1. Usynth

If your sound design skills are holding you back from producing polished songs, you don’t need to master synthesis inside-out to create finished songs. Usynth allows you to skip the frustration of designing your own patches by doing the heavy lifting behind the scenes; when you tweak a control, you’re manipulating a range of parameters that you would have to play with one by one on most synths. The result? It’s impossible to make a bad synth sound — seriously. Every preset is designed to be pushed to extremes without breaking, giving you flexibility without needing to be a master of sound design!


2. Soothe 2

Oeksound made a name for themselves with their unique resonance suppressor — if you haven’t heard of it, you’ve likely heard it used by other producers. This plugin intelligently identifies harshness and unpleasant resonances in audio, outputting cleaner, more polished audio that sits better in the mix. While there’s an art to finding the ideal midpoint between too much and too little resonance, Soothe 2 gives you plenty of grace; unless you push it to extremes (which can be fun when done intentionally), it’s intuitive even from its first use. Whether you use it to tame screeching basses or open up space in a recording of an acoustic instrument, this plugin doesn’t disappoint.


3. Supermodal

As a counterpoint to Soothe 2, Polyverse takes a creative approach to adding resonance with their plugin Supermodal. This effect uses principles of modal synthesis and physical modeling to add a metallic, sci-fi, or otherworldly character to anything you run through it, especially in the case of harmonic-rich basses or sound effects. Choose between vowel shapes, noise and particle forms, and plenty of abstract spaces, with fine control over the amount and brightness of the resonance itself. If your sound design feels too one-dimensional and you want to break out of a sound design rut, Supermodal opens up possibilities you need to hear to fully comprehend.



There’s nothing like some good ol’ OTT to bring out the detail and character of your instruments, but most OTT-style compressors are limited in what they can do or require tons of manual tweaking. Minimal Audio combines the power of OTT compression with flexibility and speed in their plugin FUSE — not only do you get 6 frequency bands to control instead of the traditional 3, but you also have global control over tilt, attack, release, and more. You can make broad tweaks to the sound instantly with more control than you’ll find in pretty much any other multiband compressor. For a quick one-and-done approach to compression with excellent sound quality, FUSE is tough to beat.


5. FilterShaper XL

If you love adding filter movement to things, whether it’s a synth patch, drums, background textures, anything — FilterShaper XL provides this in spades, with endless flexibility and excellent sound quality. Simply draw in your desired LFO for nearly any parameter (cutoff frequency, resonance, drive, etc.) and you can create complex morphing textures in moments. Plus, the plugin comes with a wide range of premade LFO curves and rhythms you can use if you’re in a hurry or want to jumpstart your creativity.


6. ListenHub

This MacOS-only (sorry Windows users!) plugin opens up countless possibilities for reference tracks by allowing you to route desktop audio directly into your DAW. If you don’t own a particular song but want to use it as a comparison for your current project, you can use ListenHub to pick up the audio and switch between the desktop stream and your project file’s audio at will. Everything becomes a potential reference track — from lossless streaming platforms to YouTube audio to web series and anything else you want to use to size up your own work. If you enjoy pulling from a wide range of sources, ListenHub will prove invaluable in your workflow.


7. Virtual Pianist

You can barely throw a stone in the world of popular music without hitting a keyboard part — but you don’t have to be a virtuoso (or even a novice) to add piano to your songs. UJAM’s Virtual Pianists allow you to play a chord or even a single note and instantly produce a dynamic piano performance that builds off of anything you play. You can control the complexity and type of piano phrases your Virtual Pianist produces on the fly as well; it’s like having a master pianist riffing off of everything you play, making “bad” performances nearly impossible. Even if you are a trained pianist, this approach to recording piano parts can save you hours of tweaking in the long run, allowing you to finish more music faster.


8. Trackspacer

If you find that sidechain compression doesn’t quite cut it in dense mixes — either it’s too much or too little, but never just right — you can open up space in your mix more transparently by ducking only the frequency range you need. This is where Trackspacer comes into play. It’s not “new”, but it’s withstood the test of time and has never been dislodged by competing plugins. Trackspacer works similarly to sidechain compression, but it reduces frequencies dynamically based on how loud the sidechain key is; i.e. sidechaining off the kick and snare will clear out their dominant frequencies to make space for the drums while leaving the rest of the signal largely untouched. For those times when you want to feel the space without hearing it, this plugin is the way to go.


Wrapping up

Plenty more plugins deserve to be on this list, but there are too many to count! Each plugin above plays an essential role in the production process, allowing you to finish songs faster than ever before and removing a chunk of the cognitive load necessary to make great music. Plus, they’re all useful across nearly every type of work, whether it’s an EDM track, a hybrid orchestral arrangement, or something more avant garde. A diverse plugin arsenal is infinitely useful — start with the ones you feel you’ll use the most and build out your library from there!

If you want to start with something small, try Groovemate ONE: This plugin allows you to instantly drop in percussion parts without having to dig for loops or samples ... and until Feb 4th (2024) you can get it for only 5€, 73% off the normal price!



About the Author

Harry Lodes is a copywriter, marketing consultant and content writer for audio and ecommerce brands. He lives in the Philadelphia area, releasing Eastern/Western hybrid EDM under the artist name KAIRI hearkening back to his roots in Berklee College of Music.