Channel strip plug-ins combine a variety of key mixing tools within a single interface. A channel strip plug-in will typically feature a set of filters, EQ and dynamic processors. Many channel strip plug-ins are hardcore emulations of real channels from popular analog mixing consoles, others, such as Neutron 2 by iZotope, are modern alternatives to the plug-in genre of channel Strip.
Channel strip plug-ins are regarded as extremely useful mixing tools. They enable users to quickly perform a majority of fundamental tone shaping and dynamic processing tasks effortlessly within one place.
We like a good channel strip plug-in, this article features a variety of channel strip plug-ins for Pro Tools that are well worth checking out.
Related Reading: Channel Strips - Help Or Hindrance When Mixing? Part 1
AudioThing Vinyl Strip
Vinyl Strip by AudioThing is the most affordable channel strip plug-in in this list for Pro Tools. Vinyl Strip is two things:
- A vinyl record emulator
- Channel Strip
Vinyl Strip Main Features
- 6 modules: Distortion, Compressor, Bit Crusher, Tilt EQ, Vintage Reverb, and Vinylizer
- All modules can be rearranged (drag-n-drop)
- Lightweight on CPU
- Preset manager with settings randomizer
This is quite a charming little channel strip plug-in. It provides users with essential tools for shaping audio along with some extra creative gritty tools. All the modules are quick and easy to use and sound very nice indeed. Vinyl Strip does a great job of producing gentle through to borderline extreme sounding saturation by use of the distortion, sampler and vinyl modules. Vinyl Strip can also achieve a great sounding flanging effect when the wow within the vinyl module and mix blend control are used together.
Watch our video review of Vinyl Strip below to hear how this channel strip plug-in for Pro Tools performs across an entire mix of a song.
Avid Channel Strip
If you are a Pro Tools user, there is a strong chance you have already tried the Avid Channel Strip plug-in. This was first introduced as part of Pro Tools 10 as both an AAX native plug-in and AAX DSP plug-in for Pro Tools HDX users.
The Channel Strip plug-in is claimed have the same algorithms from the Avid / Euphonix System 5 console. It features a four-band graphic EQ section, two filters, compressor and gate.
This is a very clean and transparent sounding channel strip that is quick to rearrange into different signal configurations. Modules can be bypassed and the metering is also very clear and very precise.
I used the Avid Channel Strip plug-in for nearly an entire year after Pro Tools 10 released but as time moved on I found myself using a variety of other channel strip plug-ins from third-party developers. Why? I didn't find the Avid Channel Strip plug-in exciting enough, it is very capable but it lacks personality.
Blue Cat Audio Patchwork V2
Blue Cat Audio Patchwork isn't necessarily a channel strip plug-in. Blue Cat Audio describe it as a universal plug-in patchbay, which is the correct definition for Patchwork, by I like to think of it as a fully customizable channel strip. Users can load their own third-party VST and AU plug-ins within the Patchwork interface in anysingal order or they wish. This plug-in features parallel, pre or post chains... all within a single Pro Tools insert. This is a very powerful plug-in system.
At the end of 2017, Blue Cat Audio released Patchwork V2.1 - A free update for current Patchwork V2 users. This updated included all 25 built-in effects that were first featured in Blue Cat Audio's fantastic delay plug-in Late Replies. In my opinion, the inclusion of these built-in effects transformed Patchwork from being just a smart patchbay system into a unique channel strip plug-in.
Patchwork Main Features
- Host up to 64 third-party AU, VST or VST3 plug-ins or instruments in series or parallel
- 25 built-in effects including EQ, filters, pitch & frequency shifter, delays, modulation effects, compressor, gate, bit crusher, waveshaper and more.
- Build custom effects chains or channel strips
- Up to 8 parallel plug-ins chains, with phase flip, solo and gain controls
- Global Dry/Wet mix control
- Link pre and post gains for automatic gain compensation
- Recall complex processing setups and plug-ins layouts with one click and share between different DAWs
- Resizable interface
Eventide UltraChannel & EChannel
At first glance, both these channel strip plug-ins from Eventide look extremely similar. They share the same DNA yet both have some key differences in feature sets. Let's start with the features in the EChannel, or as I like to call it - The UltraChannel Lite.
The first user feature that was not clear to me when I first started using the EChannel was the drag and drop functionality for repositioning modules. As for the modules, we have three to play with.
- 5 Band Parametric EQ
Each of these modules couldn't be easier to use, all produce really transparent results, especially the compressor. The compressor has a saturator switch that when engaged adds a very pleasing something to my tracks that I like. I can't quite put into words how to describe the sound of this saturator, but I like it so that switch stays on permanently.
The EQ section is equally as good. The only area where this section could be improved is when dragging bands around on the curves display. This can sometimes be a bit hit and miss with the mouse cursor.
The Eventide UltraChannel is a much more sorted affair. In addition to the modules found in the EChannel the UltraChannel features three additional modules:
- O-Pressor (Based on the Eventide Omnipressor)
- Micro Pitch Shift
- Stereo Delays
The O-Pressor is a great compressor for drum mixing applications. I've found it sounds at its best when used on kick and room microphone tracks. The results of the O-Pressor are extremely pumpy and vibey. Aggressive is a good term that describes this compressor... when pushed hard.
The micro pitch shift module is a nice addition to this channel strip as it helps to add depth, interest and width to tracks while adjusting EQ and dynamics. The stereo delays section is the only module I don't use in UltraChannel, it's cool it's there for those that may find it useful, it's just I have my "go to" dedicated delay plug-in that I use in send to aux workflows.
iZotope Neutron 2
iZotope Neutron is the only channel strip plug-in featured in this list that has machine learning A.I. algorithms. The smart Track Assist feature listens to audio, determines what type of instrument is playing and provides suggestions that should be considered as useful starting points for EQ and dynamic processor settings, which are fully customizable after the Track Assist has performed its magic.
The latest version, Neutron 2 features six main processors:
- Two types of multiband compressor
- Noise gate
- Transient shaper
Neutron 2 includes all the key tools to mix quickly, however, the magic is in the Track Assist. The Track Assist is a great tool to use if you find yourself at a loss for ideas or inspiration when shaping the tone of a track in a mix. It's a very cool system that I find does a great job most of the time.
We have video reviews of both versions of iZotope Neutron, if you have not yet seen what this channel strip is capable of then we suggest you watch both videos
Neutron 1: Track Assistant & EQ Masking
Neutron 2: Tonal Balance Control
McDSP 6050 Ultimate Channel Strip
The 6050 Ultimate is a fully customizable Channel Strip that has everything you need to make your mixes sound great. All the modules from the award-winning McDSP 6020 Ultimate EQ & 6030 Ultimate Compressor plug-ins are included. Additional modules include gates, expanders, and specialised filters.
The 6050 Ultimate Channel Strip has input and output stages, wrapped around 3 module bays in which any of the over 25 modules can be inserted and repositioned by drag and drop. A module selector panel allows quick auditioning of equalizers, compressors, and additional effects. Like the original 6020 and 6030 plug-ins, each new module in the 6050 draws on classic and modern designs over the last four decades. User operation is simple and intuitive, and the sound quality is what professionals worldwide have come to know from McDSP plug-ins.
The McDSP 6050 is also available as an AAX DSP plug-in, great for HDX users
Metric Halo Channel Strip 3
The Metric Halo Channel Strip version 3 is a fully featured channel strip plug-in. It has an expander, compressor, multi-band EQ and limiter along with phase invert, channel delay, comprehensive metering and something called SpectraFoo spectrum analysis. Metric Halo says SpectraFoo enables users to be able to see their audio as well as hear it. In terms of ergonomics, the controls and meters are laid out rather well. All the controls are positioned close together which makes for intuitive use. The feature set in this channel strip is fairly similar to Eventide EChannel, all be it you get an extra limiter module in this.
Like the AVID Channel Strip and McDSP 6050, Metric Halo Channel Strip 3 is also available as an AAX DSP plug-in.
Plugin Alliance Brainworx bx_console E, bx_console G & bx_console N
The Brainworx bx_console series of channel strip plug-ins from Plugin Alliance emulate three popular analog consoles. Plugin Alliance does not formerly refer to what models are emulated... but we can easily guess. What makes these channel strip plug-ins unique is that Brainworx emulated multiple channels from the physical consoles, 72-channels for the E series alone! Usually, plug-in developers emulate one great sounding channel but Brainworx thought to go to town on these channel strips.
These console emulation channel strips by Brainworx are also AAX DSP plug-ins.
Slate Digital VMR Virtual Mix Rack
Slate Digital Virtual Mix Rack has been around for a few years now. Over the course of its life, Slate Digital have added countless new emulations of notable anolog EQs, dynamic processors and saturation modules. I have been a heavy user of VMR because it is very low on CPU resources and it always sounds great, not matter the application. The GUI doesn't mess about either, it is, in essence, an empty 500 series virtual rack that users drag modules into, rearrange and mix with. It's all about the processing and VMR is, in my opinion, one of the best sounding analog style channel strips around today. I look forward to seeing this ecosystem develope over the coming years.
If you haven't yet tried VMR I suggest you download the rack which is available for free from the Slate Digital website. This VMR free download comes with a single free module called Revival. Revival is a very sweet sounding analog style saturator module that features two controls to shape both the low and top end of audio.
Watch our initial review of Slate VMR when all it featured was five modules.
Softube Console 1
I'm bending the rules slightly here for this product - Softube Console 1 isn't a channel strip plug-in, it's a channel strip software/hardware ecosystem centred around a small form factor USB control surface.
The whole point of the Console 1 control surface is to inspire users to rely on their ears more when mixing which avoids falling into the trap many of us fall into when using plug-ins referred to as "mixing with your eyes"
Console 1 has a variety of analog console emulations:
- SSL SL 4000 E-Series (included with unit)
- SSL XL 9000 K-Series (purchased separately)
- British Class A For Console 1 (purchased separately)
This system works well and sounds epic. A single instance of the plug-in needs be loaded across the first insert of each track in a session and forgotten about, the rest is down to twisting dials on the control surface and the creativity of the mixer.
Instead of explaining how to use this system, I urge you to watch our free video tutorial below that shows the Softube Console 1 up close and personal along with the latest addition of UAD plug-in support.
UAD Manley VOXBOX
There are quite a few channel strips available on the UAD plug-in platform but this stands out to me above the rest - The Manley VOXBOX. The VOXBOX is a tube driven preamp featuring dynamics and EQ circuits designed specifically for vocal mixing.
The VOXBOX was released fairly recently, it is compatible with Universal Audio's Unison technology. Use the VOXBOX Channel Strip plug-in with an Apollo or UAD-2 hardware and you'll get an incredibly faithful emulation.
Watch our video review below to hear how this performs on a lead female vocal.
Waves SSL E & G Channel Strips
The Waves SSL E and G Channel Strip plug-ins are very popular, I've watched many a video tutorials by The Recording Revolution showing these in action. Like the SSL console emulations by Brainworx and Softube, these plug-ins by Waves offer the closest thing to mixing through a physical SSL but "in the box " domain along with all the tools you need to get great sounding tracks by use of a single channel strip.
Last year Waves started offering these plug-ins outside of the SSL 4000 Collection bundle. My top tip is to keep your eyes on upcoming special Waves deals over 2018 because last year we saw that Waves were offering flash sales of these plug-ins for $29 each... which is outstanding value for money.
Have Your Say
- Have we missed any channel strip plug-ins for Pro Tools?
- What channel strip plug-ins do you use?