61 Best VST Plugins 2022; These Will Transform Your Songs

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Best VST Plugins

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Modern recording typically involves a mix of hardware components and software solutions. But more and more producers are turning to “in the box” recording because it’s fun, and in many cases, you can achieve comparable results without all the expensive, heavy, and sometimes inconvenient hardware units.

We’re not suggesting that the analog vs. digital debate is over. But what we are saying is…

VST plugins are comparatively affordable, versatile, and are easy to work with. In this guide, we’re going to be looking at the best VST plugins, effects and instruments, by category. Let’s get moving!

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Reverb & Delay

Whether it’s adding some depth and smoothness to your vocal tracks or conveying a sense space with your drum tracks, reverb, delay, (and / or) echo plugins can breathe some needed life back into tracks of all types, especially if they were recorded with close mics in dead rooms.

With many options to choose from, everyone’s got their favorite reverb. But one thing we know for sure – it’s a must-have in music production.

SP2016 Reverb by Eventide

SP2016 Reverb by Eventide

Eventide is doubtless an expert in the field of echo and modulation effects, which they are well known for. Their SP2016 Reverb was lovingly modeled after the hardware counterpart, both in terms of sound quality and appearance.

Included are emulations of the Room, Stereo Room, and High-Density Plate algorithms. Even cooler, you get Vintage and Modern versions for all the verb types, so you aren’t locked into an era.

As you would expect, the Vintage algorithm takes after the original rackmount unit, while the Modern algorithms were graced with added brightness, diffusion, along with a higher bit-depth.

Built into the SP2016 Reverb is a Position control, which makes the process of finding the right corner for reverb in your mix an easy and pleasurable one.

You can further control the shape of the effect with the EQ section. Onboard are high and low filtering options with adjustable filter ranges, and the low filter lets you cut or boost specified frequencies too.

Overall, we find the SP2016 Reverb smooth and warm. As always, though, we do recommend having a listen for yourself. Check out the video below to hear the verb in action.

Learn more: Plugin Boutique

Blackhole by Eventide

Blackhole by Eventide

Eventide’s Blackhole reverb promises to break the bounds and physics of the real world, serving up “extraterrestrial” sounds you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere.

In addition to otherworldly celestial effects, Blackhole can be used for more conventional, subtler purposes too, be it highlighting a vocal track, or sending a synth further into the background.

Blackhole is based on the algorithm originally found in the rackmount DSP4000 unit, which lived on in the rackmount H8000FW. In recent years, Eventide even released the Space stompbox utilizing the same design principles (there’s also a Blackhole reverb pedal now). Now the same effect is available in VST form.

Blackhole features 50 presets, supernatural settings, subtle settings, Gravity control, Kill Switch, Mix Lock, mono and stereo options, ribbon and hot switch, as well as full support for the Native Instruments NKS Effects system.

The presets include factory settings as well as artist presets from Flood & Alan Moulder, John Agnello, Sigur Ros, Vernon Reid, and Richard Devine.

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AR1 Reverb by Initial Audio

AR1 Reverb by Initial Audio

Initial Audio’s AR1 Reverb is an algorithmic reverb versatile enough to handle all types of instruments, be it vocals, guitars, pianos, bells, synthesizers, or otherwise.

Designed with simplicity in mind, AR1 Reverb only has a few basic controls, including early size, early level, size, width, pre-delay, bandwidth, damping, modulation, and mix.

AR1 may not be as versatile and feature packed as some verbs are, but it’s very easy to use, and relatively affordable, making it a great choice for beginners. It does what it does well.

Learn more: Plugin Boutique

MReverbMB by MeldaProduction

MReverbMB by MeldaProduction

MeldaProduction sometimes creates great stuff, and sometimes completely hits it out of the park. MReverbMB is one of those cases where they basically hit it out of the park.

MReverbMB comes packed with six independent bands built on three transparent crossover algorithms, two graphical user interfaces, spatial positioning system, adjustable three-band equalizer, seven filter types, algorithmic and true stereo reverb (for configuring all types of verbs), continuously adjustable oscillator shape, four global modulators, integrated tube saturation, and full randomization.

MReverbMB also comes with features Melda plugins are well known for – MIDI controllers with MIDI learn, global preset management, and a fully automatable design.

Although this reverb plugin is great for general use, it’s practically tailor made for creative uses.

Learn more: Plugin Boutique

Dubstation 2 by Audio Damage

Dubstation 2 by Audio Damage

Audio Damage’s Dubstation 2 is a vintage-style bucket-brigade delay.

Dubstation 2 includes the classic delay algorithm, time controls, low-frequency oscillator, filters, saturation, feedback, loop mode, reverse mode, mix control, gain staging controls, cross-platform preset format, and a fully resizable hi-DPI / retina GUI.

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Comeback Kid by Baby Audio

Comeback Kid by Baby Audio

Baby Audio’s Comeback Kid was designed as a customizable delay with intuitive controls and tasty delays.

Take control of the lo-cut, hi-cut, attack, sustain, cheap, tape, swirl, sauce, wider, richer, pan, mono, ducker, and density parameters to dial in a rich, warm, great sounding delay that complements your tracks.

Comeback Kid works with Windows and Mac.

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UltraTap by Eventide

UltraTap by Eventide

Eventide’s UltraTap is a multi-tap delay that serves up all kinds of echo-based effects to suit your taste – rhythmic delays, pad-like volume swells, glitchy reverbs, as well as modulation. Eventide even calls it “the mother of all Echoplexes.”

UltraTap is loaded with over 150 presets, Ribbon control, Slurm control (smear taps together or modulate them), HotSwitch control, up to 64 taps, Spread knob, LFOs and envelopes, stereo image controls, syncable length and / or chop LFO, Mix Lock, and MIDI control.

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EQ

EQ (equalizers) are used to shape tracks by boosting or cutting frequencies. It’s a relatively simple task in theory, sure, but as with compressors, producers love to go back and forth on what EQ is best, how to use it, what their favorite settings are, whether it adds additional coloration, and more.

Many EQs also include high pass / low pass filters that let you quickly remove unusable frequencies.

FabFilter Pro-Q 3 by FabFilter

FabFilter Pro-Q 3 by FabFilter

FabFilter’s FabFilter Pro-Q 3 is practically a legend unto itself. FabFilter is one of those rare developers whose plugins consistently live up to a high standard (with few exceptions).

Pro-Q 3 includes a suite of mixing and mastering features, large interactive EQ display, unique features like Spectrum Grab, and a whole lot more.

Let’s talk about those features then, shall we?

Pro-Q 3 comes with up to 24 EQ bands, optional dynamic EQ mode for all bands (bell and shelf shapes), ultra-steep “brickwall” slope for LP and HP filters, full surround support, external spectrum visualization from other instances of Pro-Q 3 and collision detection, as well as per-band mid / side or left / right processing.

You also get multiple filter shapes (bell, notch, high / low shelf, high / low cut, band pass, tilt shelf, flat tilt), spectrum grab, universal filter slope support for all filter types up to 96 dB / oct, EQ match, spectrum analyzer with pre-EQ, post-EQ, and external spectrum visualization, as well as auto gain and gain scale.

Impressed yet? There’s still more – optional piano roll display, different display ranges for mixing and mastering, intelligent solo mode, phase invert, MIDI learn, undo / redo and A / B comparison, smart parameter interpolation, sample-accurate automation of all parameters, extensive help file… well, you get the idea.

FabFilter Pro-Q 3 truly is a pro grade EQ. Will you take full advantage of its extensive feature set?

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SplitEQ by Eventide

SplitEQ by Eventide

Eventide’s SplitEQ is an advanced mixing EQ complete with innovative transient and tonal splitting technology.

Whether it’s enhancing, repairing, rebalancing, or widening, you can take any of your audio material and fix audio problems with surgical precision using SplitEQ. But you can also use it creatively, achieving results you simply wouldn’t be able to with any other plugin.

With eight bands of musical filters, SplitEQ also comes with its own Structural Split engine that divides audio into transient and tonal streams. With this functionality, you can fix issues that would usually require six or even seven different plugin effects.

To summarize, SplitEQ is an eight-band parametric EQ with EQ transient and tonal parts (Structural Split), transient and tonal output controls, transient and tonal panning controls (L/R and mid / side), multiple filter types (peak, notch, bandpass, high shelf, low shelf, tilt shelf, high pass, low pass with slopes from six to 96 dB / octave), real-time spectrum analyzer, 150+ presets, A/B buttons, and resizable GUI with zoom.

Learn more: Plugin Boutique

MAutoDynamicEQ by MeldaProduction

MAutoDynamicEQ by MeldaProduction

MAutoDynamicEQ is a powerful parametric equalizer inspired by classic analog gear. With a proprietary Adjustable Slope Filter (MASF), you get access to versatile, organic sounding filters that allow for compression, expansion, de-essing, and more.

Take advantage of Filter Adaption (MFA) if you want the plugin to take over and do your equalizing work for you, based on an analysis of your existing recording, another recording of your choosing, or your own spectral content.

MAutoDynamicEQ comes with an integrated analyzer and sonogram, which allows you to “see” what’s happening to your audio material as you’re adjusting the frequencies.

High- and low-pass filters are also aboard, offering slopes form 6 dB / oct up to 120 dB / oct.

If that wasn’t enough, there’s a soft saturation function just like you might see on classic analog console EQs / mixers, as well as four advanced modulators. Melda has also thrown in mono / stereo processing, upsampling, A/H presets, and other great features to entice producers.

Whether it’s for mixing or mastering, MAutoDynamicEQ is a powerful tool to aid you on your journey.

Learn more: Plugin Boutique

MIXROOM by Mastering The Mix

MIXROOM by Mastering The Mix

The MIXROOM intelligent EQ will analyze your audio on your behalf and help you arrive at the perfect settings for your synth and vocal tracks, or even a master.

MIXROOM will show you which frequencies you could tweak for a better sound. It offers a great starting point, and you can further tweak from there to achieve optimal results. You’re in control!

MIXROOM features EQ filters with maximum clarity and transparency in the mid to high frequency range, genre and channel specific EQ target suggestions, reference track importing, level match point to output gain, easily adjustable EQ bands, mid-side functionality, as well as a retina 3D and resizable user interface.

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Claro EQ by Sonnox

Claro EQ by Sonnox

Claro EQ presents itself as a comprehensive EQ plugin to help you balance your mixes.

Claro offers 26 bands, a musical-sounding EQ in the style of Neves, left, right, mid, six, mono, or stereo channel processing, 20 Hz – 40 kHz range, variable Q, variable slopes on all band shapes, smooth and artifact free automation, and auto gain.

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Compression

Compression is used to even out dynamics, add character to tracks, even glue together drums or entire mixes.

It’s amazing that an effect that “compresses” a signal (make the quieter louder, make the louder quieter) can do so much.

That makes compressors especially sexy, and a point of hearty discussion and debate among producers of all ilk.

FET Compressor by Softube

FET Compressor by Softube

Some producers are surely drooling at the mere thought of an analog FET compressor. Of course, that’s exactly what Softube’s FET Compressor sets out to emulate.

What’s so great about an FET compressor, you might ask? Well, of the many compressions that add some extra character to tracks, this type of compression is well know for mixing in some serious bite and tasty distortion to audio material, especially when driven to the max. This compression just loves to be abused and revved up.

Softube didn’t see it as beyond improvement, mind you, and decided to add some brand new, flexible features that make FET Compressor even more attractive.

FET Compressor allows for deeper gain reduction than most, which is perfect for vocal tracks that need a boost in the mix.

This is also great compressor for drums, mind you. When you want those drums to be as punchy and explosive as possible, this is the compression you need. With the Parallel Inject control, you can even take advantage of parallel compression.

Softube promises, though, that the compression is great on acoustic guitars, bass, pianos, and other material too. Basically, if you’ve got this baby in your toolkit, you may as well give it a go on everything.

And not that GUI design is everything, but Softube always does an excellent job of making semi-realistic looking interfaces that make you feel like you’re playing with high-end hardware tech. And that’s something we adore them for.

FET Compressor also promises to be CPU friendly, which is nice when you’ve got a heavily stacked effects chain.

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Mu by Pulsar Audio

Mu by Pulsar Audio

Modeled after the industry-standard variable-bias stereo tube compressor, Pulsar Audio’s Mu is revered by many. This software compressor is well suited to mastering, drum busses, acoustic guitar, snare drums, vocals, and more.

Mu can deliver transparent compression even when pushed to the most extreme gain reduction settings. But what it’s most known for – whether it’s for mixing or mastering – is for its “gluing” effect, bringing ultimate cohesion to mixes.

Pulsar Audio set out to recreate the original hardware unit with as much precision and accuracy as possible, taking advantage of Topology Preservation Technology.

Mu operates in either left / right or mid / side modes, and is perfectly suited to leveling, limiting, or even adding a bit of warmth to an audio signal.

Improving upon the original SIFAM metering, Pulsar Audio offers a modern visualization mode for added fine-tuning. Also, while the original unit was often modified to include a high-pass filter, Pulsar’s Mu comes with a complete EQ section with bass, midrange, and treble controls for more timbre shaping possibilities.

There’s also lookahead and lookbehind for sidechain, which gives you total control over the transients.

Altogether, Mu comes with Topology Preserving Technology, external sidechain, mid-side processing, lookahead and lookbehind, a sidechain equalizer, and low CPU consumption.

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smart:comp 2 by sonible

smart:comp 2 by sonible

sonible’s smart:comp 2 is a spectro-dynamic mastering compressor. From a mile high perspective, this software compressor makes it easy to dial in the perfect settings in mere seconds.

With frequency-selective processing, tonal and dynamic balance with spectral compression, intelligent parametrization, and sidechain mode with frequency-dependent ducking, you've got everything you need.

smart:comp works a lot like an intelligent multi-band compressor that smoothes over tonal imbalances. It only applies compression where it’s required, which gives you more consistent and dynamic results overall.

Earlier I said that smart:comp works in mere seconds, and that’s because of its ability to analyze audio signals and automatically set the parameters such that you get a balanced result. This is thanks to the A.I. powered smart:engine.

Of course, you still have final say over the settings so you can always get the tones you’re looking for.

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Drawmer S73 Intelligent Master Processor by Softube

Drawmer S73 Intelligent Master Processor by Softube

Drawmer S73 Intelligent Master Processor is an easy-to-use multi-band compressor, and I’m rather fond of the concept and design.

The Drawmer S73 Intelligent Master Processor has a design even a newbie can easily grasp. There’s an amount dial, an air switch, style selection, and two output knobs (mix and gain). It doesn’t get much simpler than this!

Pick a style, adjust the dials and you’re off to the races. The styles include clean (Clarity 1, Clarity 2, Neutral, Gentle Compression, More Air), bass control (De-Rumble, Punch), and Spatial (Wide Mix, Ambience, Vocal Enhance). No guesswork involved here – just choose a setting that makes the most sense for the operation you’re performing.

Plus, the mastering compressor gives you a classic Drawmer analog compressor sound and parallel compression options.

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Cyclone by SoundSpot

Cyclone by SoundSpot

For those on a tight budget, SoundSpot’s Cyclone is like a godsend. This baby has a simple, logical layout, and is well suited to individual tracks, busses, and even mastering purposes.

And for what it is, it’s surprisingly versatile too – Cyclone features saturation, mid / side processing, solo channel, and channel linking too.

Cyclone is compatible with Windows and Mac machines.

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Vocal Processing

What goes on a vocal? Well, it obviously depends on the producer and their specific approach, but at minimum EQ, compression, reverb, de-esser, and much of the time, auto-tune, are a given. Some would throw doublers, delays, and choruses into the mix too.

So, you can see how important (and sometimes complex) vocal processing can be. It’s common to work with a variety of effects simultaneously, and that means dialing in each one independently, also considering how one reacts to the other.

When it comes to vocal processing there are both (near) comprehensive solutions and more standalone solutions, depending on what you need. Both types are covered below.

Auto-Tune Unlimited by Antares

Auto-Tune Unlimited by Antares

Many would consider Antares Auto-Tune the ultimate auto-tune solution. And that it is. Auto-Tune Unlimited, though, comes with a ton of additional vocal processing tools – making it a near comprehensive toolkit.

That will appeal to some. For others, they’d rather handle their EQ with one plugin, compression with another, auto-tune with a dedicated standalone plugin, and so on. And that’s fine too. But for those who would like to add multiple powerful tools to their kit at once, Auto-Tune Unlimited is a bundle worth checking out.

Auto-Tune Unlimited comes with Auto-Tune Pro, Auto-Tune Artist (for live performance), Auto-Tune EFX+ (tuning effects), Auto-Tune Access (pitch correction), Auto-Key, Auto-Tune Hybrid, Auto-Tune Slice (precision sampler and synthesizer), and Auto-Tune Vocodist.

There’s also the Auto-Tune Vocal EQ, Auto-Tune SoundSoap (for repairing imperfect vocals), Harmony Engine, Mic Mod EFX, ARTICULATOR (talkbox), WARM (tube saturation), DUO (vocal doubling), CHOIR (chorus ensemble effect), ASPIRE (for managing breaths), SYBIL (de-esser), THROAT (virtual vocal tract), PUNCH, and MUTATOR (vocal transformer).

Basically, when it comes to voice, Auto-Tune Unlimited has got your bases covered.

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Greg Wells VoiceCentric by Waves

Greg Wells VoiceCentric by Waves

As I said earlier, setting up the perfect effects chain for your vocal tracks can be a long, involved process. It is ultimately rewarding when you get it right, but it’s like a long walk for a short drink of water.

What if there was an “easy” button for vocals? Well, there is. Waves’ Greg Wells VoiceCentric gives you instant access to Greg Wells’ signature vocal sound, heard on Adele, Katy Perry, and OneRepublic records, as well as many others.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say, but with one main control and three secondary controls (for customized delay, doubler, and reverb settings), dialing in optimal vocal tones has never been this simple.

I love how effortless VoiceCentric is. Activate the plugin, and before you know it, you will have a great sounding vocal track. Tweak the other dials to taste, and you will be off to the races.

Learn more: Waves

Doubler by Waves

Doubler by Waves

Sometimes a doubling effect is really all you need to make your vocals stand out in a mix. Waves’ Doubler takes advantage of delay and pitch modulation to add texture and richness to vocals tracks and even polyphonic instruments.

With Doubler, you can also create 80s harmonizer and pitch detune effects and add a flam-like effect to drums.

Its interface might be old school, but the effect is still legit. Doubler is a simple but powerful tool with a lot of utility.

Learn more: Waves

Saturation & Lo-Fi

Whatever your flavor of dirt, grime, filth, or crunch, saturation and lo-fi plugins can add some much-needed character and warmth to your tracks, and sometimes make them “pop” in a mix too.

Where a saturation plugin basically adds some light distortion, often with an analog character (heard on all the classic mixing consoles), lo-fi plugins take that a little further and add cassette tape, vinyl record, VHS, megaphone, and other types of analog “noise” to your tracks, busses, or mixes.

Pristine mixes are sometimes sterile and boring. This is where saturation and lo-fi VST plugins come in especially handy, and in some cases can even provide some needed glue to your tracks.

Here are several we enjoy.

Decapitator by Soundtoys

Decapitator by Soundtoys

Soundtoys has certainly made a name for themselves in the VST plugin space. Their Decapitator analog saturation modeler might just take your head right off (ha)! Being an analog saturation modeler, though, means Decapitator isn’t just a one-trick pony. It can give you just about any flavor of hardware modeled saturation you desire.

The interface kind of tells most of the story – you’ve got five styles of saturation stemming from a variety of consoles, EQs, and other classic hardware with the best characteristics (A, E, N, T, P), and the ability to fine tune your settings with drive, thump, low cut, tone, high cut, steep, output, auto, mix, and punish controls.

From light saturation to more extreme settings, Decapitator has been designed to serve up any kind of dirt you need. And no doubt this thing sounds great.

Now, while we do appreciate all the hard work that surely went into modeling and emulating classic gear, be it EQs, compressors, consoles, or otherwise, we do wonder if Decapitator is a tad overpriced (it might even be heresy to say that). That said, sometimes you do play a little extra for a brand name.

The video below gives you an in-depth look at the Decapitator, from the interface, all the way over to the built-in distortion algorithms.

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Harmonics by Softube

Harmonics by Softube

Softube’s Harmonics is a harmonics analog saturation processor. Whether it’s vocals, guitars, bass, drums, or synth tracks, Harmonics can add saturation to your tracks without sucking the living dynamic life out of them. That means the ability to dial in the perfect amount of distortion without destroying your tracks.

In total, Harmonics comes with five separate component modeled distortion sounds, Dynamic Transient Control technology, amount knob, character knob, high- and low-cut filters, wet / dry blend knob for parallel processing, THD meter, as well as presets via Joe Chiccarelli and Howard Willing.

The video below offers a near comprehensive view of what you can do with Harmonics.

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RC-20 Retro Color by XLN Audio

RC-20 Retro Color by XLN Audio

Some people aren’t into it… but they are in the minority. XLN Audio’s RC-20 Retro Color is almost universally loved by the producers who know about it and already use it in their workflow.

And it’s no secret to us. With six unique noise modules along with multiple types, and plenty of controllable parameters, you can instantly add some retro color to your tracks, busses, and mixes using RC-20 Retro Color.

The concept is simple but that does not undermine its power. A quality channel strip would make any producer in the right mind drool (it makes me drool, anyway…).

It should almost go without saying (but it doesn’t) that RC-20 Retro Color does what it says it does quite well. The beautiful and well-designed interface only adds to its perceived value.

I suppose the only question we’re left with is “when would you use all six modules at the same time?” And the answer is… probably not that often. Very likely, you’ll use this more in a modular fashion, unless you’re looking to create an especially dirty track. That said, producers rarely suffer from more options (what a drag, right?).

RC-20 Retro Color has got presets for guitars, bass, drums, keys, full mixes, and even post-production. If you’re looking for some good starting points, take advantage of these.

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Megaphone by AudioThing

Megaphone VST by AudioThing

You probably have a pretty good idea what Megaphone does without me even telling you what it does. This is a bullhorn or loudspeaker emulation. Could be perfect for Beastie Boys style abrasive rap vocals, speech / spoken word sections (check out the video below), or other creative backing vocals uses. But it’s all up to your imagination.

Megaphone comes with a feedback section, which includes controls for time and amount. This is essentially a slapback effect. Then we have the noise section, with a source and level knob, as well as trigger and envelope buttons.

Overall, Megaphone features two loudspeaker emulations, overdrive and bandwidth control, feedback / slapback, and a preset system with randomizer.

Megaphone is a simple plugin, but it sounds great, and it’s also budget friendly. You can’t really go wrong here.

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Chorus

Modulation effects can sometimes get lost in the shuffle among EQs, compressors, and verbs, but an effect like chorus just has so much utility that it’s hard to ignore.

It can add fullness to vocals, a nice retro vibe to guitars, depth and richness to synths, and even an enigmatic quality to drum tracks. Try it on everything. You just never know how it might end up enhancing a sound.

TriceraChorus by Eventide

TriceraChorus by Eventide

Eventide’s TriceraChorus was inspired by classic chorus units and stomp boxes of the 70s and 80s, especially the Dyno-My-Piano. It’s like a blend of BBD style tri-chorusing effect with Eventide’s own micro-pitch detuning, which allows for thickening and widening. This makes the effect perfect for vocals, guitar, bass, synths, strings, and more.

As you may have guessed, there’s a reason why it’s called TriceraChorus – it has three voices! Simply labeled Left, Center, and Right, you can modulate the delay times with the three-phase LFO.

You can play with the Chorus and Chorale mode to achieve different results – Chorus gives the depth and complexity a bump, while the Chorale setting offers a lush, modulated chorusing effect. You can also punch in the Swirl control if you want to take your chorusing into uncharted psychedelic territory.

Overall, the three-voice bucket brigade style tri-chorus comes with Chorus mode, Chorale mode, Depth control, Detune control, Delay control, Swirl button, Tone control, Ribbon for sweeping the effect between two separate settings, and Hotswitch for instantly switching from one setting to another.

Have a listen to the chorus in the video below. This thing is great for vintage vibes. But it’s also versatile enough to be useful in a variety of situations.

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Syntorus 2 by D16 Group

Syntorus 2 by D16 Group

D16 Group’s Syntorus 2 is a triple path analog chorus, an effect they call the “ultimate analog chorus emulation” inspired by the likes of the Roland Juno-106, Solna String Ensemble, and Elka Synthex. It’s a great chorusing effect for all types of applications, whether acoustic or electric.

In creating Syntorus 2, D16 Group developed a precise model of a high-quality bucket brigade device (BBD) delay line. But it doesn’t just have one delay line, Syntorus 2 includes three!

There are three LFO generators onboard, routed to the delay lines in several different switchable topologies. Each delay line also comes complete with a multimode filter and tremolo effect. Each LFO can be synchronized to the host DAW.

Syntorus 2 also features a tag-based preset browser, three GUI scaling options, MIDI learn, 64-bit internal processing, and over 100 presets.

True to form, Syntorus 2 offers a classic analog chorusing sound. The video below cycles through the presets on a synth sound, but this would certainly be worth trying on a variety of audio material.

Syntorus 2 also happens to be quite budget friendly, so if you want a quality classic chorusing effect on the cheap, it’s well worth a look.

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Orchid by W.A. Production

Orchid by W.A. Production

W.A. Production calls Orchid “chorus on steroids.” And that immediately tells you this baby is just a little different. Inspired by wet 80s processing, Orchid is your instant “fatness” button for synths, guitars, basses, vocals, drums, and more. Why? It doesn’t just double your signal; it quadruples it with four-way chorus processing.

Standard speed and depth controls aside, Orchid also includes reverb, delay, shimmer, spread, and filtering controls to give you maximum creative flexibility. Some of these controls can be applied to each of the chorusing modules independently.

The shimmer effect will add up to two octaves above the original audio material along with harmonics, boosted high end, and a slow phasing. This is great for brightening up the source material. Use the space dial to add reverb to each of the chorusing modules.

The delay control lets you delay the processing by up to 100 milliseconds, acting like a doubler. You can further alter the result with high and low pass filters.

Orchid includes plenty of presets so you can sink your teeth into the effect without getting too carried away with tweaking. Each preset is categorized into instrumentation, and you’ll find everything from subtle and natural effects all the way over to detours into special FX land.

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BLEASS Chorus by BLEASS

BLEASS Chorus by BLEASS

BLEASS Chorus is a stereo image widening effect with some serious range, from subtle to crazy. This two-stage chorus lets you control the stereo image along with the chorusing effect, which you can monitor with the dedicated oscilloscope.

BLEASS Chorus also comes with controls for low-shelf / high-pass input filter, input gain, delay lines, time, rate, left depth, right depth, equal depths, offset, width, feedback, and dry / wet mix.

The chorusing effect is quite nice. And while the user interface isn’t anything special, the best thing about BLEASS CHORUS is probably its affordability (which may have something to do with why it’s so well-loved, too).

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Blend by Sinevibes

Blend by Sinevibes

Sinevibes’ Blend is a multi-voice chorus with up to 16 distinct layers. Each layer is a dedicated chorus effect with its own modulation generator and feedback loop.

Blend also features three interpolation algorithms, each with its own character. Thanks to its built-in versatility, though, it can even achieve effects like flanger, vibrato, tape wow, smear, dissonance, and reverb.

Additionally, you’ll find optional modulation generator tempo and transport location sync, variable modulation stereo phase offset, adjustable input low-frequency cut filter, lag filters on all continuous parameters, and support for multiple mono and stereo configurations.

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Limiter

For mastering engineers limiters will prove an essential tool, as you can use them to push the loudness of your mixes to the max.

Limiters can also come in handy for mixing too, though, and depending on the plugin, can offer a bit of saturated analog character to your tracks.

FabFilter Pro-L 2 by FabFilter

FabFilter Pro-L 2 by FabFilter

The FabFilter Pro-L 2 is a true peak limiter, a tool every mixing or mastering engineer should have in their VST library. This software limiter supports EBU R128, ITU-R BS.1770-4, and ATC A/85 standards.

Pro-L 2 features linear-phase oversampling, professional dithering, noise shaping, surround support (up to Dolby Atmos 7.1.2), as well as intelligent channel linking.

Overall, Pro-L 2 features eight limiting algorithms, true peak limiting, real-time level display with peak gain reduction labels and new display modes, up to 32x linear-phase oversampling, accurate output and gain reduction metering (including true peak metering), loudness metering, surround support, optional DSC offset filter, and external side chain triggering for stem mastering.

You also get a unity gain option, audition limiting option, adjustable meter scale, separate channel linking for the transient and release stages, advanced dithering with three noise shaping algorithms, and much more.

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NEVO by SoundSpot

NEVO by SoundSpot

SoundSpot’s NEVO is, in their own words, a “monster clipper.” That’s because it features a 16-band soft clipper, single-band hard clipper, a variety of coloration settings, a transient shaper, and even a final clip wall limiter.

These modules have already been arranged in optimal signal flow, so you don’t need to worry about order.

The main controls include drive, curve, smooth, crush, breach, soften, coloration, transient emphasis, clip wall and waveform display, soft / hard clipper mix controls, and signal level ring.

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Oxford Inflator by Sonnox

Oxford Inflator by Sonnox

Ever wanted to boost the loudness of your mix without sacrificing dynamics or sonic quality? Of course, you have.

Oxford Inflator is the perfect solution for just such a task. Whether it’s adding presence, power, or weight to individual channels and entire mixes, this VST plugin is up for the task.

Plus, when driven hard, Oxford Inflator will deliver a pleasant tube-like warmth while gluing your mix together.

Oxford Inflator is fully 64-bit compliant, offers virtual headroom above digital maximum, and comes with direct and band split modes.

Oxford Inflator might be an oldie, but it’s still a goodie. Some producers even say if they could only take one VST plugin to a desert island with them (not sure how that could possibly happen), they would take this one. That says a lot.

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TDR Limiter 6 GE by Tokyo Dawn Labs

TDR Limiter 6 GE by Tokyo Dawn Labs

Tokyo Dawn Labs’ TDR Limiter 6 GE modern dynamics and limiting suite comes with six distinct modules you can put in any order. From loudness control to brick-wall limiting, and even to mix bus crunching, this software limiter can handle a variety of tasks.

So, what are the main modules? TDR Limiter 6 GE comes with a dynamics compressor, clipper, high-frequency limiter, peak limiter, output protection limiter, and true peak and EBU R128 compliant loudness meter.

While TDR Limiter 6 GE is a little older at this point, it certainly isn’t any worse for wear. It has an attractive graphical user interface (especially given its age), and the controls are easy to understand. It can handle a variety of tasks and is highly customizable to boot. There are even several presets to help get you started.

To see the limiter in action, check out the video below:

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Big Clipper by Boz Digital Labs

Big Clipper by Boz Digital Labs

Boz Digital Labs’ Big Clipper strives to be a clipper that you can drive hard without losing mix cohesion (as you would with most clippers).

But it isn’t just a clipper, it’s also a limiter, and you can combine the two in any way you see fit. That includes two crossover modes, blend mode, and a serial mode.

There’s also a built-in frequency sensitivity module, which looks a little bit like an EQ. What this means is you can control the sensitivity of the clipper based on frequency.

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Transient Shapers

Tone shaping is a key part of the mixing and mastering processes. Much of the work is done using tools like EQ, filters, compression, and verb, but there are tools that offer additional control.

A transient shaper is basically another type of sound shaper, but in addition to boosting or attenuating frequencies like an EQ, transient shapers give you envelope-like ADSR style controls, typically only found on synthesizers and other virtual instruments.

The transient shapers that follow might just knock your socks off.

Transgressor 2 by Boz Digital Labs

Transgressor 2 by Boz Digital Labs

Boz Digital Labs is adamant that Transgressor 2 isn’t just another transient designer. In addition to attack and sustain, Transgressor lets you change the timbre of instruments too, because it also comes with two equalizers.

With equalizing capabilities for the attack and sustain portions of your sound individually, Transgressor also lets you adjust the low, mid, and high frequencies on each, independently. This means more control over the tones you want to keep or boost, and the tones you don’t want to keep or cut.

This makes it a great tool for drums, bass, and even other instruments.

Transgressor also comes with an external sidechain so you can change the EQ and sustain of any audio material triggered by another.

Overall, this hybrid transient designer comes with two three-band equalizers with selectable slopes, gain controls, mix knob, adjustable transient detector, internal or external sidechain control of detector, sidechain EQ, three sidechain modes with listen feature, retrigger controls time between triggered events, A/B bank comparison, and factory presets.

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Transient Shaper by Softube

Transient Shaper by Softube

The name kind of says it all. But Softube’s Transient Shaper gives you complete control over the attack and decay of your sounds, and because it’s a dual band processor, you can affect the treble or bass portion of the sound selectively too.

Transient Shaper is a great tool for giving your drums width, sustain, and boom. But it’s also great for adding presence and clarity to vocal tracks, and even giving guitar, piano, bass, and electronic drums an added boost.

This tool also comes with user selectable crossover frequency, punch behavior (fast or slow), and an output distortion section (Clip).

So, in total, Transient Shaper is a dual band transient processing tool that allows you to add or reduce punch and sustain from any sound, affect the whole frequency spectrum or only the highs / lows, crossover frequency setting, and a clip section, which adds output distortion.

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DS-10 Drum Shaper by XLN Audio

DS-10 Drum Shaper by XLN Audio

XLN Audio’s DS-10 Drum Shaper is the ideal solution for making your drums, loops, and beats sound big, tight, and punchy.

DS-10 comes with three modes, including kick, snare, and bus depending on what you’re looking to tune up. There’s also a MOJO knob for adding some extra color and flavor to your drums.

As the video below will prove, a small thing can make a big difference in your mix, and as far as transient shapers go, DS-10 Drum Shaper is affordable and effective.

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Nanopulse by United Plugins

Nanopulse by United Plugins

United Plugins’ Nanopulse is a highly rated transient shaper with considerable flexibility.

It includes a three-band dynamic shaper for low, mid, and high frequencies, crossover frequencies and slope, three modes (Smart, Spectral, and Fast), 64 attack enhancer transient types, and a builit-in limiter on the output.

Nanopulse is compatible with Mac and Windows.

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Channel Strip

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an all-in-one equalizer, compressor, limiter, dynamics editor, transient designer, saturator, de-esser, delay module, etc.? Well, that is the general concept behind a channel strip.

Not all channel strips are created equal, and most feature between four and five modules. But in almost every case they are modeled after classic mixing consoles that had everything built right into them.

So, whether it’s adding some analog warmth and character to your tracks, attenuating certain frequencies, evening out dynamics or otherwise, you can perform multiple essential jobs simultaneously with channel strips, without having to build an entire effects chain and slowing down your computer.

Channel strips are called that because they’ve been designed with channels in mind, but they can be great for all types of jobs, including mastering.

UltraChannel by Eventide

UltraChannel by Eventide

Eventide’s UltraChannel is a high-precision channel strip loaded with Eventide’s own highly utilized effects. For mixing and mastering in any genre, UltraChannel is a versatile tool with FlexiPath routing (arrange the processors however you want).

Yes, it’s effective on vocal and instrument tracks alike, with a multitude of ways to affect tone, dynamics, and frequencies. It comes with sidechaining capabilities, so you can even use another audio source to affect the characteristics of your audio material.

Eventide just knows that you’re going to want their famous micro pitch effect (from the H8000) too, so they’ve loaded it into UltraChannel.

With the drag and drop interface, you can arrange the signal path of the key components – O-Pressor, compressor / de-esser, EQ, and Gate.

A modeled analog transformer has been built into the output module, so you can add saturation to your tracks, from subtle all the way over to classic transformer core saturation.

UltraChannel features two compressors – the first includes de-essing and sidechaining. The other is the O-Pressor, which takes after Eventide’s Omnipressor. This makes extreme compression possible.

There’s a five-band parametric EQ with frequency, gain, and Q for each band. Over 200 presets (some created by Eventide artists) have been tailor made for common uses, including guitar, bass, piano, strings, synths, vocals, kick drum, and snare.

The micro pitch shift and stereo delays are welcome additions to the unit, giving you access to some echo-based depth without having to load up another verb or delay.

The video below shows the UltraChannel being used on a variety of audio material – guitar, vocals, piano, and even a full mix.

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Goliath V2 by Tone Empire

Goliath V2 by Tone Empire

Tone Empire’s Goliath V2 is an all-in-one saturation, dynamics, and EQ plugin with four analog modeled processing chains – ALLOY (nickel, iron, and steel based transformers), TUBE, TAPE & VINYL with drive control, as well as a FET based envelope, a three-band EQ, and a low cut filter.

The developer’s proprietary multi convolution and component modeling technology was used to achieve as an authentic an analog tone as possible. The signal chain is pre-set, and it follows this order: Low Cut EQ, Analog Processing Selector (four options), Envelope section, EQ section.

Goliath V2 has a beautiful vintage meets modern UI. The knobs look gorgeous, and the brushed metal background is breathtaking. The interface is very balanced and easy to understand. While design isn’t everything, we’ll happily give Tone Empire extra marks for a job well done in this regard.

So, how does Goliath V2 sound, and what is it good for? I find the effect relatively transparent, but it’s certainly capable of making tracks pop. Its EQ and compression are competent, and the four types of saturation are also useful.

The EQ is perhaps a little limited, there’s no sidechain, and the compressor doesn’t have a high pass filter. Those are the main downsides.

But balancing out the positives with the negatives, you’ve still got yourself a very competent plugin here. It could be great for a variety of track types.

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Neutron 3 Elements by iZotope

Neutron 3 Elements by iZotope

The four-in-one Neutron 3 Elements comes with EQ, compressor, transient shaper, and exciter.

One of the things that makes it stand out, though, is its machine learning design. Neutron 3’s Track Assistant can listen to your audio and suggest a preset in under 10 seconds.

On top of it all, Neutron 3 Elements comes with a resizable interface.

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Summit Audio Grand Channel by Softube

Summit Audio Grand Channel by Softube

Softube’s Summit Audio Grand Channel is the best of both worlds – the TLA-100A compressor (also comes with parallel compression, saturation control, and low cut filtering) and the EQF-100 parametric passive equalizer. Since the compressor can affect the equalizer, and the equalizer the compressor, you could say that fusing the two is ultimately ideal.

Summit Audio Grand Channel comes with individual bypass for each of the units, switchable order, carefully modeled components, and analog behavior of frequencies, distortion, phase, attack, release, and more.

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SLAM2 by BeatSkillz

SLAM2 by BeatSkillz

Beneath the hood of SLAM2 exists more complexity than meets the eye. But that’s good news, because it means you get to take advantage of the underlying technology by controlling the available parameters, without worrying about what’s happening behind the scenes.

Whether you’re looking to fatten up your mix, channels, drums, vocals, synths, or otherwise, SLAM2 will make your beats slam.

The Thump control is basically a variable Q and Low Peak Filter. The BOOM dial is for sub-harmonic generation, the Mud Cut gets rid of cumbersome low frequencies, the Heat section comes with two saturation types, and AIR gives some sizzle to high frequencies.

Then there’s the POP compressor based on the 1176 FET, the SMASH inflating limiter for boosting levels without the peaks, stereo widener, and a Mix dial for blending the processing with your dry signal.

For electronic music of any kind, SLAM2 is sure to come in handy.

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Mastering

What comes after mixing? Mastering. And in an ideal world, you would get a fresh set of ears on your mixes.

But maybe you don’t have the budget for a mastering engineer. Or maybe you’re thinking about becoming one. In that case, you’d probably want to check out the following:

Ozone Elements by iZotope

Ozone Elements by iZotope

When it comes to mastering, the association to Ozone is strong. And with iZotope’s Ozone Elements, you get a cost-effective essentials solution for mastering – Equalizer, Imager, Maximizer, and of course the signature AI-powered mastering technology that made Ozone what it is today.

Ozone Elements also offers NKS support and is compatible with Windows and Mac.

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Weiss MM-1 by Softube

Weiss MM-1 by Softube

Experienced producers will be familiar with the illustrious Weiss DS1-MK3, which is exactly what the Weiss MM-1 was based on. This mastering maximizer comes with the same algorithms as the original digital hardware, giving you access to five types of limiting – transparent, loud, punch, wide, and de-ess.

In Softube’s own words, Weiss MM-1 “can’t sound bad.”

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BASSROOM by Mastering The Mix

BASSROOM by Mastering The Mix

Balancing the low end in your mix may well be one of the toughest tasks you'll need to tackle as an engineer. Mastering The Mix’ BASSROOM is a final mix and mastering EQ that allows you to dial in the perfect bass sound in seconds.

BASSROOM provides you with EQ target presets that have been created by analyzing the best mixes in a variety of genres.

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Piano

Regardless of genre or style, piano can often end up being the “perfect” instrument for just about any project. It’s great for rhythm and comping, just as it’s excellent for melodies and leads.

Every producer should have a virtual piano in their VST library because it will be called upon. That’s a virtual guarantee.

Piano V2 by Arturia

Piano V2 by Arturia

When it comes to synths and key sounds of all kinds, Arturia is a trusted and reliable source. And as far as virtual pianos go, their Piano V2 plugin isn’t any worse for wear.

Piano V2 doesn’t just give you access to one or two piano sounds like most plugins. Six? No. You get 12 pianos to choose from!

That includes Concert Grand, Intimate Grand, Pop Grand, Jazz Upright, Piano-bar Upright, Pop Upright, Classical Upright, Glass Grand, Metal Grand, Japanese Grand, Plucked Grand, and Tack Upright.

Some may be a little less usable than others, but that complaint is hardly valid when you’ve got several authentic and great sounding pianos at the ready.

Arturia also wanted to give you total control over the sound of each piano and created controls and settings for action, global string tension (tuning), unison detuning, stretch tuning, dynamic range, hammer hardness, hammer position, velocity curve editor, mechanical noise, pedal and key noise, hammer noise, mechanics, lid position, and soundboard resonance.

But we’re not quite done. You also get multiple microphone positions, a microphone mixer, convolution room simulator with 14 room types, output parametric EQ, 88 factory presets, and MIDI mapping.

Overall, Piano V2 sounds great, and there are plenty of fun tones built into it. Some may be less usable than others, but hey, it’s always nice to see what a virtual instrument can do when pushed to its limits.

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Addictive Keys Complete Collection by XLN Audio

Addictive Keys Complete Collection by XLN Audio

Another known name in the virtual keyboard market would certainly be Addictive Keys. The Addictive Keys Complete Collection comes with four essential sounds you can use in a variety of situations.

The first is the Studio Grand, modeled after the Steinway Model D. The second is Mark One, which of course takes after the Rhodes Mk. 1 electric piano. The third is Modern Upright, based on a Yamaha U3 upright piano. Then there’s the Electric Grand, which is an emulation of the CP-80 electric grand piano.

That’s obviously a little more than just a piano here, but if you’re anything like me, you don’t mind adding some competent electric piano sounds to your arsenal (they’re just so dreamy, and gritty, and smooth, and everything you could possibly want on a slow song or ballad).

Addictive Keys Complete Collection also comes with ExploreMaps, parameters to shape the tone of the keys, a ton of presets, and a powerful sound engine that lets you mix and match microphone setups.

Now, I’m not a purebred keyboardist or anything. I play a little. My main instrument is guitar. But to me Addictive Keys sound great. Check out some of the sounds in the video below.

Learn more: Splice

Grand Rhapsody Piano by Waves

Grand Rhapsody Piano by Waves

Waves’ Grand Rhapsody Piano was borne out of the distinctive Fazioli F228 grand piano – specifically the one located at London’s Metropolis Studios. The same one played on hits like Adele’s “Hello.”

Waves took advantage of the B&K 4007, Shure SM57, Neumann U87, Royer R121, SE RN17, Neumann KM84, Coles 4038, and AKG C451 to capture the beauty. Waves made it so up to three mic pairs of mics could be blended, and you can even choose their position.

Additionally, use the pedal, key up, and sympathetic resonance controls to amp up the authenticity. Waves had enough foresight to include an EQ, compressor, delay, limiter, and a reverb that takes after their own H-Reverb.

Waves offers that the virtual piano would be perfect for jazz, classical, pop / rock, and more.

Learn more: Waves

Synthesizer

Honestly, it doesn’t matter whether you’re making electronic music or good old-fashioned rock. Synthesizers were brought to the fore and popularized by acts like Edgar Winter, Rush, David Bowie, and others, so it’s fair to say they’ve always had their place in popular music, regardless of genre.

If you are an electronic music producer, though, then a synth (likely multiple synths) is an essential you simply can’t do without. And if you produce anything other than pop, EDM, hip-hop, R&B, synthwave, and the like, well, you can always find a way to do without.

But who are we kidding… everyone needs a synth, even if it’s just for a song intro or a bit of atmosphere? Which is why we’ve compiled a few of the best software synthesizers.

VPS Avenger by Vengeance Sound

VPS Avenger by Vengeance Sound

Vengeance Sound’s VPS Avenger is an insanely hyper-powered praise worthy soft synth – AudioNewsRoom, Computer Music, and Amazona all had great things to say about it. This virtual instrument aims to be your one stop shop. But can it really be that good?

Well, as with most synths in the category, we’d be here all day trying to cover off all the features, and that could get ugly. So, let’s start off with the basics.

VPS Avenger comes with 1,000+ factory presets, 620 multi-samples, 218 special samples (attacks and noises), 154 resampler waves, 168 drumkits, 168 drum sequences, 596 wavetables, 219 granular samples, thousands of OSC shapes / waveforms, and 30 FX types (including reverb, analog chorus, reverb, and many others, from Arts Acoustic).

There are also 47 filter types, up to 1,000 playing OSCs with one note, resampling / wavetable generator, freeform OSCs (draw them), alias free OSCs, wavetables, FM and AM modulation, drag and drop mod matrix, resizable GUI, undo feature, preset search system / tag cloud, 16 individually routable sub-outs into your DAW mixer, and macro controllers.

Additionally, there’s eight arps, drums sequencer, eight step sequencers, 18 envelope generators, free routable FX busses and send effects, customizable LFOs, four shaper modules (distortion), unison features, key and velocity zones, the ability to import your own multi-samples, drums, wavetables or OSC waveforms, and MIDI learn function.

And none of this is a joke.

Phew… time to come up for air yet?

Look, this thing is crazy. But I probably don’t need to tell you that. At the end of the day, it still comes down to what you can do with it. Check out the video for an in-depth look at the insanely powerful VPS Avenger.

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Omnisphere by Spectrasonics

Omnisphere by Spectrasonics

Legends don’t require much by way of introduction. Even if you’ve never used Omnisphere, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of it, and if you haven’t heard it, you’ve probably still heard it on countless recordings.

Its popularity is explosive, is versatility is nearly unmatched, and its sound quality is out of this world.

Just to give you an idea – this monster synth includes over 14,000 sounds, hardware synth integration, audio import, arpeggiator, Sound Match, granular synthesis, 58 effects, creative “psychoacoustic” sounds, and so much more.

Learn more: Spectrasonics

Serum by Xfer Records

Serum by Xfer Records

In the blue corner, Omnisphere. In the record corner? Serum.

Okay, you can’t really do a straight comparison here, but I think you get the point – Serum is another insanely powerful synth with rarely matched versatility.

(I could be cussed out for not mentioning these two synths.)

This advanced wavetable synthesizer features unmatched customization of wavetables, ultra-clean oscillators, modulation options that lets you drag and drop connections between mod sources and destinations, tons of filter types, effects, advanced unison, and more.

Learn more: Splice

Pigments 3 by Arturia

Pigments 3 by Arturia

It’s not even funny how many synths we could potentially feature in this section, but so far as we’re concerned, Arturia’s Pigments 3 is worth a mention on the merits of its distinctiveness and versatility alone.

This polychrome soft synth is a superpowered virtual instrument that simply defies easy descriptions. We’ll do our best, but you’ve been forewarned.

This baby comes with four sound engines with the ability to combine any two, an extra oscillator and up to two layers of sampled noise for sonic depth, 10 filter types with the ability to choose any two (along with advanced routing), 18 FX algorithms, click-and-drag modulation, sequencer and arpeggiator, color-coded three-panel user interface, and a preset library with an incredible 1,200 presets.

Pigments melds the best of various synthesis methods so you can create any kind of sound you want – and that’s not much of an exaggeration. You’ve got a harmonic engine, wavetable engine, virtual analog engine, sample & granular engine, and even a utility engine. Of course, you can customize practically anything with the onboard parameters.

That covers… most of it.

A great synth, though, is obviously the meeting place of great controls and flexibility and mind-blowing sound. Pigments 3 is one such synth that offers the best of both worlds. Would you expect any less from Arturia? I wouldn’t.

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Spire by Reveal Sound

Spire by Reveal Sound

Some soft synths simply defy age. Even if Reveal Sound’s Spire is a little on the old side, it doesn’t make it any less of a favorite.

This polyphonic software synth is loaded with all the essentials to make it a great sounding, versatile noisemaker.

You’ve got your four multimode polymorphing oscillators, 9x union voices, two multimode filters, FX (shaper / decimator, phaser / vowel, chorus / flanger, delay, reverb), four macros, four envelopes, four LFOs, multiband compressor, three-band EQ, over 1,000 factory presets, five GUI themes, and much more.

We could go into a lot more detail, but honestly the legend kind of speaks for itself. Learn more in the video below:

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SubLab by Future Audio Workshop

SubLab by Future Audio Workshop

Electronic music producers everywhere are always in search of the deepest sub bass to make speakers and dancing bodies rattle. Well, Future Audio Workshop’s SubLab has landed itself with many producers as a viable option, and it might strike you as such also.

SubLab was designed specifically with hip-hop, future bass, and trap genres in mind, and is perfect for those applications. It puts 808 style sub-bass sounds right at your fingertips.

Sample, layer, widen, and distort any kick sound you’ve got. SubLab does the whole shebang. Future Audio Workshop even included their X-Sub psychoacoustic sub-bass oscillator, which ensures you get consistent, accurate, deep subs regardless of the PA system.

There’s plenty of material to work with too. SubLab comes loaded with six signature Bass Packs as well as 250 kick samples from analog drum machines as well as a modern modular system. Of course, you can drag and drop your own samples into SubLab, which will even detect the pitch of the sample for you.

Altogether, you get the following 808 Bass Packs – Riche Souf Signature, Hits DNA Vol. 1, Divine Bass, Crushed, Analog Machines, and Pure Subs.

Bonus samples include the likes of the Roland TR-808, Roland TR-707, Jomox MBase 11, Waldorf Blofeld, MFB 522, Nord Lead, Noise Engineering Basimilus Iteritas, Befaco Kickall, Intellijel Dixie, Hexinverter BD9, Mutable Instruments Plaits, Dave Smith Tempest, Korg Volca Beats, Korg Volca Kick, Vermona Mono Lancet ’15, and many others.

The analog style synth engine comes with sine, triangle, sawtooth, and square wave options. In addition to the sample and X-Sub engines, SubLab also comes with distortion, a compressor, meter / master, and patch browsing controls.

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Drums

Recording drums live may be the preferred and even best way. But with electronic musical styles leaning heavily on synthesizers and classic drum machine sounds, and producers with no access to a drummer (let alone a live room to record them in), drum VST plugins have fast become an essential in the modern producer’s toolkit.

Heartbeat by Softube

Heartbeat by Softube

If classic drum synthesis floats your boat, then you would merit a look at Softube’s Heartbeat.

This baby features eight channels of drum sounds (largely based on modeled analog synthesis), mixer with volume, EQ, effects sends, panning, four-channel Auto Layer Machine for layering sounds or triggering beat patterns, Chaos slider, adapted versions of TSAR-1 Reverb and Valley People Dyna-mite, filter echo, and output saturation.

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BreakTweaker Expanded by iZotope

BreakTweaker Expanded by iZotope

BreakTweaker Expanded was developed by iZotope and designed by BT. Not merely a drum machine, iZotope calls it a beat sequencing and drum sculpting environment. The Expanded version gives you access to four expansion packs.

With BreakTweaker, you can control the pitch, rhythm, and texture of any beat, create complex polyrhythmic beats with isorhythm and playback speed settings, take advantage of presets, drum samples, and wavetables, blend drum samples with synthesis features, and trigger and sequence patterns using your favorite MIDI controller.

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Microtonic by Sonic Charge

Microtonic by Sonic Charge

Producer / DJ / label owner Lenny Dee called Microtonic one of the best drum synths you can get in the price range.

This drum and percussion synthesizer can be used as a sound module using your MIDI keyboard or sequencer, or you can take advantage of the built-in pattern engine.

All in all, Microtonic is an eight-channel drum and percussion synthesizer with a pattern-based drum-machine engine that syncs to host, over-sampled oscillators, sample-accurate triggering, context menus, popup hints, creative editing (morphing, smart alteration, randomization), as well as factory sounds and patterns. All sounds are 100% synthetic.

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Hats by AudioThing

Hats by AudioThing

As its name might suggest, AudioThing’s Hats is a hi-hats and cymbals synthesizer featuring a synthesized noise section and sample section.

Hats also comes with 55 samples, 80 presets, ring modulator, bit crusher, reverb, filter (SVF / ZDF), and a preset system with randomizer.

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BFD3 by FXpansion

BFD3 by FXpansion

Though it sometimes gets drowned out by the substantial noise of the competition, the illustrious BFD3 is the latest iteration on what was already a great sounding drum plugin for most genres – rock, jazz, metal, or otherwise.

This version of BFD comes seven new kits recorded in two locations, dedicated kits (rock, metal, jazz, brush), tom resonance / cymbal swell modeling, extendable interface, new effects including algorithmic reverb and DCAM EnvShaper, mix-ready presets, editable groove engine, rudiments tool, grooves by Steve Ferrone, Brooks Wackerman, Bobby Jarzombek, and more.

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Addictive Drums 2: Studio Collection by XLN Audio

Addictive Drums 2: Studio Collection by XLN Audio

Addictive Drums 2: Studio Collection comes with Studio Pop (ADpak), Studio Rock (ADpak), Rock Songs (MIDIpak), and Writers’ Blocks (MIDIpak).

XLN Audio claims this is the ideal starter pack as it can adapt to most styles, and you can dial it in to sound exactly how you like.

This collection is loaded with plenty of great features.

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What Should I Look For In VST Plugins?

One thing we can assure you of is that the plugins appearing in this guide are all high quality and highly rated. In some cases, they are even award winning.

Does this mean that every plugin will be to your personal liking? No. Whether it’s virtual effects or instruments, every producer, composer, songwriter, or artist has their own preferences. If you want to dive deeper into each category in search of the next best thing, that’s always an option.

Either way, we’re here to help you find what you need, though for the most part no two scenarios are exactly alike.

The main things to consider with any plugin are:

  • Sound quality
  • Features
  • Workflow
  • Budget

We look at each of these below.

Sound Quality

Whether a virtual effect or instrument, sound quality ultimately ends up being a key consideration.

If it’s a reverb you’re looking at, obviously you’re going to want to hear how it sounds before you even considering buying it. If it’s a synthesizer, even if features are a point of interest, it’s not going to be as crucial a factor as how it sounds.

Even when it comes to a utility plugin like a de-esser or noise gate, if it negatively affects your source material, you’re not going to be happy with it.

Is sound quality an objective thing, though? In our experience, it isn’t.

Just as choosing a guitar amplifier is generally an individual process, choosing the right plugins for your projects is bound to be a journey of trial and error and experimentation. If you start with the best plugins, though, you’ll at least have the assurance that you’re in the right ballpark.

The key to this line of thinking, though, is that if you like the plugin, that’s what matters. While they can be helpful, the opinions of others don’t matter as much as yours. After all, you’re going to be the end user.

We live in a privileged time, though, because video reviews and demos, as well as sound clips, are available in abundance. You can have a good listen to just about anything before you even consider buying it.

Features

We can’t do any straight comparisons here. Compressors are a different beast than channel strips, and reverbs aren’t the same as EQs. VST plugins must be examined within the context of their category. And even then, sometimes there are some “category breakers” that feature a lot of extras not typically present in other plugins in their category.

If you’re buying an EQ, for instance, you might consider how many bands it has. If you’re shopping for a channel strip, you’d likely examine its modules to see if it has what you need. Buying a synth? You might look for things like sequencers and arpeggiators if you think you might need them.

There’s no denying that features are important. This isn’t to say plugins with fewer parameters are always less powerful, and plugins with more parameters are always more capable, because that’s not always the case. It’s generally more a matter of whether the plugin comes with “what’s expected.”

For example, if a reviewer says something along the lines of “I’d really like this feature to be a part of this plugin,” then you know it doesn’t have everything expected of a plugin in its category. It doesn’t make it bad; it just means there is a clear path for improvement.

Ultimately, features need to be filtered through the lens of your own projects and what you need. Let’s say you’re working primarily on hip-hop projects. Well, likely you would value sub-bass synths over other types of producers.

Then, you’d go a little more granular. You’d compare the sub-synth to other sub-synths. You’d look at what’s included in each synth. You’d have a listen to each. And then you’d form some thoughts and opinions on what’s most suitable to your projects.

That’s the general trajectory of the buying process. There are, however, other factors we haven’t even touched on yet. So, let’s move onto…

Workflow

You can’t always force your workflow into a plugin, and a plugin can’t always force its workflow onto you. Meaning – you’ll naturally have better affinity with certain plugins over others.

Some will simply “click” with you. You’ll know, just by looking at it, how it works. You’ll be able to tweak a few parameters, and boom, have the perfect settings dialed in.

And then there will be plugins that will take more time to tweak. It doesn’t necessarily make them any less rewarding, but the learning curve could be steep, and sometimes that can be frustrating, especially if you’re impatient.

Workflow isn’t always more important than the quality of the effect or instrument. I think it’s a bigger consideration as it applied to DAWs, because there you have more control and choice. You have a lot less control and choice over how a plugin is set up.

Workflow is a good consideration where all choices in a category are basically equal, and you’re not sure which to buy. In an instance like that, you’d look at how the plugin is laid out, as well as its overall workflow, and choose the one that you know is going to work best for you.

But there will always be effects and instruments you need. You won’t be able to factor workflow into the equation because it’s simply not relevant. There are auto-tune plugins other than Antares Auto-Tune, but if you must have the original sound, no alternatives will do.

There are times when it’s worth thinking about workflow, but not in every instance.

Budget

We certainly can’t forget about our pocketbook in making buying decisions.

With your budget set, you can discard options that are outside of the amount you’re willing to pay and choose a VST that’s more affordable.

Since we don’t advise going into debt for any purchase, if you must have a certain plugin, we’d recommend saving up for it. Earning a toy is a fulfilling process, sometimes more fulfilling than buying it.

Plugins mentioned here range from about $20 to $250, which isn’t too big a spread, especially considering what you can get for a relatively small amount of money. Just be mindful that your balance can add up fast if you put multiple plugins in your shopping cart.

Top VST Plugins Ever, Final Thoughts

Now that you’ve compiled your shopping list, the only thing left to do is download your selected plugins and install them on your machine (unless, of course, you’re saving up for all the items you’ve identified as essential to your production workflow).

New toys are obviously exciting, but it can take time to get used to them. So, be patient, give yourself some time to experiment and explore, and hash out your workflow. Sometimes this is instantaneous, but usually it takes time.

P.S. Remember though, none of what you've learned will matter if you don't know how to get your music out there and earn from it. Want to learn how to do that? Then get our free ‘5 Steps To Profitable Youtube Music Career' ebook emailed directly to you!

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