Multiband compressors are an indispensable weapon in any mixing arsenal. Here are 10 to consider for your next dynamics purchase.
A lot goes into a good mix, from EQ to spatial effects to dynamics. For the latter, we often reach for a wideband compressor plugin when we need to tame some unwieldy volume peaks or help a sound sit well. However, sometimes, a single-band compressor may not be the best option.
Multiband compressors split the frequency spectrum into multiple sectors. This makes it possible to target specific frequency ranges while leaving others untouched. Need to tame the bass but not the mids or highs? Or, conversely, want to let the kick through untouched but still need to clamp down on the frequencies above it? Multiband compression can do it.
Here are ten multiband compressor plugins worth looking into. They’re arranged by release date, with the newest first. Note that prices listed are the original manufacturer’s price, and many can be found for much less, depending on sales.
Devious Machines Multiband X6
Multiband compression can be difficult to get your head around. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can quickly turn a good mix into a bad one. Devious Machines’ Multiband X6 is a good place for newbies to start their multiband journey. It’s affordable, for one, and has also been designed with beginners in mind, aiming to make multiband compression painless and easy to understand.
Multiband X6 has the usual compression parameters that you would expect – attack, release and threshold – but instead of ratio has a general Compression knob. Turn it up for more. It also has a few different compression algorithms depending on the character you’re after, plus a bonus expansion section.
What makes it easy to understand is the graphical display, with a dynamic audio wave that clearly shows how much gain reduction is being applied to what frequency areas.
Devious Machines’ Multiband X6 is a joy to use, sounds great, and applies in many different mixing scenarios. At around $100, the price is right too.
Denise Dragon Fire
Since you’re effectively boosting or cutting certain frequency bands, multiband compressors can often act like EQs. Plugin developer Denise has gone one further and combined a compressor with a graphic equalizer, creating a new dynamics control genre and tonal compression with Dragon Fire.
Locate the frequency area of a sound you want to address with dynamics by creating a node on the graph and then cutting or boosting. This will simultaneously push the frequency band through the compression circuit. Dragon Fire gives you all the usual dynamics control tools like threshold, ratio, attack and release, plus how much of the EQ change you want to make audible. Genius.
Denise’ Dragon Fire is the kind of plugin that pushes boundaries, and because of that, it might not be what you reach for every time. However, at only $84 it’s certainly affordable, and you’re bound to find some use cases for it.
Check out Dragon Fire.
Aberrant DSP ShapeShifter
Aberrant DSP’s ShapeShifter is a plugin that combines upwards and downwards compression to transform a signal completely. It offers many tone-shaping parameters that work more like a saturation effect than just dynamics processing.
Along with the usual dynamics controls – attack, release, and ratio – plus a transient shaping section, ShapeShifter allows you to tweak the overall tone, add drive, and increase gritty even-order harmonics. It’s got a clever GUI that looks more like a children’s art project than a piece of hardware but don’t let the playful look fool you. This is capable of some profound sound transformation.
For $20, it’s a no-brainer to pick up, although you’ll want it to use it as an effect rather than for delicate dynamics work.
Leapwing Audio DynOne
Leapwing make high-quality plugins targeting specific mixing and mastering facets, like their vocal-focused UltraVox. They also make a multiband compressor, DynOne, and – as you’d expect – it just oozes quality.
Mastering plugins need to sound perfect and transparent. Any unwanted coloration (or, god forbid, artifacts!) can quickly ruin a lot of hard work. With that in mind, Leapwing created the five-band DynOne to be ultra-transparent, allowing mastering engineers to raise perceived volume without affecting a track’s tonal balance or feel.
It has all the controls you need for proper dynamics control, but really, the reason to go with DynOne is the sheer sound quality. At $199, it’s competitively priced as well.
Checkout Leapwing Audio DynOne.
Softube Drawmer 1973
Many of the multiband compressors here prize transparency in sound above all else. They’re designed to increase loudness without leaving any sonic footprint on the audio. However, sometimes you may want a character injection, some analog mojo. That’s what Softube’s Drawmer 1973 is for.
Based on the original hardware unit, Softube Drawmer 1973 emulates a three-band compressor. Each band has threshold, attack, release and gain controls, plus a mute button to cut the signal out should you wish. High and low bands each have a unique toggle switch for adding additional character, with Air for the highs and Big for the lows. Lastly, there are two knobs for adjusting the crossover point.
Concessions to modern mixing include internal and external sidechain modes and mid/side processing, but that’s about it. You don’t even get a fancy modern GUI, just a recreation of the hardware panel. That can be a good thing, as it forces you to use your ears rather than your eyes. Boy, does it sound sweet though. The regular retail price is $225, but it often sells for less on third-party retail sites.
Checkout Softube Drawmer 1973.
From there, things behave as you’d expect. Each band has independent controls for compression parameters like threshold, range, attack, and release. Beyond basic downwards compression, Pro-MB can also handle upward and downward expansion, gating and limiting. And, as befitting a professional plugin of this caliber, it’s beautifully transparent.
If you’re already familiar with FabFilter and are looking for transparency rather than color and character, this could be the one for you. At $169 it’s not cheap, but it is quality.
Check out FabFilter Pro-MB.
XFer Records OTT
XFer Records, best known for Serum, make OTT, a clever and valuable multiband compressor designed to bring out punch and aggression in your sound. It’s a handy recreation of a multiband preset, OTT, or Over The Top. And it is indeed that.
OTT uses a preset combination of downwards compression (the kind we’re all familiar with) and upward compression, where a signal that falls below the threshold is boosted. By tightening the lows and mids and boosting the highs, you get the roid rage version of whatever sound you feed into it: hyped, aggressive and ready to throw down.
OTT isn’t what you want when mastering or other subtle work but for beefing things up, it’s pretty incredible. It’s also free. You can’t beat that.
Check out XFer Records OTT.
Vengeance Sound Multiband Compressor
There are tonal-shaping creative multiband compressors, and there are mastering-focused multiband compressors. Developer Vengeance Sound’s Multiband Compressor is both. A four-band compressor and limiter, it has “stereo bus” written all over it – but it also offers some unique features that take it beyond the usual set-and-forget dynamics plugin.
It offers up to four bands of independent dynamics control for mastering, with both compression and limiting functionality. There’s also a summing limiter with autorelease should you need it. Band crossover slopes range from a very gentle 6dB to an extreme 96dB.
For the more creatively inclined, Multiband Compressor also includes DPC, or dynamic pattern compressor, a per-band, tempo-synced envelope for frequency-specific dynamics targeting. It’s also capable of rhythmic pumping, where creative fun comes in.
Vengeance Sound’s Multiband Compressor feels targeted towards dance music producers more so than all-purpose mastering engineers. At $119, the price is certainly right.
Check out Vengeance Sound Multiband Compressor.
For the best of both worlds – analog and digital – Waves offers C6. It’s a four-band compressor with two additional floating point EQs for spot cleanup, all with an analog-emulated flavor.
It starts with four independent frequency bands, each with threshold, gain, range, attack and release controls. Each band offers compression, expansion, upward expansion, and limiting. You can set and customise the crossover points, from gentle to steep.
To address any harshness or frequency annoyances that may crop up, Waves have equipped C6 with two additional dynamic EQs, a very convenient feature that will save you the trouble of loading up a separate EQ after the multiband compressor in the effects chain.
Waves’ C6 originally retails for $299 but was $39 at the time of publishing, something that will likely continue given Waves’ ongoing sales strategy.
Despite being around for 15 years now, Czech company MeldaProduction is still a badly-kept secret. Their plugins never fail to impress, yet they aren’t as popular as they could be.
Their multiband compressor, MDynamicsMB, is a case in point. Incredibly powerful with a transparent sound, MeldaProduction designed MDynamicsMB for mastering and other duties where coloring of sound needs to be kept to a minimum. It features up to six bands, each capable of performing compressor, expander or gate duties. It also has a deep level-follower circuit, making it extremely useful.
MeldaProduction’s plugins aren’t for everyone. Some find the GUIs cryptic. However, should you take the plunge, you’ll likely find that MDynamicsMB is a flexible, adaptable and powerful multiband compressor. At $166, it’s more than just an impulse purchase, but given the feature set and the sound quality, it’s worth it.
Check out MDynamicsMB.
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