15-Compressor Shootout: Lead Vocals

No question, there are a lot of compressor plugins out there, and they all have their unique layouts, quirks, and sonic qualities. In the video below, we line up 15 different compressors and demonstrate these differences.

Below the video, you’ll also find a helpful updated list of key features, a downloadable chart, and links to learn more about the compressors that do not come standard with SONAR Platinum. If you’re not familiar many compressor plugins, I recommend starting here.

It’s worth noting that this video demonstrates a limited scope of each compressor’s capabilities. Since the compressor is being used to level out a vocal performance, each one has been set up optimally for the application, usually with a low ratio and fairly fast attack and release wherever applicable.

Every possible measure was taken to keep the responses and output levels of each compressor as uniform as possible so that the shootout makes for a consistent apples-to-apples comparison. In the future, keep an eye out for more of these shootouts, as the same tools might have totally different effects on a snare drum, acoustic guitar, electric bass, or saxophone.


This limiter is great for taming wild peaks and adding excitement to a track. I wouldn’t typically put it on a lead vocal, but when pushed,  it introduces a noticeable pumping effect that may be desirable.

  • Threshold: Fixed | Uses Boost Level Instead
  • Attack: Fixed
  • Release: Fixed
  • Ratio: Fixed (Limiter, very high ratio)


BT Analog Trackbox

02_BT Analog Trackbox

This is a fantastic plugin for just about any track, with Hi- and Lo-Pass Filters, Saturation, Gate/Expansion, Compression, and 4-Band EQ. The compressor is fairly transparent and very smooth, great for vocals and other lead instruments.

  • Threshold: Variable
  • Attack: 1ms – 400 ms
  • Release: 50 ms – 2 sec
  • Ratio: Variable | 1:1 – 10:1



BT_CP2S_Compressor Shootout

This compressor is very versatile with a very wide range of continuously variable attack, release, and ratio settings. It’s great for adding subtle warmth when pushed and can perform lots of gain reduction without sounding too “squashed.”

  • Threshold: Variable
  • Attack: 1 ms – 1 sec
  • Release: 50 ms – 5 sec
  • Ratio: Variable | 1:1 – ∞:1


BT FA-770

BT_FA770_Compressor Shootout

The FA-770 is an emulation of a highly sought-after vintage hardware compressor. Its claim to fame is the Time Constant selector which has preset attack and release values. The hard knee on this compressor lends itself more to high-transient program material like drums and percussion but can introduce a level of excitement to a vocal as well.

  • Threshold: Variable
  • Attack/Release: Determined by Time Constant
    • 1: 0.2 ms (A) / 20 ms (B) / 300 ms (R)
    • 2:0.2 ms (A) / 20 ms (B) / 800 ms (R)
    • 3: 4 ms (A) / 40 ms (B) / 2 sec (R)
    • 4: 4 ms (A) / 40 ms (B) / 5 sec (R)
    • 5: 40 ms (A) / 120 ms (B) / 600 ms (R)
    • 6: 40 ms (A) / 120 ms (B) / 300 ms (R)
  • Ratio: Fixed | Varies based on Input and Level over Threshold


Cakewalk Compressor/Gate

05_Cakewalk_Compressor/Gate Shootout

This dual-purpose dynamics plugin has both a compressor and noise gate function that can be used simultaneously. The compressor itself is highly transparent and good for rounding out a performance, and the gate features a useful “Manual Trigger” function for creating pulses.

  • Threshold: Variable
  • Attack: 0 – 500 ms
  • Release: 0 ms – 4 sec
  • Ratio: Variable | 1:1 – 50:1


MAX Style Dial

MAX Style Dial_Compressor Shootout

This ProChannel module is great for getting a very quick setting. It acts as more of a limiter than a compressor, which again does an excellent job of taming peaks. While it’s certainly more suited for percussive applications, it has no problem bringing a vocal to the forefront of any mix.

  • Threshold: Fixed (varies based on dial placement)
  • Attack: Fixed
  • Release: Fixed
  • Ratio: Fixed


PC-4K Bus Comp

07_PC4K Bus Compressor

The versatility of this compressor’s controls makes it an easy go-to in almost any situation, but I was actually surprised at how well this performed on a vocal because it’s typically used for “glue” on a stereo bus. It sounded like the mid-range frequencies were a little more open and “free” with this, making it an easy choice for vocals, drums, and guitars as well.

  • Threshold: Variable
  • Attack: 0.1 ms – 30 ms
  • Release: 100 ms – 1.2 sec; Auto
  • Ratio: Selectable | 2:1, 4:1, 10:1



08_PC76 Compressor Shootout

When you want to even out the level of a performance (or absolutely crush the dynamic range), this is your go-to. The PC76 has the shining ability to make performances stand out in the mix with even the most subtle application.

  • Threshold: Fixed | Uses Input Level Instead
  • Attack: 0 – 1.2 ms
  • Release: 50 ms – 1.2 sec
  • Ratio: Selectable | 4:1, 8:1, 12:1, 20:1, ∞:1


Sonitus Compressor

09_Sonitus_Compressor Shootout

As far as versatility goes, this is my absolute favorite. Adjustable knee and complete transparency makes this a great choice for any track, and the visual response is great for training your ears to really hear how your settings affect the compression effect.

  • Threshold: Variable
  • Attack: 0 – 400 ms
  • Release: 1 ms – 4 sec
  • Ratio: Variable | 0.4:1 – ∞:1


VX-64 Vocal Strip

10_VX-64_Vocal_Strip Compressor Shootout

This plugin was made for vocal application… Obviously — just look at the name! I found that this compressor is not necessarily transparent. While subtle, it definitely adds a pleasant saturation to the vocal that can help it stand out in the mix without actually being any louder.

  • Threshold: Variable
  • Attack: 0.1 ms – 100 ms
  • Release: Fixed
  • Ratio: Variable | 1:1 – ∞:1

+10dB Compressor
(Not included with SONAR Platinum – Learn More)


The +10dB Compressor is so much more than a pretty face. While the 3 attack settings may not seem like they provide much variety, you’ll be amazed at how much these settings change how tight or open the resulting sound becomes. Not to mention, the Dry knob allows for built-in Parallel Processing. I love this compressor on drum buses and tracks, but I really enjoyed how open the upper midrange felt on the vocal.

  • Threshold: Fixed | Uses Input Level Instead
  • Attack: Selectable | 0.25 ms, 2.5 ms, 25 ms
  • Release: Selectable | 25 ms, 50 ms, 100 ms, 200 ms, 400 ms, 800 ms, 1.6 sec, 3.2 sec, Auto
  • Ratio: Variable | 1:1 – ∞:1


(Not included with SONAR Platinum – Learn More)


Another hardware emulation, the CA-2A might be the ultimate vocal compressor. Notice how the response is very smooth and the result is an incredibly warm and silky vocal.

  • Threshold: Fixed | Varies based on Peak Reduction setting
  • Attack: Fixed | Varies based on Peak Reduction setting
  • Release: Fixed | Varies based on Peak Reduction setting
  • Ratio: Fixed | Varies based on Peak Reduction setting and Level over Threshold


Concrete Limiter
(Not included with SONAR Platinum – Learn More)

13_Concrete Limiter_Compressor Shootout

Another limiter designed to tame peaks, I felt this performed better on the vocal than the Boost11 because it did not create that pumping artifact. While that can certainly be desirable in some cases, the Concrete Limiter does a great job of transparently removing some dynamic range from a performance.

  • Threshold: Variable
  • Attack: Fixed
  • Release: 1 ms – 2.5 sec
  • Ratio: Fixed (Limiter, very high ratio)


PC-4K Channel Comp
(Not included with SONAR Platinum – Learn More)

14_PC4K Channel Compressor Shootout

Yet another hardware emulation, the PC-4K Channel Compressor is equipped to handle any track. With a slow attack and high ratio, this one packs a serious punch. Conversely, the fast attack and moderate ratio made this vocal performance surprisingly fluid and sleek.

  • Threshold: Variable
  • Attack: Selectable | Fast (~5 ms) or Slow (~35 ms)
  • Release: 100 ms – 4 sec
  • Ratio: Variable | 1:1 – ∞:1


VKFX Compressor
(Not included with SONAR Platinum – Learn More)


Another all-purpose compressor with a very subtle warmth and presence that lends a silky quality to the mids. I’m particularly fond of the lack of markings on the UI, which forces you to use your ears to get your desired settings.

  • Threshold: Variable
  • Attack: Variable
  • Release: Variable
  • Ratio: Fixed

Click here to download Compressor Comparison Chart
Click here to download the Compressor Shootout list as a printable chart

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