The 25 Best Free VST / AU Plugins for PC and Mac in 2013 – Part 3

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This the third and final part of my big free VST / AU plugin review. We truly have some great stuff lined up! In case you’re wondering, all of these plugins are compatible with both Mac and PC platforms. 

If you haven’t seen the first two parts yet, here are the links (I suggest you also read the introduction in the first post):

The 25 Best Free VST / AU Plugins for PC and Mac in 2013 – Part 1

The 25 Best Free VST / AU Plugins for PC and Mac in 2013 – Part 2

Here we go!

 

8. Acoustica Audio Nebula 3 Free

Nebula 3 free

Nebula 3 free gives you a palette to color your mix with full spectrum of analogue goodness. It is a bit of a tricky one to master, so let’s get in a bit more detail about this plugin.

Let me be straight: Nebula 3 Free would have won the #1 place in this article if there weren’t for two things:

  1. It’s difficult and cumbersome to download, install and use. The lack of information from the devs can get very frustrating.
  2. No 64 bit support for Mac (at the time of writing this). That means you won’t be able to use it in Logic X or Mac version of Live 9 for now.

It’s a real shame, as the plugin itself sounds fantastic!  Many people will be put off by those two problems, but for the rest, this plugin can really work wonders.

Nebula is a dynamic convolution plugin that aims to deliver the sound of classic hardware preamps, EQs, reverbs, tape machines and so on. Convolution works via impulse responses which are little bits of sound sampled from actual pieces of hardware. This technology provides great sonic quality and possibilities.

Convolution technology sounds great but also has downsides – it’s heavy on the CPU and you are pretty much limited to the settings provided to you by the developer (or the creator of the impulses). With this being a free plugin one can’t really complain though. With static type of units such as preamps and tape machines it doesn’t really matter anyway. As far as the CPU usage goes, modern computers are able to run a good amount of Nebula 3 instances in a mix.

The full version of Nebula is nominated for the plug-in effects category in Sound on Sound Awards 2014.

The free version has a lot less content, but still has many great and very usable settings – my favorites are the preamps and the reverbs. A quick test running one of the preamp  settings over 8 channels (one instance on each) and then comparing to a dry version quickly reveals what magnificent things Nebula can bring to the table. It is a very subtle effect, but the trick is to use it extensively throughout the mix. It also works on the master channel.

Nebula 3 free is bulky and weird to use at first. Mixing with Nebula requires putting yourself in a different kind of mindset. If you can get over that though, you are set for pure ear gold. Using one of the 13 provided preamp settings on each of your channels alone can transform the sound of your mix entirely. It’s also very fascinating to explore how switching to different impulse presets changes the character of the entire mix.

In order to download Nebula 3 Free, you must register at their website and “buy it” from their shop (it doesn’t cost anything).

The developers seem to be concentrating on working on the product itself, while creating confusion and frustration amongst customers by making a lot of things unnecessarily difficult. The website is cumbersome and the lack of easily accessible information is frustrating.

I wasn’t spared from trouble when installing Nebula 3 free. I almost gave up but I had heard too many good things about this plugin so I kept trying. Finally I found out that in order to get the plugin to work on my Mac I had to switch Logic back to 32-bit mode for a bit and then run the audio unit manager from within Logic’s preferences, and manually validate the plugin instances.

It’s good to know there is an active user community on the Acustica Audio forum, so help is there if you ask.

To sum it up – this plugin may not be for beginners but if you know what you are doing and are looking for a way to push your mixdowns to a new level, I would highly recommend checking out Nebula 3 Free. The devs have a lot to improve in terms of user friendliness, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the plugin itself is very unique and sounds great.

 

Platform: Mac 32 bit, PC 32 bit and 64 bit.

Download here

 

 

7. Ohm Force Frohmage

Ohm Force Frohmage

 

This plugin is one absolutely crazy cat! I’ve been rolling with it for years by now. It can go from very subtle effects to absolutely destroying the sound or transforming it to something completely different. And I love that it doesn’t sound like anything else out there. Ohm Force are on top of their game and this plugin is no exception.

Hint: Try automating the “Evol” control.

 

Platform: Mac & PC, 32 bit and 64 bit.

Download here

 

 

6. Sonimus SonEQ

Sonimus SonEQ

If you’re after a good analog-modelled EQ plugin, look no further. Sonimus SonEQ is modelled after two legendary analogue EQ’s: the API 550 and the Pultec EQP. It has 3 EQ bands as well as high- and low-pass filters.

If you drive it hard enough, it will start to saturate the sound in a very pleasant way. I also love the way it’s able to boost high frequencies without making them sound artificial. It’s a great EQ that really makes you listen and make decisions based on what you hear, instead of what you see.

Features:

  • 3 band Equalizer, Low, Mid, High.
  • 2 Musical Filters, High-Pass Low-Pass.
  • Preamp stage with bass booster.
  • 64-bit floating point precision.
  • Up to 192kHz sample rates supported

 

Platform: Mac & PC, 32 bit (64 bit version is coming).

Download here

 

5. Ohm Force Symptohm Melohman PE

Ohm Force Symptohm Melohman PE

I love this one! Symptohm Melohman PE is a simplified version of Symptohm. Editing features are very limited but it uses the same sound engine. It sounds beautiful. Bass is fat and deep. Pads are lush and serene. The leads pierce your ears. There is a good bunch of sounds to play with in the preset browser. But the fun really starts when you discover there are many different variations of each preset under the “Meta Patch” section to the right. Don’t miss out on that!

 

Platform: Mac & PC, 32 bit and 64 bit.

Download here

 

 

4. Camel Audio Alchemy Player

Camel Audio Alchemy

Camel Audio Alchemy Player is stripped down version of their huge Alchemy synthesizer.

Stripped?

It comes with 1GB of sounds. That’s 150 excellent preset sounds and you get another 50 by registering at their site.

You don’t have a whole lot of control over the sounds, but hey – the sounds are so good that I rarely want to touch them in any case to be honest. I just love browsing the presets and playing with the beautiful sounds. I’ve used Alchemy Player in lots of tunes and it continues to enchant me!

 

Platform: Mac & PC, 32 bit and 64 bit.

Download here

3. Flux Bittersweet v3

Flux Bittersweet 3
This little plugin has been one of my secret weapons for years. It’s a transient shaping plugin which you can use to either magnify or decrease the transient content in your audio signal. One of my favorite tricks is to compress a drum part to bits and then use Bittersweet v3 to bring back the transients. Bang! It’s also great for many kinds of more subtle situations and dynamic restoration.

Platform: Mac & PC, 32 bit and 64 bit.

Download here

 

 

2. TDR Feedback Compressor II

TDR Feedback Compressor II

TDR Feedback Compressor II is almost too good to be free. The fact that it’s nominated in the Plug-in: Processing section of Sound on Sound Awards 2014 alongside some rather expensive plugins from companies like Soundtoys, Universal Audio, Waves, iZotope and Slate Digital speaks for itself.

TDR Feedback Compressor is not an analog emulation, like so many other plugin compressors out there. It’s a proud digital unit with some powerful next generation features.

Most modern compressors analyze the input signal to control gain reduction. This is known as a “feed-forward” topology. The TDR Feedback Compressor II, however, analyzes the output. This approach delivers unobtrusive and highly musical compression characteristics which mean the compressor is able to handle complex signals with ease.

TDR Feedback Compressor 2 offers some really cool features. One is the delta mode, which allows you to preview the difference between the compressed and original signals. Extremely handy. The independent release controls for Peak and RMS compression are also great to have. They make this compressor plugin really versatile.

The plugin fully supports 64-bit operation and is made to match the highest standards in every way.

The manual is good and because of the unusual feature set, you should really read it before using this plugin. But once you grasp the power this plugin offers, you will surely keep coming back to it.

TDR Feedback Compressor II is a highly competent compressor plugin and can stand proudly head to head with it’s paid alternatives.

 

Platform: Mac & PC, 32 bit and 64 bit.

Download here

 

 

 1. Voxengo Span

Voxeng Span

Voxengo Span is a brilliant free real time spectrum analyzer. I have used many spectrum analyzers in the past, both paid and free, and Span is definitely one of the best. It’s one of the most useful plugins I’ve ever used. That’s what has earned Span it’s place at the top of this list.

A lot of Span’s usefulness comes down to the clean and informative display which can be resized to whatever size you prefer. There are also loads of options for configuring the behavior and looks of the analyzer.

Span does multi-channel analysis too. You can set it to show spectrums from two different channels or channel groups at the same time.  The colors can also be set as you like.

Span also features output level metering with RMS reading, adjustable ballistics and integration time and K-system metering (including calibration K-system metering).  It displays level metering statistics, headroom estimation and clipping detection (tip: go to preferences, switch on the density mode and watch what happens). On top of all that, Span also has a phase correlation meter.

Span defaults to a rather unusual -4.5 dB spectrum slope which can be confusing at first if you’re used to looking at analyzers with a different slope. The slope in Span is fully adjustable however, so don’t get freaked out.

Voxengo have a great reputation as a manufacturer of quality VST and AU plugins. With products like Span you can really see why.

 

Standout features:

  • Adjustable spectrum resolution to fit all situations.
  • Adjustable spectrum slope.
  • Extremely versatile options – set it up the way you prefer.
  • Ability to resize the analyzer display.
  • Shows a precise frequency reading in Hz as well as notes as you hover over the spectrum.
  • Hold function (freezes the spectrum).

Platform: Mac & PC, 32 bit and 64 bit.

Download here

 

 

Bonus plugin: Ambience

Ambience

I was only informed about this plugin after writing and publishing the first two parts of this article. But after trying it out I decided Ambience had to be included.

Ambience by Magnus Jonsson is a fantastic sounding reverb. It’s quite old and the AU version does not have a fancy GUI. But that doesn’t mean anything. It sounds huge. Try putting it over a sharp lead synth and crank up the time setting and you will know what I mean. This is another one of those secret weapon type plugins for sure.
Unfortunately it only has 64 bit support for Mac (not Windows).

Platform: Mac 32 bit and 64 bit, PC 32 bit.

Download here

 

Final words

So there we go! My take on the best free Mac+PC compatible plugins out there at the moment. Even though I did a lot of research, it’s very likely I’ve missed some good ones. Please feel free to share your favorites in the comments.

If you take your time to learn these plugins properly I’m sure they will bring you a lot of joy, and probably spare some cash too.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Reddit, Digg, forums or whatever way you prefer. A lot of work goes into making this blog happen. Getting the exposure enables me to keep bringing you more good stuff in the future. Thank you!

 

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  • antarchitecture

    Great to get some good free stuff. I’ve enjoyed these 3 weeks. Thank you

    • Ilpo Kärkkäinen

      My pleasure. Thanks for the comment and enjoy the plugins.

  • Ragnar

    Thank you very much for rooting though what must be an ocean of plugins.

    • Ilpo Kärkkäinen

      Haha, it is an ocean and there are many good ones that weren’t included here for one reason or the other. Its not an easy task but at least this list will act as a good starting point for someone looking for quality free plugins.

  • https://soundcloud.com/concealed-identity-uk Jim MORTON

    you are a plug-in ninja, Ilpo…

    • Ilpo Kärkkäinen

      Hah that one I’ve not heard before. It’s just work mate really!

  • http://www.soundcloud.com/sebprovision Sebastian

    I’ve discovered and rediscovered some great plugs through these articles, my favourites being the Blue Cat suite, Voxengo Tube Amp, Sonimus SonEq for bread and butter stuff and Tyrell has a great tone!..

    Good stuff, cheers Resound!

    • Ilpo Kärkkäinen

      Great to hear that Sebastian. It’s crazy how much good stuff is out there once you really start to think about it.

      • http://www.soundcloud.com/sebprovision sebastian

        No doubt! I made the choice to go legit with Live 9 this year (previously bought Cubase 6) as music production has been providing uncompromising joy since I was fourteen, ten years ago… I’ve discovered some cool, high quality free stuff along the way so decided to base my setup around as much free/donate-ware as possible to support the smaller cats in the industry doing just a good a job.

        • Ilpo Kärkkäinen

          That’s a good way to go. Live 9 is a great foundation to build on too. I think its lacking on good saturation fx but fortunately there are some really great free ones around these days.

  • http://www.tokyodawn.net/ Fabien | Tokyo Dawn Labs

    Thanks for the lovely review Ilpo! :)

    • Ilpo Kärkkäinen

      Thanks for the lovely plugin ;)

  • Uhhhhh

    Anybody else having trouble getting Ambience to work with Ableton?

    • Ilpo Kärkkäinen

      Someone did email about this yesterday who had the same problem. It works fine for me (Ableton 9). All I did was put it in the components folder and rescanned plugins. Are you sure you downloaded the correct version? There are several different ones on the download page.

    • http://www.soundcloud.com/sebprovision sebastian

      I’m running the latest version of Live 9 and have no problems with Ambience. What problems are you experiencing?

  • Speziale

    More gold Ilpo …. much work to do and fun to be had playing with some of these plugs! Question – when you go about your tunes, given the vast array of options, what drives your decision as to which plugins to to go for? I imagine you have normal ‘go to’ stuff so when do you pull in new options? Is it trial and error or are you are a point when you know well enough what you are going for in terms of effect / color etc and how to get it? Cheers, Ben

    • Ilpo Kärkkäinen

      I guess it starts with trial and error. And eventually you start to discover the situations where each plugin excels.

      Of course it also helps to read the manual and see what other people are doing with it.

      Recently I’ve been reviewing lots of plugins so I’ve been playing around with tons of stuff, which is really not an ideal situation in my mind. Of course it’s fun, but for the quality of the end product (your music) it’s more important to have a solid pool of “go to” tools that you are very familiar with.

  • Adrian

    Thanks a ton dude! Just found your site a week ago. Learning a ton. Cheers for the good work. Wishing much continued success.

    -aT

    • Ilpo Kärkkäinen

      Great to hear Adrian, thanks.

  • http://www.lighterthiefmusic.com lighterthief

    love voxengo span.. so useful… my favourite third party plug in as well..

  • Nick

    I was using Bittersweet for a while, and it was an OK plug for dealing with transients, but then I tried Transient which was an entry in the KVR developer competition. and it blows away the competition IMO including paid plugs. I think it’s PC only though.

    • Ilpo Kärkkäinen

      Thanks for letting us know. PC folks should def check that out.

  • Matthew Buckingham

    Very helpful list!
    I’m just starting out with more ‘professional’ mixing and recording techniques as i am now studying Music Production at uni. I’ve been mixing for a while, but am just about ready to begin exploring the vast wealth of vst plugins to take my mixes up a notch. These free plugins look like a great place to start, especially as i have practically zero budget to work with.

    I was wondering if you could recommend some f your favourite plugins that would be very versatile and cost effective for someone like me? I guess in a way I’m asking what your ‘desert island’ budget plugins would be?

    Many thanks,
    Matt :)

    • Ilpo Kärkkäinen

      Glad you’re finding it helpful Matt. Desert island plugins? That is a great question! In fact I should probably write a longer blog post about it, but here are some initial thoughts.

      I must admit that when it comes to paid plugins I’m mainly using stuff like Waves, NI and Soundtoys, which is in the more expensive end of the spectrum. I don’t really consider myself an expert on budget plugins (so if there’s someone reading this with good suggestions, please drop your comments).

      Having said that these big companies tend to do big discounts from time to time so it pays off to look out for those. Waves for example seems to be running loads of campaigns these days.

      Some companies offer educational discounts too. For example, as a student you get -50% off from FabFilter.

      One budget plugin I have been using and liking a lot is the Sonimus Satson. It’s not the most versatile thing out there, but does it’s job well. The other Sonimus plugins are worth checking too. Their Sweetone EQ is a pretty cool concept especially.

      However if I was to put myself to the shoes of a student, there is one plugin company above others: iZotope.

      Their products are of great design and quality and hugely versatile. AND they do a -50% discount for students too.

      I own Ozone and Trash 2 and they are both fantastic and extremely versatile tools. Full of clever features and sound great. They also have a plugin called Alloy 2 for general mixing duties and Nectar 2 for working with vocals. Those I haven’t tried myself but I’m willing to bet they’re great. So I’d definitely have a look at their bundles, because you’ll be sorted for pretty much any kind of task with those plugins (plus of course the great free plugins here on this post).

      Hope that helps a bit!

      • Matthew Buckingham

        NICE ONE MATE :)

        Crazy fast answer and just what i needed to hear, at this stage I really just need good foundations to work with. Y’know, the basics at a good quality (not perfect) and at a good price. I have been hearing very good things about Ozone as well as iZotope in general so I’ll definitely check them out!

        Really awesome post, will be sending this on to other people on my course to have a look at :)

        Cheers

        • Ilpo Kärkkäinen

          Great! You’re right. No point going gung-ho, the truth is your DAW probably has more than enough to get you started. Learn to utilize the free stuff and what your DAW has first. Eventually you will start to get a feel of where improvements are needed, and then begin to fill in those gaps with more advanced tools.

  • Richard Granholm

    Amazing article! This has helped me so much. I’m having trouble opening the Ambience plugin in Ableton 8 though – when I download the VST for Mac, it only gave me a .txt file and a random document file. Then I tried the AU version, and when I put the component in the component folder it isn’t showing up in Ableton!

    • Ilpo Kärkkäinen

      Good to hear!

      I think the Power PC VST versions are not compatible with modern Intel macs (I could be wrong).

      There are two different downloads for the AU (1.0.6 and 1.0.7), have you tried them both?

  • Paul

    Thank you for sharing. Limiter6 by vladgsound is very good…http://vladgsound.wordpress.com/plugins/limiter6/

  • Paul

    Also…I downloaded Ambience from here http://www.vst4free.com/free_vst.php?id=568 don’t know if its a different version-it has a better GUI but it works great with ableton 8

  • Medipakt

    I didn’t see anything by Variety of Sound on here, so I thought I’d leave this:
    http://varietyofsound.wordpress.com/

    Not sure if you’re familiar with his work, but Variety of Sound is a one-man developer of what are quite possibly the best analogue effect emulations I’ve seen, both free and paid. All of his plugins are free. They only come in 32-bit VST format though, but I would certainly try them out if you aren’t familiar with them.

    • Ilpo Kärkkäinen

      Thanks – yeah I am familiar with these plugins and they do seem to be getting a lot of praise! The only reason they didn’t make it to this article is because I have only included plugins that work on both PC and Mac platforms. Definitely worth checking out for all Windows users.

      • Medipakt

        I thought about that after posting… Those poor Mac users :(

  • Guille

    iNCREDIBLE work! thank you man

  • wanderson lemos

    OBRIGADO!!!!!!

    • Ilpo Kärkkäinen

      De nada.

  • http://bustede.com 0=0

    for pc only.. (unless you virtualize it in linux or os x)

    http://varietyofsound.wordpress.com/
    Nasty DLA MkII amazing plugin.
    Thrillseeker VBL

    this Roland JX8p emulator is quite good for a free synth.
    https://sites.google.com/site/mlvst0/

    1 and 2 on your list are amazing free pieces of software that i use very often!

    respect.

    j

    0=0

    • Ilpo Kärkkäinen

      Hey Jason,
      Nice one! Thanks.

      Good to hear from you.

      Ilpo

  • Mr. Skittles

    Hey man, I was checking through your list of plugins and I really like it, but is there a free drum plugin you would suggest people use?

  • danroy81

    Hi – thanks for the list. I went to take a look at Symptohm and it says “Please note that demo versions will operate properly for about 7 hours of use. Beyond this time, noise creeps will be heard progressively.MIDI is not supported either on these.”

    Now I know this is fairly common but does that mean it will only technically be “free” to use properly for 7 hours?

    • http://www.resoundsound.com/ Ilpo Karkkainen

      I think you are probably mixing up the demo of Symptohm (paid plugin) with Symptohm PE (free plugin featured in this article). The demo of full Symptohm synth comes with the said limitations, as do their other demo versions.

      So just download Symptohm PE and you should be good. :)

  • Jarmo

    Thanks for the article, i will try out couple of things on here.. i’ve used TAL Noisemaker before this article.. it’s a really good one, quite underrated.

    • http://www.resoundsound.com/ Ilpo Karkkainen

      You’re welcome. Yup it’s great isnt it.

  • Malthe Bjørn Jensen

    http://vladgsound.wordpress.com/plugins/
    Nice compressor and limiter

  • Tim Riley

    Your the man! shot for all the fantastic info and insights, its really cool to see your so passionate about audio, Big up!!

    • http://www.resoundsound.com/ Ilpo Karkkainen

      Cheers Tim nice one :)

  • False Prophets

    You are what i call – Captain Awesome! Would love for you to listen to some stuff that i used from this list. Thanks a ton and thank you a million

  • dave

    How many of these work with Logic Pro

    • http://www.resoundsound.com/ Ilpo Karkkainen

      All of them

  • RV

    Great Great Great. As an old producer coming back into the studio this is the most useful list of FREE plugins to get my hands dirty again. Many thanks!

  • randyrocker

    Anything at all by Sonimus is fantastic, they excel at everything they do sound wise.

  • ludo

    Great and very useful list !
    sonEQ doesn’t appear in my vst or au list in Ableton Live (64 bits / Os Macos Maverick). Are you sure it is available in 64 bits version ?

    • sebastian

      I struggled with this for ages, I even message Sonimus before I clicked that it was only 32bit. Their response was

      “Hi Sebastian, SonEQ free, is 32 bits. It will change soon ;)

      Please wait for news.
      Cheers!!

      Boris”

      I hope 64bit comes out sooon, I loved this EQ and used it heaps

  • Christoph

    Damn, you’re the man. I knew only 2 of those plugins, 18 to go for the weekend :) Thanks for the effort!

  • Crankcase08

    I tried the Flux Bittersweet, and the effect is so subtle that it just amounts to unnecessary drain on the CPU.

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