Sound: Snappy, lean and muscular; A versatile VCA-style buss compression à la SSL.
Great on: Mix buss, drum buss, acoustic instruments in dense mixes.
Extra features: Sweepable sidechain filter, Tweakable auto-release; Wet and dry controls; Excellent sound at both subtle and extreme settings.
Room for improvement: Other plugin companies may have more elegant GUIs.
Price: $99 direct
Recommended? For anyone who has yet to fall in love with an SSL-style compressor plugin: Definitely.
PSPaudioware is an unassuming little plugin developer based in Poland. Their marketing materials are slim, they lack the pervasive press coverage of the largest brands, and they keep their GUIs plain and efficient and their prices low.
But despite their boutique size and project-studio pricepoints, I’m consistently surprised to find that PSP is making some of the best plugins on the market. These are tools that compare favorably with – and sometimes outperform – the biggest names in the business.
The team at PSP was among the first to put out audio software with a convincingly analog edge. Their original Vintage Warmer plugin, released back in 2002, is now a classic, and its latest iteration, the over-sampling Vintage Warmer 2, is still one of the most powerful tools available for adding some natural-sounding sheen and attitude to digital tracks.
The largest software companies have gone on to develop their own tape emulators, some of which are more straightforward than the Vintage Warmer, but in large part, those big fish have just been playing catch-up with what small developers like PSP were doing a decade ago.
On the other hand, PSP has been a little late to the game when it comes to more conventional compressor plugins. Their tweak-friendly MixPressor and MasterComp plugins have been a popular part of their line, but it wasn’t until the release of the oldTimer in 2009 that they really took off with a traditional, simple-to-use compressor that had a distinct sound of its own.
The oldTimer has fast become a go-to character compressor on digital systems around the world – my own included. But where the oldTimer was PSP’s homage to classic tube compressors, the new BussPressor was made to fill the role of the classic VCA buss compressors made famous by SSL.
Sound and Vision
PSP’s slogan, “It’s the sound that counts” couldn’t be more apt. The BussPressor’s graphical interface may be plain, perhaps even a little drab compared to some of the other SSL-style compressor plugins out there, but its performance is among the best in its class.
When I compared the BussPressor to some of the most popular plugins in this style, I found it was either neck-and-neck with or better sounding than each. I preferred the sound of the BussPressor slightly to both Waves’ official SSL compressor and URS’ popular 1980 compressor. I also found that it compared favorably to the versions by UAD and Cytomic.
At $99 direct, the BussPressor is less expensive than each of its major competitors, with the sole exception of Cytomic’s The Glue, which also sells for $99.
When comparing these two, I found that I could easily make them sound essentially identical to my ears, albeit at slightly different settings.
If you want to get really nitpicky, you could try to describe exceedingly subtle differences between each of these plugins, some of which may be real, and some of which may be imagined. In the end they’re all the same type of animal, and PSP’s version easily held its own, and there was no similar plugin that clearly “bested” it in any way.
The BussPressor also compared favorably with the clips I had made with two hardware units: a G series clone and an SSL XLogic G Series compressor. I wouldn’t say that the BussPressor was indistinguishable, but even in my non-blind tests, any differences were small enough to keep me from missing the XLogic hardware unit that essentially lived on my mix buss at an old studio.
On gentle settings, I believe that I heard the hardware XLogic add subtle overtones that made the low-end sound slightly more 3-dimensional, but I can’t say that one of them inarguably sounded “better.” It’s a pretty major accomplishment for a $99 piece of software.
What the BussPressor clearly did not lack was the snappy-yet-pliable sound that makes this style of compressor an obvious choice for the mix buss on modern-sounding mixes. After experimenting with a few other plugins, it became the default stereo buss compressor on an entire album I’m currently mixing for the Sephardic indie rock band DeLeon.
As a nice additional feature, the auto-release mode on the BussPressor is influenced in small part by the settings of the release knob. This means that you can tailor the naturally smooth auto-release response to sound just a little more peppy or a little bit more sluggish as you may need.
With this auto-release function engaged, with the attack time set between 3ms and 15ms, and the ratio around 2:1 or 3:1, the BussPressor did a fantastic job of gluing things together and helping to give the mixes a “finished” sound when compressing by 1-4db at the loudest sections.
With the auto-release off, the BussPressor can have tremendous grit and attitude in its fast settings. Although these sounds were a little too bold to serve on the mix buss for this album, it sounded great on drums and for adding character and gritty edge to the sustain of a rock piano. Coupled with a super-fast attack time, these settings were great for softening the jagged attack of a banjo and giving its sound a more tape-like character.
I was also impressed by the BussPressor’s performance at extreme gain-reduction settings. I find that the sound of plugins can often begin to fall apart when they’re asked to limit the dynamic range by 10 dB or more, but the BussPressor was still smoking at settings higher than that. It maintained all of its snap, heft and realism even at -12, -16 dB and beyond.
For contrast, PSP’s oldTimer begins to take on a charming graininess by this point, and there are several plugins from other designers (which will remain nameless) whose graininess at these settings is not so charming at all.
Quibbles and Qualms
PSP has won me over once again, and I’m a true fan of the BussPressor. With that said, there are a couple of things that made me scratch my head:
In Pro Tools, a plugin’s controls should return to their default position when the user holds the option key and mouse-clicks them. This function seems to be disabled on the BussPressor on my system, and the same is true for PSP’s other plugins. This is not a deal breaker, but it’s a useful feature that was invented for a reason, and it would be a good fix for future versions.
My other quibble concerns the wet/dry controls. Instead of including one continuous knob that allows the user to blend between two signals, the “wet” and “dry” outputs each have their own independent output control.
While I’m sure that this was a design goal rather than an oversight, I found it to be an odd one, especially considering that PSP’s designers were such pioneers when they included a wet/dry knob on their Vintage Warmer ten years ago – long before these became a common feature on compressor plugins.
Perhaps there are situations in which this two-knob layout would lead to more creative choices, but to me it seems like it would involve extra time in setting balances more often than not. Before ruling on this for the record, I’ll have to give it some more time.