For anyone working in the digital domain, plugins are your best friend. Unfortunately not all of us have the luxury to be able to afford outboard hardware, or simply need a more portable solution, so plugins are the next best thing. The only problem is, there are hundreds of them out there and it’s hard to tell which are worth your time. Today I’m going to talk about the best free plugins I’ve found, as I’m sure a lot of you are cheap fuckers like me.
I work pretty much exclusively with Protools, and I sometimes use a bit of Logic so this post will focus on these DAW’s. First, my favorite plugins bundled with Tools and Logic. The basic EQ’s and dynamic processors on both Logic and Tools are amazing. I love the EQ3 for its simplicity and ease of use and use it for most of my EQ needs. I’m not a fan of most of Protools AIR plugins, but there are great plugins included with the software.
Protools includes the SansAmp PSA-1, a software emulation of Tech 21′s incredibly popular SansAmp PSA-1, an amp emulator/ DI box. The plugin is incredibly flexible and comes with a wide range of decent presets and best of all, is free with Protools. Mix engineer Tchad Blake (Who recently mixed AM by the Arctic Monkeys) swears by this plugin and uses it on kick, snare, vocals, guitars and is the only thing he’s used on Bass for the past 10 years. He talks a little about the plugin here.
Logic also has a great selection of plugins bundled with the DAW including some amazing reverbs and delays. My favorite of which, Space Designer, I really wish I could port to Protools. Space Designer is a convolution reverb meaning it combines your audio signal with an impulse response (IR) reverb sample. An IR is a recording of a rooms reverb characteristics. Space Designer even lets you import your own IR’s, such as this brilliant library of the famous Bricasti M7 impulse responses.
Now lets look at some free plugins that are floating around the internet. Of course there are ways to “acquire” most plugins, but we’ll be looking at legitimate free plugins today. One that I’ve been using a lot lately is the Softube Saturation Knob which can be downloaded here if you use Protools. I first saw this plugin when mix engineer and presenter of Pensado’s Place, Dave Pensado, mentioned it on one of his videos. This is a pretty simple plugin that does what it says on the tin. It’s a knob that saturates your audio. Saturation is basically harmonic distortion. This means if for example you run a very low bass through this plugin, you can create higher harmonics. This is very useful on bass as it can be used to make your bass cut through even on systems that have little bass response, such as laptop speakers. The plugin has three modes; Keep High, Neutral and Keep Low. Keep low will allow you to distort the track without effecting the low frequencies and keep high will do the same but for high frequencies.
Another great free plugin is King Dubby, which you can download here. King Dubby is a dub delay plugin based on dub producer King Tubbys custom dub delay. The plugin sounds a lot like a dubby tape delay, and gives you the usual delay controls (time, feedback, mix), extensive filter controls, degrad and panning controls. It’s not only great for mixing dub/ reggae, but also for some crazy experimental delay effects.
With a little more research you can find tons of great plugins without spending a penny. On top of this, many high end plugin manufacturers give away their plugins for a limited time to promote them. SoundToys have done this with their last two releases. I managed to get their new plugin, Little Primaltap for free and the whole collection of Line 6′s POD Farm. If anymore free plugins turn up I’ll be sure to post about them.