We’re currently living in the age of digital audio, and in-the-box mixing within a digital audio workstation is commonplace. Plugins are, therefore, invaluable assets for the modern audio engineer. Channel strips have been an invaluable part of recording studios and signal processing for decades. Today, there are a wide variety of channel strip plugins on the market, and in this article, we’ll be discussing what I believe to be the top 11 best channel strip plugins available.
The top 11 best channel strip plugins for digital audio workstations are:
- Solid State Logic SSL Native Channel Strip
- Softube Solid State Logic XL 9000 K-Series
- Acustica ACQUA Sand3
- Brainworx bx_console 4000 N
- Arturia TridA-Pre
- Waves Scheps Omni
- Eventide UltraChannel
- Softube Summit Audio Grand Channel
- Metric Halo ChannelStrip3
- iZotope Neutron 3
- DDMF The Strip
It should go without saying that any “top X” article is subject to bias. I would expect the next person’s top 11 to be different than mine but hope that there would be plenty of overlap.
That being said, I believe these plugins to be the best channel strip plugin options today. The criteria I used to judge these plugins include the following:
- Sonic performance: how does the channel strip plugin sound subjectively/objectively?
- Graphic user interface (GUI): how does the channel strip plugin look when loaded in the DAW?
- Ease-of-use: how user-friendly is the channel strip plugin?
- Functionality: how many different functions does it serve and/or how many parameters are available for the channel strip effect?
- Accessibility/compatibility: how easy is it to acquire the channel strip plugin, and what are the system requirements?
Let’s discuss each of the top 11 best channel strip plugins in greater detail to learn why they made this list.
Solid State Logic SSL Native Channel Strip
The Solid State Logic SSL Native Channel Strip (link to check the price at Sweetwater) is a channel strip plugin that emulates two of SSL’s most iconic console EQ sections: the E-Series and G-Series.
The Solid State Logic SSL Native Channel Strip is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.
The SSL Native Channel Strip plugin has been developed by the same company that produced the legendary consoles the plugin emulates. For decades, Solid State Logic has been a big name in the world of professional audio and today; they offer a select line of plugins that capture all the legendary character of their highly sought-after consoles and hardware.
There are many other plugins that aim to emulate SSL channel strips, but I’ve decided to include the most accurate in this list. Check out the alternative options in the Other Channel Strip Plugin Options section of this article.
So this plugin offers the legendary tone and features of an SSL console channel strip. The 4-band parametric EQ can be switched between E & G Series characteristics and can even be applied to the dynamics side chain. The Dynamics section offers a separate Compressor and Gate/Expander.
Each of the EQ options features a variable high-pass and low-pass filter, a low and high-shelf filter with a switchable bell-type filter option, and LMF and HMF parametric filters for a total of 6 bands.
To learn more about high-pass, low-pass and shelving filters as well as parametric EQ, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• Audio EQ: What Is A High-Pass Filter & How Do HPFs Work?
• Audio EQ: What Is A Low-Pass Filter & How Do LPFs Work?
• Audio Shelving EQ: What Are Low Shelf & High Shelf Filters?
• The Complete Guide To Parametric Equalization/EQ
The E-Series EQ is a bit more aggressive, while the G-Series has a more restrained and focused character. Both EQ options are stellar choices, allowing for generous amounts of EQ without adding significant phase distortion to the signal.
The compressor section of the SSL Native Channel Strip has a switchable soft and hard knee option for two different flavours of compression. The Compressor and Gate/Expander sections feature fast/slow attack switches, each with independent sidechains. High and low-pass filters can be used to shape the sidechain signal for improved compression and frequency-dependent triggering.
To learn more about compressor knee, attack times and sidechain signals, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• Dynamic Range Compression: What Is The Knee Control?
• Dynamic Range Compression: Attack & Release Controls
• The Complete Guide To Sidechain Compression In Audio
The SSL Native Channel Strip compressor section is based on the exquisite musical VCA designs that have made SLL compressors go-to tools for pro engineers around the world. With natural Ratio, Threshold and Release controls, this compressor offers an effortless setup and outstanding sonic performance.
The other superb dynamic control section of this channel strip is the gate/expander that does an amazing job at smoothly eliminating or reducing signal below a set threshold. This process is perfect for ridding the signal of mic bleed and background noise and sounds remarkably natural in doing so.
To learn more about ratio, threshold and release controls as well as microphone bleed and noise, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• Dynamic Range Compression: What Is The Ratio Control?
• Dynamic Range Compression: What Is The Threshold Control?
• Dynamic Range Compression: Attack & Release Controls
• What Is Microphone Bleed/Spill? (With Methods To Reduce It)
• 15 Ways To Effectively Reduce Microphone Noise
To make this channel strip plugin even more powerful, SSL has designed it with variable process order routing, allowing users to customize the signal flow routing to the desired order.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the SSL Native V6 user manual.
Solid State Logic is featured in My New Microphone articles:
• Top 11 Best Audio Interface Brands In The World
• Top 11 Best DAW Control Surface Brands In The World
• Top 10 Best Live Sound Mixing Board/Console Brands
• Top 13 Best Microphone Preamplifier Brands In The World
• Top 10 Best Studio Recording/Mixing Console Brands
• Top 11 Best Audio Compressor Brands In The World
• Top 11 Best Audio Equalizer Brands In The World
• Top 11 Best Audio Brands For 500 Series Modules/Equipment
Softube Solid State Logic XL 9000 K-Series
The Softube Solid State Logic XL 9000 K-Series (link to check the price at Plugin Boutique) is a plugin emulation of revered SSL XL 9000 K made for Softube’s Console 1 Hardware/Software Mixer (link to check the price at Sweetwater).
The Softube Solid State Logic XL 9000 K-Series is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats. It is also compatible with Softube’s Console 1.
Softube is known for its spectacular plugin emulations of high-end hardware. The company’s Solid State Logic XL 9000 K-Series channel strip plugin exemplifies Softube’s incredible modelling and plugin programming. Developed in collaboration with SSL engineers, this digital recreation is about as close to the wide and smooth sound or the “real deal” as we’ll get.
This channel strip features a beautifully clean, smooth and natural EQ, extended gate and compressor features, and a model of SSL’s Variable Harmonic Drive (VHD) for additional drive and saturation.
The EQ offers 4 parametric bands (Low, Low Mid, High Mid and High). The Low and High bands can be set up as bell, cut or shelving filters, while the 2 mid bands are fully parametric.
The compressor offers continuously adjustable ratio, threshold, attack and release parameters, and parallel control (from 0 to 100%) for easy parallel compression.
The VHD section of the channel strip allows users to dial in the perfect amount of saturation to the signal. From tube to transistor harmonic distortion, this section truly brings the classic analog warmth to the digital audio realm. This is an incredibly useful feature as the original SSL 9000 consoles were, themselves, impeccably clean.
The compressor of the Softube Solid State Logic XL 9000 K-Series can be switched between peak and RMS detection modes, offering additional versatility in the performance of this powerful plugin.
To learn more about peak and RMS compression, check out my article Peak Vs. RMS Dynamic Range Compressors In Audio.
The gate unit of the XL 9000 K’s Shape section is highly adaptable. Employing the Punch and Sustain knobs control, users can quickly and precisely control the range and hold levels of the dynamic gate.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the Solid State Logic XL 9000 K-Series at Softube.
Softube is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
• Top 11 Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World
• Top 11 Best DAW Control Surface Brands In The World
Acustica ACQUA Sand3
The Acustica ACQUA Sand3 (link to check the price at Acustica Audio) is an entire suite of plugins that includes an impressive channel strip. They emulate the sonic behaviour of various high-end SSL consoles.
The Acustica ACQUA Sand3 is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.
This suite is impressively powerful. In addition to the superb channel strip, the Acustica ACQUA Sand3 also includes 5 other plugins. The package comes with the following:
- SAND3 Channel Strip
- SAND3 EQ
- SAND3+G EQ
- SAND3+E EQ
- SAND3 COMP
- SAND 3 PRE
The Channel Strip offers 14 different routings, which are made accessible via a simple 14-step knob at the centre of the plugin interface, making the internal chain of the plugin’s superb components is easily adjustable.
This centre Control section also offers 5 switchable preamps along with input and output level controls and another rotary knob control for parallel compression. Below the Control section is an easy-to-use filter section (in addition to the EQ section) that offers a high-pass and low-pass filter based on one of 3 consoles (A, B or C).
The EQ section features 4 independent bands, two of which are fully parametric (LMF and HMF) and two of which are shelving filters (LF and HF). Each of the bands (like the aforementioned high-pass and low-pass filters) can be selected 1 of 3 as a particular console emulation:
- Console EQ A: 4000G Black Knob
- Console EQ B: 5000 Brown Knob
- Console EQ C: 9000K J
Likewise, the compressor section offers 3 different emulations and features all the typical compressor controls, including makeup gain. The emulations are:
- Comp A: Quad-Bus Comp
- Comp C: Modified components of Comp A to sound a bit more modern
- Comp D: The channel comp on 4000G
To learn more about makeup gain, check out my article Dynamic Range Compression: What Is The Makeup Gain Control?
This channel strip also features multivariable meters for both input and output stages. Metering styles include VU, Peak, True Peak, LUFS, K12, K14, and more.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the ACQUA Sand3 at Acustica Audio.
Brainworx bx_console N
The Brainworx bx_console N (link to check the price at Plugin Alliance) is an emulation of the classic Neve VXS channel strip.
The Brainworx bx_console N is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and is available in AAX DSP, AAX Native, AU, AAX AudioSuite, SoundGrid and VST formats.
This incredibly accurate recreation of the Neve VXS channel strip is made possible with Brainworx’s patented Tolerance Modeling Technology. The distinct analog sound of this beloved yet rare console is now available in the easily accessible bx_console N plugin.
Tolerance Modeling Technology is a big deal. With this method, Brainworx has accurately replicated the naturally occurring variations in the values of over 150 individual electronic components of the original console. The original console had 72 channels, and so the bx_console N offers up 72 TMT variations of the plugin.
Each instance of this plugin will sound slightly different. In the digital world, this is a breath of fresh, analog air. Expect slight differences in the equalization curves, compression times, and frequency and phase responses from instance to instance and a great analog sound.
In each of these instances, the Brainworx bx_console N offers a comprehensive Compressor/Limiter, full-featured Expander/Gate, powerful 4-band EQ, and wide-ranging High Pass and Low Pass filters, just like the original Neve VXS analog mixing console.
In addition to the incredible functionality based on the original hardware, Brainworx has included a few extra features to further improve upon an already impressive design. For example, the Mix knob now allows for quick and easy parallel compression within the plugin itself. The release of the compressor section features its own threshold control, and the sidechain has its own high-pass filter.
The superb 4-band EQ can be put in the signal chain post or pre-compression, and the plugin has comprehensive metering, including a mid-side solo feature.
Other impressive features of the bx_console N include:
- THD (total harmonic distortion) control helps add even more analog warmth to the output of the channel strip
- Gate has continuously variable Hysteresis control that prevents on-off chattering near the gate threshold
- Continuously variable Virtual Gain control adds simulated analog noise to the signal
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the bx_console N user manual.
Brainworx is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World.
The Arturia TridA-Pre (link to check the price at Plugin Boutique) is a plugin emulation of the beloved Trident A Range console channel strip. More specifically, it is a spot-on digital recreation of channel 3 of Flemming Rasmussen’s 1976 Trident A Range console from Sweet Silence North studio in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The Arturia TridA-Pre is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.
Arturia’s TridA-Pre, like the original hardware it emulates, is incredibly musical with a beautiful sonic richness. Only 13 consoles were ever made, though, with the Arturia TridA-Pre plugin, this rare channel strip has been made available to the masses!
Unlike the other plugins on this list, the Arturia TridA-Pre does not include a dynamics section. Rather, this Preamp/EQ combination is spectacular enough to hang with channel strip plugins deemed with considerable functionality advantages.
Arturia’s groundbreaking True Analog Emulation technology brings the character from the golden age of recording to modern DAWs with this user-friendly stereo channel strip plugin. From the GUI to the sonic character, this plugin matches the legendary hardware.
Drive the preamps creatively to achieve harmonically rich analog distortion and program-dependent compression. This is where the iconic tone begins.
Shape this tone further with the stereo EQ. Each channel has 4 bands (high, high-mid, low-mid, and low), each with 4 switchable frequencies. Boost or cut up to ±15 dB independently or link them together. Alternatively, this plugin offers mid-side equalization, a feature unavailable in the original hardware.
To learn more about stereo and mid-side EQ, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• What Is Stereo Equalization/EQ In Audio & How Does It Work?
• What Is Mid-Side Equalization/EQ (Audio) & How Does It Work?
Phase inversion and automatic gain control are two more noteworthy features in this superb plugin.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the TridA-Pre user manual.
Arturia is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
• Top 11 Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World
• Top 11 Best Virtual/Software Instrument Plugin Brands
• Top 11 Best MIDI Controller Brands In The World
• Top 11 Best Synthesizer Brands In The World
Trident is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 10 Best Studio Recording/Mixing Console Brands.
The Trident A Range EQ plugin is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 10 Best Parametric EQ Emulation Plugins For DAWs.
Waves Scheps Omni
The Waves Scheps Omni (link to check the price at Waves Audio) is a flexible 5-module channel strip plugin based on Andrew Schep’s tried and tested processing combinations.
The Waves Scheps Omni is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats. It is also compatible with Waves’ eMotion LV1 live mixing console (link to check the price at Waves).
With the Waves Scheps Omni, we get a mixed bag of superb audio processes, affording us immense functionality and a versatile collection of sonic characteristics. Each of the diverse processors works cohesively together, based on the professional combinations of Andrew Scheps, to provide outstanding results, no matter the genre.
Waves’ Scheps Omni Channel features 6 modules that you can be mixed and matched in whatever signal flow order we see fit:
- Pre (preamp): provides 3 types of analog saturation/harmonic distortion. Includes filters and thump (resonance) controls
- Comp (compressor): features 3 completely different compressors with a wet/dry control for easy parallel compression
- EQ (equalizer): 4-band parametric equalizer
- DS2 (de-esser): de-esser with 2 full-range bands and 4 filter types
- Gate: gating/expansion module with standard controls (threshold, attack and release) and adjustable maximum noise reduction
- Insert: an insert for an additional Waves plugin of your choice, including an extra instance of any of the Scheps Omni Channel modules
This impressive channel strip offers zero-latency performance and fully discrete control over each stereo channel. In fact, each module has independent internal MS/Duo/Stereo routing capabilities for maximal flexibility.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the Scheps Omni user manual.
Waves Audio is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World.
The Eventide UltraChannel (link to check the price at Plugin Boutique) is a channel strip plugin featuring a strip’s worth of legendary Eventide effects.
The Eventide UltraChannel is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.
This high-precision channel strip is an all-in-one industry-benchmark mixing tool for digital audio workstations.
This versatile plugin offer 8 incredible modules. Let’s discuss the functionality of each.
The Input module adjusts the overall input of the signal and offers an invert phase option.
The Gate will mute the signal if it drops below the set threshold. It can be triggered via an external sidechain signal.
The Compressor is a standard compressor with de-essing and sidechain functionality. The O-Pressor, which is derived from the company’s Omnipressor, provides tons of character and remarkably hard compression when dialled in to do so.
The 5-Band Parametric EQ, as the name suggests, offers 5 transparent bands of fully parametric EQ with a variety of filter types to choose from.
Eventide’s Micro Pitch Shift & Stereo Delays module utilizes patented pitch shifting and superior stereo delay spread/panning to produce incredible delay and/or stereo widening.
Finally, the output module controls the ultimate output level of the channel strip plugin. It also contains a model of an analog transformer, which can be driven into wonderful-sounding saturation.
Eventide’s trademarked FlexiPath routing allows processors to be ordered based on desired signal flow for ultimate control and experimentation. Simply drag and drop modules to reorder the signal path. With over 200 presets, getting the best tone could be as simple as finding the right preset or as involved as tweaking every single parameter to your exact liking.
All in all, this highly versatile channel strip sounds amazing and is designed in a user-friendly straightforward manner.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the UltraChannel user manual.
Eventide is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World.
Softube Summit Audio Grand Channel
The Softube Summit Audio Grand Channel (link to check the price at Plugin Boutique) combines the EQF-100 parametric passive equalizer with the TLA-100A compressor in a powerful and flexible channel strip plugin.
TheSoftube Summit Audio Grand Channel is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats. It is also compatible with Softube’s Console 1 Hardware/Software Mixer (link to check the price at Sweetwater).
Softube’s Summit Audio Grand Channel is a highly versatile channel strip that will cover a large part of your mixing needs. This plugin has been carefully modelled to sound precisely like the original analog hardware it aims to emulate, which are, by their own right, a superb channel strip.
The EQ and compressor can be bypassed independently of one another, and the plugin also offers a switch to put EQ before compression or vice versa in the signal chain.
The Grand Channel’s EQF-100 Full Range Equalizer offers a high and low-pass filter along with an incredible 4-band EQ section. From enormous bottom-end to the silkiest top-end and musical mid-range control in between, the equalization of this plugin sound amazing.
The Grand Channel’s TLA-100A Compressor is super easy to use with gain, gain reduction, attack/release and internal/external sidechain controls. The powerful compression of the TLA-100A is distinctly analog and brings even the weakest tracks out in an authoritative way.
In addition to the perfectly modelled EQ and compressor, the Grand Channel offers extra modern controls such as Parallel Compression, Saturation Control and Low Cut Filtering on input or detector.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the Softube user manual.
Metric Halo ChannelStrip3
The Metric Halo ChannelStrip3 (link to check the price at B&H Photo/Video) is an impressive feature-rich channel strip plugin reminiscent of a large console (though not a particular emulation of anything specific) with a great deal of additional functionality.
The Metric Halo ChannelStrip3 is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.
Metric Halo’s ChannelStrip3 is well laid out and notably powerful. It’s as if it gives us a large format analog console channel strip in our DAW, only with modernized features included. It works fantastically on individual tracks as well as mix buses.
At first glance, this plugin may look intimidating. However, its controls all make sense and apply intuitively to the module they belong to. The metering to the right-hand side gives us a superb amount of information and, once we get the hang of the layout, this powerful plugin is actually rather straightforward.
With everything laid out as is, this plugin provides a world-class workflow along with its world-class sonic performance.
The modules of the ChannelStrip3 are all unified in one interface. They include an Expander, Compressor, 6-band EQ, and a limiter with EQ/Compressor routing control. This plugin also offers phase invert, channel delay, comprehensive metering and Metric Halo’s trademarked SpectraFoo spectrum analysis.
The Fully parametric interpolated EQ features 6 bands with a variety of filter options.
Individually switchable sidechains (internal or external) are made possible for both dynamics blocks (gate/expander and compressor). There’s also a sidechain EQ to affect the dynamics of the channel strip.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the ChannelStrip3 user manual.
iZotope Neutron 3
The iZotope Neutron 3 (link to check the price at Plugin Boutique) is a fully-featured 6-module mixing tool. In other words, it’s a highly functional channel strip plugin.
The iZotope Neutron 3 is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.
The iZotope Neutron 3 is also featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
• Top 10 Best Dynamic EQ Plugins For Your DAW
• Top 10 Best Digital Parametric EQ Plugins For Your DAW
iZotope is well-known for its superb modular mixing and mastering suites. The Neutron 3 is a standout channel strip with 6 versatile modules.
Marketed as the easiest, most intelligent way to bring unrivalled quality and speed to your mix, Neutron 3 delivers with Mix Assistant technology and its unique Sculptor module. The Mix Assistant effectively listens to the track/bus in the context of the greater mix to intelligently suggest initial mix settings after a single listen. The Sculptor module allows for fast tone shaping with 25 instrument profiles.
The Neutron 3 sound incredible and offers tons of functionality. Its modules include:
- Sculptor: a spectral shaper to reduce resonance and boost important frequencies (similar to EQ)
- Transient Shaper: changes the contour of transients with dedicated attack and release controls
- Exciter: a frequency band-dependent aural exciter that adds subtle saturation to select frequencies
- Gate: a multiband gate that mutes unwanted noise from the signal as specified bands drop below a defined threshold
- Compressor: a fully functional compressor
- Equalizer: a fully functional intelligent EQ
This powerful plugin also offers a Masking Meter that conveniently displays how the audio in question may be masked by other signals in the mix, offering suggestions to help achieve a more cohesive and cooperative EQ in the overall mix.
On top of all that, this iZotope plugin looks awesome, too. It’s practically a one-stop shop for all things mixing and is fully deserving of a spot on this list of the best channel strip plugins.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the Neutron 3 specs at iZotope.
iZotope is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World.
DDMF The Strip
The DDMF The Strip (link to check the price at PluginFox) is a superb channel strip plugin inspired by vintage design but completely original, otherwise.
The DDMF The Strip is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.
DDMF’s The Strip may be a simple plugin, but it covers all the essentials and performs with sonic excellence. It features the finest EQ, gate and compressor all in one easy-to-use plugin. That’s not to mention how great it looks in terms of its user interface.
This straightforward channel strip provides a low and high-pass filter along with 4 peak filters and a low shelf filter in a natural-sounding EQ with just the right mix of character and transparency.
The Strip’s compressor is smooth and utilitarian. There’s nothing overly special about this section, but its simple threshold, ratio, attack and release controls can be dialled in for the perfect style and amount of dynamic range compression.
Similarly, the gate with variable threshold, range, attack, and release to prevent unwanted noise.
In addition to solid, reliable performance, the DDMF The Strip also offers phase invert, signal flow (Comp into EQ or EQ into Comp) and 2x oversampling switchable options.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out TheStrip at DDMF.
Other Channel Strip Plugin Options
Other excellent channel strip plugins to consider (with the hardware models they emulate, if applicable) are:
- SSL 4000 E
- SSL 4000 G
- Neve 80 Series
- EMI TG12345
- API Vision