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Best Vocal Plugins

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best vocal plugins

When it comes time to mixing vocals, it’s important that you’re armed with the right vocal plugins! From compressors to EQs to reverb plugins and beyond, it can be quite overwhelming trying to find the right plugins for your needs.

Thankfully, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite vocal plugins after years of experience and extensive research.  

Come dive in with us as we explore some of the best vocal plugins on the market and why each plugin deserves a spot in your vocal chain. 

Note: This article may contain affiliate links, meaning I would receive a commission - at no cost to you - for any products you purchase 

 

The Importance of Your Vocal Signal Chain Order

 

The order of effects in your vocal mixing signal chain is incredibly significant. Depending on its position in the effects chain, a plugin can sound different. Understanding the way that plugin position influences sound can help you make more informed mix decisions and troubleshoot mix issues.

People often ask what the correct order for plugins in a signal chain is. Unfortunately, there are no absolute rules when it comes to signal chains, as it depends entirely on the source material and your end goal.

Of course, if we want to use the traditional approach to mixing, then there are certain workflows that act as great starting points for your chain. When it comes to mixing vocals, here’s a basic signal chain order that I often find myself using:

 

  • Gain Staging
  • Saturation
  • Subtractive EQ
  • Compression
  • Additive EQ
  • Modulation Effects
  • Limiting
  • Delay and Reverb

 

What’s important to remember is that the above signal chain is simply a suggestion and not a hard rule by any means. Even more important is that you might not need to include every plugin in your signal chain all the time. For example, your vocal might not need saturation or reverb in a particular mix, while it might not need modulation in another.

If you're ready for a deep dive into the signal chain, check out this article on the best vocal signal chain.

 

Using Parallel Processing on Vocals

 

Vocals can often benefit from parallel processing, where you blend in a processed vocal signal with your dry one in parallel (or simultaneously). Engineers will often use heavy compression or saturation on vocals and dial it in slightly with their dry vocal mixes to get the best of both worlds. 

You may not realize it, but even using reverb on vocals as a send effect is a form of parallel processing!

This can either be done with inserts if your plugin has a mix knob or sends if you want the ability to process you parallel signal separately.

 

Best Autotune Plugin for Vocals - Antares Auto-Tune Artist

 

While many people think of artists like T-Pain or Cher when you mention autotune, it’s become a much more subtle, widespread art these days. The general public has more fine-tuned ears than ever, which is why it’s important to use autotune in your mixes if you notice any pitch problems (even if they are very slight). I'd be that nearly every song being released these days has autotune on it, just used very subtly.

Beyond creating robotic, vocoder-style effects, you can use autotune to create a smooth, seamless sound with subtle pitch correction.  

 

 

One of the best Autotune plugins all around is the Antares Auto-Tune plugin. This plugin was initially released in 1997 and has come a long way since. In fact, Antares was the creator of the autotune effect, so it only makes sense that they are the company that perfected it. 

Nowadays, you’ll find several versions available, though one of our favorites is Antares Auto-Tune Artist. It is a bit less expensive than the company’s flagship Auto-Tune Pro product, which has the most advanced features found in the plugin. However, most producers will never use half of these advanced features, which is why we feel like it’s a better idea to save money if you can. 

Whether you are shooting for ultra-detailed, transparent vocal tuning or creating extreme, T-Pain-like effects using a MIDI keyboard, Antares Auto-Tune can do it all. 

 

 

Best Waves Plugin for Vocals - Waves DeBreath

 

Harsh breath sounds can kill a good vocal track. Even if a singer sounds amazing and the vocal is full, present, and in your face, a jarring “shh” or “ess” sound that pops out every once in a while can throw the listener a curveball. This is where de-breath plugins come in. 

Of course, it’s possible to go through an entire mix and turn down or remove every single breath, though that can take many hours, especially if you have tons of vocal tracks. With a de-breath plugin, you can let the robots do the work, automatically detecting breaths and turning them down or getting rid of them altogether.

 

 

Waves DeBreath is a brilliant plugin in that it uses a unique algorithm that separates your breaths and vocals into two tracks. You can be in control of how much breath you want to be heard using the breath reduction slider found on the interface. In the end, you’re left with the beautiful sound of the singer’s voice without their gasping for air. 

My favorite part about DeBreath, though, is the room noise simulation. Sometimes if you just delete a breath from the vocals, there will be an obvious emptiness/quiet to the performance. But if you push the "room tone" button, DeBreath will simulate the tone of the room, making the silence much more natural. 

Yes, it’s true that the sound of a breath can add poignance and power to a performance, though as many philosophers have said in the past, it’s easy to have too much of a good thing. 

 

 

Best De-Esser Plugin for Vocals

FabFilter makes some of the most powerful and straightforward mixing tools these. And their approach to De-Essing is no different.  FabFilter Pro-DS  provides transparent de-essing with an easy-to-use interface. 

 

FabFilter_Pro-DS_MainImage_PluginBoutique

 

We love that the plugin is that it does an extraordinary job at detecting sibilance and getting rid of unwanted consonants. The visual display feedback is second to none, allowing you to see exactly what the plugin is attenuating in your audio track as it moves through the plugin.

The second standout feature on the FabFilter Pro-DS is its “lookahead” feature. Yes, lookahead can cause a bit of latency, though it does a fantastic job at applying de-ssing to a vocal up to 15ms before any sibilance occurs, giving you clean and transparent de-essing, even on the harshest and fastest transients. We recently did a round up of the best de-esser plugins if you're looking for more options.

 

 

Best Volume Automation Plugin for Vocals - W.A. Outlaw

 

If you are mixing vocals and you can’t seem to reign in dynamics using compression without completely squeezing the life out of them, you probably need to automate their volume first. Volume automation is at the foundation of mixing. By riding the gain of your vocal before you hit compression, you can even out your vocal’s dynamics, so your compressor doesn’t have to do as much work. With volume automation, your compressor will sound more transparent, and your vocal will be much more upfront.  

Outlaw is the gain-riding plugin you’ve been in search of, mimicking the real-world movement of faders on a console. It’s almost like having your own personal mixing engineer in the box. Instead of spending hours drawing in volume automation, you can let Outlaw do all of the work.

 

 

The plugin has four main dials that give you control over the fundamentals of volume automation, allowing you to make broad-stroke adjustments as you mix. From setting the RMS target to adjusting the intensity of your volume automation effect, it’s easy to dial in the right sound for your vocal’s needs.

Of course, what really separates Outlaw from other automation plugins is the secondary panel, which allows the plugin to perform in band-pass mode, gain-riding the specific frequencies you need to, such as high-end vocal harshness or low-end vocal rumble. 

 

 

Best Preamp Plugin for Vocals - Arturia Pre 1973

 

Having a preamp plugin on your vocals can give them the character and shape they need to add interest to your mixes. In many ways, you can use a preamp plugin to achieve a professional tonal balance before you ever apply EQ or compression.  

The Arturia Pre 1973 is one of the best preamp plugins for the job, as it emulates the sound of the Neve 1073, which is the Holy Grail of audio engineering. So many plugin manufacturers have tried to recreate it, yet, in our eyes, no company has done it better than Arturia. 

 

 

One thing to note is that Arturia is famous for physical modeling technology, recreating the circuitry of iconic analog equipment for digital users. With the Pre 1973, you can add clarity, warmth, and analog sound to your vocals. With it, you’ll get the Neve-style coloration that is often sought after. Plus, beyond vocals, it sounds great on just about anything.

The plugin’s EQ section has a stunning high-shelf knob and mid-side capabilities, allowing you to dial in a bit of EQ right off the bat as well. If authenticity and ease-of-use are things you’re looking for, then you truly can’t beat the sound and reliability of the Arturia Pre 1973. 

 

 

Best Vocal Compressor Plugin - SofTube TubeTech

 

As one of the most dynamic musical instruments around, the human voice needs tools that can reign it in and help it sit within a mix. The process of getting a vocal to sit nicely in a mix while taming its dynamics can be difficult without the right tools. This is where plugins like SofTube TubeTech come in. 

The Tube-Tech CL1B  is a famous hardware compressor that has been used on countless records. SofTube and UAD faithfully recreated this piece of vintage hardware to be used as a plugin. Whenever you’re looking to achieve a warm, compressed sound, the Tube-Tech CL1B recreation is the best choice. It delivers smooth optical compression that can replace the often-used 1176/LA-2A compression process. 

 

 

One of the things I love about the SofTube Tube-Tech plugin is the sidechain capability, allowing you to add a bit more clarity to your mix with ease. Beyond that, the controls on the interface mimic what you’d find on the hardware.

The compressor is known for its use on vocals, though it’s a wonderful all-around compressor, perfect for just about any instrument. And, as we know, having the ability to use a plugin for more than one thing can help us justify its price, which is equally important in the world of music gear! 

If you're not sure whether the Tube-Tech is a good choice for you, you can check out our review of the best compressor VSTs for more suggestions.

 

 

Best Waves Compressor for Vocals - CLA-2A

 

Optical compressors are great for vocals in that they are smooth and transparent, very different from what you would get with a FET of VCA compressor (if you want to level up your compression game, click here to learn about the different types of compressors on get some tips on when to use them). You can dial in 10dB of compression with a quality optical compressor and come out on the other end with a warm, professional-sounding vocal that doesn’t feel squished or lifeless. 

Of all of the hardware compressors in the musical kingdom, one that stands out as a legendary compressor is the Teletronix LA-2A. The LA-2A is a beautiful-sounding optical compressor with a tube output stage. It’s known for its warmth and, dare we say, vibe. Though there are many emulations of this plugin, one of the best for the quality and price is the Waves CLA-2A.  

 

 

You get a slow attack and release, giving you the response of the original compressor and a bit of added warmth and low-mids that can help give your vocal the weight it needs to hold its own in your mix. 

One of the best things about the CLA-2A is how easy it is to use. Simply dial in the amount of gain reduction you want with the Peak Reduction know and increase the makeup gain with the Gain knob.

 

 

Best EQ Plugin for Vocals - FabFilter Pro-Q3

 

Digital parametric EQ is one of the tools that separate digital mixing from analog mixing. It allows for much more focused mix decisions, allowing you to take out unwanted frequencies and shape the sound of a vocal at a surgical level. When it comes to good parametric EQs, people often want something that is detailed and transparent. If detail, transparency, flexibility, and ease of use are what you’re looking for, then the FabFilter Pro-Q3 is one of the best plugins out there.  

Of course, buying an EQ isn't enough - you also need to learn how to use it. Be sure to check out this tutorial for how to EQ vocals so you can get the most out of your plugins!

 

 

With FabFilter Pro-Q3, you can sculpt your vocals with transparency and accuracy using an impressive Retina interface and 24 frequency bands. You can choose from several high-end phase models, mid-side processing, dynamic EQ, zero latency, and an intelligent solo feature. 

When using multiple instances of Pro-Q3 in your mix, you can see how masking is impacting your mix balance with the spectrum analyzers of two different signals stacked atop one another. 

When it comes to pinpoint accuracy, flexibility, adjustability, and transparency, there is no better EQ plugin on the market. The FabFilter universe is filled to the brim with professional plugins for serious mix engineers, and I promise you that the Pro-Q3 will change the way you mix.

 

 

Best Waves EQ Plugin for Vocals - PuigTec

 

Of course, sometimes, you want an EQ plugin that can impart a bit of character on your vocals. One of the most sought-after hardware equalizers in the world is the passive Pultec equalizer. This vintage EQ was known for its silky highs and smooth lows. However, not every mixing engineer out there has tens of thousands of dollars to spend on a hardware unit, which is where the PuigTec EQ comes in. 

The PuigTec EQP-1A is an incredible reproduction of the original Pultec unit, made in collaboration with Jack Joseph Puig, who is known for his work with the Rolling Stones, U2, Lady Gaga, and many more.

 

 

Trying to make big boosts on some EQ plugins can end up making your vocal sound harsh or unnatural. With the PuigTec EQP-1A, you can dial in massive EQ boosts while retaining warmth, presence, and natural sound.  

Boost the 12kHz knob on this plugin to give yourself those luxurious, airy highs, or dial in a bit of 100Hz to give your vocals a bit more weight. Whatever you decide your vocal needs, the EQP-1A provides a natural, musical way to do it. There are a ton of great EQ plugins out there that can all add a slightly different mojo to your vocal mix. Here are my picks for the best eq plugins.

 

 

Best Vocal Reverb Plugin - Arturia EMT-140 Plate

 

Reverb is an essential tool for giving vocals a space to live within. While there are many different reverb choices out there, including halls, chambers, rooms, springs, and more, one of the most popular reverb choices for vocals is the plate reverb (click here to learn more about the different types of reverb and when to use them). Plate reverbs can give vocals a shimmering brightness while making them sound larger than life. In my eyes, no company has recreated the sound of a physical plate reverb better than Arturia. 

With their unique modeling technology, Arturia accurately recreated the sound of the original EMT-140 Plate Reverb, which was released back in 1957. With this plugin, you can get the smooth and resonant tones of this old-school, vintage plate reverb. The Arturia EMT-140 presents an array of straightforward controls with an authentic user interface.  

 

 

You can choose between three plate models and a wide range of reverb tones. Beyond the decay characteristics that you would expect from a plate, the 140 also provides a post equalizer and a chorus modulation unit for even more control over your reverb sound. 

Arturia even included a modeled tub preamp for injecting a unique vintage character in your sound. With the Drive knob, you can add anything from subtle analog saturation to intense soft-clipping. When it comes to dialing in the perfect sound, checkout our vocal reverb tutorial and tips.

 

 

Best Vocal Doubler Plugin - iZotope Vocal Doubler

 

A vocal performance is typically the heart of a song. With a vocal doubling plugin, you can add more presence, drama, and contrast to your vocals to enhance the story that is the song. It’s difficult to imagine many modern mixes without double-tracked vocals, whether used throughout the entire song or in special portions, such as the chorus, to help the vocals connect with the listeners better. 

One of the best vocal doubling plugins around is iZotope Vocal Doubler. With overly-simplified controls, you can breathe life into your single vocal track. Drag the parameters left and right for human variation or up and down for stereo separation. No matter what you choose to do with this plugin, you can expect a sense of depth and richness that you don't get with a lot of other vocal plugins. 

With a uniquely interactive user interface, you can achieve the double you are looking for faster than ever. Plus, the plugin has a very low CPU overhead, allowing you to take advantage of its benefits, even if you’re dealing with complex, high-track-count productions. 

The best thing is that Vocal Doubler is completely free, so there’s no reason not to download it and start crafting wide, full vocal mixes. 

 

 

Best Harmonizer Plugin - Eventide H910

 

With a high-quality harmonizer plugin, you can create harmonies, chords, and vocoder-like effects to enhance and manipulate a single vocal track in incredible ways. Many harmonizers allow you to use MIDI keyboards to change harmonies and chords in real-time, allowing you to flow harmoniously with the chord changes in your productions. 

The Eventide H910 was the world’s first digital effects processor and remains one of the most outstanding harmonizers around today. Yet it still creates amazing results today. One of the beautiful things about the H910 is that it is incredibly simple to use. Your regular input and Feedback knobs are the main controls, while the glid knob and the original three selectors act as your secondary controls for dialing in specific tones. 

 

 

Of course, Eventide took it a bit further with this digital recreation, adding an envelope, a hold button for added sustain, and dry/wet controls. 

The onboard switches allow you to control the pitch of you input signal in several different ways, faithfully modeling the original sound of this 70s hardware masterpiece. To get you started, you’ll find tons of quality presets from some of the industry’s most well-known engineers and producers. 

 

 

Best Saturation Plugin for Vocals - SofTube Harmonics

 

Saturation is one of the best tools to improve a vocal mix, as it can add warmth and presence like nothing else. Of course, there are so many types of saturation out there, from tape to tube to transistor and beyond, that finding the right type of saturation for your vocals can be challenging. 

If we had to pick one of our favorite all-around saturation tools, it would be the SofTube Harmonics plugin. It uses SofTube’s Dyamic Transient Control, which analyzes the input signal and applies processing based on it for a more sympathetic approach. The benefit of this algorithm is that it allows you to apply heavier saturation and distortion while retaining the transients of your sound.  

 

 

You can choose between several distortion models as well, covering a wide range of saturation types, including Tube, Master, Transformer, Solid State, and Modern. 

SofTube Harmonics' interface uses lovely VU meters to give you a better sense of your input and output and a simple layout to help you navigate through the various controls with ease. 

 

 

 

Best Delay Plugin for Vocals - Waves H-Delay

 

With proper use of delay, you can add space, width, and depth to your vocal tracks. Of course, beyond those elements, delay is one fof the most versatile effects out there. Whether you want to create wild, seemingly uncontrolled feedback or three-dimensional ping-pong effects, you can use delay.

H-Delay is one of our favorite delay plugins, as it is simple to use and has a gritty sound that you can use to create weird, warbled vocal tones. While you can definitely dig deep within the plugin to get the sound you’re looking for, I often find myself getting the sound I need quite fast.  

 

 

I love the Lo-Fi setting on this plugin, which gives you a dull, grainy sound that is perfect for vintage slapback.

Of course, there are a ton of unique, wonderful delay plugins out there, from tape delays to grain delays - and beyond! Check out our review of the best delay plugins to find the best delay plugin for your vocal needs.

 

 

Best Vocal Distortion Plugin - Soundtoys Decapitator

 

Vocal distortion, whether subtle or in your face, is a necessary element in many modern mixes, especially if you work with heavier genres like rock or metal. Unfortunately, many distortion plugins can make your vocals sound harsh and hard to listen to. Here's some more of our favorite distortion and saturation plugins. Luckily, there are plugins like Soundtoys Decapitator, which gives you all of the distortion characteristics you could possibly want in one plugin. 

 

 

While the name Decapitator makes you think you can only dial in distortion that’ll blow your head off your shoulders (and you absolutely can dial that kind of distortion in with the Punish button), you can also dial in subtle distortion and blend it with your dry signal using the Mix knob to add an analog vibe to your track, or use the distortion on a parallel channel.

There are five distortion styles to choose from, including Ampex Analog Tape, EMI Channel, Neve Channel, and Triode/Pentode from the Thermionic Culture Vulture. Once you find your desired distortion style, you can use the EQ and tone knob controls to sculpt your distorted sound to perfection. 

 

 

Best All-In-One Vocal Plugin - iZotope Nectar 3

 

iZotope doesn’t lie when they refer to Nectar 3 as the most sophisticated vocal mixing plug-in. Within Nectar 3, you’ll find a complete vocal chain with 12 vocal-focused processing modules to help you dial in the right tone for any type of vocal. From powerful EQs to versatile saturation to doubling for added width, Nectar 3 can do it all. 

 

 

One of the best things about Nectar 3 is the flexible and resizable UI. You can use the spectrum analyzer with every included processing module to get visual feedback on your mix moves. iZotope recently updated the plugin with the Vocal Assistant’s Umasking tool, giving you more control over the frequency balance in your mix than ever before.  

If you want a single plugin that can give you powerful vocal production results, look no further than iZotope Nectar 3.  If you'd prefer a simpler all-in-one plugin for vocals, checkout some of these fantastic channel strip plugins.

 

 

Best Vocal Plugins FAQ

 

Here are some of the most common questions we get about vocal plugins. If you don't see yours here, don't hesitate to leave a question in the comments below!

 

Can I Use Stock Plugins to Mix Vocals?

 

Absolutely! In fact, there are many times I find myself using the stock EQ and compressor in Pro Tools, as they are both transparent, easy to use, and provide low CPU overhead. Stock plugins can be just as effective as expensive, third-party plugins as long as you know how to use them.

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