LAST BUT NOT LEAST ...
So, here we are, this is part 4 (and last) of our journey in the realm of high quality, inexpensive plugin. We have some very, very good ones so ... let's start!
6. Tape Emulator: REELBUS by TONEBOOSTERS
Price: 40 euros (it's the price of the BUS TOOLS bundle, which includes 10 high quality plugins including REELBUS, all worth having)
As you may know, tape emulators are everywhere nowadays. Every respectable audio plugin developer has one. They all claim to recreate the warm, analog sound of tape. They emulate everything, from noise to flutter and more.
It's always been a little bit funny to me: why do you want to emulate the BAD aspects of analog tape? Why do you want in your digital environment the same things that audio engineers tried so desperately to avoid for decades?
I have no idea.
I guess that once a certain meme is established ("Analog is Good") then everything that comes with it is accepted without much critical thinking.
Anyway, I'm digressing.
Here we are interested in the good things about tape. And there are some, for sure.
So, as I said, there are MANY plugins today that emulate the sound of tape and tape machines.
Some (most) are quite expensive. Some are very expensive.
But which one is the best?
Wouldn't be awesome if the best one would also be the cheapest?
Welcome to a brave new world.
Where cheap doesn't mean bad.
Actually, cheap often means very, very good.
Introducing REELBUS by TONEBOOSTERS.
It's not the one with the fanciest interface. At all.
It doesn't have some fancy graphics with moving tape machines and other eye-candy.
But if you perform a blind test - a TRUE blind test, with volume compensation done properly etc - not only REELBUS is at least as good as the ones priced 10 times more, but it is very often preferred. That's something I actually tried. I compared, in a true blind configuration, a bunch of tape plugins, including some pretty expensive ones. Everything carefull calibrated, with different kinds of material etc. Almost every single time REELBUS was my personal favourite.
Now, beware: the differences between these plugins are not huge. But they are clear. And, as always, it's a matter of taste. It's also a matter of what kind of settings you are using to compare plugins. So, I am just reporting about MY experience, with MY taste and MY ears. Your assessment might be different. But I was actually VERY surprised to see how consistent my results were. On almost every kind of material / genre, my ears preferred REELBUS.
Let's take a look at it:
As I said, the interface is not fancy at all.
But I don't care. Do you?
I care about the sound.
You may also notice a bunch of controls, including parameters to control things I usually don't use (flutter, hiss, noise etc). As I said, I want the GOOD things about tape, not the bad ones. So, the interface is not fancy but the plugin is deep, meaning it requires some reading of the manual and some experimentation.
On the master buss, used gently, is a magic touch.
It's used on pretty much everything I mix.
And it's very cheap.
It's a brave new world.
You can find REELBUS right here
7. Modulation: UBERMOD by VALHALLA
Price: 50 $
Who doesn't love a nice, lush chorus effect?
We all love that.
We all need modulation.
Maybe not on every single track, but modulation effects are nonetheless an essential ingredient to a professional sounding mix.
So, there's obviously a lot of modulation effects available out there.
Many of them are not only good, but also free or cheap.
So, it was hard to make a choice.
But in this case I decided to go with UBERMOD by VALHALLA, which is not the cheapest (50$), but it's still reasonable enough to make it into this list. The reason I chose UBERMODO is its versatilty, degree of control, usefulness and comprehensiveness of the presets, and just overall quality. This plugin is a superb beast.
Now, VALHALLA is mostly known for their exceptional reverb effects - Room, VintageVerb and Plate are extremely popular plugins, and for very good reasons. They are fantastic. UBERMOD, which is as great as the other Valhalla plugins, is maybe slightly less known, but it's a n incredible investment. You can use it in so many ways, in so many situations, for so many effects and purposes, that the 50$ price tag wil pay itself in a very short time.
I also want to point out that Valhalla provides an incredible number of useful presets with its plugins, and UBERMOD is no exception. These presets are not just general starting points. They are so well designed, so specific and and so many, that it's almost certain that you will find some that will match very closely most of your needs. And that's where the real fun begins, because tweaking UBERMOD is just a joy and a never ending discovery.
Ok, enough talking.
How about listening to UBERMOD in action?
Here's a pretty long, detailed video (over 30 minutes) that describes UBERMOD's functions and showcases some presets. It's a very well done, comprehensive review of this fantastic plugin. Enjoy!
You can find UBERMOD right here.
8. Metering and Gain Staging: VUMT DELUXE by KLANGHELM
Price: 14 euros for VUMT and 22 euros for VUMT DELUXE
We all need to do some gain staging.
It's still important, even in this digital era of audio manipulation trhough zeros and ones.
So, how about a cheap, high quality plugin that not only will help you with metering, but will also give you a few essential, high quality tools to set up your tracks nicely and conveniently?
Yes, of course we want that.
Introducing VUMT by KLANGHELM.
It comes in a "regular" version and a "deluxe" version. Both are very, very inexpensive.
Indeed, I strongly suggest getting the deluxe edition, because the extra features are really, reall useful.
In a few words, VUMT DELUXE will give you, in one convenient interface:
- flexible and customizable metering
- gain control
- mono, left-right or mid-side operations
- high pass filter and low pass filter
- mono maker for low frequencies
- a simple but effective dynamic eq
- polarity control
- several different "skins" to change the look of the plugin
So, basically it provides all the things you need, nothing more, nothing less, to set up your gain staging properly. I particularly like the filters, which sound really good and free me from having to setup another plugin for filtering. A nice time and cpu saver.
Here's VUMT DELUXE with all the different skins available:
You cand find VUMT and VUMT DELUXE right here
9. Delay: SPACESHIP DELAY by MUSICAL ENTROPY
So many delays, so little time!
It's really true.
There's many, many good delays.
But, to be honest, there's not many delays that are free and THIS good and comprehensive. The list of features is really impressive. Take a look (this is from KVR's description):
Yes, this is a truly impressive plugin. Wanna hear it in action? Here we go:
You can find SPACESHIP DELAY right here.
10. Guitar Amps Emulations: THERMOIONIK and RECABINET by KAZROG
Price: 9.99$ for RECABINET and 8.99$ for each THERMONIONIK amp
Ok, we already met KAZROG when we talked about the fabolous KCLIP PRO.
But KAZROG is mostly famous for their jaw dropping amp emulations.
Now, I know that the amp emulation world is a strange one.
I know that guitar players (I am one ...) are really, really difficult and picky about tone.
And I also know that there are plenty of good amp emulations out there.
And finally, I know that, in the end, it's a matter of personal taste.
Well, having said all that ... I dare to argue that KAZROG was able to get to a level of realism and perfection that most (maybe all ...) other emulations haven't achieved yet.
At the very least, KAZROG is up there with the very best.
This, I think, it's undisputable.
Especially if you listen with your EARS and not with your eyes.
What do I mean by that?
I say: AMEN TO THAT!
On the contrary, some of the big names in the amp emulation world use plenty of eye candy. Truly beautiful interfaces to look at.
But, at the end of the day, do you listen with your ears or with your eyes?
The people that will listen to your mixes will not care about your fancy loking plugins.
They will care about the sound.
It's all about the sound.
And, in terms of sound, KAZROG just nails it.
And it's quite inexpensive too. And it's modular. You can choose to purchase individual THERMOIONIC amps, or discounted bundles. You can create your own library of specific emulations, depending on your needs. And the same goes for cabinet emulations (with RECABINET).
Just one last thing. While it is true that KAZROG specializes in high gain amps, I found that their emulations sound absolutely brilliant even with clean tones.
Anyway, how about listening to it?
Here we go:
THE END ... FOR NOW
So this is it.
Our TOP TEN HIGH QUALITY INEXPENSIVE AUDIO PLUGINS list.
A top ten that actually became TOP TWENTY along the way.
I hope you got some good ideas.
These are the cheap plugins that I like the best.
But there are several others taht could make this list. I might review more in the future.
And of course, someone else's selection would be somewhat different.
Subjectivity is unavoidable. And that's not a bad thing.
So, I strongly recommend NOT to trust me. (well, not blindly at least ...).
Just demo the plugins you want to buy, listen carefully, and make your own decision.
Just one final word of advice:
EVALUATE WITH YOU EARS, NOT WITH YOUR WALLET.
Expensive does not mean better.
Not at all.
Not in this audio plugins market.
There's an increasing number of extremely talented developers who are able to come up with fantastic, innovative plugins and sell them very cheap or even free.
Talent and ingenuity is worthwhile supporting.
Give them a fair shot.
You won't regret it.
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