Home > Guides > Best budget hardware compressors
best budget hardware compressors

Best budget hardware compressors

Hardware compressors are just as important now as they have always been, even with breakthroughs in the quality of plug-ins. No one can deny the weight and presence that they give to a signal whether they are used on the front end or during mixing and mastering. These are the best budget hardware compressors available today.

Why Choose a Hardware Compressor? 

With the amazing improvements of digital audio over the last few years why go with a hardware compressor at all? While it’s true compressor plug-ins can do some amazing things, there are a few reasons why you might want to have a few pieces of hardware compressors at your disposal.

You can get a bigger, more in-your-face sound by using some tasteful hardware compression during tracking. You don’t need much, as you want to leave most of the dynamics intact for mixing. This can be much more effective than using “input effect plug-ins” (or whatever your DAW of choice calls it).

Best compact stereo compressor: FMR RNC 1773

fmr rnc 1773
best compact stereo compressor
FMR RNC 1773
Stereo compressors don’t get anymore compact than this. With a nice control set and a compact size you’ll have no issues finding space for it.
Two modes for different sonic options
Cascading compression style reduces artifacts
Fast attack times great at catching transients
Might not be everyone’s preferred style of compression

By far the smallest hardware stereo compressor you’ll find, the RNC is simple and operates in two modes – normal and SuperNice. SuperNice mode is an innovative idea, using cascading compression to reduce artifacts in the compressed signal.

The attack times are fast, making it great on drum overheads and stereo room mics. And you can easily integrate it with your setup via ¼” inputs/outputs and a side-chain insert. Even at larger gain reduction levels the RNC lends an airy type of compression that doesn’t sacrifice the high end.

Best 1176 style hardware compressor: KlarkTeknik 1176-KT

klarkteknik 1176-kt
Best 1176 style hardware compressor
KlarkTeknik 1176-KT
The 1176 is one of the best compressor designs of all time. This affordable model offers the same type of FET compression on a budget.
Great 1176 sound on a budget
Same control layout as an authentic 1176
Midas transformers
Some complaints about quality
Buy From

The classic FET compression of an 1176 is ubiquitous in the music world, and there might not be a better take on it at a lower price point than this offering from KlarkTeknik.

Aesthetically it’s identical to a standard 1176 and offers all of the controls and ratios (including the famous all-buttons-in). High-quality Midas transformers help to maintain a professional sound at a budget price point.

Best hardware compressor for mods: ART Pro VLA

art pro vla ii
Best hardware compressor for mods
This stereo optical compressor gives a gentle style of compression. It’s also easy to mod and get different sounds out of it.
Stereo optical compressor
A lot of mods available
Affordable price point
Slower compression style won’t work in all situations

The natural, transparent style of compression given by units like the famous LA2A are a great complement to any recording setup. The Pro VLA is a tube compressor that offers this type of compression/leveling at a budget price point.

Its two channels offer more specific control over the signal than other similar compressors including attack, release, ratio, and threshold. It can be used in mono or stereo, making it useful in any recording, mixing, or mastering situation. 

Best Neve style hardware compressor: Golden Age Project COMP-54 MKII

golden age project comp-54
Best Neve style hardware compressor
Golden Age Project COMP-54 MKII
Another compact desktop unit that easily fits into your setup provides classic Neve style compression.
Classic Neve sound on a budget
High-pass side chain filter
Accurate VU meter
Neve compression is thick and doesn’t work on all sources

GAP’s lineup features a number of budget, Neve-inspired units and the COMP-54 is their take on the viby vintage compressor from the classic manufacturer. It’s got the big four of controls – ratio, threshold, attack, and release, and the high-pass side-chain filter can be set at 50Hz, 100Hz, or 7kHz.

There is also the ability to link two units for stereo applications, and a VU meter that can read gain reduction or output. All of this comes in an ergonomic half rack unit that is desktop-friendly or can fit nicely into your rack.

Best hardware compressor for parallel compression: Fredenstein Audio V.A.S. Compressor 

fredenstein v.a.s. compressor
Best hardware compressor for parallel compression
Fredenstein Audio V.A.S. Compressor 
There’s a lot to love about this op amp compressor. It’s great for single tracks, a bus, or the stereo master. And the build quality is great.
Uses a high-quality op amp
Mix control for using it for parallel compression
Can be linked to be used on a bus
Not sold through many retailers

This desktop hardware piece in Fredenstein’s lineup is another unit based on their OPA2 op-amp. It lends a robust, linear response to the signal. The basis for its sound comes from a steel core output transformer. And the dynamic range can travel from subtle compression to extreme limiting.

The V.A.S. can also save on routing with a mix control for dialing in parallel compression. Perhaps the coolest feature is the two level meters can monitor gain reduction and output simultaneously. The side-chain input filter allows for use with many applications, and the unit can be linked for buss and stereo work.

Best blue stripe 1176 hardware compressor Black Lion Audio Bluey

black lion audio bluey
Best blue stripe 1176 hardware compressor
Black Lion Audio Bluey
The Blue Stripe 1176 is one of the best, but they’re hard to find and not cheap. This model from mod kings Black Lion Audio lets you add one to your rack in an affordable way.
Based on Chris Lord-Alge’s famed Blue Stripe 1176
Blend knob
A little pricier than other compressors

The price of the Bluey is on the high side of the “budget” category, but this one is too unique to leave out. Based on famous mix engineer Chris Lord Alge’s highly modified blue stripe 1176, Black Lion makes this rare sound accessible to you.

The familiar controls are there, and unlike the original, there is a blend knob for achieving parallel compression without having to set up extra routing. It is also linkable for using on busses and stereo sources.

Best LA-3A hardware compressor: GAP Comp-3A Jr

golden age project 3ajr
Best LA-3A hardware compressor
GAP Comp-3A Jr
The LA-3A isn’t the most popular optical compressor, but that doesn’t make it any less useful. This affordable version includes three time constants and multiple types of metering.
Small format
Switchable time constants
Sidechain high-pass filter
Not the best type of compressor for every situation
Need a special accessory to secure it in a rack

Though it’s been around since 1969, the LA-3A is one of the lesser known compressors out there, but its effect on guitars and vocals is legendary. This reimagined version takes on the sound and discrete circuitry of the classic model in a tiny ¼ space rack unit.

The transformer-based topology delivers the warm optical compression sound you would expect from a Neve design. There is a three-position time switch to select between different attack and release times, and if you’re feeling adventurous you can alternate the time speed of some of the positions via internal controls.

Best guitar pedal hardware compressor: Wampler Ego

wampler ego compressor
Best guitar pedal hardware compressor
Wampler Ego
One of the best compressor guitar pedals, this model from Wampler provides a versatile control set.
Good control set makes it useful in a number of situations
Great build quality
Compression sound won’t suit every guitarist

It’s tough to single out the best guitar pedal compressor. The reason we went with Wampler’s Ego is because of the controls it offers.

You can control the attack, sustain, output volume and wet/dry blend. There’s also a tone control that lets you brighten things up or make it warmer sounding depending on your rig. It’s well-made, affordable, and versatile.


Do I need a hardware compressor for vocals?

If you’re working in digital audio, there are plenty of plugin compressors to choose from. Even the ones that come stock with your DAW sound good. But if you’re working on something like an analog mixer you’ll have to integrate hardware into your setup.

Are analog compressors better than digital ones?

There are benefits and drawbacks to both types. Analog compressors are usually more expensive and take up more space. The benefits of plugin compressors is they’re usually much more affordable and can do certain things that you can’t with analog models.

Plugin technology has come a long way, and the digital versions that are modeled after analog units can sound just as good, if not better, than the “real” thing.

What is a hardware compressor?

It’s a physical piece of gear that levels out the dynamics of your signal. It makes things more even overall and glues the separate sound sources together. Some of the most famous models are the 1176, LA-2A, and Distressor just to name a few.

Post navigation

Warm Audio introduces DI boxes and a stereo compressor ahead of NAMM 2020

The company known for high-end hardware at an affordable price, Warm Audio, made a pair of DI boxes, and a stereo bus compressor just ahead of NAMM 2020.

Softube Summit Audio Grand Channel review

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text el_class=”textbox”]Softube is on a mission to release some of the best emulations around, and we’ve reviewed two of those emulations so far — the Softube Summit Audio EQF-100 EQ...

Best audio interfaces for beginners: Start recording on a budget

It’s never been easier to make quality recordings affordably, at home. Here is a guide to the best audio interfaces for beginners.

NAMM 2018: Ampeg expands pedal lineup with Liquifier chorus and Opto Comp compressor

Ampeg has expanded its guitar and bass pedal lineup at NAMM 2018 with the launch of the Liquifier chorus and Opto Comp compressor pedals.