Best Gate Plugins of 2020 – Complete Round-up

One of the most important factors for a great sound is removing unwanted sounds and making your overall track as clean as possible. Luckily, there is a software that can save you from the manual work of cleaning the unwanted noisy parts and called Gate. 

Our Top Picks for Gate Plugins

  • 6 gate/expander algorithms
  • Look-ahead up to 10 ms
  • Programmable parameters
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  • 2 sophisticated gates
  • Handles vocal breathing
  • Excels at removing bleeds
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  • Frequency selective gating
  • 50ms of look-ahead
  • Beginners-friendly UI
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Comparison of the Best Gate Plugins

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • 6 algorithms with 4x oversampling
  • Look-ahead up to 10 ms
  • Editable attack and release, range, hold and knee
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  • Two sophisticated gate modules bundled
  • Gate: Classic handles instruments and vocals
  • Gate: Drums excels at making clean drum tracks
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  • Frequency selective gating plugin
  • 50ms of look-ahead
  • Beginners-friendly user interface
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  • Programmable Attack, Hold and Release values
  • Internal sidechain High and Low Pass Filters
  • Full Automation for all parameters
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  • Creative gate plugin with very graphical display
  • Hundreds of factory presets
  • Can also act as LFO, envelope or step sequencer
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  • Expander & gate with up to 1:50 ratio
  • Look ahead up to 5ms
  • Long attack and release time values
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  • Intelligent gate plugin for drum tracks
  • Adaptive Decay section for more natural resonance
  • Leveller manages the drumming consistency
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What Does a Gate Plugin Do?

While recording, every track also carries a portion of ambiance. This is especially audible in drum tracks where several microphones are placed so close to each other that they record other drum components in the background. 

Gate plugin helps out to isolate focused instruments from the rest of the background noise.

Try imaging a medieval castle gate - when the gate is closed, no sound is allowed to pass. So, by defining a threshold parameter you decide when the gate will open. As soon as the sound reaches the given threshold, the gate closes up again and the sound is silenced completely. 

Why Gate Plugins Are Important

Modern music production prefers clean, almost sterile-like, tracks for further mixing and it’s not that rare that a single song project contains more than 30 audio tracks. 

Nowadays, due to the loudness war, most tracks require some sort of compression and every compression requires a certain make-up gain. Try to imagine what kind of noise floor can be generated if you don’t apply the gate effect before compression on such a number of audio tracks.

This may impact the clarity of the final mix a lot, especially if you’re recording any kind of music that uses real instruments such as guitars, horns, or drums.

Are Gate Plugins Hard to Use?

Gate plugins are hard to use only for inexperienced users. It’s easy to comprehend how it works once you try it out several times, especially if you’re applying a typical gate. 

You will have to learn by trial and error method what works the best for your track and also understand the benefits of look-ahead features and how to set it up properly so it removes only the background part and not the parts of your sound. This refers especially to unvoiced (voiceless) consonants of your vocals.

But, don’t you worry, it will become a part of the routine, eventually.

How to Choose a Gate Plugin

Not all gate plugins are the same. That’s why you should define what you’re looking first:

Rhythmic or Melodic Instruments?

Some gate plugins work marvelously with the drum tracks and this trait justifies their higher price as it saves you a lot of working time. If you’re working regularly with the acoustic drum tracks we would strongly advise you to purchase one dedicated for drum gating.

It might be overkill if you want to apply it on a vocal or guitar track, so other gates have developed special algorithms that can detect noise from a human breath so it won’t damage your vocal tracks.

Creative or Technical Tool?

If you’re looking for a technical tool that will just remove the noise for you, any gate plugin on the market will do the work. As a matter of fact, we would advise you to not spend too much money if that’s the case.

However, you should be aware that you may also use gate plugins in more advanced and even creative ways. 

Workflow

If you’re struggling with the time, always remember that premium gate plugins have features that will automate the whole process and save you a lot of time and energy for other tasks.

Quick Take: 
Top 3 Picks

Review of the Best Gate Plugins

Many plugins have a basic gate effect within their parameters. However, dedicated gate VST comes with more options and features and we’re going to review them out right now:

Best Overall:
FabFilter Pro-G

PROS

  • Low CPU usage with zero-latency
  • Precise metering with look-ahead up to 10 ms
  • 6 gate and expander algorithms with 4x oversampling
  • Editable attack and release, range, hold and knee settings
  • Expert mode offers highly customizable side chain options

CONS

  • Several MIDI commands aren't supported
  • We expected from multiband gate effect from FabFilter

Features and Specifications

Pro-G is a plugin that contains six gate and expander algorithms that includes ducking and upward expansion. Those algorithms are Classic, Clean, Vocal, Guitar, and Upward with Classic being the fastest regarding its response.

Every style can be edited by altering attack and release, range, hold, and knee knobs and applying from zero-latency up to 10ms of look-ahead using the knobs on the right side of your panel. There is an option to switch to the Expert system that gives you the control for high and low-pass filters used in the sidechain.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Everything about this plugin was designed in a way to give a clear and precise visual input regarding the gate or expander effect. It will be excellent well on both vocals or drums, for example.

This unit can also work marvelously as an expander, especially because of the side chain option and dry/wet knob provided. It does more than it’s expected for both live or studio sessions and look-ahead is especially useful for treating fast transients correctly.

Also, the interactive help file provided within this plugin is very useful and it will aid you properly if you haven’t used the gate effect before.

PROS

  • Two independent gate modules
  • Gate: Drums excels at making clean drum tracks
  • Extremely versatile and sophisticated gate plugin
  • Gate: Classic handles gating required for harmonic instruments
  • Filter signal before gating so the gate reacts only at certain frequencies

CONS

  • We would welcome attack knob on Gate: Drums
  • You may miss the look ahead on the Gate: Classic module

Features and Specifications

This bundle is made from two Virtual Mix Rack modules:

Gate: Classic is a typical gate that removes background noises from acoustically recorded material. It contains usual gate parameters such as threshold, attack, release with several different slopes, and may work in two modes - classic and vocal, specialized to separate breathing from the rest of noise.

Gate: Drums combine a gate based on transient detection with smart dynamic filtering. Transient Detection allows you to isolate the component you want, while Debleed will apply a frequency-specific gate just for the tail of the audio track.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Slate Digital is a leading VST effects developer that enrolls many musicians and sound designers for their plugin development regularly. Thus, they are very aware that applying a gate to the drums requires a different and faster approach than for regular.

Instead of making one big gate plugin, they decided to split it into two more simplified but more effective plugins with the dedicated parameters.

Gate: Drums may save even some of the most problematic drum recording thanks to the very useful Transient detection and Debleed panels. It will help you to preserve the original decay in a much more musical way than other plugins.

Best for the Money:
Boz Digital Labs Gatey Watey

PROS

  • Up to 50ms of look-ahead
  • Beginners-friendly user interface
  • Frequency selective gating plugin
  • Editable attack and release parameters
  • Range parameter allows it to be used as a basic expander

CONS

  • Missing different soft-knee types
  • Multi gating in a single plugin instance would be great

Features and Specifications

Gatey Watey is a simplified gate plugin that is made from a very basic user interface. You have two main sliders, threshold set as vertical and frequency as a horizontal ranging from 20Hz up to 12kHz with a switchable high pass, low pass, and normal gate operation.

At the center, you have four knobs where attack, release and look ahead are self-explanatory, while range parameter allows this plugin to be used either as a gate or as a basic expander if you set it to the value different from infinite.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Gate is more of a utility than an effect and most of the time you don’t need a complex interface or options. That’s why the simplified interface that takes minimum CPU resources is more than welcomed.

Having an option to select a frequency is a big plus for all kinds of studio recordings. It can help you a lot to maintain a sustained tone while removing the noise from your tracks only from the frequencies where the noise occurs. This way you can combine different gating affecting only specific frequencies using several instances of this plugin.

Best Expander Plugin:
WaveArts MR Gate

PROS

  • Audit gated signal in solo mode
  • Adjustable look ahead up to 5ms
  • Long attack and release time values
  • Straightforward expander & gate with up to 1:50 ratio
  • Dynamic display shows recent history of input and gain levels

CONS

  • Look ahead could be a bit longer
  • Gain range may not be sufficient for all situations

Features and Specifications

MR Gate is an expander and gate plugin with an adjustable look ahead, ratio, attack, and decay times with the nice graphical display showing threshold level, signal input, and gain reduction.

Attack ranges from 0.1ms to 1 second, while release covers 1ms to the 2-second range. Look ahead comes in 3 steps covering 1ms, 2ms, and 5ms and the threshold goes down to -72dB with a supported ratio up to 1:50 while makeup gain covers the range from -12dB to +12dB.

Three different knee models are provided with soft-knee being set as a default.

Why it Stands Out to Us

If the price was the only factor, this plugin could easily be the best for the money. But, because it’s more basic than a Gatey Watey, this plugin had to be put in this category instead.

Unlike the rest of the plugins, MR Gate provides you with a very wide range for both attack and release parameters, and the pre-made presets are made as a solid base ground for any kind of expanding or gating.

There is also an option to monitor the wet signal only, which may be useful to define the exact amount of expander or gating you want to apply.

Editor's Pick:
Polyverse Gatekeeper

PROS

  • Hundreds of factory presets
  • Smoothing algorithm eliminates pops
  • Creative gate plugin with very graphical display
  • Can also act as LFO, envelope or step sequencer
  • 8 programmable volume envelopes and even CV output

CONS

  • Lacks look-ahead feature
  • It may slow down your technical parts of the production due to its creative nature

Features and Specifications

Gatekeeper is a volume modulator that allows sequenced volume shifts, MIDI gates, or stutters. It can also act like the side-chain compressor.

Volume modulating is tempo-based, so, once you define desired quantization, you can add the nodes to the track, and slope between two nodes can be defined by a simple dragging any way you want while Boost 10x feature allows you to amply any node by 10 dB.

You can stack up to 8 envelopes per single plugin instance and the eye icon allows you to see all envelopes simultaneously.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Gate plugins are often not a very creative tool as that’s not their main role. However, guys from Polyverse have found a way to improve it and make it more creative, so you can use Gatekeeper not just like a typical gate plugin, but also as an LFO or step sequencer. It may bring those pad layers back to life for any kind of electronic music.

With up to 1024 nodes, every possible pattern could be drawn out exactly like you would like to, so the only limitation is your imagination. The gorgeous looking user interface will just help to get lured deeper into it.

Best Gate VST for Drums:
Oxford Drum Gate

PROS

  • Precise transient detection
  • Dedicated Kick, Snare and Tom buttons
  • Leveller manages the drumming consistency
  • Extremely intelligent gate plugin for drum tracks
  • Adaptive Decay section for more natural resonance

CONS

  • No look-ahead feature
  • Feels expensive for a gate plugin

Features and Specifications

Oxford Drum Gate is a gate and expander plugin made especially from drum tracks. It’s made from three panels - Detection, Decay and Leveller

Detection simply detects all the transients from the source track and asks you which one you would like to keep while removing the rest. It also comes with pre-made profiles for Kick, Snare, and Toms.

Decay puts focus on the resonance of each tom following the velocity of every hit in real-time while Leveller allows you to treat hits separately at two independent volume levels.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Acoustic drum gating can be a tiresome job with the regular gate plugin. Oxford Drum Gate creates a very inspiring workflow while delivering you some really musical results at a faster delivery rate.

With the given button in the Detection panel, it will treat the gate differently for kick, snare, or tom components. It may resemble A.I. learning as it listens actively to your source.

Also, Leveller may come very handy if you’re struggling with the drumming consistency. Defining the two-stage volume levels may especially help out if you’re recording with an inexperienced drummer or you’re working on a live mix.

Best Noise Gate Plugin:
 Nomad Factory Liquid Gate II

PROS

  • Peak and RMS modes
  • Full Automation for all parameters
  • Internal sidechain High and Low Pass Filters
  • Programmable Attack, Hold and Release values
  • Range parameter can be used for expander effect

CONS

  • User Interface may not be appealing for everyone
  • We would prefer to see the range displayed in dB instead of percentage

Features and Specifications

This plugin is made from two panels. Filter panel has a dedicated sidechain low and high cut filter that can be bypassed if needed.

Noise Gate panel is made from the expected threshold and range parameters displayed in percentage along with the programmable attack, hold and release time while the envelope can display either Peak or RMS values.

The user interface looks a bit different from what we are used to seeing in the audio world as all the values are written in text and numbers instead of knobs and sliders.

Why it Stands Out to Us

It clears out the noise floor easily with minimal effort. Thanks to the range parameter it can be also utilized as an expander and side-chain filtering improves the overall gating experience we had with this unit. Also, we have found out that this plugin comes on promo sale regularly at the price that is a no-brainer for any project studio.

If you’re into this kind of user interface, you should know that there is The Nomad Factory Liquid II Collection, a bundle of the six plug-ins that share the graphic solution with the Liquid Gate II.

Expander vs. Gate

It’s quite common to find expander and the gate in the same software and it’s not unusual that musicians can’t really explain well what’s the real difference:

Luckily if you’re familiar with the difference between compressor and the limiter you will understand that gate is exactly the other sound of the limiter coin, while the expander matches the compressor. 

Instead of cutting the sound that goes below the threshold completely off, it makes those sounds compressed in the opposite way so the peaks are closer to the lowest volume. It is used to expand the dynamic range of your track.

Tips For Using a Gate Plugin

Here are some general tips regarding how to use a Gate Plugin properly:

Check the Whole ​Track

Defining a proper threshold may be a matter of minutes. But, once you set it up, always audit the whole track as it may happen that there are some parts you don’t want to actually fall under threshold and get cut off. Applying a different attack or release may help out in such situations.

Watch Out for the Breath

Breath sounds can be very close in level with the noise you’re removing. So, if you’re gating a vocal track, defining a threshold will determine how much breathing you want to leave out in the mix. Sometimes, breathing is unnecessary, and sometimes it’s a very important part of the singing performance.

Always remember that breathing is especially important for spoken parts so think about using an expander instead.

Sidechain it

If you want to create a really tight and precise performance you can sidechain bass sound to the bass drum so it completely follows the decay of the kick. This way, the kick will determine when the bass will be audible and it can help you to create perfect sync for the groove and also much better impact.

Conclusion

Using the gate plugin in the right way can save even those tracks that seemed to be unusable for your mix because of spillage from the other components. We hope that you understand now the importance of applying a gate and that you’re going to use it much more frequently.