Filter plugins are one of the easiest effects to use that can have a huge impact on how something sounds. As a form of EQ, filters help you shape the frequency content of an instrument. In the simplest terms, they remove frequencies above or below a certain point while letting the rest through. Filters are also great for creative mixing, such as signaling a transition or building up to a big “drop.”
Kinds of Filter Plugins
- Low-pass filter: Allows low frequencies to pass through while cutting highs. One trick is to automate a LPF on the mix bus with all of the highs removed. Then you can slowly increase the cutoff frequency until the full spectrum is back. This is a great way to build tension in electronic music.
- High-pass filter: Allows high frequencies to pass through while cutting lows. You can reverse the trick above and make a song sound thin and gradually fill it out by adding low-end back. But one of the simplest uses for a HPF is to clean up your mix by filtering the lows on instruments that don’t need them.
- Band-pass filter: Filters both the lows and highs, but keeps the midrange intact. You can achieve the popular telephone effect using a band-pass filter.
Beyond the basics, filters let you manipulate sound in very unique ways. For example, using the resonance parameter you can actually create a boost around the cutoff to create a sort of whooshing sound. As simple as they are, filter plugins are one of the most powerful tools we have.
The Best Filter Plugins
On to the list! These are among the top filter plugins for a variety of styles of filtering, from simple to complex.
TAL-Filter-2 is a host-synced filter module with different filter types, panorama, and volume modulation possibilities. More than just an “equalizer,” it can be used for tremolo or gate effects. This is a fun one to really experiment with and try out all of the potential weird stuff it can do.
The Rubber Filter VST by Christian Budde is a highly versatile 6-384 dB/Oct filter. It features low-pass, high-pass, band-pass, and notch filtering, with independent control of the left and right channels.
The FilterBank plugin by Wolfgang Krumme is an 8-band filter bank with adjustable volume and frequency for each band, and a bandwidth control for all bands. FilterBank sounds great on electronic drum beats.
This is a straightforward filter with easy-to-use controls. It features seven different types of filtering with basic cutoff and resonance controls. This free filter plugin is Windows-only.
HY-Filter3 is a free multimode filter plugin. You can use it as either a state variable filter or resonant filter, and it comes with other handy features like LFO, envelope controls, drive, and even a resizable GUI.
Brainworx/Plugin Alliance offer several free, useful plugins, including the Cleansweep filter. Designed to be first-in-chain plugin, Cleansweep mimics the filter section found on high-end analog consoles like SSLs and Neves. It’s a quick and easy way to clean up mud and hiss, allowing you to open up plenty of room for other mix elements.
FilterFreak is Soundtoys’s take on classic analog resonant filters. Not only can you do sweeps with pleasant “vintage” sound, but there are also rhythm and groove tools to make auto-wah style effects. FilterFreak is perfect for adding character or movement to any sound.
The entire Waves OneKnob series gives you on-demand creative sounds with just an easy turn of a dial. OneKnob Filter is no expiation, giving you quick and easy access to filter effects for electronic music. It sounds great on whole mixes, loops, analog synths, and whatever else you’d like.
Filter MINI by Arturia is a plugin emulation of Moog’s famous 24dB/octave low-pass ladder filter, complete with exciting new features for the modern musician. Filter MINI’s modulation section consists of an envelope follower, an LFO, and a step sequencer. This is a great addition to any toolkit
Volcano 3 is the brand new, redesigned version of FabFilter’s long-standing Volcano 2. It consists of four analog-style filters with flexible routing, each offering many filter shapes including non-linear bell and shelf filters. Different filter styles offer saturation and self-oscillation at high peak settings, just like vintage filters.
WOW2 is an impressive collection of 21 filter types in a single plugin. All of them aim to reproduce classic analog sound in hi-def digital resolution, free from aliasing and artifacts. It’s plenty more than just that, though, and has a talkbox, a modulation section, different types of distortion, and more.
MetaFilter is Waves’s version of an old-school analog filter. Designed around a multimode filter with extensive modulation options, Waves MetaFilter has everything you need in a sound-shaping filter plugin. The versatile MetaFilter creative effects unit provides all the warmth, depth, and fatness of classic analog filters, along with the modern control and flexibility.
Driver by NI is a creative distortion and filter tool. It’s ready for anything from moderate saturation to full-blown distorted chaos, while the filter section delivers everything from smooth and subtle to harmonically rich. Driver operates similarly to how the filter section on a synthesizer would, which makes it great for creative effects.
FilterShaper 3 by Cableguys is a powerful plugin for sound design. It all starts with two flexible filters and fully customizable modulation curves to create complex, interweaving effects, or even just some subtle nuances to add richness or depth to an instrument.
UVI considers Shade a “next-gen Swiss Army knife filtering tool, designed to shatter the boundaries of conventional EQ, filtering, and modulation effects.” Shade contains 35 filter shapes and 10 modulators, all of them combinable in a semi-modular, intuitive environment. It can be a simple EQ/filter or an ultra-creative sound design plugin all-in-one.