The Best Waves Compressor for Vocals

The Best Waves Compressor for Vocals

Let’s tighten up your vocals and get them playing well in your mix with the best Waves compressor for vocals.

Quick answer: if we were to choose one plugin in this list, the CLA-76 would be it. The CLA-76 often receives praises for its ability to really tighten vocals, as well as adding warmth and color.

Waves Audio took its rightful place amongst the best audio software manufacturers a long time ago. Even considering the ever-growing competition, every respectable audio producer or engineer has at least several Waves plugins that they use consistently.

The only problem with Waves Audio is that they have such a vast catalog of high-quality plugins that it’s extremely hard to distinguish the best. So in the article we narrowed down those choices to present to you.

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Top 7 Best Waves Compressor for Vocals

  1. CLA-76
  2. SSL E-Channel
  3. SSL G-Channel
  4. CLA-2A
  5. PuigChild Compressor
  6. Kramer PIE Compressor
  7. dbx 160 Compressor

Best Waves Compressor for Vocals Reviews

CLA-76

CLA-76

Pros
  • A superior plugin with a relatively low cost
  • Two plugins in one
Cons
  • None that we know of
See price @ Waves / @ Sweetwater
Best features and specs

Waves CLA-76 is a compressor that was made in collaboration with Chris Lord-Alge, one of the best audio engineers in the world. This plugin gives you a very meticulous and thorough digital recreation of 2 classic hardware compressors. A legendary UREI 1176 and a more modern instance which is called 1176 LN, both of those versions could be accessed in one instance of a plugin which makes it possible to switch between them on the go.

User impressions

Users are quite impressed with CLA-76 as it’s a truly outstanding and versatile compressor that adds character and grand presence to the vocals. It has a user-friendly and intuitive GUI, which makes it really easy to use. Users note that this compressor gives you absolute control over transients and deepness.

What we think

The one thing that 1176 is famous for is its “British mode,” where all of the ratios could be switched on simultaneously. And, of course, CLA-76 has a very convincing recreation of this mode, although you do not necessarily want to use it on the vocals, it might come in handy in situations when you need an almost distorted and aggressive sound.

Bottomline

CLA-76 is a perfect choice for someone who is looking for a very convincing and reliable recreation of a classic 1176. Although vocal is one of the things where it shines the most, this plugin has a more broad use which makes it even more valuable. And considering that you actually get 2 plugins for the price of one, it truly is a bargain.

SSL E-Channel

SSL E-Channel

Pros
  • A full channel strip plugin
  • Lots of factory presets
Cons
  • Settings are rather limited
See price @ Waves / @ Sweetwater
Best features and specs

SSL E-Channel is a digital emulation of the legendary Solid State Logic 4000-Series console. It has a 4 band parametric equalizer and high pass and low pass filters. The dynamic section features a limiter and a soft knee compressor. And although it wasn’t designed specifically for vocals, it certainly adds a lot of very classy vintage flavor to it.

User impressions

Users like SSL E-Channel for its versatility and especially how well it works on pop tracks. This compressor is consistent in high quality, maintains smoothness, and adds warmth. Users add that this compressor gives you the sound that can be heard from modern mixing boards. Also, the amount of features that this plugin has in itself is enough for anyone to satisfy their needs. Users note that the option that they like the most is the ability to EQ and compress in the same channel as it lessens the workload of the computer drastically.

What we think

Although SSL E-Channel recreates vintage console, it sounds very contained and refined. In other words, it doesn’t sound too vintage, but it still gives you a proper feel. Unfortunately, if you prefer a more surgical and precise approach to mixing, this one isn’t really for you. It was designed as a flavoring tool and not a precision weapon.

Bottomline

SSL E-Channel is a perfect choice for someone who is looking to add the sound of a vintage console to their arsenal. It’s also very beneficial that you have 2 mixing tools for the price of one. Because on top of a very gentle soft-knee compressor, you have a vintage equalizer with lots of flavor.

SSL G-Channel

SSL G-Channel

Pros
  • A full channel strip plugin
  • A vast majority of factory presets
Cons
  • Settings are rather limited
See price @ Waves / @ Sweetwater
Best features and specs

At first glance, SSL G-Channel and E-Channel are completely identical, apart from a few design nuances. One might even argue that they sound exactly the same, but in all actuality, this isn’t true at all. Those two plugins are based on two different versions of 4000-Series consoles with completely different circuitry. Although compressor modules are exactly identical, the equalizer in SSL G-Channel has a totally different and more aggressive curve. Filters also change the slope depending on the frequency.

User impressions

Users say that SSL G-Channel is one of the best channel strip plugins that they’ve ever used as it sounds incredibly realistic and gives you a lot of control over the sound. It has a very straightforward and user-friendly GUI. Users like that it’s really easy to use a compressor and built-in gate. When applied to vocals, this compressor increases the overall effect, making vocals coming out more fluid and smooth.

What we think

To put it simply, SSL G-Channel has significantly more mid-range punch compared to E-Series. But since the subject of our article is compressors, we might as well consider those two plugins identical since compressors are exactly the same and both are excellent. So it comes down to choosing between a more gentle and polished sound and a more aggressive one.

Bottomline

SSL G-Channel is a perfect choice for someone who is looking for a vintage console sound with a noticeable mid-range punch. Ideally, you should own both this plugin and E-Series, so you could choose between two different sound options. But if you have to pick one, rely purely on your taste. Or at least figure out what type of sound is more frequent in your projects.

CLA-2A

CLA-2A

Pros
  • Sound of optical tube compressor
  • Zero latency
Cons
  • Might be too aggressive
See price @ Waves / @ Sweetwater
Best features and specs

CLA-2A is another collaboration with Chris Lord-Alge. This time it’s a recreation of a legendary Teletronix LA-2A, an optic tube compressor from the 60’s. At some point in the past, it was a matter of necessity to have one in your studio, but today it’s almost impossible to find an original one on sale. So, CLA-2A is a perfect opportunity to have a legendary sound in your studio for a fracture of the cost.

User impressions

Users like CLA-2A for its ability to smooth tracks, amazing easiness to use, and rich vintage sound. It adds warmth to the sound. Also, it’s really easy to control the dynamic range, add clarity and make vocals stand out in the mix.

What we think

It’s hard not to appreciate the effort that Waves made with its CLA-2A. The warmth and silkiness of the sound are mesmerizing. That being said, at times, you may find this compressor to sound more aggressive than you would like it to. It’s very hard to consider it as a downside, and it’s even harder to find a project where the vocal wouldn’t benefit from additional coloration. But, nevertheless, those projects do exist, and if you find yourself working on one, you might find this plugin to be slightly over-excessive.

Bottomline

CLA-2A is a perfect choice for someone who is looking to add the iconic sound of LA-2A to their arsenal. You might find this compressor to be especially useful on rock vocals, vintage jazz vocals, or any other style that benefits from additional coloration.

PuigChild Compressor

PuigChild Compressor

Pros
  • Very convincing compression from the 50’s
  • MS processing
Cons
  • No dry/wet controls
See price @ Waves / @ Sweetwater
Best features and specs

PuigChild Compressor is a digital recreation of a very rare and vintage tube compressor. Fairchild 670, on which this plugin is based, these days cost truly a fortune, and even you’ve managed to get your hands on one, it takes 60 units of racks space and weights like a truck. So with PuigChild Compressor, you get not only an almost identical vintage sound but also the sheer practicality of owning digital audio software.

User impressions

Users agree that PuigChild Compressor is the best in providing smooth analog sound and make all your tracks sound professional. This compressor makes everything pop out, adds body and depth. Users say that with a lot of functions and features that this compressor is packed with, you can make everything that you want to sound as good as it can be.

What we think

PuigChild Compressor has mid-side processing with the addition of stereo processing which lets you compress each channel separately. This might not necessarily be implemented on vocals, but backing vocals or the voice with a stereo reverb combined with this plugin could give you a new level of flexibility.

Bottomline

PuigChild Compressor is a perfect choice for someone who is looking for a vintage tube compressor with a very reach and gritty sound. In fact, at times, it may sound so aggressive that you might regret that it doesn’t have dry/wet controls. In this case, you may consider using it on a separate track in parallel.

Kramer PIE Compressor

Kramer PIE Compressor

Pros
  • Sound of a 60’s vintage compressor
Cons
  • Small loss of high end
See price @ Waves / @ Sweetwater
Best features and specs

Kramer PIE Compressor is another recreation of a vintage compressor, but this time it’s British and from the 60’s. It’s a very sensitive and ballistic compressor with a lot of gritty and vintage flavor. The best thing about it is that it’s extremely hard to get it wrong, no matter what settings you use, it always sounds amazing.

User impressions

Users say that the Kramer PIE Compressor sounds wonderful on the master bus and mix bus. If applied to pop-like music, it brings a great dimension to the mix. Also, this compressor adds the needed amount of color, depth, warmth, and silkiness to vocals and everything else.

What we think

One might think about how many vintage compressors does one need? And the answer to that question is very simple – as much as possible. Kramer PIE Compressor gives you the right kind of flavor with the right kind of non-linear behavior. It’s a perfect compressor for making your vocals sound analog without making it sound too obvious.

Bottomline

Kramer PIE Compressor is a perfect choice for someone who is looking for another vintage compressor to add to their collection. What separates it from the rest is the full proof ability to sound amazingly on any settings. You may feel like you have enough vintage compressors, but see what you have to say after you try this one.

dbx 160 Compressor

dbx 160 Compressor

Pros
  • Very fast and aggressive vintage compressor
Cons
  • It’s very easy to over-compress
See price @ Waves / @ Sweetwater
Best features and specs

dbx 160 Compressor was made in collaboration with dbx, a manufacturer of the original hardware unit, as you can probably tell from the name. The modeling is so precise and convincing that many producers who have original hardware units in their studios tend to lean more towards the digital version for sheer convenience since the plugin sounds identical to the hardware compressor.

User impressions

Users like dbx 160 Compressor as it adds smoothness to the vocal without adding extra popping. Also, it adds the right amount of character to the vocals making it sound like in the late 70’s.

What we think

dbx 160 Compressor is a very versatile compressor since it can add a lot of punch to drums and guitars, but at the same time, it sounds very transparent and airy on vocals. But be careful though, it requires a lot of precision and attention since it’s extremely easy to make any sound over-compressed and somewhat unpleasantly distorted.

Bottomline

dbx 160 Compressor is a perfect choice for someone who is looking for a very ballistic and fast vintage compressor with a very versatile sound. You can treat it as a distortion box or a transparent gentle compressor with everything in between. Which gives you even more value since it can be used equally effectively on absolutely anything in the mix.

Waves Compressor for Vocals Buying Guide

A bit of history

Waves Audio is an audio software development company based in Tel-Aviv, Israel. It was founded in 1992, and later the same year, it released Q10 paragraphic equalizer, which became the first commercially available audio plugin in the world. In 1994, Waves Audio released its L1 Ultramaximizer, which defined the standard for modern music mastering. They also have an ongoing Signature Series in which they collaborate with various professionals of the industry, including Eddie Kramer, Chris Lord-Alge, and various legendary recording studios such as Abbey Roads.

What makes Waves so special

Apart from basically defining the idea of consumer audio software, Waves Audio offers even more value to the industry. They have a pretty impressive record of top-shelf audio plugins that are well-regarded and loved by audio engineers around the world. We can easily contribute this achievement to almost inhuman attention to details and groundbreaking software development. Even if you get your hands on some of the plugins of earlier generations, you can easily see that they stand their ground rather easily when compared side by side to their modern competitors, despite the rather outdated looks of those Waves plugins.

Compression for vocals

Before we dive into our list, it would be an excellent idea to define more clearly how to use a compressor with vocals. Considering that it all very much depends on the situation and artistic vision, there are no unified and universal compressor settings for vocals, that being a Waves compressor or a plugin from any other manufacturer. Since most of the time you want your vocal to still sound natural but more defined and present, you should use very moderate ratios so that it wouldn’t sound overcompressed. Slow attack and even slower release will bring vocals up front in the mix. If you want to tame the transients, use fast attack and release but be careful not to suck all the energy from the performance.

Important features

Since we’ve established that considering our settings, any compressor could do the trick when it comes to vocals. It’s rather hard to distinguish the best waves compressor for vocals since they all are top-shelf. But there’s one thing that is even more important than quality and functionality. When it comes to compressing vocals, the thing that is the most important for us is proper coloration. And speaking of coloration, there are a few Waves compressors that are on top of their game.

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