This list will cover the best and hottest picks for saturation plugins in 2022.
As musicians and audio producers, we will never cease to be amazed at how good our equipment can sound. Be it live or in the studio, we love the gear that sounds great, especially the vintage ones. Saturation is often an imperative element in music production, especially at the mixing stage. The vintage units used along the decades to enhance, shape, and create warmth on many types of instruments are the main inspiration, and skillful developers and dedicated audio companies are the ones that make the original sound more accessible to everyone, sometimes for free.
Before we start with the list, also consider reading our selection of the Top 13 Saturation Plugins In 2021 For Mixing & Mastering where you can find quality freebies as well.
But now let’s dive into the list for 2022:
Top 12 Saturation Plugins In 2022 (Best Mixing & Mastering Tools)
1. Arturia Tape MELLO-FI
Inspired by the iconic Mellotron, this plugin brings the tape simulation and all its desired imperfections straight to your computer.
The famous unit, which excels as one of the earliest sampling devices ever produced, has gained fame through classic songs like “Strawberry Fields Forever” by The Beatles. The grainy and lo-fi character of the Mellotron is brought to life on this plugin by Arturia, in all its glory.
Distributed between three main modules, the Arturia MELLO-FI recreates that old-school atmosphere present in these instruments with a dedicated preamp, a tape module ready to adjust the perfect tone, and a filter. A tape stop feature is also present to make it even closer to the authentic feel of these machines.
- Tape controls
In this section, you’ll find the heart of the plugin, which makes it sound like a tape. Distributed between four knobs, the quality and design of the tape sound can be easily molded. For example, the “Flutter” knob directly impacts the pitch of the recording by mimicking the rotations of a tape motor, which can also be visually seen on a little screen above the controls. Similarly, the “Wow” knob also alters the pitch but at a slower rate than the previous knob. The “Wear” control, as it might suggest, deals with the amount of degradation in a tape, and, lastly, the “Mechanics” knob controls the amount of tape motor noise in the signal. Combining these four elements can create the perfect recipe for an authentic vintage sound.
The preamp module features three primary controls: “Drive,” “Tone,” and “Noise.” At this stage, the signal can be manipulated and processed similarly to the genuine preamp of a Mellotron. The “Drive” knob deals with the amount of distortion applied to the original signal, and this value can easily be monitored via the VU meter. Underneath it, there’s a switch for a gain-compensated boost, which will make it sound even crunchier. The “Tone” knob allows you to change the color of the original sound by damping the high-frequencies. Also, you can altogether bypass it out of your signal chain by pressing a switch underneath the control. Lastly, the “Noise” knob adds a tape noise texture to the overall sound, sometimes even capturing the aspect of a vinyl sound.
- Tape stop
This great function is present to instantly bring that classic tape stop effect to your track, a ubiquitous tool used in sampled recordings that can be added to your instrument while you play. You can either click on the exposed wheel or on the “Play/Pause” switch underneath it to have it activated and can be triggered in an “Instant” or “Fast-Forward” style (abrupt or slightly fading out the effect).
This control deals with the high-pass and low-pass filters that might apply to your signal. You can rapidly shape the high or low-end spectrum and tame any undesired frequencies created or enhanced by any previous controls by twisting this knob.
- Tape controls
This plugin runs in macOS 10.13 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 8.1 or higher (64-bit only). It comes in VST2.4, VST3, AU, NKS, and AAX plugin formats and requires Open GL 2.0 compatible GPU.
An excellent option for any producers searching for a tool that brings the classic lo-fi vintage aspect of a tape recorder to your sound. This is a faithful reproduction of a classic sound profile from a famous instrument, and Arturia nailed remodeling it, as usual. The variety and subtle alterations each control can bring showcase how sensitive this effect is, having the power to change any track processed through it drastically.
2. Baby Audio TAIP
Baby Audio’s aspiration to innovate is showcased one more time with this beautiful AI-powered tape effect plugin.
Unlike the previous plugins mentioned up to this point, TAIP isn’t supposed to recreate any specific circuits but rather explore a new and original version of the famous tape effect. You can colorize, saturate, modulate, compress, and distort any audio you want with much character and quality.
As the name implies, TAIP is a plugin that depends on an AI-powered engine to work, and this is an example of how the future of music technology lies within artificial intelligence. This plugin proves that by bringing the desired elements of a tape recorder machine in a new and refreshed way, it’s possible to have an innovative and modern tape sound.
You can count with a dedicated “auto-gain” option that automatically sets the output level of the preamp section to be more consistent with whatever values you input on the “Drive” control. This means that the overall distortion to the signal will be firmly adjusted and controlled, independently from the amount of gain boosted.
- Adjustable interface
Working for long hours in audio productions may be tiresome to your eyesight, and you can customize this plugin’s interface to comfort you better. On the top left corner, you’ll see three different options for theme – white, gray, and black – that can be changed very swiftly. Having a night mode turned on might be very beneficial to your eyes. The window is also fully resizable to fit your screen the best way possible.
This plugin contains a brick wall limiter at the output section, right at the end of the signal chain. Even if you turn your volume up to 11, it’ll be prevented from clipping at your DAW. An excellent tool that automatically helps you sweep better the sound you want. For example, you can use the “Output” control to compress your signal further, expanding your possibilities even further.
- Models & input
Centered at the bottom of the controls, two switches can help shape the tape sound. The “Input” selection offers an extra push at the gain drive with the “Hot” option, going further than the “Drive” knob goes. At “Model,” however, it’s possible to simulate the effect of two tape machines running in series with the “Dual” mode – and also a “Single” one for keeping things regular.
This plugin runs in macOS 10.7 or higher and Windows 7 or higher. It comes in VST, VST3, AU, and AAX plugin formats.
Baby Audio is a brand that often reinvents and modernizes standard concepts and techniques of music production. With TAIP wasn’t any different. The artificial intelligence that runs the engine is developed with an inspiration of the old units mixed with modern digital features, such as the storage of presets or how it deals with gain staging. This is an excellent option if you need something classic but with a bold tendency towards reinventing itself.
3. denise God Mode
Another plugin inspired by iconic hardware from the past, but with a refreshing modern interface and updated take on how saturation works.
The Pultec EQ was a passive tube equalizer from the 1950s. It featured a “push-pull” technology that motivated the denise team to recreate it. In a nutshell, the EQ would “push” the gain for a specific frequency range into its tube circuit to have it “pulled” back again, smoothing out the overall frequency response. The result is a sound with boosted frequency ranges added to it – the famous “warmth” so much sought after.
It does bring the same kind of sound vibe of the original unit into play, further developing it with the infinite capacity of the digital world. Combining these worlds can be crucial to “push” specific frequencies to saturation more efficiently than ever, aiming specifically at their values. This can enhance their response and resonance.
- Three drive types
- Each drive can be dialed in simultaneously with the exact amount you configure. The drives can be chosen and mixed within three main types: “Tape,” “Warp,” and “Buzz.” The first type is the smoothest, featuring the algorithm mentioned below. The second can show a more confident character, while the last is based on wave-shaping and can be pretty aggressive. Finally, the side-chain option available allows you to use another track to modulate the amount of saturation at the “Tape” setting.
- Multi-band distortion
This is a saturator plugin intertwined with equalizer parameters, so, logically, they decided to have a nice screen showing you the nodes on the graph. With linear phase filters, you can blend in the wet and mix signals as you please with enormous precision and without phase issues. The multi-band distortion aspect of this effect is the main appeal here, and it’s crucial to have every frequency sounding as best as possible.
God mode allows you to pan the wet and dry signals independently. This is not-so-usual feature allows for a more creative stereo placement, resulting in exciting sounds. The “Split” mode at the upper right corner allows to enhance the stereo image or create a new one from a mono source, as well.
- Tape Analog VM™ algorithm
The “Tape” drive type is the only one to feature this algorithm. It was earlier developed and included on denise’s Bad Tape plugin, which is supposedly its evolution. This algorithm emulates the smoothness in old tape machines while pushing it to its limits at the same time. Since you’re dealing with digital values, you can go for transparent tones even when set to maximum gain, getting the perfect blend between analog and digital.
- Three drive types
This plugin runs in macOS 10.7 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 7 or higher (64-bit only). It comes in VST, VST3, AU, and AAX plugin formats.
As always, denise brings a modern recreation of an old sound we all love and cherish. The fantastic possibilities uncovered with the digital advances are present on this plugin and can significantly assist when breaking the production routine. Push the limits even further than previously imagined while retaining the vintage aspects so coveted by professionals.
4. PSP Saturator (Not MixSaturator)
A combination of refined algorithms and an inspiration coming from great saturation units that comes in a beautiful interface and offers an abundance of controls.
PSP Audioware brings a new plugin to their catalog, dedicated to assisting you with the most common saturation processes and offering plenty of presets to start working right when you open it for the first time. With an intuitive set of controls displayed at the interface – which resembles vintage studio gear -, each knob twist is precise and full of character.
You can saturate any sound by adding harmonics, taming the frequencies, and dynamic processing to simulate an analog circuit as best as possible. Allied with that, you have three algorithms dedicated to further enhancing the emulation, distributed between eight saturation types.
Right below the large “Saturation” knob, there’s a “Shape” switch with eight variable settings. This is a collection of saturation types, going from left to right on a scale from less intense to a very distorted sound. A versatile tool like this is essential to suit every need when applying saturation. With “Soft Valve,” “Med Valve,” “Hard Valve,” “Warm Tape,” “Modern Tape,” “Ram,” “Soft Clip,” and “Hard Clip,” you can dwell into both valve and tape characters very quickly.
- Band-processing controls
Divided between two sections, the dedicated band-processing controls are distributed straightforwardly. At the “Low” module, you’ll find a dedicated knob to set the frequency value, a “Level” knob to adjust the volume, and a “Warmth” setting designed to give some consistency to the low-end. At the “High” module, there’s also a “Level” knob and a “Freq” control, but this time aimed at higher frequencies. The “Softness” control, equivalent to the “Warmth,” delivers a concise shaping to the high-end spectrum. Using these two unique knobs at each section can easily set the shape on your frequencies.
There’s an entire section dedicated to the input and output controls on the bottom. This can be essential when dealing with gain and saturation, but a particular configuration should’ve been in every similar plugin. On the left of the “Input” and “Output” controls, there’s a small chain symbol that represents a “Link.” When this option is activated, the input and output volumes are locked and relative to each other, allowing for an ultra-precise instant configuration of your signal level values.
- Output modes
A small switch located at the right of the “Output” knob can cover two output modes. The first, “SAT,” allows saturation to be applied to the output signal. The second, “LIM,” brings a limiter to help you control a signal with lots of peaks or dynamics. Both will influence how the “Output” knob works and drastically impact the way your signal is manipulated.
- Open it up
At the same bottom section, there’s a very tiny “Open” button at the right. This fantastic feature lets you open the plugin up, just like you would a real tape machine. A section of what would be the circuit of the plugin is shown when you click it, and some controls can be tweaked to enhance your sound even more. It contains a “Fat” mode, a side-chain high-pass filter, a smoothing control, a make-up control, and another high-pass filter that can be routed to “pre” or “post” in your signal chain.
This plugin runs in macOS 10.10 to 12.01 (64-bit only) and Windows 7 or higher (64-bit only). It comes in VST, VST3, AU, and AAX plugin formats.
This can be one of the most complete saturation plugins in our list, regarding the number of tools present and what you can do with them. Each parameter can be tweaked clearly, without a large number of knobs to scare newcomers. The attention to detail is extreme, with special mention to the “Open” option that allows you to peak into the “hardware.” The algorithms working here dramatically benefit the result, which can be extremely close to what genuine equipment would deliver.
5. Waves Abbey Road Saturator
Abbey Road Saturator delivers a unique saturation character by combining two classic EMI tools: a compander and console saturation chains.
Winner of the 2021 NAMM TEC award, this plugin can bring some great features to your DAW that are present at the heart of the iconic EMI studios. The combination mentioned above of a compander and a console saturation brings to the table all the subtlety of the original unit.
A compander was initially designed to reduce noise in telecommunications, compressing the signal before the transmission and expanding it on the receiving end. In 1962, the EMI Central Research Laboratories invented a tape noise-reduction system called the TG12321, emphasizing the high frequencies and adding more air to the tracks before sending the signal to the saturator. Producers like Peter Brown and Geoff Emerick used this quite a lot, and now it’s available for your use too.
As mentioned earlier, the compander was meant to reduce noise in an audio signal but later was further developed to enhance the high-end of the signal. This is the feature that makes this plugin so different from others. Lower ratios can add soft clipping at low frequencies, and the same soft clipping can happen when dealing with higher values. This is essential to tame the overall filtering before it saturates the signal.
- Pre and post EQ
If a compander is not enough, maybe these two equalizers will satisfy you. The “Pre EQ” section deals with the frequencies before the compander and saturator, with low, mid, and high filters. The “Post EQ,” however, is crucial at dealing with the signal just before it reaches the output – a last chance to tweak even more precisely the frequencies on your signal with the very same filters.
- Stereo modes
This switch near the “Input” knob can deal with three stereo processing modes. The “M” indicates that the middle of the stereo image is distorted, while the sides are not processed. In “S” mode, it’s the other way around: the sides are distorted, and the middle of the stereo image is not processed. Finally, the “ST” mode brings the entire stereo image together.
This plugin runs in macOS 10.14.6 to 12.0.1 (64-bit only) and Windows 10 or higher (64-bit only). It comes as a V13 Waves plugin in VST, VST3, AU, and AAX formats. Minimum 8GB of RAM required.
Saturation might be one of the key elements to a good analog recording, and plugins like this try to mimic the significant innovations that the past audio gear has brought us over the decades. Blending a saturator with a rare component like the EMI TG12321 creates a very authentic and unique characteristic in this software, dealing with features like stereo imaging modes and pre/post equalization. Talking about mojo and a plethora of controls, Abbey Road Saturator is indeed among the best plugins out there that will enhance your production’s quality.
6. IK Multimedia Tape Machine 99
IK Multimedia brings another superb reproduction of classic studio gear to its catalog: a bundle dedicated to the glory of tape machines. Still, you can buy them individually.
Known for great plugins such as Amplitube, IK Multimedia never misses when talking about faithful recreations of legendary sounds. The T-RackS Tape Machine Collection is a bundle that includes four different tape machine simulations, and Tape Machine 99 is one of them.
This plugin is a recreation of the Revox PR99 MK II, a classic rack-mount stereo tape recorder produced by Studer in the 1980s. It was engineered initially around a hybrid design that would feature a unique stereo simulation and an excellent frequency response.
- Faithful reproduction
This plugin was developed with a mix of dynamic convolution and physical modeling, focusing on capturing the complex interplay of effects during the audiotape recording process. Essentially, this was a measure to mimic every smallest detail of the original unit, with lots of character and response.
- Tape formulas
There are four tape formulas present on all plugins from this bundle. This means that you can choose between four tapes commonly used since the old days. The “250” (modeled after the 3M/Scotch 250) provides a slightly more warm and saturated tone, while the “GP9” (based on the Quantegy GP9) captures higher levels of signal with minimal distortion and compression. The “456” and “499” are based on the Ampex 456 and 499 tapes. The former may be the most classic sound of a tape, with a warm and round tone, while the latter can also deal with a tremendous amount of signal and bring an uncompressed and “digital-like” recording quality to your production.
- True stereo
Every tape machine has the slightest and subtle level, EQ, and distortion differences between left and right channels. This is due to components, the actual circuit, and many more variations from one unit to another. Some say it’s an essential part of the analog recording experience, so this feature is present on the plugin. If turned on, this option can create an unbalanced stereo imaging and faithfully reproduce this feature in your mix. However, if by any means you need perfect identical left and right channels, this option can easily be disabled.
Since it’s all about the smallest differences this effect can bring to your tracks, you can even simulate the irregularities in the movements of the tape. The “Transport Modeling” option creates various degrees of sonic alteration that could happen while the tape moves inside the unit. From slight de-tunings to a characteristic “flavor” to the overall output, this is an excellent well-reproduced feature that summarizes the essence of why tape machine units are so sought after.
- Faithful reproduction
Here, Creative Sauce talks about Tape Machine 99 at 14:57. Anyway, we recommend you check it from the beginning.
This plugin runs in macOS 10.10 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 7 or higher (64-bit only). It comes in VST2, VST3, AU, and AAX plugin formats.
The essence of this plugin is to bring a particular kind of saturation to your productions, that being the effect derived from old tape machine units. While this is a reproduction of the Revox PR99 MK II, other plugins like Tape Machine 24 and Tape Machine 80 offer recreations from other units and bring the same effect, but with a different taste. What matters is that, in any of these plugins, you will introduce the great analog character of these machines right to your DAW, in no time, with straightforward controls and all the options required to make it sound unique.
7. Audified U78 Saturator
The original circuit of the U73b model is explored within this brilliant saturation plugin by Audified, with particular attention to all the details of the circuit.
The U73b compressor produces a unique kind of saturation, which many producers seek. It’s arguably more accessible and cheaper to have a plugin alternative to the hardware running perfectly into your DAW, and with this plugin, you’ll see how close it is to the actual unit.
This is inspired by a valve-type saturation, which can tell how the plugin works. Valves are the kind of component that can breathe new life in your tracks, and their warmness and punch are present here. From crunchier claps to burning strings, massive drums, to rich-sounding guitars, all can be achieved at a knob’s twist.
- Perfect modeling
Modern designs sometimes tend to copy the old gear in every capacity. Even so, the newest technology advances can get us even more closely to the perfect simulation of these old gears we love so much. Audified’s passion for these types of equipment is visible through the dedicated mix of vintage circuit values with modern software modeling, capturing the essence of the analog character in the final sound result.
- Saturator controls
Based on the iconic compressor, these controls are responsible for shaping your sound. The “Gain” knob controls the amount of saturation at the input signal, and the three other knobs can help tailor the sound to perfection. The “HiPass” and “LowPass” controls can set the frequency values to be allowed through in an entire range from 30Hz to 8kHz. However, the “Tone” knob can be used to darken or brighten your sound, acting as a second type of filter.
A switch can alter a VU metering of the input or output signals in grand fashion and vintage style. It makes monitoring the decibels and overall distortion easier and can better tame the saturation with the “Output” control. There’s also an “Auto-gain” switch available to make this refinement more automatic at the output section.
- Perfect modeling
This plugin runs in macOS 10.11 to 12 (64-bit only) and Windows 7 to 10 (32 and 64-bit). It comes in VST2, VST3, AU, and AAX plugin formats.
A faithful reproduction of a classic compressor, the U78 Saturator is a wonderful plugin with much dynamics and color attached to it. While other plugins might bring more options to tweak your sound, this one wins by how wonderfully the sound aspect is recreated. The modeling of this software was done by a team that knew what sounds they wanted from the first place, so they did a great job simulating the valve-style character of the unit.
8. Softube Overstayer M-A-S
A versatile plugin that offers saturation, peak-bending, tone sculpting, and harmonic shaping with high-fidelity details at the power of your fingertip.
The Overstayer Recording Equipment was designed, developed, and built by Jeff Turzo in Los Angeles. With a handmade appeal to it, these units were initially intended for Jeff’s personal use. As the word got around, he eventually started fabricating more units in 2009. Since then, Overstayer has gathered a very loyal fanbase amongst producers and audio geeks.
This plugin is 100% based on the hardware, offering the same saturation and peak-bending capabilities present on the equipment. You may find this plugin very suitable for adding energy to your tracks, as well as gluing buses and enhancing the quality in your mixes.
- Filter controls
The three switches featuring various boosts or cuts can increase the quality of your signal before it runs through the plugin’s “circuit.” The top button can boost the highs, the middle one can boost the lows, and the last can cut the lows. These quick settings can be conducive to cutting out excessive mud in the low-end or trimming the high frequencies better.
- Dual and 2nd modes
The “Dual” button at the right of your screen enables the second stage in series to the signal path, spreading the load amongst both stages. The result is a complex and lively harmonic character brought to your track. However, the “2nd” mode shifts the circuitry’s response toward more substantial secondary harmonic content, thus brightening your distorted signal in a much more organic method – just like the actual unit would.
- To dry or not to dry
This control underneath the “Mix” button is a feature not so commonly seen: it automatically allows the input to adjust the dry and wet signals’ levels together. This can save you some good hours while trying to balance both signals. Allied with the neighbor “Auto” switch that allows for auto-gain at the output stage, you can tweak your signal in a much more precise way.
- Filter controls
This plugin runs in macOS 10.13 up to 11.6.1 (64-bit only) and Windows 10 (64-bit only). It comes in VST, VST3, AU, and AAX plugin formats.
Softube Overstayer M-A-S does justice to the hardware it’s supposed to mimic. The harmonic richness and overall high level of attention to every control algorithm create a very unique-sounding swiss-army knife that will push the limits of saturation as we know it. The dedicated filtering options and the modes that deal with gain-staging take center stage at this wonderful software.
9. Black Box Analog Design HG-2MS
Adding colorful tube saturation with M/S processing has never been easier and done in a more powerful way than the Black Box HG-2MS does.
Black Box Analog Design is known for developing the critically-acclaimed HG-2 Saturation Processor unit and later a plugin version. After a while, they decided to bring the updated version of this plugin, the HG-2MS.
With the Brainworx Tolerance Modeling Technology™, this plugin showcases the brilliance and imagination of its developers being risen to another new level. The HG-2MS is a mid/side version of its older brother, including More Saturation options and a wider variety of colors with its refreshed filter section. The sonic refinement is at its best here, with more than enough for your everyday needs.
- Brainworx Tolerance Modeling Technology™
This is a brand new technology developed by Brainworx’s team to enhance the authenticity of your productions. It emulates the subtle variations between each module or channel in an actual hardware unit. This is caused by the components and all parts involved in each section. The final result is an organic and characteristic feel to your sound, recreated with this brilliant modeling technology.
- New filter section
Improving its quality from its older brother HG-2, the filter section has been revamped and updated. You have “HighPass,” “BandPass,” “Flat,” “BandStop,” and “LowPass” modes to choose from, with a complete 20Hz-20kHz frequency range in each of them. For instance, this allows you to determine where exactly to set your band-pass filter. As a bonus, the “HighPass” and “LowPass” have a unique control called “Octave” that deals with slope control in 06, 12, 18 24, or 30dB.
- Solo function
This function is a new one, not present in many saturation plugins. Switching the “Solo” button on, you will get the saturation soloed for you to hear better what’s going on there. This allows you to precisely listen to the saturation and how the filters are behaving towards it.
- Brainworx Tolerance Modeling Technology™
This plugin runs in macOS 10.9 to 11 (64-bit only) and Windows 7 to 10 (64-bit only). It comes in VST2, VST3, AU, AAX DSP, and AAX Native plugin formats.
Many producers love and cherish both the HG-2 unit and its plugin counterpart. The HG-2MS brings revamped features, an astonishingly well-made modeling technology, and great tube-like quality saturation with exquisite settings and refined controls on this updated version. The 12AX7 tubes were modeled with perfection and brought the same aggression and warmth as they would in real life, and even separate gain controls for the virtual 6U8A pentode and triode tubes were included. Definitely one of the more modern and robust options available today.
10. IK Multimedia Saturator X
One more T-RackS software to feature in our list that can bring to your track the impressive dynamics present only in analog saturation.
This is an excellent plugin to add that analog flavor to your recordings. It can deliver what promises with amazing articulation, from very light dynamics to a nasty wooly distortion. The best thing is that you got covered in both tape and tube-style realms and also in transformer or transistor alike.
Saturator X works as an individual plugin or part of the T-RackS chain. It can blend analog distortion with digital processing without altering the linearity of a signal’s frequency response and harmonic pattern. In a nutshell, you get a well-preserved audio signal that can be changed only by what you dial in at the interface.
- Analog modes
At a knob’s twist, you’ll find ten saturation modes that accurately bring the hardware component’s response and the overall behavior of the circuitry. You can choose between “Tape 1,” “Tape 2,” “Master +6dB,” “Master +12dB,” “Push Pull,” and “Class A” in either tube or solid-state, and “Transformer” in “Iron” and “Steel” options.
- Brick wall limiter
With a brick wall limiter present at the end of the circuit, you don’t need to worry about clipping at all. This feature will prevent any digital clipping from happening without any controls – just a simple gatekeeper that automatically ensures your track never goes in the wrong direction.
Near the “Brickwall” switch, this effect allows you to choose the oversampling modifier you’d like to be included in your signal. The result is a high-definition sample of your audio, providing an excellent rendering of the harmonics pattern and overall processing quality.
- Analog modes
This plugin runs in macOS 10.9 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 7 or higher (64-bit only). It comes in VST2, VST3, AU, and AAX plugin formats.
A plugin created to bring the best of the analog world directly to you, IK Multimedia’s Saturator X makes use of both modern and digital technologies such as the processing, allied with analog characteristics such as the diverse saturation modes to choose from to deliver the ideal experience that such hardware would provide. You can expect rich harmonics, warmth, and old-school vibe added instantly to your tracks or mix.
11. Tone Empire Reelight PRO
Combining the comfort of having the tools you need at your fingertip with the necessity for the sonic quality of vintage units, we get the Reelight PRO as an incredible plugin option.
The real deal about recreating vintage units in the digital world lies with all the algorithms and their response to the audio signal. It’s not impossible, but for sure, it’s tough to replicate every subtle aspect of functioning hardware in a program.
Tone Empire proves that some companies get what it takes to make this dream come true. The Reelight PRO can get you that old-school vibe based on iconic tape machines with its settings and looks by working with a great IR and physical modeling. Navigating through the six models available and mixing through the basic controls, you’ll instantly get a warm and classic tone right at your DAW.
- Six tape machine models
You can choose between six different models, distributed from “A” to “F” on the lower section of the plugin. All the differences between one model and another can be replicated and brought here. Models covered (from A to F) are the Ampex ATR 700, Studer A 812, Studer A 80, Teac A2300 SD, AEG Telefunken M20, and Revox B77 MK II.
- Bias control
The bias control lets you adjust the bias of the machine. This is supposed to simulate the variations between electric current inside an original unit, which we don’t usually get on plugins. It means that your final sound can have a bit more subtle character or a crunchier grip to it, depending on how you configure this parameter.
In some multitrack tape machines, there’s a “Tape Bleed” option that would make signals from adjacent tracks leak into one another. This creates a definite mono-spatial effect, simply blending the different instrument tracks in an old-fashioned way. The amount of this effect can be adjusted at the “Crosstalk” knob.
- Six tape machine models
This plugin runs in macOS 10.13 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 10 or higher (64-bit only). It comes in VST3, AU, and AAX plugin formats.
The incredible attention to impulse response and physical modeling led to a plugin with the best analog and digital worlds blended. Another pleasant recreation of the sought-after units of the old days, this plugin delivers what it proposes. The great “Crosstalk” control, allied with the dedicated “Comp” and “Bias” knobs, can excel in getting an old-school sound out of your recordings.
12. IK Multimedia Tape Machine 440 (Tape emulation
Another great take of IK Multimedia on a classic vintage unit, Tape Machine 440, brings all the glory from the past straight to your DAW.
The T-RackS Tape Machine Collection was mentioned previously, and only one plugin was left out – but because it deserves to be shown on its own. This bundle can get you the exact sounds found on old analog tape recorders with a large variety of tools to choose from.
The Tape Machine 440 is inspired by the Ampex 440B unit from the late 1960s. Its sound character and soulful color are a remarkable example of how well IK Multimedia’s team of developers recreated these units.
- Bias control
This plugin can be adjusted to singular precision with two sections focused on how the tape machine will behave, dubbed “Record” and “Play.” There’s a “Bias” control in the former section, affecting how warm the final sound might get. This is supposed to emulate the overall power going through the circuit – at a lower setting, it would recreate a more subtle and faint sound, while at a higher setting, it would be warmer and richer in tone, kind of how it’s supposed to behave at full power. Alternating between these values can get your signal to act in the most organic way possible.
- High and low filter EQ
A high-frequency EQ control is featured in both “Record” and “Play” sections, but the low-frequency is only featured at the latter. With any of these three knobs, you can alter how much the mentioned frequencies can be damped. Interesting to note that each control can sound drastically different depending on the section you’re dealing with: the “Record” section can feature subtler nuances to imitate better how a real tape would react at this process, for example.
- Tape speeds
According to the hardware they’re supposed to emulate, each plugin on this bundle has different tape speed values. In Tape Machine 440, you have 15 and 30 rpm to choose from. Combining it with the four different tape formulas, the final result may be as close as possible to what a real tape could sound like when having the speed altered. The only difference is that you can’t damage the tape – only simulate its decay.
Acting at the beginning of the signal chain, this “Repro” mode lies in a switch to be chosen along with an “Input” counterpart. The “Repro” emulates the unit as close as possible, in this case regarding the signal chain and how it flows through the circuit. The path should go as this: input > recording amplifier > recording head > tape > playback head > playback preamplifier > output stage. If not selected, the signal will present an extremely transparent overall tone, not simulating this entire chain.
- Bias control
Here you can hear more about the Tape Machine 440 at 10:37.
This plugin runs in macOS 10.10 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 7 or higher (64-bit only). It comes in VST2, VST3, AU, and AAX plugin formats.
Tape Machine 440 is an excellent repro of the real deal like its brothers. Although it can be heavy on CPU processing, it delivers what it’s supposed to in great packaging with loads of color and vintage appeal. The same functions of the other plugins in the bundle are present here, but with the expected characteristics that made the Ampex 440B an outstanding tape recorder with a unique sound coveted until today.
Free Saturation Plugins 2022
1. Analog Obsession SweetDrums 4.0
Shape your drum track in a heartbeat with the simple twist of a single knob.
Simplicity is a commodity much valued when dealing with mixing audio. Tweak in the perfect tone for any instrument can be a proving task, especially when talking about drum kits. For this reason, Analog Obsession decided to create a plugin as simple as possible to achieve perfect drum saturation, and here we have SweetDrums 4.0 to make it come true.
- One simple control
Aside from the “Input” and “Output” mandatory knobs, SweetDrums 4.0 also has a “Process” control where the magic happens. Combining analog modeling with digital processing will blend equalization and saturation coming out of this knob. As simple as possible, you need to turn this control up to tighten and add warmth to your whole percussion section and be good to go.
- Circuit modeling
Most saturation plugins are trying to recreate the effect heard on the physical hardware, so modeling is imperative. Analog Obsession’s team, as the name suggests, sure knows a great deal about studio equipment to summarize an entire effect up to a single knob. This is all due to the components and the circuit of classic units being an inspiration for this plugin. Having a good-sounding freeware digital reproduction like this deserves kudos.
- One simple control
This plugin runs in macOS 10.15 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 7 or higher (64-bit only). It comes in VST, VST3, and AU plugin formats.
Again, plugins like this don’t necessarily need to be only used in drum tracks. Nothing can dictate how you can use effects, and exploring is crucial. If you follow Analog Obsession’s suggestion, though, you’ll have a pleasant surprise to hear how good your drum track may sound. It’s a light, simple, clean, and good-sounding free effect that should be amongst your sound design tools.
2. KIT Plugins Burier
Burier has a distinctive distortion sound and lots of mojo attached to it, a classic combination of saturator and filter.
KIT Plugins designed this audio tool to help you “bury” basically anything you’re up to, a drum track, a vocal sample, or a whole bus; anything will sound good. A wild saturation stage is combined with resonant low and high-cut filters to bring the best flavor possible.
There are two knobs on the top of the plugin, each dedicated to a frequency range. The “Low-Cut” and “Hi-Cut” knobs have a 12dB per octave slope and Infinite Impulse Responses, with topology-preserving transform structure. This means that this effect was meticulously crafted to respond just like an actual circuit but with the best algorithms instead of components.
- Bury it
The central, big knob is responsible for the amount of saturation. Its distortion is very consistent and full of character, primarily because it’s modeled after an unspecified circuit – a real one, full of components and singularities. The algorithm’s response is similar to the genuine gear, which may bring life to anything you put through it.
This plugin runs in macOS 10.11 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 7 or higher (64-bit only). It comes in VST3, AAX, and AU plugin formats.
Burier is a solid option for anyone looking for a free plugin with much personality. The overall distortion tone you get from it is an excellent aspect of this plugin, with all the basic configurations required to get a good sound. It’s not complex nor too heavy, and, incredibly, this software is free. Again, the tone and warmth you’ll get are amazing, one of the best on this list. Definitely worth checking out.
3. Klanghelm IVGI 2
An exciting plugin that reacts dynamically to the input signal, delivering a natural saturation or dense distortion in no time.
This is the second version of the IVGI plugin by Klanghelm – by the way, you can use the original and this second version at the same time if you’d like to -, equipped with the same controls but a renewed algorithm. This freeware software has many parameters to set while retaining a compact and pleasant visual interface.
A dedicated “Trim” knob controls the input level, the “Drive” knob deals with the saturation, and the “Output” knob sets the post-circuit volume. These three settings should get you into saturation territory, but a dedicated “Response” knob will also help you tame the frequencies on your signal. At last, the “Relaxed” switch will bring a variation of the original IVGI algorithm, so you have one more sound profile character to choose from.
IVGI 2 has a great control dedicated to the crosstalk effect. This used to happen in vintage units quite often. Essentially, the signal from one track can be leaked to another, like a bass going into the drums. Modern software can’t replicate this, so controls like “X-Talk” are an excellent addition to achieve a more old-school and vintage-oriented color in your productions. Of course, you can disable it by setting the knob at zero.
- Asym Mix
This is a kind of transparency tool to make your distortion signal as clear as possible. At 0 value, you’ll have symmetric saturation, with a strong compression character; if you turn up to 10, an asymmetric distortion with a more clean and transparent profile will be brought up. This can be a good way of getting a notable distorted effect without grainy or fuzzy aspects.
- VU meter modes
There are three options available: the “In” deals with the volume of the “Trim” knob, the “Out” monitors the “Output” control, and the “Out-In” option will display the RMS difference between both input and output. It’s an excellent way to properly gain stage your track with a simple visual tool.
This plugin runs in macOS in 32 or 64-bit and Windows in 32 or 64-bit. It comes in VST, VST3, AAX, and AU plugin formats.
With quite a few nice features, IVGI 2 is a pleasant update from its predecessor. It has functions, like the crosstalk and the asymmetrical distortion, that are not usually included on freeware plugins and can be extremely useful. There are few controls, which is good because it focuses on what the plugin is supposed to, without much hard work on the process.
4. SNFK Music OrangeFlavor
As simple as possible, OrangeFlavor deals with saturation in the most straightforward way possible.
Sean Funk is the mastermind behind this elegant plugin. Inspired by Steve Duda, the creator of Serum ad Xfer, he started creating plugins during the lockdown and offers several plugins and preset packs for free. They’re all open-source and available on their GitHub page.
With just two settings, “Drive” and “Output Gain,” you can control both drive and output volume and have your saturation as it is. There’s also a frequency visualizer to help you get a more accurate idea of how the harmonics behave. And that’s it, no more settings to dwell into.
- Unique algorithm
OrangeFlavor features a unique anti-aliasing algorithm. It allows you to have the best color in your signal and was developed with a distinctive character in mind to get only the best possible sounds out of the plugin. It works automatically, and you don’t have to set up anything.
- Gentle looks
With two simple controls and a small screen next to them, this plugin is one of the most lightweight in terms of complexity. The looks are very minimalistic, which can be very straightforward in terms of workflow. Trusting the algorithm of this software is essential and may bring pleasant surprises to you.
- Unique algorithm
This plugin runs in macOS and Windows (64-bit only). It comes in VST3 and AU plugin formats.
Some folks may dislike the lack of available controls, perhaps fearing being too restrained at setting the values. This can be limiting as to what the plugin can do and may require additional tools to improve its quality, but bad sound quality is definitely not a trait on OrangeFlavor. It’s simple, basic, and gets the job done without interference from many knobs and switches.
5. Analog Obsession CHANNEV (Channel Strip With Tape Saturation)
A channel-strip plugin that can deliver much more than just saturation, with many features and a great vintage look.
Plugins that try to emulate the glorious equipment of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s are widespread, and we all love them. Usually, the genuine gear costs way more than “simple” software, so we’re more than pleased to save money and get a similar result without breaking the bank. Even better than that is to get a freeware option for that.
CHANNEV is Analog Obsession’s second plugin on this list, and they make up to their names once again. Featuring a mic preamp, de-esser, line-amp, four-band equalizer, compressor, limiter, and tape saturation, this plugin is one marvelous toolbox loaded with all the basic features of a great vintage console.
The equalizer featured on CHANNEV is very robust. You have variable instead of selectable frequencies, distributed in low, mid, and high sections. While low and high bands have a bell option, mid has a “Hi-Q” option. Aside from that, pre and post-Filters are also included.
- Vintage-inspired modules
This plugin retains a vintage vibe to it, with great inspirations. The compressor and limiter modules were based on the anthological 2264 unit, totally independent and with each own’s external side-chain.
- The perfect vintage sound
Although the sound character may be excellent, the amount of ways you can control your signal is breathtaking. The tape saturation module is the last one in the signal chain, as you can see on the right side of the interface. This means that before shaping the saturation on your track, you can put it through a preamp, compress, EQ, and limit it before finally adding the distortion to your signal. The chances of getting more dynamics are more significant than ever.
This plugin runs in macOS 10.9 to 11.x (32 or 64-bit) and Windows 7 or higher (32 or 64-bit). It comes in VST, VST3, and AU plugin formats.
Incredibly, this plugin is free. With excellent modeling and particular attention to the circuit’s nuances, CHANNEV is such a fantastic software that should seriously be considered to be, even if not by the saturation it provides, amongst your most trustworthy plugins. With all the features present here, you may be using some four or five plugins in one. The overall quality is not supposed to mimic any particular circuit but rather have a good variation on its own.
United Plugins Urban Puncher
Get the punch flowing in your drum kit or drum loop with this efficient plugin in an easy and not too complicated way.
Sometimes you just can’t get that drum track to sound like it’s supposed to, even after hours of mixing and trying to improve it. This shouldn’t consume your time and inspiration so much, so United Plugins decided to house everything you’d ever need to make it sound right out of the box. Well, a virtual one, at least.
Urban Puncher was developed with percussion in mind, specifically how to make it sound as punchier as possible. It was designed to make any drum hit sound better, immediately taking your loop or recording out of the shadows. Whether the style, if it’s electronic music or a simple rhythm track, your beat will become more vital than ever.
- Clean looks
With Urban Puncher, there’s no need to make things more complicated than they’re supposed to. You’ll get a fresh, clean look, with six controls in total. This might seem like a simple plugin, but don’t judge the book by its cover. Having fewer controls at your disposal is an excellent opportunity to trust your ears over what you’re seeing, making every knob’s twist worth trying.
- Punch knob
The most visually attractive of all controls, the “Punch” knob will do what the plugin proposes, add punch to your track. It combines dynamic processing, equalization, and transient shaping in a single control, bringing this combo of processes directly into your sound. Combining it with the “Saturation” and the “Output” knobs will create the perfect saturated character.
- Destroy mode
This might seem an odd tool to have, but if you want to push the limits of this plugin, this is where you’d go for it. The “Destroy” button triples the value you dial into the “Saturator” knob close to it, so you’ll have a momentaneous boost of distortion added to the signal. This can be an interesting option for sound designers and electronic-oriented productions requiring boldness and extreme configurations.
- Clean looks
This plugin runs in macOS 10.10 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 8 or higher (32 and 64-bit). It comes in VST, VST3, AU, and AAX plugin formats.
If you like experimenting and using interesting new tools to widen your perspective, this is a great plugin to try. Although it’s announced as being tailored for drum tracks, it’s not prohibited to use it in other instruments. A synth or even vocals can reach extreme modifications with it. The “Punch” knob might be a bit flashy and end up drawing your attention more than other controls, but I’d say that the most innovative control is the “Destroy” button. It’s not the kind of feature you’ll use every single time, but it’s awesome to know it exists and have it there available for you.
This is a wonderful time for music producers to be alive. The constant innovations and incredible simulations achieved in the music industry over these past few years are remarkable. With the help of modeling, processing, and a load of hard work, audio companies have proven that it’s possible to have good-sounding reproductions of classic effects. Going even further, the possibilities for new versions of these same effects are almost infinite. The digital is our friend, just as the analog always has been.
Talking about precise reproductions can often generate a hot debate amongst audiophiles, but we can all agree that these plugin developers tried their best. As for 1:1 reproductions of circuits, a few options on our list might be of interest to you. IK Multimedia’s T-RackS Tape Machine Collection was featured twice in our list with amazing recreations of iconic tape machine units, the Tape Machine 99 and 440.
Another great recreation is Waves’ Abbey Road Saturator, which is completely inspired by the units available at EMI’s famous studio, as well as Arturia’s Tape MELLO-FI, wholly inspired by the classic Mellotron sound.
The best freeware option would be Analog Obsession’s CHANNEV, with extraordinary detail for the amount of great-sounding effects you’ll get in a single plugin and the fact that it’s inspired in the best analog gear.
Some plugins take the possibilities circuits can offer and expand it even further. They can be friendly tools when dealing with sound design or more modern music projects. Black Box Analog Design’s HG-2MS is just like that, with lots of tools available and unique engines and algorithms running beneath the interface.
Talking about engines, Baby Audio’s TAIP innovates by using artificial intelligence as the primary power source for its plugin, crafting an interesting perception of how tapes work.
The freeware option from United Plugins, Urban Puncher, can get a similar innovative experience by triplicating the amount of gain you dial, perfect for modern and bold productions.
Choosing the perfect saturator plugin might be an impossible task. It’s difficult to say if one can cover all your needs, but certainly, you can have many options to pick from whenever you need one. Each can have a specific flavor and coloration attached to it that can be useful for you, so it’s nice to have plenty of options around. No matter what you take, it’s always important to make the best use of it and don’t get limited with what people say it’s good or bad.
We hope these awesome tools help you find the perfect, warm tone for your mix or track.
See you next time!
Eduardo Cardoso is a musician and audio producer based in São Paulo, Brazil. He studied both music production and choral regency in college and has successfully launched his career as a solo artist. With over 10 years of experience with the music business, he currently develops his projects at his own record label, Griphon Records.