This article will explore the best DJ and live performance plugins available in 2023.
DJing has been associated with standalone apps and gear in our modern era. However, there are plenty of alternatives for those who do not own DJ gear or wish to try something different.
Many manufacturers have created plugins to help you DJ inside your DAW or even create DJ-like effects in a studio environment. This list will explore the best options, as well as go through some tips on how you can use them. So let’s dig right in!
The 9 DJ & Live Performance Plugins Available 2023 (Free & Paid)
1. United Plugins Transmutator by JMG Sound
Transmutator is a crossfading plugin by JMG Sound.
Crossfading is a technique used to transition from one song to another. It usually involves simple volume fade-in on one track and fade-out on another. However, JMG Sound created Transmutator to spice things up with a series of innovative and intricate crossfading algorithms.
It can be used to blend songs together, move between different sessions with ease, and create unique blending effects between sounds.
- Simple set up
Transmutator works in a very simple way. First, you load it into your DAW on the track you want to transition from. Then, select the track you wish to transition to inside the sidechain menu. This creates an A/B pathway between the two audio (or midi) tracks. Then, using the big knob in the center of the plugin, you can transition from the A track to the B track. It couldn’t be any simpler.
- 16 blend modes
Where Transmutator truly shines is its blending menu, which consists of 16 different blend modes. It includes creative choices like morph, liquid, diffuser, blur, and spectrum. Each blend mode combines the A and B tracks creatively by using creative filtering, volume, comb filters, spectral processing, reverberation, delay, pitch shifting, and panning. In addition, the plugin’s manufacturers advise using sounds with distinct characteristics to help you achieve unique blends.
- Utility controls
Apart from the blending algorithms and the big transition knob, Transmutator offers a few utility controls to add depth and more variation to your blends. The most creative is the invert switch which determines which signal is the dominant one. If you turn it on, signal B will be the one you move away from as you approach the 100% mark. This can seem non-sensical since, in both cases, each signal gets 50%, but in the case of the spectral modes, it can offer extremely varied results. In spectral modes, frequency bands are split into odd and even harmonics, so the audio source you start from determines the timbre of the blend.
- Excellent for creative layering
Don’t just look at Transmutator as a simple transitioning tool. It can be used to achieve some advanced and creative layering during music production. For example, if you load a pad on signal A and a vocal melody on signal B, you can morph and blend them to create a new layer that sounds richer and more distinct. Even better, you can subtly automate the big blend knob to create an evolving sound that actively engages the listener’s attention.
Transmutator is available on Windows and macOS in VST2, VST3, AU, and AAX formats.
Transmutator is a fresh idea that explores new ways to transition between songs or blend sounds together. It’s handy because you can creatively layer sounds together from entirely different sources, for example, an audio track loaded with a sample and a midi track that plays a Serum patch you created. In addition, you can load it into Ableton Live for live performances so you can easily transition between your songs or sets and even inspire some new production techniques.
2. Sugar Bytes Looperator
Looperator is a sample slicer and fx platform designed by Sugar Bytes.
Looperator is a creative production tool that can help you transform simple sounds and samples into new, exciting, creative compositions. It slices the sample you load into chops, rearranges it, and adds different effects on a per-step-basis to spice it up.
- Effect sequencer
The main interface of Looperator is centered around a 16-step sequencer. The sequencer controls six different effect modules. The idea is that you can sequence different effects to modulate a certain sound or song. Once you load Looperator on a track inside your DAW, you can sequence the slice, loop, envelope, filter, FX1, and FX2 modules to affect the sound. The interface is colorful, with each module’s color, while a dice switch at the far right of each module lets you randomize each sequencer for unpredictable results.
- Midi trigger
Looperator works in two modes, host and manual. In host mode, it’s synced with your host tempo so that you can create steps in time with the rest of the song. You can trigger certain effects in manual mode by playing midi notes. For example, you can set up a tape stop effect to be triggered every time you play the C3 note on a midi track. Now all you have to do is create that midi track and place it anywhere in your track, saving you time and CPU usage since one instance of Looperator can affect multiple tracks/sounds.
- Slice and rearrange
Looperator is extremely powerful when it comes to chopping up samples and rearranging them. Once your sample is warped, and in time with the project’s tempo you are in, you can load it in Looperator and sequence the slice module. It will create 16 chops of the sound which you can place anywhere you want in the 16-step sequencer in any order. It’s a great tool for sampled-based producers who need a different approach to sampling.
- Perfect for live performances
A huge asset of Looperator is its compatibility with Traktor. Traktor is a DJing software used by many DJs. You can DJ with Traktor and simultaneously run Looperator as an FX processor. This can be achieved by running it on manual mode and bringing a midi controller with you to the club. You can map certain midi buttons to certain effects, which you can trigger while DJing to add extra spice to your performance. Similarly, it’s a great performance tool for those who perform with Ableton Live.
The versatility of Looperator comes from the countless effect choices it offers. You can select between 25 different filter styles, which include vowel options, bandpass, notch, and filter sweeps. You can even open up the filter styles and tweak them on a left and right basis, creating so interesting stereo effects. Of course, you also have plenty of choices in distortion, reverb, pitch-shifting, tape stop effects, and many more.
Looperator is available on Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.12 or higher in VST2, VST3, AAX, and AU formats.
Looperator is an exciting live performance and production tool by Sugar Bytes. Its ability to chop and transform the input audio is mesmerizing, while its compatibility with Traktor makes it a formidable live performance tool.
The step sequencers are designed nicely and are easy to understand, while the visual representation of the incoming audio makes placing your chops and effects a piece of cake.
2. Stagecraft Software Vinyl Lab
Vinyl Lab is a DJ software by Stagecraft Software.
It can be run as a plugin in your DAW or as a standalone app. It can be used to perform DJ sets in its simplest form, but also in creative ways inside your daw to remix tracks, add scratches, and load up tracks to be processed as if they were playing on an actual vinyl record player.
Samples are at the forefront in Vinyl Lab. The software is all about enabling the user to warp audio tracks, loops, and samples so that they can match and blend together seamlessly. This is something that traditional DJ software struggled with in the past; however, Vinyl Lab’s smart algorithms and warp capabilities help you load in a drum loop and perfectly adjust its tempo and pitch at the right value to fit whatever track you are currently playing.
- Perfect for production
Vinyl Lab is one of the few DJ software that comes in plugin mode. Once you load it into your DAW, you’ll see how it can inspire new ideas. You can remix your existing songs by altering the tempo and pitch, layer sounds together from different musical backgrounds, and perform them together live.
- Vinyl appropriate
You can already do most of the tasks mentioned above in a DAW, but Vinyl Lab has the upper hand in its ability to control hardware. For example, you can connect a record player to your audio interface and set it up so that Vinyl Lab can communicate with it. Then, once you load a sample or a track of yours in the app, you can interact with the record player while affecting your song simultaneously. For example, you can scratch the record player and hear your song inside the app being affected in this way. It’s a very creative way for people who want to get familiar with vinyl to perform with.
Vinyl Lab has a wide range of effects to help you add interest and spice to your tracks. However, the true asset in Vinyl Lab’s workflow is apparent in its plugin form. Unlike most DJ software, you can load it into your DAW of choice and add other audio effects or effect plugins to modulate it. Imagine DJing live, and instead of the overused Pioneer delay, you get access to an advanced delay like Echo Boy or Deelay. The creative options are limitless.
Vinyl Lab is available on Windows and macOS as a standalone app, VST, or AU plugin.
Vinyl Lab is a new look into what modern DJing is capable of. Not only can you load samples and audio files into vinyl decks, but you can also process them inside your DAW with professional effects and plugins. Vinyl Lab also shines in its warp capabilities, making it a proper production workhorse.
4. beatassist.eu BitMeex (Free)
BitMeex is a DJ software plugin by betassist.eu.
BitMeex runs as a VST plugin inside your DAW and can help you perform basic DJ sets. It can perform simple DJ tasks to help you mix two songs and has all the necessary tools and effects to create seamless transitions.
- Simple interface
The interface inside BitMeex is simple and easy to understand. There are two decks that are colored differently for your convenience. Each of them is equipped with the usual cue, play, stop, loop, and effect knob controls. There are also two jog wheels representing the spinning decks and a very simple single-color waveform of the track you load in.
The mixer has the controls you’d expect to find on any DJ mixer, like low, mid, and high-frequency knobs, volume faders, crossfader, master volume knob, panning, and level knobs. It’s also equipped with effects like filter, flanger, delay, and reverb which you can assign to each deck’s effect knobs to create interesting moments in your mix.
- Good for beginners and curious DJs
BitMeex is a very simple plugin, and it’s made for those looking to get into DJing since it’s free to use. You can get it and familiarize yourself with the fundamental techniques of DJing before you move up to a bigger software. It’s also useful for those curious about new DJing software and who love to play around with different DJ setups.
BitMeex is available on Windows only in VST and VST3 formats.
BitMeex is a very simple and easy-to-use DJ software. Moreover, it’s free, so it’s perfect for people who are thinking about getting into DJing but are not ready to spend big bucks yet.
5. Sonic Assault Mixed Reaction!
Mixed Reaction is a mixer plugin by Sonic Assault.
If you are someone who loves vintage-style performance techniques that require a hardware mixer and different playback devices, you might want to check out Mixed Reaction. It’s a plugin that you can load into your DAW and create live performances by triggering up to four different tracks.
- Four channels
There are four different channels inside Mixed Reaction. Each has its own play, stop, audition, and volume controls, as well as a jog wheel for simulating vinyl pitch effects. You can audition different tracks before you play them, just like you would on a real mixer, and fade them in and out with the fade controls. In addition, each track has BPM calibrated pitch faders, gain knobs, and panning knobs.
- EQ and reverb
A master EQ is located on the top of the interface to help you sculpt the frequency field as you wish. It’s a graphic EQ with ten different frequency bands you can adjust. Moreover, a reverb module can help you add depth and interest to your mix. It has decay, feedback, damping, filter cutoff, and gain knobs to help you create rich and complex reverb tones.
- Record your mixes
With Mixed Reaction, you can record anything that happens in the interface. The recorder module is located in the top right corner of the plugin and has a signal monitoring screen for keeping an eye on your levels. As a result, you can easily record and bounce your mix.
- Perfect for experimentation
Mixed Reaction is a great plugin to have if you are into things like sound clash or street mixing. Back in the day, you would need to have a mixer, decks, and speakers, but with plugins like Mixed Reaction, you can just do it on your laptop. It’s perfect for those who crave the nostalgia of mixing on a four-track mixer with a simple reverb and EQ effects while you focus on bringing songs and loops in and out of the mix.
Mixed Reaction is available on Windows only in VST formats.
Mixed Reaction is a straightforward plugin. It can be used to create simple but effective mixes inside your DAW for free. The mixer is easy to understand, especially if you’ve seen any mixer before. The effects are simple, and the reverb feels very fitting to this style of mixing and performing.
6. Stagecraft XFade
XFade is a crossfader plugin by Stagecraft.
XFade is a tool catered to studio producers or DAW DJs who need a simple crossfader to help them mix from one track to another.
It works exactly like a traditional mixer crossfader, although it has a few extra features that make it a bit more versatile and useful in a studio environment.
- Fade in your DAW
Crossfaders are the most useful tools a DJ has. However, it’s not often used in a studio environment, so XFade brings the traditional crossfader in a plugin version. You can set it up in your DAW so that track A and track B are two channels you can alternate between. Furthermore, you can load samples or tracks as audio files to layer them into your productions.
- Customizable cutoff
With XFade, you can adjust the crossfade slope for smoother or quicker transitions. In addition, the low, mid, and high controls help you adjust the crossfader curve to create jarring fades or introduce elements subtly. The latter is useful for creative techniques, for example, layering pads and atmospheric elements together to create unique and rich atmospheres.
- No latency
XFade can fade in and out multiple times in a single buffer, which means it can be insanely fast even with larger buffers or on old sound cards. In addition, it operates on 0 latency, so you won’t have to worry about lags or clunky mixes derailing your inspiration.
XFade is available on Windows and macOS in VST and AU formats.
XFade is a simple tool for producers and DAW DJs who need a reliable crossfader. While it’s capable of all the things a traditional crossfader can do, it can be an exciting studio tool for layering sounds creatively and creating sharp transition effects.
7. Stagecraft Scratch Track
Scratch Track is a scratching plugin designed by Stagecraft.
If you love vinyl effects, particularly vinyl scratches, Scratch Track might be the plugin you’ve been looking for. It can help you scratch samples, loops, audio tracks, or live input signals.
It also supports timecoded vinyl, automation, and MIDI learning.
- Timecoded vinyl
Scratch Track supports timecoded vinyl, so if you own one, you can link it with the plugin and perform scratches inside your DAW. This is a very exciting feature since now you can add scratches to any sound inside your song. It’s extremely intuitive and easy to use, while it manages to sound convincingly realistic.
- Midi scratching and midi learn
With Scratch Track, you can also perform scratches with midi platter devices. The benefit of using midi platters is that you can adjust the sensitivity and friction to get realistic scratches and over-the-top and alien-sounding effects. Scratch Track is also capable of midi learn. When you right-click any buttons or sliders, you can map that control to any midi signal.
- Live input scratching
Scratch Track’s ability to capture and process incoming signals from external sources makes it perfect for live performances. To do this, you need to enable the live streaming feature inside the interface. After this, you can start scratching any incoming signal. For example, you can be singing a line in a gig and instantly perform scratches on your voice. This is exciting for performers who wish to be more interactive with their audience and gear but also for bands or ensembles who want to add another layer of interest to their performance. You can scratch anything from vocals, live drums, and guitars to synthesizers.
- Excellent for experimentation
One thing that Scratch Track rewards is experimentation. You can perform your scratches and enable automation, forcing your DAW to capture the scratch information into an automation track. Now, you can play it back and observe the automation, modify it, and create new and unique scratches that you wouldn’t be able to perform with your hands. You can also capture the crossfader’s actions as automation for even more control. Finally, you can load samples so that you can retrigger them and affect them with the scratching controls.
Scratch Track is available on Windows 7 or higher and macOS 1011 or higher in VST3, AU, AAX, and Standalone formats.
Scratch Track is a very interactive and versatile performance tool for the modern DJ/producer. If you are someone who wants to add an layer of interactivity to your performance then this is the right plugin to look for.
8. Hvoya Audio Ribs
Ribs is a granular synthesizer and effect unit designed by Hvoya Audio.
Ribs is an unusual and intriguing synth/FX unit. At its core, it’s a granular device that captures sound, chops it into granules of audio, and plays them back in beautiful ways.
It can also perform cool scratches that can be realistic or totally creative and unique, break audio down and turn it into new soundscapes, or even create interesting transition effects. What’s even better is that it’s free to use.
- Three performance modes
Ribs has three performance modes, simple, notes, and beat. There is no granular processing in simple mode, and Ribs plays back the buffer content. In notes mode, the audio is cut into pieces and put back together so that it creates new notes. Finally, the beat mode works like the notes mode. The only difference is that the audio pieces’ length depends on the tempo of your DAW and other customizable parameters.
Scratching is just the surface of what Ribs can do, but it can perform them in amazing ways. All you need to do is record the audio you wish to scratch in the internal buffer and then move your mouse over the waveform. The mouse will move a virtual playhead which will create scratches. What’s awesome about Ribs is that you can assign said playhead to a midi control on your midi keyboard, for example, a knob. Now, you can just play your song and move the knob to perform scratches. Remember to always capture the audio in a separate channel because Ribs cannot save buffer contents. Scratch is available in the simple mode.
- Excellent for sound design
Like any granular software, Ribs is an amazing sound design tool. It can give birth to complex polyrhythmic beats and create rich and evolving atmospheres. Its ability to chop audio into granules and reproduce it in different orders and ways means that anything you feed into it will give you vastly different sonic results. If you’re into experimental music, sound design, or just fun, then this plugin will be extremely joyful to use.
- Excellent for live performances
The ability to assign different parameters to midi controls is just one of the reasons Ribs is excellent to use in a live setting. For example, you can record a vocal performance live and send it to Ribs to modulate. If you own any midi controllers, then you can assign different controls to different knobs and buttons in advance to have an interactive and fun live performance.
Ribs is available on Windows and macOS in VST, AU, and Standalone formats.
Ribs is a fun tool to have if you’re into sound design or live performance. You can get it for free, so I recommend it to anyone looking for a new granular device to play with. The scratching sounds both realistic and quirky, while the different performance modes enable a wide range of sound design possibilities.
9. Image-Line Gross Beat
Gross Beat is a volume and pitch manipulation plugin by Image-Line.
Originally created by Image-Line for their famous DAW FL Studio, the plugin has achieved great fame due to its broad functionality and wide range of sonic results it can achieve. Gross Beat is essentially a simple envelope-based manipulator plugin that can create cool turntable effects, tape stop, gate effects, and even side chain effects.
- Pitch modulation
The big envelope mapping panel covers the majority of Gross Beat’s interface. When the envelope is green, it controls time, and when it’s orange, it manipulates the sound’s volume. When you are on the time panel, you can create pitch modulation in steps and tape stop effects. In addition, you can draw your own envelopes and create envelope points with great ease, which makes Gross Beat very intuitive and friendly to beginners. Finally, you can create riser effects or scratches by experimenting with different envelope setups.
- Volume modulation
Gross Beat can be an excellent utility tool due to its volume manipulation capabilities. You can go back to basics and draw sidechain envelopes or go crazy with it and create complex stutters and gate effects that can add movement and interest to static sounds and samples.
- Great for live performances
Gross Beat is an excellent tool to use if you are a live performer. There are 36 pattern slots per patch on the pitch and volume processors. The way they’re set up makes it effortless to swap from one to another, which is essential when you are performing and need a new effect on the fly. In addition, you can map MIDI notes or MIDI CCs to help you swap through the different pattern slots or to return to a previous scene. Finally, you can control the wet/dry knob with MIDI CC and map the time offset parameter with knobs to create interactive scratching patches.
Gross Beat is available in FL Studio on Windows and macOS.
Gross Beat is a very simple plugin that focuses on a handful of tasks that it performs to perfection. The volume and pitch envelope mapping panels are designed nicely and are very easy to learn, which is important for beginners.
In addition, the MIDI mapping capabilities make Gross Beat an excellent live performance tool for producers who need interactive plugins to add interest and spice to their performances.
iZotope Vinyl (For Noise & Lofi Vibe)
Vinyl is a free vinyl emulator plugin by iZotope.
iZotope is one of the most well-known brands in the audio industry, and with Vinyl, they provide a versatile tool to producers who seek a vintage sound. It processes your sounds in a few different ways to add vinyl records’ dirt and unpredictable nature.
- Perfect for lo-fi
Vinyl emulator plugins have almost become synonymous with lo-fi music. The name means low fidelity and references audio degradation, which happens purposefully to capture a vintage or nostalgic vibe. Vinyl has a lo-fi switch that will add flutter and wow effects to the pitch of the incoming signal, as well as down sample distortion and EQing to tame the top end.
- Visit the past
The main interface includes a menu of different eras in music. For example, you can select between the 1930s, 1950s, 1960, 1970s, 1980s, and 2000s. Each era will offer a different tone and vibe to your sound, with the 1930s being very thin and noisy, all the way to the 2000s with more pronounced bass. This can work wonders if you are a producer who creates his one-sample compositions and wants to make them feel as if they were actually sampled from a record.
- Utility controls
Vinyl offers a few different controls to help you shape the tone of the sound. The mechanical and electrical faders introduce noise, making your song feel like it’s being played on a hardware playback device. You also get access to dust, scratch, and warp faders which introduce additional distortion and pitch modulation. The scratch fader increases the probability of audio dropouts and scratch noises while your sound is playing, similar to the ones you’d get on a dusty vinyl record. Finally, adding a spin-down button is welcomed since it offers a fairly realistic vinyl spin-down effect.
Vinyl is available on Windows 8 – 10 and macOS 10.13.6 – 11 in VST2, VST3, AU, and AAX formats.
Vinyl is an awesome free plugin by iZotope for the modern producer who needs a plugin that introduces noise and a vintage feel to their music. It’s ideal for lo-fi producers, hip hop producers, but also anyone that’s after a nostalgic feel.
You can apply it to keys and guitars to send them back in the 1960s or your vocals to make them feel like they’re coming out of a small boombox. Overall, it’s a very versatile plugin.
In today’s era of music production, where the tools to make music are accessible to everyone, there are many alternatives to DJing and performing live. You may not have the budget to buy DJ gear or controllers to practice and gig with, or you may just want to try a new approach to DJing and performing live.
This list is filled with the best DJ plugins that work alongside your DAW but also highlight some other plugins that can be inspiring and useful in a live performance setting. Use it to discover new tools and pick your favorites to add to your arsenal.
Alvinos Zavlis is an artist/producer from Cyprus based in Bristol, UK. With three albums under his belt and plenty of singles, his catalogue covers a wide range of sounds, from hip hop and trip hop to IDM and experimental electronic styles, all fused together to create unique blends of sounds. He works as a freelance mixing and mastering engineer in Bristol for artists of all styles.