I often get asked what plugins I use for mastering. With so many options available today, it can be difficult to narrow it down to just a few. I would love to name everything I use, but the list would easily exceed over 20 plugins. However, I managed to put together a small list of essential plugins I use regularly during my mixing and mastering sessions.
The list here is in no particular order as each plugin is used for different purposes and scenarios. If you don’t know when or where to use these plugins, you can do more harm to your track than good. These plugins alone will not improve your mix.
Right, so let’s get on with it.
Fabfilter Pro-Q – ($199 – Demo | Purchase)
Although this EQ is relatively new to my toolbox, I have found myself using it more and more. I immediately knew why it is a go-to for many top producers after using it. I like that it is very transparent! Meaning; you can hear EQ changes of just +/- .33db. That comes in handy when trying to make very small adjustments, unlike most other EQ’s I have used.
Also, it has a post-EQ/pre-EQ spectrum analyzer for visually monitoring what the EQ is actually affecting, and for making precise adjustments. Another feature I like is that it doesn’t add any extra db volume like some EQ’s do. I have not tried the updated Fabfilter 2, but I hear good things. I’m good with this for now.
Why I Like It:
- Very Transparent
- Color coordinated for making precise adjustments easy.
- A/B Toggle between two EQ settings
- Mid/Side and Left/Right Mode
- Pre EQ AND Post EQ spectrum Analyzer
- No Added DB
WAVES PuigTec EQ – ($250 – Demo | Purchase)
I mostly use this for low-end balance. It has a nice attenuation knob that sort of sucks the low end out like a vacuum and then the boost knob to adjust the volume at which the frequency knob is set. I don’t use it much for anything else, but I really like the way it helps me control the low-end balance on my tracks. When you have a good combo of the attenuation:boost ratio, it just sounds warm and fat!
Izotope Ozone 5 Imager – ($250 – Demo | Purchase)
Best stereo imager I’ve used to date. Period. This tool lets you control the stereo image of 4 separate bands. For example, I can put everything below 180hz in mono, saving lots of space in the stereo field, while adding width to everything above 8500Khz giving that extra high-end shine. Need I say more?
To use Ozone Imager, you will have to buy the Ozone 6 Bundle now, as 5 is no longer available. I have not used v6.0 yet, however.
SSL G Master Buss Compressor – (Available Only in WAVES SSL 4000 Collection $650 – Demo | Purchase)
A buss compressor capable of giving an entire mix or groups of tracks a little compression without over-doing it. Breathes life into your drums or mixes with little effort. Has a side-chain feature that comes in handy. 2:1, 4:1, and 10:1 ratio options.
Fabfilter Pro-L – ($229 – Demo | Purchase)
My search for a good limiter ended when I started using this. The dithering features are easy to understand, and the advanced features are intuitive. I can usually squeeze a little more loudness out of a track without damaging the dynamics by playing with the attack and release. It’s very transparent like it’s Pro-Q sibling.
You can see exactly what parts of the track are clipping by looking at the gain reduction meter and graph. Plus, it has A/B option for comparing 2 different settings.
PSP Vintage Warmer ($149 – Demo | Purchase)
I know many producers in the industry who swear by this tool. Basically, it is a limiter with stereo/mono options and EQ. I love throwing this on small kicks and making them sound huge. Or even for the simple things like ensuring kicks and basses are playing in mono. The learning curve is a little more difficult, however, and takes practice to use it.
Nomad Factory Magnetic ii – ($129 – Demo | Purchase)
What an incredible tool this is. It does a great job of emulating reel-to-reel tape compression to give a track warmth and tape color to individual tracks, groups of drums, vocals, and even whole mixes. The big knobs make it easy to use. And it has a tape saturation feature, which I find very useful for when a track needs a little added grit.
Also, I can adjust the balance between the lows and highs in a wide-band setting for making high-low balance to a master very easy to do without making dramatic changes to the rest of the chain. Can be easy to over-use if not careful.
Lastly, it has several different tape machine algorithm’s to choose from that emulates the sound of many famous reel-to-reel tape machines.
Brainworx BX Digital V2 – ($329 – Demo | Purchase)
State-of-the-art digital mastering processor that provides you with a mastering class 11-band equalizer, M/S De-Esser, Mono-Maker and intelligent Bass- and Presence-Shifters, plus extra M/S features, such as Pan for M&S, and Stereo Width Control
I particularly like this plugin because I can solo a specific frequency, which makes finding harsh frequencies a breeze. If I hear a bad frequency in a track where there’s just too much of a particular frequency that shouldn’t be there, I can pinpoint it with ease, and instantly adjust the EQ accordingly.
After using it you will see why Future Music UK called it “Plugin Of The Decade.”
Voxengo Span – (Free – Demo | Purchase)
Last but not certainly not least, Voxengo Span. I use it for two reasons:
- Spectrum Analysis: It has a lot of options to adjust it how you want it to look and behave. It also has a full screen option, which I like very much. Have you ever noticed that most spectrum analyzers have small screens? Kind of defeats it’s own purpose in my opinion.
- Loudness Metering: SPAN displays level metering statistics, headroom estimation and clipping detection.
Best of all, it’s free.
What kind of Go-To Plugin VST’s or AU’s do you use? Are there any plugins I left out? I am always interested in trying out new products.
Please leave your suggestions and comments below!