Best Mixing and Mastering Plugins
I have appreciated the excellent collaboration with the mastering studio Perla Audio for many years. We meet regularly in our studios to exchange experiences, sound design, mixing, (stem) mastering, or simply jam. My top choices for mixing and mastering plugins are often requested, so I worked with Perla Audio to compile the list that is provided below. Only the greatest tools, which have earned a spot in the DAW through extensive testing and comparisons over the years, are included here as well. Some plugins simply stand out from the crowd and don’t have to hide from expensive and rare hardware units. I also like to use these tools for refinement or to give my samples the finishing touches.
I am firmly convinced that plugins will replace hardware in just a few years – especially in conjunction with AI technology. The quality of digital processors is growing exponentially. What can never be replaced, however, is the know-how of the “human component”, because music creates emotions and that cannot be replaced by machines.
My list of the Best Mixing and Mastering Plugins is updated regularly. For detailed specifications please visit the linked websites of the manufacturers.
Weiss Complete Collection
To those who believe these advertising terms sound over the top, the truth is precisely that. Without getting too specific just at this point, the Weiss Complete Collection is excellent and well worth the money. Weiss Engineering and Daniel Weiss have approved and closely collaborated in developing the included plug-ins. Weiss is well known for their high-end audio hardware processing gear in the audio industry for many years. Below I will discuss the 5 plugins I use and mainly work with. Enough of the introductory words – now to the details:
Weiss. It’s the name in audio mastering. Synonymous with sound quality, the value of the Weiss Engineering suite of mastering tools is undeniable. But with premium instruments come premium price tags. This hand-picked bundle allows you to own the gold-standard in mastering gear for pennies on the list price. Take your work to a caliber heard, or rather unheard, on virtually every major record of the past two decades. Created in collaboration with Weiss Engineering, these exactingly modeled plug-ins bring unsurpassed mastering excellence into the DAW-based studio. Compression, limiting, de-essing, mix maximizing, equalizing; get all the essential mastering elements at an exceptional value.
Weiss EQ 1 – The Digital Mastering Precision EQ
The Weiss EQ1 is a digital equalizer plugin developed by Softube in collaboration with Weiss Engineering. The EQ1 replicates the sound of the legendary hardware EQ1-MK2.
What can you expect? A very transparent and precise EQ tool with outstanding sound quality and a very nice resizable GUI to optimize your workflow. I can’t recognize any artifacts which are usually generated by digital EQs. The plugin also offers a very CPU-friendly usage so you can work with several instances, especially during mixing sessions. Mastering engineers, in particular, will appreciate the Weiss EQ1’s linear phase mode, which preserves the phase relationship between different frequencies—a crucial aspect of maintaining the integrity of the original audio. But in some cases, I use the minimum phase mode if I need certain sounds.
Let’s start with GUI which is a feature that has to be mentioned first. I love looking at this GUI all day. Resizable and very sharp, like having the hardware put into your display. You have A/B banks to set 2 different settings for your work on the EQ and choose by your likes which setting you like best. 7 bands are waiting for you to be dialed in and all 7 bands have 5 modes (low & high shelve, bell, low & highpass filter from 6db-12db/octave). In the options folder, you can set your analyzer, screen color, peak reset, dithering, and more.
And now we come to one of my favorite features: the DYN mode in which you can dynamically control the bands and it sounds so natural and unique. I often use this in cases to control low-mids or annoying small bands in the mid-range where it is sometimes better to use dynamic eqs than just a simple multiband-compression. In the advanced mode of the dynamic section, you can control the ratio + attack and release times, too. I am getting more and more used to this, very powerful.
The Weiss EQ1 is in my daily use and here is why: very intuitive workflow with outstanding and precise tonal control, it doesn’t add anything to the signal except the music is getting more defined and „sharp“. It feels like the music gets placed in the stereo field much better when using this EQ. 75% of I am using it in M/S mode which to me is the best scenario in modern mastering workflow these days.
Do you want a quick go-to preset tip? Use the preset Mojo and just tweak the gains and frequencies a bit to your taste. My favorite bands are the lows and highs boosting the gain and the lowmids reducing the gain (from -39db to +18db). Here is where the plugin gets very musical with ultra-high quality. I often get asked by my clients how I get these clear and sharp but not annoying highs into their masters. The answer is Weiss EQ. If you are a friend of another great feature: click on the large screen mode and you can take the dots (frequency points) and just simply drag and drop your EQ curves. This can be also done in the small analyzer display but on the large one, it is a bit more fun to do so.
The EQ1’s sound quality is often praised for its ability to enhance and shape audio without unwanted artifacts or compromising the original vibe and flavor of the sound. Its transparent and musical character makes it a versatile tool for a wide range of audio processing tasks, from being a corrective EQ to a creative tonal shaping box.
There is no doubt, this is the cleanest EQ I have ever worked with. Highly recommended!
I’ve already tried countless deessers that are supposed to be able to do a lot on the sheet of paper, but in the end, they don’t deliver the decisive sound. Some deessers quickly sound unnatural. Weiss Deess is different here – he delivers exactly the sound you expect.
In addition to two independent frequency bands with different filter models, there are many setting options available, from sidechaining to the response of the de-esser to mid/side processing. It’s great to have two different bands here. For example, the “s” is typically around 7 kHz, while the “ch” and “sh” are typically around 4 kHz and lower. It’s nearly impossible to make it sound awful when compared to other deessers.
Consistently compelling outcomes are achieved.
You can see exactly what i happening the way the waveform expands – cool. The impressive factory presets give you a great impression of what’s possible here and the deesser you normally use on Vocals also works great on other sources like Hi Hats, synths, snares or even sharp bitting 303 acid lines, etc., and also without any artifacts. But this tool works also amazing on the whole mix during the mastering process. Sometimes I use the tool to remove the sharpness in the treble and then turn the treble back in with the Weiss EQ-1. Then you have the same frequency image again – but cleaned up and perfect.
Since there is a kind of advanced feature under the hood with a ton of extra options for modifying the source, I suggest reading the manual here. Yes, you can use this tool to forensically access the troublesome area. Included is a helpful A/B function as well. Since most deessing occurs in the center, I adore using the mid/side control. This way you can keep the sides wide. The monitor function shows me exactly what’s taken away. Yes, I like the clean GUI also.
While other deessers sometimes have weird artifacts, this tool shines with its mercilessly good quality. This unit takes the digital harshness in an impressive way. You can’t go wrong with it. It’s another great Weiss tool that sounds clean, lovely, and smooth.
Weiss MM-1 Mastering Maximizer
The Weiss MM-1 is very simple-to-use maximizer in the best possible quality available in the digital domain these days. But here we go again: Weiss delivers a very nice GUI which is reduced to maximum efficiency. The Maximizer is based on the legendary Weiss DS1-MK3.
There are 5 different styles available. Transparent, loud, punch, wide, and deess. My preferred style for all electronic music genres is in most cases punchy and loud. In some cases wide works perfectly if your track is lacking side signal but you want to increase it with a nice quality spread. Most stereo spreaders damage the stereo image more than they help. The transparent mode comes into play when I do some acoustic stuff but this is rare in my daily business.
So I would advise using a loud or punchy style and start dialing in the amount now from 0-100% and hear what happens. The parallel mix knob is 100% /WET in my workflow most of the time. For example, if you have the wet knob on 50/50 it will blend unprocessed and processed signals in equal parts. To get the average loudness you prefer just push the limiter gain to your likes. You can push the gain very hard like without getting any noticeable distortion.
I own so many limiters and maximizers but most of them start sounding distorted while the MM-1 has still some LUFS left. The output gain can be set to -0,1db / -0,2 db and -1,0 db (Apple Digital Masters former Mastered for iTunes).
Finally, I use MM-1 in 80% of my mastering sessions so it became the most used one. Its sound quality and the easy way to use is a kindly advice to download the trial and play around with it. Within minutes you will get to know the differences from other established mastering maximizers.
Weiss Compressor / Limiter
This plugin is also part of the DS1-MK3, a well-known Weiss Compressor/Limiter hardware gear that retails for roughly USD 10,000. Since the hardware code was taken straight from the industry standard hardware it has the same sound. You need some experience to set the release parameters in the DS1-MK3 as this section is quite complex. But here the usual parameters are left to make things simple but still with all of the DS1-MK3 sound character. A successful compromise for me.
Five styles2 can be selected: “transparent”, “loud”, “punch”, “wide” and “deess”. I like to work with all the Bob Katz Presets as being a good starting point. I am tweaking around with all parameters first action is setting the threshold then attack and release times following. Next adjusting the parallel mix knob and the knee and ratio amount. Another great feature is to use of external or internal sidechaining to make the compressor not react to low frequencies.
The “amount” parameter sets the maximizer level. Parallel compression is another option. You can easily accomplish your goal because there are only a reasonable number of parameters in the whole thing. This is a pretty simple mix compressor/limiter, and I really like that.
But it works just as well on solo tracks as it does as a mastering compressor. This unit sounds great and is refreshingly transparent. It can also perform multiband. The display is very clear. With the high-resolution images, such as the waveform view and FFT readouts, you can see your work and the impact it’s having more clearly than ever.
It’s just incredible that you can push a track to the right level of loudness without getting weird limiter artifacts. This unit, in my opinion, is one of the few that lets you get such a clear, lovely, and dynamic sound at loud volumes. Additionally, you have more top-tier options than ever before thanks to the addition of two brand-new advanced limiter algorithms (incl the Type 2 true peak limiter) to the Weiss original.
Tone Projects Unisum Mastering Compressor
Is this your next go-to compressor? I guess so! You might say: „This is just another compressor like all the others I own, isn’t it?“ – „No, defenitely not!“ So why is it different from other compressors I used in the box?
Because Unisum is outstandingly doing things, but it is always on the better side. It feels like the music comes to life even if you push it 1-2 db harder than other compressors. Imagine pulling a slack robe, with Unisum the music gets tightened without
losing the 3d image, as a side effect it is more defined. Very impressive, never felt that on any other compressor plugin before. I find myself to be the master of controlling all the dynamics, groove, and vibe while mastering a whole song with Unisum. You can add your special „tone“ that fits with the mix. I can realize warmth and alter transients and frequency response in a way that I never experienced before in a compressor plugin without any compromises in quality. Speaking about quality here, choose between real-time, high, and pristine modes for low latency and oversampling behavior. I am usually working in high mode. Dry/Wet knob helps to drive even dramatic gain ranges for parallel compression and blend them into the original signal by feeling to thicken up the entire signal.
With its 15 different styles there are almost no limits – get the compressor vibe you want by just selecting the style (Groove-Mu, Opto, Fast Fet, etc.) In all blind shootouts that I did, I was able to note down a 100% hit rate of detecting the Unisum (with the great feature of auto gain activated). The LR and MS function helps me a lot during the mastering process being linked and unlinked or somewhere between. The limit function is another feature I like because it limits the compressor’s gain range to the amount you need. The tone character of Unisum is adjustable by dialing in the settings for the RMS detector in the control section at the bottom of the plugin.
All the included presets (by Bob Macc & Holger Lagerfeldt etc.) are my go-to starting points so you can tweak your mixes or stems to where you want them to be .. easily, fast, and intuitive. It is even a good way to understand all the functions of Unisum better if you are new to some functions this plugin offers. Especially the extended control section of the plugin is taking so much time to explain, so I can only mention some features shortly: RMS + Peak Level Detection for the side-chain (3 bands and adjustable) and weight function so that it might also work like a de-esser if you want. Attack and Release modifiers will make Unisum act differently to quieter and louder parts of the mix. That’s so impressive!
Here is how I work with Unisum: I am searching for a preset that closely fits the feeling and vibe I want to get. After that, I adjust the side-chain frequency, the attack, and release time to my taste, then set the gain range limit (0.5-3db most of the time). Then play around with lin or log release and relax knob to find the sweet spot. Auto gain also helps me not to be fooled by +0.2db or more loudness difference (the louder is always the better). Sometimes I use HYGGE mode (even & odd harmonics). This gives me a beautiful saturation with a decent low-cut @ 20hz (6db/octave ) plus a very little boost from 20hz-120hz and above 10khz if needed.
You can determine that Unisum was built in collaboration with mastering professionals. It has character when you need it and it can be a fully creative control tool with the settings you find at the bottom of the plugin (Controls). This is by far it is the most „analog sounding“ compressor plug-in I’ve ever used. You need to test Unisum. But be aware, if you install the trial version, you will hit the buy button very soon: I am sure!
Tone Projects Michelangelo
Chris Henderson from Hendyamps created Michelangelo, an analog all-tube stereo EQ and harmonics generator by hand. It is one of the most amazing hardware EQs on the market right now. The exclusive plugin version has been improved with unique features that are only available „in the box“ and it has been meticulously recreated.
When you open up the plugin the default setting already gives you a very nice saturation and a great EQ curve with a slice dip from 1khz to
5khz plus an airy push at 20khz. The plugin has 6 dial knobs. Aggression, low, mid, high, air, and trim. One great feature I have to mention first is auto gain. But the most important is the match feature. It analyses so precise that you can not be tricked by loudness. Great! Because of these gain functions, you can easily compare the results before and after so that you are not fooled by the feeling that louder is always better. Not every plugin can claim that.
So let’s start with aggression. It pushes the amount of saturation the plugin adds to the signal. You have clean (0), norm (5), and hot (10) calibration or somewhere between the way you like. Clean has little upper harmonics while hot offers lots of them. By dialing in the aggression knob the harmonics start to be recognizable in very nice tones of colors. Also, you can push the EQ curve with this knob which sounds to me very beautiful. I get a vibe like a tilt EQ pushing the lows from the bottom up to 4-5khz the more you dial it in.
The Low Band is adjustable to 80hz or 150hz and has a beautiful full and rich sound to it. The 80hz band gives you a little dip at around 150hz. The Mid Band has 2 modes that are called flat and full. In flat mode, the band has its peak at 180hz with a very broad curve. In full mode, the peak is at 500hz with a narrower curve. The High Band also has 2 modes. Smooth and sharp. The smooth mode works like a high shelve starting at 1khz while the sharp mode goes down from 20khz to 200hz in a very musical vibe. The Air Band boosts the frequency at 20khz for a very open sound stage experience. To be honest, I never heard such a nice air band as most digital EQs tend to sound harsh or flat.
Now let’s open the control area at the bottom of the plugin – the fun begins: All 4 EQ bands can also be used as dynamic EQ which the hardware doesn’t offer. You can use it also in MS mode. Transient/Body mode lets you focus on the transient or reduce the EQ effect on the transient. As an example: if you want to push the highs without adding harshness boost the body of the band.
On the left side, you can find character control knobs for tube comp and tube blend (from triode to pentode) and my favorite feature: spread and crosstalk. To me, this is where the real magic happens. The music gets depth that I only get when using hardware. It just opens the sound in a 3d space. What happens here is realizing the imperfection of the L+R channel of every hardware. To me, that is always one of the biggest differences when I hear shootouts from hardware to plugins. This 3d depth is missing most of the time in plugins, but not here – pretty amazing!
If this wouldn’t be enough. Tone Project offers another 2 extra bands if needed (Low Shelf, High Shelf, Bell Wide, and Bell Narrow) plus high and low pass filters. Overall the 4 distinct bands sound simply amazing and musical. You can modify the tone of the mix without sounding unpleasant anytime.
Michelangelo gives you a wide variety of flavors and colors. The pentode mentioned above has a beefier, richer, warmer tone. The triode also sounds thinner, sharper, and dirtier. Although Michelangelo can be a simple EQ, you can fully explore the sound by using the additional controls. It’s incredible how musically the different bands of the EQ interact. Besides that, I’ve never heard of a plugin with better EQ tube modeling than this one. Michelangelo can also convince on individual samples and I use it also to get the finishing touches with it. Here as well, Tone Projects did not disappoint! This equalization seems very analog. Strongly advised!
Acustica Audio Magenta 5
The channel strip, preamplifier, stereo equalizer, and compressor (mono and stereo) that make up the Magenta5 plug-in bundle are modeled after the expensive boutique instruments Variable Mu, Voxbox, Massive Passive, and Slam.
I make extensive use of the EQ unit. Acustica’s use of sample technology gives the plugin a very analog sound. There is a slight latency in the process, but you can overlook it if you are rewarded with this sound after a short while. Wonderful 3D sound that can be produced by very few plugins is also created here. With Magenta, sterile sounds get a wonderful analog sound character. If you set the Magenta e.g. on a drum bus, everything sounds as if it were made from one piece. It does a great job of tightening up the bottom end and adding a beautiful analogue-like top end to the entire mix.
My favorite bands of the Magenta5 EQ are 220hz, 850hz, 1,5khz and 13khz. I push the 220hz band if I need the music to have a fuller upper bass presence and a warm-sounding character, I reduce when the music sounds too muddy and muffled. 850hz is my daily go-to band, wonderful „loudness“ is generated by raising this band. But be careful, if you overdo the music will sound very nasal and cheap. 1,5khz is used if I need musical elements to cut through. 13khz is in use to add a bit of sparkle and transparency to the mix in a very nice manner. Activating the Pre amp is another great trick that will make your highs sound more authentic. Small side information: If you, like me, don’t like the originally red skin, you can install this black one as an alternative. Your eyes will thank you.
Since Acustica has no license rights, there are no original names from which hardware units were sampled. But there is an impressive unofficial list at https://justpaste.it/AcusticaAudioAcquaMasterList
The most sought-after hardware units are made so desirable because this incredible plugin replicates the exact character, frequency, and phase response of the sampled devices down to the smallest factors. The fact that you can of course operate these plugins on different tracks at the same time opens up breathtaking possibilities in the mix. I already had the opportunity to compare a Manley hardware unit in a blind test. Because the differences are so tiny, I would still choose Magenta even if I could only use one instance of this unique plugin.
These are my best Mixing and Mastering Plugins. I hope you enjoyed reading this.