We have good news for you if you are a mastering engineer who has decided to update his arsenal of tools. This article will show you the Top 14 Mastering Plugins For All Categories 2023.
Mastering is just as important a part of music production as mixing. Through this process, musical works are brought to completion creatively and technically. The cool thing is that we live in an era where it can only be done “in the box” with excellent quality tools.
In general, this article will be useful not only for experienced mastering engineers but also for beginners. You can get acquainted with the plugins on the market, compare them and choose the appropriate price options. As for music genres, they are also suitable for all categories.
Top 14 Mastering Plugins For All Categories 2023 (Great For All Genres)
1. Brainworx bx_masterdesk PRO (Master Chain)
The Brainworx bx_masterdesk PRO is a quantum leap in audio processing technology.
It boasts an array of capabilities, such as THD Harmonics and the Brainworx Tolerance Modeling Technology, for in-depth sound precision. A sleek M/S Processing feature ensures comprehensive stereo field control, whereas the integrated Resonance Filter facilitates unwanted frequency elimination.
It resonates with seasoned professionals and less experienced users, thanks to its ergonomic design promoting ease of use, so this impressive tool subtly transforms your audio mixes, making it invaluable in achieving that desirable, professional-grade sound.
The compressor has been fine-tuned with a variable ratio control, a feature that empowers you with the flexibility to dictate the degree of dynamic reduction applied to the mix. This advanced control leads to a more refined and personalized compression effect. In addition, it now incorporates a unique “GLUE” feature.
This attribute imparts an analog-like compression that cohesively melds the individual elements of the mix together, creating harmonious sound ready for the final mastering stages. Also, the compressor offers a CLIPPER option, enhancing your ability to manage transients and prevent digital clipping.
Simultaneously, the limiter has also been amplified with advanced features. You can now adjust release times and linking options, offering greater control over how quickly the limiter recovers and how the left and right channels interact.
This enables the preservation of transients and stereo imaging, which is crucial for maintaining the mix’s dynamic and spatial integrity. Moreover, the limiter presents a switchable modern/classic mode, allowing one to choose between a contemporary, transparent limiting and a vintage, more coloration-inducing style.
- Stereo Enhancement Tool
In mastering, having control over your mix’s stereo width is essential. The stereo enhancement tool in bx_masterdesk PRO provides a tangible way to tweak the stereo image of your mix. It can widen your mix for a great, immersive experience or narrow it for a more focused, intimate sound. This feature helps you deliver the best listening experience on headphones, speakers, or broadcast mediums.
- Tolerance Modeling Technology (TMT)
TMT is one of the standout features of bx_masterdesk PRO; it emulates the subtle tonal variations and non-linearities found in analog gear, infusing a sense of warmth and character that digital systems often lack to your tracks. It adds an extra layer of depth and richness, making your masters feel more organic and less “digital.”
- M/S Processing
The M/S processing tool in bx_masterdesk PRO offers a unique way to manipulate the stereo image of your mix. It separates the mix’s mono (mid) and stereo (side) elements, allowing you to adjust their balance independently. This enables a level of control that is impossible with traditional stereo pan tools, helping to create a more three-dimensional sound image.
- User Interface
This feature enhances the plugin’s overall usability. The updated graphical user interface (GUI) offers a clear, intuitive layout that makes mastering more accessible. The undo/redo function is a significant time-saver, allowing quick corrections or comparisons between settings. The preset management tool lets you swiftly store and recall your preferred settings, streamlining your workflow.
Brainworx bx_masterdesk PRO is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.12 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST, AU, and AAX formats.
The Brainworx bx_masterdesk PRO combines an impressive collection of top-tier mastering tools, each contributing to creating a premium, radio-ready master. With its impressive blend of comprehensive features, intuitive design, and quality sound, it stands out as one of the best mastering and master chain plugins these days.
Whether an audio professional seeking a one-stop solution for fast, high-quality mastering or a home studio enthusiast aiming to give your mixes a professional sheen, bx_masterdesk PRO can fit your needs.
2. United Plugins MasterMind (Unique Master Chain/Optimizer)
United Plugins MasterMind is a professional audio mastering tool that enhances and optimizes audio tracks for various formats and playback systems.
It features various tools and processors, including EQ, compression, limiting, and stereo enhancement, as well as a variety of preset options and a user-friendly interface. It has six sections: Input, Match, Stereo Width, Optimize, EQ, and Limiter. It has presets for Mastering for CD, streaming, vinyl, Podcast, YouTube, and more.
- Stereo Enhancement
MasterMind includes a stereo enhancement tool that allows you to widen or narrow the stereo field of their tracks. That helps greatly in the mastering process and individual instruments while processing them.
The plugin includes various compression options, including a peak compressor, an RMS compressor, and a multiband compressor. This allows you to control the dynamic range of your tracks and achieve a more consistent and polished sound. Lastly, there’s also a saturation knob in the compressor section, by which you can add harmonics and control its effect.
- Preset Options
The plugin offers a variety of preset options, including options for different genres and playback systems. This allows you to quickly achieve a professional sound without having to adjust each individual setting manually.
MasterMind offers a variety of EQ options, including a parametric EQ, a shelving EQ, and a high-pass/low-pass filter. In addition, it also has a knob for adding a Tube EQ tone to your sounds. This allows you to fine-tune the frequency balance of your tracks and achieve a more polished sound.
The plugin can be used with the most popular DAWs, including Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Ableton Live, and FL Studio. It is available in multiple formats, including VST, VST3, AU, and AAX, which allows it to be used on both Windows and Mac systems.
MasterMind lets you match the EQ curve of your song with your reference track by using the Match EQ section and also lets you control the extent of it by using the knob under it. Secondly, the Optimize knob is a special feature that lets you quickly optimize your audio tracks for different playback systems and formats.
3. Pulsar Massive (Passive EQ – Emulation of Manley Massive Passive)
The Massive plugin from Pulsar is an excellent emulation of analog EQ with plenty of different features.
The next plugin on our list is an emulation of Manley’s legendary Massive Passive unit. This equalizer is suitable for mixing and mastering and has all the characteristic sound. It is noteworthy that the developers of the plugin from Pulsar not only created a wonderful emulation but also implemented many features.
In general, you will have four bands, the ability to add saturation, type of transformers, and work in both stereo and Mid-Side modes. But the cherry on the cake is that you will be able to turn the knobs and see the frequency spectrum analyzer. Let us tell you more about it.
- 4-Band EQ
The Massive plugin allows you to manipulate four EQ bands: Low, Warmth, Presence, and Air. Also, you will be able to choose the frequency, bandwidth, and gain. By the way, you can also disable certain bands if you want.
- L/S or M/S Modes
A special switch for working modes is at the bottom of the plugin window. Here you can choose whether you want to work in Stereo or Mid/Side. If you choose the latter, one set of settings will be responsible for the sides and the other for the middle.
- Choose The Transformers
It is noteworthy that the developers have laid here two Transformer modes. The first emulates the work of the analog unit, and the second is a separate modification from Pulsar. Of course, you can also disable this feature if you don’t need it.
- Add Some Drive
What’s great is that Massive also allows you to add saturation. The red Drive knobs for both sets of settings will be responsible for this. Use them if you want to make the sound more massive and expressive.
- Auto Gain
Auto Gain is another cool feature that you should pay attention to. It keeps your volume at its previous level, no matter how you manipulate the frequencies.
- Get the Visualization
If you’re more used to equalizers with a frequency spectrum display, this plugin may be one. A special button in the upper right corner of the window will turn on the analyzer with four bands. This way, you can work by dragging the cursor over the frequencies you like.
Pulsar Massive is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.8 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST2.4/3, AU, and AAX formats.
The Pulsar Massive can make you happy if you want a multifunctional equalizer for mastering. This EQ includes classic and modern designs, four bands of equalization, saturation, and a choice of transformers. You can use it to add an analog flavor when mastering or make it clean.
4. Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor Class A (Emulation of Class A Limited Edition)
Mastering Compressor Class A from Shadow Hills and Brainworx will help you get punch and clarity during mastering.
The previous version of this plugin has proven itself among professionals since 2011. Essentially, it emulates the exclusive Shadow Hills compressor produced in only 50 copies. But now we will show you the updated version, which is Mastering Compressor Class A.
All in all, you get Optical and Discrete compressors and the ability to work in different modes. Also, the plugin has three flavors of Output Transformers and, unlike its predecessor, a whole BX module with quite a few feats underneath. Let’s talk about it all in more detail.
- Use Optical And Discrete Compressors
You can use Optical Compressor for dynamics and Discrete for a more punchy effect. The former has only Threshold and Gain controls. As for the second one, it has Attack, Recover (which is a release), and Ratio.
- TMT Modelling System
If you look down, you’ll see a whole module that wasn’t in the previous plugin. In particular, there is the patented Brainworx Tolerance Modeling Technology. This feature will give you twenty flavors of analog compressor sound that you can apply to the right and left channels.
- Switchable Output Transformers
Another great feature is that you can experiment with different flavors of Output Transformers sound. In particular, there are three modes: Nickel, Iron, and Steel. The first will give you more expressive high frequencies, the second will give you the midrange, and the third will give you the low-end.
- Adjust The Headroom
Headroom is another unique feature that this version of the plugin has received. Thanks to it, you can drive more signal to the compressor but simultaneously lower the output and vice versa. You will find this knob in the bottom module.
- Monomaker & Stereo Width
In addition to all this, you can work on the breadth of the stereo picture of your material. The Monomaker and Stereo Width control, also at the bottom, will help. Monomaker lets you concentrate the low frequencies in the middle, and Stereo Width lets you make the sound wider.
- Sidechain And Different Operation Modes
And, of course, the plugin will allow you to implement a Sidechain Filter with a range of operations from 20 to 666 hertz. Besides, you will be able to use this software in Stereo, Dual Mono, and Mid/Side modes, which can also be useful for mastering.
Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor Class A is available for Windows 8 or higher and macOS 10.11 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
Shadow Hills’ Mastering Compressor Class A is a great emulation of a boutique and high-end analog compressor that will come in handy if you’re a professional mastering engineer. You’ll have two types of compressors, the ability to experiment with flavors of transformers and analog sound and a bunch of other useful features to deliver quality results. The only drawback is that this plugin is quite expensive and costs over $300.
5. iZotope Insight 2 (Metering – Stereo Analyzer, Spectrum Analyzer, Loudness Analysis & More)
The Insight 2 plugin from iZotope gives you all kinds of meters and analyzers you need for mastering.
Trusting your ears is good, but you still need to have additional tools to help you analyze your audio material. Changing your perspective and checking if everything is good will be useful. And this is exactly what the Insight 2 plugin from the famous company iZotope is.
The set of meters and analyzers in this software is really impressive. In short, you will have several forms of volume, level, sound field, and frequency spectrum indicators. But overall, this plugin is much more powerful than it seems at first glance. So let’s break down its most important features.
- Choose What You Want To See
The Insight 2 plugin can look as you wish. At the top, you will have a set of all available indicators you can turn on and off. So, for example, if you are only interested in volume and spectral analysis, leave these two sections and turn off the unnecessary ones.
- Watch The Loudness
One of the most important indicators here is Loudness. Here you can select the desired broadcasting standard or set your own. The plugin will display the information in Short Term, Integrated, and Momentary loudness.
- Measure Your Levels
The Levels indicator will be another indicator you should pay attention to. In particular, this section will show the RMS and peak levels. Thus, the gray scale will be responsible for the RMS, the dark scale for the peaks, and the lines at the top will tell you the maximum peak levels.
- Sound Field Meter
If you need to analyze the stereo picture and polarity, the Insight 2 plugin also helps with this. Go to the Stereo Field section to see the indicators you need. In particular, you will have Polar Sample, Polar Level, and Lissajous modes here. You will also have a Correlation meter between the right and left channels.
- Analyze the Spectrogram
Another useful indicator here is the Spectrogram. You can look at it in modes: 3D and 2D, as well as turn the color on and off. As for the 3D display, you can change the angle of view here. And, of course, you will have the option of including a more standard analyzer with amplitude frequencies.
- Intelligibility Section
The updated version of the plugin also has an Intelligibility section. You will be able to check how intelligible the signal will be in an environment with different noise levels. It will be especially useful for analyzing vocal information.
iZotope Insight 2 is available for Windows 10 or higher and macOS 10.13.6 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
The Insight 2 plugin from iZotope helps you measure your material information with surgical precision. This software has all the indicators you need, including volume, levels, polarity, correlation, and 3D visualization of the frequency spectrum. This software is indispensable if you want to evaluate your performance from a different perspective and ensure everything is OK.
6. Three-Body Technology Kirchhoff-EQ (Parametric & Dynamic EQ With M/S, L/R, Linear Phase & Feature)
Kirchhoff-EQ from Three-Body Technology is a real Swiss knife for equalization.
Imagine being able to use a plugin that emulates many of the legendary analog equalizers. But on top of that, you get an incredible number of band shapes and a modern frequency analyzer. It will be possible thanks to the Kirchhoff-EQ product from Three-Body Technology.
At first glance, this plugin does not differ much from, for example, the familiar EQ from FabFilter. But nevertheless, here laid just an incredible number of different features. About them, we will tell you below.
- 11 EQ Band Shapes
You can make this EQ work however you want since it has 11 different shapes of bands. In particular, in addition to the familiar Bell, Shelf, and Pass, you can use Notch, Band Pass, Tilt Shelf, Flat Tilt, Flat Top, and Sword.
- Analog EQ Emulation
One of the most interesting features of this plugin is that it accommodates different emulations of analog equalizers. You will find these next to the list of bands. For example, there is Type E and Type G, which are all SSL-ish. You will also find options similar to Neve and Api.
- Dynamic Section
The great thing is that you can also use this plugin as a Dynamic Equalizer. To do this, press the small D button. You will see a set of settings with Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release, and a few more advanced parameters.
- Work in M/S mode
Since this equalizer is also suitable for mastering, you will have the opportunity to work in Mid/Side mode. To do this, create a band, right-click on it, go to Stereo and select the desired option. There are Left, Right, Dual Mono, Mid, Side, and Mid-Side modes.
- Auto-Gain And Other Features
Notably, Kirchhoff-EQ has an Auto-Gain function that you can turn on with the small A button at the top of the window. Also, there is Phase Flip, Linear Mode, and Bitrate Adjustment.
Three-Body Technology Kirchhoff-EQ is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
If you need a plugin that will do almost everything regarding EQ, then Kirchhoff-EQ is what you need. It is a multifunctional software that is suitable for mixing and mastering. Furthermore, it has a huge number of band forms, different modes of operation, and a fair number of analog EQ emulations.
7. FabFilter Saturn 2 (Precise Multiband Saturator)
If you need a saturator with advanced mastering capabilities, the Saturn 2 from FabFilter is a perfect choice.
If you are an experienced mastering engineer, you use saturation. This technique allows you to shape the transients and get a few extra percentages for the overall picture. In general, film saturation is popular for this. But what if you want more options? Then the Saturn 2 plugin will help you.
In addition to a large number of different types of saturation, you will also have the opportunity to apply them on a multiband basis. This way, you can use different flavors for different frequency ranges. Or you can use only one of them – the choice is yours. First, let’s take a look at what’s available.
- Plenty Saturation Flavors
The Saturn 2 plugin presents many different types of distortion, so you have plenty to choose from. In particular, there are different types of Saturation, Tube, Tape, Amp, Transformer, and FX. You’ll find both subtle options for mastering and extreme ones for creative needs.
- Take Control Over The Effect
In addition to a large number of saturation types, you will also have complete control over the effect. You will see a panel with the necessary Drive, Level, Dynamics, Frequency, Feedback, and Mix controls. Use these to sharpen the sound the way you want it.
- Adjust The Tone
Notably, you will also be able to tune the tone of your sound. The plugin has four controls, similar to the guitar amp settings. In particular, these are the Bass, Mid, Treble, and Presence sliders.
- Multiband Operation
One of the main features of this plugin is that you will be able to split the frequency spectrum into bands. In general, you can get up to 6 separate zones and process them as you like. So click on the desired area to put a separator there.
- Optional HQ modes
As you know, distortion plugins can’t do without the oversampling settings. It is because they are responsible for the sound quality of the distortion. In Saturn 2, you will find two options: Good and Superb. The first is 8x, and the second is 32x, which is rarely seen in similar software.
FabFilter Saturn 2 is available for Windows Vista or higher (both 32 and 64-bit) and macOS 10.12 or higher (64-bit only). It comes in VST2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
The Saturn 2 plugin from FabFilter is a powerful saturation tool that can become indispensable for you in mastering. You will have all possible types of distortion and the ability to adjust them to your liking. You’ll also be able to apply the effect to different frequency spectrum bands.
8. iZotope Tonal Balance Control 2 (Visual Tool To Fine-Tune Your Masters)
iZotope’s Tonal Balance Control 2 will help ensure that your material has a similar frequency spectrum to the reference.
Working with a reference is a very important part of music production. In essence, it’s like a point you should use to have a competitive sound. Of course, you can do it just by ear. But tools in the form of plugins can make your life easier. And that’s what iZotope’s Tonal Balance Control 2 is.
It is a very straightforward plugin that will help you check if the frequency spectrum of your material is reaching competitive values. It has several ready-made profiles. But the great thing here is that you can create your profile based on the reference and compare the mix with it.
- Broad & Fine Modes
All in all, you will be able to analyze the material in two modes. The first is called Broad and consists of four frequency bands: Low, Low-Mid, High-Mid, and High. In each of these, there will be a zone that you will need to reach. The second mode, Fine, is more like a simple EQ spectrum, but the principle is the same.
- Choose Your Profile
The plugin developers have prepared several profiles for you to focus on. They are divided into genres: Bass Heavy, EDM, Folk, Hip Hop, Jazz, Pop, Rock, and others. Just choose the right one and analyze the spectrum.
- Set Your Own Profile
Also, the cool fact is that you can create a profile yourself. Click on the menu and select the option to upload a track. The plugin will analyze it and make suitable recommendations. It will be great for using an accurate reference.
- Crest Factor
Crest Factor is another useful feature and a great bonus in this plugin. It is a small indicator in the window’s upper left corner. The point is that this indicator will tell you if you have too compressed low-end or vice versa.
- Select A Source
On top of all this is the Select A Source feature. With it, you can select another iZotope plugin and use it directly in Tonal Balance Control 2. For example, it could be the EQ, and you can immediately tune the frequency spectrum to get the desired result.
iZotope Tonal Balance Control 2 is available for Windows 10 or higher and macOS 10.13.6 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
The Tonal Balance Control 2 plugin can help adjust the frequency spectrum to the reference level. It has quite a few different genre profiles, but you can even load your own. In addition, this software is very easy to use because it doesn’t have a mind-boggling number of settings.
9. SSL Native X-Comp (Can Work as Opto, FET & Vari-Mu Compressor)
SSL Native’s X-Comp is a great clean compressor that works well on instruments and program material.
If you need a clean, quality compressor, the next item on our list is for you. What it’s worth is that it’s a plugin from SSL. As you know, this company is one of the main producers of consoles on which many professionals created an immeasurable quantity of musical masterpieces.
As for X-Comp, this plugin is quite simple. It has standard compressor settings. However, it has a modern design with all the necessary compression indicators. And, of course, its creators did not forget to introduce a few extra features. We’ll talk about them below.
- Regular Compressor Settings
If you have experience using compressors, this plugin will not be difficult. It has the usual settings, including Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release, and Make-Up Gain. On top of that, you will also be able to adjust the Knee.
- Bleed Section
As for the extra features, this plugin has a Bleed section. Thanks to it, you can set which low and high frequencies will not be compressed. Therefore, X-Comp can work as a multiband compressor.
- Max Gain Reduction
It is noteworthy that the plugin also has a separate Max Gain Reduction knob. Thanks to it, you will specify to the compressor where it will not exceed a certain amount of gain reduction. Quite handy if you know exactly what result and sound you want to achieve.
- Detailed Metering
As for metering, you will have all the necessary indicators. For example, there is a major scale in the center, where you can also control gain reduction. There is also an input/output ratio, a multiband performance view, and a history view.
SSL Native X-Comp is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.12 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
SSL Native’s X-Comp is an unusually easy-to-use yet high-quality sounding compressor that will work with any material. Thanks to its Bleed section, you can use it for mastering. In addition, it is clean enough that it can also be suitable for working on program material.
10. Newfangled Audio EQivocate (Graphic EQ With Multi-Band Feature)
The EQivocate from Newfangled Audio and Eventide is a powerful equalizer tuned to the human ear.
The remarkable fact is that this plugin uses 26 EQ bands, which coincide with the critical bands of the human ear. Thus, the developers assure you that your material will sound natural whatever you do with this software. But the benefits of EQivocate do not end there because you will have great features.
In particular, you can change center frequencies, monitor peaks, and RMS, or draw an EQ line. In addition, there is the Match EQ function, which is a really powerful tool. Let us tell you more about it.
- 26 Bands of EQ
All in all, you get 26 EQ bands tuned to the human ear. Next to each will be a scale of input and output signals. In addition, you can draw a line in one fell swoop, manually tune each band, or type the desired value.
- Change The Center Frequencies
Under all 26 bands, you will see Filtered Bank Display and Center Frequencies. You can reset each band center by dragging the frequency up or down. Of course, you can also type the desired value here.
- Solo Any Band
This plugin also gives you the ability to solo any band. You can do this thanks to the small S button above each band. Overall, it will be quite useful for ear training.
- Match Your EQ
Match EQ is probably one of the greatest features of this plugin. All you need to do is route the sidechain of the desired track and EQuivocate will adjust its bands to its frequency spectrum. It will be especially useful for mastering to replicate the sound of the reference.
- Meters & Auto-Gain
As for the meters, you will have information about peaks and RMS levels. It is there, next to the input and output controls. In addition, the plugin has an Auto-Gain function that will equalize the volume regardless of EQ manipulation.
Newfangled Audio EQivocate is available for Windows 8 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
EQivocate by Newfangled Audio and Eventide is a plugin that provides the most transparent sound. It is because this equalizer’s bands are tuned to the human ear. So it will be useful for mastering, to bring a more natural sound. But despite this, you can use it to improve the quality of your recordings.
11. Waves Kramer Master Tape (Tape Saturation – Also great for mixes)
Kramer Master Tape by Waves can be your to-go plugin for tape saturation.
Adding film saturation is a very common practice in mastering. The point is that we are dealing with digital music recording in today’s world. In this case, the flavor of the tape helps to add warmth and vintage to your sound, which is very much appreciated in the production of the old days.
As for the Kramer Master Tape plugin, it is quite straightforward. You will have film speed, and Bias controls. It also has a Flux function, which is a kind of saturation. And, of course, the developers put delay settings here. Let’s look at all of this in more detail.
- Record Level & Playback Level
These two controls, Record Level and Playback Level may initially confuse you. But here, it’s simple – they are the input and output knobs. Adjust the first one so that the VU meter arrow reaches 0. And, of course, balance the overall signal thanks to the second one.
- Change The Flux
If you start turning the Flux control, you will immediately hear that it is responsible for adding harmonics. So use it to get the desired saturation level. Thanks to this, your sound will be somewhat more expressive.
- Adjust The Speed
Tape Speed is an important factor that affects the frequency spectrum. For example, the Kramer Master Tape has two modes: 7.5 and 15 inches per second. The first will give more emphasis to the lower frequencies, while the second, on the contrary, will make the high frequencies more expressive.
- Wow, Flutter & Noise
If you want to get a tape degradation effect, that is also possible in this plugin. The two Wow and Flutter knobs will help, providing a chewy effect. You will also be able to add noise thanks to the same-name knob on the right side of the window.
- Delay Settings
Engineers often used tape machines in the old days for delay effects, and this digital emulation is no exception. You will have the opportunity to get Slap and Feedback delays, which are different in length. You will be able to adjust their timing and also set a Low-Pass Filter.
Waves Kramer Master Tape is available for Windows 10 or higher and macOS 10.15.7 or higher. It comes in VST/3, AU, and AAX formats.
Waves Kramer Master Tape is a great plugin that helps add warmth and life to your material. It has a small number of settings and a fairly self-explanatory interface. As a result, you can easily use it in mastering with a very subtle effect. In addition, it’s also suitable for mixing to get a more obvious effect for creative needs.
12. FabFilter Pro-MB (Multiband Compressor)
FabFilter Pro-MB is a very powerful multiband compressor, which can be very helpful for mastering.
You should check out this plugin if you’re a fan of other well-known FabFilter products like Pro-Q and Pro-C. It is a kind of hybrid of this two software, called Pro-MB. It is a multiband compressor that will surprise you with its versatility and quality.
Pro-MB gives you the ability to place bands across the entire frequency spectrum. Another important thing is that, in addition to compression, you can also apply expansion here. Therefore, the plugin will allow you to transform your material. Now let’s talk about the features in more detail.
- Up To 6 Bands
You can put up to six bands in the frequency spectrum. Just click on the desired area, and the plugin will set them. They can be single, affecting only one area, or they can go into each other, as you like.
- Basic Compressor Settings
You will have a separate set of compressor settings on each band. These include Threshold, Range, Attack, Release, Ratio, Knee, and Lookahead. By the way, the attack here is in percent, not milliseconds, as you may have seen in other plugins.
- Use Compressor or Expander
It is noteworthy that this plugin has not only a compressor function but also an expander. If compression means making loud sounds quieter, the expander makes loud sounds louder, and quiet sounds quieter. So it can also be a great creative tool.
- 3 Types of Processing
Another great fact is that the plugin has three types of processing: Linear Phase, Dynamic Phase, and Minimum Phase. For example, Linear Phase will save you from artifacts when you split the frequency spectrum into bands but may bring latency. So experiment with the mode that works best for you.
- Unique Mix Function
The plugin also has a Mix control. But it works differently here than you might be used to. Instead of changing the ratio of dry and wet signals, this feature raises the threshold of all bands at once, and you get less compression or expansion.
FabFilter Pro-MB is available for Windows Vista or higher (both 32 and 64-bit) and macOS 10.12 or higher (64-bit only). It comes in VST2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
If you need a powerful multiband compressor and even with the expander function, then FabFilter’s Pro-MB plugin is a great option. You can create up to six bands and process them however you want. You’ll have all the settings you need and the ability to avoid various artifacts.
13. Waves Aphex (Vintage Aural Exciter – Awesome For Mixing As Well)
Aphex by Waves is an emulation of legendary hardware that will help you get an extra spark.
Now we will talk about a plugin that is an emulation of a hardware exciter. Specifically, this is the Aphex Aural Exciter, which was released in the 1970s. Unlike EQ, these boxes did not boost frequencies, but added harmonics, which helped to get more presence and excitement.
You will immediately see that the Aphex plugin has a rather vintage look. Nevertheless, there are quite a few controls. Your main knob will be the Mix, input, and output controls. You will also be able to choose the modes of operation. We’ll talk about this in more detail below.
- Three Operation Modes
The plugin will give you several modes of operation: Bypass, Mix1, Mix2, and AX. Mix1 is designed to use the plugin as a send effect. As for Mix2, it emulates the circuit as if the unit were used as an insert. And the last mode, AX, mimics the send/return auxiliary style setup.
- Detailed Metering
You will also have the ability to change the VU meter information. A separate switch will be responsible for this. In particular, there are In, Out, and AX modes. If the first two are self-explanatory, AX will show the amount of effect applied.
- AX Mix Knob
The AX Mix knob will be your main weapon for adding this effect. In general, it has a scale of 1 to 10. But what’s interesting is that you can hear how it responds differently in different modes of operation. It is all because of the repetition of the analog character.
- Analog Section
On top of that, you get the Analog Section. There you will have two controls. With the first Noise, the plugin will emulate the original hiss of the analog equipment, which should add some atmosphere. There is also a Mains switch with Off, 50, and 60 Hertz modes.
Waves Aphex is available for Windows 10 or higher and macOS 10.15.7 or higher. It comes in VST/3, AU, and AAX formats.
If you’re looking for a tool that helps add presence and sparkle with an analog flavor, then Waves Aphex is the one for you. The plugin is pretty well simulated from the hardware and has a small number of settings. So you can use it in mastering to get a certain vintage character.
14. FabFilter Pro-C 2 (Versatile Mixing/Mastering Compressor)
If you’re looking for a versatile compressor suitable for mastering and beyond, you should check out the Pro-C 2 from FabFilter.
The Pro-C 2 plugin from FabFilter has long been popular among music production professionals. First of all, it is versatile because of the different compression styles. Of course, there are a few among them that are suitable for mastering. Second, it has a great design.
As for settings, you get all the compression controls you need, including Knee, Lookahead, Range, and Hold. In addition, there is a Sidechain function and the ability to monitor the gain reduction signal.
- 8 Gain Reduction Styles
You can use this plugin for almost anything – it has as many as eight compression styles. Specifically, Clean, Classic, Opto, Vocal, Mastering, Bus, Punch, and Pumping. As for Mastering, it’s clean with low amounts of harmonics.
- Extended Compressor Settings
The versatility of this software adds an extended number of settings. For example, you get Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release, and Gain. In addition, there are also Knee, Range, Lookahead, Hold, and dry/wet ratio controls.
- Auto-Release & Auto-Gain
Notably, you will be able to put Release in Auto mode. To do this, use the small button under the knob. This option is often used in mastering or bus processing, as the compressor automatically decides when to release the signal. In addition, there is also Auto-Gain, which will automatically balance the output signal.
- Side-Chain Function
Of course, this plugin would not be complete without the Side-Chain feature. You can set it up by clicking on the same name button at the bottom. A display with a frequency spectrum will appear in front of you, where you can specify which area the compressor should ignore.
- 2x And 4x Oversampling
If you use this compressor heavily, you may get a certain amount of distortion. Use the Oversampling function with 2x and 4x parameters to mitigate it. You will also be able to turn off this parameter altogether.
FabFilter Pro-MB is available for Windows Vista or higher (both 32 and 64-bit) and macOS 10.12 or higher (64-bit only). It comes in VST2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
Pro-C 2 is a wonderful plugin from FabFilter, which has long won the hearts of many music professionals. It gives you eight styles of compression. So you can use this software not only for mastering but also for mixing. Also, it has advanced settings and quite a beautiful design.
1. Elevate Mastering Bundle (Contemporary Suite)
The Elevate Mastering Bundle is a wonderful set of tools to help you achieve professional results.
Now we’re going to tell you about something special. Elevate is a plugin that includes modules for mastering. But the most interesting thing here is that in this bundle, besides the main software, there are also all modules as plugins separately. So you can dive into the process in more detail or skip unnecessary steps.
As for functionality, Elevate includes EQ, Limiter, Transient Shaper, and Clipper. As for the individual plugins of the bundle, they will be EQuivocate, which we discussed above, as well as Saturate and Punctuate. Let us tell you about all of these in more detail.
- Elevate Main Plugin
Elevate Mastering Limiter has a pretty busy UI. In particular, you’ll see a meter that can switch from Input/Output to Gain Reduction and Filter Bank modes. Below will be all your modules, including EQ, Limiter, Transient Shaper, and Clipper. As for the Limiter itself, you will have three basic controls: Gain, Speed, and Ceiling.
- Adaptive Technology
The developers claim that this software is based on a special Adaptive Technology. It means that the limiter not only makes the signal louder but also better sounding. Some processes under the hood affect certain frequency bands and eliminate any artifacts. So the sound will be transparent no matter how you push it.
- EQuivocate Plugin
In conjunction with the Mastering Limiter also comes a wonderful plugin, EQuivocate. It is an equalizer tuned to the frequency bands of the human ear, so it promises a very transparent sound. Such a tool can be especially good for mastering.
- Punctuate Some Transients
The Punctuate plugin is another piece of software you get in this bundle. The same transient shaper was in the Mastering Limiter as a module. Here you will have Emphasis controls, Transient Length controls, and adaptivity settings.
- Saturation Software
The final plugin in the bundle is Saturate, which was also in the form of the Elevate module. You will find in it the same settings as in Limiter, namely Drive and Clipper Shape. With the latter, you can go from soft clipping to hard clipping.
Elevate Mastering Bundle is available for Windows 8 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
The Elevate Mastering Bundle contains all the tools you need for quality work. This bundle includes one universal plugin and three separate ones: EQuivocate, Saturate, and Punctuate. In addition, there is a special Adaptive Technology that will ensure the sound is clean without any artifacts.
2. SSL Fusion Violet EQ (Shelving EQ That Emulates Original Fusion EQ)
If you dream of SSL Fusion but can’t yet afford the hardware, you can use the Fusion Violet EQ plugin.
SSL Fusion is a popular mastering processor with saturation, high-frequency compression, EQ, and more. The cool thing is that the developers also decided to release a few plugins that emulate the work of individual sections of this equipment. And now, we will talk about SSL Fusion Violet EQ.
It is a shelving EQ that gives you the ability to boost or cut high and low frequencies. In addition, there is a High-Pass Filter, FAT function, and input and output controls. But, first, let’s try to understand the features in more detail.
- Add Some Lows
The two purple controls will be responsible for adding low frequencies. For example, you can select a frequency between 30 and 90 hertz. The second knob will help you to boost or cut by 9 decibels.
- Purple High Shelf
As for the high frequencies, the magenta knobs are responsible for them. You can also boost or cut them by 9 decibels. The range of operation here is from 8 to 20K hertz. Use this to get more presence and spark.
- High-Pass Filter
The plugin also has a built-in High-Pass Filter. It is a separate gray knob located on the left side of the window. You can turn this feature off or set the cut to 30, 40, or 50 hertz. Quite helpful to get rid of unnecessary rumble.
- FAT Function
It is noteworthy that the FAT function is not present in the original gear. However, it creates a resonance at the cut-off frequency if you have the High-Pass Filter. It will give you an extra oomph, which will help add some punch.
- ECO Button
Another useful feature is the ECO button, which is located in the lower right corner. It will allow you to save the CPU somewhat if you use this plugin on many tracks. If it is turned off, the software will work better, with higher oversampling.
SSL Fusion Violet EQ is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.12 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
Fusion Violet EQ is a great hardware emulation plugin from SSL that can help you get quality results in mastering. You can use it to add low and high frequencies, making your material more punchy and expressive. This software emulates the hardware pretty well, but it costs quite a bit – about $200.
3. Softube Drawmer S73 Intelligent Master Processor (Smart MB Compressor)
Softube’s Drawmer S73 plugin will help you make your material wider, cleaner, and louder.
As you can guess from the name, this plugin is also based on analog hardware. It is based on the Drawmer 1973 multiband compressor, a wonderful unit that has become one of many professionals’ main weapons in the studios. And we can state that the plugin also deserves praise.
Unlike the original unit, you will not have specific control over the bands here. However, the plugin has three flavor sections, which clearly explain themselves. In addition, there aren’t many controls here, so your work will be easy and fast.
- 10 Operation Styles
You get as many as ten processing styles. They are divided into Clean, Bass Control, and Spatial. For example, you’ll find Clarity 1 and 2, Neutral, Gentle Compression, More Air, De-Rumble, and Punch. In addition, there are options for adding spatiality Wide Mix, Ambience, and Vocal Enhance.
- Control The Amount
As for controlling the amount of effect, you will have the same-name knob for that. The range of its operation is from Off to 100%. Use it to add the desired flavor to your taste.
- Add More Air
If you still lack the presence in the high frequencies of the material, you can add that even more thanks to the Air switch. Thanks to this feature, the track will sound brighter. However, be careful, as you may overdo it.
- Keep An Eye On The Meters
This plugin also has rather detailed metering. In particular, at the top of the window, you get two VU Meters for the left and right outputs. In addition, at the bottom, there will be a separate Gain Reduction bar, which will tell you about the compression.
- Output Section
Of course, you will be able to control the plugin’s output in a separate section. Here you will find the two Mix and Gain knobs. With the first one, you can mix the wet signal with the dry signal. And the second one will help to balance the output of their plugin.
Softube Drawmer S73 is available for Windows 10 or higher and macOS 10.13 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST/3, AU, and AAX formats.
The Drawmer S73 plugin from Softube especially appeals to its simplicity. Even though it’s a multiband compressor, you will not need to fiddle with specific bands, setting the threshold, attack, release, and others. Everything happens here under the hood. Therefore, the workflow promises to be easy. In addition, the plugin will give you enough different flavors to help add expressiveness, punch, and width while mastering.
4. Mastering The Mix REFERENCE 2 (Referencing Tool)
REFERENCE 2 from Mastering The Mix is a wonderful tool that allows you to compare tracks quickly.
Imagine being able to compare your mix with many references, and this can happen right in your DAW. That’s exactly what the REFERENCE 2 plugin from Mastering The Mix provides. That way, you can quickly orient yourself at what level you’re at.
But the developers of this software have laid here a few more very useful features that will make your life easier. For example, there is a Level Match function, which is critical when comparing with a reference. Let’s move on to the other features more specifically.
- Compare Right Away
All you have to do is install the plugin on the vaster bus after the meters. Then open it and load the references there. That way, you will have two modes, Original and Reference. You can switch between them and compare materials.
- Create Loops
Notably, the plugin allows you to create loops right inside of itself. So if you are working on a chorus, you can compare it to the same part of your reference. Just highlight the desired parts of the songs, and the plugin will play them in a loop.
- Level Match
The human brain always perceives a loud sound as something better. Therefore, you must balance the level when working with references. Thanks to the Level Match function, you can do this in the plugin. It is possible with a single track or all of them at once.
- Peak & Loudness Meters
You will have Peak and Loudness meters near the original and near the reference. In addition, you can choose whether to display peaks on True or Programmed. As for loudness, you can choose between Short-Term and Integrated.
- Trinity Display
Another great feature is that you can choose what you want to compare. These modes will be available in the Trinity Display section. If you open its settings, you will see the options Line Level, Punch Dots, Stereo Width, and Auto Scale.
Mastering The Mix REFERENCE 2 is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.19 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST/3, AU, and AAX formats.
REFERENCE 2 by Mastering The Mix is a great plugin that will make your life much easier when working with references. You will have the ability to compare by line level, stereo width, and more. In addition, you can easily match levels with the original track to avoid confusion. Overall, the plugin can be indispensable for the work of mixing and mastering engineers.
We hope that the list of plugins we’ve gathered for you has opened up more possibilities for you. As you can see, it has everything you need for mastering from start to finish. At the end of this post, we thought we’d give you some tips on the most wonderful items.
If you require a quality equalizer for mastering, check out number 2 of our list – the Pulsar Massive plugin. Also, great options are number 5 Three-Body Technology Kirchhoff-EQ, number 9 Newfangled Audio EQivocate, and 2 of the bonus list SSL Fusion Violet EQ.
As for compressors, we suggest looking at #3 Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor Class A, #8 SSL Native X-Comp, and #14 FabFilter Pro-C 2. The #12 FabFilter Pro-MB and the bonus #3 Softube Drawmer S73 are not bad if you want multiband compressors.
We can’t help but think of the analyzers because this is also important. The editors’ picks are #4 iZotope Insight 2, #7 iZotope Tonal Balance Control 2 and #11 Mastering The Mix REFERENCE 2.
The best thing for you to do is to try these plugins yourself. Most of them have trial periods. So install them, explore, and know exactly what works best for you. Then, have a fun mastering session!
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Ilarion Ivanenko is a remote mixing and mastering engineer from Ukraine, a musician with more than 15 years of experience. Specializes in rock, metal, progressive and the other genres. He can’t imagine his life without music, as it is the biggest passion in his life