I reckon it's fairly safe to say that a vast majority of native third-party audio plug-ins are frugal when it comes to CPU usage. There are though a handful of plug-ins that, although sound great, are CPU resource hungry.
In this article, I list 5 plug-ins that regularly push my CPU system usage into the red.
Each plug-in featured in this list were tested for CPU usage within a Pro Tools 88.2 kHz session on a Mid 2010 2 x 2.4 GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon 32 GB Ram Mac Pro - Hardware buffer set to 2048 Samples. Only one plug-in was tested at a time within this test session.
Waves Abbey Road Plates
Waves Abbey Road Plates is a beautiful sounding reverb. It sounds particularly brilliant on lead vocals. It's so good that I find myself wanting to use more than one instances of it within a mix... especially in large sessions with high track counts.
The problem though... computer says no.
A single stereo instance of Abbey Road Plates consumes between 20% - 30% of my native CPU resources... I think that's a bit greedy.
It's large appetite for CPU resources though doesn't put me off using this great sounding characterful reverb, I'm just very aware that I can usually only use one instance of it in a mix so that my session does fall over.
ADAPTIVERB by Zynaptiq is a unique reverb. The reverbs this produces somehow don't get in the way of other tracks in a mix yet it can still sound big and luscious.
ADAPTIVERB feature controls that you would commonly find on a synth VI such as harmonic filtering and X/Y controls. I find myself playing with settings I don't fully understand which results in some really out of this world sounding reverbs that I could not achieve in any other reverb plug-in.
There's no denying that ADAPTIVERB does tax one's CPU usage. It averages between 30% to 40% of my system. When I need to use ADAPTIVERB I get the sound I want then print it (in Pro Tools I commit) the effect so that my system can breathe easy throughout the rest of the mix stage.
Newfangled Audio Elevate
New kids on the block Newfangled Audio released Elevate in 2017. Elevate is an extremely powerful limiter plug-in that features a 26 band Mel Scale filter bank that separates audio into frequency bands similar to the frequency curve in the human ear. Elevate uses adaptive algorithms to calculate optimal limiting, transient shaping, and spectral clipping for each band.
I've never experienced a limiter plug-in like this. It produces very clean limiting results way past what would be considered the safe line in other limiter plug-ins.
Problem is though, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Elevate enables all 26 bands when loaded on default. This causes my CPU usage to spike at 100%. The only way I can use Elevate in my system is by reducing the number of bands to something more sensible... and manageable.
iZotope Ozone 8
Early versions of iZotope Ozone were CPU hogs. Over the years iZotope have improved the performance of Ozone in more recent versions but it is still not the lightest plug-in to use on my system.
When a default instance of Ozone 8 is loaded with 3 modules enabled the CPU usage is around 20%... not bad considering EQ, Dynamics and Maximizer are loaded, but when I use the Master Assistant this value almost doubles to 40% that at times will cause my system to have a hiccup.
Waves L316 is a powerful 16 band peak limiter plug-in that gets things loud... and I mean seriously load!
If you throw this on a track in the final stages of a mix then you'll be in for a surprise. it will most likely get your DAW politely asking you to increase your hardware buffer size, like it does to me every time I use it.
What Plug-ins Push Your CPU Resources?
Those are five CPU hungry plug-ins that I use in my workflow. Do share in the comments below the plug-ins you use that make you reach for the Playback Engine.