In this buyer’s guide, I list out the 20 best professional VST plugins that you should be using this year to make better music.
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.
Let’s take a closer look…
Table of Contents
- VST Plug-ins – At a Glance
- VST Plug-ins – Reviews
- VST Plug-in Buyer’s Guide
- Final Thoughts
Find other studio gear here:
20 Best Professional VST Plugins – At a Glance
Best Virtual Instruments VST Plugins on the Market
1 - Native Instruments Komplete 11 Ultimate
It is hard to deny that Komplete 11 by Native Instruments is one of the best profession VST plugins on the planet. When it comes to an all-in-one pack for music production in any genre, it is 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 possible 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 work 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, I 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!
Native Instruments Komplete 11 Specifications
- Type: Instrument, Effects and Sound library
- Software size: 7 GB installation (363 full library)
- Bit depth: 32/64
- Format: Standalone, AAX Native, VST, AU
- Platform: Mac, PC
- Mac Requirements: OS X 10.10 or later, Intel Core 2 Duo or higher, 6GB or more recommended, 363GB free disk space (for complete installation)
- PC Requirements: Windows 7 SP1 or later, Intel Core 2 Duo / AMD Athlon 64 X2 or higher, 6GB or more recommended, 363 GB free disk space (for complete installation)
2 - Toontrack Superior Drummer
Superior Drummer 3 by Toontrack 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 Galaxy Studios in Belgium, a world renown state or 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 ever 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!
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 got) 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.
Toontrack Superior Drummer Specifications
- Type: Drum module
- Software size: 230 GB GB
- Bit depth: 64
- Format: VST, AU, AAX, Standalone
- Platform: Mac, PC
- Mac Requirements: OS X 10.6 or later, Intel Core 2 Duo or higher, 8GB RAM or more recommended, 230GB drive space
- PC Requirements: Windows 7 SP1 or later, Multi-core Processor, 8GB RAM or more recommended, 230GB drive space
3 - FXpansion Geist2
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 interrupt with your workflow.
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 our 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 with 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 drum machine. It's powerful, fairly lightweight, and will take your EDM, house, electronica, and other electronic music drums to another level.
FXpansion Geist2 Specifications
- Type: Sampling, Virtual Drum Machine Rhythm creation tools
- Software size: 650 MB
- Bit depth: 64
- Format: Standalone, AAX, VST, AU
- Platform: Mac, PC
- Mac Requirements: OS X 10.9 or later, Intel i5 or higher recommended, 4GB RAM minimum
- PC Requirements: Windows 7 or later, DirectX 9 or later, Intel i5 or higher recommended, 4GB RAM minimum
4 - Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2
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, 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 the latest version (2) comes with 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.
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 I've have used them in my own 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 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.
- Type: Virtual Synthesizer
- Software size: 64 GB
- Bit depth: 32/64
- Format: AAX, RTAS, VST 2.4, AU
- Platform: Mac, PC
- Mac Requirements: OS X 10.9 or later, 2.4 GHz Processor or higher, 4GB RAM minimum
- PC Requirements: Windows 7 or later, 2.4 GHz Processor or higher, 4GB RAM minimum
5 - Spectrasonics Keyscape
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 me an 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.
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, in my opinion, the best sampled reproduction of the Fender Rhodes Suitcase. The sound was so realistic you could actually hear the action and voicing in all its meaty juiciness satisfying your ears.
I'd 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 and full toned. 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 in 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, I feel like I have at my finger tips several thousands of dollars and centuries worth of keyboards to play with. If you're a producer serious about getting some serious keys, Keyscape is the way to go.
- Type: Virtual Keyboard Library
- Software size: 80 GB (option 30 GB installation package for onstage performance)
- Bit depth: 64
- Format: AX, RTAS, VST 2.4, AU
- Platform: Mac, PC
- Mac Requirements: OS X 10.9 or later, Intel Dual Core 2.2GHz or higher, 8GB RAM minimum, SSD drive recommended, 80GB free drive space
- PC Requirements: Windows 7 or later, Intel Dual Core 2.2GHz or higher, 8GB RAM minimum, SSD drive recommended, 80GB free drive space
6 - Arturia V Collection 6
Arturia V Collection 6 is a virtual keyboard instrument collection housing 21 great keyboards and synthesizers. While Keyspace 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 my 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 I 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 Minioog 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 I'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.
Arturia V Collection 6 Specifications
- Type: Virtual Instrument Bundle
- Software size: 9.2 GB
- Bit depth: 64
- Format: VST2.4, VST3, AAX, AU, Standalone
- Platform: Mac, PC
- Mac Requirements: OS X 10.10 or later, 2.5GHz processor or higher, 4GB RAM minimum, 12 GB free drive space
- PC Requirements: Windows 7 SP1 or later, 2.5GHz processor or higher, 4GB RAM minimum, 12 GB free drive space
7 - Vienna Symphonic Library
Vienna Symphonic Library provides some of the best and most realistic orchestra samples you can find anywhere. And it is the favorite choice from my 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 music. Everyone who has used it knows this. And that's why I've included it in this list for orchestra. In particular, an all-in-one orchestra package.
The actually package I'm 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 review as it offers most of what you will need in producer orchestra scores, at a fraction of the cost. It consist 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 mold and shape them within the software to what you'd like.
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 I like about VSL is there 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. And because there are actually so many VSL softwares to choose from, I narrowed it down to this volume 1 package to help clear up decision paralysis. Also see my Orchestra Plugins Guide for more choices.
Vienna Symphonic Library Specifications
- Type: Symphonic Sample Player
- Software size: 111.5 GB
- Bit depth: 32/64
- Format: AX, RTAS, VST 2.4, AU
- Platform: Mac, PC
- Mac Requirements: OS X 10.6.8 or later, Intel Core 2 Duo, 2GB RAM
- PC Requirements: Windows 7 or later, Core 2 Duo, 2GB RAM
8 - 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 me out of the water completely. Frightening and sometimes creepy, is what I would 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. I'm 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, I 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.
Heavyocity Gravity Specifications
- Type: Modern Orchestral scoring
- Software size: 9.2 GB
- Bit depth: 32/64
- Format: Standalone, AAX, VST, AU, RTAS, DXi
- Platform: Mac, PC
- Mac Requirements: OS X 10.8 4GB RAM minimum
- PC Requirements: Windows 7 or later, 4GB RAM minimum
9 - Steinberg Absolute 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 I, as well as 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) comes 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 percussive 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.
Steinberg Absolute Collection 3 Specifications
- Type: Virtual Instrument collection
- Software size: 80 GB
- Bit depth: 64
- Format: VST, AU
- Platform: Mac, PC
- Mac Requirements: OS X 10.11 or later, Intel Core i5 or higher, 8GB RAM or more recommended
- PC Requirements: Windows 7 SP1 or later, Intel Core i5 / AMD Athlon 64 X2 or higher, 8GB RAM or more recommended
10 - Spectrasonics Trilian
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.
I won't list out all of the basses because, as I said, 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. Even though I am not personally a bass player but a keys player, I've fooled other bass players into thinking I hired a live bassist to record on my tracks. That's how good Trilian is.
- Type: Total bass module
- Software size: 34 GB
- Bit depth: 32/64
- Format: AAX, RTAS, VST 2.4, AU
- Platform: Mac, PC
- Mac Requirements: OS X 10.9 or later, Intel Dual Core 2.0GHz or higher, 4GB RAM minimum, 40GB free hard drive space
- PC Requirements: Windows 7 or later, Multi-core 2GHz or higher, 4GB RAM minimum, 40GB free hard drive space
11 - Audio Ease Speakerphone 2 Plug-in
Audio Ease Speakerphone 2 is a speaker and environment emulation plugin that can recreate real world sounds of what audio sounds like 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 music 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 wont 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.
Audio Ease Speakerphone 2 Plug-in Specifications
- Type: Speaker/Environment Emulation
- Bit depth: 64-bit
- Format: RTAS, VST, MAS, AU, AudioSuite
- Platform: Mac, PC
- Mac Requirements: OS X 10.9 or later, G4 1GHz, 5GB Hard Drive
- PC Requirements: Windows 7 SP1 or later, Pentium 4 1.6Ghz, 5GB Hard Disk
12 - Soundtoys 5
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.
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 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 I 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.
Soundtoys 5 Specifications
- Type: Native effects rack plugin
- Bit depth: 32-bit, 64-bit
- Format: AAX Native, VST, AU, AudioSuite
- Platform: Mac, PC
- Mac Requirements: Mac OS X 10.7 or later, Intel processor, 4GB RAM
- PC Requirements: Windows 7 SP1 or later, Intel compatible processor, 4GB RAM
13 - Celemony Melodyne 4
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, when it comes to pitch correction, Melodyne is probably king. The kind of alchemy ... I mean, algorithms ... that go into this is beyond the scope of what I know, but it's nothing short of magic, and out of this world.
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. I've never been anything short of amazed whenever I send vocal tracks to a producer using Melodyne. The most mediocre vocal performances come back at commercial perfection.
The GUI, like I said, gives you the ability to edit each note like you edit MIDI notes. You can grab a note, drag it to the right pitch, stretch it, and so on, just like you're in 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.
Celemony Melodyne Studio Specifications
- Type: Pitch and Time Shifting software
- Bit depth: 64-bit
- Format: Standalone, AAX, VST, AU, RTAS
- Platform: Mac, PC
- Mac Requirements: OS X 10.9.5 or later, Intel processor (Quad Core or better recommended), 4GB RAM (8GB or more recommended)
- PC Requirements: Windows 7 SP1, Intel or AMD Dual Core (Quad Core or better recommended), 4GB RAM (8GB or more recommended)
14 - iZotope Nectar 2 Production Suite
iZotope Nectar 2 is a full suite vocal processor plugin, and perhaps the most powerful, intuitive, inclusive, and easy to use vocal process plugins on the market. Within the plugin suite is a compressor, limiter, gate, de-esser, EQ, reverb, and delay designed specifically for vocal mixing. On top of that, you can do pitch correction, vocal harmony and doubling, breath control, and saturation. iZotope packed this plugin full of effects crafted to be used specifically with the human voice.
To do a basic run-down of each effect, the four dynamic modules (compressor, limiter, de-esser, and gate) has four different characteristics to choose from to reflect different styles and productions. You can use them in Digital, Vintage, Optical, or Solid-State model. Each compressor works excellently and produces professional results.
If you want to thicken things up, you can use its saturation module to progam harmonic content that emulate five main styles: Analog, Retro, Tape, Tube, and Warm. You can also use it's FX module for adding some of the best vocal distortions you'll hear out of a plugin. You can even get creative with your vocal recordings by adding repeaters and stutter effects from the FV module.
One of my favorite modules in Nectar is the Reverb Module. It was modeled after what is considered one of the greatest vocal reverb units of all time: the EMT-140. iZotope does an excellent job of modeling this reverb unit in one module. Even though, unfortunately, iZotope only comes with one reverb unit, but as a vocal reverb module, it really doesn't disappoint.
Nectar 2 goes all the way in what a vocal plugin can do. It doesn't stop at the basic effects. If your vocal recordings have a lot of annoying inhalations, the Breath Control module will clean it all up. It's fully programmable to detect and remove any distracting breathy sounds. And there is also pitch correction and pitch edit. Both of them great modules that can correct and tune your vocal recordings with ease. They are not as powerful as the other two pitch correction plugins I mentioned, though (Melodyne and Auto-tune), but for what they are, they can offer a quick solution, and the interface works similarly to a standard pitch correction plugin.
Part of the appeal of the Nectar is that you get a ton of presets to work with. Some think that tons of presets in a plugin kind of takes away from one's ability to engineer their own style, diminishing their creative core. But for me, they make awesome starting points, especially when trying to make decisions when starting from scratch.
At the bottom of the interface is the Presets Manager. Each preset is organized into different genres. There are even special categories for voice overs and special effects. And the interface is so easy, I found, that even a novice can figure it out without too much problems.
Bottom-line, this plugin is an absolute steal. You get several vocal specialized plugins in one module, for a fraction of the cost. It's easy to use, powerful, has a bunch of all-in one features, isn't a resource hog, and you can get professional results even if you're semi-pro and high-level enthusiast. If you work with a lot of vocals and looking for the best vocal VST, the iZotope Nectar 2 is your go-to option.
iZotope Nectar 2 Specifications
- Type: Vocal Processing
- Bit depth: 64-bit
- Format: AAX, VST, AU, RTAS/AS
- Platform: Mac, PC
- Mac Requirements: OS X 10.9 or later, Intel Multicore Processor
- PC Requirements: Windows 7 SP1 or later, Multicore Processor
15 - Antares Auto-Tune 8
Antares Auto-Tune is the most famous pitching 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 orginal 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.
Antares Auto-Tune 8 Specifications
- Type: Pitch Correction
- Bit depth: 32-bit, 64-bit
- Format: AAX Native, VST, AU
- Platform: Mac, PC
- Mac Requirements: OS X 10.6.8 or Later, Intel Processor, 4GB RAM minimum
- PC Requirements: Windows 7 SP1 or later, Multicore processor, 4GB RAM minimum
16 - iZotope Ozone 8
iZotope Ozone 8 (Standard version and Advanced version) is the ultimate mastering suite plugin. Those who have used Ozone plugins over the years (including me) first fell in love with its ease of use, interface, and the ability it has to turn mixes into polished works of art ready for commercial iTunes and Spotify releases. It is a beast, and it covers every base, as there are presets for each genre, which will automatically set mastering controls at the desired setting.
But if that wasn't enough, the new version of iZotope Ozone 8 will analyze your song and initiate its settings based on CD, Streaming, or Reference mode. All you need to do, then, is just tweak it until you get what you want. It's almost like mastering on autopilot -- but like a self-parking Bentley, your hands are still at the wheel and foot on the break. This makes this plugin not only great for self-reliant music producers who master their own tracks for complete control over every creative process of their music production, but makes the job easier and much, much faster for veteran mastering engineers.
Furthermore, to add even more impressive weight, you can choose a professionally mastered track that has been released, preferably one similar to the genre you want to master, and have Ozone analyze the track to create a master of your song that is similar sonically within seconds. Ozone will analyze audio files over several properties. This includes tonal balance, low-end compression, and overall loudness, including perceived loudness.
The software itself can run either as an app where you can load your songs into it, or as a plugin for your DAW to work on your tracks. When inside your DAW, it can run in individual mode, meaning you can run it as an EQ, compressor, etc. Or, you can run it as the full mastering workstation for your master channel, where each module can be controlled within the plugin itself.
Additional features include the ability to:
- Communicate with Neutron 2 Advanced (sold separately) using the Tonal Balance Control plug-in for a seamless mixing and mastering workflow
- Quickly A/B track references right from any instance of Ozone or in its standalone application
- Tame problematic and harsh frequencies with the new Spectral Shaper module
- Have deeper control in Ozone’s Maximizer with new low-latency IRC mode, Transient/Sustain, Stereo Independence, and Learn Threshold
- Apply any saturation mode (Warm, Retro, Tape, Tube, Triode, or Dual Triode) to any individual frequency band in the Exciter
Bottom-line, if you are a self-reliant music producer who wants control over your mastering process, but don't want to spend the ridiculous amounts of time and experience (and money) it takes to learn how to crunch out professional records, the Ozone 8 is a definite must have plugin. It is also for mastering engineers who want to save time and increase workflow (and cashflow) because it makes the process faster, and easier. The beautiful interface is also easy to get around. Definitely one of the best professional VST plugins around.
iZotope Ozone 8 Specifications
- Type: Mastering Suite
- Bit depth: 64-bit
- Format: Standalone, AAX, VST 2, VST 3, AU, RTAS
- Platform: Mac, PC
- Mac Requirements: Mac OS X 10.9 or later, Intel Core i7 or higher, 8GB RAM or more recommended
- PC Requirements: Windows 7 SP1 or later, Intel Core i7 or higher, 8GB RAM or more recommended
17 - 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 keys, 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.
iZotope Stutter Edit Specifications
- Type: Stutter Effects
- Bit depth: 32-bit/64-bit
- Format: AAX 64, RTAS, VST, VST3, AU
- Platform: Mac, PC
- Mac Requirements: OS X 10.6.8 or later, Intel Processor, 4GB RAM minimum
- PC Requirements: Windows 7 or later, Multicore Processor, 4GB RAM minimum
18 - Softube Tube-Tech Classic Channel
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.
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 into 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.
Softube Tube-Tech Classic Channel Specifications
- Type: EQ and Compression channel strip
- Bit depth: 64-bit
- Format: AAX DSP, AAX Native, VST, VST3, AU
- Platform: Mac, PC
- Mac Requirements: Mac OS X 10.9 or later, Intel Core 2 Duo or higher, 2GB RAM minimum
- PC Requirements: Windows 7 SP1 or later, Intel Core 2 Duo/AMD Athlon 64 X2 or higher, 2GB RAM minimum
19 - 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 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.
AmpliTube MAX Specifications
- Type: Guitar/Bass Amp and Effects modeling
- Bit depth: 64-bit
- Format: Audio Units, VST 2, VST 3, AAX
- Platform: Mac, PC
- Mac Requirements: Mac OS X 10.7 or later, Intel Core 2 Duo or higher, 4GB RAM
- PC Requirements: Windows 7 or later, Intel Core 2 Duo/AMD Athlon 64 X2 or higher, 4GB RAM recommended, ASIO compatible sound card
20 - 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. I've heard electronic music productions using LexConsertHall having a sense of space that paints the atmosphere of rooms 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.
Lexicon PCM Specifications
- Type: Reverb Bundle
- Bit depth: 32-bit, 64-bit
- Format: AAX Native, RTAS, VST, AU
- Platform: Mac, PC
- Mac Requirements: OS X 10.9 or later, Intel processor, 2GB RAM or more recommended
- PC Requirements: Windows 7 SP1 or later, 2GHz processor or higher, 2GB RAM or more recommended
VST Buyer's Guide
Since I made this guide 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. I've selected of each type of plugin in essential categories and sub categories for you to choose from. There will be no need, then, to second guess the options presented here.
Secondly, for the uninitiated, or the beginner, I'd like 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. Most of them are already on mine.
So, with that said, let's begin the guide, shall we? 🙂
VST Plugin Basics - What is VST?
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.
That's about it, really.
The VST was created and standardized by the people over at Steinberg (the creators of Cubase DAW). Since then, it's proliferated to a staggering amount of VSTs available on the market from different vendors (makers).
Why Use a VST Plugin?
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.
EQ and compression, these are the basic requirements. 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 aroom.
All of these effects were analog hardware devices that would literally be "plugged in" to your mixing console. Hence the term "plugin." 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 living 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.
Different types of plugins
There are two main category of plugins: Virtual instruments, and Effects processors. I cover 10 of each in this guide down below (totaling 20 best professional VST plugins).
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).
I 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 on this list. 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:
- a large hard drive for your sound libraries
- enough RAM to play those libraries seamlessly
- and a decent processor speed to power the plugin
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.
#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 I came to these results
This is the result of hours and weeks of combing through the internet. I searched through forums on Gearslutz.com, Reddit's r/WeAreTheMusicMakers thread, product reviews, and buyer reviews from pro audio owners. I 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, I'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. I am 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.
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, I know for certain that choosing the best professional VST can take a very long time. Even though I've been in music production for a few years, and have accrued my own collection that I like to work with, researching and compiling this list actually took longer than I expected. Mainly it came to sorting out what did what better, and for what reason. I even learned few things myself.
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 I'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 my post on best equipment for home studio.