It’s common knowledge that high-end analog audio equipment adds that “special something” to the sound. And for those who like keeping things in the box, there’s already a range of costly software emulations available out there.
But thanks to some seriously talented and generous developers, we can actually get pretty close to those expensive sounding results without ever spending a dime. This article list all of the best freeware saturation plugins available at the moment, so if you’re looking for a good free analog tape, tube, or mixing console saturation VST plugin emulation, you’re definitely in the right place! First we’ll take a closer look at the Top 3 picks in this category and then list all of the best freeware tools for saturating your tracks.
#1 FerricTDS by Variety Of Sound (Windows)
If I had to pick a single plugin from the list below and use that one for the rest of my life, it would certainly be FerricTDS by Variety Of Sound. This plugin is without any doubt my #1 freeware saturation tool. It emulates the effect of tape saturation perfectly and without any unwanted artifacts like noise and flutter. It can also be quite transparent if you want to use it for mastering and it is surprisingly CPU effective.
Some people say that FerricTDS is too subtle, but please note that that you will get more saturation out of it by boosting the volume of the signal on the input (you’ll be close to the sweet spot when that VU meter needle hits the red). Perfect treatment for sampled TR-808 drums! The only real bummer with Ferric TDS is that it will only work on 32-bit Windows. I’ve gone 64-bit a while a go, so I can’t really use my favorite free saturation tool anymore. It sucks, I know.
#2 Nebula3 Free by Acustica (Mac/Win)
But this rather massive setback brings us to my next favorite saturation tool and that is Nebula3 Free. It’s a multi-platform plugin and I regularly use it for saturation and subtle signal coloration in the post-mixing stage. It can also be used in the mix to great effect, but unfortunately it’s a bit too CPU hungry to be a go-to mixing tool for me. The plugin comes with a nice selection of emulated hardware, but you can add all sorts of additional emulations to it, as there are many free Nebula3 programs available online.
#3 SGA1566 by Shattered Glass Audio (Mac/Win)
SGA1566 is the absolute best freeware tube preamp emulation out there. Based on precise circuit modeling, the plugin sounds incredibly authentic and is easily among the best tube preamp emulations currently available, free or not. This kind of quality does come at the price of a rather large CPU hit, though. I tend to use SGA1566 in my mixes quite often, but I always freeze it if it’s used as an insert effect. You can use the Low CPU mode and lower oversampling settings to reduce the CPU impact a bit, but that will also reduce the quality of the tube distortion being applied to the signal.
And here is the extended list of free saturation VST/AU plugins:
- AcquaVox by Acustica (Mac, Windows)
- Channel4 by Airwindows (Mac)
- FerricTDS by Variety Of Sound (Windows)
- HeadCrusher Free by Audio Assault (Mac, Windows)
- IVGI by Klanghelm (Mac, Windows)
- Nebula3 Free by Acustica (Mac, Windows)
- OCS by OCD DSP (Windows)
- PhreePhuzz by LVC-Audio (Mac, Windows)
- PreAMP TGR-18 by TbT (Windows)
- R2R-FREE by CDSoundMaster (Mac, Windows)
- Retroband by Michael Kingston (Windows)
- RubyTube by Silverspike (Windows)
- Saturation Knob by Softube (Windows, Mac)
- SGA1566 by Shattered Glass Audio (Mac, Windows)
- TAL-Tube by Togu Audio Line (Mac, Windows)
- TesslaPRO mkII by Variety Of Sound (Windows)
- TSClip by signaldust (Windows)
- Tube Amp by Voxengo (Mac, Windows)
- TubeDriver by Nick Crow (Windows)
- X-Tube by Xenium Audio (Windows)
As always, you are more than welcome to mention your own favorites in the comments section below (in case I’ve missed any good ones). I’m always open for suggestions, but I also try to include only the best freeware plugins in these kinds of articles.