Best 500 Series Compressor picks by our Audio Engineer 2024

500 series compressors


If you’re involved in music production, you may be interested in investing in the best 500 series compressor to improve the quality of your audio recordings. However, with the wide variety of types and models available, it can be challenging to determine the most suitable option for your needs.

To simplify the process, we’ve conducted research and compiled a list of the top 500 series compressors for 2024. Our selections are based on user ratings and reviews, and we’ve categorized the compressors for single-channel recording, mixing, live performances, and different budget ranges.

We’ve also included information about the various types of compressors, their applications, and important factors to consider before making a purchase. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned producer with a large mixing board, we’re confident that you’ll find a suitable compressor in this guide. Keep reading to find out more!

The Best 500 Series Compressors – 2024

Author & Contributors

Single Channel Compressors

Rupert Neve Designs 543

92
GEARANK
92 out of 100. Incorporating 20+ ratings and reviews.
$999.00
Rupert Neve Designs

Cons

  • Meters are a bit small

Pros

  • Feed-forward and feed-back modes
  • Versatile modes and parameter controls
  • Precise attack and release adjustments
  • Built-in meters

The Rupert Neve Designs 543 brings the response and vibe of the Portico 5043 in a 500 series format. It features a custom designed transformer that adds the popular "Neve" character to your program material, great for drums, bass.

With feed-forward / feed-back controls, Peak / RMS Detection, and a high pass filter for sidechaining, the 543 gives a wide array of control over your processing. Feed-forward allows for more subtle compression, while feed-back allows the unit to go all out. This feature alone expands the usability of this compressor by a lot. Getting a good handle of its controls will allow you to smoothen harshness in your track, and sweeten the attack and response to taste.

Being able to precisely adjust attack and release is another positive trait of the 543. This compressor features nifty meters that provide good visual feedback. The meters are a bit small though, but given the size of the unit, it's on point.

If you're a fan of the "Neve sound" and want a dynamics processor that gives your tracks a smooth character with just the right amount of harmonics to sound clear, the Rupert Neve Designs 543 is a great module to add to your collection.

Specifications

  • Controls: Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release, Gain
  • Maximum Input Levels/Output Levels: +28dBu.
  • Attack: 20ms to 75 ms
  • Release: 100ms to 2.5 sec
  • Ratio: 1:1 to 40:1
  • Threshold: -30dBu to +20dBu

Rating Source Highlights

WebsiteSource*Rating Value
Sound On SoundHugh Robjohns95/100
MusicTechMike Hillier90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Crane Song Falcon Tube Compressor

93
GEARANK
93 out of 100. Incorporating 10+ ratings and reviews.
$1299.00
Crane Song

Cons

  • Might not be ideal for drum tracks

Pros

  • Larger than life vintage sound
  • Makes vocals sound modern
  • Gets the LA-2A vibe and more
  • Wet/Dry mix for parallel compression

The Crane Song Falcon is a versatile 500-series tube compressor that offers a blend of vintage warmth and modern flexibility. It features two flavors of tube compression, allowing users to toggle between negative feedback for a highly colored vintage sound and cleaner, modern compression. Each mode sounds great in nearly any program material. This flexibility enables tailored compression for different sources, making it adaptable to specific needs.

The Falcon simplifies parallel compression with its dual signal paths and wet/dry mix knob, making it easy to blend heavily compressed and dry signals for controlled dynamics without sacrificing natural feel. Additionally, its onboard link function allows for a stereo compressor setup or full 5.1 surround sound mixes, with the ability to link up to six Falcon compressors together.

While the Falcon excels on vocals, bass guitar, and piano due to its sweet and gentle character, it may not be ideal for drum tracks because of its specific tonal qualities.

Despite being priced towards the top end of the 500-series compressor market, its build quality, durability, and performance justify the investment. With its classic tube sound, flexible controls, and easy parallel compression capabilities, the Crane Song Falcon is a high-quality compressor worth considering for studio applications. It's a no-brainer for those chasing the LA-2a vibe without the price.

Specifications

  • Controls: Attack, Release, Meter, Limit/Compress, Color, Mix, Threshold, Gain
  • Attack: For a 12 db change, 100uS; 7mS; 20mS
  • Release: For a 12 db change, 75mS to 200mS; 300mS to 1S; 1.4S to 3.5S; the release time changes depending on the signal
  • Ratio: not specified
  • Threshold: not specified

Budget Option Under $500

dbx 560A Compressor/Limiter

94
GEARANK
94 out of 100. Incorporating 90+ ratings and reviews.
$289.00
dbx

Cons

  • Lacks character (sound coloration)

Pros

  • Hard knee and soft knee modes
  • Program-dependent attack and release settings
  • Easy to get good settings
  • Versatile features and parameters

The 560A is a dual mode dynamic compressor, with traditional hard knee mode, and dbx's soft knee mode called "OverEasy". These two modes expand the ways that you can use the compressor, and in ways that are quite intuitive, thanks to dbx's program-dependent attack and release timings.

It is a dynamic processor that has a smooth and transparent sounding vibe with real RMS level detection. More importantly, you don't need to spend too much time to dial in great sound. It's interesting how intuitive it is even with its expanded myriad of settings that include ratio, threshold and output. Being a transparent compressor means that it lacks "character", so if that is you're thing, then this may not be for you.

One noteworthy feature is the "Infinity Plus" inverse-compression, which lowers the audio output level when the input crosses the threshold beyond unity gain. This is a handy tool for regulating mix levels of extremely loud inputs in live performances and recordings.

All in all, the dbx 560A is a good versatile compressor to have that's accessibly priced. Definitely worth checking out.

Specifications

  • Controls: Threshold, Ratio, Output
  • Maximum Input Levels/Output Levels: +22dBu
  • Attack: 15ms for 10dB, 5ms for 20dB, 3ms for 30dB
  • Release: 8ms for 1dB, 80ms for 10dB, 400ms for 50dB; 125dB/Sec Rate
  • Ratio: 1:1 to infinity: 1, to -1:1
  • Threshold: -40 dBu to +20 dBu

Rating Source Highlights

WebsiteSource*Rating Value
TapeOpGeoff Stanfield98/100
Bonedo (German)Hannes Bieger90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Stereo Bus Compressor

Serpent SB4001 Stereo Buss Compressor

95
GEARANK
95 out of 100. Incorporating 10+ ratings and reviews.
$1349.00
Serpent

Cons

  • Takes up a lot of rack space

Pros

  • Great SSL G-Series style bus compressor
  • Great for parallel compression
  • Can be sidechained

The Serpent SB4001 is a unique take on the revered SSL G-series bus compressor, offering more than just a simple clone. It builds on the classic SSL concept with additional features and options while providing enhanced control over attack and release settings. This includes 12 attack-time options ranging from 0.1 to 50 milliseconds, five fixed release-time options, and a variable release time for precise matching to your track's groove and tempo.

The compressor is versatile and excels in various tasks, serving as an excellent bus compressor and accommodating different sources. Its "wet" knob allows for parallel compression, adding to its flexibility. If you have a 500-series rack and are looking for SSL-style bus compression, the Serpent SB4001 is an attractive choice. It's less expensive than the SSL equivalent and many other clones, making it an appealing option for those seeking smooth compression quality.

However, it's important to note that the Serpent SB4001 is exclusively designed for the 500-series format, so it won't fit in other rack formats.

Overall, with its SSL-inspired stereo mix compression, added flexibility, and control, the Serpent SB4001 is a fantastic addition to any 500-series rack.

Specifications

  • Controls: Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release, Blend, Gain, Filters, Variable Release
  • Input/Output Impedance: 22 ohm/<100 ohm
  • Maximum Input Levels/Output Levels: +21dbu
  • Attack: 0.1mS, 0.3mS, 1mS, 3mS, 5mS, 10mS, 15mS, 20mS, 25mS, 30mS, 40mS, 50mS.
  • Release: 0.3Sec, 0.6Sec, 1.2Sec
  • Ratio: 1.5:1, 2:1, 4:1, 6:1, 8:1, 10:1
  • Threshold: -20dB to +20dB

Things To Consider When Buying A 500 Series Compressor

Types of compressors

  • VCA

    Voltage Controlled Amplifier compressors allow control of faster attack and release parameters. A lot of plug-in compressors are based on the VCA type compressor since it's the most used type of compressor. Their response curve is mostly linear (hard knee), but some have built-in soft knee to adapt them to mixbus compression purposes. They use IC chip-based transistors that determines input voltage to control gain reduction results, which gives the compressor a clean and controllable analog compressor like characteristic that people look for.

  • Optical

    Optical or Opto compressors use a light source to determine gain reduction. How bright the built-in light source is determines the intensity of the incoming signal voltage. They use photocells as a detector to determine the amount of compression that is applied. Opto compressoers are less sensitive to transients, peaks and sudden spikes meaning much higher ratios can be used. They tend to have natural smoothness in response time due to the inherent delay of triggering the attack and release of the compressor.

  • Variable-MU

    Variable-MUs or Vari MU compressors are tube-based compressors known for their tone and warmth. Their design uses input voltage changes to alter the bias of the tubes that controls the gain-reduction stage. Vari Mu compressors tend to have a “soft-knee” and "slow-attack" style that produces a more smooth compression. Their ratios are program-dependent and increase with the gain reduction. This means the louder a transient is, the harder the compression. They have a slower and less impulsive response time compared to FET and VCA compressors.

  • FET

    Field Effect Transistor compressors provide highly colored versions of compression and fundamentally are a subset of VCA compressors. Compared to Variable-MU and optical options, FET comp units have more control on grabbing harsh transients. They are often used as a solid-state emulation of the tube analog sound, and have a much faster response when it comes to compression. Their trademark sound produces a punchy and full of imbued character.

Hard Knee Vs Soft Knee Compression

Hard knee compression is when the compressor immediately reduces the signal once the it hits the threshold. This type of compression is commonly used if you want to reduce transients right away and is suitable to use on instruments such as snare drums. On the other hand, soft knee compression occurs when the signal is gradually reduced after the signal exceeds the threshold. This is for a more natural-sounding compression and recommended to use on sustaining instruments such as strings. And it is ideal for master buss compression.

Different Uses and Sound

There's no strict standard in the music production world, so choosing an Audio Compressor is based on how to maximize its uses, and what type of sound you would want to achieve. VCA compressors usually control transients and give transparency and aggression in the mix. VCA compression is useful for recording percussion to provide a precise and punchy sound. Mixing, mastering, and tracking are factors taken into account when choosing which type of compressor is best suitable for each process. For example, FET compressors are not recommended to use for mixing and mastering since they produce colorful sound characteristics. Since they are known for aggressive and quick attacks, they are more suitable for tracking and parallel compression. On the other hand, optical compressors like the Chandler Limited TG Opto Compressor are preferably used to compress any sound source naturally such as vocals, strings, and bass. Tube-based and stereo compressors often are used for mastering purposes to make the mix sound smoother and homogeneous. Compressors are sometimes paired with preamps, like the BAE 1023L, which makes sense since preamp and compression settings often interact with each other. You can also use the different compressor types for sidechain compression. Finally, you have to consider your other recording gear and power supply.

Best 500 Series Compressor Selection Methodology

The first edition was published in 2017. The current edition was published on May 22, 2024

For this edition we looked at all the 500 Series Compressors available from major American online retailers and short-listed 24 of the most popular outboard gear compressors for detailed analysis. We then examined over 530 relevant ratings and reviews from users and experts as well as forum discussions to get the data we processed with the Gearank Algorithm to produce rating scores out of 100 for each one. We then selected the highest rated compressors in each category above to recommend. For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.

About the Author and Contributors

Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide's production - click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.

Lead Author & Researcher

Some of the recording gear I use in my studio includes the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20, Focusrite Scarlett Solo, Samson QH4 Headphone Amp and Cloudlifter CL-1. My mics include Aston Origin, Aston Element, Shure SM57, Rode NT1, Rode PodMic and MXL V67G.

Contributors

Jerry Borillo: Product Research.
Alexander Briones: Editing.
Jason Horton: Illustrating.

Media

Main/Top Image: Created by Gearank.com using photographs of the Rupert Neve Designs 535, Rupert Neve Designs 543, WesAudio DIONE, Crane Song Falcon and dbx 560A.

The individual product images were sourced from their respective manufacturers' websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation.

6 thoughts on “Best 500 Series Compressor picks by our Audio Engineer 2024”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *