In the last two decades, it became more and more common to continue the project work after the recording completely or at least partially on the computer. Consequently, there is no avoiding the fact that we will need certain audio plugins to edit the recorded material to create a final mix. I personally try to find the best combination of the modern digital and the nowadays already called "vintage" analogue world. Both domains have their benefits and disadvantages, therefore I created my own hybrid environment. Even the best plugins fail by the last 10 to 5% to reach the full sound of their analogue model, if a perfect replica is the developer's intention. The studio outboard has not only a high cost price but also is high-maintenance which in turn results in additional ongoing expenses. On the contrary, the digital plugins can be taken everywhere with e.g. a laptop and their settings can be easily saved by only one mouse click. Both aspects could become difficult with the studio outboard - just to show up some pros and cons.
But this article will focus on the digital part of my mixing environment. An audio plugin is an add-on tool available in your DAW of your choice which helps you to edit the material by the help of EQ, compressor, reverb or other types of effects. In the following, I want to present my favourite plugin brands and some of their products.
Universal Audio (UAD2 Plugin Platform)
Until now, UAD2 plugins are my main platform to handle a mixdown. Accordingly, you can find several of them on every channel in my sessions. To be able to use that big amount of UAD2 plugins in a pop production, you need several DSPs to process them as I already mentioned in my Hackintosh article. Universal Audio mainly distributes emulations of existing vintage and modern analogue studio equipment (from various outboard to entire mixing console channel). These digital replicas are officially certificated by its original brand. This could be one of the reasons why they are one of the most expensive plugins on the market yet. If you ask me, they are still unbeaten in their sound quality and richness in detail till this day!
My favourite plugins from my day-to-day growing UAD2 collection are all channel strips which are offering the Unison technology to emulate the console's preamps in real-time with an Universal Audio Apollo interface. Moreover, I am a giant fan of all legendary classics like the Teletronix LA-2A, Lexicon 224, Neve 1073, Fairchild 670, Urei/UA 1176 and so on.... I simply love them!
I follow this company since its day one and I am a proud owner of all of their first products and some of their latest. With their today's subscription model they could not catch my attention because I prefer to own professional software without any limitation. Luckily, they still offer their products for a one-time price - thank you, Steven Slate! Like Universal Audio, Slate Digital mostly offers digital replicas of analogue equipment (without official licensing). They do not offer only great products which were modelled after a famous piece of gear, but rather develop tools completely from scratch. A central role of these realisations plays their Co-Founder and CTO Fabrice Gabriel, who developed the "advanced algorithms" for these tools.
You can find the Virtual Console Collection (VCC) on every channel or at least on the subgroups in all of my sessions to add a little bit more analogue vibe on my records. Same thing I do with the Virtual Tape Maschine (VTM) on the subgroups and as an insert in my master chain. The Slate's FG-X mastering processor is always doing a brilliant job in my master chain and is one of my favourite mastering plugins.
This brand is beloved by a lot of people but also derided by many because of their never ending "sale" periods or their one-knob and artist series plugins. Anyway, you can also find plenty of replicas of analogue gear in their product range - especially Abbey Road equipment like the unique consoles.
These there exclusively available Abbey Road plugins are my favourites next to the API series, which was available before Universal Audio started to release their versions. The consoles EMI TG12345 and EMI REDD, as well as the API EQ's and compressor, are often used on guitars, strings and keys in my mixes. From time to time, I also make use of the self-developed technologies by Waves like the "Doubler" with which I am able to create a virtual double of an electric guitar if I have no additional real material.
Plugin Alliance covers modern mastering tools, digital replicas of outboard and has a big focus on the recreation of guitar amps. The bx_console (replica of the Neve VXS 72 console), the bx_boom which works like a Yamaha Subkick and finally the digital version of the tube processor HG-2 by Black Box Analog Design are my go-to products from this company group.
Boz Digital Labs
I got familiar with this brand only because of their digitalisation of David Bendeth's Ward-Beck Systems M462B, ADR Compex F760XRS and ADR F769X-R hardware. Their other products just could not attract me but the David Bendeth Signature Bundle is just fantastic! Stunning gear which I am frequently using on all of my vocal chains or drum busses.
This company is owned by Slate's Co-Founder Fabrice who has been already mentioned above. Eiosis truly stands for innovation! The AirEQ and the e2 deesser are unique modern tools which really come with a significant benefit for the daily mixing business. Their EQ is a brilliant tool for analytical fine adjustments in the mix or in the mastering process, whereas the e2 became my main deesser. I am looking forward to seeing which new products this brand will provide us in the future.
The German one-man company Klanghelm is run by Tony Frenzel. Thanks to his hobby developing his own plugins, within two years of research and development he created a mind-blowing compressor plugin called MJUC. This quickly became one of my favourite compressor plugins, especially for bass. The MJUC includes two types of varimu compressors and a modelled UREI 175/176. By the way, check out its price - it is unbeatable and a real no-brainer!
Besides the large product range of virtual instruments, Arturia offers a single audio plugin - the Mini Filter V. This Moog-like filter for fine tuning in the mix makes my productions spirited and more diversified. A filter automation of a vocal passage or of a drum break... you name it! A cool tool which opens up a creative flexibility.