Saturation has gained popularity as a form of processing, especially because of the clean sound of digital processing. However, purchasing quality hardware for saturation can be expensive. That’s why more and more producers are turning to free saturation plugins and analog emulation to achieve the classic tones they love.
In this article, we’ll explore the top 9 free saturation plugins available. These plugins are not ranked in any particular order, as each has its own merits and uses. They are also compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems, making them accessible to a wide range of engineers.
PreBox by Analog Obsession
Analog Obsession’s PreBox is a straightforward and versatile preamp plugin that adds character to digitally recorded signals. Whether you want to enhance a signal or crush it via a bus or auxiliary track, the PreBox is a great option. It offers 11 different preamp settings, allowing you to create various forms of harmonic generation to suit your music or recording style. The plugin also features high-pass and low-pass filters, as well as input and output gain controls for dynamic control and attenuation.
Tube Amp by Voxengo
Voxengo’s Tube Amp is a modern take on saturation. It offers two modes with different tube distortion types, allowing you to generate complex harmonics and saturate your signal. The plugin features drive, bias, and low-pass filter controls to shape the sound. It also includes an output gain control and a saturation function to increase the gain of harmonics. The oversampling function reduces aliasing, ensuring high-quality sound.
TUBA by Analog Obsession
Another plugin by Analog Obsession, TUBA, is a channel strip plugin designed to evoke classic tube saturation. It creates complex harmonic generation and offers low and high gain settings to increase the number of harmonics while decreasing the original signal. The plugin also features low and high-frequency shelves, a mic and line switch, a pad, and a unique phase inverter. With its gain compensation feature, TUBA maintains constant gain even with increased harmonics.
IVGI by Klanghelm
Klanghelm’s IVGI is a classic free saturation plugin that adds character and fullness to recordings. It offers drive, asym mix, and response controls to adjust the amount of compression, alter harmonics, and shape the sound. The plugin also includes a trim dial for input level adjustment, an X-talk control for crosstalk, and a VU meter for monitoring. IVGI is a quick and effective way to enhance your recordings with saturation.
TubeDriver by Nick Crow Lab
TubeDriver by Nick Crow Lab closely emulates the sonic characteristics of tube amplification. It generates complex and noticeable harmonics right from the moment it is inserted on a track. With its range of controls, such as bias, drive, volume, and EQ, the plugin allows you to shape the harmonics and overall sound of your signal. TubeDriver also includes high-pass and low-pass filters, oversampling for reduced aliasing, and a bypass switch for quick comparison between the original and processed signal.
Tomato Preamp by Roxolder
Roxolder’s Tomato Preamp may look like it would create a warm tone, but it actually produces a harsh and lo-fi sound. This makes it perfect for adding unexpected character to a signal and achieving that classic lo-fidelity sound. The plugin features three tube models with different tonal characteristics, input and output gain controls, and a high-pass filter. While it may be limited in its adjustability, Tomato Preamp offers a unique and distinctive sound.
Crush by Sleepycat Audio
Crush by Sleepycat Audio is a plugin that emulates cross over distortion found in class-b amplifiers. It offers unique and distinctive distortions that may require some experimentation to fully understand. With controls like pre-gain, bias, slope, alias, and edge, Crush allows you to shape the sound and introduce interesting distortions. The plugin also includes a low-pass filter and wet/dry slider for further sound customization.
STEQ by Analog Obsession
The STEQ by Analog Obsession is a versatile plugin that combines equalization, compression, and distortion. It introduces harmonics while allowing separate control over smooth optical compression. The equalizer section offers mid, low, and high bands with wide dynamic range adjustments. The plugin includes input and output controls for additional saturation, an input meter, and a gain reduction meter. With STEQ, you can achieve a unique and harmonically-rich sound.
Tape Cassette by Caelum Audio
If you’re looking for unique saturation reminiscent of old cassette tape recorders, Caelum Audio’s Tape Cassette plugin is perfect for you. It emulates the sound of tape cassettes, providing harmonic distortion and altering the overall amplitude of the signal. The plugin includes controls for saturation, a low-pass filter, a noise function, and wow and flutter effects. Tape Cassette offers a simple interface with presets to quickly achieve that distinct lo-fi cassette tape sound.
In conclusion, these free saturation plugins offer incredible value for engineers on a budget. They provide the opportunity to explore and create without breaking the bank. Don’t hesitate to try them out and discover the unique and powerful sounds they can bring to your productions. You can download these plugins from the VST4Free website or directly from the developers. Remember, they are compatible with both PC and Mac operating systems, ensuring accessibility for all engineers. Upgrade your saturation game with these exceptional free plugins and take your music to new heights.