5 Professional Grade Plugins that New Users should look at
We’ve all done it – when we pick up our brand new shiny thing, we instantly look at what we can buy to improve it.
This is illustrated by regular questions in the Pro Tools Users Forum: “Can I have EQ/Compressor/etc recommendations” – usually followed by an admission of being new to production.
For Pro Tools Perpetual customers (check out our article on the differences between Subscription and Perpetual), this question is a relevant one. The stock plugins that come with the installation are basic stock plugs that don’t add much character to the mix.
But for Subscription customers, you given the Avid Complete Bundle which contains a significant number of very cool plugins – many of which professional engineers have been paying for an using over the last 15 years or so..
…and there are a couple of notable ones that we want to draw your eye to.
One of the first answers that you’ll get from a community when asking for plugin recommendations is ‘learn the stock plugins first’.
What they generally mean is ‘learn to use X trype of plugin before paying for better quality ones’. Which is generally good advice. Better plugins won’t make a better mix if you are new to mixing.
But the Pro Compressor can serve to be a great learning tool for compression, as well as being a professional grade tool.
The Pro Compressor is a part of the Pro Series bundle – and you’ll see Pro Limiter spoken about below.
The Pro Compressor is a very good, professional grade, compressor that should be your go to compressor if you’re new to audio engineering.
It contains the full array of typical compressor controls including Ratio, attack/release and knee controls to give you a broad amount of control over the aesthetic of the source.
It has a very modern sound to it – in that it’s quite transparent and doesn’t make its presence obvious as much as much as some. Depending on your production goal this might be a blessing, but there aren’t any circumstances where it’ll be a curse. It’s just a very good compressor.
Its only downside is that it’s not as ‘pretty’ as some of the modern alternatives. As comes up recently with Uni students, how plugins look is a key factor in their choices.
But if you have to be sparing with money, this option should be your first port of call. It is very very good.
Similar to Pro Compressor, Pro Limiter is a very very good brickwall limiter that’s quite transparant, fully controlable and has some unique benefits that other paid options might not provide.
Its GUI is identical to Pro Compressor – they are part of the same plugin bundle after all.
It provides the typical controls that you’d want from a limiter – the ability to set the threshold, it’s hard ceiling and a release control.
The ‘character’ control dials in some additional harmonics by softly saturating the signal. Its quite a subtle effect so you’ll need to pay close attention to what’s happening.
The resultant sound is smooth and transparent – not quite as punchy as alternatives such as Vintage Warmer, L1/L2 or Massey’s L2007…. and definitely nicer than the stock Maxim limiter – so it’ll suit material where you don’t want the Limiter’s effect to be too noticeable.
The added bonus is the loudness metering – providing you with a LUFS reading, which is essential for today’s mixing. As such, even if the Limiter part of the plugin isn’t required – this should find its way onto your Master buss purely for metering purposes.
Classic Compressors Bundle
This is a bundle of plugins that are worthy of your attention.
Back in the day, these were premium plugins that Digidesign sold for a pretty penny, and were quite well regarded.
The LA2A compressor is a unit that you’ll find used in nearly all modern recordings. We engineers love it. It’s simple, sounds great, gives a great vibe and is largely transparent.
Similarly, the 1176 model (MC77) is often found smashing drum room mics, basses and vocal tracks that FETs are great at.
And finally, the iconic Fairchild 660 and 670 are unique character vari-mu compressors that give character to anything that they put through them.
Each of these dynamic controllers have specific control interfaces that differ from the likes of the Pro Compressor, so they don’t work well with every sound source.
But if you’ve spent time learning dynamic control with a Pro Compressor, when you move onto the likes of the LA2A and the Fairchild, you’ll be able to recognise what’s happening under the hood which will enhance your understanding of how to apply them properly.
The Complete Bundle provides so many benefits that it would take a long time to describe them all.
Take a look at the Reel Tape Suite and the MoogerFooger effects – fabulous timebased effects that always add a lot of character.
Don’t let the Pultec EQs pass you by either. These unique EQs are usually deployed for some broad strokes is specific areas of your sources.
There’s a lot to the Complete Bundle – spend some time exploring what comes as part of your subscription.
As much as I love each of the plugins I’ve written about today, and highly recommend using them – bare something in mind.
When you’re using plugins that you don’t own perpetual licences to – be aware that, if you cease your subscription, or switch to a perpetual licence in the future, you’ll lose these. So if you rely on them in your mixes, you may lose access to them in the future if you don’t maintain the licence.
Ideally, once you finish a commerical mix and sign it off, you can bounce the stems for each of your instruments and commit these plugin effects for every. This could be an essential step prior to archiving if you’re not sure if you’ll always have access to these plugins.
Or – if you’re aware of the subscription coming to an end, spend a week or so committing plugins that you’re going to lose to tape so that you’re no longer going to be relying on them in sessions that you might revisit.