If you’re like me and running a low / no budget recording setup chances are you're doing most everything “in the box”. My audio rack only holds two recording interfaces and any effects processing takes place in my DAW. It’s a technological feat that’s economic, space saving, and allows a great deal of flexibility. While the stock plugins in my DAW are fantastic and get plenty of use, sometimes I need a specific tool for a particular effect. Thankfully there are tons of great VST plugins available for free online when you need to add a little pizzazz to your mix. I’ve chosen five of my favorites to recommend and provided links where you can download and try them yourself.
My most recent discovery, Modern Deathcore has become a standard on kick drums. The name alone indicates that this plugin means serious business. Modern Deathcore is a compressor with attitude that can be configured to add a lot of color and character to the source. Modern Deathcore gives users plenty of configuration options without having extraneous buttons and knobs that clutter up space. The high pass and low pass filters are an excellent feature and the color button can really make this plugin pop.
Voxengo Span is a real time spectrum analyzer and an indispensable tool for reference mixing. Supporting multi-channel analysis, Span can display spectrums form two different channels or channel groups at once. Being able to get a visual reference between your work and a reference track is a key feature of the plugin and a great way to evaluate how your track stacks up.
Have you ever wanted the compression, distortion, and noise of cassette tape on your tracks but you either don’t own a deck or don’t want to go through the work of patching one in? Using actual sampling of tape white noise, Tape Cassette 2 provides complete control over noise saturation, wow, and flutter to emulate that sweet compact cassette experience. This plugin is capable of making a track sound like a brand new well functioning tape, or one that’s been left in an old Honda Civic since ‘92. An email is required to register this one but it’s well worth the minor inconvenience.
Recording bass DI is common practice but finding a decent bass tone in the digital world can sometimes be a struggle. Luckily, ignite amps offers their SHB-1 Extreme Bass Head plugin for free. This is an aggressive sounding amp with a lot of tonal control. I especially like pushing up the gain and playing with the toggle switches to brighten the tone and attack of my bass tracks. It’s a reliable sound that pushes the bass forward in the mix and provides presence and feel for a DI track.
Stereo Touch is another killer free plugin from Voxengo. Branded as a stereo-widener and mid-side stereo delay, Stereo Touch is described as taking a mono signal and generating a stereo signal by means of channel delay. This little plugin can take a lifeless mono track and transform it into a spacious stereo signal with as much width as you’d like. I often like to use this when recording demos that I know I won’t be double tracking guitar for. Running a distorted rhythm guitar through Stereo Touch is a quick and easy way to fatten guitar tone and widen guitar tracks without recording a second take. Backing vocals low in the mix also work well, creating the illusion of more backing tracks.
Obviously this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to free audio effects so expect to see more featured here in the future. What are some of your favorite plugins and what do you like about them? And if you tried any of the ones featured here what did you think?