What are the best saturation VST plugins on the market right now?
This article will give you eight tips for fantastic saturation plugins that take your sound from dull to incredible – with true-to-hardware emulation of vintage tape recorders and beyond.
These saturators have the beautiful analog qualities you love – for the best and most lively mixing results.
Let's begin with our first choice on the list — the Decapitator by Soundtoys.
1. Decapitator (by Soundtoys)
When you want the true feel of analog hardware, a few plugins do it better than others. One of them is the Decapitator from Soundtoys.
Music producers and listener fans all love the sound of analog gear. The warm, fuzzy, and comforting quality of tubes, circuitry, and transistors getting pushed to the limits...
With five accurate models of famous analog hardware, use the Decapitator sparingly or take it to the extremes. When you want to make a statement, the punish button turns your saturation into a full-blown distortion, with beautiful and controlled screaming harmonics.
Decapitator is top-of-the-line and a favorite by famous music producers all around the globe.
2. Saturn 2 (by Fabfilter)
Fabfilter does many things beautifully. With top plugins for every important aspect of mixing, it’s no wonder their saturation Saturn 2 is that good.
Inspired by the vintage sound of tubes, tape, transformers, and guitar amps, the Saturn 2 offers a whole range of quality distortion models.
And thanks to its multi-band functionality, you can perfectly tune your saturation to all frequency spectrums of your sound.
Saturn 2 also comes packed with other controls for creative modulation. Modulate the dynamics, band levels, or tone control with simple drag-and-drop and create next-level distortions with ease.
The Saturn 2 is a solid option with mind-blowing sound quality.
3. RC-20 Retro Color (by xln audio)
Want your music to sound truly vintage and retro? Take your music production paintbrush and check out the RC-20 Retro Color – it will not disappoint.
As said before, there’s something special about the sound quality of old analog hardware. It wobbles and flutters, is noisy, and features warm and delicious saturation when pushed beyond its limits.
The RC-20 Retro Color gives you all these functions from a super clean interface. Including a sound degrader, reverb, and interesting volume drops – emulating the wear and tear of recordings and playback on tape and recorders.
The RC-20 is a fantastic choice for anyone looking to add warmth and color to their mixes with a vast preset bank and incredible customization options.
4. Radiator (by Soundtoys)
For times you want analog tube warmth and edge on your sounds, the Radiator from Soundtoys is a fantastic choice.
Replicating the tone of the 1567a tube mixer, Soundtoys states, "a beast on bass and drums." And we agree.
The sound quality is superb and clean, in both the clean and noisy setting. Increase the heat and hear your sound transform into a beefier, warmer version of itself.
Customize the equalization with the two dedicated knobs for bass and treble and hear your results change right away.
The Radiator is a fantastic choice for anyone looking for a true-to-the-original tube saturator.
5. Thermionic Culture Vulture (by Universal Audio)
A favorite of many producers, including Nils Hoffmann, as you can read in his interview, the Thermionic Culture Vulture is the choice for serious, thickening saturation and distortion.
With three-valve topologies, you get true emulation of the original hardware’s sonic flavors – which sound breathtaking.
Use it on its mild settings to fatten up sounds and give them a bit more color and edge. Or turn the knobs all the way up for some serious distortion mayhem!
The Thermionic Culture Vulture sounds good on almost anything but shines on giving basslines and dark synths girth and grit.
6. Black Box Analog Design HG-2
Used by legends such as Dave Pensado, Jack Douglas, and Bob Horn, the tube processor Black Box Analog Design HG-2 is one for the books.
As a collaboration between Brainworx and Black Box, this saturation plugin is a true replication of the original hardware known for its lush, vibrant sound and beautiful color.
With four different vacuum tube stages combined in series and parallel circuits, let your mix shine by adding the creamy harmonics on your best sounds.
Use the dedicated Air knob to control the amount of high-end goodness you want to add. Increase it by a lot, and you get a beautiful shimmer of glorious color.
It's easy to see why producers and mixing engineers praise the Black Box Analog Design HG-2. It definitely lives up to the hype.
7. Abbey Road J37 Tape (by Waves)
Have you heard of the J37 Tape machine? Mixing engineers used the J37 machine to record many of the greatest masterpieces in modern music today. And Waves replication of it is flawless.
True to the original hardware model, the J37 Tape plugin gives you precisely the sonic signature you can expect from the original machine.
Yes, the J37 is old-school, realistic, and beautiful sounding. The analog warmth is incredible and works great for electronic music producers. Use it on purely digital sounds and place them in an analog space and time, where you can almost touch them.
If you’re looking to liven up your music, the J37 Tape is a must-have.
8. Oxide Tape Recorder (by Universal Audio)
The Oxide Tape Recorder by Universal Audio is another fantastic analog tape machine emulation taking your mixes to the next level.
Created by the team behind industry-leading UAD Ampex ATR-102 Mastering Tape Machine and Studer A800 Multichannel Tape Machine plugins, it's also designed with AES magnetic recording expert Jay McKnight.
The result? Incredible warm and unmistakably analog sound qualities that glue your mix together in a way only an analog tape machine can do.
If you want a leading option for a tape machine, definitely check out the Oxide Tape Recorder.
Saturation is a powerful audio effect that warms up and makes your mixes come alive. With any of the great selection of VST plugins in this article, you can transform seemingly thin sounds into full and rich sounds with an edge. Or make them completely blast through the speakers with colorful distortion.
Mixing with high-quality saturation plugins is a gamechanger. Whether you mix parallel or go full-on, saturation brings those sweet analog qualities to a mix you can only find in hardware.
You have now discovered eight excellent choices for your saturation need. Find your favorite and learn all about using them for better mixing results.
You will not regret it.
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Thanks for reading, and see you in the next article.
About the author
Pelle Sundin is a Swedish music producer and writer, active with his chillout project PLMTRZ. He also produces psytrance. When he's not producing, he surfs, skates, and chugs coffee.