We’re continuing our round-up of last year’s most popular products on the Gearslutz.com forums, and this time we’re bringing you the most discussed compressor plug-ins of 2017! In no particular order...

Empirical Labs Arousor V3

Dave Derr took Gearslutz by storm when he announced that Empirical Labs was about to release a plug-in, and to the surprise of many it wasn’t the expected plug-in version of the coveted Distressor hardware! Instead, it was meant to be something more, an improvement over Derr’s highly successful original design which brought his latest developments in signal processing to the masses. Enter the Arousor, a plug-in that on one hand screams “Distressor” but on the other it takes the game to the next level by introducing new and unique features such as attack shape modification, soft clipping, a sidechain EQ and even more stuff to come, as the company promised initial users free updates until 2020 - which should give us plenty to speculate about in the meantime!

Slate Digital FG-Stress

Staying with the “Distressor theme” - Slate Digital is one of the top names in plug-in emulations and their highly-anticipated Distressor emulation FG-Stress is another bold statement from this ambitious company. This officially-licensed replica faithfully emulates the original design in a 1:1 approach, bringing that powerful and versatile compression sound to the Slate Virtual Mix Rack (aka the VMR) where it can be used in tandem with EQs and other processors. Not only does it add an exciting processor to Slate’s ever-growing platform, it also proves once more why they are one of the top references in the analog hardware emulation world.

SKnote Disto

If two Distressor emulations are not enough, then how about three? Disto may not be officially endorsed or have a big name behind it, but it’s not a lesser plug-in by any means. Sknote has been consistently putting out exciting new products over the past few years and it’s no different this time around, as Disto not only delivers a solid take on the “Distressor sound” but it seizes the opportunity to introduce a few novelties, allowing for better handling over saturation and headroom. If you’re in the Distressor-chasing game this one should definitely be on the list - be sure to check out this ongoing shootout thread posted by our users with plenty of files available for you to compare.

Klanghelm MJUC

The Klanghelm MJUC compressor is one of the Gearslutz membership’s favourites since its release in mid-2015. We have seen many small plug-in developers products come and go, but it seems like MJUC is here to stay, and its persistent popularity is easily explained by a great sound and a friendly price. The MJUC is not a hardware emulation, and even though it takes a few hints from some venerable names and is largely inspired by tube and FET compressors of the past, it’s mostly a brand-new design that puts together a number of references into a great plug-in that has certainly put Klanghelm on the map.

Kush Audio Novatron

Following on the highly successful UBK-1 (spoilers: see below!) - Kush Audio presented their latest plug-in compressor last year, the Novatron. This time the company has opted for a more traditional approach to compression and unlike the UBK-1 this is more conventional processor with a set of controls that should be instantly familiar. Although it is designed to have an “analog-like” quality Novatron is not directly emulating any particular hardware compressor. Instead, it’s modeled on several aspects of different tube-based units but it brings the power of DSP to enable possibilities that would be otherwise impossible to implement in the physical world. The end result is a very convincing compressor that was highly appreciated by the community, and it seems like Kush has made another tool that will be talked about for years to come.

Tokyo Dawn Labs TDR Kotelnikov – Gentleman’s Edition

So far our list has been all about capturing those elusive analog qualities of yesteryear’s best tools, but with their Kotelnikov compressor Tokyo Dawn Labs shows us once more that new ideas and digital compressors are not necessarily chalk and cheese. This plug-in comes in two flavours, a nicely-featured free “standard” version and a “Gentleman’s Edition/GE” version (featured), which adds more control over the compressor’s action, equal loudness controls, saturation and resulting tone. Both versions are derived from a fresh design that started with the now-discontinued TDR Feedback Compressor, and are now presented in a very polished, well-rounded packages in both the freebie and GE versions - and although ‘Gentleman’ may imply ‘expensive’ the “upgrade” price for this version is actually quite affordable and well worth the outlay.

Kush Audio UBK-1

By now we think it’s safe to say that some plug-ins have become all-time classics, and there are few of them more qualified for such a label as the Kush Audio UBK-1. Released back in 2009 it still one of the most mentioned names on our forums when it comes to unique compressors in plug-in form, with an exotic set of controls that not only allows for serious dynamic shaping but also enables a number of interesting saturation options. Kush Audio calls it a “motion generator”, which seems like a very accurate description of this quirky and unique plug-in, and those qualities might be precisely what made it so appreciated and enduring.

Black Rooster VLA-3A

Black Rooster Audio is a promising new company that is swiftly climbing our membership’s estimation ranks, releasing a considerable number of high quality plug-ins in a relatively short space of time. The VLA-3A stands out, delivering a plug-in based on the hardware UREI LA-3A (one of the most talked-about compressors on Gearslutz and one of the few classic analog compressor that isn’t widely emulated yet). The VLA-3A is pretty much a 1:1 copy of the LA-3A, and according to the developers not only the compression element, but the entire audio path of the hardware is emulated within it. According to most GS members in the know they have done a great job and the VLA-3A further solidifies the Black Rooster brand, so we’re looking forward to seeing what they come up with next!

DMG Audio TrackComp 2

Dave Gamble is known for crafting incredibly deep plug-ins under his DMG Audio banner - most notably the equalisation-behemoth Equilibrium - but this time it’s all about keeping things simple with the Track Comp, a plug-in designed to deliver five classic compression styles without making the user sweat. However, ‘simple’ does not mean ‘shallow’ with Track Comp, and as we have come to expect from DMG Audio this is still a highly flexible tool, without overwhelming the user with a myriad of options to tweak. Instead, it sticks to the core controls that are on most compressors and the heavy-lifting is mostly done under the hood, with the quality DSP that the company is known for. Sometimes simple is best!

Acustica Audio Ultramarine 4

Acustica Audio’s ambitious Nebula platform is a frequent topic of plug-in discussion on GS - and perhaps one of the more controversial and polarising technologies out there. The company has garnered a devoted following over the past few years thanks to their proprietary analog emulation process. Amongst their vast lineup of plug-ins is Aquamarine 3, an impressive compressor that follows the trail of the elusive Fairchild 670 tube compressor. Besides replicating the core features of the original unit it also adds some of its own twists too, such as an attack modification control, a variable sidechain filter on the detector path and it also presents Acoustica’s latest version of their “CORE” engine that greatly reduces the CPU load. If you haven’t tried an Acustica product yet it sounds like now is a very good time to fix that.

So that’s the 2017 wrap-up! Honourable mentions go to Sonimus TuCo, Brainworx bx_opto and the Waves API 2500 - 3 more tools you need to check out.
What are you looking forward to in 2018 in the world of compressor plug-ins? More (and improved) analog emulations of the classics? Brand new concepts and fresh designs that take full advantage of what digital has to offer? A bit of both? Share your thoughts with us below!