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12 Free plugins every dance music producer needs to use

May 05 2017
Written by: Pete Allison-Nichol


12 Free plugins every dance music producer needs to use

There are so many free plugins available today ranging in quality from ‘not worth my time’ to ‘I can’t believe this is free!’

But the reality is, if you were to install all the free plugins you find, you would most likely end up with a cluttered plugin folder, with a lot of plugins that are not very good, and you'd have no idea how any of them work anyway.

There are plenty of free plugins that are worth installing however, and I’ve put together a list of 12 free plugins that you should add to your plugin folder.

Voxengo - Span

Voxengo Span

Download Span here

Available for Mac and Windows – AU, AAX, VST, VST3, 32 and 64 bit.

Voxengo Span is a real-time fast Fourier transform (FFT) audio spectrum analayzer. 

This is always sat on my master bus with the interface on another screen so at a quick glance I can see what is going on in the audio spectrum. Having it sat on my master also allows me to quickly solo a track and see the spectrum of just that track.

I love that when you hover your mouse over Span it will tell you the frequency and midi note (including cents!) that the mouse curser is at. Perfect for identifying frequencies.

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Vengeance - Scope

Vengeance Producer Suite Scope

Download Scope here

Available for Mac and Windows – AU, AAX, VST and VST3, 32 and 64 bit.

Vengeance Producer Suite Scope is an analyser plugin which includes an Oscilloscope, a fast Fourier transform (FFT) spectrum analyser, and stereo metering.

This is free as long as you have at least 1 Vengeance license key on your elicenser dongle. Computer Music Magazine also has a CM version of Vengeance Scope that comes free with every copy of the magazine.

Along with Voxengo Span above, Vengeance Scope is permanently sat on my master bus, with the interface open on another screen so I can see what’s going on. I only really use Scope for the Oscilloscope function, as I prefer Span for FFT duties.

Smart Electronix - S(M)exoscope

S(M)exoscope

Download S(M)exoscope here

Available for Mac and Windows – AU, VST, VST3, 32 and 64 bit.

S(M)exoscope is a real-time Oscilloscope plugin.

Originally released in 2003 on the Smartelectronix website by Bram de Jong and Sean Evans, S(M)exoscope was my Oscilloscope of choice right up until I moved to a 64 bit environment and it no longer worked due to being 32 bit only.

S(M)exoscope has recently been updated to 64 bit by Armando Montanex who ported the source code to the cross-platform JUCE framework, making it possible to build both 32 and 64 bit versions.

Brainworx - bx_subfilter

Brainworx bx_subfilter

Download bx_subfilter here

Available for Mac and Windows – AU, AAX, VST, VST3, 32 and 64 bit.

Brainworx bx_subfilter is a resonant highpass filter designed to help tame your low end. It’s essentially the filter section taken from its big brother the bx_subsynth.

With only 4 knobs and a slider it’s easy to dial in a tight low end. 

Remove the really low frequency flab with the Tight Punch knob. 

Select a resonance setting to boost the bass you want to the desired amount.

Low End control applies a fixed bandpass filter after the Tight Punch knob to shape the sound further. And you have input and output controls for level matching.

TAL - TAL-Reverb-III

TAL-Reverb-III

Download TAL-Reverb-III here

Available for Mac and Windows – AU, AAX, VST, VST3, 32 and 64 bit.

TAL-Reverb-III is the perfect reverb for the big supersaw leads used in Trance and Hardstyle. It’s quite a dirty reverb. You wouldn’t use it to place something in a mix, but it definitely has its place in your plugin folder.

Put it as a send effect from your lead bus and you can pretty much leave the default preset. It just sounds right for super saws. I’ve even had great results using this on Tech House basses.

Xfer - OTT

Xfer OTT

Download OTT here

Available for Mac and Windows – AU, AAX, VST, 32 and 64 bit.

Xfer OTT is a multiband compressor, but not quite like most other multiband compressors. It’s an emulation of the ‘OTT’ preset for Ableton Live's built in multiband compressor.

OTT employs both upwards and downwards compression. Anything above the threshold will be compressed as per normal, just like with a normal compressor.

Anything below the threshold will be pushed up in volume towards the threshold. This pushes quiet frequencies louder by a pretty extreme amount, up to 36db of gain.

And because it’s multiband, the low, mid and high are all treated independently.

Try putting it on a bass or lead that has reverb applied to have the reverb be pushed up in volume in between notes playing.

Softube - Saturation Knob

Softube Saturation Knob

Download Saturation Knob here

Available for Mac and Windows – AU, AAX, VST, VST3, 32 and 64 bit.

The Softube Saturation Knob is a great plugin for adding a bit of dirt to tracks. Used subtly, it can add a bit of warmth to a sound and help glue busses together. Pushed to the extreme it goes into full on distortion.

It has 3 modes of operation that are very useful.

Keep High doesn’t apply saturation to the high end.

Keep low doesn’t apply saturation to the low end.

And Neutral is full band saturation.

Boz Digital Labs - Width

Boz Digital Labs - Width

Download Width here

Available for Mac and Windows – AU, AAS, RTAS, VST, VST 3, 32 and 64 bit.

Boz Digital Labs Width has to do with width as the name suggests. But it’s not a stereo widener. Width actually reduces the stereo width, which can sometimes be exactly what you need. 

Take for example when you have a reverb or a delay that is sitting a little too wide in the mix. Instead of diving into the delay or reverb you can put the Width plugin after it and reign in the stereo width. Especially useful if you have already bounced down the track that is too wide.

With the knob fully to the right, the audio signal is normal and the plugin isn’t doing anything. Moving to the left narrows the stereo width until you reach the centre position which is fully mono. 

Move the knob to the left past 12 o’clock and you reverse the Left and Right channels. Right is now Left and vice versa. With the knob fully to the left the signal is at its normal stereo width, but the left and right channels have been swapped. There are some great automation effects to be had with this!

Boz Digital Labs - Bark of Dog

Boz Digital Labs - Bark of Dog

Download Bark of Dog here

Available for Mac and Windows – AU, AAX, VST, VST3, 32 and 64 bit.

Boz Digital Labs Bark of Dog is a resonant highpass filter like bx_control above. It’s designed to help you tame and beef up your lowend without adding low end flab.

I like Bark of Dog because it has a continuous resonance control so you can add just the right amount of bass, and it also has a mix knob so you can easily use the effect in parallel.

Flux - BitterSweet

Flux - BitterSweet

Download BitterSweet here

Available for Mac and Windows – AU, AAX, VST, VST3, 32 and 64 bit.

Flux BitterSweet is a transient designer. Turn the knob to the Sweet side to decrease the transients amplitude. Turn it to the Bitter side to increase the transients.

Set to Main, BitterSweet will work on the full stereo spectrum. Center works on just the mid channel, and Stereo works on just the Side channel.

iZotope - Vinyl

iZotope - Vinyl

Download Vinyl here

Available for Mac and Windows - AU, AAX, RTAS, VST, VST 3, 32 and 64 bit.

iZotope Vinyl has been around for a long time, and was updated in 2016 to be 64 bit. It lets you simulate the dust, scratches and warp of a worn record. 

Put it on individual drum hits to make it sound like you sampled them. Or even strap it across your whole drum loop so it sounds like it was lifted from an old record.

Acustica Audio - TAN

Acustica Audio - TAN

Download TAN here

Available for Mac and Windows – AU, AAX, VST, 32 and 64 bit.

Acustica TAN is an excellent sounding VCA compressor, but it’s not an SSL clone.

If you’re unfamiliar with Acustica Audio, they create their plugins by taking impulse responses of a piece of hardware at all available settings. No algorithmic modelling here.

Along with the usual compressor controls, there is SHMOD which changes the shape of the attack. Turn SHMOD up to add more smack to the sound. 

TAN also has a preamp simulation for a slightly different flavour, removing some of the highs and adding more body to the low end.

Use TAN it to add glue to your tracks (great on busses), or use it to make your drum bus pump.

It can be confusing of how to actually register, download and install TAN from the Acustica site. Don’t click the ‘Add to Cart’ button, it does nothing. 

Above the last picture it says ‘FREE FOR YOU!’ and there is a download arrow. This is what you need to click and you will be able to register (if you don’t already have an account). Then you can download TAN from within your account Dashboard.

How to download Acustica Audio TAN

Other Freebies

It’s worth mentioning both Waves and Soundtoys usually give away a free plugin every year, so keep your eyes on them too.

This list is by no means exhaustive, nor is it meant to be.

There are other great free plugins available, but I don’t want you to over stuff your plugin folder and become unproductive.

What about your favourite free plugins? What did I miss?

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4 comments

  • GoatOfNeptune: June 25, 2017

    I reccomend:
    Tonebooster EbuLoudness, great to measure the lufs of a complete mix: http://www.toneboosters.com/tb-ebuloudness/

    and Flux Stereo Tool, which is great to pan the left to the right and the right to the left. Good for Ableton live users and others where the mixer has no real pan:
    http://www.fluxhome.com/products/freewares/stereotool-v3

    cheers

  • Gareth: May 20, 2017

    Thank you for this. Awesome idea and great explanations. G

  • MrBagPuss: May 06, 2017

    This article was really useful thank you for taking the time to put it out and you didnt just copy n paste the summaries of the apps either.

    Here’s a link for a free comp by audio damage,

    https://www.audiodamage.com/pages/free-downloads

    Would be nice if each comment comes with freebie

  • Ciprianis: May 05, 2017

    Tokyo Dawn’s [ http://www.tokyodawn.net/tokyo-dawn-labs/ ] SlickEQ, Nova and Kotelnikov should definitely be on this list.
    Also the mighty Limiter No.6 [ https://vladgsound.wordpress.com/downloads/ ] – a perfect combo for maximising stuff.

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