Imagine having access to the powerful sound and flexibility of classic analog channel strips without the hefty costs and maintenance. Thanks to digital audio software makers, this is now a reality. Channel strip plugins allow you to add character, thump, and clarity to your recordings and mixes, all within the convenience of your computer. In this guide, we will explore some of the best channel strip plugins available in the market today.
The Evolution of Channel Strips
Before the days of large recording consoles, modular amplifiers were used to process individual channels of audio. Over time, dedicated recording consoles with individual channel strips were developed and used to create iconic records. Brands like Universal Audio, Electrodyne, Rupert Neve, Solid State Logic, and API made significant contributions to the evolution of channel strips.
1. Universal Audio API Vision Channel Strip Collection
The Universal Audio API Vision Channel Strip Collection is a versatile tool that can add serious thump to kick drums, snappiness to snares, and detail and clarity to vocals. It features a preamp section based on the classic API 212L, a compressor circuit, a gate/expander, and equalizers. This channel strip is a favorite among professionals, thanks to its sonic characteristics and flexibility.
2. Brainworx bx_console Focusrite SC
The Brainworx bx_console Focusrite SC plugin emulates the sound of the legendary Focusrite studio console. With its Tolerance Modeling Technology, it offers the sound of 72 separate channels, capturing the slight variances between analog components. It features ISA 110 equalizers and ISA 130 dynamics modules, making it a versatile and sought-after channel strip.
3. Soundtoys Effect Rack (With a Bit of Creativity)
While not a channel strip plugin per se, the Soundtoys Effect Rack allows you to create your own channel strip by combining several of their excellent plugins. By starting with the Radiator as a preamplifier and equalizer, adding Devil-Loc for compression duties, and using the Sie-Q for surgical equalization, you can achieve a vibe-filled channel strip for your tracks.
4. Brainworx bx_console Amek 9099
The Brainworx bx_console Amek 9099 is a feature-laden channel strip that offers precision, flexibility, and fantastic sound quality. It is based on the 9098i console designed by Rupert Neve and includes a compressor, limiter, clipper, 4-band EQ, high-pass and low-pass filters, and an expander/gate. This channel strip requires some time to familiarize yourself with its impressive modules but rewards you with unparalleled sonic control.
5. iZotope Neutron 3
Dubbed as “the channel strip of the future,” iZotope Neutron 3 is a robust mixing tool that offers advanced features not found in other channel strips. Its Mix Assistant balances track volumes and suggests initial level mixes, while the Masking Meter identifies conflicting frequency content. Although AI-assisted plugins are helpful, trust your own musical intuition when making mix decisions.
6. Brainworx bx_console SSL 4000 E, 4000 G, and 9000 J
For authentic emulations of legendary Solid State Logic console channel strips, look no further than the Brainworx bx_console SSL series. With Tolerance Modeling Technology, these plugins capture the subtle nonlinear characteristics of 72 analog channels. The E, G, and J consoles offer snappy dynamics, surgical equalization, and clean sonic characteristics, each with its own sonic flavor.
7. Waves Scheps Omni Channel
Created in collaboration with Andrew Scheps, the Waves Scheps Omni Channel is a versatile tool that combines preamp, equalizer, compressor, gate, and expander modules. Its modules can be moved around, allowing you to customize the signal chain to your liking. This Swiss Army Knife plugin is capable of shaping the dynamics and tone of your tracks or subgroups with ease.
8. UAD Century Tube Channel Strip
Emulating the streamlined analog channel strips of the past, the UAD Century Tube Channel Strip offers warm, clear, and thick sound reminiscent of vintage tube gear. Its preamp section features low and high gain settings optimized for different microphones, while its EQ and opto leveler provide intuitive and musical control over your tracks.
9. Slate Digital Virtual Analog Bundle/Virtual Mix Rack
The Slate Digital Virtual Analog Bundle is a powerful collection of preamp, equalizer, and compressor modules that emulates classic hardware. With Virtual Mix Rack, you can configure these modules exactly to your liking. This versatile software set allows for precise and customizable channel strip configurations, making it a go-to choice for many professionals.
10. UAD Avalon VT-737 Tube Channel Strip
The UAD Avalon VT-737 Tube Channel Strip brings the sound of the original hardware unit to your digital workspace. With its clean preamp, transparent compressor, and musical EQ, it excels at capturing the energy of modern pop vocals and powerful DI bass. The EQ’s 32 kHz “air band” adds a subtle shine to vocals, acoustic guitar, and drum overheads.
11. Softube Summit Audio Grand Channel
The Softube Summit Audio Grand Channel combines emulations of the EQF-100 full-range equalizer and the TLA-100A compressor. These hardware units are known for their silky top end, musical low-frequency response, and flexible workflows. The Grand Channel also offers additional features such as a low cut filter, saturation knob, and a dry/wet blend control.
12. UAD Manley Labs Voxbox
Designed for vocals but capable of much more, the UAD Manley Labs Voxbox offers a versatile combination of preamp, equalizer, and de-esser. Its preamp allows you to tame sources before recording, while the compressor provides transparent dynamic control. The EQ section is musical and surgical, and the de-esser can subtly polish harsh frequencies in various instruments.
13. Lindell Audio 80 Series Channel
The Lindell Audio 80 Series Channel plugin emulates the classic sound of Neve 1073 modules. It captures the sonic characteristics of 32 separate channels, offering precise control over your tracks. This channel strip is particularly suitable for drums, thanks to its pristine top end, thick low end, and aggressive options for compression.
14. Kit Plugins BB N73
The Kit Plugins BB N73 captures the essence of twelve Neve 1073 units from the legendary Blackbird Studios. It offers additional features such as input and output trim, auto gain, continuous gain, resizable GUI, fader color options, and oversampling. This plugin delivers the classic sound of the 1073, making it a powerful tool for achieving warmth and character in your tracks.
These channel strip plugins offer a wide range of options and features to suit your recording and mixing needs. Whether you’re looking for the vintage sound of analog gear or the flexibility of modern digital processing, there is a channel strip plugin for you. Experiment with different plugins and find the ones that inspire your creativity and help you achieve the best possible sound for your projects.
ProgramMatek offers a wide range of audio software and plugins to enhance your creative workflow. Explore their website to discover more tools that can take your music production to the next level.