Although the other list was primarily hardware compressors, this list is a combination, since most of us live in a DAW world these days. Okay, here we go.
1. Universal Audio 1176: I don't care which version you use, the 1176 is about as close to a desert island compressor as you'll get due to its versatility. I like to use it on kick, snare, guitars, bass, vocals - just about anything. It can be aggressive sounding, but nothing pulls an instrument out of a mix in the same way.
2. Teletronix/Universal Audio LA-2A: Once again, I don't care which version of the hardware or software you use, the LA-2A has a sound and feel all its own. It can work pretty well on most instruments, but stands out for vocals, and is dead easy to use. I never use too much, as I like the sound of 2 to 3 dB in most situations.
3. Universal Audio LA-3: Perhaps the ultimate electric guitar compressor, I've used it successfully on piano and keyboards as well. Nothing works quite the same with electric guitars in a mix.
4. Fairchild 660/670: When it comes to buss compression, the Fairchild 670 stands is king of the hill for many kinds of music (especially retro or acoustic). It just adds a glue and warmth that you have trouble getting any other way. Just a little bit (a couple of dB) works a lot better than a whole lot. The 660 is the mono version of the more widely known 670, and was the sound you heard on many of The Beatle records (Ringo's drums, for instance).
5. SSL Buss Compressor: This is the sound that made so many pop and rock records in the 80s and 90s, and it still works great in those genres. I once worked in a studio that had the buss compressor on their 9k labeled as "The Good Button." Why? Because no matter how your mix sounded, once the SSL buss compressor was engaged, it sounded better.
6. Waves L1: You can't beat a classic and the Waves L1 is probably the first software limiter that worked so well that it was abused. If used correctly, few limiters are as capable of controlling the peaks of a mix. If used badly, it can suck the life out of a mix faster than you can say "hypercompression."
7. Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor: Few modern compressors have caught on so widely as the Distressor, and that's because there are few that are as versatile. I like to track with it on vocals to keep the peaks under control, but there are few compressors that are as effective on room mics, especially when it's set to "Nuke."
8. dbx 160: I just love the 160s; any of them. For a punchy drum sound, you can't beat the hardware 160X's (or even the A model). In software, the UAD 160 sounds great. My favorite for aggressive kick and snare, but it will pull a piano or acoustic guitar up front as well.
9. Neve 33609: This is another case of a buss compressor that really works well, especially if you only need a little to tighten up the bottom. It's not always my first choice, but it usually works in a situation when the previously mentioned ones don't.
10. FMR Audio RNC: The Really Nice Compress (RNC) is a great little hardware unit that provides tremendous bang for buck. I don't feel that it necessarily excels at any one thing, but it does work well in most situations. For a home studio with not a lot of money to burn, the stereo RNC (and it's companion RNL -Really Nice Limiter) is a must-have.
Honorable Mention. Pro Tools Native Digirack Compressor/Limiter: I personally think this is one of the most versatile compressors that you can find. It can sound transparent and it can sound aggressive, and since it doesn't take up much in the way of systems resources, you can use a lot of them in a big mix. Don't overlook it.
Once again, these are my personal opinions because these are what I always use. There's lots of other great ones out there (especially in software), but I've come to rely on these units because I know what they'll do in most situations.
Which are your favorites?
By the way, check this out for a good lesson on compressor setup.
Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.
You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.
Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.