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Top 5 Vintage Emulation and Saturation Plugins

Top 5 Vintage Emulation and Saturation Plugins


Despite the advancing years, vintage sounds will be forever carved into the music industry. Most of the very top records produced in prestigious studios are created using vintage equipment originating from the 80’s or before. This aged gear is renowned for making music sweeter, warmer and more authentic or lively with additional depth. In the digital world, where most of us do our work on DAWs, this authenticity is missing. Fortunately, there are so many options available to really warm up overly clean and clinical sounding recordings using vintage emulation plug-ins.

Softube Saturation Knob

Saturation knob by Softube is a nifty little plugin that can saturate your audio authentically. It’s free and is pretty much as simple as it gets. There’s just one knob to control the level of saturation and then just one switch. This allows you to apply saturation to more of the higher frequencies or more of the lower ones, which neutral in between. There’s enough control to apply this to any number of sources for a pleasant output distortion that fattens bass or adds grit to treble. By excluding bass from the processing, you can affect a drum loop whilst leaving the kick as it is, for example. The Saturation Knob can be used when mixing guitars to get a killer lo-fi grit also. It’s great for all types of instruments and can be pushed gently or hard!

Waves J37

Vintage emulation:J37

The J37’s Abbey Road related reputation precedes it and this plugin by waves does all the business when it comes to tape saturation and vintage emulation. There are tons of controls to help you really build your track into a more authentic and warm recording. All tape controls are there: speed, noise, saturation, bias, wow and flutter. You can tweak this plugin for serious distortion, creative effects or subtle warm sweetening. It also has 3 different tape formulas with their own unique sonic signatures. The formula’s unique frequency responses come with their own harmonic behaviours, and Waves also added a tape delay module to boot. J37 works well on individual tracks, busses or the whole mix and has tons of useful presets. When combined with amp modellers, you can get quality vintage sounds from guitars. The only thing you have to watch for is CPU usage, it’s pretty thirsty!

Waves NLS – Non-linear Summer

This plugin faithfully and meticulously recreated 3 legendary mixing consoles so you can apply their complex effects to your session. The consoles in question are the EMI 12345 mk4 console, a custom Neve 5116 and an SSL 4000g. The top mixing engineer owners who lent the consoles to Waves vouch for the plugins every function. The plugin has two parts, a plugin you place on each of your channels to emulate the consoles channel function and a summing unit. The summing unit sums every channel you’ve used the NLS on together for global control. The NLS is spectacularly well done and has plenty of flexibility for turning your tunes into something sweeter and warmer, it’s vintage emulation at its best.

PSP Vintage Warmer

Vintage Emulation: PSP Vintage Warmer

This digital simulation of analog warmth really is authentic and genuine. It’s a single or multiband compressor/limiter use means you can achieve anything from soft knee compression or brick-wall limiting with analog warmth squeezed into the signal. Ideal for mixing, this plug-in can provide an extra ‘something’ to groups or your entire mix. The Vintage Warmer’s analog characteristics include an overload processor which creates effects similar to tape recorders. Many bank on this plugin to liven up an overly clean and transparent digital sound. It can be used sparingly, or to apply serious analog-style fattening to tracks.

Vinyl Emulation

The final thing on the list for many is getting a vinyl-esque sound. Vinyl player’s crackle, their warmth and their character really liven up a song. There’s nothing like sticking a record on a turntable. Some decide to just layer a vinyl crackle under their song but this really isn’t the best way! There are many vinyl plugins ranging from free ones like Izotope’s Vinyl plugin to Wave’s Abbey Road Vinyl. The Abbey Road Vinyl plugin emulates everything in the vinyl production and playback process. It has plenty of flexible options – there are two different turntable types and an EMI TG12410 console which you can place in the chain for extra analog warmth and saturation. Izotope’s free vinyl plugin basically ages your records in a few seconds. It adds essential light scratchy sounds, crackles and other analog quirks which can bring tracks alive in the digital world.

Experiment with Vintage Emulation

Finding that analog sound is tricky and experimentation is key. Most music, regardless of what genre, could benefit from some authentic saturation, warmth or other vintage processing, though. As well as providing the sonic glue that really gels your mix, vintage processing can add quirks to your sound which will help it sound more professional and refined, a bit like a fine glass of vintage wine!

About the Author

Sam Jeans

Sam Jeans

Musician, Producer and Content Writer

Sam Jeans is a musician, producer, and audio engineer. In his brief collaboration with MasteringBOX he's wrote several interesting articles.

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