What are the best vocal mixing plugins? This ICON Picks roundup features 15 vocal mixing plugins used by top music producers and engineers.
Vocal Mixing Plugins
Vocals are an essential part of a vocal mix. They are the focal point of a song and require the most attention. However, mixing vocals is challenging. There are endless techniques and tools used for treating vocals.
Listing the best vocal mixing plugins is difficult. They are countless plugins that excel at treating vocals. There are also many plugins equally as good at doing a specific task.
To help narrow down the extensive selection, we rounded up 15 vocal mixing plugins widely used by music producers and mix engineers.
1. FabFilter | Pro-Q 3
Subtractive EQing vocals is a critical step. Equalization fixes problematic frequencies, creates clarity, and adds presence.
Parametric equalizers are the best for corrective and surgical EQ work. They can boost or cut frequencies with pinpoint accuracy. They are also the most flexible, have adjustable frequency bands, and are transparent sounding.
Fabfilter’s Pro-Q 3 is an excellent digital parametric equalizer. Use it to sculpt your vocals with high accuracy and transparency. This fully-featured EQ sports an impressive Retina interface that offers 24 frequency bands. It also features high-quality phase modes, zero latency, mid/side processing, dynamic EQing, variable stereo placement of EQ bands, an intelligent solo feature, optional Auto Gain, a customizable spectrum analyzer, and more.
2. Maag Audio | EQ4
After doing corrective work with subtractive equalization and compression, try shaping the tone of your vocal with additive equalization.
Tonal equalization adds presence and character. For example, it’s common to boost the high end of a vocal to add presence in pop and electronic music.
The best way to add presence and shape tone is with an analog modeled EQ. These equalizers add, warmth, presence, punch, character, and sheen to vocals.
Several outstanding analog-style EQs can enhance vocals. Choosing the best one is hard. However, this roundup settled on the Maag Audio EQ4. The Maag EQ4 offers it’s legendary ‘Air Band,’ which does a fantastic job at boosting the high end to add color and clarity. You can also boost the ‘Air Band’ to bring the vocals into focus without sounding harsh and unpleasant.
If you have a dull or buried vocal, try using the Maag EQ4 to put your vocal at the front of the mix.
3. Universal Audio | 1176 Classic Limiter Collection
Vocals are often the loudest and most forward element in most modern mixes. It’s critical to keep the vocal performance consistent and present in the mix. Compression can smooth out the dynamic range of your vocal to maintain constant levels. It also adds loudness and helps shape the tone of the vocal performance.
It’s often better to apply compression in multiple stages. Rather than using a single compressor with aggressive settings, use multiple compressors with subtle settings. For example, one compressor to control dynamic range and loud peaks. Then, a second compressor to add consistency, shape the tone, and add character. The result sounds more natural and musical.
The UREI/Universal Audio 1176 is one of the most famous and widely used FET limiting amplifiers. It is a fast compressor, capable of taming sharp transients in the vocal. Moreover, it has a desirable sonic character revered by top music producers and engineers. There are also several plugin emulations of iconic 1176. UA and Waves both have 1176 plugins that work excellent on vocals!
4. Universal Audio | Teletronix LA-2A Classic Leveler Collection
The Teletronix LA-2A Leveling Amplifier is another legendary compressor. Many revere the LA-2A for its smooth, natural, musical compression.
UA’s LA-2A excels at smoothing out vocals to keep dynamic range consistent. The LA-2A also adds punch and a desired musical tone. However, avoid crushing the transients because that will push the vocals further back in the mix.
5. Celemony | Melodyne 4
Vocal recordings can have timing and pitch imperfections. Pitch correcting noticeable tuning issues will help your vocal sound great. Tuning your vocals will also help them harmonize with other elements in the mix.
Celemony Melodyne is an advanced tool that makes it easy to manipulate pitch, vibrato, timing, envelopes, and formants of audio. Melodyne automatically slices up the waveform of your audio into notes. You can then zoom in on each note to make pinpoint edits. Tuning problematic vocal notes will ensure the recording is perfectly in key with your song.
Melodyne can also do a lot more. You can introduce slight timing and pitch variations to create vocal doubling effects, change individual note volumes, level vocals without compression, sustain or shorten notes, adjust tempo, alter the timbre of voices, and more. Melodyne is also an excellent tool for corrective work on instruments!
6. Slate Digital | Eiosis e2deesser
Vocal recordings often have a tonal harshness called Sibilance. Sibilance is the “sss” or “ts” sound created by sharp consonants such as S, T, and Z. These consonant sounds can produce harsh resonant peaks. The best way to reduce unpleasant sibilance is with a de-esser plugin.
De-essers are specialized compressors that focus on a specific frequency range. They use a combination of equalization and sidechain compression to remove harsh sibilance sounds.
The Eiosis e2deesser by Slate Digital is an excellent de-eeser plugin. It accurately identifies sibilance in vocal recordings and attenuates them in a natural, transparent way. It can also automatically detect sibilant frequencies and reduce them in the mix. Moreover, the e2deesser sports an elegant display that shows a spectral analysis of the detected sibilants.
In addition, de-essing isn’t just for vocals. The e2deesser can also tame harsh resonances in drums, mix groups, complete mixes, and other sound sources.
7. FabFilter | Saturn
Applying small amounts of saturation or distortion can fatten up a vocal and help it cut through a busy mix. Saturation adds harmonics, presence, character, warmth, excitement, and cohesion. Also, saturation will make it easier to hear your vocals on small speakers like laptops, earbuds, and phones.
Countless saturation plugins work excellent on vocals. It’s hard to pick the best one because many are equally as good. This roundup settled on FabFilter’s Saturn because it’s versatile. Saturn can produce several types of saturation and distortion. It’s an all-around saturation plugin!
Saturn offers a range of different high-quality distortion models, inspired by the vintage sound of tubes, tape, and guitar amps. In addition, Saturn features a multiband design with a selection of tone and dynamics controls. Saturn also offers modulation options, XY controllers, envelope followers, and more. This versatile tool excels at adding warmth and definition to anything you run through it!
8. FabFilter | Pro-G
It’s crucial to make sure there are no unwanted noises in the vocal track. Listen for pops and clicks where two vocal clips meet. Also, listen for crackles, humming, and other unwanted background noises.
If there is noise between phrases, cut them out and apply fades on the clip edges. Alternatively, you can use a noise gate plugin to remove unwanted background noise during quiet sections of a recording. Noise gates lower the volume of a signal when it drops below a certain threshold level.
FabFilter’s Pro-G is a great noise gate plugin. It offers flexible routing, sidechain and channel linking, metering, and a modern interface. It also features mono, stereo or mid/side processing, and six expander/gate algorithms.
9. Waves | Vocal Rider
Vocal recordings are very dynamic. There are several loud and quite parts throughout the performance. It’s essential to control the dynamics so the recording stays at a consistent level throughout the mix. Modern standards of production require vocals to be consistent, present, and intelligible.
Controlling vocal dynamics often requires a mixture of volume automation and compression. Using gain automation to create consistency before applying compression is the cleanest and most transparent way to level out the volume of vocals. This technique also eases the load on your compressors.
A plugin like Waves Vocal Rider will automatically adjust vocal levels. This plugin saves time by not having to automate each level change or ride faders manually.
10. Slate Digital | VerbSuite Classics
Applying subtle amounts of short stereo reverb adds width and depth to the vocal. Reverb can also put a dry vocal in a space, which sounds more natural and helps it sit in the mix better.
Countless reverb plugins sound amazing on vocals. It’s hard to pick the best one because many are equally as good. This roundup settled on VerbSuite Classics by Slate Digital.
VerbSuite Classics is a diverse reverb processor. It captures the evolving and modulating characteristics of ten iconic hardware units. You can’t go wrong with this plugin; it offers 40 years of the industry’s most-used digital reverb processors. Moreover, you get that legendary sound from classic reverbs in a user-friendly plugin build with modern features not found on their hardware counterparts.
11. Soundtoys | EchoBoy
Applying subtle amounts of stereo delay also adds width and depth to the vocal.
EchoBoy is one of the best echo/delay plugins available! It combines 30 echo styles modeled on iconic vintage gear. It also provides deep editing options and expression tools that let you create any delay sound imaginable.
This versatile plugin can even create chorus, reverb, flange, and rhythmic effects. EchoBoy also features various types of analog saturation to give your echoes some attitude. This boy does it all and sounds amazing at the same time!
12. Oeksound | Soothe
Soothe is a dynamic resonance suppressor for mid and high frequencies. It does a fantastic job smoothing out a vocal recording by cleaning up harsh resonances.
Soothe features a dynamic equalizer with self-adjusting frequency bands. Unlike traditional EQs, soothe analyses the signal and adjusts the frequency-wise reduction based on the input. This function saves you from having to notch problematic frequencies manually. Moreover, the reduction kicks in when needed and where needed, without affecting the nearby frequency areas. The result adds detail and presence to your vocals.
13. iZotope | Nectar 3
Consider looking into plugin suites that offer a selection of tools in a single plugin. For some, buying one versatile plugin works just as good as buying multiple vocal mixing plugins that cost more.
iZotope’s Nectar 3 offers a sophisticated set of tools designed for vocal production. Address every part of your vocal chain and get professional-sounding vocals in seconds.
Nectar 3 is also capable of both corrective and creative processing. It features seven effect modules, automatic preset detection settings, modern workflows, inter-plugin communication, beautiful visualizations, and more.
In addition, Nectar 3 includes Melodyne 4 essential and iZotope RX Breath Control. Use Melodyne 4 to perform surgical pitch corrective work. And RX Breath Control to detect and suppress breaths in vocal recordings.
14. Waves | Doubler
Vocal doubling adds width, fullness, presence, and character to vocals. Doubling vocals and processing them differently also creates captivating vocals. The technique can add emotion, build intensity, and provide excitement during choruses and hooks.
The Doubler plugin by Waves uses delay and pitch modulation to add width and texture to vocals. Doubler can also create double-tracking, harmonizer and pitch detune effects, chorus effects, and more.
15. iZotope | VocalSynth 2
VocalSynth 2 opens up a world of vocal possibilities. This versatile vocal effect suite gives you five vocal engines, seven effects, and hundreds of presets for manipulating vocals in creative ways. Get lost in layers, textures, effects, blending, and morphing in an experimental vocal playground.
VocalSynth 2 also has interactive visuals. The colorful animations move and grow with the shape of your audio signal. There is a bunch of other cool processing this vocal mixing plugin can do, check it out!