I often get asked what plugins I regularly use, so a few years ago I decided to share my plugin thoughts with a personal Top 10 list. Here’s my latest edition for 2022, which isn’t all that different from previous years except that it has fewer compressors, since I’ve found myself using less and less compression lately.
These are in no particular order (even though they’re numbered), and I even included a few honorable mentions as well.
1. Waves CL3A – I find that any version of the famed LA-3A works well on guitars, keyboards and even bass sometimes. It even makes highly distorted guitars sound better, and you don’t even have to tweak it much for it to move a guitar forward in the mix. I like the Waves CLA version because it has the color that I remember from the original hardware unit.
2. Waves dbx 160 – Another favorite emulation (although the Universal Audio version is very good as well), I use it used mostly on kick and snare, where it shines for the controlled punch it provides. Be sure to use a low compression ratio of 2:1 or even less. Once again, I like the color of the Waves CLA version over others.
3. JST Clip – A clipper is used to tame peaks while maintaining the level and the JST Clip does the job well. It will be found on my parallel compressed drum buss as well as on keyboard and guitar busses. Adds an extra edge without resorting to EQ, and you can’t beat the price ($19).
4. Korneff Audio Amplified Instrument Processor – Dan Korneff is a great mixer and a really smart guy when it comes to gear. He’s taken some of the best processors from the past, emulated them, and put them all into a single package for this plugin. Comprised of a VCA-style compressor, sweet-sounding 4 band parametric EQ, a cool midrange filter, some proprietary signal processing and more, makes this plugin an extremely useful powerhouse.
5. ReLab LX480 – I’m probably like ever other mixer in that my tastes change as new plugins are released, especially when it comes to reverb. The LX480 sounds good on almost any setting. Even the less expensive Essential version has 4 outstanding reverb sounds.
6. Fabfilter Pro-Q 3 – It’s difficult to find a surgical EQ that will sound good, but the Pro-Q 3 does that and much more. It’s extremely versatile, and there’s nothing like having a frequency display to spot a problem quickly. Also, being able to set it as a dynamic EQ takes it to a new level.
7. Slate Trigger 2 – I always try to make the original kick and snare that I receive in the mix work first, but if that can’t happen then it’s time for some enhancement or replacement. The Slate Trigger makes this so simple that I don’t have to think much about it. I’ve tried other libraries but the one that comes with Trigger always seems to have just what’s needed.
8. Waves F6 RTA – I was searching for a good de-esser and couldn’t find what I was looking for until I stumbled onto the F6. It’s a dynamic EQ so it has more uses than just de-essing, but it does exactly what I want quickly and easily.
9. Waves SSL Buss Compressor – This has to be one of the finest specialty compressors ever built. Nothing works like it the mix buss. Again, I like the grit of the Waves version but the Universal Audio one works sounds pretty good too.
10. Fabfilter Pro-L 2 – There are a lot of great limiters available but my favorite is the Pro-L 2. I like it because it’s fairly transparent (although it can add character if you need it) and you can’t beat the metering. I keep trying to find something better but it’s really hard to beat sound-wise.
- Pro Tools Native 7 Band EQ – I still use this a lot, because it’s native and you can use a ton of them without eating up much computer processing power.
- Waves CLA Epic – If you need a more sophisticated effects chain that’s easy to set up, Epic is for you. There are 4 different delays and 4 reverbs that can mixed and matched in different combinations. Sounds great without having to tweak all that much.
- Any version of LA2A – I use this a lot of hat and vocal (usually in conjunction with an 1176).
- Any version of 1176 – Probably the most versatile compressor ever made, it can work on anything. Make sure to dial in the Attack and Release to get the most out of it.
- Kazrog True Iron – This is a transformer emulator that adds a little extra oomph on the bottom end. You can make it sound aggressive if you want to really push it, but you probably won’t need to.
- Soundtoys Microshift – Whenever I need a Harmonizer sound, this is what I turn to. It’s one sound that just can’t gotten any other way.
The honorable mentions could have really gone on quite a bit longer, and maybe we’ll do a separate posts just for them at a later time. Anyway, now you know what I use as go-to plugins in 2022, but keep in mind that next year the list will most likely be completely revised.