The Best VST Plugins (2021) to Have in Your Toolbox

There’s a vast range of VST effects plugins out there that can do all sorts of extraordinary things to your audio signals. For this round-up, I’ve pulled out plugins from all sorts of different places to highlight some of the most awesome and inspiring plugins in their field.

While many plugins aim to emulate and capture the sound of vintage hardware others make full use of computer technology to reinvent what’s possible in sound processing and music production. In this list, you’ve found some classics but you’ll also venture into futuristic possibilities both complex and simplistic and what’s useful is up to you.

Note: “VST plugins” is a term that often covers both software effects and software instruments. We’ve decided that it’s more helpful to separate them out into “VST Effect Plugins” and “VST Instruments” and so if you’re looking for synths and sound machines check out our other article on the year’s best VST instruments.

FabFilter Pro-Q 3

EQ is one of the most important tools a sound engineer has in her toolbox. It’s in the crafting of those frequencies that brings instruments together and lets them sit right in a mix. Working with EQ is a skill and it takes time to acquire it.

The FabFilter Pro-Q3 is a phenominal EQ and it comes with a brilliantly designed interface that makes it easy to grasp and actually teaches you how to use it while you’re using it.

It has all the features professionals need when working with frequencies. It has up to 24 bands, dynamic modes, brickwall slopes and multiple shapes, mid/side processing and fine editing precision and the highest possible sounds quality. It also has a hugely helpful front end with a built-in spectrum analyser that will visualise what needs to be done, where collisions occur and you can even match it up to another track that you like the sound of.

Pro-Q3 is a gift to both sound engineers and beginners looking to pull the muddiness out of their music and start finding their sparkle.

 Street Price: $179

price at cheapvst: $3

ValhallaDSP ValhallaPlate

Plate reverb for shimmer and shine

ValhallaDSP’s ValhallaPlate is a plate reverb plugin, as the name suggests. Plate reverb is good for use with many different instruments as well as vocals, so that is why I have included it as being one of the best plugins.

ValhallaPlate uses 12 different algorithms to emulate the sound of steel plate reverbs. There are 3 different reverb modes (Eternal, Shiny, and Chrome), and within those modes are other reverb presets.

Like a typical reverb plugin, ValhallaPlate has a pre delay knob, a wet/dry mix knob, a decay knob (with frequency dependent decay), and a size knob. Additionally, ValhallaDSP allows you control the width of the reverb which makes it wider or more narrow in the stereo field.

Because plate reverbs are known for having high diffusion, ValhallaDSP does not include a diffusion knob. However, it does include four controls for high and low EQ and high and low gain. There is also a modulation knob and a control to adjust the rate of modulation.

ValhallaPlate is a fantastic reverb VST and each mode sounds incredible. I use it in a lot of my own personal work and the reverb fills out the mix very easily as well as adds a bit of color to whatever I use it on. Personally, I prefer it more than Waves’ Renaissance Reverb as it adds more of a shine and shimmer and creates brightness.

price at cheapvst: $3

Soundtoys EchoBoy

The ultimate delay plugin

I would consider EchoBoy by Soundtoys to be the ultimate delay plugin. It is by far the most versatile delay plugin I have seen, and it is very popular. EchoBoy is an analog modeled plugin that channels 30 different vintage emulations of analog delay gear.

You get a ton of classic echo and delay tones including EchoPlex, Space Echo, Memory Man, and DM-2. Along with these analog options, Soundtoys also modeled some other gear to go beyond stompboxes.

You will need to know a small amount of music notation as EchoBoy’s timing is based on music notes because it was made with musicians in mind. However, there are knobs to control echo time, groove, feel, the various echoes, a high and low cut filter, and saturation, among others.

Along with delay and echo presets, you also can choose between different modes like a dual echo or ping pong delay. If you want to create your own delay rhythm, you can even do that. EchoBoy is extremely versatile and gives you a wealth of delay gear all in one.

Antares Auto-Tune Pro

Vocal tuning made easy

If you struggle with keeping your vocals in tune or you just really like the T-Pain effect, Antares Auto-Tune Pro is a great autotune plugin that is incredibly simple to use. I use it to smoothen out my voice in my own songs and give my vocals a crisp, bright tone that can not be achieved with an EQ.

Antares Auto-Tune Pro has only a few controls on its main screen but you can go more in depth with a few clicks. On the main page, you can choose what range and key to sing in, and there is a keyboard that lets you tailor the autotune to accept certain notes in a scale and leave out others.

You will also find a retune speed that controls how fast the autotune works, FlexTune, and humanize to make your vocals sound more natural and transparent, as well as controls for transposing and formant correction.

Going more in depth, in Graph Mode, once you have recorded you can edit the notes of each of your words individually to correct the pitch and timing if the automatic autotune needs more changing. I highly recommend Antares Auto-Tune Pro, it is one of the best autotune plugins out there, if not the best.

Celemony Melodyne

More complex vocal tuning

If you need a little something more complex than Antares Auto-Tune Pro, Melodyne by Celemony is another top option. Melodyne focuses around a graph mode like Antares Auto-Tune Pro does, but unlike Auto-Tune Pro, there is no fast track option to get you started off fast with just a few knob adjustments.

Melodyne is a smart tool that detects the tempo, scale, and tuning of your recording automatically, unlike Auto-Tune. It not only allows you to make adjustments in terms of pitch, but also allows you to shorten or stretch notes out and change the velocity of notes as well. You can also adjust vibrato, volume, and other timing elements.

Individual notes are what you are manipulating in Melodyne, rather than waveforms. Melodyne has a polyphonic mode as well, so you can use it with piano and guitar and other polyphonic instruments, and you can edit as many notes as you want at the same time.

Melodyne is a great option if you have a lot of time on your hands to edit and manipulate the notes in the plugin and if you want to get really complex with editing.

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