As a music producer or post-production engineer, you rely heavily on your plugins to perform specialized processing and improve your workflow speed. With so many plugins available, it can be challenging to sort the good from the bad. I’m going to provide you with an overview of 25 of the best VST plugins on the market to help point you in the right direction.
This list contains some of the best sound design plugins, audio editing plugins, mixing plugins, and mastering plugins available. With these 25 tools in your plugin library, you’ll be able to take almost any project from start to finish without a hitch.
Serum is a wavetable synthesizer produced by Xfer Records that lets you create, import, edit, and morph wavetables. It boasts a workflow-oriented interface that makes creating and altering sounds fun, as opposed to tedious. If you’re looking for a versatile multi-purpose synth, Serum is an excellent option.
This synth delivers two ultra-clean oscillators with 16 voices per oscillator, click-and-drag modulation application, tons of different filters, and ten built-in audio effects. Serum’s popularity makes it a go-to synth when collaborating with other artists.
Omnisphere brings together many different types of synthesis to create a truly unique software instrument. It includes over 14,000 sounds, 58 effects units, and an excellent patch sorting system and search bar. If you like using presets, you’ll find no shortage of them using Omnisphere.
Believe it or not, Omnisphere is the only software synth in the world to offer a Hardware Synth Integration feature. You can control Omnisphere with over 65 well-known hardware synthesizers, which makes using Omnisphere a very tactile experience.
For more synth recommendations, check out "5 of the Best Plugin Synths on the Market."
Kontakt is a sampler that provides you with access to over 55+ GB of detailed, creative, and expressive software instruments. It powers the biggest selection of sampled instruments available, many of which are available from third-parties.
You can drag and drop your own samples into an instrument’s interface or build your own instruments with sample-editing and instrument-building options. If you’re looking for playable software drums, strings, brass, keys, guitar, bass, and more, it’s worth experimenting with Kontakt.
Recording drums is a nuisance. It can take a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money to record a studio drummer. A lot of producers steer clear of recording live drummers because of the convincing realism and quality that drum production studios like Addictive Drums 2 are capable of.
Whether you produce rock, pop, indie, jazz, electronic, or other styles of music, Addictive Drum 2 will deliver the samples, editing functions, mixing functions, and rhythmic patterns you're looking for.
Celemony’s Melodyne improves pitch accuracy without the robotic sound characteristic of Auto-Tune. If a vocalist falls out of key a few times throughout their recorded performance, Melodyne may be the answer.
Thanks to Melodyne’s user-friendly pitch editor window, you can easily click and drag blobs (segments of audio files) to affect their pitch and time. The built-in Pitch Drift and Pitch Modulation tools let you control pitch drift and vibrato.
Melodyne also allows you to edit the pitch of separate voices within polyphonic material. For example, you can modify the quality of chords by adding, subtracting, and moving notes as necessary.
Auto-Tune is a pitch correction software developed by Antares that is responsible for the iconic T-Pain vocal effect. Fun fact, T-Pain actually has impressive vocal control and a breathtaking voice. Some artists use Auto-Tune as a crutch, but it’s meant to be applied as a creative vocal effect.
Traditionally, Auto-Tune is applied live or during the recording process. However, this requires the talent to be familiar with singing through Auto-Tune and to be capable of hitting the right notes. If you run a messy vocal performance through Auto-Tune, you can expect a sloppy robotic vocal effect.
Auto-Tune includes a Graph Mode that lets you edit recorded material with enhanced accuracy. You can undoubtedly achieve transparent pitch correction effects using Auto-Tune’s Graph Mode, but it takes a little more finesse than it does using Melodyne.
Pro Tip: Apply pitch correction using Melodyne and then run the results through Auto-Tune. You’ll end up with a pitch-perfect audio file that contains a robotic shimmer.
Make sure to check out our in-depth guide on "How to Apply Pitch Correction to Vocals" if you're new to the concept of pitch correction.
Synchro Arts’ Revoice Pro is a pitch and timing toolbox that allows you to clone the timing, pitch, vibrato, and level features of one track, and apply them to another. You can also warp audio and create natural-sounding mono and stereo double tracks.
Music producers and post-production engineers will both find Revoice Pro useful. Producers can use Revoice Pro to quickly time-align vocal stacks, while post-production engineers can use it to lip-sync dialogue (ADR).
Revoice Pro 4 is a standalone audio editor, but you can access it from within your DAW using the Revoice Pro Link plugin. Apply the plugin to the tracks you want to import into Revoice Pro 4 and then initiate the capture process.
RX 7 is an audio repair assistant plugin produced by iZotope that lets you apply audio spot-cleaning in seconds. It allows you to rebalance track levels quickly, reshape the intonation of dialogue, as well as remove the effects of reverb, clicks, clips, rumble, noise, crackle, rustle, wind, plosives, and sibilance. There are additional modules that let you clean up breaths, fill gaps in audio files, match ambiance, and correct phase issues.
The Advanced version of RX 7 is best suited for post-production engineers. For simple audio editing, you’ll want to take a look at the much more affordable Elements version, or potentially step up to the Standard version if you’re looking for some extra features.
RX 7 is a standalone audio editing suite, but you can apply RX's modules individually to tracks within your DAW.
Read our guide on "6 Tips to Fix Damaged Audio Recordings" to identify and correct various audio problems using iZotope's RX 7.
Vocal Rider adjusts your vocal levels automatically, which prevents the need to manually ride faders while recording or draw in volume automation. You set a target level, and Vocal Rider then raises or lowers vocal gain as necessary to hit the target.
Compression tends to add some form of coloration to your vocals, whereas Vocal Rider does not. It merely applies clean gain adjustments to balance vocal levels, saving you copious amounts of time and energy.
Waves also produces a plugin called Bass Rider that’s optimized for the frequency range and envelope characteristics of bass instruments. You can use Bass Rider to level adjust DI basses, amplified basses, acoustic basses, synth basses, upright basses, and more.
iZotope’s Dialogue Match is a Pro Tools AudioSuite plugin that lets you match sonic profiles for dialogue and ADR. This plugin automatically dials in reverb, EQ, and ambiance levels when mixing dialogue recordings captured by different microphones in different spaces.
Dialogue Match extracts the environmental profile from one recording and applies it directly to another. The process is painless and saves hours. If you work in Pro Tools, you’re going to love this plugin. Technically, Dialogue Match uses the AAX plugin format, as opposed to the VST plugin format, but it still deserves a mention on this list.
The FabFilter Pro-Q 3 is an EQ that includes up to 24 bands, linear-phase operation, a zero-latency mode, a natural phase mode, and smooth dynamic EQ. It also provides per band mid/side processing, surround sound support up to Dolby Atmos 7.1.2, a solo feature, Auto Gain, and a built-in customizable spectrum analyzer.
Some additional fun features include Spectrum Grab, Full-Screen mode (perfect for secondary monitors), and EQ Match. The Pro-Q 3 is one of the most versatile and feature-rich EQs out there, which has undoubtedly contributed to its widespread popularity. If you’re looking to upgrade from your stock EQ, the Pro-Q 3 won’t disappoint.
Soothe 2 by Oeksound is a dynamic resonance suppressor that identifies problematic resonances on the fly and applies matching reduction automatically. Manually notching out resonant frequencies is a thing of the past with Soothe 2 in your plugin library. Drop Soothe 2 onto a resonant track, quickly dial in the settings, and move on.
You can use Soothe 2 to reduce harshness and sibilance, as well as mud. Additional key features include a mid/side mode (overall and per band), as well as an external sidechain input. Unlike certain drag-and-drop processing solutions, Soothe 2 works exceptionally well.
The FabFilter Pro-C 2 is a compressor that includes eight different compression styles, smooth lookahead, up to 4x oversampling, auto-gain and auto-release, a variable knee, hold, range, external sidechain triggering, variable stereo linking, and mid/side processing.
Compression is a concept that’s tough for budding music producers to visualize; the Pro-C 2 responds to this by providing a sizeable animated level/knee display that visualizes when, why, and how compression is applied to incoming audio.
The Pro-C 2 also includes level meters that display peak and loudness values, in addition to a circular sidechain input meter that makes setting an appropriate threshold level painless.
If you’re looking for an excellent multi-band compressor, check out FabFilter’s Pro-MB.
The Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor is a compressor based on the renowned master buss center compressor of the SSL 4000 G console. It captures the unique sound of the original unit’s IC input and twin VCA gain-reduction amplifier design.
This particular compressor has a bright and snappy character, perfect for taming piano dynamics or adding punch to drums and percussion. While it sounds great on individual tracks and instrument busses, the SSL G-Master Buss Compressor excels at mastering. Use it to apply peak compression to tame transients, or as a glue compressor to provide your mixes with a gentle squeeze.
We put together an entire list of compressor plugin recommendations that you can check out if you’re looking for more analog compressor emulations.
Valhalla Room is true stereo algorithmic reverb. It includes 12 reverb algorithms, making it useful in almost any situation. Sounds range from tight ambiances and rooms, to large halls, plates, and huge modulated spaces.
This reverb plugin contains an Early reverb section and Late reverb section, both of which provide access to adjustable modulation controls. The GUI is easy to navigate, as is the preset browser. Search for a preset you like and then dial in the settings to taste.
The FabFilter Pro-R is a reverb that looks and sounds modern. It provides non-technical controls like Brightness, Character, and Distance that deliver the sound you’re looking for, without requiring an abundance of engineering knowledge.
Although the Pro-R is user-friendly, a lot goes on under the hood. For example, the prominent Space knob smoothly combines the room model and decay time of the reverb, ranging from tiny ambient spaces to massive cathedral style reverb.
Another highlight is the Pro-R’s Decay Rate EQ that offers entirely free adjustment of the decay time across the frequency spectrum.
Valhalla Delay delivers echoes of the past, present, and future. You can use Valhalla Delay to create simple delay effects ranging from 0 ms to 20 s, create chorus and flanging effects, sync the delay to the beat or adjust delay time in ms.
The Age knob lets you adjust the artifacts of the delay mode, providing results ranging from clean and shiny to old and dusty. You can select between two different versions of the delay modes, and use the Ducking control to cause the echo level to track the input signal volume.
All of Valhalla’s plugins are reasonably priced but tend to perform well above their price point. If you’re looking for a good value, Valhalla plugins will deliver.
EchoBoy is a Soundtoys echo plugin that wraps decades of echo device history into one tool. It provides an assortment of vintage tones, including EchoPlex, Space Echo, Memory Man, DM-2, and TelRay oil can delay. More than just a simple delay, EchoBoy can produce effects that emulate the CE-1 chorus, and saturation similar to that of an Ampex ATR-102.
The bottom line is that EchoBoy sounds musical—not stale, rigid, and bland like some other delays out there. You can augment EchoBoy’s musicality by making use of the Groove, Feel, and Accent controls that help create a rushing or dragging feeling. Use Single Echo mode, Dual Echo mode, or Ping-Pong mode for powerful stereo effects, or get creative with the Rhythm mode, which is like a tape echo with up to 16 read heads.
Saturn is a multi-band saturator developed by FabFilter. It lets you apply one of six different styles of distortion models to each band. These distortion models include tube emulations, tape emulations, amplifier emulations, Smudge, Rectify, and Destroy; the latter three styles are useful for creative sound design and audio destruction.
This saturator allows you to apply modulation to crossover frequencies, dynamics, band levels, and tone controls. Saturn is as flexible as your imagination. It’s excellent for saturating vocals, drums, guitars, synths, keys, and basses.
Decapitator is a plugin produced by Soundtoys that provides subtle to extreme hardware-modeled saturation. It includes five different analog saturation models, a tone control, and a mix knob. This saturator delivers a changing responsive model of all the tubes, wires, and transistors that Soundtoys modeled, which results in a very organic sound.
The Punish button is one of Decapitator’s most alluring features. It adds extra gain to the input signal, driving Decapitator over the edge. The result is distorted and aggressive saturation, perfect for creative sound design. Decapitator works on a wide range of source material but excels when applied to 808s and basses.
Guitar Rig 5 Pro is a Native Instruments plugin made for processing guitar, bass, and more. It includes 17 amps, 27 cabinets, and 54 effects. You can also apply in-depth tone shaping with a choice of mics and positioning. If you play or record guitar, you’re going to love Guitar Rig.
You can use a MIDI foot controller to toggle between different Guitar Rig presets and alter effects, all while keeping your hands free. If you decide to pull the trigger on Guitar Rig 5 Pro, a foot controller like the Nektar Pacer MIDI Foot Controller will complement the software nicely.
FabFilter’s Pro-L 2 is a true peak limiter packed with features that allows you to create masters that are loud and transparent. It includes extensive loudness metering with support for the EBU R128, ITU-R BS.1770-4, and ATSC A/85 standards.
The Pro-L 2 includes eight different limiter algorithms, phase oversampling, dithering and noise shaping, as well as surround sound support up to Dolby Atmos 7.1.2. Regardless of your project requirements, this limiter provides the tools required to deliver your client the final product.
This limiter is a mastering engineer’s best friend. You’ll find it in tons of top-tier studios around the world, as well as bedroom studios.
Ozone 9 Advanced is a mastering suite developed by iZotope. It includes all the essential tools you need to master your music, along with much more. Ozone delivers AI-powered mastering via its Master Assistant feature. Choose the modules you want to use, dial in the EQ and loudness targets, and then select a destination format. Run the Master Assistant and then tweak Ozone's settings to taste.
The Match EQ module lets you extract custom EQ curves from your favorite songs, and the included Tonal Balance Control plugin talks with other iZotope plugins within your session to help you identify and correct mix issues.
Ozone is available in three different versions: Elements, Standard, and Advanced. Ozone Elements provides a great starting point at an affordable price, making it a good fit for many bedroom producers. As you move up to the Advanced version, you gain access to features like Match EQ, Master Rebalance, Low End Focus, and the Tonal Balance Control plugin.
Learn how to master your music with our 9 step mastering guide.
Sonnox’s Oxford Inflator is a mastering plugin that increases loudness, without sacrificing sonic quality or dynamic range. You can use it to add warmth, character, and dynamic excitement to your music.
The Oxford Inflator user manual says that “The Inflator process functions by changing the relative probability of samples in the programme material such that there is a greater probability of larger values than the original signal. The Inflator does not employ signal compression, so there is no ‘pumping’, dynamic level change, loss of presence or flattening of percussive attacks. The full dynamic information of the music content is largely preserved despite the increase in average modulation density.“
Due to the way that the Oxford Inflator processes audio, you can apply it after your final limiter while mastering. When you need to squeak out a little bit of extra loudness, the Oxford Inflator’s got your back.
Sonarworks’ Reference 4 calibrates your headphones and studio monitors to create a flat frequency response; this increases the chances that your mixes will translate well to various playback systems. You can either download or create custom calibration profiles that apply a corrective EQ to the signal you hear.
For example, if your headphones or speakers are naturally bass-heavy and deficient in the top-end, Reference 4 will attenuate the low-end and boost the top-end as necessary. Sonarworks sells a specialized calibration microphone that lets you create a correction profile tuned exclusively to your room if you're using studio monitors.
Reference 4 helps you trust your ears, work from anywhere, mix with confidence, and finish tracks faster. If you’re still testing your mixes in your car, Reference 4 is the solution. The Reference 4 Headphone Edition is best for people working on headphones, while the Reference 4 Studio Edition allows you to calibrate both headphones and studio monitors.
Looking for more plugin recommendations? Check out "7 of the Best Music Production Plugin Bundles on the Market."