As a bit of fun in the Production Expert team we’ve challenged one another to this challenge; you get to keep all the plug-ins supplied with your DAW but then you only get to keep one more plug-in. It can’t be a suite of plug-ins and it can’t be an external application. It also can’t be plug-ins that come bundled with certain subscription plans, so for Pro Tools users we have removed anything other than the plug-ins that come with the native version of Pro Tools.
The first thing to consider when making the choice is to think what can be done with the plug-ins supplied with your DAW. Russ uses two DAWs Pro Tools and Studio One, both of which are supplied with a fantastic set of plug-ins and for the most part make an excellent mix is possible without any 3rd party plug-ins.
With over 500 third party plug-ins sitting on his hard drive for Russ narrowing it down to one plug-in was tough, although to be honest in most cases he uses about 10 of those plug-ins on a regular basis, the majority are on his drive either because he got a bundle that he can’t be bothered to remove the stuff he doesn’t use from or from stuff he has reviewed for the site.
However, even with 10 left to choose from narrowing down to one plug-in was a tall order for Russ. Many of the third party plug-ins are either there for character and tone or are magic, for example Surfer EQ and POWAIR from Sound Radix.
For James, like many of the team he is more than happy with almost all the tools and goodies we get included with even the most basic version of Pro Tools. EQIII is more than serviceable as a basic tone shaping EQ. He even doesn’t mind D-Verb for his reverb as for the sort of music he generally works on is all quite rough and ready and no one is going to notice a slightly sloshy reverb tail in a rock band mix. Where he does find the basic tool set lacking is a good tone shaping compressor. Something that can, where needed, impart some character and really go to town on transient shaping and if the need takes him, get down and dirty on the tone.
For Julian when looking at the stock complement of plug-ins which come with Pro Tools he too has no issues with the basics. Avid Channel Strip for compression, the 7 Band EQIII for EQ, Mod Delay for Delay, Low Fi for saturation effects, Maxim for limiting and the Air Audio plug-ins for modulation. All of these will be fine. Speciality stuff like dynamic EQ, multiband compression and tuning effects are going to leave gaps but if you are recording with a reasonably natural aesthetic you’ll be fine. That covers most of what I do so I’ll keep going looking for my contender. Under the strict terms of this challenge this is an issue. With a subscription then access to Revibe and Space come into play and with Revibe in particular there would be no issues at all but given the choice of D Verb or Air Reverb there is definitely something of a reverb deficit. The Air Reverb isn’t a contender which leaves me with D Verb. It’s not ideal. It’s OK on drums but the pitch modulation on the tails can be a bit drunken on pitched sources. Used sparingly it can be perfectly acceptable but it’s never great. Honestly if it was just me doing this challenge I’d probably choose a quality reverb from the likes of Exponential or Lexicon. However I just know that someone else will choose a reverb so I’ll move on. D Verb will do. I’m going to choose something which helps when a mix just needs a kick up the backside. At those times when, when there isn’t anything "wrong” with the mix but you just aren’t feeling it? I am looking for a magic plug-in which does something mysterious which just makes stuff sound better.
In considering his choice for this bit of desert-island fun Mike can live with the stock plug-ins for most of what he does. In fact for most of his audio-post work he doesn’t use that many plug-ins. The stock Avid EQ is great and although he normally uses the Avid Pro Compressor and Limiter for dynamics duties he would turn to the Dynamics section of the Avid channel strip. For reverb he could get by with Dverb. In fact for many years he used Dverb very successfully from back when it was a separate plug-in authorised using a floppy disk! For noise reduction he would turn to iZotope RX 7 Advanced but that is a separate piece of software, so that would be my workaround. That just leaves metering. Although the Avid metering options are very comprehensive they still do not offer BS 1770 loudness metering. As I need to be able to deliver loudness compliant mixes that would be the deal breaker that would mean I would need to turn to a 3rd party plug-in.
Both Dan and Elli didn’t have to think hard before making their choices.
What Would Your Choice Be?
What about you, which one plug-in that you own can you not do without outside of the plug-ins that come as standard with your DAW of choice? Do share your thoughts in the comments below…