9 Pro Audio Plug-Ins That Make Excellent Gifts


Once upon a time, a decent plug-in for pro audio purposes might set you back more than a couple of hundred bucks (to say nothing of software bundles, which could easily run you into the thousands). But we’ve seen a drastic reduction in price for stellar software over the last few years—even from companies that used to charge in amounts heretofore measured in bodily appendages. Since you no longer need to spend an arm and a leg for excellent audio processing, we think the time is right to compile a list of plug-ins now suitable to present as gifts for the pro-audio person in your life. We’re dividing this list into two parts: Wallet Friendly, and Super Wallet Friendly. I’d go for Super Wallet Friendly if the person in question is a friend, and save the slightly more upscale, Wallet-Friendly plugs for a family member or a spouse.

Wallet Friendly

Fabfilter Pro Q 2

Full Disclosure: This article has been updated over time to reflect any new winners in each category. But you know what hasn’t left the list? The Fabfilter Pro Q 2. It’s too good to fade away. Talk to many pro-audio engineers, and they’ll agree. It’s widely thought of as one of the most surgical EQs to beat, but Mid/Side capabilities give users the ability to make profoundly creative decisions as well—decisions that can have drastic impacts on phase coherence and character. The various linear-phase modes are a nice touch, as you can control the degree of latency the plug-in introduces—very handy for mix engineers who prefer to utilize the more transparent sound of linear-phase equalization. Did we mention the match EQ feature? No? Well we did, here.

FabFilter Pro-Q 2 Linear-Phase Mid/Side EQ Plug-In for Mac and Windows

Boz Digital Hoser +10dB Channel Strip Bundle

Why in heavens would we suggest another channel strip plug-in in a sea of Neve and SSL emulations? Because this is a gift-giving article, and a large part of gift-giving is showing up with something both unexpected and fun. This plug-in represents the choice of “I didn’t even know that I wanted that, but now that I have it, I’m stoked!” Yes, Neve, API, and SSL emulations are ubiquitous, but to my knowledge, there is no emulation of the Compex gear on which this strip is based (it’s worth noting that for a little more, the bundle includes an equalizer modeled on the Ward-Beck Systems M462B). The result is a plug-in that sounds a) characterfully individuated, and b) fantastic. The +10 dB equalizer is almost the dialectical counterpoint of the Pro-Q: four knobs, fixed frequency ranges, parametric only, and no control over the shape of the bell. But the sound it imparts is meaty, powerful, aggressive, and in short, perfect for muddying up the pristine nature for digital chains. The compressor is similarly characterful, with noticeable shaping of transients even at 1:1 ratios. This is one of those plug-ins that immediately imparts its own sound upon instantiation, sounding great on guitars, drum elements, and even the drum buss—particularly in rock and indie genres.

BOZ DIGITAL +10db Bundle Channel Strip Plug-In

Zynaptiq Adaptiverb

Engineers seem to be perpetually dissatisfied with their reverbs, searching for CPU friendly plug-ins that add something of value to the mix. We’re always looking at the newest Lexicon emulation or Bricasti IR. The Zynaptiq ADAPTIVERB isn’t a model of a prized unit, and represents no ambiance you can find here on the earth. Instead, it offers a distinctive sound alongside esoteric effects to create dreamy soundscapes; if Radiohead, Steven Wilson, Bon Iver, or Sigur Ros are your jam, this is a verb for you. Perhaps the most interesting feature is the resynthesis engine, which essentially recreates the sound of the input source and uses this synthesized recreation to tune the reverb; thus, you can ensure the reverb tails respond to moving chord changes in near real time, avoiding the mud of previous chords dominating unrelated tonalities. Another useful parameter is the HCF keyboard mode, which can force the reverb tail to adhere to whatever combination of notes you desire. So, if you have a song in F# minor, the tails on the singer’s reverb can be pitched to reverberate/resonate on F#, A, and C#--no matter what note the singer sings (despite the amount of under-the-hood processing this involves, the results of this don’t ever sound forced unless you push them). Again, this is a reverb your engineer friends would probably not pick up for themselves, so it makes a nice gift.

Zynaptiq ADAPTIVERB Harmonic Tracking Resynthesis Reverb

Izotope Insight 2

The thinking behind this one is relatively straightforward: Everyone needs great metering, and no one wants to buy it. Why? Because metering doesn’t make or shape sound. It’s sort of like shopping for the best guitar you’ve ever seen, and then opting, at the last second, to buy a bullhorn for your neighbor, so you can hear them yelling, “Your music is too loud!” With this gift, you can save your engineer friend the pain of having to drop cash on something they surely need, and yet, really don’t want to buy.

It’s also worth noting that iZotope provides a stellar product here, giving you fully compliant loudness meters, level meters, a frequency analyzer, and several unconventional features sure to satisfy mixing, post, and mastering engineers alike. A new intelligibility meter, used with the included Relay module, lets you check if the vocals/dialog can be understood over the rest of the mix. In my setup, this has proven valuable in post and musical contexts. Use the same Relay module in conjunction with Insight 2’s Spectrogram, and you’ll be able to track an instrument against the rest of the mix in a beautiful 3D display. The GUI is also fully sizable, so when you only need level or loudness meters, they can hang out in a little window at the corner of your mix.

iZotope Insight 2 - Metering & Audio Analysis Plug-In for Music & Post Production (Download)


Super Wallet Friendly

Lexicon MPX Native

This is an oldie but a goodie—an algorithmic reverb that sounds excellent on drums and doesn’t break the bank. It’s still the go-to for my tom toms, even after five years. Check to make sure your buddy doesn’t have this old standby. If the answer is no, this is a good reverberating gift.

Lexicon MPX Native Reverb Plug-In 

Blue Cat Audio Patchwork

Many engineers are frustrated they can’t use their old, non-AAX plug-ins with Pro Tools 11 and above. Now they don’t have to be! This plug-in lets you load formats incompatible with newer Pro Tools versions and use them anyway, allowing you to set up series and parallel chains. You can use up to 64 plug-ins in one instance and, of course, save all your presets for instant recall. If your engineering friends are consistently wistful about not being able to use their old plug-ins with “Tools,” this is the gift to give. Bonus... it works with other DAWs and plug-in formats, too!

Blue Cat Audio PatchWork Virtual Patchbay for Audio Plug-Ins

Soundradix 32 Lives 2

Similar to Pro Tools People, many Logic Lotharios are annoyed they can’t use their favorite, un-updated 32-bit plug-ins anymore in Logic Pro X. As Patchwork lets people deploy AU/VST plug-ins in RTAS/AAX hosts, this plug-in enables engineers to use 32-bit software on 64-bit platforms. If you’re hearing similar complaints from your Logic buddies, this is the present to present!

Sound Radix 32 Lives 2, 32-Bit to 64-Bit Audio Units Plug-In Adapter

Waves Musicians 2

This bundle here is meant to represent itself, sure, but it’s also a stand-in to represent Waves’ new company ethos. Your pro-audio pal is sure to love high-quality tools like the Renaissance Compressor, Renaissance Vox, and the Doubler; with this bundle, all of those are included—and more! But when you check out the bundle on our website, note the price; this is now commensurate with much of Waves recent pricing strategy. Indeed, this top-shelf brand has now embraced pricing of a more bargain-basement nature. So, in addition to this bundle, many other Waves products would make suitable, wallet-friendly gifts.

Waves Musicians 2, Six Essential Audio Plug-Ins Bundle

Softube Harmonics

If your pro audio pals have told you they can’t find an up-to-date replacement for Decapitator—a classic plug-in for harmonic distortion—then you should present them with Softube’s Harmonics. Indeed, this module reminded many around the office of Soundtoys’s classic guillotine, and yet, it offers some distinctly different features.

Let’s start with the Dynamic Transient Control section, which preserves the dynamic content of the input signal. It tracks any innate, minute changes of level coming in and allows you to preserve them as you apply distortion, which traditionally compresses as it excites. This results in a sound richly driven yet still alive—a sound still leaping in level and intensity the harder an instrument is played. You can dial-in this parameter as you see fit, opting to leave it out entirely.

Like Decapitator, this plug-in provides high and low pass filtering, though here you can place the filters before or after the distortion stage, which expands the plug’s usage. Add five different distortion types, drive and character knobs, and THD metering for subtle saturation monitoring, and you’ve got a new exciter guaranteed to excite your pro audio pal!

Softube Harmonics - Analog Saturation Processor for Pro Audio Applications (Download)

Well, that’s our list of the top plug-ins to give as a gift. Are there any we’re leaving out? Let us know in the Comments section—but nicely; you don’t want coal in your stocking, do you?