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 500 series rack system was introduced by API in the late 1960s as an alternative to larger rackmount gear of the time. Being a modular system, it enabled audio engineers to mix and match more components like eq's compressors and eventually even digital gear into a smaller rack space.

Today the 500 series system enables even smaller studios to construct custom channel strips or effects chains. With the creation of VPR alliance certification by API's current owner, Larry Droppa, the construction of modules has become standardized so any 500 series module released after 2006 is guaranteed to fit and work in a 500 series rack.

Compressors come in a cornucopia of different flavors. We found the best ones according to market sentiment and present them in this December 2020 edition.

The Best 500 Series Compressors

Author & Contributors

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

An audio engineer of nearly 20 years who specializes in rock and metal recordings, he also plays guitar and produces original music for his band and other content creators.

Single Channel Compressors

FMR Audio RNC500 Really Nice Compressor

93
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$275
FMR Audio RNC500 Really Nice Compressor

At publication time this was one of the Equal Highest Rated 500 Series Single Channel Compressors along with the Rupert Neve Designs 535, WesAudio MIMAS NG500 and Crane Song Falcon.

The RNC500 is the 500 series version of FMR Audio's well-renowned RNC rackmount compressor. It is a simple and affordable compressor that delivers an improved dynamic fidelity over the original RNC.

It features over-current protection, which protects the whole 500 series rack from external damage, and an early warning power-supply detection that puts the module in bypass mode while switched on to avoid powered down “pops”.

Its highlight features include its Normal and SuperNice mode, which gives you flexible compression options. The Normal mode acts as a regular hard-knee compressor, while the SuperNice mode provides a 3-band transparent sounding compression.

Specifications

  • Controls: Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release, Gain
  • Input/Output Impedance: Not specified by manufacturer
  • Maximum Input Levels/Output Levels: +28dBu.
  • Attack: 0.2 to 200 ms
  • Release: 05 to 5 sec
  • Ratio: 1:1, 2:1, 6:1, 10:1, 25:1
  • Threshold: -40dB to +20dB

Pros

The reviews and forum comments for this compressor continue to be quite positive. Some users praise it for its transparent sound and how affordable it is. Some of them also talked about its great metering capabilities. In his Sound on Sound review, Bob Thomas discussed its performance for its price. He mentioned how he was able to pull together different instruments in a transparent manner and be able to achieve a more natural sound type of compression with the use of its SuperNice mode.

Cons

There are no consistently reported negatives about this compressor.

Overall

This is a great choice if you are looking for a simple and straightforward module at an affordable price.

Solid State Logic 611DYN

92
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$899
Solid State Logic 611DYN Dynamics Module

The SSL 611DYN takes the legendary dynamics section of the famed 4000E console into a 500 series rack format.

The module also includes the gate/expander section that helps clean up your sound sources.

Specifications

  • Controls: Ratio, Threshold, Release
  • Input/Output Impedance: Not specified by manufacturer
  • Maximum Input Levels/Output Levels: +28dBu.
  • Attack: Program-Dependent or Fast (0.1ms)
  • Release: 0.1 to 4 sec
  • Ratio: 1:1 to Infinity:1
  • Threshold:-26dB to +4dB

Pros

The 611DYN gets praise for its versatility, aside from being a compressor, the expander gets high marks for its ability to give punch to snare drums while reducing bleed. For vocals, the fast attack setting ensures even and smooth compression with no stray transients.

Cons

One con was generally directed towards the modularity of the 500 series rather than the product itself. Another claimed that the 611DYN doesn't exactly sound like the console version.

Overall

For those who have experienced the real thing on a console or for those who up until now, have only experienced plugin versions, the SSL 611DYN 500 series comp puts analog dynamic processing within reach.

Rupert Neve Designs 535

93
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$995
Rupert Neve Designs 535 500 Series Diode Bridge Compressor

At publication time this was one of the Equal Highest Rated 500 Series Single Channel Compressors along with the FMR Audio RNC500, WesAudio MIMAS NG500 and Crane Song Falcon.

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.

BAE 500C FET

92
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$995
BAE 500C FET Compressor

Designed to be similar (but not quite) to the famed 1176 compressor, the BAE 500C FET features classic FET-style compression with two 2520 op-amps.

An 1176 style FET compressor isn't complete without the unit's famed "all buttons" mode, which in the case of the BAE 500C Fet, comes in the form of the ABI setting on the ratio.

Specifications

  • Controls: Input, Output, Release, Attack
  • Maximum Input Levels/Output Levels: +28dBu.
  • Attack: none specified -- assume similar to 1176: 20 to 800 microseconds
  • Release: none specified -- assume similar to 1176: 50ms to 1.1sec
  • Ratio: 2:1, 4:1, 8:1, 12:1, 20:1, ABI
  • Threshold:Fixed. Controlled by input.

Pros

Many longtime users of the 1176 love the unit for its portability. The 500C FET was noted as having a sound of its own, which is apparent when using the ABI (All Buttons In) mode. Processing drums in parallel was also a great experience with the 500C FET providing a nice crunch when using the ABI setting with "New York-style" parallel compression.

Cons

Some wished for a VU meter like the 1176 as the LED indicator isn't as accurate.

Overall

For imbuing your tracks with character and punch, the BAE 500C FET is a good pick at this price range.

Rupert Neve Designs 543

92
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$995

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.

WesAudio MIMAS NG500

93
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$1099
WesAudio MIMAS NG500 Analog Compressor

At publication time this was one of the Equal Highest Rated 500 Series Single Channel Compressors along with the FMR Audio RNC500, Rupert Neve Designs 535 and Crane Song Falcon.

The NG500 is an 1176 style FET compressor with some digital integrations care of WesAudio.

Controllable via USB or WesAudio's proprietary 500 series racks, the Mimas NG500 was designed with DAW users in mind.

It offers flexibility with a/b comparisons and plugin-like tweakability in the box.

Specifications

  • Controls: Attack, Release, Input, Output
  • Attack: 20 to 800 microseconds
  • Release: 50ms – 1.2s
  • Ratio: 4:1, 8:1, 12:1, 20:1
  • Threshold: Fixed. Controlled by input.

Pros

Users of the MIMAS NG500 call it a "well-needed update" of the original 1176. The digital additions such as automation via USB was applauded by fans.

Cons

Needs proprietary racks like the WesAudio Titan to maximize potential.

Overall

If you're looking for a good 1176 style compressor with recall, and DAW control, The WesAudio MIMAS NG500 is a great update to the original design.

Crane Song Falcon Tube Compressor

93
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$1249
Crane Song Falcon Tube Compressor - 500 Series

At publication time this was one of the Equal Highest Rated 500 Series Single Channel Compressors along with the FMR Audio RNC500, Rupert Neve Designs 535 and WesAudio MIMAS NG500.

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.

Stereo Bus Compressors

WesAudio DIONE NG500 Analog Bus Compressor with Digital Recall

92
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$1199
WesAudio _DIONE NG500 Analog Bus Compressor with Digital Recall

At publication time this was one of the Equal Highest Rated 500 Series Stereo Compressors along with the Serpent SB4001 and API 529.

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.

Serpent SB4001

92
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$1199
Serpent SB4001 Stereo Buss Compressor - 500 Series

At publication time this was one of the Equal Highest Rated 500 Series Stereo Compressors along with the WesAudio DIONE and API 529.

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

API 529

92
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$2370
API 529 500 Series Stereo Compressor

At publication time this was one of the Equal Highest Rated 500 Series Stereo Compressors along with the WesAudio DIONE and Serpent SB4001.

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.

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 latest edition was published on December 4, 2020.

For our December 2020 update 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 400 reviews from users and experts as well as forum discussions to get the data processed by 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

An audio engineer of nearly 20 years who specializes in rock and metal recordings, he also plays guitar and produces original music for his band and other content creators.

Aside from endlessly window shopping and watching hours of gear reviews for leisure, he enjoys playing competitive FPS games, MMORPGs and caring for his 5 cats. He is primarily influenced by guitarists like Kurt Ballou and Paul Gilbert. His favorite pieces of gear are his Ibanez RG550RFR, Orange Brent Hinds Terror amplifier and EQD Acapulco Gold fuzz.

Contributors

Denise Azucena: Supplemental writing.
Jason Horton: Product research, 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 Solid State Logic 611DYN.

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

Comments

Post a Comment or Question

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Comments

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <b> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.