This is my favorite 5 hardware compressors I’ve used. These are not things I've heard about or would like to own, these are 5 pieces I’ve had the pleasure of using in tracking, mixing, or sound design scenarios.
Here they are (not in order of importance)
#1. Tube tech CLB 1
This is one of the finest compression tools available. I love this thing on guitars, drums, and vocals. It’s fast enough to tame peaks, yet gentle enough to round out a vocal. The smooth tube characteristic makes this without a doubt the most versatile on the list. I love the output gain stage on this one. Has some weight but not too noisy.
#2. Teletronix LA-2A
What can I say about this beauty that hasn’t already been said? This is the gold standard for optical compression. The almost foolproof controls make you listen to your signal and get the best results rather than relying on some archaic formula. The program-dependent nature of this thing makes it killer on vocals and bass. The harder you drive, the more compression. So it literally sounds different every time you use it. Which means it’s a box full of unlimited flavors. If you can afford it, make sure to grab it and never let it go!
#3. Solid State Logic G Buss
Next is one of the most lauded compressors of all time. Second only to the 1176 as far as popularity is concerned. This thing can turn your drum mixes or overall mix up to 10! I’ve had the pleasure of using the vintage version inside of an SSL 4000 E console as well as the 500 series version. Just running your mix through it to get the glue can make a world of difference and do wonders for your mix. Every lunchbox should have this thing. It’s a small price to pay to give your music that big console sound we desperately crave when working ITB.
#4. DBX 160
My next selection would be the only one currently not being manufactured. This vintage beast is the quintessential drum compressor. I love it, particularly on snare and hi-hats. Maybe because of the transient nature, those two seem to come to life when run through this thing. I’ve also used it on vocals (Screamo style) and it was awesome! Basically anything fast and violent is beautifully tamed by this thing. Definitely on my compressor bucket list!
MSRP- varies, second hand
#5. API 2500
Last on my list is my favorite drum Buss compressor. I’ve sent wimpy drums through this thing and they came out fat and aggressive. Probably one of the best and most underrated sound design tool because of the different compression modes and the Thrust circuit. Even though the new “upgraded” version has been released, I’m still fond of the original.
MSRP- varies, second hand