Best VST Plugins: Must-Have Effects for Any Budget (2021)

Best VST Plugins

The world of VSTsVirtual Studio Technology — can be a dangerous one.

It’s a bit like a vacuum cleaner. There’s a lot of loud noise, bells and whistles, but if you fall too far into it, you get sucked up, never to resurface.

Okay, so maybe you think that’s the worst analogy I’ve ever thought up, but it is still technically accurate. It is an exciting prospect, pumping a few hundred bucks into some VSTs in the hope that your songs will come out the other end sounding as though they were made in Abbey Road studios.

Music Note

Let’s be crystal clear — this is what makes virtual software so dangerous. You can spend an infinite amount of your hard-earned cash and have absolutely no improvement in your songs.

If you don’t know how to mix, record or write songs, even on a basic level, you’re essentially throwing your money down a vacuum (see, I told you it makes sense).

But hey, that’s what I’m here for!

I don’t pretend to be an expert music engineer. I’ve never gone to school for it.

If I rocked up at a professional studio, I have to imagine that the big, burly security guards would be swiftly called to escort me from the premises because of what I attempted to do the world’s next big pop hit.

But I’ve worked on enough of my own and others’ music, watched enough YouTube videos and read enough books to have a fundamental understanding of mixing and processing to the point where I think I’m allowed to get excited about my next piece of software.

Note: In this article, we’ll be talking mostly about the best VST effects (VSTfx). If you’re interested in learning more about virtual instruments (VSTi), check out our in-depth Virtual Instruments Guide.

While a couple of online articles won’t make you Rick Rubin, hopefully by the end of this writing series you’ll have enough of a base knowledge to receive your ‘VST license’, the musical equivalent of the pen license.

I know what you’re thinking. ‘Yes Ben, you’ve told us. We have to try before we buy. We have to think practically before committing to a purchase. Stop lecturing us and get on with it!’

Okay, fair enough. Let’s move on.

What Exactly is a VST?

Music Production DAW Recording

A VST is a virtual ‘plugin’, that is used to generate or manipulate audio in some fashion. These are traditionally used in DAWs (digital audio workstations) like Fl Studio, GarageBand, Pro Tools, etc. however also find use in video editing software like Sony Vegas.

They are often .VST files and can be downloaded online, often in the form of packages. Once downloaded, they are usually pretty easy to install, requiring little more than being dragged and dropped into a previously designated folder. Easy stuff, right?

The term is used interchangeably with ‘effect’ and ‘plugin’, however technically a VST is distinct from stock effects in that they are developed by a third-party and not by whoever created the DAW.

For all practical purposes though, they are the same thing.

There are three main types of VST plugins:

VSTiVSTfxVSTMfx

Virtual instruments. These are generally synthesizers; however, technology has since expanded to include things like drums, guitars and of course, pianos.

VSTis often work well with MIDI controllers, allowing for songs to be written and aspects such as dynamics and expression integrated into recordings as opposed to melodies being drawn in with a keyboard and mouse.

If you’re interested in learning more about virtual instruments, we have a full guide dedicated to them.

Effects (the focus of this article). These affect, alter and manipulate pre-existing audio, as opposed to being the source of the audio. Whereas a VSTi will nearly always be a MIDI track, VSTfx can be placed on any type of track being worked with inside a DAW.

These include everything from the previously mentioned ‘5 vital effects’, to spectrums, frequency analyzers, tape emulators and so on.

A rather niche type of VST, these are used entirely to manipulate MIDI recordings.

This may revolve around MIDI routing (a complicated, infuriating task), randomizing/humanizing certain notes, changing certain dynamics or a number of other things. VSTMfx are less likely to be a part of any major VST pack, so I wouldn’t stress too much about them for now.

And trust me, when it comes to routing a synth from the 90s that has no inward functionality, stress you will. Moving on…

The Fun Stuff

Crocodile Rocking Guitar

Hunting for VSTs can be thrilling. Trawling through sale after sale, following your favorite companies through every new release, finding an obscure $20 software that transforms all of your piano recordings into harmonies of a cat meowing — the options are endless.

In this article I’m going to try my best to keep it tidy and look at the 5 most prominent types of VST effects when it comes to designing, creating and mixing music.

That said, I have reserved space in an article (will be one of the VSTi ones) for discussing some of the more ridiculous VSTs. I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist.


The 5 Integral VST Effects for Any Home Studio Are

If you have read the first article in this series — and I stress that I will not allow you to pass my so-called ‘course’ without doing so! — you will already know this, but here’s quick refresher of the most common VSTfx you will have in your DAW’s toolbox when mixing.

Mixing Audio Effects

  • Equalization
  • Compression
  • Reverb
  • Delay
  • Saturation

Pretty much every song ever released, from lo-fi black metal to 80s synthpop, contains some variation of these five effects (and often many more).

They are essential to crafting a sound, whether you wish to use them for ‘cleaning up a mix’, or creatively to design and mold a specific sonic brand for your music.

That said, don’t make your brand ‘put a bucket-load of reverb on everything!’ We have enough of those. I’m looking at you, Tame Impala.

Other Bits and Pieces

Now that we know about the different types of VST plugins and their purposes you’re almost ready to graduate from my class. HOLD IT. I said almost. We’re not done here yet.


How do I use VSTs together?

Well my friends, that would be called mixing.

If we unequivocally knew the answer to that question, what would be the fun?

Learning to combine VSTs in order to attain a unique creative sound, or just to shore up a song that still sounds suspiciously like it was recorded in your bedroom, is a tough but enjoyable process where you never stop learning.

This isn’t because it’s impossible to become good at it quickly — a few rigorous months of work and you will really start to notice improvements in your understanding of VSTs, mixing, and music in general.

You’ll notice you start listening to songs on a different level sometimes — where have they panned that melody, why does that guitar stick out so much, etc.

It’s just like playing the piano — you can always get better.

Through practice you will begin to innately understand where certain compressors should go, how an EQ would best fit into a certain track, and start being able to devote more time to the details and creating inimitable sonic worlds that will suck up (kind of like… what a… VACUUM… does!) and engage your listener.

Okay great, but how do I actually install VSTs?

Windows Icon

For Windows: Follow the instructions that the download link provides.

Kidding (although reading the instructions is a pretty good policy).

Usually, VSTs will come with either an install file that will automatically register your software’s license and place the .dll or .VST3 files in a designated path, often something like C:\Program Files\ Steinberg\VSTPlugins, or just the naked .dll file which you will manually copy and paste into the aforementioned folder path.

Simple stuff, right?

Apple Mac OS Icon

For Apple: Macs use both AU (audio units) and VSTs (they are functionally the same).

Usually, the installation of these components is super easy — you will either double-click the file and the software data will be automatically transferred to the appropriate folder path, or you will just copy and paste it there.

It’s worth mentioning that this method (the specific .dll/.component files) are made so they can be opened up in your DAW as these filetypes cannot be opened on their own. They’re called plugins for a reason — you gotta plug them in.

That said, many VSTfx and VSTi’s come as ‘standalone’ applications (usually .exe or .app) where you can use them outside of your DAW just by double-clicking them.

This can be handy if you’re trying to practice (without recording) a song on a virtual instrument but you don’t want to sap your computer’s processor by opening an entire DAW software.

Hardware vs Software

Nowadays pretty much every popular piece of hardware has been successfully replicated or modeled by an almost identical-sounding digital version. I am particularly a sucker for these types of VSTs.

I think most producers would still argue the original hardware slightly outperforms their digital counterpart, but using, buying and setting up analog delays, equalizers, compressors, etc. is time-consuming, space-consuming, wallet-consuming and flexibility-consuming.

There are near endless possibilities available to creative and brave producers in the software world with free or cheap plugins available literally everywhere and these same affordances don’t exist when using physical versions of these effects.

Presets

Most VSTs will contain easy-to-use presets which is a fantastic way of learning about what each individual effect does. Note the level of ‘pre-delay’ and ‘shape’ in your favorite reverb setting, or the troughs and peaks of the EQ preset you plug onto every track.

Gaining knowledge through experience is a vital element of any musical work, be it creative or functional.

Trying to learn how to use VSTs properly without trying them out on your own and others’ songs is much like trying to master an instrument through watching videos and never actually playing it.

Sounds impossible right? Well yeah, that’s cause it is.

Moving Right Along

Hooray! The theoretical part of the piece is done. Hopefully you’ve learned plenty — I’ve tried to keep it succinct (HA!) yet thorough, which I’m now starting to realize is an oxymoron for a reason. Any who…

You’re edging ever closer to receiving your VST license — the sheet of paper you can print out, frame and place above your home studio to remind yourself that Ben from PianoDreamers, who never officially studied mixing, VSTs or became a professional producer, allowed you to download and use VSTs.

VST License

Exciting stuff, right? Now that you know what the main types of VSTs are, I suppose it would be remiss of me not to tell you where they are.

Below is anything BUT an exhaustive list of VSTfx, but many of these suggestions will have been used in productions all the way from Derek’s SoundCloud rap with 10 listens to, well, I don’t know. Name a song made past 2010.

Yeah, that one.

The Best Effect VST Plugins

One thing to keep in mind before we embark is that most VSTs come in a ‘pack’ which often presents far greater value than if you were to purchase each individual plugin. While this section will be focused on VSTs in isolation, I will ensure to mention the overall bundle they hail from if applicable.

And remember. Your music, flair and creativity are the centrepiece of your studio and no amount of VSTfx can replace passion.


Stock

Stock VST Plugins

Pretty much every DAW you get will come with a varying level of ‘stock plugins’ — VSTs that are native (included) to the program. Some come with more than others, you can refer back to my article on DAWs for a bit more of an oversight on what the most popular programs come with.

I won’t make an argument as to which stock plugins are better than any other — it’s a fruitless exercise and truthfully, I haven’t tried every DAW from a mixing perspective so it would be disingenuous for me to provide commentary on that matter anyway.

However, what I think is an extremely important point to make, albeit not a sexy one, is that stock plugins are usually very, very, solid operators.

You can absolutely craft a respectable mix using stock EQs, compressors, reverbs, delays and saturators.

Particularly as you are starting to dip your toes in the big, scary world of VSTs, it might be a better idea to put off the tantalizing, but ultimately distracting, myriad options available on alternative plugins for later and become well-acquainted with your DAW’s vanilla plugins.

They are often ‘no-frills’ audio components, containing all the essentials you need to manufacture a great-sounding bop without drowning you in some of the absurd (and once again, tantalizing) specifics fancier and more expensive plugins shamelessly flaunt.

My weapon of choice (Ableton) contains a number of accessible EQs and compressors that I will often prioritize over some of the more complex, hardware-modeled alternatives I have at my disposal.

Hardware Audio Effects

I know — normally the more expensive option is better, but each circumstance is different. My comfort level and the appealing simplicity of a few of Ableton’s in-built plugins means they actually get far more wear and tear than some of the frillier substitutes in my VST library.

The overarching point I’m trying to make?

Don’t sleep on stock VSTs. If a free plugin performs the same tasks for you as a $100 one, spend that money on something else.

Like Meow Synth.

Free

There are a lot of free plugins out there. You can very quickly fill your reservoir of VSTs by trawling sites such as KVR and Plugin Boutique, picking out random appealing software like apples off a tree.

This is a bloody fun thing to do, but can ultimately lead to clogging your DAW’s library with unnecessary programs and effects that sound (get it? Because they’re audio effects?) good in theory but are free for a reason.

For the sake of brevity, I will only go into detail on 5 free VSTs — one for each of the essential mixing elements that I labored on in my previous articles. That said, I will briefly mention other alternatives that are worth your time checking out.

As for an over-arching look into free VSTs as a whole, including instruments, synths and other bizarre effects? That’s another article entirely. Exciting I know, but it’s probably for the best if you stop literally salivating at the prospect.

This list will not include one-off discounted VSTs, though keep an eye out for them as occasionally developers will set their works loose into the wild, free of charge.


EQ – Melda’s MEqualizer

Melda MEqualizer EQ

Melda is one of the more popular VST developers, providing loyal customers with a-near exorbitant number of free plugins, most performing at an extremely high quality. The MEqualizer is no exception.

It is a fairly lightweight and easy-to-use equalizer, though allowing for more advanced and capable engineers to stretch their wings with a sonogram and spectrum analyzer packed in.

It has 6 bands — meaning that you can alter 6 frequency ranges, within the one instance of the plugin. Of course if you needed to make more changes, you can simply run another instance of the software without much impact on your computer’s processor.

Aside from its intuitive GUI (graphics user interface), which includes visual and textual prompts of what each frequency range represents, the MEqualizer is great in that it innately includes tube saturation — the very same kind referred to in my last article! — which can be adjusted to taste.

This is incredibly powerful, as it gives an entirely digital equalizer that isn’t modeled on any actual hardware a sense of musicality and analog warmth that might otherwise get lost with a lesser plugin.

Available as: standalone plugin, or in a HUGE (honestly, probably too huge) bundle MFreeFXBundle

Honorable mentions:

  • Tokyo Dawn’s TDR Nova for a dynamic EQ
  • Blue Cat’s Triple EQ for a parametric EQ

Compressor – Klanghelm’s DC1A

Klanghelm DC1A compressor

When discussing free VSTs, I’m usually biased towards those that provide one or two required elements, keeping their functionality simple, targeted and ruthlessly efficient. This is because

a) free VSTs are often used by those new to the plugin and musical production game

and b) they are often downloaded to fulfill a specific purpose.

The DC1A fits this criterion to a tee. From a user interface stand point, one look at it shows just how easy it is to use. It only has two functional knobs – one for input and one for output, as well as 4 varying styles of compression you can switch between including deep, relaxed, dual mono and negative.

The effect this little plugin can have on your mixes — from smooth, subtle gain control to an overwhelming warmth and saturation typical of the best compression hardware money can buy — is ill-befitting its simple complexion.

The DC1A is a modest offering from Klanghelm that packs a punch suitable for all levels of music producer, but particularly those just gaining their VST licenses (like you, my faithful students).

Available as: a standalone plugin (not part of any bundle)

Honorable mentions:

  • Klanghelm’s MJUC jr. for a vintage compressor with a similarly simple interface to the DC1A
  • Tokyo Dawn’s TDR Feedback Compressor II, for a more complex, malleable software that is perfect for recordings with a lot of tracks/stems
  • Variety of Sound’s ThrillseekerLA is another fantastic vintage-modeled compression option

Reverb – SmartElectronix’s Ambience

SmartElectronix Ambience reverb

One of the most popular freeware VSTs that has been around for nearly twenty years, there’s a reason it has been a staple of many aspiring musicians’ plugin library for such a long time.

Coming with a number of presets to get you started, Ambience is a hugely versatile software that has a simple(ish) to understand GUI but can offer all sorts of customization to more confident suitors.

Some of the functions that set it apart from its competitors are its gate, which is vital for cleaning up the mud that inevitably comes with reverb use, as well as its hold function, allowing for a theoretically infinite decay time.

An infinite amount of echo on a reverb means that this is perfectly suited for creative use even though on face value it’s a fairly stock standard ambience (yeah, I noticed the punniness available in its name too but I thought it best I don’t mention it after the vacuum fiasco) plugin.

Available as: a standalone plugin (not part of any bundle)

Honorable mentions:

  • Voxengo’s OldSkoolVerb, for a reverb that pretty much lives up to its name
  • Variety of Sound’s epicVerb for a slightly more complex reverb with even more functionality and customisation than Ambience

Delay – Valhalla’s FreqEcho

Valhalla FreqEcho Delay

Valhalla are one of the most well-known developers for ambient, psychedelic textures, reverbs and delays. Their free offering, FreqEcho, is a fantastic entry-point into their lauded products.

As per the other free options on this list, FreqEcho is a relatively simple delay, featuring 6 easy to understand knobs. On face value it doesn’t’ appear to have the versatility that other popular options provide, FreqEcho allows for creative exploration defiant of its graphic straightforwardness.

Experimentation with this VST allows for all sorts of unique sonic worlds, from strange and exciting dubs, crazy pitch shifting, or just a basic short delay effect on some upfront vocals.

The websites’ by-line for this product really says it all‘best for psychedelic skull-melting chaos’.

Sign me up please.

Available as: a standalone plugin (not part of any bundle)

Honorable mentions:

  • Voxengo Tempo Delay, for a more complex yet ‘bread and butter’ delay
  • GSI’s WatKat, for a model of an analog delay that adds a level of color, saturation and character to your mix other free delays usually do not.

Saturation – Softube’s Saturation Knob

Softube Saturation Knob

Remember how I said I liked simplicity in my free VSTs?

Well, how about a plugin that revolves around One. Knob. It’s my dream come true.

This is an extremely popular performer for many amateur and even professional mixing engineers, primarily due to its desirable effect on musical harmonics in spite of its non-existent cost.

This plugin comes with three types of distortion, which allows for more alterations and ‘flavor’ than the title ‘one-knob-wonder’ might suggest (though in fairness, there is also a switch included, and I’m not sure anybody has ever called anything a ‘one-knob-wonder’ until right now).

As you begin to understand more and more about mixing and the intricacies of your understanding and style of sonic engineering, you may find yourself moving onto more complex plugins that offer a far greater level of interaction and customization than SoftTube’s aforementioned offering.

However even then, the sheer ease of dragging, dropping, and turning for a great-sounding result is still extremely appealing.

Not to mention Saturation Knob’s interface is really, really sleek.

Available as: a pack called ‘Volume 4 Plug-in Collection’, and unfortunately not as a standalone plugin. This is kind of the kicker — download the entire VST pack (which contains a number of useful plugins to be fair) and delete those that are unnecessary, or use an extraction tool to just install this specific VSTfx.

Honorable mentions:

  • Variety of Sound’s FerricTDS, for another simple yet more customizable saturator
  • Voxengo’s Tube Amp, for, well, a tube amp styled saturator

Mid-range

Equalizer – Tokyo Dawn Labs’ TDR SlickEQ M

Tokyo Dawn Labs TDR SlickEQ M

Tokyo Dawn Labs are big contributors to the free market of VSTs, offering a number of fantastic plugins without charge, so it only makes sense their paid options are pretty good.

TDR SlickEQ M is a seamless, smooth operator that provides 6 fully-parametric bands and a comprehensive visual offering and spectrum analyzer to allow for both a visual and auditory stimulus to dictate your equalization methods.

A really awesome feature that I wish more EQs had is the ‘auto-gain makeup’ function.

When using equalization, either through cuts or boosts, the overall volume of the sound you’re affecting is changed too, which can influence your decisions in a way that is not truly reflective of the adjustments you are making.

By temporarily compensating gain throughout band operation, this bias is mostly avoided and allows for precise decisions to be made on their merit.

Interesting other functions include: dedicated low frequency filter, ‘smart monitoring’ which assist in filtering out custom-set EQs or already included ones (this is designed for noise reduction), and a simple-to-use filter which self-adjusts for brightness or dullness depending on your desired effect.

Price: approx. $50

Available as: standalone plugin, or in ‘SlickEq Superbundle’ pack.

Honorable mentions:

  • Waves’ PuigTec EQ for an analog-modeled equalizer (regularly on sale for sub $50, though RRPs at a much higher price)
  • Slate’s FG-S for an affordable console strip EQ, which is frequently used for mastering purposes

Compressor – Waves’ CLA-2A

Waves CLA-2A comressor

Designed in collaboration with decorated sound engineer Chris Lord-Alge, CLA-2A is a dynamic compressor modeled on some of the more popular 70s hardware.

I’m a sucker for analog-modeled VSTs, and the CLA-2A is a powerful performer in this field, as it adds a level of character and warmth far beyond simply monitoring and altering dynamic range.

Its unique color — which can be altered through its 3 analog options — is perfect for subtle or more overbearing musical tones on vocals, guitars and drum overheads. Of course, its function extends far beyond this.

Including a switch for the plugin’s use as either a compressor a limiter, the flexibility of the CLA-2A is hard to resist when combined with its ease of use.

It’s a vintage compressor, at a good price, from one of the most well-respected plugin developers on the market today. It presents wonderful value for even beginner mixers to stick their beak into.

Price: approx. $60

Available as: standalone plugin, or included in numerous Waves packs including: CLA Classic Compressors, Horizon, Mercury, Pro Show and SD7 Pro Show, all at various price points.

Honorable mentions:

  • Waves’ SSL G-Master Buss Compressor, for a console strip compressor perfect for mix busses or masters
  • Waves’ CLA-76 for a Urei 1176 FET compressor clone
  • Klanghelm’s DC8C for a great cheap option that isn’t by Waves

Reverb – Valhalla’s…well…pick any

Valhalla Plate Vintage Shimmer Reverb

I feel bad calling Valhalla’s offerings as ‘entry-level’, it’s just that they’re priced so damn well. Each going for $50 a piece on their site, if you’re like me, you will never, ever regret a purchase from there.

Okay, I’m clearly biased, but let me tell you. I’m not the only one.

Valhalla’s reverbs are lauded by professional engineers and beginners working from their parents’ house alike due to their flexibility, ease of use and most of all — fantastic, unique sound.

Each option contains numerous intricate details, modes and features, to the point that going through them all would almost be like giving away spoilers from a good movie. It’s far more fun to try them out for yourself.

Use VintageVerb to replicate ‘old school digital hardware’, my personal favorite.

Valhalla Plate is a plate reverb that is a delight to use on vocals, or

Valhalla Shimmer for creating sprawling, chaotic reverbs that devolve generic sounds into other-worldly soundscapes.

You can’t go wrong either way.

Price: approx. $50

Available as: a standalone plugin (not part of any bundle)

Honorable mentions: I didn’t mean to make my excitement detract from any of Valhalla’s competitors — there are numerous other reverb VSTs that are comparably excellent. Klevgrand’s Kleverb, SoundToy’s Little Plate, and Waves’ Renaissance are all solid, cheap options.


Delay – Waves’ H-Delay

Waves H-Delay

H-Delay is a really adaptable plugin that is perfectly suited to any scenario that requires basic or creative delays.

Based on analog, old-school delays like the PCM42, H-Delay allows for its users to venture into a world of unique character with its in-built ‘lo-fi’ button, which changes the entire scope of a sound with just a click, set alongside 5 variations of analog color.

While delay is often thought of as solely for vocals, guitars or specific experimental/ambient outlets, H-Delay is actually quite popular on synths and basses, which demonstrates its supreme level of flexibility.

Price: approx $60

Available as: a standalone plugin, or in literally 30+ Waves’ bundles, which is obviously too many to name individually.

Honorable mentions:

  • u-he’s Colour Copy for a powerful, malleable and very aesthetically pleasing delay
  • Valhalla’s Uber-Mod for a unique delay/modulator combination allowing for all sorts of custom sonic worlds crafted from the comfort of your bedroom

Saturator – Klanghelm’s SDRR 2

Klanghelm SDRR 2 Saturation

SDRR2 is described as the ‘saturation chameleon’, and not just due to its multiple skins that the user can switch between. The SDRR2 is extremely comprehensive given its low price tag — providing customisable forms of distortion and harmonics in nearly every imaginable facet.

The 4 main modes are tube, digital, fuzz and desk, each providing a quantifiably unique and engrossing level of saturation to whatever instrument, recording or song the SDRR2 is used on.

Such is its versatility that I can easily see an engineer using this as their go-to distortion plugin for every single recording in a song from any genre.

A really cool thing about the SDRR2 is that it has a ‘little brother’, the IVGI, which is completely free and comparable in terms of character and feel to the SDRR2. This means you can try out the free version and upgrade if you’re satisfied.

Price: approx. $30

Available as: a standalone plugin (not part of any bundle)

Honorable mentions:

  • Kazrog’s True Iron, for a transformer-based saturator
  • StandardCLIP for, well, a clipping-focussed distortion
  • Wavesfactory cassette for a really attractive tape emulator

Top-end

Just quickly — once you get to this price-range it is almost impossible to qualify what particular product is better than any other. Pretty much everything I mention, and hundreds of others that I won’t, will serve a fantastic purpose in your DAW setup, each providing a unique but powerful flavor.

Some are more popular than others, and many that I will mention are staples in most professional studios. This means very little though — as always, it is about what YOU, the musician/engineer, can get out of your setup, not what some famous engineer on the other side of the world thinks.

If possible, when looking for VSTs in this price-range, try and find free demos — most companies will offer them.


Equalizer – FabFilter’s Pro-Q 3

FabFilter Pro-Q 3 EQ

FabFilter are one of the go-to plugin companies for high-paid engineers, such is the strength of their products. Typically focussed around mixing and mastering purposes, Pro-Q 3 really lives up to the high standard that FabFilter have set for their professional-grade products.

First of all, it just looks good. The user interface is intuitive, with a color-coding scheme set on a background of a spectrum analyzer.

It is not just feature-rich — it is packed with the ability to sculpt tracks to an extremely specific level.

Of course, the Pro-Q 3 does all the basics well — high-pass filters and the like — but it sets itself apart with the incredible functional inclusions of things like mid/side or l/r processing, dynamic eq and EQ Match/spectrum grab.

Price: approx. $179

Available as: standalone plugin, or in a number of bundles including — FabFilter essentials bundle, FabFilter mastering bundle, etc.

Honorable mentions:

  • UAD’s Pultec EQP1A for an EQ suited more for overall character ‘oomph’ than surgical changes
  • UAD’s Neve 1073 for, unsurprisingly, a powerful clone of the highly-sought Neve 1073 preamp and EQ hardware
  • Oeksound’s soothe 2, for incredible processing-based dynamic equalization

Compressor – Softube’s CL1B

Softube CL1B compressor

Based on Tube Tech’s CL1B opto compressor, the CL1B is a fantastic and faithful modeling of an extremely popular physical compressor.

Its response is particularly smooth yet colorful — and what is quite appealing is the ability for users to perform parallel processing from within the plugin by simply turning a knob. This is always a plus for producers as it saves on time and computer power.

The CL1B is noted for being a consistent performer on vocals, however its use is not limited to singing tracks and can be applied to bass, drums and guitars to varying musical results.

Price: approx. $350

Available as: Standalone plugin, or in a bundle called the ‘Tube-Tech Complete Collection’

Honorable mentions:

  • Universal Audio’s Teletronix LA-2A for an impressive emulation of the revered LA-2A optical compressor
  • FabFilter’s Pro C2 for their trademark flexibility and functionality in digital compressors
  • IK Multimedia’s Bus Compressor for an all-round, vintage VCA emulation that is best served as a ‘glue effect on your mixes’

Reverb – AudioEase’s Altiverb 7

AudioEase Altiverb 7 Reverb

This is a seriously impressive software. Altiverb 7 is a convolution reverb that is designed for its user to attempt to emulate nearly any acoustic space imaginable.

Literally traveling around the globe to sample some of the most incredible acoustic spaces that exist — think everything from sprawling operatic chambers, beautiful studio halls to basics like cars, or under your bed — Altiverb is an immensely customizable reverb VST.

Features such as the ability to change the positioning of your sound source relative to the space emulation, the addition of vintage reverb gear or the seemingly unnecessary but actually super cool function of using random sounds as impulse responses, serve to demonstrate the sheer power of this software.

(As does its price but hey — you get what you pay for!)

Price: approx. $600

Available as: a standalone plugin (not part of any bundle)

Honorable mentions:

  • HOFA’s IQ-Reverb for a similar-style reverb to Altiverb at a cheaper price
  • UAD’s EMT 140 Plate for a sweet plate emulation (are you catching on yet that UAD are the world-class brand for analog emulations?)
  • Eventide’s Blackhole for the fact that it is a black hole, which as we all know is in space, which as we all know is a VACCUM. Jokes aside, Blackhole is an awesome VST for creating insane scenarios in your song and perfect for experimentation in ambient/dreamy/spacey songs.

Delay – SoundToy’s EchoBoy

SoundToy EchoBoy Delay

EchoBoy is a behemoth of a delay plugin. It has everything — over 20 different styles of delay, including tape, digital and analog.

The plugin comes with an enormous preset library for those uninitiated and uncomfortable with specific controls on delay, and enough customization there for even the geekiest producer to get lost in the possibilities for a few hours.

This is not to mention the inclusion of chorus and spring reverbs within the product, allowing for a level of flexibility that most delays don’t provide. EchoBoy is industry-standard for a good reason.

Price: approx. 199

Available as: standalone plugin, or in the SoundToys 5 bundle.

Honorable mentions:

  • FabFilter’s Timeless 2 for an expansive and customizable delay not based on any actual analog hardware
  • PSP’s 85 for dynamic modeling software based on the Lexicon PCM 42, providing ambitious producers with both reverb and delay in the one interface
  • IK Multimedia’s Space Delay for a virtual emulation of the world-famous Roland RE-201 which rose to popularity all the way back in 1974

Saturator – SoundToy’s Decapitator

SoundToy Decapitator Saturation

Providing music-makers, mixers and audio professionals with 5 different saturation styles based on analog models, Decapitator immediately presents itself as a highly adaptable product.

This plugin comes with an innately warm, comforting and dynamic tone that can be added to all number of instruments, either wreaking complete havoc or subtly adding harmonics that add a barely noticeable pleasant tone.

Containing an in-built ‘mixing’ knob for in-the-box parallel processing, a ‘punish’ button for when your recordings have been very naughty and need some distortion, and an automatic make-up-gain switch, Decapitator is certainly not shy of functionality.

Price: approx. 199

Available as: standalone plugin, or in the SoundToys 5 bundle.

Honorable mentions:

  • Wavesfactory’s Spectre, for a harmonic exciter that can be used like an EQ
  • iZotope’s Trash 2, for an extremely unique take on distortion where you treat your recordings like garbage, throwing them into the incinerator
  • UAD’s Magnetic Tape Bundle, for that warm, lovely tape emulation producers adore

Conclusion

Phew! We made it. I am proud to provide you all with your VST license. You now know (assuming you read what I wrote… perhaps I should give you all an exam just to make sure) enough to be trusted to enjoy the wide world of plugin software without losing sight of what’s important — money your passion for audio.

It can be daunting, having gone through the process of trying out hardware like audio interfaces, instruments, making tough decisions, only to have to go through it again in the VST market which is far denser and provides far more options for essentially any musical goal imaginable.

Hopefully articles like these are able to ease you through your home studio’s development and remove some of the stress such major purchases can incite. Luckily with VSTs, there are so many cheap and free options that it is much less of a commitment than if you were to buy a new set of studio monitors.

Keep an eye out for other articles in this series which will touch on other VSTfx’s and VSTis for all sorts of instruments and purposes.

Okay, enough from me. It is time I set you loose into the wild. Enjoy your newfound freedom and remember, I am NOT to blame if you end up spending too much money on VSTs.

Okay, maybe I am just a little.

About the Author – Ben Knight

Ben Knight author

Hailing from the depths of the world — aka Australia — Ben Knight is a passionate pianist, cellist, songwriter and engineer.

With a Master’s in Writing and Editing, he combines his love for music with his knowledge of the written word to make sure he has the funds to keep buying unnecessary pieces of musical equipment for his home studio.

You can check out his band Mellow Daze on all the major streaming services.

Leave a Reply

shares