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The 8 Best Vocal Plugins That Need To Be In Your Plugin Chain

September 9, 2022 
Best Vocal Plugins Blog Cover Image
Last Updated on June 7, 2023

Vocal plugins are essential for any modern-day mix engineer or producer. They are used to shape the sound of the vocalist and can add space, depth, and character to the track. With the right vocal plugin, you can make your tracks sound more professional and polished.

There are a lot of different vocal plugins on the market, and it can be hard to know which ones are the best. In this article, I will be exploring the 8 best vocal plugins that you need to have in your plugin chain. By the end of this article, you will know what vocal plugins are essential for mixing your vocal tracks.

Let's first dive into one I have been using for years, the Slate Digital Virtual Tape Machines.

Slate Digital Virtual Tape Machines

Slate Digital Virtual Tape Machines Audio Plugin.

When it comes to recordings, few things are as iconic as the sound of tape. For decades, tape was the standard medium for recordings, and its warm, organic sound is still sought after by many engineers and producers today. While tape machines are not as prevalent as they once were, there are still some great options out there for those looking to capture that classic sound.

Slate Digital's Virtual Tape Machines is one such option. This plugin emulates the sound of various tape machines and includes several custom controls. It gives the user the ability to dial in the perfect tape tone for any recording.

Recommendation: Use this as the 1st plugin in your vocal chain. It will replicate the signal flow of a tape machine playing back the audio starting the chain. Use it on its default settings except set the tape speed to 30 IPS and the tape type to FG456. Also, get the input level on the VU meter to hit 0 at the loudest parts.


Related Article: The Best Mastering Plugins And How To Use Them Right

SSL Native Channel Strip 2

SSL Channel Strip 2 Audio Plugin.

SSL's Native Channel Strip 2, made after the 9000K console, is a powerful all-in-one plugin that provides everything you need to get a great sound. The plugin includes a high-pass filter, compressor, expander, gate, and equalizer, all of which can be used to shape your sound. The Channel Strip 2 also features side-chain processing and variable process order routing so that you have optimal flexibility when mixing.

Recommendation: This plugin goes 2nd in the chain. It will be used strictly for its EQ and gate if need be. The idea here is we want to shape the tonality of the vocals and get them to about 90%. I typically will use the high-pass filter to roll off the low end and use the high self and high-mid band to achieve presence and clarity.


Slate Digital FG-116 Blue Vintage

Slate Digital FG-116 Blue FET Compressor audio plugins.

The Slate Digital FG-116 Blue Vintage is a classic analog FET compressor/limiter that has been meticulously recreated in plugin form. Based on the legendary Universal Audio Blue 1176, the FG-116 delivers the same rich, warm sound that made the original unit so popular. With the option of two different circuit modes and a parallel mix knob, this plugin gives you more features and control than the original analog hardware. The FG-116 is simply one of the best vocal plugins ever made.

Recommendation: This plugin goes 3rd in the chain. We want to use this plugin to do our first bit of compression but also the most amount. This compressor alone will give our vocals some character, attitude, and overall leveling. Below is how you should set the FG-116 every time for all genres.

  • Ratio: 4:1
  • Attack: 2-3
  • Release: 7
  • Mix: 100%
  • Gain Reduction: 7-10dB


Slate Digital FG-2A

Slate Digital FG-2A Opto-Compressor audio plugin.

The Slate Digital FG-2A Opto-Compressor is modeled after the legendary Teletronix LA-2A leveling amplifier. This compressor is great at smoothing out the peaks of any instrument you put through it. Its warm analog character is second to none and it works great as a companion to the FG-116 Blue Vintage compressor. You will be hard pressed to not find a LA-2A modeled plugin in anyone's best vocal plugins list.

Recommendation: This plugin goes 4th in the chain. We want to use this compressor to smooth out any remaining level imbalances left over from the FG-116. We want to get between 7 to 10 dB of gain reduction and then dial back the mix knob to taste. We are essentially using this as a parallel compressor.


Slate Digital FG-DS 902

Slate Digital FG-DS 902 De-esser audio plugin.

The Slate Digital FG-DS 902 is a de-esser plugin that models the popular DBX 902. The plugin has a lot of parameters and features to deal with full-range or high frequencies independently. It produces natural and organic results that will make your vocal mixes shine.

Recommendation: This plugin goes 5th in the chain but can be used at the beginning and end depending on how bad the sibilance is in the vocal performance. I like to leave the plugin on its default settings, which is full-range, and simply put the range knob into the norm section. I will usually use at least 2 instances of this plugin in my chain. The 2nd instance typically goes at the very end to get rid of any final sibilance.


Related Article: How To Mix Vocals: 8 Tips & Techniques For Radio Quality Tracks

SSL Native X-Saturator

SSL X-saturator audio plugin.

The SSL Native X-Saturator emulations an analog circuit that lets you choose between either 2nd order valve style or 3rd order transistor style distortion. You even have the option to blend the two of them to your liking. You can use the drive settings at a low level to add gentle warmth or crank it to get dirty distortion for more of an effect. The X-Saturator is one of the most versatile saturation plugins out there and will help you get that attitude your tracks have been longing for.

Recommendation: This plugin goes 6th in the chain. I like to use this after the vocal sound is shaped, compressed, and de-essed so that the saturation doesn't affect any of those processes. Saturation is simply set-and-forget, so putting it toward the end of the chain makes the most sense. If you make adjustments earlier in the chain and make sure to keep the same input level going into this plugin, you will be good to go.


Black Salt Audio Oxygen

Black Salt Audio Oxygen audio plugin.

The Black Salt Audio Oxygen is a plugin that contains 4 different processors all in one. It has compression, saturation, equalization, and stereo widening that work together to help your tracks stand out in a mix. Oxygen can be used from the start or to get that extra 10% a track may be missing in the mix. It's easy to see why Oxygen makes my best vocal plugins top list.

Recommendation: This plugin goes 7th in the chain and is optional. I use this to get any missing air or presence out of the vocals that EQ can't achieve alone. This plugin has some sort of magic algorithm behind it and can achieve this transparently.


Waves MV2

Waves MV2 compressor audio plugin.

The Waves MV2 is an amazing plugin because it does both downward and upward compression within it. These circuits are completely separate and you can process them independently. No other compressor lets you dial in the smoothness of a vocal performance as well as the Waves MV2, and that's why it makes my best vocal plugins list.

Recommendation: This plugin goes last in the chain. I mostly use this plugin for its upward compression. This allows me to avoid using automation 9 out of 10 times. The MV2 is a major time saver when it comes to mixing music.


Related Article: My Top 5 Best Waves Plugins | I Use These In Every Mix

Final Thoughts

Vocal plugins are an essential part of any modern mix engineer and producer’s toolkit. In this article, we have explored the 8 best vocal plugins that you need to have in your plugin chain. Each plugin offers a unique set of features that will help you to shape the sound of your tracks. Now at the end of this article, you know which plugins are essential for mixing vocals and how to create that perfect vocal plugin chain.

"Some of the links within this article are affiliate links. These links are from various companies such as Amazon. This means if you click on any of these links and purchase the item or service, I will receive an affiliate commission. This is at no cost to you and the money gets invested back into Audio Sorcerer LLC."

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