50 Best VST Plugins for 2020

Best VST PluginsYou may need to bookmark this for later, because in this buyer’s guide, we’ll take a look at the 50+ best VST plugins that you should be using if you want to take your production game to the next level! There is literally no other guide on the internet like this.

Whether you plan on composing, beat making, or getting better mixes or loud, smoothly polished masters, the plugin you’re probably looking for is in this guide.

And while it’s not the plugin itself that will give you the results you want but the know-how to use it, having the best professional tools will go a long way in taking your music to the next level.

Anyway, let’s take a closer look 🙂


Our Tops Picks for Best VST Plugins

Because this guide consists of over 50 plugins, organized by type, we felt it necessary to choose our favorite fifteen and present a list here.

  1. Loopmasters Bass Master – Bass Module
  2. Reveal Sound Spire – Software Synth
  3. East/West ComposerCloud X – Cloud-based Orchestra
  4. Toontrack EZkeys – Keyboards
  5. XLN Audio Addictive Drums – Drum Module
  6. AIR Music Technology Boom – Drum Machine
  7. W. A Production Mutant Reverb – Reverb
  8. Waves Audio H-Delay – Delay
  9. FabFilter Pro-C 2 – Compressor
  10. FabFilter Pro-L – Limiter
  11. FabFilter Pro-Q – Equalizer
  12. Arturia Mini Filter – Pass Filter
  13. D16 Group GodFazer – Modulator
  14. Fabfilter Saturn – Distortion
  15. Celemony Melodyne – Pitch Correction/Shifter

What’s in this guide

What Exactly are VST Audio Plugins?

Before diving into the products in more detail, let’s take a look at the concept of VST plugins first.

Back in the day…

Old-Timey Music Recording Studio
An old-timey music recording studio

… in order to create any piece of music, you were confined to the necessity of using actual physical instruments, finding people to play them, and lots of equipment to record and process them.

Nowadays, with the exception of recording your singer, many instruments can be made available right from your hard drive as a ‘Virtual Instrument’. In fact, in some cases, many producers, such as DeadMau5, opt to create complete pieces of music without the need of any physical instruments or people to play them at all.

It took a lot of equipment to make music

Going back in time again, you’d pass your audio signals from your instrument or microphone through your mixing desk and then onto a tape deck. This required a lot of equipment in a large room, because, aside from the mixing desk, you needed to process each audio signal to get your sounds to “mix” together nicely. Hence, it took a lot of equipment to make music.

Modern Music Production Workstation
A typical modern music production workstation

In some cases, these were large devices that took up entire corners of a room.

The act of “processing” these audio signals in a mix included EQ and compression – and these were just the basic requirements when looking for a good sound. But if you want to add space, you needed to add reverb or delay. Then comes a host of other effects like phasers and flangers. In some cases, these were large devices that took up entire corners of a room.

But hardware plugins had a certain kind of sound that shaped music into what we know today.

All of these effects were analog hardware devices that would literally be “plugged in” to your mixing console. Hence the term “plug-in.” But hardware plugins had a certain kind of sound that shaped music into what we know today. In order to get that sound, you’d need to get the exact hardware and a mixing console. But you’d also need a big room to fit it in (and multiple thousands of dollars to afford them).

Hardware plugin rack
Hardware plugins on a rack

Software plugins (VST) do a great job of emulating the sound of the devices that have shaped music.

If you’re putting together a home studio, this is not going to be ideal. Instead, software plugins (VST) do a great job of emulating the sound of the devices that have shaped music. Even the commercial music industry studios are more and more utilizing software plugins.

The trend in 21st century music production is to capture the same “character” and “personality” that went into a vintage record, and apply it to modern day music production practices. Mainly, the proliferation of music production taking place in home studios and even bedrooms.

Let’s talk about the various kinds of plugins you can choose from.


Best VST Audio Plugins to Have

There are two main categories of audio plugins. Virtual Instruments and Effects Processors.

Under each category there are several other categories to choose from, which will be outlined below.


Virtual Instruments

If you’re a music producer – and not just an audio engineer – virtual instruments are essential to invest in.

They allow you to design, create, and generate organic sounds – as the name suggests, they are “virtual instruments.”

While they’ll likely take up more CPU than effects processors or samples, virtual instruments act as the driving force of your production in most cases.

Of course, you can always skip these if you only plan on recording your acoustic instruments, or are just interesting in the audio engineering part of music production. In this case, jump to “Effects Processors” or check out or “Mixing Plugins Guide.”

These plugins are sometimes referred to as VSTi, and they can be played using a MIDI controller or with your computer’s keyboard.

The of types of virtual instruments you’ll want in your musical toolkit:

It’s likely that your music software or DAW comes with a number of these stock virtual instruments, and always a good idea to the hang of those before you invest money in new gear…

… but you’ll often find higher quality and more flexibility with 3rd party virtual instruments. We’ll take a look at some of our favorites for each musical component.


A Good Bass Module

Bass modules act as massive bass sound generators. They can have sound styles ranging from symphonic upright bass, straight forward house bass, to deeply distorted bass used in rock and roll inspired mixes.

For the purpose of creativity, these modules can also generate a number of patterns to get you started. It’s like having a bassist in your computer!

Classic bass-lines are often quite formulaic, and modules can replicate different styles at the simple turn of a knob.

It’s a good idea to invest in a bass module, the bass line is essential to many pieces of music, and acts as the foundation of your music.

You can get bass modules for any kind of genre, so keep that in mind when reading through to find the one you want. For example, jazz music utilizes the fretless bass, techno music may use a solid sine wave bass, etc.

Believe it or not, bass modules can get pretty specific in terms of the types of sounds they produce. Spectrasonics Trilian, for one, is perfect for composers looking for orchestral type basses. However, if you create trap music, this may not be the best module for you.

Loopmasters Bass Master

Loopmasters Bass Master

If you’re looking for a bass module that has a variety of genres and bass styles, Bass Master by Loopmasters is an great choice to start with. This module contains over 350 bass presets broken down into simple categories for ease of use. In addition, you can process your bass further within the virtual instrument, since it contains a set of 13 onboard filter types.

There are also 3 embedded effects including distortion, chorus, and reverb for more experimental bass lines. Plus, the sleek UI makes this module super easy to navigate even if you’ve never used a module before. For a comprehensive starter bass module, Bass Master is well worth the affordable cost.

Get demos & price @ Plugin Boutique

Future Audio Workshop SubLab

Future Audio Workshop SubLab

Oftentimes, it can be difficult to fill up the low-frequency range of a song without creating muddiness. In which case, many producers find it useful to implement a sub bass.While subs are not always overt in a mix, they help to noticeably fill up frequencies and can help bring energy to a chorus. Hence, if you’re looking for one of the best VST plugins for sub bass, check out SubLab by FAW.

This module comes with 250 bass sample sounds and 6 different modules for you to generate your own bass line using sounds in your library. You can drag and drop different samples right into the interface, and select exactly which tone you’d like the bass line to emulate on a virtual keyboard. This feature is especially useful as differentiating sounds becomes more difficult for the human ear as sounds become lower.

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Spectrasonics Trilian

Spectrasonics Trilian

Trilian is your go-to bass module for crafting orchestral-type bass sounds. With over 60 included virtual instruments, you’re able to recreate deep tones from traditional instruments like the upright bass, acoustic bass, and electric bass.

Notably, you can select different articulation modes for each sound such as fingered, picked, fretless, slapped, tapped, and muted. These modes alone allow your bass to sound much more present in a mix, as though it was recorded live versus produced virtually.

Trilian is a pretty big investment, but you’re certain to get your ROI it if you’re looking for an alternative to paying for an actual bass player, or to those vintage hardware bass synth sounds. Definitely one of the best VST plugins in this list.

Get demos & price @ Sweetwater

SoniVOX Classic Bass

SoniVOX Classic Bass

For a quick and easy bass module, classic bass is a great pick. This module is designed to get you realistic bass guitar sounds without a whole lot of extra hassle. The clean UI emulates tones of the Fender Precision bass at a fraction of a cost. You’re also able to select articulation modes of either fingerstyle or picked to evoke different moods in your production. This bass module also features three different LFO modules for easy sound design. By altering the amplitude, pitch, and filter settings within the interface, you’ll be able to produce a number of radically diverse bass lines. You’re also given an EQ, chorus, and delay for maximum control.

Get demos & price @ Plugin Boutique

Other bass plugins to try:


A Proper Synthesizer

Synthesizers are useful for a variety of production styles and genres. Technically speaking, a synthesizer is an instrument that generates sound using electronic or digital signals. We’ve written fun a series on the various types of audio synthesizers. It’s pure theory, but by the end of the articles you’d be something of an expert on the topic. Check them out!

Back on topic… So how are synthesizers useful?

You can use synths to:

  • create the lead for a melody line
  • create bass sounds
  • create chord harmonies
  • create drum hits
  • replace a typical instrument like piano, organ, guitar
  • generate noise and special effects
  • creating “pads” to fill out the spaces in your mix
  • and more…

So how they word?

Synthesizers work by taking an electrical signal, and converting it into sound vibrations via oscillators. These oscillators, or sound generators, produce various types of sounds based on their waveform shapes (some common examples of waveforms that a synth may convert are sine, saw, triangle, and square waves). They always come with various filters and modulators for you to tweak the raw waves you create. The sky is the limit with these things.

You’ll find that certain synthesizers are catered for different genres of music. For example, Omnisphere by Spectrasonics is famous for its atmospheric, ambient sounds that may be best used for techno, house, and electronic inspired genres. Other synthesizers work to emulate the retro lead lines commonly heard in 80s music, which are sometimes referred to as analog synths.

Regardless of what kind of music you plan to create, a proper synthesizer is essential.

W. A. Production Babylon

WA Production Babylon

Babylon is unique in that all controls are on one page. Though this detail may seem insignificant, it allows you to truly experience all of the synth’s features efficiently and effectively, making this a great introductory synthesizer for beginners and one of the best VST plugin synths around.

It also includes a tuner and a number of scale presets to aid those just starting out in the creative process. With over 257 presets, you’re bound to find a lead line that suits your project. W.A Production describes Babylon as a “soft synth”, meaning that its parameters are also suited to create more piano/chord-type sounds. This plugin is definitely worth a try at its affordable price point.

Get demos & price @ Plugin Boutique

Native Instruments MASSIVE X

Native Instruments MASSIVE X

The original NI Massive was arguably the best best VST plugin soft synth on the market for many years. With MASSIVE X, it’s newest version, you can expect some improvement on the industry standard. They have over 170 wavetable options available. And the plugin gives you two different oscillators so you can layer your sound within the plugin.

Notably, there’s a handy drag and drop routing portal within the interface, so you can seamless link MASSIVE X to your favorite MIDI device or other virtual instruments. You can also draw in custom modulation patterns for maximum flexibility. Along with hundreds of possible synth sounds, you also get a powerful sub bass modes for your oscillators. As a standard for the industry, MASSIVE is a must-have in your production toolkit, especially for electronic musicians.

Get demos & price @ Native Instruments

Reveal Sound Spire

Reveal Sound Spire

Spire is a polyphonic synthesizer with 4 different oscillators for endless sound possibilities. In addition to the 4 oscillators, there are 7 varied modes per oscillator so you’re able to mix and match sound modules like FM, Vowel, AMSync, and others.

You’re also given 9 voices per oscillator, so you can rely on Spire alone to fill up your mix. For this reason Spire has become super popular and highly recommended among music producers for many genres. Two embedded multi-mode filters also allow you to edit your sound within the interface, so your “voices” (sounds) are meshing well together.

With 4 oscillators to run, Spire is not necessarily light on the CPU. But it’s great to use as a stand-alone plugin (such as, during live performances) thanks to its 5 embedded effects, 3-band EQ, arpeggiator, and mappable MIDI controls. You’ll definitely get a bang for your buck with this incredibly versatile synth.

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Cherry Audio Voltage Nucleus

Cherry Audio Voltage Nucleus

If you’re looking to dive into the fascinating world of modular synthesis,

Voltage Nucleus is a great place to start. Modular synthesis refers to a specific method of creating sound, often using a number of patch cables to route your hardware or software pieces to process signals in a particular way.

This type of synthesis often offers the producer a greater degree of control over his or her sound since every patch variation will add character to the sound.

Voltage Nucleus, in this instance, offers all that a hardware modular synth would give you. It includes 22 different modules and 67 presets to get you started. The plugin is also packed with a number of vintage sounds and has everything you need to give you that analog experience via software.

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SoundSpot Union

SoundSpot Union

Don’t be fooled by this synth’s extremely modest price-point — Union holds its own for being a powerful wavetable synthesizer accessible to producers of all experience levels. It has 3 oscillators and a really nice UI, so you’re bound to get lost in the best way using Union.

Notably, this plugin plays up to 96 voices with a signal note allowing you to fill up your mixes with ease. For ease of use, there’s a compressor, a number of effects, and ADSR knobs built-in for simple post-processing. With over 300 different presets and an extremely affordable cost, Union is certainly worth a try for any producer.

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Spectrasonics Omnisphere

Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2

Omnisphere is regarded as an industry standard for ambient, atmospheric synth sounds. With over 14,000 included sounds, this plugin can definitely be your one-stop-shop for all things synth.

The new update also integrates 1,600 new hardware patches to give you more of that classic analog vibe. Notably, you can import your own audio into Omnisphere and edit it with the integrated sampler. You’ll also get 58 FX units with this synth for maximum flexibility. If you’re an electronic producer constantly looking for unique sounds to spice up your track, Omnisphere is a great investment.

Get demos & price @ Sweetwater

An Orchestral Sample Player

Orchestra sounds are notorious for being difficult to replicate on software…

One of the marks of an inexperienced producer is the use of cheesy horns lacking much of that mid-range frequency depth.

But how are you supposed to use orchestral-type sounds if so many symphonic inspired sound generators fall short?

This is where orchestra sample players come in.

Orchestra players sample real hardware instruments and are designed to synthesizer these samples together in a believable, cohesive fashion.

Even if you aren’t a traditional composer, orchestral sample players are useful for a variety of genres. For example, modern trap and pop music has begun to utilize strings swells in a number of songs.

Having a proper orchestral library on hand never hurts, and can set you apart as an experienced producer when used correctly.

These libraries also lend themselves to film scoring and adding layers of depth and atmosphere to any mix. In general, it can be difficult to come across samples deriving directly from a source instrument, so inserting sections of this library into your mix can allow your tracks to sound more organic and natural in our digital age.

Eastwest ComposerCloud X

Eastwest ComposerCloud X

If you’re a serious composer or scorer, it may be worth the investment to have a subscription to ComposerCloud X.

This subscription gives you access to over 40,000 high-quality sounds including an impressive orchestral library which is quite remarkable and one of its kind. Plus, you’ll be there when the library is updated fairly regularly with modern, top-notch orchestral samples.

Orchestra plugins are huge. But with ComposerCloud X you won’t have to worry about using up too much computer space, as you’ll only need to download the samples you’re interested in using.

Along with the massive cloud library, you’ll also get 65 full Eastwest products to utilize during your subscription. It’s certainly worth the money if you’re constantly looking for fresh samples.

Get demos & price @ Sweetwater

SONiVOX Film Score Companion

SONiVOX Film Score Companion

Film score companion is a combination pack of SONiVOX’s orchestral brass, strings, woodwinds, percussion, and eighty eight ensemble. This sample library uses a UI that’s inspired by hardware devices, giving addition feel to the creativity.

All the samples in this pack were recorded by expert musicians. They were recording in the standard orchestral-style seating and environment to preserve the integrity of the sound. The sound engine also includes a modulation board, embedded filters, and integrated MIDI mapping.

All-in-all, this is great choice for those on a budget and need some genuinely good sounding orchestra sounds for any kind of occasion.

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IK Multimedia Miroslav Philharmonik 2 CE

IK Multimedia Miroslav Philharmonik 2 CE

This plugin sure is a mouthful, but it’s definitely a great orchestral sampler for producers and composers. The intuitive user interface, though a bit dated, is super easy to navigate, allowing you to locate your desired sound quickly and effectively.

It comes with a whopping 733 instruments. Notably, you can also select different play modes in this plugin, like legato 1 or 2, mono and poly. There are 5 groups of embedded effects allowing the user to craft their sound without leaving the interface. If you’re looking to create a deep ensemble type sound, you’ll definitely take advantage of Philharmonik 2’s 16 individual stereo outputs. For many orchestral enthusiasts, this plugin has become an industry standard.

Get demos & price @ Sweetwater

Vienna Symphonic Library Essential Orchestral Volume 1

vienna symphonic library special edition volume 1

This one is another industry standard. These orchestral samples are true to their inspiration considering they’re derived from the Vienna Symphonic Library. There are 28 instruments and ensembles in this volume, so you’ll most likely have everything you need to fill your symphonic needs.

Each instrument was also recorded with legato articulation to create natural-sounding transitions between melodic phrases. Also, unlike many other orchestral plugins,  no additives were added to the sound (effects such as reverbs or delays). So you’ll get the raw sound of an orchestra to play with.

Though this library is not super light on your computer at 27 GB, it’s definitely worth the investment for producers looking for a serious orchestral pack.

Get demos & price @ Sweetwater

Related guides:


Some Good Keys

For many songwriters, keys are the go-to starting point for crafting a melody. A lot of producers like to begin their songs by creating a simple piano chord structure. Clearly, good keys are important for producing a well thought out tracks.

For one thing, they are one the most versatile instruments, lending themselves to a number of tones, moods, and genres. You’ll find key sounds in jazz, pop, rap, you name it— Piano and organ sounds are everywhere.

Next to bass and drums, the piano and organ are the meat and potatoes of many music production projects.

If your creations stay within the same genre usually, it may be unnecessary to seek out a VST with diverse key sounds. Only look for the high-quality samples you really need.

However, if you like to create a number of genres, seek out a diverse keyboard portfolio in your plugin. The type of keys used in a track can dramatically change the evoked mood and perceived genre of a song.

Make sure the interface you select is truly one that you’re proud of. And since keys are so integral to many tracks, the quality of your piano samples is likely to make or break your overall song.

Spectrasonics Keyscape

Spectrasonics Keyscape

Keyscape is essentially a collection of collector keyboards from the past couple of century.

In this pack, you’ll find samples from the legendary JD-800 Rhodes, Clavichord, Chimeatron and others

For each set of keys, you’ll be given a custom set of controls to further customize your sound. For instance, you can alter the microphone recording the keys, color of the sound, and standard effects like reverb and tremolo.

This plugin is also super user-friendly and gives you a clear animated view of your selected instrument to add further inspiration to your creations. With over 500 onboard sounds and 36 instrument models, you’re bound to find the perfect set of keys for your track.

Get demos & price @ Sweetwater

Arturia V Collection

Arturia V Collection 6

Arturia is known for its keys and synths, and V Collection is no exception. This extensive module contains over 800 different key types to fill up any track with ease. You’ll get to experience key tones from famous pianos like the VOX Continental and Grand Stage-73.

Recently, the Arturia team added in a number of analog synths to help you create a retro-inspired 80s tune in no time at all. Each instrument is MIDI mappable, making this plugin super easy to get up and running. With 24 embedded software titles, this module is certainly a band for your buck, giving you some of the best VSTs for the money.

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XLN Audio Addictive Keys Line

XLN Audio Addictive Keys

For high-quality grand piano sounds, check out Addictive keys. Though this plugin is somewhat simple, it gets the job done quickly and effectively without sounding cheesy.

This plugin brings together an electric grand piano, studio grand, modern upright, and Mark One keys for maximum flexibility. For each instrument, you can individually adjust the tone, timbre, FX levels, and hardness. Each key type has a couple of built-in presets of their own, allowing for endless sound possibilities. Notably, Addictive Keys allows you to select the type of microphone used and alter standard parameters like pitch, envelope, sustain, tremolo, chorus, and EQ without leaving the interface.

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Toontrack EZkeys Line

Toontrack EZkeys

This affordably priced keyboard module gives you access to some of the best key samples in the business. Notably, this plugin has a number of tools built-in specifically for songwriters. For example, if you transpose your melody within the plugin, EZkeys will automatically adjust the rest of your project to fit seamlessly with your updated sound. EZkeys syncs perfectly with any MIDI controller, making this plugin super easy to use, even for those just starting out.

Get demos & price @ Plugin Boutique

A Good Drum Module/Machine

Drum set

When choosing your best VST plugin for drums, it’s a good idea to consider whether you want a drum machine, or a drum module, or both. Drums are essential when you’re just starting out, as they allow you to develop a sense of rhythm and percussive balance that you may not get exposure to otherwise. For experienced producers, drums serve as the backbone to any beat and are a great way to get your creative juices flowing.

Drum Machines

While drum machines are somewhat of a phenomenon of the past 3 decades, these virtual instruments are a great starting point for any track. Drum machines were first popularized in the 1980s with the boom of the Roland TR-808 and sooner after, TR-909. From then on, electronic and pop music would never be the same.

Drums serve as the backbone to any beat and are a great way to get your creative juices flowing

Drum Modules

Drum modules, on the other hand, focus on offering a number of high-quality drum samples from real drum sets — often difficult to replicate synthetically. These samples are catered specifically to produce organic, natural-sounding drums found in genres such as rock, pop, reggae, and so on.

Both drum machines/modules work by algorithmically arranging drums for a quick and easy beat. While many drum machines or modules come with a library of embedded sounds, you’ll also find some plugins that have built-in samplers for use to bring in plugins of your own.

 

Toontrack Superior Drummer 3

Toontrack Superior Drummer

This is one of the best VST plugins you can get for drum modules. When you open up this plugin, you’ll immediately be drawn to the central animated drum kit. From here, you can mix and match drums to customize your track and create a kit entirely of your own. The intuitive user interface allows you to produce drum beats efficiently without having the scroll through thousands of samples to find the kick or hi-hat you’re searching for.

Superior Drummer is quite an investment, both in terms of storage and coinage. But it’s well worth it and you’ll probably get your ROI in terms of no longer needing to hire an actual drummer. This is because, thanks its AI, it can create human-like drum patterns from your from it sources of drum kicks, and even generate them from files you upload.

Get demos & price @ Plugin Boutique

XLN Audio Addictive Drums

XLN Audio Addictive Drums

Another drum module, XLN audio is great at creating plugins built to inspire with their friendly UI and crafty kits. Addictive Drums includes a comprehensive library of over 5000 beats and grooves to jump start your track.

This plugin is probably most famous for its inclusion of the famous Fairfax drum kits. With your choice of 3 different kits, the possibilities are endless. Each preset can be tweaked by overhead and room levels, allowing you to add a natural touch to your drum sounds.

Addictive Drums is used by one of our generation’s most famous producers, Max Martin. So you can definitely consider that an endorsement if you like. It’s perfect for electronic and pop music creators.

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FXpansion Geist 2

FXpansion Geist 2

This drum machine offers a variety of ways to create unique, funky grooves. You can load samples and record directly into the interface, to your choice of spliced loops, pads, or a beat sequence.

It’s very easy to resize the plugin’s windows according to your liking, making this a great plugin to streamline your workflow. The step sequencer can be easily altered for inspiring combinations. Best of all, you can modulate your samples within this drum machine with the integrated LFO. True to original drum machines, you can play and load multiple patterns at once. At a modest price point with an intuitive workflow, Geist2 truly gives you bang for your buck.

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AIR Music Technology Boom

Boom by Air Technology

If you’re looking for a simple drum machine to start you out, Boom by AIR is the perfect pick. This drum machine resembles the famous Roland TR-808, sequencing a diverse collection of 10 drum kits. If you don’t know where to start, you can also utilize Boom’s 50 included presets for a quick beat. The drum matrix is fully MIDI mappable, and you can playback your sequence in normal, double, half, or triplet time for maximum flexibility. For a no-fuss drum machine at an affordable price point, Boom is the way to go.

Get demos & price @ Plugin Boutique

Softube Heartbeat

Softube Heartbeat

Heartbeat Softube gives you the classic drum synthesis experience in digital form, even including a modular form of the plugin for more experienced producers.

Heartbeat includes 4 different drum channels that can be played simultaneously for unique, textured rhythms. Much like traditional drum machines, this plugin is truly all-in-one with a built-in mixing channel and a number of onboard effects.

The user interface is clean, easy to use, and super inspiring, making Heartbeat certainly worth a try for its affordable pricing.

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A Good Sampler

Samplers are one of the most versatile digital instruments you’ll see across all genres of music. After all, most songs use some sort of sampling nowadays, and having a proper sampler allows you to get in touch with the roots of digital audio production.

Samplers can be used to create your own sample packs.

The first sampler was produced in the late 1940s and consisted of a series of tape decks, each recording different snippets of a recording. In 1969, Peter Zinovieff developed the first digital sampler, forever changing the way we create audio.

Though this is a relatively novel technology, it’s likely you’ll have some sort of sampler embedded in your DAW’s stock plugins. However, it’s a good idea to invest in a 3rd party VST for efficiency, ease of use, and overall included features.

Samplers can be used to create your own sample packs, manipulate samples you already have into transformative sound bytes, and create unique, one-of-a-kind sounds. They are definitely a must-have for any modern music professional, and one of the best VST plugins in your arsenal.


Serato Sample

Serato Sample

Serato is one of the biggest names in the world of DJs, so it makes sense that they would make a great sampler.

When you load your sample into the track, the interface color codes the waveform according to the frequency range. You can seamlessly change keys and transpose your audio with the key window. Samples can be moved to the sampler’s integrated trigger pads, and the plugin will automatically scan your audio file to find 16 of the best samples, dramatically speeding up your workflow. You can also map all control to a MIDI device within the plugin making Sample super easy to use.

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Accusonus Rhythmiq

Accusonus Rhythmiq

Rhythmiq acts as a sampler and drum module all-in-one. The software allows you to load samples directly into the module and gives you endless beat combinations for maximum flexibility.

Notably, Rhythmiq is smart enough to separate your loop by parts. So if you drop a loop into the plugin, you’re able to alter the parameters of the kick, hi-hat and snare independently from each other.

The plugin also includes a vast library of sample beat sounds to create unique loops synced to the bpm of your project. It’s a great source for inspiration and a powerful sampler on its own.

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Glitchmachines Palindrome

Glitchmachines Palindrome

This plugin is truly as good as it looks. With its futuristic user interface, you’ll instantly be inspired and ready to create.

Palindrome offers 4 granular sampler modules that can each be triggered independently. You’re also given 8 envelopes to further craft your sound. Since this plugin utilizes granular synthesis, you’re able to adjust the pitch value of your samples independently from time making this a valuable tool on its own. The most unique feature is the plotting grid, which allows you to rearrange your sonic landscape on a 2D graft for reimagined sound design.

With over 70 built-in presets and endless ways to craft your own unique sounds, Palindrome is an excellent sampler for novices and professionals alike.

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Related guide:


Effects Processors

Effects allow you to create smooth transitions, add interest, and can help sounds get along better in your mix.

There are a few main categories of processors, each differentiated by the parameters altered by the effect. You’ll want to invest in processors that alter time, dynamics, filters, pitch, harmonics, and modulation modes.

If virtual instruments are the food of your musical meal, effects processors are the spices.

Of course, the possibility of effects are endless, but you’ll definitely want to have those listed on hand to get you by with most songs.

As you continue on, you’ll see that there are even genre-specific effect processors which are certainly worth exploring.

These are the effects processors that you will need:

We’ll go over the main types here to give you a foundational knowledge to get you started.


Time-Based Effects Plugins

As you may have guessed, time-based effects plugins have to do with altering the timing of a particular signal.

Two of the most commonly used time-based effects plugins are reverb and delay, and you’ll find these effects somewhere throughout most tracks.

They are not instrument exclusive, and you’ll find them on a number of sounds ranging from vocals to snare drums.

Reverb refers to the echo or reflection a sound makes when bouncing off of a surface in a sonic landscape. Think of how your voice comes back to you when you yell in a cave or church hall. It’s considered a time-based processor since you alter the time at which a signal takes to reflect or echo back to the listener. You’ll find a number of reverbs emulate the soundscapes of the natural world, with plugin names like “Church hall reverb”.

Delay is somewhat self-explanatory. This effect plays iterations of the original signal delayed slightly after its original trigger. The producer can alter the amount of time between the original signal and processed effect, making this a classic time-based effect plugin. There are limitless delay types with names such as ping-pong delay, tape delay, and analog delay to name a few examples.

WA Production Mutant Reverb

WA Production Mutant Reverb

Notably, Mutant Reverb is a mono-to-stereo reverb plugin making it the perfect reverb for vocals. Since vocal tracks are often in mono, the built-in processors of this plugin allow the processed signal to not overlap the original. It also has a built-in ducker, which allows you to do a form of sidechaining, to further help the track breathe.

Mutant Reverb also shows you a live view of your dry and processed signal so you can see exactly what’s happening to your audio. You can simulate the size of your sonic room using the plugin’s toggles, making for easy, unique reverb processing.

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Waves Audio Abbey Road Reverb Plates

Waves Audio Abbey Road Reverb Plates

For a more retro-sounding reverb, check out this option by Waves. This plugin has four different reverb modes, each based on the famous studio recordings at the legendary Abbey Road. Each plate has a unique set of artifacts to really give you a more natural, vintage feel that is hard to come across in the digital age. You can adjust the timing with a simple toggle and the plugin has a built-in dry/wet knob for easy adjustments. You’re also given a handy input and output meter to ensure your leveling is intact. At such an affordable price point, this reverb is certainly worth a try.

Get demos & price @ Waves Audio

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W. A. Production Mutant Delay

WA Production Mutant Delay

Mutant delay is a great choice for a starter delay that delivers impressive results without breaking the bank. One of the best features about this plugin is the visual graph displaying exactly how your filter is being altered. The synced delay alters the left and right channels independently, allowing for the user to create varied delay types including ping pong delay.

This plugin also incorporates high and low pass filters in the plugin so you’re able to shape your signal without leaving the interface. Notably, W.A. production also includes their signature ducker allowing you to sidechain your delay with ease.

Get demos & price @ Plugin Boutique 

Waves Audio Audio H-Delay

Waves H-Delay Hybrid Delay

One of the best VST plugin delays on the market, this analog inspired delay is super versatile and can be used to effectively fill up your mix with top-notch delay throws. Its fully MIDI mappable for maximum control, and the integrated dry and wet knob opens you up to the possibility of parallel processing. There is also a built-in LFO for integrated pitch modulation and both a high and low pass filter. You’re given an impressive amount of delay time, up to 3500 ms. H-delay will sync with the DAW host bpm or can be manually altered for a more experimental approach.

Get demos & price @ Waves Audio

Dynamics Effects Plugins

Dynamic effects plugins alter a sound by amplitude or perceived loudness level.

You’ll want to be especially diligent while using these plugins as dynamic effects can drastically alter your mix. While they are vital to any balanced mix, too much of one type of dynamic processing can cause a mix to feel unprofessional and clunky.

Some common dynamic effects processors you’re bound to come across are limiters and compressors. These devices work by averaging out the highs and low amplitudes of a signal, thereby making the overall sound appear louder. A limiter is essentially an ultra-strong compressor, that is used mainly during the mastering process of a song.

Noise gates help you keep out sounds below a certain volume threshold. For example, a noise gate may help you keep out any unwanted room ambiance when recording vocals.

De-essers are also essential for vocals and help remove harsh “S” sounds or vocal “pops” by altering the amplitude of a sound.

As you can see, dynamic effects plugins are typically used for mixing as their main purpose is to balance over anything else. While dynamic effects will not alter the frequency or tone of your signal, they will help your individual tracks fit more cohesively in a mix.

FabFilter Pro-C 2

FabFilter Pro-C2 Compressor

FabFilter is known for creating some of the best VST plugins on the market, and this compressor is no exception. This compressor has everything you need to create tight, well-balanced mixes. It comes with the typical knee, range, lookahead and hold toggles of a compressor as well as ADSR knobs.

This compressor has a distinct visualizer that allows you to view your processed and dry signal in real-time so you can see exactly what the compressor is doing, making this a great learning tool on its own. It offers 8 different compression styles for maximum flexibility and integrated sidechaining to help your mixes breathe better. The clean interface is inviting to use and super intuitive, making this a great pick for beginners and experienced producers alike.

Get demos & price @ Plugin Boutique

FabFilter Pro-L

FabFilter Pro-L

A great limiter is essential for any proper mastering, and Pro-L gets the job done right. Along with the standard ADSR knobs and knee, range, lookahead toggles, Pro-L includes a number of advanced features that separate it from the rest of the crowd.

This plugin has embedded channel linking for maximum control as well as dither support to properly preserve the integrity of your sound. The embedded true peak meters allow you to see precisely where clipping begins in your processing. With real-time display, you’re guaranteed precise, accurate results.

Get demos & price @ Plugin Boutique

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Polyverse Music Gatekeeper

Polyverse Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper is an excellent noise gate plugin that allows you to draw in your particular envelopes and parameters. The sleek UI is super inviting to use and easy to pick up allowing you to streamline your workflow. You’re given 8 independent volume envelopes for precise gating. The interface is fully MIDI mappable and has a CV output for modular synths. If you’ve never used a gate before, there are hundreds of included presets to give you a starting point at the very least.

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FabFilter Pro-DS

FabFilter Pro-DS

Vocal essing (also called sibilance) and pops can be super frustrating, and we think that the Pro-DS is the best VST plugin to help with that.

The filter is perfect for signal vocals and full vocal busses with its single and all around modes. Notably, the software AI analyzes the input waveform highlighting the possible problem points in real-time, so you know exactly where to focus your attention. You’re given the choice between linear phase and wide band processing for maximum flexibility.

Pro-DS is fully MIDI mappable. If you’re looking to hone in a specific frequency range, you can manually adjust the targeted frequencies. Overall, this plugin is super easy to use and extremely effective.

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Filter Plugins

Filter plugins help isolate desired frequencies in a signal. They are most commonly used during the mixing process and allow your track to have enough space to breathe.

Equalizers

One of the most vital filter plugins you’ll come across is an EQ (equalizer).

EQs shave off unwanted or unnecessary frequencies in a track or mix. For example, you probably won’t need any low-end frequency information coming from a hi-hat, but it’s likely there may be a bit of a low-end signal hanging on to the sound, especially if it’s been compressed. You would use an EQ to cut out those unnecessary low-end frequencies so that your hi-hat is cleaner, crisper and fits more appropriately in the mix. This gives other instruments (like guitar or keys) more room to be heard clearly.

Hi/Lo Pass

You’ll also see a set of EQs catered to a specific purpose called high and low pass filters.

A high pass filter will roll off low-end frequencies while a low pass filter aims to shave off high-end frequencies. These filter plugins can also be used to automate and build interest. If you’ve ever heard a song sound somewhat “underwater” during a build, it’s likely that track was utilizing a filter plugin of some sort. You’re likely to find these plugins in your stock DAW kit, but 3rd party filters offer more flexibility, control, and improved efficiency.

FabFilter Pro-Q 3

Fabfilter Pro-Q 3

You may hear about engineers “Q sweeping” a mix. What this means is that they are diligently seeking out harsh frequencies, and lowering their overall volume so that they are less noticeable in the mix without losing appropriate depth.

Pro-Q by FabFilter was built for this purpose, allowing you to effortless sculpt your sound. In addition to being an excellent EQ, this plugin’s solo listening modes make sweeping frequencies efficient and effective.

The “smart EQ” feature allows you to match your equalization settings to a reference track for a great starting point and achieves a cohesive sound for individual tracks within a concept or album.

Get demos & price @ Plugin Boutique

Waves Audio Scheps 73

Scheps 73

For a more classic EQ feel, check out Scheps 73 by Waves. This 3 band EQ does not have a graphic visualizer, allowing you to rely on solely your ears to create a harmonious mix – old school style.

With separate high, mid, and low band toggles, you’re able to craft your sound exactly to your liking, emphasizing proper frequencies on an individual track basis.

Though you cannot use this EQ to sweep frequencies, you’re given a uniquely warm sound with its integrated retro processing, adding warmth and depth to your mixes. It may take a bit of a learning curve to EQ without the aid of a visualizer, but once you’ve perfected the art, your ears will be much more musically attuned as a result.

Get demos & price @ Waves Audio

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Arturia Mini Filter

Arturia Mini Filter

For the ultimate lo-pass filter check out Mini Filter by Arturia. This plugin emulates the famous Dr. Moog lo-pass hardware piece, even emulating its hardware appearance with the retro UI. Along with the power filter, this plugin includes an envelope follower, LFO, and step sequencer. You’ll have to rely on your ears with this plugin, but the high-quality results are worth the minor setback. For a comprehensive low pass filter with a variety of sonic options, Mini Filter is well worth the investment.

Get demos & price @ Plugin Boutique

Soundtoys FilterFreak

Soundtoys FilterFreak

Soundtoys is known for creating innovative plugins, and FilterFreak fits the bill. This plugin includes high pass, low pass, and bandpass filter modes with added analog saturation for extra depth. You’ll also get over 200 embedded presets as an added bonus, giving you a great place to start.

Get demos & price @ Plugin Boutique

Modulation Effects Plugins

Modulation effect plugins add movement and color to your mix by altering your original signal with an LFO (low-frequency oscillator). The styles of modulation vary from effect to effect, but you’ll typically see a change in volume, pitch and/or timing. Some of the most common modulation effects are tremolo, chorus, flanger, and phaser.

Tremolo is the least complex modulation effect. In fact, it most directly reflects the raw processing of the LFO. Tremolo processed sounds will often sound like somewhat of a stutter, or sound as if the signal is “bobbing”.

Make a sound with your mouth, then cover your mouth with your hand while make that sound. Move your hand back and forth to cover and uncover your mouth as quickly as you can. That, my friend, is tremolo.

Chorus, an effect commonly used in the 80s, give a signal a warm, unique sound by varying the pitch of a doubled signal.

Flanger gives a particular psychedelic type sound by playing duplicated signals slightly out of sync.

Phasers send an audio signal through an all-pass filter to create unique textures across a soundwave.

There are many other modulation effects as well. But for the matter of simplicity, these are the main staples.

While some effects like chorus may lend themselves to genre-specific music or retro-inspired tracks, most of these effects can be manipulated to add interest to any mix.

Audiority Tube Modulator

Audiority Tube Modulator

This modestly priced plugin has a whole host of modulation effects. It has 11 waveform LFOs modes and 7 tremolo types alone, which make this plugin something of a powerhouse of tube modulation.

Why “tube” modulation? Its name is based on the characteristically vintage, warm sound you’ll get from using these effects.

More important features include tempo sync, a clean UI that’s not cluttered and confusing, and linking parameters. We think you’ll love using this modulator.

Get demos & price @ Plugin Boutique

Stagecraft MadMod

Stagecraft MadMod

Admittedly, this plugin may not have the sleekest of interfaces, but MadMod is just as powerful. Also, it’s extremely affordable for its sonic capabilities.

You’re given a choice of 5 different modulation possibilities: LFO modulation, LFO amplitude modulation, res mod, frequency mod, and mixed modulation. You’re also given a live visualizer so you can see exactly what’s happening in your mix. There’s also a trigger mode allowing for additional versatility. At such a modest price point, MadMod is certainly a bang for your buck.

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K-Devices WOV

K-Devices WOV

For some extra spice to your mix, check out WOV. WOV has modulation effects ranging from the classic tremolo to futuristic, glitchy stutters. You can adjust the speed at which the modulator works, and switch in between tempo sync and pitch modes for easy alteration. You can morph your wave shape with the futuristic knob toggle. Moreover, you can adjust the depth with one click, filling up your mix with repeated cycles.

Though this unique user interface may take a bit to get used to, it’s certainly worth your time.

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D16 Group GodFazer

D16 Group GodFazer

For comprehensive modulation, GodFazer is a great pick. The “swiss-army knife of effect modulators” can be used for tremolo, chorus, phaser, filter, and multi-filter effects all in one plugin. The ensemble feature allows you to stack effects, giving each of your processed tracks limitless sonic possibilities. There are also 6 including routing modes, allowing GodFazer to work effectively as a powerful effect bus.

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Harmonic Effects Processors

Harmonic effects processors, sometimes called spectral effects, alter the semi-regular artifacts naturally produced with some sound waves called “harmonics”.

Most often, though, these naturally produced artifacts will come from analog hardware devices. And the purpose of many of these plugins is to emulate those sounds.

Harmonic effects processors add “color” to your mix.

This can refer to adding warmth and depth or altering the frequency of certain sections of an audio signal. In the case of harmonic processing, the extra spatial information will either be amplified or slightly distorted to fill out the character of a sound.

Harmonics can be enhanced, pitched, and altered to add depth and dimension to your mix. These plugins are much more broad in their processes, and will often vary from plugin to plugin.

Utilizing these plugins properly can easily distinguish a novice producer from a professional.

Fabfilter Saturn

Saturn utilizes harmonic distortion to produce warmth and presence in your mix. The plugin offers 8 different distortion modes for a variety of sound profiles. Though it uses a unique method to pack a punch to your mixes, this effect is versatile enough to be used on anything from vocals to gritty bass lines.

Saturn’s modulation section allows you to move your sound on and X and Y axis, making this a harmonic effect processor for visual learners.

Get demos & price @ Plugin Boutique

denise Bad Tape

denise bad tape

Bad Tape is unique and pretty extreme plugin. It adds unique artifacts to your audio tracks with wow, flutter, hiss, squeal, and harm effects. There’s also a separate color toggle for quick warmth. You can adjust the speed of the harmonic processor for a more subtle alteration, and add saturation within the interface.

Bad Tape features a live visualizer allowing you to see the peaks of the unique artifacts. For a more lofi or retro feel, this plugin has detuning capabilities as well making it perfect for the modern producer.

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XLN Audio RC-20

XLN Audio RC-20

Retro Color 20 offers 6 unique effects modules giving you everything you need to bring out the best in your harmonics. With VHS simulation, noise, wobble, distortion, magnitude, and space toggles, you’re given maximum flexibility to create a truly unique sound. With so many modes, this plugin is suitable for vocals, drum busses, pretty much whatever you can think of.

There’s also a simple magnitude slider for quick adjustments to your effect levels. If you don’t know where to start, you can try out one of the 20 embedded presets for retro-inspired processing.

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Waves Audio Infected Mushroom Pusher

Waves Infected Mushroom Pusher

Don’t be thrown off by the odd name, Infected Mushroom Pusher will enhance harmonics beautifully in any mix. The all-in-one sonic enhancer can be toggled simply with the “magic” knob, making sweetening a mix super simple. The interface also has high and low knobs for you to process frequencies independently from one another.

The built-in stereo imager allows you to place your processed sound exactly where you envision in your sonic landscape. Plus, the built-in limiter ensures you don’t go overboard while using this super fun effect.

Get demos & price @ Waves Audio

Pitch Manipulator Plugins

Pitch manipulator plugins are pretty straightforward. These plugins alter the pitch of an audio signal in order to add special effects, harmonize with other sounds, or perfect a detuned signal.

While pitch manipulators are often used on vocals, they can also be used to transpose processed instruments for a unique effect adding depth to a mix.

Pitch manipulators can also be used for more stylized, futuristic-type sounds.

Though their resulting effects may sound similar, be careful not to mistake vocoders as a pitch manipulator plugin. Vocoders work by routing vocal leveling information to a particular synth or instrument, while pitch manipulators alter a signal, typically a vocal, directly.

Antares AutoTune

Antares Auto-Tune 8

One of the most popularized pitch manipulators of the past decade is AutoTune by Antares, which revolutionized the music industry by allowing pitch-perfect vocals to be possible for any singer, regardless of skill level. The birth of AutoTune also developed the futuristic vocal sounds of artist T-Pain. This effect has continued to be present in popular music, becoming a staple for high-profile artists like Charli XCX.

Get demos & price @ Plugin Boutique

Celemony Melodyne

Celemony Melodyne 4 studio

Melodyne is regarded as the industry standard for all-encompassing pitch manipulation, perfecting, and editing. This software allows you to manually select pitches within a section of an audio signal, and select the desired pitch for conversion. Melodyne highlights problem areas of a waveform so you don’t have to rely on your ears allow to create a professionally tuned mix. Though it is a bit of financial investment, this plugin seamlessly perfects vocals and live recordings of instruments with no hassle whatsoever.

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Devious Machines Pitch Monster

devious machines pitch monster

Pitch monster is perfect for intense pitch shifting and creating artificial vocal harmonies. With up to 64 voices at once, you’re bound to have everything you need to fill up a lacking vocal section. For more unique tones, you can also alter the effect with the pitch, time, grain modulators. There’s a built-in filter within the plugin for sculpting your sound even further. Notably, pitch monster has a chord mode where you can select specific notes using a MIDI or keyboard visualizer to create pitch-perfect chords out of your desired sample.

Get demos & price @ Plugin Boutique

Eventide Quadravox

Eventide Quadravox

If you’re a composer, this is the perfect pitch modulator for your needs. With its unique notation grid, you can select pitches on the musical staff to stack harmonies seamlessly. Quadravox allows you to manually select key, pitch and panning for limitless possibilities. Each of the 4 voices can be adjusted cent by cent or by whole intervals, speeding up your workflow. For simple, accurate harmonies, Quadravox is an excellent pick.

Get demos & price @ Plugin Boutique

Audio Damage Discord4

Audio Damage Discord4

Discord4 offers you three different pitch modulation modes to choose from, each with their own unique set of characteristics. For maximum control, you can manually adjust the grain and buffer size, further adding unique artifacts to your sound. You’ll also get two tempo-synced delays for added processing, and a fun “chaos” toggle for randomized effects. Discord4 is certainly fun, but don’t underestimate its pure pitch shifting power.

Get demos & price @ Plugin Boutique

How to Choose the Best VST Plugin

Great, now you know, or have re-familiarized yourself, with the different flavors of plugins on the market. Anything else is really just a combination of flavors for you to savor.

But how do you decide? Let’s examine…

There are a few questions you must ask yourself when choosing a professional plugin. Here are some to keep in mind:

# 1 – What am I trying to accomplish?

Do you want to have better control over your mixes? Do you want to master your own music, or the music of others? Is it professional results you’re looking for?

If yes to all or just one, then you need to take a look at some of the effects processors in this guide. Primarily, compressors, limiters, and EQs when you want to balance everything and make it loud. Then time-based effects such as delays, reverbs, etc. to add space to your mix. Finally, pitch correcting and time shifting to make sure everything plays nicely together.

On the other hand, if you’re a composer, beat maker, or songwriter, your primary concern is getting some good instruments and sound libraries that match your genre and provide creative material to keep your juices flowing.

For you virtual instruments, a few essential mixing plugins will assist your creative process. Plugins like amp emulators (guitar and bass), delays, echoes, reverbs, sound effect generators (like your voice sounding like you were singing into a speakerphone or cell phone), a MIDI effects to add stutter and glitches to spice things up, and maybe some pitch correction and re-harmonization. These would do well for you.

#2 – Do I have the right hardware requirements?

Do you have a good laptop or computer? Generally, plugins can be taxing on the resources of a computer, especially when you have a few or many instances of them running. PC or Mac? It doesn’t matter. But if you plan of doing any composing, beat making, or songwriter, you’d need:

  1. a large hard drive for your sound libraries
  2. enough RAM to play those libraries seamlessly
  3. and a decent processor speed to power the plugin

Check the requirements for each plugin in this list to see if your system matches up. If not, check out this post for choosing the right laptop, or this post for recommended desktop computers.

If you just want to mix and master, hard drive size is not that important to you, but you still need some decent CPU juice to power your plugins, and prevent any unwanted glitches from ruining your overall perception of the sound.

#3 – How much do I have to spend?

Finally, see what fits into your budget. Professional plugins are generally not that cheap. But we’ve offered enough options to cover every budget.

That said, to get good quality, you’d have to be willing to invest a little into your studio.

With some notable exceptions, one can usually tell the difference between music produced and mixed on “budget” or free plugins, or on pro plugins. There is a different kind of “polish” you get from good quality plugins, which is why the best producers use them.


The Different Types of Plugins

There are two main category of plugins: Virtual instruments, and Effects processors.

Virtual Instruments

Also called VSTi, these plugins are for composers, beat producers, and songwriters. Like the name suggests, they are “virtual” software instruments that live in your computer or hard drive, which you play via a MIDI controller.

The technology now is advanced enough that you can compose and produce a realistic symphony or metal songs in your digital audio workstation, without ever touching a baton or guitar pick.

The standard virtual instrument plugins you’d want to get for full musical creativity are:

  • a good bass module
  • a proper synthesizer
  • an orchestra sample player
  • some good keys (acoustic, electric, and synth)
  • a good drum and/or beat production plugin
  • a sample player

There are choices that offer all-in-one packages, and then there as specialized choices. Chances are that your digital audio workstation already has a lot of these in some variation. But the best most professional options are generally made by third party vendors.

Effects Processors

We already went a little into this when talking about what a VST plugin is. Effects processors will process your audio signals in your DAW by adding an effect to it (non-destructive), or changing it (destructive).

These plugins are:

  • time based effects plugins – adds or extends the sound of the signal for a sense of space (reverb, delay, echo)
  • dynamic effects plugins – alters the loudness/amplitude of the signal (compressor, limiter, noise-gate, and expander)
  • filter plugins – boosts or attenuates sound frequencies the audio signal  (EQ, hi-pass, low-pass, band-pass, talk box, wah-wah)
  • modulation plugins – alters the frequency strength in the audio signal to create tonal properties (chorus, flanger, phaser, ring modulator, tremolo, vibrato
  • pitch/frequency plugins – modifies the pitches in the audio signal (pitch correction, harmonizer, doubling)
  • distortion plugin – adds “character” to the audio signal of a hardware amp or mixing console (fuzz, warmth, clipping, grit, overtones, overdrive, crosstalk)

These are generally the plugins you’d use when doing any mixing or mastering. But even if you only plan on composing tracks, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with these plugins.

For instance, if you want to emulate the amp sound of a guitar cabinet, there’s a distortion plugin for that.

There is also a third type of plugin that combines the first two above: a MIDI effects plugin. This uses MIDI notes from your controller or inside your piano roll to control the effects processors I listed. The result is taking a simple loop or audio file and creating/remixing it into another piece of music.


Audio Plugin Formats Explained

What is VST?

VST (Virtual Studio Technology) is a software plug-in format developed by Steinberg. These plug-ins generally come in one of three types: instruments, audio processors, or midi processors. They are among the most ubiquitous plug-in formats, and are what most people refer to when the term “software plug-in” is discussed.

VST plug-ins encompass a wealth of instruments and effects, many of which are attempts to replicate hardware instruments and signal processors. They are typically used in DAWs such as Logic, Ableton Live, Studio One, and of course in Cubase, which is Steinberg’s flagship DAW.

Although many plug-in formats have since been developed, VST continues to remain the standard against which most other plug-in formats are measured.

Read more about VST plugins.

What is an AU Plugin?

AU or Audio Units are software plug-ins developed for the macOS and iOS operating systems. Like VST plug-ins, they may either generate sounds, as in the case of instrument plug-ins, or process them, as in the case of effects plug-ins.

AU plug-ins are system-level plug-ins that utilize the Core Audio system in Apple operating systems. They have very little latency, so software instruments can be played and audio can be processed practically in real time.

AUs can be thought of the Apple equivalent to Steinberg’s VST format. There are in fact software “wrappers” that enable VSTs to be used in applications that typically support only the AU format.

Read more about AU plugins.

What is an AAX Plugin?

AAX or Avid Audio eXtensions are a relatively new plug-in format developed for Avid’s Pro Tools systems. They come in two varieties: AAX DSP and AAX Native. AAX essentially replaces the RTAS format, which was the plug-in format previously associated with Pro Tools systems.

AAX DSP is intended for use in Pro Tools|HDX systems. AAX Native for its part is intended for Pro Tools and Pro Tools HD 10 systems or higher.

One convenient characteristic of AAX plug-ins is how they can be used with both hardware DSP Pro Tools systems and native Pro Tools systems. You can copy sessions over from one to other and use the same plug-in with no perceptible difference.

Read more about AAX plugins.

What is an RTAS Plugin?

RTAS or Real-Time AudioSuite is a plug-in format originally developed by Digidesign, now known as Avid Technology. Intended for Pro Tools LE and Pro Tools M-Powered systems, they can also be used in Pro Tools HD and Pro Tools TDM systems.

Plug-ins specifically intended for use with Pro Tools HD systems utilize hardware DSP cards installed in the computer. RTAS plug-ins do not utilize such cards, and are instead dependent on the resources of the host computer.

As you might have guessed from the name “Real-Time Audio Suite”, RTAS plug-ins are designed for real time performance. They can be said to be the software equivalents of hardware effects processors patched onto hardware mixers.

Read more about RTAS plugins.

What is a TDM Plugin?

TDM is yet another plug-in format for Pro Tools systems. Unlike RTAS plug-ins that utilize computer resources, these are actually installed on outboard hardware. This allows for high-quality and near-flawless performance.

The benefits of having TDM plug-ins utilize their own resources are significant. Because they hardly place any load on the host computer, they are capable of performance that wouldn’t be possible with native plug-ins.

This benefit is especially apparent when performing resource-intensive tasks. Drawing on their own set of allocated resources, TDM plug-ins practically never run out of processing power. Even if you come close to maximizing the available resources, the system will continue to run smoothly.

For the uninitiated, a VST plugin is a software device that emulates the hardware equipment used in your home studio. This equipment could either be an instrument, or an effects processor.

Read more about TDM plugins.


How did I come to these resultsHow we came to these results

This is the result of hours and weeks of combing through the internet. We searched through forums on Gearslutz.com, Reddit’s r/WeAreTheMusicMakers thread, product reviews, and buyer reviews from pro audio owners. We used ratings from Amazon.com as well as other pro audio online stores to determine which plugins were the most highly rated, highly recommended, and most sought after for each category and need. In addition, we’ve used many of these plugins personally, professionally and also for fun.

What’s resulted is an amassing of a total of the 50 best VST plugins that are available online to buy. We are familiar with plugins that promise users all sorts of magic, only to be disappointed by high promises in exchange for some decent coinage. But you can rest assured that these are the best plugins, without any hype. If you’re fortunate to have a studio stocked with all of these, you are set and would need practically nothing else besides all the time and creativity you need to make killer records.


Final Thoughts

By the end of the guide, you have learned something about what VSTs are and what are the various kinds that exists (if you were new to them). This would’ve set a framework for making an informed decision from here onward.

Because there are a plethora of VSTs on the market, we know for certain that choosing the best professional VST can take a very long time. Even though we’ve been in music production for a few years, and have accrued our own collection that we like to work with individually, researching and compiling this list actually took longer than expected. Mainly it came to sorting out what did what better, and for what reason. We even learned few things ourselves.

What say you? What do you think is the best VST plugin? Did yours make the list? Do you have any suggestions, criticisms? Leave a comment below with VSTs that you’d recommend to others searching for professional plugins, with the name, vendor, and version number. Then add your reason why its your go to plugin.

Otherwise, if you need any clarification or have any questions, leave a comment and we’ll get back to you. And don’t forget to share this post with a friend or anyone you think will find this information useful.

18 Comments on “50 Best VST Plugins for 2020”

  1. Hi Patrick, thanks for commenting. Over time I will be featuring more plugins within lower price ranges. These are simply the “best plugins” at a professional level. Otherwise, you can always check out some of the free stuff I promote here.

    Cheers and take care

  2. I’m a home music producer started in 2003 and there was no information like you provided back then so I will say I am a fan and will be looking foreward to reading your future reviews

  3. Hi there,
    Just simply on the button link below the description of the plugin, it will take you to the best place to purchase and download the plugin. Which plugin are you talking about exactly?

  4. Hi man,

    Thank you so much…this was super helpful!! Im tired of paying Producers money to record my tracks. I feel i am becoming better as a producer and now just need some plugins to progress further. Question…out of all the VST Plugins above….if you wanted the most modern and best synth sounds which plug in would you go for…with a budget of $500? Also what plugin would you go for to improve your vocals?

    look forward to hearing from you,

    Thanks,

    Seb

  5. Hi there,

    For a budget of 500, Omnisphere is probably one of the best out there, in terms of what it gives you. The lastest version is geared toward modern music. There’s also the fact that omnisphere also samples real vintage synths, as well as has its own synth engine. The combination is having a collection of real vintage fat sounding synths, and the ability to create newer modern sounds that producers are using these days. If you don’t have Omnisphere, that really should be the first one to get. Hands down.

    I mention Omnisphere in this post, so take look.

    If you already have Omnisphere, and you want more, Massive by Native Instruments and Serum by Xfer Records are two other must have plugins. I didn’t cover them in this guide because you can get everything you want from Omnisphere. However, I also have these plugins and they’re very good. Those two plugins together can give you all that you need and costs under 500 together. Lennar Digital Sylenth1 is also very good and popular. However, my suggestion is to get Omnisphere, it’s a complete sound design tool and synth, and if I were to start over from scratch, I’d be happy to live with Omnisphere alone… until I have the budget to get more stuff.

    As for vocal plugins, I mention those as well. For your budget, iZotope Nectar 2 Production Suite is your best bet, since it has everything, including pitch correction. It’s # 14 in this list. Check it out.

    Hope that helps.

    Cheers

  6. Thank you….

    All the plug ins look great and was changing my mind constantly! Im definitely going to get those 2 plug ins as they did stand out to me in terms of what i needed. Always best to get another opinion though before purchasing. Thank you so much for your help. Your website is super awesome by the way!!

  7. No problem, I think as someone thinking of doing their own productions, those are the best choices. I know I presented a lot of options, glad you commented for clarification. And thanks for the feedback!

    Bless

  8. Hi Rabby,
    Fabfilter will get mentioned either in an update or in another review. I wanted to prevent this list from getting too long, lol. But Fabfilter will certainly get coverage for sure.
    Thanks for chiming in.
    Cheers

  9. I would check out ARCADE by Output. Tons of inspiring loops for all genres and loads right in your DAW. Free for the first 100 days.

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