In previous articles, we’ve covered the best free VST plugins for windows and free VST for mac. As we’ve shown, there are loads of really great tools out there for you to make use of without spending a dime. However, whilst some of them are great, their paid equivalents almost always exceed their capabilities. In this post, I want to delve into some of the best bang for your buck purchases available on the market for under $100 a piece. By breaking this down and helping you to make the best decisions, you’ll get the very best for your money if you’re ready to invest in your craft. I’m going to cover a variety of the best VSTs from a few different categories and hopefully provide you with a whole new arsenal of tools at your disposal. Let’s jump straight in and see what goodies there are out right now!
Just as quick note before we jump in. I won’t be covering any specific EQs in this article. In my experience, there are really only two types of EQ worth owning. Free VSTs and those that cost $300+. Anything in between those price ranges is really only charging you for something a free plugin can do just as well. Over the $300 mark, we’re looking at channel strips, Pultecs, emulation EQs and even some vintage hardware. If you’re happy with the free EQs you’ve got I’d advise you stick with them for now because they are probably the best VSTs for you.
The Best VSTs for Reverb
There are an abundance of plugin manufacturers out there that make some really great products. However, the one company that routinely pops up in conversation when it comes to reverb is ValhallaDSP.
For $100, you’ll be able to pick up two of these wonderful plugins which means much more variety and control in your productions. Don’t be put off by their colourful appearance, these things mean business. Each plugin is tailored to a specific type of reverb design meaning that attention to detail in each is insanely high. Here, you can choose from a dedicated plate reverb, room reverb, modulated reverb, and three other style specific reverbs. Taking a little bit of time to think about the type of stuff you work on means you can easily pick out two that’ll suit your needs. If you’re not too sure on what to pick, I’d recommend starting the with the plate and the room reverbs. I promise you that for under $100, these will become your go-to reverbs 90% of the time.
Now, whilst this plugin is twice the price of the Valhalla plugins we talked about previously, I think it truly deserves the price tag. Yes, you could opt for the Valhalla Plate and it would do a great job, but this little beauty is just on its own level. The sleek and simple design reminds me of working in full analogue studios and control of the interface is graceful. But the sound. This plugin seriously rivals real plate reverb. It’s got a full-bodied sound that can shimmer into infinity which makes for some beautiful soundscapes. For any of you working with bold vocal lines or delicate acoustic instruments, this is the reverb you’ve been searching for.
Delay and Modulation in One
Mostly all modulation effects are time-based and as such, boil down to being different versions of delays. As such, I feel it’s a good idea to get your delay and modulation plugins from someone who appreciates this and understands the correlation between the two. For this, I bring you back to Soundtoys and their Echoboy Jr.
This junior version of their full plugin comes in at just $99 and is one of those tools that makes you question the need for any other delay plugins. Even in this junior plugin, you’re provided with so many control options and variations in the setup that the potential outcomes are seemingly endless. Echoboy allows you to set up a variety of styles of delay with easy to adjust timings that work to the grid or just in milliseconds. You then have a filter section as well as seven different tone styles allowing you to sculpt your delay and give it some tone. Finally, you’ve got an I/O levels section with a saturation knob providing even more control over the fullness and presence of your delay tone. Seriously, I can’t think of another plugin that does delay this well!
A Bundle of Possibilities
No article about paid plugins would be complete if we didn’t mention Waves. Typically, most of their plugins exceed the $100 mark although they have regular sales and it’s very easy to grab some of their best kit at very reasonable prices if you’re patient. For today though, I want to take a look at some of the things that are affordable. Most notably, the one knob series.
Typically priced at $49 a piece, this bundle offers simple design with limited control but big results. Equally, this bundle regularly goes on sale and all eight plugins can easily be had for under $100, hence them making my best VSTs list. This collection provides you with tools to boost brightness and low-end presence, add saturation, reverb, compression, and limiting, apply simple filter sweeping through automation, and instantly apply a side-chain compression type effect without the need for any routing.
These aren’t the most adjustable tools out there by the nature of their design but they are good at what they do. When you’re in need of something quick and simple to add a little bit extra, these are the best VSTs for the job. If you want to check out the specifics of each plugin in more detail, you can check out the user manual.
Compression and Limiting Tools
In terms of value for money, picking up something that can do both compression and limiting to a mastering grade standard is a no-brainer. For just $35, I’ve got you covered on that front!
Compression, limiting, smooth saturation and loudness metering all wrapped into one incredibly well-priced plugin. Barricade is an absolute monster of a tool to have in your toolbox making it easily one of the best VSTs out there for under $100. I’ve found this thing works well on single channels, buses, mixes, and mastering sessions. Whether you’re looking for some gentle control and an easy way to meter a mix or if you’re going for a full-on, in your face, soft clipped master that breathes life into your music, Barricade is the one you want. EBU R-128 true peak performance promises absolute compliance within your productions and will leave your music sounding powerful. If I had to pick one VST from this list to buy, this would be the one.
A Few Final VSTs to Consider
There are still a few great plugins that I wanted to cover that don’t necessarily fit into a neat category. As such, we’ll be rounding this article off with some of my favourite fit for purpose plugins under $100.
Modelled on the Altec 1566A preamp, this junior plugin is one of the best VSTs for adding some heat to your mixes. It’ll fatten up your drums and add some real body to things like guitars/basses and vocals. This thing is straight out of the Motown era so for the beatmakers reading, this is a great one for you to match that big distorted sound those old dusty samples have. Simple design with great results, it’s another must-have from Soundtoys.
In our free plugins for windows article, we covered Izotope vinyl. That thing is great for adding some vinyl character and a bit of grit and wobble to your music. ToneBoosters ReelBus takes this to a whole new level by emulating old tape styles in the best possible way. Saturation, tape compression, wow & flutter, you name it. Alongside this you’ve got control over tape types, the colour they add and the speed they run at. For anyone doing anything 80s sounding or working in any lo-fi genre, ReelBus is going to give you that last little sprinkle of flavour you were missing.
This one is especially for the beat makers and the old analogue sampler lovers. I grabbed Decimort 1 back when it first came out and it now plays a huge role in my mixdown chain when producing any sort of hip-hop. Decimort provides a fantastic internal preamp that drives and squashes signal like no other digital plugin I’ve ever used. You can resample sounds, adjust bitrate and apply filtering to any signal. Whether you’re looking to break stuff up and get really experimental or if you’re just trying to get that MPC60 12-bit vibe going, Decimort is one of the best VSTs for the job.
There are so many great plugins out there to be had. Some of the best VSTs can get quite expensive but there are also lots of great choices out there for under $100. In fact, many of these can be had for even less than that and if you keep an eye out, you could snag them at a serious discount. For reverbs, check out ValhallaDSP and Soundtoys. For delay and modulation, Soundtoys is also the way to go. Waves OneKnob series can be snagged under $100 when on sale and gives you lots of great tools for final touches and minor adjustments. For compression, limiting, and metering all in one, ToneBoosters Barricade is the best VST going and at only $35! Finally, if you’ve got some spare cash to invest, consider checking out Soundtoys Little Radiator, ToneBoosters Reelbus, and D16 Groups Decimort. If you want to see some freebies, check out this post for some of the best free VST plugins.