Essential VST Plugins for Home Recording

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.


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  1. Mark Stevens says

    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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