ride could do better. Rather, I use them for tone shaping. I like to have a lot of flavors, and I use them as ways to change the envelope of a performance, or in some cases an entire song.

Chris Coady

In my set-up, I have a Neve 33609, a Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor, Empirical Labs EL7 FATSO, and an old Federal tube compressor for adding some color in the mids. 1176s too!

Piper Payne

I don't use compression, I use depression! I have a Rupert Neve Master Bus Processor and a Manley Slam Mastering Edition that I use on many projects. My go-to in the digital realm is the Fab Filter Pro-C and I love the API 2500

F. Reid Shippen

I don’t use a ton of compression when tracking but when I do it’s usually an 1176, all different flavors for different instruments. I love LA-2As on bass. I love dbx 160s on kick and snare, just barely touching them.

Ryan Freeland

After microphones, compressors are my favorite things in the whole recording process. The way you can color and control the sound is a very important part of my process while tracking and mixing. I usually don’t hit them very hard but even a little bit can really bring out the life of a sound (or destroy it if used too much). The Summit TLA-100 has been my go-to vocal tracking compressor. The Smart Research C1 has been on my 2-bus forever. All of Phil Moore’s Retro Instruments compressors are amazing. I just bought a D.W. Fern VT-7 for my 2-bus and now I don’t know how I lived without it. My Empirical Labs Distressors and Fatso will probably stay with me forever. The Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor is almost always on my overhead mics. Did I mention how much I love compressors?

Tucker Martine

My first love is the 1176. Not the most original choice, but it definitely never lets me down. I have four of them, all different revisions and I love each one of them. All buttons in! When I was 20 years old and someone showed me all buttons in, I put that on everything for a whole year [Laughs]. I use the Chandler Limited TG1 all the time on the drum bus. I’m a huge fan of that. I don’t know what it's doing or how it’s doing it, but it just makes the drums exciting and in-your-face. Every time I pull it up, everyone in the back of the room starts cheering. I still use SSL G-Series Bus Compressor a lot, just for a couple dB grab on a mix or overheads to keep things in check.
Ryan CoomerIf you are interested in any of the compressors mentioned in this blog or have a suggestion of who we should talk to next, hit us up! You can contact a Vintage King Audio Consultant via email or by phone at 866.644.0160.