In this article, we will take a look at 7 of the top sidechain plugins of 2021.
What Is Sidechain Plugin?
A sidechain plugin gives users the ability to program various volume modulations within a track or mix. Using a sidechain can help you regulate the volume differences of a track without meddling with its level manually, as the device will change any parameters you program during the playback on its own.
Volume Automation is a handy and often underutilized technique in mixing. Some engineers may improve a mix using eq or compression, where the usual answer lies in simple volume adjustments. You can use it for several mixing processes, including:
- Introducing elements into a mix by slowly increasing their volume as the track plays.
- You can create depth or dynamic to an instrument or mix elements by automating rises and dips in its volume within a song’s duration.
- Crossfading can help tie chopped and edited pieces of a track together. You can use volume automation to create these crossfades and smoothen the playback transitions within your arrangements.
There are a variety of ways to create volume automation. In this article, we are going to look at three types of plugins that generate volume automation. These are standard volume automation, sidechain, and trance gate plugins. Each type of plugin has its respective uses, advantages, and disadvantages.
We recommend you try as many of these as you can so that you can get a practical idea of how they differ, and you can decide which one is your personal favorite.
What is Sidechaining used for?
Sidechaining has a variety of everyday uses, and its primary purpose has yet to be adequately defined. It is used regularly to create or enhance volume and spatial dynamics within a track. Sidechaining is created by sending an auxiliary signal to the volume automation or compression devices within a track.
The affected track’s volume modulates in relation to its aux signal’s volume. This technique can be used to glue things together when mixing. Deciding when to use sidechaining in a song will come down to a matter of sonic circumstance and your subjectivity as a producer or engineer. It can be tricky to master, but with practice, you’ll be able to discern the right situation to implement it in.
For example, you can sidechain your bass with your kick drum track. This way, you will have a bass level controlled by the kick drum volume, creating a better blend between them and better cohesion overall in your mix or master. Utilizing this technique can also help you set the primary instrument within your low-frequency spectrum.
It’s vital not to have your bass instruments all playing at the same gain level. You will often find this type of effect is very prevalent in modern electronic music such as trance, techno, or dub-step.
Sidechaining is seldom used when it comes to vocals, although not so frequently. Some people sidechain the vocals track with a snare track or a bass drum, giving it a more “pumping” effect. Others will sidechain the reverb or delay of a vocal to itself so that the added effect does not overwhelm the original signal. This sidechaining method can also be used on drums and is very handy for adding some natural room dynamics to an instrument within a mix.
Is Sidechaining Necessary?
The true necessity of sidechaining will always be debatable. If anything, the argument always comes down to one’s tastes and preferences regarding mixing. For some professional music producers, sidechaining is a necessary tool to get the best results in the mix.
But is it essential for every track? When utilized correctly, sidechaining can create some unique characteristics to a track. Sidechaining is a reasonably modern technique, so there may be musical or mixing circumstances with older music styles where sidechaining could harm more than good.
When deciding whether to use sidechaining, ask yourself what you are trying to achieve within your mix. Suppose you’re attempting to create some spatial movement between certain elements in your mix or trying to glue individual tracks together. You may want to implement a sidechaining device to the channels you want to be affected in that case.
You may be trying to smoothen elements of a track or make them less punchy in other instances. Sidechaining may not be necessary for a circumstance like this as it is mostly utilized to enhance parts of your mix instead of dulling them out.
It’s important to note that while sidechaining is useful, you can certainly get great mixing results with standard automation. Not every track requires the treatment that sidechaining offers. It’s essential to listen to how sidechaining affects an instrument within the context of your entire mix instead of utilizing it in solo mode.
The 7 Best Sidechain Plugins 2021 (VST, AU, AAX)
1. Xfer LFO Tool Review
The Xfer LFO device is a comprehensive tool that gives you a vast selection of signal shaping options.
This plugin is very well suited to low-frequency instruments such as synth bass. The user interface is quite intricate and might be intimidating for those without basic knowledge of LFO’s function.
- Customizable LFO Editor
The LFO editor lets you draw in your volume automation onto an x-y grid mapping, which you then apply to your signal. The editor allows you to link their programmed automation to affect things like the volume level, stereo panning, or filter parameters.
- Modulation Layering
The interface allows you to control up to 4 graphs at the same time. This is handy when your want to create different modulation patterns for the same signal. For example, you might want the volume to open up while the filter’s cutoff is being brought down.
- Smooth Setting
You can use the Smooth parameter to soften the punchiness of any peaks in the volume automation. Volume ducking can either be enhanced or dulled with this setting, giving you better control of signal dynamics while processing.
- MIDI-CC output routing
The LFO Tool comes with a midi out option. This feature converts any modulations that you have programmed and converts them into CC information. You can then route this information to an external digital or analog device like a synthesizer or sampler and affect its output accordingly.
This plugin is available in VST or AU formats for Windows7 and above users and Mac OS 10.12 or later.
The Xfer LFO Tool is an incredibly diverse tool to have on hand when creating meticulous signal modulations. One of its significant advantages is the fact that its modulation controls reach further than just volume automation. You can also choose to have your modulations quantized to a grid, or you can manually set the rate. Over 100 LFO presets are available, giving you a dizzying amount of starting points to select from when shaping their sounds. The sidechaining presets allow you to create a volume ducking effect without routing anything in as an auxiliary signal.
2. Cableguys VolumeShaper 6 Review
The Volume Shaper 6 is part of a series of signal-shaping devices from the Cable Guys Audio team.
They’ve specifically designed many of their plugins to link up with each other, much like a guitar pedal chain would. The Volume Shaper is a simple but handy unit for creating quick volume automation while editing or mixing.
- Multiband Compression
This feature lets you single out specific frequency areas to either focus on or avoid during modulation. This control works similarly to a 3-band EQ, and you can set the degree to which your multiband settings affect your overall signal processing.
- Pen Mode
This mode lets you draw in complex modulation curves. This mode gives you more modulation options than standard automation lines curves can offer.
- Blend Parameter
Using this control gives you the option to blend their dry signal with their sidechained effect. This technique can mimic parallel compression and help you maintain punchiness while still gluing your elements together.
- Built-in compression unit
this feature adds some extra dynamic control to the LFO’s signal. As with a regular compressor, you can control the attack, threshold, release, and makeup gain parameters of your affected signal. Having this unit built into the plugin will help speed up your workflow while setting any volume automation.
VolumeShaper 6 is compatible with Windows 7 and up, as well as mac OS X 10. 8 or later. It is available in VSt or AU formats.
The Volume Shaper comes with some well-built fundamental control units that chain together in a very cohesive manner. The high-definition oscilloscope allows you to pinpoint accuracy for colorful filter responses during automation. This unit may be a bit too advanced for some producers, but it should prove a potent tool for those who can understand its workings.
3. Magix coreFX VolumeFormer Review
The Magix coreFx Volume Former is one of the more compact units on this list.
There are instances during writing or mixing where you don’t need any extensive or in-depth volume modulations. Some people also prefer to create or edit with minimal device layouts that use just the essentials of volume automation. The Volume Former is an excellent example of the type of plugin that fits these situations quite well.
- Pump/Gate Mode
A single button lets you switch their modulations between a pumping sidechain effect or a noise gate. The gate inverts the pumping modulation, and you can utilize this feature to generate stuttering effects on your signal.
- Manual Trigger
This button gives you the option to activate their sidechain or gate effect during playback manually. You can use this to create volume modulations that are a lot less repetitive or predictable.
- Sync/Free Mode
You have the option of either synchronizing their modulations to a track’s tempo in Sync mode or manually configuring them in Free Mode. There is a rate knob above this setting to adjust during playback to create interesting rhythmic modulation combinations.
- 3 Trigger Modes
There are three types of automation on hand with the Volume Former. You can choose between a volume control, low pass, or high-pass filter as their primary parameter. You quickly switch between trigger modes using a simple switch next to the bypass setting.
The Volume Former is compatible with Windows 7 or higher and supports VST2, VST 3, or 64-bit AAX. Mac users need El Capitan, Catalina, or higher and can get it in AAX 64, AU, VST 2, or VST 3.
This plugin should be especially beneficial to anyone with an extensive understanding of volume automation. The Volume Former is also really light on the CPU due to its minimal design. If you’re looking for something fast, simple, and not too complicated, Volume Former might be the right option for you.
4. Soundspot Evade Review
The Evade plugin by Soundspot carries a lightweight processing system that puts minimal load on your CPU.
Five parameter control knobs let you tweak various fundamental characteristics of your signal processing. You can extend your envelopes’ length beyond that of your signal or sample for extended modulation options.
- Mid/Side Control
Using this knob, you can adjust the amount of stereo width applied to your volume automation. Bass-type instruments require a more central stereo placement. Vocals, synths, and strings will sound much more present when panned out to either side of the stereo image.
- Phase Shift Setting
This control gives you the ability to shift the start point of their volume automation. Negative values push the starting point later, while positive later set the starting point earlier within the modulation. It’s possible to generate intriguing signal syncopations with time-based controls such as this one.
- Pulse Width Modulation Control
PWM refers to the amount of amplitude that pulses through a particular signal. Increases amplitude leads to a broader pulse, and you can control this parameter with the PWM knob.
Mac users will need OS 10.12 or higher, and Windows Users require Windows 7 or above. This plugin is available in VST, VST3, AAX, or AU formats.
Although it may not boast the most expansive range of fine-tune controls, the Evade plugin gives you meticulous control over volume automation’s primary traits. The PWM control is an overlooked feature in LFO devices and can add some irreplaceable color to your modulations’ stereo width. The Evade by Soundspot isn’t the most powerful or extravagant device, but it is straightforward to use, and you won’t find yourself lost for hours fiddling with endless knobs or faders.
5. devious machines duck Review
The Duck Machine by Devious audio is a great example of how seamless a process like volume automating can be.
This lightweight device comes with a humble handful of parameter controls that will still give you generous amounts of options for automation. It may not offer you the widest range of modulation options. Still, it does handle the fundamentals very well.
- Crossover Function
This feature lets you control how much of your signal’s high and low frequencies are affected by your volume automation. There are separate gain knobs for the high and low-frequency ranges and a crossover control that selects the frequency bias.
- Trigger Control
The trigger control on this plugin is stored in a seamless configuration box in the plugin’s bottom right-hand corner. You can select whether to have their automation triggered by external audio or midi input.
- Smoothing Knob
Volume automation can sometimes generate a series of pops or crackling sounds due to processing errors. Using the smooth knob can help to adjust the modulation algorithm to reduce and remove these intrusive sounds.
The Duck machine is available as a VST, AU, or AAX unit. It’s compatible with Windows 7 and up and Mac0s.10.12 and above.
The most appealing thing about the Duck Machine is its size. Despite its powerful processing capabilities, it is an incredibly lightweight device, and you can run many instances simultaneously. The envelope editor can be a bit inhibiting when creating off-grid slopes or curves, but this is not a massive obstacle for those who want to create simple, quantized phrasing in their envelopes.
6. Polyverse Music Gatekeeper Review
The Gatekeeper by Polyverse Music is a potent volume automation unit.
You can generate and run up to 8 different automation envelopes independently. The preset menu hosts a massive list of ready-to-go automation that are fully adjustable and organized in a way that makes it easy for novices to understand.
- In-Depth Envelope Editor
This plugin comes with a handy envelope editor that allows you to create automation envelopes from scratch. There is a wide selection of stock curves and patterns that you piece together to generate something new.
- Loop Mode
The loop function allows you to select areas of your automation to capture and loop with a single button during playback. Using this feature can help you create some workable randomization within your automation envelopes.
- Midi Learn Function
This feature lets you map your volume automation envelopes to an external instrument through midi conversion. You can have much more hands-on control with this feature, and using this to switching between the eight envelopes can create some stunning volume dynamics.
Gatekeeper offers hundreds of presets divided into 11 categories – Rhytmic, Evolving, Tripplets, Swing, Stereo, Gating, Ducking, Drums LFO, Envelope, and FX.
The Gatekeeper plugin is available in VST, AU, or AAX formats. Windows users need Windows 7 or higher, and Mac users require OS X 10.6 or higher.
There are a lot of praises to be sung about the Gatekeeper plugin. Aside from the alluring interface with its signature purple pulse, it has one of the more extensive ranges of presets to offer users. There are also some essential controls such as stereo panning, amplitude, and automation time and rate.
7. Pecheneg Autoswell Light (FREE) Review
The Autoswell light is a miniature volume automation plugin that is modeled off vintage analog slow attack gear.
There are no LFO editors or frequency-focused parameters with this plugin. Instead, users are provided with a very diminutive interface hosting four knobs that handle volume control’s raw essentials.
This sets the total length of your volume swell. The parameter is dialed in milliseconds and decides the primary characteristic of your volume processing.
The depth knob on this plugin acts as dry/wet control. You can use this to determine how much of the affected signal blends with your original.
Users can use this control to adjust the level of response of the effect to their input signal. Higher values will allow softer signals to trigger the envelope.
This control allows users to set the overall level of their affected signal. Should you find that your swells are too soft in a mix, you can use this feature to add some gain to your output signal.
The Autoswell is compatible with both Windows and Mac and comes in VST and AU versions.
The Autoswell is quite an endearing plugin, mostly due to its cartoon aesthetic and straightforward layout. If you’re looking for a volume automation plugin that offers large-scale volume automation options, this is not for you. However, if you are looking for a basic and quick volume control device, give this one a try.
Conclusion & Most Valuable Plugin
As we’ve seen above, volume automation plugins can help producers or engineers generate a vast scope of musical expressions or mixing options. When deciding which plugin is the best for you, consider whether you’re using it for musical or mixing purposes.
If you’re looking for something to boost your creativity and productivity, we recommend trying out the LFO Tool by Xfer Records. There are more than enough control parameters and presets to add to the arsenal of any mixer. The plugin’s interface is engaging and relatively simple to master and can become a serious weapon in a producer’s sound design arsenal.
Thanks for taking the time out to go through our 7 Best Sidechain, Trance Gate, and Volume Automation Plugins. We hope you’ve found something to add to your production toolkit.
Kieron Brown is a multi-instrumentalist, producer, and writer from Cape Town, South Africa.
He has spent over a decade in the music industry working as a musician, events curator, and consultant.