Best VST Effects of 2020 – Round-up Review

Gear Savvy is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

It may sound strange for you, but not so long ago, Windows and Mac computers weren’t always the first choice for recording music. VST effects have changed the way we look upon using computers for music production and nowadays you can find them anywhere, even used for live mixing as well. 

Our Top Picks for VST Effects

  • All-in-one mastering tool
  • 22 audio modules
  • Use modules individually
View Latest Price →
  • Complete guitar sound tool
  • Guitar and Amp Match
  • Bass guitars FX included
View Latest Price →
  • True Analog mixing vibe
  • Mix up to 64 tracks
  • Insert Waves plugin option
View Latest Price →

Compatison Chart of the Best VST Effects

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • Professional mastering solution in one plugin
  • 22 audio modules of various types
  • Every module can work as an individual plugin
View Latest Price →Read Customer Reviews
  • Stompboxes, Rack FXs, Amps and Cabinets
  • Wonderful Guitar Match and Amp Match features
  • Bass guitars FX included
View Latest Price →Read Customer Reviews
  • Recreated analog mixing experience
  • Mix up to 64 tracks
  • 4-band EQ, compressor and gate module
View Latest Price →Read Customer Reviews
  • 30 iconic vintage delays inside
  • 3-band EQ with dedicated decay knob per band
  • Rhythm Echo mode with up to 16 repeats
View Latest Price →Read Customer Reviews
  • Ultimate vocal editing tool
  • 12 redesigned modules for vocal mixing
  • Melodyne 5 Essential and RX7’s Breath Control
View Latest Price →Read Customer Reviews
  • Based on physically modeled hardware units
  • 3 different types of compressors inside
  • Vintage and clean sound choice
View Latest Price →Read Customer Reviews
  • All-in-one modern channel strip
  • 25 instruments module in a Sculptor Module
  • Faster and optimized than previous version
View Latest Price →Read Customer Reviews
  • Most advanced EQ plugin on the market
  • Dynamic EQ mode with up to 24 EQ bands
  • Spectrum Grab peak real-time editing feature
View Latest Price →Read Customer Reviews
  • 15 mastering tools containing Vintage units
  • Incredibly useful Match EQ feature
  • Newbie-friendly Mastering Assistant
View Latest Price →Read Customer Reviews

What is a VST Effect and What Does it Do?

VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology. It was invented back in 1996 and it allowed users to apply certain effects on the audio track in real-time without affecting the source permanently. 

It was a significant breakthrough for the concept of using computers in music production. It allowed people to focus more on the performing and showed there is a way to change effects on the fly. Along the road, with the rise of computer hardware, VST evolved as well and this eventually led to a different mindset so nowadays there are few musicians and producers who record with their effect chain completely pre-recorded.

Advantages of Investing in Quality VST Effects 

Investing in VST effects is an excellent choice if you plan to stay in the music business. Here are some reasons why you should think about it:

Studio-Grade Sound

With all the VSTs available right now, you have more than enough resources to finish mixing on your own. Many famous producers use this so-called “in the box” (ITB) mixing. The only thing you may need is proper audio hardware - interface, set of speakers, and some mid-range computer.

Time-Saver

It may happen that the sonic difference between budget and high-quality VST effect is not so significant. The difference lies in the user interface layout or automated options that can save you a lot of time. Sure, you can track kick or snare transients manually before further processing, but you can also apply an effect that handles those transients for you automatically. It’s up to you what you have in abundance - time or money.

Aliasing

Artificial artifacts may occur when you use cheap or free VSTs. They don’t have enough resources to solve all the bugs or invest in technology that minimizes such events. As premium VST effects tend to substitute any need for using a hardware unit, they pay special attention to this “bug”.

What Should I Look For When Buying VST Effects? 

Buying a VST can lure you into browsing numerous web pages for hours before making a decision. Here are some tips on how to make the selection much faster:

Be Honest About Your Skills 

Don’t be ashamed because if you’re a newbie. There are plugins made with the user interface and features optimized for you and the best part is that they don’t sound so bad.

Forum Reviews

There are thousands of bedroom producers all around the world. Some may have a lot of experience so read their opinion carefully and you may find an affordable hidden gem you wouldn’t find otherwise.

Brand

When in doubt which VST you should buy, consider company history. The company that makes a great amp simulation shouldn’t excel regarding compression. But, in case you like reverb from a specific company a lot, it will be probably included in their guitar amp plugin.

Versatility

Unless you have a very specific effect in mind, ask yourself what instruments or situations can this effect also work. This improves a certain bang-for-buck significantly and it may help you to narrow down your library. This way you won’t lose time browsing between dozens of reverbs or delays finding the best choice.

Quick Take: 
Top 3 Picks

Review of the Best VST Effects 

It was really hard to pick only ten effects for this article and categorize them properly, so we hope we didn’t miss any significant effect type:

PROS

  • 22 audio modules of various types
  • Professional mastering solution in one plugin
  • Stack up to 16 modules in any order you want
  • Very helpful and intuitive Master Match feature 
  • Every module can also work as an individual plugin

CONS

  • No side-chain compression provided
  • Requires MAX version to get some proper reverb

Features and Specifications

T-Racks 5 is a mastering tool that is built upon 22 audio modules that can be stacked together up to the chain of 16 units and organized in any order you prefer. It gives you a series of both modern and vintage compressors, limiters, EQs, stereo imaging, and some metering and matching features. The Master Match tries to tune the sound of your tracks to the sound of up to 3 reference tracks you provide. Regarding metering, it comes with instant graphical info so you can reach goals required from broadcast and digital standards.

Why it Stands Out to Us

It was hard to define the best overall effect, so we decided to choose T-Racks because it allows you to use any specific part of this mastering bundle as an individual plugin unit. This way you can use only reverb, EQ, compressor, or delay from this software as an insert effect for individual audio tracks. This significantly improves the overall versatility of the unit, especially because compressor emulations are a real state of the art.

Of course, it’s worth mentioning even if you look at it strictly as a mastering tool - it will have more than enough resources to polish your track properly.

PROS

  • Bass guitar effects covered as well
  • Complete guitar sound modeling solution
  • Wonderful Guitar Match and Amp Match features
  • Modern and visually very appealing user interface
  • Huge collection of stompboxes, rack effects, amps and cabinets

CONS

  • BIAS Pedal software should be included
  • Options provided may be overwhelming

Features and Specifications

BIAS Pro Combo contains two advanced guitar sound modeling software integrated into a single user interface. Bias FX Pro plugin covers the effects section with many stompboxes and rack effects while Bias Amp 2 Professional handles a completely editable audio chain from the amp to the cabinet. 

Amp Match feature will analyze any reference track you provide and match the sound of your guitar with the sound from the audio. Guitar Match on the other hand comes with pre-made profiles of the famous guitar and pick sounds and will re-adjust your configuration towards the selected profile.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This software contains everything you need to record your guitars properly. Realistic preamps and cabinets, officially endorsed speaker impulse responses, a wonderful number of stompboxes, and even a really handy matching feature so that you can nail your tone perfectly even if you don’t have so much sound crafting skills in your hands. It can deliver amazing results for pro users, while beginners will fall in love with the intuitive and graphically beautiful modern user interface. And if you need to record a bass guitar, you won’t need additional software - Bias FX has several amps and cabinets dedicated to bass guitars.

Best for the Money:
Waves CLA Mixhub

PROS

  • Recreated analog mixing experience
  • Includes Chris Lord-Alge’s personal presets
  • Mix up to 64 tracks – all from the same plugin window
  • Load an additional Waves plugin within each channel strip
  • Strip made from 4-band EQ, compressor and gate module

CONS

  • Bucket insert effect would be nice
  • Low-Mid EQ could cover a slightly wider spectrum

Features and Specifications

CLA Mixhub is organized in eight buckets. Every bucket can hold up to 8 channel strips which allows you to mix up to 64 channels in total. Tracks can be controlled in both a single or bucket view. Every channel strip is made from HP and LP filter, 4-band semi-parametric EQ, a compressor with a dedicated external side chain compression mode, and a multi-option panel of the gate, expand, and ducker. If you have more Waves plugins, you can assign them as an insert effect for every channel individually.  

Why it Stands Out to Us

There is something magical about old analog consoles regarding mixing workflow. It feels like even the smallest touch does some significant and expected audio change and it’s something that’s missing on most VST effects. CLA Mixhub copies that behavior and almost asks you to find a suitable MIDI controller and mix it in an old-fashioned hands-on way. Sound is wonderful and gives you a pinch of history because the strip is modeled upon the mixer Chris Lord-Alge uses personally and it comes with a bunch of presets for various instruments and vocals made by him personally.

Best Delay VST:
Soundtoys Echoboy

PROS

  • Rhythm Echo mode with up to 16 repeats
  • 3-band EQ with dedicated decay knob per band
  • 4 working modes with editable groove and feel knobs
  • The biggest collection of vintage hardware delay emulations
  • 30 iconic vintage delays inside such as Space Echo and Memory Man

CONS

  • Supports 64-bit OS only
  • Too many menu-diving options

Features and Specifications

Echoboy is a plugin that contains 30 legendary vintage hardware delay units emulations such as Space Echo, Memory Man, EchoPlex, DM-2. It can be synced to the project tempo but allows you to fine-tune the timing so it follows the vibe of your song with the dedicated knobs for groove and feels. It can work in 4 modes - Single Echo, Dual Echo, Ping Pong or Rhythm Echo. While the first three are pretty much self-explained, Rhythm Echo mode acts like a tape delay with 16 taps that can be edited individually creating interesting rhythmic patterns.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Soundtoys decided to provide us with an all-in-one delay collection that can handle every music project. They have even included some guitar stompboxes such as the CE-1 chorus pedal and went beyond standard delay effects. Many different vintage delays are not just faithfully transferred into digital format, they are also upgraded with options that are hard to achieve in the analog world. Those extra features make Echoboy an ideal tool for every sound designer. But, on top of that, it can be pretty straightforward and easy to use in case you need a simple but great-sounding delay effect.

Best Vocal Effects VST:
iZotope Vocal Synth 2

PROS

  • 12 redesigned modules 
  • Dynamic EQ with new Follow EQ Mode
  • Melodyne 5 Essential and RX7’s Breath Control included
  • 100+ pre-made patches optimized for music and speech
  • Ultimate vocal mixing tool with outstanding Vocal Assistant feature

CONS

  • Doesn’t support 32-bit systems
  • Might be expensive for newbies

Features and Specifications

Nectar 3 is a modern vocal editing tool made from 12 different modules. It comes with 48-band EQ split into two individual modules with Follow EQ Mode that can dynamically remove any problematic spike while easily shaping the overall tone. 

Unmask feature simplifies the process of putting the vocals in front of the mix while Auto Level will keep balancing your vocal track in real-time to the level you define. Those parameters can be also pre-loaded from more than a hundred factory presets including free MGMT Artist Presets.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Nectar 3 comes with advanced AI algorithms found in the Vocal Assistant feature that will analyze the song environment and apply surgical EQ cuts and boosts automatically and save you a lot of time from tweaking it manually. It will help inexperienced users to set the vocals properly a lot.

It should give you all the vocal tools needed starting from pitch correction or harmonizer up to reverb and delay and other modulation effects such as chorus, flanger, and phaser. Even Melodyne 5 Essential auto-tune and iZotope RX7 Breath Control module are included with this plugin.

Best Compressor VST:
Arturia Compressor Bundle

PROS

  • Vintage and clean sound choice
  • 3 different types of compressors inside
  • Beautiful straight-forward user interface 
  • Based on physically modeled hardware units
  • Ideal collection that covers all regular compressor situations

CONS

  • Lack of certain in-depth editings
  • Multiband compressor would be nice

Features and Specifications

This is a collection of three compressors plugins physically modeled to act exactly like the real vintage hardware units they cloned. The User Interface has all the visuals and knobs placed exactly as you would find on the original units. Comp FET-76 and it will work excellent on any track that requires extra punch, while TUBE-STA will saturate vocal tracks marvelously. And just in case you need just a clean compressor without any saturation, you can use the VCA-65 that can almost work as an all-around tool thanks to its fast attack envelope. 

Why it Stands Out to Us

If you had any chance to work with compressors before, you know that a single compressor won’t work for every track or instrument. Luckily, Arturia made this selection job much easier providing you with the three very different compressors. This may be a huge time and money saver for you as Arturia compressors won’t just solve your dynamic range with the right technique, they will also add color to your track when needed. Modern features aren’t omitted, so you can utilize that sidechain compression required for modern music and pre-delay found in the Time Warp feature.

Best Channel Strip VST:
iZotope Neutron 3

PROS

  • All-in-one modern channel strip
  • 6 modules packed into a single window
  • Multiband Gate and dual Exciter saturation options
  • 25 instruments module in a versatile Sculptor Module
  • Resizable and three times faster interface than previous versions

CONS

  • Compressor could come multiband as well
  • Modern user interface may not be for everyone

Features and Specifications

It comes with six modules - Sculptor, Transient Shaper, Exciter, Gate, Compressor and Equalizer with a very useful Masking meter. The sculptor removes any unnecessary resonance from your track and comes with 25 pre-installed profiles that match many vocal types and instruments. Transient Shaper will control the attack and release level of your track while Exciter will give it a modern or vintage vibe. Gate module can act in a multiband way as well and the complete software runs three times faster and uses only half of the memory compared to its predecessor.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Neutron may not be your typical channel strip. It’s more like an intelligent all-around tool that will fine-tune your project to perfection but with the modern approach that provides you with much more than you may expect from such a plugin. Coming at the lower resource intake, you may apply it regularly onto your audio tracks. 

But, it also shines when used on a mastering bus. The Mixing Assistant algorithm will analyze all the tracks you select and allow you to re-balance song elements by moving only a few sliders instead of dozens making the whole process much more musical than technical. 

Best EQ VST:
Fabfilter Pro-Q3

PROS

  • Excellent CPU and RAM optimization
  • Most advanced EQ plugin on the market
  • Dynamic EQ mode with up to 24 EQ bands
  • Spectrum Grab peak real-time editing feature
  • Beautiful visual system of displaying frequency collisions

CONS

  • Might be expensive for “just an EQ” plugin
  • Dynamic mode lacks setting some parameters manually

Features and Specifications

Pro-Q3 provides you with up to 24 fully parametric EQ bands with a new Brickwall ultra-steep slope on both low-pass and high-pass filters. Spectrum Grab has been improved and now you can drag a peak of the spectrum to the desired level. It also allows you to stack visualization from several instances on a single screen and displays any problematic spectrum interference for you. MIDI Learn features have been improved for a better workflow, there is an A/B switch to audit your changes and an interactive help file with hints.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This is one of the most versatile EQ plugins on the market. Thanks to its beautiful graphical interface that can be expanded to a full-screen view, you will use it again and again, especially because of good optimization. You can use it literally on every track without any significant CPU and RAM intake while the options it provides will cover even some of the most demanding mixing edits on all instruments or mastering fine-tunings. You can go into very surgical cuts while Dynamic EQ mode will follow the song arrangement and apply it automatically only when it’s necessary.

Best Mastering VST:
iZotope Ozone 9 Standard

PROS

  • Newbie-friendly Mastering Assistant
  • Professional all-in-one mastering tool
  • Incredibly resourceful Match EQ feature 
  • Emulate analog EQs or modern digital models 
  • 15 modules including numerous collection of various Vintage modules

CONS

  • Might feel like an overkill for a newbie
  • Modules level can’t be controlled individually

Features and Specifications

Ozone is a mastering plugin that is made from several modules - Imager, Equalizer, Maximizer, Track Referencing, Spectral Shaper, Dynamic EQ, Exciter, Dynamics, and several Vintage Modules such as tape, EQ, compressor, and limiter. Those vintage modules can color your sound with a certain vibe available as modules or component plug-in.

Track Referencing uses a Match EQ module which can apply changes to the selected track so it matches the sound of the reference track you provided. This feature can be also applied to affect only a certain part of the spectrum.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Mastering is a necessary process for every song and it used to require very expensive outboard equipment. VST Effects like Ozone 9 affords anyone to have a tool prone to create such expensive sound for less than a cent of the money you would invest in purchasing those hardware units.

With version 9, iZotope went even further. If you had a gear by some chance, you may not have the experience required to utilize it properly. Luckily, the Master Assistant provided within this plugin can analyze your song and provide some useful solutions for a decent head start.

PROS

  • Versatile Soft Row edit sliders
  • More than 100 studio patches
  • Authentic to the original hardware
  • Separate EQ for early and late reflections
  • 7 algorithms based on Lexicon PCM hardware

CONS

  • May feel slightly overpriced
  • User Interface could be improved

​Features and Specifications

This Bundle is actually an emulation of the legendary Lexicon hardware PCM series. It contains seven algorithms for different reverb types - Chamber, Room, Concert Hall, Hall, Random Hall, Plate, and Vintage Plate, and contains hundreds of pre-made patches ready for studio use. Every algorithm has a different set of controls available such as instantly at the Soft Row panel while EQ section controls early and late reflections independently. Room reverb even comes with 15 different early-reflection patterns that cover rooms of various sizes and both regular and irregular shapes.

Why it Stands Out to Us

When you say Lexicon, reverb is the first thing that will probably come to your mind. Sure, it may be expensive, but, if you’re in music production even a little bit, you know that there are not so many reverbs that can compete with the Lexicon. Luckily for us, this digital version has the same vibe as the hardware counterpart. If you’re working on top-quality projects for the TV or top-tier movie industry, you know that every detail counts and that’s why relying on Lexicon PCM Native Reverb Bundle could be a very wise choice.

Tips For Using VST Effects

Here are some tips you may find useful:

Bus Insert Effect

Instead of loading the same VST effects to every track individually, you can assign it to the Bus track and send it to all the tracks needed. This way, you will preserve a lot of CPU resources as you will just a single instance of that VST effect. This may be a very useful technique when you want to apply the same ambiance reverb on several tracks but with a different amount of effect.

3D Audio Placing

Reverb has the power to place audio tracks in 3D. If you find that some track is standing out from the rest of the mix, apply a mild reverb on it. Vica versa, if your vocals don’t seem so much “in front”, consider removing a certain amount of reverb from it or applying a different room or decay size.

Create a Personal FX Chain  

You may save a lot of time if you pre-configure the VST effects order for certain audio tracks. This way you can instantly recall your personal setting for guitar tracks on the fly with already pre-configured parameters instead of loading them all from scratch piece by piece.

Conclusion 

VST effects are essential for modern music work. They have evolved so much that they include options that weren’t even possible to imagine within the hardware units so we feel it’s a wise investment. It’s only a matter of time when you could use it in literally any musical event or setup.

People Also Ask

Some questions may seem basic, but you would be surprised how many musicians aren’t so sure what they mean. That’s why we’re going to try and settle down for good all the troubles around Bus, Insert, Send, Pre and Post Fader terms:

What’s a Bus Track?

It’s a summing track or sub-master track that controls several tracks together. It’s used often for organizing purposes and easier mixing. It transfers the existing fader levels from the individual tracks and can be further manipulated in the same way just like you would do with the individual track. It may be called Aux track as well.

What is an Insert Effect?

Insert effects are set directly onto an audio track and make the whole channel signal pass through the effect. This way, the effect is always set at 100% wet status. However, most VSTs have a soft knob that will allow you to balance it differently within the VST panel.

What is a Send Effect?

Send effects are useful when you want to process a track without affecting the original signal. Instead of altering your original signal, a separate copy is being modified with the effect. They are also known as Bus effect and its signal path is parallel (Insert Effect uses serial signal path).

Should Effects Be Pre or Post-Fader?

The main difference between those two states is that the audio track will follow the output fader position of a certain channel if you apply it post-fader. Pre-fader options may be useful for applying different settings for monitoring purposes, otherwise, you should apply effects always like a post-fader.