Top 10 Essential Audio Production Plug-Ins

Published: December 3, 2014

Plugins are to sound production like spices and season are to cooking, use them in the right amount and combinations and you have the recipe for a great sounding mix. Use them wrongly, and you will end up with something worse than what you started out with. This is my comprehensive list of my top 10 favorite audio plugins that I like to use in my personal mixes and productions.

  1. CLA-2A Compressor/Limiter

    The CLA-2A is a powerful compression tool by Waves that squeezes out the smoothest, frequency-dependent behaviors out of an audio track. Its emulation of a mid-60s electro-optical tube compressor especially shines on its treatment of guitar, bass and vocal tracks by bring out the meat of the sound and giving them exceptional dynamic range and treatment. Because it also doubles as a limiter, I always include this plugin in the mixing as well as the mastering process for my tracks.

  2. Renaissance Equalizer

    This powerful little equalizer is a fantastic tool that I always use as a staring point in all of my mixes. Its extended internal headroom really allows you to mold and shape audio frequencies in a variety of ways to achieve the sound that you are really striving for. Its 6 bands and filter-curves based on vintage analog equalizers creates a warm, analog-styled sound that tracks benefit immensely from.

  3. H-EQ Hybrid Equalizer

    The H-EQ is a uniquely powerful hybrid equalizer, featuring vintage and modern EQ inspired by British and American consoles. The seven bands featured on this plugin each feature a unique asymmetrical bell filter to shape a wider variety of sounds. However, the true kicker of this plugin is the intuitive real-time frequency spectrum analyzer that allows you to see exactly what frequencies are being manipulated and how, which is extremely handy when trying to mix things down to a specific frequency. A keyboard graph also allows you to choose specigic frequencies by clicking on notes.

  4. CLA Drums

    Drums are one of the hardest things to mix for me. Luckily, they appear to be one of Chris Lord-Alge's favorite things, which saves me a lot of stress and provides an amazing sound to most drums. The plugin has six modes for to kick, snare, toms, overheads, room and even cowbell, each with equalizer, compression, reverb, delay and a noise gate to prevent leakage. The faders allow for fine-tuning and crafting to obtain that radio-ready sound that the CLA series strives for. Working with this plugin is a truly intuitive experience that beginners as well as seasoned veterans will surely appreciate.

  5. X-Noise

    This noise removal plugin has been my saving grace on multiple occassions when working with post from quick recording sessions and lower end equipment. Its frequency-based spectral display makes this perfect for removing hisses, air conditioning noise, electronics or room hum. The learn mode creates a noise profile to allow for better fine tuning of the noise reduction level. Too much application will create a muddy sound, but with just the right amount, you will have a clean sounding track.  However, technological audio magic does come at a price. This plugin is a mamoth on computer CPU to run as an insert. If you are working with Pro Tools, be sure to use this through Audio Suite to reduce strain on memory.

  6. Waves Tune

    No matter how good a singer is, there will usually always be some notes here and there that need some kind of fine tuning or adjustment. Waves Tune offers real-time editing with an extensive collection of pitch shaping tools that can be accessed from the comfor of your favorite DAW. The pitch edit graph has a waveform overview, timeline, piano roll and a pitch editor. All in all, this is one of the most useful and versatile tools that I have worked with as a producer and I highly recommend it for anybody remotely interested in music production.

  7. IR-L Reverb

    Good reverb is the white rabbit of music production, elusive, hard to grasp, but extremely necessary and useful (the white rabbit comparisons ended at "hard to grasp"). Out of all the reverbs I have tested and experimented with, the IR-L series has given me the most satisfaction. It effectively recreates the authentic sound of actual acoustic spaces through over 100 impulse responses of spaces and devices. Its simple and streamlined interface allows for maximum ease and efficiency while giving your sound more color and depth.

  8. L2 Ultramaximizer

    The L2 is one of my all time favorite tools for mixing and mastering. It serves as a limiter and maximizer that brickwalls unwanted dynamics, as well as giving extra power and gain while maintaining great sound quality. The presents within the plugin provide a great starting point for finding a sound level that can match any CD-quality or radio-ready recording. Definitely a necessary edition to any mastering process for any mix. 

  9. Transient Designer

    The Transient Designer is an awesome little tool for shaping the dynamic response of a sound, allowing transients from noises to be prolonged or shortened. This makes a huge difference when trying to reshape sounds or sound audio track problems. This has helped me a lot especially when working with drum kicks, primarily the kick and the snare. Because they have such a tendency to bleed into other microphones, the Transient Designer is helpful to weed out the unwanted frequencies and focus on a specific part of the sound.

  10. C4 Multiband Compressor

    This multidynamic processor is a really work horse. It has four parametric bands that expand, limit and compress the dynamic range and response of audio with extreme precission. This fits in nicely alongside a drumset mix or a pre-mix that deals with a wide range of frequencies and individual instruments. The C4 ultimately gives you unprecedented control over the contours of your tracks, with maximum clarity and transparency. One of the many layers of icing on the cake.

Ultimately, every sound engineer has their own bag of tricks that they like to pull out for work. This list is subjective to different opinions from people in the industry, but they have been extremely helpful for me and I trust that anybody would benefit greatly from these tools. Any artist is not made by his tools, but how he or she chooses to use.