Best Mastering VST Plugins of 2020 – Complete Guide

Have you ever tried to play your mix to your friend’s speaker and came disappointed as it didn’t sound as good as it was at your place? Or have you been surprised that your song sounds odd on a cell phone speaker? Relax, it happens all the time. Luckily, mastering plugin can help you out.

Our Top Picks for Mastering VST Plugins

  • Advanced mastering suite
  • Machine-learning modules
  • Detailed and intuitive
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  • 38 high-end audio modules
  • Stack up to 16 modules
  • Can work as a plug-in
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  • 5 mastering modules
  • Dynamics with look-ahead
  • Multiband compressor
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Comparison of the Best Mastering VST

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • The most advanced mastering suite on the market
  • Machine-learning Master Assistant and Match EQ
  • Modern, detailed and very intuitive
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  • 38 high-end audio processors
  • Stack up to 16 parallel or series processors
  • Modules can work as a stand-alone VST effect
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  • 5 mastering modules bundled together
  • Dynamics with 30ms look-ahead and 4x oversampling
  • Multiband compressor supports up to 4 bands
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  • 26 frequency bands based on the human ear behavior
  • Powerful graphical EQ with match EQ mode
  • Vast transient modulator
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  • 5-band full parametric Equalizer
  • Transparent Limiter with up to 20ms of lookahead
  • Unique dual Morphing presets
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  • Emulation of the legendary EMI TG12345
  • Extra bands and filtering steps
  • Modeled upon Abbey Road EMI hardware model
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What is a Mastering Plugin?

Mastering is a final step of music audio production. It’s important to remember that it’s NOT supposed to make a radical change to your sound. Consider it more as fine-tuning of the mix you’re satisfied with. 

It is used to make a balance between audio elements and make your track output level suitable to all digital platforms and stereo devices. Also, it is frequently used to balance tracks found on the same album.

Most of the time it’s done by applying a one or two stages of equalization, compression, limiting, stereo enhancing and sometimes it even includes a saturation

Are Mastering Plugins Important?

Mastering plugins can make your mix sound professional. Or let’s put it in more plain words, it’s that plugin that makes your song “sound louder and better”. If used correctly, it can bring your trackback to life, lift your vocals up in the front and make a difference among many other similar songs. It will also raise your overall song level at the professional stage. 

This process makes that fine balancing which makes your song to be heard on all sound devices properly no matter how small or big they are. It also fixes any problematic frequencies or phasing issues that may happen during mixing stages.

However, a proper mastering session demands a pair of trained-ears. It’s not impossible for anyone to reach that level, it’s just not something you will manage to achieve overnight. Its value lies in small details, something that may not be audible at all until you bypass the complete mastering chain and hear the difference.

Advantages of Investing in Quality Mastering Plugins

We know it’s not that easy to pay for top-tier software these days. But, the mastering section is an area where we honestly need to advise you to find a way and invest slightly over your budget. Here are some reasons why:

Audio Boost

Mastering part is the final touch to your project. You may consider it as a polishing tool, but it can do a lot of subtle fixing that will help you stand against the rest of the songs available.

High-Quality Presets

If you’re a newbie, premium mastering plugins come with a bunch of presets and even some mixing assistants that will do the head start work for you. And even if you’re not, those features may guide you in the right direction or suggest you away if you’re uncertain what could be the best option.

Upgrade Option

The good thing about best mastering plugins is that they are aware that you may not need all the components at once, so they have several versions that are suitable for different skill levels. So, as your skills evolve, you won’t have to buy another unit, you will just opt for an upgrade. 

Quick Take: 
Top 3 Picks

Review of the Best Mastering VST Plugins

Let’s discuss the offers currently available online:

PROS

  • Modern, detailed and very intuitive
  • Genre-specific Tonal Balance presets
  • Extraordinary Master Rebalance module
  • The most advanced mastering suite found on the market
  • Machine-learning Master Assistant and Match EQ modules

CONS

  • Wave editing doesn’t have a zoom mode
  • Added modules may not justify the price for all users

Features and Specifications

It’s hard to list all the features Ozone 9 provides, so we will stick only to those found in the premium Advanced version.

Apart from excellent Mastering Assistant and Match EQ machine-learning modules, all the modules from the Standard version can be run as an individual plug-in and it also provides you with four unique modules - Low-End Focus, Spectral Shaper, Tonal Balance and Master Rebalance.

Low-End Focus cleans-up your lower range without harming overall energy found at these frequencies while Spectral Shaper will make harsh frequencies smooth.

Why it Stands Out to Us

iZotope Ozone 9 is that kind of mastering tool that helps everyone get the awesome result. Its workflow is detailed for skilled users, while being very intuitive for newbies as well.

The same goes for the Master Rebalance module. You can change how the song sounds by simply selecting the part and moving the gain slider. It works great for vocals, bass, or drums respectively.

And before you’re done with mastering, you can apply tonal balance by using certain frequency curves designed for specific music genres. Then you can utilize intelligent loudness targets that will instantly match all the requirements of the digital music platforms.

PROS

  • 38 high-end audio processors
  • Master Match module automatization
  • Stack up to 16 parallel or series processors
  • Modules can work as a stand-alone VST effect
  • The largest mastering module collection on the market

CONS

  • No multi-channel support
  • Worth the price, but still very expensive

Features and Specifications

This plugin offers you 38 plug-ins that can be used independently or within the T-Racks interface where you can stack up to 16 parallel or series processors.

Many effects are covered - various types of EQ, Limiters, Compressors, Spectral Analyzers, Saturations, Delays, Reverbs and even some vintage hardware emulations such as White 2A or Black 76 which clones the behavior of the legendary 1176 and LA2A compressors.

Among many modules, Master Match is one that really stands out. It allows you to automatically match the sound with up to 3 reference tracks.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This is probably the largest collection of the modules made for the mastering purposes. And the best part is that all those plugins can be used as individual plugins which means you can use any of them in mixing stages as well. It even works as stand-alone software.

If the budget isn’t the problem it’s safe to say that T-Racks 5 MAX will cover probably any needs for various mixing and mastering needs and it will suit any kind of music and the Master Match module will help you a lot to get your results faster.

Best for the Money:
Acon Digital Mastering Suite

PROS

  • Flexible and visualized noise shaping
  • 5 mastering modules bundled together
  • Multiband compressor supports up to 4 bands
  • Transparent Limiter with look-ahead up to 30 ms
  • Dynamics with 30ms look-ahead and 4x oversampling

CONS

  • EQ mode could have more than 3 bands
  • Look-ahead are set at fixed values in the multiband compressor

Features and Specifications

Acon Digital Mastering Suite is made from five audio mastering modules - Dynamics, Multiband dynamics, Limitter, EQ and Dither.

The Dynamics panel represents a combo of gate, compressor and expander and it supports oversampling up to 4 times. It acts as an expander or gate for ratios below 1:1 a compressor for ratios over 1:1. Attack, hold, and release are editable and displayed in milliseconds.

Multiband dynamics is a compressor that comes with fewer features than one found in the Dynamics panel but it has an option to split the signal into 4-bands.

Why it Stands Out to Us

It’s not that often that we find native support for 7.1 surround and 96kHz sampling rates, especially not at this price range.

Look-ahead and oversampling features come as a very handy tool as they significantly reduce the chances of signal distortion. Multiband compression sounds very transparent and punchy.

It’s also worth mentioning that they are also very active in the audio community so you can expect that many features will come along with the next updates as they are really listening to the feedback.

It will be a very capable software if you have just started learning about mastering.

Best Mastering Bundle:
 Eventide Elevate Mastering Bundle

PROS

  • Basic but effective Spectral Clipper
  • 26 frequency bands based on the human ear behavior
  • Powerful graphical EQ with auditory filters and match EQ mode
  • Limiter automatically adapts the attack, release, and look-ahead per filter band
  • Multiband limiter, EQ. transient modulator and spectral clipper bundled together

CONS

  • Saturation lacks variety
  • Compressor would be a nice add-on

Features and Specifications

Eventide bundle is made from a multiband limiter, EQ called EQuivocate, transient modulator Punctuate and Spectral Clipper named Saturation.

First three modules share the Mel Spectrum distribution of 26 bands modeled from the human ear that are spaced to give maximum control over how the sound hits the inner ear. Every band can be heard in solo mode.

Limiter analyzes and modifies the gain, speed, and transients of each filter band in real-time, while EQuivocate is equipped with a very handy Match EQ mode that allows you to compare your sound with the reference track.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Elevate is probably one of the most underrated plugin bundles on the market. Even if this plugin was only a multiband limiter or EQ it would be enough to take a spotlight. But, providing these three plugins for the price of the one is incredible.

EQuivocate can be used not just for mastering purposes but also for mixing any kind of instrument that needs surgical editing. It can also go pretty well for any kind of submix buses while multi-band limiters will be extremely valuable tools in the hands of those who have developed mastering skills.

Editor's Pick:
Flux Mastering Pack

PROS

  • Unique dual Morphing presets
  • 5-band full parametric Equalizer
  • Transparent Limiter with up to 20ms of lookahead
  • Pack of 4 plugins optimized for mastering purposes
  • Full band dynamics processor combining four processing in parallel

CONS

  • Lacks a unified user interface
  • Multiband option for dynamics would be great

Features and Specifications

Flux is made from four independent plugins made by Flux Software. Epure is a full parametric 5-band equalizer with editable Q-factor, Solera is a versatile dynamics plugin.

Depending if you’re looking for a true peak limiter or look-ahead feature you can use either Elixir or Pure Limiter. The former one supports the industry-standard metering and limiting while the latter is more creative operating in three modes allowing you some detailed parameters with dedicated knobs for threshold and the knee and adjustable look-ahead up to 20ms and several auto switches.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Flux plugins have one really specific option. It allows you to load two presets and use a Morphing Slider to blend the sound using both presets by moving the slider towards preset A or preset B.

These plugins may be used in a mixing stage as well. Solera could be a very interesting add-on to anyone’s collection because of combining all the dynamics modules into one through the single user interface, parallel processing and phase inverting of the processed signal.

And if you’re looking for cinematic plugins, it’s good to know that every plugin from this pack supports up to eight channels.

Best Vintage Mastering Plugin: 
Chandler Limited® Curve Bender Mastering EQ

PROS

  • Mid/Side channel processing
  • Carefully designed set-and-forget curves
  • Emulation of the legendary EMI TG12345
  • Modeled upon Abbey Road EMI hardware model
  • Extra bands and filtering steps for more precise control

CONS

  • Not quite an intuitive filtering positioning on the user interface
  • Switch between modern and original layout would be a better solution

Features and Specifications

This plugin is an emulation of the original EMI TG12345 but enhanced and adjusted for modern music approach. That’s why it has four instead of two semi-parametric bands with up to ±5 dB gain. There are both high and low-pass step-based filters included but enhanced with 51 steps instead of the original 9.

Whole interface is organized in dual mode so that it can work for both mono and stereo sources and there is an option to treat channels independently or in linked mode.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This unit is not just the EMI hardware emulation, it’s the emulation of the exact model used in the Abbey Road on numerous legendary albums of various artists such as Pink Floyd and The Beatles, for example.

Hardware circuits are faithfully captured and if you want you can use it just like the original if you switch low and high EQ to shelving mode and set Presence knobs at unity. But, in case you need something more, besides those two extra bands, there is also a Mid/Side processing that allows you to treat stereo image with the modern approach.

Mixing vs. Mastering

You should know that many musicians tend to mix those two terms, so let’s set those terms straight so you better understand what you should expect from both stages:

Field of Work

Mixing handles many mono and stereo tracks containing initial recording from individual instruments and vocals. Mastering comes later and works with the mixed single stereo track. 

Importance

It might happen that if the mixing is done flawlessly, no need for mastering is required. While this may not happen so often it remains that the mixing is the mandatory process of music production.

Changes

If your lead guitar is too loud in the mix, don’t expect mastering to fix it. Such fixes need to be done in the mixing phase. This also means that you don’t apply to master until you’re done with the mixing.

Tools

Some mastering effects may resemble the mixing VST plugins, but they are more oriented to balance out the sound in a way it sounds good no matter on what device you’re playing it. 

Gain Staging

While being in the mixing stages you shouldn’t care too much about how loud your song is. The only thing you should worry about is to record tracks properly without any unwanted distortion.

Tips and Hacks For Mastering

Here is some advice  that you can apply in any situation:

Set Your Mix Correct

The mastering works the best if you organize your mixing so that the master track bus peaks somewhere between -6 dB and -4 dB. 

Fix Your Room

Without a proper listening place, there is no point in applying any kind of professional mastering. It doesn’t have to be expensive room treatment, but, at least find weak spots in your room and solve out problematic frequencies.

Know Your ​Gear

Just like the room, you need to have decent equipment. And what’s even more important than having an expensive one is that you know your gear behavior. You get to that stage by simply listening to the reference music so you get the impression of what you’re looking for to achieve.

Objectivity First

While it’s possible to master on your own, a rule of the thumb says that mastering is done the best if it’s done by someone else. Mastering requires a totally unbiased approach and it’s quite normal to be subjective towards something you have been doing for the last thirty hours. 

That’s why a fresh pair of ears would hear all the flaws yours got used to ignore.

Characteristics of Our Favorite Mastering Plugins

While they may provide you with different features and options, all those plugins have some traits in common that makes them different from the rest of the competition:

Bundle

Mastering is never a process of applying a single effect. That’s why any mastering VST is a collection of several VST effects chained together. Sure, the amount of effect may vary depending on the price range, but you can expect that all of them have at least EQ, compressor, and limiter.

Mixing Stage

While it may not be intuitive at first, there is no reason why you couldn’t utilize EQ or compressor from this plugin during mixing stages. Most plugins from our list can even work as an individual plugin and there will be no difference in sound quality if you use vintage compressor from mastering plugin instead of a regular one, for example. So, if you think that any specific mastering module may help your track or drum bus - go for it!

Make Your Song Sound Better

No matter what plugin you purchase, they all are made to improve your song quality. And even if you’re a complete beginner, it will be very hard to not get at least some significant improvement by using Mastering VST.

Conclusion

A mastering VST allows you to get the audio results that once were possible with the very expensive hardware equipment only. Let’s not take this blessing for granted. It would be a real pity to not treat your songs like you did while you were arranging and composing them.