The Ultimate Audio Plugin Buyer’s Guide 2021


So you’re wondering which audio plugin(s) you should buy, rent or otherwise try out. In this comprehensive buyer’s guide, we’ll go through everything worth considering before you make any decisions about an audio plugin.

If you’ve found yourself asking, “which audio plugin(s) should I buy?” this extensive resource is for you.

Please feel free to jump around this article and read all additional resources I have provided links to.

With that, let’s get into this comprehensive audio plugin buyer’s guide to help you in your next plugin(s) purchase!

Related articles:
Top 11 Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World
Audio Plugins Database
Audio Plugins Brands Database


Table Of Contents


What Is Your Audio Plugin Budget?

The first thing to consider when making any purchase is your budget. Money can be a touchy subject for some, and so I’ll keep this section brief.

I would never advise anyone to overspend on any audio equipment. Know what you can realistically afford, and do your best to stay within those limitations, whatever they may be.

Audio plugins, like many audio devices, range significantly in price. The market is rather large, and so there should be a good selection for any budget. Some plugins are even free, and most digital audio workstations have stock plugins for all the necessary audio processes.

Note that some retailers offer payment plans, which could be an option. Many audio plugin companies have bundles that could save you significant cash over purchasing each plugin individually. Other plugin companies offer subscription models.

Consider the cost to benefit ratio of the purchase of the audio plugin(s). For example, if the plugin(s) are needed for business, perhaps stretching the budget is more appropriate. If, on the other hand, you don’t plan on making money with the plugin(s), perhaps a more conservative budget is appropriate.

Also, consider any additional accessories or upkeep that may be required for your audio plugins.

Only you can determine your budget. All I’m here to say is that you should consider it.

Related My New Microphone articles:
Top 7 Best Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) On The Market
Full List: Audio Effects & Processes For Mixing/Production

Back to the Table Of Contents.


System Requirements Of The Audio Plugin

Audio plugins are software, and software has system requirements. These requirements represent the minimum specifications a computer must have in order for the plugins to work.

Audio plugin system requirements include:

Audio Plugin Operating System Requirements

A computer’s operating system manages its memory and processes along with all of its software and hardware. The OS must be compatible with and powerful enough to run the audio plugin and the digital audio workstation (if applicable) that the plugin is used with.

The most popular operating systems are Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS. Note that these operating systems are updated on a regular basis. When considering a plugin, be sure to check both the compatible operating systems and the minimum/maximum version of the OS.

Audio Plugin CPU Requirements

A computer’s central processing unit (CPU) performs calculations, actions and runs programs within the computer’s operating system. It’s regularly referred to as the “brains of the computer”.

The CPU, physically speaking, is generally a square chip in the motherboard of the computer/device. It takes instructional inputs from RAM (random access memory), decodes and processes the action, and delivers an output.

The bit-depth of a computer’s CPU refers to how much data the computer can process.

Today, computers are generally either 32-bit or 64-bit. 32-bit computers can access 232 bytes (units of digital information) of RAM, while 64-bit computers can access 264 bytes of RAM.

64-bit computers are faster, have better graphics, and are more secure. Additionally, some audio plugins will only work on 64-bit systems. Know your computer’s bit-depth and CPU specifications, and ensure the plugins’ system requirements are compatible with your computer.

Sometimes plugin developers with offer 32-bit and 64-bit versions of their plugins. Be sure to use the proper version.

Audio Plugin Supported Hosts/DAWs Requirements

There are numerous digital audio workstations on the market. DAWs also have system requirements in regard to computers and operating systems. Furthermore, an audio plugin must be compatible with a DAW to function properly within that DAW.

Make sure the plugins you plan on buying are compatible with your digital audio workstation of choice and, more specifically, the version of your preferred DAW.

Audio Plugin RAM Requirements

Random access memory (RAM) provides applications with a place to store and access data on a short-term basis. It stores the information the computer is actively using so it can be accessed quickly.

An audio plugin can be thought of as an application inside an application (the DAW). When processing digital audio, a computer must have adequate RAM. If it doesn’t, the performance will be sluggish, causing latency, overloading and errors in the plugin and DAW.

Audio Plugin Storage Space Requirements

Storing audio plugin software takes up space on the computer hard drive. Plugin developers generally give a minimum space requirement for installing and holding the plugin on the hard drive.

Audio Plugin Screen Resolution Requirements

Audio plugins don’t only process audio. They also have graphic user interfaces. Therefore, there should be a minimum specification for screen resolution for the plugin to be visible on the computer screen.

Audio Plugin Hardware Requirements

Sometimes audio plugins are designed as software expansions for specific audio hardware.

Back to the Table Of Contents.


Consider The Freebies

This may seem odd for a “buyers’ guide,” but consider the freeware option when looking for your next plugin.

There are plenty of free audio plugins available for download. Some of these plugins perform just as well or even better than paid options.

Why spend money if you don’t have to?

The stock plugins in your digital audio workstation should also be tested before opting for paid-for plugins. Though these plugins aren’t technically “free” (unless your DAW is also free), they should be considered.

If you do happen to have your eye on a paid plugin, see if you can try a demo version before you buy. Oftentimes there will be a demo with limited functionality or time usage. Demos should give you enough experience with the user interface and “character” of the plugin to make an informed decision on purchasing it or not.

Of course, I do not condone pirating/stealing software. That’s not what I mean by free!

Back to the Table Of Contents.


Consider Plugin Bundles

Many plugin developers offer bundles of their plugins at a discounted price. Rather than buying each plugin individually, we can save by buying a larger quantity.

Sometimes we only need a single plugin, which is fine. If we need several plugins, it may be worth opting for a bundle and receiving the plugins we need and even some we may not need (at this very moment).

Of course, there’s an argument to make about having too many options. Buying bundles may give us too many plugins, which may waste our time as we audition them.

Similar to bundles, some developers have switched to a subscription model, whereby a monthly fee is paid for access to a certain amount of the brand’s plugins or even all its plugins.

Plugins and plugin bundles sometimes go on sale. If you’re interested in a more expensive bundle or individual plugin, it may be worth waiting for the software to go on sale.

Back to the Table Of Contents.


Audio Plugin Formats

Beyond the standard system requirements, audio plugins also come in a variety of formats to be compatible with different digital audio workstations (host software). These formats can be thought of as interfaces between the plugins and the DAWs they’re plugged into.

In this section, we’ll discuss the different audio plugin formats we tend to see on audio plugin datasheets. Let’s list out the sub-topics:

Note that many plugins will come in a variety of these formats in order to accommodate the most digital audio workstations and computer operating systems possible. Still, it’s important to know the differences between the formats.

Native Vs. DSP-Powered

Native plugins are processed by the computer’s CPU. DSP plugins are processed on dedicated hardware (a separate interface or accelerator card) connected to the computer.

Native and DSP plugins aren’t necessarily formats, but they are processed differently. DSP plugins free up your computer’s processing power, thereby reducing latency. The catch is that you’ll need additional software.

Native and DSP plugins can be used together in a DAW.

These plugins will also have to fit into one of the following audio plugin formats for compatibility with the various DAWs/hosts on the market.

VST (Virtual Studio Technology)

VST was originally developed by Steinberg and is the most widespread format. If you’re using Windows, chances are your DAW will support VST/VST2 plugins (Pro Tools does not). VST/VST2 is also designed for Mac, though it’s less popular on Mac OS DAWs.

VST3 (Virtual Studio Technology: Version 3)

VST3 is the newest Steinberg plugin format and is a completely separate format from VST/VST2. VST3 is more powerful than VST/VST2, allowing for increased functionality among its plugins. It is available on Windows and Mac and is becoming more and more widespread.

AAX (Avid Audio eXtension)

AAX (Avid Audio eXtension) is Avid’s proprietary format, used exclusively to interface plugins with Pro Tools. Like Pro Tools, AAX is available on Windows and Mac.

AU (AudioUnits)

AU is a format designed by Apple and is used with Apple’s host software, notably Logic Pro and GarageBand.

RTAS (Real-Time Audio Suite)

RTAS is a plug-in format developed by Digidesign, which is now Avid. This is the old format for Pro Tools.

TDM (Time Division Multiplexing)

The TDM plugin format is another format developed by Avid. This one is designed for outboard hardware DSP processors integrated with Pro Tools.

A Note On Standalone Applications

Some plugin developers offer standalone versions of their plugins. Technically these aren’t plugins but rather standalone applications in their own right. This is popular with guitar amp simulation plugins but is more common with virtual instruments than “regular” plugins.

Back to the Table Of Contents.


Understanding Audio Plugin Effects

Understanding the typical audio effects and processes will give us a better idea of what various audio plugins will do. Oftentimes an audio plugin will be designed to provide one or more of these effects/processes:

Dynamic Effects

Dynamic effects audio plugins alter the dynamics of an audio signal (the changes in amplitude over time).

By altering the signal’s amplitude, dynamic effects will also alter the shape of the signal waveform, which is, by definition, signal distortion.

Let’s consider the various dynamic effects (I’ll include links to in-depth articles when applicable):

Compression

What is audio compression? Dynamic range compression is the process of reducing the dynamic range of an audio signal by attenuating the amplitude of the signal above a set threshold. A compressor can be software or hardware and performs compression on an audio signal (digital or analog).

Related articles:
Top 11 Best Digital Compressor Plugins For Your DAW
The Complete Guide To Audio Compression & Compressors
Feedback Vs. Feed-Forward Dynamic Range Compressors In Audio
What Is A Pulse Width Modulation Compressor & How Does It Work?
What Is A Diode Bridge Compressor & How Does It Work?
Peak Vs. RMS Dynamic Range Compressors In Audio
What Is Upward Dynamic Range Compression In Audio?

There are various styles of compression worth considering when opting for a compressor plugin:

FET compressor: A FET compressor is an analog compressor that utilizes a field-effect transistor at the core of the circuit. These compressors are fast-acting and offer greater transient preservation than other types of compressors. FET compressor plugins emulate this style of compression.

Multiband compression: Multiband dynamic range compression is a type of processing that splits the frequency spectrum of the input signal into different bands and compresses (reduces the dynamic range) of each band by its own unique compression settings.

Optical compressor: An optical compressor is an analog compressor that uses a light element and optical cell to alter the dynamics of an audio signal. As the amplitude of the audio signal increases, the light element emits more light and causes the optical cell to attenuate the amplitude of the output signal. Optical compressor plugins emulate this style of compression.

Parallel/Manhattan compression: Parallel compression (also known as New York or Manhattan compression) is a technique where one audio track (or several) is sent to a bus, and that bus is heavily compressed. Both versions of the audio are then mixed together to achieve a punchy sound without losing the dynamic of the dry signal(s).

Sidechain compression: Sidechain compression is a compression style/technique where the compressor acts to compress/attenuate an input signal/track according to the control of a separate signal/track (external sidechain) rather than the typical sidechain signal, which is a modified version of the input audio signal.

Variable-mu compressor: A variable-mu (variable gain) compressor is an analog compressor centred around a vacuum tube. As the input signal increases, the current sent to the tube’s grid decreases, reducing the overall level. Variable-mu compressor plugins emulate this style of compression.

VCA compressor: A VCA (voltage-controlled amplifier) compressor is an analog compressor that utilizes a VCA control to apply compression. The input signal is split through an integrated circuit into a detector path (to control the VCA compression) and an output path. VCA compressor plugins emulate this style of compression.

De-Esser

What is an audio de-esser? De-essing is the process of attenuating sibilance and/or harshness in a vocal/voice audio signal. This can be achieved using a dynamic EQ, multi-band compressor, sidechain compressor with automation in a mix, or manually.

Distortion

What is audio distortion? Audio distortion, technically speaking, is any change/deformation in an output waveform relative to its input causes by any non-linear behaviour of the signal path. There are many different types of distortion. Some are unwanted, but many are used as audio effects.

There are various styles of distortion worth considering when opting for a distortion-type plugin:

Bitcrushing: Bitcrushing is an audio distortion effect that causes distortion by reducing the resolution (bit depth) or bandwidth (sample rate) of a digital audio signal. Reducing the resolution and/or bandwidth makes the digital signal less accurate with more quantization noise and distortion.

Clipping: Clipping is a form of distortion where the waveform’s amplitude tries to exceed the maximum possible amplitude and is thereby “clipped” at its max. This is possible in analog amplifiers (both tube/valve and solid-state/transistor-based) and digital signal processing.

Distortion: The “distortion” effect in audio is produced by hard-clipping the input signal through transistor-based or tube-based circuits. Distortion is the most common on electric guitars but also suits many other instruments.

Fuzz: The Fuzz effect is caused by hard-clipping a signal so much that it nearly turns into a square wave. It’s perhaps the most extreme example of distortion as an audio effect and completely changes the sound of the audio signal.

Overdrive: Overdrive is a distortion effect that is caused by (or aims to emulate) pushing a tube amplifier just past its amplitude limits. The signal is compressed and “soft-clipped,” resulting in warm saturation in the signal. Overdrive plugins emulate this effect.

Tape saturation: Tape saturation is a type of distortion that happens when the voltage sent to an analog tape exceeds the tape’s ability to record it. In playback, this causes a non-linear saturation of the original source. Tape saturation plugins emulate this effect.

Tube saturation: Tube saturation is a type of distortion that happens when a valve (vacuum tube) amplifier is overloaded at its output. If the amplification attempts to exceed the tube’s maximum output, clipping distortion/saturation will occur in which the output becomes distorted. Valve saturation plugins emulate this effect.

Exciter

What is an audio exciter? An audio/aural exciter is a type of parallel saturation/filter combo effect. A signal is saturated only in the top-end (often above 3 kHz) to enhance or “excite” the sound. Think of it as duplicating the signal, high-passing and saturating the copy and mixing the two back together.

Expanding

What is audio expanding? Expanding can be thought of as the opposite of compression. It aims to increase the dynamic range of the signal. An expander will reduce the signal’s amplitude if it drops below the set threshold, thereby “expanding” the signal’s dynamic range.

Limiting

What is audio limiting? Limiting is a type of hard compression whereby the signal is not allowed above a certain threshold. Rather than attenuating the signal (above the threshold) by a ratio, the limiter will simply cut off the signal at the threshold. We can think of a limiter as a compressor with an infinite ratio.

Noise Gating

What is audio noise gating? Noise gating is an effect that kills the output signal if the input signal drops below a set threshold. This helps to gate or remove noise from the signal when an instrument (or another sound source) is not playing.

Transient Shaper

What is an audio transient shaper? A transient shaper is a dedicated envelope control for manipulating the attack (and often the decay and release) of individual transients in an audio signal. These transients are typically percussive hits or notes. Transient shapers can either harden or soften the transient attacks within a signal.

Time-Based Effects

Time-based effects include all processes where some form of time manipulation occurs to the signal. The most obvious examples of time-based effects are delay and reverb.

Let’s consider the various time-based effects (I’ll include links to in-depth articles when applicable):

Delay

What is the delay effect in terms of audio? Delay is a time-based effect where an input signal is recorded for a relatively short amount of time and is played back after a set period of time after the initial recording. There are many ways to achieve delay and different styles/types of the effect.

There are various styles of delay worth considering when opting for a delay plugin:

Analog (BBD) delay: Analog delay is a delay effect that utilizes bucket-brigade devices (BBDs). The BBD is a network of capacitors connected in cascade that, when controlled by a clock, will effectively delay the signal by a set time. The quality of each delay is degraded, giving a warm sound. Analog delay plugins emulate this effect.

Digital delay: Digital delay is a delay effect that utilizes digital signal processing to record an incoming signal and playback a delayed version of the signal. Parameters such as delay time, level, panning and feedback can be adjusted. Digital delay can also act to emulate/combine different types of delay.

Doubling effect: The doubling echo effect is a short single delay that mimics the effect of double-tracking or unison performance.

Reverse delay: Reverse delay is a type of delay where the delayed signal information is processed to reverse the audio before it is outputted. Reverse delay effect will have inherent lag as reversing a signal cannot be done in real-time during playback.

Shimmer delay: Shimmer delay is a type of delay where the delayed signal is pitch-shifted upward (typically be an octave) to give a direct signal with a “shimmering” delay tail.

Tape delay: Tape delay is a delay effect achieved by routing the audio signal to a second tape recorder. The audio would be fed to the secondary tape’s record head and be played back just milliseconds later on the playback head. This delayed playback signal would be sent back to the main recording.

Reverb

What is the reverb effect in terms of audio? The reverb effect recreates the natural effect of Reverberation, which happens when a sound wave hits a surface (or multiple surfaces). It reflects back to the listener at varying times and amplitudes. This creates a complex echo that holds information about the physical space.

Reverb plugins emulate the various styles of reverb. Let’s consider these various reverb types:

Acoustic emulation reverb: Acoustic emulation reverb is a digital reverb effect that aims to emulate the reverb of a physical space. Common acoustic emulation reverb types include room, chamber, hall, and cathedral reverbs.

Bloom reverb: Bloom reverb is an unnatural digital reverb that “blooms” into effect as the reverb evolves. It has very quiet initial reflections that continuously increase in amplitude until a certain point where the reverb tail is kicked in.

Convolution reverb: Convolution reverb is achievable by recording a physical acoustic space, sampling it and analyzing it thoroughly. Profiles are made for the initial reflections, decay time and frequency damping. An algorithm is then created to simulate that physical space.

Plate reverb: Plate reverb emulates the sound of reverb by vibrating a plate and recording the results. An input transducer vibrates the plate (converts an audio signal into vibrations). As the plate vibrates, an output transducer will convert these vibration to audio.

Shimmer reverb: Shimmer reverb combines pitch-shifting with reverb. The wet/effected reverb signal is pitched up (typically by an octave) relative to the dry/direct signal.

Spring reverb: Spring reverb emulates the sound of reverb by vibrating a spring and recording the results. An input transducer vibrates one end of the spring (converts an audio signal into vibrations). The other end of the spring connects to an output transducer (converts the spring vibrations into audio).

Spectral Effects

Spectral effects refer to the frequency spectrum of audio and, sometimes, to the panoramic spectrum of an audio mix.

These audio plugins alter the frequency information of the audio by shifting pitch, filtering, and imaging.

Let’s consider the various spectral effects (I’ll include links to in-depth articles when applicable):

Equalization

What is audio equalization? Audio equalization (EQ) is the process of altering the amplitude of certain frequencies/frequency bands in an audio signal. This includes filtering out sound below or above a certain cut-off frequency (high-pass and low-pass filtering, respectively). It also refers to shelving, notching, boosting and cutting frequencies.

Related articles:
Top 11 Best Digital Equalizer/EQ Plugins For Your DAW
• Top 8 Best Passive EQ Emulation Plugins For Your DAW
Complete Guide To Audio Equalization & EQ Hardware/Software
What Is Stereo Equalization/EQ In Audio & How Does It Work?
What Is Mid-Side Equalization/EQ (Audio) & How Does It Work?
The Complete Guide To Passive Equalization/EQ

There are various styles of compression worth considering when opting for a compressor plugin:

Dynamic EQ: Dynamic EQ is a type of equalization where the EQ of certain frequencies is triggered dynamically as those frequencies surpass a set amplitude threshold in the audio signal. Dynamic EQ, like a compressor, will have threshold, attack and release settings to alter the EQ of a signal dynamically.

Graphic EQ: Graphic equalization is a style of EQ where predetermined bands, centred around set frequencies with set Q values, can be either boosted or cut. The name comes from the fact that the EQ settings of a graphic EQ unit typically look very obvious and “graphic”.

Linear phase EQ: A linear phase EQ is a type of equalization that does not alter the phase relationship of the source. There is no phase shift, and, therefore, the phase is “linear”. Achieving linear phase is not possible with analog circuits and has been made possible with computer coding.

Parametric EQ: Parametric EQ offers full customization of the frequency bands, including the choice of filter type, centre frequency, Q value and relative gain (boost/cut).

Pitch correction: Pitch correction is the process of identifying and altering the intonation of an audio signal in order to alter the pitch of notes without (ideally) altering any other aspects of the sound.

Pitch shifting: Pitch-shifting, as the name suggests, is any audio effect that shifts the input signal’s pitch.

Semi-parametric EQ: Semi-parametric EQ offers some, but not all, of the customization of a parametric EQ. The customization of the frequency bands could include the choice of filter type, centre frequency, Q value, and relative gain (boost/cut).

Envelope Filter

What is envelope filtering? Envelope filtering is the filtering triggered by the envelope or transients of a signal. These filters, therefore, act according to the dynamic rise and fall of a signal and are most often used on bass, guitar and synthesizer instruments.

Imaging

What is stereo imaging? Imaging, as an audio production technique, is any effect that involves the perceived spatial location of the sound source(s) in a mix, both laterally (stereo/surround direction) and in depth. Panning, level, time-based effects, recording position and mic techniques all play a role in imaging.

Wah

What is wah-wah? Wah (or Wah-Wah) is a common filtering effect on guitars and keyboard instruments. Wah is achieved by sweeping one or more boosts in EQ up and down in frequency, thereby mimicking the human vowel sound of “wah”.

Modulation Effects

Modulation effects modify the source audio signal with another signal (generally an oscillator) and are generally used to give the sound a sense of movement. Plenty of effects fall into the modulation category, ranging from the weird-and-whacky ring modulation to the lush and wide chorus effect.

Let’s consider the various modulation effects (I’ll include links to in-depth articles when applicable):

Chorus: Chorus is an effect that produces copies of a signal (the original signal and each of its copies has its own “voice”) and detunes each voice to produce a widening and thickening of the sound. Each voice interacts with the other voices to produce slight modulation and an overall larger-than-life sound.

Flanger: Flanger is a modulation audio effect whereby a signal is duplicated, and the phase of one copy is continuously being shifted. This changing phase causes a sweeping comb filter effect where peaks and notches are produced in the frequency spectrum or the signal’s EQ.

Phaser: Phaser is a modulation audio effect whereby a series of peaks and troughs are produced across the frequency spectrum of the signal’s EQ. These peaks and troughs vary over time, typically controlled by an LFO (low-frequency oscillator), to create a sweeping effect known as phaser.

Ring modulation: Ring modulation is an amplitude modulation effect where two signals (an input/modulator signal and a carrier signal) are summed together to create two brand new frequencies, which are the sum and difference of the input and carrier signals. The carrier is typically a simple wave selected by the effects unit, while the modulator signal is the input signal.

Tremolo: Tremolo is a fast variation in amplitude. Tremolo is similar to vibrato, except that it acts on amplitude/level rather than pitch.

Vibrato: Vibrato is a fast but slight up-and-down variation in pitch. Vibrato is used in signing and in instruments to add character and improve tone.

Back to the Table Of Contents.


Amplifier & Speaker Modelling Plugins

Amplifier and speaker modelling plugins are designed to emulate the sound of instrument amplifiers and speaker cabinets. They also typically emulate various microphones and mic positions in front of the cabinet. Some even emulate the sound of the room.

These plugins often have a variety of virtual effects units as well, providing a full suite of guitar, bass, and other instrument signal flows.

For more information on these plugins, check out My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Guitar Amp Simulator Plugins For Your DAW.

Back to the Table Of Contents.


Audio Plugins That Emulate Hardware

Many audio plugins are designed to emulate classic and popular hardware audio units. From classic channel strips, mic preamps, EQs and compressors to hardware flangers, phasers, choruses, delays, reverbs, and more, there are audio plugins emulations out there.

Though hardware channel strips are commonly emulated with audio plugins, there are also original channel strip plugins. To learn more, check out My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Channel Strip Plugins For Your DAW.

Back to the Table Of Contents.


Noise Reduction Plugins

Noise reduction plugins are designed to reduce or eliminate noise (pops, clicks, electromagnetic interference, mechanical noise, etc.) from a digital audio signal while having a little effect on the timbre of the audio as possible.

For more information on these plugins, check out My New Microphone’s Top 7 Best Noise Reduction Plugins For Your DAW.

Back to the Table Of Contents.


Microphone Modelling Plugins

Microphone modelling plugins are used in conjunction with special modelling microphones. The plugin processes the microphone signal and emulates the sonic character of classic and popular microphones.

Back to the Table Of Contents.


Virtual Monitoring Plugins

Virtual monitoring plugins aim to emulate physical listening environments for headphone and studio monitor playback. Typically these plugins will work with headphones and deliver virtual listening environments such as treated control rooms.

Back to the Table Of Contents.


Common Signal Chains For Audio Plugins

Now that we’ve gone over the different types of audio plugins, let’s consider what plugins we’d likely need for specific applications. More specifically, we’ll look at generic processes/effects for typical signal flow chains.

In this section, we’ll generalize the following:

Vocal Signal Chains

  • Microphone Modeller: if you choose to use a modelling microphone, it will come with its own plugin to mimic the character of whatever mic is selected. These plugins aren’t overly common.
  • Compressor: compressing the vocal will help fatten it up and make it sit more upfront in the mix (if done tastefully).
  • EQ: EQ will help us reduce/remove unwanted resonances and noise in the signal while bringing out the important frequencies in the vocal (if done tastefully).
  • De-Esser: de-essers are a special type of multi-band compressor that act to reduce sibilance in the vocal.
  • Saturation: saturation is a useful audio plugin effect to help combat the clinical sound of digital audio. It’s essentially distortion than produces warm harmonics in the signal, reminiscent of analog audio.
  • Delay: delay helps thicken the vocal and gives it a sense of space in the mix.
  • Reverb: reverb gives the vocal even more space in the mix.

Guitar Signal Chains

  • Amplifier & Speaker Modelling: amp and speaker modelling plugins are designed to reproduce the sound of miking a guitar cabinet. Different plugins will offer different amps, speakers and effects.
  • Compressor: compressors help sustain notes, fatten tone, and make the guitar sit better in the mix.
  • EQ: EQ helps rid of resonance, noise, and frequencies we don’t want, while bringing our the frequcnies we do want.
  • Saturation: saturation brings out the sonic character of the guitar’s harmonic content and provides “warmth”.
  • Modulation: modulation is a popular effect for guitar but isn’t always necessary or wanted. Think of chorus, vibrato, flanger, phaser, tremolo, ring modulation, etc.
  • Delay: delay gives the guitar a sense of space and can be used to great effect.
  • Reverb: reverb gives the guitar a sense of space and can be used to great effect.

Mastering Signal Chains

  • Compressor: compression helps glue the mix together at the master.
  • Multi-band Compressor: multi-band compression will compress certain bands more than others and reduce pumping, while also gluing the mix together.
  • EQ: subtle EQ can really make a master shine.
  • Limiter: hard but subtle limiting at the end of a master chain ensures the final master output does not exceed 0 dBFS (decibels Full Scale), which would cause digital clipping.

Effects Bus Signal Chains

Multiple tracks can be routed to a bus, which can then be sent through an effects chain of plugins. EQ and compression are commonplace in this situation, as always.

Sidechain compression of busses is popular in electronic music.

Inserting a delay and/or reverb plugin on a bus will bring multiple tracks into the same “sonic space”.

Any time you want the same effects chain on multiple instruments, an effects bus is the way to go!

Instrument Bus Signal Chains

Instruments can benefit from all sorts of effects and processes. There are no hard rules for instrument bus signal chains, though compression and EQ are popular. Saturation and time-based effects are also common. Modulation, pitch-shifting, spectral effects, and more can be used to varying effects.

Back to the Table Of Contents.


Best Audio Plugins By Type

Below is a list of My New Microphone articles regarding the best audio plugins by type:
Top 11 Best Distortion Plugins For Your DAW
Top 11 Best Saturation Plugins For Your DAW
Top 11 Best Digital Equalizer/EQ Plugins For Your DAW
Top 10 Best Digital Parametric EQ Plugins For Your DAW
Top 10 Best Dynamic EQ Plugins For Your DAW
Top 8 Best Graphic EQ Plugins For Your DAW
Top 10 Best Linear Phase EQ Plugins For Your DAW
Top 10 Best Parametric EQ Emulation Plugins For DAWs
Top 8 Best Passive EQ Emulation Plugins For Your DAW
Top 11 Best Digital Compressor Plugins For Your DAW
Top 11 Best FET Compressor Emulation Plugins For Your DAW
Top 10 Best Optical Compressor Emulation Plugins
Top 10 Best Multiband Compressor Plugins For Your DAW
Top 11 Best Variable-Mu Compressor Emulation Plugins
Top 11 Best VCA Compressor Emulation Plugins For Your DAW
Top 10 Best Limiter Plugins For Your DAW
Top 11 Best Channel Strip Plugins For Your DAW
Top 11 Best Chorus Modulation Plugins For Your DAW
Top 9 Best Flanger Modulation Plugins For Your DAW
Top 9 Best Phaser Modulation Plugins For Your DAW
Top 11 Best Tremolo Modulation Plugins For Your DAW
Top 10 Best Analog Delay Emulation Plugins For Your DAW
Top 10 Best Digital Delay Plugins For Your DAW
Top 10 Best Tape Delay Emulation Plugins For Your DAW
Top 12 Best Reverb Plugins (Spring, Plate, Algorithmic, Convolution)
Top 9 Best Stereo Imaging Plugins For Your DAW
Top 11 Best Guitar Amp Simulator Plugins For Your DAW
Top 7 Best Noise Reduction Plugins For Your DAW

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

Recent Posts