[Special issue] Utilizing different types of compressors

Author: sleepfreaks

Using different types of compressors to up your game


There are a variety of hardware simulator plugins available on the market, and have become a standard for use in DAWs.
Many users of these plugins have never stepped foot in an actual recording studio, and may wonder 「I know there are many types of compressors, but I don’t know what the difference is」.

For this article we will take a look at Slate Digital’s「Virtual Mix Rack」「Virtual Bus Compressor」, Waves「CLA-2A」as examples to compare and explain how to use different types of compressors.

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1_How to use different types of compressors – FET/VCA/tube

2_How to use different types of compressors – Optical

FET type


The biggest factor that sets FET compressors apart is the speed of its attack time.
Its a compressor that has a variety of uses, and works especially well for drums and percussion due to their fast/loud attack nature.


This type of compressor doesn’t have a threshold, and the compression amount is controlled via the input volume.
As an example of an 1176 type FET compressor, take a look at this article:


Because the attack time can be set fast, you can apply a heavier compression than other compressors, and works great for designing sounds.

Attack and release amounts make a big difference in the overall nuances, so let the song play and find the right settings for your sound.

VCA type


VCA type compressors are known for their natural sound.
It’s generally used on master/bus tracks, and creates a universal effect on a group of sounds to enhance them.


When using a VCA type compressor on a bus track, generally keep the gain reduction to around -2db, with a slow attack and fast release setting.
Set the makeup to make up for the amount of gain reduction set.

◆Settings when placing a VCA comp on a bus

Tube type


One of the biggest distinctions of a tube type compressor is that it applies mild harmonics to a sound just by running it through the compressor. It gives a bright sound with good a good amount of air.


In addition, similar to the「Fc-Mu」, the Fairchild 670 type tube compressors have both input and threshold knobs at the ready.
A popular use is to adjust the harmonics (overdrive) with the input, adjust the volume with the output, and and adjust the threshold to match the input amount.


Another popular use is to run the sound through without any compression, just as an effect.
We cover this topic later in a video, but when applied to vocals, it can be used as a sort of sonic enhancer.

OPT (optical) type


OPT (optical) compressors use the oldest type of technology.
It’s biggest characteristic is that there are no attack and release parameters on board. In addition, the default attack time is set very slow, and because of this it applies a very natural compression, making it still a very relevant tool to this day.


If applied to strong, because the comp is constantly applied, using it for just -2〜-3db of gain reduction is recommended. It works great for naturally controlling vocal levels.

We have some more details on how to use it below, so check out these articles.

Last, lets compare the 2 very different FET and OPT compressors.


When using a slow attack compressor like an OPT comp on a snare, it doesn’t have the same kind of an effect that you can achieve with a FET. Even applying more compression does not solve this problem.
This is a good example of the importance of knowing how to use different compressors for different uses.

Once you memorize these, you can apply different compressors for different situations smoothly.
Try improving your workflow by learning the characteristics of these compressors!