Best Compressor / Limiter
Compression and limiting may be one of the more difficult to understand concepts for those who are not as well-versed in the world of audio engineering, but those who do understand their importance recognize that these tools can truly make or break a recording. Compressors reduce a signal’s louder volume peak while boosting the quieter sounds in order to deliver a more balanced result. Limiters are similar to compressors, but perform the same function in a much more extreme way (a greater ratio of compression). While a typical compressor has a ratio of 20:1 (meaning, for instance, that for every 20 decibels that the signal goes over the threshold, the compressor only lets one through) or less, limiters have ratios that can go as high as 100:1. We've chosen these picks as the best compressor/limiters available today, with each one listed here equipped with onboard controls to adjust parameters such as attack and release, they weigh less than 20 lbs for easy transport and compact usability, and they also offers a visual cue (either LED light or VU meter) to help draw some context as to how the control is affecting the signal that runs through it.
API 2500 Stereo Compressor
Warm Audio WA76 Discrete Compressor
DBX 1066 Dual Compressor Limiter Gate
PreSonus ACP88 8-Channel Compressor Limiter
Summit Audio TLA-100A
API’s 2500 compressor is the real deal, a unit that provides unparalleled compression that is so acclaimed that there are software plug-ins that exist that seek to emulate its great sound. Like most compressors, the 2500 offers selectable ratio, attack, and release times and a variety of knees to help dial in the right kind of compression. What makes the unit notable is its ability to switch between “old” and “new” compression with the former employing a feedback style of compression that was first utilized in the API 525, while the latter uses a feed forward approach that directs the compressor’s side chain directly from the unit input. This results in a variety of potential sounds to help mold your audio and make it sound great. While the 2500 is a stereo compressor, it can also be used in mono mode for mono sources.
Some of the most powerful voices in music today have utilized the Warm Audio WA76 Limiting Amplifier, including R. Kelly, Aretha Franklin, and Jennifer Hudson. Any device that can wrangle in the extremely dynamic voices of those artists is surely one that has a firm grasp on dynamics. The unit is actually built as a modern reproduction of the Classic ’76 Revision D, but it’s not just a knockoff as it actually uses the same components comprising that legendary piece of gear. Its response is lighting-fast, and the signal path that you route through this limiter will remain unaffected thanks to its discrete design. The unit also comes with a one-year warranty to protect your precious new purchase.
The dbx 1066 compressor/limiter/gate’s dual channels offer program-dependent attack and release or can be selected via a user-definable setting. The classic dbx settings are offered here as a preset, or you can manually adjust your attack and release. The unit’s PeakStopPlus limiting prevents against unwanted distortion, but also allows you to set a threshold to allow some in to add character to your signal. The 1066’s contour switch takes out any unwanted low frequency information. Despite the plethora of audio options that this single unit has to offer, it weighs less than six lbs and only takes up a single rack space, so it is ideal for engineers who already have plenty of gear on their plate.
Working in live settings presents an interesting conundrum to engineers looking to add compression or limiting to the mix because what’s good for one element is not necessarily what every audio source needs. Enter the PreSonus ACP88, a unit that not only acts as a compressor, limiter, and gate effect, but also employs eight separate channels in order to do so. Each channel can be linked to the other channels in any order; link groups are also able to be created. Having eight separate compressor/limiter and gate settings in one single unit doesn’t just provide precision to the individual sounds running through the unit, but it also eliminates space in the rig that would otherwise be dedicated to housing separate units. Bright LED lights are another reason why this unit is a clear winner for those operating in a live environment.
The Summit Audio TLA-100A was regarded as a must-have compressor/limiter back in the 1980s, thanks in no small part to its “set-and-forget” status. The unit’s program dependent nature is made to work with the signal being fed into it, allowing users to simply set it and leave it alone without having to monitor it the entire time. The unit combines both solid state and tube technology, resulting in a warm sound that harkens back to a vintage era, while its quick attack times represent more of a modern flourish that also makes it easy to work with various instruments in pop music. The TLA-100A is hand-built and crafted in the USA. It also comes with a three-year limited warranty.