The Best Drum Bus Compressor Plugins (Hardware & Software)

The Best Drum Bus Compressor Plugins (Hardware & Software)

Every experienced audio producer knows that drums are the beating heart of every track. So it’s crucial to maintain and even emphasize the energy of the performance while containing it. To achieve this goal, we usually use a certain set of tools, amongst which the compressor is the most important one. Of course, any compressor could be used on a drum bus, but not any of them pass for our handpicked list as the best drum bus compressor.

Top 10 Best Drum Bus Compressor

  1. Softube CL-1B
  2. Universal Audio 1176
  3. dbx 560A 500 Series
  4. Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor
  5. API 2500+ Stereo Bus Compressor
  6. Drawmer 1968 MKII Tube Compressor
  7. Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor
  8. Waves H-Comp Hybrid Compressor Plugin
  9. Waves CLA-76
  10. Waves API 2500

Drum Bus Compressor Buying Guide

When we talk about a perfect drum bus compression, we usually imply a very specific set of steps. Generally, we are looking for a relatively slow attack, so the initial transients of the drums would be preserved, as well as a relatively slow release. That way, we can add a presence and some volume to the drums.

A low-pass filter also is a good idea since the information in low frequencies would trigger the compressor more aggressively. And the sound of cymbals and a snare ring wouldn’t be affected at all. A very gentle ratio also makes much more sense since you want your compression on a drum bus to be particularly subtle.

It seems like every compressor that has the set of settings listed above should do the trick. Of course, in many ways, this is true. But when it comes to drums, the compression itself is far from being the most important thing. When we are talking about a drum bus compression, we first and foremost talk about the character of the sound.

Important features

As we all know, compressors impact the sound not only dynamically but also sonically. Even very clean and digital compressors ever so slightly change the tonal balance of the track. And needless to say that analog compressors or even their digital emulations most certainly add a lot of coloration, especially when it comes to drums since any addition of harmonic content would be much more obvious.

And this is exactly what we are looking for when choosing the best compressor to be used on a drum bus. And as obvious as it would be, compressors on our list use analog circuitry in one form or the other. Some of them emulate analog processes rather successfully, and the others are actually hardware units. And since some of them might feel like a rather bold investment into your studio, we’ve made sure that they have far more usability than just drum bus compression. So without further ado, let’s find out what the contenders are to be named the best drum bus compressor.

Best Drum Bus Compressor Reviews

Softube CL-1B

Softube CL-1B

Pros
  • Has a free demo
Cons
  • No notches on attack and release knobs
See price @ Plugin Boutique
Best features and specs

Softube CL-1B is a very faithful emulation of an all-tube optical compressor of the same name that was released back in 1987. It’s best to consider CL-1B to be a very modern version of the famous LA-2A with a few additional improvements. This compressor has a very distinguishable tube sound which could be controlled with variable attack and release settings, parallel mode, and side-chain low-cut filters.

User impressions

Users are quite impressed with Softube CL-1B due to its beautiful and intuitive GUI. Also, it sounds quite good as it adds extra saturation to drum bus tracks.

What we think

While comparing Softube CL-1B to LA-2A, we found that CL-1B sounds sharper and cleaner. It still has a very distinguishable tube sound but without any vintage embellishments. Even when pushed hard, it doesn’t give you any over-the-top saturation. The only downside to Softube CL-1B is that it doesn’t have any notches on the attack and release knobs which means that you’re going to have to adjust it by ear.

Bottomline

Softube CL-1B is a perfect choice for audio producers who are looking for a classic sound of an opto-compressor with a very modern feel. And since Softube offers you a free demo version, you can decide easily if this compressor is for you. 

Universal Audio 1176

Universal Audio 1176

Pros
  • Hardware recreation of UREI 1176 LN
Cons
  • Hardware unit
See price @ Sweetwater / @ Amazon
Best features and specs

Universal Audio 1176 gives you an opportunity to have a legendary solid-state compression sound in your studio without any compromise whatsoever. This compressor was built anew according to the original schematics, so it would have the same legendary character without any complications of owning truly vintage hardware studio gear.

User impressions

Users like Universal Audio 1176 and say that it is the best of its kind. It makes the drums sound more consistent and adds coloration. It has a very straightforward and intuitive GUI, just like the original hardware.

What we think

Although hardware gear doesn’t offer you the same flexibility as digital plugins, just knowing that you own one is enough. Yes, you’re going to have to do a lot of printing and bouncing tracks, but the sheer feeling of turning a physical knob is purely awesome.

Bottomline

Universal Audio 1176 is a perfect choice for someone who is looking for an excellent investment in studio expansion. The best thing about Universal Audio 1176 is that you not only get that very classical silky coloration but also you gain even more credibility as an audio engineer.

dbx 560A 500 Series

dbx 560A 500 Series

Pros
  • Budget-friendly hardware compressor
Cons
  • Messes up rack space
See price @ Sweetwater / @ Amazon
Best features and specs

Dbx 560A 500 Series is a 500 series rack compressor and limiter with program-dependent attack and release times and 2 separate compression knobs. Turning OverEasy compression mode engages a softer knee, and by turning it off, you will get a much harder knee which is good for adding some punch for the drums.

User impressions

Users say that dbx 560A 500 Series is a good-sounding compressor that has simple controls and is really easy to use. It makes the drums sound very smooth and transparent.

What we think

If you’ve been around professional studios, chances are you saw one of those before. And the reason for that is dbx 560A has a shockingly good sound for what is considered to be very budget studio gear.

Bottomline

Dbx 560A 500 Series is a perfect choice for someone who’s just started the expansion of a recording studio and is looking for a very budget-friendly compression solution. That being said, it sounds so good that you might stick with it and look no further.

Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor

Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor

Pros
  • Iconic drum compression
Cons
  • None that we know of
See price @ Sweetwater
Best features and specs

There’re very few things that audio engineers agree upon categorically. But one of the things that we actually agree on is that having a Distressor in a studio is a must. Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor is a legendary hybrid compressor that is most valued for its saturation capabilities.

User impressions

Users like Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor as it is a versatile and powerful compressor. Distortion is sweet and can sound really fuzzy and tape-like. It also adds some warmth and punch to the drums if needed.

What we think

It would take a lot more than this humble article to explain all of the capabilities of the Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor. To put it shortly, it has any type of saturation you can imagine on top of an extremely capable and versatile compressor.

Bottomline

Of course, you would do just fine without Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor. But once you get your hands on one of those, it would be extremely hard to imagine living without it.

API 2500+ Stereo Bus Compressor

API 2500+ Stereo Bus Compressor

Pros
  • Classic stereo compressor
Cons
  • None
See price @ Sweetwater
Best features and specs

API 2500+ Stereo Bus Compressor delivers the iconic and very distinguishable sound of compression, which is very characteristic for many US-based record productions. It gives you an option to choose between classic feedback and more modern feed-forward compression, amongst other benefits.

User impressions

Users agree that API 2500+ Stereo Bus Compressor has a very straightforward UI and is easy to use. It will shine on the drum bus and add as much coloration as desired. It will make the output sound always thick and good, almost as you can hear on famous records.

What we think

If you grew up on classic British rock, you might not be very impressed with API 2500+ Stereo Bus Compressor. This compressor sounds very American and to be honest, it’s very hard to consider it to be a downside, even if your taste suggests otherwise.

Bottomline

API 2500+ Stereo Bus Compressor is a perfect choice for audio producers who are looking for a very capable and versatile hardware compressor that can deliver great results no matter what task you put upon it. 

Drawmer 1968 MKII Tube Compressor

Drawmer 1968 MKII Tube Compressor

Pros
  • Classic tube/FET compression
Cons
  • Too many knobs
See price @ Sweetwater
Best features and specs

Drawmer 1968 MKII Tube Compressor is a modern take on a vintage tube compressor that also offers transistor circuitry, which in turn makes it a highly versatile option for studio hardware compression.

User impressions

Users say that the Drawmer 1968 MKII Tube Compressor is totally worth the money and is simply the best. It provides clean and transparent compression. It is quite versatile as it can be used very aggressively or totally invisible.

What we think

The only downside to Drawmer 1968 MKII Tube Compressor is that it might take you some time to figure out the controls. It’s not that they’re complicated, it’s just quite a few of them.

Bottomline

Drawmer 1968 MKII Tube Compressor is a very viable choice for audio producers who want to have a versatile tube compressor in their studio. It also lets you switch into FET compression or engage both of them simultaneously.

Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor

Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor

Pros
Cons
  • Isn’t that versatile in comparison with other compressors
See price @ Waves Audio / @ Sweetwater
Best features and specs

Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor is a very fateful emulation of a compression unit from the iconic SSL 4000 series console. It was always intended as a mastering compressor, but applying it to a drum bus will do wonders. And since it’s made by Waves Audio, you can be sure that the quality doesn’t disappoint.

User impressions

Users like Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor for its very intuitive and easy-to-use GUI. This compressor is perfect for getting a quick and easy sound that feels clean and bright. Some users add that sadly Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor is not that versatile when compared with other compressors.

What we think

Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor is one of the best and widely used digital master bus compressors in the world. Using it on drums might be a bit unconventional, but you just have to push it a little bit harder than you would in a mastering situation.

Bottomline

Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor is a perfect choice for audio producers who are looking for a compressor with a very iconic vintage console sound. Since it’s one of the most widely used compressors in the world, you might as well get your hands on one and see for yourself why it’s so well regarded.

Waves H-Comp Hybrid Compressor Plugin

Waves H-Comp Hybrid Compressor Plugin

Pros
  • Extremely versatile digital compressor
  • Release sync feature
Cons
  • The “analog” button
See price @ Waves Audio / @ Sweetwater
Best features and specs

Waves H-Comp Hybrid Compressor Plugin is a very versatile and extremely capable digital compressor with a very bright and crisp sound.

User impressions

Users say that Waves H-Comp Hybrid Compressor Plugin is great not only for its price but also for adding analog sound to tracks. As it has a free demo, a lot of users find that to be of convenience as they become sure of the compressor’s abilities. Waves H-Comp Hybrid Compressor Plugin has a very intuitive and user-friendly GUI.

What we think

If you already own Waves H-Comp Hybrid Compressor Plugin and wondered why your mix has some very annoying hissing sound, that’s because of this compressor. For some reason, the “analog” knob is set to 1 by default, and every time we put this compressor on a track, we have to turn it off. On the bright side, you can set the release to be synchronized to the BPM, which makes it sound very musical and contained. We strongly believe that every compressor should have this option.

Bottomline

Waves H-Comp Hybrid Compressor Plugin is a perfect digital compressor for every possible mixing situation. Unless you forgot to turn the “analog” button off.

Waves CLA-76

Waves CLA-76

Pros
  • A high-quality plugin with a relatively low cost
  • Made by Waves Audio
  • Two plugins in one
Cons
  • None that we know of
See price @ Waves Audio / @ Sweetwater << not affiliate
Best features and specs

Waves CLA-76 offers you a well-crafted and thorough recreation of 2 classic hardware compressors. You have a recreation of UREI 1176 and a more modern 1176 LN. You have access to both of those compressors within one instance of a plugin, and needless to say, both sound amazing.

User impressions

Users like Waves CLA-76 for the way it compresses drums making them more analog and punchy. It has an intuitive and user-friendly GUI which makes it really easy to use.

What we think

Waves CLA-76, as expected, has a very aggressive sound considering that one is more subtle than the other. And as it would be expected from 1176 emulation, this one has the so-called “British mode”, with which you can engage all of the ratios simultaneously.

Bottomline

If you’re looking for the classic 1176 emulation, look no further. And since usually, Waves Audio is running various discounts, you can grab this plugin for a very low price.

Waves API 2500

Waves Audio API 2500

Pros
  • Made by Waves Audio
  • Emulation of API 2500
Cons
  • Complicated GUI
See price @ Waves Audio / @ Sweetwater
Best features and specs

Waves API 2500 is an emulation of a hardware compressor that we’ve mentioned before on this list. So, needless to say, it has the same functionality and features on top of a very distinguishable American-like type of sound.

User impressions

Users say that Waves API 2500 is a perfect choice if you are about to do some classic or hard rock. It’s great for pumping on drums and other instruments too. It sounds quite good and surprisingly warm despite the fact that it’s said not to be that close to the sound of the original hardware unit.

What we think

Instead of comparing the sound of Waves API 2500 to the sound of the original unit, we’ve decided to see it as a compressor on its own without any bias. If the compressor works well and sounds even better while giving your tracks a lot of character, does it even matter if it sounds close to the original or not?

Bottomline

Waves API 2500 is a perfect choice for audio producers who’re looking for a digital compressor with a lot of flavor and versatility. For some very weird reasons, the GUI seems to be needlessly complicated, although it really shouldn’t be. Apart from that, it’s a very capable drum bus compressor amongst other things.

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