As audio engineers, we are constantly looking for the best tools for our craft. I go down plugin rabbit holes, wasting hours of time. I could be using that time to make music with the incredible plugins I have already. So, in this article, I'm going to show you 8 of the best plugins you can buy that will help you take your work to the next level and in less time. Many of these plugs are on sale frequently, so be sure to click the name to link to their page!
Starting off with a modern classic is the FG-Stress. As a proud owner of a hardware Distressor, I gladly use my FG-Stress in my mix. It sounds so close to my hardware unit for a fraction of the cost. And you can use it on more than one track. I will never sell my Distressor because there is no better tracking compressor (in my humble opinion). But I will also never sell my FG-Stress license either.
Up next is the most versatile EQ you will ever use. FabFilter's Pro-Q is everything you ever need or want from a digital EQ. With up to 24 bands, dynamic EQ, linear phase operation, M/S EQ matching and so, so much more, this EQ has it all. But most importantly, it has 64-bit processing under the hood and sounds incredibly smooth on any source.
You typically wouldn't think of a multi-band dynamics processor as a must-have. However, the Pro-MB is the secret weapon for killing cymbal bleed in snare mics. The trick is to use this as an expander for just the high-end of the spectrum. Pro-MB allows you to select which frequency range to trigger off of, so that when the body of the snare is detected, the high-end expands and closes at the same time as the snare length. I'll admit, I don't have this yet, but it's on my shortlist, and should be on yours if you record real drums.
The famous blue plates of Tube-Tech have graced the most famous studios. The thickness and tube sweetness of a Pultec Style EQ and an LA-2A style compressor have never been so versatile. This is the latest rendition of Softube's Tube-Tech collection with updates like, M/S processing, side-chain filters and parallel processing. I love the sound of the PE1C on kicks, bass and the mix-buss.
Saturation is the secret ingredient to a great mix. With Slate Digital's VTC, you get three different flavors of saturation that can add a dimension like no other plugin. The New York is great for adding crunch to a drum buss. I love the London on guitars and vocals for the creamy mids. The Hollywood gets most of its use on bass-heavy stuff like kicks, toms and bass guitar. I love that each of them help separate my instruments in a dense mix by saturating differently.
Another great plugin from Softube is the Trident A-Range EQ. Here's the story about this plugin: "Only thirteen A-Range consoles were ever built, and the Softube plug-in version is a very exact model of channel 15 of the Trident A-Range at Sweet Silence Studio 'B' in Denmark. This is producer Flemming Rasmussen's favorite channel for recording lead vocals. Flemming also used it for the solo and rhythm guitars on Metallica's 'Ride The Lightning' and 'Master of Puppets', as well as Ritchie Blackmore's guitar on the Rainbow albums 'Difficult to Cure' and 'Bent out of Shape'" My favorite thing about this plugin (other than the sound) is the saturation. My trick with this EQ on snare is to boost 250 Hz, 5kHz and 8kHz to taste and saturate until it starts distorting. This lets the snare cut and still keep some headroom in your drum buss. The 1kHz band also is great to boost on bass guitar.
A lot goes into making a great master. The FG-X is an integral part of my mastering chain. The FG-Comp just needs a little bit of compression to tighten things up. By little bit, I mean 1dB or less. I then like to turn up the Dynamic Perception to 1 or less to get things just a bit more punchy. Then the gain can be turned up to the right level. What's really cool about this is you can adjust the type of clipping/limiting with the slider. For heavier music, going a bit towards to the Hard setting makes the mix sound more aggressive. For acoustic music or jazz, the Smooth side takes away some harshness and rounds out the edges. Mastering has never been easier!
Possibly the best tape emulation on the market comes from Softube. It includes three different kinds of tape, five speeds, blend control and an incredible high frequency trim that's worth the price of the plugin alone. Softube Tape really shines on vocal busses and the master buss. It can even help tame harsh frequencies and beef up the low mids of guitars. I've tried tons of saturation plugs, and this is by far my favorite tape sim. I have no doubt it will be yours too. This was our list of the 8 Best Plugins an Audio Engineer Can Buy. Be sure to check out our other articles here.