Last Updated on March 31, 2021.
In this article, I will be going over the different VST plugins you should consider using for mastering. I will be covering whole mastering suites, EQs, Compressors, Limiters, Metering plugins, Saturation plugins, and a couple extras that you might find useful.
I will include premium plugins, as well as affordable and free ones, so there’s a little for everyone.
If you want to quickly jump to a specific section, then use these navigation links:
- Full Mastering Suites
- EQ Plugins
- Compressor Plugins
- Limiter Plugins
- Metering Plugins
- Saturation Plugins
- Additional Plugins
Top 5 Mastering Plugins
|Ozone||Plugin Suite||AU, AAX, VST2, VST3 64-bit||Windows & Mac||$99-499|
|Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain||Plugin Suite||AAX Native, AU, VST, VST3 64-bit||Windows & Mac||$42|
|Chandler Limited Curve Bender||EQ||VST, VST3, AU, AAX 64-bit||Windows & Mac||$299|
|SSL-G Master Buss Compressor||Compressor||VST, AU, VST3, AAX Native 64-bit||Windows & Mac||$30|
|FabFilter Pro L-2||Limiter||VST, VST3, AU, AAX 64-bit||Windows & Mac||$199|
Now, before we jump into the list of plugins, I think there’s two things that you might want to think about, since this is where some mixing engineers tend to screw things up and it’s something that you should avoid!
Consider Hiring a Mastering Professional
Before you delve into the wonderful world of mastering you should consider one thing…..don’t! Mastering engineers exist for a reason and it isn’t because of lazy mixing engineers.
It’s a craft that takes years to perfect and for beginners who think they can learn mixing and mastering simultaneously, I suggest learning to crawl before you can run.
There is also an important detachment from your project that a mastering engineer offers. Let’s say you have spent months recording and mixing some local dudes’ debut of the decade. Through your all your sweat and labor, you have grown attached to the music, it’s become your baby and now you won’t do anything but coddle it!
This is where a mastering engineer comes in with a fresh and professional pair of ears and hears exactly how unbalanced your prized possession really is.
That is why, if you’re a musician, for example, it’s generally recommended to have separate mixing and mastering engineers working on your album, since they will be way more objective than you.
But the same concept applies if you’re the one mixing the album… A fresh set of ears never hurts!
Consider your Stock Plugins
let’s be honest, you’re probably going to experiment with mastering your own tracks; you’re an engineer, it’s in your nature!
When you do please begin with your stock DAW plug-ins, don’t rush to spend a fortune on the top-of-the-line mastering suites. A compressor, limiter, and an EQ are the essentials you need to dip your toes in.
You will not be able to download Bob Ludwig’s talent, mastering is an artform, not a plug-in effect, and you can achieve astounding results with what comes stock with your DAW.
Now, with that out of the way, let’s get into the list!
Best Mastering Suite Plugins
Mastering suites are essentially plugin bundles that come with everything you could ever need for mastering, be it as separate plugins or all in one.
1. Ozone ($99 – $499)
iZotope’s Ozone has become the golden standard of mastering suites, it’s the tool of choice for elite level producers like Butch Vig (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins) and Joe Chiccarelli (The Strokes, U2). The sheer amount of tools Ozone offers gives you literally everything you need and more for mastering.
The GUIs of Ozone’s plug-ins are modern and minimalistic, with a real straight to the point feel. It includes an EQ, maximizer, dynamic EQ, exciter, spectral shaper, dynamics module, and an imager, as well as vintage modules in its EQ, compressor, limiter, and tape saturation. Ozone also offers tons of helpful tools such as master assistant, which gives you tips on what processing is a good starting point for your audio.
iZotope offers three separate bundles in which you can gain access to these 64-bit VST2/VST3 plug-ins for Windows and Mac. Ozone Elements is priced at $129, Standard is currently on sale for $99, while Advanced will set you back $499.
Find out more about Ozone by iZotope here.
2. Brainworx bx_masterdesk ($299)
Brainworx owner Dirk Ulrich created bx_masterdesk with the desire for an analog styled and simple to use mastering one-stop-shop. He has done an excellent job, offering an extremely compact and beginner friendly mastering tool.
Masterdesk has a hardware style GUI with bulky pots for you to pinch. It offers a compressor, de-esser, EQ, resonance filters, and M/S processing. Masterdesk’s strong point is its simplicity, it doesn’t take much learning for you to polish a mix ‘till it’s proper.
Brainworx bx_masterdesk is available as a 64-bit VST2/VST3 for Mac and Windows. This masterful desk will cost you $299 (right now it’s on sale for 1/4 the price).
Find out more about Brainworx bx_masterdesk here.
3. Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain ($42)
Waves partnered up with Abbey Road Studios to create an emulation of the legendary EMI TG12410, which has been used on everything from Dark Side of the Moon to In Utero. This plug-in will suit those who need warm vintage vibes with a fully flexible signal flow.
TG Mastering Chain’s interface stays true to its analog predecessor. It features 5 modules: input, tone, compressor/limiter, filter, and V.A.L spread. All these modules are rearrangeable, offering the flexibility modern mastering requires. The sound quality for TG Mastering Chain is incredible considering how moderately priced it is.
Waves have made their plug-in available as a 64-bit VST3 for Windows and Mac. A walk down Abbey Road has a price tag of $42.
Find out more about Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain here.
4. FabFilter Mastering Bundle ($499)
FabFilter Mastering Bundle offers a collection of some of the most modern minded mastering plug-ins out today. Although lacking in tools when compared to Ozone, you should take note of FabFilter’s offering for one simple reason; these plug-ins sound phenomenal!
All FabFilter’s plug-ins have a glossy look to them, offering vibrant visualizations of your work. It features a Pro-L 2 true peak limiter, a Pro-C 2 compressor, a Pro-Q 3 EQ, and a Pro-MB multi-band compressor and expander. They all offer an unrivalled versatility, adapting to any task you throw at them, no matter how broad or how surgical.
FabFilter’s bundle of mastering plug-ins are available as 32/64-bit VST/VST3s for Windows and as 64-bit VST/VST3s for Mac. You can master like the masters for $499.
Find out more about the FabFilter Mastering Bundle here.
5. Noiz-Lab LE Mastering Bundle (Free)
Noiz-Lab LE Mastering Bundle is a free set of plug-ins which were created by J.D. Young to supplement his Home Studio Mastering book, a manual which aims to demystify mastering for all. These are fantastic plug-ins, so even if you don’t choose to take a page out of J.D.’s book you should still pop them in your plug-in folder.
All of Noiz-Lab LE Mastering Bundle’s GUIs have a present-day vibe to them. It offers an EQ, compressor, limiter, monomizer, and a convolver (basically a reverb). Everything about this bundle has been designed with beginners in mind, from its ease of use and extensive literary demonstrations to its non-existent price tag.
The plug-ins in the Noiz-Lab LE Mastering Bundle come as 32/64-bit VST/VST3s for Windows and Mac.
Find out more about the Noiz-Lab LE Mastering Bundle here.
Best EQ plugins for Mastering
EQ’s are integral to the mastering process. Here I will list a premium EQ as well as an affordable one, and lastly a free EQ. However, no one said that mastering using free plugins can’t work, so here’s a link to an article I wrote about the best free EQ plugins available.
6. Chandler Limited Curve Bender ($299)
Softube’s Chandler Limited Curve Bender is based on classic EMI hardware such as the TG12345 and has received the stamp of approval from Chandler Limited founder Wade Goeke. If you need a premium EQ with vintage charm, Softube have you covered.
Curve Bender’s interface is a photorealistic emulation of the hardware. It’s a 4-band EQ which offers you the ability to stereo link, affect each channel individually, or process M/S. Besides the incredibly nuanced processing it offers, a bonus feature is that it contains presets from producers such as Tony Maserati (Notorious B.I.G., Mary J. Blige) and Howard Willing (Smashing Pumpkins, 2pac).
Chandler Limited Curve Bender comes as a 64-bit VST/VST3 for Mac and Windows. You can get ahead of the curve for $299.
Find out more about the Chandler Limited Curve Bender here.
7. AirEQ Premium ($69)
Eiosis released AirEQ 15 years ago, it has since blossomed from an underwhelming equalizer into one of best you will find for a moderate price. AirEQ offers highly tweakable parameters and a cleanly corrigible sound that is perfect for your frequency’s finality.
AirEQ’s interface offers precise visualizations, as well as an overwhelming number of nobs to twist. It’s a 9-band EQ containing parameters named after the 4 elements. Earth = low-end, Air = high-end, and for resonance response, water = transparent and fire = punchy.
AirEQ comes as a 32/64-bit VST2/VST3 for Windows and Mac. A breath of fresh air will set you back $69.
Find out more about AirEQ here.
8. TDR VOS SlickEQ (Free)
For those looking for a sleek new EQ but life’s hard and the bills are due, fear not! TDR VOS SlickEQ is a mastering EQ that won’t cost a dime. This is a beginner friendly EQ that offers a sound quality that simply can’t be found for free anywhere else.
SlickEQ’s interface is minimalistic, with just 6 pots on offer to control its 3 bands. Its skin changes color depending on what behavior model you have it set on: American, British, German, and Soviet all offer unique response characteristics. It also includes 5 calibratable output models: linear, silky, mellow, deep, and funky all offer different flavors of harmonic distortion.
SlickEQ is available as a 32/64-bit VST2/VST3 for Windows and as a 64-bit VST2/VST3 for Mac.
Find out more about the TDR VOS SlickEQ here.
Best Compressor plugins for Mastering
9. Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor ($299)
Shadow Hills was founded by unsung audio genius Peter Reardon, his Mastering Compressor is a lauded piece of hardware which has been used on songs from Foo Fighters, Beck, and Green Day, among countless others. Brainworx have created a plug-in emulation which truly captures the essence of the original; this is the crème de la crème of mastering compression!
Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor’s GUI has a military feel to it. It can be used either as a stereo or dual mono compressor. Mastering Compressor offers both optical and discrete sections for two-stage compression. You can also choose between 3 different output transformer modes: nickel for high-end sheen, iron for midrange oomph, and steel for low-end harmonic distortion.
Mastering Compressor is available as a 64-bit VST2/VST3 for Mac and Windows. Hills can be alive with the sound of music for $299 (currently on sale at half the price).
Find out more about the Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor here.
10. SSL-G Master Buss Compressor ($30)
Next up, we have an emulation by Waves of the master buss compression section of the SSL 4000 G. Not a ton of features on offer from this one but this compressor is extremely beginner friendly, offering a great cohesive squeeze at a fair price-tag.
SSL-G Master Bus Compressor’s interface is an emulation of the hardware, with 6 dials offering you control over its parameters, plus a VU meter in view. There is a variable fade-in/fade-out control, as well as an analogue switch which creates a pleasant harmonic distortion.
SSL-G Master Bus Compressor comes as a 64-bit VST3 for Windows and Mac. A rock-solid state of compression will only cost you $30.
Find out more about the SSL-G Master Buss Compressor here.
11. TDR Kotelnikov (Free)
Kotelnikov was named after Soviet Union engineer Vladmir Kotelnikov in honor of his influential sampling theorem. Keeping his intuitive spirit in mind, TDR offer a free transparent style compressor designed specifically for mastering.
Kotelnikov’s GUI is vibrant with large pots and a prominent meter. Its crest factor control enables you to calibrate the compressor’s reaction to peak and RMS signals. Kotelnikov also includes an oversampled signal mode, which is completely bit transparent and doesn’t attenuate the original. This is a clean sounding compressor, perfect for those who are not in search of digital “analog warmth”.
Kotelnikov comes as a 32/64-bit VST2/VST3 for Windows and as a 64-bit VST2/VST3 for Mac.
Find out more about the TDR Kotelnikov here.
Best Limiter plugins for Mastering
Limiters will help you win the loudness war and add some punch to your music while you do so.
On a related note, here’s my article about the best Free & Paid Limiter VSTs.
12. Pro L-2 ($199)
FabFilter’s Pro L-2 is a true peak limiter with an unrivaled balance of transparency and power. It’s won countless awards from audio publications; you’ll be hard pressed to find a limiter that maximizes your audio’s potential as much as Pro L-2.
Pro L-2’S interface is glossy and modern, with large waveform visualizations and metering on offer. K-system as well as LUFS metering helps you to comply with all loudness standards. 8 different limiting algorithms are made available: transparent, punchy, dynamic, all-round, aggressive, modern, bus, and safe all offer different spices of dynamic delight.
Pro L-2 is available as a 32/64-bit VST/VST3 for Windows and as a 64-bit VST/VST3 for Mac. The damage on a well to do L-2 is $199.
Find out more about the FabFilter Pro L-2 here.
13. L2 Ultramaximizer ($36)
Waves’ L2 Ulramaximizer has been on the market for more than a hot minute but is still competing with the best limiter plug-ins out there due to the exciting colorations it produces, along with the sheer affordability Waves products are known and loved for.
L2’s interface could do with a bit of a revamping; it has a somewhat outdated feel to it. Feature wise, Waves keep it simple while still giving you everything you need. It includes a linkable threshold and output ceiling, a release control, as well as an attenuation meter. The stand-out feature of the L2 Ultramaximizer is its sound itself; when things start to get loud your dynamics become clutched by a cheerfully present grip.
L2 Ultramaximizer comes as a 64-bit VST3 for Mac and Windows. Ultramax lets your wallet relax at the fair price of $36.
Find out more about the L2 Ultramaximizer here.
14. Unlimited (Free)
Sonic Anomaly’s Unlimited is a free mastering limiter, it was designed with the film industry in mind but could work equally as well gluing an album together. It’s a transparent style limiter that lets you get as loud as a lout without leaving a trace of distortion.
Unlimited’s GUI has a futuristic vibe to it, with faders plus big and bold meters. RMS, peak, and LUFS meters are given for your glance. Unlimited comes with 3 different response modes: classic, film, and true peak. Filmmakers will appreciate Unlimited’s ability to process in up to 5.1 surround sound.
We send our best condolences to Mac users, Unlimited is only available as a 32/64-bit VST for Windows.
Find out more about the Sonic Anomaly’s Unlimited plugin here.
Best Metering plugins for Mastering
15. Brainworx bx_meter ($19-99)
Although ears will always do the bulk work while mastering, having good meters is as crucial as having any EQ. Brainworx_bx meter quite simply offers a clearer picture of your signal’s level than any stock or budget meters provide.
Brainworx bx_meter’s GUI is thoughtfully large, there will be no eye squinting like DAW meters require. Peak, RMS, and dynamic range indicators can all be used to monitor signals in linkable stereo or M/S mode. Brainworx bx_meter offers the ability to optimize metering to K-12, K-14, and K-20, as well as weighting filters of A-weighting, C-weighting, and K-weighting.
Brainworx bx_meter is available as a 64-bit VST2/VST3 for Windows and Mac. A meter that hits the mark costs $99 (On sale for $19 right now)
Find out more about Brainworx bx_meter here.
16. VUMT Deluxe ($26)
Klanghelm have developed a meter which will suit the mastering of both the most modern-minded midi mapper as well as any vintage Vox-amped vagabond.
VUMT Deluxe’s interface is extremely customizable, allowing you to resize it, choose between 8 skin colors, and label it. You can switch between 6 metering types: VU, RMS, DIN, BBC, Nordic, and EBU. VUMT Deluxe is more than just a meter; it offers high and low-pass filters, a dynamic EQ, and frequency dependent stereo narrowing.
VUMT deluxe comes as a 64-bit VST/VST3 for Mac and Windows. The value of a view of your volume units is $26.
Find out more about the VUMT Deluxe here.
17. Youlean Loudness Meter (Free)
Julijan Nikolic created Youlean Loudness Meter in response to his frustration at the expensive price-tags placed on loudness metering plug-ins. It has since gone on to be one of the most widely used free metering tools for mastering, offering you everything you need to prepare your sounds for the big stream.
Loudness Meter’s GUI is fully resizable, offering 8 types of meter readings and a large graph. Short term, integrated, momentary max, and short-term max LUFS readings are all available. Also on offer are loudness range, dynamic range, and average dynamics LU readings, plus a true peak max indicator.
Youlean Loudness Meter is available as a 32/64-bit VST2/VST3 for Windows and as a 64-bit VST2/VST3 for Mac.
Find out more about the Youlean Loudness Meter here.
Best Saturation plugins for Mastering
18. Black Box Analog Design HG-2MS ($249)
Brainworx have developed an emulation of Black Box Analog Design’s HG-2 with the welcome addition of mid/side processing. This plug-in has been applauded by engineers such as Dave Pensado (Mary J. Blige, Beyonce) and Micheal Brauer (John Mayer, Coldplay) for giving the master buss a distinctly charming crunch.
HG-2MS’ interface offers futuristic looking pots and LEDs. There are 4 tube emulations: fully tweakable pentode and triode 6U8As, plus two 12AX7s for parallel saturation. HG-2MS also includes bandpass filters and a calibratable high-frequency response. This plug-in has a lot going on parameter wise, luckily it comes with pre-sets from Josh Gudwin (Justin Bieber,Dua Lipa) and Eric Racy (Black Box Analog Design founder), among several others.
Black Box Analog Design HG-2MS comes as a 64-bit VST2/VST3 for Mac and Windows. A warm box of black will set you back $250.
Find out more about Black Box Analog Design HG-2MS here.
19. J37 Tape ($36)
Studer’s first ever multi-track tape machine was the J37, it created the lovely saturation sounds on classic albums such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Waves and Abbey Road Studios have teamed up to create an accurate emulation with an affordable price.
J37 Tape’s GUI keeps the vintage reel-to-reel look. You can adjust the wow, flutter, bias, and speed of the tape machine. J37 also offers 3 different eras of EMI tape: 888 (early 60s), 811 (mid 60s), and 815 (early 70s).
J37 Tape is available as a 64-bit VST3 for Windows and Mac. Top notch tape that won’t make your wallet gape costs $36.
Find out more about J37 Tape here.
20. IVGI (Free)
Klanghelm’s IVGI is the little brother of their SDRR plug-in, thankfully it’s not been living in the shadow of its older sibling. IVGI is one of the most fantastic free saturation plug-ins you will find on the market today.
IVGI’s interface has a hardware vibe, with old school pots and a VU meter on display. An asymmetric knob allows you to choose between a compressed or a more transparent saturation. IVGI also offers you a frequency response knob and a relaxed algorithm switch.
IVGI comes as a 64-bit VST/VST3 for Mac and Windows.
Find out more about IVGI here.
Additional Plugins useful for Mastering
Here are three different plugins which aren’t strictly necessary but which should help you out achieve a better sounding end result.
21. Ozone Imager 2 (Free)
For those looking to play around with the stereo field, iZotope have a fantastic plug-in available that doesn’t cost a cent. Throw Imager on your master buss, dial in a tasteful amount of width, and tell me it doesn’t leave your track with a beefier bravado! It’s the perfect brush for painting your stereo canvas.
Ozone Imager’s GUI has an excellent balance of minimalistic controls and artistic visualizations. Width control allows you to stretch your stereo signals like Armstrong or keep them as narrow as an arrow. Stereoize allows you to transform a mono signal into stereo without the use of reverb.
Ozone Imager is available as a 64-bit VST2/VST3 for Windows and Mac.
Find out more about Ozone Imager 2 here.
22. Oxford Inflator ($156)
Oxford Inflator is Sonnox’s bestselling plug-in for a reason. Inflator uses psychoacoustic hocus pocus to increase the perceived loudness of your audio without using compression, it can also be used to create some fantastically pleasant harmonic distortion.
Inflator’s GUI includes 3 meters, 3 buttons, and 4 faders. The faders on offer are input, output, effect amount, and curve. Also made available is a clip button (essentially a 0dB hard limiter), a band split switch, and a bypass switch.
Oxford Inflator comes as a 32/64-bit VST2/VST3 for Mac and Windows and requires an iLok account before installation. Thankfully, its price hasn’t been inflated, it can currently be found for a discounted price of $156.
Find out more about the Oxford Inflator here.
23. Metric AB ($39-199)
The importance of reference tracks when learning to master cannot be overstated, ADAPTR Audio have a plug-in tailored exclusively to this need. Metric AB is a highly organized setup that will improve the workflow of your most critical listening sessions.
Metric AB’s interface offers up stylish meters: peak, RMS, and LUFS are all within view. This plug-in can load up to 16 tracks to compare, but Metric AB is not just a track switcher. Spectrum, dynamics, correlation, stereo image, and overall loudness of different songs can be contrasted using its crystal-clear graphing system. You can really dig in and study the final touches placed on your favorite music!
Metric AB is available as a 64-bit VST2/VST3 for Windows and Mac. Completely crucial comparisons cost $199 (Currently on sale for $39.99)
Find out more about Metric AB here.
I personally love finding free plugins and using those until I absolutely have to upgrade, which in many cases isn’t really necessary.
My recommendation is to only buy a VST plugin if you really need to, since the free alternatives that are out there, as well as your stock plugins, will get you a lot farther than you think!
I hope this information was useful!
Have a wonderful day!