Best Analog Synth Plugins

Best Analog Synth Plugins

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These are the plugins I like the most,  my personal favorites. 
Hey everybody, Avi here. This is one of my favorite subjects to talk about.

I have been a synth collector since childhood. I’ve had synths from Yamaha, Korg, Roland, Nord, Access Virus, and even a custom made 303 style synth which I loved and shouldn’t have sold. 

In the last few years soft synths are getting SO MUCH BETTER. That’s not an easy decision to just sell all the hardware and join the future. I was heartbroken for a while, I’m not going to lie, but just like with love, you are most likely to find a new one eventually. 

In this article I’m not going to get too much into technical details, because you can get them wherever you want on the web. So expect only my own personal take on this subject.

MS20 by Korg

So this is one of my first eye openers and it’s the Korg MS20 Plugin. This guy had me sitting for hours and hours listening to every little knob and patch. It is simple and complicated all together. First, I used it for all kinds of analog parts, and then it was my go to bass synth. I love the rawness of it. I’m also a big fan of design, and the Korg MS20 had always been a great looking beast.

After I realized the power of this synth for bass parts, I could do anything I wanted with this, and I always ended up with a big psychotic smile on my face. I must admit that I never thought it sounded even remotely close to the hardware version, it was pretty small sounding. But I could get it to sound very good and crazy big with EQ, Compression and stereo tricks. One thing this synth did amazingly well is to get me deep in the creating zone. It is very inspirational, and this is one of the most important factors about synths. 

I think not enough people are talking about this. This synth has the ability to get your creative juices flowing, especially if you’re a real synth head like me 🙂 Korg’s analog synth bundle is pretty much amazing. I loved all their stuff back at the time and use them to this day. I think it’s ok to say that these are the real first “vintage soft synths” of our time.

In the meantime, I got my hands dirty with some cool sounding synth plugins like: Vanguard, FabFilter one, Synth1 (NOT Sylenth1), Reason synths, and more,  then I stumbled upon this.

Zebra by u-he

This amazing synth plugin had introduced me to a whole new generation of audio engines. It sounded so good that I could swear it almost sounded better, fuller, and richer then my friend’s virus C at the time. 

At first glance, this modular synth looks very intimidating and complicated. I started only with presets and downloaded a bunch of them. This was enough for couple cool parts in few of my tracks. Then I started learning this synth, and it was amazing. 

The only problem I had with it on my mac was that it wasn’t too stable. It crashed too many times in the middle of projects, and that made me really angry until eventually I dropped it. I must say that this was an original version, not cracked. But anyway, times were changing for me and I needed faster simpler synths that I could just twist two knobs and create magic.

Sylenth1 by LennarDigital

OK,  Everyone knows this guy and I can’t add anything to it. I was in love with this synth. I did almost everything with it. I filled a whole external drive with demos of this synth. So much inspiration, so many sounds, banks, presets… literally endless. 

I once compared it with Virus Snow and the snow killed it 🙂 But it wasn’t enough for me to drop it and get the Snow,  Nope. The Sylenth1 opened me to a new EDM genres. These were the years of Avicii, David Guetta, Zedd, big dance hits, catchy euro drops, and but choruses,  I was hooked. 

Remember I talked about synths that spark creativity? The Sylenth1 was the soft synth that got the most amount ideas for songs out of my head at the time. I still have demos that I’m in love with today. Don’t ask me why it’s not out. Most of the songs I produced were for other people. 

The only song I ever produced for myself with mostly Sylenth1 was this. I was very influenced by Zedd back then 😉 This wasn’t promoted or signed anywhere. I just released it for my own fun.

With the Sylenth1, I started also playing with Massive, which was very special sounding but very weird for me to work with. I couldn’t fall in love with the interface, and you already know how much it’s important for my creative juices. But one thing I have to say about Massive, it is the most natural sounding beast. 

It always sounded like a quality hardware synth to me. I also played a lot with the big Romplers like Nexus & Omnisphere. In between, I had small romances with Rob Papen’s synths which I really like.

Spire by Reveal Sound

Spire is my 3rd synth plugin love. Now, this is a synth that can get my creative juices flowing so easily. 

BEST leads, CRAZY PADS, Amazing BASSES, and all this yummy stuff under a super friendly and beautiful interface?? 
GIVE ME MORE! I spent too many nights with headphones going thru the amazing preset banks I had. My girlfriend, who was sleeping in the other room sometimes asked me to turn my headphones level down!

After some time in this new age EDM of tomorrow land 2016, I felt like it’s getting too boring, too much like everybody else. I stopped trying to create the next mega hit and turned to little productions that I like to do. 

I wasn’t trying to impress anybody. I didn’t have to have the best, sharpest mix in the market, I just wanted to go back to the simple analog minimal, but emotional productions. So I started looking for new emulations of old synths. So I found this:

Diva by u-he

This gave me a few synthesis colors under one beautiful interface. This synth is, without a doubt, the most heavy on the CPU synth. It has few resolution modes so you don’t have to work with the highest one, but while offline exporting a song it is very recommended to put it on the highest quality mode. This is a very impressive sounding synth, and I remember the first time playing with this and comparing it to other synths on my system, it sounded otherworldly.

TAL V2 U-NO-LX

Now, this is a weird one. At first, I didn’t realize how good it sounded until I watched a video that compared it to the real synth that it is modeled after, the Roland Juno 60. It is very minimalistic like the original. It has a small polyphony, so it requires you to be very selective with the part you’re playing. 

I like that, especially in my minimalistic age. If I remember correctly, there’s a controller that works perfect with this synth. Sounds amazing.  It has round analog bases, lush old synth strings, and a lot of very cool and usable sounds to work with.

ImpOscar 2 by Gforce

This beautiful synth is also based on an analog hardware synth that had found itself in almost every production I’ve ever done,  even if it wasn’t electronic by nature. This synth made itself right at home next to electric guitars, bass, and live drums. It was a bit unstable on my specific system, but it was worth every little crash I’ve had with it. This also has very warm and deep pads, beautiful stereo basses, really amazing cutoff filter, and very good effects section. I just wish they did the interface a little bit bigger.

Mini V by Arturia

Ok, I feel like when I speak about this company, I have to bow down like a kung fu student. Since the first Mini Moog emulation, I was fascinated by the sound engine and the designs they were able to create. The hardware, Moog, was a legend I always wanted to own, and I could never really get to buying this expensive synth. This is where Arturia worked their magic on me. Every time I’ve played with this synth and closed my eyes, I could smell its wood and old plastic knobs under my fingers. It’s just beautiful.

Modular V by Arturia


This one has always got me a little scared. No, let me rephrase it, I was SHIT SCARED to even look at it. To me an A modular synth is the most terrifying creature out there, and Arturia made it even scarier. So, I must admit I almost never changed the existing presets. Maybe only a little bit with the filter and that’s it. But this synth has the most beautiful synth bass sound I’ve ever heard! And conveniently, it is the default preset that opens with the first loading of the plugin. It is pure magic. Go try it.

Prophet V by Arturia

I don’t have a lot to say about this synth other than AMAZING. I really love it. A pure classic; beautiful, simple, and inspiring. It sounds magical. I would go there and say that it sounds very close to the original hardware version.

Kick by Sonic Academy & Nicky Romero

This one is a kick synth. After getting to know this weird, hybrid, sample based synth, I stopped wasting my life searching for the right kick sound in my never, ending sample libraries. This is a life saver. I stopped looking for kick sounds. In 95% of my EDM productions and demos, I just use this plugin, change the presets a bit, and BOOM. A great sounding kick that JUST WORKS.

Lounge Lizard EP-4 by A.A.S

Yeah I know this one is not a traditional synth really, but it’s a tool I use in so many of my productions. I love the unique fusion of synth sounds and electric piano. So, this one has really cool sounds and colors that can give you the fullness and emotions of a big and warm chord wall that is not too heavy on the mid and high range section of your production. It is warm, authentic, and natural. So, if I want to create a “Chords Hug” as I call it, I just play the chords on the Lounge Lizard EP-4 and I’m all set.

That’s it for now guys. In the future I will give you more articles with more synth love stories 🙂 Thanks for reading.

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Electronic Drums Vs Acoustic Drums

Electronic Drums VS Acoustic Drums

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If this was 1998, I would have told you, “Dude, NO! Go to a studio and record a real drummer on a real drum set and let’s move on with the project!” But, it’s not 1998, and we are here, today, thinking about which way to go with the drums. So, if you’re asking me; 

“Electronic drum set in the studio for serious productions?”
YES PLEASE!


Hey everybody, Avi here. As you can understand from this intro, this post is leaning heavily to the electronic drums side. So, if you’re a hardcore, old timer, “acoustic drum recording in big studios” kinda type, this may not be for you. 


I won’t forget the first time I recorded acoustic drums. I had a high school-type band, and we went to this dude’s house to record our drummer. We set up the drums in the middle of his living room on a brown carpet that smelled like cat food and beer.

We recorded the whole set with only 3 microphones. One for the bass drum, one for the hi-hat and the snare, and one as an overhead mic for the whole set. It sounded like pure shit, but we were high on it! This was my first drum recording experience. Since then, I’ve recorded quite a few drummers in big studios, and although it sounded nice, I really hated the whole process.


Acoustic Drums Recording – The process from back in the day.

I used to take my drummers and drive for an hour to get to my favorite studio. We would set up the drums and microphones for an hour, or even more, and then start recording. After that, we would export the files and all the takes from Protools to my Cubase.

At the time, I was doing my beat detection on Protools before I would open the files on Cubase, but sometimes I would fix the timing on Cubase manually, which was an exhausting process that took me literally hours. After that, I sometimes replaced some drums like the snare or toms or bass drum, or just added extra samples and sounds to it with midi. And then, after all this work, I’m still stuck with one set, one sound, and one drum take for one song.


Electronic Drums Saves The Day

Around 2007, I really started exploring new continents of creation with electronic drums. I produced my first electronic drums punk rock album. It was an 8-song album. I recorded all of them with a complete toy drum set: Yamaha DD-65.

The first drum software I ever used was Addictive Drums. It took a lot of work to actually convince my client that this is the best option for the budget and that he should close his eyes and give this option a real chance. He did, and he eventually loved it and even told me that out of all of his four albums, the one we recorded with a toy drum machine and a drum plugin was his best album.


My First Real Electronic Drum Set

Roland V-drums TD-9sx. I didn’t really need more than this drum set for all of my music productions. Drummers used to come to my studio, sit on this drum set, get used to it, and then record.

 The sessions were short, the sound was amazing, and the artist and I were happy! This is exactly what I needed. After the session was over, I could change everything. From the playing, timing corrections to adding or changing whole parts. The most important thing is, I could change the whole drum set to whatever set I liked. This alone was enough for me. I was hooked.


Kill The Drummer?

No way! I’m always saying this. Electronic drums are maybe replacing the traditional instrument of the drummer, but they won’t replace the drummer. Yes, we have recorded midi parts, but they can never replace a real drummer on the set that is playing his parts for our specific song, at least in my humble opinion.

There is something special in getting a real drummer to play on our production, and this won’t go away soon. So, no, the drummer is not dead. We just added a more versatile instrument to his arsenal. I also want to say that I still think that real drum sets are cool and definitely necessary, mostly on stage, or if you just really want to record them.


The Module Sounds VS Plugins.

Today’s modules are pretty much amazing, no doubt. But, there is some magic in the plugins world. So, the way I see it: on stage, it’ll be a smart move to use the steady and trusty drum module. But, in the studio, plugins are taking the lead. As producers, we love to fiddle with interfaces, different sounds and samples, effects, and mixing components, which you can find on any drum plugin today. Here’s a post I wrote about the subject.

The Best Drum Plugins


Electronic Drums Sets

Roland really nailed it with their electronic drums technology. Everything from the modules, the drums, the looks, and the sounds of it, is amazing. So, they are on the top of my list, but they are not the only company to look for while searching for an electronic drum set.


New VS Old

This really comes down to personal preference, specific needs, and of course, budget. When I first bought my new Roland V-drums TD9sx, I bought it from some nice rich dude who didn’t know what to do with the set. He sold it to me for a very small price, and I didn’t really need more than that. It had everything I wished for in an electronic drum set, and every time I needed more, I just added extra components like cymbals, floor toms, extra pedals, and such. 

You can always extend and build your own kit, as long as the module allows it. If you’re are on a limited budget, you can really find a good condition V-Drums set for a great price. The second-hand market is full of great options. If you’re a “New everything” kinda person, you can go for a new drum set, of course.


Electronic Drums Vs Acoustic Drums

Roland V-Drums TD 25 (via Amazon)
Electric Drums Roland TD 25

This is a mid-level kit from Roland, I really like this kit because it’s relatively small and doesn’t take a lot of space in the studio, which is a big factor for a lot of us home-studio-based producers. It comes with all mash pads, which is a must for me.

It’s very important for drummers to get that real feedback from the instruments, and mash pads are the way to do it. The TD25 has a great module with great sounds, but most of us producers prefer using drum software, so modules are not the most important thing in my opinion. If you’re into bigger and more expensive V-Drums, you should really check out the Roland V-Drums TD50K.

 

Features:
• Dynamic, expressive playability and quick customization
• Advanced SuperNATURAL sound engine based on the TD-30
• Sound quality and expressiveness equivalent to the top-of-the-line V-Drums
• Logical interface for easily swapping and customizing each drum and cymbal in a kit
• PDX-100 10″ mesh-head snare pad with support for rim-shots and cross-sticks
• 3 mesh-head tom pads PD-85BK 8″ pads for rack toms, 1 PDX-100 10″ pad for floor tom
• VH-11 V-Hi-hat mounts on a standard hi-hat stand; offers realistic motion and natural feel
• 2 CY-12C 12″ crash cymbals with natural swinging motion, edge/bow sensors, and choke control
• CY-13R 13″ ride cymbal with natural swinging motion and edge/bow/bell triggering
• KD-9 kick pad with cloth head for great feel and solid playability
• Play along with WAV/MP3 songs and capture drum performances as audio on a USB stick
• Build drumming skills with the onboard Coach functions
• Quick-access metronome with a dedicated screen, on/off button, and tempo knob
• USB host port for audio/MIDI communication with a computer

 

Yamaha DTX720K (via Amazon)

The funny thing about Yamaha is that other electronic drums manufacturers are sampling Yamaha’s acoustic drum sets, and they will never tell you about it. This one is a mid-level electronic drum set. Much like the TD25, it is small and doesn’t take a lot of space in our little home studios.

 

The Yamaha models are different, mostly, in the way that their electronic drum pads are built. They don’t use mash pads like most of the others. They have a different technology called “DTX Pad”. Yamaha worked with top drummers to achieve that unique feel and natural feedback out of the DTX Pad. In my personal opinion, this is the best electronic drum pad out there.

 

The engineers in Yamaha just nailed it with the drum pads and also with the cymbal pads. They feel great, they look great, and they definitely respond great to every little touch of the stick. The DTX module has amazing sounds and some of the best acoustic snare samples I’ve ever heard on a module.

 

Features:
• Includes KP100 kick, XP80 snare, 3 XP70 toms, 2 PCY135 cymbals, RHH135 hi-hat, HS740A hi-hat stand, DTX700 module, and RS502 rack
• Textured Cellular Silicone (TCS) heads provide realistic performance
• 3-zone cymbals deliver authentic playability
• 2-zone hi-hat with edge and bow sections yields open, closed, and foot splash sounds
• Real hi-hat controller and included hi-hat stand for realistic feel and playability
• Piezo trigger sensors and dual-zone rim switches allow for expressive playing
• DTX-Pads are matched for consistent performance
• 1,396 voices include 1,268 acoustic drum sounds and 128 instrument voices
• Acoustic drum sounds were taken from Yamaha’s inventory of legendary drums
• Instrument voices include sounds taken from Yamaha’s MOTIF XF synthesizer
• Onboard mixer makes setting kick, snare, tom, cymbal, hi-hat, and click levels easy
• Load your own samples from a USB flash drive to create a custom e-drum kit
• Record MIDI into your DAW and play it back using your favorite virtual drum software

 

Alesis Strike Kit (via Amazon)
Alesis Strike Kit drums

First, I didn’t like Alesis’s electronic drum sets at all, but they’ve made a lot of progress over the years.

The Alesis Strike Kit is one of their top models. It is not a small set like the others and not that compact, but will give you the amazing feel of a real size acoustic drum set. It also has a slightly lower price. The thing that I really love about Alesis is that they give you a lot more for the money. For example, standard size snare drum, bigger floor drums, bigger hi-hat, and more cymbal pads. Alesis uses a black mash on their drums, which is very cool when you get used to it. The drum bodies are made out of real wood, which gives the set a very cool and beefy look. This set will look amazing on stage and in the studio.

The module is full of great sounds and features. More than you’ll ever need for an electronic drum set in the studio. So, if you have room for a full-size drum kit and you really want to give your drummers a good and authentic drumming experience without breaking the bank, this is the one to go with.

Features:
• Designed to look and respond like an acoustic set
• Holds its own with some of the industry’s premier e-drum kits
• Comes loaded with 100 complete drum kits and 1,760 sounds
• Wood shells and tuneable mesh heads respond like acoustic drums with low noise
• “Hammered” cymbals have a controlled bounce and good stick response
• Fusion drum sizes provide a comfortable transition between acoustic and electronic kits
• Dual-zoned toms, snare, and cymbals and a 3-zoned ride yield dynamic performances
• Includes a 14″ snare, 8/10/12″ toms, and a 14″ kick
• Includes a 14″ crash, 16″ ride, and 12″ hi-hat
• Strike drum module with 4.3″ color LCD lets you edit drum sounds with ease
• Mixer faders give you complete control of your mix into headphones or speakers
• 8 direct outputs allow for studio-quality record editing
• Strike Software Editor lets you import new drum sounds into the module over Mac/PC
• Onboard sampler lets you capture organic sounds right from the module
• MIDI and USB connections communicate with your virtual instruments and samplers
• Includes a drum rack and double-braced snare stand for dependable setups
• Included cables, drum key, and cable wraps get you up and drumming in no time


So these are my recommendations for small, affordable, and yet professional electronic drum sets for the small production studios. Thank you for reading.

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Best Drum Plugin

Best Drum Plugins

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Hey everybody, Avi here. FOR YEARS, I was looking for the best drum plugin, not an easy task, let me tell you that. I’m one of those producers who really prefer doing everything by themselves. I play the guitars, bass, keyboards, and yes, DRUMS! This is my favorite part of the whole production process. In this article, I’m going to show you the best drum plugins, in my opinion. These must sound amazing, authentic, and be easy to use. This is, of course, based on my own personal taste and preference. So, keep an open mind and look for what you think is the best sounding plugin out there.

First, I have to tell you that this is not a replacement for a human drummer, maybe only for acoustic drums. For me, personally, it’s way more than enough, and I even prefer it to a real drum recording in a studio. There’s nothing like the feeling of finishing a good drum track, built on a click and a guide track. It feels like going on a new adventure. So, whether you’re a keyboard drummer, as I used to be for years, or a V-Drums fighter, this is for you.

In a chronological order.

Addictive drums – Check out the latest version

This was the first plugin that made me go “mm, maybe I don’t really have to record drums in a studio”. In 2008, I started working on an Israeli, punk rock album by an artist called “Amir Lazarov”. This was a head-first jump to the sampled based drums and drum plugins. This was an 8-song album, in which I played all the drum parts on a Yamaha DD65, electronic drums pad, which is practically a toy. It started with saving money and turned into falling in love with this workflow.

Addictive drums 1.0 was my first option because it was easy to use, it had a great collection of great recorded sets, which I could mix and match between, and I was able to mix everything inside the plugin, which I loved back then.

You know what they say about almost any tool, It is only good until it’s not enough. After this album, I went on a crazy ride looking for drum samples and plugins. It was the start of an everlasting search for the best recorded sets and the best snare and bass drum samples. Back in 2008, my mix abilities weren’t the best, but I absolutely love the production to this day.

Studio Drummer (Kontakt) –  Check out the latest version

I was jumping for joy in my home studio when I first found out about Studio Drummer back in 2011. This was the start of a whole, new era; Non-stop rock productions, demos, and amazing sounds. This one is a Kontakt library, and it offered 3 main kits, recorded at Teldex Studio in Berlin. Out of the three kits, my favorite, and most used, was the Session Kit. I also used the studio kit in one of the Israeli songs I produced.

The Studio Drummer Library also came with a lot of Midi parts, played by a real drummer on an electronic drum set. I’ve never used the recorded midi drum parts included in most of the plugins. I knew how to think like a drummer, and always preferred my drum parts tailor-made for my productions. There were other drum libraries I tried back then, but they were not good enough for what I was looking for. Among them were libraries like Abbey Road, 70’s Drummer, Modern Drummer, and such. This was played on a keyboard with the Stadium Kit. Again, an Israeli song, written in Hebrew. Listen to the dynamics when the drum part is starting to play. It’s beautifully recorded.

EZ Drummer 2.0 – Check out the latest version

Although I’ve heard a lot about EZ Drummer 1.x, and even demoed it a few times, it never felt like a good enough tool for me. But then version 2 came along and changed the whole drums-in-the-box game for me. For months, I was trying every possible setup I used against EZD2, and nothing could beat it. It was the new, undisputed champion of my box. It offered a crazy good collection of toms, cymbals, hi-hats, and bass drums. But most of all, it gave me the best snare samples I’ve ever heard. At this point, I’ve already worked with V-Drums, an old TD9 that felt like everything I need to suit my purposes.

EZD2 also gave me the option to mix inside the plugin’s interface and gave me an amazing output. I actually feel like this plugin’s audio engine is on another level. Much more than Kontakt’s, Addictive Drums, or any other plugin sampler I’ve tried, and trust me, I have tried all of them. The big ones that I don’t mention in this article are the ones I’ve tried and never liked. EZD2 is definitely the Best Drum Plugin I’ve ever used.

And for those who are die-hard believers of recording drums in a big studio with a recording drummer, it is amazing, yes. I’m not taking anything away from it, but I love the choices given to me by the digital option. I can change everything whenever I need, and I never get stuck with one sound and one recording per song. This alone is a good enough reason to love these plugins and the endless possibilities they introduce. Of course, at the end, it is everybody’s own opinion about how it sounds, and whether or not it’s good enough for them. Also, not having to deal with bit detection and aligning those audio recorded channels to the grid is a big deal for me. I promise you that you have heard amazing drum productions on the radio before, that were produced completely in the box with plugins and samples, NO DOUBT.

So, since then, Toontrack brought us EZ Drummer 3, which is a dream for producers like me. I highly recommend that you try it for yourself and let me know what you think 😉

Drum Kit Designer
I can’t close the Best Drum Plugin list without this beast. This is a special one. Every time I wasn’t happy with some of the snares or bass drums on the other Plugins I used, I immediately opened another channel with Drum Kit Designer, and it totally saved my ass. I was using this, mostly, to replace drums in an existing set or add to it as an added layer.

This plugin is my go-to drum sampler for demos. It is very simple, quick, and sounds amazing!
I must add that this one is exclusive to Apple Logic, so you can’t use it on any other DAW, but it is a good enough reason to move over to mac and Logic, my friends 🙂

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What Is Mastering

What Is Mastring

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So to master a song means to get it from the mixed stage to the final result that we hear at the end.
In simple words, it is the final process that creates an audio file after it’s been mixed and bounced, whether it’s aimed to be played on the radio or TV or YouTube or any other medium. A good master will sound great in every audio system and at the end, this is what we want.

Hi everybody Avi here, a music producer, mix and mastering engineer. In order to understand and fully grasp the concept of mastering a song we first need to get familiar with the entire process of producing a song. Oh and by the way,  In the picture, is my good friend Maor Applebaum, a well known mastering engineer.

Any song production is made up of three main stages.

1. Recording
2. Mixing
3. Mastering

Recording

In the Recording stage, we do everything that is music production related. We practically design and shape the song as far as it’s stylistic path. This consists of laying down the beat, chords, melodies, lyrics or any other thing that takes part in the production.
Usually mastering engineers come from a rich musical, recording and mixing background. It helps them get a good overview of a lot of things that are taking place in the macro of the music industry.

Mixing

The mixing stage is one of the best moments of any production, it means that you finished banging your head against the wall about what instruments to use, what parts to play and what shape and feel will the song get. Sometimes it’s a wild race that you never know how it’s going to end.
It is so much fun to zoom out on a project in your DAW and take the first look on your finished project in one frame.
This is the time to start playing with the recorded channels and find a good place in the mix for every component.

Mastering

So after you have a finished mix you end up with one stereo file (most of the time).
This file consists of all the channels, music parts, vocals, chords and melodies glued together in one file on which we start the mastering process.
Some engineers like to get the vocals on a separate channel so they can mix the vocals with the playback in the mastering stage.
In the old world mastering was a very technical thing they did to get the song or album on a record.

Back then there were rules for how to print the song or album on a record, physical limitations. Funny things like hard panning the drums. for example, a bass drum on the hard left side, snare on the right. This was a good technique that helped to avoid the jumping of the needle out of its rail.
Today there are no rules what so ever because there are no physical limitations.
Today you can do whatever you want as long as you’re doing it as an artistic choice and you know exactly what you’re doing.

It’s not rare to hear an exaggerated kick and bass section. The effect of a speaker not handling the load is a common thing these days. Especially for Hip-Hop and other urban genres.
So over the years, Mastering has become a technical task full of artistic choices.

Mastering Studios

Usually mastering facilities are very special environments. These studios are built with a very personal approach.
Every mastering engineer like to master in a different room. I’ve seen mastering engineers that work in rooms very similar to an acoustic treated living room. Other engineers, I’ve had the pleasure to work with, feel right at home in an underground dark submarine with weird looking speakers and plenty of knobs on the walls.

Mastering is usually done on very expensive high end, sometimes custom-made outboard gear. Today a lot of the mastering tasks are made in conjunction with high-end plugins. Some of them are made completely in the box and there’s nothing wrong with that. today’s software is on a whole different level then it was 10 years ago. But I have to admit that my own personal preference is to go hybrid and master a song or an album on a bunch of sexy outboard gear with a couple of sexy plugins. When you carefully listen to the end result you understand exactly how important any component is to the final result.
So in the end, it comes down to choosing the right engineer for the genre.

What Is Mastering A Song

Work With A Master.

The most important thing for me is a different opinion, the other angle, the added value that comes with mastering engineers that have a lot of experience in how things should sound. Sometimes a good tip from a mastering engineer can upgrade the mix and production greatly.

Do It Alone vs Working With Pro

OK, this is a tricky one, I’ve had mixes that I had sent out to great mastering engineers and didn’t like their results. I felt like they didn’t get the song and the feel it has to have so I used to master my own productions all the time. I love it, even more than mastering a client’s song. I even remember one song that was mastered by 6 different engineers and everybody preferred my personal version of it so we put my version out.
Some producers are sharp enough to produce the song, mix and master it all together especially in the EDM genre.

Super producers like Martin Garrix are mastering their own songs themselves and not even bouncing the project to a stereo file, no. They do it inside the project on the master channel. It works for them.
But others like Zedd for example, send their songs to serious mastering engineers in big and expensive mastering facilities and it also works, obviously, I personally love Zedd’s sound. It is amazing in my opinion.

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Best Programs For Music Production

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DAW – Digital Audio Workstation
As a producer, the DAW is your main instrument. This is what you play, this is what you practice on and this is what you get good at. A DAW is a direct extension of your creative mind. Choosing the Best Programs For Music Production for you can be a complicated task and it may take some time and patience in order to be 100% sure in your decision. Let’s find out what are the options, what are the main differences between them and what’s right for you.

Hi everybody, Avi here. I’m a music producer since the late 90’s and I’ve tried almost every program for music production out there and I can help you find the right DAW for you.
These are a few very important questions you have to ask yourself before choosing your best program for music production. Disclaimer, This article is based only on my personal preference and knowledge. Let’s start with the first question.

1. What is my main genre?

2. Do I have to record and edit live instruments?

3. Am I planning to use third party plugins or only use the built-in ones?

4. Am I going to share projects with other musicians?

 

1. What is my main genre?

Every DAW is designed a little different. Some are built for fast creation, and some are built more like a recording tape machine. These days almost all the DAW’s have the same features and same abilities. The only thing that is different is the design orientation for specific genres. If your music is going to be live instruments based it is best for you to choose the ones that are built more like tape machines.

• Protools
• Cubase / Nuendo
• Logic Pro
• Studio One
• Digital Performer

These are the programs I personally used in the past for recording and general creation.
Over the years I’ve learned to like Logic Pro and used it as my main DAW for everything I’ll tell you why later on this article.
There are a lot of famous EDM producers that uses big DAW’s as there main creation tool.
For example
Cubase Users: Zedd, Infected Mushroom and many that I don’t remember right now.
Logic Users: Calvin Harris, David Guetta, Armin Van Buuren, Kygo and many more.

If you’re more into electronic music creation that is synth plugins and sample-based, these are the DAW’s that are more suitable for you.

• Ableton Live
• FL Studio
• Reason

It is important to say that every DAW can be used for any genre. From the big ones I really prefer Logic and Cubase over Protools for example. What’s nice about programs like Ableton Live and FL Studio is that everything that is electronic music related can be performed very fast.
Also, it is full of interesting built-in plugins and features that allow you to create all the nice production “shticks” that you hear in today’s electronic productions.
Ableton Live users: Skrillex, Deadmou5, Diplo and more.
FL Studio: Martin Garrix, Avici (RIP), Aerojack and more.

I must say, I have a warm place in my heart for Propellerhead Reason. when it first arrived in the early 2000’s it looked like how I always wanted music programs to look. Just like an amazing equipment rig that every good producer should own. Back then everything was so expensive and the idea of a rack full of cool synths, samplers, and amazing compressors and EQ’s was just jaw-dropping. Nothing was that sexy back then and even today, it is considered to be one of the most impressive music applications out there.

2. Do I have to record and edit live instruments?

The more traditional producers that are recording live instruments like guitars, drums, and vocals use programs like Protools, Cubase and Logic. These are the three big ones.

Protools (PC | MAC)
Of course, it is pointing out the obvious but most big studios in the world use Avid Protools. It is built for studio and for big recordings, it has the largest and most diverse collection of outboard that is built by Avid specifically for it. Protools has a very easy and convenient wiring system, mixer, automation, and general working area.

Cubase (PC | MAC)

You can say the same things about Steinberg Cubase/Nuendo.
Although it comes with less outboard controllers it has the same features as Protools and still has an impressive collection of outboard gear that you can use with it or any other DAW system. Cubase was my main tool for 12 years and I love it! As far as audio recording and editing, no one does it better than the Germans. Everything is very accurate, Almost not bugs and overall stability. In the MIDI department, it is PERFECT as far as I can say. There is nothing you can’t do and the midi automation system is very convenient.
Just listen to the amazing and complicated stuff that Infected Mushroom are doing with it. It is practically limitless. The only thing I left Cubase for is the audio engine. At a certain point, it just didn’t sound good enough for my standards.

Logic Pro (MAC Only)
So after trying to get to “That Sound” I wanted and was always hitting a barrier with Cubase I finally listened to Logic. I first started with version 8 and it was an amazing eye-opener, or should I say “Ear opener”. I could finally hear the 3D depth in my sound. Reverbs sounded deeper, Kicks sounded fuller, lower and well defined. My sound drastically improved literally overnight. I was in love with every demo I made right from the beginning.
I didn’t like Logic coming from Cubase. Logic 8/9 was full of bugs and a lot of weird shit happened in my system. I called it ghosts in my machine. In time Apple released few major updates that made Logic much more stable and easy to work with.
One of the best Logic’s features is the audio comping option. It totally changed the way I used to edit vocals. You can read more about it here. In time Logic became my main tool and it is still my favorite DAW to this day, it is just full of creative energy in my perspective. I strongly recommend you to give Logic more time, it will pay off I promise. Of course Logic is for Apple systems only.

3. Am I planning to use third party plugins or only use the built-in ones?

This is a big one. Third-party plugins and instruments are a very big part of the music production culture. Some even have so many fans around the world that whole genres are based on them. A good example of such a synth plugin would be Sylenth1. A lot of EDM genres are based purely on this one synth and it literally has limitless presets and sounds.
So if you are going to buy all your third-party plugins it does not really matter which DAW to use. You just have to make sure the plugins company make a version of their plugin for your preferable music program.

And if you are not going to buy more then just the DAW, again I strongly suggest you go for Logic. You can basically create a full production in any genre that will sound amazing and up to date. It’s kinda the same with Cubase and Logic.

4. Am I going to share projects with other musicians?

A big factor is sharing projects between friends and other producers. If you are not working alone and want to send a certain project to a friend or another music producer or even to an arranger or mix engineer just do a little check what the most used DAW around you. Although I would not base my decision only on that. Choosing your DAW is still a very personal preference. I used to work with a partner and we always moved projects from my system to his and vice versa. Trust me you don’t want that export party every time you need to work with another musician on another system.

Free DAW’s
I wanted to mention this because not all of us would want to spend the money on an expensive DAW. So exactly for this, we have this sweet list of tools you need to take a look at.

• Reaper
• MU.Lab
• Studio One 3 Prime
• Ardour
• Zynewave Podium Free

You can read and hear more about these programs and more on that website. This is a short showcase video for Reaper

So to wrap this up I want to leave you with a sticky generic message, what’s important at the end is which DAW feels most like home for you and make it easier for you to create your art. It is your sound, your taste, your tools and your workflow that will make you the musician you will become.

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I get so excited when I find a good guitar amp plugin, it’s so much fun!
Back in the early 2000’s when I started recording guitars, I used real amps, real microphones, real rooms, and made real noise to my real neighbors. It made them real angry… Today’s guitar amp plugins are a dream come true for us producers.
Hi everybody, I’m Avi and these are my personal favorite Guitar Amp plugins:

First off, I highly recommend that you use a good preamp or a good DI box or a quality Instrument input and a quality cable.
I personally assembled my own cable: I ordered a good quality short cable (2 meters max) with quality plugs and made sure that I did a good job welding them together. This made my input sound quality at least 10% better. That’s a lot! Trust me.
Now, this article is not going too deep on the features and functions of the plugins. I’m just giving you my 2 cents as an avid Amp simulators user so here it is!

Waves CLA

This is a full rig simulator developed by Waves, an amazing company located in Israel, which is where I’m from.
This plugin is my automatic go-to amp simulator for everything. When I start working on a song or recording few electric guitar channels I don’t have the time to tweak and look for the perfect preset and sound. This plugin allows me to just plug my guitar, choose one of the presets I’ve built for myself, and just go with it. It’s built very simple. It has 3 main amp modes: Clean | Crunch | Heavy. There’s a switch for Re-Amplify and all the rest are just simple slides to control different parameters. This plugin has the same audio engine as in Waves GTR so you get the same quality only less control. Perfect for starting things without wasting precious creative time on tweaking the presets.

Softube Amp Room

 

Softube Vintage Amp Room
Softube Metal Amp Room
Softube Bass Amp Room

I absolutely love the visual design of this one. It is simple, easy to use, sounds good, and my favorite feature, it looks like the real thing. This plugin is a native one but they also did a UAD version which is cool. The amps on the plugin are not named as the original amps that they are modeled after to avoid being sued by the brands but it’s not hard to tell which is which. What I like the most about this plugin is that in order to change amps, you just drag the amps right or left and you switch between them. The same goes for the microphone setup. You hold the microphone stand with the mouse and just locate it in front of the amp until you get your preferred sound. The main controls of the plugin are also pretty easy and straight forward. They’ve created 3 versions of this plugin, 2 guitar rigs, and one bass rig.
I must say that the bass rig is much more impressive than the guitar ones. This plugin sounds good, but it is not the best one on my list.

Amplitude 4

Now, this one is huge! It has so many options and cool features; it looks good, it sounds good, and IT IS good!
Most of the amp models sounds amazing in my opinion, but naturally only few suit my taste. I usually use Amplitube for cool clean sounds and a little bit of drive. It has tons of options, virtual effect racks, pedals, plenty of amps and cabinets, and of course, the thing that I like the most, the ability to change the microphones placement in front of the cabinet. Those who come from the real world of amp recording will appreciate that.
Check out the new version, they added a lot of cool features.

Guitar Rig

This amp simulator from Native Instruments is very cool for distortion sounds.
Somehow, I find it more realistic than the others and it does not have those painful digital high frequencies in the distortion presets. It is very round and nice sounding, in my opinion. I love the way it’s built. It has a drag and drop system where you can drag modules one on top of the other and build your own cool signal chain. Also, there is a rating system where you can rate your favorite presets with up to 5 stars. My ADHD brain needs it badly. It has a good market where you can purchase more models and effects to add to your rig. I’ve never felt the need to buy them, but it’s nice to have.

ReValver

OK, this one is a beast! I used this plugin in a lot of my productions and demos.
It is FAT, RICH, WARM, and every non-musical term you can possibly find to describe a good sandwich in the middle of the winter in the woods at night (yeah, don’t ask…)
It also has a rack building system of your favorite modules, which is sweet.
I like to practice with this plugin. It sounds amazing by itself, but I personally find it a little harder to mix it inside a song. I, somehow, always choose another plugin for that purpose. But it is probably just because I’m already used to the sound of the next plugin on this list.

Waves GTR3

This one is my go-to Amp Simulator Plugin. I use this on 80% of my productions.
It just sounds amazing inside a mix; it cuts right through when you need it to, and you can also bury it under layers of other elements, and it won’t clash with them. Of course, it is a mix thing, but I find this plugin to be the easiest to mix. It has a great selection of good and usable amps and cabinets. The people who built this plugin knew exactly what producers really need. It is not the newest modeled amp simulator but definitely works in today’s highest standards. I usually like to use my outboard pedals, especially distortions. But the distortions I get only from these amps without using a pedal simulation is just amazing! It also has a great range of clean sounds that I use a lot.
Of all the pedals emulations inside this plugin, I like the small EQ the most. It has an amazing ability to boost the lows in a very aggressive and yet natural way.
I really suggest you give it a try. Listen to the chords part in this video. This is one of the great things about this plugin, you can actually hear every note inside the chords. So this is, in my opinion, the best guitar vst plugin.

There are many more cool and interesting amp simulators out there, but these are the ones I personally use. Thanks for reading.

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Best EQ Plugin For Vocals + Tips & Videos

Best EQ Plugins For Vocals + Tips & Videos

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So you’re looking for the best EQ plugin, the one that does everything better than all the others? 
The simple answer is: There is no such thing as one EQ plugin that does everything best. The perfect EQ consists of a few different types of EQ plugins that complement each other. Here you will learn everything there is to learn about EQ plugins, which to choose, in which situation, how to work with them the right way.

I know you came here to learn about software so I will not talk about hardware EQs at all.

This article is going to give you an overview of the world of EQ plugins. We base this knowledge on our 20 years of mixing and mastering experience. Which plugins are amazingly useful, which have the coolest colors and tones and what plugin to choose in each situation.

The Basics – How Does It Work 

In simple words, two of the biggest factors in the world of sound are Frequency & Amplitude. You can control both of them with an EQ. A boost in a certain frequency will enlarge the amplitude creating a level increase. A cut in a certain frequency will make the amplitude smaller, meaning, the level will decrease. Before you make a cut or a boost, you need to choose the frequency and the Q that you want to work on.

EQ Basic Parameters

  • Boost – Increasing the level of a selected frequency.
  • Cut – Decreasing the level of a selected frequency.
  • Frequency – Choosing which frequency to work on.
  • Q (Bell Width) – How wide or narrow will the selected frequency range be.

Types of EQ

In general, there are three types of EQs. Every type serves a different purpose or a different style of EQing. You would want to have each of every type in your arsenal. That way you’d have maximum flexibility while working on a mix.

Graphic EQ

This type of EQ is divided into different fixed frequencies in fixed ranges with fixed Q’s. Not all graphic EQ’s are born the same. Some have more slides, which means more control, and some have less. Either way, you have only those fixed parameters to work with. 

Parametric EQ

These types of EQs let you choose the frequency that you want to work on and manipulate it in a more specific manner. In most cases, the parametric EQs will come with three bands to work with. On the parametric EQ, each band has a frequency knob and a Boost/Cut knob. Some of them will also have a Q control to control the bell width. This way you can be very specific and “surgical” with your process.

Paragraphic EQ

This idea was brought to us with the digital era. This means that the EQ controls are made with sliders while also having a graphic representation of each band. Practically they are combined and working simultaneously. Plus there are more parameters that can be set.

Filters

Most of the EQ plugins will have Filters. This means that you can cut the higher or the lower part of the frequency spectrum. If you don’t want the bottom range (Basses) of your channel you use the Low-cut, and if you don’t want the higher range you use the high-cut filter. Low-cut is also called “High-Pass” and high-cut is also called “Low-Pass”. 

Two Groups Of EQ Plugins

Digital EQs – Transparent, functional, surgical and accurate. In this group, you will find all the plugins that are usually not based on any hardware replications. These are Paragraphic EQs in most cases. You would use them in situations where you don’t need the extra character to your sound and only want to fix or shape a source. 

Analog EQs – Colorful, minimalistic, gives character and mostly modeled after old known hardware. Every modeled EQ in this group has a different style and a different character. Most engineers use them as artistic tools. Each has their own “thing”. A good plugin company not only models the output stage but every component inside the box to create an indistinguishable replication from the real thing.

Before using any EQ, you must make sure that you’ve recorded the source the right way. In many cases, the best way to EQ a source is just to record it better. Each recording method sounds a little different. The recording process has a few main critical factors. Learn more about recordings here: 

How to make your voice sound better when recording.

Main Factors That Will Affect Your Frequency Response Before The EQ

  • The type of microphone.
  • The microphone placement.
  • The type of preamp.
  • The space in which the recording takes place.
  • Proximity, how close are we to the microphone.

Best Condenser Mic For Vocals (On a Budget)

Gain Staging

This is an important factor in audio production and in the plugins world in particularYou should be aware of the input levels that you’re getting into the plugin. If the levels are too “hot”, meaning too high in level, this will distort the algorithm and prevent the plugin from performing at it’s best. 

Every plugin has a slightly different sweet spot in which it sounds the best, but all the plugins have a distortion point. I shouldn’t tell you how horrible digital distortion sounds.

Best Digital EQs – Group one

These are the sharpest tools in our toolbox. We use them in every production and almost on every channel. These plugins algorithms are mostly based on precision and functionality. Their goal is not to sound like any other EQ, but to be as accurate as it can be.

Best Emulations Of Old EQs – Group Two

It’s warm, It’s tasty, It’s smooth and it’s analog! So these are the best emulations that we believe are really great for coloring your channels with the sweet colors of classic analog gear. These are emulations of old analog EQs. They are built to give you the exact experience of using a real outboard classic EQ. Each emulation’s algorithm is based on a different circuit design and is unique by itself. That’s what gives the plugin its character and “coloration”. Some of those EQs are so authentic that just opening them on the channel without changing any parameter gives a nice subtle effect.

Here’s a list of my favorite vocal plugins. Remember, these are not full reviews, I will not get into all the technical details here. This is only a brief description and my personal experience with these beautiful pieces of software.

7 Best Analog EQ For Vocals

1. Waves Kramer HLS



I found out about this EQ long after I had it installed on my system. I remember opening it for the first time on an acoustic guitar channel. I played with it for a good hour, trying it on several sources like acoustic guitars, electric guitars, bass and vocals. I fell in love with it. First, I have to say that the waves version of it is much more special sounding than the UA version which I also like but never owned it. It gives the vocal channel a rich and sheen quality without distorting or making it harsh. It does add a little noise but I believe it’s a part of its magic. I wouldn’t use it on drums but it is way too good to not include it on my list. So for coloration and adding an analog sweetness and 3Dness to a vocal track, it’s truly amazing.

2. T-Racks EQ 73

This is the T-Racks take on the legendary Neve 1073 console EQ. This is such a beautiful plugin! I almost want to shout it to my screen. It has a place in every production I do. It is brilliant on everything I use it on. Drums, guitars, bass and any other musical instrument and vocals. The T-racks EQ73 is a very musical sounding plugin that adds magic to everything that goes thru it. It is not a surgical tool, it won’t give you that super narrow Q for fixing stuff in your source. I use it mostly for coloration, small boosts, and wide subtle curving out of frequencies. This EQ can give your vocal channel that thumping quality in the lower range, and that edgy high end that will cut thru any mix without even trying, while still sounding extraordinarily musical and expensive.

3. Softube Trident A

Now, this is a weird one. At first, I didn’t know how to look at it, and it always felt a little off to me. The Trident A is considered by many engineers to be a “guitar eq” but allow me to respectfully disagree. This EQ is just amazing on vocals, it is subtle, aggressive and accurate all at the same time. the Softube Trident A is based on the unique Trident A Range console that was first introduced in the early 1970s. Many great albums ware recorded and mixed with that console, quite a few of them are in the rock genre. That’s why this EQ earned its respect among rock producers and engineers around the world. On vocals, it gives a very unique tone, much different from all the others that are more popular. It reminds me a little bit of the API style of coloration and vibe. I get this punchy midrange and “tasty” low end. You can really crank up the low-end slider and it still sounds right and not boomy as expected from extreme settings. The saturation knob gives a smooth and subtle effect, I find myself cranking it all the way up to really enjoy it.

 

4. Waves API 500 Series

This is a whole series of 3 EQs and one compressor. I want to start from the most obvious thing and it’s THE SOUND. These EQs sound like an API! I’m saying “Like an API” because I have experience with the real thing and I know it quite well. If you ask me, the Waves API 500 series is as close as you can get to the real thing. It’s punchy, smooth sounding and it brings things to life. I especially love it on vocal channels. Somehow it brings out all the beautiful tones and qualities in the human voice without making them harsh or two dimensional. It is a parametric EQ so the frequencies are fixed but the 500 give you so many options that you don’t feel the need to ask for more. The algorithm has nonlinear qualities that make you feel like you’re working with the real thing. I also think that Waves had done a wonderful job with the design, which is also very important in my opinion. Although the 550A and the 550B are the more widely used API EQs, I personally find myself using the 560 a lot more. I love how it shines on vocals and lets me color any vocal with those sweet API colors.

5. Waves VEQ4

This is also a part of the V-Series consist of three different plugins, two EQs and a bus compressor. The VEQ4 is based on the Neve 1073. For a long time, I was ignoring this plugin although I had it on my waves bungle. I was using the UAD Neve 1073 and didn’t really pay attention to the Waves version. One day I gave it a chance and everything changed in my little Neve emulations world. I started using the Waves version and never looked back. The VEQ4 is one of the best vocal plugins out there without a shadow of a doubt. I use it on every production on many channels and especially on vocals. It sounds like a Neve yes, but the thing I like the most about it is that it is very smooth. It does not sound like a plugin at all. I love how it handles the high-frequency boosts. Sweet and musical.

6. Plugin Alliance Maag EQ4

This is without a doubt one of the best EQ plugins for vocals on this list. A lot of engineers swear by this EQ. It earned its good name first with the hardware version which came out on the 500 series. This is a very aggressive sounding EQ. I use it every time I want to give something grit and teeth. Especially when it comes to the “Air Gain” knob which is pretty harsh but in a good way. I love to use this plugin for boosting the midrange in vocals. It has very little phase shift, so it’s considered to be a lot more accurate than most EQs out there. Its low and high ends are also aggressive and it is not suitable for all vocal types but when it fits the application, it’s right on the money. In my opinion, the Maag EQ4 is one of the closest replications to its original hardware version. The thing that I love about Maag company is it’s a small family business who manifested its vision and made a very big name for itself. I love how it sounds on vocals that were recorded with dynamic microphones.

7. Waves Scheps 73

Yes I know, another Neve 1073 emulation? Well, this one is special. Not to take from the other 1073 EQ plugins on my list, Waves are getting better and better every year in hardware modeling. The first thing I’ve noticed about the Scheps 73 was that it sounds VERY 3D. I remember thinking to myself “This is on a whole different level!” I would even go there and say; it does not sound like a plugin. It’s totally alive. The most unique feature in the Scheps 73 other than its sound, is the ability to work in M\S on the stereo version. Like all the other analog emulations on that list, the 73 EQ is not built for surgical uses. It’s here to give its brilliant Neve colors, musical midrange, silky highs, and perfect low-end section. The VU meter is also a nice little feature. It’s a known fact that not all the hardware 1073 EQs are born the same. So this leaves a lot of room for the others on the list, but this one is the new cool kid on the block. 

7 Best Digital EQ For Vocals

1. Cambridge EQ UAD

The Cambridge EQ is considered to be a classic EQ in the plugin world. I can’t even count the number of productions I’ve used it on. From drums to guitars, acoustics, synths and of course, vocals. It is a very clean and sharp sounding EQ with great precision and the ability to dig deeper into any problem. It is the perfect sculpting tool. The Cambridge EQ is one of the first plugins on the first UAD card that came out back in the early 2000s. The Cambridge EQ is not just a digital EQ, it also has an analog emulation algorithm. So whether you need to sculpt a source or to give it an analog deliciousness, the Cambridge EQ will do it, no problem, even in today’s high standards.

2. Waves HEQ

If you take away all of my EQ plugins and leave me with only one, it better be the Waves H-EQ. It does it all. It gives you two different analog algorithms, (American and British) and it also gives you one of the most impressive digital EQ algorithm out there. The asymmetrical bell filter is a feature we hadn’t seen yet on other EQs and I already found great uses for it. The Waves H-EQ also features M\S which gives you the option to apply different EQs to mid and side content when working on stereo sources. You also get a great real-time frequency spectrum analyzer with multiple display options.

3. FabFilter Pro-Q2

I always felt that there’s something special about FabFilter products and this EQ is one of the greatest reasons for that. It is the successor to the already amazing Pro-Q. My favorite feature on the Pro-Q2 is not even one you can hear, it’s the frequency spectrum analyzer. It just looks so smooth and nice that It almost makes this plugin sound even better! But in all seriousness, this is a very powerful tool with a really great design. It quickly became my first-choice EQ plugin for acoustic guitars, don’t know why, it just sounds the best on my Yamaha guitar but we are talking about EQs for vocals here, and the FabFilter Pro-Q2 is the perfect vocals EQ. It has a great big design that allows you to easily make the smallest adjustment. The natural phase processing mode lets you make big narrow cuts and boosts without that weird phase shifting effect that you sometimes get on other digital EQs. This sweet EQ is packed with many more great features. The Pro-Q2 and I are going to be friends for many productions to come.

4. Eiosis AirEQ

This piece of great software was designed by Fabrice Gabriel who also wrote the algorithms for many of Slate Digital’s greatest plugins. My first try with the AirEQ wasn’t too successful, I couldn’t get it to work on my system without crashing every 10 minutes so I gave up on the first version and promised myself that we are going to meet again in the future. The most unique feature in this EQ is the names of the frequency bands. The names are a bit tricky to understand, “Earth”, “LoClean”, “Clarity” and such. But Eiosis also gave us the option to name the bands ourselves, which is quite cool. Now, to my ears, the AirEQ has a “smooth” and “deep” sound. It feels as if it’s got more resolution, maybe even an internal higher frequency rate. This, of course, is just my own feeling about it. It has a “Character” slide, the upper end is named “Fire” and the lower “Water”. It controls a few features for all the EQ bands all at the same time; Q width, bell size, bell shape, and gain. It changes the whole character of the EQ in one slide movement which is quite cool. Give it a try.

5. DMG Audio EQuality

This was my main EQ for a very long time. Yes it’s OLD and there are new and better EQ’s coming from DMG today and still, I like the EQuality and I used it on everything. It sounds natural, it looks great and it’s very simple to use. It offers analog algorithm along with a digital one. The DMG Audio EQuality is very light on the CPU when using the digital algorithm. When moving to the analog algorithm it makes the CPU work a little harder and you can feel it on some systems. I like the design and the blue interface is easy on the eye. It always looked to me like the successor of the Cambridge EQ. Other than that, let your ears decide. 

6. Waves F6

Ok another weird and beautiful beast, the F6 combines dynamic abilities along with the static regular EQ behavior. It’s pretty much like a super smart Multiband de-esser which is a great idea. You can activate or deactivate the dynamic properties of this EQ based on where you want it on the timeline. This EQ is not only for vocal, of course, any other source will also greatly benefit from it. In addition to that, the Waves F6 EQ sounds absolutely brilliant and it if you’re open to the new age of plugins and not only looking back, this is definitely one of them.

7. Waves Renaissance EQ

If we’re talking about the new age plugins of today, I want to remind you where it all started. The Waves Renaissance EQ is definitely considered to be a new classic. It was and still is, a basic tool in the toolbox of great engineers all around the world. Although being old and classic, the Waves Renaissance EQ performs better than most of all the new digital EQs out there, and you can test it yourself. This baby has stood the test of time and is still being massively used to this day. The Waves Renaissance EQ is solid, CPU efficient and most of all, it sounds amazing.

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5 Best Delay Plugins For Vocals (Videos Included)

AUDIO STREETS

5 Best Delay Plugins For Vocals

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The delay is the ultimate tool for creating space, depth and excitement to any music production. It helps you create dimension around any element in your mix. It does it by repeating the signal one or many times, along with manipulating the repeats in various and unique ways.

One of the best things about delay plugins is that they work in perfect sync with your DAW. There are a lot of delay plugins today and some of them are truly incredible.

Types Of Delay

Tape Delay – The history of delay effects started with the invention of the tape. The signal is being sent to the output and to the recording head of the tape inside the delay box. It is then being reproduced by the playing head a short time after the original signal has been played, which creates the delay effect. The number of recording heads inside the delay box will determine the number of repeats.

Analog/Digital Delay – The first digital delay unit started with a chip called BBD (Bucket Brigade Delay IC). It was originally created to delay signals in the old telephone technology. Over the years the technology got better and found its way to the music world. Years after that, the delay finally arrived to the computer-based music production and it is getting better and better ever since.

The Delay Based Effects Family

There are more effects you can achieve with a delay that does not fall under the definition of “delay”. These effects result from the delay effect playing the repeats a lot closer to the source, few milliseconds, and these are the Chorus, Flanger, and Phaser.

Using Delay To Create A Reverb Effect

A Reverb is practically a delay only with bigger repeats number. Sometimes when using a Reverb on very busy mixes, it creates information overload and gives the feeling of a crowded mix. Here we can achieve the same effect with a delay. The delay is much less dense because the repeats number is a lot smaller. So using a delay instead of Reverb will help you create dimension and space around the mix without overloading it with information.

I found that the most common delay setup is 1/4 note with approximately 5 repeats. It fits most 4/4 productions and it’s always a good starting point. There are absolutely no rules and you should do whatever sounds best to you.

Interface

A good plugin is one that’s been designed with a good interface in mind. The interaction with the plugin, ease of use and intuitive layout are very important factors. A good delay plugin is one you’ll find yourself using for years. My favorite delay plugin is the Waves H-Delay. It’s simple to use, looks great and sounds amazing. Works great for me.

Sometimes you would want to have a fancier delay plugin that will allow you to get much more advanced effects. 

The List

This is my list of the best delay plugins for vocals. I’m not going to give you all the technical information about these plugins, only my opinion, and feeling about them. That’s because all of them are doing pretty much the same thing with each one of them having its own twist. So it’s all about the feeling they give.

Waves H-Delay

I will open the list with my favorite delay plugin the great H-Delay. This is a cool hybrid of digital and analog delay. You can get a variety of different sounds and flavors out of it. The most important thing for me is the interface. It‘s very simple and easy to understand. It comes with a lot of nice presets and it works great on most genres. The H-Delay won’t give you the crazy delay effects that you sometimes here in heavy electronic music, it is more suitable for use in traditional genres like Rock, Pop, Hip Hop, and other simple applications.

Sound Toys EchoBoy
This delay plugin is also a classic in the plugin world, you can hear it on countless productions. What I like the most about it is the interface. It’s simple, very well designed and nice to look at. You don’t have to look so hard for every little feature. EchoBoy also sounds great and it gives you both digital and analog flavors.

McDSP EC-300
Now, this is a special one. If you read my blog you know I have a soft spot for McDSP plugins and the EC-300 is no different. It has the best tape delay I’ve ever heard, It actually sounds like tape and you can’t really say that about all the tape delay plugins. The design is kinda retro and based on an old tape delay machine from the 70s. The saturation knob gives a sweet and musical distortion you can probably hear on other McDSP plugins, although I’m not sure about it and it could be specific for this plugin. Either way, it’ll be a great addition to your spatial effects library.

FabFilter Timeless 2
I can’t tell you I’m dying for FabFilter’s graphic designs but I sure have a lot of respect for them, these guys know their craft. Timeless 2 is their take on quality delay plugins. The best thing about FabFilter’s plugins is that they are very detailed, crazy flexible and sound absolutely amazing. With Timeless 2 you can achieve almost any delay effect you can think of, and I can’t say this about all of the plugins on my list.

Slate Digital & D16 – Repeater
This delay plugin is an absolute beast! not only that it is a very flexible and detailed plugin, but it is also everything you can ask in a delay. The guys at Slate Digital and D16 had modeled 23 delay models to give us every style we can possibly think of. From classic tape machines to oil cans and digital delays. One of my favorite features in Repeater is the Analog modeled feedback circuit which sends all the repeats through a sweet analog algorithm. It sounds like the delay repeats are “melting” into the mix. It‘s incredible on vocals.

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How To Use a Multiband Compressor Like A Ninja – 9 Tips

How to use a multiband compressor like a ninja

How To Use a Multiband Compressor Like A Ninja - 9 Tips

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Everybody knows what is a Multiband Compressor so I’m not going to get too deep on what it is, but I am going to help you use it like a pro.

The thing about Multiband Compressor (MBC) is that it’s like a ninja sword. It’s not the smartest move to start using it until you’ve mastered the wooden sword first.

In this post, you will learn everything there is to know about the MBC- how to use it on vocals, different instruments, and more. It is the perfect tool for controlling and even somewhat automatically mastering a lot of different sources. That’s why it has taken its first steps at radio stations.

Real Quick – What Is A Multiband Compressor?

AudioStreetsYeah, I know I said I’m not going to teach you what it is, but this is only a short section for the new guys. Basically, a Multiband Compressor is a 3 or 4 (or more) compressors in one plugin, spread over the whole frequency spectrum.

Each compressor is working at a different frequency range, giving you the ultimate dynamic control over the channel. You can also think about it as a type of dynamic EQ that allows you to separately compress each and every frequency range.

It’s all About Control

The Multiband Compressor is a great tool for controlling and shaping a simple or complicated source with one tool. For example, if you want to shape and control a vocal channel and you want to surgically compress every frequency band while getting a very specific result, the MBC is the best tool to do it with.

Think about compressing a single vocal channel; You can compress the low range in 5 db to get a very controlled low end while leaving the mid and high bands a little bit more loose. 
It’s an express lane straight to dynamic heaven.

Getting Your Channel Ready For Process

I always suggest starting with leveling the dynamics for the whole channel. Sometimes it takes a little pre-fader automation work or changing the levels for each event on your channel, which is my preferred method.

The goal is to create a stable RMS level for the whole channel and work your way up from there.

After that, I add a regular digital and transparent compressor for a little more control over the dynamic range. This compressor is shaving the top 2 or 3 db- that’s it. Only do that if you feel like the raw vocal is all over the place dynamically.

The Channel Is Now Balanced – Great!

This is the part where you throw in your favorite MBC on the chain. Keep in mind, I don’t suggest going with “The best sounding Multiband Compressor” but with the one that you are most familiar with. This is important.

First, try looking for problems. If you need to, you can open an EQ plugin before the MBC just so you can find problems by easily swiping across the frequency range.

For example, if you find a harsh high mid frequency, you can immediately set up one of the high-frequency bands on the MBC to shave 2 or 3 db’s off of it.
Remember, everything we do with a Multiband Compressor should be done in a corrective manner and very subtly, unless we’re looking for something else other than control.

After that, you can put a regular LA2A or a 1176 style compressor and get an overall processed and controlled vocal. I think I did that on almost every vocal I’ve ever mixed in the last few years.

For me, the trick with multiband compressing is not to overdo it.
It’s best if you use it only to dynamically shape your source and, only then, maybe do some heavy lifting with a regular compressor and a limiter after that if you feel the need for it. When you’re done processing your vocal channel, bypass only the MBC, does it sound like you lost some of its magic? Great, you did a good job.

In some cases, it’ll sound better without the MBC, even after hours of fiddling with it. In this case, turn off your ego and the MBC and move on to the next channel in your mix.

In most cases, a regular good compressor would be just fine.

Color


Now that you have control over the different frequency bands across the whole range, you can use it to shape and create a certain color for your channel. It’s very similar to an EQ shaping of the source but it is more dynamic and alive.

You can create a bottom-heavy guitar sound without crowding the entire low range, or a vocal sound with a nice bright character that cuts through the mix without it being too harsh. You can add in the pretty stuff and cut out the ugly and unnecessary garbage.

Do I Have To Use All The Bands All The Time?

Of course not. As a matter of fact, in most cases, you won’t have to use all the bands because you’d only need to shape and control one or two areas. Let’s say you want the mid-range section to breathe and be free while you do want the low and high ends to be tighter. Easy- go for it.

Multiband Expander

AudioStreetsAs we all know, in most Multiband Compressors you can also expand certain frequency ranges. 

In short, an expander will expand the dynamic range of a source once it goes above the threshold. 

Let’s say you want the high band to be compressed and controlled, the midrange to bite and be more aggressive, while the low mid is compressed and the low end is pumping and kicking you in the stomach- You can do that. It works beautifully with bass guitars, different synth sounds, and with almost any other source, really.

The real secret in expanding is finding the sweet spot for the attack and release. 

Every source needs its own settings and, once you find it, you can make an electric guitar or bass much punchier and help them jump to the front of the mix more easily. On vocals, you can really affect the performance and give it more bite and aggression with the right settings.

It’s important to know that there are no specific settings for each source, you just need to tweak and find it for yourself.

Tip #1 – Multiband Sidechain

This is a cool one- I call this “compressing without compressing”. Meaning, the processed channel will not get affected unless something else covers it. Let’s say you have a cool electric guitar riff that holds the song and you want it in the middle of the song together with the vocal but they are both sitting on the same frequency range and you don’t want them to clash for the whole song, this is what you do.

Step 1
Send the vocal to a parallel bus and the bus to trigger the sidechain in the MBC on the guitar channel, it’s easy to set it up. It’s a little different on each digital audio workstation application but the idea is pretty much the same.

Step 2
Look for the frequency range where most of the vocal sits and set the sidechain on the guitar’s channel right on that same range. Now, every time the vocal plays, it triggers the compressor for that same frequency range on the guitar channel and compresses the guitar without losing it in the parts where there’s no vocal. Lovely.

Tip #2 – Adding Punch To A VocalMultiband Compressor

I can only tell you how I personally do it, Here it is. First, you have to get the overall dynamic of the vocal settled. You don’t want the RMS to get too crazy because you need a steady level going into your Multiband Compressor. So you do a basic compression on the vocal before it goes to the MBC.

Make sure to keep it loose, meaning slow Attack and fast Release. After that, you need to set the bands to expand instead of compress. Usually it’s only changing the Ratio parameter to a positive value. This tells the band compressors to create a boost every time the signal’s going above the threshold.

You don’t have to engage all the bands. You only need one or two, sometimes three.

If you use more than that, the source might break and not be as powerful, if that makes any sense. Most of the “punch” power is located in two ranges: it’s the low mid and high mid. I don’t usually touch the middle of the range, because that is where the natural fundamental is living and I don’t like changing it.

So if it’s a deep male voice, the “low punch” is between 80hz and 300hz and the “high punch” is around 2k to 5k.

Try these ranges as a starting point for every male voice. If it’s a girl, the highs are pretty much the same and the lows are a bit higher- let’s say from 150hz to 350hz. Turn off all the other bands. Now, solo the low band and set the ratio to an exaggerated value like +6db, the Attack on 30 milliseconds, and the Release on 70. This is just to put you in the ballpark.

These parameters will probably change along the way as you’re searching for the sweet spot. Let the vocal play and start lowering the threshold. At some point you will start to hit the point and the meter will show a few db’s of gain each time the threshold is being crossed. It will sound like the peaks are jumping out of the monitors- this is what we’re looking for.

When you finally find the exact timing for the Attack and Release, set the threshold to be a bit higher, and set the Ratio to 2-3 db max, depending on how aggressive you want it to be. Do the same for the High section.

Usually the Attack and Release will have to be shorter because the higher frequencies are faster. This also works great on synth channels, basses, and guitars. I don’t recommend doing it on acoustic guitars, although I’m learning new things every once in a while so never say never.

Tip #3 – Balance A Drums Overhead Stereo Channel

When you record drums, the overhead microphones will pick up more highs than lows. To me, the idea is to get the overhead channel to sound almost like a full range drum set. Yes you can do it with an EQ and leave it there, and you can also use the MBC for a little more dynamic result that sounds a bit more “Alive”. This is how I do it.

I don’t compress before the compressor. I just do a high cut and low cut with an EQ before I send it to the MBC. Now you start with “EQing” with the Multiband Compressor. Yes, you heard right. You can shape the channel’s EQ curve with the gain feature on every band. After you do that, you start compressing a few db’s on every band. Play with the Attack and Release until you like how it sounds. Remember, these are fast sounds, so shorter Attack and Release will get you there more easily.

Make sure to work in solo mode on each band and take your time with it. Remember to be gentle, we are not trying to break the source, only to make it sound a little bit more alive. After you finish processing, try to switch the MBC in and out and look for what it does against just doing the same with an EQ. If you like what you hear better with the MBC, we did good 🙂 Next.

Tip #4 – Shapeing A Rhythm Acoustic Guitar

You’d be surprised to know that acoustic guitar is one of the hardest instruments to mix, let alone record. Of course, you can use an EQ and compressor to process an acoustic guitar, but how about having both of them in the same plugin and work their magic in a much more intelligent and dynamic way? Ok, the truth is that a rhythm acoustic guitar channel is made up of few different processors so the MBC is just a small part of it but still, it really helps the guitar to find its place in the mix.

This is how I do it- I start with an EQ to give it a basic shape and high and low cuts. Then, throw in the Multiband Compressor and start working on the “dynamic shape” of the guitar. You can make an acoustic guitar breathe and move naturally on the spectrum with no sudden peaks or crazy holes in the frequency range.

Let’s take a rhythm acoustic guitar for example. With the right process, you can make it sound like a steady warm acoustic wall of chords that wraps the whole song in sweet harmony. So we use all the bands and we start with the ratio for all the bands on 5db. From there, we start lowering the threshold until we see some compression. At this stage, we can already hear what the MBC is doing to the guitar.

Now, this is a big one for me- although we compress each band separately, I still find it very important to keep the same Attack and Release values on all the bands. If we don’t do that, in some cases the guitar might break and lose it’s energy and drive because we messed with its internal dynamic properties, which we don’t want.

We only want the whole frequency range to be consistent and balanced. With a rhythm acoustic guitar, you’d generally want to have a fast attack and a slow release, Play with it until you find the right timing for your acoustic guitar part. You don’t have to work on each band in solo mode. Remember, the goal is just to have balanced rhythm acoustic guitar across the whole song. When done the right way, it can make a world of difference in the final result.

Tip #5 – Compressing A Ballad Piano

In cases like this, where the piano takes a really big place inside the song, it’s very important to control its dynamics and use it as an emotional ground for the whole song. This is the perfect scenario for using a Multiband Compressor. Again, we are using all the bands here and we start with the main section for the piano which is the low mid to mid frequencies. Most of the energy in pianos is living between 150hz to 2Khz, so we can start there.

As a starting point, we set the Ratio to 5db on all the bands and lower the threshold to see some compression. If the part is consisting of long chords, you want the Attack to be around 50ms+- and the Release to be around 200ms+-.

You should always play with these parameters and not take these numbers as gospel. The reason for that is that every piano has it’s character and unique properties. The main goal here is to find the right inner groove for the instrument and the way it plays. It’s very important to set the Release to the right value. You don’t want the piano to “Pump” out of rhythm or be too lose. You have to look for the right timing.

When working with Multiband Compressor on a piano, you don’t want to stay in solo mode all the time, because you’re EQing and compressing at the same time, so you want to know exactly what you’re getting out of your speakers. Also, make sure that you keep the same Attack value for all bands so you won’t “break” the energy of the piano. As for the Release, here, you have much more freedom because of the nature of the piano.

The lower notes tend to sustain longer and have more energy, so you can try and set the release for higher values.

After you find the right timing for the Attack and Release, make sure to find the right Ratio. I, personally, don’t like to squash the piano too much, so, for me, it’s between 2 to 3db of gain reduction on each band. It is very subtle, but inside the mix it makes all the difference.

Tip #6 – Reduce Bad Frequencies On Acoustic Guitar

As I said in the last acoustic guitar tip, it is one of the hardest instruments to mix, and even the most experienced audio engineers and producers will sometimes struggle with that. Sometimes acoustic guitars can have unpleasant and shrieking high content frequencies, especially when the strings are new. You can fix that with an EQ, but when you just create a hole in the guitar’s natural frequency response you might just lose good information. You want to fix that in an automatic and intelligent way. Of course, the MBC to the rescue.

Usually, these shrieking frequencies are between 2Khz to 8Khz.

Tip #7 – Adding Energy To A Mix

So, it’s going to be very simple. First, yes, this is a mastering tip, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it if you’re not yet at that level. Assuming that you have healthy levels and good balance across your mix: no distortions, no clipping and you’re entering the final stage of the mixing process, throw in your favorite MBC on the mix bus and start here. It might change from genre to genre, but it’ll give you a good starting point. E

ngage only 2 bands, the lowest frequency range and the highest frequency range. Bypass all the others.

Low Band
Set the Cross-over point to 150hz. Set the Ratio to 3db, Attack around 50ms, and the Release at around 120ms. Now, start lowering the threshold in solo mode. Now you see and hear a little compression. If you feel that it’s not enough for you, try increasing the Ratio. Remember, don’t get the threshold too low or compress more than 2 or 3db’s, because you might break the energy for the whole mix. After you get the required compression, increase the gain for the low band in 2db. That should make your lows more collected and controlled.

High Band
This band should range from 2k to 10k. Set the Ratio to 3db. Attack – 3ms, Release 6ms, and start lowering the threshold to see some compression. Once you have reduction, increase the gain in 2 to 3db to compensate. Again, try to play a little bit with the parameters to get the timing right. Remember, it should be very subtle. Bypass the MBC on and off to hear the changes. If you like it, we did good.

Techniques for Mixing with Multiband Compression

Tip #8 – Controlling An Audio Channel From A Video Shoot

Yeah, it’s not a music production tip, but we all do everything these days, and it’s a pretty amazing tip, so I’m not going to leave it out. It’s simple, assuming that you have healthy levels, no distortions, no clipping, and you’re entering the final stage of the mixing process, throw your favorite Multiband Compressor on the channel and engage all the bands. Now, look for the busiest part in your signal and set the ratios on all the bands to 8db. Next, look for the right threshold level for your signal until you start seeing some compression. Do it on all the bands and let it go.

Try to look for unpleasant peaks in the signal and work from there. This is not a steady and repetitive audio source, like music, so it’s all over the place. But it’s enough to have 8db of gain reduction on all the bands, and you already have good dynamic control over the signal. Some MBC’s have an automatic Attack and Release control. This will be the perfect application for that.

Tip #9 – Getting Rid Of Painful Frequencies In Female Voices

It’s a little funny, but some female singers have some kind of an annoying high frequency that makes them unpleasant to listen to, and it might ruin the whole performance. I don’t like to name names, but I think one very good singer that has an annoying high-frequency thing in her voice is Jorja Smith. She is a great singer, but if you listen to her natural voice on her show in Tiny Desk Concert, I couldn’t take more than 2 minutes. It’s just painful.

So what do we do?? Easy! We drop an MBC on that joint 🙂 Usually, the annoying range is right between 3k to 7k.

How do we find it? We first open an EQ on the channel and create a narrow band with a boost of 10db. Then, we sweep across that range to find the painful spot. Once we’ve found it, we set one of the high-frequency bands to live right on this area with a narrow band if possible. This is a good starting point:

  • Ratio – 4db
  • Attack – 50ms
  • Release – 100ms
  • Gain compensation – Increase accordingly

Again, start lowering the threshold to see some compression and go from there. Make sure you’re not overdoing it, because you don’t wanna kill the natural character of the vocalist. It is important to understand that every MBC is working a little differently, so you might get different results on different MBC’s. That is why you should play with the parameters around those starting points to find the sweet spot for your source and your Multiband Compressor.

Fix Muddy Guitars – Great Tips

Always Be Comparing

Don’t forget to compare your work with the work of others from the same genre. It makes a world of difference if you’re aiming to the level of other professionals.

Switch It On & Off

Remember! Always switch the MBC on and off when you finish editing, it’ll give you an overview and let you know if you like the result or not. There will be some cases where it’ll not work, don’t fight it. Switch it off and go on with your mix.

Let’s Wrap It Up

Play with it, have fun with it, tweak for hours until you’re able to use the MBC like playing an instrument. As a matter of fact, this should be your way of thinking throughout your whole musical journey.

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Best Mastering Plugins Main Image SMALL

Best Mastering Plugins

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Best Mastering Plugins

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These are the best mastering plugins, according to AudioStreets.com. After years of research and trying every possible option out there, I have made a personal list of the absolute best for every section of the mastering process. Of course, there are a lot of other amazing plugins out there, but I’m trying to keep it short.

Hey everybody, I’m Avi from AudioStreets. For the last 15 years, I’m head-butting this mysterious subject. I’ve had successes, and I’ve had some failures; both of which taught me how to master a song. With mastering, you can never know how good or bad you are until you’re comparing your results with other professional masters.

But, this is all mainstream knowledge, and I’m here to give you gold, without you having to dig for it. Here, you will find a few of my golden tips for a good master. Also, I will talk about my favorite mastering plugins for getting this magical sound in the box. It is important to note that this is all based on my personal knowledge and experience.

Mastering is one of the most interesting stages of crafting a “sound” for a song. 
Many have said that this could make or break everything, and I totally agree with that. So, to get a very good master, you must have at least a well-done mix. Yes, I know this also is a mainstream opinion, but it is a very hard fact. I’ve had both shitty mixes that became only ‘mehh’ masters, and I’ve had very good mixes, which turned out to be very impressive masters that sounded good in every situation, room, and system.

Levels

A few years ago, I was still fighting for the loudest master I could possibly get. But today, I’m putting healthy dynamics and a good tone on the top of my priority list. A good master begins with a good mix, so here are some basic rules for a good mastering ready mix. I, personally, like to get my mixes with a little bit of headroom. That means that the distance between my average level (RMS) and my peak level should be around 10db tops. That way, I have the dynamic freedom to get whatever I want with this mix. A lot of mix engineers like to have a little bit of bus compression on their master channel. That is completely fine to get some coloration, as long as they are not squishing the master too much.

DAW

As far as audio engines and sound quality go, I consider myself a complete freak. I have recorded, mixed, and mastered on almost every DAW out there. And, as I said in the beginning of this article, everything I say is my own personal opinion, so always try things for yourself in the end. I have tried almost every big DAW in the market. I’ve worked with Cubase for 12 years, from the earliest versions. After getting to know Cubase audio engine and hearing it getting better over the years, I also compared it with Protools and Logic. For a few years, I have used three of them for different tasks. After a while, I noticed that Logic sounded best for my taste. I could hear more defined low end, deeper reverb tails, and, overall, more definition. So, for mastering with my best mastering plugins, I really like to use Logic Pro. As a matter of fact, as Logic has gotten better over the years, I have dropped all the others.

Plugins

OK, This part is the closest to my heart.  I LOVE plugins. I grew up in a world of plugins. I started using them from when they were pure shit, all the way, to now, as they have become simply amazing. I must admit, I didn’t use hardware all that much, at least for everything that is mastering-related. So, in my mind, I divide the whole family of mastering plugins into 3 groups.

1. Clinical & sharp
2. Colors & Tone
3. Loudness & Stereo image

Clinical & Sharp

In this first group, I have all the plugins I use to shape and fix things in the mix; mostly EQ’s, Filters, and Multi Band Compressors. In the early stages of the mastering process, I only shape the mix for a balanced result. I start with cutting the very low end of a mix; everything that is below 20Hz is not necessary for me, so a relatively sharp filter cut will do the work. A good filter that I like to use is McDSP FilterBank. I find it very clean and nice-sounding. Most of the time, I use it to cut the very low and very high ends. I rarely use an EQ for that.

After that, I use an EQ to lower some problematic frequencies. Usually, I like using Waves HEQ Hybrid. This is one of the most impressive EQ plugins, as far as not changing the original color of the mix. I also really like that it shows you the notes under the specific frequencies you’re working on, which is crazy cool to an old-school plugin user, such as myself. I like it when a plugin does exactly what it was designed for, without adding any extras to it, unless this is it’s purpose. At this stage, I want my tools to have minimum color imprint on the song.

The last part of the first group is compressors and multiband compressors. I sometimes use de-essers to fix specific dynamic problems in the mix, but this is kind of rare, because I have the multi band compressor for that. If a mix has some part in it that sounds a little uncontrollable to my ear, I sometimes target it with a de-esser, just because it’s simple and efficient. If it has more parts that need a little more controlled dynamics, I use a multi band compressor. For example, If a vocal has some frequencies that hurt in the ear, I find these exact frequencies and compress them gently. I like to use Waves De-esser. Don’t know why I like it, maybe because it was so nice to me all these years… 🙂

The multiband compressor I like is the one on Izotope Ozone plugin. This one gives me the freedom to do almost whatever I like, as far as working on a 2 channel mix file. It is simple, easy on the eye, and sounds great. I will write another article on multiband compressors in the future.

As for levels, I really like to raise the level with the right compressor for each task. Sometimes 2 or 3 db’s are making a huge difference in the overall sound and level of the track in the final result. In my opinion, most of the loudness comes from a good compression before the limiting stage. So, my favorite mastering compressor is Slate VBC. It has a very unique sound, and it feels a lot more solid then most of the plugin compressors I’ve worked with over the years.

It seems that Slate Digital did a really good job with that one. It sounds really great, even in the most extreme situations, and it gives me three totally different compressors to choose from, or to mix all of them together. I love it. Out of the three, I find myself using FG Grey the most. Maybe it’s just a personal preference.

Colours & Tone

This is a very interesting group, and here, I have all the plugins that give me the right color for the song. In this family of plugins, I have mostly compressors, analog emulations, and EQ’s. Every once in a while, I will use a special and weird plugin that has a cool mojo to it, like Waves Kramer PIE.​

So, these are the plugins I love using for coloration:
IK Multimedia Lurssen Mastering Console. This one is pure magic! Excuse me for using that term, but this is a GAME CHANGER. I’ve waited for a really long time for a beautiful algorithm like that to bring my masters to life. Out of all on my best mastering plugins list, this is definitely my favorite.

Slate Console & Tape
Each one of these plugins are unique and has a totally different sound and color to it. So, it is maybe just my own subjective opinion. I really suggest you give them a listen alongside other plugins and choose your best on your own.

Loudness & Stereo Image

Limiter
In this last group, I put mostly Limiters, Stereo Imagers, and general tone shapers.
The final section of a master session is always the limiting. I have tried dozens of limiters and spent endless hours carefully listening to the effect of each slider, knob, and button. I must say that, although I like using only one limiter for my final push, I find that other plugins might work better on some materials. So, the idea is to try everything you have in your arsenal before you’re settling for your go-to plugin.

My favorite limiter plugin is A.O.M Invisible Limiter.
I find it spectacular on 95% of the materials I master. Not only does it give me a clean and uncolored output, it also gives the highest level and loudness performance.
It performs best on loud stuff like rock, pop, and all electronic genres. It has the ability to crank the levels crazy high without really crashing the dynamics.
Sometimes I use two limiters, one after the other. I don’t know why, but somehow, I manage to get a more natural sound this way. Each limiter works just a little bit less hard.

A.O.M Stereo Imager
As you can see, I really like this company, and their stereo imager is just amazing. It seems that if they could write such a good limiter, they can totally nail it with their other stuff. So, there is something special about this stereo imager. I don’t use stereo imagers all that much. I really prefer it if the widening will come from a good mix. Along with it’s great algorithm, the thing that I like about this plugin is that it lets you control the sides and the center channels separately, which is also great.
But the main reason why I use it is that it almost does nothing to the sound when it’s set to neutral settings. Complete transparency.

So, this is it.
I know that I haven’t written about a lot of other good plugins for mastering in this article, but I never wanted everything. I just wanted mastering plugins with algorithms that I can trust. Go, make good music, and please don’t use illegal software. The good people behind those plugins have families to feed, and they also want to make a living out of what they love best.

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