Plugin Alliance is a brand that partners with plugin developers to create a family of effect plugins and instruments widely compatible with most DAWs. In this article, we cover the top 11 plugins on Plugin Alliance in 2022.
This list covers only one instrument, with the rest being compressors, EQs, channel strips, and so on. At the end of the list, you’ll find five free plugins as well. While there are plenty more to discover, I think these eleven are some of the must-have and renowned plugins released by Plugin Alliance.
Another thing I must note is that Plugin Alliance often has ongoing sales where you can find a plugin retailing at $299 for as little as $29.99. So, when purchasing from Plugin Alliance, it’s a great idea to hunt and wait for sales, especially during end-of-year, black Friday, summer sale, and so on.
You can find information regarding sales from various social media pages that keep track of them.
Now, without further ado, let’s check out eleven of the best plugins Plugin Alliance has to offer.
Top 11 Plugins On Plugin Alliance 2022
1. Knif Audio Knifonium
Knifonium is an emulation of the hardware synth of the same name.
The hardware Knifonium is a monophonic analog synth that employs 26 vacuum tubes, which also drive its two oscillators. It was designed by John Knif and featured meticulous craftsmanship with a musical and inspiring sound.
Brainworx designed plugin Alliance’s Knifonium emulation, and there are a plethora of modern features that make the already impressive hardware more versatile and accessible.
The most important addition would be the eight-voice polyphony. Not only can you enjoy the sound of the Knifonium, but you can create pads that sound uniquely atmospheric and enveloping. And we haven’t even covered the new effects that enhance the sound further yet.
- Effect Processors
Knifonium features some of the most-loved effect plugins by Plugin Alliance built into the synthesizer. They include a digital delay, the Maag exciter plugin, reverb, flanger, chorus, the Metal 666 amp, an EQ, filter, and a phaser. However, I must mention that since they are designed as outboard plugins to the synth, you cannot modulate the parameters of these effect processors.
- 208 Vacuum-Tubes
That’s right, each voice of the 8-polyphony features 26 carefully modeled vacuum tubes, resulting in a whopping 208 virtual vacuum tubes in total. Furthermore, Brainworx’s proprietary Tolerance Modelling Technology recreates the natural variations in envelope parameters, pitch, LFO, speed, and other parameters you’ll find in the original hardware.
- Stereo Features
Unlike the hardware synth, Knifonium features a unison mode, mid-side editing, and stereo spreading features. They are essential for creating pad sounds and a larger-than-life lead sound. I love the sound of spacious arpeggios and pads with an analog tang.
There are over 300 excellent and usable presets in the synth. And if you want some exciting motions in your sound, you can use the envelope, LFO, aftertouch, and MIDI-CV modulations, as well as the built-in arpeggiator, to create evolving sounds. Furthermore, the synth also has a ring modulator for broader sound design possibilities.
Knifonium is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and RTAS formats.
Knifonium is an ultra-high-quality synthesizer that emulates the sound of individual vacuum tubes to recreate the fat, classic analog sound. However, doing so does make it quite CPU-heavy. So, if you intend to use many Knifoniums in a project, you might have to freeze or render the instrument to free up the CPU resource.
Besides the synth itself, the preset manager is also excellent – it lets you filter presets by category and mark favorites for future recall. Overall, I suggest giving this plugin a try if you love the sound of hardware synths.
2. Brainworx bx_console AMEK 9099
Have the ultimate control over your mix with this versatile channel strip.
Anyone who’s used a hardware console is no stranger to the benefit of having multiple effect processors available at your fingertips. And each console also imparts a unique character to your sound, a feature crucial to achieving your original tone. Among such consoles, the Neve AMEK 9098i is one of the most important.
Brainworx AMEK 9099 features the channel strip of said console. However, the plugin also adds a few features to make the original idea even more versatile. For instance, it features a Clip function in the limiter, which results in a faster and smoother soft-clipping. Furthermore, it features onboard stereo imaging tools.
The plugin features a compressor, an expander/gate, and a clipper/limiter. The compressor features a maximum of an impressively high 10s of release time and a 300ms of attack time, which are excellent for bus compressing. Similarly, the gate section doubles as an expander. The gate also features a high-pass and a low-pass sidechain filter to control what it “listens.” Speaking of which, the Gate Key Listen button lets you listen to the signal at the gate side chain input.
AMEK 9099 features a 4-band EQ and an input filter section with a high-pass and a low-pass filter. The EQ has two peaks (HMF, LMF) and two shelves that can also become peaks (HF, LF). You can also set the shelves to excite the audio by enabling the Sheen and Glow buttons. Furthermore, the Notch function on the peak bands allows you to control unwanted resonant frequencies without affecting adjacent frequencies.
The channel strip features two knobs dedicated to stereo imaging. The first is the Mono Maker, which does what it says, but you can control the frequency (20 Hz to 2 kHz) below which the sound will become mono. It’s excellent for tightening up low frequencies. Similarly, the second knob is Stereo Width, which lets you boost the stereo image of your track.
AMEK 9099 is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and RTAS formats.
As with most of Brianworx’s analog emulations, this plugin also utilizes TMT to recreate the Neve console’s sound accurately. I also like some minor changes, like the Auto Listen feature that temporarily solos the frequency band you’re adjusting to let you listen in detail. Similarly, the LED meters displaying the output Vu and dB levels and the gain reductions for the dynamic processors are handy.
Overall, I think this channel strip is a well-thought-out effect plugin that genuinely speeds up the process of mixing. Although, it’s unfortunate that the plugin bears a hefty price tag. Also, we included AMEK 9099 in the best channel strip plugins, so check that out!
3. NEOLD V76U73
Bring back the sound of Telefunken/AEG with this emulation of the classics.
In the 1950s, German manufacturer Telefunken revealed their V76 preamp and U73 compressor/limiter to the world, and the praise has yet to stop. The unique, rich bottom and smooth highs of the preamp alongside the smooth vari-mu compressor became something every musician craves.
The NEOLD V76U73 recreates both of these highly sought-after tools in software form with painstakingly detailed emulation of each component in the original hardware. Using the plugin, even with the knobs at defaults, in most of the tracks will result in a beautiful tone and richness immediately.
The first section of the interface houses the V76 preamp. You can adjust the input gain using the knob at the top, and it will keep the volume the same while increasing the drive. Similarly, the two knobs below them are soft high-pass and low-pass filters, of which I like the high-pass for tightening up the bass. Likewise, the Linear button helps keep the frequency spectrum flat and open without any band limitations, as with the hardware.
The second section features the legendary U73 vari-mu compressor. If the ratio doesn’t seem enough, you can switch to the Limit mode and have much harder compression. Similarly, there’s a side-chain high-pass filter to keep your bass transparent.
- Digital Features
Similar to the side-chain filter, several more features make the plugin version of these effect processors even more efficient. For instance, the compressor features a stereo image enhancer, and the third section features a Mix knob. You can quickly achieve a parallel compressor effect to have both shiny richness and natural smoothness.
V76U73 is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and RTAS formats.
If you look at the plugin, there is hardly any notable feature that stands out. Yet, the plugin manages to add subtle to inexplicably apparent changes to your songs when you start using it multiple tracks. Everything sounds smoother, richer, and “fatter,” which may be ambiguous and probably doesn’t justify the high price.
Then again, I don’t have much to say other than giving the demo a try and seeing for yourself if you like the sound.
4. Unfiltered Audio LO-FI-AF
Unfiltered Audio offers a plethora of options with this detailed Lo-Fi plugin.
Ironically, the LO-FI-AF is all about filtering audio to recreate the degradation and artifacts of various playback sources, from classics like vinyl and tape to cellphones and old CDs. Why would you want to do that? Well, Lo-Fi music is all about evoking nostalgia by making your music sound old and gritty.
I wouldn’t classify LO-FI-AF as a typical Lo-Fi plugin alone; it’s a versatile filter that degrades your audio beyond the standard bit-crushing and saturation. Let’s have a look at some of its features.
The first section on the interface is the convolution section. It uses impulse response to recreate the sound of broken microphones, old speakers, cellphones, and other similar devices. You can adjust the mix amount of the convolution, and the AGC (Auto Gain Compensation) will attempt to match the volume level of the input signal after it is processed.
In this section, you will find various features that degrade the audio. For example, the 0Shift knob pitch-shifts your audio before reverting it to create unusual artifacts – the Iterate knob controls the number of times this process repeats. Similarly, Ripple randomly distorts the spectral data and MP3 that lowers the resolution of the spectral data.
In this section, there are two processors: CD Skip and Bit-crusher. The first generates the sound of an old CD skipping randomly, whereas the latter controls your audio’s bitrate and sample rate.
This final section features a tape effect, radio effect, and noise generator. The noise generator features tape-hiss, vinyl crackles, and so on. Other than that, you will find a filter, soft clip, and a global mix knob.
LO-FI-AF is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and RTAS formats.
This plugin is feature-packed and handles just about any kind of Lo-Fi filter you could need. Furthermore, you can rearrange the four sections/modules of the plugin in any order for even more freedom.
However, I must say that if you are only after, say, a tape emulator, you’re better off selecting something else. LO-FI-AF is ideal if you aren’t sure what you need and are willing to experiment with sound.
5. Brainworx bx_masterdesk
Masterdesk is an in-the-box mastering toolkit that delivers analog sound.
This plugin was designed by the owner of Brainworx, Dirk Ulrich, a renowned audio engineer. You could call Masterdesk a response to the trend of mastering processors like iZotope Ozone. However, the difference is that instead of simplifying the process using AI or presets, Masterdesk provides you complete control and meticulously accurate models of analog gear.
It doesn’t mean that Masterdesk is overly complicated; on the contrary, it strives to remain minimalistic and quick thanks to the stripped-back interface. In essence, the mastering chain comprises a compressor, bass enhancer, EQ, saturator, de-esser, stereo imager, and limiter.
The plugin features a Dynamic Range VU meter that allows you to monitor the loudness level by analyzing the difference between your audio’s peak level and the body (RMS). In general, aiming for somewhere between 6-8 dB (where 6 is louder) is often desirable. Similarly, the dynamics processors also feature a gain reduction meter around their knobs.
- Dynamics Controls
Dial in some Volume and Comp Mix, and you’ll find the compressor starting to act on your audio. You will discover four TMT Compressor Modes buttons on the interface’s left, where 1 is the heaviest compression and 4 is the lightest. Similarly, you can dial in the De-Esser to tame sibilance and harsh highs in your master. And finally, the plugin features a brick wall limiter with a –0.2 dB ceiling, where you can add 1 dB gain by enabling the Limiter Turbo button at the top left.
- Foundation and THD
The Foundation knob is a tilt EQ that allows you to adjust the overall tone of your music. You can make the audio either bass-heavy or treble-heavy. I would suggest remaining subtle with this tool as it’s pretty effective. Similarly, the THD (total harmonic distortion) adds analog saturation to your master. Try it out for gluing your mix together.
- Sound Control
And last but not least are the EQ and the Stereo Imager. The plugin features a simple 3-band EQ with Presence. You can boost or cut up to 3 dB. And Masterdesk also features a Mono Maker to make your bass mono (with selectable low-pass frequency) and a stereo widener.
Masterdesk is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and RTAS formats.
If you like the sound of analog gear, you should give this plugin a try. While the plugin isn’t backed by AI or anything similar, the simplicity of the interface makes it almost an instant mastering solution that any producer with a basic understanding could utilize.
Furthermore, its superb sound makes it all the quicker at delivering.
6. Brainworx AMEK EQ 200
Based on mastering hardware that Brainworx’s owner Dirk Ulrich loves, this EQ hybridizes and reimagines the studio icons.
The AMEK EQ 200 is an equalizer based on GML 8200 and the classic SONTEC EQs. It’s a dual-channel EQ with five bands with distinct features. While the interface may be frighteningly full of knobs and buttons, the layout is understandable and clear. You’ll notice that the first row features the gain, the second features the resonance, and the third row has the frequency selectors.
Between the two channels and at the bottom, you will find more controls that let you add all sorts of sound enhancements, making it a competent tool for both mastering and mixing. Let’s talk more about them all.
- Five Bands
Each of the five bands features similar, standard controls. The Q-Factor or the resonance knob lets you adjust how wide/broad or narrow the Q is. Similarly, the lowest and the highest bands also feature shelving modes that you assign using the same knob.
- Filters and Saturation
At the left and right edges of the interface, you will find a low-pass and a high-pass filter. Both of them are set at a 12 dB/oct slope. I would suggest using it in combination with a digital filter with a harder slope a little below the frequency you set in AMEK EQ 200. Similarly, you will find a THD (total harmonic distortion) knob at the bottom right of the interface to add analog saturation to your audio.
Needless to say, the plugin features a set of bands for each channel of stereo audio. However, you can also set them in the mid/side mode. Furthermore, at the bottom left of the interface, you will find two LED displays indicating two adjacent numbers, which are channel numbers of which there are 20. Brainworx claims that each channel has a different character, thanks to TMT. And finally, it features a bass Mono Maker (with selectable low-pass frequency) and a stereo widener.
AMEK EQ 200 is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and RTAS formats.
The plugins do not sound much like the hardware they are based on, and it’s no surprise considering that they are hybrids. However, they do have a unique musical tone. And in terms of versatility, the features help make it even more efficient than similar plugins and hardware themselves.
Unfortunately, the huge price tag makes the plugin much less accessible. If you are looking for a mastering EQ plugin, check this post.
7. SPL Iron
Yet another vari-mu on our list, this compressor packs a massive punch for mastering.
Based on the hardware compressor with the same name, Brainworx’s SPL Iron provides many controls for shaping and toning your sound. In essence, the plugin is a parallel dual-tube compressor, where each audio channel is processed separately.
It results in a transparent and musical sound thanks to different response curves between the two signals. Furthermore, the plugin adds several features that the hardware version does not have.
- 120v Operation
The plugin is an emulation of hardware that runs with 120v of electricity, the highest-ever operating voltage used for audio processing. It results in a hugely higher dynamic range, less noise and distortion, and maximum input levels.
As you know, vari-mu compressors perform based on the input signal. And the plugin provides some detailed controls to adjust how it reacts to the input. It includes the value of the input rectifier and tube bias. In general, the rectifiers change the reaction time of the plugin, whereas the tube bias controls compression level (comparable to the ratio in other compressors).
At the right of each of the channel sections, you will find a knob labeled Side-Chain EQs. It lets you select from six modes of side-chaining ranging from Off, four side-chain filter-presets, and an external side-chain signal. The external side-chain is handy when you want to create the ducking effect in dance music. And you can refer to the manual to learn more about the internal side-chain presets.
- Stereo Features
In addition to being a dual-channel plugin, you can also set the stereo mode to mid/side, which is handy for mastering and balancing your stereo image. The plugin features a bass Mono Maker (with selectable low-pass frequency) and a stereo widener.
SPL Iron is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and RTAS formats.
Overall, the plugin is helpful and efficient for processing vocals, bass, strings, and guitars or busses other than full mixes for mastering. The various rectifier and tube bias settings deliver subtle but valuable character changes.
Similarly, the proprietary TMT technology offers multiple plugin channels with accurate component modeling. And finally, you can link the two channels to make editing easier too.
8. Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor
This plugin is an emulation of a much-loved yet slightly less known mastering compressor sporting an eccentric user interface.
Before coming to the Plugin Alliance family, the Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor (a mouthful – I will call it SHMC hence) was solely available as a UAD plugin. It takes its quirky design from the original hardware itself. But let’s talk about what’s under the hood.
Similar to the several plugins we’ve talked about so far, the SMHC is also a dual-channel compressor. However, unlike most, each channel in this plugin features two compression stages. You can use the stages parallelly or in series.
There are three switchable output transformers in the plugin, including Nickel, Iron, and Steel. Here, Nickel is the cleanest transformer with subtle top-end shine, Iron adds some saturation to the lower mid frequencies, and Steel is the most distorted. Keep in mind that the effect will be much more evident on a busier mix.
- Dual Everything
We’ve already established that the plugin features two channels. You can also switch to Stereo, Dual Mono, and Mid/Side mode as required. However, each channel also features an Optical stage and a Discrete stage of compression. The Optical stage has a slow attack and a peculiar two-stage release; the first 80% of compression is released quickly, but the rest take over a second to recover. Similarly, the Discrete stage is a VCA compressor with separate threshold, ratio, attack, and release controls.
- TMT Additions
In addition to what we’ve covered so far, the plugin features Brainworx’s TMT features that let you control the input headroom and add a side-chain high-pass filter. Similarly, it also features the esteemed Mono Maker (with selectable low-pass frequency ranging from 20 Hz to 2 kHz) and a stereo imager.
SMHC is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and RTAS formats.
Chances are you’ve never heard of Shadow Hills, thanks to their marketing behavior or a lack thereof. However, their products are notable for their high-quality sound. Combine that with Brainworx’s additional features, and you get an exceptional piece of software. I would recommend the SMHC for various uses, including mastering and mixing vocals and acoustic guitar.
9. Vertigo VSM-3
Vertigo VSM-3 is probably the most detailed exciter/saturator currently existing.
The Vertigo VSM-3 offers two types of analog saturation with a lot of versatility for those who want to customize every part of their effect plugin to create a distinctive sound. Furthermore, the two saturators can operate in both parallel and serial modes.
The ‘2nd Harmonic Fat Crusher’ is a warm saturator with tube stages, while the ‘3rd Harmonic Zener Blender’ is a brighter exciter that adds clarity. You can control the frequency bands where each saturator operates. Furthermore, the plugin features mid/side mode as well. It comes in handy for adding some top-end shine on the side signal, for example.
The VSM-3 provides considerably more control over the exciter’s sound than the original hardware on which it is based. A mid/side monitoring function and a distortion solo let you hear precisely what’s going on with your audio. Furthermore, the two saturators can operate in parallel or serial mode.
- Frequency Bands
While the plugin isn’t multi-band, each of the two saturator stages features a frequency band selector switch. You can select whether to affect the entire track or only a specific range of frequencies (low, mid, mid-high, high). And the Shape knob allows you to add gentle filtering of the high-order harmonics to control the tone.
- CPU Friendly
The plugin remains true to the original hardware and recreates the behavior well. And yet, the plugin is highly efficient when it comes to CPU resources. That being said, the comparison is relative to other Brainworx plugins.
Vertigo VSM-3 is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and RTAS formats.
For Universal Audio users, it is also available for UAD-2 hardware and Apollo interfaces.
The two types of saturators in this plugin are relatively distinct. However, I like mixing them to create a warm yet clean sound with a classic top-end sparkle. Overall, the flexibility it offers is second to none in similar exciter plugins, and the only thing I would criticize is the rather complex user interface.
10. Brainworx bx_digital V3
Digital V3 is an 11-band stereo EQ featuring multiple modes, dynamic processing, and stereo imaging fit for mastering and mixing.
Unlike other EQs with similar appearances, the Digital V3 is exceptionally transparent and imparts no coloration. Brainworx designed its filters to be ultra-precise and work the way you think. In essence, it’s a clean mid/side EQ.
However, thanks to the built-in stereo imager, audio exciters, and multiple tilt filters, you can still “color” and “brighten” your sound, but only if you so intend.
The plugin’s interface is divided into multiple sections. There are three rows: the main EQ, the broad EQ, and the information section. The main EQ section is divided into three columns; at the left and right, you will find the controls for the stereo EQ, and in the center, some global controls, including mode switching.
- Main Bands
There are five main bands per channel: LF, LMF, MF, HMF, and HF. You can set the lowest and the highest to shelf modes. Similarly, you’ll also find two input filters. The high-pass lets you select from 20 Hz to 30 kHz, while the low-pass ranges between 20 Hz to 22 kHz. Each of these can have either 6 dB/oct or 12 dB/oct slope steepness.
- Secondary Bands
These are more sound-design tools than bands. They include Bass Shift, Presence Shift, and Dynamic EQ. The first is a fixed band that creates punchy bass while reducing unwanted high frequencies or vice versa. Similarly, Presence Shift does the same but for middle frequencies affecting the core of vocals, guitars, etc., while reducing sibilance. And Dynamic EQ is a dynamic filter that you can also use as a de-esser.
- Stereo Modes
At the center of the top section, you’ll find a knob controlling the stereo mode of the EQ. The modes include Left/Right, Mid/Side Master, and Mid/Side Record. L/R is, of course, standard stereo processing. M/S Mst. is the mid/side mode we are used to, whereas M/S Rec. is for processing signals recorded in the mid/side configuration.
At the bottom of the EQ, you’ll find a graphical representation of the EQ curve and meters displaying the pre-EQ, post-EQ, and final output levels of your audio. Furthermore, you’ll also find a balance meter and a correlation meter, which is essential for mid/side EQing. Unfortunately, there is no frequency spectrum for visual analysis of your audio.
Digital V3 is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and RTAS formats.
Brainworx bx_digital V3 is a well-designed EQ that feels like a sonic Swiss army knife. You could use it for surgical editing and broad tone adjustments alike. A high-frequency boost with the HF band set to 40 kHz adds fabulous-sounding air and clarity to the audio.
Furthermore, you can link the two channels and solo bands as you adjust them. Overall, the sound is excellent, and the only issue you might face is getting used to the “analog” interface coming from a modern parametric EQ.
11. Brainworx bx_console SSL 4000 E
This channels strip is based on the revered SSL mixing console and features officially licensed component models.
The SSL 4000 E combines a pair of filters, a compressor, expander/gate, and an EQ in a pleasing interface. Turn on the Analog button at the far right, and you’ll introduce some subtle differences between the two channels of your stereo signal, creating a satisfying analog sound.
Below the Analog switch, you’ll find Random Channel options. Thanks to Brainworx’s TMT feature, each pair of channels you select from the 72 total will have a different character.
And if you are using multiple instances of the plugin across your project, you can click on Random Channel ALL to instantly set each plugin instance to a different pair of channels. It’s a terrific way to get different flavors from the same mix.
- The Filters
SSL 4000 E features two input filters: high-pass and low-pass. The default range for the high-pass is 16 Hz to 350 Hz, but the x3 button lets you extend the range to 48 Hz to 1.05 kHz. Similarly, the low-pass ranges from 22 kHz to 3 kHz, but the /3 button reduces the range to 7.3 kHz-to-1 kHz. You can also assign the filters as side-chain filters for the dynamics processors instead of using the DYN SC button.
The plugin features a compressor and an expander/gate processor. The compressor has an F (fast attack) button, which results in a more aggressive and punchier compression. And it also features a second release to avoid the pumping effect. The mix knob lets you create parallel compression. Next, in the Expander section, you can click on the EXP button to switch to the gate mode. At the bottom of this section, you’ll find an E/G button, which switches between E series and G series dynamics, which have slightly different characters.
The EQ has four bands with two shelves and two peak filters. The EQ also features a switchable Black and Brown emulation with very different sound characters. The Black mode is rather aggressive and suitable for sound design, whereas the Brown mode is much more subtle and appropriate for tone control.
Furthermore, at the bottom of the EQ section, you’ll find a DYN SC and a PRE DYN button. The first button places the EQ within the dynamics side-chain to essentially create a sort of dynamic EQ. And conversely, the PRE DYN button sets the EQ ahead of the dynamic processors instead of the default post-dynamics configuration. The two buttons are mutually exclusive.
SSL 4000 E is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and RTAS formats.
If you are a fan of the SSL sound, you would love this plugin. Brainworx’s emulations are some of the most accurate ones, and this plugin is no different. I love the multiple character choices for both the dynamics section and the EQ/filter section. They make the plugin a little more compliant for any kind of material you can throw at it.
Freebies On Plugin Alliance
1. SPL Free Ranger
Despite being a free alternative to the SPL Full Ranger EQ, this plugin produces high-quality sounds thanks to SPL’s technical and advanced algorithms.
SPL Free Ranger is an easy-to-use graphic equalizer with one of the simplest user interfaces. It covers the crucial parts of the frequency spectrum and is suitable for a fast-paced mixing workflow. Furthermore, as the plugin is so simple, it barely consumes any CPU at all.
The Free Ranger plugin has nine fader controls, eight of which control the most critical sections of the frequency spectrum and one the output level. And you’ll find four buttons labeled A, B, C, and D on the right side. These are the slots you can use to save your configuration and make comparisons.
The interface itself is pretty self-explanatory. It has an input signal LED, and an overload LED to indicate clippings. I would suggest starting with this plugin if you intend to get the hang of graphic equalizers.
Free Ranger is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and RTAS formats.
Despite being a ridiculously simple plugin, the internal SPL engine makes the plugin useful. You could make a comparison between a regular EQ and this EQ, and you’ll likely find this one more effective and appropriate.
2. Schoeps Double MS
Schoeps Double MS Tool is a double mid/side recording decoder.
While the plugin is dedicated and calibrated specifically for the Schoeps Double M/S microphone, you can use it with any similar mic setup. You can utilize the mic to its full capacity if you have three mics: two with dual capsules and one with a single (cardioid polar pattern). It will decode them as 5.0 surround audio.
- Mic Controls
You can control the polar pattern, offset angle, rotation, and gain of each virtual microphone. You’ll also find real-time visual feedback of the microphone polar patterns at the center of the screen. The graphics give you a what-you-see-is-what-you-get experience.
Double MS uses an adaptive algorithm to extract the diffusion signals from your recordings. Under the Ambience section, you can find Gain and Decorrelation. The gain level adjusts the level of the diffuse sound, whereas the decorrelation fader enhances spatial response.
The plugin lets you add a delay/latency and a simple low-pass filter on the rear outputs. They are labeled Surround Delay and Surround High-Cut. These options make your front channels stand out against the rear channels and help create better localization.
Schoeps Double MS is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and RTAS formats.
If you go out doing field recordings, you are well aware of the challenge in recreating the sonic ambiance without a dedicated tool. With Double MS, you can assign your audio recordings to the five inputs in this plugin and immediately have a manageable workflow.
Furthermore, you can also use this plugin as an advanced surround panner during sound design for films and games.
3. Elysia Niveau Filter
Featuring merely two knobs, this plugin still manages to be of use.
Elysia Niveau Filter is a tilt filter. Rather cleverly designed, the plugin features an EQ Gain knob and an EQ Freq knob. While most commercial EQs tend to have this filter built-in, you could be missing out on the tilt feature if you are still rocking stock plugins.
Sometimes, a complicated full-featured EQ is too much. And that’s when the simple design of Niveau Filter comes in handy. I’d recommend it for adjusting the overall tone of your master, synths, guitars, etc. Simply select the frequency and tilt the EQ Gain to the left for bass-boost and the right for treble-boost.
- Frequency Selector
By default, the EQ Freq knob lets you select between 26 Hz to 2.2 kHz. However, if you activate the x10 button, the range changes to 260 Hz-to-22 kHz. The latter is more beneficial for use in mastering.
Niveau Filter is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and RTAS formats.
This plugin mostly becomes useful when you need a simple tilt filter without any other feature. You could even automate the parameters to create some unique riser effects. However, if you already have an EQ with a tilt filter, this plugin is undoubtedly optional.
4. Brainworx bx_cleansweep V2
How do you give a tactile sense to filtering audio? Add a joystick!
Cleansweep V2 is a smaller sibling of the Brainworx Digital V2 EQ plugin. It features only the filter section of the EQ. You will find a high-pass and a low-pass filter in a peculiar interface. There’s also a graphical display that shows the filter curves in action.
The plugin uses high-quality filters with “Anti Crush Technology,” the same tech used in the much-loved Digital V2. It eliminates harshness and aliasing in your processing. Similarly, the smooth 6 dB/oct slope steepness ensures a soft sound, even with automation.
A strange addition, but it does make sense. You can control both the low-pass and the high-pass cutoff frequency using the joystick on the interface. Also, you can restrict the movement to a single axis using the Ctrl/Shift/Alt keys on your computer keyboard. They are handy for recording automation.
Cleansweep V2 is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and RTAS formats.
While using the joystick to create automation and strange movements is fun, the lack of steeper filter slopes makes it much less useful for extreme sound design. However, we must remember that the plugin was meant for removing low-end mud and excessive top-end. In that regard, the plugin is excellent.
5. Brainworx bx_solo
Solo does what you think; it solos.
One would think that a solo button wouldn’t be something you could need, but Brainworx proves you wrong. Bx_solo has four features, two related to the stereo balance and two for stereo imaging. Let’s talk about them.
- Left and Right
The first button swaps the left channel for the right channel and vice-versa. Similarly, the second set of buttons lets you solo the left or the right channel of your audio. Admittedly, I don’t really see much use in this one.
- Mid and Side
Now, the third set of buttons is undoubtedly useful. It lets you solo the mid and the side signals of the audio. You can route one of your tracks to two and start processing the mid and side signals separately. For example, it’s a life-saver when you want to use a chorus without the M/S feature only in the side signal. The plugin also features a Stereo Width control, which tilts the volume of the mid and side signals.
Solo is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and RTAS formats.
This plugin is super useful when you need to process the mid and side signals separately. Its simple user interface makes it the best choice for said use.
Unfiltered Audio SILO
SILO is a reverb plugin, and that’s an understatement.
This plugin utilizes granular processing to create reverb spaces that you’ve never heard before. It can sound as rich as you want or as otherworldly as you can imagine. But what exactly is granular processing?
Well, SILO chops up any audio you feed into it into short packets, which it processes individually. These packets of audio are called grains. You can alter the size, shape, speed, pitch, the spread of these grains, and even the playback direction. Furthermore, the plugin is packed with features to make the sound design feel “automated.”
The first section of the plugin’s interface is the Granulator. Here, you can find all the controls related to the grains of the audio including the size, speed of playback, rate of generation, and pitch. All of them have a “Deviation” option that is essentially randomization. For example, the Pitch Deviation sets the amount of pitch randomization that occurs with each grain.
SILO features many movement algorithms to move the grain generation parameters. They include Comets, Moons, Meteors, Stars, and Shimmers, where each differs in its movement style. Similarly, the auto-panner lets you create sounds that swirl around, creating depth and space impossible to achieve otherwise.
- Filter and Spatialization
At the bottom right of the interface, you’ll find a filter section that features multiple filter types. You can adjust the cutoff and the resonance from there. Similarly, the Spatializer section shows you a visual representation of your panning.
A simple Comp knob at the far right of the plugin lets you add compression to the reverb tail. This feature is handy when you want to bring the tail forward without increasing the length of the tail itself.
The plugin features many presets from sound designers like Richard Devine that demonstrate what you could achieve with this plugin. They include swirling sounds or even smooth, enveloping sounds that I enjoyed using, particularly in pad synths.
SILO is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and RTAS formats.
While the primary function of this plugin is reverberation, its sound is more suited for generating tails rather than creating authentic space. I like using it on lead instruments to create a magical feel or on sound effects. The grains can create both a beautiful wash of sound and a terrifying murmur when used on filtered white noise booms. I highly suggest trying it out and seeing how you can create new sounds with this innovative reverb plugin.
There you have it; our selection of some of the best plugins you can find on Plugin Alliance. I love the products you can find in their arsenal because they support multiple platforms, including Pro Tools’ older RTAS format. Most of the plugins we’ve selected tend to be more suitable for mastering.
However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t use them for mixing too.
If you are a fan of analog synths, Knifonium is an excellent instrument to try. It remains remarkably faithful to the original hardware while adding genuinely valuable features like 8-voice polyphony and unison. Similarly, the AMEK 9099 and SSL 4000 E are both brilliant channel strips suitable for any kind of audio.
They do differ in tonality, though. So, you should try both of them before you decide which you prefer. Thankfully, the Random Channel feature on both of them makes it easy to test the various tones they can produce, even before you tweak the knobs.
As for the rest of the tools, I enjoy the LO-FI-AF for experimenting with sounds, and Masterdeck is excellent as an alternative to the more mainstream “instant mastering” tools like iZotope Ozone. Similarly, although it’s not listed here, I also like the free Brainworx bx_rockrack Player for its free guitar presets.
While you can’t modify the sound, some of the presets are genuinely useful. And that brings us to the end of this article. I hope I’ve helped you discover some new tools to experiment with.
Other Plugin Roundups:
Reverb & Delay Plugins:
Amps & Preamps:
Audio Restoration, Calibration & Utility:
Processing & Sound Design:
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.