Compressor Shootout

PLEASE NOTE: This article has been archived. It first appeared on ProRec.com in January 1999, contributed by then Editor-in-Chief Rip Rowan. We will not be making any updates to the article. Please visit the home page for our latest content. Thank you!

This shootout has been a long time coming and even a longer time waiting. I won’t pretend that it isn’t way overdue, so my apologies go out to everyone that’s waited for it.

Nevertheless, it’s here! We’re throwing a handful of the top of the line DirectX dynamics processors into the mix and seeing how they stack up. We’re going to use and abuse each one of them. In the end, we will present a rating from 1 to 10 in terms of sound quality, ease of use, features, processor efficiency and an overall rating. Rather than presenting the overall rating as a composite of the other three categories, the overall rating will be this reviewer’s subjective rating of the relative need-to-have factor.

Note this is the third article in a series on compression. If you didn’t read Part One or Part Two, you ought to go back and check them out.

About the Evaluation

The processors were evaluated in real-world conditions. Each one was used to process acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums, vocals, and entire mixes. The tools are evaluated using Cakewalk Pro Audio 8.01 and Sound Forge 4.0. We went for both “unprocessed” sounds (using the processor to control the dynamics with as little as possible audible alteration to the sound) as well as “squished” effects where we dialed in some heavy compression to hear how the plug-in altered the sound when driven hard. In most cases I have used these processors in heavy actual practice and I am intimately familiar with all of them.

Evaluating compressors is mightily subjective. We are all aware of the resurgence of vintage compression technology using optocompressors and tubes to generate that warm smooth sound of famous vintage units. So, what does it mean to say that a compressor sounds good? I consider a compressor to sound good if (1) it leaves the sound as uncolored as possible, or (2) if it imparts some kind of coloration that in my opinion is a valuable color. In any case, when I say I like or don’t like the sound of a particular unit, I’ll tell you why.

Overall impressions were favorable. Digital compressors have a sound of their own: none. That’s not exactly true, but the worst compressor in this review is as good as any $500 compressor you’re going to find anywhere (with one exception – the RNC Compressor). The best software compressor is as good as any hardware compressor you’ve ever heard. And if your goal is deep compression with the least harmonic distortion, or signal-level maximization, then digital’s the only way to go.

So let’s get down to business.

Hyperprism Compressor / Limiter / Gate Available in Hyperprism 1.5.5

The Hyperprism dynamics processors are available as part of Arboretum’s Hyperprism 1.5.5 effects package (reviewed in its entirety this month). This is a comprehensive effect package that offers a wide variety of cool processors, including a great reverb, delays, EQs, compressors, a vocoder, HF and LF “enhancers”, distortion processors, pitch and frequency shifting, and more.

There are 3 different dynamics plugins: Compressor, Limiter, and Noise Gate. Each makes use of the ubiquitous Hyperprism Blue Window, a 2D programmable “joystick” that allows you to assign effect parameters to the X or Y axis of the joystick – the stick could control Gain (X) and Threshold (Y), for example, or Attack and Release, or all four, if you want.

Hyperprism DX Compressor

The Compressor plug-in offers the basic Compression features: Input and Gain Reduction meters, Ratio, Threshold, Attack, Release, and Makeup Gain. The compressor offers no sidechain. The Limiter similarly offers the usual features: Threshold (called Ceiling), Release, and Volume (Gain) along with Input and Gain Reduction meters. Finally the Noise Gate offers an Input Meter, Threshold, Attack, and Release controls. Online help is available which describes the function of each control.

Pros

These plugins are the most processor-efficient of the bunch, with CPU usage of 2-3% as measured in Sound Forge 4.0. In the resource-constrained world of DirectX, that’s a nice advantage. On my system I was able to run 8 compressors, 2 limiters and a noise gate in real-time on a 16 track mix with no obvious strain on my CPU. I’m sure there was horsepower available for lots more.

Cons

These are plain-Jane plugins. While their simplicity contributed to the positive “processor efficiency” score, it negatively impacts other aspects. The knee is not variable, and to my ears is a hard-knee process (it doesn’t say in the online help). There is no sidechain, which means you cannot use these processors for de-essing. There is no output meter or clipping indicator or output level meter. And there is no Expander option available.

Overall sound quality is the poorest in the bunch. Which is not horrible – the quality is in fact good compared to averaged-priced rack mount gear. But there are several problems with the sound quality.

One problem is the lack of a soft knee. The Noise Gate immediately opens and closes with no gentle fade, and the limiter and compressor engage suddenly. Although each unit offers attack times of 0, there is no lookahead function, which means that sudden peaks are simply clipped and not “soft-limited” by softening the transient. The limiter, when driven hard, seems to clip the output too hard, resulting in blurred treble on a 2-track final mix.

I also have to weigh in with mixed feelings about the Blue Window. I love new ideas. So, on the one hand, I applaud Arboretum for this user interface innovation. In fact, overall, the Hyperprism-DX package is the most innovative and comprehensive DirectX package available, with lots of cool effects like Vocoder, Frequency and Pitch Shifters, and others. The Blue Window is a great innovation and I hope that Arboretum retains its functionality.

However, when I’m compressing, I need a different interface than when I’m adding reverb, and when I’m EQing, I need a different interface than when I’m limiting. Unfortunately, although it is innovative, the Blue Window does not add value to the dynamics plugins. Form should follow function, and for that reason the user interface falls short. Suggestion to Arboretum: customize the interfaces to suit the particular application. Then provide the Blue Window as an OPTIONAL, hideable control.

Summary

Although I like the Hyperprism package overall, and will continue to recommend it, the dynamics processors are pretty minimalistic, and are inadequate for mastering. If you don’t already own a plug-in package, then Hyperprism is a great place to start. It will give you a killer variety of usable plugins for one reasonable price. If, however, you are looking for THE dynamics processing tools to add to your existing suite of plug-ins, read on.

Sound Quality:.………….7.0
Ease of Use:.……………7.0
Processor Efficiency:.……9.0
Abundance of Cool Features:.6.5
Overall:………………..7.5
get a demo at http://www.arboretum.com


Cakewalk FX-1 Dynamics Processing Package

Cakewalk’s first foray into the world of Direct-X plugins is FX-1, a set of four dynamics processors: Compressor / Gate, Expander / Gate, Limiter, and Dynamics Processor, a multifunction processor incorporating Compression / Gate / Expansion / Limiting and some other nifty dynamics processing options.

Like most digital dynamics processors, the Cakewalk processor incorporates a transfer function graph into the user interface. The user has the option of controlling the processor using knobs, by directly entering numbers, or manipulating handles on the transfer function graph. I like transfer function graphs and find them to be an intuitive user interface for digital dynamics processing.

Cakewalk Dynamics Processor

Each plugin offers all the controls you’d expect to find on a dynamics tool: Input and Gain Reduction meters, Ratio, Threshold, Attack, Release, and Gain. Additional options include a sidechain, peak / average / RMS detection, and stereo link switches. Additionally each Threshold control offers an “in” light that informs the user when the threshold has been crossed.

Pros

I like Cakewalk’s implementation of the transfer function graph. The graph lets you grab the graph handles and drag them into appropriate settings to control the unit’s parameters. On the three “standard” units (Compressor / Gate, Expander / Gate, and Limiter) the graph allows you to control only Threshold and Ratio settings. However, using the multifunction Dynamics Processor, you can add up to 9 extra nodes to create dramatic or bizarre transfer functions (see photo).

This feature can really let you design some soft knees and truly variable compression and gating. For example, you can apply a noise gate below -50 db, an expander from -50 db to -30 db, 1:1 from -30 to -20 db, 2:1 from -20 db to -12 db, 5:1 from -12 db to -3 db, and a limiter above -3 db. Using similar settings I was able to arrive at some wonderful vocal tracks in particular: the noise floor was eliminated, semi-audible noises were damped but still present, the lower-volume phrases were slightly compressed, the louder passages were heavily compressed, and peaks were held below clipping with the limiter. That’s a lot of control and some of the most flexible dynamics control available from any single plug-in compared in this review.

The sound quality was very good. I especially liked the soft knee used in this compressor. When using the multifunction Dynamics Processor, such as the setup described above, the sound quality was outstanding. Used in this manner you can really heap on a lot of compression with a minimum of sonic artifacts.

The feature set was robust. The incorporation of a sidechain and optional stereo link gave FX-1 all the flexibility you’d expect from a good hardware unit. And Cakewalk did a good job of providing the “essential” compressor packages you typically use – Compressor / Gate, Expander / Gate, Limiter, and multifunction Dynamics Processor.

I also like the option of choosing the detection algorithm: Peak, Average, or RMS. Peak detection is useful primarily for limiting, whereas Average and RMS detection are better suited for vocal and instrumental compression. The inclusion of such advanced features really make this tool well-suited for professional use as either track inserts or overall mix compression / limiting.

Cons

Although it is a strong offering, this package does have some minor drawbacks, primarily in the area of user interface. The metering is poor. Why, oh why would a software company simulate the 8-LED meters available only on the lowest-end hardware units? I would like to see continuously variable meters, not the 8-LED simulation provided. And there’s no clipping indicator or output level meter. These are very useful – almost required – when setting makeup gain.

CPU utilization was average: 9-12% in SoundForge 4.0. I would have liked to see a stripped-down compressor-only utility (this is what we usually use on the inserts anyway) that achieved better performance numbers.

I did not like the fact that there is only one set of attack and release controls for the unit. These controls control both the compressor and the gate. Personally, I don’t use a lot of noise gating. Spurious noise, like breathing, fretting and fingering instruments adds to the nuance of a good recording. Hiss and hum and other background noise can be eliminated with better mics, better mic techniques or a better room. However, when I do use a noise gate, I want to be able to control the attack and release of the gate independent of the compressor or expander.

Finally, and maybe this is just me, I don’t like the knobs used on the interface. I understand the use of knobs versus sliders: knobs are smaller and screen real estate is critical. The problem is not the use of knobs – it’s the kind of knobs: they’re round, with black lines to indicate their position. It’s hard at a glance to see the settings. Next time, use the chicken-head knobs.

Summary

These are good processors with an eye towards professional mixing applications. Their sound quality is good and their flexibility is good. The multifunction dynamics processor in particular is unique among these plugins and a great tool to own. If you have effect plug-ins and are looking for a good dynamics processor to add to your arsenal, these are the lowest-cost way of getting into some professional-quality compression. I give these tools the thumbs-up.

Sound Quality:.………….9.0
Ease of Use:.……………8.0
Processor Efficiency:.……8.0
Abundance of Cool Features:.8.5
Overall:………………..8.5
get a demo at http://www.cakewalk.com

Sonic Foundry Graphic Dynamics Available in Sonic Foundry XFX-2 Package

Graphic Dynamics is a simple Compressor / Limiter from Sonic Foundry. The tool is controlled with a large transfer function graph and a few simple controls. The unit does not have a built-in soft knee, but the user may add as many points as desired to the transfer function as needed to soften the knee. Only the standard threshold, ratio, gain, attack and release controls are provided. An auto-gain makeup is provided to automatically set the output gain to maximize the output level.

Pros

This is a no-frills compressor that gets the job done. Most notable is the excellent performance of the tool, offering CPU utilization of 3-4%, placing it in the range of Hyperprism’s plugin. The tool utilizes an editable transfer function, like the Cakewalk Dynamics Processor. Therefore, combinations of gates, compressors and expanders can be easily created.

Sound quality falls somewhere between the Hyperprism and Cakewalk compressors: very good. Combined with the excellent processor efficiency and the ability to create complex transfer functions, Graphic Dynamics may be the perfect tool to use as a track insert for non-critical tracks.

Cons

Two things are painfully lacking in this unit.

The first is meters. There are no meters at all. This is just not acceptable to me. I find metering to be a necessary function of a compressor.

Secondly, there is no soft knee available. Although you can soften the knee by adding more points to the transfer curve, it does not provide the graceful knee I like to hear on a good compressor.

Summary

Plain and simple, this is a practical, efficient processor. I would not recommend it for mastering, but it’s an excellent track insert on a multitrack mix. I did not like the auto-gain control. I prefer to set the gain myself – but I’d like some meters to help me do it!

Sound Quality:.………….8.0
Ease of Use:.……………8.5
Processor Efficiency:.……9.0
Abundance of Cool Features:.6.5
Overall:………………..8.0
get a demo at http://www.sonicfoundry.com

Sonic Foundry Multi-Band Dynamics Available in Sonic Foundry XFX-2 Package

Sonic Foundry Multi-Band Dynamics is a four-band compressor-limiter. Each band is independently controlled and may be switched in or out to conserve processor cycles. The bands are sweepable from 50 to 15KHz and their width is adjustable from .3 to 3 octaves. The bands offer selectable low shelf, peak, or high shelf curves The standard controls are provided for each band: threshold, ratio, gain, attack, release. The unit also provides a “capture threshold” control which automatically finds the threshold of each band selected.

If you’ve never used a multiband compressor before, look out. A multiband compressor can completely change the sound of instruments in the mix. For example, I used Multiband Dynamics on an acid jazz number that had an overly ringy snare.

First, without engaging the compressor, I turned the gain up and swept the frequency until I had found the ring. Then I used the auto threshold to find the threshold of that particular frequency. Now I engaged a 4:1 compressor, and s-l-o-w-l-y brought down the threshold. After I had lowered the threshold about one db the sound of the snare had totally changed to one that was very smooth and natural. The rest of the track was unaltered. I brought the level down about another 2-3 dbs and instantly screwed the track up: the music hollowed out, the snare completely changed to a totally different and bad sound, and it lost its punch.
Extreme settings are almost guaranteed to be bad.

Pros

This is the only tool in this roundup that provides multiband dynamics control over more than one band at a time. It can be effectively used in mastering applications to control harsh frequencies that sometimes seem to suddenly jump out in a mix. It can also be used on a track for applications such as de-essing and bass volume leveling.

I especially like the ability to automatically find threshold levels. Since this tool is used as a dynamic equalizer, the automatic threshold makes it very easy to find a good starting point and then nudge up or down as needed.

Processor efficiency is very good, running about 6% for one band of dynamics control up to 16% for all four bands. This fares very favorably to the Waves C1+ which offers only one band of control and consumes about 16% (without IDR, see below).

And, hats off to Sonic Foundry for creating a user-friendly interface with appropriately labeled controls. Like the Sonic Foundry EQ, the Multiband Dynamics does not have a Q control. Instead, EQ width is labelled in octaves. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Cons

There are a few features that would have been nice to have. I would have liked to have a lookahead function. Whenever I do digital peak limiting, I like for the limiter to be able to soft-clip transients instead of the usual hard-clip. Soft clipping, availalbe with units that offer lookahead, creates smoother, more natural sounding transients.

Summary

This is a unique tool in this roundup. Although it can be used as a track insert, this processor’s niche is in mastering. The Sonic Foundry Multi-Band Dynamics processor is a must-have for anybody who wants to do professional quality mastering. Only a good multiband compressor can change the EQ of individual instruments in a mix, and this one does it well.

Sound Quality:.………….9.0
Ease of Use:.……………8.5
Processor Efficiency:.……9.0
Abundance of Cool Features:.8.5
Overall:………………..8.8
get a demo at http://www.sonicfoundry.com

Waves C1+Waves L1+ Available in Waves Native Power Pack

Waves C1+ and L1+ are available as part of Waves’ popular Native Power Pack. For a full review of the entire Native Power Pack, read Pete Leoni’s review.

The Waves C1+ is a family of DirectX plugins for dynamics processing. There are several flavors of C1+, depending on the functions you need:

1. Compressor (C1 Compressor)
2. Compressor w/ sidechain (C1 / Comp)
3. Expander / Gate (C1 Gate)
4. Compressor + Expander / Gate w/ sidechain (C1)
5. Compressor + Expander / Gate w/ sidechain and IDR dithering (C1+)

Waves C1+

The full-blown C1+ is the Swiss army knife of compressors, offering more flexibility than any other DirectX compressor plugin. It features a fully configurable compressor, gate, and sidechain with built-in EQ for stereo multiband compression. The compressor offers a lookahead mode for true zero-attack limiting. The sidechain can function as a conventional sidechain (where the frequencies that pass through the built-in EQ are used to control the dynamics which are applied across the whole track) or it can be used in “split” mode (which offers band-specific compression by applying the dynamics ONLY to those frequencies that pass through the EQ). A graph shows the transfer function being applied to the audio. A full complement of metering is provided, including input and gain reduction for BOTH the compressor and the gate, as well as stereo output meters with clipping indicators.

With flexibility comes complexity, and the full C1+ can be daunting if you’ve never used a mastering compressor before. I almost never use the full C1+ because I don’t do a lot of mastering and when mixing, I usually want just a compressor on the insert. Fortunately, the basic C1 Compressor is as easy to use as any other compressor featured in this review. The C1 Compressor (or Gate) offers the usual controls: Ratio, Threshold, Attack, Release, and Makeup gain.

All the tools in the C1 family include a feature called “PDR” for Program Dependent Release. This feature shortens the release time for transients. When a transient is shorter than the time (in ms) shown on the PDR, then the release time is shortened. This feature is very useful when doing volume leveling on an instrument, or peak control in a final mix. It allows you to get more compression with less pumping and breathing.

The L1+ Ultramaximizer is Waves’ premiere limiter. This tool has become so popular for mastering applications that Waves has released the L2 Ultramaximizer, which is a rack-mount version of the L1 software (as if people still buy rack effects).

You may have heard that the L1 is a “mastering limiter.” Well, while the L1 was designed to be used as a mastering tool, it is also ideal for use on individual tracks in a mix. Be aware when using it as a track insert that you should disengage the noise shaping and dithering options, which should only be used as the last process performed on a final mix. The L1 uses only a couple of controls: threshold, target volume, and release. It is just a no-brainer to use this limiter to get your sounds as hot as they can get.

Pros

Where to begin?

Let’s start with the user interface. Waves has opted for purely numeric controls with a transfer function graph to visually indicate the processor setting. To change the controls you can type in a value, or click and drag with the mouse to increase or decrease. At first the numeric controls were challenging. I was not used to using a compressor with numbers. I would just turn the knobs until I heard what I wanted, and everything was relative – “high ratio, low threshold, fast attack and release” means a limiter. I can say, however, that in little time I could use the numbers as effectively as a dial indicator, and of course the transfer function offers a quick display of the processor’s effect.

Waves C1 Compressor
Note the very faint vertical line near the knee.
That’s a meter (it’s brighter in real life).

And speaking of the transfer function, there is one feature that I love about the C1. Waves has superimposed the input level across the transfer function (above, it’s the short vertical bar on the transfer function graph). This means that you can see the input level rising, crossing the threshold, and being transformed. What a great visual indicator of the effect! And you can drag the little arrow on the bottom of the graph to lower the threshold.

Waves has done a good job with efficiency. The standalone gate operates at only 3% CPU load, and the standalone compressor operates at only 7% load, as measured in Sound Forge 4.0. The full C1+ compressor / gate / dithering tool is a resource pig, gobbling up 19% of my available CPU resources. When the C1+ is compared against other similar plugins, the Waves plugins are not as efficient. However, if all you want is just a compressor or a gate and don’t need the sidechain, then the Waves C1 Compressor or Gate tool will do the job more efficiently.

The sound is very good. In particular I really like the detection algorithm used in this plugin. Waves does not specify the algorithm, but apparently there is some intelligence under the hood. The result is a more controlled sound at high levels of compression than was available with the Cakewalk or Hyperprism plugins. This processor produces the least colored sound of any of the processors, especially when driven hard. It will neither “warm up” your sound nor make it “brittle”. It just compresses.

The L1+ limiter is, in a word, ideal. What more do you need in a limiter? No other tool will achieve the levels of limiting that the L1 can achieve with as little coloration. To be completely fair, the Cakewalk limiter comes very close. However, Waves’ addition of noise shaping and IDR dithering makes the L1 the ultimate mastering limiter plugin.

Waves L1+ Ultramaximizer

Waves claims that the L1 has a “warm” sound. Whatever. The L1 is not particularly “warm”. If you want a limiter with “warm” sound (say, for a vocal or snare track) then you want Gadget Labs’ WaveWARM tube / tape simulator. I have not included WaveWARM because it is not a “true” compressor / limiter, however, I highly recommend it – it admirably performs the job of soft-limiting with warmth (for a full review of WaveWARM, check out Pete Leoni’s article).

Cons

Waves is the only software company I am aware of that uses a hardware key (dongle) for copy-protection. The dongle is a device that attaches to the parallel port of the computer and contains the key used to authorize the use of the program. It is a passthrough device: you can chain your printer, scanner, or MIDI adapter to it.

It is only fair to point out that I have not heard of or experienced any problems resulting from the dongle. My experience is that you can use it with any software or hardware without incident. It is completely reliable as far as I know.

The problem with the dongle is the underlying principle: dongles are only practical if nobody else uses them. Consider what would happen if every software company used a dongle. I personally have over three dozen pieces of software installed on my computer. If every software company used dongles there is no way that all those dongles would work with one another, or that they would even fit on my machine. For this reason, ProRec categorically opposes the use of dongles.

Otherwise, there really isn’t much to complain about with this plug-in. It would be nice to be able to manipulate the transfer function directly, instead of having to use the numeric controls. I would like to have a compressor / gate without sidechain. And a variable knee would be a good addition.

Summary

Great sound, 100% control, and a good user interface combine to put the Waves C1+ and L1+ at the top of the heap. You simply can’t get a compressor with this level of sound quality, flexibility, and usability anywhere else.

Sound Quality:.…………..9.5
Ease of Use:.…………....8.5
Processor Efficiency:.…....8.5
Abundance of Cool Features:.10.0
Overall:…………………9.0
get a demo at http://www.waves.com

Waves Renaissance Compressor: Available in Waves Native Power Pack II

The Renaissance Compressor is Waves entry into the vintage-sim market. It is available as one of four tools in the Native Power Pack II along with Renaissance EQ, De-Esser, and MaxxBass. Renaissance Compressor marries the functionality of an electro / opto compressor simulator to a limiter with harmonics enhancement. The tool is front-ended by a simple-to-use interface with a minimum of clutter.

Waves Renaissance Compressor

Renaissance Compressor sacrifices some flexibility in exchange for simplicity and sound quality. There is no sidechain. There is no gate option. The compressor is always stereo-linked. There is no IDR option. Metering is provided to indicate input levels, gain reduction, output levels and clipping. In addition to the expected five controls (Ratio, Threshold, Attack, Release, and Gain) there are only three other compression options: ARC, Opto / Electro, and Warm / Smooth settings.

Auto Release Control (ARC) is essentially the same as the C1’s Program Dependent Release (PDR). Like PDR, ARC lowers the release time for fast transients. This is a useful feature when using the compressor as a volume leveler. Greater amounts of compression can be achieved with less pumping and breathing from transients.

Renaissance Compressor offers “Opto” and “Electro” simulations. This option also controls the release behavior of the compressor. Think of it as another ARC option that is dependent on both the duration of the transient and the level of gain reduction. When in the Opto setting, the unit has slower release time for gain reduction under 3 db. When in the Electro setting the unit has faster release time for gain reduction under 3 db. The idea is to optimize the behavior of the unit for the task at hand.

Finally, the unit has a Warm / Smooth setting. The Smooth setting leaves the sound unchanged. When in the Warm setting, the unit adds some harmonics when engaging deep compression. This creates a slightly thicker, darker sound that could easily pass for “warm”.

The Limiter section has no controls. As you increase the makeup gain, the Limiter is engaged for signals in excess of 0 db. Engagement of the Limiter is signalled as the output meters enter the “yellow” and “soft-clipping” is indicated by a cool-looking “glow-lamp” at the top of the output meter section.

Pros

This compressor is a great no-nonsense unit. It provides the compression functionality you want in a track insert, and can also be used on an entire mix. I especially appreciate the addition of a limiter at the end of the chain. Exceptional fattening of the sound is possible by adjusting the compressor to optimize the “sustain” of the sound, then adjusting the output gain to engage the limiter almost to the point of distorting the transient at the beginning of the note. The result is a sound that is thick and hot, with a distinctly pleasant coloration when heavily effected.

Since the ARC and Opto / Electro options control the units response to transients, the unit can effectively compress transients, volume-level the sustain portion of the note, and limit the overall output. The combination makes the Renaissance Compressor outstanding on individual tracks like bass and vocals as well as overall track mastering.

The interface is unusual, but good. Waves makes a sharp departure from its usual interface by providing the Renaissance Compressor with a slick-looking panel with sexy lights and knobs. Threshold is controlled by a fader beside the input meters, enabling the user to “point” at the level that should be compressed. Gain is controlled by a similar Fader beside the output meter. Ratio is controlled by a fader that points at the gain reduction meter. Other options are arrayed at the top of the unit. The result is clean and usable.

Resource usage is adequate. Renaissance Compressor scored an 11% CPU usage in Sound Forge 4.0. This puts it right in line with the offerings from Cakewalk, with similar compressor / limiter functionality.

Finally, the sound quality is very good. By using the ARC / Electro / Smooth settings and keeping the gain below the level of the limiter, the sound is virtually the same as the C1: virtually uncolored except for the gain reduction, with a sharp treble and tight bass. On the other hand, when using the Manual / Opto / Warm settings and engaging the limiter, the sound can be quite colored, with audible pumping, slightly distorted transients, and a thicker bottom end. If you want “in your face” sounds that “sound compressed” but aren’t harsh, these are some great settings.

Cons

I have only a few complaints.

First and foremost, the dongle. Please, Waves, get rid of the dongle.

While the interface is good, it’s too dark. I think the company went a little overboard on sex appeal. Let’s make the input and output meters a little wider, the gain reduction meter a little narrower, and the background a little lighter.

I wish there had been a Renaissance Compressor + with a sidechain option. I would add a sidechain to the limiter section of the Renaissance Compressor – like the Manley Voxbox. While we’re designing, let’s add limiter threshold as another fader on the right-hand side of the output control. Boom! Compressor + Limiter / De-Esser in one. Of course minimalism is a design attribute of this plug-in, so I won’t complain loudly about the lack of a de-esser.

Summary

This is a cool plugin that really captures the feel and sound of vintage compressors. Waves proves that it really understands the market by providing plugins that meet the needs of the working engineer without unneeded bells and whistles. And, most importantly, it just plain sounds great. I love digital compression because it’s clean – but I also love the color and dynamism of tubes. With the Renaissance Compressor, I can have the best of both worlds. I consider this to be a different, yet equal companion to the C1+ compressor series.

Sound Quality:.………….10.0
Ease of Use:.…………….9.5
Processor Efficiency:.…….7.5
Abundance of Cool Features:..8.5
Overall:…………………9.0
get a demo at http://www.waves.com


Conclusion

There are some good tools in this lineup. I have chosen not to include cost as part of this review, because several of the compressors are only available as parts of a package, and the packages vary widely in terms of quality and variety. However I can make some recommendations.

If you do not have a set of plugins, and are looking for a good variety of plugins for a reasonable cost, you will be well-served by the Hyperprism package. No other package provides the variety of plugins for the money. Though the dynamics processors did not score well in this review, they do work, and overall the package is strong. Keep this under consideration.

If you do have a set of plug-ins, and are looking to just add a compressor or limiter, consider the Cakewalk FX-1 package. Since it is sold separately, you can add this quality compressor to your suite for less cash than it takes to buy an entire DirectX suite. The Sonic Foundry XFX-2 suite is a little more expensive but also includes an EQ package that may be what you’re looking for. The Sonic Foundry compressor is probably the best track insert compressor because of its extreme efficiency.

If you are looking for the best sounding or most flexible compression package available, and if you are willing to install a dongle on your computer, you will want to take a serious look at the offerings from Waves. The Renaissance Compressor is, to my ears, the best sounding compressor I’ve ever used.

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