When it’s time to mix a singer, you should be armed with some of the best vocal plugins you can get your hands on! We’ll be looking at a variety of compressors, EQs, and other plugins that really shine on vocal tracks.
Of course, this is only a fraction of the many incredible plugins out there, but the samples we’ve chosen are at home in any vocal chain. Feel free to add your own go-to vocal plugins in the comments section, too!
1. UAD 1176
One of the most famous and widely used FET limiting amplifiers of all time. It’s tremendous on vocals, whether you’re using the real thing or one of many plugin emulations. The UAD version is especially awesome.
When it’s time to reach for one of the best vocal plugins, go for an 1176. It’s super fast, capable of taming the sharpest transients in the source material. The 1176 also has a desirable sonic character, making it a go-to for many of the best mixers in the world.
It’s definitely not transparent, but its character adds a ton of mojo to your vocals. The all-buttons-in mode can be really cool for some parallel compression too!
2. UAD LA-2A
For a cool opt sound, you can’t go wrong with an LA-2A. I keep both an 1176 and a 2A (plugins) on my vocal bus, with the latter applying just a bit of glue and tube character at the end of the chain. And that’s what it tends to do best.
Its controls are simple: a Peak Reduction knob to control gain reduction and a Gain Control knob to add make-up gain. At the risk of sounding cliche, the LA-2A does add an analog warmth to vocals that sounds incredible.
3. UAD Pultec
UAD’s Pultec EQP-1A is absolutely incredible on vocals. I keep it on my main vocal bus, mainly to carve out the 100, 200, and 300 Hz areas and also add a bit of air at 10 kHz. It’s one of the few plugins that takes a vocal from sounding totally unmixed to practically finished with just a few tweaks.
4. Waves Vocal Rider
An absolute must-have and one of the best vocal plugins for saving yourself time and frustration.
The Vocal Rider was designed to be a time-saver by adjusting a vocal’s levels automatically. By setting a target vocal level for your mix, the plugin compensates intelligently by raising or lowering the signal’s gain. It also won’t color your track at all, so you don’t have to worry about any unwanted tonal changes when applying it.
Combined with traditional compression, the Vocal Rider is an extremely powerful and convenient tool.
5. Renaissance Vox
A dynamics processor designed specifically for vocals. Its simple and streamlined controls make it an excellent vocal compressor, gate/expander, or limiter.
For quick and easy results, give the RVox a go!
6. Waves Doubler
If time or other issues prevent engineers from capturing multiple takes of a performance, the Waves Doubler steps in. Doubler utilizes delay and pitch modulation (chorusing) to automatically add texture and richness to a single track. It also just add a cool effect that can spice up your vocals. Maybe to make a hook sound wider and fuller, for instance.
You can also try it on other instruments if your heart so desires! Waves suggests trying it on drums to achieve a flam-like effect, or on anything else to add shimmer and presence.
7. Antares Auto-Tune Pro
Auto-Tune is a must-have. Even if you’re working with an incredible singer, modest Auto-Tune settings will help keep pitch as tight as possible. Overall, it does a fantastic job with minimal effort. You’ll also be able to use the “0 retune speed” effect for modern hip hop/pop too!
- Related: How to Use Autotune
8. FabFilter Pro-Q 3
Hands down, Pro Q is one of the best EQ plugins around. The real-time frequenter analyzer is such a time-saver you’ll wonder how you could have ever used an EQ without it! Pro Q 3 is a dynamic EQ as well, meaning you can use it like a multiband compressor to duck specific frequencies when they get a little too out of control without cutting them altogether.
9. Waves Greg Wells VoiceCentric
This is a unique plugin designed to get quick access to the signature vocal sound of Greg Wells, who’s a producer, songwriter, and mixing engineer for Adele, Katy Perry, and OneRepublic, amongst others.
It has one central knob for the overall “intensity” of the processing, along with delay, doubler, and reverb controls. Again, this can serve as another time-saver by applying three types of processing in one, or purely as an experimental tool to get some unique vocal sounds!
Plugins like these aren’t always go-tos, but they can help you think more creatively about vocal processing in case you’re ever in a rut.
10. Waves Renaissance De-Esser
Every vocal can be enhanced with a bit of de-essing. This specialized sibilance attenuator allows you to reduce undesirable high frequencies surgically, while preserving the sparkle and musicality of the source.
11. Oeksound Soothe 2
Oeksound calls their plugin a “Dynamic Resonance Suppressor.” It takes any frequency that seems like it’s peaking just a little bit too much and dominating the sound.
How many times have you heard a vocal and thought to yourself, “It’s all nasal, or it’s super piercing 3K, or there’s a lot of low-mid building up!” Soothe can intelligently tame these unpleasant frequencies without compromising the overall vocal tonality. It’s certainly one of the best vocal plugins we’ve come across in recent years!
- Related: Oeksound Soothe 2 Plugin Review
12. Brainworx SSL 4000 Series Channel Strip
A channel strip is always fun to incorporate into your vocal chain. It’s even more fun to put one across every track in your mix! If you decide to use the dynamics section on the SSL with EQ, you can have a sort of “all-in-one” solution to mixing vocals. Plus, it’s like working the ‘old fashioned way.’ Brainworx’s SSL 4000 emulations are awesome; you really can’t go wrong with either the E or the G. The E has a bit more of an edge to it, while the G is slightly cleaner and punchy.
13. Mäag Audio EQ4
Even if you weren’t aware of it, you’ve heard the Mäag Audio EQ4 on the vocals of artists ranging from Madonna to Celine Dion, and from the Black Eyed Peas to Snoop Dogg. The famed AIR BAND interacts with the 5 band-pass EQs to tonally sculpt your tracks from top to bottom with transparency and top-end presence. The Mäag Audio EQ4 is a musical EQ, not a surgical EQ, making it ideal for sweetening tracks.
Conclusion: Best Vocal Plugins 2021
Mixing vocals takes a lot of practice. Even just finding a chain of effects that you can rely on can be a very time consuming process of trial and error. Hopefully these vocal plugins can narrow your search just a bit, and help you on your way to better sounding mixes!