Ten of the best free effects plug-ins

Today we can set up a powerful digital mixing rig with our computers for comparably little money, and that’s largely due to the fact that there are many great tools out there that will require no investment other than the internet bandwidth you need to download them - for your consideration we present ten of the best free effects plug-ins you can grab right now - in alphabetical order:


 A1StereoControl

A1Audio A1StereoControl

Let’s kick off our list with something crucial to modern mixing techniques and that is stereo width control. This plug-in offers a number of tools that allow the user to manipulate the stereo field, be it be expanding it or collapsing it down to mono. This nifty plug-in also allows for precise panorama adjustments and provides a “safe bass” feature that places a frequency range defined by the user at the center of the stereo field for enhanced clarity and mono compatibility. A handy plug-in to have around at all times.



 Multiply

Acon Digital Multiply

Double-tracking and chorus are classic effects that have been (and still are) widely used on countless recordings, especially on guitars, vocals and synth lines. If back in the day we needed to spend good money on gear to achieve this particular effect, nowadays we can do it for free with the Acon Digital Multiply. This charming plug-in takes those classic effects and brings them into the 21st century, allowing engineers to dial frequency and amplitude modulation, expand the number of voices, manipulate the stereo field and most importantly, giving the user the freedom to determine the frequency range where it all takes place.



 Freeware Plug-ins Pack II

Blue Cat Audio Freeware Plug-ins Pack II

Alright, including this one feels a bit like cheating but it’s simply too good to pass up! Blue Cat Audio has built a solid reputation and they’re widely praised by our members, so it comes as no surprise that their Freeware Pack II is one of the best bundles you can get without spending a cent. It offers six simple but useful plug-ins that should work nicely on almost any production or mixing job: chorus, phaser, flanger, three-band parametric equalizer, gain utility tool and also a real-time frequency analyzer. All done with the quality one expect from Blue Cat and definitely a must-have for the budget-conscious plug-in folder.



 Bittersweet v3

Flux Bittersweet v3

Transient manipulation plug-ins have become more and more popular over the past decade, and to some extent their rise can be linked back to BitterSweet, a crafty processor created by the experts at Flux::. The interface is as intuitive as is possible: dial to the left and it will “sweeten“ the sound by shaving off spiky transients, turn it right and transients will be enhanced, this adding a “bitter” flavour. For those looking for more flexibility an expanded (paid) version (Bittersweet Pro) is offered that brings more operating modes, frequency range controls, output clipper and much more.



 Saturation Knob

Softube Saturation Knob

Another “classic” that has been around for a relatively long time but that is still as useful today as it was when it was released is the Softube Saturation Knob, a dead-simple saturator with only a couple of controls: a big dial that controls the amount of saturation and a switch determines the saturation type. This plug-in can go all the way from gentle analog-like warm to extreme distortion and will be useful on many situations with a wide range of sound sources. This nice little freebie is now also available for Softube’s virtual Eurorack Modular synthesizer plug-in.



 TDR Kotelnikov

Tokyo Dawn Labs TDR Kotelnikov

One can argue that Kotelnikov, formerly known as “TDR Feedback Compressor”, is the best free compressor plug-in available right now full stop, thanks to its superb flexibility and transparent sound. Although it is labelled as a mastering compressor, this is a true workhorse that can work seamlessly in virtually any situation. Kotelnikov is not based on any particular hardware, which makes it a truly unique tool and unparalleled with its smart release timing controls, substantially raising the bar from what we expect from a freebie. A (paid) Gentlemen's Edition is also offered with more features, adding even more depth to it.



 TDR Nova

Tokyo Dawn Labs TDR Nova

We could have happily included their awesome Slick EQ on this list, but we think Nova has the upper hand and secures its spot with ease. This fantastic plug-in provides not only an excellent “static” four-band parametric equalizer but more importantly, it brings a “dynamic” function where each band dynamically reacts to the incoming signal. Nova can function as a parallel processor by blending in the unprocessed signal and also works as a standard wide-band compressor, and if all of that isn’t enough it also brings low pass/high pass filters and real-time frequency analysis to the party. Want even more? Check out the impressive (paid) Gentlemen's Edition for even more features and tweaks.



 Freq Echo

ValhallaDSP Freq Echo

ValhallaDSP is probably one of Gearslutz’ favourite reverb designers, but some may recall that their very first plug-in is a pretty cool (if slightly weird) echo/delay plug-in freebie. According to the company website, Freq Echo is a “Bode-style frequency shifter + analog echo emulation = skull melting chaos”, which definitely reads like an accurate description once you hear it in action - but fear not, it can do polite and more conventional delays as well, if one can resist the dub-delay temptation and configure it accordingly. A superb tool for sound designers everywhere.



 Limiter No6

vladg/sound Limiter No6

Limiter №6 is more than just a simple limiter: it’s a whole set of tools for dealing with dynamics, peak control and volume maximizing that chains together a compressor, a high-frequency limiter, a clipper and a brickwall limiter with ISP protection. The only bad news here is that it doesn’t work 'out of the box' with Pro Tools, but for a remarkably affordable price you can get the improved Gentlemen’s Edition from Tokyo Dawn Labs and as with TDR Kotelnikov and Nova receive not only the AAX version but also more features to play with.



 SPAN

Voxengo SPAN

Over the years Voxengo SPAN has become a standard when it comes to frequency analyzers, offering a plethora of features which enables the user to obtain any and all frequency-related information possible. SPAN is immensely configurable and can be customized in many ways, offering many tools to analyze and compare the frequency response of different sounds with the uttermost precision. It’s even included in some DAWs right now and probably the most widely used frequency analyzer plug-in to this date. A paid version (SPAN Plus) is also available with a feature set that goes even further.


A few notes:

* All plug-ins on our list offer AAX, AU and VST formats and cross-platform (Mac/Windows) support, except for the aforementioned absence of the AAX format on Limiter №6. Kudos to all developers for their commitment to and passion for our craft!

* There’s no shortage of great free equalizer and compressor plug-ins, but we have noticed somewhat of a shortage when it comes to free reverbs, so it’s worth bringing up the Tal Reverb-4 (AU/VST) and Acon Digital Reverb Solo (AAX/AU/VST).

* It’s kind of surprising to see that the ancient digitalfishphones SPITFISH plug-in is still considered by many gearslutz as one of the best de-esser plug-ins ever made, even after ten years without an update, thus not supporting 64-bit DAWs and unavailable on most current formats.

* We’re sure that there are many other great free plug-ins that for one reason or another didn’t make to our list, so what sweet freebies have made it into your plug-in folder? Please share your experiences and recommendations!

For more on plug-ins please visit our Music Computers forum.