MORE, MORE, MORE ...
Well, originally the idea was to make a TOP TEN list of super-high quality audio plugins. But then I realized that ten is just not enough. So ... this top ten is actually a TOP TWENTY. Doesn't matter. The are all really great plugins. The more, the better.
In part 1 and 2 we looked and Equalizers and Compressors, the bread and butter of audio mixing.
In part 3 and 4 we'll take a look at everything else. Reverbs, Saturators, Modulation plugins, you name it. ALL GREAT QUALITY, ALL FREE or REALLY INEXPENSIVE . That's the rule. No exceptions.
Let's get started, shall we?
1. Preamp Emulation: OMEGA 458A by KUSH AUDIO
So, I'm not a huge fan of analog emulations.
I use them, but I'm not the kind of guy who thinks that analog is always better.
Both digital and analog have advanteges and disadvantages.
It's just a matter of using them in the proper context.
That's my approach.
There's one exception. This OMEGA 458a by KUSH AUDIO is so good, I want to use it everywhere. In every single track. Drums, guitar,s, vocals, you name it. I would put it in my coffee in the morning, if I could.
It is based on the Altec 458a , a not so famous tube preamp. This plugin recreates the sound of that preamp. How can I explain ... smooth but also vibrant, warm but also alive.
It's hard to describe.
Just listen to it, right here (good headphones recommended):
So, this beauty is not free, but it's very inexpensive, considering how much it makes you smile when you listen to it on your tracks.
You can find OMEGA 458a right here.
2. Tremolo: TREMOLO by PECHENG
I love tremolos.
I really do.
When I play or mix electric guitars, I always want to put a tremolo on them.
I have to restrain myself.
Sometimes I just can't.
So, when I need a tremolo, I go to Pecheng.
This wonderfully simple and great sounding free plugin is really a hidden gem. Not many people know about it. But it's absolutely everything you want from a tremolo, nothing more, nothing less. Enough controls to give you any kind of tremolo sound you want, but simple enough so that you get to your sound quick and easy.
Let's hear it, shall we?
The best things in life are simple. Well, not all of them, actually.
But Pecheng Tremolo is definitely a simple, useful, free masterpiece.
You can find Pecheng Tremolo right here.
3. Saturation: SDRR by KLANGHELM
Price: 23 euros
Saturation is a tricky thing.
It sounds good, so you add more.
And more. And more.
And all of a sudden, it sounds bad.
It's a fine balance. It's easy to exaggerate, but it's so important not to.
Maybe that's the reason why it took me a while to fully appreciate SDRR by KLANGHELM.
I really had to experiment and listen carefully.
Eventually, I realized that, with the proper "dosage", this plugin is absolutely fantastic.
Not only for the quality of the sound, but for the versatilty that it provides.
The developer calls it a "Saturation Chameleon". That's absolutely true.
If you can do so many things with it, it's almost too many.
I like it especially when used subtly, on single tracks or, even better, on buses or even on the master track. But you can really push it if you want, and it will provide all sorts of saturation and distortion flavors.
It really requires a little bit of experimenting and learning to be truly appreciated.
It comes in 4 different modes (Tube, Digi, Fuzz, Desk), corresponding to different saturation "characters". They are shown in the gallery right here. Tube and especially Desk are my favourite. Here they are:
Each mode has its unique crosstalk behavior, which can be switched off or exaggerated.
An extremely useful RMS level difference metering mode makes level matching an easy task (this is one of my favourite things about this plugin - you HAVE to level match your sound in order to really evaluate what's going on, and SDRR allows you to do that easily).
So, what do you do with it?
Well, it's hard to explain, but basically you can add warmth, depth, character, movement to your sound. From very subtle to flat out distortion, it's all there. It's fun!
You can find Klanghelm's SDRR right here
4. Reverberation: REVERB 4 by TONEBOOSTERS
Price: 30 euros
I know, it's about time we talk about reverb.
Now, this one was a difficult choice. Because there's a few absolutely excellent free or inexpensive reverbs out there. The most popular is probably ROOM by VALHALLA (and also PLATE and VINTAGE VERB by the same company). These are exceptional reverbs. They cost 50$ each, so they are very affordable. Another very good one is OrilRiver by Denis Tihanov, which is completely free, and sounds really, really good.
But I decided to feature REVERB 4 by TONEBOOSTERS because it's really the one I prefer and use the most, and also because it has some pretty unique features.
Here's a screenshot:
So, what's so special about this reverb?
First of all, it sounds really, really good. And that's absolutely crucial for a reverb.
But it also have a bunch of cool features that makes it unique and versatile.
Just a few examples:
- the timbre and decay time can be set independently and as a function of frequency, which provides a huge variety of reverberation characteristics
- integrated ducking, gating and compression algorithms
- two independent pitch shifters are available for shimmer reverb effects
- modulation and movement: there's a beat-synced low-frequency oscillator (LFO) section with a wide range of waveforms, which can modulate many parameters to create sounds that "move"
So, it's much more than just a reverb. You can use it as a classic reverb, and it's quite easy to use in that way, but you can also create very interesting effects as well. The sky is the limit with this thing. All that for 30 euros. It doesn't get better than that, seriously.
You can find REVERB4 right here
5. Stereo Imaging: A1 STEREO CONTROL by ALEX HILTON
Ok, a stereo control plugin may not be the most exciting thing in the world, but it's super-super useful. You need useful stuff right? Well, A1 by ALEX HILTON is as useful as it gets. And it's free. So, what is it?
Well, it's a simple plugin that allows you to control the stereo field of your track.
You can pan, increase or decrease the stereo width, mono-ize the low frequencies, control mid and sides, swap left and right, change the phase.
All things that we need to do regularly on any mixing session, they all are right here, in one convenient, well-designed, free plugin. No reason to buy overpriced, expensive plugins that do the same things (or less ...). Thank you Alex Hilton!
Here's a screenshot:
You can find A1 STEREOCONTROL right here
So, this is the end of part 3 of our list of the best, high quality, free or inexpensive audio plugins on the market today.
Soon we'll have part 4 with even more goodies!
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