Here it is folks, one of those coveted lists of goodies for producers, mixing engineers, and indie bedroom artists.
We’ve got the sauce for your studio in the form of all the free plugins you could ask for, so strap in for this rapid-fire rundown of the best free plugins you can get in 2021.
1. Saturation Knob by Softube
Easy, breezy… fuzzy?
Saturation Knob is an awesome saturator with the simplest of controls, featuring just one single knob to turn to increase the saturation, and one switch the preserves either the lows, the highs, or nothing at all.
Saturation is great for adding harmonics to a sound, and leveling out the volume in the process.
Be warned, turning the knob does make things louder, until it becomes downright fuzzy. But then again, that’s kind of the point!
2. Fresh Air by Slate Digital
All the hype, lately
Odds are you’ve heard a friend or a friend of a friend talking about this plugin already.
It’s an awesome new exciter from Slate Digital with two “air” bands controlled by knobs, and it can really lend some high-end to your sounds.
It is an exciter though, so don’t think of it as an EQ or a saturator or anything else. And as long as you don’t go too crazy, it sounds great on just about everything!
3. OTT by Xfer
One of a kind multi-band compression
Xfer Records is probably best know for making the incredible wavetable synth, Serum.
Inside of Serum there’s a multi-band compressor effect that became so prolific, it spawned a standalone version that Xfer now gives away for free. Thus, Over The Top, or OTT was born.
It will decimate your sound, with no attempt to be transparent, squeezing out every drop of high end possible.
You’ve no doubt heard it on every EDM track in the last seven years; it basically defines the sound.
4. Supermassive by Valhalla
The biggest delay you’ve ever heard
This is a crazy cool delay with more options than most stock delays!
Designed for maximum creative use, it has everything you need to make far-out sounding reflections and echos, but can also be used for simple delays with lots of control.
It’s a must-have free plugin for every producer and will likely end up as one of your go-to delays.
Try making it sound like a reverb for even more fun!
5. Span by Voxengo
See your mixes in a different light
Span is a simple but powerful metering plugin that lets you view your mixes with full clarity.
It shows you the frequencies and levels in real-time, and even lets you compare with another audio source, so you can visually determine if your mix matches a reference track.
It also has a built in True Peak detector, as well as a correlation meter to see if your mix is in phase.
It’s one of the best free plugins for mixing and mastering in 2021, and has little competition.
6. Kotelnikov by Tokyo Dawn Records
The master of mastering compressors
As we know, not all compressors are the same, which is why having this one is so important.
TDR Kotelnikov has one purpose, and that purpose is mastering.
With a full deck of controls for everything you might need and some really outstanding presets, you won’t be searching elsewhere for more tools.
Our favorite is the Delta button which lets your hear only the signals that are being affected, which could be really useful to someone whose ears aren’t used to hearing compression yet, or just for knowing exactly how you’re changing the mix.
Either way, there’s a bunch of other cool stuff on there that you wouldn’t normally find on even a pricey emulation compressor.
7. MComb by Melda Production
Melda are the real homies, just giving out free plugins like candy
It’s impossible to talk about a free plugin list without mentioning Melda Production. They have an enormous suite of high-quality effects that they give away at no cost, for anyone, always.
These effects include the basics, like EQ, compressor, tremolo, flanger, saturator, and loudness analyzer, but also get pretty crazy, like the comb filter, frequency shifter, auto-pitch, noise generator, convolution reverb, and even a notepad!
All these plugins are top notch, and when you download the whole suite you can pick and choose which ones you need, and leave the rest out.
Our personal favorite is the comb filter, because it’s not built like any other we’ve seen and affords so much customization to a sound!
8. Delay by Kilohearts
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
Kilohearts is a lot like Melda, offering lots of free plugins, however Kilohearts uses SnapHeap, which is a way to fake a modular effects rack in a DAW.
In particular, we really appreciate their delay plugin on its own though, for two controls that other delays don’t often have.
The first is the Ping-Pong box, which send the delay alternating from left to right and back again. The second is the Duck knob, which lowers the volume of the delay until the original source stops playing.
It would be easy to set those up with extra plugins on a delay bus, but having them in a small, unassuming plugin just feels right.
Hence, a spot on the list (it’s also a reason to check out the other free stuff Kilohearts offers!)
9. Vinyl by iZotope
Time to kick it old school
Lo-fi producers rejoice! This nostalgic effect can give you that tasty vinyl crackle, electric hum, and even do spin-downs like that machine sitting in your grandma’s basement.
It’s got several different models from each decade to choose from and a few other parameters to give you exactly the steeze and swagger you want.
Fantastic on drum busses, solo instruments, and vocals alike, download this free lo-fi plugin and get moody with it!
10. Space Lite by Cymatics
The final frontier, Lite
Cymatics has been doing more for producers than almost any other company in the last decade, and after making a tremendous impact on the community with super high-quality sample packs and presets, they’ve started making plugins specifically aimed at filling the holes that producers are asking for.
Space Lite is the free version of their reverb, Space, but it still offers tons of flexibility and use!
There’s a whole host of knobs that control filters, distortion, FX, you name it, and while you only get a few spaces to choose from, the ways to modify those spaces are limitless.
If you’re looking for a reverb that just sounds different, this is one of the best free reverbs out there.
11. Pitchproof by Aegean Music
Pitch correction leveled up
This one is a little off the beaten path, but is a really great plugin for adding depth to your monophonic instruments or making wild vocal chops.
Intended to be closer to a pedal, Pitchproof transposes the incoming signal by an amount you specify, but what sets it apart is that it can harmonize by a 3rd based on the scale, meaning that scale degree 1 would be harmonized with scale degree 3 (a shift of 4 semitones) and scale degree 2 would be harmonized with scale degree 4 (a shift of 3 semitones).
It works wonderfully as long as the melodies don’t get too complex, and since it doesn’t correct the formant, it can be used for really unique sounding harmonies and chop layers.
There’s also a way to force the pitch to match a MIDI signal, essentially making this like an auto-tune plugin if needed.
12. KSHMR Essentials Kick by W. A. Production
How deep does the kick rabbit hole go?
The legendary producer KSHMR, responsible for the hit Like A G6, has given us EDM producers an unbelievable tool for sculpting the perfect kick for your next future house banger.
Eight knobs give you eight ways to customize and enhance your kick sound, arguably the most important element of dance music, and have your listeners jumping.
It can control the sub, mids, highs, transient, and more as easy as can be.
Even though it is technically a Lite plugin with a paid upgrade, you may never need to go premium with just how awesome this one sounds!
13. Labs by Spitfire Audio
Finally, an instrument
Spitfire is renowned for their Kontakt orchestra libraries, which are some of the most complete and well-recorded out there.
It should be no surprise, then, that even their free sampled instrument is something to behold.
Maybe the most popular instrument for Labs is their Soft Piano, which lives up to its name by being a close-miced, ethereal sounding piano perfect for soft, indie music.
It also features a few other free instruments, such as Moon Guitar, Dulcimer, and Hand Bells, as well as more modern takes like Electric Pianos, Synth Pads, and Synth Strings.
The interface is simple, clean, and clear, and the libraries take up a surprisingly little amount of space, which makes this one of the best free instrument plugins out there to incorporate unique sounds into your music.
14. CamelCrusher by Camel Audio
Distortion to the extreme
CamelCrusher is mentioned in almost every list of free plugins, and for good reason; it’s useful on everything!
If you need a grimy, aggressive distortion for your guitars, you got it. If you want to smash your drums hard and then just mix in a little bit of it for some edge, you got it.
Best of all, if you know you want it to bite but don’t know exactly what you’re hoping for, it has a Randomize button just for you!
It’s just an awesome, free distortion plugin with a filter and a compressor to boot.
15. Helm by Matt Tytel
The best synth for learning how to synth
Synthesis can be tricky, especially when looking at the overwhelming amount of buttons and knobs and small fonts that many synths have.
If only there were a basic synth, with clear indicators of what everything was… oh wait! There’s Helm!
Helm is just a good-sounding, solid synthesizer with clearly laid out controls, nothing too fancy, and a lot of potential.
There’s a reason that this is the default synth for music tech classes at universities, and between the price (free) and the gentle learning curve, it’s the perfect tool to learn synthesis.
16. Vital by Matt Tytel
All aboard the Tytel train!
Keeping with the Matt Tytel originals, we have Vital! One of the coolest free pieces of software to come out of the last few years, this synth is basically a free version of Serum, with arguably more awesome features.
It’s a wavetable synth with four oscillators, two filters, really cool warp modes, and plenty of FX to get some insane and wacky sound potential.
It also just feels good to look at, like suddenly synthesis isn’t so scary.
Definitely one of the best free synth plugins today, and truly compares to (and surpasses) many of the higher-end paid options as well.
17. PanCake 2 by Cableguys
Make all your stereo image dreams come true
Ah, panning. An underrated creative tool, but why? Is it because there just aren’t many good creative panning plugins out there?
Well now you have no excuses, because PanCake is without a doubt the best free panning plugin on the market (so to speak), with absurdly customizable LFO shapes to send your hi-hats flying off to the sides, or boomerang your toms all around the stage.
It can even receive MIDI signals!
As mentioned, all of the plugins on this list are free with no restrictions, meaning you can use them indefinitely and keep the audio you create.
Some offer paid upgrades, but will let you use the Lite versions until the day comes where you decide you need more.
Regardless, they all are highly versatile tools and instruments to help the budget-friendly musician make the best music possible.
Take and enjoy!