We’ve all fallen into the trap of hoarding stuff we don’t need just because the “but it’s free/on sale!” line of thought took over. This might be okay-ish in some situations, but not when you’re setting up your mixing workflow.
Still, it’s hard to say no to free tools from reputable brands. So, how do you keep things balanced?
You pick only the best free plugins that are practical enough to be part of your regular workflow.
Because we know this is often easier said than done, we made a list of the five free plugins that we haven’t been able to put down this year.
Jump in to find out which is going to be the newest addition to your virtual setup!
Slate Digital doesn’t usually release free plugins, but when they do, we end up with must-haves like Fresh Air.
As a dynamic processor, Fresh Air is all about brightening the high end without compromising the integrity of the signal or creating any unwanted harshness.
Interestingly, Slate Digital kept things sleek. You have two main knobs: “Mid Air” (works great for vocals) and the “High Air.” Say you wanted to make your claps pop. All you need to do is turn the “High Air” control till you get that crisp clarity you’re looking for.
Aside from the two “Airs,” there are a few nifty features like the “Link” button that locks the knobs together for simultaneous adjustment, A/B testing buttons, and the trim control. They’re all so simple that you’ll figure them out from the first go.
Although the interface is pretty intuitive, you’ll probably want to check the trailer/demo video. It features the three-time Grammy Nominee Andrew Wuepper talking about how he uses Fresh Air to create creamy, rich high ends.
The catch? It’s a limited-time offer only.
To be fair, Slate Digital announced the offer on 2020’s Black Friday, and when we checked, it was still valid. Still, we can’t tell if (and when) the folks at Slate Digital will change their minds!
Related Article: Slate Digital Infinity EQ Review & Tutorial
Vocal Doubler isn’t the only free plugin by iZotope, but it’s our favorite.
Do you know how some singers re-track the vocal part two times to get that doubling effect? Well, that means that you, as the producer/engineer, have to match the phrase and pitch to the original track.
The payoff is usually great, but the process can be too much. Now, this plugin saves you the hassle of dealing with re-recordings. By tweaking the stereo separation and human variation, you can create something full, deep, and not too far off from manual doubling.
The best part about this auto doubler is that the controls make the process even easier—you just drag up/down for separation and left/right for variation.
Another thing we love about the plugin is that it works for non-vocals, too. So you could give it a shot when you want to thicken a guitar part for free.
Note that, unlike Fresh Air, nothing on the Vocal Doubler’s product page implies that it’s a limited-time thing. In fact, it has been a free plugin since 2018!
It’s not like iZotope released it and forgot about it, either. The company has been adding updates to fix bugs and boost the tool’s performance. For instance, the plugin now has native support for Apple M-Series chips, macOS Monterey, and Windows 11.
If you’re into massive reverbs and harmonic echoes, Supermassive by Valhalla is the way to go.
What makes Supermassive stand out from other plugins (other than the $0 price tag) is the growing mode selection. When the plugin was first released, it had eight modes, but Valhalla kept throwing in updates.
So far, the selection includes 18 original options.
As the cherry on top, Supermassive picked celestial names (Gemini, Orion, Andromeda, etc.) for the modes to match the overarching “space” theme—just so you can add your reverbs and delays in style!
Now, you might be wondering why such a handy and aesthetically pleasing tool is free. Well, the peps at Valhalla were asked this question so much that they actually released an official response, which is quite inspiring, to be honest.
The gist of it is that Supermassive gave the core engineers a chance to escape anxiety and that they felt that the plugin was a force waiting to be released to Valhalla’s fans. After all, Supermassive has been a 100% free plugin since its release in 2020.
One thing that might feel daunting initially is that there are more knobs than you’d expect from a free plugin. Thankfully, Supermassive, like all plugins by Valhalla, is self-documenting. Odds are, you’ll get the hang of it after some time.
Related Article: My Top 5 Best Waves Plugins | I Use These In Every Mix
Using Youlean’s Loudness Meter, you can create LU, DR, PLR, and more handy readouts. The plugin will also show true peak and loudness distribution graphs.
The only issue is that certain features are available only for the Pro users.
For instance, you won’t get PDF/SVG exports, dynamics graphs, or drag/drop analysis with your free version. Even the handy dark theme is off the table for free users.
Yet, we believe the biggest hit of them all is that you won’t have access to the presets for the streaming platforms. Still, we can’t complain since it’s a free version of a rather powerful metering plugin.
Plus, you do get TV and gaming presets with the free version. So, Youlean isn’t leaving you completely hanging.
There’s a sea of samples and instrument starter packs out there, but LABS remains a top pick for us. Why? It eliminates the need for other sample players.
From organic textures to arctic swells, the library has it all. We also love how the design is so minimalistic that it doesn’t take the spotlight from the samples, which is what the plugin is all about!
Plus, there’s the matter of convenience. Unlike the BBC Symphony Orchestra Discover plugin that you have to wait a couple of weeks to get for free, LABS is available for immediate use.
All you need to do is download the app and load it into your DAW.
Since each DAW is different, LABS has video tutorials for the common options (Cubase, Pro Tools, Logic, Reaper, Garageband, etc.) to walk you through the process.
If you enjoy using the plugin and manage to come up with a fire composition, you could have a shot at being featured on LABS’ Community Playlist on SoundCloud. Just check the rules and add the #labscommunity tag to be considered for the playlist!
Related Article: The 8 Best Vocal Plugins That Need To Be In Your Plugin Chain
Before you jump in with your new tools, we have a couple of tips that can make all the difference.
There’s a reason why we kept this list short and didn’t include more of the bajillion free audio tools out there.
Just because there are plenty of decent plugins doesn’t mean you have to download them all. You’ll only overload your CPU and overwhelm yourself with choices.
Keep in mind that stock plugins can be surprisingly efficient. So, know your DAW and only get plugins that do stuff outside the stock plugins’ scope.
Once you install a plugin, take your time experimenting with it until you discover the full feature range. Look back at how the Vocal Doubler can be used for guitars as an inspiration!
That said, it’s important to know where to draw the line. With some plugins, like Fresh Air, it’s so easy to overdo the effects and create something that’s way too bright.
From LABS’ unique libraries to Supermassive’s trailing echoes, there’s a plugin on this list for you.
Thankfully, the interfaces and feature ranges make the five free plugins on the list super practical. This way, you won’t be wasting your time with unusable tools either way you go.
Just make sure you know what’s included in the free package if you opt for Youlean’s Loudness Meter.
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