We’ve spoken many times about the benefits of clearing out unused plug-ins from our Pro Tools plug-in folders. Moving unused plug-ins out of our main plug-in folder enables us to easily find the plug-ins we use regularly thus speeding up our mixing workflows.
Recently I cleared out around 50 plug-ins from my system and I feel much better for it however this got me thinking - What if I only had one plug-in within each Pro Tools plug-in category? One EQ plug-in, one Dynamics, one Reverb and so on.
This article is going to list my “go to” plug-ins for each plug-in category excluding Instrument and Dither. If I only had one plug-in within each category could I get my mixes done?
EQ - Pro-Q2 By FabFilter
Pro Q2 by FabFilter is in my opinion the ultimate swiss army knife of EQs. The powerful yet elegant display lets me work quickly and creatively. I reviewed this earlier in the year and now regret not giving it an Editors Choice award at the time. If I only had one plug-in available to mix with then it would be this any day, it really is that good.
Dynamics - RVox by Waves
RVox by Waves is a simple little compressor with a very basic yet useable noise gate. I like to mix quickly so RVox works with me well as it is one of those types of plug-ins that can keep up with my pace of work.
RVox is like a loyal butler, "How much compression Sir? Certainly Sir" Job done. It's clear that the main purpose of RVox is for controlling vocal dynamics but I’ve managed to get great results with this on acoustic guitars and piano.
Pitch Shift - Little Microshift By Soundtoys
Another simple yet brilliant plug-in. The Little Microshift by Soundtoys lets me create width effects from mono and stereo tracks. Microshift does this by adjusting pitch and delay in the left and right channels. Little Microshift has three different flavours to the sound. I keep it set to the first using the MIX knob to dial in the width effect.
Reverb - Phoenix Verb By Exponential Audio
Phoenix Verb by Exponential Audio delivers in both sound and performance. The presets vary from tiny little rooms to enormous spaces with everything in between. I predominantly use Phoenix Verb's smaller spaces as I like to sit instruments within a contextual space. If you haven't yet tried the "Room > Studio" presets then your mixes are missing out on something very special indeed. I may as well trash the other reverb plug-ins in my system as Phoenix Verb really is the only reverb I use.
Delay - Imperial Delay By Boz Digital Labs
In recent months the Imperial Delay by Boz Digital Labs has become my go to delay plug-in as it includes all the features from my previous "go to" delay whilst included some extra creative features such as a control called smear. Smear introduces reverb post the delay saving me having to use a reverb plug-in post the delay instance. Imperial Delay is a very musical delay presented in a very traditional layout so learning this plug-in took a matter of minutes.
Modulation - Blue Cat's Chorus 4M
Blue Cat's Chorus is as straight forward to use as a guitar stomp box. I use chorus to decorate large backing vocals sections, pads and even multi-tracked electric guitars. There are no gimmick controls here, just clean usable chorus every time.
Harmonic - Saturation Knob By Softube
This is the only AAX DSP plug-in to be listed in this article. The Saturation Knob by Softube is a very cool tool indeed. I use it to gently add subtle amounts of distortion to drum tracks, electric guitars and basses. It adds colour to instruments in ways that I've found no other saturation plug-in can achieve.
Noise Reduction - Acon Digital De Noise
Acon Digital's De Noise must be the most affordable noise reduction plug-in available. I am predominantly a music professional so I’ve never felt the need to invest heavily into "post" orientated noise reduction plug-ins such as iZotope RX. I know I would not fully appreciate all of RX's amazing features so Acorn Digital’s De Noise gives me what I need in noise reduction without a high purchase price. It works very well when removing buzz from noisy electric guitars and even hiss from voice overs recordings captured on dynamic microphones.
Sound Field - Monofilter 4 By NUGEN Audio
The Monofilter by NUGEN Audio is a tool that pulls in the low end of a stereo track to mono whilst keeping anything above crossover in stereo. I use this every time I mix my acoustic piano (recorded with a stereo spaced pair). When using Monofilter on the piano I find setting 80Hz and below to mono keeps the body of the instrument intact. The untouched stereo image then somehow enhances (to my ears) making the piano easier to balance in a mix. This is also a fantastic tool to use when mastering.
Effect - Guitar Rig 5 By Native Instruments
Guitar Rig by Native Instruments includes everything I need from a guitar head, amp, speaker and stomp box simulator. I find it easy to use, most importantly to play guitar through. Compared with similar products by other brands I've noticed the CPU usages of Guitar Rig to be slightly lower giving me the chance to load one or two more instances in my sessions.
Other - Melodyne By Celemony
Melodyne is one of only a handful of plug-ins that I’ve used religiously over the last ten years. I reviewed Ceremony’s latest version of Melodyne earlier this year and awarded it my first Editors Choice Award. I know from professional experience that Melodyne is an absolute God send when preparing a mix.
Let's Hear Your Choices
To answer my question I asked at the beginning of this article - Could I get a mix done with just these plug-ins? Yes, any day.
- If you had only one plug-in per category to use what would your list of plug-ins be?