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Best Channel Strip Plugins

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best channel strip plugins

It’s obvious that we’re living in the digital age where mixing in the box with digital audio plugins is the norm. Before plugins changed the game, channel strips were an invaluable part of audio processing. Nowadays, the two worlds have combined to help recreate the tangible world of tweaking knobs on iconic consoles with the power and accuracy of digital control.

Today, we’ll be discussing the top 6 channel strip plugins on the market so you can add some analog flair to your mixes. 

 

 
If You're Curious (or just in a hurry):  
 

  

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Channel Strip 

Pros

Cons

Rating

Price

American Class A
  • Incredible sound

  • Great compression, saturation, and transient shaping

  • Compatible with Console 1
  • Some may find the EQ curves to be too broad
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Check price now!
Neutron 3
  • Incredible flexibility and precision
  • Multi-band options
  • AI functionality
  • Incredibly intuitive interface
  • A somewhat clinical sound
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Check price now!
McDSP 6060
  • Incredible customization options
  • Nice sounding modules
  • Can feel overwhelming
  • Limited visual feedback
  • Jack of all trades, master of none
⭐⭐⭐⭐ Check price now!
Fat Channel XT
  • Affordable
  • Everything you need to get the job done
  • Not very inspiring
  • Dated look and feel
  • Average sound quality
⭐⭐⭐ Check price now!

UAD SSL 4000E

  • Incredible sound
  • Everything you need to make your tracks sound pro
  • Expensive
  • Requires UAD Hardware to run
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Check price now!

Waves SSL EV2

  • Incredible Emulation of SSL 4000E
  • Lovely saturation
  • Affordable
  • Not as good as the UAD emulation, but doesn't require special hardware
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Check price now!

EMI TG12345 Channel Strip

  • Warm vintage tone
  • Tons of vibe
  • Limited frequency choices for EQ
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Check price now!

 

To make sure you get the most out of your channel strip VSTs, be sure to check the following guides:

 

 

And a couple more thoughts. Often a good channel strip plugin can get your mixes 90% of the way there with the built-in EQ and Compression. But sometimes, certain instruments require more powerful/precise EQ or compression. While all of these channel strip plugins are fantastic, some of the more plugins emulate vintage hardware channel strips that had fairly limited options for tone shaping. With plugins like the Waves EMI TG12345, for example, you'll probably need to add in separate EQs and compressors from time to time.

To help you out, we've put together reviews of the best EQ plugins and best compressor plugins so you can make sure that you've got your mixing under control!

 

Best Channel Strip Plugin - SofTube American Class A

 

From brilliant, in-your-face vocals to face-melting electric guitars to speaker-busting drums, the American Class A can do just about everything. The SofTube American Class A plugin is based on the greatest classic American console hardware. And by American console, when we mean API.

The American Class A plugin comes with a shape section, including a transient designer, a gate, a four-band EQ, and a unique compressor that you can switch between feedback and feedforward. The output section is warm and crunchy, giving you a fat, analog drive.  

Some of the best rock records were recorded on the American Class A, including records from Soundgarden, Radiohead, Pearl Jam, and Foo Fighters. We highly recommend it for bus processing, especially on drums. 

 

 

Even though you can push this thing to the limits, you can also get quite accurate with half and quarter turns on the EQ. 

One thing to note is that the plugin integrates nicely with the SofTube Console 1 and a channel strip, providing the benefit of the analog features and workflow on Console 1. I have found that combining the Console 1 with this plugin gives me incredible results with lightening fast speed.

Pros of the American Class A Channel Strip

  • Incredible sound

  • Great compression, saturation, and transient shaping

  • Compatible with Console 1

Cons of the American Class A Channel Strip

  • Some may find the EQ curves to be too broad

 

 

Overall, if you’re looking for a large sound, we recommend going with the American Class A.

 

Most Advanced Channel Strip Plugin - Neutron 3

 

Neutron 3 from iZotope is an all-in-one solution for mixing. It offers just about everything you could want in a channel strip, including an EQ, compressor, transient shaper, and exciter. One unique thing about Neutron 3 is that you can split your audio into three separate bands and process each of those bands independently. 

Of course, the main reason people look to Neutron 3 is the Track Assistant, which creates processing preset based on your audio. You can pick an instrument category and mix that instrument using one of three Track Assistant styles. You can then pick how intense you want to apply on that particular preset.

 

 

The plugin allows you to use up to 12 EQ points as well, giving you total control over the tonal balance of your signal. The transient shaper is also quite easy to use with three contour shapes, including sharp, medium, and smooth. You can even divide your signal into multiple bands and shape those transients separately. 

We were surprised by how versatile the Exciter was when we first used this plugin. You can add a touch of harmonic distortion to your audio using a variety of flavors, including Tape, Tube, Retro, Warm, and Blend profiles. 

 

Pros of the Neutron 3 Channel Strip

  • Incredible flexibility and precision
  • Multi-band options
  • AI functionality
  • Incredibly intuitive interface

Cons of the Neutron 3 Channel Strip

  • A somewhat clinical sound

 

 

Overall, iZotope Neutron 3 provides the most intelligent mixing solution, perfect for both beginner and advanced mixers!

 

Most Customizable Channel Strip Plugin - McDSP 6060 Ultimate Module Collection

 

The McDSP 6060 is made up of 30 unique modules, including EQ, compression, distortion, saturation, dynamic range expansion, specialized filtering, gating, and much more. There is even a unique custom module that includes bass-optimized biasing to give you a low-end that is larger than life.  

All of the modules from 6020, 6030, and 6050 are included as well, including specialized filters, signal saturators, expanders, and gates. While all of these modules might seem a bit overwhelming at first, there are plenty of high-quality presets to get you started, including those from some top engineers like Bob Horn, Mike Dean, ROCAsound, Neal Avron, and Lovy Longomba.

 

 

The easy-to-use drag and drop design allows you to mix and match the various modules to your liking, building the perfect plugin chain for your needs. You can even record with the channel strip on an insert, as it has an ultra-low latency design. 

 

Pros of the McDSP 6060

  • Incredible customization options
  • Nice sounding modules

Cons of the McDSP 6060

  • Can feel overwhelming
  • Limited visual feedback
  • Jack of all trades, master of none 

 

 

One unique thing about the McDSP 6060 is that the company is constantly working on new modules. If you ever get tired of the modules or feel that you need something more, you can look forward to it.

 

Best Value Channel Strip Plugin - Fat Channel XT

 

Fat Channel XT was created to integrate compatibility between StudioLive and Studio One. With Fat Channel XT, you get unique models of analog compressors and vintage EQs. This plugin is the ultimate channel strip with everything you need to mix, including a gate, a high-pass filter, an expander, a compressor, an EQ, and a limiter.

Beyond the vintage EQ modules and the iconic StudioLive compressor, you get two State Space compressor and EQ models made to emulate analog studio gear. 

 

 

The compressor section is extremely versatile, giving you the option to choose between a standard, modern compressor for flexibility, a tube compressor for that vintage, opto-based sound, and a FET compressor that creates an aggressive edge, perfect for bringing out the meat in guitars, drums, and bass. 

The EQ section is just as versatile, giving you access to a full-featured standard EQ for a cleaner, hi-fi sound, a passive EQ for vintage tone-shaping, and a vintage EQ for a musical, solid-state sound. 

 

Pros of the Fat Channel XT Channel Strip

  • Affordable
  • Everything you need to get the job done

Cons of the Fat Channel XT Channel Strip

  • Not very inspiring
  • Dated look and feel
  • Average sound quality

 

 

Of course, beyond the high-quality sound that the Fat Channel XT provides mixers, this plugin is incredibly easy to use. Channel strip plugins can often be overwhelming, especially for those who are new to mixing. The fact that you can hop on this plugin and start twisting knobs to dial in a fat sound is the key to its power. 

 

Best SSL Channel Strip for the Rest of Us - Waves SSL EV2

 

As we'll discuss in a moment, UAD makes the best emulation of the SSL 4000E. But UADs' emulation is expensive, and it requires expensive UAD hardware to run. So it's not a great choice for most of us.

Thankfully, Waves have created an SSL 4000E emulation for the rest of us that offers incredible value, while sounding true to the original. At the end of 2021, Waves completely re-engineered their original emulation of the SSL 4000E, and release version 2, the EV2. 

 

 

This new SSL emulation features even richer harmonic saturation, a new "mic mode" for more extreme gain settings, two different options for EQ curves (it now models the classic "Black" and "Brown" versions of the original console), and that same fat SSL compressor that we all love.

This is one of those channel strip plugins that you can insert on every channel and just turn on the compressor (with no gain reduction) and your track will already start to feel richer. Plus it includes over 600 presets from the pros!

 

Pros of the SSL EV2 Channel Strip

  • Incredible sound
  • Everything you need to make your tracks sound pro
  • Affordable

Cons of the SSL EV2 Channel Strip

  • None

 

 

Best SSL Channel Strip - UAD SSL 4000 E

 

There is no doubt that Universal Audio is one of the leading plugin companies around and the SSL 4000 E is proof of that. While it might seem like your typical SSL-style EQ, there are some unique features built into this emulation that set it apart.  

 

 

For example, you have the black and brown EQ curve, which you can toggle between for different sounds. It is also the only SSL plugin that includes real emulations of SSL’s preamps, giving you unique sweet spots for more character and harmonics. For this reason, we highly recommend the SSL 4000 E for tracking, as you can get the character of the preamp on the way into your DAW.

 

Pros of the SSL 4000 E Channel Strip

  • Incredible sound
  • Everything you need to make your tracks sound pro

Cons of the SSL 4000 E Channel Strip

  • Expensive
  • Requires UAD Hardware to run

 

 

Of course, one thing to keep in mind is that you won’t be able to run this plugin without Universal Audio hardware.

 

Waves EMI TG12345 Channel Strip

 

The Waves EMI TG12345 Channel Strip is modeled on a classic Abbey Road mixing console that was used on song by everyone from the Beatles to David Bowie. So you know it can offer incredible results.

This plugin emulation drips with vibe and vintage warmth. 

 

 

While it can add a ton of character to your mixes, it is based on a classic design, so it lacks a lot of more precise options like you'd see on a modern console. For example, the EQ frequency choices are very limited, and the compressor has only one attack time. 

Still, that shouldn't be a big deal. Just insert another compressor or EQ before you run it through the board. Or if you want to be really old school, record it right the first time!

While the Waves EMI TG12345 largely hews to its original specs, Waves did update it with some cool modern features. It includes the ability to do wet/dry compression blends and to control the amount of noise the mixer adds.

 

Pros of the Waves EMI TG12345 Channel Strip

  • Vintage warmth and vibe
  • Simple, but powerful, workflow

Cons of the Waves EMI TG12345 Channel Strip

  • Limited EQ frequency choices

 

 

Best Free Channel Strip Plugin - HOFA System Basic

 

If you don’t have tons of money to spend on a channel strip, we highly recommend checking out the HOFA System Basic Channel Strip. This piece of freeware comes with the popular EQ section, dynamics section, and FX toolbox from HOFA. The beautiful thing about HOFA is that you can dissect the plugin and use each piece as an individual insert in your DAW.

There are more than 150 presets to get you started, all of which can be edited and manipulated to your liking. 

Overall, there are 29 plugins with flexible processing and routing options, which is pretty incredible considering the fact that the HOFA System Basic is completely free.

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