I work with a lot of rappers and would like to be able to compress their vocals on the way into my DAW. I’m hoping that this will cut down on mixing time. I know I can do this with UA plugins but there’s something about the experience of working with hardware that I just love. Some recommendations at different price points would be great. Thanks!
Rap vocals tend to be quite aggressive and contain sharp transients. For this reason, I recommend using a compressor with a fast attack and release time like a Universal Audio 1176LN or an Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor. Depending on the settings you use, you can get some desirable distortion out of these units.
Another popular option is the Avalon VT-737sp, which is a channel strip that contains a tube preamp, EQ, and optical compressor. This compressor suits pop vocals quite well too.
See if you can demo plugin emulations prior to pulling the trigger on a hardware unit. Try compressing a variety of sound sources with these plugins to figure out your preference.