As recording or mixing engineers, or music producers, we’re always refining our toolsets. Over the years I’ve made the transition for mixing on large format consoles to mixing in the box. I’m a long-time Pro Tools user, so here’s a list of plugins that I hate to live without in the mix room:
My top picks for Dynamics and EQ are (in no particular order):
Waves Studio Classics – Modeling plug-ins have come a long way and Waves has recently been a competitive force. Personally, I still don’t quite feel they sound (or behave) exactly like the real thing, but they do a darn-good job of mimicking many of the characteristics I love about their analog counterparts, performing highly in their own right. Having honed my mixing skills on an SSL 4000G+ the SSL channel-dynamics, specifically, are something I’ve found difficult to mimic with almost any other digital processor. The plug-in version does a great job of emulating the VCA-based processor on the original channel strip – even the gate/expander is just as quick, usable and forgiving as I can recall the original. The EQ is great for precise subtractive mid-range and gives a similar “bite” when boosting high-mids for drums and guitars. I’ve always been a fan of the API 2500 buss-compressor, specific for parallel compression of drums and other rhythm section elements, and the Waves model is equally fun to use. The V-series 2254 emulation can make for incredible low-end “glue” on the mix buss or subgroups for the right song when used subtly, but it’s no stranger to more aggressive settings, either.
Softube Summit TLA-100A – I’ve sung the praises of this Softube processor before. It’s not the cleanest compression plugin, but that’s not the point. It is, however, smooth and flexible. Forgiving enough to make it very fast and easy to use. A favorite of mine for both bass and vocals.
JOEMEEK VC5 Meequalizer – This is a one-trick pony for me. I cut the bass band deep and boost the treble band high to make background groups or pads sit in a dense mix. The distortion characteristics of this EQ are somewhat unique in the high and low-shelf bands, especially at more extreme settings, which is what makes this work. Watch the sibilance, but the best word I can use to describe it is “glow”.
Honorable mentions go to McDSP’s Ultimate Compressor and Retro EQ. Great all-purpose tools.
In the effects category:
Avid Revibe – The Revibe room modeling engine reminds me a bit of the TC Electronic System 6000, but possibly even more flexible strictly in reverb choices. It’s very capable of everything from pristine halls to grungy spring reverbs, so it finds itself on a lot of lead vocals and instruments as my primary reverb. For my taste, it’s less muddy than most of the convolution/”sampled” reverbs on the market, and takes up less critical space in the mix. If I chose to own just one reverb plug-in, Revibe would probably be it.
Waves H-Delay – Traditional sounding time based-digital effects (other than reverberation) used to be somewhat of a sore spot for me when mixing in the box. I had hard a hard time – for a long time – finding something that just sat in the mix like many of my favorite hardware boxes (the AMS 1580, PC 42, and T.C. Electronics 2290, for example). The H-Delay however, just works. It is able to mimic some of the distortion artifacts these “less-than-hi-fi” processors as a result of their limited bit-depth, sample rates, or A/D/A conversion stage(s). It used to be that I would often find myself chaining EQ, limiting and/or saturation processors with delays to keep it from sounding too much like a perfect clone of the original sound.
In the toolbox category:
Antares AutoTune Evo – I started using AutoTune in graphical mode 12-15 years ago to touch up the occasional note in a performance that slipped past the producer in tracking or when the singer was just too worked over to deliver an equally emotional take that was acceptably within the margins of ‘correct’ intonation (which can vary widely depending on the song and genre). A lot of engineers I know have switched over to Melodyne and I did too for a short time, but I personally found it harder to achieve results without artifacts. Use it lightly and only touch what needs touched. AutoTune Evo is a “light” version that doesn’t include the time-compression and expansion features of the “full version. I do my editing on the timeline, so I skip that expense, personally.
Avid SoundReplacer – Especially with rock or RnB, I like to layer samples with the original drums. Often, I’ll sample the recorded kick or snare and use SoundReplacer on a trigger track just to help with consistency. The interface has remained essentially unchanged since it’s release over a decade ago. As an AudioSuite processor it’s not real-time, so I’ll usually push out a few sampled tracks in a row with alternative samples before I close the window, to let my audition a few alternate samples in-context.
When I’m looking for a more extreme transformation, I’ve been playing with Slate Trigger and enjoying the results. It’s fast to work with and the included sample packages sound good and are easily molded. TL Drum Rehab also gets high marks for similar usage.
Arguably, that was more than eight with the bundles and alternate options. As always, your mileage may vary.