Waves saturation plugin

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20 Best Saturation Plugins to Boost Your Music

What is audio saturation, and what are the best saturation plugins? This Icon Picks roundup features 20 saturation effects that will harmonically enhance your music.

Fabfilter Saturn 2 - Best Saturation Plugins

What is Saturation in Music?

Audio saturation is an effect that generates harmonics and applies soft-clipping compression. Saturation is also the essence of what makes analog hardware sound musical and pleasing. Driving sounds through tape, tubes, transistors, and circuits have long been an essential ingredient in great-sounding mixes.

The effect originates from the analog days when audio recordings ran through various pieces of hardware. Mix engineers discovered they could overload magnetic tape machines, tube amps, and transistor-based preamps to create saturation and &#;soft-clipping&#; effects. This technique gave recordings sought-after qualities that improved the sound of mixes.

Artists and engineers use harmonic generation to add presence, character, warmth, edge, cohesion, and more to digital audio. From subtle to extreme, saturation is an integral part of amazing mixes.

The Different Types of Audio Saturation

While studios still have analog equipment, the music industry has mostly shifted to the digital realm. Plugin emulations provide the same great sound as their hardware counterparts without the maintenance hassle and high price tag.

Here are the three main types of saturation plugins that emulate the imperfections of analog hardware.

  • Tape Saturation: Tape saturation plugins emulate the sound of audio recorded through analog tape machines.
  • Tube Saturation: Tube saturation plugins emulate the sound of audio driven through tube amps.
  • Transistor Saturation: Transistor saturation plugins emulate the sound of audio driven through transistor‑based circuits.

If your music sounds thin, weak, and digital-sounding, apply saturation to make it sound full, fat, and present. Analog emulation is one of the best ways to bring your digital audio alive!

20 Best saturation Plugins

Here are the 20 best saturation plugins for music production, mixing, and mastering. Any of them will make a great addition to your music toolbox.

1. Soundtoys | Decapitator

Soundtoys Decapitator

Infuse your tracks with the natural vibe of analog gear. Decapitator has five analog saturation models that add character to every sound you run through it. This beast also includes a tone control for shaping the saturated sound, a mix control for parallel processing, and a Punish button to push your saturation levels harder.

Decapitator&#;s design also captures the feel and vibe of analog gear. You can hear subtle changes when it reacts to an incoming signal like real hardware. From subtle to the extreme, Decapitator delivers every time!

Key Features

  • Get authentic, dynamic analog saturation with five detailed models of studio hardware
  • Drive the gain harder and push your tracks over the top with the Punish button
  • Shape the contour of the saturation with the analog-modeled tone control
  • Create parallel effects with the Mix control

Read More

2. FabFilter | Saturn 2

Fabfilter Saturn 2 Plugin

Saturn 2 introduces additional features, new distortion styles, a redesigned interface with modulation visualization, and more. This versatile tool excels at adding warmth and definition to anything you run through it.

Saturn brings a range of high-quality distortion models inspired by the vintage sound of tubes, tape, and guitar amps. You also get five creative FX distortion styles to mangle your sounds in weird and unexpected ways.

Moreover, Saturn features a multiband design with a set of tone and dynamics controls. Unlike other saturation plugins, Saturn also offers an extensive modulation section. Plus, it has a modern display for visualizing modulation in real-time.

Saturn is an excellent option if you want to bring a unique flavor to your music!

Key Features

  • 28 distortion styles ranging from subtle tube saturation to heavy guitar amps and bit crushing
  • Multiband processing (up to 6 bands), with optional linear phase processing
  • Per-band drive, mix, feedback, dynamics, tone, and level controls
  • Easy drag-and-drop modulation options with a slot modulation matrix
  • Live modulation visualization for targets and sources

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3. iZotope | Trash 2

iZotope Trash

Trash 2 combines multiband processing, dual-stage distortion, and advanced post-filtering to transform sounds. It&#;s one of the most versatile saturation plugins on the market!

This industry favorite does it all! Trash 2 offers 60+ distortion algorithms, six multi-effect modules, a multiband waveshaper, + presets, and more. It&#;s a one-stop-shop for all your sound mangling needs!

Key Features

  • Choose from over 60 distortion algorithms or design your own using the graphic waveshaper
  • Shape your sounds with six multi-effect modules: Dual-Distortion, Filter, Convolve, Dynamics, Delay, and Output Limiter
  • Choose from over impulse responses with the Convolve module
  • Explore new sonic dimensions with the Delay and Dynamics modules
  • Add movement using two Filters, each with 20+ evocative filter types to shape your tone
  • Saturate and distort up to four frequency bands
  • Realistic speaker simulation with amp, device, cabinet, effect, and speaker modeling

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4. Sonnox | Oxford Inflator

Sonnox Oxford Inflator

The Oxford Inflator is a longtime secret weapon for audio professionals. Its unique sound increases the loudness of the original signal without affecting the sound quality or dynamic range. It&#;s an awesome effects plugin!

The Inflator adds power, warmth, presence, and &#;sonic glue&#; to your mix. This gem even adds loudness to heavily squashed or compressed material. It can also add musicality and dynamic range to clipped signals.

Key Features

  • Get louder mixes without the issues associated with compressors
  • Add apparent dynamic range to clipped signals
  • Simple user interface for intuitive control
  • Flexible Direct and Band-split modes
  • A longtime secret weapon of audio professionals

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5. UAD | Studer A

UAD Studer A

Over 30 years, artists and engineers revel in the warm analog sound, solid low-end, and presence of the iconic Studer A Multichannel Tape Recorder. This sought-after tape saturation plugin adds warmth, presence, cohesion, and the low-end punch only genuine tape can provide.

UAD&#;s tape machine emulation faithfully models the entire circuit path of the original A from Ocean Way Studios. It&#;s the most accurate emulation of multitrack analog tape recording available.

Key Features

  • Provides the warm, natural sound, and punchy low-end response of 2&#; analog tape
  • Models the complete A electronic signal paths, including Input, Sync, and Repro paths
  • Features the four most popular tape formulas and calibration levels
  • Delivers tape saturation and overdrive via easy-to-use Input and Output controls
  • Provides dead-on magnetic tape sound without the hassles of calibration, maintenance, tape degradation, etc.

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6. Black Box Analog Design | HG-2

Black Box Analog Design HG-2

The HG-2 adds saturation, harmonics, natural compression, loudness, and punch to your mix. It has become a mix-buss favorite for many engineers worldwide.

HG-2 emulates the renowned Black Box Analog Design HG-2 tube processor unit. It features the same input and output transformers, plus the four serial vacuum-tube stages. It also adds a set of controls to drive and color a range of varied harmonics. This means you can create the perfect blend of tube saturation for the best-sounding mixes.

Key Features

  • Faithful analog emulation of the high-end Black Box Analog Design HG-2 tube processor
  • Modeled transformers and separate gain controls for virtual 6U8A pentode and triode tubes
  • The parallel saturation circuit selects one of two modeled 12AX7 tubes
  • Saturation Frequency selector adds generated harmonics to either the low or high frequencies, or across the entire frequency spectrum
  • Calibration menu to give high frequencies Dark, Normal, or Bright coloration
  • Variable Air control adds sparkle and sweetness above 10 kHz

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7. D16 Group | Redoptor 2

D16 Group Redoptor 2 Plugin

Redoptor is a modeled vintage tube distortion unit. This tube amp plugin captures the sensitivity, warmth, quirks, and character of tube saturation generated from analog circuits.

The subtle compression combined with even and odd harmonics produced by analog tube circuitry makes sounds powerful, punchy, and alive. Redoptor packs several features to mimic these complex analog circuit components while also sporting modern features.

Key Features

  • Accurately emulates the sonic signature of a classic hot-rodded tube guitar amp
  • 4-Band parametric equalizer provides precise control over your overdriven tones
  • A preamp with a built-in compressor lets you shape the dynamics before it hits the distortion stage
  • High and low cutoff filters have optional insert points to shape the sound before or after the processed signal
  • A master output limiter to tame your distorted sounds

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8. SPL | Vitalizer MK2-T

Vitalizer MK2-T

Add clarity and life to your mixes with this renowned tube-based effect plugin. Modeled after its hardware counterpart, Vitalizer MK2-T shapes sounds musically and effectively.

Vitalizer MK2-T works great at enhancing loudness, widening the signal, and adding harmonic richness. Moreover, this sonic shaping classic makes low frequencies sound more powerful and defined, mids more focused, and highs vivid.

Key Features

  • Drive the input level to give your track extra edge
  • Emphasis your bass with two colors: Soft to Tight
  • Boost perceived loudness with the Compression control
  • Filtering controls make sounds more stimulating and natural
  • Intensity control mixes the processed effect with the original signal
  • Stereo Expander adjusts the intensity of the stereo widening effect
  • A/B/C/D Setting buttons store and recall four independent control settings

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9. Slate Digital | VTM (Virtual Tape Machines)

Slate Digital VTM

Virtual Tape Machines is an excellent tool for injecting the musical analog vibe of tape saturation. Use VTM on your tracks and mixes to make them sound warmer, smoother, punchier, and more analog!

This tape saturation plugin captures the sound and best features from two renowned hardware tape machines. Think of it as a hybrid tape emulator.

Key Features

  • VTM emulates both a track 2-inch tape machine and a 1/2-inch stereo mastering deck
  • Choose between the two most popular tape formulations with the Type control
  • Speed control emulates the behavior of the most common tape speeds: 15 and 30ips

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Brainworx | Vertigo VSM-3

Vertigo VSM-3

The Vertigo VSM-3 emulates the beloved VSM-2 Mix Satellite by Vertigo Sound. This harmonic beast captures the original hardware&#;s tone and character while also adding innovative new features.

VSM-3 generates every characteristic from subtle saturation to air-ripping distortion. Among its versatile functions is an M/S mode, dry/wet control, and the ability to use Crusher and Blender in parallel or serial.

Try this bad boy on your master track or bus groups to hear its magic!

Key Features

  • Two independent virtual circuits deliver analog-sounding coloration, ranging from subtle saturation to heavy distortion
  • Pure 2nd Harmonic FET Crusher for rich saturation or distortion
  • Pure 3rd Harmonic Zener Blender for bright, exciter-like saturation or distortion
  • Crusher and Blender can operate in parallel or serial
  • Stereo and M/S Mode for each circuit
  • You can apply saturation and distortion to specific signal frequency ranges
  • A Shape control allows for subtle filtering of high-order harmonics

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Soundtoys | Radiator

Soundtoys Radiator

Radiator is a dual drive tube processor and EQ based on the Altec A tube mixer from the s. It brings the classic Altec tube sound, capturing the distinctive warmth and punch of the original hardware.

Radiator also features the modeled bass and treble tone controls from the original unit plus a mix control. It even comes with the saturation and harmonic effects of the original hardware&#;s input and output amplifiers.

Push any sound through this simple device and hear the magic happen. It&#;s analog sound instantly warms the signal and enhances tones in a subtle musical way. It&#;s also one of the easiest saturation plugins to operate. Try it on your bass and drums. 

Key Features

  • Analog modeled tube mixer with EQ
  • User-friendly interface with simple controls for quick results
  • Independent input and output amplification stages each add unique character
  • Bring the sound of a Motown era classic to your DAW
  • Load the transformers with the Mic/Line switch to create different sounds

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iZotope | Ozone 9 Vintage Tape

iZotope Ozone 9 Vintage Tape

Ozone 9&#;s Vintage Tape module brings the richness and vibe of tape saturation to your digital recordings. Inspired by the Studer A tape machine, this full-featured device delivers the frequency coloration, distortion, and phase effects of classic tape.

Vintage Tape also works great for adding dimension, fatness, depth, and punchy low-end response. Introduce its analog tone to individual tracks or full mixes.

Key Features

  • IPS saturation mode with an emphasis in the low-mids
  • Get the deep, natural sound and punchy low-end response of analog tape
  • Inspired by the innovative Studer A tape machine, known for excellent frequency response
  • Continuous Bias control allows for precise tuning of frequency and distortion response
  • Mix in even harmonics for warmer saturation, or leave them out for more accurate tape emulation

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Klanghelm | SDRR

Klanghelm SDRR

SDRR will satisfy almost all of your saturation desires. This flexible harmonic enhancer adds warmth, depth, and character to your tracks or full mixes.

SDRR provides a full set of controls to manipulate the character of the saturation in various ways. It also has four modes: TUBE, DIGI, FUZZ, and DESK. Moreover, this versatile plugin can operate as a saturator, compressor, EQ, bit-crusher, or stereo widener.

Key Features

  • TUBE mode provides two tube pre-amplifier models
  • DIGI mode adds even and odd harmonics to the mix
  • FUZZ mode offers two models of classic germanium fuzz stompboxes
  • DESK mode transforms the plugin into a mixing console channel strip

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u-he | Satin

u-he Satin

Satin is another authentic-sounding tape machine emulation. It captures the unique characteristics of several different hardware units. You can even mix-and-match components to build a custom tape saturation plugin.

Satin excels at transient-smoothing and &#;gluing&#; multiple tracks. In addition, Satin features extra FX modes such as tape flanging and tape delay to further process the sound. It&#;s an excellent tool for giving your modern music some vintage vibe!

Key Features

  • Control up to eight instances of Satin at once using the Group panel
  • Service panel to control hiss, wow and flutter, bias, head gap, azimuth, saturation, high-frequency range compression, and more
  • Stereo delay mode with multiple-mono, cross, or ping-pong routing
  • Tape flange mode with classic through-zero flanging
  • Adjustable tape speed from to 30ips
  • Pre-emphasis and soft clipping options

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Waves | J37 Tape

Waves J37 Tape

Add hardware realism to your digital recordings with J37 Tape. It faithfully recreates the sonic signature of the original tape machine in Abbey Road Studios.

This saturation plugin features three modeled oxide tape formulas developed by EMI during the &#;60s and &#;70s. It also sports essential controls, including Tape Speed, Wow and Flutter, Bias, Noise, and Saturation. Lastly, J37 comes equipped with a Tape Delay unit to complement your warm tones.

Key Features

  • Created in association with Abbey Road Studios
  • Includes three exclusive tape models developed by EMI
  • Controls for Bias, Wow, Flutter, Tape Speed, and more
  • Tape Delay section with three delay types plus Sync, filter controls, and more

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DSP Fielding | Reviver

DSP Reviver

Reviver creates harmonic distortion inspired by vintage gear. It does not emulate analog equipment. Instead, it gives you control of overtone generation and amplitude.

Reviver features a simple and intuitive user interface that delivers impressive results. It also provides an anti-alias filter and two coloration styles. It works fantastically at increasing the harmonic content of drums!

Key Features

  • Simple, intuitive user interface for quick results
  • Second-order harmonics produce the warm and smooth characteristics of tube amplifiers
  • Third-order harmonics deliver the sound of tape and overdriven solid-state amplifiers
  • Anti-aliasing removes unpleasant artifacts and frequencies to produce a high-quality sound
  • Create different harmonic qualities and stronger saturation with serial mode

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Slate Digital | VTC (Virtual Tube Collection)

Slate Digital VTC Virtual Tube Collection

The Virtual Tube Collection is a set of three modeled plugins for Virtual Mix Rack. They recreate the sound of classic vintage tube circuits. Each module can also act as a preamp, a saturator, and even a virtual tube summing console. The three models include:

  • London models a vintage tube circuit originating from Europe. The sound is warm and bold in the lows and slightly smooth in the top-end.
  • New York models vintage solid-state tube circuits to give it tightness and impact. The sound is aggressive in the mids and tighter in the lows due to its unique dynamic harmonic saturation.
  • Hollywood is the most colorful of the three modules. It delivers air, depth, excitement, and big bottom. Use it on boost mode and make your tracks come alive.

You can also use the VTC with the Virtual Microphone System to get rich and vibey tones on your vocal tracks.

Key Features

  • Three classic vintage modeled circuits: London, New York, and Hollywood
  • Normal mode re-creates realistic properties of the modeled tube circuits
  • Boost mode amplifies the nonlinearities to add more color and vibe
  • Preamp mode emulates driving the input of a tube amp while attenuating the output
  • Console mode emulates a tube summing circuit with crosstalk and saturation properties
  • A highpass filter to clean up low-end rumble when needed
  • Mix knob to control the balance between the original signal and the processed signal

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Brainworx | bx_saturator V2

bx_saturator V2

The bx_saturator is a multiband saturation and Mid/Side processer. Add saturation and distortion exactly where you want it in your mixes and masters.

This saturation plugin increases the perceived volume of mixes without clipping them. It works great at bringing out vocals, acoustic guitars, and percussion without increasing their level or having to EQ.

Also, all four XL frequency bands have dedicated gain, drive, and mix controls. This flexibility allows you to increase a signal&#;s perceived volume without boosting its actual output level. You get louder, punchier mixes!

Key Features

  • Brainworx&#;s &#;True Split&#; crossover technology ensures the Mid and Side channels are perfectly in phase
  • Add unique saturation and distortion to targeted frequency bands
  • Increase the perceived volume of mixes without clipping
  • Gently soften a mix buss or add distortion on individual tracks
  • Add punch and low-end definition with the Mono Maker control

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Plugin Alliance | Noveltech Character

Noveltech Character

Add presence, air, and punch to your music with Character. This unique saturation plugin intelligently enhances the tonal spectrum, saturation levels, and dynamics of individual tracks and mixes.

The dynamic process automatically adjusts the parameters rather than frequency regions. This innovative approach delivers impressive results quickly every time. Also, it only has three intuitive knobs to control the process!

Key Features

  • Auto-improvement tool, based on scientific algorithms
  • Simple user interface for intuitive control
  • Enhance the tone and dynamics of any signal or master with a few tweaks
  • Three different modes designed for various instruments and sources

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URS | Saturation

URS Saturation

Inject classic tonal preamp saturation vibe into your tracks. URS Saturation captures the sound of different eras and enhancement styles into your mix. Access six vintage pre-amplifier algorithms, two analog tape saturation algorithms, and two transformer core saturation algorithms.

URS Saturation is also a breeze to use. Choose between ten vintage analog algorithms, push the drive with the input gain, adjust the output gain, and mix the signal if needed.

Key Features

  • Six vintage pre-amplifier algorithms
  • Two tape simulation algorithms
  • Two transformer core saturation algorithms
  • Add different and distinct vintage even and odd ordered harmonics
  • Soft clip the original signal before it hits the input stage

Read More

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Saturation Plug-ins - Four Waves Plug-ins To Turn The Heat Up With On Your Tracks That Need Edge And Impact

In this four-part series of free video tutorials, brought to you with the support of Waves, we talk saturation plug-ins, which countless engineers find incredibly useful for making tracks and mix buses sound edgier and more sonically distinctive.

The digital audio age gave us the means to track and mix very clean audio, but at times things can be just too clinical. Luckily there are countless saturation plug-ins we can now use to instil a sense of analog vibe in our mixes and we are going to look at four of these in this article. 

That said, we are going to steer clear of tape and console themed plug-ins as we want to focus solely on saturation plug-ins that can provide subtle warming effects through to extreme distortion.

We’re going to run through this plug-ins in order of complexity, starting with the simplest of the bunch…

1. Waves OneKnob Driver

OneKnob Driver is as easy to use as a water pistol, point and squirt. The main dial gives the impression that the higher the value the more distortion you’ll get. While this in part is true, you’ll notice the tone of the distortion change as well throughout the range.

Waves describe OneKnob Driver as a distortion plug-in inspired from guitar pedals. This can be a very creative tool that can easily provide a range of gritty possibilities, especially if the main dial is automated.

2. Waves Manny Marroquin Distortion

Manny Marroquin Distortion neatly combines three processors to make up a very capable saturation plug-in. A compressor firstly runs into a simple EQ module then into the drive section. Dialling in the drive isn’t as intuitive as you would first think in Manny Marroquin’s Distortion. The main drive dial sets the amount of signal sent to the distortion. The distortion level fader controls the level of the signal post drive.

It’s important to note that raising the distortion level won’t dial in more distortion instead it increases the level of the distorted signal, just like adjusting the level of an effects return. Finally, the output is the sum of the direct level and distortion level.

3. Waves Berzerk

Berzerk provides plenty of different saturation characteristics, along with EQ, compression and a cool filter section that can instil a sense of synthesis into your tracks.

Of course, subtle warming effects can be easily dialled in if your tracks need a little fire lit underneath them, however, this plug-in’s credentials lay in its ability to creatively overdrive audio well beyond the subtle.

4. Waves Butch Vig Vocals

In this final part of this article, we take a look at Butch Vig Vocals. Never mind the vocals bit, this is a very capable channel strip plug-in with serious saturation credentials.

At the bottom right of the plug-in are two saturation controls, one for dialling in warm analog-style tube tones, the other for solid-state saturation. What’s nice is that these can be blended together in the chain while incorporating the other EQ and dynamics controls making this a one-stop-shop for tone shaping.

Butch Vig’s Vocals is by far the most complex of the four plug-ins we’ve looked at, not because of it’s processing but because of its UI design… Even after several years of mixing with this I still struggle to get my head around the design.

What Do You Think?

There you have it, four different saturation plug-ins you can try for yourself the next time you mix a song that you feel needs some extra edge. Out of these videos, which of the plug-ins did you prefer the sound of the most?

Do you already use any of these plugins? If so please share how you use them in the comments below.

Visit Waves more information on the plug-ins used in this article.

Dan Cooper

Dan Cooper

Dan Cooper is a London based Multi-Instrumentalist, Arranger, Music Producer and Mixer who is also a graduate from The BRIT School Of Performing Arts. He has worked with countless musicians and songwriters across London and Kent from his studio at the end of his garden.

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The Get That Pro Sound Ultimate Guide to Compression Ebook Available Now>>

We previously covered why you might want to use saturation plugins to add life, character and warmth to your mixes (see that post here).

So you know you want to use saturation to improve your mixes and increase their punchiness, warmth and presence, but don’t know where to start?

Or you want to take your analogue experiments up a notch while still keeping everything In The Box?

In either case, and whether your budget is $ or $+, there&#;s something for everyone here. Take a look at this selection of the best saturation plugins around:

fabfilter saturn 2 saturation plugin

1. FabFilter Saturn 2

Saturn 2 is a pro-grade distortion and saturation plugin with a fantastic interface and workflow for multi-band saturation, allowing you to apply broad strokes or get very detailed and clinical with equal ease when applying warmth and distortion to the parts and frequencies of your sounds that need it while avoiding the rest.

Saturn 2 can produce effects ranging from warm and subtle analogue saturation to full-on crunchy bit-crushed digital distortion, and for many users this plugin is a potential one-stop shop for saturation as it&#;s so flexible &#; the modulation, panning and even compression options are excellent (as always with FabFilter), and the clickable spectrum analyser field at the back is where you can visually set up the crossover points for your different frequency bands, that can then all be treated independently.

In between that feature and the simple mix knob, you have a whole bunch of options for how, and to what degree, you process your sounds. The latest update, Saturn 2, saw the interface get a welcome refresh and improved modulation visualisation, new subtle saturation and linear phase processing for mastering, and a range of additional distortion types in the processing Style menu. Recommended!

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU, AAX, RTAS

BUY NOWvia Plugin Boutique.

soundtoys decapitator saturation plugin

2. Soundtoys Decapitator

Excellent sound, great interface and simple controls. As with other Soundtoys plugins, it&#;s easy to set up several settings and demo them against each other with the &#;compare&#; knob.

Beyond this, Decapitator also has a really cool &#;Style&#; selector feature. Choosing one of the five lettered buttons engages a different saturation algorithm modelled after each of five pieces of classic gear. The letters stand for Ampex analog tape machine, EMI channel, Neve channel, and the Triode and Pentode settings on the Thermionic Culture Vulture valve enhancer. Between the Style selection and the simple Mix, Drive and EQ/Tone knob controls, you have just the right number of options to quickly find the vibe you&#;re after without getting bogged down.

From the name you might suspect Decapitator to want to tear your head off with distortion the whole time — and it can indeed easily do this, with the Punish button! — but when you&#;re after more subtlety, it&#;s amazingly good at just sitting quietly too and adding that warm analogue vibe to any part or track.

If you get Decapitator as part of the Soundtoys 5 Bundle (which I definitely recommend, as featured in our Best Bundles roundup), you&#;ll also get other plugins that can provide a number of alternative saturation colours with the likes of Devil-Loc Deluxe (great on drums!) and the tube amp-modelling Radiator. Even the delay Echoboy, with delay amount dialled back to zero, can make an extremely useful saturator, with its multitude of colouration types for quick and dirty processing and sound design.

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, AU, AAX, RTAS

BUY NOWvia Plugin Boutique.

izotope trash 2 distortion saturation plugin

3. iZotope Trash 2

Trash 2 can apply everything from extremely subtle tape-style saturation to the heaviest tube amp and digital crunch, fuzz and general destruction!

As I mentioned in our recent Sound Design series article on Distortion, Trash 2 is extraordinarily versatile, featuring a series of switchable filters, multi-band dynamics, waveshapers, LFOs, envelopes, and even delay alongside the distortion algorithm sections. It&#;s basically a very cool and unusual channel strip plugin in disguise!

But what makes it so good for saturation duties is the degree of control you have to sculpt the processing to your preference. Even by simply dragging around in the waveshaper window in the Trash module, you can stumble on a vast range of characters very quickly. Couple this with the algorithm menu and the ability to treat any of 4 user-defined frequency bands independently, and you have everything you need to add warmth and punch in any sound design or mixing scenario.

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU, AAX, RTAS

BUY NOWvia Plugin Boutique.

softube harmonics saturation plugin

4. Softube Saturation Knob, Harmonics and Tape

I couldn&#;t decide between these so decided to just include all three under one listing. Totally cheating, I know. Softube offer something for everyone when it comes to saturation, starting with the Saturation Knob — which is free! Simple and light enough to use on many channels throughout a full production.

softube saturation knob saturation plugin

Softube Saturation Knob

The straightforwardly-named Tape has become a go-to for many producers when it comes to adding that cohesion and glue that recording to tape famously provided in the mythic Olden Days of the analogue studio era.

The most recent (and most expensive) addition, Harmonics, is an interesting beast, kind of a Saturation Knob in Hulk mode!

It uses what Softube call &#;Dynamic Transient Control&#; to analyse the input signal and apply its processing in a more program-dependent and sympathetic way than perhaps some earlier plugin algorithms might have done, which can help retain the details and transients of your sounds, which are typically the first things to go when you start to apply heavier saturation and distortion.

softube tape saturation plugin

Softube Tape

Like Decapitator above, it also features five different distortion models to choose from, but unlike that plugin Harmonics covers a broader (and less model-specific) range of saturation source types: Solid State, Transformer, Master, Tube and Modern.

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU, AAX

BUY NOWvia Plugin Boutique.

klanghelm sdrr fuzz mode saturation plugin

5. Klanghelm SDRR

Another fantastic all-rounder for your saturation needs, SDRR centers around its four modes: Tube, Digi, Fuzz and Desk. Each mode changes the interface graphics as well as displaying some controls that are unique to that mode.

klanghelm sdrr digi mode saturation plugin

As with all the plugins from this highly-regarded independent developer, the sound quality is equal to any in the game and the value for money is exceptional. Plus, its the thoughtful details, and things like the clear controls and easy size, quality and calibration options that all add up to make SDRR a pleasure to use.

Also check out Klanghelm&#;s free IVGI saturation & distortion plugin, for a streamlined but excellent taste of what SDRR offers.

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU, AAX

BUY NOWvia Klanghelm.

d16 group redoptor 2 saturation plugin

6. D16 Group Redopter 2

Redopter models hot-rodded vintage vacuum tube guitar amplifiers to impart that distinctive creamy, growly tube saturation to your sounds, which is quite different from some of the tape saturation plugins we&#;ve looked at so far. The Pre Filter and Preamp sections, together with the knobby 4-band parametric EQ, mean you have a deceptively huge amount of control to shape the overall tone and select the frequency points at which the saturation starts to break up the signal when driven harder.

And all without any flashy animated visual displays! Which is not to say the GUI isn&#;t great — in fact the skeuomorphic controls and hardware unit-style brushed metal faceplate are actually very inspiring for diving in and tweaking out parameters while keeping your attention fixed firmly on the sound. Recommended, especially for electronic/techno producers and anyone who processes a lot of synth sounds.

Also definitely check out two other D16 plugins for alternate flavours of distortion-type processing:  Decimort 2 is my personal favourite for bit-crushing, and the multiband distortion unit Devastator 2 is particularly good for harder and industrial techno styles, amongst other uses.

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, AU, AAX

BUY NOWvia Plugin Boutique.

u-he satin saturation plugin

7. u-he Satin

As well as being extremely fast and simple to operate — you can basically get away with only touching the Input and Output dials while watching the nice VU meter 90% of the time — Satin is certainly up there with the very best-sounding tape emulation plugins.

Of course you can get under the hood when you want to, opening up the Service tab and messing with the finer parameters to your hearts content, from the amount of hiss and wow & flutter to setting a tape EQ &#;Bump&#; and changing the specific tape type and speed.

Satin also has some other cool tricks up its sleeve. In the regular Studio mode, you can assign each instance of Satin to one of the eight groups, with each group behaving like a multitrack tape, &#;remote-controlled&#; from any instance in that group — great for real-world applications when you want to apply tape saturation across multiple tracks in a full mix/project setting, which is often the case.

You also have Delay and Flange modes, making Satin a multi-effect plugin with authentic tape delay and tape flanging effects!

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU, AAX

BUY NOWvia Plugin Boutique.

sonnox oxford inflator v3 saturation plugin

8. Sonnox Oxford Inflator

Something a little different from the typical tape and tube-modelling saturation plugins, the Sonnox Inflator is — even after many, many years! — something of a secret weapon, and still particularly popular amongst media and film composers who are often processing strings and orchestral elements, largely acoustic mixes and other things where the typical compression and saturation tools and settings might produce unwanted pumping and other unwanted colouring.

When you want the power, warmth and modern presence that is typically associated with &#;saturation&#; but you also want to maintain a relative transparency in the processing, check out the Inflator.

I won&#;t pretend to know how it actually works its magic, but the sonic usefulness of the Inflator has definitely outlived its original, distinctly Windows style interface&#;

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, AU, AAX, RTAS, UAD DSP

BUY NOWvia Plugin Boutique.

brainworx black box analog design HG-2 saturation plugin

9. Black Box Analog Design HG-2

The HG-2 was already a highly coveted analogue hardware unit before it&#;s makers, Black Box Analog Design, partnered up with Brainworx to do the painstaking software modelling for the also-highly-regarded plugin version.

Typically used on the overall mix buss, the HG-2 adds a magical mixture of loudness, parallel tube saturation and highly controllable harmonics, the latter controlled with dedicated Pentode and Triode dials.

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU, AAX

BUY NOWvia Plugin Alliance.

spl vitalizer mk2-t saturation plugin

SPL Vitalizer MK2-T

The original Vitalizer is another hardware staple of professional studios around the world, in part because it does a rather unique combination of things. Yes, boosting tube presence and harmonic richness is certainly its jam, but at the same time it&#;ll provide stereo widening, frequency separation, compression/expansion, loudness and overall clarity to a mix. Whether you&#;re looking to fix problems or to enhance an already great mix, the Vitalizer should definitely be considered alongside more typical saturation processors.

SPL Twin Tube Processor

Also check out SPL&#;s TwinTube: Modelled on their own hardware modules, TwinTube provides two big dials: one for adding tube saturation (warmer, louder), the other for specifically adding harmonic content like an exciter/enhancer (presence, clarity, sparkle). Awesome sound, and again the interface makes it a breeze to dial up your preferred settings.

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU, AAX, UAD DSP

BUY NOWvia Plugin Alliance.

URS Saturation plugin

URS Saturation

One of the early professional favourites for in-the-box saturation, URS Saturation still deserves a mention on our list. The interface is streamlined, and the controls are extremely quick and intuitive to dial in. Choose from ten vintage analog algorithms (covering six tube preamps, two speeds of tape, and two transformer types), crank the Input for more drive, and set your Saturation and Dry-Wet balance in the middle for varying degrees of full or parallel processing.

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU, AAX


brainworx vertigo vsm 3 saturation plugin

Brainworx Vertigo VSM-3

A high-end hardware recreation that is equally popular with mastering engineers and adventurous producers when mixing. As with many plugins from Brainworx, this software model of the Vertigo Sound VSM-2 Mix Satellite is well-regarded in its own right for bringing the power and much of the sonic character of the hardware to the convenience of the plugin format.

The VSM-3 features two independent (virtual) saturation circuits, identified on the faceplate as 2nd Harmonic FET Crusher and 3rd Harmonic Zener Blender, referring to the different characters of distortion created by each circuit. The Crusher side can be considered more of a smooth, rich saturation, while the Blender side contributes more of a brighter, exciter-like vibe. You can blend any combination of the two with the central THD Mixer knob, as well as align them serially or in parallel, and each with its own stereo or M/S setting, for a huge range of spatially-enhancing saturation effects.

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU, AAX, UAD DSP

BUY NOWvia Plugin Alliance.

izotope ozone 9 vintage tape saturation plugin

iZotope Ozone 9 Vintage Tape

Available in iZotope&#;s mastering suites Ozone 9 Standard and Ozone 9 Advanced, and with the option to load as a separate plugin in Advanced, the Vintage Tape module is an excellent go-to for typical saturation duties when mixing and mastering. It features stripped-down but extremely well-considered controls for choosing tape speed, Bias (for tuning the saturation response), Harmonics and smooth high and low-end EQ bumps with the Emphasis sliders.

With characteristics modelled on the Studer A analogue tape machine, Ozone&#;s modern, super-clean interface and clear controls will be especially appreciated by anyone who wants the desirable sound of classic hardware but without getting waylaid by the often strange and completely unintuitive quirks of the old machines and their controls, quirks that are usually — for some reason! — also recreated in the plugin versions.

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU, AAX

BUY NOWvia Plugin Boutique.

uad ampex atr closed saturation plugin

Universal Audio UAD Ampex ATR & Studer A Tape Machines

Two separate plugins from Universal Audio, modelling two of the most popular tape machines that could be commonly found in most professional studios of the analog era. Thought I should mention both!

Speaking of Studer, Universal Audio&#;s model of the A Multichannel Tape Recorder is more of a one-to-one faithful recreation, the opposite approach to Ozone&#;s Vintage Tape above. You can almost smell the tape and motor oil. Probably the most accurate representation of how real multitrack recording tape actually sounds in a plugin, but with an authentic array of controls and calibration settings, you&#;ll also need to know (or learn) what you&#;re doing to really get the most out of this plugin.

The results can be fabulous, but it&#;s not necessarily the easiest route to saturation heaven if you didn&#;t come up in the era of operating real tape machines. On the other hand, if you want to expand your knowledge of the intricacies of classic tape recording and technique but you don&#;t have access to an actual studio reel-to-reel tape machine, the UAD plugins are a great, authentic option.

uad ampex atr open saturation plugin

The Ampex ATR with cover &#;Open&#;, exposing the under-the-hood calibration controls for many more creative options.

The same can certainly be said of the Ampex ATR, although this one was originally used in more of a mastering and &#;final polish&#; context than the recording-workhorse Studer. It&#;s my personal favourite of the two, especially for using on the master bus chain and mixing into it or when doing my own &#;mastering to tape&#;, and with it&#;s controls for applying destructive hiss and wobble, it&#;s awesome for processing synths in a subtle or extreme fashion too.

Available for: Mac, PC | UAD DSP only, requires UAD hardware such as the Apollo Twin MkII audio interface to run.

BUY NOWvia Universal Audio.

fielding dsp reviver saturation plugin

Fielding DSP Reviver

Using a streamlined version of a saturation configuration we&#;ve seen used in a number of the plugins in our list, with Reviver you have direct control over the balance of second-order and third-order harmonics, which can be thought of broadly speaking as defining the characteristics of tube amplifiers (second-order, warm, smooth) and tape or solid state amplifiers when overdriven (third-order, punch, fatness, detail) respectively.

Reviver is a marvel of highly controllable saturation, that with minimal controls can cover a lot of distortion bases while also being pleasingly pro-quality and free of artefacts and aliasing, delivered via a disarmingly simple interface. And perhaps best of all, at a price that anyone could afford. Recommended.

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU

BUY NOWvia Fielding DSP.

waves abbey road j37 tape saturation plugin

Waves Abbey Road J37 Tape

Modelled on one of the tape machines used at the world famous Abbey Road Studios in London (most famously the recording home of The Beatles, and many others), the Waves J37 Tape hits a sweet spot between authentic sound, highly useful features nicely laid out in an inspiring interface, and, importantly for many, sheer value for money with a price ($ deal at the time of writing) that makes it a quality tape machine emulation for almost every budget. Recommended!

I noticed Billy Bush make an insightful point in this promo video for the J37 thats totally worth remembering: whether or not you want to &#;sound like The Beatles&#;, or even need or want the exact sound of a real tape machine and its characteristics, the specific way that this plugin (and by extension, all the plugins on this list) has been uniquely modelled and developed gives it a unique colour and workflow that, regardless of how authentically &#;analogue&#; it sounds, is a highly creative tool that can be used in a variety of ways by modern producers, making modern styles of music that might never have occurred to The Beatles or George Martin. So go crazy, stay creative, and don&#;t get too boxed in by the idea of &#;correct&#; ways to use and apply saturation and distortion!

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU, AAX

BUY NOWvia Waves.


So there you have it, an (almost) definitive list of plugins that can help you achieve a better, warmer, more expansive Pro Sound. I recommend trying them all, but eventually wittling it down to a smaller selection of your favourite ones for specific tasks. Remember, Less Is More &#; you don&#;t want plugin overwhelm getting in the way of actually making music.

I really hope this article is useful to you &#; it takes a lot of time and work to research and put it all together, so if you&#;d like to show your appreciation do consider purchasing the Ultimate Guides below, and/or purchasing your plugins through our links, some of which will provide us with a small commission at absolutely no additional cost to you. Thanks!

For a lot more sound design and processing tips, check out the Ultimate Guides series, a definitive collection of tips and techniques for enhancing your music and bringing it to a professional level:

Ultimate Guides Complete Bundle v

Find more suggestions on great-sounding, analogue-warm plugins and how to get the most out of them in these related articles on GTPS:

50 Of The Best Compressor Plugins In The World

25 Of The Best Drum Plugins In The World

10 Ways To Make Your Soft Synths Sound More Analogue

Sours: https://getthatprosound.com/of-the-best-saturation-plugins-in-the-world/

Top 20 Saturation & Distortion Plugins for Electronic Music

In mid , a then relatively unknown music producer named Audien tweeted "Why have I never used distortion?"

This tweet might be more significant than we realize, since his next release was his breakthrough track "Wayfarer", signed to Anjunabeats.

Most producers, at some point in their production journey, come across the revelation that is saturation and distortion.

So with that in mind, here are my favorite 20 saturation and distortion tools, paired with a real-mix-example which demonstrates how I might use each plugin.

Sound Toys Decapitator


This is pretty much the BEST saturation plugin in the game. It can produce a huge variety of analogue-style saturation tones, plus, the amazing ‘punish’ button allows you to use the saturation knob at an extra 20 DBs.

By the way, Hyperbits Masterclass students can receive the academic Sound Toys discount and get 50% off the entire Sound Toys suite.

This is pretty much the most incredible plugin deal in the entire industry because you are getting the entire Sound Toys Bundle for roughly the cost of just one Sound Toys plugin.

Real Mix Example:
Next time your vocals are falling flat in your mix, don’t reach for an EQ.

Instead, dial in some subtle drive (maybe ), switch the style to the EMI (E) setting, set the mix between % and listen to your vocal gain new clarity, edge, and brightness as it starts to cut through the mix.

Fab Filter Saturn


The Saturn has some really powerful presets emulating some crunchy amps and tape saturators.

And the fact that it is a multi-band saturator makes it one of the most malleable, tweak-able distortion units out there.

Real Mix Example:

Sometimes, a sub can sound great completely clean. Other times, it needs some extra dirt to sit right in a mix. Slap on the Saturn, select the preset ‘Best Of – Back in the Day’, set the mix somewhere between %.

Tweak the multi-band parameters to taste. Works ninety-percent of the time, every time.

Waves GTR Amp


For mid-range distorted basses, I've yet to find anything better for added color and weight. Absolutely love the bass amps in there.

Real Mix Example:
Next time your mid-range bass needs help creating that ‘wall of sound’ style drop or full section, put the Waves GTR Amp on a send-return bus, select the preset ‘Bass Mo-Town – Below & Above’ and dial in the send to taste.

This should sound full and crunchy. When it comes to saturation and distortion, you'll want to save this preset.

Ohm Force Ohmicide


Potentially the most powerful distortion on this list, look no further if you are going for a wow factor in terms of sheer color, depth and weight.

Real Mix Example:

If you are looking to make a trance bass, something distorted and appropriate for Anjunabeats or Enhanced, apply the Ohmicide and select the Bass #4 preset.

Tweak the bands until they match a reference track both in color and energy.

Camel Audio Camel Crusher


Camel Audio seems to have fallen off the map, but at one point, this was a free plugin, so if you do some digging you can find it somewhere on the inter-webs.

No excuse not to try this one — really strong and dirty sounds.

Real Mix Example:

In your next future-house production, try adding the Camel Crusher to your top hollow-bass layer, set the preset to ‘British Clean’ and turn the master mix-knob down to %.

Assuming sound-choice and other processing is in place, this should be a nice energy layer.

Noveltech Character


So this plugin isn't JUST a saturator, but man is it beautiful. Apply liberally to anything and everything.

Bonus: try the Noveltech Vocal Enhancer for a slightly brighter more vocal-ready color!

Real Mix Example:
Pick ONE element in your mix that needs some attention. It can be anything – vocals, percussion, a lead synth, even a bus or group – throw on the Noveltech Character and turn up the character knob.

Or, play around with the super powerful presets. Don’t over think this plugin btw – if it sounds great, use it.

D16 Redoptor


The Redopter is potentially the most underrated plugin on this list. It's got a very specific fuzziness to it that I absolutely love.

Real Mix Example:

Most of us don’t sing well enough to add our own vocals into a song.

However, if you happen to write a cool ambient melody, try recording your voice 3 times (keep one take in the middle, pan one hard left, pan one hard right), and apply the Redopter on the group with plenty of reverb.

No guarantees, but what you might be left with is a beautiful, almost British and worldly sounding vocal.

Softtube Saturation Knob


Another freebie, but this thing is great. The Saturation Knob is an extremely powerful one-knob saturation tool and a great alternative to the Sausage Fattener, the Waves one Knob, or even the Decapitator for those on a budget.

Real Mix Example:

Try this baby on lead sounds – synths, guitars, saxophones, vocals – whatever. Switch the Saturation type to ‘Keep High’ and dial in the saturation knob to %. Honestly, this plugin sounds way too good to be free.

Dada Life Sausage Fattener


The Sausage Fattener is actually part saturator, part compressor, part limiter.

But regardless, stop cranking the fatness knob too far. It can be very useful to thicken up a sound and squash it just right when used it in subtle amounts!

That said, this plugin really is amazing, and super affordable. There are much better, less metallic distortion and fattener plugins out there, but at this price, it can’t be beat.

Real Mix Example:

If you are looking for some extra loudness in your overall mix, slap the sausage on your master, and don’t touch it again.

I know this sounds crazy butno drive, no color, nothing.

Just insert it on your master channel before the limiter and leave it alone. This breaks a lot of production ‘rules’ but can add some extra edge and loudness to your mix.

Izotope Trash


I think the key word here is: versatile.

Housing tons of drive algorithms, pre/post filters, custom wave shaping, and visualization. On top of that, the dry-wet knob gives you ultimate control, no matter how far you push your sounds.

Real Mix Example:

Ever throw some drum fills into your mix and find they just sound dead, dull and boring? Send all of your fills to a bus and apply the Trash 2.

Select ‘Drive – Smooth Overtones’ and turn up the drive knob liberally, up to 50%, and then turn down the mix knob to taste (I usually end up between %).

Those dull fills should sound pretty awake and alive at this point.

Waves One Knob


Despite the single control – yes there is only one knob to turn – this plugin offers some versatile distortions at a fairly reasonable price point.

Real Mix Example:

This thing sounds great on vocals – the next time you want that distorted vocal effect in your track, try the One Knob Driver. Not much to explain here – just turn the knob way up until you reach the desired effect.

Klangheim SDRR


The SDRR is incredibly versatile.

Sure, you can saturate your music to add warmth, depth, and character – but you can even add some movement to your saturation with the ridiculously cool and powerful DRIFT control.

Real Mix Example:

On your drum bus, or main loop – select the ‘DR – Bringing Out The Room’ preset, turn up the Character setting to about 40% (still more warm than sizzle), and turn the Drift knob up to %. Amazing subtle saturation with added movement, or as Klanghelm calls it – liveliness.

Sound Toys Radiator


The reason this plugin exists – it’s sole purpose on earth – is for you to TURN UP THE HEAT.

I’m not even joking.

Everyone is striving for analogue warmth in their digital productions, and this might be the ultimate ticket. Turn up that input gain and listen as your production comes to life.

Real Mix Example:

With another simplistic interface, don’t over-think this plugin. Try dialing in small amounts of input gain on any of your groups.

For a drum bus, try turning down the treble 1 notch, while dialing the input 2 notches. Turn down the mix if needed – this usually groups my drums very nicely.

UAD Moog


If you are lucky enough to hear this baby in action, you’ll understand why it’s so special.

It just sounds so damn expensive.

Maybe that’s because it emulates the classic hardware Minimoog almost perfectly.

Real Mix Example:

Liberally open the cutoff slightly over the course of a build or break – I’ve yet to come across a plugin that sounds quite as nice.



This monster emulates a ’s distortion. Most avid UAD users will likely talk about how great it sounds on guitars, but the warm, crunchy distortions I’ve been achieving in my bass sounds is what makes this thing so special.

Real Mix Example:

Grab a deep-house sounding bass from Reaktor’s Monark. Set a low-pass around hz, and then apply the UAD Raw – keep the distortion very low, but turn up the filter and the volume.

What you might be left with is a very Anjunadeep sounding bass.

Fielding DSP Reviver


I discovered the Reviver when one of my Masterclass students suggested this as an alternative to the famous Oxford Inflator.

Most of the plugins on this list emulate some sort of analogue gear – the Reviver doesn’t do that, and doesn’t claim to.

The entire point of the Reviver is to retain a very clear, un-smashed signal when pushing, saturating

Real Mix Example:

Turn up band #3, the ultimate ‘3rd Order Harmonics’ – also referred to as added ‘punch’ or ‘detail’ in a mix. Apply on a drum bus for ultimate punchiness.

PSP Vintage Warmer


If you’re like me – this plugin most likely has fallen into the ‘I own it, I use it, but have no idea what I am doing with it’ category at some point.

While there are some great videos that might help you wrap your head around it here and here. At the end of the day, this plugin is great for subtle drive and weight on a master or group channel.

Real Mix Example:

Don’t even bother with the presets on this one – just add a few DBs of ‘Drive’ to the master or a bus – will give surprising amounts of character and beef to pretty much any layer.

SPL Twin Tube


What makes the Twin-Tube unique is the dual knobs – one for Saturation and one for Harmonic overtones.

Use these two together in small amounts, and you have a very versatile plugin.

Real Mix Example:
Next time your track is suffering from some inherent dullness, try adding some ‘air’ by applying harmonic distortion via the Twin Tube.

Apply to your pad/string group and listen to your production start to sizzle.

URS Saturation


If the Sound Toys Decapitator had a younger brother (aside from the Radiator) the URS Saturation tool would take the cake.

With six vintage pre amplifier algorithms, two analog tape saturation algorithms, and two transformer core saturation algorithms – this is one powerful little plugin.

Real Mix Example:

There is something about the smoothness with which the URS Saturation plugin works that directs me towards using this thing on Synths – anything that sounds overly digital.

If you have a lead that sounds generic and very ‘preset’ like – try adding some URS saturation for analogue warmth and tonality that feels and sounds expensive.

Waves Maserati


Anyone who has ever tried to undertake the creation of huge Audien-like super-saws will know that the Maserati is part of the puzzle.

It delivers distortion, color and loudness meant for guitars – but is applicable to so much more.

Real Mix Example:

When building your Audien style super-saw stack, isolate a single note lead playing the main melody.

Keep the Maserati on the clean setting, and try generously dialing in the presence – this should add some crisp, guitar-like over-tones to an otherwise digital synth layer.

Saturation & Distortion Workshop

And there you have it — 20 Saturation Plugins for electronic music, and some specific examples as to how to apply them.

Remember, saturation is defined as 'additional harmonic frequencies' so it is quite versatile.

If you'd like to learn more about saturation and distortion, here is a free recording of a live, in-depth workshop I've given on the topic.

Sours: https://hyperbitsmusic.com/topsaturation-plugins-for-electronic-music/

Plugin waves saturation

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How to Get Rich Analog Tone with the Greg Wells ToneCentric Plugin

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