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Producing an album at home is now easier than ever thanks to a host of eager software developers and their versatile plugins. Racks of heavy recording and mixing equipment are now represented faithfully in software form, giving anybody with a laptop access to a personal recording studio.
There are literally thousands of music production plugins available today—compressors, preamp emulators, equalizers, noise makers, tape emulators, and even AI-driven automated mastering tools. The secret to your best mix ever is just a few clicks away, and the level of control given by new software is truly unprecedented.
Here are some of our favorite plugins for music production available right now.
The Gold Bundle from Waves includes 42 standalone plugins that span from utilitarian tools to wildly creative effects. Containing mastering limiters, tape echo, guitar pedals, de-essers, compressors, reverbs, EQs, and more, this bundle is ideal for producers who are doing lots of studio recording or building mixes from the ground up. Users will appreciate the extended functionality and creativity that the Gold Bundle can lend to any DAW.
One of the stand-out offerings in the Gold Bundle is Waves’ famed H-Delay Hybrid Delay plugin, a responsive and highly customizable emulation of vintage digital hardware delays in the vein of the Lexicon PCM42. It’s perfect for adding subtle slapback echo to vocals and drums, ping-pong style delay for guitars and pianos, and for getting wildly modulating pitch-bending and vibrato effects. Set the feedback to infinite and create an unearthly wall of sound or push in the Lo-Fi button for extra vintage flavor.
Another favorite of ours is the TrueVerb reverb plugin, with its simple-to-use graphical interface and highly customizable controls. The sound from this reverb is very natural and creates realistic-sounding room space around your tracks with ease. Among other things, you can control the room size, dampen specific frequencies, and adjust the early reflections to take this reverb anywhere along the line from subtle garage to subway tunnel.
KOMPLETE 13 is a veritable best-of pack from Native Instruments’ hallmark catalog of synths and production sounds, entailing a collection that includes 68 instruments and effects, 24 expansions, and more than 36,000 sounds totaling at 320 gigabytes. Since each of these instruments are available individually, this bundle encompasses a great value and offers an expansion to the creative abilities of any studio. All included instruments are pre-mapped for compatibility with NI’s proprietary hardware including Komplete Kontrol keyboards and Maschine controllers, too, so they’re incredibly flexible and versatile.
There’s nothing quite like iZotope’s suite of AI-powered mixing and mastering plugins Ozone and Neutron, and its combination of versatility, utility, and uniqueness makes them all the more exciting. These plugins are great at managing entire mixes and tracks on a macro level by providing different levels of balance between mix elements or finishing a track with streaming-ready mastering touches. Regardless of whether you are a mixing or mastering engineer or a self-starting songwriter, iZotope’s suite of software is guaranteed to be an unmatched asset in your toolbox.
Ozone 9 is a 16-in-1 mastering tool that features a sleek user interface and a host of modular effects as well as track analysis, rebalancing, and reference matching. Effects on tap include a newly-improved Stereo Imager for widening mixes and adding space to tracks and vintage-style limiters, EQ, and tape saturation. Use the match reference track function and Ozone’s AI will automatically set up your track with the ideal settings for your specific material. Its library of presets is also a fantastic way to get started using Ozone for mastering and serves as a nice crash course on the multitude of ways this tool can sculpt and shape your finished master.
Neutron is iZotope’s mixing toolbox that is designed as a one-stop mix accelerator and it uses the same proprietary machine learning as Ozone to cut down on guesswork and save time. Within Neutron are a host of tools including the Sculptor which automatically EQs and compresses your tracks specifically according to the material and can be indispensable for increasing clarity and dynamic range. A truly special feature here is the Visual Mixer, which analyzes your entire mix and allows you to adjust the levels of all percussion, vocals, bass, and other elements all relative to one another—something unprecedented for a plugin product.
The Total Bundle from FabFilter is packed solid with some of the best audio production software to ever hit the market, including high-performing proprietary EQs, compressors, filters, saturators, and basic synthesizers. The GUI is beautiful and incredibly intuitive, offering a high degree of control over these very versatile and powerful plugins. If you’re working with lots of audio, mixing creatively and need a granular level of control over your mixes then this is by far one of the best bundles out there.
The Pro-Q Equalizer is one of the most powerful, flexible, and transparent EQs we’ve ever used and it’s designed intuitively to boot. It includes analog modeling and linear phase processing, mid-side processing, a built-in spectral analyzer and so much more. Turn on dynamic EQ and use it as a subtle sound sculptor, or use it to seek out and surgically notch out problematic frequencies in your source material.
The Total Bundle also includes Saturn, a remarkable multiband distortion and saturation plugin that’s just as good at adding analog warmth and punch to any source as it is at generating heavy lo-fi distortion and signal destruction. It comes with tape, tube and amp effects, up to six separate bands of saturation and a unique modulation matrix to supply life and dynamics to your performances. Use it on your synths and beats or put it on a whole mix and use it for mastering—it sounds good on everything.