Last Updated on February 19, 2021.
Here’s a list of the best VST effects and VST instruments that you might need to create great-sounding music.
For the sake of keeping this list as short and to the point as possible, I will only include one free- and one premium plugin per category, e.g. compressor, EQ, etc.
So, without further ado, let’s get into the list!
Dexed by Digital Sub Urban (Free)
Dexed is a Free multi platform and multi format frequency modulation Synth that is based on, or closely modeled to, the Yamaha DX7.
It isn’t the simplest synth to use… there is definitely a learning curve to it, but I honestly think that it’s well worth it to do the effort and learn how to use it properly.
Download Dexed for free here.
Diva by U-He ($215)
Diva is a synth that captures the spirit of various analogue synthesizers by letting the user select from a variety of alternative modules.
The oscillators, filters, and envelopes closely model components found in some of the greatest monophonic and polyphonic synthesizers.
Download Diva by U-He here.
Ample Guitar M Lite II (Free)
Ample Guitar M Lite II is a sampled acoustic guitar that features a variety of settings, such as strumming or picked, and effects, such as delay, chorus, and more.
It sounds incredibly realistic and best of all, it’s free!
Download Ample Guitar M Lite here.
Vir2 Instruments Acou6tics ($299)
Acoustic guitars are extremely hard to emulate, which is why most of these plugins never sound like the real thing.
However, Acou6tics manages to bring out a pretty convincing acoustic guitar sound.
It features 6 different acoustic guitar sounds and many articulations, which will help you achieve a much more realistic sound overall.
Download Acou6tics here.
Guitar Amp Sim
Bias FX II (Demo version)
Providing loads of different amps, cabinets, stompboxes, and other features, this plugin is capable of almost any kind of tone you could think of.
The free version is quite limited and will generate noise every 5 minutes to remind you to buy it, but other than that it’s fully usable, even for recording.
Download BIAS FX II Demo here.
Amplitube 4 by IK Multimedia ($149)
Amplitube is the original amp sim which has been around for over a decade now.
IK Multimedia claims that Amplitube 4 has a “Hyper-Realistic Tone”, and even though it’s not necessarily identical to the real thing, it can definitely be used to record and produce music.
It features a total of 9 amplifiers, 10 cabinets and a set of 29 vintage and modern speaker models, and you can switch them all around however you like.
Amplitube 4 also gives you the ability to mic up the cabinets with up to two microphones and move them around in a 3D space, to give you more control over the audio.
Download Amplitube 4 here.
GK Amplification 2 LE (Free)
Modelled after the Gallien-Krueger MB150 amp, the GK Amplification 2 LE can be used as a standalone application or as a VST/AAX/AU plugin.
It is the light version of the GK Amplification 2 Pro, which means that it only includes a single amp model with a single speaker and mic option compared to the full version which has more.
Download GK Amplification 2 LE here.
Spectrasonics Trilian ($299)
With Trilian you get over sixty different 4, 5, 6 and 8 string Electric basses that are presented in fingered, picked, fretless, slapped, tapped, and muted technique variations – providing a huge variety of sounds for any musical genre.
It packs one of the largest sample libraries out there, with over 34GB of high-quality samples of basses such as; Music Man 5-string Studio Bass, Chapman Stick, Lakland Rock P-Bass, and more!
Download Trilian here.
MT Power DrumKit 2 (Free)
The MT Power DrumKit is a free sampler that offers high-quality samples of an acoustic-, realistic drum kit.
The Samples come pre-processed which should make them sit nicely in any mix without any tweaking.
Download MT Power Drumkit here.
Superior Drummer 3 by Toontrack ($319)
Superior Drummer 3 is designed for hours of in-depth tweaking and editing, and its emphasis is not on composing music fast, but rather creating the best sounding drum tracks you can.
This is because it comes with over 230 GB of raw, unprocessed sounds in 44.1kHz/24-bit, giving you full control over the processing of those files.
Also, it features 6 drum kits and some additional instruments, as well as a built-in mixer.
Download Superior Drummer 3 here.
Layers by Orchestral Tools (Free)
Layers is an orchestral sample library that features a full orchestra, Brass-, Woodwinds-, and Strings sections.
You can choose between a couple different mic positions and it also features different articulations; different chord types, staccato and sustain unison, and more.
You can download Layers here.
Audio Imperia Nucleus ($449)
Featuring a wide selection of strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion and choirs, Nucleus is basically one of the largest orchestral libraries out there that sounds absolutely phenomenal.
It also works on the KONTAKT Player, which is the Free version of KONTAKT, and it’s not as resource-heavy as some other libraries.
You can download Nucleus here.
Spitfire Audio Soft Piano (Free)
Spitfire Audio has launched LABS, which is a free instrument-sample library in VST and AU formats.
All of the plugins sound terrific, and it comes as no surprise that their Soft Piano Plugin does sound fantastic as well.
All of the samples were recorded at Air Edel Studios using an array of microphones and they achieved the “soft” sound by placing a thin strip of felt between the hammers and the strings.
Download Spitfire Soft Piano here.
Keyscape by Spectrasonics ($399)
Keyscape is one of the biggest and most versatile piano libraries in existence.
It features a total of 500 sounds from 36 different pianos; like upright pianos and grand pianos, as well as electric and digital pianos, clavinets, and various different keyboard types.
Take into consideration that you will need 80GB of free hard drive space as well as a powerful computer for it to work.
Download Keyscape Here.
TDR Nova EQ by Tokyo Dawn Records (Free)
Nova is a parallel dynamic EQ, even though it looks a lot like your traditional parametric EQ.
Its four bands also include a full-featured dynamic section each, which means that the EQ can cover a huge variety of applications.
This means that the Nova EQ’s capabilities extend far beyond what almost any other EQ can offer, especially free ones.
Download TDR Nova here.
Fabfilter ProQ 3 ($179)
Fabfilter ProQ 3 is probably the most advanced EQ on the market, and also the best- and most useful plugin on this entire list.
It has one of the best GUIs of any EQ, the sound quality is as good as it gets, and it can be used for mixing and mastering.
Download Fabfilter ProQ 3 here.
MJUC Jr. by Klanghelm (Free)
With just two basic controls, “Compression” and “Make Up”, the MJUC JR. makes controlling the dynamics of the song extremely easy.
Also, there’s the three-position timing switch which not only controls the attack and release of the unit, but also the slew rate of the transformers and the timing of the other parts of the circuitry, that are directly influencing the generated harmonics (saturation).
Download MJUC Jr. here.
Fabfilter Pro C2 ($165)
Another addition to this list by the guys at Fabfilter is the Pro C2, which is a compressor designed for both mixing and mastering with superb audio quality.
One of the things I like about this plugin is its real-time metering display, since it will give you a visual representation of what is going on with the sound and how compression is being applied to it.
Accurate level meters show the exact peak and loudness values, and the large side-chain EQ controller makes it extremely easy to filter the trigger signal in any way you like.
Additionally, it features 8 different compression styles; Clean, Classic, Opto, Vocal, Mastering, Bus, Punch, and Pumping.
Download Fabfilter Pro C2 here.
Saturation Knob by Softube (Free)
The saturation knob is literally one knob that allows you to add some warmth and shimmer to the vocals, guitar, and any other track you’d like.
Basically, it just adds volume and warmth.
This one is ideal for beginners who don’t want to have to deal with too many variables.
Download the Saturation Knob here.
Decapitator by Soundtoys ($210)
If you’re looking to recreate the old analog vibe, then a good saturation plugin should help you achieve just that, and the Decapitator by Soundtoys does this very well.
With five different analog saturation models to choose from, the Decapitator is perfect for adding character to every kind of track and instrument in your mixes.
Included also are; a modelled tone control that lets you shape the saturated sound, and a mix control that lets you blend in some dry signal for parallel processing without the need for routing and sub-mixes.
Download the Decapitator here.
Voxengo Tempo Delay 2.0 (Free)
The Voxengo Tempo Delay is, as the name implies, a tempo-based stereo delay plugin that is intended for a wide variety of music production applications.
It has a filter and tremolo sections with separate controls for each stereo channel.
Instead of a single “delay length” control, this plugin features separate “delay”, “repetition period” and “delay panning” controls, that allow you to create great sounding ping pong style stereo echoes.
Download Voxengo Tempo Delay 2.0 here.
Echoboy by Soundtoys ($210)
Echoboy is definitely one of the best premium Delay plugins available on the market, if not THE best.
It combines 30 echo styles, which are modelled on iconic vintage gear, and adds some extra features on top of them.
You can create almost any delay sound you want with it thanks to all the editing options available.
Basically, it does it all and it does it well.
Download Echoboy here.
Ambience Reverb by Smartelectronicx (Free)
Ambience Reverb not only comes with all the conventional controls that all other reverbs provide, but it also features some other more unconventional features which definitely add to its versatility.
One of these features is the Gate button; This one will gate the reverb and add a cool special effect.
Another one is the Hold Button, which allows you to hold the reverb in an infinite loop.
Some other useful features are; the EQ, Shape, and the Dampening sections.
Download Ambience Reverb here.
Fabfilter Pro-R ($200)
FabFilter Pro-R takes a musical approach to reverb, offering user-friendly, non-technical controls like Brightness, Character and Distance to achieve the reverb sound you are looking for.
The stepless Space control lets you fade between dozens of different, carefully tuned room models, automatically choosing a matching decay time for a natural-sounding result.
It is a highly customizable and great sounding plugin, and like every other FabFilter plugin, it’s one I’d absolutely recommend.
Download Fabfilter Pro-R here.
Lisp by Sleepy-Time DSP (free)
Whether you use a traditional de-esser, sidechained compressor, dynamic EQ, or even edit your tracks manually, cleaning up sibilance problems in your vocals can get pretty tedious.
Lisp is a new type of de-esser that aims to speed-up this process with its automatic sibilance detection algorithm.
Internally tuned to the human vocal range, Lisp can automatically detect and lower annoying “ss”, “teh”, and “ch” sounds in your audio by tracking both the amplitude and pitch of its input in real-time. Just set the reduction amount and let Lisp do the rest!
Download Lisp here.
FabFilter Pro DS ($179)
With its ‘Single Vocal’ detection algorithm, FabFilter Pro-DS can accurately identify sibilance in vocal recordings and attenuates it transparently.
When using the ‘Allround’ mode, Pro-DS becomes a great tool for high-frequency limiting of any material, like drums or even full mixes. Try it out yourself!
FabFilter Pro-DS offers everything you need to get the best result possible, presented in a simple and easy-to-use interface.
Download Fabfilter Pro-DS here.
Here’s a complete list of the Best De-Essers out there.
Wider by Polyverse Music (Free)
This is a simple free plugin that widens your stereo signal.
The added benefit of Wider is that it does this without causing phase issues when you listen to the mix in mono because any widened signal will always remain in phase.
It’s extremely easy to use because you can only control one parameter; the width.
Download Wider here.
S1 Stereo Imager by Waves ($39.99)
The S1 Stereo Imager is a great tool for widening or narrowing the stereo image of your mixes, as well as correcting or enhancing stereo, or even a mid-side image.
It’s affordable, easy to use, and does what it’s supposed to.
Download the S1 Stereo Imager here.
Graillon2 is a great free pitch-correction plugin that not only works extremely well, but also looks absolutely stunning.
You can tell it what notes it should correct the pitch to as well as how fast and how accurately it should do so.
Additionally, it comes with a built-in bitcrusher section and it can be controlled via MIDI, which is something that most of the free plugins I tried weren’t able to.
Lastly, it can be upgraded to a premium version that includes a couple extra features for $25.
Download Graillon2 here.
Antares Auto-Tune ($99 – $399)
Antares Auto-Tune is one of the most used pitch-correction tools and it comes in various different formats; The Pro-, Artist and Access versions as well as the EFX+ version, which is a combination of Auto-Tune’s core functions plus some extra effects.
What makes Antares Auto-Tune stand out is its ease of use, since the interface is extremely clean and easy to understand.
Antares Auto-Tune is the industry standard, and you can’t really go wrong with it.
Download Auto-Tune here.
TAL-Vocoder by Togu Audio Line (Free)
TAL-Vocoder is a vintage vocoder with 11 bands that emulates the sound of vocoders from the early 80’s.
It includes analog modeled components in combination with digital algorithms such as the SFFT (Short-Time Fast Fourier Transform).
This vocoder does not make a direct convolution of the carrier and modulation signal as other digital vocoders may do.
Download the TAL-Vocoder here.
VocalSynth 2 by Izotope ($199)
This is one of the most powerful commercial vocoder plugins out there that also comes with loads of other features which are great for creating cool and futuristic vocal effects.
VocalSynth 2 features a Vocoder, Compuvox, Polyvox, Talkbox, and Biovox, which is a brand new effect based on the sonic qualities of the human vocal tract.
It’s more than capable of creating the typical robotic effects, however you can also get any kind of oldschool or “newschool” sounds which should help you find that secret sauce that you need to make your mixes sound awesome.
Download VocalSynth 2 here.
Step Machine by Rozzer (Free, Windows)
Featuring a clean and intuitive interface, Step Machine can be a great way of getting acquainted with Step sequencers and learning how they really work.
It comes with all the basic features of a good Step Sequencer, but it’s completely free.
Note: Only available for Windows.
Download Step Machine here.
Playbeat by Audiomodern ($59)
Playbeat is a Creative Groove Randomizer plugin that generates unique beats and patterns for you.
Unlike an ordinary step sequencer, Playbeat creates patterns using algorithmic and random procedures for generating notes by combining Steps, Pitch, Volume and more.
You can drag-n-drop your own sounds and generate up to four patterns simultaneously to get Polyrhythms.
The user interface is super intuitive and it really makes the workflow fast and simple.
Download Playbeat here.
Zampler//RX is a powerful sample workstation developed by Synapse Audio.
In addition to REX-Loop and SFZ-compatible sample oscillators, this plugin offers some awesome shaping:
The integrated multi-mode filter offers the types low, high, bandpass and bandstop as well as various combinations of these.
Additionally, it features an extensive number of included effects such as; chorus, tube saturation, phaser, delay and reverb.
Download Zampler here.
Kontakt by Native Instruments ($399)
KONTAKT is the go-to sampler of almost every producer simply because it offers a huge library of third-party banks and sample sets.
There are currently around 600 licensed instruments from other manufacturers that run in KONTAKT, plus thousands more so-called ‘indie’ instruments, which is the biggest collection of playable sampled sound out there.
It is mostly geared towards realistic-sounding samples, meaning that you could create full simulated orchestras that sound almost identical to the real thing, but it can honestly do anything you want it to.
While not being the most affordable sampler out there, it is the industry standard and for good reason.
Download KONTAKT here.
Note: KONTAKT Player, which is the free version, is also available for download.
I know that there are literally hundreds of plugins that could’ve made this list, but I wanted to keep is as straight to the point as possible to make it easier for you to choose one.
If you feel like some of the plugins could be replaced on this list, please let me know in the comment section below which ones you would’ve replaced them with.
I hope this information was useful!
Have a great day!