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Five Plugins We Use (Almost) Every Mix

The modern era of digital recording gives us resources we could have only dreamed about 15 - 20 years ago. There are amazing tools out there that are very affordable and sometimes even free. There are hundreds if not thousands of excellent plugin choices for mixing, mastering, and recording, but to help you navigate these options, here are some thoughts on some of our favorites.

1. Waves API 550A EQ

The Waves API 550A (and B for that matter) tends to make a reoccurrence in pretty much every mix we do. An emulation of a classic outboard EQ, the API 550A delivers by being both versatile and “coloring” a mix in a pleasant way. I’ve found it to be particularly good on snare drums and my drum bus, though it can be applied to pretty much everything.  Each band of the EQ is proportional, and the high and low band are selectable shelves. It’s really an EQ you can hear working, even in subtle ways.

2. iZotope Nectar 2 Production Suite

Nectar 2 isn’t a singular plugin. Rather, it’s a suite of vocal plugins that all interact beautifully, including a multiband EQ, compressor, reverb, saturation, delay, pitch correction section, and harmonizer. What’s impressive about this suite is its versatility, providing well rounded tools that can clean up and add character to anything from an indie rock vocal to a metal vocal. As always with iZotope, the presets are incredible because they always feel musical and well thought out. Many presets on other plugins feel tacked on or rarely useful, but Nectar 2 stands above the crowd. While presets aren’t perfect, these are damn close, and they’re really an effortless way to get a vocal sounding close to what’s in your head.

3. Waves CLA-76

Legendary mixer Chris Lord-Alge’s take on a plugin version of a classic 1176, this plugin provides an affordable emulation of the 1176’s characteristic compression.  Usable on anything, I’ve consistently found the 1176 to be great on acoustic guitar in conjunction with another compressor. Having the 1176 lightly compress the signal while running that compressed signal into another compressor of your choice will really treat acoustic guitars nicely.

4. Renaissance  Vox (R.Vox)

This compressor by Waves is an incredible tool that more often than not finds itself as the first plugin in our vocal chain. Its simplicity likely fools some folks — it’s not based on some sort of famous analog compressor, nor does it offer any particular features that other compressors don’t, but it absolutely has its own character.  While it does tend to darken up a vocal slightly by bringing up some of the lows, it turns out to be a good thing when its at the beginning of your chain.  It evens out the frequency spectrum so well that carving out space and shaping the vocal with an EQ becomes easier. If you’re looking for an inexpensive but awesome compressor plugin for vocals, definitely check it out. It’s $40 from Sweetwater as of the writing of this article.

5. Waves MV2

Another compressor from Waves, this one is an absolute standout on bass. Be warned, it is a very aggressive compressor, so it doesn’t always sit well at the beginning of a chain, but placing it at the end after some initial compression and EQ will often lock that track into the mix perfectly with the right settings. We normally place it at the end of our bass chain or, in the case of blending a DI and a mic’d bass, on the bass bus.  Without exaggerating, this changed my life. It’s also inexpensive, so check it out!

 

So there you have it — five plugins I use almost every mix. I hope it gave you some insight and ideas for plugins you may want to look into in the future. It’s important to remember that plugins themselves don’t make better songs or better mixes, and moreover, you don’t need these plugins to get great results in your home studio. You can mix professional sounding albums with the stock plugins in Pro Tools, Logic, or whatever DAW you are currently using.  But if you’re into gear and plugins like we are, hopefully this gives you some ideas for adding to your plugin toolbox!

Gabriel Hawkins