It’s the end of the month, and your bank account is empty…
Free plugins, then. They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and as a society we’re conditioned to be (often rightly) sceptical when we’re offered something for nothing. When it comes to music software, though, the dream is a reality - you really can pick up pro quality plugins for free with no strings attached. Dec 08, 2020 Tube Amplifier is a VST plugin that applies asymmetric tube triode overdrive to your project. By no means, TubeAmp is the right choice for a beginner as one must be familiar with tube-triode. However, if you’re an experienced music composer, Tube Amplifier will fit your studio perfectly.
And as much as you might feel like buying that new Waves plugin…
(You’ve had your eye on it for months, right?)
It’s probably not a good idea.
But if you’re still looking to expand your plugin library, don’t worry.
Sometimes, the best things in life are free…
Here are 7 of my favorite free plugins. Each of them offers something new and unique (no boring EQs or compressors). Download them all to extend your sonic palette and ultimately, craft better-sounding tracks.
And if you’re looking to dive deeper, I also put together a list of five plugins I use on every mix. If you’re wondering which plugins I recommend, download the list below to make sure you’ve got my top tools for the job.
1. iZotope Neutrino
Neutrino is the baby brother of Neutron—iZotope’s newest channel-strip plugin. While Neutron has a number of innovative features, Neutrino spins off the best of them.
Neutrino tames undesirable resonances caused by poor room acoustics, cheap gear, and heavy-handed processing. iZotope calls the effect “spectral shaping,” and it can sound similar to gentle, low-ratio multiband compression. This can make tracks sound smoother and more polished—like sanding the rough edges off a freshly cut piece of wood. I find Neutrino particularly useful on electric guitar tracks, which often have lots of harsh resonances.
2. Voxengo SPAN
What Vst Plugins Do Professionals Usernames
People say “don’t mix with your eyes.”
Tools that provide visual feedback, when used properly, can help you make better mixing decisions.
A spectrum analyzer is one of these tools. It plots the frequencies of sounds out on a graph, which allows you to “see” what tracks are comprised of.
SPAN is my favorite spectrum analyzer. You can control the ballistics and response of its graph, which makes it flexible enough for a wide variety of tasks. You can even route multiple tracks into SPAN and compare their frequency content.
(P.S. Voxengo has a few other free VST plugins. They’re worth checking out too, but SPAN is my favorite.)
3. Brainworx bx_solo
Bx_solo is a no-frills, stereo-imaging plugin. While it’s the least sexy of this bunch, it can still be pretty useful.
I like to add bx_solo to my mix bus. While I rarely push the stereo width past 100%, collapsing it to zero is an easy way to check for mono compatibility. The mid and side solo buttons are also useful. It’s great to have this one around—you never know when you might need it!
4. HOFA 4U Project Time
Mixing is a race against time.
The more time you spend on a mix, the more attached you become to what it sounds like. This makes it progressively harder to make good mixing decisions. Given enough time, even the worst mix will start to sound decent.
This is one reason I recommend mixing quickly and impulsively. You’ll get to the finish line faster, retain more objectivity, and ultimately, craft better mixes.
The first step towards more efficient mixing is to track how much time you spend doing it. Without this information, it’s easy to get lost in a black hole of endless tweaking.
Project Time makes this easy. Add it to a track, and it will start counting. The timer automatically stops when you close the session, and starts when you open it up again.
Keep an eye on Project Time, and you’ll train yourself to mix faster and more efficiently. It’s also an invaluable tool if you bill by the hour!
5. MeldaProduction MFreeFXBundle
MeldaProduction makes some great plugins. They’ve earned the praise of many notable engineers, including mastering guru Ian Shepard.
The MFreeFXBundle contains 30 free VST plugins. They range from workhorse tools like a compressor and EQ, to less common effects like a ring modulator, flanger, and oscilloscope.
If you’re looking to fill some holes in your plugin library, this is a great place to start.
6. Flux BitterSweet
BitterSweet is among the best transient shapers out there. It can produce results on par with studio mainstays like SPL’s Transient Designer and Waves’ Trans-X.
This simple plugin can achieve a wide variety of effects. Turn the knob to the right to add punch to drums, enhance the pluck of an acoustic guitar, or boost the consonants in a vocal performance. Turn the knob to the left to soften tracks and push them back in the soundstage.
7. iZotope Vinyl
Sometimes a little crackle is a good thing.
Vinyl will make tracks sound like they’re being played on a turntable. You can vary the intensity of the effect by controlling the volume of different types of noise, the degree of wear and tear, and the decade your sound is from. The results range from subtle filtering to Edison phonograph.
This plugin is great for special effects, like filtering down a vocal or making an intro sound tiny.
Moving Beyond Free Plugins: My Favorite Plugins
I hope these 7 free plugins help you craft tracks that sound fresh and unique.
If you’re looking to dive deeper, I also put together a list of 5 plugins I use on every mix. If you’re wondering which plugins I recommend, download the list below to make sure you’ve got my top tools for the job.
Before you go—what’s your favorite free VST plugin? Share your pick in the comment section below.
Bonus: 3 More Free Plugins for Mixing
3 Free Plugins I Use in Every Mix
It’s the end of the month, and your bank account is empty… …again. Oops. And as much as you might feel like buying that new Waves plugin… (You’ve had your eye on it for months, right?) It’s probably not a good idea. But if you're still looking to expand your plugin library, don't worry. Sometimes,
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VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology. There are three types of VST plug-ins:
- VST instruments: These plug-ins generate audio and are either virtual synthesizers or samplers. Many VST instruments emulate the appearance and sound of famous hardware synthesizers. Popular VSP instruments include Massive, FM8, Absynth, Sylenth 1, Reaktor, Gladiator, Vanguard, and Omnisphere.
- VST effects: Effects process audio instead of generating it. VST effects function like hardware audio processors, like reverbs and phasers.
- VST MIDI effects:MIDI plug-ins process MIDI messages and send MIDI data to other VST instruments and hardware.
VST plug-ins can be used within a digital audio workstation, in programs like Pro Tools and Logic. They’re frequently used to emulate hardware outboard gear such as compressors, expanders, equalizers, and maximizers. You'll frequently find these distributed to emulate certain models of hardware; there's some for vintage compressors, and you'll frequently find effects that emulate vintage hardware (both in instrumental and stompbox-like effects).
Think of VST plug-ins as really affordable ways to make your home studio sound like a really expensive commercial operation.
Aside from VST plug-ins, you'll also find VST-instrument or VSTi plug-ins. These can emulate really cool, but expensive, hardware (like Hammond B3 and Nord Electro). The quality of these VSTi plug-ins can vary from acceptable to really poor; it all depends on the quality of your system resources (RAM and scratch space on your hard drive, for example), and how well-sampled the instrument is. You also want to make sure that your VSTi plug-in offers true polyphonic content, meaning you can make life-like chords that don’t sound too artificial.
There are thousands of plug-ins available. Some only take a few hours to produce and are free, but the quality is terrible. Some are made by huge companies and sound amazing, but are expensive. VST plug-in developers try to recreate the sound as closely as possible, but the original instrument is probably always going to sound better than the plug-in. You might be trying to get the rich, full-bodied sound of an organ, for example, but who owns an organ? No one has access to every type of instrument, so a plug-in will have to do. The good news is that VST plug-in technology is improving, so quality can only get better with time.
VST Plug-in Standard
Created by Steinberg, a German musical software and equipment company, the VST plug-in standard is the audio plug-in standard that allows third-party developers to make VST plug-ins. Users can download VST plug-ins on Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux. The vast majority of VST plug-ins are available on Windows. Apple’s Audio Units are standard on Mac OS X (it’s actually considered a competing technology), and Linux lacks commercial popularity, therefore few developers create VST plug-ins for the operating system.
Where to Find VST Plug-ins
There are thousands of VST plug-ins available, both commercially and as freeware. The Internet is flooded with free VST plug-ins. Home Music Production and Bedroom Producers Blog have robust lists of VST plug-in recommendations, and Splice and Plugin Boutique also offer a ton of free plug-ins.