5 effect plugins I can’t live without (and why)

Everyone has his favorite instruments, plugins and production tools, that can range from pretty basic stuff to weird things that just make the difference. So I thought I write about five of the effect plugins that I use all the time (not totally weird ones 😉 ) and basically can’t live without. Of course I can only talk about the specific plugins I’m using, and what I like about them, but you’ll find similar effects from other vendors as well, and I’m sure there are also a lot of great free ones out there.  Oh and I don’t mention basics like compressor, reverb and delay here  😉


So here we go – in no particular order:

Native Instruments Driver

Driver‘s not a glamorous one, but essential – at least in my book. Distortion and filtering is what it does and that’s about it. So, what makes it so special that I’m using it all the time? 1) It’s totally easy to use, and 2) it makes a lot of instruments sound fuller and grittier. Well, that’s what distortion can do for your instruments, isn’t it? I just absolutely love the way Driver sounds on most synths, guitars and even sometimes vocals. You can use it just slightly to fatten the sound, or you bring up the Distortion and Resonance to get a more edgier, screechier tone. Especially the Resonance controller can add a great edge to a sound and make a usual sounding synth into a screaming monster. Perfect for industrial leaning tracks or creepy underscore, but without the all too obvious on-the-nose distortion. With vocals it can make the recording somewhat gritty, like the singer from your favorite garage rock band (careful though, too much of it on the vocals can quickly become boring).

Waves Doubler

Another one to fatten things up a bit – but in a non-distortion way. The Waves Doubler, a double-tracking plug-in, gets used a lot on rises and transitions in my work, but I also like to have it subtly on small string arrangements or other instruments that are just a bit too small sounding. It’s also cool on some synth sounds. On effect sounds you can use a lot of delay and detune, with melodic instruments I usually only spread out the doubled versions in the stereo panorama (depending on how broad I want it to sound), have them just a little delayed (old trick so the listener’s mind perceives them as single entities) and usually not detuned, or only detuned a little bit, so not to mess up the harmonies. I’ve also written an article about the use of Doubler and other effects to make rises and transitions bigger than they usually sound when using samples or presets.

iZotope Stutter Edit

One of the ultimate remix tools and perfect for breaks, stutters and stereo effects. I mainly use it to make breaks more interesting, and that’s what you can do with Stutter Edit in a few mouse clicks. It’s got an amazing amount of good presets, although I usually tweak them to not overdo it: Mainly I edit the original and effect volume (most of the time I have these going down and up respectively, so that the effect fades in and maybe out again). But it’s not only transitions and breaks that this tool helps to make more interesting. It’s also perfect to add movement to instrumental lines. When you have a cool swelling synth pad and want to spice it up a bit, use Stutter Edit with one of the not too intrusive effects to chop it up – again, use the automated volume for original and effect signal, so the effect fades in and out.

Waves Kramer Master Tape

The Waves Kramer Master Tape is one of the staples in my mastering chain – the first one, actually, just like in the old days of real tape machines (I’m always keen to brag that I was in the last audio engineering course that still learned to make edits by cutting tape 😉 ). It’s a subtle addition, but with its tape saturation it makes the sound just this little bit more organic (yeah, I know – clean digital production and then you try to make it more analog again with another plugin 😉 ). Of course this can also be used as a strong effect on single channels in the mix (especially when you want that wobbly sound you get when turning up the Wow & Flutter knob, or if you use the tape delay), but in mastering I use it only subtly: Just a little hint of Flux, Wow & Flutter, and just barely add some Noise. No Delay.

Steinberg Morph Filter

One of the built-in effects in Cubase – and a pretty easy to use and automatable one. If you like filter sweeps over your synth lines or other instruments (or over the full mix), Morph Filter gives you a cool sound and easy access to push around the high-pass and low-pass, seemlessly sweeping between them. Only problem might be that some little bit of filtering is always there unless you switch it off – that’s also the way I use it quite often: Have it switched off on a melody, and for the break switch it on with the filter as open as possible and then play around with it. Nice and weird effects can also be made if you have two Morph Filters in one channel, both doing their own thing. I just love that kind of experiments 😉

And that’s it – five of the most used plugins, at least in my case… What are the effect plugins you use all the time?

Author: Chris Wirsig

Chris Wirsig enjoyed classical training on piano and saxophone, studied audio engineering at Munich’s SAE Technology College and has more than 15 years experience in music production. He has been writing songs since 1991 and contributed music for computer demos and commercial games throughout the 1990s. Apart from other music projects he started the acclaimed Electro Noire band no:carrier in 1995 and the Electronica/Chill-Out project Virtual Conformity in 2001. He worked as an editor for the musician’s magazine KEYS and founded the first German fair-trade record label, NovaTune. His latest works include music and sound fx for the acclaimed Top Ten iPad game “Alien Tribe 2”, the short mystery movie "20 Matches", the critically acclaimed no:carrier album “Wisdom & Failure”, and their EP of cover versions, "Ghosts Of The West Coast".

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