TOP 5 (+BONUS) SATURATION PLUGINS
Here are 5 + a bonus saturation plugins we use on every session. Included with some of our favorite tips and tricks.
01 – ISM & Ploytec Aroma & Mango
Aroma and Mango are two plugins that do not emulate specific hardware devices but the qualities and sound of analog in general. Think of them as clean harmonics generators that you add as much as you please. It’s like spices as very accurately described on Aroma’s interface. Both processors can work in mid/side and are useful from sound design to mastering. In more detail Aroma contains four different flavours of saturation/spices salt, pepper, sugar and chili. Salt has a valve quality and produces odd and even harmonics. Pepper also has a valve like sound but produces mainly odd harmonics. Sugar has a beefy sound that reminds the characteristics of analog tape machines. Chili has a very musical analog flavour and enhances mainly the odd harmonics. All four spices have an extra flavour knob that further tunes the processing. Mango contains just one flavour of saturation that is fine tuned for mastering. The sound loosely reminds valve or type but nothing specific. It is a go to solution for adding harmonics on the master bus, you just turn the knob and you are ready to go.
Tip 01: Use the mid/side function to create different harmonic patterns between mid and side and create extra width and depth on you sounds.
Tip 02: Use Mango just before the final limiter to push musically into it and add extra flavour to your master bus.
02 – PROCESS.AUDIO Sugar
PROCESS.AUDIO is the plugin company of pureMix which is an audio engineering training and education community. Sugar is their first tool and is a multiband saturation enhancer. Offers eight colours two for each of the four bands, three unique saturation algorithms and high-pass and low-pass filters with a steep option. In the middle of the plugin is a jog wheel that can move all of the four enhancers without changing their relative position. In simple words when you find your sound you can use the jog to push it even more or lessen the processing. Processing can work in mid/side and also there is options for listening just the fx and auto level matching so you are not tricked by the loudness difference. Crossovers are by default linear phase (you can change that in the settings) so there are no phase issues when processing. In general the plugin sounds amazing and feels professional in every aspect of it. The extra thing you should consider about this tool is the community behind it that helped developing and fine tuning it. It contains very useful presets from well known engineers and every slider/knob move feels organic and musical. You can use it, push it and drive it like an analog processor without thinking too much.
Tip 01: Use the medium band to add low mid body to the sound. Works wonders on vocals and synths.
Tip 02: Use the air band on your sounds or master. Between the yin and yang settings you will find the perfect top end for your material.
03 – Tone Empire Goliath
Our go to saturator these days for sound design. Contains three different types of saturation from Solid State (Silver) to Tube (Gold) and Tape (Titanium). Processing on all three can go from very subtle to edgy, sounding great all across the spectrum. What sets it apart from other solutions is the envelope section. You can add punch, sustain and movement and achieve a dimensional analog sound. Add on top of that the sweet sounding three band EQ and you have a complete toolkit. Between how hard you drive it and the roof setting (which is kind of a threshold) along with all other options available you can achieve a wide palette of sounds. Latest version added a second mode which makes the processor less sensitive for more accurate tuning via the input/drive knob.
Tip 01: Use it on drums or spiky sounds to fatten and chop off the peaks without losing punch.
Tip 02: Tube (Gold) sounds great when driven. Push it to extremes and use the dry/wet knob to mix back to taste.
04 – Wavesfactory Spectre
Wavesfactory is a well respected company for their Kontakt libraries. When they released their first plugin Trackspacer it became an instant hit as it simplified frequency dependent side chaining. Now in its latest version it still is our go to for mixing kick and bass and for creating intricate and musical interactions between tracks. Spectre their latest tool, may seem like a parametric EQ but surely is more than that as each one of its bands is a powerful enhancer/saturator. You can only boost but when doing so you do not only change the gain of the band but also add harmonic content. Each band has a selection of saturation algorithms (ten in total) you can choose from classic tube, solid and tape to more special ones like bit, digital and rectify. There is even a Clean mode that converts the band to a simple parallel EQ. From all the options you will surely find the tone that fits your material. Offerings do not stop here as the plugin has three quality modes that change the oversampling setting making it clean from digital artifacts even on extreme settings, three saturation modes that change the general amount of harmonics produced (between this setting and in/out interaction you can fine tune the amount of harmonic content created) and a De-Emphasis setting that removes the EQ boost from the band leaving back only the harmonics created. Also each band can work on stereo, left, right, mid or side and there is a master mix knob at hand. Don’t get overwhelmed from all the above, GUI is intuitive and all settings are self explanatory making the use of it as easy as a simple EQ.
Tip 01: Upper mids sound very nice and smooth. You can easily add back the snap on drums or make dull recordings shine.
Tip 02: Use it to replace EQ boosts on your tracks. You will find that most times you will achieve better, easier and more natural sounding results.
05 – Klevgrand REAMP
REAMP as its name states is an amp style processor which simulates seven different types of analog saturation. Algorithms are very detailed and complex and the results of the processing are really ear pleasing. Just by inserting the plugin without touching a knob affects the sound in a good way. Processing is based around a four band spectral drive so you have, in addition to the main input four independent drive bands to push. There is also a four band post eq for further fine tuning. Frequency bands are fixed but carefully selected. The seven gear profiles range from cassette deck and tape reel to tube, guitar and bass amps. There is also a harmonics selector that lets you choose how much harmonic content the processing adds to the signal, the always handy dry wet knob, an output setting and many useful presets to get you started. REAMP was a pleasant surprise when testing, always sounded convincing and real and the saturation characteristics along with the spectral drive and post eq every time gave back good and interesting results.
Tip 01: Use it on percussions (especially live ones). You will surely find a setting that complements the sound.
Tip 02: Use it as a general dedigitizer. Gives dimension and character to digital sounds.
Bonus – PSP Vintage Warmer 2
It wouldn’t be a complete article about saturation plugins if we didn’t mention the plugin that we think started it all, PSP’s Vintage Warmer, which is about a year away from turning twenty. It was one of the first plugins that came close to the analog sound in the box and to our opinion still nails the sound of a hard hitting tape. Always finds its way in our sessions adding its magic here and there. In its latest implementation comes in three versions, the MicroWarmer which has a simplified single band interface and low latency optimized for every track of a session, the Vintage Warmer which is an updated version of the original plugin and the Vintage Warmer 2 which adds oversampling and is suited for groups and the master. It is a piece of software you should have in your arsenal apart from the nostalgia reasons its tonality is super useful especially for electronic music, it still sounds superb and many professionals swear by it.
Tip 01: Use it before your master limiter to drive into it.
Tip 02: Use it all around your mix in places you need that extra sauce.