Essential VST Plugins for Home Recording

Essential VST Plugins

Essential VST PluginsEssential VST Plugins

I thought I would write a post dealing with essential VST plugins for the budget home music studio. For those of you who are newer to home recording let me explain.  A plugin is an add-on software that installs directly into your DAW (Protools, Sonor, etc).

Plugins are designed using differed types of technology. One of the most versatile and widely known of these is Virtual Studio Technology or VST. These plugins are built on an open source model. This means there are plenty of Free options available. I've listed some worthwhile free VST plugins later in this post.

There are also several other types of technology by which plugins are designed. For the sake of simplicity we will only be discussing VST in this post.

Software plugins are designed to replace hardware outboard processing units. They range in price from free to even thousands of dollars. They are created to provide everything from virtual instruments to compression. There is almost a limitless list of processing plugin effects. So with all the options available, what are the essential VST plugins?

My personal preference is to break the options up into 3 general categories. Post processing or mixing, virtual instruments, and mastering plugins. I will list the essential VST plugins needed in two of these categories below. We will be dealing with the mastering process and plugins in the future.

Next to each essential type of plugin, I will also list potential options to download as well. Many of these options are completely free.

Keep in mind that I am listing what I consider to be the 'essential' VST plugins for budget studio.

If your favorite plugin did not make the list it doesn't mean you shouldn't use it. I'm simply saying every home studio should start here and build out as needed. I'm also basing this list on the plugins I use first and the most in my own projects. Also many DAW come with these types of plugins. My suggestions below are for those who may need other options.

Post processing/mixing

  1. Parametric EQ | ReaEQ, Electri-Q
  2. Stereo Compressor| ReaCompBuzComp
  3. Multi-band Stereo Compressor | ReaXcomp, ReaFIR, BuzComp
  4. Reverb | Ambience, Glaceverb
  5. Delay | (Mono) PPD Echobox, ReaDelay
  6. Noise Gate | FLOORFISH, ReaGate
  7. De-esser | SPITFISHReaFIR, MDA De-ess


Virtual Instruments

  1. Drum/Percussion/Beats | Lots of Free options here, Addictive Drums (A true sampled Drum Kit with a Free version), DSK
  2. Piano | MDA Piano, 4 Front Piano Pianissimo (Free Demo, very realistic sounding grand piano, worth the money)
  3. Synth and Digital Pianos | DSK MusicMDA Plugins, SuperWave P8Analog Warfare

My hope is that you've found this list to be valuable. My challenge to you would be this. Don't continue adding more plugins to your list. Learn how to use the basics well first. One thing I often see in home recording is those who start great but don't ever finish projects. Or those who easily get distracted by the next new toy.

To avoid the overwhelm that often comes with trying to learn too much at once, start with the building blocks of home recording and master those. This plugin list is what I consider to be the basic essential VST plugins for home recording. Build your studio by learning how to use 1 good DAW and these basic type plugins. Then only add something out of necessity, not glamour.

What are your thoughts? Please add them to the section below. No doubt I've missed some really great plugins that you use. If they fit in any of the above categories feel free to add the link as well.


About The Author


David is a 20 year veteran of live and recorded audio. Today he is a consultant in this field and conducts technical, musical, and creative arts conferences for volunteer organizations. He is also the author of the podcast and blog where his passion is to teach people how to create professional audio on any size budget. David has been a singer/songwriter and musician for more than 20 years now. His passion for recording started in the early 90's when he was asked to manage a small studio for the local non profit group, ACM. Today David has logged thousands of hours in recording sessions for both his own projects and those of others. He has developed a simple yet effective mindset for building a professional mix called the 4-3 Framework. Here is what one community member says about the 4-3. “Just shared your great video on 4-3 framework on my FB page. Dave.. this is a brilliant, well thought out structure. You should make a poster of it... I'd hang it in my studio for sure!” - HomeTracks David's desire and ability to produce professional audio, even on a small budget, has lead him to create the podcast and blog, Home Music Studio 1 Through this resource he has been able to help thousands of people create professional audio projects in their own home studios.


  • Mary

    Reply Reply September 22, 2015

    Great suggestions!

    I’d add:

    epicVerb – a free reverb plugin –

    Musistic – a collaborative recording plugin that lets you record with anyone no matter what DAW you are using –

  • David Gann

    Reply Reply November 27, 2012

    You need to try the Vahalla Room reverb plugin! To quote Steely Dan, “It’s the only one you want.”

  • Mark Stevens

    Reply Reply August 14, 2012

    I thought I would mention R-Mix by Roland, I just saw some vids. on it looks pretty cool! Instead of waveform(does show), it uses more of a spectral analysis of a track, or tracks, and you can actually pick out different colors as different instruments, or the vocals. From there you can adjust many parameters, too much to list, but I recommend checking out Rolands website. Also Breverb, looks interesting. Almost forgot these are included in the new Sonar X2, along with Pro Channel w/ quadcurve EQ, Console emulation, TH2 Overloud-amp sim., and the great mastering plugins from previous X1, sorry, had to put that in there,lol. R-Mix does look good, no matter what you have!

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