For years there have been plenty of compressors plugins on the market that offer tremendously clean and transparent dynamic control. Later on came countless emulations of the classics, which seem have to become progressively more convincing with each iteration.
But what about compressors that offer something a little more extreme and out-of-the-ordinary? Sure, a Fairchild or 1176 emulation can do interesting things when you set it to stun, but what about those unusual tools that can deliver aggressive, bold, unexpected and tone-bending results that other compressors can’t? Here’s our short list of 5 recent plugins that can help you create sounds you never thought possible.
The Omnipressor by Eventide
Today, hardware versions of the classic Eventide Omnipressor are rare, and often difficult to repair. Back in 1971, the Omnipressor offered a unique take on dynamics processing, and it wasn’t until the past few years that some of the most uncommon features of this mysterious tone-bender inspired fresh new product designs.
Quite plainly, the Omnipressor can do things that no other dynamics processor can. In place of a traditional ratio knob, this unit has a unique “function” control. Its continuously variable settings begin at hard gating in the left-most position, and as you turn the knob clockwise the Omnipressor moves through soft expansion, compression, hard limiting, and finally, even negative compression ratios.
These extreme negative compression settings are rarely seen in other audio tools. At its root, the Omnipressor’s negative compression mode does more than completely stop a signal from passing the threshold. In effect, it takes the loudest peaks and brings them down even further, beneath the threshold.
In other words, where a conventional limiter might stop a signal from rising 10dB past the threshold, these negative ratios smack that signal down further, so that it winds up 10dB below it. In practice, the negative compression mode can take the quietest parts of the signal and bring them up so that they become even hotter than the loudest parts. This can lead to a sound that’s not unlike a “reverse” effect.
Even in its traditional compression modes, the Omnipressor can be made to sound unlike anything else on the market. Its attack and release times can be set so blazing fast, and its gain reduction so deep, that its pumping effects can sound almost like a tremolo.
The Omnipressor also includes a knob that was innovative back in 1971, and can still seem innovative even now. Finally, other audio designers are beginning to include something like the Omnipressor’s “Attenuation Limit” control, but for a long time, it was a nearly forgotten variable in new gear.
This powerful feature allows you to dial in some serious, constant compression, and then put a cap on the maximum amount of gain reduction allowed.
Using the Attenuation Limit in this way allows you to create startling, dramatic sounds and then reel them in a bit, or to maintain a consistent compression tone while keeping some of the underlying dynamics of the performance.
I’ve found the plugin especially useful on a parallel drum bus, and to help shape unexpected effects during the bridge of a song. It also works surprisingly well for reshaping the sound of a guitar solo, which may help explain why Queen’s Brian May was one of the first owners of the original hardware. He kept one in his touring rig.
Keep in mind that the Omnipressor is not the kind of plug-in that you should expect to use on every track, or even on every song. Even the most daring of mixers are unlikely to pull out this powerful tool on more than one mix out of every ten. But when it’s the right fit, nothing else is quite like it.
Back when the Omnipressor existed only as rare, vintage hardware or as a TDM plugin, it might not have been a justifiable purchase for every studio. But now that it’s available on native systems for only $99, the Eventide Omnipressor is a great buy for the jaded mixer who thinks he already has it all.
Valley People Dyna-mite by Softube
The Valley People Dyna-mite is a versatile VCA dynamics box with a tone all of its own. The original hardware unit was a useful expander, gate and de-esser all in one. But where it’s most unique is in the sound of its limiter and compressor functions.
The tone of the Dyna-mite is like a dbx 160 on steroids; a cartoon rendition of the smooth-but-snappy compression of the best VCA compressors. Hitting the limiter on this box is like driving your sound into a solid wall of brick marshmallows at 60 m.p.h.
Like the Omnipressor, the Valley People Dyna-mite allows several modes of operation and includes a useful control that limits the maximum amount of gain reduction allowed. But while the Omnipressor can easily be made to sound jittery, aggressive and blown-out, the Dyna-mite is thick like peanut butter, creamy and chunky all at once.
It excels naturally on bass, can bring unexpected tone and impact out of room mics and parallel drum bus, but the Dyna-mite can also be used to help create unexpected vocal tones for adventurous artists.
Since it’s made by Softube, you can expect everything that company is known to do well: The GUI is beautifully rendered and fun to look at, and the plugin has a unique and memorable tone, even at subtle settings. In that way, it feels so much like hardware, and just like the rest of Softube’s line.
Once again, this is not a “use-it-everywhere” kind of box. But when it fits, it’s like a supple leather glove. At $159 the Dyna-mite is a good value for those looking for a distinctive new flavor of the VCA variety.
The elysia mpressor by Plugin Alliance
When the hardware version of the elysia mpressor was released in 2008, it was unlike anything else on the market. In a landscape dominated by vintage recreations, the mpressor seemed to be one of the only forward-looking boutique compressors out there. In many ways, it owes its heritage to the kind of unconventional thinking that went into both the Omnipressor and the Dyna-mite, and winningly represents the next generation of these kinds of designs.
The mpressor is far more transparent than either the Omnipressor or the Dyna-mite, but it still offers a unique tone. It’s uncanny for bringing surprising amounts of “pock” and “smack” out in drums, and can squeeze a bass within inches of its life without robbing it of power and depth.
As we’ve seen before on this list, the mpressor once again offers an extremely useful “Gain Reduction Limit” control, as well as negative compression modes that can help deliver unexpected results.
In addition to these once-forgotten features, the mpressor’s unique “niveau filter” allows broad tonal shaping unlike anything you’ll find in other compressors. This powerfully simple EQ lets you select a center frequency, and then simultaneously raise bass and lower treble above and below that point – or vice-versa. The result can be a subtly or radically new sound, minus the sometimes grating artifacts of a run-of-the-mill parametric EQ.
In practice, this elysia plugin may be more flexible than the Omnipressor or Dyna-mite, both in its ease of use, and because it exerts less of its own distinct color over the sound being mangled. But make no mistake – it’s still a compressor with tremendous character. It can force steadiness and impact without sucking out life, and it sounds modern, streamlined and smooth even at extreme settings.