When I first joined the blog I developed a reputation as a keen proponent of stock plug-ins. The reason for that was that I worked in education and third party plug-ins put sessions at risk of compatibility issues on systems other than your own. While that is no longer such an issue for me I still find myself using stock plug-ins in favour of premium third party plug-ins in many cases.
Here are a few plug-ins which stand up well regardless of price:
I have other EQs but for corrective duties, nothing else gets a look in. I use other EQs for polish, the UAD Massive Passive and the Plugin Alliance Maag EQ4 are great favourites. I find the occasional need for dynamic EQ, I love the McDSP AE400 and recently I’ve started using the Plugin Alliance Dyn EQ for its simplicity. Of course, there is the unrivalled Surfer EQ from Sound Radix for timbral, tracking EQ, but when it comes to straight-ahead, static, corrective EQ I just love EQ3 for its familiarity and its workflow. Particular favourites are the inclusion of 6db/Oct filters, shift-clicking to invert a band of EQ and band-pass mode for identifying frequencies using control+shift. I’m yet to try Fabfilter’s Pro-Q but I’m wary of spectrum analysers as I think they can discourage critical listening.
A seminal moment in my tech history was when in the mid 80’s, a friend bought a blue, series 2 Frontline stereo delay pedal. I immediately fell in love with delay, a passion I hold to this day. I’ve been through phases of liking clean (and not so clean) digital delays and really falling for the tape sound of a Space Echo, but there’s something about bucket brigade delays. If you haven’t explored the BBD delay you really must. They have nailed the sound of these appallingly brilliant echo boxes.
Channel Strip Dynamics
A few years ago I wrote at length about my reservations about the Avid Channel Strip. My position has shifted slightly since then, for example I have got used to the presentation of a transfer curve which plots input against gain reduction rather than input against output. My most serious reservations were aimed at the EQ section, which I still don’t use, it’s OK, I just prefer the EQ3. The Dynamics section however is the star of this plug-in. The compressor is flexible and sounds great and the expander/gate is viciously fast and has the crucial depth and hysteresis controls so often missing from these types of plug-ins.
I’m not a fan of cyclic, delay-based modulation effects. Their predictable swoosh grates on me after a while. I’ve softened this line recently and occasionally break out a phaser on guitars but I still haven’t recovered from the decade of chorus abuse that was the 80s! When I want to soften and add motion to a sound, I’ve usually favoured detuning. Soundtoys’ excellent Little Microshift really impressed me when it came out but with the introduction of Pitch II into Pro Tools I’ve found that it is perfect for a touch of detuning on guitars or BVs. Just let’s not talk about the old TDM Pitch plug-in - Ugh!
Plug-ins have nailed pleasing distortion, however I think this has only been the case for a surprisingly short time. These days there are some beautiful sounding saturation/distortion plugins available, my personal favourites are the UAD Culture Vulture and the new Plugin Alliance Karakter. One plug in which has been a favourite since it’s introduction is Lo Fi. In spite of it’s odd UI in the old version and the amount of the UI dedicated to bitcrushing duties, it’s strength for me has always been in the Saturation and Distortion knobs. This was, until quite recently, my go-to plug in for gentle bass guitar distortion, with dirtier sounds from Sansamp which probably should have been on this list too!
What are your favourite stock plug-ins in Pro Tools?