I talked last month about using the stock Pro Tools plug-ins. While the plug-ins that come with your DAW are usually completely adequate, it’s fun to explore other possibilities.

There are hundreds and hundreds of plug-ins out there. Some costing thousands of dollars; others are free. Both have their place in the home studio.

So, what are your “desert island” plug-ins? Which ones can’t you live without?

I’ll go first.

I have to say I have a bit of a crush on Waves’ SSL Bus Compressor. It’s a part of their SSL Bundle. It’s really hard to make it sound bad, and it can glue together a mix like nobody’s business.

Okay, now it’s your turn. Tell us your favorite plug-ins. If you can, include a link to the plug-in. (Let’s show a little love to the plug-in makers.)

Let’s hear it!

82 Responses to “What Are Your Favorite Plug-ins?”

  1. Conor

    The Waves Eddie Kramer PIE is a favorite of mine- Really musical sounding compressor. Also, the Waves CLA-2A is fantastic on vocals.

  2. Raymond Johnson

    Great great stuff here people. Does anyone know if there is any plug-in out there that will analyze and show if I’m in too much bass freq? I’m still learning, be gentle 🙂

  3. MF

    After all this I still gotta go with UAD, that new plugin the Vog, for bass and kick, is totally awesome. The Fairchild 670, Massive Manley, and the Pultec eq’s are so clean. What’s best is that they are DSP, and don’t put no pressure on your PC. UAD for me!

  4. Jerry Mateo

    to be honest roundtone is one of my number one’s check it out its cheep and works nice dont think its for protools yet i might be wrong second has to be SSL waves just gets it right some uda and alot of meldaProduction im getting into those looks ugly but has everything you need

  5. Brian

    Favorite plug-ins are scattered between a UAD-2 Duo card, TC Powercore firewire & PCi-express card,a Focusrite Liquid Mix, Lexicon MX200 and Line 6 POD X3. I’m also very partial to the convolution reverb “Reverence” that is part of the Cubase 5 plug-in bundle. With so many choices I can always find what I need. The UAD Cambridge EQ and UAD Precision Limiter are used in every project.

  6. Ryan

    Even though it causes logic 9 to crash every once in a while, which otherwise never happens to me, Amplitube 3 is absolutely breathtaking! Especially with the addition of Orange amps. The control that it gives you over the tone variation is amazing. You feel like you have a million bucks worth of equipment at your fingertips.

  7. Smurf

    The Kjaerhus Audio “Classic” series is a must have, but the site has been down for almost a month, so they are gone from there. But you can still grab them from the Acoustica site.

    Glaceverb is my favorite “synthetic” reverb, but it’s site is also is gone. But you can grab it from KVR still….I think

    S.I.R1 with the Bricasti M7, Lexicon 960, and EMT250_32bit IR’s

    And all of the DDMF EQ’s.

    I could live with these, no problem!

  8. Rob Weber

    Marc stole my thunder! I was going to mention that the Kjaerhus Audio Classic series is fantastic! Uh-oh, it looks like the Kjaerhus Audio website is down. Hope that’s not permanent.

    Lately I’ve been really grooving on anything put out by Bootsie at Variety of Sound. (http://varietyofsound.wordpress.com/vst-effects/)

    Lastly, my new go-to reverb is ReverberateLE, and I’m saving my pennies for the full version (not too many pennies, as it’s only like $70). http://www.liquidsonics.com/software_reverberate_le.htm

    All PC VST, all free.

  9. Marc Chabot

    I know most people so far have mentioned mostly post-production type plug-ins (e.g.: compressor, channel strips, etc…) Some of my favorites include the Kjaerhus Audio “Classic” series and the Nomad Factory Blue Tubes collection. For my part, there are a few plug-ins I cannot do without when recording electric guitar. I don’t have the luxury of being able to mike up a cab and driving up an amp to the levels I need, so I resort to using amp models from AcmeBarGig ( http://www.acmebargig.com/ ). Their Shred suite is very good, and FREE! LePou also has some really nice amp models, as well as some very good cabinets which you can then use with decent impulse response files (http://lepouplugins.blogspot.com/).

    Bootsie’s Ferric TDS (http://www.kvraudio.com/developer_challenge_2009.php#dc09_29), winner of KVR Audio’s Annual Developer Challenge for 2009, is also a fave. Sounds great when trying to add some old school tape dynamics to your mix…

    On the synth side of things, Elektrostudio has a collection of 10 free analog synths which really sound great! They are here http://elektrostudio.ovh.org/index2.php?go=1

    There are so many plug-ins out there, and a lot of free ones are just awesome! Explore and try them out, you never know what might sound good!

  10. MKHoward

    Focusrite Liquid Mix. Invaluable. Lovely sounding processors that take the heat off CPU Usage using firewire DSP. I Use it heavily. although not all emulations are entirely accurate they are all great sounding and i particularly love the emulations of the empirical labs distressor the pultec eqp1a and ssl buss comp.

  11. Ryan

    I understand that to some, this is a moral issue, but plugins are extremely easy to download off of torrent sites…for free!
    I’m just saying…why line the pockets of these huge corporations by paying their ridiculous prices. They are just trying to hold the home engineer back so that major labels can keep making their money. I don’t do it of course….I’m just sayin. Haha

    • Joe Gilder

      Coming from a music technology retail background, I’m gonna come down on the side of these “huge corporations.” They’re not that big, really. And they wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for customers who both valued their products and PAID for them.

      Maybe they’re a bit expensive, but no one is making you use/buy them.

      Also, I really doubt the big companies only want to sell to major labels. Would you rather sell to 100 major studios or 100,000 home studios? Exactly. 🙂

      You’re right, though, it’s fairly easy to steal plug-ins.

      • Dave

        I think it completely depends on the situation. If you’re a professional engineer and your studio is your business, then you should buy your plugins perhaps.

        However, nobody can expect the present/future explosion of highschool-college kids who have macbook pros to be able to afford most of these plugins.. so for that demographic, the amateurs deserve to have the same tools that the professionals use to learn on. They should absolutely obtain whatever plugins they can get, while their brains are still so receptive.

        Besides, there are better ways emerging for companies to earn a profit on virtual plugins than by selling them as goods. Consumers will soon become the investors.

        • Joe Gilder

          I agree that software companies should come up with additional ways to generate revenue, but I still disagree with “nobody can expect the present/future explosion of highschool-college kids who have macbook pros to be able to afford most of these plugins.”

          For one thing, if these kids are on Macbook Pros, they can certainly afford plug-ins. Secondly, if they NEED the expensive plug-ins to make good recordings, they’ve got bigger problems.

          • Dave

            I agree with the second part, for sure. However, what I meant was that most of these kids (or their parents) spend all of their money on the computer and then have nothing left for plugins or programs. Sure, RICH kids can afford it, but for the thousands of others who dream of being an engineer or “producer”, they have no choice but to download torrents of iZotope plugin packs or whatever they can find.

            You can’t expect these kids to be educated enough about plugins and software to know what’s good and what sucks. They just hear words like “Pro Tools”, “Autotune”, or “Reason” and jump on that. There’s no (widely recognized) ultimate source for aspiring engineers to go to that tells them the best of what they can use at different price ranges. So, they take what they can find, and use the hell out of it. (And what’s the big deal if most of them end up being crappy anyway. If they suck they can’t make money on products that they acquired illegally.)

            Ten years ago, I was that kid. I used Fruityloops for tens of thousands of hours without any thought of making a profit on my music. I learned how to properly structure, arrange, and compose songs by just messing around on a decent DAW (that I acquired illegally). It’s really no different than a kid in the 80’s who spends all his money on a drum machine / keyboard and writes music to get out of the projects.

            Yes, these companies deserve to make money on their amazing products. Nevertheless, there needs to be a greater understanding of the needs of amateurs as much as professionals.. because the problem with elitism in this case is that a minority dictates the needs of the majority, without understanding that within the majority today lies the future of music production. There’s too much emphasis on the present, not enough on the future. Some of these kids are going to grow up to be great engineers and songwriters one day, and I’ll be damned if that’s taken away from them because of certain principles that will become obsolete in future business models.

            I’m not at all saying that that’s what you think. I’m saying that that is the attitude of most of these companies, and many professional engineers that I meet.

            As it’s been said, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

            • Ryan

              I like this Dave guy! He’s better with words than me. I agree completely. My MacBook was given to me as a gift. I never could have afforded 500 bucks for logic, 300 for amplitube 3, and probably 1500 more bucks for various other plugins.

            • guest

               Its true. I am one of those “college kids” currently and I have been dedicated for my short span of 8+ years to Audio Engineering. I do take as much as I can for free but most of any of my freed up cash is spent on finding and researching better ways to hone my craft, including these “elite” plug ins. As someone who aspires to the likes of Bob Ludwig and Darell Thorpe on and is always trying to learn as much as I can by visiting engineers at their studios and visiting sites like Gear Sluts and glistening every little spec of information from great engineers and mastering artists, I can definitely say its becoming an agist issue as our generation is trying to come to terms with our place in a world still bloated with the control of the older generations. how are we supposed to make our way without being able to own anything?

  12. Jim

    In Pro Tools, the standard Digidesign plug ins work well for me for mixing, but are weak, in my opinion, when it comes to mastering. Instead, I use Izotope’s Ozone 4 plug in for mastering within PT.

    Ozone is a really slick tool and extremely easy to use. I believe I paid $299 for it but that’s about 1/2 what some similar products go for and it’s definitely been worth it to me.

  13. patrick

    Analog heat and glue inside the box is a leitmotiv here … !

    Well… I have just come across Nebula, from Acustica Audio. So I’ve purchased Nebula 3 Pro yesterday and gave it a try on a few Logic loops.

    Inserted one of their console/preamp/EQ program on a track (Sampled chain is Api 1608,5550,560) …
    Same on another track with an acoustic guitar strumming loop….

    Same prog on the MixBuss.

    I was blown away.

    Today I’ve tested another drum loop: added a taste of Revox Reel to Reel program + some Tape sat progs on the track. No EQ, no comp.

    Same on another track.

    A Studer reel to reel prog and a a Neve RND5088 on the submix… No EQ, no comp.

    Again… My oh my : the two tracks blended so well both in center… Harmonic content of each in unison… All was warm and so glued together.

    Basically you open the plug, load your Program preset … Crank input stage up a bit, for that holy analog saturation… Compensate with output stage down to avoid digital clipping and welcome to dreamland.

    Like a vintage million dollar studio just dropped their gear at my place 🙂

    Convolution, hardware sampling, Vectors and Kernels technology … That’s what they are pioneering right now …

    Cherry on the cake : Nebula is sooo cheap, and third party libs are florishing, as inexpensive as the host plugin …

    downside for mac adepts like me : VST only. I had to wrap Nebula to AU (with fxpansion vst to au wrapper): It works fine.

    Good news : Acustica is working on an AU port… :)))

    Another fav is mostly everything from pspaudioware


    I think I’ll be selling my UAD2 quad card pretty soon… And… Waves… Well.. taking dust.

    Have fun !

  14. Toby Baxley

    Since my original comment about Cakewalk Boost11, I re-discovered Cakewalk TapeSim, which is part of their old AudioFX 2 pack (which BTW they’re giving away on their site along with AudioFX 1 and 3). It adds great warmth and “glue” to my master bus. It makes my drums and bass sound really fat (or is it phat?).

      • Collin Pompey

        They Did make a plugin called “the Glue” It’s a bus compressor by Cytomic.

  15. Wayne Johnson

    Using PT I like to use the SSL comp and Rcomp. For doing mastering I like to use Ozone4 which has some nice presets that need some tweaking at times to match what you’re doing. I have started using T-Racks deluxe which I won in a gearwire contest a few months back to my surprise. I also use Nomad Factory’s retro British Bundle of EQ and Comp. In Sonar I use pretty much the same except Sonar 8.5 comes with pretty much everything you need to do a finished mix. In Sonar I like the lexicon reverb it works well in moderation. But bottom line is they are all fun to experiment with. So many plugins and not enough time. What more can be said.

  16. Diego Pozo

    Izotope Vinyl!! it’s free and it takes away the cold, digital edge from your shiny modern DAW. other than that, i use the stock stuff in GarageBand and Reason.

  17. Sparqee

    I’m a UAD junky. I love being able to choose between an 1176 or a dbx or whatever. The UAD Neve Eq’s are super fun to use as well, but if I had to have just one EQ it would be the Sonalksis and if just one compressor it would be the PSP oldTimer. the oldTimer in particular get’s underestimated because of it’s simplicity but that thing can sound awesome on anything.



  18. Neil

    I just got the Steven Slate Drums EX addition — $20 at AudioMIDI.com until 2/28! I didn’t get much chance to play with it last night, but what I heard was great. Great velocity layering, beautiful roomsound from NRG studios, plenty of tweaking options… I see why they call it a ‘no-brainer’ deal.

  19. Nathan Beaupré

    Waves API 550A&B. They are some of the sweetest sounding EQ,s I have ever used. Sure, a troublesome track needs a graphic parametric to cut some very specific frequencies, but stepping through the notched bands on this one will often produce a better sound with nicer harmonics.

    Also, Classic Reverb. I know it’s a free plugin with simple algorithms, but it has beautiful airy high tail that I just can’t get with better verbs. It sounds best on female vocals, but not on Guitars at all.

  20. Cody

    I’m actually still really new to Pro Tools and am relying heavily on the stock stuff and the lite versions of stuff that came with the LE bundle I have.

    I’d like to get the full version of BFD2 at some point. The lite version that I have is great and it’s very limited compared to the full version (of course).

  21. will

    my top are

    1. Rcomp- amazing compressor that sounds nice and warm with a great visualization of GR
    2. Req- flexible and straight to the point wen I’m not in the mood for the stock digi eq and want something a lil warmer
    3. Ssl eq- a hidden gem among eq’s in the digital realm. Listen to me wen I tell you this; if you want a warm sound for vocals this is it! It’s like a child that missed 1 too many hugs it just cuts so good lol
    4. Ssl buss compressor- practical and single handidly is changing the way a compressor is suppost to sound. Maybe it’s just me but if you have 1 of these they always seem to find there way all throughout a mix as well as on the master buss. It’s simply amazing to the point I would trade all the others in if I had 😉

  22. Ryan

    I second the McDSP Compressor Bank. When I went through production school I was lucky enough to snag the LE bundle for $99 because I was a student.

    I also use the heck out of Izotope Ozone 4

    As far as EQ, I’m VERY partial to FabFilters Pro-Q


    Sadly I got spoiled using an SSL buss compressor but cant afford the $800 SSL bundle for myself.

  23. Al

    My all time fav lineup is :

    SSL EQ
    SSL Comp

    Also, sometimes I use IK-Multimedia’s Amplitube, and T-Racks for EQing and compression

    • Al

      PS – Please someone let us know about Waves Tony Maserati Collection
      I’ve heard alot of good things about it.

      • Joe Gilder

        The Maserati stuff is good for folks who maybe don’t want to bother with things like ratio, attack, release, Q, bandwidth, etc. They’re more like “turn the knob and go” plug-ins, but they do actually sound really good.

        • Al

          Thanx Joe, that’s what I was guessing.

          Some plug-ins don’t have RTAS support, so can u please let me know if there’s a problem when u “wrap” a VST plug-in with vst to rtas. are they gonna lose their “full functionality” ?
          like…I mean a bug occurs or something?

          PS – sorry for dual post, meant to reply to this one :p

          • Joe Gilder

            The only issue with a “wrapper” is that it can cause additional plug-in latency, which can potentially affect the sound quality of your mix.

            I don’t get too caught up in plug-in latency compensation, though.

      • Shayne

        Hi Al,
        I have a few of the “artist collection” plug-ins from waves and I have used the Maserati a few times, specifically the acoustic plug in. Joe is correct, you don’t have a lot of control, but these plug ins are basically insert, load a setting, tweak and your good to go. Personally, I like the CLA collection a bit better then the Maserati. I just think the output sound is more to my tastes in music.
        Having said that, the plug ins I always go to are the SSL channel and the CLA compressors.
        Cheers everyone and happy new year !!

  24. Dan Lueders

    Here are my favs:

    UAD LA2A
    Antras Auto Tune (very lightly)
    IK Multimedia Classic EQ
    IK Multimedia Classic Reverb
    TriTone Digital Colorone on the master bus
    UAD Precision Limiter on the master bus
    Amplitube 3
    Ambience Reverb (free)


    • David S.

      So, I’m a newb here. the Universal Audio stuff, you need to put their DSP card into your computer? Is it a sound card or something? It works w/ Pro Tools and all of that, right?
      Looks fantastic.

      • Joe Gilder

        The deal with UAD stuff is that they offload the processing to a card of some sort. For years you had to have a tower computer to use the PCI (or PCIe) UAD cards. They’ve recently come out with a laptop solution (UAD Solo) that utilized the CardBus slot.

        They WILL work with Pro Tools, but they have been known to introduce a decent amount of latency, so you have to accommodate accordingly. It’s been a while since I researched it, so that may not be an issue anymore.

  25. Jim

    Joe, you use the SSL compressor in Pro Tools, but do you use any hardware compressors on your signal (eg. vocals or guitar) before it goes “in the box?”

    • Joe Gilder

      I’ll sometimes use a little bit of compression through my Focusrite channel strip. I don’t do a huge amount of compressing on the front end, though.

      • Al

        Thanx Joe, that’s what I was guessing.

        Some plug-ins don’t have RTAS support, so can u please let me know if there’s a problem when u “wrap” a VST plug-in with vst to rtas. are they gonna lose their “full functionality” ?
        like…I mean a bug occurs or something?

  26. Lukas

    I don’t mind using Digi’s stock plugins. Having said that I love exploring 3rd party plugins. The one I would take to the desert island is McDSP Analog Channel. 9 times out of 10 I will have it inserted on the SubMix Aux In at an early stage in the mix. With 1-2dB of GR it just glues the instruments together and rounds the sound in very pleasing way.

    • peter jaques

      +1 for McDSP Analog Channel, and I also use the CompressorBank & FilterBank plugins heavily. They’re incredibly CPU-efficient, so I can track through as many as I like on my Macbook at 64 sample latency… Plus the CB is particularly flexible — there’s a reason it says “every compressor ever made!”

      A plug: McDSP’s Project Studio bundle is an amazing deal, btw, with LE versions of these & several others (good convolution reverb, great limiter, decent amp modeling, plus a lame synth) for $230. Plus you can upgrade the individual LE versions to full versions for $69 (though the only one really necessary to upgrade is the Analog Channel, because I love the AC1 config which is missing from the LE versions). So for $300 (bundle + upgrade for AC) you have an incredible bundle… Poke around http://www.mcdsp.com for all the details.

      (Btw McDSP will release Audio Units versions of all their plugins in May, but as of now they’re all RTAS or TDM only.)

      Favorite reverb is 112db’s Redline Reverb, which is an efficient algorithmic reverb that sounds real nice, comparable to a Lexicon if you ask me, but more tweakable. http://www.112db.com

      I also have the Waves SSL bundle, and use the Bus comp a lot, but I also often prefer the McDSP Compressorbank Fairchild emulation or McDSP limiter on the master bus.

      I’d take them all to a desert island — it’s just one iLok after all!

      ~peter in oakland

      • peter jaques

        ps– Redline Reverb is only $150, compared to $340 for Breverb, my second favorite (also excellent) reverb, or $520 for the well-regarded Altiverb!

  27. Agincourtdb

    if you like the Logic Tape Delay plugin but are not on a mac, try Analogic Delay and Bionic Delay by The Interruptor. I use these all the time.

    Warning: they tend to crash Sonar.

    I’m also a fan of Vintage Warmer

  28. Mathew

    Softube’s FET Comp and CL1B amazing compressors…

    and no LE rig is complete without Mellowmuse’s ATA… definitely helps with the lack of ADC.

  29. Neil

    I just discovered how to use Logic’s “Tape Delay” with no delay last night for a really nice, warm saturation, so that’s my favorite right now. I’ll be trying out the PSP Vintage Warmer demo soon, it seems like a great way to compress.

    Also, they’re really experimental and weird: Michael Norris has some amazing (and free!) plug-ins based on spectral processing (converting audio to Fourier space, manipulating it in all sorts of ways, then converting it back).

  30. Erez

    Well, as for EQ, Compressors and Limiters, I usually use the stock ones that come with Pro Tools or Logic Studio.
    But other than that, I would say I can’t live without the “Guitar Rig” Plug-In and all kinds of instruments I have for Midi like Massive, FM8 and Absynth.

  31. Jonathan

    I couldn’t live without RND Inspector. Its a free meter/frequency analyzer/phase tool that is just it just fantastic. I always have one instance on my master buss, but use other instances of this plug in everywhere so I can see what my other effects are doing to each track. It’s great as a learning tool and about 1000 times better than using the meters in the Pro Tools mix window. Other than that, I am still learning (and I guess I will always be), so I try to use different plugins all the time to find what will become my future dessert island ones.

  32. Toby Baxley

    Coming from the PC side of things using Sonar, I could not live without Boost 11, Cakewalk’s final-stage peak limiter. You can really make a mix play well together and boost its output without completely squashing it. Although squash is one of the pre-sets. All the other plug-ins I use are Cakewalk stock with the exception of Izotope Vinyl that I saw mentioned earlier. It’s a nice effect every now and then, but definitely not a desert island plug-in.

    • andi rock

      Thanks for this, as I’ve recently been learning compression but find myself overusing it to get to the desired output level. As a sonar user I’ll definintely be using boost11 now that i know wtf it is 😉

  33. Joel

    Izotope Trash and Izotope Vinyl are both fun, depending on the type of music you record most often (and Vinyl is FREE!)

  34. @theaudiogeek

    I rely on too many to list.
    Massey CT4 would be my go-to compressor. ApEQ gets used when the digi EQ3 7band doesn’t cut it. WaveArts TrackPlug is another favorite. Massey DTM saved my ass quite a few times.

    An alternative to the Waves SSL Bus comp is The Glue by Cytomic

    btw – Do you really use 16+ dB of GR on your bus comp?

    • Joe Gilder

      Ha ha ha. That was a screenshot fom the parallel compression video for drums. I squashed the crap out of the parallel signal.

      But no, I rarely do more than 4-6 dB gain reduction.

  35. Adam

    So I have a bit of a thing for free plugins (the words “poor” and “college student” come to mind). I really like the plugins in the Beta Bugs Bugpack, especially the Bugpass bandpass filter. Check it out here: http://www.betabugsaudio.com/plugs.php

    Anyone else ever use this plugin to good effect?

    • Cody

      Heh, the words “poor” and “free” caught my attention. I just went over and downloaded all of these. Looking forward to checking them out tonight.


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