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 edition for 2018, which isn’t all that different from last year 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. Universal Audio 1176 – No change here. In my opinion, there’s never been a more versatile compressor created, either hardware or software. I’ll use it on drums, room, keys, guitars, bass, vocals – almost anything actually, and it usually works.
2. Universal Audio dbx 160 – Another favorite emulation (although the Waves 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.
3. Waves Scheps 1073 – What a fantastically versatile EQ! It’s also one of the few where I even use the presets and they work well (great job, Andrew!). I especially love it on kick and snare, but it will work everywhere else as well.
4. Universal Audio Maag EQ4 – Many have tried to duplicate this great piece of hardware in a plugin but few actually capture the sound. I just love the Air band on the EQ4, which brings out the presence of almost any mic. Stick this sucker on a vocal and you’ll make that cheapie mic sound closer to a C12 than you might have imagined.
5. Exponential Audio PhoenixVerb – I loved the sound of the old Lexicon reverbs, and the PhoenixVerb has all that and more (company owner Michael Carnes spent 25 years working for Lexicon).
6. Fabfilter Pro-Q 2 – It’s difficult to find a surgical EQ that will sound good, but the Pro-Q 2 does that and much more. It’s extremely versatile, and there’s nothing like having a frequency display to spot a problem quickly.
7. PSP 2445 Reverb – Still one of my favorites, there are not a lot of different algorithms to choose from like other reverbs, but that one that it does always sounds great. The shortest decay settings are excellent.
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. Universal Audio LA3 – To me, this is the ideal electric and acoustic guitar compressor. It even makes highly distorted guitars sound better. Still haven’t found anything better, and sometimes all that’s needed is only a dB or 2 to make a big difference in having a track work in the mix.
10. Fabfilter Pro-L 2 – There are a lot of great limiters available but my favorite this year is the Pro-L 2. I like it because it’s fairly transparent (although it can do much more if you need) and you can’t beat the metering.
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.
Universal Audio LA2A – I use this a lot of hat and vocal (usually in conjunction with an 1176).
PSP L’Rotary – This is the best Leslie speaker emulator ever, in my opinion. You won’t need this on every mix, but when you do, it always works.
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 list this year leans a little less heavily towards Universal Audio than in previous years, but I’m still a big fan. The honorable mentions could have also gone on quite a bit longer, but then I would’ve been getting into plugs that I don’t use as regularly. Anyway, now you know what I use as go-to plugins in 2018, but keep in mind that next year the list may be completely revised.