This article features the best free saturation VST plugins for Windows and macOS. For more free software, visit our free VST plugins page.
The age of digital audio workstations allowed millions of aspiring artists to record and produce music at home. But these digital recording studios lack some of the mojo and character of vintage analog gear.
One of the finer qualities of analog recordings is saturation. But what exactly is analog saturation?
Saturation is a byproduct of recording audio through analog tubes and transformers, manifested as a combination of harmonic distortion and soft-knee compression.
In vintage recording studios, tube preamps and tape machines would naturally saturate every recording. The result was a distinct sonic character that consists of gentle distortion, dynamic range compression, and a mild low-frequency boost. Nowadays, we describe this type of sound as warm and analog.
Thankfully, it is possible to simulate the sound of analog recording equipment in the comfort of your DAW. We listed the best free saturation VST plugins in the article below.
Best Free Saturation Effects
These are the best free saturation plugins:
- BPB Saturator
- Airwindows Tape
- CHOW Tape
- Saturation Knob
- Tube Saturator Vintage
- Voxengo Tube Amp
- Szechuan Saturator
- ADHD Leveling Tool
- Tape Cassette 2
Scroll down for more info about each free saturation VST.
IVGI is a free saturation effect developed by Klanghelm. It uses the same algorithms like the ones featured in Klanghelm’s flagship saturation plugin called SDRR.
In my opinion, IVGI is the best free saturation VST plugin. Here’s why you should add it to your music production software arsenal.
IVGI works both as a subtle analog-style saturation effect on the master bus and an aggressive distortion effect for sound design. It sounds excellent in both scenarios, delivering analog-style warmth and character in the comfort of your digital audio workstation.
The plugin is easy to set up, providing instant saturation when you turn it on. That said, the user can fine-tune IVGI’s saturation characteristics by adjusting the frequency response, symmetry, and drive amount.
It’s also worth pointing out that IVGI emulates the crosstalk behavior on stereo signals, as well as the internal drift and randomness of analog hardware.
More info: IVGI
FerricTDS is a tape emulation plugin by Variety Of Sound. Unfortunately, the effect is only available in the 32-bit VST plugin format for Windows. Otherwise, it’s one of the best saturation plugins on the market, freeware or not.
Unlike most other tape saturation plugins, FerricTDS only focuses on the positive effects of analog tape. It doesn’t simulate the pitch inconsistencies, hiss, noise, nor any other lo-fi properties of tape recordings.
Instead, FerricTDS emulates the harmonic distortion and dynamics of analog tape. It works tremendously well as a saturation device and a gentle compression tool that brings out your audio’s finer details.
More info: FerricTDS
SGA1566 is a freeware tube preamp simulation by Shattered Glass Audio. It uses high-performance circuit simulation to deliver the saturation characteristics of a single-channel vintage tube microphone preamp.
The plugin features two 12AX7 tube amplification stages and a two-band Baxandall equalizer. The user can place the EQ module either at the input or the output stage.
SGA1566 sounds incredibly authentic. It truly captures the distortion and the tone of a vintage tube preamp. Use it to enhance your recordings and to warm up the sound of virtual instruments.
Its only drawback is the CPU hit. SGA1566 requires a fast processor, and it’s likely to slow down your DAW.
Thankfully, the plugin offers two different CPU performance mode. The low CPU mode drops the sound quality while ensuring improved stability and compatibility with less powerful machines.
More info: SGA1566
BPB Saturator is a free saturation plugin by Bedroom Producers Blog. It uses waveshaping to simulate tape and tube saturation. The result is a lightweight saturation tool that will add warmth and character to your audio without a massive CPU hit.
You can use BPB Saturator as a subtle coloration effect or as a more aggressive distortion plugin. Experiment with adding modest amounts of tape and tube saturation while fine-tuning the input and output gain for best results.
BPB Saturator also features a pair of filters. Use the high-pass filter to remove excess bass frequencies and the low-pass filter to remove hiss and noise. You can also use the filters in tandem with tape saturation to simulate vintage tape recorders.
More info: BPB Saturator
Airwindows Tape is a single-control tape saturation effect. Despite its simple looks, Airwindows Tape is one of the most sophisticated saturation plugins on the market.
The plugin applies analog tape-style saturation and coloration to the processed signal. The effect is quite subtle, but you can experiment by loading multiple instances on the same mixer channel.
For a more advanced saturation plugin based on the same concept, check out the ToTape6 audio effect by Airwindows. It provides more control over the tape saturation algorithm.
Generally speaking, the Airwindows website is a goldmine of saturation plugins, virtual channel strips, vinyl emulation tools, and more.
More info: Airwindows Tape
CHOW Tape is a highly detailed analog tape machine plugin. It works as a VST, VST3, AU, and LV2 plugin on Windows, macOS, and Linux.
Although the plugin initially utilized a physical model of the Sony TC-260 tape recorder, the current algorithm can simulate various analog tape machines. It addresses the saturation behavior of tape recorders, as well as their lo-fi properties.
You can use CHOW Tape solely as a saturation plugin that adds harmonic distortion changes the dynamics. However, the plugin also excels at emulating the wow and flutter, noise, and other side-effects of vintage tape decks.
The developer started their work on CHOW Tape as a research project for Music 420 at Stanford University. The project and the researched algorithm later evolved into a free saturation VST plugin.
More info: CHOW Tape
Saturation Knob is a free saturation VST plugin by Softube. It is a one-knob saturation effect designed for a fast audio mixing workflow.
The plugin includes three different saturation algorithms (neutral, low, and high). Choose your favorite saturation mode and use the knob to apply the required amount of saturation to the signal. That’s it!
Saturation Knob works best when used on multiple audio channels across the entire mix. Apply gentle saturation to all recordings for a cumulative effect on the master channel.
More info: Saturation Knob
Tube Saturator Vintage
Tube Saturator Vintage is a freeware tube saturation plugin by Wave Arts. The effect is available in VST, AU, and AAX plugin formats for compatible hosts on PC and Mac.
The plugin emulates a dual 12AX7 triode preamp, along with a 3-band Baxandall type equalizer. The user can control the tube saturation with the drive knob or engage the “Fat” processing mode added gain and saturation.
The included Baxandall EQ is useful for setting taming the high frequencies and for boosting the low end. Tube Saturator Vintage excels as a drum processing tool, adding grit and character to acoustic drum recordings.
The only drawback is the relatively high CPU hit. Tube Saturator Vintage wasn’t optimized for low CPU use, so be sure to keep an eye on your DAW’s performance meter.
More info: Tube Saturator Vintage
TubeDriver is a free tube saturation plugin by Nick Crow Lab. The software is compatible with VST and AU plugin hosts on Windows and macOS.
Thanks to its detailed control scheme, TubeDriver is one of the more flexible saturation plugins on the market. The user can adjust the tube’s drive, bias, and volume parameters, with an optional boost for added gain.
The plugin also features pre-EQ for shaping the signal before it hits the virtual tube. Oversampling (16X) is also included, ensuring high-quality sound when rendering the saturated audio.
More info: TubeDriver
Voxengo Tube Amp
Voxengo Tube Amp emulates a single-tube microphone preamplifier. It features a saturation module and a low-pass filter that can help simulate lower-quality tube triodes.
The plugin applies asymmetric tube triode overdrive to the processed audio. The user can shape the tube distortion algorithm by adjusting the drive amount and bias.
Voxengo Tube Amp works better as a tube overdrive and distortion effect than a gentle saturation tool. That said, you can still use it as a tube-style saturation plugin with the Drive parameter set to a lower value.
More info: Voxengo Tube Amp
FreeAMP is a simplified version of Klevgränd’s flagship analog modeling plugin called REAMP. It features a combination of saturation algorithms from the full edition of the software.
The saturation algorithm used in FreeAMP is a unique mixture of tape and tube distortion. As such, it works quite well on a wide variety of audio sources.
The user interface consists of three control parameters only. The Drive knob sets the amount of saturation, the Mix knob controls the relative levels of the dry and processed audio, and the Output knob sets the master volume.
More info: FreeAMP
Szechuan Saturator is a free saturation plugin developed by Coda Labs. The software is available in AU and VST3 plugin formats for Windows and macOS.
It can deliver various types of saturation, ranging from gentle tube-style warmth to overdrive and distortion. You can use it on individual channels like drums or virtual synths, as well as the master bus.
The unusual thing about Szechuan Saturator is that it features a built-in modulator. The user can freely adjust the modulation depth and amount.
More info: Szechuan Saturator
ADHD Leveling Tool
ADHD Leveling Tool is a free limiting amplifier plugin by AudioTools. Saturation isn’t its primary purpose, but the plugin is more than capable of delivering that analog-style drive.
Use the Drive knob to apply tube-style saturation to the processed signal. ADHD Leveling Tool works great for adding spark and subtle compression to vocal recordings.
This free saturation effect is compatible with 32-bit and 64-bit VST and AU plugin hosts on PC and Mac. You can download it for free from the AudioTools website.
More info: ADHD Leveling Tool
Tape Cassette 2
Tape Cassette 2 is a free tape simulation plugin by Caelum Audio. It emulates the tone, dynamics, and saturation properties of cassette tape recorders.
You can use Tape Cassette 2 as a lo-fi effect, but it also works quite well as a free saturation VST plugin. The latest version of the software features an improved saturation algorithm with oversampling and hysteresis.
Tape Cassette 2 also features oversampling (2x, 4x, 8x, 16x) to provide analog-style saturation without artifacts. Use the plugin’s saturation capabilities in tandem with its tone shaping and pitch instability features to simulate the sound of analog tape.
More info: Tape Cassette 2
Free Saturation VST Plugin Alternatives (Budget-Friendly)
If you’d like to purchase a saturation VST plugin, consider trying Decapitator by Soundtoys, Saturate by Eventide, and Satin by U-He. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, then check out the Little Radiator plugin by Soundtoys, Cassette by Wavesfactory (thanks Compyfox!), and Valves by AudioThing.
We also highly recommend the excellent saturation VST plugins released by Black Rooster Audio and Fuse Audio Labs. Finally, if you like Tube Saturator Vintage, be sure to try the updated version of that same plugin. It’s called Tube Saturator 2 (€74.20) and comes with improved algorithms.
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