The Best 500 Series Compressors

The Highest Rated 500 Series Compressors

Disclosure

We recommend all products independently of 3rd parties including advertisers. We earn advertising fees from:
• • • • •
Sweetwater
• • • • •

Amazon

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
• • • • •

The desire to make a modular rack system with outboard gear prompted the development of the 500 series rack system in the late 1960s by API. It enabled audio engineers to customize their signal paths with compressors, EQ's and eventually digital gear on compact, and often portable rack spaces.

Even today, the 500 series lets even smaller studios make custom channel strips or effects chains. Larry Droppa, API's current owner, created the VPR alliance certification. This makes it so that any 500 series module released after 2006 is guaranteed to fit in and work with a 500 series rack.

Compressors for the 500 series rack range from vintage, time tested designs to feature-rich digital devices. For this December 2021 edition, we selected the highest rated 500 series compressors for all your dynamics processing needs

The Best 500 Series Compressors

Author & Contributors

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

I've been an audio engineer for 20 years specializing in rock and metal recordings, and also I play guitar and produce original music for my band and other content creators.

Single Channel Compressors

At publication time we had a highly unusual 5-way tie for the highest rated single channel 500 series compressors: FMR Audio RNC500, BAE 500C FET, Rupert Neve Designs 543, Rupert Neve Designs 535 and Crane Song Falcon.

Pete's Place Audio BAC-500

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 30+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$995
Pete's Place Audio BAC-500 Compressor - 500 Series

The BAC-500 was designed by Brad Avenson, a renowned engineer and inventor with multiple patents for audio devices.

It was designed to be a mix between vintage warmth and modern response while having the flavor of FET designed compressors for more "mojo" when pushed.

While most 1176 style comps aim for complete replication, the BAC-500 takes influence from it but morphs it into its own monster, foregoing transparency for character.

Specifications

  • Controls: Input, Attack, Release, Output
  • Maximum Input Levels/Output Levels: +50dB
  • Attack: 20ms to 75 ms
  • Release: 100ms to 2.5 sec
  • Ratio: 2:1, 4:1, 8:1, 12:1, 20:1

Pros

Users love the mojo from the BAC-500. Used on vocals, it adds a lot of grit and compression to aggressive vocals. It was also noted to be great on drums, giving a lot of "vibe" to kits that need it. Room mics were also noted to benefit from the BAC-500's character. Other instruments like electric guitar and bass also benefited from the added crunch at higher settings.

Cons

Not the most transparent option. If you're looking for a compressor that preserves the signal fed into it, this is not it.

Overall

The charm of vintage gear is from the mojo and vibe. The BAC-500 is a unique take on the classic 1176 compressor. Get it if you want a FET comp with a lot of character.

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Gearspace TheDawg 100/100
Resolution George Shilling 98/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Rupert Neve Designs 543

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 10+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$999
Rupert Neve Designs 543 Compressor/Limiter - 500 Series

The Rupert Neve Designs 543 brings the response and vibe of the Portico 5043 in a 500 series format.

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.

The custom Rupert Neve designed transformer adds character and life to your program material.

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

Pros

"Smooth" and "sweet" are just some of the words used to describe the 543. Seasoned recording engineers who have worked with the Portico 5043 felt at home with the 543's controls, sound and response. Other fans of the "Neve" character also note that the 543 shares the same character as many other pieces of equipment bearing the Neve name.

Cons

Meters may be too small for some, especially the lettering.

Overall

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.

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Sound On Sound Hugh Robjohns 95/100
MusicTech Mike Hillier 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Rupert Neve Designs 535

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 10+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$999
Rupert Neve Designs 535 500 Series Diode Bridge Compressor

The 535 module is a 500 series equivalent of the sought-after Neve 2254 compressor with a few modern updates.

Compared to the original, it has been engineered for a lower noise floor, new timing control, stepped controls and internal parallel processing.

With custom transformers and a class-A amplifiers, the 535 puts classic Neve punch to your 500 series rack.

Specifications

  • Controls: Threshold, Ratio, Timing, Blend, Gain
  • Attack: Preset matched with release / Auto
  • Release: Preset matched with attack / Auto
  • Ratio: 1.5:1 to 8:1
  • Threshold: -25dB to +20dB

Pros

Users generally praise the compressor's performance with drums, vocals and even the 2 bus when two are used in stereo for gluing their mixes together. On vocals, it adds a smooth compression quality while adding a bit of characteristic sheen that Neve components are known for. On drums, it tightens up the bass with no compromise of impact while retaining the shimmer of cymbals and detail of snare wires.

Cons

One user found the ratio knob hard to turn and feared of breaking it. This sounds like an isolated case since we haven't found any other similar issues.

Overall

Get that classic Neve clarity and sheen with dynamic processing from the versatile Rupert Neve Designs 535 Compressor.

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Sound On Sound Hugh Robjohns 94/100
TapeOp Geoff Stanfield 96/100
*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.

Street Price: 

$1299
Crane Song Falcon Tube Compressor - 500 Series

Crane Song's Falcon 500 Series module is a classic vintage sounding tube compressor with modern versatility.

It features hard and soft knee choices for compression and limiting, as well as 3 attack and release time settings.

It has a color switch which changes its audio path to have negative feedback for a more colored vintage compression. The color switch also provides an option to not have negative feedback for a cleaner sound.

Its wet/dry mix knob makes parallel compression easy to use and is linkable with other Falcon modules for a full surround sound compression purpose.

Specifications

  • Controls:Attack, Release, Meter, Limit/Compress, Color, Mix, Threshold, Gain
  • Input/Output Impedance:
  • Maximum Input Levels/Output Levels: +26 dbu
  • Attack: 100uS; 7mS; 20mS
  • Release: 75mS to 200mS; 300mS to 1S; 1.4S to 3.5S;
  • Ratio: Depends on gain reduction
  • Threshold:
  • Power Requirement: 110mA

Pros

Reviewers mention how transparent the sound is and how easy and straightforward it is to use. Both expert and user reviews liked using this while mixing vocals. Barry Rudolph mentioned in his Mix Magazine review that he uses the Syren's Open mode for vocals "for a fat, rich sound and good low frequencies." In his Sound on Sound review, Bob Thomas very much liked how its special setting emulates an optical compressor and how its Wet/Dry output mix control gives the user "access to parallel compression without tying up another mixer channel."

Cons

It sells at the higher end of the price range for a single channel 500 series module but that is justified by its quality and performance.

Overall

It's a great choice if you want a vintage-style optical compressor / limiter to add to your 500-series collection.

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Sound On Sound Bob Thomas 98/100
Bonedo Hannes Bieger 100/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Stereo Bus Compressors

WesAudio _DIONE NG500 Analog Bus Compressor with Digital Recall

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 20+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$1199
WesAudio _DIONE NG500 Analog Bus Compressor with Digital Recall
At publication time this was the Highest Rated 500 Series Stereo Compressor.

The DIONE NG500 is a beautiful blend of Analog sound with Digital flexibility.

It is able to store, recall and control analog hardware directly from a DAW, as well as follow automation done in the box.

This is topped off with THD options for saturation, sidechain filters for finer control of how the compressor acts around bass frequencies and a mix knob for parallel compression.

Specifications

  • Controls: Threshold, Attack, Release, Mix, Make Up
  • Input/Output Impedance: 10kohm/
  • Maximum Input Levels/Output Levels: +24dBu
  • Attack: 0.1ms, 0.3ms ,1ms, 3ms,10ms, 30ms
  • Release: 0.1s, 0.3s, 0.6s, 0.9s, 1.2s, Auto
  • Ratio: 1.5, 2.4, 10
  • Threshold: -21dB to +21dB

Pros

Many reviews point to the flexibility of the unit especially when integrated into the DAW as part of a hybrid workflow. Being able to work with hardware with the flexibility of controlling it in the box was a consistent plus by users. The THD options were also given praise by a reviewer, saying that there's not a bad sound to be had.

Cons

No consistently reported negatives from reviews.

Overall

The DIONE NG500 is a great tool for people who like to mix in the box but want an analog compressor that they can integrate into their workflow. The saturation options and fast attack make it great as a final compressor to glue your tracks together.

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Sound On Sound Hugh Robjohns 94/100
Gearspace Dowsed 100/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Serpent SB4001

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 10+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$1349
Serpent SB4001 Stereo Buss Compressor - 500 Series

Inspired by the SSL G-Series bus compressor, the Serpent SB4001 is hailed as the company's evolution of SSL's design.

Featuring Quad VCAs, 12 attack options, 5 fixed release options and a VAR mode that modernizes the original by tailoring the release with potentiometer.

A "grind" switch enables some tube-style harmonic saturation to your track.

Specifications

  • Controls:Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release, Blend, Gain, Filters, Variable Release
  • Input/Output Impedance: Not specified by manufacturer
  • Maximum Input Levels/Output Levels: +28dBu.
  • Attack: 0.1, 0.3, 1, 3, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 40 and 50 milliseconds
  • Release: 0.3, 0.6 and 1.2 seconds, Variable release setting
  • Ratio: 1.5:1, 2:1, 4:1, 6:1, 8:1 and 10:1
  • Threshold: -20dB to +20dB

Pros

Users note that there's "something special" with the SB4001. Aside from expanding on the legendary SSL G-Series Bus compressor, users found the additional lower ratio setting of 1.5:1 is perfect for adding a subtle mix gluing effect on the master bus. The variable release time was also seen by users as an improvement over the original SSL compressor as they can now adjust release times with the program material's tempo.

Cons

Some wanted stepped potentiometers for some controls.

Overall

The SB4001 is a great addition to any 500 series rack for those looking for a modern G-comp with more tweakability. The addition of a lower ratio and a grind switch extends the units range from subtle to aggressive.

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Sound On Sound Matt Houghton 98/100
Gearspace roy_mattie 95/100
TapeOp Garrett Haines 97/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

API 529

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 5+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$2495
API 529 500 Series Stereo Compressor

The API 529 shares several similarities with its big sibling, the 2500.

It implements API's Thrust technology as well as vintage and modern settings for different applications.

Specifications

  • Controls: Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release, Make-up Gain (manual/auto)
  • Input/Output Impedance: Not specified by manufacturer
  • Maximum Input Levels/Output Levels: +28dBu.
  • Attack: 1 to 50 ms
  • Release: .05 to 4 sec
  • Ratio: 1.5:1 to infinite
  • Threshold: -20dB to +10dB /li>

Pros

Many praise the punchy character of the API 529 particularly on a drum buss. The low end of kicks take on a smooth but punchy character without overbearing the low end. On the master buss, users report that the API 529 shares similarities with the 2500 series compressors with its ability to glue a mix together while retaining the lowest frequency content.

Cons

One noted that it would be asking too much but a Parallel Mid-Side mode would have made the device more modern.

Overall

The API 529 is your ticket to the famed API punch made famous by studios like Ocean Way and the Hit Factory.

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Sound On Sound Bob Thomas 98/100
Mix Barry Rudolph 94/100
NAMM TEC Awards Editor 100/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

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 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 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. These compressors use photocells as a detector to determine the amount of compression that is applied. They 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 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. They 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, they have more control on grabbing harsh transients. They are often used as a solid-state emulation of tubes 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.

Different Uses and Sound

Choosing a 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 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.

Best 500 Series Compressor Selection Methodology

The first edition was published in 2017 and the current edition was published on December 8, 2021.

For our December 2021 Edition we looked at all the 500 Series Compressors available from major American online retailers and short-listed 27 of the most popular for detailed analysis. We then examined over 460 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, and to present our reports on what people liked and didn't like about each option we've recommended. We selected the highest rated compressors in both categories 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

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

I've been an audio engineer for 20 years specializing in rock and metal recordings, and also I play guitar and produce original music for my band and other content creators.

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

Denise Azucena: Supplemental writing.
Jason Horton: Editing and Illustrating.

Media

Main/Top Image: Created by Gearank.com using photographs of the Rupert Neve Designs 535, FMR Audio RNC500, WesAudio DIONE, Crane Song Falcon and BAE 500C FET.

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

Comments

Great resource.

Great resource.
Very well thought out and executed!!