Multiband compressors are flexible music production tools with a variety of applications. In more recent years, we’ve seen a tendency towards “over-the-top” or OTT multiband compression which trades dynamics for texture – smashing your audio and bringing all the grit to the foreground in the process. But this is just one possible use.
Long story short, a multiband compressor gives a music producer the best of both worlds: dynamic range control and tonal shaping. So, what’s better than a great multiband compressor plugin, you ask? A great free multiband compressor plugin.
What’s better than that? Eight of them, of course!
There is clearly no shortage of free multiband compressors, but not all of them are worth the download. Sometimes, you really do get what you pay for. That’s why we have rounded up eight killer multiband compressors that can juice up your individual tracks and busses.
Touted as a mastering grade plugin, Convergence provides super clean and precise dynamic control and a good deal of configuration options. They offer a free VST, which is the subject of this review.
To my eyes, the GUI is immediately inviting and modern without being cluttered with too many controls. The sound aims at utmost digital accuracy, with a very minimal phase shift. More importantly, the plugin is impressively efficient in terms of CPU consumption.
In the free VST you can choose between 2 and 4 freq. bands. The paid/premium version can have up to 10. The main spectrum analyzer display lets you easily adjust the crossover points of these bands.
Our favorite feature is the ability to link any of the compression controls across all the bands. This means you can increase or decrease the value of any parameter for all the bands at once. Each band can also be heard in solo, with the ability to solo multiple bands together.
The plugin packs in envelope and compression curve displays (gain reduction display is only in the paid version) for accurate real-time visualization. Oversampling up to 2x is available (8x in paid version) to top off an already impressive feature set.
Convergence is worth checking out, especially as a field test for the premium version. It looks great and provides precise feedback of the compression process, true to its mastering grade tag. Yes, it’s relatively limited compared to the premium version but still offers top-grade features.
2. GMulti by GVST
GMulti should be the first thing you check out if you want a transparent multi-band compressor plugin. It may look deceivingly simple, but it’s quite sophisticated under the hood. You can read the online manual and download the plugin here.
Performance & Features
GMulti fixes the number of bands at three. The presence of only 3 bands simplifies the process and saves some time while still delivering quality results. A mix knob is also a thoughtful addition to achieve parallel processing.
The crossover frequencies of the bands are user-defined. Any band can be muted for monitoring individual frequency ranges. A global control for input gain and a useful high pass filter are also provided for volume matching and avoiding low-end pumping effects.
The plugin can be set quickly to get great results. It performs very well in taming harshness in the high end for drum busses (cymbals) or full-mixes. On the low end, I found it great for preventing bass or heavy guitars from getting muddy.
GMulti’s stereo width control is my favorite feature by far. Each band sports a width control to increase stereo information or collapse down to mono.
It’s killer stuff when you want to tighten up the bass while widening the highs to make a full-sounding yet controlled master.
GMulti is totally free – you’re not getting a limited version of a pricier plugin. For individual elements or larger groups, this plugin is a great pick to add to your toolkit of VST compressor plugins for quick recall.
3. ReaXComp by Cockos
ReaXComp is part of the ReaPlugs collection, the set of stock plugins in the Reaper DAW, available for all other DAWs as well. As with Reaper’s other stock plugins, ReaXComp’s approach is to prioritize high performance with a microscopic CPU footprint. See if you can spot any visual compromises they made along the way!
Performance and Features
The GUI is as no-frills as it gets, with a highly accurate real-time spectral display and a tabbed view for each band. But don’t let the lack of fancy graphics fool you; ReaXComp is extremely powerful and versatile.
ReaXComp supports practically unlimited individual frequency bands. From sculpting to high-quality crossovers, it can handle even the most minute, demanding mastering tasks with ease. Each band can be solo’d to hear what is happening precisely.
And… it also works as a multiband expander – a feature rarely found on other multi-band compressors in this roundup (or otherwise). Each band can be set to a ratio less than 1, which makes that band’s function invert and perform expansion.
ReaXComp also provides a very useful ‘program-dependent release’ which automatically varies the release of the band according to the nature of the input signal. An auto-makeup gain function and sidechain ability round out this seriously serious plugin.
ReaXComp is the lord of the highly customizable multiband compressors. However, the emperor has no clothes, so you will have to get around the GUI (or the lack of it).
ReaXComp can be made to sound fantastic on practically any source, or rather, make any source sound fantastic. What’s really absurd is you get all the sound quality with no latency and minimal phase shift for free!
4. T-Sledge by Sweetboy
Adding T-Sledge to the list (and seeing that interface) is almost like a throwback. It’s an oldie but a goodie.
It is a specialized mastering compressor with a huge range of tricks. The plugin features a peak limiter, level maximizer, 4-band compression module, and more.
Performance and Features
T-Sledge’s bands are divided into low, low mid, high mid, and high, with a separate attack, threshold, ratio, and release for each band. You can select between a soft and hard knee style compression for each band. The ratio can be set to less than 1 to make the band work in expansion mode.
Setting it to its maximum value makes it function as a limiter. The plugin also sports an Auto Release Control mode that calculates release time continuously according to the input material. T-Sledge also provides two kinds of dividing filters: IIR and FIR.
FIRs are more accurate but introduce latency and hence might be suited only to mastering purposes. IIR is computationally efficient, ensuring that the plugin adapts well to mastering as well as real-time use.
T-SLEDGE is a multi-band compressor for mastering, equipped with a peak limiter, level maximizer, and 4 compressors/expanders/limiters. It is equipped with 2 kinds of dividing filter IIR/FIR, meaning it also operates as a dynamics EQ.
T-Sledge may not rank as the best free compressor plugin but it is far from outmoded. From gentle to aggressive compression, this Winamp-era plugin will sit well with anyone who wants a professional sounding multiband compressor to shape their sound.
It is especially suitable for a master bus or an instrument group with a wide range of frequencies.
5. OTT by Xfer Records
Short for ‘Over The Top’, the Xfer plugin lives up to its name, and should be considered to be nothing short of an EDM staple (or so I’m told).
As the name might suggest, this free multiband compressor VST is at its conventional best when used sparingly, but can achieve extreme effects when pushed.
Performance and Features
OTT is a visually simple but sonically explosive multiband compressor. It is a 3-band upward/downward compressor with an interface displaying bands for low, mid, and high frequencies.
The plugin doesn’t mention what these ranges are, leaving it to your ear to gauge the sound to figure out what is best. The usage is simple: two knobs control the overall amount of upward and downward compression.
Sliders on each band control the amount of compression for each band. The overall gain of each band can further be adjusted, making OTT act like a 3-band EQ.
Globally, the Depth control decides the overall intensity of the plugin’s effect. Usually, a small Depth value is enough to get significant results, but you can really go ‘over the top’ by cranking the dial.
A simple ‘Time Control’ adjusts both attack and release times from fast to slow. Finally, overall input and output trim gain can also be set.
Xfer’s OTT ranks high in popularity among the free multiband compressor plugins in the electronic music scene for squeezing some extra loudness from a track. That said, it has the potential to be used cleverly in any other genre as well.
The comparatively fewer controls and simplistic design encourage you to trust your ear, which results in a faster workflow in the long run (or so I’m told).
While the conventional MBC plugins work in parallel (i.e. they process each band independently in parallel and then sum the result), this plugin processes each band one after the other in the order defined by the user.
Performance and Features
For this plugin, the crossover frequency ranges react differently. If a compressor stage coming after the current one has a target range that overlaps with the current one, that frequency range will undergo compression from both stages one after the other.
MCS6 is a serial multiband compressor and saturator. Six stages of processing allowing many combinations - you can compress, saturate, equalize, control the stereo, and de-ess. The clear user interface is also optimized for fast and precise workflow.
MSCS6 is unique and precise due to its detailed metering and visual feedback. The addition of saturation per band expands its tonal palette apart from its dynamic control capabilities.
Its serial mode of operation must be considered, however, as it can yield different results from what one would normally expect from a multiband compressor.
The plugin doesn’t cost a penny but there is one caveat: it’s only available for Windows in 32-bit VST format.
7. Dynasaur by Analog Obsession
Note: Technically, the next two plugins are dynamic equalizers and not strictly multiband compressors owing to the difference in parameters and filtering function. However, the practical effects of both these processes in music production are very similar and somewhat interchangeable.
Dynasaur is a 5-band dynamic equalizer with adjustable detection modes per band. Instead of crossover frequencies like in conventional multi-band compressors, it uses selectable frequencies and bandwidth (Q-factor) values like equalizers.
In function, however, it works similarly to a multiband compressor in that it will perform gain reduction dynamically per band according to the set threshold and ratio.
Performance and Features
The plugin sports an interface emulating hardware units, with labeled knobs instead of a graphical display. The controls are well calibrated and the curves sound musical. Despite being free, the plugin sounds and feels quite ‘premium’.
The standout feature is that Dynasaur lets you select between Peak and RMS mode. The RMS mode detects average levels across a set time window rather than instantaneous peaks.
This is very useful for lower frequencies where peaks aren’t as prominent but the average energy is higher.
Conversely, Peak mode reacts very fast to instantaneous spikes in signal level to trigger a reduction in gain. This is helpful for taming fast transients in high frequencies. Dynasaur lets you choose between either mode for each band to find the best shape for your sound.
Dynasaur is a dynamic equalizer with RMS & PEAK mode. It is the best helper to tame your annoying frequencies. Dynamically ride your EQ or shape your sound with pure static EQ. Use it as de-esser, multi-band compressor, or peak rider!
Dynasaur is a great tool that lends itself to many uses, from a broadband compressor to taming specific problem areas and de-essing.
Like all other Analog Obsession plugins, it costs nothing unless you choose to support the development voluntarily via Patreon.
8. TDR Nova by Tokyo Dawn Labs
Tokyo Dawn Labs has earned a well-deserved reputation for high-quality plugins, paid or otherwise. Among them, TDR Nova is a great tool that justifies all the high praise it receives.
However, Tokyo Dawn Labs does offer Nova GE – a premium version with an expanded feature set for music production.
Performance and Features
TDR Nova is a 4-band dynamic EQ that can be precisely tuned to cover a large variety of applications: broadband compression, static EQ, de-essing, harshness/resonance suppression, and multiband compression/expansion.
The inbuilt spectrum analyzer is fast and accurate, providing real-time displays of both the input signal as well as the dynamic changes in each band. Each band can be set to one of three filter modes, with a dedicated attack, release, and threshold controls per band.
The ratio can be set to less than or more than 1 for compression or expansion.
The GUI is extremely polished, the light ring metering around the threshold and gain dials being the standout features for me. They provide immediate visual feedback about the incoming signal level in relation to the threshold and the resultant gain reduction.
NOVA is a parallel dynamic equalizer. Appearing in the familiar layout of a parametric equalizer, each band also includes a full-featured dynamics section allowing the processor to cover an impressively wide range of applications.
TDR Nova is transparent and precise, with auto gain compensation to accurately monitor the changes in the audio signal without being distracted by changes in loudness. A wet/dry mix, LP and HP filter, band soloing, and the ability to monitor the delta (difference) signal round out what is possibly the most comprehensive plugin on this list. And that’s just the freebie version!
So, you can see that the freeware realm is now vast enough to accommodate everything from a brick-wall limiter to standard compression to dynamics processors.
Whether you are out to squash or expand, the multiband compressors on this list have enough variety to experiment with. If you are also hunting for a free “single-band” compressor, we have you covered with our 6 best free VST compressor plugins.