Plugins come in many different often expensive varieties. Whether you're on Windows or MAC OS most DAWs make use of the plugin format VST (virtual studio technology).
It's easy to find good plugins when you have the cash to put down, but with free VST plugins things become a bit more tricky. With arguably thousands of options available you have to separate the good from the not so good and often good free options go undiscovered as they get lost in the masses of everything else 'free'.
We've hunted down the most essential VST plugins that are free to use, not only that but we only list the ones we've tried, tested and enjoyed - so this is not 'another free plugin list' but instead a curated list of studio honoured free plugins that should add something truly valuable to your sound or workflow.
So whether you're looking for compressors, reverbs, delays or something unlike anything else you should discover some excellent, well researched and well tested production tools for your musical arsenal here.
So if you're looking for only the best free VST plugins to fill your plugin folder up with then this is the plugin list for you.
Finding itself largely in the 'clean' end of the compression spectrum this is not a character or colour compressor plugin.
Kotelnikov will manipulate the dynamic range by dramatic amounts, while carefully preserving the original tone in a smooth and pleasing way whilst retaining timbre and punch of a musical signal.
With that, it is perfectly suited to stereo bus compression as well as other critical mixing and mastering applications.
Sonimus make a range of high quality plugins focussed primary on bus emulation and that analog 'magic' musicians and producers crave. With this they've created SonEQ, an EQ plugin that represents the highest levels of audio fidelity while providing that inherent special something that comes from high end analog hardware.
Their commitment to high quality audio shows by some of the features such as supporting sample rates up to 192khz and utilizing 64bit internal precision.
Worth seeking out just for the filtering stages and preamp stage alone but with a full EQ thrown in it's a no brainer plugin.
Saturation / Distortion
Klanghelm - IVGI
Taken from their bigger paid SDDR saturation plugin - we have to say that IVGI is really really good particularly for subtle colouration, saturation, livening up of instruments or tastefully put across the master bus.
In fact the whole Klanghelm range are underrated gems that bely their low price point and cut-down free versions. If you think something free can't sound professional then Klanghelm plugins will change your mind.
Valhalla - FreqEcho
An excellent dub style delay, from subtle chorus to escaping into the netherworld delay pongs. Valhalla plugins are well known for their sharpe styling and high quality sound and no corners have been cut in FreqEcho despite it's free price tag.
Musical Entropy - Spaceship delay
Truly an underrated gem among delays It's the simple to use but features a comprehensive feature-set.
It features classic modern and vintage sounding delays, can be used as a typical delay for mixing vocals, adding some depth to drums, guitars, synth sounds, but also as a more creative effect or even as a looper thanks to the freeze switch and the very long maximum delay sizes, ideal for subtle atmosphere's and noise-scapes.
Valhalla - SuperMassive
We tried not to double up on developers on this list but Valhalla Supermassive is just simply too good not to list under our Reverb section.
Designed from the ground up for big delays and reverbs. It'll create luscious clouds of reverb, otherworldly delays, and swelling waves of feedback unlike any you’ve heard before.
With 18 different modes on offer and a no strings free really is free approach you'll be amazed this isn't commanding a price tag alongside Valhallas paid plugins.
U-He Protoverb offers a great reverb without having to get into the weeds of too many controls which is ideal when you just want good reverb fast.
Variety Of Sound - EpicPLATE
epicPLATE strives for an authentic recreation of the classic plate reverberation sound.
With the fast and consistent reverb build up as well as that distinct tonality the plate reverb is known for and still so much beloved today. Its unique reverb diffusion makes it a perfect companion for all kinds of delay effects and a perfect fit not only for vocals and drums but synth lines fx.
It's easy on the CPU and a simple clean UI and high sound quality means it's a firm plugin folder favourite.
ACON Digital Multiply
Acon Digital Multiply is an absolute secret weapon used on many tracks. It's a unique chorus effect with phase randomisation to negate comb filter type artifacting common with chorus effects.
Providing Instant smooth width and thickness, ideal for double tracking, super clean stereo widening and so much more besides.
YouLean Loudness Meter (Free)
It's a loudness meter so it's options are limited and you get what it says on the box - but with critical applications such as Mastering often all we want is something that does what it says on the box. Youlean Loudness Meter is a highly accurate loudness meter ideally for checking levels, mastering to specific levels or working with any other audio applications that require strict adherence to loudness standards such as film and broadcast.
It's also an absolutely essential plugin if you are delivering mixes to any streaming platform. Get it.
Bitcrushing is relatively easy to do but to do it right and make it sound good takes more skill - and it's a double edged sword, because bitcrushing is a very niche effect it usually doesn't command the full R&D of big dollar audio development companies - who cares because Krush by tritik is free and sounds excellent at what it sets out to do - crushin' bits and reducin' rates.
It's got bandwidth filtering wet/dry and the Drive section is worth the download alone.
So there you go. Free in todays music production world doesn't have to mean 'no good'
In fact these plugins are so good you could create professional sounding results with noting but careful use of these across your production applications.