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We’ve finally made it to August and that means it’s time for Vintage King’s annual breakdown of the hottest plug-ins of the year so far. Since 2019, we’ve been sifting through all of the fresh software that our favorite pro audio brands have to offer and breaking down the best new tools for recording, mixing, and mastering.
2022 has been another banner year for plug-ins. We’ve seen new releases come in all shapes and sizes, from updates to essential audio repair and FX bundles to signal chains from hitmakers and recreations of custom vintage gear. Let’s not waste any more of your time, let’s get to talking about some superior software.
The Motown Sound has been the envy of engineers and producers around the world since the 1960s. Universal Audio’s Hitsville EQ Collection gets you one step closer to achieving the magic in your studio. With a few simple clicks, the rich sounds of The Temptations, The Supremes, and Stevie Wonder can be at your fingertips.
Universal Audio’s proficiency for nailing its emulations of one-of-a-kind hardware is on full display here. The company’s designers worked with the technical engineers who custom-built the original passive, seven-band graphic EQs for the record label. Surprise, surprise, the results are simply magical.
Whether for recording, mixing, or mastering (yes, the mastering version of the hardware is here as well), the Hitsville EQ collection will deliver a silky smooth sound and the powerful punch that you crave.
With more and more tracking being done in makeshift recording spaces, the need for audio repair tools is at an all-time high. Waves Audio’s latest release, Clarity Vx Pro, sees the software giant offer a tool specifically for fixing up noisy vocal takes and voice recordings.
Clarity Vx Pro is an extremely easy-to-use plug-in that delivers noise reduction, ambience keeping, and voice restoration. The software’s advanced controls feature four separate bands with process amount, solo, delta, bypass, pure gain adjustment, and VCA control. There are also extra features like Reflections control for bringing back natural reflections, as well as mono and stereo width control.
Waves understands you’ve got more to do than just fixing vocal tracks, so they’ve made Clarity Vx Pro very streamlined. The plug-in can be used right in your DAW (and even used on multiple tracks at once with a buss), while allowing you to compare and contrast your cleaned-up track within the context of your entire project.
You gotta love Apogee. They’ve been in the game for years, delivering premium audio and, are now giving away one of their trade secrets for free. That’s right, you can download Apogee’s Soft Limit plug-in for absolutely nothing.
So what’s the deal with Soft Limit? The Soft Limit feature has been a part of Apogee’s converters since the release of the AD-500 in 1991. While the company was using the latest in digital technology, they felt something was missing from the converter’s sound. That something was analog tape. Apogee designers added the Soft Limit analog circuit before the converter stage and have continued using this concept in many of the brand’s releases since then.
The new Soft Limit plug-in replicates the sound of the classic circuit while also adding some nifty features. The original circuit features a fixed Threshold, but the plug-in allows for this to be adjusted from 0 down to -18 dBfs. Other features include Auto Makeup, Drive, Oversampling, and meter displays to monitor levels.
With its latest release, Solid State Logic is taking a valuable element from its digital broadcast console workflow and bringing it to the plug-in world. X-Gate is a precision gate processor for sound sculpting in the worlds of mixing, live sound, and broadcast.
Engineers will be able to take quick control of the plug-in’s rolling waveform graph, mid/side processing options, and independent open and closed thresholds to shape their tracks. X-Gate makes it easy to remove unwanted noises including room bleed, fatten up tracks or overall mixes, and expand the dynamic range of a signal.
When it comes to EQing tracks, there tends to be a split in beliefs. Some people want something surgical, others want a more musical tool. Eventide’s SplitEQ literally splits the difference by making a plug-in that will have engineers on both sides of the divide happy.
The basic structure of SplitEQ is that it’s a parametric 8-band EQ, but the plug-in has a unique way of dealing with incoming audio. Eventide’s Structural Split engine divides the audio into different streams that feed into the EQ’s 8-bands. These two different streams are Transient and Tonal. SplitEQ allows you to EQ each stream separately, control individual output levels for each stream, and enhance the stereo-field with independent panning controls.
There are lots of fantastic filter options for defining your sound with SplitEQ, including Peak, Notch, Bandpass, High Shelf, Low Shelf, Tilt Shelf, High Pass, and Low Pass. Not to mention, there are also 150+ onboard presets to help if you need them.
iZotope has been revolutionizing audio software for two decades and continues to up its game with each updated release. Neutron 4 is the latest version of the brand’s packed audio production suite. If you’re new to Neutron, this bundle features a number of plug-ins that help make your overall mixing experience quicker and easier than ever before.
Perhaps the most significant change in Neutron 4 is the Assistant. Formerly called Track Enhance in Neutron 3, the Assistant uses machine learning to give you a starting point for a mix. iZotope has got rid of the questions that you would have to answer to get the process started. Just start playing your track and let the Assistant get things moving.
If you’re not happy with what the Assistant cooks up for you, there are more new features to help you customize your track. Allow us to rattle off just a few here; the Target Library feature matches your track’s tone to a specific sample or stem, the Unmask Module will discover and fix any masking issues, iZotope’s Trash software is now present in Neutron and Punch Mode allows you to control and visualize how hard sounds hit.
If our description of Neutron 4 has you salivating, wait until you hear about Music Production Suite 5. This bundle features iZotope’s complete suite of award-winning studio tools including heavy hitters like Neutron 4, RX 9 Standard, Ozone 9, Nectar 3, Tonal Balance Control 2, and so much more.
Music Production Suite 5 is worthy of its own in-depth blog. Let’s quickly break down what this package includes:
Neutron 4: Mixing software suite featuring Assistant, Masking Meter, Visual Mixer, Relay and more.
Ozone 9 Advanced: Mastering software suite with Master Rebalance, Low End Focus, Tonal Balance Control and more. Free upgrade to Ozone 10 Advanced with purchase of Music Production Suite 5. Ozone 10 is on the way in September, so if you buy this bundle now, you’ll receive the update for free.
RX 9: An industry-leading package of audio repair software with Ambience Match, De-Hum and more.
Neoverb: Smart reverb plug-in with Reverb Assistant, Unmask, Input Smoothing and more.
Brainworx Creative Mixing Set: Six more plug-ins for your mixing sessions including bx_delay 2500, bx_subsynth, bx_cleansweep Pro and more.
Symphony 3D by Exponential Audio: Lush surround reverb algorithm with up to 24 channels and 1,700 presets.
VocalSynth 2: A suite of blendable vocal effects, including Vocoder, Copmuvox, Polyvox and more.
Insight 2: Metering and audio analysis plug-in for mixing and production sessions.
Stratus 3D by Exponential Audio: Build immersive surround environments with support for up to 24 channels.
Tonal Balance Control 2: More help for your mastering sessions, especially if your listening environment is bad.
Melodyne Essential: Take control of your vocal tracks with this unique editing software.
If you read our recent Five Sounds With Joe Chiccarelli interview, you know the man has been a part of some massive records. We’re talking White Stripes, Elton John, Alanis Morissette, etc. Now, with some help from the fine folks at IK Multimedia, you can take advantage of Joe’s signature vocal strip.
Joe and IK Multimedia pack a boatload of analog emulations into one simple digital rack. The rig starts with a simple input gain level, high pass filter, and de-esser. The signal then flows into three compressors that can work in parallel or that you can blend to your taste. Each compressor is based on a classic, including the UREI 1176, Fairchild 670, and a hybrid model that is part UA 176 and Tube-Tech CL 1B.
Post-compressor, the Joe Chiccarelli Vocal Strip features an EQ section that can work on its own or in tandem with the three compressors. The EQ controls include Body, Presence, and Air. It’s followed up by an Effects section with plate/chamber reverb, tape echo/ping pong delay, and modulation. Last, but not least, there is an Output section with controls for Output Level, Drive, Color, and Dry/Wet mix.
Arturia deftly walks the line of vintage gear worship and cutting-edge technology with much of its software. Things are no different with its new FX Collection 3, a stunning bundle of 26 production plug-ins. This package features all of the classics you know from Arturia’s previous FX releases (Neve 1073, Telefunken V76, and EMT 140) and several new releases.
Let’s talk about the new software for FX Collection 3! There are four new plug-ins including the Dist TUBE-Culture, the Dist OPAMP-21, Tape MELLO-FI, and Efx FRAGMENTS. You can probably grasp what the first three are based on name alone, but the Efx FRAGMENTS is an exciting new tool for wild stutters, grainy sounds, and out-of-this-world textures.
It’s also worth noting that Arturia has upgraded its interfaces for a streamlined experience, in addition to offering A/B comparisons between different presets (including your own).
Sonnible’s original smart:comp made a big impression by using AI-based technology to identify the perfect compression settings for sound sources. Smart:comp 2 improves on the concept with a number of new features that will help you nail clean compression.
Many of the new options within smart:comp 2 centers on creativity and monitoring. Sonible has made automatic compression parametrization as easy as the click of one button, while also adding Color and Style dials for changing the compression’s character. The new monitoring options include automatic output gain, input level riding, and surround sound support.
Like many of the other software manufacturers on our list of the hottest plug-ins of 2022, Sonnox takes aim at making your process as easy as possible. With Claro, the brand has directly set its sights on equalization with the promise of dialing in the vibe first and nailing the details second.
Claro offers three distinct views for your production process; PRODUCE, TWEAK, and MIX. PRODUCE is a fast, creative EQ that makes things more about musical creativity while stripping back the more technical elements. TWEAK is where the corrective side of EQing comes back in with more flexible filters. The MIX view displays every track in your project and addresses any frequency clashing that occurs.
Overall, Claro’s EQ is very flexible, as it offers 26 bands with a wide frequency range of 20hz to 40kHz. It’s possible to get extremely surgical if need be with variable slopes on all band shapes, up to 120dB per octave.
2022 has already been an incredible year for plug-ins, and with AES on the way, we’re sure that there are some exciting releases ahead. Be sure to check back on the Vintage King blog to stay up-to-date on the latest and greatest software from brands like Universal Audio, Waves Audio, iZotope, and more.