I should point out first that I strongly believe that the best way to improve your mixes is to get really good at mixing with your stock plug-ins. Whichever software you use or stock plug-ins your are given, as long as you have the ability to EQ and Compress, you can make masses of improvement to your mix. It is always better to practise using the plugins you already have instead of buying new expensive plug-ins that you might not know how to use yet. However, bearing this in mind, some plug-ins can be used to ‘fill a gap’ within the stock plug-ins that are provided with your DAW. Also personally if a plug-in is free it becomes significantly more appealing. So I have comprised a list of five free plug-ins that I feel are definitely worth adding to your arsenal. They are in a deliberate order, starting with the ones I feel are most essential. Below each plug-in is a short description and a link to their free downloads.
1. Boz Digital Lab’s Panipulator The Panipulator plug-in by Boz Digital Lab won’t ‘enhance’ or ‘improve’ the sound of your mix. What it will do however is allow you to check your mix in mono, which is an absolutely invaluable tool! By placing the Panipulator on your Master fader you can check how your mix might translate to different monitoring systems. At the end of the day nobody will be listening to your music on the speakers you chose to mix on. It can be very useful to see what your mix might sound like if somebody was listening to just the left channel; in mono or if somebody has wired their left and right speakers the wrong way round.
Panipulator FREE DOWNLOAD
Again, this plug-in is for for monitoring the quality of your mix, rather than manipulating it. Place it on your Master fader, last in the signal chain, and you can physically see how balanced your mix is across the frequency spectrum. One of the most useful features is the threshold, which you can use to observe just the frequencies which are popping up loudest in the mix. You can also zoom in for finer and more detailed frequency analysis or use the opacity amount to look through the analyzer whilst your mixing.
FreqAnalyst FREE DOWNLOAD
3. Softube’s Saturation Knob
The Saturation Knob by Softube adds harmonic distortion and saturation. You can either place it on separate audio tracks to saturate individual instruments or you can place it on your master fader and apply a light amount of saturation to your entire mix. There are three characters to the distortion: Keep High, Neutral and Keep Low and you would be surprised at how much versatility there can be within that one big knob! Softube Saturation Knob FREE DOWNLOAD
Technically these are two seperate plug-ins but in my mind they come as a set and so I’m including them as one. Both plug-ins have a distinctly hardware style interface. The Kotelnikov is a great stereo buss compressor and the Slick EQ is extremely gentle and forgiving, perfect for mastering.
TDR SlickEQ & Kotelnikov FREE DOWNLOAD
5. Klanghelm’s IVGI
Yet again, I think you will find this saturation/distortion plug-in most at home when applied subtly to your master fader. However, should you feel the need apply copious amounts of distortion to something, it can be a nice effect to apply to a single track or as a send effect. A great feature is the IVGI’s ASYM MIX parameter allows you to make the effect more transparent than plug-ins like the aforementioned Softube Saturation Plug-In.
Klanghelm’s IVGI FREE DOWNLOAD