MY GO-TO PLUGINS FOR SOUND DESIGN & POST- PRODUCTION
At first, I was a little bit hesitant about compiling a list of plugins that I use regularly because I believe that the best plugins are those you own and nothing should stop your creativity. However, at some point, you might want to upgrade and buy tools that you’re simply missing or buy plugins that would greatly improve/speed up your workflow. Here are my go to plugins for sound design and post-production (90% of plugins listed below were purchased during holiday sales or with a discount voucher, Some of those plugins were up to 80% off. So, be patient and build you plugin collection wisely).
Whether you’re a sound designer, dialogue editor, field recordist or a re recording mixer you need a set of tools that will help you clean up your audio. Luckily, there’s plenty of excellent plugins out there. Here’s what I’m using.
iZotope RX7 Suite - The industry standard for audio post-production. A great all-rounder. A must-have if you dealing with imperfect audio on a regular basis. It might be a little bit intimidating at first glance (impressive number of modules), however, it’s well organized and quite easy to learn.
Here are the modules I use regularly:
(Repair) Voice De-noise - It’s de-noiser optimized for dialogue and vocal. Offers two modes: Adaptive - automatically adapts to a changing noise floor and Learn - sets noise reduction curved based on a provided noise sample. It can be used as a RX module or plugin. It will produce artifacts if pushed too hard and will distort phase.
(Repair) Spectral De-noise - It’s an advance de-noiseer optimized to repair all sorts of content. It also offers two repair modes. Same as Voice De-noise it will produce artifacts if pushed.
(Repair) Deconstruct - It splits audio into its tonal and noise content and allows you to adjust them independently.
(Repair) De-clip - This module can help you get rid of mild distortions or soften (not repair) the more severe ones.
(Repair) Mouth De-click - There’s nothing worse than mouth clicks and smacks. I guarantee you - you won’t be able to focus on a dialogue once you start hearing those. It wonderfully removes all of those nasty smacks and clicks. It’s not the fastest of modules but it gets the job done.
(Repair) Dialogue De-reverb - You know you’re in trouble if you’re reaching out for one of those. It surpasses (baked-in) reverb but does it at the cost of quality. It will almost always produce artifacts, however, if used moderately, it can surpass unwanted reverb.
(Utility) Dither - self-explanatory
(Utility) Resample - self-explanatory
(Utility) Plugin - allows you to load up any 3rd part plugins inside RX
Brusfri - One of my favorite de-noisers. Definitely a (inexpensive) must-have for all dialogue editors. Its de-noising algorithm sounds remarkably good. It produces fewer artifacts than iZotope RX’s voice de-noise and spectral de noise and it doesn’t mess up phase. It’s a much simpler plugin than Izotope’s: it doesn’t have an adaptive noise reduction so it will require more time to clean up your audio.
WNS Noise Suppressor - A solid multiband de-noiser. I used to use quite a bit on a dialogue bus. It’s pretty light-weight (CPU consumption wise) and can be easily automated. It’s often on sale and you can pick it up for as little as $49. I don’t use it as much as I used to though - RX and Brusfri can do it all.
Equalizer is probably the most important, most powerful and most used plugin across all stages of post production. It’s kind of like a chisel for sculpting sound. It can change how we perceive sound (close, far, warm, cold, bright, dark, etc), it can clean it, balance it and much more.
Here are my most used EQ plugins.
FabFilter Pro Q3 - Probably the best EQ plugin out there. I love everything about it.
First of all, it’s CPU friendly - you can load up to 100 instances of Q3 and not crash your session.
It can be really surgical - extremely tight Q values allow you to notch out unwanted frequencies.
It has a dynamic mode - it allows you to sculpt your sound without throwing off sonic balance. It can also double down as a de-esser (dynamically attenuating problematic high frequencies).
It allows you to load a spectral overlay from another Pro Q3 plugin and it highlights masking frequencies.
It’s very transparent.
The only downside I can think of is controlling it with DAW controlling surface and it’s mostly due to band naming (band1, band2, etc).
Sonnible Smart EQ 2 - It’s one of those precision auto-EQs. It comes with 21 profiles for better audio analysis. It can easily fix boxy dialogues with just a few clicks. Good when working on a tight schedule.
EQ III 7 band (Pro Tools) - Pro Tools native EQ. I only use if for quick EQing or LPH/HPF.
Radiator - It’s a great sound tube EQ emulation. It makes everything sound warmer and … better. I use it quite a lot on my sound effects. I love that you can just slightly mix it in with Dry/Wet knob. There’s a simpler version of this plugin - Little Radiator and it works just as good.
Compressors are used all the time in sound design, dialogue editing, scoring, sfx editing, and post-production. Compressors attenuate signal that goes above a set threshold (ratio determines how much compression is applied to the signal that goes above it). They also sculpt your sound and give it character. You can make gunshot tails shorter, extract transients, make tails louder and way more. There are so many compressorss out there that one wouldn’t be able to try them all in a lifetime. Here are my most used compressor plugins:
FabFilter Pro C2 - No surprises from FabFilter- another great plugin. This compressor has everything (and beyond) you need. Great, collapsable display to preview what compression does to you sound, side chain, oversampling, dry/wet for in-plugin parallel compression, 8 different styles of compression (Clean, Classic, Opto, Vocal, Mastering, Bus, Punch and Pumping) and more. It’s my go-to single band compressor plugin.
Avid Pro Series Multiband (Pro Tools) - my multi-band compressor of choice. It comes with Avid Complete Plugin Bundle. It’s reasonably easy to use and it sounds good. It has 4 frequency bands and multichannel 7.1 support. I’m yet to try FabFilter’s multi-band so I might end up retiring this one is FF one sound better.
CLA-2A - Wave’s take on classic LA-2A compressor. Very simple yet great sounding plugin. I tend to use it on VO and bass tracks.
Korvpressor -Simple yet interesting compressor plugin with a great UI. It reminds a little bit of wave’s GW or one knob series with a bunch of extra knobs and switches for fine-tuning. I used it quite a bit on my latest SFX pack “Foundation Series SCI-FI vol 2”. It’s not the best sounding compressor I’ve ever heard but it gets the job done. I especially like it in in-plugin parallel mode using dry/wet knob.
De-essers are mostly used to attenuate sibilance (es, t, sh, etc), however, they also come in handy when mixing or sound designing. You can easily get rid of piercing spikes in SFX or scoop out harshness from musical instrument. I own quite a few de-essers, however, for the last few years I’ve been using only one plugin:
SA-2 Dialogue Processor - I haven’t used anything else on a dialogue bus since I got SA-2. It’s a multi-band de-esser that will get rid of those nasty piercing spikes without muffling high frequencies. A must have for dialogue editing.
I tend to use it a lot on my sound effects as well - it can really clean up high frequencies and make them easier on one’s ear.
TIP: You can use a dynamic EQ such as FabFilter Pro Q3 as a de-esser. I tend to do a little bit of de-essing with Q3 first (pre compression) and then SA-2 (post compression/other plugins)
Plugins used on "Foundation Series SCI-FI vol 2: Decapitator, SA-2, Korvpressor, Lowender, Brusfri, Wormhole and more.
Limiters attenuate signal that goes above a set threshold, therefore prevent clipping. Limiters are basically compressors with a high ratio value (20:1 - 100:1). There are a lot of limiter plugins on the market right now. Here are my 3 favorite ones:
FabFilter Pro L2 - My go-to limiter. It sounds great, it’s easy to use, has a loudness meter, DC offset and oversampling. It offers 7 different styles of limiting (Transparent, Punchy, Dynamic, All-round, Aggressive, Modern, Bus, Safe) which work great on a different kind of content.
McDSP ML8000 - It’s a very nifty multi-band limiter. Definitely my go-to plugin for “busy” mixes. It can easily double down as compressor-EQ-limiter combo which only adds value to it. It has 8 individual bands and two stages of limiting/compression. It allows you to tame dynamics and adjust sonic profile so everything in the mix sounds good and cuts through. I tend to keep on an SFX bus and a Master bus for the most part, however, I’ve used it on an individual VO and music tracks too.
PSP Xenon - My go-to limiter for squeezing acoustic sounds, especially instruments. Now, you can achieve similar results by using FabFilter’s L2 safe style, however, Xenon allows you to take it a bit further. Look out for PSP sales, I picked mine up for less than $30!
Distortion and Saturation.
Saturation and distortion can be used to make your sound stand out and cut through the mix. It can make your sound appear fuller on all sort of speakers due to a very pleasant harmonic distortion. Especially useful for sound designer and composers. Here are my 4 go-to saturation/distortion plugins.
Decapitator - An amazing, hardware-modeled, distortion/saturation plugin. It’s modeled after A Ampex 350 tape recorder, E Chandler EMI channel, N Neve 1057, T Thermionic Culture Culture Vulture and P Thermionic Culture Culture Vulture pentode tube setting. It adds a subtle harmonic distortion that makes your sound cut through the mix so much better. My favorite styles are A and T. I’ve used the Punish mode quite a few times as well and I loved it. Dry/Wet knob lets you mix in unprocessed signal and I find myself doing it quite a lot rather than keeping it at 100%. I used it on a vast majority of my sound effects. It quickly became one of the most important plugins in my sound designing chain.
iZotope Trash 2 - This plugin is a beast. It’s much more than just Distortion/Saturation plugin - it comes with filters, gates, delays and more. It’s loaded with 100s of great sounding and inspiring presets that will spark your creativity. It allows you to mangle sound beyond recognition. I often use it to add texture to drones and soundscapes, loft UI sounds and glitches. I used it a lot of my Glitchy Circuits pack.
FabFilter Saturn - Amazing multi-band distortion/saturation plugin. It has 16 different styles of distortion and saturation: Clean Tube, Warm tube, Broken Tube, Warm Tape, Old Tape, Smooth Amp, Crunchy Amp, Lead Amp, Screaming Amp, Power Amp, Gentle Saturation, Heavy Saturation, Smudge, Rectify, Destroy. Each band can use different styles and be modulated by either LFO or an envelope. All those features make it a very powerful plugin. I developed a lot of presets for Saturn and will write another post about this amazing plugin.
McDSP Futzbox - A great speaker simulation plugin with lofi distortion, EQ, filters, noise generator, and a gate. It’s capable of making your source audio sound like it’s coming from a walkie talkie, pocket radio, megaphone, toy speaker, an old TV and much more. It comes with a lot of useful presets for instant results. A good alternative to Speakerphone.
Plugins used on Glitchy Circuits: iZotope Trash 2, Decapitator, FutzBox, Lowender, FabFilter Pro L2, Pro Tools Time Shift and more.
Pitch and Time Shifters.
Pitch shifting and sound design are 100% inseparable. It can make tiny sounds sound big and vice versa. Here are time/pitch shifting plugins of my choice.
Time Shift (Pro Tools) - PT native audio suite pitch plugin. Together with Soundminer’s pitch slider, it is my go-to pitch plugin. It has 4 different algorithms: Polyphonic - time stretching and pitch shifting for polyphonic audio, Monophonic - formant correction for vocals and solos, Rhythmic - pitch correction for rhythmic audio files such as drums and (my favorite) Varispeed. It sounds great and gets the job done.
Vari-Fi (Pro Tools) - Another PT native audio suite plugin. It creates tape like slow-downs and speed-ups. Great for designing all sorts of riser and downers.
Sound Shifter Graphic - A very useful pitch/time shifter. It allows you to adjust pitch and time separately and automate both of these parameters. It’s a great tool for sound designers as it allows you to draw pitch and time automation making a final audio sound feel more animated.
Reverbs are very important in sound design and post-production in general. Every sound we hear reverberates - unless in outer space or special echoless rooms. Reverb plugins create a sound of space, sense of ambience, depth and a scale, therefore making us perceive sounds as more realistic. They also add character- with just a few tweaks, we can make something sound magical, sci-fi, chaotic, cold, etc.
Here are my most used reverberation plugins.
Revibe II (Pro Tools) - Another excellent plugin that comes with Avid Complete Plugin Bundle. It sound excellent. It has so many great sounding presets that I hardly have to come up with entirely new preset. If you want to, however, It comes with 200 room types/early reflection, 9 different reverb algorithms, EQ and reverb shape so you can dive in and created something unique from scratch. You can control and automate every single parameter which makes it super powerful. It’s great for post, sounds design and music.
Indoor - I love everything about indoor plugin. It features over 60 rooms/space, different mic placements and techniques (AB and M/S), allows you to automate opening and closing doors, panning motion with 7.1 support and more. Like Revibe II, it’s on a rather pricey side but it’s 100% percent worth it.
Space (Pro Tools) - Another reverb plugin that comes with Avid Complete Plugin Bundle. It comes with a lot of impulse responses that are great for sound design, post, and music. It has a snapshot mode that allows you to switch between different reverbs within automation. I especially like its “Tiny Spaces” IRs such as vacuum tube, buckets, jars and more.
Blackhole - Brilliant plugin from Eventide. It makes everything sound sci-fi/fantasy. If you’re familiar with Sigur Ros sound you probably know what I’m talking about. It’s really easy to over do it, so use it with moderation.
2caudio Aether - A very unique reverb with a lot of features for sound designer. It has an impressive preset lists that can take you forever to browse through. Presets sound fantasying and they can instantly inspire you.
TIP: A lot of reverbs come with built-in EQ. Use it to avoid muddiness and frequency build ups.
Most of my reverb sends look like that: REVERB -> PRO Q3 with dynamic EQ to control problematic frequency bands
Delays, very much like reverbs, are essential tools for creating space and depth. They repeat input signals in a time-based manner that can vary from just a few ms to several seconds long. There are a bunch of interesting delay plugins out there and here are my 4 favorites ones.
Echoboy - One of the best delay plugins I’ve ever used/heard. Guys at Soundtoys created an incredible plugin that comes with 30 analog-sounding echo/delay styles. On top of that, it comes with a lot of useful tools such as low cut/hi cut, saturation(!), EQ and more. It can create any delay pattern and even some chorus effects.
Crystalizer - Imagine a granular, reversed delay/reverb with a pitch shifter. This plugin is such a powerful tool for sound designers! It allows you to dial in presets that will instantly turn any sounds into magic spells, teleports and much more.
Mode Delay II (Pro Tools) - A simple, yet powerful delay plugin that comes with Pro Tools. My go-to plugin when dialing in simple delays.
H-Delay - I really like Waves H series plugins. H-Delay is a powerful and versatile delay plugin. It allows you to easily dial in any delay style such as ping-pong, slap delay, phasing delay and more. I especially like its LOFI setting - it makes everything sound analog/bit crushed.
Subharmonic plugins can add oomph to your low end and turn your sub into a bass cannon. A great tool to have if you want to make your impacts sound punchier, monster steps sound heavier, cannons sound more powerful, etc. I remember when I bought waves max bass over a decade ago I instantly fell in love with it and was overdoing it big time ;p Those plugins are to be used with moderation.
Lowender - I don’t know of a subharmonic plugin that goes as low as Lowender does. Simple UI and great sound make it my go-to subharmonic plugin.
LoAir - I used to use it a low before I got my copy of Lowender. It’s good but not as good as Lowender.
TIP: I use subharmonic plugins almost exclusively on sends/aux tracks. It looks like that: Lowender/LoAir set to Bass/Direct -inf -> Pro C2 compressor -> low pass filter set to 50-80hZ.
Zynaptiq Wormhole - I love how this plugin warps sound and makes everything sound sci-fi. I know that calling it an “instant sci-fi” plugin doesn’t do it justice but whenever I’m designing sci-fi sounds I have it right there in my plugin chain. It comes with a lot of useful and great sounding presets that can transform your sound beyond recognition (in a very good way). The only downside is that it’s very CPU hungry.