Now more than ever, the satisfying vibe and texture of retro gears are eminent. First, however, you’ll need an excellent, dedicated Lo-Fi plugin to achieve results, which this article will help you pick.
There are several kinds of Lo-Fi plugins available. Some only down-sample and lower the bit depth of your audio to give a raw feel to your track. In contrast, some emulate vinyl records and tapes or even hardware samplers to provide different feels. Each has its own style and character, so you should go ahead and give them a try to figure out how they sound and whether or not they are appropriate for you. Generally, it’s your music genre that decides what kind of plugin you require.
Now let’s have a look at the best Lo-Fi plugins you could buy in 2021:
The 8 Best Lo-Fi Plugins 2021
1. Thenatan Vybz
Vybz is a Lo-Fi multi-fx plugin designed to add color, retro crackles, and noise to your mix.
This plugin has several effects like reverb, echo, and saturation. One of them is the texture section with nine available options that add hiss or vinyl noise, a high-pass, and a low-pass filter. You could also load your own texture file into this section. The “duck” option lets you add a ducking effect to the texture according to your input.
The reverb section comes with many of its own models and impulse responses, but it also lets you import your own impulse. Similarly, to stack on to the flexibility, the reverb and echo wet can be routed to an LFO to achieve a cool rhythmic effect as well.
Next, there is a saturation stage called Damage, which even lets you draw in your own waveshapes. Moving on, the Time Machine emulates retro VHS-style audio wobbling, the Motion section is a stereo imager, and the II Band is a single-band dynamic EQ plus filters.
Being a collection of useful effects means that you could use Vybz to get retro sounds or add some warmth to an 808, or even just to de-ess vocals using the dynamic EQ. In addition, the sonic flavors it can generate are awe-inspiring and pleasant.
Every section of this plugin, while remaining simple-to-use offers an incredible amount of flexibility. We particularly liked the distortion features, varying from warm, analog grit to a heavy bit crush as easy as a push of a button. We also liked how you can load your own texture and reverb impulse, routing the outputs to an LFO, and so on. It feels like this plugin came out to be the go-to for everything.
- Excellent GUI
The user interface of this plugin is vector-based and scalable. The interface has a very low learning curve, and you’ll probably be up to speed in minutes if you have experience with similar plugins before. In particular, we enjoyed its clean look and well-labeled parameters.
- Envolution Section
At the top right, you will find a globe icon, which shows a page called “Envolution.” It lets you emulate various listening environments (like a bathroom) and speakers (old radios, for example). We liked it as an effect to give a touch of realism to the Lo-Fi sound.
This plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher 32-bit and 64-bit or macOS 10.9.5 or higher only 64-bit. It comes in VST 2/3 and AU formats.
This plugin gives you the complete experience when it comes to retro sounds. It features everything from saturation and reverb to VHS and speaker emulations. If you want complete flexibility out of your plugins, we cannot recommend this enough.
2. RC-20 Retro Color
As the name suggests, RC-20 is a sonic coloring, multi-FX plugin by XLN Audio designed to give a retro vibe to a track.
First off, we must mention that RC-20 is one of the complete audio coloring plugins available. It has everything you could need to get a Lo-Fi mix. Furthermore, the plugin has a modular workflow, although you cannot change the order of the modules.
A noise section has many kinds of textures ranging from the typical vinyl crackles to “Apollo” space noises. A couple of the modules are for adding wow and flutter of a vinyl/tape. Similarly, we have an analog distortion and a digital bit-crusher as well.
However, what’s interesting is that most of the modules have a low-pass and high-pass filter. So, you could have only the bass have some analog grit while the rest stays pristine. There is also a Space module to add retro-sounding reverb to your track. And a “Flux Engine” slider on each module lets you add variations to taste.
RC-20 has everything you would need to color your tracks and make them sound like they belong to the 60s. Often, you will want just the intro or the outro of your song to sound retro, and this plugin lets you do just that by automating the Magnitude slider. We particularly enjoyed using this effect in combination with the master EQ section, which is also affected by the said slider.
The master EQ section of the plugin lets you add a high-pass and a low-pass filter. However, it doesn’t just end there. You could also employ filters on the modules to get distinct sounds only in a specific frequency range. For example, if you make hip-hop, try using the Distort module only on the top end of your full mix.
- A Classic Look
The design of the user interface is user-friendly. It looks like a combination of classic gears with a modern flair. The parameters are self-explanatory and should pose no difficulty in understanding even to a beginner.
- Analog Sound
RC-20 is a dedicated plugin for old-school retro sounds. So, creating realistic analog emulation is its priority. The plugin does so by providing a wide range of noise textures, warm saturation, and a “Flux Engine.” The Flux Engine captures the unpredictability of real hardware units to give a natural feel to your sound.
RC-20 Retro Color is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 32-bit and 64-bit. It comes in VST, AU, and AAX formats.
RC-20 is very much worth checking out as a comprehensive plugin to create Lo-Fi tracks with great presets. However, it’s worth noting that the plugin is quite CPU intensive. So, be sure to demo the plugin on your computer before purchasing it.
3. Tritik KrushPro
From a subtle Lo-Fi effect to mangled, stereo insanity, KrushPro has you covered.
No list of Lo-Fi plugins would be complete without mention of the renowned favorite KrushPro. It offers four ways of sonic destruction: a bit crusher, wave crusher, ring modulation, and a frequency shifter. You can reorder them by dragging the handles at the top of each module. Similarly, the colored horizontal bar above each module is the dry/wet control.
KrushPro opens a world of possibilities when you click on the “show modulators” buttons. You could modulate any parameter using one of the several modulators available: 3 LFOs, 2 Step Sequencers, and an Envelope Follower. Furthermore, each of these gives stereo output. For example, you could use the Step Sequencer to move and sweep the parameters for individual channels resulting in creative, stereo miracles.
KrushPro lets you delve deep into audio distortion and waveshaping. Its selectable wavetables for wave-crushing, modular approach, and parameter modulation can help save a lot of time spent in multiple plugins and tedious automation.
- Convenient To Use
The GUI of this plugin is fully resizable. Getting used to the interface is quite easy, thanks to the many tips available on their website. Similarly, there is no tedious parameter mapping required for parameter modulation; you can simply drag and drop a modulator on top of a parameter to get good to go. Small touches like that help add up to a wonderful user experience.
- Multiple Modulators
KrushPro has three LFOs, two sequencers, and an envelope modulator. Furthermore, each modulator can be set to work in stereo channels. It means that you could modulate a parameter in a certain way for the left channel while the right channel does something else. So, you will have plenty of ground to get creative.
This plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher 32-bit and 64-bit and macOS 10.8 or higher 64-bit. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
While KrushPro is completely capable of delivering Lo-Fi saturations, it could be overkill if you are only after a plugin to add some retro vibe to your mix. Also, KrushPro is only an audio-mangling plugin. So, you will need other emulators for vinyl wobble and tape-stops. However, if bit-crushing, chiptune effects, chaotic sounds, etc., are something you enjoy as well, then we would highly recommend you give this plugin a try.
4. BeatSkillz SampleX V2
SampleX v2 is a vintage sampler emulator to make any audio sound like they belong to a retro sample library.
The plugin has four sampler emulations. Each is selected by the large A, B, C, and D buttons on the interface. The rest of the parameters are for manipulating the sound of the selected sampler emulation.
The Width fader is, of course, a stereo imager. We also have a filter section below the main controls.
Now, this isn’t a vinyl or tape emulator. Instead, it focuses on making your mix sound like you sampled them from another source (usually vinyl or tape). It was a common sound for old-school hip-hop tracks. We enjoyed it on audio that we had modified to sound like a vinyl already. The resulting sound was that of a true sampled piece, reminiscent of the old classics.
- Four Sampler Emulations
You have four vintage sampler emulations: MPC60, S900, Sp12, and S550. Selecting the sampler using the four alphabet buttons also results in the interface changing the color to black, grey, blue, and yellow, respectively. It helps you figure out which sampler you are using at a glance.
Changing the sampler type mainly affects the frequency spectrum. It becomes very audible when you increase the drive and listen to which frequencies get driven most.
- Digital and Analog
The plugin has both digital and analog-type manipulations. We have the bitrate, sample rate, and alias (shift) control for some digital effect. And the Drive fader adds some analog grittiness to the audio. The combination gives an authentic 80s sound to the audio.
The SampleX v2 is a tried and tested plugin for emulating the mentioned hardware samplers. It captures all the nuances of component combination and order to achieve its effects. So, if you are a fan of a particular sampler that this plugin emulates, you should give this one a try.
SampleX v2 is available for Windows 10 or higher and macOS 10.14 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 3, AU, and AAX formats.
If you already own a vinyl emulator, what you could be missing is a sampler emulator, especially if you enjoy the authentic sound of vintage sampled audio. BeatSkillz nails the sound very accurately with this plugin. Furthermore, the presets also help you achieve sounds nearly indistinguishable from the original samplers.
5. Klevgrand Degrader
Degrader is a resampler and bit-crusher with an additional saturation stage for a Lo-Fi effect or general audio-mangling.
The plugin’s chain of effects starts with the low-pass “pre-filter,” then downsampling, post-filer, and bit-crushing in order. Together, it gives a simplistic way to achieve crushed bits of audio. There is no parameter modulation in this plugin, but you can automate all of the parameters in your DAW.
At the end of the chain, the saturation stage is great for adding warmth to vocals, although it’s a little limiting as you cannot change the waveshape.
- Continuous Bit Depth
Degrader can change the bit depth continuously from 3 to 24bit without creating any unwanted artifacts. This feature’s necessity is for automation – people often want the Lo-Fi effect to disappear over time (especially for intros). Unlike most plugins, automating the Bit Depth parameter in Degrader will not create glitches due to big jumps.
- Parameter Linking
The four main resampling and distorting parameters can be linked together using the chain-link icon between the knobs. This feature is useful for automation and creating midi links.
- Adjustable Jitter
Jitter is a special kind of randomizer that creates random short-time fluctuations in the sampling rate value. This feature creates interesting harmonic distortions that are impossible to replicate otherwise.
Degrader 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. It is also available for iOS 9.1 or higher for iPad.
Degrader is an easy-to-use bit-crushing and downsampling plugin. However, we would say that the price doesn’t quite justify the investment for most of its features. Its most significant advantage is that you can automate both the sample rate and the bit rate without artifacts. So, if this feature isn’t something you are after, you might be better off using another plugin.
6. AudioThing Vinyl Strip
This plugin is a convenient, versatile effects strip that literally ages your music like fine wine.
There are six modules in Vinyl Strip. The plugin sets out to add life and retro vibes to your digital samples and track, and it certainly delivers while remaining minimal and easy to use.
The compressor and distortion sections help you get analog warmth to your tracks, and we would recommend starting your chain with those. There are also reverb, a tilt EQ, a downsampler, and a vinyl simulator. The last is what we were most interested in.
The “dust” parameters let you control the amount and rate of vinyl crackles, which we hadn’t seen so far on this list. There is also a noise parameter to get background noise, although we would’ve liked to see an option to change the noise sample as well. Moving on, the “record age” parameter is also just as interesting — increasing it adds a bandpass filter that makes your track lose the bass and treble to deliver a vintage sound instantly. We loved the thoughtfulness of that feature.
There are six modules in this plugin, and you can reorder them freely by drag-and-drop. Each module also has a toggle switch if you want any of them to be disabled.
- Hardware Rack
The user interface is designed to look like a hardware unit, and it focuses on simplicity. Each module only has the parameters that are crucial for sculpting your sound. The GUI is resizable as well.
The ample number of modules and variety ensures that you can get excellent results with this plugin alone without adding another. You can use it for treating individual tracks or entire busses just as efficiently. And remaining light on the CPU also helps it be that much more useful.
It’s not only the interface that is bloat-free; it’s the programming under the hood too. Vinyl Strip manages to be considerably light on your CPU, especially when compared to other plugins with as many effects. We would highly recommend it if you use an older computer or intend to use an instance of the effect per track.
This plugin is available for Windows XP SP2 or higher or macOS 10.6.8 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2, AU, and AAX formats.
Vinyl Strip’s interface never feels like it gets in the way, and the sound itself is fabulous every time. We also love the flexibility it offers in the Vinyl module to control the character of the emulation. For what it set out to do, we say it does so with impeccable success.
7. D16 Group Decimort 2
Decimort 2 is a bit crusher offering complete flexibility over the sound to emulate any vintage sampler you want.
With a tagline that says “the highest quality low-quality effect you can buy,” D16’s Decimort 2 focuses on simulating the signal path of every conversion circuit at the highest quality possible. So, the result is a 100% alias-free output unless the plugin deliberately emulated it.
The large Frequency knob is the main control you use to adjust the resampler. However, the Jitter knob is something interesting; it lets you add randomization to the resampling to give you sonically exciting harmonic distortion. There is also an analog-type filter that you can apply before or after the effect.
Regarding the other features, it would be beyond the scope of this article to probe into dithering and quantization. But, using them, you can add noise and dynamic bit-crush to your audio that further emulate a vintage AD/DA conversion. And finally, the Approx Filter switch enables anti-aliasing.
- High Quality
D16 has made every effort to recreate the sonic features of hardware conversion circuits and ensures that the plugin has no internal aliasing. Similarly, the filter section also sounds fantastic on any instrument. So, if you are a fan of analog filters, you could use those, keeping the resampler unused.
The level of flexibility this plugin offers is astounding. However, not everyone can dial in the perfect numbers to get the sound of a classic sampler. So, D16 offers plenty of presets with various sampler emulations already set for your use.
- Two Quantizers
Audio quantization is the method a bit crusher uses to reduce the bit depth of your audio. In this plugin, there are two digital quantizers, each with its own character in dynamic response. However, this level of control might seem intimidating to a beginner or even an intermediate user. So, we would suggest trying out the presets first and dialing in values based on your ears.
This bit crusher also features jittering the resampler to create unpredictable distortions. Think of it as a sort of vinyl dirt but in the digital realm. And experiment with its usage on distorted percussive instruments to make it sound even more complex.
This plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher 32-bit and 64-bit or macOS 10.7 or higher 64-bit. It comes in VST, AU, and AAX formats.
If you wish to experiment with your bit-crusher to get the exact sound you have in mind, Decimort 2 is probably the best way to go. And if you enjoy analog grittiness, the pre-amp gain at the top left is useful as well. Overall, this versatile plugin can deliver anything from vintage, fat sounds to sonic mayhem.
8. Baby Audio Super VHS
Super VHS is a multi-effects plugin that does plenty with fewer knobs.
As we can see from the picture, Super VHS stays on the minimalistic side for the user interface. However, it has several tricks up its sleeves. Each parameter controls a specific effect, so we have a saturator, a reverb, a tape wobble effect, chorus, noise, and bit-crusher.
The Heat knob is the saturator, and it ranges from analog-style warmth to significant distortion. Similarly, Wash is a special kind of reverb, which sounds vintage but not like a spring reverb. Nevertheless, it sounds interesting when used in moderation. Next, we have the Drift knob, which introduces audio pitch wobble. You could use it with the Mix slider to achieve a flagging effect too.
At the bottom left, we have Static, a noise generator, and the Shape slider on the right side is the bit crusher. Finally, the “magic” button at the center of the interface introduces an analog-style chorus effect (think similar to the Roland Juno chorus) that creates a wide stereo sound. We loved the chorus on pads and keyboards, especially. And, of course, the Mix slider can control the amount of the chorus.
The interface of this plugin is designed for quick results. It only offers one knob per effect, but the sound each produces is praiseworthy. Also, the naming of the parameters feels like it is geared towards beginners, but, of course, whether the allegories make any sense is up for debate. Either way, the learning curve for this plugin is undeniably minimal.
Despite having only a few parameters, Super VHS still packs six kinds of effects behind the scene. Sure, you cannot change everything under the hood, but sometimes, simplicity is exactly what you want. And, of course, the effects make some excellent sounds.
- Analog Sounds
The “magic” chorus and the “heat” saturation remind us of analog equipment. A little bit of Heat on the vocals, bass, drums, and the Magic toggle on some pads or keys, and suddenly, we have a classic 80s track.
Super VHS is available for Windows 7 or higher 32-bit and 64-bit and macOS 10.7 or higher 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
If you want some retro sounds quickly without having to dial in a ton of parameters, you should check out Super VHS. It isn’t very pricey and sounds fantastic. You’ll barely be using it for two minutes, and already, you will have some nice sounds coming out of it.
The 5 Best Free Lo-Fi Plugins 2021
1. Inear Display Regressif
Regressif is a resampler and bit crusher capable of creating sonic mayhem unheard of before.
The essence of this plugin is a simple sample rate reducer and a bit crusher. However, there are LFOs that can modulate almost any parameter available, and that’s when things get interesting.
Before we talk about the LFOs, though, it’s important to mention that it also has an analog-style filter section, which you can place before or after a digital distortion stage. After that, we have a knob each for controlling the resampler and the bit crusher.
Below the parameters are two LFO sections, which can be synced and has seven familiar LFO shapes. You can drag the circle icon above the LFO modules to any parameter you want to modulate them. Between the two LFO modules, we have an LFO Mix module, which is the mix of both the LFOs. Routing the synced LFOs into various parameters results in creative sonic destruction that you could use for dubstep, electro, and so on.
- Analog Style Filters
Regressif has one analog filter section with four shapes: low pass, high pass, bandpass, and notch. We mostly used the filter for automation and creating sweeping noises.
- Parameter Modulation
The plugin has two LFO modules and an LFO Mix module. They can deliver chaotic sounds that can get very interesting, especially when the sync is activated. Try using a sawtooth-shaped LFO on the Cut parameter for synth pads.
Regressif is all about creating chaotic sounds. So, it’s no surprise that it features a randomizer button at the bottom right of the plugin. Unfortunately, you cannot lock parameters while using the randomizer.
This plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.11 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 3 and AU formats.
This plugin is by no means a comprehensive Lo-Fi plugin. However, if you are interested in the world of digital chaos, you should give this free plugin a try.
2. Tritik Krush
The younger brother of the paid KrushPro plugin holds its own.
Tritik Krush comes with an analog saturator, a digital bit crusher, and a downsampler. There is also a filter section, and a single LFO can modulate each parameter. While it’s not the most feature-rich plugin, its crispy distortion and clean interface can be a huge plus. You could use it to add some dirt and crunch to your drums to make a chiptune-like crushing effect.
- Clean Appearance
The parameters are laid out clearly and do not strain the eye. There is no menu-diving at all, and the A/B comparison feature is a nice touch. Also, the user interface of Krush is fully resizable.
There is a single LFO module in this plugin. It has four different shapes and can be synced to your DAW. The five smaller knobs in the modulation section control the amount of modulation being applied to each of the effects parameters.
- Analog Saturation
The input Drive in this plugin is an analog saturation stage, which could be used alone on vocals and other instruments to deliver a subtle warmth.
Krush is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.7 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST, AU, and AAX formats.
This plugin works great as both an unlimited demo for the paid KrushPro and a separate plugin. It gives a great-sounding saturator and bit crusher with a taste of modulation to create a nice balance between ease and flexibility.
3. Caelum Audio Tape Cassette 2
Tape Cassette 2 is a free audio plugin that emulates the character and noise of old cassettes with an impulse response activation option for authenticity.
Cassette tapes have a peculiar kind of warmth, noise, and character that has grown on many people. With Tape Cassette 2, you can get all of that and more. The plugin works with its saturation, noise, wow, and flutter engines. Let’s have a look at what it can do in further detail.
First, there is an input saturation that gives a distinct warmth to any audio fed into it. And there is also a low pass filter to emulate that dirtied cassette tape head with oxide and dust. The further you turn it down, the more the head needs a cleanup.
Then, we have a noise parameter, which turns up a real recorded tape noise sample. Next, the wow and flutter emulations add fluctuations and movements to your audio. Finally, an “IR” toggle switch enables an impulse response of a cassette to add further to the emulation.
- Authentic Impulse Response (IR)
Along with the many parameters to emulate cassettes, it also offers a true impulse response-based emulation to get even better results. And it does work. If you are a cassette tapes lover, you will find this plugin a joy to work with.
- Tape Saturation
If you have been hunting for a saturator that sounds like cassettes, then look no further. Tape Cassette 2 features a warm input saturator to mimic the combined sound of a cassette head and its sound circuit.
The plugin features oversampling up to 16x to get rid of any possible aliasing effects. However, note that this can be considerably CPU-intensive, especially if used with the IR emulation.
Tape Cassettes 2 is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.11 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 3, AU, and AAX formats. It is also available for iOS 11 or higher for iPad.
We haven’t seen a free, proper cassette tape emulation with a good GUI other than this. And since this plugin is a free version of a paid product, you can rest assured that the audio quality is top-notch. We highly recommend giving it a test ride.
NI Crush Pack
This pack with three plugins is an offering by Native Instruments to give you detailed control over audio destruction.
The NI Crush Pack comes with Bite, Dirt, and Freak. Each is a plugin specializing in a particular aspect of Lo-Fi sound production. In addition, NI has provided multiple options and modern twists per effect plugin to breathe new life into the classic sound.
Bite is a bit crusher and resampler plugin. It has creative parameters such as jitter and dither. Furthermore, it also has a saturation knob to add more grit to the output.
Dirt is a distortion plugin with two stages, which you can blend. In addition, there are three saturation algorithms that can add a subtle analog drive to wave-folding for creating complex timbres out of simple audio like sine waves.
Freak is a frequency shifter that has three modulation types: radio, oscillator, and sidechain. Radio emulates a retro radio signal-like pattern; oscillator lets you select a frequency, and sidechain allows you to use an external (or internal) input to modulate with. Each can work with these three techniques: audio modulation, ring modulation, and frequency shifting. It can emulate anything from an alien transmission to radio broadcasts.
- Individual Plugins
NI Crush Pack offers each stage of Lo-Fi sound in a separate plugin. This ensures you have maximum control over what sound you are creating. Furthermore, You can resize each plugin’s GUI for easy usage. The clean layout of the interface also adds to the user experience.
Each plugin in the pack contains enough features to keep you busy for a while. We enjoyed Freak the frequency shifter most of all for its sonic weirdness. You could use it for music production and even sound design for a sci-fi project. Similarly, Dirt’s double distortion for analog warmth and destructive waveshaping is a joy to use as well.
- NI Hardware Integration
All three plugins are compatible with NKS. So, if you own a Komplete Kontrol keyboard or a Maschine, the effects will have proper mappings for you to tweak parameters as soon as you open the plugins.
NI Crush Pack is available for Windows 10 or higher and macOS 10.14 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats. The plugins require graphics supporting OpenGL 2.1 or DirectX 9 or 11.
We loved the approach of having three separate plugins with detailed parameters instead of a multi-effects plugin. It ensures you get to use whichever effect you are after without any distraction. However, you should note that these plugins do consume a considerable amount of CPU, so make sure you try them out first.
With so many options available, it can be difficult to pick one. However, the easiest way is to decide on your needs. If you need something that can emulate a tape or vinyl, try the ones that offer this feature. However, if sonic mangling is your priority, try the KrushPro or the Decimort 2. Plugins like Super VHS cater to the people who prefer to have everything while remaining simple to use. We hope the list helps you narrow into a few select plugins to give them a try.
K. M. Joshi is a multi-award-winning composer and sound designer, specializing in film, game, and TV audio. He enjoys making cinematic music, rock, blues, and electronica.