The Best VST Plugins: Effects
Using effects can take a dry sounding mix and fill it with ambiance.
Plugin developers tend to find effect plugins the most fun to make because it really gives them a chance to get experimental, doing really crazy things to sound.
In this article, we will be going over many different effect plugins in a variety of categories. Enjoy!
D16 Toraverb (Our Recommendation)
Stunningly beautiful is how we describe D16 Toraverb.
Toraverb works around two main sections: Early and Late. With the Early section, you can adjust Sive, Diffusion, and Attenuation. The Late section offers the same three controls as the Early section, but includes a Bass Cut knob and feedback control.
The mixer section offers an X-Fader between early and late reflections. As well as a predelay knob, modulation control, and of course a wet/dry balance control.
Toraverb has added a really nice feature called Quality, which gives the ability to adjust the VST’s demand on your CPU.
When you first look at Toraverb you’ll notice that you have one reverb. There is no hall, cathedral, or any of the fancy reverbs you can think of. This doesn’t at all mean that Toraverb is limited in any sense of the word.
There is only one reverb, because honestly, that is all you need. Toraverb can sound huge and empty, or small and lush just by tweaking the settings mentioned above.
It won’t cover all of your reverb settings, but for the price, it goes above and beyond, and every lover of reverb should have it in their arsenal.
Waves Renaissance Reverb
Waves Renaissance Reverb moves in a different direction than D16 Toraverb by giving you the option to pick from 12 reverb types. You have Hall 1, Hall 2, Room, Chamber, Church, Plate 1, Plate 2, Reverse, Gated, Non-Linear, EchoVerb, and ResoVerb to all choose from.
There are also a number of features to shape your sound with.
Damping controls, frequency band and ratio, EQ controls for low frequency/gain, band markers and your general time, size, decay, etc. controls.
As you can see there is a lot here and we feel that all the features will overwhelm a newcomer to reverbs. It may also be too much for those that are familiar but dislike all the complexities that reverbs can deliver.
Sometimes, you just want a reverb that you can throw on and it immediately sounds amazing. That’s why we find ourselves recommending Toraverb over Waves Renaissance Reverb.
Waves Renaissance Reverb is wonderful sounding, however, it just takes more work.
We will note that our review of Renaissance Reverb would have been harsher if the VST hadn’t had a major price drop from its original price.
Spring reverb is a type of reverb that guitarist immediately recognize. It’s the classic, short and twangy sound that dominates most Fender amps as well as other classic guitar amps.
That’s not to say that this plugin is only good for guitars, nor is it to say that all you can do are twangy and short punches.
The short reverb sounds fantastic on snares, just make sure to utilize the diffusion control to take out the twanginess, unless that’s what you’re going for. SpringBox can also generate medium and long reverbs that sound just as fantastic as its preferred short reverbs.
SpringBox includes a quality button, which we are always a fan of. There is never a huge CPU burden regardless of your settings.
The GUI is similar to Toraverb and is a simple layout that is easy to understand and creates a nice smooth workflow.
We think that SpringBox delivers one of the best spring reverbs around; however, some have complained that it’s too smooth of a spring reverb, which is obviously counteractive to the characteristic a spring reverb’s sound. This didn’t bother us, but it is completely understandable why it will bother some.
Valhalla Vintage Verb
Valhalla Vintage Verb is a niche reverb for us and we think Valhalla feels the same since they included vintage in the name. Based on Lexicon-inspired reverbs, you are going to be swimming in reverb sounds from the 70’s and 80’s.
There are 17 reverb algorithms to choose from including the usual concert hall and plate, but you also get some rarer reverb algorithms such as one named Sanctuary, which is inspired by a classic German digital reverberator from the 1970s.
The GUI is simple and understandable and we took no issues with the simple design. We dislike that there was no offline manual. You won’t need the manual after a few hours of messing around, but when we first booted it up, we went through the online manual and learned a couple of nice tips and tricks.
Vintage Verb works through three color modes that quickly allow you to move through the general reverb settings of them. You have the ‘70s (dark and noisy), ‘80s (heavy modulation), and current (clean and colorless).
All in all, it’s a great sounding reverb that won’t be used for every occasion, but with the incredibly affordable price, it’s worth to buy it if you’re creating an arsenal of reverbs.
Sonnox Oxford Reverb
One hundred-twenty eight presets, early reflection and reverb tail features, and a five-band Oxford EQ all work together to create a modern reverb VST that sounds great, and is malleable enough to span its usefulness to a wide variety of sounds.
Oxford Reverb is really the opposite of Valhalla Vintage Reverb for two reasons. Well, there is really only one reason, but that reason extends itself out.
Unlike Vintage Reverb and many other reverb VSTs, Oxford Reverb is not based on reverb algorithms but instead, the reverb sounds are created through a significant number of variables that you can adjust at any time.
This opens you up to the ability to create reverbs that fit the sound that you’re going for, instead of a reverb that locks you into a certain genre/sound.
The GUI of Oxford Reverb continues its trend of sticking out among other reverb VSTs, by offering a unique design that uses sliders instead of the common UIs that are knob based. All this means, that we think Oxford Reverb is more suited to those that are already quite familiar with reverbs and enjoy tweaking the hell out of them.
The price of the VST also warrants this opinion. However, the CPU load is incredibly small, so it’s a great plugin for a range of computers.
Minimal System Dreamscape
Dreamscape is another reverb VST that isn’t based on an older reverb algorithm. As well there are no conventional algorithmic reverbs such as plate, room, hall, etc.
Instead, you use an intuitive parameter set that gives you the ability to recreate those general reverb algorithms yourself.
Dreamscape is rather decent for the price and it could be used as a starting off point that will eventually lead you to better and more advanced non-algorithm based reverb plugins, such as Oxford Reverb.
Newcomers may feel intimidated by the mass amount of knobs and options but will feel much more at ease after spending an hour or two messing around. The complexity never takes away from our opinion that it’s a great beginner reverb.
In fact, it brightens our opinion, because it gives the VST a longer lasting appeal, which we feel is important for beginners.
The plugin is only available in 32-bit, so If you want to run Dreamscape in 64-bit you’ll have to use jBride. All in all, this is a great starting reverb VST that will take you decently far into the world of them, and it will give you a great sound that sounds like it came from a more expensive VST.
Waves Abbey Road Reverb
Waves took a big chance when creating Abby Road Reverb. Recreating plate reverbs are no easy thing because of their fast build-up time and complex reverb tails. It’s safe to say that Waves Abbey Road Reverb succeeds in their goal.
Waves took extra care and detail by modeling the harmonic distortion of the pickups, driver, and output amps along with the acoustic properties as well. It’s no small feat and the sound quality shows the effort.
There are four plate sounds that all do a great job at sounding different from each other. That’s because the sound changes depending on the spring tension, which holds the plate into place. You also have 11 different damper positions that allow you anywhere from 1 to 5.4 seconds of delay time.
The GUI features plate representations and has retro, shall we say Fallout, looking controls that fit the overall look well. It’s also incredibly easy to understand and we didn’t even look at the manual once.
While we didn’t experience it ourselves, we saw some occasions where the plugin hit other users’ CPUs a bit harder than it should. If you’re looking for plate reverb sounds, you’ll definitely want to check out Waves Abbey Road Reverb.
Tal-Reverb-2 is a free reverb VST that is designed for long ambient sounds with its super diffuse and fast build-up time.
For being free Tal-Reverb-2 sounds incredible and has a nice, clean, and simple GUI.
There isn’t a terrible amount to say about the reverb, but we think it’s a must for beginners who want to start exploring reverb VSTs, especially if they are weary about monetary value or complexities.
We don’t foresee it turning anyone off reverb VSTs or even VSTs for that matter, which is a common worry for us when recommending free plugins. So go out and give this one a shot.
Audio Ease Altiverb 7
If you thought to yourself “Man why are they reviewing free VSTs, I want to see reviews on the big daddies!” well let’s talk about Audio Ease Altiverb 7.
The current price is sitting between $500- 600 and there is a reason why. Altiverb 7 features music spaces, vintage reverb gear, experimental responses, stage positioning, seven musical gates and delays, and brightness and chaos controls. This bad boy weighs in at 3.4 GB.
Altiverb uses impulse response (a sample of the reverb generated by the space/gear in question) to create sonic nuances of actual acoustic spaces. With its seventh installment, Altiverb now has a fully synthesized algorithmic secondary reverb that adds to top-end sheen.
The GUI is nice but has a few issues with resolution and replacement of the rack-mount with a simple layout that adds nothing.
GUI issues aside, the sound here is incredible, and if you’re one that just wants one reverb VST and have it accommodate all of your needs, then Audio Ease Altiverb 7 is for you.
Fabfilter Saturn (Our Recommendation)
With a name like Saturn, you expect a futuristic GUI design and stunningly massive, yet rich sounds, and this is exactly what you get.
Saturn offers 16 distortion styles, multiband processing (up to six bands), 16-step XLFO, and over 150 presets.
When you first boot up Saturn you’re fooled into thinking it’s a single-band, but as soon as you click anywhere in the graphic equalizer analyzer that is displayed in the background, an icon appears and takes you to multi-band mode.
Each band has dynamics dial, distortion, and drive, pan, and feedback options. You have the choice between analog simulation and pure digital bit-reduction.
Our verdict of Fabfilter Saturn is it’s a must have. We’ll admit it won’t give you the grittiest of distortion tones, but it will give you the most variety. We know we threw a bunch of features out there without touching upon them, but that’s because it would read as a novel if we did.
Fabfilter Saturn is universally loved and if you’re looking into distortion VSTs, you’re doing yourself a disservice to not check it out.
iZotope Trash 2
Combining the power of multi-band, dual-stage distortions, and post-filtering for distortion heaven, iZotope Trash 2 touts that it can “Trash” any track including brass, woodwinds, and more.
There are six modules: a twin-stage Trash distortion processor, Filter 1, Filter 2, Convolve, Dynamics, and Delay.
Both Filters are 6-band parametric and have over 20 filter types.
Let’s focus on the Trash module for obvious reasons. It can be used as both a single- and multi-band, which can be split into four bands. Each band comes with two “Stages” that each has an editable waveshaper and a post filter.
The default presets on the waveshaper comes with over 60 distortion algorithms. You are also able to create your own algorithms by adding points to the shape graph.
iZotope Trash 2 has a great rich, creamy, and flexible sound. The most notable difference between Trash 1 and 2 is the GUI. It looks so much more modern and is aesthetically pleasing to look at, where before they focused on a retro vibe before that left it a bit bland.
iZotope Trash 2 sits on the higher side when it comes to cost compared to many of its fellow brethren, so for some that will be a turnoff. We personally think it justifies its asking price.
Ohm Force Ohmicide
The first thing that pops out to you about Ohmicide is the stunning interface.
Ohm Force is known for their creative designs (aliens have been featured before), but this time they settled for a bone-white UI with blood splatter and a typed font for the name.
But you’re wondering how the sound holds up?
Ohmicide: Melohman comes with four unique bands of distortion and each band has a dedicated gate with control over the amount, threshold, and attack and release times. You can manipulate the gain, volume, feedback, feedback frequency, and speed.
There is still more you can dive into as well. But the thing to remember is each band has all of these parameters to themselves. You also have over 27 different distortion algorithm types.
Next, you have the Melohman preset management system. This incorporates real-time morphing and MIDI switching options. This is perfect for live use and gives you great customization over morphing speeds.
All of this comes together to deliver a massively wide and incredible sound. Plus, the very affordable price, and easy and great looking GUI all seal the deal. Because of this, we feel it’s a great VST for newcomers and sound designers.
For dubstep lovers, Ohmicide currently has a dubstep pack created by Clicksound, so make sure to check that out.
Camel Audio CamelPhat
CamelPhat was created to “phatten-up” guitars, bass, and drums. So what better to do than to load up a bass line that was lacking a big beefy bottom and tweak away.
We first went to try The Magic EQ setting and honestly we could have left it at that cause . . . damn. The bass thumped with enormous power and command. A trick we learned when using this EQ setting is to actually bump up the lower frequencies because it helps the bass cut through the overall mix better.
Manual readers will love this VST. It provides you with all the information you need to get started, as well as providing helpful tricks. If you’re using a more recent version, the manual will even tell you how to recapture old sounds and settings of older installments.
The GUI is nice, but nothing to get overly excited about. We found some people that really like the gold design, but it didn’t do much for us. However, the GUI is easy to navigate and understand.
To us, it looks like an older guitar pedal that has all the bells and whistles. Which is fine, but we just came off the sleek, modern design of Ohmicide.
The VST is a bargain though and will be great for newcomers and sound designers that are lacking a low-end booster.
Audio Damage FuzzPlus3 (Free)
FuzzPlus3 features the classic fuzz pedal model of version 2, but this time comes with a new filter, self-feedback, and a modern interface. Audio Damage right away lets you know that you can’t beat the price and well you can’t.
It’s free, has a really nice sound, and simple but clean interface. So what’s the catch?
For us there wasn’t one; we download and quickly started tweaking away. We say there weren’t any issues for “us” because we saw some that were having crashing issues and some other software related issues.
So we say give it a try and see if it works for you. There is nothing to lose and perhaps you gain a fun little VST to pull out every so often. It is as well, a decent VST to start learning on. FuzzPlus3 is available in 32- and 64-bit.
Xfer Records LFOTool (Our Recommendation)
On first appearance, LFOTool may seem like another simple FX plugin, but don’t be so quick to judge because this plugin is full of clever tricks and features that separate it from the pack.
Let’s start simple and talk about the GUI first. It’s not the most high-tech looking UI out there, but at the same time, it’s never bogged down by issues that can come along with a more modern looking UI, complexity issues for example. All the features – there are a lot – are really easy to find and use as well.
You have 12 graphs available that all have different shapes. It’s incredibly easy to manipulate these shapes; all you have to do is double click to create a point anywhere on the shape and then double click to remove it. Under the graphs, you have the controls: Rate, Swing, Phase, PWM, Smooth, and Snap.
What makes LFOTool great for newcomers is that normally you may feel overwhelmed with all of these manipulation features, but fortunately the Shape menu gives you pre-configured LFO graph shapes. There are also a number of presets that both beginners and sound designers will love.
A feature we found ourselves loving a lot is the inclusion of effects ranging from flangers to comb filters to ring modulators. These effects are one of the many ways LFOTool stands out amongst others.
LFOTool is great for a lot of genres. It definitely specializes in the areas of trance and dubstep (you’ll be making wobbles for days), but with its very affordable price, it is a great plugin for lovers of VSTs and in particular, those that want a sidechain plugin.
Nicky Romero Kickstart
Wrapped in a tiny package, Nicky Romero’s Kickstart is a fantastic and unique little sidechain VST that stands out where there is no other.
There aren’t a lot of features here, nor does there need to be. You have a wet/dry knob, a main display for sidechain curve, there are 16 options for different modulation curves, timing options (whole, half, quarter, eighth), three retrigger options, and well that’s it.
A nice bonus is there are descriptions for each shapes modulation curves and which sounds and music genres they will work best for.
For your retrigger options you have Synched, Retrigger, and One Shot.
Kickstart is simply fantastic and is a steal at its market price.
Soundtoys Echoboy (Our Recommendation)
If Echoboy could only do lush echoes, we would still love this VST. But Echoboy goes so much further than that.
With over 30 different echo styles you can take your music to outer space or simply make an acoustic guitar sound fuller. Echoboy can easily do both equally as well.
There is a good amount of complexity involved in Echoboy, but fortunately, the 32 presets available are nicely organized and sound great already without you having to do anything.
The GUI does an incredible job at marrying the aesthetic appeal of both modern and vintage plugins resulting in a gorgeous interface. The interface is divided into three sections.
There is a lot you can do with this plugin and we could talk for days about it. Best thing is to go and try out the 30-day free trial. If you love delays at all, you’ll end up purchasing it.
FabFilter Timeless2 is essentially a modulation environment for delays, allowing you to go as far as creating choruses and reverbs depending on how you set Timeless 2 up. At its core, you have two delay lines that run into two filters.
You have two delay algorithms: tape and stretch. Tape changes the pitch according to the delay time. While Stretch mode causes the audio to be timestretched in real-time without changing the pitch.
You can achieve clean delays out of Timeless 2, but that’s kind of defeating the purpose for us. The filters can recreate the classic feel of a real tape delay. The preset library has some very cool weird and out there delays to choose from.
The GUI is has a rather modern feel, and is very slick and professional looking. Instead of having multiple pages, Timeless 2’s parameters are in a single page that scrolls.
This works well when you have six envelopes, four X/Y pads, and six LFOs. There are 32 knobs here alone, but the GUI never feels cluttered.
Timeless 2 is not a beginner’s plugin and takes a decent amount of time and knowledge to get this bad boy setup and creating incredibly delays.
Also, while it can do basic delays another VST would be better suited. Timeless is meant for the weird and out there delays and for sound designers that love them.
The Interrupter Bionic Delay
Bionic Delay is a free plugin with a decent amount of features and a lot of character for being free.
Bionic Delay works best when it’s used for dub music and while it’s very, very good at getting those infectious dub delays, the plugin is fairly good for other general delay sounds as well.
The further you stray from the psychedelic realm the weaker the plugin becomes suited for the music, however.
The UI is really the biggest negative for us. It’s a big orange eyesore, with way too tiny of knobs that make dialing them in a nightmare.
Your tape model includes saturation, wow, flutter, and low and high-pass filtering. You also have separate controls for the left and right channel, which makes it great for pin-pong delays.
Definitely a decent delay if you’re into dub and other psychedelic music. Plus, you can’t beat free! So give it a download and maybe you’ll find yourself falling in love with dub style delays.
Valhalla Freq Echo (Free)
Freq Echo is a simple little delay plugin that features six knobs for creating some interesting delays. These six knobs are listed as Mix, Delay (Time), Shift, Feedback, Low-Cut and High-Cut. You have 22 sync times to choose from as well.
The real fun of Freq Echo comes in when the Shift feature is used with the Feedback all the way up.
Freq Echo creates some really interesting delay sounds when you twist the Shift knob, which raises or lowers your delays’ pitches. Valhalla seems aware that is the plugin’s highlight since the Shift control knob is the only white knob (all the other knobs are black) and much larger than the rest.
The GUI is incredibly simple and looks like it was meant to be displayed on paper. You’ll have to see it to know what we mean by that.
Each of the controls has brief descriptions at the bottom of the UI when you mouse over them. It’s not a detailed description by any means, but it’s a nice touch for newbies to learn.
Overall, a decent free delay plugin if you don’t want to spend any money.
TAL Dub Delay (free)
There are three versions of TAL-DUB (I, II, and III), but we are mostly going to focus on version III.
TAL Dub Delay-III has a fair amount of features, some being: up to 4 second delay time, nonlinear 6dB low-pass filter and 3dB high-pass filter, alias free saturation, and synched delay times (1/16, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1/1, 2/1 and tripled and dotted notes).
The UI is simply a bar with knob controls and looks OK for what it is. You can get some interesting delay sounds out of it and it has a few neat presets, “Synth with DUB-III” being one of those presets that hints that TAL DUB Delay may be more than meets the eye.
If you are just starting to look into delay VSTs and haven’t bought one yet, make sure to check out TAL DUB first as we really like them and think they made three great free delays.
Native Instruments Replika
NI Replika has a sleek and simple interface and features three delay modes, two modulation options, and multiple delay times (dotted, triplets, milliseconds, etc.) to name a few.
For your Delay Modes you have: Modern, Vintage Digital, and Diffusion with three changing controls depending on which mode you’re using.
The phaser and filter modulation effects are a nice touch for changing up your sound and open your sound up a bit more sonically. This is a nice touch because otherwise, we feel the plugin may be a bit too limiting.
Replika is a great sounding delay and while there are better more diverse delays on our list, many users will get Replika for free because NI likes throwing it out there for holiday promotions. It’s an incredible steal if you can get it for free.
Stagecraft Scratch Track
Scratch Track is designed to give you a way to add scratches to your samples, loops, tracks, or live input. The plugin supports all types of timecoded vinyl, MIDI learn for controls, automation, and programmable crossfade.
With MIDI scratching you can adjust the sensitivity and friction controls to create a truly natural sounding vinyl scratch, but with a bit more tweaking you can get super far-out spacey scratches that are insanely fun to create.
The UI does a great job at making you feel engaged with Scratch Track. This mostly stems from the dancing waveforms that dominate the UI. However, the colors are overall a bit dull and blend in together, and this results in some hard to read text.
Stagecraft Scratch Track is now on their third installment and one of the biggest new features is automation recording. With this feature, you can record turntable scratching into automation data. This means that besides simply recording the audio output, you also record how the timecoded vinyl was moved to obtain a certain scratch.
What this means for you, is you can go back and edit the recorded scratches allowing you to create impossible to play scratches.
There have been some CPU issues associated with Scratch Track, but Stagecraft notes that they have been working on the issue. While a niche product, it’s fairly affordable and we had little complain.