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October 30, 2016

Free Audio Plugins – An Audio Nerd’s Dream

by Alexander Punj
Audio mixers, masters and electronic music producers all use plugins. It’s all a natural part of mixing a rock band or mastering a cello concerto. Without plugins, radios would have to use extremely dynamic recordings on air and have to edit the levels constantly to not blow listeners’ ears.

The issue is that plugins most of the time cost $100 to $200, which is a lot if you don’t have the budget. A lot of plugins are free, too, but they often have bugs that affect the CPU and can create virus-like simulations that are hard to remove. However, I have downloaded and tested some free plugins that aid recordings in many ways.

1. CA-2A Compressor from Cakewalk

Alright, now technically this plugin is not free. It is currently on a free giveaway until October 31st, 2016, and usually costs around $100. This is a phenomenal plugin. It is a recreation of one of the quintessential optical T-type leveling compressor boxes – the CA-2A. It has 40db of gain reduction, attack/release, dual photocell modes for fast and slow compression, and zero latency. Most engineering studios have either a CA-2A or LA-2A, and this plugin digitally simulates the CA-2A to almost no difference.

2. Neutrino from iZotope


Popular award-wining audio plugin company iZotope has been creating audio plugins for over a decade. Neutrino is a spectral shaper, which to the non-audio crowd means a plugin that adds dynamic processing across a frequency spectrum to aid in instrumentation balancing. iZotope says that spectral shapers can essentially aid compressors and EQs in the mastering step by adding more clarity. This is a new concept and it hasn’t been experimented with much, but Neutrino has provided brightness when needed. The plugin has four modes: Voice, Bass, Instrument, and Drums, each representing parts of the frequency spectrum. The Amount knob controls the amount of dynamic processing while the Detail knob fine-tunes the granularity of said processing within the frequency spectrum. Neutrino doesn’t replace compressors and EQs, but is a decent addition to them in the dynamic processing field.

3. Vinyl from iZotope

Vinyl is iZotope’s first ever plugin. It was released on February 1st, 2001 and it was given two awards. It essentially is a vinyl audio simulator; all of the dust, scratches, warps, and electrical/mechanical sounds of a vinyl record can be applied to an audio signal. It’s “lo-fi” signal processing gives recordings a vintage feel. It even has a Year slider to model record players from different decades. This plugin is more of a effect processor rather than an essential mixing or mastering tool, but it is still powerful and worth downloading.

4. Code Red Free from Shattered Glass Audio


Shattered Glass Audio is a small US company focusing on tube amp simulation. Code Red is a digital version of an old, outdated late ’60s British tube console. According to the Shattered Glass website, the original console was used primarily for its bold, punchy character and dynamic EQ providing pristine warmth. Apparently, the Beatles used the Code Red on a number of songs, notably those on Revolver. This plugin is mostly used to add overdrive and vintage dynamics to recordings.

5. TDR Kotelnikov from Tokyo Dawn Records


Tokyo Dawn Records is in fact a standard record label, but they’ve dabbled in audio digital signal processing. Their Kotelnikov plugin is a wideband dynamics processor that focuses on gain reduction (compressing) and mastering EQ. The uniqueness of this product is the peak crest, low frequency relax and stereo sensitivity. The peak crest knob adjusts the peaks of the waveform and how compression effects the peak. The low frequency relax knob forces the compressor to target certain frequencies and enable its precision. The stereo sensitivity speaks for itself; it allows the user to control how much of stereo effects the compression makes. This compressor parallels the leading brands and is highly recommended for new, artistic compression.

6. Fracture from Glitchmachines


This plugin is a weird one. It can be placed into the “toy” category of plugins – not saying that as a bad thing. Fracture is a buffer effect, allowing users to create robot sounds and music mishaps. The plugin comes with a buffer, filters, three Low Frequency Oscillators (LFOs), and a simple delay. I haven’t used Fracture in recordings yet, but I have added effects to ringtones though. Its robotic EQ is a bit strong and can be overwhelming unless you add very small amounts to the signal chain. Despite that, it’s creativity is inspiring and worth downloading for experimentation.

7. TAL-NoiseMaker from Tal Software

Tal Software, or Togu Audio Line, is a Swiss audio products company created in 2000. The NoiseMaker, appropriately named, is a synth engine, a tool allowing users to create synths. Three oscillators, routable ADSR, built in reverb and delay, two LFOs, and a bitcrusher make this synth designer versatile.

8. TAL-Vocoder from Tal Software


The final featured plugin also comes from the Tal company. This one is the Vocoder, a vocal synthesizer. This version of the classic effect is focuses on vintage sounds. The eleven bands simulate sounds from ’80s vocoders and brings them into a modern setting. The software allows for harmonic control and extra carrier synths (pulses, sub oscillator, portamento, etc.). The CPU usage is low so adding it into multiple signal chains won’t slow down your DAW. Its multi-band precision and careful editing techniques create a wonderful vocoder worth using in experimental electronica recordings.

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