Mixing is one of the most satisfying parts of music production. It’s so much fun polishing raw recordings, adding creative effects, and putting the finishing touches on a song for listeners. There are literally thousands of plugins out there that make all this possible! ‘Best mixing plugins’ is a highly subjective phrase, and it’s nearly impossible to put together a complete list of all the incredible tools out there. Nevertheless, here’s our short list of the best mixing plugins in 2021!
1. EQ: Pultec
The Pultec EQP-1A and MEQ-5 equalizers have a mythical reputation in the recording industry as some of the most ‘magical’ creations ever produced. They’re actually somewhat limited in what they do, but they make amazing sweetener or ‘finishing’ EQs; they’re perfect on instrument groups, or even the mix bus, to add that radio-ready sheen.
The EQP-1A contains just a low- and high-shelf with selectable frequency, and the ability to boost and cut the same frequency simultaneously. That’s actually part of the whole Pultec legacy; boosting and cutting the same frequency sounds amazing. The MEQ-5 contains two peaking bands and one attenuating band, all with selectable frequency. Combining the EQP-1A and MEQ-5 gives you quite a bit of control over the frequency spectrum.
Take your pick of the best Pultec plugins out there—it has numerous emulations by different developers. The Waves PuigTec series is popular, as is the UAD version. UAD’s Pultec Pro puts the EQP-1A and MEQ-5 in a single plugin, and comes free in a bundle with any interface or satellite purchase.
2. Compression: 1176
Is it sort of funny that some of the best mixing plugins are just emulations of classic analogue gear? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as they say; sometimes that dusty old outboard gear just sounds better than anything digital tech could pull off, and software emulations make it all the more accessible and usable. Imagine a hundred 1176s across every channel in a mix—totally unheard of in the real world. But like Yngwie Malmsteen once said, ‘How can less be more? More is more,’ and I can’t help but agree. You can never have too much of a good thing, and plugins make it possible!
Like the Pultec is to EQ, so is the 1176 to compression. A lofty beast with a decades-long history of making recorded music sound better. It’s a FET compressor capable of super fast attack and release times, making it great for taming the sharp transients of things like kick and snare drum, aggressive vocals, and more. It also just has a brilliant character that makes stuff sound good. What more could you want?
Again, take your pick of 1176 emulations. Waves does the CLA-76 quite well, UAD’s is of course excellent, Softube, Slate, Antelope, etc.
Channel strip plugins are a great way to recreate the console mixing experience in your DAW. I like to load one on every channel to start off my effects chain, and it often does quite a bit of heavy lifting. The SSL 4000 series is among the most famous desks of all time, with the E version coming in 1979 and the G debuting not long after in 1987. Both have a lauded history of producing fantastic records, and now you can have them in your DAW.
Brainworx does a fantastic emulation of each, with some really cool features like tolerance modeling to add subtle quirks to different channels—just a touch of unpredictability as in the real thing. The Waves versions are also long-standing favorites for many of the world’s top mixers.
H-Delay is versatile, it sounds great, it can pull of any style of delay, and it comes with built-in modulation and filtering. Waves really nailed it with this one; it’s easily one of the best delay plugins out there. It, too, is sort of an analogue emulation based on the old Lexicon PCM42 units, but it does its own thing as well.
If you’re looking for a reliable delay, this one is definitely it. Plus, it’s frequently on sale and can be picked up for around $29.99 or less.
- SEE ALSO: Delay Plugins – The Best You Can Get
FabFilter makes phenomenal stuff, and Pro-R reverb is no exception. Just like their much celebrated Pro-Q equalize, the Pro-R reverb plugin just sounds amazing. That’s it—it just sounds awesome. It also has a ton of features for dialing in the perfect ambience, as well as a ton of great presets to get you started. This is one of the very best reverb plugins and a much needed addition to any collection.
- SEE ALSO: FabFilter vs. iZotope Plugins
Conclusion: Best Mixing Plugins 2021
Far from a complete list, this is obviously a very small sample of the thousands and thousands of fantastic plugins out there. If you don’t see your favorites listed here, that doesn’t mean they aren’t great! Mixing is a highly subjective experience, and you should always use the tools you A) have at the ready, and B) trust and know will get the job done how you like it.