Audio Plugin Testing: How I give plugins an objective score!

This is the way I like to test plugins. It’s an ever evolving endeavor that takes a lot of time, which means that I only do it with a handful of plugins. 

Here is what goes into the score:

Scoring Factors

The overall score is based on a weighted average of 5 scoring factors:

  • Technical Performance (25%).
  • User Experience (20%).
  • Sound Quality (25%).
  • Economic Factors (10%).
  • Compatibility and Plugin Formats (10%).
  • Plugin-Specific Scoring Factors (10%).

Each factor is given a weight based on its level of importance:

Understanding the Scoring system

I decided to use a 1-10 scoring system where 10 represents an exceptional score, a 8.5 represents an acceptable score, and anything below 7 is unacceptable.

  • 10 – Exceptional score.
  • 9.5-9.9 – Excellent score.
  • 9.0-9.4 – Very good score, only some minor complaints.
  • 8.5-8.9 – Good score. Good enough for most users, even professionals.
  • 8.0-8.4 – Fair score. May not suit most peoples’ needs.
  • 7.5-7.9 – Poor Score.
  • 7.0-7.4 – Very poor score.
  • <7.0 – Don’t buy (Poor in every regard).

Scoring Methodology

The methodology will keep evolving over time, but right now I do all of the technical tests I can (I test the plugins with PluginVal, AuVal, open up instances of the plugin on as many tracks as possible until the DAW can’t handle it anymore be it by crashing or when playback starts adding crackle noise, use PluginDoctor to check oversampling and latency performance, etc.).

I try to keep all of the testing and scoring as objective as possible, even though some of the usability and user interface scoring might be inevitably more subjective.

Test System and Software

  • M2 Mac Mini with 8gb of ram.
  • DAWs: Reaper, Studio One.

Note: I have two additional PCs (one extremely high-end with a 12-core processor, 64gb or RAM, etc., and a 10-year old laptop, none of which represent the kind of computer most home producers use, which is why the more logical choice is the Mac Mini with the M2 processor).

Technical Performance

Here I try to “stress-test” the plugins, test if oversampling can completely remove aliasing in a sine sweep test, overall latency of the plugin, and I also take into account some features, such as if they have sidechain capabilities, and others, to give them the score.

CPU consumption is the most important test in this section because in a large project with multiple plugins, this starts to add up and can introduce crackle or even crash the DAW.

What does PluginVal do: It runs a series of processing tests, such as checking multiple sample rates and block sizes, it checks all of the parameters, and some other technical things.

What does AUVal do: It runs a series of tests to validate the plugin, and LogicPro and Garageband run this test every time a new plugin is loaded, and the plugin can only be loaded if it passes.

Note about PluginVal and AUVal: 99.9% of plugins pass this test, but it’s included to find the ones that may not since this means a big red flag.

CPU Performance results per DAW (No Oversampling):

This test is done with a sample rate of 44.1khz and with a 512 block size in every DAW.

Let’s use my own THR MB-Control as an example:

Total Number of tracks per DAW

  • Reaper: 324 tracks.
  • Studio One: 290

Note: The CPU is given based on how it fares against the competition, in this case, multiband compressors.

PluginVal or AUVal (“Pass” = 10, “Fail” = 1)Pass10
Oversampling & Aliasing4x & 8x OS (removes aliasing).10
Latency with Oversampling (if it has the option)5.9ms10
Sidechain CompatibleYes10
CPU Consumption & Scalability (Max Simultaneous tracks…)30710

User Experience

Here I include multiple factors which combine the initial experience of downloading and installing the plugin, all the way to actually using it.

Installation, DRM and Licensing RestrictionsSimple Installer (no extra steps)10
Free Trial Availability7-days10
Interface Look and Feel, Intuitiveness, ResponsivenessVery responsive and intuitive10
Ease of UseBeginner friendly10
Documentation and Learning ResourcesWritten Guide9
Update and Support PolicyLifetime Updates10

Sound Quality

Sound Fidelity, Sound OptionsTransparent sound10
Artifacts/DistortionNo Artifacts or Distortion10

Economic Factors

Economic factors will take into account the price of the competition. If there are any other similar plugins with the same features and overall quality at a much lower price, the score will be lower.

Min Price of Similar Plugins$29.99
Max Price of Similar Plugins$199.00

Compatibility and Formats

For formats, a 10 will be given to plugins that are available as VST3, AU, and AAX in 32- and 64-bit since this covers 99% of needs.

KONTAKT, RTAS LV2, etc. are nice extras to have.

FormatsVST3, AU, AAX, 32-bit & 64-bit10
CompatibilityWindows, MacOS, Linux10

Plugin-specific features

For example, if it’s a compressor, then I will be taking into account if it has auto makeup gain, auto attack and release, as well as other features.

Auto Makeup GainMaintains perceived loudness almost perfectly.9.5
Auto Attack & ReleaseYes10
Mid/Side ProcessingNo7
RMS/Peak Detection ControlNo7.00
MIDI LearnNo7

Final Score

This is how the final score would get calculated with the different weights:

Average Score:9.68
Technical Performance10
User Experience9.83
Sound Quality10
Economic Factors/Price8.99
Plugin-specific features8.10
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