Best Distortion VST Plugins – 2020 Picks

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Distortion is most often used in music terminology as an effect that goes pretty well with the heavy electric guitar sound.

But, this effect is not used on guitars only. It also can be applied in various formats and while being destructive it actually can create something useful from it.

Comparison Chart of the Best Distortion VST Plugins

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • Extremely advanced multiband distortion
  • 28 different distortion styles
  • Modern user interface with full screen mode
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  • Multiband Distortion plugin with 60+ distortion algorithms
  • Stack two distortions for every frequency band
  • Convolve module IR loader
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  • Affordable and versatile distortion effects unit
  • 22 distortion types, 5 amps and 3 cabinets
  • Ideal for guitar use
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  • 3-band distortion plugin with the compressor
  • 13 distortion algorithms and 12 filters
  • Ideal for electronic music
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  • The most advanced Bit Crusher on the market
  • Resamples ranges from 44Hz to 44.1kHz
  • No distortion glitches at the output
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  • Bass amp modeling with authentic drive channel
  • 3 distinctive bass amps and cabinets
  • 6 microphones available in dual microphone setup
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  • Create your own virtual signature pedal
  • 17 pedals of distortion, overdrive, fuzz, and booster effects
  • Tone Match Technology cloning feature
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  • Straight-forward unit with unique Punish feature
  • 5 analog saturation models
  • Ideal for all insturments
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What is a Distortion?

Distortion actually describes any change of audio track. Some changes are good like applying an equalizer, but for most of the time, when we say distortion, we think about negative ones. 

It happens when the signal goes louder than it’s able to do. Such an audio limit is called the distortion threshold. Unless that’s done on purpose we should avoid them during our recording. If you’re about to record a piano or trumpet they can damage your recorded sound quality. But, for certain instruments such as electric guitar, such a feature actually became a part of the trademark.

When Would a Distortion VST Come in Handy?

Distortion and guitars have been used together so often that you may get confused to think about where else it could be applied. Let us help you with solutions:

Warming Up

Applying a small amount of distortion won’t destroy the overall sound, it will add up that warm flavor everyone finds appealing and make it less sterile even when used as a mastering effect.  

Adding a Character

Vocals, synths, or drum kits can acquire additional even signature character when distortion is applied. Certain synth leads will become alive once you apply even a pinch of distortion over it and there are some music genres where distorted vocals and drum sounds are used regularly such as industrial gothic and various EDM genres such as EBM and darkwave.

Special Effects

Distorted sounds can create a certain “out of this world” vibe if used on a variety of sounds. It can create wonders where the only limit is your imagination. No one can stop you from putting it on the sound of the piano (I did!) and create something crisp and artificial, but authentic, right?

If you actually think about it, it was a bold choice to put such an effect on an electric guitar at first, but you do know the rest of history, right?

How to Choose Distortion VST Plugins

Here are some tips about picking the right Distortion VST:

What Instrument?

No distortion plugin can work on all instruments. Drums won’t have any benefit from plugins that manage to save musical parts of the sound, but melodic instruments such as synths or guitars will welcome such a feature. Once you know where you want to use it, it will be much easier for you to find a proper VST.

Music Genre?

Certain Distortion VST will excel with any sub-genre of rock music because of the warmth that can resemble almost to saturated-nature. Electronic music sounds and loops won’t work well with such settings.

They ask for aggressive, cold, and hard wrecking distortion on their tracks. That’s why defining a music genre before purchasing can help you to narrow down your search.

What Amount?

There are some extreme distortion effects out there that excel in destroying sound sources completely to create something new and unique and you would be surprised what can you get if you go that way. But, they can lack details when you call up more subtle presets so you would be better off if you don’t have a plan to experiment so much.

Quick Take: 
Top 3 Picks

Here are the best distortion VST plugins:

  1. Fabfilter Saturn 2
  2. Izotope Trash 2
  3. Rob Papen RP Distort

Review of the Best Distortion VST Plugins

You wouldn’t expect that this VST area will be so crowded with products, but, we had a really tough time to pick the best from the current offer:

Best Overall: 
Fabfilter Saturn 2

PROS

  • 28 different distortion styles
  • Huge drag and drop modulation matrix mod
  • Completely redesigned interface with full-screen mode
  • Up to 6-band processing with 8x and 32x oversampling modes
  • Extremely advanced multiband distortion and saturation plugin

CONS

  • Might feel expensive if not used frequently
  • Available options may be counterproductive for your workflow

Features and Specifications

Saturn 2 comes with 28 different distortions that stretches from tube saturation up to the heavy distortion and even bit crushing. You can apply up to six frequency bands and treat them as individual modules with different settings for drive, mix, feedback, dynamics, tone, and level.

Modulation options were also reworked so you can apply up to fifty modulation matrix mods by a simple drag and drop feature. And just in case you get lost in all those features and options, there is an extensive interactive help file that can guide you along.

Why it Stands Out to Us

With so many different distortion types this effect stands out as the most versatile and advanced VST we have found. You can achieve any state of sound-damaging processing with it and go into insanely deep and detailed tweaks. You would be surprised if we would show you that certain presets applied derived from the same original source.

Bad interface can seriously affect creativity. Thanks to the new improved modern interface, workflow feels much more intuitive. Also, applying this type of effect often requires minor tweaks that need to be nailed down precisely so having a full-screen mode is a real game-changer.

Runner-up:
Izotope Trash 2

PROS

  • More than 60 distortion algorithms
  • Stack two distortions for every frequency band
  • 100+ IR unique files available in Convolve module
  • 20+ dual filters with serial or parallel routing mode
  • Flexible multiband distortion plugin with delay effect

CONS

  • User interface could be visually improved
  • Not quite easy to achieve subtle distortion effects

Features and Specifications

This distortion plugin comes with more than sixty distortion algorithms to pick from. They can be assigned to four different bands and combined with another distortion instance in series at each band and there are more than twenty filters that can be routed not just parallel but serial as well.

Convolve module will bring additional flavor to the overall sound and it also provides you with the ability to load custom IR files. And just in case you already have Trash 1, you can save some money and use it for an upgrade.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Trash 1 was the VST effect pioneers created back in 2003. It took a really long time before Izotope decided to make a successor. Meanwhile, they improved every bit of the original software so the only common thing about those two software is the name.

This effect is much more than just a distortion plugin. It can crush your original source in so many ways that you won’t even recognize it in the end. It can be very aggressive and the Convolve module can expand the possibilities even further as you can place your sound in more environmental spaces than you can even imagine at first.

Best for the Money:
Rob Papen RP Distort

PROS

  • 5 amp and 3 cabinets emulated
  • 4 LFO and custom modulation matrix routings
  • Affordable and versatile distortion effects unit
  • 22 distortion types included ring modulator and lo-fi
  • Analog filter, 4-band EQ, noise gate, compressor, and stereo imager included

CONS

  • EQ could be parametric
  • Catalina macOS not yet supported

Features and Specifications

This software is much more than just a distortion plugin. There are 22 distortion types to pick from, some very exotic and unique such as Squarify which turns the sound into square waves, for example.

It also contains emulation of 5 amplifiers and 3 guitar cabinets and provides you with the equalizer, noise gate, compressor, and stereo imager and it’s nice that the order of these effects can be re-ordered. On top of that, both low pass and high pass filters can be applied with the usual selection of 12dB and 24dB slope.

Why it Stands Out to Us

The best part we like about it is that it doesn’t provide you with hundreds of features, but those that are included can cover a lot of areas even independently. For example, the resonant filter behaves smoothly, very analog-ish.

Distortion effects are quite versatile and high-quality. They can be used directly on any instrument including modern guitars as well. Combined with the provided amps and cabs and additional effects you may have got auxiliary guitar amp VST as well. That being said, it will work just fine for any kind of rock music and on any instrument including vocals.

Best Multiband Distortion VST:
Audio Damage Kombinat Tri

PROS

  • 12 various filters
  • Practical one-knob Kompressor
  • Clean and modern user interface
  • 13 distortion and tone-shaping algorithms
  • 3-band distortion with internal feedback control

CONS

  • Lacks in-depth editing
  • Doesn’t support 32-bit operating system

Features and Specifications

This software is a 3-band distortion software. Every band range can be customized and tweaked independently. It can have a different distortion type and different parameters for threshold, decay, gain, and level. There is also a basic compressor included and organized within an odd single knob.

There are thirteen algorithms available to pick from and they vary for mild, almost saturated levels to fuzz. Regarding filters, there are twelve available and they range from resonant low pass all the way to some ultra-narrow notch filters.

Why it Stands Out to Us

You can get all kinds of distortions and it will work the best for electronic music loops. We love how you can achieve results with some very simple tweaking. Every setting is simplified so much that we can’t get rid of the feeling that Audio Damage had DJs first in mind with this software and not music producers. But, in the end, it works in both theory and practice, including even One-Kontrol Kompressor.

Presets are well organized and improve workflow a lot, so most of the time the setup will be a knob or two away from a certain preset.

Best Bitcrusher VST: 
D16 Group Decimort 2

PROS

  • 2 very different quantization methods
  • Ultra Accurate Bit Crusher plugin with zero internal aliasing
  • Resampling ranges from 44Hz to 44.1kHz with adjustable jitter
  • No distortion glitches at the output thanks to controlled dithering
  • Approximative and Image filter with an additional analog resonant filter

CONS

  • May be used only at very specific situations
  • A good manual would be much welcomed for this type of effect

Features and Specifications

User interface is quite comprehensive. The big knob resamples the source and can be additionally tuned with the jitter knob to provide additional harmonic distortions. Resampling covers all frequencies from 44Hz to 44.1kHz and there are some optional filters including the resonant analog filter that can be applied either in pre and post-stages.

There are two quantization methods available and each setting provides you with a drastically different dynamics response and in the end, there is a knob for dithering so you can pick a way how you want to mask quantization errors.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Bit crusher is all about degrading the sound quality and Decimort 2 manages to do it relentlessly at a very affordable price. Presets are well designed and cover a lot of possibilities while the features provided exceed the usual bit crush interface so that overall result remains musical no matter how hard you wreck the audio file.

It will work excellent on bass and all kinds of lead sounds and it won’t fail you when applied on drum loops as well. You can also turn it out and use it as a pretty good vintage sampler profiler.

Best Bass Distortion VST:
 Kuassa Cerberus Bass Amplifikation

PROS

  • 96kHz sample rate supported
  • 3 distinctive bass amps and cabinets
  • Precise sound editing with several effects included
  • 6 microphones available in dual microphone setup
  • Complete bass amp modeling with authentic drive channel

CONS

  • No standalone version
  • No significant differences with the current bass cabinets given

Features and Specifications

There are three distinctive bass amps included - Valve, FET, and Drive. Valve has a really warm sound, while FET can make your bass sound crispy. And the Drive adds distortion to the chain we were looking for.

Sound sculpting is very detailed thanks to compressor, noise gate, contour, parametric and 10-band graphic EQ, and a limiter.

Cabs are equipped with a dual-mic setting and you can pick one of six models and even change the angle or the blend of microphones. The sound coming from the amp and DI input can also be blended.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This is a regular Bass Guitar Amp that will work more than just fine for your overall recording with all the microphone settings, dual EQs, and compressors. But this dedicated drive channel will take bass guitar sound to extreme destruction especially in the lower frequency range. Such sound will make wonders for extreme metal music and it can also flavor some artificial sounds for industrial genres of music as well. And the best part is that it supports custom IR files loading so the options for your bass guitar sound are virtually unlimited.

Best Guitar Distortion VST:
Positive Grid BIAS Pedal Distortion

PROS

  • Flexible pedal modeling software
  • Tone Match Technology cloning feature
  • Noise gate and amp room simulator included
  • Customize the look and feel of your own pedalList Element
  • 17 pedals of distortion, overdrive, fuzz, and booster effects

CONS

  • Too many editing options
  • Could provide you with the basic bass guitar pedal

Features and Specifications

This plugin contains 17 pedals of various distortion, overdrive, fuzz, and booster effects and it uses the same engine as other Positive Grid Bias plugins. It’s also fully compatible with BIAS FX so your custom distortion pedal can be used in BIAS FX pedalboard.

You can change every part of the pedal including distortion stages, pre and post EQ, or even modify your germanium or silicon transistor. An unlimited number of custom pedals can be stored and they can be assigned to one of eight favorite quick preset settings within a single mouse click.

Why it Stands Out to Us

It captured the behavior of real hardware pedals marvelously and it works in a way that a real guitarist would expect from the pedal.

Tone Match Technology is another treat for any user. All you have to do is to load a reference track of the pedal you want to create and it will analyze the source and then clone it for you based on the input you’re providing with your guitar.

Creating your own design for a pedal is also a neat trick that will make a difference among other software. You can even rename it.

Best Vocal Distortion VST:
Soundtoys Decapitator

PROS

  • 5 analog saturation models
  • Awesome Punish button feature
  • Works great on vocals and any other instrument
  • Straight-forward and comprehensive distortion plugin
  • Auto switch handles the Drive and output gain compensationList Element

CONS

  • Detailed EQ panel would be really nice
  • Not so flexible regarding sound variety

Features and Specifications

This Distortion contains five analog saturation models with the first three emulating the behavior of the classic hardware. You can select those at the very front of the very comprehensive user interface by picking a letter from A, E, N, T, or P

Most important feature is the Punish button. It pushes an additional 20dB of drive into the source track and every algorithm acts differently when pressed into this mode. It also acts differently on various drive stages so it can vary from adding a certain width to the really extreme destructive sound.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Only a few distortions can work well on everything, and, actually, applying it to the vocal is a great way to test its versatility.

Decapitator can push beyond extreme values and still sound incredibly musical and analog-like. As a matter of fact, this plugin lies somewhere between a typical distortion and saturation effect which probably makes it ideal for vocals as saturation effect wouldn’t give you enough grit and real distortion would make vocal tracks unusable.

We were amazed by how much time we got saved regarding level compensation by turning the Auto switch on - a quite handy and well-designed feature.

Types of Distortion VST Plugins

There are several types of distortions:

Tape Saturation

While it has the same purpose, it’s not considered as distortion per se. It alters the sound in a more subtle way, creating an ear-pleasant warmth.  

Overdrive

Often mixed with distortion, overdrive simulates cranking a valve as loud as possible. It’s very dynamic-dependent so it will be almost inaudible during mellow play and quite present during intense playing.

Distortion

Distortion is more aggressive than an overdrive. It saturates signal a lot by using hard-clipping and won’t respond to dynamics so differently.

Fuzz

Fuzz is an extreme distortion pedal that heavily clips your signal in a square wave manner and compresses it to the point where it’s barely recognizable. Pronounce this word aggressively and that’s exactly how it sounds.

Bit Crusher

It digitally manipulates either with sample rate (kHz) or sound resolution (bits). The best way to describe it is to remind you of the old video game systems. Applying sound resolution down to 8-bit would result in music files found on those consoles.

Multi-band Distortion

This type of effect splits the frequency range and treats them as independent signals so more or less distortion and different characters can be applied strictly to the certain range of your sound.

Conclusion

It’s funny when you think about how modern music recording actually works. Producers intentionally record everything as clean as possible only to add a certain “dirt” to emulate a certain vintage sound. We hope this explains a lot how humans got used to listening to the distorted signal.