With the advent of virtual studio technology, plug-ins have become an essential component of digital music production â€" but you donâ€™t have to break the bank to enhance your DAW with third-party effects. Hereâ€™s a round-up of the best free plug-ins available for both Mac and Windows platforms.
If youâ€™re looking for a suite of easy-to-use effects, there are two go-to options.
The MDA bundle has been around for as long as I can remember, and itâ€™s still available from the fine folks at Smart Electronix (http://mda.smartelectronix.com). Featuring a range of simple, CPU-efficient plug-ins that utilize your hostâ€™s default GUI, the package includes everything from basic dynamics, de-essing and limiting to more exotic options such as a talkbox, a multi-band distortion unit, a rising tone generator and a pitch-tracking oscillator.â€¨
Donâ€™t worry â€" theyâ€™re not all pink!
If youâ€™re looking for a more polished selection, head on over to MeldaProduction and grab their Free Effects Bundle (http://www.meldaproduction.com/plugins/product.php?id=MFreeEffectsBundle). Including everything from powerful analyzers and metering, compression, limiting, filtering, phasing, flanging, vibrato, tremolo, ring modulation, wave shaping and even autotune-like monophonic pitch correction, it also comes with handy utilities such as a note pad (useful for saving future ideas or change logs along with a project), in-line tuner, and a noise generator â€" all with a rather handsome design, if I do say so myself.
Need to add some unique character to your track? Want to harness intricate glitches and otherworldly spectral delays? Good news: youâ€™ve got options! And theyâ€™re free.
Sharpen your blades and slice away.
Smart Electronix developer MDSP is responsible for the legendary beat-mangling device known as LiveCut (http://mdsp.smartelectronix.com/livecut); with a range of options and controls, youâ€™ll be slicing your rhythms (or other elements â€" donâ€™t be afraid to experiment!) into Squarepusher-esque mania in no time. If youâ€™re looking for something a bit more subtle, MDSP created Fire (http://mdsp.smartelectronix.com/product/fire) for the annual KVR Developer Challenge way back in 2006 â€" and won 3rd place. Itâ€™s still relevant today as I have yet to find another delay effect that achieves the same deliriously smeary results; try it out and youâ€™ll see what I mean.
Soundhack: more bubbles than AlizÃ©?
If youâ€™re looking for something a bit easier to control yet still achieve wild results, check out the Soundhack Delay Trio (http://www.soundhack.com/freeware), which includes a classic delay unit along with a unique pitch delay and a granular delay that spits out dynamically morphing textures in no time flat. While youâ€™re there, be sure to check out the Soundhack Freesound bundle, a set of experimental processing units designed at CalArts to get your creative juices flowing.
Most DAW-included delay effects have a very clean, digital and at times even antiseptic sound â€" so if itâ€™s a classic bucket brigade-style feedback line youâ€™re looking for, youâ€™ll have to search elsewhere. Togu Audio Line has been producing free instruments and effects for some time now, and their Dub line of plug-ins (http://kunz.corrupt.ch/products/tal-dub) does the trick. Comprised of three different delay plug-ins offering a range of tape-saturation and other dirty delays, youâ€™ll have that tried-and-true dub echo sound dialled in quick. They may not be much to look at â€" and youâ€™ll want to exercise caution with the feedback parameter as these are fully capable of generating speaker- and ear-damaging gain loops â€" but then again, theyâ€™re free!