Software is an integral part of most of our creative processes in the studio. In this category, we round up some of the best mixing and mastering plug-ins, platforms and utilities – you decide who wins.
Blue Cat Audio Late Replies
Possibly the most flexible delay plug-in currently available, Late Replies proves that there’s much more to delay than just creating echoes. What sets Late Replies apart is the ability to load other plug-ins into it. Want your favourite distortion VST or AU plug-in inside your delay line? No problem! And, boasting up to eight taps or ‘replies’ to use Blue Cat’s parlance, you can get exactly as complex and creative with your delays as you like. In short, it blew us away.
Denise Audio The Sweeper
Getting your kick drum and bass to sit nicely together is a perennial challenge and one that’s often solved with sidechain compression. However, Denise Audio’s The Sweeper offers an alternative approach. Instead of ducking the level of your bass whenever the kick hits, The Sweeper brings up a low-cut filter to carve away the bottom-end momentarily. The result is remarkably transparent, too.
However, this cleanly designed plug-in can do a lot more than that. With high and low-cut filters, resonance, attack and release controls, it can add movement to any flagging mix.
Universal Audio Lexicon 480L
The Lexicon 480L is undoubtedly one of the most iconic pieces of pro studio gear going, and with good reason. Its reverb algorithms were, for a long time, second to none. The 480L was synonymous with broad and all-encompassing reverbs and, for some, it represented the apex of Lexicon’s achievements. So, when a Lexicon-endorsed UAD recreation came along, we had to take notice.
Universal Audio manages to recapture every bit of magic that the original had, offering Plate, Hall, Room, Random Ambience, Twin Delays and Effects algorithms. If you’re looking for the sound of the hits, look no further.
Mastering the Mix BASSROOM
BASSROOM is the plug-in equivalent of a thermometer that can tell you when your low-end is mixed just right. And while that might sound like nonsense, it comes from mastering engineer Tom Frampton and it’s rather impressive.
Designed to be used just before your mastering limiter, BASSROOM intelligently compares your mix to a its built-in, genre-based targets. You can even load in your own reference tracks as a target. Regardless of genre, you could probably benefit from using BASSROOM, especially if your playback system isn’t giving you enough low-end information.
iZotope Nectar 3
iZotope’s version 3 update to their Nectar vocal production suite adds AI learning in the shape of a Vocal Assistant and Unmask feature lifted from Neutron. Pair that with a versatile new EQ with dynamic EQ modes, two new saturation modes for the built-in delay, stereo width control and automatic volume compensation and this is an impressive package.
Instead of providing its own pitch correction, iZotope has partnered with Celemony to offer Melodyne Essential worth $99. If you want a one-stop-shop of a plug-in for polished vocals, Nectar is a solid choice.
Sugar is an analogue-inspired audio sweetener, bringing a modern digital approach to the kinds of sounds you’d expect to hear from an Aphex Aural Exciter processor, or the old ‘Dolby A trick’. In short, it’s a multiband exciter and processor with various styles of distortion available for making your mix sound more exciting. And who doesn’t like excitement?
Isotonik Studios Modular Series
While the Modular Series from Isotonik Studios may not, on first inspection, appear to be more than a utility, it’s capabilities are enormous. By using the wizardry of Max/MSP, which is now built into Ableton Live, Isotonik has made a tool that extends your performance possibilities with new Follow Actions in Live, plus add macros, loop like a DJ and more.
Following their Soothe EQ plug-in, Oeksound has another winner on its hands with Spiff, their innovative transient designer. What it lets you do is boost and cut transients with extreme precision. It was in fact designed to control clicks , pops and mouth noises but it can also help you tame the attack of a sound to push it further back in a mix, add punch to drums or fatten kicks.
We described it as “a versatile, effective transient processor that you won’t know you need until you try it, and then you won’t be able to go back!”
Apogee FX Rack
Available via DSP on Apogee Ensemble and Element audio interfaces, and natively on your host computer, this range of plug-ins manages to straddle the great DSP divide. FX Rack comprises ModEQ 6, a licensed Pultec EQP-1A model, ModComp and Apogee’s Opto-3A compressor. With their first proper foray into the world of plug-ins, Apogee has maintained its excellent reputation built on years of hardware design.
TC Electronic Finalizer
TC Electronic changed the world of mastering forever in 1996 when they unleashed the Finalizer. Now, over two decades later, they have reimagined the one-box mastering processor as a standalone mastering suite. Algorithms have been compiled from the exorbitantly expensive System 6000 and include compression, EQ and limiting.
The fact that it doesn’t come as a plug-in will put some users off, but if you have any desire to escape your DAW and get great mastering results quickly, this is an enjoyable way to get there.
Mixed In Key Captain Melody
It might not initially appear to be the most exciting piece of software going, but with support from huge names such as David Guetta and Kaskade, Mixed In Key’s plug-ins deserve a serious look. In their version 3.0 plug-in bundle, the company has focused on helping you make interesting new melodies. Captain Melody will take a MIDI melody played in or drawn, then let you manipulate the shape, density, rhythm, variation and more.
This huge update gives you much more control over your melodies and lets you imprint your own creativity instead of letting the software compose for you.
On top of this, the Captain Plugins 3.0 bundle includes Captain Chords, Captain Play and Captain Deep and these all talk to one another.
iZotope Ozone 9
Ozone 9 adds some interesting new modules to an already fully-featured mastering line-up. The first is Master Rebalance, which lets mastering engineers boost or cut the level of drums, vocals or bass within a bounced stereo mix. Next up is Low End Focus which is designed to manipulate the separation between bass and percussive elements to give greater punch or smoothness to your track. There’s also an updated Master Assistant that give you the option to use the vintage modules and an imager for subtle spacial effects. Naturally, it also talks to the other iZotope plug-ins in your session too. While it’s not a total game-changer, it’s a really solid update to what was already an excellent suite of modules.
Antares Auto-Tune EFX+/ Auto-Tune Artist
No longer regarded as just a surreptitious method of fixing out-of-tune vocals, Auto-Tune effects have imposed a distinct and deliberate sonic character of their own over the decades. EFX+ and Artist are cut-down versions of Antares’ flagship product that deliver all of the Auto-Tune sound with minimal fuss or faff. They even include the classic, less transparent Auto-Tune 5 algorithm.
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Check out all the Gear Of The Year 2019 categories here.