Best saturation plugins VST
Saturation is the process of enriching an audio signal with both even and odd harmonics, which occurs due to the smoothing of peaks in an audio recording
This effect is achieved through the use of tube equipment or digital plug-ins (such as exciters and saturators). As the saturation level increases, the sound becomes more saturated and distorted, while simultaneously decreasing in volume.
Saturators are divided into 3 types:
- Transformer saturators: The peculiarity of these devices is that distortion occurs as the signal passes through the windings of the transformer. This method provides quality processing and although not as common, it remains effective for improving your mix. Transformer saturators enhance low frequencies, simulating an analog background in the range of 50-60 Hz;
- Tube saturators: Based on the properties of tube amplifiers to create non-linear distortion. Lamp saturation, proven in practice for a long time, allows you to achieve high results. There are two main types: OVERDRIVE, which is an intense tube saturation, and DISTORTION, which is a semiconductor saturation that differs from tube saturation by less smooth signal transitions at maximum state. Tube saturators enhance high frequencies by saturating and adding harmonics;
- Magnetic tape saturators: These devices saturate the signal with new harmonics by recording onto the magnetic tape of a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Although there is not much information about this method of sound processing, it gives the sound a unique “film” coloration. Magnetic tape saturators affect low and mid-low frequencies, depending on the tape speed – 15ips and 30ips.
Saturation = Harmonics
In general, saturation is related to harmonics, which are a set of frequencies derived from the fundamental frequency. These harmonics enrich the original sound, making it warmer. However, such enrichment is not always pleasant to the ear. Even harmonics (multiples of 2, 4, 6, 8, etc.) and odd harmonics (multiples of 3, 5, 7, 9, etc.) affect the sound differently. The balance between even and odd harmonics plays a significant role in determining sound quality.
In my opinion, true saturation can only be achieved with analog devices such as tube amplifiers or reel-to-reel tape recorders, which are quite expensive. The use of VST plugins, although they can change the timbre to some extent, provides only a limited effect on the coloration of the sound. Analog saturation introduces subtle nuances of distortion into the sound, and many audio engineers strive to achieve an analog sound in digital recordings by transferring them to high-quality tape recorders and then digitizing them back. This process is especially valuable when mastering rock music.
From my experience, true tube devices usually cost from 50-60 thousand rubles. Products sold as “tube” preamps such as Behringer MIC500, ART Tube MP, DBX 286S, ART TPS II are actually imitations. In these devices, sound passes through a semiconductor, which consists of a lamp with a field-effect transistor.
1. FabFilter Saturn
FabFilter Saturn from Fabfilter is a feature-rich plugin capable of producing both soft analogue sounds and intensely distorted effects. This plugin stands out in the market with its unique ability to manipulate the frequency range, making it one of the leaders in its category. According to the official website, it includes about 150 ready-to-use presets.
2. Sound Toys Decapitator
Decapitator is distinguished by its closeness to analogue sound and its responsiveness to dynamic changes in the sound passing through it. This plugin recreates processing styles with high precision, thereby enriching the tone and adding brightness to your sound. The included mix control makes it possible to use Decapitator for parallel audio processing, making it especially convenient to use.
Decapitator combines the diverse tonal aspects of analogue saturation effects, reflecting the physical hardware the company used during the plugin’s development process. But saturation does not always manifest itself in a soft form. For a more aggressive effect, the plugin provides a “Punish” button, which transforms saturation into powerful distortion.
3. Variety Of Sound / Bootsy FerricTDS
FerricTDS from Variety Of Sound has been mentioned before. This plugin is free and available to everyone. Similar to the other plugins discussed here, it performs its functions efficiently while having minimal impact on the performance of the computer’s processor.
4. D16 Group Redoptor
The D16 Group team has earned a lot of positive feedback from EDM producers. Redoptor emulates vintage saturators, enriching the sound with warmth and analogue sound. It is also recommended to pay attention to plugins such as Decimort (Bit Crusher) and Devastator (Multiband Distortion).
5. Izotope Alloy 2
Izotope, known for its quality and user-friendly plugins, continues to attract attention. Although the 9th version of their Ozone plugin is already on the market, Alloy 2 remains popular due to its efficient algorithms and ease of use.
Alloy 2 includes all the necessary basic modules for audio processing: Eq, Transient, Exciter, Dynamics 1, Dynamics 2, De-esser and Limiter.
6. 112dB Redline Preamp
Various opinions have formed among experts around the 112dB Redline Preamp plugin and its manufacturer. Some audio engineers praise it for its unparalleled sound clarity, while others are not yet familiar with this product line. Redline Preamp enriches the sound with harmonics, making it richer and more lively.
7. ToneBoosters Ferox
ToneBoosters offers another excellent saturator, Ferox, which is available at an affordable price and is popular among renowned mixing engineers. Although this plugin is unfortunately no longer being updated and support for its algorithms has likely been discontinued, Ferox is still effective at improving the sound of audio signals. In its presets you can find many interesting presets for quickly improving your sound.
8. URS Saturation
Although this series of plugins has not received updates for a long time, this saturator still ranks among the most frequently used tools for experienced old-school mixing engineers. In 2011, it represented a real breakthrough in the industry.
9. Wave Arts Tube Saturator
Tube Saturator algorithms are based on the principles of real-time simulation of analog electronic circuits. Wave Arts has gone to great lengths to accurately replicate the voltages and currents in every tube, resistor and capacitor within the two-stage triode preamp structure with three-band analog EQ, aiming to recreate every detail of the real thing. This plugin is a powerful tool for simulating tube amps that enriches the sound with analog warmth and surprising density. It is currently considered one of the best tube amp simulators in its class. It features a compact size and elegant interface. The main thing that sets this plugin apart from its analogues is the use of advanced technologies for modeling analog circuits, thanks to which its sound is as close as possible to the sound of a real analog device.
10. SPL TwinTube Processor
The TwinTube Module is a unique combination of two key tube effects – saturation and harmonic processing – in one processor. Each stage functions independently of the other and is based on different processing steps. This allows you to use effects both individually and in combination. In a classic analog circuit, the saturation effect is created by pushing the tube beyond its normal operating parameters. Unlike semiconductor devices, the tube, having reached this level, does not go into clipping mode when reaching a certain level, but gradually approaches its limits, creating a characteristic tonal effect. This ensures pure and unique acoustic effects when processing audio signals.
11. Solid State Logic – SSL Fusion Vintage Drive
Fusion Non-Linear Saturation Scheme for your DAW. The Fusion Vintage Drive plug-in is the digital analogue of the Vintage Drive processor from SSL’s widely acclaimed Fusion Stereo Analogue Colouration hardware. In simple terms, this plugin simulates the saturation of SSL’s FUSION analog rack unit.
This plugin is designed to create the mild harmonic enrichment and gentle compression that is typical of using vintage equipment in the optimal analogue zone. The goal is to achieve full, true analog distortion. Fusion Vintage Drive is a key tool for bringing an organic analogue sound to your tracks, bands, mixes and masters.
12. Slate Digital Virtual Tape Machines
Slate Digital Virtual Tape Machines is a powerful audio plug-in that simulates both a 16-channel 2″ reel-to-reel tape recorder and a 1/2″ stereo master deck. In addition, users have the opportunity to choose between the two most famous types of magnetic tapes.
This plugin accurately reproduces the characteristics of the two most commonly used tape speeds – 15 and 30 inches per second. Audio engineers working with tape often select speeds based on the nature of the material they are recording, especially since bass response can vary significantly at different speeds. The plugin also offers improved bass performance by adjusting the bass slider in the configuration module.
13. Overloud – Gem TAPEDESK
TAPEDESK is a simulation of a complex analog signal path, including the simulation of a professional tape recorder and mixing console. Its GUI is divided into three sections: the console input channel is on the left, the tape simulator is in the center, and the console mixing bus is on the right. Signal processing starts at the input channel, passes through the tape mechanism, and ends at the mix bus.
TAPEDESK recreates all stages of signal processing to emulate the tonal features of the original mixing process. In an analog environment, the tape recorder is physically connected to the console, and to achieve the warmth of analog mixing you need to simulate the interaction between the tape recorder and the console, which is what this plugin does.
Users can choose between three console models for emulation: S4000, N80 and T88. Although the functionality is the same, each model has its own unique tone.
- S4000 – This mixing console is known for its clean, wide and slightly aggressive sound, making it an ideal choice for high-gain rock, metal and pop music;
- N80 is another popular model, featuring a rich, warm sound that can add a classic feel to a mix;
- T88 – especially sought after for its dense, rich tone and characteristic midrange punch.
14. T-RackS Tape Machine
The T-RackS Tape Machine collection is the result of over two years of research and development dedicated to true classic reel-to-reel tape recorders. Each unit has undergone a thorough electronic and mechanical upgrade.
Tape Machine 440
Introduced in the 1960s, the Ampex 440 has a bright and unique “all-American” sound. These features have made it an icon in the field of professional mixing and mastering.
Tape Machine 80
The Studer A80 Mk II, with its various modifications, has become an integral part of many records. This Swiss tape recorder, produced from 1970 to 1988, virtually set the standard for high-end professional multitracking. The A80’s sound uniquely balances transparency with gentle harmonics.
Tape Machine 99
Created in the 1980s, Studer’s Revox PR99 Mk II is a professional stereo recorder. It is designed with a hybrid design, combining the best of discrete and operational amplifiers to deliver very smooth sound, especially in the low frequencies. The PR99 Mk II has become a standard in the broadcast and classical music industries and is highly regarded by audiophiles for its outstanding sound quality.
Tape Machine 24
The MCI JH24, first released in 1980, was widely used in American studios in the 1980s. This completely transformerless, op-amp-based, high-performance design delivers clear, phase-consistent, and high-quality sound, giving your music a moderate and refined processing.
Пленки T-RackS Tape Machine
Films T-RackS Tape Machine
Choose from four different tape emulations, each with its own unique character:
- 250: Using the 3M/Scotch 250 base launched in 1974, this emulation has the brightest color of the four tapes available. It provides a warm tone with slightly more distortion and saturation than the other tapes in the set;
- 456: Based on the Ampex 456, also debuting in 1974, this tape became perhaps the most popular and had a significant influence on what is known today as the “special sound.” It delivers a warm, round tone with soft saturation that actively responds to recording levels;
- GP9: Modeled after the Quantegy GP9, it handles high signal levels well with minimal distortion and compression. It sounds bright and clear, making it ideal for high-quality modern analogue recordings;
- 499: Based on the Ampex 499, this emulation offers excellent sound for quiet recordings and can significantly enhance bass at low recording speeds.
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