Let’s get your vocals under control with the best vocal compressor plugin software.
If you’re looking for a simple compressor to give your vocals a bit more of an analog/classic feel, the Klanghelm DC1A is an excellent free plugin to start with. Its most notable feature is the 4 built-in presets with deep, relaxed, negative, and dual mono compression modes. For a free compressor VST plugin, ReaComp is jam-packed with amazing features. It offers feedback compression, soft-knee support, oversampling, auto-release and auto make-up gain modes, a sidechain input with filtering, and detailed gain reduction metering.
As each compressor plugin software is different, and there are myriads out there to choose from, we’ll keep it simple, and take a look at 5 of best best choices out there…
All of which were researched and recommended by the best.
Quick answer: Softube Tube-Tech CL 1B is the favorite, but if you’re looking for something less costly, take a look at the FabFilter Pro-C2 as perhaps the most popular option out there.
However, picking off a couple isn’t good enough, compressors differ based on character and style.
So let’s take a closer look 🙂
Find more great gear here:
EQ Plugins for Vocals, Top Waves Audio Plugins, Tape Emulation Plugins,Vocal Microphones
Vocal Compression Guide
What is a Compressor?
Compressors are a bit of a controversial plugin in some ways, as to many it is mystery how it works… and even more of a mystery as to what it can do for them.
This is especially true when it comes to vocal compression.
But as simply put as possible, a compressor compresses dynamic range. So that means that above a set volume (threshold), the compressor will limit the amount of volume increase going out the back end (output) compared to what is coming in the front end (Input).
Given that basic function (compressing and audio signal’s dynamic range), you can imagine the vistas of creative potential open to producers. Imaginative engineers realized you could use them creatively to re-shape the transient shape of sounds. Presto! Compression algorithms became secret sauce.
Hence many fancy named compression techniques, such as of side-chaining, parallel compression, etc., are now used. But not just in a technical way, but as if the compressor was itself a musical instrument.
However, we are on the topic of vocal compressor plugins. So, keeping that in mind, there are a few features that every good compressor should have. Let’s find out.
Features to look for & How to choose
If you follow forum discussions, you will find a lot of opinions about the various types of processors out there. Each producer has their favorite because, given time and experience, one compressor can be somewhat like another.
will should have these:
- Threshold – which determines the level your audio signal must be before the compressor can reduce its volume.
- Ratio – determines the level of compression that will be applied to the audio signal once the loudness threshold is reached.
- Attack – how fast or slow the compressor will be activated to reduce loudness.
- Release – how fast or slow the compressor will be deactivated to return the audio signal to is original level.
- Knee – smooths out the ratio so that there isn’t a sudden change in dynamics.
- Make-Up Gain – used to “make-up” the amount of gain that has been lost from all that amplitude attenuation.
- Output – allows you to increase or decrease the sound coming out of the compressor to a desired level.
For a more detailed explanation of each, read thisreal funny exposition of audio compression in music production.
Beside these featured listed, a compressor may function slightly differently, or offer some additional features that make them useful for whatever purpose you want to use it for… in this case, mixing and recording vocals.
Character and Vanilla
There are “Character” units, and “Vanilla” units. Like the name suggests, a good character compressor will add some depth and personality to your vocals. A vanilla compressor will get the job done without you know it was even in the room, like a good butler.
Other than that, another thing to look for in a compressor is versatility. That and the ability to get the results you want reasonably quickly.
Sometimes those things will conflict a bit. That is why we choose a plugin which fits our needs the best.
Best Compressor VST Plugins for Vocals
Softube Tube-Tech CL-1B
Price & Demos @ Plugin Boutique
Softube is a great name in overdrive DSP and this FET emulation has many, many fans. This one is of an optical unit. A high-ticket opto unit that many love for its “musicality,” but may be out of some user’s budget.
Feature wise it’s a lot like the popular CLA-76 from Waves that we mention below, but the source unit has a unique behavior that made them a top choice. The optical method is prone to being softer and gentler to vocals, while still being able to lay down the law when necessary.
It is all about the secret DSP sauce of how nothing is really linear. Add 2db of Gain and suddenly your sound is different. Changing one knob is like changing five knobs on a “clean” compressor. Over time you can get a sense of what is going on. Until then…
You tend to start out wiggling the vaguely labelled knobs and suddenly something great appears in the murk. This is character processing at its best, and if the unit sounds good then you can’t beat it.
The only downside to nitpick at is that if you’re a control freak you can also find it frustrating, since you can’t so much “control” this unit but rather “guide” it like an air traffic controller guiding a Boeing 747 onto land.
That said, it’s good to give up some control, especially if you know there were some experts at the wheel behind this thing, and the results are often solid.
If this is the path for you then close your doors to the world and make this the only device you use for everything. Just like they did back in 1965. It is part of your “sound.”
Price & Demos @ Waves Audio
Waves have been around for a very long time and for much of it as the top name in the game. Their plugins used to be really expensive. Nowadays if you catch them on sale they are cheap as chips. And general pretty good value for that.
The CLA-76 comes in two guises (blue & black) and both are emulations of versions of a classic 60’s Compressor/Limiter. People still pay big coin for hardware versions of these things for “modern” recordings.
Feature wise, these units don’t have a lot on offer. Input, Output, speed the Ratio Curve operates, and then a section of Ratio pre-sets. Sounds dull, I know, but in-practice they can be great.
CLA-76 has a pretty fast Attack, meaning there isn’t too much time between a loud transient arriving and the compression goblins leaping into action. Great for drums as you can really flatten them to add thickness, edge and size.
And for vocals? Depends on who you are. Some like the CLA-76 for vocals for that very same reason. Merciless attack times, the ability to really crunch those pop vocals. Others don’t. But some producers, like Chris Lord-Alge, swear by them for the “the sound.”
Another thing to watch out for is that these units add saturation which changes the “weight” of the sound with wee bits of distortion overtones (and some undertones too). This means the units respond very nicely to being hit hard.
Softube FET Compressor
Price & Demos @ Plugin Boutique
More Softube, more emulation. Everyone loves a bit of bounty hunter scum. Or so it would seem with another 1176 emulation. This one looks more like a 70’s Hi Fi than the original though.
Price-wise, when it’s not on sale, it costs more than the Waves unit mentioned. So it’s a good idea to take a look to see if you’re lucky.
However, FET has more features. Softube added some more modern features (along with improving the flow of the knobs) so you can parallel process and alter what parts of the signal trigger the processing goblins. This is doable with some effort in your DAW with the CLA-76, but far easier in the FET.
Again, some people love it on vocals, as it can really rough them up add some punch where needed. Many think the parameter additions make this a better bet there. Just keep in mind that some have noticed that the FET can slide into distortion if you aren’t paying attention.
This is a character effect (processor to be accurate). So be aware that, while you can use it on everything, including vocals, you may find that you’d want to slap this bad boy onto different things in different places.
Softube Summit Audio TLA-100 Compressor
Price & Demos @ Plugin Boutique
Another minimalistic blast from the past. The Summit Audio units got popular in the 80’s, particularly for vocals.
The reason this style of unit works so well for vocals is that it tends to be kind. Besides the Tube-Tech, the other compressors so far have tended to be rough and rowdy (which has its charm) but the TLA-100 is smoother and less noticeable as it goes about its work.
“Smooth”, “controlled”, and “softening” are common adjectives applied to the TLA-100. Softube added a few extra features including a separate saturation section so you can control how tubular it all gets.
The Parallel options seems slightly unusual as that effect is normally used with more brutal compressors but we won’t complain that it is there.
This compressor isn’t a jack of all trades. But if you want a character unit to supplement your core compression, or you want to choose one unit to live with then this could be it. I may just suggest that it could see you struggle with less controlled singers like Rappers.
If you ever feel the need to lay down the law in your vocal mix, refer to the other units mentioned. But for singer-songwriter tracks, this is great.
FabFilter Pro-C2 Compressor
Price & Demos @ Plugin Boutique
This fellow is the real odd one out here. Not because it’s the best or the worst, but because it’s not a character unit. Pro-C2 is all about modern, practical, versatility, and clean.
This is the modern jack of all trades, cover every piece of ground, device that many of us bedroom boys love. Why buy and learn 78 devices when you can get one?
It is also simply the go-to plugin for all your compressing duties on every track, not just vocals. So it is well worth it.
You get a lot of modes targeted at most of the common things you will want to do with a compressor. For instance, its vocal mode helps you to bring vocals to the front of the mix. A nice little addition to a plugin.
Analog, Classic & Optical style modes are also on the list. But honestly, it is doubted that they can really compete with the dedicated units mentioned above. Think of it as leaning a bit that way.
Upside? This is the only unit here to offer control over the Knee of the compression critters. Boggling if you don’t get it but super useful if you do. Especially when it comes to vocal mixing.
Also, if you ever needed to learn how to use a compressor for mixing vocals, you’ll probably find about as many engineers on Youtube showing you how to mix vocals via the FabFilter Pro-C2 than any other one mentioned. You probably think of it as the ‘Fruity Loops’ of compressors.
Also, rather than being stuck in an old-hardware frame of mind the interface is visually informative and very adjustable to suit your task or preferences. You can even pop it full screen on an unreasonable large Retina display!
Waves Audio V-Comp
Price & Demos @ Waves Audio
Waves V-Comp rides on the vintage Neve’2254’s classic sound with its super-responsive dynamics processor.
It has all the typical compressor controls and its interface is intuitive and easy to use. The V-Comp also features a De-Esser switch which functions like a high-frequency side-chain to smoothen harsh high frequencies in the mix. This is a nifty feature that can be turned on and off with a single switch. Also included is a limiter that can be used independently.
While some user reviews do not seem convinced of the V-Comp’s emulation of the actual 2254 machine, many are satisfied with its silky smooth compression. V-Comp lends a unique ‘analog-ish’ color to the entire mix, which we believe to be a commendable feat in itself.
Its vintage-style squashing of the transients is also convincing. There is a bit of warmth in the processed signal which can be further shaped by the De-Esser and the limiter functions.
Needless to say, the V-Comp is a good option for those who want the most out of their buck, especially if you’re going for an easy-to-use plugin that fits most styles of sound.
Price & Demos @ Waves Audio
The CLA-2A is modeled after the legendary Teletronix LA-2A, a tube-based compressor from the 1960s. The Teletronix LA-2A is prized for its electro-luminescent optical attenuator. The Waves CLA-2A emulates this frequency-dependent action for smooth gain reduction.
Producers love the multi-stage release and the CLA-2A’s quick response, both of which add character to the mix. It seems that most producers use the CLA-2A for leveling purposes, particularly for bass sounds. But it has also proven itself as a competent vocal compressor as well.
Included when buying the CLA-2A are presets made by Grammy-winning mix engineer Chris-Lord-Alge, a side-chain frequency filter, and a limiter mode.
The CLA-2A does not have a lot of tricks, but its historic sound and simplicity makes up most of its charm. It has more than you would ever expect from a product of its price point.
Price & Demos @ Waves Audio
Based on the original 1969 solid-state compressor, the Waves CLA-3A boasts a transparent compression curve. This ensures a fast response from attack to release, a perfect tool for high-tempo music.
Moreover, it packs a subtle harmonic distortion for some added spice. This works best for bass, as it brings out a unique kink from the sound. Nonetheless, the CLA-3A infuses this edge to your vocals without ruining the signal.
Like the CLA-2A, it uses an optical attenuator for gain reduction. The algorithms behind the compression are program dependent. This means that it is hard to say how a particular setting would change the quality of the sound. This unwieldiness is expected out of any ‘vintage-style’ compressor and is what makes it fun to use.
The CLA-3A’s interface is fairly simple. It has a Peak Reduction knob for controlling the desired compression, and a Gain knob for adjusting the levels after compression.
Overall, the CLA-3A can be used for a wide variety of applications. But its magic is most potent on bass, vocals, and guitars.
Waves Renaissance Vox
Price & Demos @ Waves Audio
None other than Drake’s producer Noah “40” Shebib has praised this plugin as “one of the most important plugins ever made.” These high words of praise are only equaled by the Waves Renaissance Vox’s packed features.
What the R-Vox lacks in visual appeal, it makes up for in its ‘under the hood’ bag of tricks. It deploys an entire array of expansion, compression, and limiting gadgetry, most of which happens by way automation.
But despite the complex tech behind R-Vox’s processing chain, users are only given three controllable parameters, which are expander and compressor thresholds and output attenuation. Needless to say, producers who want more control over the attack and release times may find the Renaissance Vox too wild of a beast to tame.
Nevertheless, this plugin’s ‘plug-and-play’ philosophy helps producers focus on other mixing aspects by automating the gritty details. And it does this to excellent effect. An instance of R-Vox instantly puts your signal into the front and center of the mix. It adds weight to any signal, which can help for weak-sounding vocals to stand out.
Another added bonus is its relatively small CPU footprint. You can chuck in multiple instances of the plugin without putting a strain on your machine.
What to do?
The Tube-Tech CL 1B unit is the favorite by far. But being a high-ticket item, you may want to consider the other four units mentioned if you’re on a tighter budget.
Then, you can decide if you want to commit to a path, like owning one unit that you use for everything, or having a couple that fits diverging tastes. In the latter case you won’t have one unit that you have to “fight with” to submit to every path that comes across your DAW.
If you’re thinking a character unit, then it really comes down to what appeals to you mostly. Namely:
Waves CLA-76, Softube FET and Summit Audio TLA-100.
Waves CLA-76 and Softube FET may suit people who mix harder and louder (as most of us have to these days), and whose vocalists need more discipline. Submitting to the Summit Audio TLA-100 could be perfect for the folksier amongst us.
But if dollars are the deciding factor, then check if Waves is having one of their many sales right now go grab it!
But for the vanilla producer/engineer, the FabFilter Pro-C2 has so many possibilities. Not only in the “I can’t believe it’s not butter” processing, but in dramatic or effect processing that makes it hard to pass by.
If you want just one compressor and don’t mind the vanilla, FabFilter Pro-C2 is the one ring to rule them all.
The Tube-Tech CL1B, when powered up with the Collection Upgrade, proves itself to be a very competent product. While definitely among the most expensive in the list, its versatility and its added features make it worth every buck.
But one cannot also ignore the CLA-2A and CLA-3A, as these are also very powerful compressors. What makes them interesting are their unique vintage features. If you’re looking for something that would help you develop your personal sound, these two products might suit you the best.
Of course, one could never go wrong with the Renaissance Vox. While also learning more towards the pricier side, the simplicity and the sheer power of this plugin makes it an awesome choice for newbies and vets alike.
On the other end of the spectrum is the FabFilter Pro-C2 which is as simple and vanilla as you can get. If you’re looking for a no-nonsense compressor that does its job, the FabFilter is an ax that will never fail you when you need it the most.
BEST FREE VST COMPRESSORS
FREE VST COMPRESSOR PLUGINS
Below you will find a list of free compressors with links to the respective download sites. If you scroll down further you will find descriptions of the listed compressor vst plugins.
The vst plugins mentioned may be working either on PC or Mac or on both and a few are 32-bit only. However, by the use of a bit bridge and / or a plugin-adaptor (like jBridge, 32 lives, DDMF Bridgewize or Blue Cat’s Patchwork) you should be able to use these vst plugins in almost any DAW. In Klangheim Studio we use Cubase in combination with jBridge and that works like a charm without any hickups. You can read more about bit bridging in our article About Bit Bridging
MCompressor by Melda Production
DC1A by Klanghelm
MJUC Jr. by Klanghelm
Molot by VladG
Tan by Acustica Audio
TDR Kotelnikov by Tokyo Dawn Records
RoughRider3 by Audio Damage
ReaComp by Cockos
SAFE Compressor by Semantic Audio
Leveling Tool by AdHd Audio Tools
jsCompShaper by JS Audio
FRComp87 by eaReckon
GComp by GVST
The Best Free Vocal Compressor Vst Plugin
LA Thrillseeker by Variety of Sound (Windows)
Density mkiii by Variety of Sound (high quality buss and mastering compressor) (Windows)
Thrillseeker VBL by Variety of Sound (Vari-Mu compressor – this is primarily a saturation tool but it also has a simple compressor that works very well on bass) (Windows)
Nasty VCS by Variety of Sound (channelstrip with opto style compressor) (Windows)
Older vst compressor plugins – but good:
Compressive Pro by Martin Eastwood (Windows)
FL4TT3RY 2 by platinumears (Windows)
Side Chain Compressor by slim slow slider (Windows)
Sidechain Compressor by Christian Budde (Windows)
dlm Sixtyfive by de la Mancha (Windows)
Kjaerhus Compressor by Kjaerhus (Windows)
Blockfish by Digital Fishphones
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MCompressor by Melda Production (Windows and Mac)
MCompressor is a very nice and very versatile vst compressor plugin. It has a good graphic user interface (GUI) that gives you good visual feedback about what you are doing both in terms of how you are compressing (soft knee, linear, or hard knee) and how much gain reduction you are employing.
You have full control over attack, release, ratio and threshold and you can target either the audio peaks or the average loudness (RMS) of the incoming signal – or set up the MCompressor to target the audio signal somewhere in between these two.
MCompressor also has a sidechain and a highpass and lowpass filter which makes it extraordinarily flexible. It comes with the Melda Free Bundle that includes quite a few other nice vst plugins. Highly recommended.
Download link: MCompressor
DCA1 by Klanghelm (Windows and Mac)
The DC1A compressor from Klanghelm is a simple yet powerfull free VST compressor plugin. If you are a beginner this could be a good compressor to learn by since it is very easy to tweak plus you are forced to use your ears and not rely on numbers.
The DC1A is resembling an OPTO compressor. Its attack and release timings are program dependant although you have the choice between a faster response (which is the default mode) and a slower response with the ”relaxed” mode engaged. It has a fixed threshold and the more you gain the input the more compression you will get.
Use the output knob to match the compressed level to the uncompressed. This way you will not be fooled by differences in loudness between the unprocessed and the processed audio.
The DC1A can add a nice saturation effect to the audio. The saturation is stronger with higher gain reduction. You will have less saturation when the ”relaxed” mode is enabled. If you use it for just a few db of gain reduction in ”relaxed” mode it will work in a much more transparent way.
On stereo tracks you can compress the left and right side separately by enabling the ”dual mono” mode and Klanghelm has also given us an internal sidechain high pass filter which comes in handy when you want to keep the low end more intact (for instance on the drum bus). Finally you have the option of using negative compression ratios.
So, even though the DC1A looks simple at a first glance it is quite surprisingly versatile and can work well on many different types of audio material from drums and percussion to vocals, guitars, and keyboards. It is a very good sounding free VST compressor and should you want even more flexibility you should check out its ”big brother”, the DC8A, which is a high quality compressor with a lot of tweakability for just a little more than 20 US Dollars.
MJUC jr by Klanghelm (Vari-Mu compressor) (Windows and Mac)
Yet another simple but powerful vst compressor plugin by Klanghelm. MJUC jr is a scaled down version of the amazing MJUC compressor plugin by Klanghelm. However, the MJUC jr still gives you a little of the flavour that you will find plenty of in its bigger sibling. Both plugins are emulations of the Vari-Mu compressors type and thus they add quite a bit of tube coloration / saturation.
With just a few controls – compress, make up gain, and a choice between three time constants (fast, slow, and auto) – the plugin is very easy to operate and you may be surprised about how much you can get out of this scaled down version. If you need more control and would enjoy playing with a lot of extra parameters you can buy the full version for very little money.
Download link: MJUC jr
TDR Kotelnikov by Tokyo Dawn Records (Windows and Mac)
TDR Kotelnikov is a free VST compressor designed primarily for mastering purposes. It can function in a very transparent way and will definitely also find it’s use as a channel compressor or a group bus compressor.
The developers have added control features that you will not find on many compressors such as separate control over peak and RMS release values and a way to balance the importance and influence of each of these release times on the processing (through the peak crest knob and of course through the peak release knob and the RMS release knob).
You can also control the stereo sensitivity and chose whether the compressor should work on the full stereo audio or on the mid (”sum”) alone or the ”side” (”diff”) alone. If you want to dial in both mid and side compression and control these individually then you can simply use two instances of TDR Kotelnikov.
TDR Kotelnikov offers an internal sidechain function which gives you the option of relaxing the way the compressor responds to low end frequencies. There is also a mix option for parallel compression.
Timingwise the TDR Kotelnikov is capable of very fast settings. The attack time can be as low as 0.02 milliseconds and the release time can be as fast as 10 milliseconds for the peak release and 20 milliseconds for the RMS release. Of course you can choose slower settings as well since the attack time is fully adjustable up to 250 milliseconds and the release time likewise fully adjustable up to 2 seconds. All in all a very versatile tool for transparent compression.
TDR Kotelnikov is a fabulous free VST compressor plugin and it is amazing that you can get this quality for free. For mastering it is one of the best free vst compressors around. Highly recommended.
Should you want even more options there is a ”Gentleman’s Edition” at a very affordable price.
Thrillseeker LA by Variety of Sound (Windows only)
This is definitely one of my favorite free VST compressors and probably the one free VST compressor that I use the most. The Thrillseeker LA is a very versatile compressor. In many ways it works like an OPTO compressor but although some people on the internet describe it as a free version of the LA-2A it is much more flexible than that.
Yes, indeed, the Thrillseeker LA can work very much like an LA-2A but you have many extra options on this Variety of Sound plugin. First of all you have faster attack times (both attack and release times are dependant on the incoming audio material – just as is the case with the LA-2A – but you can tweak and control the timing to some extend with the attack and release knobs).
This means that it is possible to tweak the Thrillseeker LA to work very much like a dbx 160 when it comes to timing – or a Tubetech CL-1B as well as a Fairchild or an LA-2A compresor.
Variety of Sound has also given us control over the total harmonic distortion (THD) with the interstage section. Once you have found the right amount of compression and adjusted the attack and release to your liking you can turn on the interstage section and add 2 order harmonics. If you want to go further than that you can use the slider to add even more THD and obtain thicker saturation effects.
Finally you have the ability to colour the saturation effect to your needs and even switch on a transformer circuit simulation to fatten up the sound even more.
Thrillseeker LA has internal and external sidechain options and in the top left corner you will find a little knob that calibrates the plugin to a conservative (and advisable) mix level of -18 db.
In other words Thrillseeker LA can work as a clean compressor or as a more vintage sounding unit. It can work with much faster attack times than an LA-2A and it has its own little colour tool box in the interstage section.
You can use it as a channel compressor or indeed as a bus compressor. And last but not least: it sounds amazingly good. It proves that free plugins can sound as good as commercial plugins – and be more innovative than most of them! That is just one good reason to dive into free VST compressors and other free VST plugins. Highly recommended.
SAFE Compressor by Semantic Audio (Windows and Mac)
The SAFE Compressor is special in the sense that it allows you to type in more intuitive or descriptive terms or words into the plugins textbox – such as for instance bright, warm, punchy etc. – and if the word or term is on the developers server the compressor will be set to parameters that can bring forward the wanted and described effect.
You can save your own suggestions for semantic terms that represent a compression effect and it can then be shared with other users via the server. In other words SAFE Compressor is a unique intuitive compressor that may be of special interest to beginners.
Download link: SAFE Compressor
FRComp87 by eaReckon (Windows and Mac)
FRComp87 is a delightfully simple vst compressor plugin. It only has a few controls: threshold, makeup gain, and three timings (fast, medium, and slow). Finally, you can switch in a limiter to tame peaks after the compression. Because of the simplicity FRComp is very fast to use and may be just the right starting point if you are a beginner when it comes to compression.
Download link: FRComp87
dlm Sixtyfive by de la Mancha (Windows)
The developer de la Mancha has created a really good free VST compressor plugin inspired by the dbx 165 A compressor. However, de la Mancha’s Sixtyfive gives you several extra options compared to the hardware which inspired his work.
If you are looking for a dbx-style compressor plugin Sixtyfive is a good choice. It sounds very good and adds a little, nice coloration and character to the audio material you run through it.
De la Mancha has given you extra features like a dry/wet knob which makes it easy to dial in ”New York” or parallel compression. While the fastest attack on the original hardware is 1 millisecond de la Mancha lets you dial in even faster timings. Like the dbx 165 A de la Mancha’s Sixtyfive also has an auto attack and release button which activates a program dependant attack and release response. It also features a peak stop option for hard limiting on the final output.
Sixtyfive is a soft knee compressor. You can tweak it to give you smooth, musical compression or to work in much more agressive ways. So if you need a vintage style VCA compressor plugin with extra features you need look no further.
GComp by GVST (Windows and Mac)
With the GComp vst compressor plugin you have full control over attack, release, threshold, hard knee or soft knee or anything in between as well as dialing in the balance between how the compressor should react to audio peaks versus RMS (the average loudness of the program material). On top of that it also includes a limiter.
You can adjust the input and output volume and GComp gives you a good visual feedback of what is going on and how much compression you are applying.
GComp has a sibling called GComp2 with a few different parameters that you could check out as well.
Download link: GComp