20 Best Professional VST & AU Plugins for 2019 [Audio Plugin Guide]

Best Professional VST PluginsIn this buyer’s guide, we’ll take a look at the 20 best VST plugins (as well as and AU plugins) that you should be using if you want to take your production game to the next level.

These are suitable for professionals, but thanks to technology, you don’t have to be “pro” if you want to get pro results.

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 🙂


Table of Contents

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20 Best VST/AU Plugins – At a Glance

Best Virtual Instrument Plugins  VSTPlugins  Type Summary
Xfer Records Serum
Xfer Records Serum Soft Synth Very popular among electronic and dance music producers, it offers one the best ways to get complex wavetable sounds quickly and easily.
Reveal Sound Spire
Reveal Sound Spire Soft Synth Loved by electronic music producers, it’s capable of producing many signature analog sounds most suited to modern digital music productions.
Boom by AIR Music Technology
Boom by Air Technology Drum Machine Great modern plugin option for those looking for classic analog beatboxes.
FXpansion Geist 2
FXpansion Geist2 Drum Machine More than a drum machine, this is one of the most intuitive and intelligent beat production software on the market.
Garritan Personal Orchestra 5
Garritan Personal Orchestra 5 Orchestra With over 500 instruments well sampled with articulation control, this is simply one of the best orchestra plugins for the price on the market, that won’t swallow up your drive.
Serato Sample
Serato Sample Sampler A collection of classic synths and electric keys, emulating the real stuff used on classic records.
Toontrack Superior Drummer 3
Toontrack Superior Drummer Drum Module Ultimate drum module that will give professional drummers a run for their money.
Spectrasonics Omnisphere
Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2 Synth Module Complete virtual instrument fitted with powerful synthesizers and a massive sample library.
Spectrasonics Keyscape
Spectrasonics Keyscape Keyboard Module Considered as having the best quality acoustic and electric keys and pianos out of any virtual instrument.
Spectrasonics Trilian
Spectrasonics Trilian Bass Module The most realistic bass module out there, decent piano skills will give bass players a run for their money.
Best Effects Processor Plugins Type Summary
Softube Harmonics
Softube Harmonics Saturation New plugin promising to employ a revolutionary approach to dynamics processing and harmonic enhancement, without ruining your tracks distinctive character.
Eventide SP2016 Reverb
Eventide SP2016 Reverb Reverb An undeniably great sounding plug-in that calls to mind the iconic reverb sounds heard on countless classic recordings
Fabfilter Pro-Q 3
Fabfilter Pro-Q 3 EQ Fabfilter is one of the most respected effects plug-in developers in recent years, with Pro-Q3 you can expect them to develop on their success with the latest version.
Waves Abbey Road Chambers
Waves Abbey Road Chambers Echo Almost anything that you pump through it comes out rich and musically-pleasing, with a distinctive character that makes it instantly sound like a classic recording.
Kuassa Amplifikation Caliburn
Kuassa Amplifikation Caliburn Amp Simulator If you need a good selection of Marshall-specific “character” sounds, the Caliburn will get you most of the way there at a price that won’t break the bank.
iZotope Nectar 3 Elements
iZotope Nectar 3 Elements Vocal Processing What it does to vocal tracks is pretty amazing, and you could find yourself getting a lot of use out of this.If you have never used a mastering plug-in of this caliber before, get ready to have your world rocked.
iZotope Ozone 8 Elements
iZotope Ozone Elements 8 Mastering Plugin If you have never used a mastering plug-in of this caliber before, get ready to have your world rocked.
Softube Tube-Tech Classic Channel
Softube Tube Tech Classic Channel plugin Channel Strip The channel strip that will take all the guesswork out of achieving that “professional sound.”
Soundtoys 5
Soundtoys 5 Effects Bundle Juicy analog effects from delays to distortions to reverbs and more.
Celemony Melodyne 4
Celemony Melodyne 4 studio Pitch Correction Genius tool that corrects and changes the pitch, timing, and even intonation in an audio track, from vocalist to a guitar chord strum, and everything in between.

Best Virtual Instruments VST & AU Plugins on the Market

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1 – Xfer Records SerumXfer Records Serum

See price @ Plugin Boutique

Xfer Records Serum is billed as a “Wave Machine”, which is essentially Xfer Records’ marketing-speak for “wavetable synthesizer”.  The architecture does indeed implement wavetable animation (in real-time), but it offers quite a bit more features than your typical wavetable synth.

Serum seems especially suited for sound design, with its intuitive layout and the ability to import waveforms and even draw custom ones. It has extensive modulation capabilities, but the simplicity of drag-and-drop routing keeps you from painting yourself into a corner.

Ten built-in effects are available for sweetening your creations or taking them into uncharted territory. You can get started putting together impressive synth parts immediately with the 450 provided presets.

Best Useful Features

Right out of the box, Serum comes with 144 wavetables conveniently sorted into categories. They cover a pretty wide range, from ambient washes to more bombastic soundscapes and textures.

The included wavetables give you a pretty broad range of material to craft your own synth patches, but you don’t have to stop there. You could also import audio from any source you wish, with extensive features provided for editing them down to their component waveforms. You can even import one or more single-cycle waveforms, and arrange them manually or automatically.

You can crossfade between different wavetables or morph between them via harmonic/spectral morphing. This gives you a great deal of flexibility to produce characteristic wavetable synthesis sounds, or to craft your own evolving textures.

Drag-and-drop modulation makes short work of coming up with animated and wildly-evolving sounds. You can just as easily produce subtly-changing patches of course, but the ease by which you could set up complex modulations definitely lends itself to more creative experimentation.

The vast array of modulation options is what many users seem to appreciate the most about Serum. Many have in fact reported spending hours in a rabbit hole of custom sound design, producing a stream of usable results. Judging from user feedback, Serum seems to be one of the easiest wavetable synthesizers to grasp.

Although the gritty character of the synth is one of its most endearing features, some users feel that the base sounds are fairly limited. In any case, the extensive modulation options certainly enable users to get more mileage out of the raw sounds than expected.

Bottom-line

Serum offers users a way to get complex wavetable sounds quickly and easily. Although the built-in sounds are a bit limited, they offer a good starting point for further creative development, and there are more than enough tools available to expand their sonic scope considerably.

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2 – Reveal Sound SpireReveal Sound Spire

See price & demo @ Plugin Boutique

Reveal Sound Spire is a polyphonic virtual instrument that combines the best elements of analog and digital hardware synthesis and software synthesis. Four multimode oscillators are provided, each of which has polymorphing capabilities. Oscillators can be set to unison for maximum width, with each oscillator capable of producing nine voices.

Sound-shaping capabilities are provided by two filters, which are also multimode. Other features include an advanced arpeggiator, a step sequencer, and extensive modulation routings. There is also a fully-featured effects processor for enhancing your sound or changing it completely.

Best Useful Features

Spire comes with more than 800 presets, giving you a good idea of its wide-ranging capabilities. Most every imaginable type of synth sound is available, from galloping bass sequences and majestic arpeggios to biting leads and lush, dreamy pads, and more. There is even a good selection of drum and percussion sounds, along with plucks ideally suited to trance and EDM.

The four oscillators are among the most versatile you will find in a softsynth. You can morph between various waveforms including “classic”, noise, FM, AMSync, SawPWM, HardFM, and “Vowel”.

All the oscillators sound fine by themselves. But if you want to make them even thicker, you can engage the unison function, which multiplies each to as many as nine voices. This is of course the key to producing the rich supersaw sounds heard on countless classic dance and trance tracks since the early 1990s.

The two multimode filters are equally well spec’d, with a variety of modeled analog and digital types. Combined with the powerful effects processor and the extensive modulation matrix, you have a wide range of options by which to recreate classic sounds or craft your own.

Users of Spire seem especially impressed at the raw sound quality of the oscillators. Bright and clear, they have an upfront character that makes them stand out on their own. This quality also makes the base sounds excellent starting points for more complex sound design. The ability to tweak sounds beyond recognition is in fact one of Spire’s perceived strengths.

Users also appreciate the wide variety of sounds that can be produced with Spire. From biting leads to lush pads and constantly evolving atmospheres, users seem to get a lot of sonic mileage out of it.

Bottom-line

If you are looking for the truest warm analog emulation imaginable, Spire probably isn’t the best choice (we give that to Omnisphere and Trilian). However, it is capable of producing many signature analog sounds, which make it more suited to modern digital synth creations. Otherwise, it is a versatile and great sounding softsynth that has the power to surprise and delight you.

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3 – Boom by AIR Music TechnologyBoom by Air Technology

See price @ Plugin Boutique

AIR Music Technology Boom is a software drum machine that models classic analog circuits. Although its sonic character harkens back to the big, warm sounds of years past, its slick interface introduces a number of features that are better suited for modern production workflows.

Boom was originally part of the Creative Collection of virtual instruments bundled with Pro Tools. Due to widespread demand, it has since been released in AU and VST formats. Boom has been utilized on several prominent album and film recordings, as well as radio productions.

Best Useful Feature

Some of the most iconic electronic drum sounds are included with Boom, which has 10 different kits in all. In addition to the ubiquitous TR-808 and TR-909 kits popularized by Roland, there are also attitude-laden kits suitable for a wide variety of Dance and Urban music styles. There is even a unique kit that combines the sounds of the CR-78 and TR-606, which are two other well-loved Roland drum machines.

Each and every kit that comes with Boom has been meticulously designed for maximum authenticity and sonic impact. Each sound can very well be used on its own, and you could conceivably come up with impressive drum parts without having to do a lot of tweaking.

If you do want to adjust certain elements of the sound or come up with your own custom kits, there are sufficient controls provided for doing so. In addition to the standard volume, panning, tuning, and decay controls, each drum also has a dedicated special tuning screw that affects a specific aspect of the sound.

For most users, the most appealing aspects of Boom are the sounds and the convenience. Many find that it sounds great right out of the box, and the simplicity of the x0x step- programming interface (as pioneered by Roland) is still a quick and intuitive way to come up with drum parts. The “swing” control also helps loosen up static grooves in a musically pleasing way.

While many users appreciate the simplicity of Boom, others feel that its sound editing capabilities are too limited. The lack of sample import capability also makes it less versatile as compared to other software drum machines.

Bottom-line

Boom is a capable enough drum machine that delivers decent results. If your tastes run to the classic analog beatboxes, it is certainly worth purchasing. But if you need a more versatile drum machine with sample import and more extensive editing capabilities, take a look at the next option.

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4 – FXpansion Geist2

FXpansion Geist2

See price @ Plugin Boutique

FXpansion Geist2 is a beat production system and sample based drum machine. Actually, it’s not a typical drum machine, but an advanced drum machine. There are just so many things you can do with this, making it a must have go-to plugin for beat makers.

In the plugin you have a loop machine, performance beatbox, trigger sample player, and beat making workstation. With Geist2 you can create unique grooves, perform deep sample manipulation, and create entire arrangements right within the plugin. And since the GUI is vector-based, you can resize this up to 4K, since it supports Retina displays as well. Staying within the plugin is rewarding, too, because the browser function is rather intelligent, making finding the right sounds not interfere with your workflow.

Best Useful Features

Within Geist2 are eight audio engines with 64 pads. Each pad is a track sequencer that can hold up to 24 patterns. You can create 8 layers with each pad, creating interesting polyrhythmic grooves. It even supports probability and microtiming to create a more human and realistic performance; or, with some automation, you can twist things up a little and create some really unconventional groove patterns. In addition to that, each pad has its own mixer. The plugin also has its own global mixer, and four aux channels as well as a master mixer.

You can also sample audio directly into each pad in Geist2 from recorded audio or your hardware. You can slice up loops using the Slicer tool, which intelligently detects transients to chop up loops into beat patterns, which will be extracted to your pads which you can trigger to perform or program your own beats.

The “graphs” within each sequencer inside of Geist2 is also handy. It’s a feature that can control the behavior of each track by automating each parameter, such as probability, repeat, pitch, reverse, starting point. Your drum loops and beats can be transformed into something a little more “musical” in its pattern, or it can sound more human with programmed micro-timing imperfections and grooves. Use them on your kicks for some really interesting beats. Or program your hi-hats and get some really creative hi-hat tricks. Either way you’d otherwise be spending a considerable amount of time trying to write these kind of patterns into your DAW’s piano roll.

For more sound effects, you can use the TransMod system. It allows you to apply modulations to all kinds of parameters. You can modulate using a randomizer (bouncing ball), LFP, or a mini sequencer. To turn all your grooves into a intelligible drum track, and not just a repeating loop, there is the Song mode. Use it to build out arrangements easily, which can be sequenced or played live within your DAW.

Bottom-line

All that said, it’s not a difficult plugin to work with. With basically no knowledge of Geist2, I remember taking it up and using much of the functionalities in the space of a couple hours. It’s fun to use, and the workflow is is pretty straight forward. Drum tracks and grooves were easily programmed, whereas before one would always wonder how a particular producer get that kind of hi-hat groove. Now, it’s possible to make your own complex yet intelligible grooves. So this is a definite recommendation for a drum machine. It’s powerful, fairly lightweight, and will take your EDM, house, electronica, and other electronic music drums to another level.

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5 – Garritan Personal Orchestra 5Garritan Personal Orchestra 5

See price @ Plugin Boutique

Garritan Personal Orchestra is known for having made high-quality virtual orchestral sounds accessible to the masses. Now on its fifth version, Garritan Personal Orchestra (GPO) provides even more instruments and articulations. You also get new performance spaces, more reverbs, and additional body resonance options. With GPO 5, the same high-quality sounds that users have enjoyed with previous versions are even more realistic.

GPO 5 comes with more than 500 orchestral instruments, spanning the range from strings and percussion to brass and woodwinds, and more. There are also new articulations specific to each instrument, and new performance spaces that help add a degree of realism to your musical productions.

Best Useful Features

The instruments included with GPO 5 enable you to create various types of ensembles, from solos and duos to string quartets and full orchestras, and everything in between. The quality of each instrument is impeccable, and many could stand convincingly on their own as solo instruments. Each instrument can even be assigned separate lines, so you aren’t limited to parts for specifically-sized sections.

The degree to which each instrument can express detailed nuances is impressive. Just like in a real orchestra, every instrument has its own character. They even interact with each other in expressive ways, adding an element of realism that isn’t possible with standard romplers or sampled sound sets.

Although you can certainly assemble entire orchestras from scratch, GPO 5 makes it easy for you to get started with a selection of readymade instrumental combinations. Even if you decide to add and edit individual elements later on, these pre-configured combos give you a good starting point and will speed up your workflow considerably.

Even users that have had the opportunity to work with live orchestras appreciate the depth and realism of GPO 5. One user that regularly works with live musicians relies on GPO 5 for creating temp scores and mockups for approval. By being able to achieve quality results from the get-go, this particular user is able to focus on the composition instead of spending hours chasing sounds.

Another user was impressed with the comprehensive selection of instruments available. Along with all the standard orchestral instruments, this user also got a lot of use out of the few rare instruments included as part of the package.

Bottom-line

The previous incarnation of GPO was already a superb piece of software, making it possible to create impressive orchestral pieces with very little effort–and a bit of compositional savvy, of course. With GPO 5, the company has proven that the best can be made even better. Able to provide for most of your orchestral needs, GPO 5 is pretty unbeatable for the price.

See “Best Orchestra Plugins” for more options.

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6 – Serato SampleSerato Sample

See price @ Plugin Boutique

Serato is best known for its range of DJ-oriented tools, Serato Scratch being the company’s flagship product. With Serato Sample, the company shows that it has a pulse on the production side of things as well. And with its powerful features, great sounding algorithms, and intuitive user interface, it could very be one of the most versatile and most capable software samplers around.

Sample is a totally different animal from full-blown software samplers such as Kontakt and Halion. It is not designed for multi-sampling or for loading multi-gigabyte libraries. But in most every other way, it is a flexible and feature-packed tool that provides various creative means for slicing, dicing, and mangling samples.

Best Useful Features

What Sample really excels at is extracting samples from audio files in your currently-open DAW project. Taking a page from its DJ software cousins, it utilizes marker cues and its own special algorithms to quickly identify and play back choice bits from any audio track you specify. Up to 16 samples can be defined, and you can tweak them in a number of weird and wonderful ways.

“What kind of ways,” you ask? For starters, you can time-stretch and pitch them with the Pitch ’n Time algorithm, widely considered to be the industry standard. You can also map a sample across the full range of your keyboard and play it at different pitches, just as you would a synth patch.

You aren’t restricted to single-note triggering either. You can fire off samples as chords or as drum patterns, with rapid-fire switching and retriggering made possible by the cue points.

And if all that isn’t freaky enough for you, Sample also comes with a “Random” function that enables you to inject a bit of unpredictability to the proceedings.

Serato Sample is obviously geared more toward creative samplists and beat producers than multi-sample orchestrators. Features such as automatic tempo syncing and sample time doubling/halving are used to great effect by beat merchants, many of whom like the speed at which creative ideas can be realized.

One user liked having the option to warp individual slices as well as entire samples. Another was especially impressed at how full tracks could serve as near-infinite sources of samples, with extensive options for triggering and manipulation. For this user, the way that Sample implements sample extraction is solid as well as elegant.

Bottom-line

Given the user testimonials and features mentioned, Sample is a great plugin to have. But keep in mind the lack of some looping capabilities and effects, and no means to detect transients automatically, which seems odd for a sampler that is otherwise well-suited for chopping up drum loops. Despite these omissions, Serato Sample is a fun and creative tool that can produce impressive results for producing, which is evidenced by its popularity.

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7 – Toontrack Superior Drummer

Toontrack Superior Drummer

See price and demo @ Plugin Boutique

Toontrack Superior Drummer 3 is the ultimate drum VST software and drum software module. It comes loaded with 230 GB of real live sampled drum playing by the best drummers in the world. And they have been sampled in 3D 11.1 surround sound. What’s more, there is an integrated audio-to-MIDI conversion to turn samples into MIDI notes. To make this even more incredible, it features an AI that can intelligently detect drum tracks you load into the software to find something that matches it in style and performance in the software’s library.

The core sound library of Superior Drummer was recorded at Galaxy Studios in Belgium, a world renown state of the art studio that’s in the record books for the quietest sound stage in the world. In fact, the recording studio is so quiet, that not even the most sensitive microphones can pick up the environment. This means that every sound sample you experience inside of Superior Drummer is pure and clean. With Superior Drummer, it’s like you have your own Galaxy Studio inside your DAW!

Best Useful Features

The standard kits in Superior Drummer include Gretsch, Pearl, Premier Ludwig Classic, and Yamaha. They were chosen by Toontrack and famous engineer George Massenburg to represent the wide range of music styles in music production. The kits were recorded in full 11.1 surround for you to get the best mixing benefits for your projects. With the kits you get sample options like mallets, rods, sticks, and brushes, to play with as well. Plus an unlimited variation of sound generation possibilities when you go deeper into the options. For instance, you can import third party samples into Superior Drummer, replacing the existing samples, and creating custom “X-Drums” with the software.

Those who use drum modules to produce their drum tracks often rely on using it in multi-channel mode to route all the drum tracks to individual channels in their DAW’s mixer. A process that can take some time but is essential to get a properly balanced drum that sits well in the mix. But Toontrack says they aimed at creating a drum workstation where the user didn’t have to leave it. One review said that, even though skeptical, he never actually needed to do any multi-channel routing, as the built in mixer took care of all his mixing requirements, thanks to the 35 plug-in effects by Overloud provided in the drum workstation.

Superior Drummer is also an awesome sound designing tool for drums. In the property boxes you have the ability to add pitch envelopes to each instrument and its articulations. On top of that, you can reverse each sample and edit its pitch. You can imagine the amazing sound designing possibilities for cymbals, snares and crashes.

The performance and songwriting power of the Superior Drummer is also amazing. If you’re trying to find drum ideas for a new song you’re working on, “Tap2Find” function will allow you to manually tap out rhythms. The software will then do its best to match your beat to an existing beat within the library. If that doesn’t work for you, import a drum performance (recorded from your own drum set or from another recording you sampled) and Superior Drummer enhances or replace that recording with the performance of a great professional drummer recorded by one of the greatest engineers in history in Galaxy Studio… and right in your DAW!

Bottom-line

Superior drummer is an amazing and massive drum software, designed to completely replace your drum set or any studio drummer, and one of the best professional VST plugins you can buy. The software covers every genre you can think of, with an artificial intelligence that can fool any professional drummer. Every home studio owner serious about getting the best drums for commercial level music production should have a copy of Studio Drummer, by Toontrack.

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8 – Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2

Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2

See price & reviews @ Amazon

Spectrasonics Omnisphere is an incredible synthesis virtual instrument that comes with over 12,000 sounds and over 55 odd effects engines. For years it has been the staple in the studios of sound designers working on TV, film, and game music. That’s because, in addition to being a powerful synthesizer, it has the aforementioned massive library of amazing high quality sampled sounds that range from traditional to non-traditional, to just plain weird. The lengths at which the people at Spectrasonics went to go over and beyond in recording samples is really fascinating the deeper and deeper you get into the software.

As a synthesizer it is incredible, being one of synthesis’ best professional VST plugins. This can be your one stop synthesizer no matter your genre. It can generate FM synthesis, ring , and granular modulation poly-synth sounds, that you can complete control through it’s powerful filters, envelops, and effects. On top of that, the library itself consists of recorded vintage synth sounds that’s amazingly impressive and powerful in sound reproduction. And since the vintage synths are recorded not emulated, you get the exact same reproduction, at high quality.

As a synthesizer itself, Omnisphere was more traditionally used for film and game music. But since version 2 came out, you’d have sounds that will satisfy the requirements of any EDM producer. In fact, watch any trap or electronic tutorials online or on Youtube and Omnisphere begins to show up more and more. It’s hard to stay clear of what the massive library can offer your production value.

Best Useful Features

And if you’re looking for sampled instruments, Omnisphere’s library has pipe organs, harpsichords, clavinets, pianos, guitars, harps, flutes, strings, brass, and so on. But they don’t really exist to be played raw (even though they sound great by themselves and been have used in commercial productions). They often are provided as sound sources to create other effects like plucks, pads, drones, and so on. On top of that, you can then layer a synth, or some noise (white, pink, static, etc.) for more sound designing possibilities. You can see now why Omnisphere has come to be known as a sound designer’s tool.

What “weird” and “WTF” samples has Spectrasonics included in their recorded library? Diego Stocco’s “burning piano,” light bulbs, a 20,000 volt Tesla coil, mallets playing on stalactites of a RADIOACTIVE cave in Eastern Europe, African chanting and singing, random Brazilian shouts, sitar bursts, and Tuvan throat singers. That’s just a few. There are also various vocal and choir samples for you to play, including vocal samples of shouts and shorts (“ooohh” “heeh” “huummm” etc.) in pop and other genres.

Because Omnisphere gives you so much, there is the tendency to want to load several instances of Omnisphere (there’s a percussion and bass library in it as well, some of which you can find in Trilian). But instead of overloading your computer’s resources with multiple instances of Omnisphere, you can add up to 8 patches in one instance, routing to 8 individual channels on your DAW’s mixing board, complete with individual tracks that can be automated separately. And if you have a certain kind of setup you prefer, let’s say, a “reggae” set up of bass, piano, organ, and synth, you can save the multi-patch to be quickly loaded in another session.

Bottom-line

Omnisphere is simply a must have tool for any producer, regardless of genre. It is a massive virtual instrument for synthesizer, keyboard, string, and other weird sounds. It’s a sound designers dream. The functionality can be, admittedly, a little daunting at first if you’re new to it. But after you learn your way away around Omnisphere, you really start to tap into the power that you have at your fingertips. No music producer’s home studio would be complete without a copy of Omnisphere on their drive.

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9 – Spectrasonics Keyscape

Spectrasonics Keyscape

See price & reviews @ Amazon

Spectrasonics Keyscape is an incredible virtual keyboard instrument plug-in that comes with over 500 keyboard sounds. If you were familiar with Trilian and Omnisphere, or any of their previous incarnations (Trilogy and Atmosphere), knowing that Spectrasonics came out with the keyboard instrument sound module software would make you, as it had many other producers, super excited and itching to purchase an authentic copy. Because from Keyscape you’d be getting a total of 36 premium recorded instruments, sampled with an incredible level of detail on par with Spectrasonics’ other plugins.

There are no organs or analog synths in Keyscape, though. And unlike Omnisphere, there aren’t any riffs, licks, or performance phrases to choose from. But I still insist on this being one of the best professional VST plugins you can buy. Let’s take a look why.

Best Useful Features

For one, the Fender Rhodes sound is perhaps the best you can get from any software plugin. Anyone who’s played the real thing will know that the original Rhodes, with all its mechanical parts, provide a wide dynamic and sonic range that samplers tend to miss. You begin to sense the limitation of a software that tries to emulate an instrument when you begin to use them in your productions. Keyscape however offers, as many would suggest, the best sampled reproduction of the Fender Rhodes Suitcase. The sound is so realistic you could actually hear the action and voicing in all its meaty juiciness satisfying your ears.

One could say that Spectrasonics was right in choosing this custom Rhodes because even the inventor (Harold Rhodes) considered it the best sounding Rhodes he’s ever heard. But included with the custom Rhodes, is a 70’s Mark I Suitcase, a contemporary Vintage Vibe Piano, and a hand-crafted Rhodes endorsed by Stevie Wonder and Robert Glasper.

Speaking of other keyboards, you get a Wurlitzer electric piano, properly sampled with all it barks and mellow chime sounds. For clavinet, Keyscape samples a rare C model Hohner clavinet. The piano that Spectrasonics used is a 7-and-a-half foot concert grand Yamaha C7. It’s said to be the piano often used as the “go-to” piano for all pop, rock, and other types of genres in professional recording studios. Piano purists have found that its reproduction is flawless. If you prefer an upright sound, you can use the Wing Upright that Keyscape sampled. It’s a 116 year old instrument that sounds great with full bodied tone. You can render it into honky tonk using a controllable patch for de-tuning and creating colorful timbres.

Speaking of honky tonk upright, Keyscape also sampled a Wing Tack piano, a piano that uses a metal tack to strike the strings, giving you a bright, biting sound. If you want an a electric piano, you have the choice of a Yamaha CP-70 Electric Grand and the Roland MKS-20 Digital Piano at your fingertips.

There are a few rare keyboards on the list, too. Like the Dulcitone, Chimeatron, and the famous Celeste from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. In addition to those is a historic clavichord from late-Medieval Europe, restored and sampled.

That just covers some of the keyboards offered. In addition to that is the multi-sampling of 36 keyboards, in various miking positions, sampling everything from mechanical actions to the sound of the pedals and the dampers. All of these you can control, creating interesting effects and room spaces. Naturally, you have effects that you can use to further twist each sound into something new and interesting, opening up the creative potential for sound designers looking for some keyboard inspiration. And you can load up to 8 keyboards in the multi-patch in multi-channel, multi-track mode if you need to trigger more than one kind of keys.

Bottom-line

Keyspace is an awesome virtual keyboard software. Armed with the right MIDI controller, you’d feel like you have at your fingertips several thousands of dollars (and many centuries) worth of keyboards to play with. If you’re a producer serious about getting some serious keys, Keyscape is the way to go.

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10 – Spectrasonics Trilian

Spectrasonics Trilian

See price & reviews @ Amazon

Spectrasonics Trilian is famous for being one of the best professional VST plugins as a “go-to” bass module for music producers of any genre of music, and it’s arguably the best bass virtual instrument you can find anywhere. Actually, it’s not “arguable,” it is pretty much fact. Trilian will give you a massive 34 GBs of acoustic and electric bass samples played by professional and renowned bass players (examples are Matt Bissonette, and Dean Taba).

The “Tri” in Trilian actually stands for the three types of sounds the software provides: electric, acoustic, and synth. The largest sound library is, naturally, the electric bass library, which has around 900 multi-samples of 2 dozen bass instruments.

Best Useful Features

Let’s not list out all of the basses because, as said before, it’s 2 dozen of them. But the list consists of some of the most famously produced and recorded bass instruments on the planet. 1964 Fender Precision, Fender Jazz, Music Man Stingray, Epiphone Viola (similar to Beatle’s Bass), Lakland Rock P‑Bass, even the Chapman Stick are some of the basses you get access to. Each bass meticulously recorded with multi-samples containing over 10,000 samples. Now you see why the VST is so darn big!

The reasons for the multisamples is that you don’t just get the standard bass picks. Every articulation you can think of, and even some experimental ones, can be triggered for electric and acoustic basses. You can split your keyboard and patch triggers to get dynamic sustains, staccatos, slides, semi-tonal glissandos and wobbles on every note. And if that’s not enough, you can push the samples to the limit and play notes in the highest and lowest registers of your 88 key controller for experimental sounds, for true supersonic and subsonic bass playing. On top of that, you can load up more than one bass in the module and run the plugin in multi-channel mode, routing each channel to a different track and mixer instead of loading more than one instance of Trilian.

I mentioned acoustic bass earlier. Are you planning on producing swing or jazz music? There is an upright bass sampled of Dean Taba performing each note, articulation, and slide. The double bass was recorded simultaneously on four channels using Neuman 147 and AKG C12 microphones with two different pickups. This goes to show the level of detail that went into this software. And as slides are essential part of double bass playing, you get realistic separate patches for upwards, downwards, bi-directional, and effects slides to trigger for each note.

If you happen to be a fan of acoustic bass guitars, the Trilian has equally detailed samples of a Martin acoustic bass. Super clean, long-sustaining, and very warm and strong. Lots of performance variations are on this to play with as well.

Trilian also has a plethora of bass synths. The Moog, Prophet, ARP and PPG synths are classics that have been emulated. These were not digitally modeled, but real life samples of the gigantic synths of the past. Plus Trilian comes with some of its own presets based on the more popular current styles right now. You have presets for dub-step, hip-hop, EDM, plus classic pop presets. A list of them would be too much for any post.

Bottom-line

If you want the ultimate bass station for music production and live performance, then Trilian is it, hands down. This is one of the only bass emulators that will actually give studio bassists a run for their money. Using Trilian feels like having the best session bassists in the world being recorded right in your home studio. There’s nothing like it. Many producers who keyboardists have fooled other bass players into thinking they’ve hired a live bassist to record on their tracks. That’s how good Trilian is.

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Best Effect Processor VST Plugins on the Market

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11 – Softube HarmonicsSoftube Harmonics

See price @ Plugin Boutique

Distortion can be a great way to add grit and attitude to a track. If an audio track seems bland and anemic, routing it through a distortion plug-in might just give it some energy and vitality.

But while distortion can solve some problems, it can also introduce new ones. It can actually reduce the dynamics in an audio track, making it less lively and lacking in punch. Distortion can also make tracks fuzzy and indistinct–essentially the opposite what you initially hoped to accomplish.

Softube Harmonics aims to give you all the good things you like about distortion, with almost none of the drawbacks. Employing a revolutionary approach to dynamics processing, Harmonics enhances your tracks, without ruining their distinctive character.

Best Useful Features

Harmonics comes with five analog modeled distortion flavors. Designed specifically for character and sonic response, they are a large part of what makes Harmonics such a sonically-impressive plug-in.

Harmonics does more than just distort your sound. Dynamics are often the first things that go out the window when distortion is applied. Harmonics takes great care to preserve the dynamics of audio by listening and analyzing the input signal. By applying its own unique algorithms, dynamics and details are preserved, even when applying loads of distortion.

In addition to the five distortion models, Harmonics also comes with high and low cut filters for more precise tonal shaping, a mix knob for dialing in the right balance between clean and distorted sounds, and a “character” knob that gives you control over the tonal color of the distortion.

Users of Softube Harmonics seem generally impressed at how easy it is to get warm analog sounds from a plug-in. One user routinely uses it for processing drums and guitar tracks, citing its hardware-like qualities. For this particular user, Harmonics combines the best qualities of a compressor and a transient enhancer, with a distinctively tube-like response.

Others weren’t quite as impressed with the dynamics range offered by the plug-in. One user who used it on compressed drum kits noticed very little change with the positive range applied. This user also noted that using a low cut filter to mute the kick drum caused a significant loss in the low end of the original signal, even with the mix control set to only 10% wet.

Bottom-line

Softube Harmonics is not the ultimate distortion plugin, but it packs some mojo for the price. Be forewarned that it can reduce bottom-end from your tracks even when only mixed in at only 10% or so. If you can live with that however, Harmonics can add some cool new flavors to your mixes.

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12 – Eventide SP2016 ReverbEventide SP2016 Reverb

See price and demo @ Plugin Boutique

The Eventide SP2016 Reverb plug-in is a software recreation of the legendary SP2016 hardware effects unit, also from Eventide. Utilizing hardware chips that could be swapped out to change the character of the reverb, the original SP2016 made waves in the audio world when it was introduced in 1982.

Although the reverbs produced by the SP2016 hardware unit could hardly be called “realistic”, they were loaded with character. The device was in fact used in countless high-profile recordings, specifically because of its unique sonic signature.

With the release of the Eventide SP2016 plug-in, all the vibe and character of the original hardware unit is now available for use in a variety of DAWs.

Best Useful Features

Like the most highly-regarded reverb circuits, the SP2016 stops short of producing ultra-realistic reverbs. Instead, it imbues tracks and mixes with its own unique sonic imprint. Warm, lively, and full of attitude, it nevertheless has a quality that could only be described as “natural”.

The plug-in offers three emulated reverbs, including “room”, “stereo room”, and “hi-density plate”. Each of these algorithms comes in two flavors: vintage and modern. The “vintage” algorithms are all intended to replicate the sounds of the hardware SP2016 as closely as possible. The “modern” algorithms for their part are brighter and more diffused, with the higher bit-depth required for modern productions.

Those accustomed to the true-to-life approximation of physical spaces via convolution reverbs will probably find the SP2016 reverbs lacking. Even so, the musical way by which the algorithms respond to input signals calls to mind the warm and characterful sound of classic recordings.

Many of those that cut their studio teeth on the original Eventide SP2016 seem fairly impressed with the plug-in version. With its ability to make most any source audio sit neatly into the mix, the plug-in is routinely used to great effect on instrument, drums, and even vocal tracks.

Other users have happily given up their venerable hardware units for the convenience provided by the plug-in. One noted producer is quite taken by its classic sound, which is enhanced with the software’s updated options. For this particular user, the SP2016 plug-in has become an indispensible source of creative ideas.

Bottom-line

With convolution reverbs now the standard as far as realism is concerned, the Eventide SP2016 Reverb isn’t likely to win awards for authenticity. Nevertheless, it is undeniably a great sounding plug-in that calls to mind the iconic reverb sounds heard on countless classic recordings.

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13 – Fabfilter Pro-Q 3Fabfilter Pro-Q 3

See price and demo @ Plugin Boutique

Fabfilter is a name that should be familiar to most anyone that has worked with plug-in effects. One of the leading names in the high-quality plug-in arena, it has earned considerable praise for its superb sound quality, advanced features, and innovative user interface. With the Pro-Q3, Fabfilter once again proves why it has become a household name in the world of professional audio.

The Pro-Q3 builds on the capabilities of the Pro-Q2, adding even more advanced features and enhancing its already powerful and efficient interface. Like the previous versions, the Pro-Q3 works just as well on the master buss as it does on individual instrument tracks.

Best Useful Features

From mixing to mastering, Pro-Q3 handles it all. It can be set to linear phase for precise control over the frequencies, or natural phase for zero latency. Mid/side processing can be done on a per-band basis, and even surround sound processing is supported.

Other features include optional auto-gain, intelligent soloing, and a customizable spectrum analyzer.

Even with all these powerful features, Pro-Q3 remains very easy to use. The interface might seem overly complex initially, but it is actually designed for maximum efficiency. Once you have gotten used to the various controls and their functions, you can quickly sculpt your audio to a remarkably precise degree.

The interactive display gives you real-time visual feedback on exactly what is going on at any given time. The spectrum analyzer can be set to track the input audio as well as the post-processed audio. You can therefore switch between both views to see exactly how your audio is being processed.

Users of the Pro-Q3 seem to be split between two camps: those that have upgraded from Pro-Q2 and those that are new to the Fabfilter line. Users from both groups seem convinced of the merits of the updated plug-in, citing its power, versatility, and efficiency. One user has in fact called it a “game-changer”, echoing the most popular sentiments regarding these innovative plug-ins.

That being said, you can’t please everyone. The feature-laden user interface–considered by many to be Fabfilter’s biggest strength–actually turned off a few users. For those accustomed to simpler EQ plug-ins, the detailed visual feedback and multitude of controls and options in Pro-Q3 were simply too overwhelming.

Bottom-line

Fabfilter is one of the most respected effects plug-in developers in recent years, and most of their products are generally regarded very highly by the global audio community. Although we can see how the user interface of the Pro-Q3 might confuse those accustomed to sparser layouts, its sheer power and flexibility is undeniable.

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14 – Waves Abbey Road ChambersWaves Abbey Road Chambers

See price @ Waves Audio

The Abbey Road Studios occupies a hallowed spot in history, having been where The Beatles recorded some of their most memorable work. It is only fitting then that a reverb plug-in was developed to capture some of that studio magic, and just as fitting that Waves was the one to release it.

Waves Abbey Road Chambers offers delay and reverb approximations that aim to bring those classic sounds to life in your own productions. From achingly beautiful reverbs to dizzying delays, the plug-in is absolutely dripping in warmth, richness, and character.

Best Useful Features

Waves Abbey Road Chambers is more than just your usual reverb plug-in. It is actually designed to approximate the sound of Abbey Road’s Studio Two echo chamber as closely as possible. The user interface gives you control over modeled Neumann KM53 valve microphones and Altec 605 speakers, which were responsible for much of the sonic character of Abbey Road recordings throughout the 1960s.

Also included are software recreations of the filters used to process signals routed into the echo chamber. These filters–EMI RS106 and EMI RS127–provide even more tone-shaping capabilities, just like they did in the actual studio.

All these components make up the studio’s original STEED setup, which stands for “send-tape-echo-echo-delay”. In the spirit of creative experimentation typical of the era, this system was developed in order to expand on the sonic possibilities of the echo chamber. The same creative possibilities are provided with the Waves Abbey Road Chambers plug-in, enabling you to recreate the unique sounds of the 1960s or craft some of your own.

As expected, Abbey Road Chambers attracts quite a few users that are intent on reliving the sounds of the past. The ease by which classic reverb and delay soundscapes could be recreated is in fact the primary appeal for many users.

That being said, not all the plug-in’s users are interested in covering the same old sonic ground. Many have used its classic features to come up with exciting new sounds, proving that Abbey Road Chambers is just as suited for modern productions as it is for retro-flavored recordings.

Bottom-line

Waves Abbey Road Chambers is unarguably a great-sounding plug-in. Almost anything that you pump through it comes out rich and musically-pleasing, with a distinctive character that makes it instantly sound like a classic recording. Nevertheless, it can be used for more modern flavors as well, due to the many options for controlling individual parameters.

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15 – Kuassa Amplifikation CaliburnKuassa Amplifikation Caliburn

See price @ Plugin Boutique

Kuassa Amplifikation Caliburn is a guitar amp simulator plug-in that aims to recreate the sound of that most classic range of amps: Marshalls. Kuassa claims that it is one of their best amp simulators yet, and we are inclined to agree. Capable of rich and detailed sounds that respond convincingly to playing nuances, it is indicative of how far amp modeling technology has come over the past few years.

Kuassa’s own modeling technology is now in its third generation. Amplifikation Caliburn reveals its maturity in its satisfying and responsive feel, and the dynamism with which it responds to the player’s performance.

Best Useful Features

The rich and complex sounds of classic Marshall tube amps are notoriously difficult to replicate. A good Marshall amp cranked up to 10 (11 if you’re Nigel Tufnel), is a thing of awesome power and beauty, all roaring fire, ferocity, and intensity. It’s the stuff that rock and roll is made of…and it is also next to impossible to reproduce in software.

Many have attempted and almost as many have failed. Kuassa definitely doesn’t fall into that latter category, with Amplifikation Caliburn capable of delivering many of the most iconic Marshall sounds. Three of Marshall’s own classic amps served as the inspiration for Caliburn: the JTM45, the JCM800, and the JCM900 Master Volume.

Clean and lead channels are selectable for each modeled amp. Power amp sag and bias features further enhance the feel and response while playing. You also get a five modeled cabs with Celestion speaker emulations, and several emulated models of mics traditionally used to capture the distinctive roar of Marshall amps.

Kuassa enjoys a pretty good reputation among its users for its excellent line of amp sims. With Caliburn, the company has managed to satisfy a significant portion of its user base, many of whom were thrilled to get their hands on a convincing Marshall emulation in plug-in form. One especially enthusiastic user has in fact called it Kuassa’s best amp sim.

Even producers and recording engineers that have previously shied away from amp sims have been impressed with Caliburn’s quality. One user compared it favorably to other amp plug-ins costing considerably more, citing Caliburn’s usefulness in adding another dimension to recorded guitar tracks.

Bottom-line

Kuassa Amplifikation Caliburn packs a convincing array of Marshall sounds in an affordable plug-in. Although its sonic character isn’t likely to fool hardcore Marshall maniacs, there is no denying its versatility and responsiveness. If you need a good selection of Marshall-specific “character” sounds, the Caliburn will get you most of the way there at a price that won’t break the bank.

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16 – iZotope Nectar 3 ElementsiZotope Nectar 3 Elements

See price @ Plugin Boutique

Vocal processing plug-ins are among the most useful tools to have in your arsenal, and iZotope Nectar Elements is perhaps one of the best. Offering a slew of features that give your vocals that professional “sheen”, it could be the only plug-in you need for all your vocal processing chores.

Now on version 3, iZotope Nectar 3 Elements packs a comprehensive list of effects processors and tone shapers, each of which were selected for their usefulness for vocal processing. With this set of tools, you can get your vocal tracks from raw recording to radio ready with a minimum of time and effort.

Best Useful Features

Nectar 3’s list of tools include compressors, de-essers, EQs, pitch correctors, and reverbs. These effects are typically patched into the vocal chains of professional studio productions, and they can really help enhance the quality of your own tracks.

But Nectar 3 is more than just a chain of effects processors. It also comes with intelligent features that analyze the track before applying the appropriate process automatically. Called the “Vocal Assistant”, it largely eliminates the guesswork associated with optimizing vocal tracks.

Nectar 3 also lets you choose any one of three “Vibe” modes. Each processes your vocal track differently, resulting in a distinctive character.  One mode gives you a clear and aggressive sound that is perfect for rock vocal performances. Another is better suited for jazz, while the third gives you the clarity and legibility necessary for radio and podcast applications.

If you would rather have full control over the vocal processing, Nectar 3’s simple and straightforward user interface makes it easy for you to get quality results.

Users of Nectar 3 Elements praise is ability to ‘save’ previously unworkable vocal tracks. One user struggled for weeks to get a brassy-sounding vocal right. After running it through Nectar 3’s algorithms, the sound he was looking was finally realized.

Even vocal tracks that needed little processing benefited from being treated with judicious amounts of Nectar 3’s special sauce. One user reported receiving a dialog track that was 90% of the way there. After processing it with Nectar 3, the track was somehow clearer and more upfront, even though it registered hardly any change in volume.

Bottom-line

Nectar 3 Elements offers a superb selection of audio tools, all of which combined make for a highly-effective signal chain for vocal processing. It isn’t the most flexible of vocal processing tools, with each effect assigned only a single adjustable parameter. Nevertheless, what it does to vocal tracks is pretty amazing, and you could find yourself getting a lot of use out of this.

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17 – iZotope Ozone Elements 8iZotope Ozone Elements 8

See price @ Plugin Boutique

What Nectar 3 does for vocal tracks, Ozone 8 Elements does for entire mixes. That might be simplifying things a bit, but the two plug-ins do share similar features and functionalities. With both, you get the trademark iZotope sonic quality and easy-to-use interface. While Nectar aims to get you radio-ready vocals with a few clicks, Ozone 8 enables you to get from final mix to mastered track with similarly little effort.

Of course, the results you get from Ozone 8 are largely dependent on how you use it. It is actually pretty easy to wreck your mix if you don’t know what you’re doing. But if you DO know what you’re doing, and you use Ozone 8 judiciously, you could get your mixes sounding better than they ever have.

Best Useful Features

If you have ever struggled to call a mix “finished”, Ozone 8 might just be the last missing piece of the puzzle. With its three versatile and powerful modules, most everything you need to get your mixes ready for primetime is included.

Looking to expand your soundstage? The Imager module is the key. Need to boost the bass or tame a wayward frequency? The EQ model is where you should begin tweaking. And if you want to get your mixes as loud and present as modern pop or EDM productions, the Maximizer is one of the quickest ways to get there.

Like all the Ozone incarnations before it, version 8 offers a tremendous degree of user control. It seems that there is no feature that can’t be tweaked extensively, so you have precise control over most every aspect of the sound.

Many users of Ozone 8 Elements appreciate the tremendous value offered by such a comprehensive set of mastering tools. Although some users have one or more dedicated plug-ins that cover some of the Ozone’s individual functions, they still continue to use the Ozone 8 for its convenience and flexibility.

Even with all the excellent modules provided, the Master Assistant seems to be the most highly-regarded feature. One user compared it to having a “second set of ears”, due to its usefulness in producing quality mixes, even in less than optimal mixing scenarios.

Bottom-line

Previous users of Ozone need no further convincing as to the 8’s power and capability. Its world-class features and extensive capabilities are among the many reasons why it is the most highly-regarded mastering software around. If you have never used a mastering plug-in of this caliber before, get ready to have your world rocked.

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18 – Softube Tube-Tech Classic Channel

Softube Tube Tech Classic Channel plugin

See price and demo @ Plugin Boutique

Softube Tube-Tech Classic Channel is a vintage channel strip plugin with two EQs and a compressor that gives you the classic warmth and air of the famous Tube-Tech analog hardware plugin. This plugin gives you the ability to load a full channel strip with re-rearrangeable and bypassable plugins within a single plugin window rack. The rack plugin itself comes with a few options to control the input and output for your buss or channel. It has been such a successful plugin that producers like Kanye West swear by it.

For a little bit of history, the famous Pultec gear have been part of the profession high-end studios for decades. In fact, Pultec has been emulated and re-emulated countless times. The best emulation, going all the way back to the 80’s, is done by Tube-Tech, which has its own gear that has itself been emulated. What Softube did, essentially, was to take the sound of both vintage giants and placed it in one plugin module window for a channel strip. And if you just want a single effect, like the legendary compressor, there is an option to switch it out of channel strip mode so you end up with just that plugin.

Best Useful Features

What the Tube-Tech Classic Channel does is give your channel strip some analog character. The EQs are the Tube-Tech PE1C Pultec EQ, and the Tube-Tech ME1B Mid Range EQ. When you’re done using the classic EQs, there is the famous Tube-Tech CL1B Compressor to control the dynamics.

The Tube-Tech PE1C EQ specializes in bass and treble. You can use it to get the classic EQ “smile” that many producers strive to perfect. But this EQ has the secret sauce, which is the sound of a professional sounding record in a high budget studio.

Just by using using its knobs you can dial your frequencies to well behaved levels by boosting and cutting them. There is a selector switch to select the frequencies you want to control, and in the center, a bandwidth control option. The interface is very simple to use and very straightforward. If you have any experience with hardware EQs, you would get around this easily.

After you’ve gotten your bass and highs under control, you can load up the ME1B into the channel strip to tame the midrange with some more of that industry standard secret juice for your music. The midrange is what this plugin was designed specifically for. The operation is similar to the PE1C — easy to use knobs and switches to create a characteristic sound of an analog EQ.

Finally, add some compression to round off the dynamics. The famous compressor, the CL18, is used across all genres. It alone being a must have workhorse for your studio.

The plugin channel strip works great on any audio signal, but most find that they shine their best on on bass, drums and vocals. Primarily the audio signals that require a lot of discipline when it comes to mixing.

Bottom-line

Having a good channel strip makes a tremendous difference in your sound. But instead of getting plugins from all over the place, you can have a plugin in a rack with in-house settings and parameters that are flexible, easy to use, and produce professionally sounding results. On top of that, you get a famous analog sound that is used in all professional recordings. That makes the Softube Tube-Tech Clasic Channel a definite recommendation, especially if you plan on doing your own mixes.

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19 – Soundtoys 5

Soundtoys 5

See price @ Plugin Boutique

Soundtoys 5 is a native effects rack plugin containing 19 vintage plugins in one. They are the top go-to plugins when it come to analog sounding effects, and now you can get them in an all-in-one rack style suite for a fraction of the price. Some of the most popular and timeless classics include EchoBoy, Decapitator, PrimalTap, FilterFreak 1 and 2, Phase Mistress, PanMan, Little AlterBoy, and a few others. Each model classic vintage analog gear, and produce the best sounding effects you can find for each effect.

Best Useful Features

A simple thing like being able to pan your tracks from right to left in certain patterns to mimic different kinds of vintage effects can be done by PanMan, the usual first choice I see in practically every pro level mixing studio I’ve been in. If you want to thrash your tracks with an awesome sounding driver that models classic analog gear, Decapitator will do the punishment for you. It was used extensively by Trent Reznor for Nine Inch Nail. It’s also a saturation tube emulator as well which adds lots of character and personality to otherwise dry digital audio signals.

If you want a dedicated tape delay module that not only emulates the real tape delays from back in the day, with lots of flexibility to control them, there is Echoboy. Any vintage delay you want to hear, you can craft it with EchoBoy, making it one of the most flexible and straightforward delay units I’ve ever used. With AlterBoy, you get old school pitch shifting, harmonization, and doubling that sounds amazing and natural.

It is really too much to go over all the details of what each plugin can do. You can find out more about what each plugin can do at the link below, or watching the video posted. But in addition to all the juicy effects of Soundtoys 5, you have the ability to also create custom chains within the rack itself. Normally, you could do this in your DAW by loading up individual plugins in a row. But with Soundtoys 5 each plugin is accessible when you load up the rack itself on your tracks. This allows you to combine and control several effects within a single-window environment.

And it’s very easy to use, just drag and drop which plugin effect you want to use, choose a preset, and make some adjustments. There is even a wet/dry input/output main control to globally control the sounds coming in and out of the rack chain. Additionally each parameter within the plugin and rack can be automated within your DAW. This makes me wonder why Soundtoys didn’t just name their rack Soundtoys “ToyBox.”

Each plugin is pretty much self explanatory from the looks of it, as they look like the analog hardware models that they were created to emulate. The controls are not that complex, just basic classic style knobs, meters, and buttons, with visual feedback that look like the original hardware. And if you want to play in expert mode, many of the effects plugins have an “expert” page for when you want deeper control and editing power.

Bottom-line

This is a must have tool for getting the best sounding vintage effects that model the plugins that shaped popular music. Again, having all 19 of Soundtoy’s plugins available in an effects chain rack system for a fraction of the price is too tempting to back down from. If you’ve even used a SoundToy, you’d know. It’s really difficult to put into words how satisfying Soundtoys plugins are.

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20 – Celemony Melodyne 4

Celemony Melodyne 4 studio

See ‘Essentials’ price @ Plugin Boutique

Celemony Melodyne is a pitch and time shifting software with polyphonic capability, direct note access (DNA) and formant correction. There are multiple versions of them, but the most effective ones are the Melodyne Editor, and Melodyne Studio, which is the flagship version of the software. Whichever one you choose, even if it’s the reduced reduced cost Melodyne Essentials, when it comes to pitch correction, Melodyne is probably king. The kind of alchemy … that is, algorithms … that go into this is beyond the scope of what normal humans know, but it’s nothing short of magic, and out of this world.

Best Useful Features

You can edit notes in a vocal or instrumental track in the same way you would edit the MIDI notes in your DAW. On top of that, it can pitch correct and time shift multiples tracks as well as polyphonic material, like the individual notes of a chord or harmonic phrase. Not only does Melodyne give you access to each individual note in a multi-track or polyphonic sound signal, the DNA (direct note access) will give you access to the individual harmonics of each note.

What this means is that, say for example, you recorded guitar, but the high E didn’t sound quite right and you didn’t pick that up when you were recording. Melodyne gives you the ability to zone in on that note and alter its harmonics to perfection, without touching any other note. That’s really amazing. You can do the same thing for any instrument and vocal track as well.

But not only will it correct the pitch and harmonics of each note in each track in each harmony, you can alter the timing as well. Without sounding stretched or unnatural, it really can lengthen notes naturally, or shorten them as you will. You can even intensify vibrato and adjust the attack. This offers you a lot of experimentation power. If you didn’t quite like the way you played or sung a phrase, without having to go do a re-record, you can naturally change the performance of the phrase within the software plugin. It’s safe to say that those introduced to this plugin for the first time have come away with an impression they can’t forget. The most mediocre vocal performances come back at commercial perfection.

The GUI, as mentioned before, gives you the ability to edit each note like you edit MIDI notes. You can grab a note, drag it to the correct pitch, stretch it, and so on, just like you’re on your piano roll. This is a much more intuitive way to correct and alter pitches. And also makes Melodyne not only an editing software but a creative workstation as well.

You can also host another software instrument directly into Melodyne to control its sound via the Audio-to-MIDI function. The studio version even comes with a small u-he synthesizer called Podolski so you get some creative results out of Melodyne immediately, as well as fill in the missing harmonics in your pitch correcting. In addition to the Audio-to-MIDI function, you can export your MIDI files of the notes of your recording. This is simply amazing. Load up a guitar solo by your favorite guitarist, let it detect the notes, and then export the MIDI to another synthesizer to reproduce the same performance! Wow. If you want the sheet music to learn, use the MIDI to generate sheet music from a scoring software.

Bottom-line

This is a must have for any music producer and sound engineer. The power supplied by Melodyne is unparalleled. The possible downside is that there is a bit of a learning curve. And Melodyne gives you so much detail that you can easily get stuck in analysis paralysis if you’re prone to gathering and processing data. However, all that detail gives you a tremendous amount of power if you know how to use it.

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Audio Plugin Buyer’s Guide

Since  this guide is to assist you in choosing the best profession plugins on the current market, we need to get a few things out of the way first.

First, we’ll establish that these are truly professional grade level VST plugins, the sort of plugins that professional and high-end enthusiasts use. Plugins that famous engineers and producers like George Massenburg, Trent Reznor, Herbie Hancock, Kanye West, BT, Richard Devine, Terravita, among others use to make excellent records.

This is not simply a list of “best 10” or so. Plugins have been selected from each type of plugin in essential categories and subcategories for you to choose from. There may be no need, then, to second guess the options presented here.

Secondly, for the uninitiated, or the beginner, it is best for us to cover some plugin basics for the purpose of this post. It is a good idea to read the following to get a sense of the rationale and structure that went into compiling this list, and creating this definitive guide.

Thirdly, you don’t need to actually buy all the plugins on this list. You may need just one, or 2, or even 3. Some of these you may already have, and over time, as your studio grows you will find that these plugins will find their way onto your hard drive out of necessity.

So, with that said, let’s begin the guide, shall we? 🙂


Audio Plugin Basics – What are Audio Plugins?

Back in the day, in order to create a piece of music, you needed to pass audio signal from an 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.

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 to make the job easier. In some cases, these were large devices that took up an entire corners of a room.

All of these effects were analog hardware devices that would literally be “plugged in” to your mixing console. Hence the term “plug-in.” But these hardware plugins, as they were called, had a certain kind of sound to them that shaped music into what we know today. In order to get that sound, you’d needed 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).

If you’re building a home studio, this is not going to be ideal. As even the commercial music industry studios are more and more utilizing software plugins that do a great job of emulating the sound of the devices that have shaped music over the 20th century.

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 even bedrooms.

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

Audio Plugin Formats Explained

What is a VST Plugin?

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.

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
  • and some high-quality audio samples

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 (which I list below).

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.

How to Choose the Best 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 delays, reverbs, etc. to add space to your mix. And 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.

Add to that, 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 where I have listed, there are cheaper versions available that I post below a few links.

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

One can always 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.

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 20 best professional 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.

And remember, if you’d like see more of my guides, check out our post on the best equipment for home studio.


Archive

Here are some other plugins we previously mentioned in this post.


Native Instruments Komplete 11 Ultimate

Native Instruments Komplete 11 Ultimate

It’s hard to deny that Komplete 11 by Native Instruments is one of the best professional VST plugins on the planet. When it comes to an all-in-one pack for music production in any genre, it’s the undisputed king. One purchase of the Komplete 11 Ultimate (the largest package) would probably be enough for your entire production for years. As a comprehensive set of software instruments, you’d find that it’s impressive.

There are sounds on Komplete 11 that you can use to make metal, rock, punk, pop, classical, electronic music, reggae, jazz, latin, ethnic, and so on. And you can find instruments that represent pretty much every sonic category you can possibly demand. Not just that, there is access to the best world class instrument and sound effects when you get Komplete. Many producers have been able to rely on Komplete alone to drive their professional careers.

There are three version of Komplete 11. ‘Select’ is the smallest “lite” version that comes with Native Instruments’ MIDI controllers. They have a modest 11 products that will start you off nicely — pretty much an introductory package to get you to invest in the larger bundles they have. Which is worth it.

The other two versions are the standard version, and the one labeled “Ultimate” which is the subject of this VST guide. The standard version has 45 products in it, and the Ultimate has 87. If you get the Ultimate, in order to install the entire library, you’d need about 400 GD worth of space on your drive. Of course, you don’t have install everything, but just choose the libraries you want. So it’s good to have access to all the instruments just in case.

Each copy has a great variety of samples (organic and synthetic, instrument and percussion) and software synthesizers. Among the synthesizers is the famous Massive and Monark. Massive is responsible, as you may or may not know, for driving some of the greatest EDM and dubstep lead, pads, and bass wobbles of all time. But the entire package is focused on sound creation and music making in particularity, keeping everything under one umbrella for streamlined workflow within an easy to use interface that works seamlessly with your DAW and controller (especially the Komplete Kontrol).

In addition to the famous synth and other synths Massive, Reaktor, and Kontour, is a guitar/bass amp simulator, live and electric drum sounds (Polyplex and Drumlab,  respectively), a powerful sampler (Battery), and a symphony orchestra. This is just to name a few.

For example, one of the cool pianos featured is an instrument called the Una Corda. It’s a piano with just one string per note, offering the sonic possibilities of altering and shaping its overall timbre into delightful and unique sounds. But for those of us who are primarily keyboard based producers, we get a complete line of the best keyboard instruments. The Hammond organ, on this is beautiful. Plus there are clavs and classic EPs which sound amazing, as well as deeply sampled acoustic pianos.

Bottom-line, one could go on and on about Native Instruments Komplete 11. It is truly a “komplete” one stop virtual instrument bundle. Pretty much everything you could ever want is found in this. With a little imagination and know-how, plus its ease of use, your sound production can be virtually limitless. The only downside is that you’d want to spend your entire time browsing the entire catalog instead getting to work making some music!


Arturia V Collection 6

Arturia V Collection 6

Arturia V Collection 6 is a virtual keyboard instrument collection housing 21 great keyboards and synthesizers. While Keyscape specializes in acoustic and electric keys (with some historic models that are centuries old), Arturia V specializes in the best synthesizers, electric pianos and organs that have been responsible for shaping the sound of popular music for the past century. We’re talking classic synthesizers from the 60s and 70s, like the Moog synths and the Jupiter synth, and the famous Yamaha DX-7. And the reproduction of the sounds on this plugin is exceptional. It’s like having a warehouse of every great keyboard used in every great hit song since 1950, sitting right inside your DAW.

The sound engine in the Arturia V uses what they call “exclusive True Analog Emulation and physical modeling technology.” They sound so spot to the original instruments it’s uncanny, and many producers repeatedly salivate over this product. Why wouldn’t you? One producer said there’s “spectacular detail in these synths. If you have ever used any of these, you realize how true to the originals they are.”

Arturia isn’t just a new name to music production, though. They also make some create hardware and MIDI controllers (one which made it into our MIDI list). So you’ll find that you’ve made a safe decision if you decide to get the V Collection. But let’s talk about what you’d be getting…

As I said, there are 21 keyboards in V Collection 6. Some of these keyboards are the Yahama DX-7 that was just mentioned (which needs no introduction), and a recreation of the 1973 Music Easel synthesizer by Don Bulcha called Bulcha Easel V, which is perfect for exploring interesting ambient and widescreen texture with unique sequences. There’s the Clavinet V which is the exact modeling of the famous clavinets used in funk, R&B, and other genres. Followed by the CMI V, which models the famous Fairlight CMI, an additive synthesizer considered one of the greatest additives synths and samplers of all time (made in 1979).

Truthfully, there is just too much to list out in one post. But other famous keys includes the Minimoog V, Jupiter 8, Prophet V, Vox Continental, Modular V, Matrix-12 V and on and on. This collection is pretty massive. The only downside? It seems to require a good amount of CPU power to process these instruments, meaning you’d need to bounce tracks or freeze some notes if you’re on a less powerful system.

Bottom-line, it’s hard to not include this in a list of best profession VST plugins. In fact we’d consider this essential for any keys based producer. The only alternative, which is a better option to getting the Arturia V Collection 6, is to actually buy the original instruments themselves. But this is the closest that you can get to a pure emulation of the classics in pop history. A definite recommend if you’re looking for a keyboard collection to complement your virtual instrumental library.


Vienna Symphonic Library

vienna symphonic library special edition volume 1

Vienna Symphonic Library provides some of the best and most realistic orchestra samples you can find anywhere. And it is the favorite choice from our best orchestral plugin guide. As a company, they have an extensive line of products specialized in orchestra music. While some makers specialize in a “Hollywood sound,” and other companies sample practically anything producers and composers can fit into their music, Vienna Symphonic Library specializes in one thing and does is awesomely well — realistic and authentic orchestra samples. Everyone who has used it knows this. And that’s why this is included in this list for orchestra producers. In particular, an all-in-one orchestra package.

The actually package we’re talking about is the Special Edition Volume 1. It is the first volume of the complete package which consists of for 4 volumes in one plugin, each specializing on a particular aspect of orchestra sampling reproduction, such as Articulation Expansion, Appassionata & Muted Strings, Special Winds & Choir. This complete bundle package is definitely an investment, when you check the price — but it is also the swiss army knife of orchestra softwares. You can spend years with it and not need to look for samples anywhere else if you’re relying upon realistic sounding orchestra compositions for film or classical music.

However, I’ve select the Volume 1 (Bundle 1 Essential Orchestra) for this guide as it offers most of what you will need in producer orchestra scores, at a fraction of the cost of the more massive bundle. It consists of the essential woodwinds, brass, percussion, and strings parts.

The Vienna Symphonic Library company is an innovative and research driven music software company that is based in Vienna. According to them, their primary aim is to reproduce the most authentic sounds. So the samples are recorded at famous concert halls — the Konzerthaus, Große Senesaal at Austrian Public Radio ORF’s broadcasting house, and the Sage Gateshead concert hall in England.

From those recording spaces you get an orchestra with just about every instrument you can think of, a staggering 97 in total, with even some non-traditional ones, including choir ensembles ready to perform your compositions and scoring for film. It’s like having an entire symphonic opera house on your hard drive! The samples are also recorded extremely dry. There is no reverb on them so it’s left up to you to use your favorite reverbs to mold and shape them within your DAW.

With the software you have the ability to play any articulation for each orchestra section your want. You can play legato, detached, forte/piano, pizzicato, col legno, half and whole tone trills, repetition performances (legato & spiccato), fast repetitions (150, 170, 190 bpm), artificial harmonics (staccato & sustain), and ponticello (staccato, sustain, tremolo).

If that sounds like a lot, don’t worry about it. Each instrument’s articulation can be controlled and reproduced from the software. The software was designed for ease-of-use, even though it is massive, so learning it and getting around it is not difficult. And if you have any issues, one cool thing many like about VSL is there’s online community forum with other users and experts ready to answer questions. Keep in mind, though, that the extensive list of articulation performances are available on the Complete Bundle only.

There are some famous examples of the use of VSL. Herbie Hancock uses them for his orchestrations in his studio. The movie “Underworld” was scored by Paul Haslinger using this VSL product. And it is endorsed by Italian conductor and composer Guido Mancusi.

Bottom-line, Vienna Symphonic Library should be your first choice if you’re serious about getting a well rounded and realistic orchestra software. There are many other options, but none come as near to authentic completeness in one package.


Heavyocity Gravity

Heavyocity Gravity

Heavyocity Gravity is an ambient-centric scoring and composition virtual instrument. When it comes to film scoring, or any kind of soundtrack or music that requires epic percussions, pads, or sound FX, I have never heard anything quite as impressive as Gravity. Gravity has a collection of organic sounds from a typical orchestra, but it’s specialty is twisting, mangling, punishing, and maiming them into gruesome and ecstatic evolving motions, pads, FX, complex sonic shapes, and ambient textures.

Gravity features a lot of instruments. If you listen closely, you will be able to hear and pick out the various sections of the orchestra, particularly when you’re playing the pads and the risers. Gravity also includes synthesization of sound to combine layer over layer of material that will give you some of the most dramatic, frightening, and creepy sounds produced out of your DAW. This is NOT an understatement. You pull out gravity when you want your productions to go into BEAST MODE.

The sound collection inside of gravity is organized into four main groups: Hits, Pads, Risers, and Stings. Each group comes from an organic sound source sampled and layered at your will, and warped into something unrecognizable and even, at times, atonal, for the pure effect of sonical and musical drama.

The hits sections is just like what you would think it is. Powerful percussions that you can use for epic slams, bashes, crashes, slaps, and impacts. There are 780+ Pads, and they come in two varieties: simple pads and complex pads. The complex pads are layered into a composite “super-patch” that mixes synthetic sounds with amazing orchestra sampled performances recorded by Heavyocity.

Risers is probably where Gravity blows many out of the water completely. Frightening and sometimes creepy, is what we’d call the risers. Adding them to production always seems to lift things into another level of intensity. They are not the typical EDM risers at all that make you want to raise your hands up on the club floor. We’re talking “the world is coming to an end” level of intensity that these sounds produce. Imagine adding one of these risers in anticipation to a chorus or drop?

Anyway, if you aren’t sure about what you want, try out the Stings menu, which has over 390 sounds. These tend to be a mixer of tonal and atonal metallic hits, sweeps and swooshes with evolving motion. You can play them in straight or reversed form. These are especially good, one would think, for game, sci-fi, or fantasy music.

Finally, you can “punish,” “twist” and “pinch” each sound to your delight from the effects menu. There is also a special ADSR envelope for shaping and molding each sound. Utilizing the “motion” control also gives you the ability to use key triggers to shape-shift your sounds on the fly.

Bottom-line, Gravity is a must have tool for any producer thinking of adding dramatic scoring elements to their production. Especially if you’re planning on working on film or game music. But electronic music producers also enjoy it for taking their music to a whole new level of epic. You wouldn’t find these complex sounds  in your standard virtual instrument library or VST. The software itself is easy to navigate and install, and it runs on Kontakt player which is free. It’s also pretty small for a sample library, weighing in at just over 9 GB.


Steinberg Absolute Collection 3

Steinberg Absolute VST Collection 3

The Steinberg Absolute Collection 3 is a collection of VST virtual instruments by the makers of Cubase (Steinberg). So expect in this package many of great the VSTs that Cubases users have come to love. So is it worth getting VSTs from another DAW when you have standard VSTs within your own DAW already?

In this case many other producers would say getting a few Steinberg virtual instruments would be pretty much essential — while most DAWs come with their own software instruments and plugins, none (except for maybe Reason, and Ableton) come as close to Steinberg’s Cubase. In fact, Steinberg originated the VST platform, to begin with. So you’d be getting a lot of cult classics that are famously used in a lot of productions, especially when it comes to sound designing and electronic music production.

The Absolute Collection comes with 11 VST instruments. The most famous ones are HALion 6, HALion Sonic 3, Groove Agent 4, and Retrologue 2. HaLion 6 is an award winning sampler, one of the best there is. HALion Sonic (not to be confused with HaLion 6)  is a powerful VST workstation with over 25 GB worth of high quality samples, featuring a great synthesizer. You’d be turning to it a lot to personally sculpt some of your best sounds out of it.

Groove Agent is an easy to use virtual drum studio that you can use to create drums and percussion grooves for any genre. As a beatmaker tool it’s invaluable in terms of the range of samples, editor tools, and FX manipulation for dance, urban, or electronic music. If you’re a songwriter, you’ll also find it great for exploring and mapping out arrangements of drum beats and patterns for your songs.

Retrologue is a famous synthesizer from Steinberg. The sounds of it is pretty much legendary, to the point that it can be recognizable in many high level commercial productions. It’s a VST classic none of us wants to miss out on.

These are just a few of the features inside of Absolute Collection 3. As a collection of VSTs of various kinds of instruments, this is pretty unique, and there is a lot of value for the money in getting Absolute. An EDM producer, beat maker, or songwriter could easily boot strap it with just the Collection alone if he or she decides on getting pro level results (my opinion, which I’m sure many would share).

Bottom-line, this is worth getting. It’s well rounded, and comes from the inventors of the VST from a legendary DAW maker. Lots of classics to last you for a while. And plenty of content to keep your juice flowing.


Audio Ease Speakerphone 2 Plug-in

Audio Ease Speakerphone 2 Plug-in

Audio Ease Speakerphone 2 is a speaker and environment emulation plugin that can recreate real world sounds, particularly the sounds of audio  coming through various types of speakers, and in various types of spaces. You can run your audio signal through it to get classic guitar amp sounds, radio receivers, record players, cell phone earpieces, walkie talkie, loudspeaker, even a toy robot. On top of that, you can generate special effects by emulating the sound of the audio in various environments.

Many producers love this plugin for the reason that you get a convincing reproduction of your sound when working on film, or, say, making your rapper sound like he’s rapping through a cell phone, or your singer getting the old scratched-record sound effect reminiscent of a 50’s record.

The people at Audio Ease didn’t just generate code to simulate these sounds. They actually recorded each sound environment and sound speaker type to create their exact reproduction in this plugin. In the audio production world, the term “futz” is means to process an audio signal in such a way to match a scene. So to film scorers, this plugin is essential, and does “futzing” better than any other plugin. Mainly because of its ease of use, and the massive amounts of effects you can have. If you can name it, it is more than likely in the presets, or something of its equivalent. For a music producer of commercial music, maybe it is a little less essential. But it sounds far more realistic than using a “phone” preset in an EQ filter plugin.

On top of the sound sources and environments options, there are lots of controls you can use to twist and shape your effects even more. It has a built in compressor, limiter, bit-cruncher, convolution reverb, delay, and modulation controls. And you can stack 10 individual units per plugin so you don’t need need to run several instances.

Even then, it is surprisingly easy on your computer. For such a complete effects plugin, it is efficient. You probably won’t have to worry about crashing if you have a decent system. And as a plugin, the interface is simple. There is something refreshing about using it because you don’t feel like you’re being hypnotized by crazy morphing lights that some plugins have, looking like something from the space age (not a criticism). Each setting you bring up shows you an image of the speaker and environment you want to emulate, and you can just click on “show controls” and a whole dashboard slides out with all the controls you could ever need.

Bottom-line, if you work on film and game music, this is definitely a must have plugin. A little less essential if you just work on producing and mixing music. However, many rock producers and engineers love this plugin because of the fact that it provides the exact replica sound of classic guitar amps, better than many other plugins. So that’s another thing to consider. Either way, it is well worth the money once you get your hands on it. A very fun and satisfying plugin for your productions.


Antares Auto-Tune 8

Antares Auto-Tune 8

Antares Auto-Tune is the most famous pitch correcting plugin, with “autotune” itself being both a verb and a household name. It’s also what people normally think of when they hear the T-Payne style vocals or vocoder style recordings. Both those cases are “creative” uses for Auto-Tune, as Auto-Tune can yield more naturally sounding results as a creative plugin. In addition to that, you can use it to correct timing issues.

Most producers consider Auto-Tune a different kind of animal from Melodyne. When it comes to pop music in particular, hypertuning is often standard. It’s practically impossible to get the perfect sounding pitches and vocals in a complete vocal phrase when doing any kind of electronic production. But this is the modern age, and Auto-Tune has in a sense been responsible for much of that pitched perfection. The good thing though is that most of the time it sounds natural.

Another thing is that you can use Auto-Tune in live mode. If you’re performing vocals live, the plugin is powerful enough to yield near zero latency so that whatever comes back through your headphones is the low-latency real-time pitch correction of your performance. For this reason, you can use Auto-Tune even on stage.

Auto-Tune is also a less time consuming plugin to use than Melodyne. It’s Automatic Mode and Flex-Tune technology allows for pitch correction without any altering being done to the original timbre, vibrato, and so on of the original recording. All you need to do is adjust the amount that the plugin will automatically tune your performances or recordings. It’s a great plugin for keeping things on the straight and narrow. And in Graphical Mode, you can use Audio Feedback to play back the tone of the pitches for you to draw comparison between your recordings and the perfect pitch itself.

A couple other features you get with Auto-Tune is the Throat Length control, which you can use to control the timbre of your vocal tracks, as well as the ability to transform to MIDI the Note Objects within the plugin.

For most sound engineers, there isn’t an Auto-Tune vs Melodyne debate. Both are needed, and both work excellently based on what you want. Pop and other contemporary music tend to shine best with Auto-Tune for vocalists. And while Melodyne can do the same, it’s often turned to for polishing over your pitches for acoustic music, jazz, and classical vocals and instruments. They both have their own “feel” to them in terms of sound, with Auto-tune definitely giving you that modern pitch perfect result.

Bottom-line, Auto-Tune is a must have for any music producer who work with vocalists and vocal recordings. It’s workflow may not be the most ingenuitive, but it gets the job done much more quickly, since it’s less time consuming to set up and get running. You want simple automatic pitch correction with the ability to correct timing, and to get live monitoring as well if you’re performing? Auto-tune is the way to go.


iZotope Stutter Edit

iZotope Stutter Edit

iZotope Stutter Edit is a unique plugin that can be considered both an effects processor plugin and a virtual instrument. Like the name suggests, it will chop and twist your audio tracks into rhythmic mind-bending stutters, the kind that you hear in some of the music by produced and composer, BT. In fact, the plugin itself was created by BT some years ago to take the art form he perfected to the studios of other producers to recreate something that, for many before this plugin came out, took a tremendous amount of time and patience to make.

Stutter Edit works in two ways. First is the familiar way of cutting, chopping, splicing, etc. your audio. The next way is by using its on board sound generator to create a variety of noises and hits that you can then shape using a band-pass filter, stereo delay, and gain controls. You can use Stutter Edit either in live performances or in the studio. It’s operated by MIDI control keyboards, which is assigned to presets called “gestures.” There’s either a stutter gesture, or a generator gesture, and each of those gestures are given a note that, when you play them, triggers an effect from the sound engine, or applies an effect to your music.

The length of each gesture can be as tiny as a 16th-note triplet, or as long as 2 full bars. The timeline Grid for the Gesture can be set as small as a 64th note or as long as 1 bar. Once you press a key on your MIDI controller, you trigger a gesture. As long as you hold it, it will cycle all the way through the gesture, including whatever modulation envelopes you set for each effect. These effects could be gating, delay, filtering, panning, beat repeats, sample-rate, etc. And if you’re overwhelmed with what is simply the limitless potential that’s before you, you can always start with some of the presets that have been designed by well known glitch and stutter artists. Presets credits go to names like Richard Devine, Terravita, and Tremourz.

If you’re new to stutter and glitch music, the first time looking at this plugin might be a little bit daunting, admittedly. Simply because it has so many features. But there are lots of online courses that are specialized in teaching you how to use this. It’s simply one of the best tools you could use if you plan on doing any electronic music production.

Bottom-line, this is one of the best professional VST plugins for the modern day composer and producer, as well as live electronic musician. As a tool, it can freshen up a track if you feel like you’re running out of creative ideas for what to do. The results are super professional, and sound amazing. Even just fooling around, it sounds good. And the more you use it, the deeper you get into the controls and what you can do with it. A definite recommend.


IK Multimedia AmpliTube MAX Bundle

IK Multimedia AmpliTube MAX Bundle

AmpliTube MAX is the complete bass and guitar effects modeling module by IK Multimedia. In it you get some of the best a most renowned amps, cabs, and effects. With AmpliTube MAX, there’s a total of 88 stompboxes, 80 amps, 922 cabinets, 29 speaker models, 19 microphone models, and 24 rack effects. If you have a favorite guitar or bass sound you’re trying to emulate from one of your favorite rock guitarist, or any guitarist for that matter, you can pretty much find that sound in this plugin.

This release comes with all the gear sounds and tones from AmpliTube 4 and previous, including AmpliTube Fender, AmpliTube MESA/Boogie, and AmpliTube Jimi Hendrix, and some others. Yes, it is possible to get the Jimi Hendrix guitar tone in your guitar productions with this version. You can see why for some producers this is must have plugin.

The software itself can run in two modes. You can run it as either standalone, or inside your DAW as a plugin. Despite the amount of options and content you have to sort through, it’s fairly easy to use, and very straight forward if you already know your way around typical hardware guitar rigs. The beautiful thing about AmpliTube is that they don’t only emulate the sound, but the actual looks and controls of their hardware equivalent. Even the pedals look realistic, which you can set up by simply selecting a pedal that you want and drag and drop them onto the pedalboard on the screen. You can rearrange each pedal as you like. They can also be controlled via MIDI. The rest of the controls on the DAW also supports automation.

The microphones have a lot of flexibility. You have a choice between different microphone makes and models on each amp you choose. Then you can also move the microphones around the amp to emulate the particular sound you want. Guitarists and bassists already know that there are several different kinds of microphone techniques for recording amps, with lots of pairing options. You get to choose and experiment with them all in Amplitube MAX.

You can also choose which type of speaker driver itself you want to use. And you have a selection of different kinds of rooms. Once you’ve got your gear in order, there is a gear rack, which allows you to set your effects, EQs, delays, and so on. It comes with lots of presets to choose from.

Bottom-line, if you work with guitars in your production, this is a definite must have tool. Imagine a virtual recording studio, filled with thousands of dollars worth of microphones, amps, speakers, cabinets, and on top of that, effects, and rooms to play with, right inside your DAW. Even though its only the software version of the real thing, it’s the closest and best thing there is actually miking up an amp. And like other producers say, it comes so close to the real thing it is virtually impossible to detect which is the software, and which was an actual amp. If you’re into guitars and bass, you’ll love this.


Lexicon PCM Native Reverb Plug-in Bundle

Lexicon PCM Native Reverb Plug-in Bundle

The Lexicon PCM is a reverb plugin bundle consisting of 7 reverbs, hundred of presents, and visual equalizer. It’s not just a typical reverb plugin, though. The software was created to directly model the sound of the high-end Lexicon hardware plugin (found in this hardware reverb guide) that has been used in professional studios for around 40 years now. There was once a time when producers and mixing engineers would shell out thousands of dollars to get the “Lexicon sound,” because no software VST would quite “get it.” But since the software variant of Lexicon came out, and it being cheaper than it was years ago, this is an obvious must have in any professional audio collection.

What you’re really paying for with the PCM bundle is a replication of the “real thing.” Lush, smooth, and spacious sounds that gives mixes that luxurious feel you can only get from a high end studio. If you used a Lexicon hardware reverb, you’d know that they where they shine is in create a rich sense of 3 dimension space with depth that’s both convincing, without sounding “processed” or artificial. Even if you used “too much” reverb, it still gives your instruments that luscious, delicious experience. It’s like the Bentley of reverbs.

What you get are a selection of 7 reverbs, each one with a naming convention that reflects the hardware orginal: LexVintagePlate, LexPlate, LexHall, LexRandomHall, LexConcertHall, LexChamber and LexRoom.

LexPlate and LeVintagePlate are great sounding plates. The first one being a standard plate fashioned to sound like the original Lexicon, and the latter modeled off the original analog studio plate. They’re bright, crisp, and slightly metallic with rapid diffusion. They can be your go-to reverb for treating drums and percussions. Add them to vocals too which will give them a sense of space without actually putting them in a “room.”

LexHall, LexRandomHall and LexConcertHall are three of Lexicon’s hall reverb units that also accurately model the original sounds of the hardware devices. The LexHall itself generates some standard hall sounds, using a unique algorithm that emulate the sounds of a real hall. Each of the hall plugins give you the most natural sounding reverbs, so much so you’d want to stick with it primarily as their convolution reverb plugin.

LexRandomHall is unique in that it emulates the irregular decay curve of the original plugin. Many orchestra producers and mixers love using this for that reason. And LexConcertHall is a beautifully lush sounding plugin that sounds awesome on contemporary music. You’ve probably heard electronic music productions using LexConsertHall. You may be able to identify them as having a sense of space that colors the atmosphere of rooms, even from consumer stereo speakers. It’s really a wonder sounding plugin.

LexChamber and LexRoom are two of their “room” plugins. Again, they sound natural and pristine. LexRoom is designed to be more versatile. It has over 15 simulated spaces to choose from in scalable sizes, with an option for reverse reverb. Very cool. The LexChamber algorithm was created to emulate the natural reflective surfaces of the small echo chambers used in early studios.

Each of native plugins in the bundle are in stereo. There is no “surround mode,” if you’re planning on doing 7.1 or 11.1 mixing. That may be the only downside. But as a stereo reverb plugin it’s unparalleled. It’s a very powerful reverb plugin that at the same time isn’t a resource hog on your computer’s processing power.

Bottom-line, if you are looking for the perfect go-to analog reverb plugin for your DAW and home studio, you really don’t have to look any further than the Lexicon PCM. Producers of every genre recommend it, and it has lots of glowing reviews. Doesn’t matter if you work on film, orchestra, pop, EDM, you’d probably never want to mix with any other plugin than the Lexicon PCM once you start using them.

18 Comments on “20 Best Professional VST & AU Plugins for 2019 [Audio Plugin Guide]”

  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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