Music & Entertainment

Home Recording Studio 101: What Are the Best Plugins for Home Studio Recording?

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 15, 2019 • 3 min read

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So you’re starting out producing music from your home studio. You’ve just recorded a synth bass track from a software library like EastWest Composer Cloud, and you’ve sequenced it in a program like Logic or Pro Tools. And everything is going well, except you don’t particularly like the reverb tones available from either the software library or the sequencing program. What now?

Fortunately, you aren’t out of luck. You can simply use a plugin—often referred to as a VST in the digital music industry.

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What Is a VST?

The acronym VST stands for virtual studio technology. It interacts with a digital audio workstation (DAW) such as Pro Tools, Digital Performer, Ableton, Fruity Loops, Logic, Steinberg Cubase, and others. Rather than launching as a separate program, a VST launches inside the DAW, allowing you to access its features within the interface of your sequencing software.

What Are Effect Plugins?

VST plugins add effects that aren’t available in the core DAW you’re using—or in the software synth libraries you’re using to get your sounds. For instance, the program Logic has multiple built-in reverb effects, but they aren’t to everyone’s taste. If you don’t like the sound of the stock Logic reverb, you can use a VST plugin such as Waves or FabFilter. And if you don’t like those reverb sounds, there are hundreds of other plugins available out there!

What Are Instrument Plugins?

Earlier we discussed using a software synthesizer, like the kind available in the EastWest Composer Cloud. This is also a plugin—an instrument plugin to be more specific. Like an effects plugin, an instrument plugin can run within a DAW like Logic or Pro Tools. You don’t have to launch a separate program and toggle back and forth.

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Why Should You Use Plugins?

Most home recorders use plugins within their digital audio workstations because DAWs are “do-it-all” pieces of software. If they specialize in anything, it’s actual recording, sequencing, and editing. And while most of these programs have software synths built in, they don’t specialize in software synth sounds. By contrast, a company like EastWest or Vienna Symphony has built its brand on instrument sounds. So by using their plugins, you tend to get a top of the line product for that one specific purpose.

Effect plugin makers tend to be even more specialized. Many effect plugins deal with only one single effect, like compression, or EQ, or reverb. They only do one thing, but they do it very well.

Do All Plugins Run on the VST Standard?

VST is one type of coding language for audio plugins, but it isn’t the only one. Similar plugin technologies include:

  • Apple's Audio Units
  • Avid's Avid Audio eXtension
  • Digidesign's Real Time AudioSuite
  • Digidesign's TDM
  • Mark of the Unicorn's Motu Audio System
  • Propellerhead's Rack Extensions

However the trend in computing software is toward platform-agnostic software. Therefore most plugins will work with most DAWs.

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What Are the Best VST Plugins for Home Studio Recording?

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For home recorders on a tight budget, there are some excellent free plugins that can help you get started in the world of music producing. These include:

  • Dexed – FM Plugin Synth (modeled on the legendary Yamaha DX7 keyboard that’s heard throughout ‘80s synth pop)
  • Combo Model F (a great synth organ sound)
  • Tal-Bassline (great for club bass)
  • Muon Tau Bassline (another great bass plugin, modeled on the Roland 303 synth)
  • Leveling Tool by AdHd Audio Tools (a free compressor VST)
  • MConvolutionEZ by MeldaProduction (a free reverb VST)
  • DeEss by Airwindows (a plugin that removes “S” sounds from vocal tracks)
  • DLYM by Imaginando (a multi-effect modulation VST that can create effects like chorus, vibratro, phaser, and flanger)

If you have a budget to acquire plugins, here are some of the best VSTs for building up a software instrument library:

  • Vienna Symphonic Library
  • Spitfire Audio Albion One
  • EastWest Composer Cloud (available as a monthly subscription)

And if you have money to spend on effects, consider the following options among effects VSTs.

  • Nicky Romero Kickstart (a top sidechain compression plugin for house and EDM producers)
  • Effectrix by Sugar Bytes (multiple effects)
  • iZotrope Neutron EQ (an EQ program)
  • FabFilter Pro-Q (another EQ program—many producers use more than one EQ)
  • Antares Audio Technologies AutoTune (the flagship AutoTune plugin)
  • Celemony Melodyne (a pitch-shift plugin that can also auto-tune your vocals)
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What Effects Plugins Does Armin van Buuren Use?

Armin van Buuren is a dance music DJ, record producer, remixer, and label owner from the Netherlands. van Buuren relies on the following plugins for effects and processing:

  • iZotope Ozone 8
  • FabFilter Saturn
  • FabFilter Pro-Q 2
  • FabFilter Pro-MB
  • LFOTool

And, in case you’re curious, van Buuren uses this set of plugins as software synthesizers:

  • Serum
  • Massive
  • Sylenth1
  • Omnisphere 2
  • Nexus 2
  • Kontakt 5
  • Vengeance Producer
  • Suite (VPS) Avenger

Learn more about music production in Armin van Buuren’s MasterClass.

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