As a producer, audio engineer, or musician, hardware, software, and equipment can get expensive. Having a stack of strong plugins and instruments is imperative – every sound engineer knows the importance of mixing and mastering. 

However, there are thousands of plugins to choose from, and many are as or more expensive than the digital audio workstation (DAW) or the equipment you use. With experience engineering audio for over a decade, we’ve collected 5 of our favorite free plugins, VSTs, and instruments. This plugin selection was made with the assumption of the engineer being a MacOS user. If you use an alternative OS, check out the website of each plugin to see if there is a version available for your operating system

1. Audio Damage Rough Rider

Rough Rider is an impressive compressor with a modern sound. This VST delivers a crunchy and warm sounds best for rhythmic tracks.

Download Rough Rider for free from Audio Damage.

2. Melda Production Mequalizer

Melda is known for releasing high quality, free plugins, as well as a number of equally quality paid plugins. Mequalizer is a fantastic EQ VST compatible with Ableton Live 10 on Windows and MAC. 

Visit Melda’s website to download the Mequalizer and a host of other great plugins from Melda.

3. GVST GChorus

Adding a chorus effect can add depth to a vocal layer and improve the overall sound of the track. It can turn boring vocals exciting, or turn average vocals interesting. The chorus effect emulates the sound of multiple voices.

Download GChorus on the GVST website here.

4. LoudMax

For a top-notch master, a limiter is often necessary to get the master’s volume to the perfect level. The plugin was designed to retain as much of the original sound as possible even at high compression levels. LoudMax is a fantastic plugin to add to your repertoire. 

Download here.

5. Native Instruments Komplete Start

While Native Instruments is known for their Maschine and other pricy hardware and software, they do offer excellent freeware tools for musicians and engineers. Native Instruments’ free production suite includes synthesizers, custom sounds, effects, loops, and samples for both beginner and experienced producers and engineers. The suite includes 18 instruments and effects and 2,000 sounds. 

Download Komplete Start from Native Instruments’ website.

Conclusion

These 5 free VST plugins are essential to have for any audio engineer or producer. These cover EQing, Compression, Limiting, Vocal Effects, and Production. While we are big fans of Ableton Live 10 on MacOS, these VSTs may also be compatible with other digital audio workstations and operating systems. Want to learn more Ableton tips? Check out our tutorial on engineering a tape stop effect and our favorite 5 key commands and shortcuts in Ableton.