Multiband compressor plugins are about as prized as they are misunderstood.
Those that know them, love ’em. Those that don’t know much about how they work, believe they have magical powers (and hence would be as useful as you’d feel it might be to the uninitiated… depending on whether or not you believe in magic or snake oil marketing).
However, the best multiband compressor plugin is not magic, my friend, they are extremely useful if you plan on doing your own mastering, or tightening up your vocals, guitars, or other tracks in your mixes.
If you want something that’s not as expensive, take a look at Waves Linear Phase Multiband Compressor.
Let’s take a closer look 🙂
Table of Contents
- Multiband Compressor Plugin Buying Guide
- Best Multiband Compressors – Plugin Overview
- Final Thoughts – Which to Get?
Find more great guides here:
Multiband Compressor Plugin Buying Guide
What is a Multiband Compressor?
A multiband compressor is simply an advanced compressor that gives you the ability to compress different parts of the audio frequency spectrum…
Think of it like a cross between your typical equalizer and compressor, where instead of attenuating or amplified different frequency bands in your audio signal, you’re applying and adjusting compression settings instead.
(See this Wiki article on multiband compression for more info.)
Moving forward, this gives you more control over the different aspects of the sound than standard compressors.
For example, in mastering a mix, you may want to reduce the attack transient of a guitar track which occupies a certain portion of the frequency spectrum, while letting the punch of a kick drum get through in another part of the spectrum.
When it comes to mixing, one of the many applications of multiband compressor is in vocals. You can use it for smoothing out the vocal performance of a singer with a wide frequency range. This way you don’t lose any of the “information” from completely cutting out lower end.
You can also read on the typical compression settings used for vocals.
Features to Look for in a Multiband Compressor Plug-in
There are only a few essential features you will need to pay attention to…
At the very least you want a multiband compressor that lets you compress four different bands. This gives you a good range of frequencies to work with, which should be suitable for vocal processing and other tasks.
A ‘solo’ function is helpful for pinpointing problem areas, as well as for hearing what the compressor is doing to a specific frequency range. What solo will do is allow you to listen in on a specific frequency band alone, to the exclusion of everything else.
The ability to solo individual bands will also help you hear how the transients are affected by the attack and release settings.
Choosing a Multiband Compressor Plug-in
The ability to target specific frequency ranges is a good thing to have in your mixing or mastering chain…
… and a good multiband compressor will certainly supply that.
Most designs limit you to certain frequency bands, which might be sufficient for most basic tasks. In order to hone in on problem areas however, the ability to pinpoint exact frequency ranges is essential.
For vocal processing, you don’t necessarily want the ‘pumping’ or ‘breathing’ that many compressor circuits typically provide. For this specific task, you want a compressor that can be as transparent as possible.
Finally, choose a multiband compressor that gives you control over as many parameters as possible. Even if you don’t know how to use them all right now…
…the added control will come in handy as you gain familiarity with multiband compressors.
With that said, let’s look in the top multiband compressors you can consider.
Best Multiband Compressors – Plugin Overview
iZotope Neutron 2
The iZotope Neutron 2 is a very attractive an all-in-one mixing tool that packs together a variety of mix processors in a very user-friendly package. In addition to two compressors and a limiter, it also comes with an EQ, an exciter, a gate, and a transient shaper. Many of the processors can be operated in single-band or multi-band mode.
Specs and useful features
- Proprietary spectral-shaping for fine-tuning of tracks
- Tonal balance control helps in analysis and optimization
- Seamless integration with Ozone 8
- Visual mixer provides control over individual tracks
- Masking meter identifies frequency collisions and prevents track masking
- Mix tap allows integration of third-party plug-ins
- Redesigned interface for better workflow
One thing that most users of the iZotope Neutron 2 always mention is how readily it lends itself to a new way of mixing. With its wealth of features and innovative user interface, it seems to attract a fair share of “tweakers” that really like to get deep into the nitty-gritty of a mix.
Many users also appreciate the ability to get tracks in the ballpark by way of the Track Assistant feature. Even though most users ultimately end up fine-tuning the parameters, getting workable settings for the compressors and equalizer help speed up the process considerably.
For a little more than the price of a single plug-in, the iZotope Neutron 2 is an impressive tool box. Some may argue whether or not this is the best multiband compressor plugin as it’s actually a set of plugins than simply. However, based on what your requirements are in the studi, it requires a worthy look. It’s more than just a vocal mix tool, Neutron 2 can pretty much handle most any compression-related task.
The FabFilter Pro-MB is a multiband compressor/expander for experts, but it follows in line with the company’s modern design aesthete. Also like all the other FabFilter plug-ins, you can get precise control over all the parameters, yet it remains very easy to use. You could even create new bands at any of the frequencies you wish, so you aren’t limited by traditional preset crossover systems.
Specs and useful features
- Six processing bands can be placed anywhere in the spectrum
- Bands snap together for use as a traditional crossover system
- Dynamic phase processing ensures zero latency, reduces phasing, and eliminates artifacts
- Linear phase processing eliminates artifacts when changing crossover frequencies
- Allows different types of dynamics processing
- Fully customizable per band
- Variable stereo linking
- Mid- or side-only processing
- External side chain input
- Triggering on a separate frequency range
For many users, the main selling point of the FabFilter Pro-MB is how it allows for in-depth tone shaping with no coloration or artifacts. One reviewer uses it exclusively for vocal and acoustic guitar tracks, citing the convenience of having a dynamic EQ along with the compressor.
Another user did wish that the display could be zoomed in horizontally. We’re inclined to agree, as this could make it easier to hone in on a specific frequency range.
The FabFilter Pro-MB is an excellent multiband compressor that delivers a superb array of features. As with all FabFilter plug-ins, the user interface is absolutely top-notch, and the sound quality is impeccable. The mark of a good plug-in is how easy it is to use even with a wealth of features. In that regard, the Pro-MB qualifies as one of the best multiband compressors around.
Waves Audio Linear Phase Multiband Compressor
The Waves Audio Linear Phase Multiband Compressor is a musical and transparent multiband compressor that gives you control over your levels without adversely affecting the sound. It’s quite effective at processing vocal tracks, it’s also fully capable of handling entire mixes. With a host of features that include adaptive thresholds and automatic makeup gain, the Linear Phase Multiband Compressor delivers consistently outstanding results.
Specs and useful features
- Controls levels without squashing sound
- Five user-definable bands
- Linear-phase crossovers for each band
- Adaptive threshold, automatic makeup gain, and finite response filters
- Suitable for mastering as well as other precision applications
The Waves Audio Linear Phase Multiband Compressor has quite a number of fans due to its excellent sound and straightforward user interface. It’s simple enough for quick level matching, and it’s also capable of the most demanding mastering tasks.
This a combination of power and simplicity, and makes it attractive to a broad range of users. Like all multiband compressors however, many users advise using it sparingly in order to avoid introducing unwanted artifacts.
The Waves Audio Linear Phase Multiband Compressor is a pretty impressive plug-in that won’t mess with the phase of your audio or add any coloration. Used just a touch on your vocal tracks, it can make them sound more present and more ‘alive’. The price is actually pretty amazing for what you get. For other plug-ins of similar quality, you could easily spend a lot more.
Softube Drawmer 1973
Softube Drawmer 1973 might be familiar to those that have worked in a big studio in the early 1970s. Like the name suggests, it’s based on the original Drawmer 1973 hardware compression unit. The software plug-in brings all the warm analog response of the venerated unit to the 21st century. However, a host of new features have been added to the Ivor Drawmer-approved design, which means more control and better definition, with the same unmistakable Drawmer sound.
Specs and useful features
- Three-band FET compression
- Precise control over dynamics
- Mid-side mode and side chaining
- Drawmer-approved design
Mix engineers that have used the Softube Drawmer 1973 on vocals like that it is able to remove the sharper consonant from vocal tracks without any loss in clarity or detail. Many have used it to great effect on lead as well as background vocals, attesting to its versatility.
The Softube Drawmer 1973 is an excellent example of what can be achieved by modeling a great sounding vintage piece of equipment and adding modern features and functionality. It’s ideally suited to treating individual tracks, even though it could just as easily be a mainstay of your mastering chain.
No matter how much–or how little–familiarity you have with multiband compressors, you will most likely find use for the Softube Drawmer 1973.
Waves Audio C6 Multiband Compressor
The Waves Audio C6 Multiband Compressor is an updated version of the company’s C4, which for many years was the standard in multiband compressor plug-ins. All the features of the C4 are still present, and have been augmented with two additional floating bands and a sidechain, among other features. Suitable for studio, live, and post-production, the C6 is a flexible and versatile multiband compressor that lets you precisely target troublesome frequencies.
Specs and useful features
- Internal and external sidechain per band
- Individual band listen mode
- Four crossover bands
- Two additional floating bands
- Dynamic EQ, compression, and expansion
Most users of the Waves Audio C6 Multiband Compressor are unanimous in their appreciation of the plug-in. It’s equally capable of sweetening vocals as it is of pumping up drum tracks, so the C6 is frequently praised for its ability to consistently deliver great sound.
Some users have reported satisfactory results when using the C6 live as well. They cite its ability to help lead vocalists cut through the mix, one user even reported using it in his vocal tracks exclusively.
The Waves Audio C6 Multiband Compressor is a professional is the professional’s choice. From taming wayward peaks to making a vocal track sound more consistent across the singer’s frequency range, this one is pretty hard to beat for the price.
Final Thoughts – Which to Get?
The iZotope Neutron 2 and the FabFilter Pro-MB are pretty much neck-and-neck when it comes to sound quality, features, and versatility. Both pack a wealth of features in innovative and cutting-edge user interfaces, and both could easily handle all your vocal compression, mixing, and even mastering tasks. You certainly can’t go wrong with either one, so your choice will basically boil down to which mode of working you prefer.
The Softube Drawmer 1973 is a great multiband compressor in its own right. Although Neutron 2 and the Pro-MB are more than capable of delivering “vintage”-style sound and performance, this is something that the Drawmer 1973 does especially well.
If you’re looking of the cheapest that you can find without compromising on performance, the Waves Linear Phase Multiband Compressor would the one to get.