Nearly two years have passed since we published our list of the top 10 must-try VST pluginsfor music producers. In that time, a lot has changed in the ever-moving world of digital audio technology. With the tools of the craft continuing to evolve at an unprecedented pace, producers and engineers have more than their fair share to keep up with.
With that in mind, we kick off 2015 with another dive into 10 more of our must-try plugins for electronic music producers. While the majority of these have been released since our last rundown, some of these are long-standing staples in the arsenals of music-makers everywhere.
10. Cableguys Kickstart
Sometimes the simplest tools are the most useful ones. Sidechain compression is an essential technique in nearly every modern dance music track, and while it has traditionally been accomplished by employing use of a compressor, modern plugins have been designed with the sole purpose of sidechain compression in mind.
These plugins make it a lot easier for entry level producers to visualize how the sidechain envelope will affect their track. Cableguys’ Kickstart is one such plugin, developed in collaboration with Nicky Romero. It provides the ability to apply a variety of sidechain curves to any instrument or audio file. Additionally, it includes a very useful mix knob, allowing you to determine exactly how much of the ducking effect you want to apply. Kickstart opens our list, as it serves as the perfect solution for a repetitive but necessary task.
9. iZotope Ozone 6
Since we published our last list of must-try plugins, iZotope’s flagship mastering suite, Ozone, has seen not one but two major releases – a milestone that most music plugins don’t meet in their entire lifespan. Like its predecessors, you would be hard-pressed to find a more complete and polished mastering solution than Ozone 6. It has both the depth and precision that seasoned engineers require as well as an intuitive interface and loads of unique presets for more entry-level users.
Regardless of what else you are currently using on your master-chain, Ozone 6 provides a wealth of potential with unique sonic treatments. What really makes Ozone stand out is the fact that it can be used as much more than a mastering suite and the individual components can be used on everything from busses to individual tracks with incredible results.
8. u-He Amazona Tyrell N6
With premium plugins dominating the music software market, we often forget that there are tons of incredible VSTs our there that don’t cost a penny. The Tyrell N6 is precisely one of those. Tyrell N6 is a freebie from Amazona in collaboration with German developers U-he, who create the well known Zebra and Diva.
For a free VST plugin, Tyrell N6 sounds incredible – just listen to the amazing presets that come with it if you’re in any doubt about the possibilities of this seemingly simple synthesizer. The oscillators can be set to any shape and the filter also sounds terrific. The Tyrell N6 is definitely a must download for anyone’s free VST plugin collection.
7. Sound Radix 32 Lives
While this isn’t exactly a VST plugin, it has certainly proven itself to be an essential software tool, given the recent trends in digital audio technology. With 64-bit becoming the de facto industry standard, many DAWs are moving away from 32-bit support. This became apparent when Apple released the newest version of its Logic software with no support for 32-bit plugins.
While most plugins have long converted to 64-bit already, some plugins such as Lennard Sylenth1 have not released an update in years, with no sign of 64-bit support. Fortunately the great developers at Sound Radix have created this tool which allows you to “resurrect” your 32-bit plugins and run them in 64-bit DAWs. Naturally this becomes an essential tool if you want to be able to take advantage of the memory boost you can gain from 64-bit production.
6. FabFilter Saturn
FabFilter has been at the forefront of plugin development for over a decade now. Their collection of mixing plugins is extremely diverse – containing everything from delays such as Timeless to transparent limiters like the legendary Pro-L – all of them projecting an extremely finessed sonic character. Although it was difficult to pick only one plugin out of this incredible collection – and we highly recommend you check them all out – Saturn is most definitely a noteworthy favorite.
At its core, Saturn is a multiband saturation and distortion unit which employs FabFilter’s famously flexible modulation routing system onboard, and the sort of well-designed, visually appealing interface that we’ve come to expect from Fabfilter. There are a lot of distortion units out there but when comparing them, Saturn consistently stands out as one of the best sounding multi-band saturation plugins on the market.
5. Brainworx XL 2
German software developers Brainworx have been on our radar for quite some time with their exceptional suite of mastering plugins. Their most recent offering comes in the form of the XL 2 mastering limiter. As an M/S stereo mastering limiter, its main purpose is to help you get your mixes loud, while keeping them clear and undistorted.
This remarkably sophisticated yet easy-to-learn mastering limiter uses the best of Mid-Side stereo processing and psychoacoustic loudness shaping to bring your mixes to maximum volume. The process bx_XL V2 uses is quite clever, channeling your mix into mid and side components and then providing a series of multi-band limiters. The result is loud, punchy and full-sounding mixes that still retain their original character.
4. Reveal Sound Spire
Spire is yet another member of the new generation of software synthesizers released within the past few years. As a hybrid subtractive synthesizer, Spire was very quick to earn its place in the toolboxes of many big-room and electro producers.
Upon release, it was immediate that this 4-oscillator polyphonic synth was capable of pushing the boundaries of how good a virtual instrument can actually sound. Combine the incredible sound with a flexible architecture, terrific waveshaping and a monster mod matrix, and it’s clear why Spire is such a hit. With such an impressive debut product, we can’t wait to see what else the folks over at Reveal Sound are cooking up.
3. Monark – Native Instruments
Yet another one of the new breed of synths, Monark is Native Instruments’ modern answer to the Moog. With most new synths attempting all to be ‘bigger and better’, the team at Native Instruments has opted for a more simplified approach with this monophonic Reaktor-based Minimoog emulation. Monark is an extremely useful synth for quickly crafting unique basslines, leads or percussion. The organic analog sound and ease of use are sure to accelerate any producer’s creative workflow. Arguably the best Minimoog emulation we’ve heard yet, our only gripe is the dependency on Reaktor – as it stands, Monark is unable to run on its own.
2. Cytomic – The Glue
The Glue is hardly a new plugin, but it hasn’t become a single ounce less marvelous over the years. This analog modeled compressor plugin, based on the classic ’80s British big console buss compressor, was a candidate for our previous list as well and has been a longtime favorite of many producers.
It uses the same high quality algorithms used in circuit simulation packages but is optimised for real time use and it’s easy to learn with an uncluttered interface. Given its incredible sound quality and long-standing reputation of being one of the best compressors available, The Glue is perfect for adding the polishing touches to your busses or final mix.
1. Serum – Xfer Records
The name Xfer should be familiar to most producers in the electronic music world. Headed up by Steve Duda, their LFOTool plugin was featured on our previous top ten list and continues to remain a go-to essential tool. In 2014, Xfer launched their brand-new flagship synthesizer ‘Serum’ after years of development, and it is hands down one of the best virtual instruments we’ve ever used.
This incredibly powerful wavetable synthesizer manages to achieve complex and intricate sound design effortlessly along with a level of intuition we’ve not previously seen. For example, while other comparable synthesizers always have a limited selection of wavetables to choose from, Serum opens the doors of creative possibility with a wavetable editor built right into it.
It’s very evident from first opening Serum that an immense amount of meticulous thought and planning was put into its design and development. As such, Serum is an easy selection for our number one must-try VST plugin. We highly recommend you check it out if you haven’t already.