My favourite Free (or inexpensive) Plugins July 17, 2015 19:29 4 Comments

There are a lot of things that contribute to the cost of a plugin.  But rest assured, price is not always an indicator of quality.  Many cheap or even free plugins are extremely good.  Occasionally a free plugin bests just about everything out there.  This list is some of my personal favorites, the ones I use the most.

1. TDR Kotelnikov (free)


TDR's Compressor is one of the most transparent mastering compressors you'll come across.  It is not an emulation of any analog compressor, it's an original.  It has a clean and stylish GUI, it's very easy to use and has an awesome "delta" control which lets you listen to the difference between the compressed portion of your signal and the original.

It's capable of an extremely fast attack and has two release stages.  The crest control allows you to set the threshold for each stage, so very short transients that poke out of the material can have very short release times, so as not to bring down the RMS of the track.  This dual release stage is something I've only seen on the Elysia compressors from Plugin Alliance.  There is more to this compressor of course, I encourage you to check it out and read the manual. Not only is it a great processor, but you can learn a lot about compression in general from this.

The Gentleman's edition is 40 Euro's and has some really nifty features.  I've not yet used it myself, but I plan to get it soon. 

TDR Labs is also a first rate company in my book.  Not only do they produce amazing free tools, but they are also rock solid and come in VST, AU & AXX, 32 & 64-bit. 

2. TDR SlickEQ (free)

SlickEQAnother TDR plugin, SlickEQ is a power house of an EQ, with 4 different EQ types, a highpass filter and harmonic saturation. SlickEQ also has an auto gain control, which allows compensates the output level so boosting or cutting does not result in overall gain change.  This allows you to hear your EQ changes without being fooled by the resulting change in gain, since making something louder almost always sounds like an improvement, but you may be making the material worse overall.  With the 4 different modes on offer, this EQ is quite suitable for both mixing and mastering.


3. Convolution Reverbs

Sometimes the real deal can't be beat.  I love algorithmic reverbs, but there is a quality and character to the classic hardware units that just sound better to me, not to mention that the following IR's (Impulse response) libraries are all free or very cheap (donation ware).  You can literally have the sound of $10,000's worth of gear for next to nothing!

So what is convolution?  Quite simply, instead of programming behavior with algorithms, hardware units sampled.  That is the Impulse response library.  All you need to do is load it into a convolution plugin, say Logic's Space Designer or Steinberg's Reverence (there are many other convolution plugins out there) and you've now got something very close to the original hardware to run your sounds through.  Reverbs are not the only thing that can be sampled of course, I'll get to that later.

  • Bricasti M7 from Samplicity.  This is a stunning library, very well made, from one of the most highly praised reverb units in the industry.  Don't miss this one, it's totally free!
  • Sony Creative (free) - Sony have a bunch of libraries up, most of them are in a special sound forge format, but the Synthesized library is in wav format, and can be used in any convolution plugin.  I highly recommend this eclectic and inspiring IR library. 
  • Eventide (donation ware) - Eventide are famous for their effects units, micro shifting, echoes, incredible reverbs, they are all represented here and show you just how incredible these units are.
  • Lexicon 480L (free) - This is a classic and loved reverb unit from the 80's and boy was it used on a lot of famous records.  I especially recommend this excellent IR library for anyone doing anything retro.  
  • Signal to Noize - Various amazing (and very expensive) Reverb units, all of them totally worth having, do not miss this one! (donation ware) 


4. Klanghelm (free) - This guy is awesome.  Not only are his plugins first rate (especially his latest compressor, the MJUC) but all his plugins have totally free versions, and they are totally worth getting!

On offer are two compressors, the MJUC Jr is a vari-mu style comp, very smooth and coloured. Perfect for vocals.  This is the one I like the most.  The full version has 3 modes and has some extra features that can make it sound incredible.  It's some $24 too which is an outrageous quality/price ratio.



The other plugin, the 
IVGI, is a superb saturation and distortion plugin.  Use this on low end toms, baselines, claps, anything you want some over drive breakup on.  It's superb.

Needless to say, if you can go for the full versions, they are very affordable and offer a huge amount of extras that really make it worth doing, particularly in the case of the MJUC.

5. Voxengo (free) - They is a variety of useful and free plugins on offer from Voxengo.
 My favorite right now are the SPAN analyzer and Sound Delay plugins.

Voxengo SpanSPAN gives you a very flexible and detailed look at whatever audio is running through it.  So use it to help aid your mixing and EQ decisions and to pick apart a commercial track you're emulating sonically.

Sound Delay is not a traditional delay/echo plugin.  Rather it allows you to make precise adjustments to either the left or right channels.  I use this for the HAAS effect, basically you delay only one side, say left, by 100ms or more.  This gives you a lush stereo spread and is a widely used technique in mixing for clean stereo widening.  It also allows you to delay mid or side frequencies.  It's an extremely handy tool to have around.  And it's free!

6. Plugin Alliance (free)

These guys have some of the best plugins available.  Very flexible, very well supported.  They have 4 free plugins, all of them are golden, but these two are my favorite.

Cleansweep V2CleansweepV2 is a gentle sloped filter, ideal for some low and high frequency taming, and even does the "telephone" effect quite nicely. 



The next one is gets a lot of use here and is a fantastic free plugin, the Elysia Niveau.  It's not a cosmetic product, but it will fix up your mix nicely (sorry couldn't resist). It's a tilt EQ.  You set the centre frequency and boost or cut accordingly.  The filter will then tilt the spectrum around the center frequency.  It's a great way to lighten the bass and brighten the top without boosting bands on an EQ, and sounds different.

BX_Opto Pedal
 - Another great compressor, the Opto Pedal is a cut down version of the BX_Opto comp. Interestingly the main differences are lack of a mix control and side-chain filter, so what's left is still an ultra useful Opto comp that's worth having.  As far as I can tell, it's free for a limited time, and will then be $49.  To get it free you just need to go to their activation page here and enter a voucher code: bx_opto_PGCFB9VWAKEK92HPM3QD


7. A.O.M Invisible Limiter ($30 for 1yrs' license) - This one came out of nowhere and became popular quickly.  In short, it's pretty much what the title says.  You can really push this limiter without obvious artifacts.  It also has a unity gain mode, so you can clearly hear what it's doing to your material without the distraction of the louder volume.  Highly recommended!

A.O.M Invisible Limiter

8. Flux Bittersweet V3 - This is a transient designer.  And a very good one at that.  It can be used to accentuate transients and can be used as another form of stereo widening.  

Flux Bitter Sweet V3

9. Xfer Records - You probably know about Serum, and LFO tool, but Xfer Records have some really awesome free plugins too.  My favourites are the Dimension Expander and the OTT.  The DJM Filter is also awesome. 

Dimension Expander    Xfer OTT

10. Waves - Waves have a long back catalog of older plugins. The GUI's are somewhat dated, they run at 24-bit which means you have to watch that you don't clip them, and their analog modeling is arguably a bit better now than it was then.  However, none of this should steer you away from the quality and usefulness of some of these older plugins, which are now often on sale. Sometimes you can pick up what would normally cost $150-250 for $29.  Such is the case recently with their sale of the Linear Multi-band compressor.  You never know whats going on sale next, but subscribe to their newsletter and watch out for one day only deals.  I highly recommend Renaissance bass, Maxxbass, Q-clone and the Linear Multiband compressor.  I got each of those for $29!

Multi-band compression can bean amazing tool in electronic dance music production, but there is something especially awesome about Waves Linear Multiband.  It has a very well thought out user interface, some nifty features like adaptive release times and two great compression styles, Opto and Electro.  Beyond all that though, it just sounds smooth and is able to really bring out some excitement and focus in the mix.

11. Kilohearts Disperser ($19) - This is a bit of an odd effect, but once you figure out what it's useful for you'll be addicted!
Disperser is a sort of Phase-scrambling plugin.  You get to set the centre frequency and amount of phase scrambling.  It's extremely useful in small doses to help elements sit in a mix better.  As an alternative to compression for example. The best way you can really hear what is going on is to put this effect on a low note sawtooth waveform.  You'll immediately hear the "rubbery" effect. If you want those big, in your face rubbery baselines, It's boss.  Trust me!

Do you have any awesome free or cheap mixing plugins you like to use that's not on the list? Let me know in the comments below!