Over the last few years, the world of music production has been truly revolutionized through the advancements made in digital audio technology. The decade-old mantra that analog will always trump digital is now being challenged by some of the amazing tools available at the fingertips of producers. Meanwhile, Grammy-winning records are being created using nothing more than a laptop and a few plug-ins. In the thick of the overwhelming amount of tools available for music makers today, we dive in to bring you 10 of our noteworthy favorites.
10. PSP VintageWarmer
Despite having been around for quite some time, PSPaudioware’s VintageWarmer has rightfully earned its place among the plug-in elite. Acting as a single or multi-band limiter, compressor, and analog-modeled saturator, VintageWarmer is a quick and easy solution to fatten up individual tracks, groups, or even your entire mix. The latest installer includes three slightly different versions of the plug-in: PSP MicroWarmer, PSP VintageWarmer (LE), and the newer PSPVintageWarmer2, which includes a double-sampling mode generally recommended for mastering purposes.
9. FabFilter Pro-Q
No plug-in list would be complete without an equalizer, and for us, FabFilter’s Pro-Q is the ultimate weapon of choice. It doesn’t have any groundbreakingly unique features, but the elegant user interface, tasteful color contrasts, and smooth sound are more than enough to make Pro-Q stand out on its own. Throw in up to 24 bands of control and you’ve got pretty much everything you could ask for in a modern digital equalizer.
8. u-he Diva
Diva (an acronym for Dinosaur-Impersonating Virtual Analogue) is arguably the best-sounding software synthesizer we’ve ever used. German developer Urs Heckmann (also the creator of Zebra) delivers an ambitious subtractive synth that can easily be considered one of the most realistic-sounding virtual analog instruments created to date. It offers an absolutely stellar sound quality and the presets alone will leave you nothing short of breathless. Be wary though: you’ll need an extremely powerful machine to run Diva. Thankfully, u-he has taken this into consideration by offering multiple playback modes of varying quality, with Divine mode being the best-sounding and most CPU-intensive.
7. Native Instruments Guitar Rig
Digital audio heavyweights Native Instruments’ attempt to simulate the sound of a classic tube amp and cabinet comes in the form of the widely used Guitar Rig. One of the more feature-packed guitar amp racks on the market, Guitar Rig is an easy choice for anyone looking to add some amp-simulation effects to their productions. The outstanding versatility ensures that you can achieve whatever sound you’re after, and despite the vast flexibility, you will never find Guitar Rig to be overly complicated.
6. Waves SSL 4000 Collection
Emulating the sound of a legendary Solid State Logic console is something that many audio developers have gone to great lengths to attempt, with few succeeding as well as Waves does with their SSL 4000 Collection. Included in the collection are the SSL E-Channel, the SSL G-Equalizer, the phenomenal G-Master Buss Compressor, and the newer SSL G-Channel. Developed in collaboration with the engineers at Solid State Logic, the Waves SSL Collection offers an alarmingly accurate emulation of the original hardware; so much so that most engineers would be unable to differentiate between the two.
5. iZotope Stutter Edit
While best known for their flagship product Ozone, iZotope more than lives up to their reputation and high standard of quality with Stutter Edit. Developed in collaboration with electronic music heavy-hitter BT, Stutter Edit employs a unique algorithm that replicates BT’s trademark “stutter” effect without all the manual sample-chopping and processing that would otherwise take hours of micro-editing. The result allows you to remix in real-time, create thrilling fills, and design mind-blowing stutter effects with the push of a button.
4. XFER Records LFOTool
In a very short time, XFER Records’ LFOTool has become a staple in almost every producer’s plug-in collection. Developed by Steve Duda, best known for his collaborative efforts with Deadmau5, LFOTool allows you to sculpt custom LFO shapes and apply them to various built-in effects. In its most practical form, LFOTool takes sidechaining to a whole new level, but don’t be mistaken: LFOTool is much more than a glorified sidechain solution. It can be used to create tremolos, auto-panning, unique trance gates, or even dubstep wobble effects with minimal effort. If that still isn’t enough, you can even export your LFOs as MIDI files, all for the cost of $25.
3. Sugar Bytes Effectrix
Effectrix takes 14 individual effects and stacks them together into an intuitive grid-based pattern editor to create one highly inspirational tool. When broken down individually, most of the effects will seem redundant, but after combining them into the slick, easy-to-use interface, you will find an abundance of ways to turn your tracks into completely unrecognizable fragments. Effectrix provides an endless amount of creative inspiration and really shines for those making electro house, dubstep, or glitch. In fact, the Vinyl effect can even be held responsible for the overused tape-stop effect you hear all over today’s trending big-room productions.
2. SoundToys EchoBoy
When it comes to delay plug-ins there is no shortage of choices, but for us, EchoBoy truly sits in a league of its own. In its most primitive form, EchoBoy is merely a simple tape delay that syncs up to your host’s tempo. But after diving further under the hood, you’ll soon realize this little beast is capable of creating anything from warm modulated tape echos to grungy distorted lo-fi effects in a matter of seconds. What really sets it apart is the warm, silky sonic character it embodies in addition to the numerous ways it can be modulated. With over 300 professionally designed presets included, you’re not likely to run out of ideas anytime soon. EchoBoy would have no doubt been our #1 must-try plug-in if not for the only downside: It requires an iLok.
1. Dada Life Sausage Fattener
Seasoned audio engineers will no doubt be a skeptical of a plug-in that employs no more than two knobs, but don’t be fooled: The Sausage Fattener is a dangerously powerful (and hilarious) tool. Endorsed by some of the biggest producers in the industry, this minimalistic plug-in serves as a quick solution to add presence and character to an individual track or an entire buss. Designed by Swedish producers Dada Life, it emulates a custom channel strip that makes clever use of various saturation, distortion, and EQ. It also acts as a brickwall limiter for those harmonic peaks that may need a little extra taming. At a cost of only $29, Sausage Fattener is a must-have for any producer’s arsenal.