The Best FREE VST Effects Plugins You Must Own

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Lately, I have been extremely interested in how to get as much value and quality out of VST Plugins as possible. That led me to research, discover, try and present the best free VST Effects plugins out there as of 2020.

There are tons of excellent, free plugins out there. This post will guide you through some of the best VST Effect Plugins. I will also give you helpful information on typical use and where you can download the VST Plugins.

The greatest VST plugins are easy to use and are jam-packed with features or producing results worthy of a paid VST plugin. In this article you will get to know 12 awesome effect plugins.

Note: This post will contain VST EFFECTS only, so that means no instruments this time. But I have written a similar post on the best free VST instruments as well, which you can check out here.

All these are free VST plugins, but some of them might ask you to provide your email address in exchange for downloading their product.

1. TDR Nova

What does it do?
TDR Nova is a parallel dynamic equalizer, very suitable for mixing and mastering. 

If you are looking for a free alternative to Ozone by Izotope, TDR Nova would be your definite best choice.

TDR is short for Tokyo Dawn Records, and they have more free plugins you can try out, like their compressor plugin TDR Kotelnikov or VOS SlickEQ. 

But it was their excellent dynamic equalizer that made this list. 

TDR Nova features key features like a built-in spectrum analyzer, equalization, and compression. It is a free and visually pleasing effect plugin that can be used on individual tracks and on your full stereo mix. 

I just love the visual design of Nova. It looks and feels like a paid product (it actually exists a paid version of this, the Gentleman’s edition, that has even more options).

TDR Nova is a great equalizer over the ones that come with your DAW, and a sure installation.

When to use the TDR Nova
You should use this when you hear that too many different instruments in your mix are competing with each other. Use TDR Nova to adjust the frequency of the respective instruments.

2. Ozone Imager (iZotope)

What does it do?
This plugin is an imager that lets you enhance your stereo image by widening vocals and instruments in your mix.

I use this quite often. Ozone Imager is a great tool to add some more width, impact, and excitement to a narrow, dull track. 

Like all iZotope products, Ozone Imager has a great visual design, that makes it very intuitive and easy to use. 

Ozone Imager is not packed with hundreds of different features. But the features it presents produce quite powerful results. 

You may choose how wide you want your stereo image, and how much you want the imaging to be noticed. Just click bypass, and discover how much this plugin will improve your tracks.

Also, the vectorscope and correlation meter that is integrated into the plugin gives you great visual feedback of your stereo image.

When to use the Ozone Imager
You should use this plugin when you want a fuller and wider sound in your mix. 

3. Visual Mixer (iZotope)

What does it do?
Visual Mixer is a very cool, innovative plugin that lets you mix your tracks with your eyes as well as your ears. 

We are quite visual by nature, and this plugin allows you to be visual even in the mixing of your audio.

Instead of faders, numbers, and wheels, you can actually see where in the mix you would like the respective instruments. 

Thanks to its simple click-and-drag mechanics, you can adjust the mix with both your eyes and ears.

So, a fresh, new way of defining the mixing process makes the Visual Mixer a very unique VST plugin. 

I love it.

Visual Mixer is free with the demo of their mixing software Neutron. That means that when the trial ends, you still get to keep Visual Mixer.

Also, another plugin named Relay is in that offer. 

Relay is the plugin that communicates with the Visual Mixer. So, you need to add it to the tracks in order for it to work. 

When to use the Visual Mixer
The Visual Mixer is a great tool to use when you are looking to balance your mix quickly. 

4. Tal Reverb 3

What does it do?
This plugin lets you experiment with various Plate Reverb presets as well as creating your own favorites.

Do you want a big sounding, lush and long plate reverb? Then you should definitely check out Tal Reverb 3. 

In case you wonder: Plate Reverb is an artificially produced reverb which is created by a steel plate that is under tension. When vibrations hit the metal plate, it produces reverb. 

This is different from regular room reverb, which is created by vibrations through the air, and not a metal plate.

Even though this type of reverb did not sound the most natural, the plate reverb was a very popular setup back in the days.

Mainly because it was much more affordable and cost-reducing than a reverberation room.

When to use Tal Reverb 3
Even though it is quite useful for most occasions, you should most definitely load up this plugin when you want a big sounding, spacious sound. 

But bear in mind, TAL Reverb 3 is not the most natural-sounding reverb out there, so it works best with synth pads, and other sound effects.

My all-time VST favorites

All the VSTs in this article are great effect plugins that I recommend you try out. However, there are tons of other excellent plugins out there – some of them have drastically improved my music. Want to know more about them?

5. Vinyl (iZotope)

What does it do?
iZotope Vinyl emulates the recognizable scratches and sounds of a record that is being played on a record player. 

This effect plugin is awesome if you have ever been looking to recreate the effect of an old TV-show, radio, vinyl records or other vintage electronics.

It is probably not for everyday use, but it could be a useful tool in your belt. 

Sometimes you might want something to enhance your track. Like the electronic musician, Kubbi, does on his excellent track The Cairn, for example. 

The first time I heard it, I was immediately drawn into the soundscape of The Cairn. And that was because of the cozy vinyl effect at the beginning of the track.

So, the Vinyl plugin will give your music a retro, warm feel, and is a great tool to add some excitement into your mix.

6. MSI Stereo Buss

What does it do?
The MSI Stereo Buss is a mastering compressor that lets you glue all your tracks together, making them more punchy or bigger without losing clarity.

So what exactly is compression? Well, the short answer is to make the instruments louder without gaining their amplitude (volume). And to turn the loudest instruments down to balance the mix. 

I love the design of this plugin, which is modeled after the iconic analog compressors. Master compressors like this tend to be really expensive, so it is really cool that MSI offers this one for free. 

Among the key features is the possibility to adjust the ratio, knee, threshold, gain, attack and release time. 

When to use MSI Stereo Buss
You want to use this any time you enter the mixing phase of a song. How you use this, however, is critical, so be sure to know how to use attack, release, gain and all the other options. 

7. Pancake 2

What does it do?
Pancake 2, by Cableguys is an automatic panner plugin, that lets you create different motions and behaviors within your sound. 

Sometimes, I want certain sounds or instruments in my project to behave a certain way. For example, I want some of my synths in the soundscape to go from left to right.

And even though you can do this in most DAWs without having to install a third-party plugin (you can use the built-in tremolo plugin), Pancake 2 will make this process a lot easier.

You can adjust the left/right movement a different speeds, such as a long sweep or an almost gate-like fast movement. 

You can sync this to your session, and store up to 10 pattern alternatives. 

And you can even assign MIDI commands to use it with your MIDI controller.

When to use Pancake 2:
You should use this plugin when you want your soundscape to behave a different way, for example, if you want to create three-dimensional imaging within your track.

8. A1 TriggerGate (Alex Hilton)

What does it do?
A1 TriggerGate takes the audio signal and alternates and chops up the rhythm to your liking. 

Gate sequencers could take your mix to a new level, whether you are making techno, hip-hop, or even film scores. 

I tried out TranceGate by KiloHearts, and I loved it. However, if you are looking for a free alternative to TranceGate, A1 TriggerGate is a solid solution.

Among its key features is the ability to adjust the volume of each note (to create a more breathing sound), as well as having different step modes which makes it possible to go really crazy with this plugin. 

The presets are neat, and it even has an expert mode which lets you add echo, reverb and other effects for further making your sound unique.

If you want to chop up the sound of your pads into various rhythmic patterns this gate sequencer is a must-have.

9. Flux Stereo Tool

What does it do?
An imager and stereo analyzer that adds width, analyses the stereo signal and more.

This plugin is very similar to the Ozone Imager in the sense that it provides a widening function. But this is also a powerful analysis tool for measuring the overall stereo balance of your mix.

It has a professional design and a very helpful visual meter that shows graphical feedback of the signal stereo image.

Among its features is a phase integrity control, and individual panning control for left and right channels, which is something that the Ozone Imager does not do.

When to use Flux Stereo Tool
If you are unsure whether your mix is perfectly balanced or not, you should slap this plugin onto your track.

10. Vocal Doubler (iZotope)

What does it do?
This plugin is a great tool for adding doubled vocals and more depth to your vocal track. 

Yup, this is actually the fourth contribution from Izotope in this list. I think that says it all about how great their products are. 

There a lot of plugins like this in the market, like Waves Doubler, which sells for around $30. 

Quite shockingly, the Vocal Doubler by Izotope is free, and a “must-have” if you work with vocals.

As the name suggests, the Vocal Doubler creates a lifelike second voice that doubles the original.

Its separation option allows you to adjust the width of the doubled vocals. The greater the width, the greater the separation between the original and the new, doubled one.

When to use the Vocal Doubler
You should use the vocal doubler when you want a vocal with a natural- sounding doubling effect, and if you want a richer sound with more depth to it.

Be sure to check out my favorite VSTs

I have worked with a lot of different VST effects and instruments over the years. And some of them have had a serious impact on my music. Click the button to see which ones I recommend you have a closer look at.

11. Guitar Rig Player (Native Instruments) 

What does it do?
Guitar Rig Player is an effects processor that offers a ton of goodies: emulated cabinets, pedals like chorus/flanger, distortion, delays and more.  

Native instruments really don’t need an introduction, do they? 

They are basically the leaders in digital music production/performance and delivers VST instruments like orchestras, ethnic- and brass instruments.

Especially if you play guitar and have limited hardware, you need to get your hands on this. 

And even though you only get the one amplifier with the free version, Guitar Rig Player is jam-packed with everything mentioned above and has compressors, equalizers, limiters and even more on top of that to help you create great sounds.

Actually, even if you don’t ́t play guitar this plugin could be handy. Add effects to your synths or drum tracks to make them more gritty, screaming and more.

When to use the Guitar Rig Player
When you record your guitars. Always.

12. Protoverb (u-he)

What does it do?
Protoverb is a plugin that allows resonances to build up, so the body of the air in the room is modeled. Because of this, you get a really natural-sounding reverb.

If you have never heard of u-he, you should absolutely check them out. Film composers like Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL use their fantastic range of synths and they are very well-known for their flagship synth Zebra2.

Protoverb is a perfect tool to use if you want a natural, realistic-sounding reverb. This reverb plugin is what u-he calls a “researchware”, meaning everyone can submit different settings and test it out. 

It is a little different from most reverb plugins you have been using until now, in the sense that even the presets are more of a starting point than a fully finished preset. 

I have found it fairly easy to get some really smooth-sounding reverbs with this plugin, so this is a definite recommendation from me.

Amazing Developers

It is absolutely amazing to discover that there are so many great free plugins out there. And I think it is a good thing to remind yourself that we live in an awesome time for music production. 

Just imagine back in the 60 ́s where you needed to either have lots of space for your equipment or even renting large reverberation rooms.

Today, you can download these things, and much much more, for free.

The VST Effect Plugins mentioned in this post will without a doubt enhance your mix, and you can ́t really go wrong with any of them.

By the way, many of the developers of the VST plugins mentioned in this post have either a paid version of it or accept donations if you want to show your support and help these fantastic creators.

Oh! If you are interested in how to make your VST orchestra sound hyper-realistic, you need to check out this post where I reveal 11 tips to accomplish it.

Suggested Further Reading:

Thomas Leypoldt

Hey there! My name is Thomas and I have been a film composer for over 10 years, delivering music to feature films, documentaries, video games, and commercials. I share everything I have learned on this website, to hopefully be of help to your own development as a musician.

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