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Studio Plug-Ins | Cool Software, Hot Sounds


To say that recent years have brought an explosion of third-party DSP plug-ins is an understatement. A range of companies both new and old have released dozens of products, feeding the industry’s unquenchable thirst for new sounds and effects. At the same time, the number of high-quality plug-ins bundled with DAWs continues to rise. As the new saying goes, “You can never have too many plug-ins.”

With this in mind, we went through this surge of products that debuted or began shipping in the past year and whittled the list down to the fave new plugs we’d want to add to our virtual racks. Prices range from free to thousands of dollars, so there’s something for everyone’s taste and budget. If you’re interested in checking these out for yourself, most companies offer time-limited or demo versions of their products to audition and evaluate on your own system.

2CAUDIO AETHER ($249.95)
Version 1.5 of the Aether self-modulating algorithmic reverb from 2CAudio features a revamped GUI, 2x and 4x oversampling, 64-bit DSP, band-limited interpolation, variable-quality modes, mid/side modes, complex stereo modes and more. Two $24.95 options are the Aether Integrity Expansion, with an additional 160 presets of realistic spaces, such as rooms, churches, halls and chambers; and the Aether Creativity Expansion, with 150 thematic presets, huge spaces and effects. It’s available for Windows VST hosts (32- or 64-bit) for XP/Vista/Win 7 and 32-bit VST or AU for Intel-based Macs OS X 4.11 and higher; an RTAS version is planned.

SoundSoap Pro 2 offers super-intelligent adaptive noise-reduction with four restoration tools in a single plug-in—including new Adaptive technology for automated broadband noise removal—with advanced controls for removing unwanted hiss, room noise, electrical hum, rumble, clicks, crackles and broadband noise with minimal artifacts. SoundSoap Pro 2 is designed for AU, RTAS/AudioSuite and VST formats for use with Mac (OS 10.3.9 and higher) and Windows (XP/Vista/Win 7) hosts.

CEDAR DNS ONE ($3,750)
DNS One, CEDAR’s first software-based dialog noise-suppression plug-in, is available in RTAS format for Pro Tools HD and LE (Mac OS X and Windows). It offers the same audio quality and performance as the company’s DNS1500, DNS2000 and DNS3000. A DNS Control System GUI lets users control as many instances of DNS One as the user’s host system can support, plus up to 126 instances of DNS2000 and DNS3000. It is fully integrated with Pro Tools’ automation and hardware control surfaces, such as the ICON, D-Control and D-Command.

Able to operate as a plug-in or stand-alone, Melodyne Editor is intended for tweaking wayward notes up or down microscopically in pitch without affecting the rest of the performance. Previously, pitch correction was only practical with monophonic music tracks, but with Celemony’s DNA (Direct Note Access) technology, users can virtually reach into a chord and nudge a single note up or down in pitch, adjust its start time or amplitude, or mute it entirely. Melodyne Editor runs with most—though not all—recent Mac/PC DAWs that support VST, AU or RTAS.

Designed for tweaking a signal’s overall sonic character, Niveau is the filter section of Elysia’s mpressor plug-in. It’s intended for applications where a shelving filter is too limited and a fully parametric EQ is too much, and simultaneously boosts a signal’s HF component while attenuating the low frequencies (or vice versa) around a user-specified center point. The plug-in is available in RTAS, VST and AU formats with installers for Mac OS and Windows. It’s a free download.

This pro software suite provides compression, gating, EQ and reverb plug-ins for tracking and mixing. Scarlett’s user interface features the red-anodized look of Focusrite’s famed Red Series processors. Each plug-in in the suite has fast and easy-to-use presets, providing a great starting point for tweaking everything from vocals and guitars to synth, bass and percussion. In addition, every plug-in parameter can be finely tuned to achieve the desired sound. Scarlett works under VST, AU and RTAS hosts, and runs on Macs and PCs.

AmpliTube is a next-gen release offering more than 160 pieces of gear, including 51 stomp boxes and effects, 31 amplifier/preamp/power sections, 46 speaker cabinet models, 15 high-end stage and studio mics, and 17 post-amp rack effects. A slick GUI upgrade allows simple drag-and-drop changing of mic positions, while its open architecture lets users add more packages as needed, including AmpliTube Fender and Ampeg SVX. Other improvements include 70 reworked models within the AmpliTube Metal and AmpliTube Jimi Hendrix package, a new collection of bass gear models and an improved preset-management/keyword system.

This software version of the classic Time Modulator Model 5402 (designed by the late pro audio legend Stephen St. Croix) pushes modulation effects far beyond their original intent. The plug-in provides two separate delay lines with their own volume, phase, pan and a joint feedback control—all processed with analog-modeling algorithms to capture the sound of the original. Once modulation is added, the delays can be continuously swept from minimum to maximum time over the LFO rate and—unlike the mono original—can create complex stereo effects. It’s available in VST versions for Mac/PC; an AU version is in beta testing at press time.

Alloy is a completely configurable and self-contained plug-in suite with six essential sound-shaping effects: equalizer, exciter, transient, dynamics, de-esser and limiter. Alloy provides these useful dynamics and sound-shaping effects in a self-contained, completely configurable interface. More than 150 macro-presets handle specific mix situations, and a Multiband mode can apply processing independently in up to three frequency bands. An uncluttered GUI adds to the appeal of this cross-platform Mac/PC plug-in, available in AU, RTAS, AudioSuite, VST, MAS and DirectX formats.

This collection provides seven Lexicon reverb algorithms designed to deliver the highest level of sonic quality and function while offering all the flexibility of native plug-ins. Reverbs include Vintage Plate, Plate, Hall, Room, Random Hall, Concert Hall and Chamber, and the bundle ships with some 950 versatile studio presets. This cross-platform native plug-in is compatible with Windows XP/Vista/Win 7, as well as Mac PPC/Intel OS 10.4 or higher.

Offering a software-equivalent of the popular 500 Series analog module format, the 6030 Ultimate Compressor builds on McDSP’s algorithm code base with this collection of 10 compressors; some are new while others are emulations of existing gear with unique variations created by McDSP. From tube emulation to edgy solid-state designs, the 6030 is one plug-in with 10 distinct models. It supports TDM and RTAS formats, with AU support coming soon. The 6030 is available as a separate bundle and will be added to McDSP’s Emerald Pack, and is also offered as an upgrade to Emerald Pack 4 customers as an upgrade.

Now shipping, Neyrinck’s V-Mon Version 2 is a comprehensive surround monitoring plug-in system for Pro Tools HD Accel systems, with monitoring and metering for up to 10 5.1 stem (or six 7.1) inputs, eight stereo aux inputs, four talkback inputs and two listen-back inputs. V-Mon provides calibrated output control for up to four 7.1 speaker systems, one stereo downmix, eight cues, stereo and stem metering for external hardware, and a surround send/return plug-in that allows inserting external processing—such as Dolby’s DMU or DP750—into the monitor chain. The system integrates with TAC Systems’ VMC-101 remote controller ($1,795) for hands-on control of the V-Mon system. Version 2 also adds support for Windows- and Mac-based Pro Tools systems.

Trigger Platinum, Steven Slate’s new advanced PC/Mac drum replacement plug-in for VST, RTAS and AU formats, includes all Steven Slate Drums Platinum Samples, along with two kicks and two snares from the upcoming deluxe edition of his virtual drum software. It offers phase-accurate replacement without delays or flamming, and features six stereo sample layers per instance of the plug-in, each with individual volume, pan, tune, attack, sustain, dynamic percentage and velocity controls.

Sonnox Restore plug-ins (Oxford DeBuzzer, Oxford DeClicker and Oxford DeNoiser) feature advanced algorithms for fast, effective removal of pops, clicks, crackles, scratches, hum, buzzes and extraneous background noise. Each plug-in in this Native suite uses a two-step approach, where a detection section pinpoints unwanted noise followed by a removal section that determines the desired level of repair while minimizing collateral damage to the original audio. Supported formats include RTAS, AU and VST platforms.

After analyzing vintage and modern classics from Neve, API, Ampex, EMI, Thermionic Culture and more to create accurate models of high-end studio gear, SoundToys created its Decapitator analog saturator modeler plug-in, which models the saturation or distortion created when driving professional analog studio equipment. In addition to its drive, low/high cut, tone and output controls, Decapitator also features a Punish button that adds an extra bit of edge when you want to push a track over the limit. It’s offered for Mac or PC in TDM/RTAS/AudioSuite/VST/AU formats, and also in SoundToys’ TDM Effects and Native Effects bundles.

DrumXchanger is just what its name implies: a drum replacement plug-in that can substitute drum sounds in multitrack sessions regardless of the level they were originally recorded at. DrumXchanger uses SPL’s Transient Designer technology for drum-hit recognition and includes a library of 24-bit/96kHz samples and drum sounds that can be replaced entirely or mixed with the original tracks—all in real time with phase-accurate precision. Users can also load in their own WAV samples. This Mac/PC Native version supports RTAS, VST and AU formats.

MEQ Analysis from Starplugs is a high-precision, 30-band, frequency-analysis and level-meter VST plug-in for Windows XP. It’s intended to be used with the company’s high-end Master EQ but can also be used with any available EQ. Features include RMS and peak meters with hold, fast 30-band analysis, a Meter Freeze function and adjustable decay time on the peak/peak-hold meters.

New for the UAD-2 platform (it requires a UAD-2 DSP accelerator card), the Manley Massive Passive plug-in is a virtual version of Manley’s 2-channel, 4-band equalizer that uses design strengths from choice console, graphic, parametric and Pultec EQs, and can provide radical tonal shaping, delicate vocal shading or subtle mastering enhancement. It is available as part of the new Universal Audio UAD Software V. 5.6 release, which also includes the EMT 140 Plate Reverb and the Precision Enhancer Hz plug-ins. UAD-2 is Mac/PC-compatible, supporting VST/RTAS and AU formats.

Vocal Rider automatically matches a track’s vocal level with the rest of the song by busing an instrumental mix into the sidechain. As a plus, this plug from Waves also writes an editable automation track for fine-tuning, and provides the feel of a veteran studio engineer providing a little gentle “finger-limiting” as the vocal plays. It supports Mac and PC DAWs in VST, RTAS and AU hosts.


executive editor George Petersen also runs a small record label at