In today’s post, we’ll take a look at the 11 best distortion plugins for 2023. Additionally, we’ll show you four free alternatives and 6 bonus plugins.
Distortion has been a trend in music production over the past few years. It seems like people have gotten tired of high-fidelity recordings, but who’s complaining? The more lo-fi it sounds, the better it is for home producers to make art out of noisy recordings.
If you’re here because you’re looking for that warm, distorted texture, search no further. In a nutshell, here are the best distortion plugins in 2023:
11 Best Distortion Plugins 2023
1. Arturia Dist COLDFIRE
The Arturia Dist Coldfire is a revolutionary dual distortion plugin featuring a powerful modulation engine and a wide variety of distortion types that you can swap in and out.
There are two independent distortion engines in Dist Coldfire, and you can use them in whatever combination you like. A variety of pre-and post-distortion filters are available for each distortion type. Analog-modeled and purely digital distortion types are both available.
With assignable parameter modulation and dynamics processing, Dist Coldfire can dish out virtually any dirt you want.
- Distortion Types
There are 150 factory settings to help you get started, some of which are meant to transform ordinary drum loops into snarling, ripping monsters. A total of eleven distinct kinds of distortion are available in the various distortion menus, with more options available in some categories.
For example, bit inverters and bit crushers are just two of the eleven primary flavors. Other examples include wave folders, wave shapers, rectifiers, tape and analog saturation, driven transformers, and so on. In addition, there is a delay section in the processing, with feedback, filtering, and tempo sync as options.
- User Interface
The distortion engines sit opposite sides of the interface, while the master, band split, and dynamics controls sit in the middle. Tooltips explain what each control does and show the current setting. The input and output level controls can be linked to keeping the volume under control when cranking up the distortion.
You can independently adjust the overall output level and wet/dry ratio. A horizontal fader controls the volume of each distortion engine independently.
The pre-and post-distortion filters, multiband/feedback, and extensive modulation section are all accessible via the advanced panel’s tabs, wherein you can choose LFO, Function, Follower, or Sequencer options. Because of its modulation capabilities, Coldfire is a potent tool for improvising with drum loops, and its modulators can be assigned to virtually any control in Dist Coldfire, including other modulators.
However, the sequencers and function generators can also transform rhythmic elements from sustained instrument parts. The output filters can be set to a high pass or low pass, while the pre-filters can be set to a bandpass, notch, or one of two combs.
Studio and Render oversampling modes are offered. The latter uses higher resolution but at the expense of increased CPU overhead. Whichever is selected, it will apply to both online and offline renderings despite the different titles.
- Dynamics And Feedback
Arturia includes a dynamics and feedback component to round out the signal chain. Compressors, multiband compressors, and a limiter that can be placed before or after the distortion make up the dynamics section. Instruments that assist you in reining in and smoothing out your distorted audio.
Whether you find these instruments too simplistic or the entire dual distortion doesn’t have enough bang; feedback is always there to help. Dist Coldfire incorporates a feedback processor, which you may access through the panel’s advanced settings. It uses a filter to delay the feedback, and you can change the beat rate.
The OS requirements for this plugin are Windows 7 or higher for PC and macOS 10.9 or higher for Mac. It comes in VST/RTAS/AU/AAX formats and supports 32 and 64 bit systems.
Arturia’s Dist Coldfire is yet another innovative plugin that aims to expand traditional sound design. That goal was met, too. One of the best features they provide is a dual distortion plugin that sets them apart. From traditional saturations and distortions to techniques like wave folding/waveshaping and bit-flipping, you’ll find it all here.
2. Excite Audio Motion: Harmonic
Harmonic by Excite Audio is a versatile distortion plugin that opens up new possibilities in sound shaping and creative audio processing.
With its comprehensive set of features, it allows users to transform audio signals into dynamic and responsive compositions. It combines distortion, filtering, and bit-crushing effects to add movement and character to audio. The plugin offers a visually-led and interactive sound-shaping experience, allowing users to ignite their creative flow and explore new sonic possibilities.
- Hexagon Controller
The innovative Hexagon controller is the centerpiece of the plugin. It consists of six macro sliders that can be assigned to control various effects parameters. These sliders can be manipulated by a magnetic cursor, enabling intuitive and expressive control over the sound.
You can find various presets under categories like Bass, Creative, Drums, Evolving, Guitars, etc., simplifying your process and giving you a great starting point. This is especially great for those who may find its functions and controls too complicated.
- Advanced and unique features
The plugin lets you record or draw the effects path and edit the cursor/hexagon. In addition, there’s a timeline on which you can do creative automation and build interesting effects.
- Distortion and Bitcrushing
With the plugin, you get versatile distortion and bitcrushing capabilities. You can enhance harmonics, focus on transients and frequency ranges, and add unique character to drum hits, basslines, melodies, and more.
The plugin offers a range of controls for shaping the distortion and bitcrushing effects, allowing users to achieve anything from subtle warming to intense signal destruction.
The plugin features Lo-Pass/Hi-Pass filters and versatile ‘comb-style’ peak filters, enabling users to design expressive filter sweeps and tension-filled effects. These filters can be used to shape the frequency content of the audio and add movement and rhythm to pads and other sounds.
- Comprehensive Modulation Parameters
Harmonic offers comprehensive modulation options for creating evolving textures and animated sound design. You can automate multiple parameters simultaneously, allowing loops to transform into constantly changing phrases. This flexibility provides users with extensive creative control over their sound design process.
Motion: Harmonic is compatible with popular digital audio workstations (DAWs) and operating systems, including Windows and macOS. It supports various plugin formats, such as VST, VST3, AU, and AAX, ensuring seamless integration into different production setups.
In summary, Motion: Harmonic by Excite Audio is a distortion plugin that offers a dynamic and responsive sound-shaping experience. With its innovative Hexagon controller, comprehensive modulation parameters, and versatile filtering capabilities, Motion: Harmonic provides users with a powerful toolset for creative sound design.
3. Minimal Audio Rift 2.0
Minimal Audio Rift 2.0 is an innovative and powerful distortion plugin for music producers, sound designers, and mixing engineers.
It pushes the boundaries of traditional distortion by offering unique sound-shaping capabilities, making it an essential tool for enhancing and transforming your audio material creatively. It features multi-band effects, modulators, extensive waveshaping, and various sound design controls to help you creatively distort your sounds with complete command over your sound.
- Bi-Polar Distortion Engine
Rift 2.0’s innovative bi-polar distortion engine allows you to independently apply positive and negative distortion, offering unprecedented control over your sound’s character and harmonics.
- Physical Modeling Feedback
This feature emulates the behavior of physical systems, such as resonating strings or tubes, by feeding the output signal back into the input. The physical modeling feedback adds complexity and richness to the distortion, creating unique and organic-sounding effects that go beyond traditional distortion techniques. Adjusting the feedback amount and other parameters allows you to achieve a wide range of tones and textures, from subtle warmth to extreme, chaotic resonances.
- Advanced Morphing Filters
The virtual distortion includes a set of advanced morphing filters that allow you to shape and sculpt the distorted sound’s frequency content dynamically. These filters can smoothly transition between filters, such as low-pass, high-pass, band-pass, and notch, enabling you to create evolving and expressive filtering effects.
By modulating the filter parameters using the built-in modulation system, you can achieve a high level of creative control and generate captivating, morphing soundscapes that respond to the input signal.
- Multi-Stage Processing
You can work with multi-stage processing chains, including input, waveshaping, and output filters, enabling you to sculpt and fine-tune their distortion sound precisely.
- Advanced Modulation System
Minimal Audio incorporates an advanced modulation system, including LFOs, envelope followers, and macro controls, allowing you to create dynamic and evolving distortion effects that respond to your input signal.
- Custom Waveshaping
The plugin allows you to draw custom waveshapes or select from predefined shapes, providing virtually limitless possibilities for shaping and transforming your sound.
- Intuitive Interface
Rift 2.0 features an intuitive and easy-to-use interface, making it accessible to experienced and novice users and enabling quick and efficient workflow.
The System Requirements for Minimal Audio Rift 2.0 are as follows: For Mac users, the plugin is compatible with macOS 10.9 or higher and is available in 64-bit only, with support for AU, VST, VST3, and AAX formats. For Windows users, it requires Windows 10 or higher, also in 64-bit only, and supports VST, VST3, and AAX formats.
These requirements ensure compatibility with various digital audio workstations and platforms, allowing you to integrate the plugin into their music production workflow seamlessly.
Minimal Audio Rift 2.0 is a unique and advanced distortion plugin that offers a unique and powerful sound-shaping toolset. Its bipolar distortion engine, multi-stage processing, and advanced modulation capabilities make it a valuable asset for music producers, sound designers, and mixing engineers looking to push the boundaries of conventional distortion and create innovative and captivating audio effects.
4. Output Thermal
Output’s Thermal is a minimalistic distortion plugin with a robust set of controls under the hood.
With various built-in effects, Thermal goes way beyond simple distortion. The plugin has loads of presets that it automatically offers you based on the input material. All sounds are controllable through the circular XY graph that balances whatever effects are assigned to the two knobs on the right-hand side of the GUI.
- Three Stages
Each stage lets you add modulations, effects, distortions, width, tone, and EQ, independently, as well as define in which frequency range it will operate.
- Modulations & Effects
The plugin offers nine effects, including chorus, bit reducer, flanger, reverb, delay, and a few more. Additionally, you can add up to two modulations, including fully customizable LFOs. You can assign the modulations to any parameters in the effects.
This excellent feature ensures that every new cycle will be slightly different so that the modulations feel a bit more natural.
- Master Compressor
At the end of the signal chain, you can add a bypassable compressor if you feel like taming the entire processing.
Character & Sound:
Thermal creates sounds a lot crazier than its minimal interface could ever show. With over 25o presets and over fifteen custom distortion types, it would be easy to get lost. Thankfully, Output has made Thermal so intuitive that it’s easy to create mind-bending distortion effects on your own.
This plugin is available for Windows 7 or later and macOS 10.13 or newer in VST, AAX, and AU formats.
Thermal is a must-have plugin that will easily attend to your direst distortion needs. Don’t get fooled by its simple interface. By accessing the parameters panel, you’ll find a golden land of modulations that no other plugin on our list has shown. This is definitely a worthy purchase for your collection.
5. Arturia Dist TUBE-CULTURE
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One of the best harmonic distortion recreations to come by recently.
Dist TUBE-CULTURE is a rendition of the classic Thermionic Culture’s Ultra Vulture unit that provided rich harmonic saturation in the audio signal. Some extra and modern features were also included by Arturia, making it a versatile and trustworthy software that highly resembles its precursor.
- Adjustable BIAS
The original Ultra Vulture unit was built in a tube-powered circuit, as the most common choice regarding great-sounding audio gear. Tubes provide a very specific warmth and character to your equipment, and this is greatly transcribed inside Dist TUBE-CULTURE. The “BIAS” knob adjusts the total amount of current running in the tube – a 6AS6 in this case – which can dictate whether the tube sounds more aggressive or more subtle in the mix.
- Distortion modes
Distortion is a subjective effect that can vary significantly. You can saturate any signal from a slight way all the way up to aggressive behavior, and this can be even more simplified with the distortion modes available in Dist TUBE-CULTURE. You can choose between “Triode,” “Pentode 1,” “Pentode 2,” and “Pentode 3,” each reflecting a specific sound character ranging from subtle to gritty.
Everything’s much easier with presets. Arturia included 51 factory presets that extend through a wide range of dynamics, from smooth and harmonic textures to more edgy, hard distortion. They offer easy access to iconic sound profiles, even tailored for specific instruments.
- Presence switch
This useful switch works just like in the original hardware: you can switch between mid and high boosts. In essence, the “Air” position boosts high frequencies only, whereas the “Presence” option boosts both mid and high frequencies. You can also deactivate this option at any time.
The main panel contains another ode to the original hardware. The ammeter displayed in the user interface is a handy way to monitor the exact bias value running in the plugin, measured in milliamps. When in “Advanced Mode,” clicking in the meter will alternate between input, output, and bias graphic displays, aside from a frequency analyzer that extends the entire spectrum.
- Adjustable BIAS
This plugin is available for macOS 10.13 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 8.1 or higher (64-bit only). It runs in standalone mode and VST, NKS, AAX, and AU plugin formats.
Digital renditions of famous audio hardware are mostly tricky because they can promise more than they can offer. That’s not the case with Dist TUBE-CULTURE, mainly due to the harmonic response in every subtle parameter variation.
Distorting a signal does not depend solely on adding gain but also on adding character simultaneously. This is why great records we know and love sound the way they do, and Arturia once again nailed this rendition in the best way possible.
The presets are a good way to start exploring, but tweaking the parameters around them can be just as inspiring to do.
6. FabFilter Saturn 2
Saturn 2, by FabFilter, is a highly versatile multi-band distortion plugin with a transparent sound.
Like most FabFilter plugins, this one is a parameter powerhouse. As you look at it for the first time, you’ll probably think, “Is that all?”. But as you start adding modulations, linking parameters, and adding bands, you’ll understand how creative you can get with the sound. The plugin’s intelligent algorithm adapts easily to anything you add to it, and the results will be different whenever you need them to be.
- 6-band processing
You can click the waveform graph wherever you feel like adding a band crossover. The plugin lets you add up to six that can be individually tweaked.
- Multi-band compression
If you select all bands and raise the Dynamics knob, the intelligent algorithm will add program-dependent multi-band compression to your track.
- Transient Mode
The envelope followers can become transient designers with the click of a button. Simply link the EF to any band’s level knob and select Transient Mode.
- Width Controls
You can add distortion to the subbass and make only the lower frequencies mono with the width control positioned around the Level knob.
Character & Sound:
The plugin offers several distortion modes which can be used softly or taken to extremes. For example, the Subtle modes all sound amazingly transparent and can even be added to a mastering chain for coloration. The more overdriven textures will sound astonishing on any instrument. Overall, the plugin sounds clean and precise, without the addition of the common unwanted distortion artifacts.
This plugin is available for macOS 10.10 or higher and Windows XP or newer in VST2, VST3, AXX, and AU formats.
FabFilter’s Saturn 2 is ahead of its time. It’s flabbergasting how adaptable the plugin is and all the things you can do with it. It is a distortion plugin, but it’s also a multi-band swiss-army knife. This is undoubtedly a must-have for your toolset.
7. PROCESS AUDIO Spicerack
PureMix’s software company, Process Audio, has released an audio plugin called “Spicerack.”
Because it was conceived, built, and fine-tuned by Grammy-winning engineers, Spicerack radically rethinks how often audio saturation and distortion are accomplished. There are five distinct types of harmonic distortion available in Spicerack, each of which can be used to saturate further, distort, shape, or texturize your audio.
Five algorithms have been designed and fine-tuned to provide a wide range of colors that are valuable to any producer and mixing engineer.
- Parallel Processing
After adjusting the volume of the processed signal with the Wet Gain knob, users can blend it in with the unprocessed sound using the Mix knob, which provides parallel processing. Finally, a Console Remote function enables simultaneous interaction with several instances of Spicerack within a single session.
- Distortion Types
Drive, Tube, Amp, Lo-Fi, and Fuzz are just a few distortion types available in the plugin, which can be selected using the buttons at the top of the user interface. The Gate section, which comes after the input level knob, lets users target only the loudest parts of the source signal for processing.
The Drive control and its associated automatic gain settings can be found in the following section, along with a Drive Boost button that provides an additional 18dB of gain. Finally, by using a selector switch, the user can decide whether to process the entire signal, the center channel only or the left and right channels independently.
- User Interface
The Auto Gain Compensation and Calibration features in Spicerack make it possible to smoothly adjust the main Drive control between its minimum and maximum settings, allowing users to quickly and easily apply the desired saturation.
In addition, the effect uses the true linear-phase technology pioneered by Process Audio’s Sugar plugin, which, according to the developer, is a first for a parallel saturation plugin and produces previously unheard results when blending wet and dry signals.
- EQ Section
We then move on to the EQ, where linear filters cancel out unwanted noise when mixing wet and dry signals. Peak and tilt controls are available in addition to low-pass and high-pass filters. The equalizer’s graph is displayed vertically rather than horizontally, and it sits next to a sizable Tone slider that you can use to darken or brighten the overall sound.
The EQ knob can come either before or after the Drive control. You can activate the linear-phase mode via a button at the bottom of the user interface; however, doing so will increase both latency and CPU usage.
This plugin is available for macOS 10.10 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 7 or higher (64-bit only). It comes in VST/RTAS/AU/AAX formats and supports 32 and 64 bit systems.
It’s a greater plugin with well-designed distortion algorithms, auto gain adjustment for gain staging, and low CPU usage. But if you haven’t decided about SpiceRack yet, try out a trial version in the link above, which comes with the full version regardless of whether you decide to keep it.
8. Audio Damage Kombinat Tri
Audio Damage’s Kombinat Tri has three distortion engines with thirteen different algorithm options for each.
Each algorithm offers a different tone-shaping characteristic which improves this plugin’s versatility. Since you can apply them individually into each band, you can use the same or different ones for various sound combinations.
- Multiband Distortion Plugin
Offers 12 different filter topologies to allow you extreme sound-bending.
The plugin’s built-in compressor is a one-knob wonder that can add clean distortion or smash everything.
The plugin lets you control an envelope follower through the feedback section, which expands its modulation abilities.
Including designer presets and user favorites from other versions, the presets on this plugin give you great starting points for your timbres.
Character & Sound:
However you want your distortion, Kombinat Tri can help you achieve it. Underneath the simple interface, the plugin offers a vast sonic landscape. All you have to do is mix and match the algorithms and tackle the parameters. Additionally, the crossover points are precise to the point of fully isolating bands.
This plugin is available for Windows 8 or higher and macOS 10.12 and is newer in VST, VST3, AAX, and AU formats.
At first glance, the Kombinat Tri doesn’t look special. Even so, once you get a feel for its sound and start tweaking its parameters, it’ll convert you. There’s no doubt it’s a great addition to your toolkit.
9. Cableguys DriveShaper
Replaced With Drivershaper 2 (Trial Available)
Cableguys’ DriveShaper gives you complete control over the distortion and its modulations.
This plugin lets you split the audio into three bands and add different LFOs for each band. You can draw the oscillations with unlimited points in the graph and add to each LFO a different distortion style. All this makes DriveShaper the utility belt of distortion plugins.
- Distortion Styles
The ten available styles are separated into three groups: Classic, Rectify, and Wavefolding. The result is a comprehensive offering of proper modes plus a few off-the-curve additions that make this plugin stand out.
- LFO Smoothing
If your shape is adding a few clicks and pops to your audio, the plugin makes it simple to get rid of them with the LFO Smoothing slider.
- Accent & Tone
These two parameters work with the distorted parts, and while Accent controls the level, Tone shapes the EQ, cutting highs or lows.
This is almost like a gate for your distortion, preventing unwanted sounds between the critical notes to be distorted.
This is how you can make this plugin turn into an asymmetric distortion engine, by applying DC offset. It works with the Rectify and Wavefolding styles.
Character & Sound:
From the get-go, the plugin offers nine LFO waveform presets. They sound amazing already and can be an excellent inspiration for your own shapes. The sound is full and well made, and the three-band approach lets you stack drive on top of drive, which, even in different frequency regions, can create a unique sound.
This plugin is available for macOS 10.8 and up and Windows 7 and higher in VST and AU formats.
DriveShaper is an excellent plugin that deserves to be your toolkit. Its wide array of parameters make it one of the most versatile on our list and a reliable plugin for several musical genres.
10. AudioThing Wave Box
Wave Box, by Audio Thing, is a straightforward distortion plugin centered around two waveshapers.
This plugin’s parameters are genuinely minimal. You get two LFO’s, an envelope follower, and a filter. All these modulations work upon two waveshapers with adjustable curves, which can generate even or odd harmonics.
- Waveshaper Functions
Each shaper offers six pre-defined functions. You can choose one for each and combine them to create the distortion shape.
- Asymmetrical Mode
By clicking the ± button, the Bias slider will control the difference between the positive and negative parts of the signal, creating even harmonics.
- Symmetrical Mode
Here, with the ± button disengaged, the Bias will control the mix between the two functions, generating odd harmonics.
The plugin lets you preserve the audio quality by offering up to 16x oversampling.
Character & Sound:
The plugin can create light tube overdrive or the utmost digital aggressiveness, all through the blend of the two waveshapers. With the modulations, the plugin lets you add enough movement to give life back even to the most distorted sounds. At the end of the chain, the Master section enables you to add a hard clipper to tame any wandering transients.
This plugin is available for macOS 10.9 or newer and Windows 7 or later in VST2, VST3, AAX, and AU formats.
Wave Box is a highly user-friendly plugin that delivers impressive results. It comes with 30 presets to help you out, but you can easily find your way through the plugin’s sound just by tweaking the knobs. It’s a worthy addition to your toolbox.
11. Eventide CrushStation
CrushStation, by Eventide, is a versatile distortion plugin with a built-in gate and EQ.
You can add subtle or in-your-face distortion with this plugin. That makes it great for adding just a little bit of color and presence to a snare track or bring punch and heaviness to a guitar solo. The plugin lets you control several parameters at once using the Ribbon control. Additionally, the three-band EQ with sweepable mids gives you precise sonic shaping for your distortion.
This fun knob adds the sound of malfunctioning analog equipment, which extends the distortion experience.
You can use this button to add upper or lower octaves to the sound, which the plugin will smash together to create unique textures.
This button is great if you want two different settings for different parts of the same song, like in a lead guitar, for example.
You can use this to control multiple parameters at once and modulate the sound. One great example is having it modulate the Mids and Frequency knobs to create a comb-filter effect.
Character & Sound:
The various parameters let you thoroughly crush your input signal and turn simple, clean-sounding instruments into growly noises. Alternatively, you can add warm glue to the sound by applying just the necessary amount of drive to make instruments come alive. The Gate also adds nicely to the effect chain by giving you the ability to cut out the unwanted noises caused in between notes by excessive distortion.
This plugin is available for Windows 8 and higher and macOS 10.9 and later in AAX, VST2, VST3, and AU formats.
Eventide’s CrushStation is an exciting distortion plugin that offers an extensive range of applications. It feels a little overpriced, though, but it’s a great addition to your collection, especially if you’re into the Eventide ecosystem.
The 4 Best Free Distortion Plugins 2023
1. Camel Audio CamelCrusher
Camel Audio’s CamelCrusher is a very capable free distortion and compressor plugin.
The plugin offers two distortion sounds that you can blend to fine-tune the resulting sound. Additionally, you get a one-knob compressor to simulate the loss of dynamics as you push up a preamp’s input knob.
- Distortion Types
There are two types of distortion: Tube and Mech. The first sounds soft and harmonic, while the second is more aggressive and present.
This section gives you a low-pass filter and a resonance knob that boosts the frequencies right before the cutoff point.
This plugin’s compressor also adds a bit of distortion, which is boosted along with the volume by the Phat Mode.
Character & Sound:
Overall, this plugin’s distortion sounds impressive and creamy. No one can deny they modeled the sound after analog equipment. Additionally, the presets sound amazing, and the plugin is straightforward to use. Also, the randomize function can give you interesting starting points to kickstart your creativity.
This plugin is available for Mac and Windows as a VST, RTAS, and AU plugin.
CamelCrusher is one of those essential plugins. It’s so accessible, and it sounds so good that it should already be in your collection. In this case, take advantage of the fact it’s free and add it to your toolbox.
2. Ourafilmes TNT
TNT, by Ourafilmes, is a free distortion plugin that comes in two different versions.
You can use the plugin in either single- or multi-band formats. The first version offers the exclusive Tone knob, with which you can focus your processing to a specific frequency area. The second format is the bigger MB version, in which you can select the exact crossover point between bands and balance the outputs of both bands.
Both versions offer this selector that lets you choose from 5 different distortion types. From left to right, the sound gets more distorted as you increase the type. The MB version has one Type selector for each band.
This is probably the easiest-to-use plugin on this list. The knobs are intuitive and minimal, and the effect is very noticeable from the get-go.
Character & Sound:
TNT is very transparent and source-dependent. It sounds incredible on guitars and drums, but it also does a great job on bass. It’s not great for the master channel, but it works fine in parallel on an auxiliary track.
This plugin is available for 32-bit Windows as a VST.
TNT delivers a lot more than what’s expected from a free plugin. The single-band version already works and sounds great, so the multi-band version feels like an extra gift. If you’re on Windows, it’s a worthy download for your toolkit.
3. HY-Plugins HY-MBDrive
HY-MBDrive, by HY-Plugins, is a three-band distortion with adjustable crossovers.
Each band offers five different distortion modes that range from soft drive to full lo-fi. You can adjust the band’s width, panorama, volume, and drive amount. Additionally, you can mute, solo, and bypass each band individually.
- Distortion Modes
The plugin gives you five options: Drive, Half, Full, Clip, and Lo-Fi. The first three get increasingly distorted, while the last two offer different takes on the overdrive scale.
- Output Clip
You can choose to engage the output clipper, which will square off the loudest transients and give extra punch to your track.
Character & Sound:
The HY-MBDrive can give life to dull-sounding instruments, but it also sounds great on the master track. It can add just enough drive to make everything a bit more interesting, as a tube equalizer or a magnetic tape would. Alternatively, if you have some clean guitars that need to go wild, this plugin can also do the job very well.
This plugin is available for Windows as a VST.
If you were looking for a go-to free distortion, this is it. The HY-MBDrive is a reliable plugin that offers great-sounding results. Add it to your collection and make your tracks growl at just the right amount.
4. D-Charged D-Stortion
D-Charged’s D-Stortion adds even harmonics to your sounds and takes your instruments to absolute extremes.
The plugin is straightforward to use, and the GUI is very intuitive. Within minutes of tweaking, you’ll get the hang of what it does. The distortion never gets really soft due to the asymmetrical engine, but it creates an excellent fuzz sound in more extreme settings.
- Post Switches
You can change the order of the distortion and filter using the convenient post switches located on the right-hand side of the GUI.
- High- and Low-Cut Sliders
These two sliders let you adjust the slope for both filters, with higher values meaning a tighter cut and lower values indicating a more even result.
Character & Sound:
D-stortion sounds aggressive and cool at the same time. The curve slider lets you create a blend between a sine and a square wave, which always creates exciting results. Overall, the plugin makes the input signal sound like it’s going through a broken speaker, which can be desirable in some situations.
This plugin is available for Windows in VST format.
D-Charged’s D-Stortion is a very specific-sounding plugin. It’s not as versatile as any other of the free alternatives, but it delivers that powerful distortion sound very well. And for that reason, it is a worthy download if you’re on Windows.
1. Creative Intent Tantrum
Creative Intent’s Tantrum has two different distortion stages, and over 40 artist presets.
The plugin uses Phase Distortion to achieve soft or hard overdriven sounds dynamically. Tantrum splits the signal into two bands, then it lets you choose which band you want to apply your processing to. The XY Pad enables you to drag the cursor around to find the perfect spot between the WaveShaper and the Phase Distortion.
- Curve Shape
This selector lets you change the wave distortion. Five options are ranging from soft Tape saturation to aggressive Foldback distortion.
- XY Pad
Drag the cursor on the X-axis to control the WaveShaper amount. You can also drag it on the Y-axis to have the Phase distortion amount changed too. The XY Pad works as a mixer for the two distortion stages.
- Crossover & Type
You can use these controls to split the signal into two bands and decide which you want to distort.
You can choose to delay the left or right channel and by how much time.
Character & Sound:
Tantrum allows you to shape your distortion to taste with its precise set of controls. You can go from mild to powerful distortion using some excellent emulations like tube and tape curves. Overall the plugin sounds very artifact-free, and as you load it into the signal chain, it starts modulating your sound, even if just a little.
This plugin is available for Windows 8.1 or newer and macOS 10.9 or higher in VST2, VST3, AU, and AAX formats.
Creative Intent’s Tantrum is an excellent plugin for people who want precise distortion options without the need to waste hours fine-tuning several parameters. However, it’s still a fun plugin with which to play as you try to find the perfect balance between distortion stages.
2. Soundspot Ravage
Ravage, by Soundspot, uses a custom-drawn LFO shape to add movement to the distortion.
The plugin has two menus, one for distortion and another for movement. You get to choose the algorithm you want to use at the distortion stage, the input, drive, and output levels, and the filtering. You can both high- and low-pass the sound to focus the distortion only on the mids or specific frequency regions.
- Six Distortion Algorithms
You can choose among Tube, Digital, Diode, Linear Fold, Rectify, and Zero Square to shape your distorted signal.
You can raise this slider control to increase further the amount of distortion you’re adding to the sound.
- Intelligent Oversampling
The plugin automatically detects the need for oversampling and applies it in the amount it feels is best for the overall context.
- Modulation Matrix
This is where you can draw your own LFO and assign its effect to one of eight destinations.
Character & Sound:
Each distortion algorithm has its sonic characteristic. For instance, while Tube is warm and soft, Zero Square is buzzy and loud. You can always use the Auto Output button to make the plugin compensate for the increase in volume added by the distortion. Additionally, you can use the LFO to control seven of the plugin’s parameters, as well as the pan.
This plugin is available for macOS 10.12 through 10.15 and Windows 7 through 10 as a VST, VST3, AAX, and AU plugin.
Ravage is a versatile distortion plugin, and its movement capabilities ensured by the LFO are the icings on the cake. The distortion algorithms can be adjusted to taste, although it’s a pity you can’t choose more than one at once. Even so, it’s a great plugin to have around.
3. Heavyocity Fury
Heavyocity’s Fury is a distortion designer plug-in allowing sound customization with over 700 possible module combinations.
Fury provides surgical shaping with fine-tuned modules, access to the gate, feedback, and pre/post distortion controls. It features eight options for drive mode, 15 for distortion, and six for tone. The plug-in has over 100 presets arranged by instrument and use type, and it’s compatible with various host applications on Mac and Windows.
- Distortion Flavors
Fury provides a wide range of distortion flavors, from subtle warmth to hard clipping. You can choose from eight drive modes, 15 distortion modes, and six tone modes to create unique sounds.
- User-Friendly Interface
With a user-friendly interface with three main pages- Modules, Shape, and Mod, the plugin has a Modules page that lets you choose from different modes, the Shape tab allows sound shaping and cleaning operations, and the Mod tab features three modulation effects.
- Complete control
The drive knob in Heavyocity’s Fury distortion plugin controls the gain applied to the input signal. It allows you to add warmth, saturation, and distortion to your sound. The movement knob adds modulation effects such as tremolo, flanging, and phasing to the sound.
The tone knob adjusts the frequency response of the distortion and can be used to fine-tune the overall sound. The mix knob controls the balance between the dry and wet signal, allowing you to blend the original signal with the distorted signal.
By adjusting these knobs, you can create a wide range of sounds, from subtle overdrive to extreme distortion, and add movement and modulation effects to their sound.
- Add interesting effects with modulations
The plugin includes a modulation page with an envelope follower, LFO, and sequencer. The envelope follower detects the level of the input signal and uses it to modulate the effect parameters, adding reactivity and rhythmic complexity to the sound.
The LFO generates low-frequency signals that can create tremolo, flanging, and phasing effects, with the secondary LFO allowing you to create more complex modulations.
The sequencer is a step-based modulation tool that allows you to create rhythmic patterns and sequences. By combining these modulation sources with the drive, distortion, and tone modules, you can create unique and complex sounds with Heavyocity’s Fury plugin.
- Various distortion algorithms
Heavyocity’s Fury distortion plugin comes with a wide variety of 29 algorithms that can be combined to create over 700 variations. These algorithms include high-cut, low-cut, boost, clean, harsh, lo-fi, tape, tube, transistor, and more. Each algorithm offers a unique flavor of distortion that can be further shaped using the drive, distortion, and tone modules.
Combining these algorithms and modules allows you to create subtle warmth, hard clipping, analog-modeled circuitry, lo-fi crushing, and chaotic sounds. Fury also includes expertly crafted presets across six categories to showcase its versatility.
The plugin is available in AAX, AU, and VST plugin formats and is compatible with popular host applications such as Pro Tools, Live, Cubase, and Logic Pro. It can be used on both Mac and Windows computers.
Heavyocity’s Fury is the best distortion plugin for its wide range of distortion flavors, user-friendly interface, and complete control. With over 700 possible module combinations, Fury provides surgical shaping with fine-tuned modules and access to controls such as gate, feedback, and pre/post distortion.
Its eight options for drive mode, 15 for distortion, and six for tone make it highly customizable. Additionally, the plugin includes a modulation page with an envelope follower, LFO, and sequencer to add interesting effects. Fury’s various distortion algorithms make it a versatile and intuitive tool for sound designers and producers.
4. Glitchmachines Subvert
Subvert, by GlitchMachines, is a multi-effects plugin centered around multimode distortion.
The plugin lets you route and modulate any parameter of the fifteen effect processors. It gives you a multimode filter, a metalizer, a digitizer, an FM ring modulator, and a multimode distortion. Each effect has three adjustable channels, and thanks to the multimode filter, the plugin can be used as a multi-band effects processor.
This versatile addition creates very short delays of the signal to generate metallic effects, but if you modulate the delay it can become a chorus/flanger.
The plugin’s four LFOs, two envelope followers, four mod mixers, and two mod inverters are significant if you want to add movement to the effects and create bizarre combinations.
- Modulation Source
This is the plugin’s heart and soul, as it lets you use any modulation to work any available parameter.
- Mod Mixers
This is a simple concept, but this plugin’s strength is having four of them, which allows you to blend several modulations and minimize the whole interface into four smaller commands.
Character & Sound:
Overall, Subvert sounds very electronic and inorganic, like most of GlitchMachines’ plugins, which draws people’s attention. The brand is known for its highly reroutable plugins, and Subvert is no different. This plugin’s most fantastic feature isn’t the sound it makes but the process of achieving it. You can spend hours here fine-tuning your sound, even if you started from a preset.
This plugin is available for macOS 10.11 and higher and Windows 8 and up in VST and AU formats.
GlitchMachine’s Subvert is a lot more than a distortion plugin. Although its main focus is distortion, the addition of four other effects gives this plugin the punch it needs to be one of the best on this list. Definitely, it’s a great addition to your collection.
5. W.A Production Screamo
Screamo, by WA Productions, is a hybrid between a talk-box and a screamer with an automatic oscillation engine.
All you have to do is set the distortion to taste and sync the speed to whatever division you feel like. The result will be an even distorted sound with a lot of added movement. The Smear, Drive, Shape, and Speed parameters all have additional style buttons that allow you to change the effect’s character.
This knob adds resonant shelving filters, which by themselves already add some phasing movement to the sound. They can be set to upwards, downwards, or two-way modulation.
Here, you can control the LFOs shape and use the style button to define if it’s going to start at zero, 90, or 180 degrees.
This parameter will round out the edges of the LFO, making the result sound silkier.
Character & Sound:
With the Speed knob, you can sync the modulation to the host tempo to create tremolo-like effects or have the oscillation activate the distortion. The style button lets you pick straight, triplets, or dotted division for different effects. Furthermore, you can set the Drive’s style to soft, medium, or hard, which can be fine-tuned to taste with the knob.
This plugin is available for Windows 7 and up and macOS 10.7 or newer in VST, AU, and AAX formats.
WA Productions’ Screamo is a miniature version of some of the multi-effect distortions on this list. It doesn’t give you many options, but it delivers excellent sound at what it does. If you’re looking for a distortion plugin that can add movement to the sound, add this to your collection.
6. D16 Group Devastor 2
D16 Group’s Devastor 2 is a three-band distortion plugin with individual signal flows for each channel.
The plugin lets you add distortion in nine different ways and extensively filter the signal. The Dynamics Flattener works as a user-friendly compressor, while the Diode Clipper gives this plugin its status as one of the best distortion plugins.
- Three Filters
The three independent filters help you enhance the distortion experience, and you can place them before or after the clipper circuit.
- Nine Topographies
Each topography gives you a different placement for the Diode Clipper and the filters, which puts the sonic possibilities in your hands.
- Output Limiter
This plugin has the clever addition of an output limiter which prevents the mix of the wet and dry signals from clipping.
- Parameter Settings
If you right-click (control-click on a Mac) any parameter, you’ll open their menu. There, you can assign them to MIDI Learn and check some more information.
Character & Sound:
The sound of the Diode Clipper is what drives the Devastor 2. You get four controls, Preamp, Threshold, Shape, and Clip, as well as six different clipping curves. In addition to the clipper, the nine topographies let you further experiment how different paths will sound like. The plugin enables you to go from soft to hard, wide-sounding clipping.
This plugin is available for Windows 7 and up and macOS 10.7 or newer in VST, AU, and AAX formats.
Devastor 2 is a very capable plugin with several sonic options. The plugin’s combination of clipping and filtering gives it its own flair that makes it stand out from the others. It’s a different-sounding distortion that can be a great addition to your collection.
7. iZotope Trash 2
iZotope’s Trash 2 goes above and beyond by offering over 60 distortion algorithms and a built-in convolution engine.
The plugin offers multi-band distortion with a two-stage approach so that you can add two different distortions per band. You can use the waveshaper to fine-tune the distortion or create entirely new sounds. Additionally, the plugin offers two effects, two filters, and two modulation options.
- Trash Module
This is the primary distortion engine. It lets you process up to four independent bands, add logarithmic distortion and a DC offset filter for extra refinement.
- Convolve Module
The plugin offers over 100 impulse responses so you can turn your instruments into other, perhaps more exciting sounds.
- Multiband Dynamics Module
The built-in compressor and gate give you complete control over each band individually, with the most critical parameters for each processor.
- Delay Module
This module offers six different kinds of delays with the possibility of adding distortion to the delay.
Character & Sound:
The plugin sounds especially good on drums since you can use the convolution module to make individual pieces sound a lot different. That’s, of course, in case you want to use the plugin lightly. You can create insanely gritty textures for growling bass, razor-like synths, and screaming guitars. The plugin makes it super easy to reach any of those sounds with the over 300 presets available.
This plugin is available for macOS 10.8 through 10.15 and Windows XP and newer in AAX, AU, RTAS, VST, and VST3 formats.
iZotope has been developing great plugins for years, and this is no different. Trash is a highly versatile distortion with precisely the right amount of extra features. It’s undoubtedly a must-have for your collection.
With this list, we assembled the best possible collection of distortion plugins available in 2023. There’s a wide range of options, and they all offer something different, so let’s review some of them.
It’s hard to say exactly which is the best distortion plugin, though we believe iZotope’s Trash 2, with FabFilter’s Saturn 2 would be great choices for advanced distortion techniques. On the other hand, the best free distortion plugin in 2023 is CamelAudio’s CamelCrusher. It’s a versatile tool that is the only free plugin on this list available for both of the most used operating systems.
Whatever your goals when looking for a distortion plugin, we believe our list’s got you covered!
Other Plugin Roundups:
Reverb & Delay Plugins:
Amps & Preamps:
Audio Restoration, Calibration & Utility:
Processing & Sound Design:
Pedro Nascente is an artist, record producer, and mix engineer, currently operating his own studio and working with his band, Yellow Boulevard. Believing that music should convey experiences and feelings, Pedro is known for applying design thinking to his workflow to achieve different sounds and deliver the right messages.