In music production, plugins are software add-ons which expand the capabilities of your DAW; these could be virtual instruments and creative effects, EQ and compressor, or tools that make editing a lot more manageable.
This rolling list keeps you up to date on the newest plugins as they’re announced – as well as some interesting ones you might have missed – so check back regularly for the latest virtual instruments, effects, mixing plugins and more.
New virtual instruments, effects and mixing plugins
(Last update: 19 September 2022)
DreamMachines by Melda
DreamMachines a big and flexible collection of sampled drum machines with convenient tools to mix, layer and further process your sound. It comes in instrument form for MSoundFactory, Melda’s own virtual instrument library in plugin form.
There are over 500 samples spanning kicks, snares, rims and claps – all of which cater a wide range of genres from EDM and hip-hop, to 80s synth pop and more. If you own MSoundFactory, you’ll find DreamMachines available as a free download. Otherwise, it’s available as a separate download (running with the free MSoundFactoryPlayer for an intro price of £17 / €19.
Learn more about DreamMachines at the Melda website.
Pockey2 Lo-Fi bitcrusher by Airwindows
The sequel to Pockey runs smoother, and refreshes the character of the fidelity crushing plugin. Now, you’re given a broader range of adjustment with sessions running in 96kHz – with the ability to frequency crush much lower.
Airwindows says of Pockey2: “Pockey2 shines when finding just the right spot to entirely transform a sound into pure lo-fi hip hop classic sampler madness. Even more than the original Pockey, this one can completely transform a sound into retro digital.”
Pockey2 is free to download at the Airwindows website.
September 2022: Virtual instruments, effects and mixing plugins
Beat Scholar drum machine by Modalics
Taking inspiration from pizzas, Modalics has announced a tasty new drum machine called Beat Scholar. The plugin lets you slice up beats – represented by a circle – for a visually refreshing and freeing take on subdivisions.
Built-in kits and a sampler come included. Here, over 250 curated factory samples are incorporated to capture a wide range of possibilities. What’s more, each sample can be adjusted – giving users complete control over attack times, length, pitch and more.
Moog Minimoog Model D now available on MacOS
Moog has brought its revered Minimoog Model D iOS app to desktops as a plugin for major DAWs and as a standalone app. Best of all, it’s free for existing iOS owners and only $25 for new users.
Packed with 160 presets, Moog Minimoog Model D is more than just a faithful recreation of the 1970 monophonic synth. Along with four-note polyphony, the virtual recreation boasts an easy-to-use arpeggiator, a real-time loop recorder with unlimited overdubbing, a ping-pong stereo delay with tempo sync, and Bender – a “wide-range stereo time modulation effect module,” Moog says.
Download Moog Minimoog Model D App on the App Store.
ER-99 by Extralife Instruments
It’s not quite a plugin (at least without some internal routing) but Extralife’s tribute to the Roland TR-909 is worth a mention. The ER-99 is a browser-based emulation of the Roland TR-909, the iconic drum machine which is celebrated on 9 September – or 909 day – each year.
Play ER-99 at extralifeinstruments.com.
Guitarstrip by Solid State Logic
Solid State Logic’s Guitarstrip combines tube amp emulations with a channel strip with options suited for guitars, in order to get you a great sounding recording. There’s Auto-Gain, a Compressor, a 3-band EQ and a multi-mode Drive module, amongst other tone shaping features.
Guitarstrip is included in the SSL Complete subscription, which goes for $14.99 a month. You can also get it standalone for $199.
Learn more, here.
Phaser-DDL by Dusty Devices
The Ensoniq DP/4 parallel effects processor is a legendary piece of hardware heard on records by Daft Punk, Alan Braxe and Sébastien Léger. Dusty Devices’ Phaser-DDL is a cycle-accurate emulation of the unit’s unique phaser algorithm, featuring all the same controls as its hardware counterpart.
Cycle accurate emulation means that the interactions between virtual components are timed in a manner that accurately reflects the hardware version – meaning its behaviour, in theory, should be reflective of the original both sound- and feel-wise.
Phaser-DDL is available in 64-bit VST3 and AU formats at a suggested price of €24.
Learn more and hear sound demos here.
Needlepoint vinyl emulator by Unfiltered Audio
Unfiltered Audio’s take on vinyl emulation takes advantage of physical modelling rather than preset algorithms to give offer turntable-like playability – for example, you can set the ‘RPM’ freely, or tempo-sync it to your session.
Aside that, you get to sculpt sounds with parameters such as gain, age, dust, noise and, to round things off, a single-knob compressor that takes after vintage hardware samplers.
Unfiltered Audio’s Needlepoint will be available soon via Plugin Alliance (per Synth Anatomy).
Learn more, here.
Strokes sequencing workstation by Cong Burn
Strokes is a powerful MIDI sequencing workstation developed by Cong Burn, instrument rhythm explorers will want to note down this one. Said to be inspired by drummer Jaki Leibzeit of Can, Strokes lets you explore complex rhythms in musical ways.
You’ll find various sequencing modes such as euclidean, step and algorithmic rhythms on top of parameters that let you add probability to the mix, shift note pitches and loads more.
Strokes is available for £35 at congburn.co.uk.
Phosycon 2 TB-303 emulation plugin by D16 Group
D16 Group has announced the updated second edition of its Phosycon TB-303 bassline synth emulation plugin. According to the developer, it’s said to emulate 303 as a starting point but then provide so much more that hardware just can’t achieve: more state-of-the-art effects, more envelope tools and an advanced step sequencer.
The updated plugin is an upgrade from its predecessor, with a revised arpeggiator, signal chain, sequencer and a new Creative Randomizer function. It is, according to the developer, a “gateway to every 303 every made”. This is 303 in its most advanced form, surely? Go grab it for €89 today.
Learn more at d16.pl.
Quanta 2 granular synth by Audio Damage
Audio Damage announced the second version of its Quanta granular synth, packing on new features to make it a choice pick for producers wanting to get granular. Quanta 2 runs two virtual analogue oscillators and improves its granular engine with pitch detection plus note quantisation so it’s more flexible.
Aside that, users can expect a cleaner interface and a helpful right-click context menu to replace the original’s modulation matrix. Quanta 2 is available for $129, but there’s also a $70 upgrade for Quanta 1 owners with the code “QUANTA2UPGRADE”.
Learn more at audiodamage.com
August 2022: Virtual instruments, effects and mixing plugins
Mouth Play ‘vocal tract’ synth by Dylan Bastan
Bizarre, playful and all sorts of awesome, Mouth Play is a maxforlive instrument that runs on the unique shaping of a vocal tract, together with a simulated glottis (brass model) and accepts FM oscillator as a source. The variety of sounds you get is vast, covering a range of mildly disturbing timbres from breaths and animalistic screeches, to glitchy and droney. Mouth Play is offered at a suggested price of $10.
Learn more here.
IHNY 2 parallel compressor by Baby Audio
Three years on from the launch of Baby Audio’s inaugural plugin, I Heart NY, the developer has launched a follow-up to the original parallel compressor. IHNY2 boasts a complete visual overhaul but continues to drive Baby Audio’s mission to create “the hardest-hitting compressor in the industry.” A new central XY pad enables you to dial in the amount of parallel compression to your mix, as opposed to the original’s two knobs and one slider.
Until 30 September, new customers can purchase IHNY 2 for $39, while owners of the original I Heart NY can upgrade for $25. The plugin is available in VST, VST3, AU and AAX formats and is compatible with M1-equipped Macs.
Learn more here.
Dist COLDFIRE dual distortion by Arturia
Arturia’s new custom distortion tool combining a range of analogue-style and digital algorithms with modulation. There are 11 distortion types that can be applied and combined through filters A and B. These types range from “emulated tube heat” to creative “icy digital bit crush”. It includes saturation, crunch and destruction controls to provide a “near-infinite” amount of distortion possibilities, according to the French software developer.
Available at $99. Learn more here.
OctaSine (v0.8.0) free polysynth by Joakim Frostegård
The latest version of Joakim Frostegård’s free and open source OctaSine is out, bringing improved patch management, waveform visualisations and other talents to the FM synth.
An ongoing development – which shares its code on GitHub – OctaSine’s name derives its four stereo sine-wave operators. Aside that, it offers flexible routing, four multi-wave LFOs, ADSR envelopes for each voice and a white noise mode for creating percussive tones.
It runs on macOS, Windows and Linux in VST2-compatible hosts.
Learn more here.
Synth AI library for Kontakt by Sample Logic
To get this out of the way, the ‘AI’ in Synth AI refers to ‘Animated Intelligence’ – just in case you were expecting a synth that had a brain. With that out of the way, this is a massive Kontakt library with an emphasis on cinematic synths and options – so many options.
Featuring 24GB of samples across 1,074 instruments and presets, Synth AI’s smorgasbord of multi-sampled synths span analogue and digital, both modern and vintage.
Randomisation features, motion effects and a clever sequencer take these synths to the next level, and there’s lots else for media composers to love. It’s now priced at an intro pricing of $149.99 (usually $249.99) and you’ll need the full version of Kontakt to run it.
Learn more here.
Flipity phase inverter by Airwindows
Flipity is a very tiny utility plugin that helps you flip the phase of channels, and it’s also the latest free drop from the charitable musician and developer Airwindows, who has written and given away hundreds of free plugins, samples and more over the years.
In his demo for Flipity, Airwindows – who goes by Chris – also announces that he has a new album out called Welcome To Free Luna, so if you’d like to support his work, we recommend picking up a digital copy.
Learn more here.
Last week in virtual instruments, effects and mixing plugins
Mercury spooky sounds library by Spitfire Audio
Spitfire Audio’s Mercury was created in collaboration with Hollywood composer Chas Smith. It brings the haunting and sinister sounds of films such as Saw, The Hunger Games and Interstellar to your DAW
Comprised of organic sounds, the plugin features 300 presets and a Sonic Experiment option which includes six warp options and the ability to toy with the sounds of different metals.
Mercury is available now for £149, here.
OCS-45 cassette simulator by Spectral Plug-ins
Spectral Plug-ins’ new OCS-45 cassette simulator takes your tracks to lo-fi land with four authentic cassette types, complete with pitch modulations, dropouts and noise.
Punks and indie-rockers looking to give DI-recorded instruments the DIY treatment (how many Portastudios are still out in the wild, really?) can also rely on OCS-45’s rich built-in distortion processor, which lets you dial in any amount of crustiness.
Get it for $15, here.
VAPoly polysynth for iOS and computers by RT Music Software
VAPoly is an eight-voice polysynth designed for iOS devices and MacOS, and it comes fleshed out with effects, automation talents and a sequencer too – not bad for those who want a powerful synth to take on-the-go.
There are two oscillators with mod options, two ADSR envelopes and both high-pass and low-pass filters. The sequencer lets you program 16-bar patterns to launch as clips – of which you can store 16 of, as well.
VAPoly works standalone or as an AuV3 plugin for mobile DAWs. Developer Ryo Togawa, who also previously released VAMono and VADrum2, is marking the launch of VAPoly with a discounted price of $9.99 (usually $14.99) until 31 August.
Cramit multiband compressor
Cramit is a multiband compressor that can be driven into distortion, channelling the aggressive compression techniques of countless dubstep and electronic producers.
It features a three-band compressor with expansion, seven different distortion algorithms with the option to add harmonics before or after compression, solo and bypass functions for specific bands and versatile controls for gain, speed, depth and dry/wet. On top of all of that, it’s completely free.
Based on the well-loved OTT from Xfer Records, which is also free, an “upwards/downwards” multi band compressor with gain controls on both its input and output, Cramit is an easy to use, rather classy-looking tone beast.
Get it here.
Rust Motor EQ by Acustica
An emulation of the legendary Motown EQs of yore populating the ‘Hitsville U.S.A.’ studio, Acustica’s Rust Motor EQ emulates the all-analogue, passive seven-band fixed EQ units that contributed to the sound of The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5 and more. It’s available now for an introductory price of €59, with a regular price of €109.
How to install plugins on Windows, Mac and iOS
If your plugin came as a .zip file, and not an installer, you may have to manually install it. Here’s how…
- Unzip the plugin folder
- Copy the .VST file to your default plugin folder (Windows default: C:Program FilesCommon FilesVST3, Mac default: /Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/VST)
- Start your DAW
- Rescan your plugin directory
- Download and install plugin from the App Store
- Insert plugin in your DAW
- Select the AUv3 plugin from the Audio Unit Extensions tab
Where to download freeware plugins and VSTs
Our freeware section is an excellent place to start; each month, we also compile round-ups of the best free plugins and samples to download.
The production community is full of passionate developers who’ve given away instruments, effects and other plugins as freeware. Some of our favourites include Valhalla’s Supermassive reverb, Apogee’s Soft Limit and Matt Tytel’s Helm polysynth. Remember, most developers also offer free trials for their plugins.
Are DAW stock plugins good enough?
Most major DAWs these days will come with a more-than-serviceable collection of ‘stock’ plugins for music-making: Logic Pro’s software instrument library is rich and varied; Ableton Live’s synth engines cover additive, subtractive and granular methods, and the Pro Tools suite of mixing plugins is still widely used by pro engineers.
A good producer isn’t their plugin folder, but their ability to make good decisions. Increase your knowledge: instead of buying a synth samples, learn about the fundamentals of synthesis; kick drum sounding too skinny? learn to compress properly.