What are your "core" plugins?

In another thread, @takka360 writes:

In another post, about the front DAW freebie, Alan commented about not collecting to many tools, but instead learning to use the ones you have.

Okay, so this prompts a question for me then.

So what are your most-used, old faithful tools? Your “go-to’s” that are your core tool kit? What do you use for your compressers, eq, saturation, verb, delays, etc.

Where my question comes from is that I recognize I use too many plugins. I need to get back to basics. Simplify.

So, to go first, I have a good library of freebies (Focusrite’s red plugins, ReaPlugs, kotelnikov’s compressor, tdr Nova, slick eq, soneq, some melda stuff, etc) but am finding myself using the waves compressors, schepps Omni, and “stuff” from waves’ gold bundle more and more.

I need to learn to work with fewer plugins and to work faster. I’m not asking for an easy, one-size-fits-all solution. More about what y’all have learned that’s been helpful to keep things simple. I have too many tools and feel like I’m just reinventing the wheel every time I mix.

Love to hear y’all’s thoughts.

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I’m a logic user, so the plugins Space Designer, Delay Designer and Chromaverb are all over my Busses. They are gorgeous. In terms of channel processing, I can’t get over the beauty of Waves Scheps Omni. I just don’t have the words to explain how good this thing is on a channel. You’ve got saturation (one of the best), compression, de-essing, limiting and EQ in one single plugin. You can rearrange them and add or subtract these at will. I don’t have a channel without this plugin.

For my voice work, I have found Nomad Factory AS Racks. It’s got a horrible interface, but I haven’t found any channel strip able to get my voice to that “NPR” quality quite like the Nomad Factory can. Both plugins can be got for $29 if you wait for a Black Friday / Holiday sale.

As for guitar Amps, the ridiculously cheap Kuassa amps get my love every time. Most sales the amps are down to $30 or even $20!

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There’s a philosophy called “Essentialism”, and I wish I could follow it with tools and plugins. Not much success yet. It’s like a golden age of digital innovation going on out there, and too much fun to miss. If you want to commit to efficiency and effectiveness though, yes limit the tools to just what you need and stick with those 95% of the time. And learn them well of course.

That’s a good one for sure! Channel strips can certainly cut down the number of plugins you have to use. The Eventide UltraChannel is a pretty good one. EQ, two different compressors, de-ess, gate, several saturation points, micro-shift, and stereo delay. iZotope Alloy is a good one too.

I think it depends on your workflow and how your creativity thrives. I think Alan also said something about not using templates so there’s freedom to see what the mix wants and needs rather than following a pattern. While using a lot of plugins isn’t helping me go faster, I enjoy the learning process. It feels more fun to slap a new or mostly unused plugin on there and see what it can do. It kind of forces you to learn faster and more broadly, but it can be a bit overwhelming too. I’ll even toss 3-4 of the same type plugin on a track and demo each one on the track, quickly looking for a good sound, then disable or discard the ‘losers’. I’ll also use saved effects Chains in Reaper, it pulls a preset list of plugins into the track (i.e. a list of all compressors) and I do the quick demo and discard method.

So I guess my point is, you can find creative ways to be efficient (or kind of) and still play and learn rather than going into austerity mode. Having fun with it can be half the battle.

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I’m somewhere between Mad’s uber-efficient answer (where I hope to be someday when I grow up) and Stan’s comment above. I want to be efficient, but I love playing with plugins and am having too much fun mixing and trying out different ones. I rationalize that I am looking for THE plugin, but I think in reality I’m simply enjoying the process.

So +1 to Stan’s conclusion above. Well said.

I have a template that I use 95% of the time when starting my mixes, but it’s constantly evolving as my preferred plugins continually change. If I HAD to say a few plugins that always show up somewhere in my mixes, off the top of my head - today - it would be (I’ll try to keep it short):
The Vertigo VSC-2 Compressor. This thing is so snappy and easy to dial in, I absolutely love it. The company seems to have parted ways with Plugin Alliance and has a newer VSC-3 compressor under their own brand now. (drool…)
Studio One’s ProEQ - their native parametric EQ
Waves Manny EQ - it sounds so good on anything!
Boz’s Mongoose, Boz’s Little Clipper, Boz’s The Wall
SPL’s Deesser
SoundToys EchoBoy - I tend to reach for the Jr version because it is just so easy to dial in.
Valhalla VintageVerb
Melda plugins - I’m using Melda stuff more and more. I’m a slow learner, but the more I play with these, the more I like them. (i.e. MAutoVolume, MAutoAlign, MAutoDynamicEQ, MSpectralAnalisys, MTurboDelayMB, MTurboReverbMB, etc.)

edit - I added VVV after Blair’s response below. I forgot to put that one! It’s interesting to see what other plugins people prefer and why…


My go to eq is Fabfilter pro q.use that on most mixes.I been using the Black Rooster la 2a a lot of late on acoustic guitars and some vox im really digging that thing at the mo and their 1176 is very good too.I like tape plugs and saturation plugs for different flavors and used right can be a game changer,(Learning curve little goes a long way) Master bus i like the Town house bus comp a lot and also overlouds 670 is fantastic really grabby on kicks and bass in a mix.Reverbs i use R4 is my go to and delays i like using tape slap style delays like the Valhalla delay and also echo boy. Types of eq are really not important to me as most do the job ok,unless its something special like the Maag eq that really gives sheen that no other eq does or i have found. I sometimes just get one channel strip on every track and mix that way with often close results to using lots of different stuff.I think its more about ears than anything at the end of the day.And having a well treated room is a must if working with monitors .


I have way too many plugins… but I have a template set up with my “core” stuff, and I’ll swap plugs in and out to taste or if I’m feeling like shaking things up a bit. For me, having a template with my bus processing and using track templates helps speed up my workflow.

I would say these would probably be my “desert island” plugins:
EQ: FabFilter ProQ 3
Compressor: Empirical Labs Arousor
Reverb: Valhalla VintageVerb
Delay: Soundtoys Echoboy
Fun: Soundtoys Decapitator or Sly-Fi Deflector/Axis


This is the one idea that got me down for years. I realised that my overuse of plugins was just part of a bigger problem (actually in my life as well!). Efficiency just wasn’t part of any workflow in anything I did. Concentrating on the music side, I tidied up my desk and then made the decision that no idea would go unrecorded or unplayed due to mess or messing around. Everything I need is reachable from my chair, all wires are pre-connected and hanging close by. My channels have presets and templates ready made with plugins.

There is a danger though that this approach will pigeon-hole me into “sameness” of sound. Therefore I am very aware that the channel and channel strip will not dictate what I’m going to record. Experimenting with my growing list of plugins is still lots of fun, but its completely separated from recording a standard guitar or baseline. I’m not there, but I’m 99% there…

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80/20 principal. 20% of your plugins are going to be 80% of your core.

Focus on really mastering the 3 comps in the Waves CLA set. Focus on using them WITH the R comp, R axe, and C1.

Next get very very familiar with the C4.

Pick one equalizer and use it on everything. Either REQ or Q10 are a great starting point. Just keep using it for everything.

I would start by just using that H verb. Literally on everything that needs a reverb. Get to know the presets. Apply it directly to tracks. Use it on a group bus. Then place several instances on aux sends (long, medium, short). Then experiment with placing two of them back to back on the same aux. Just learn that ONE reverb really well.

UAD compressors - (1176, LA-2A)
UAD channel strips - SSL, NEVE, API
Bricasti Reverb
Stock Pro Tools EQ


Ps… I’d be really good practice to enter that mix contest. Not necessarily to try and win it but to experiment and try out some of those Waves Gold plugins. And its a good chance to work through the project alongside some others here that may be doing it. I’m gonna turn in a mix sometime next week.

I can’t remember if you were here for the last mix contest. You can post the contest song in ‘bash this recording’ before entering it and get feedback on it before submitting it.

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I think these things are a good balance. The idea of templates has appealed to me for a long time, as a starting point and focus. I want to be more organized and structured, but I don’t want to get trapped by habits either (i.e. hindering creativity). I have started using a buss template to speed up the mix setup process. I think as long as you are aware that templates will change and adapt, keeping it fresh, it’s a good approach.

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I like the “everything reachable” approach. I have been working toward that, but I could do more. It’s the one thing that holds me back on recording more ideas.

There does seem to be a delicate balance between fluidity and rigidity. I like the idea of “completely separated”, kind of like changing “hats” between activities - composer, musician, engineer, producer, etc.

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I’m learning to love the Omni. I’m curious: when you say every track does that mean drum kit pieces as well?

I might have to check these out again. I’ve been a S-Gear guy; his amps are excellent but he doesn’t update them often. The last update was at least 2014, maybe earlier. He told me a year ago he was updating to v3, but never did. In June he said v3 would be out by the end of the month. Never happened.

Heard great things about Kuassa. I’m curious what people think of the Waves PRS things? How do they compare?

You know, Stan, I need to do more with these FX chains. They’re very handy. That would give me the freedom to set up my template with fewer plugins to start with. I’m gonna get back to using them, and load fewer plugs in my template. Thanks for the reminder.

I think the idea for me is that I need to do less with plugins in my templates. I’ve developed a bad habit of adding plugins to the template and it prolly hasn’t helped. That’s what Alan’s discovered.

I think some of what IS helpful to me, to streamline my early workflow, is just organizational stuff (some of this I learned from Joe Gilder at Dueling Mixes). So I do the following in my template, which is helpful for me (cuz these things I would do anyway, and it saves me from setting up from scratch every time):

Mix bus
I throw a basic compressor at the beginning with a 2:1 ratio, 30 ms attack, 100 ms release. I’ll always use that.

After that, an EQ.

I just put all my tracks in order, in groups, and color code each group (guitars, bass, keys, drums, vocals, BGV). Each instrument group is in its own folder (in REAPER).

Also I set up each group (not the buss) with it’s own VCA (advantage with the VCA fader is that it controls the volume of the fader, which controls the volume to the send).

As described above, one for each instrument group. I use folders, but busses are fine.

FX Aux
Room Rvb, Plate Rvb, SlapBack Delay, 1/4 Delay, 1/2 Delay. Each aux has the delay set up appropriately, along with a HP/LP filter

One for drums, one for all other instruments. These are muted, until I know if I’ll need them. If not, I just remove those tracks.

All tracks and busses
I put a VU Meter on all channels to help with my gainstaging. Also an EQ and compressor, bypassed to start with.

Other Gilder stuff
One of the little tricks Joe Gilder does is that before importing files into his DAW he uses an app (“Namechanger” on Mac) to change all filenames so their easier to identify when imported.

The other interesting thing he does (I don’t do this, BTW) is he sets up additional drum busses for “Low drums” (kick, toms, snare) and “High drums” (HH, cymbals, o/h, room).


They’re actually pretty great. The Archon sim is kinda ok, I probably wouldn’t use it for anything high-gain, but for lower gain stuff, the other two amps are fantastic. I’ve never used the Kuassa stuff so I can’t compare it to that.

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templates are for lazy people.No good

A few of mine:
Slate bundle; Reaper EQ & comp, Waves CLA comps, MV2, L1 & 2, Scheps Omni thingy, Abbey Road Plates, Boz Imperial Delay and 10dB comp and eq., The Wall, UAD Fatso and Neve 88R (legacy), Amplitube Ampeg, Scuffam S-Gear, Guitar Rig 4, Span, Soundtoys (any). There are probably a few I’ve forgotten.

One that I’ve had for a while, but only recently realised how great it was is the Waves Greg Wells Mixcentric… If ever there was a one-knob “sound-gooderizer” that would be my choice - definitely worth a try on your mix buss!

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I forgot you had that one

Then I’m lazy and proud of it.

Ha ha,each to their own

Templates help you get through the mundane repetitive parts of the mix quicker so you can start the fun stuff sooner.