Mastering plugins form an essential part of any sound engineer’s toolkit. Besides mastering, they can be used in the process of song creation, during mixing, or to add some final touches to your mix before you send it off for mastering.
In this blog post, I’m going to share with you the list of tools that I consider to be the best mastering plugins. Regardless of what kind of music you are making, you’ll definitely find the plugins you need in this list.
These plugins are used by many mastering engineers around the world and they help to achieve industry-level quality. Here is a set of EQs, limiters, compressors, as well as loudness meters, and other useful tools that will help you not only create amazing master records but also completely prepare them for release on various streaming services.
Our team of professional engineers use these plugins all the time and they help us make our amazing masters which are listened to all around the world.
Here is the list of the best mastering plugins:
- UAD Massive Passive EQ
- Fab Filter ProQ 3
- Softube Curve Bender
- OekSound Soothe 2
- Waves API 2500
- Elysia Alpha Compressor
- Native Instruments Vari Comp
- Waves PuigChild 660
- SSL Bus Compressor
- Softube Drawmer S73
- Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor
- Sonnox Inflator
- LVC-Audio Clip Shifter
- AOM Invisible Limiter
- FabFilter Pro-L2
- Waves WLM Plus
- MeterPlugs Loudness Penalty
- MeterPlugs Perception AB
- TT Dynamic Range Meter
- iZotope Insight 2
These mastering plugins are so-called evergreen, meaning they are timeless. We believe you will be able to do industry-quality mastering and match your reference track using these plugins even in 10 years. If you have all of these, you can do mastering for any music genre professionally.
Detailed Description for Best Mastering Plugins
Here we’ll give you descriptions and most importantly, our impression from working with these mastering plugins constantly. How can they help you create a great master record, and how are they different? Let’s start!
UAD Massive Passive EQ
It’s a great and top-quality emulation of a similar hardware device. The plugin works as a very clean and high-quality equalizer. With this plugin, you can enhance low-end and high-end frequencies substantially and still have a perfect mix without any buzzing, phase issues, or other unwanted changes. The music will remain as clean as it was without this EQ applied.
UAD Massive Passive EQ goes well with classical and other types of music that don’t require extra color like pleasant harmonic distortion, saturation, and others. Keep it among your mastering plugins, you’ll definitely enjoy applying it.
Fab Filter ProQ 3
It’s a super-powerful equalizer with a multitude of functions, one of the best among EQ plugins. With an option to use up to 24 bands, Left-Right or Mid-Side modes, dynamic and side-chain equalizer, and others. It has all imaginable filters: high or low cut, high or low shelf, tilt shelf, band pass, and more. The plugin has a spectrum grab function for quick detection of main peaks, and many other useful functions that make it quick and easy to work with.
For us, it’s probably the most heavily used plug-in. It has so many variations and options to manipulate with multiple bands that we just love it. At the same time, it’s quite simple to use. If you haven’t tried it yet, you definitely have to add it to the mastering chain with your best mastering plugins and see how vast a range of possibilities it’ll open for your mixing and mastering tasks.
Softube Curve Bender
This equalizer will be a real jewel in your tool kit of the best mastering plugins. Based upon the legendary UK hardware used by Abbey Road studios to work on as much as Beatles and Pink Floyd music. In addition, this plugin also has a mid-side mode option.
Working with this plugin, we love it for the special color effect that it adds to the sound of a mix. Without distortion, it makes the sound quality special and interesting. You’ll appreciate it among your best mastering plugins, and whenever you need to make a song uniquely colored and beautifully different, you’ll reach out for this legendary equalizer.
OekSound Soothe 2
This tool is used to reduce unwanted buzzing or harsh sounds created by wave resonances. Using complicated algorithms, it determines how loud each particular frequency should be in your song to sound pleasant. And when it detects unpleasant sounds it carefully cuts them down. Being one of the best mastering plugins with this function, it works pretty precisely, so the cleaning doesn’t affect the timbre of the voice or the sound properties of the instrumental part if you use it wisely with moderate settings. There’s no way you could do this cleaning manually while mastering and still preserve the same quality.
This plugin should be among your best mastering plugins because resonances and harsh sounds quite often appear in the mixes, and you have to be able to easily clean the track from them as a part of your mastering process.
Waves API 2500
Super simple compressor created exactly for mastering. With easy settings, the plugin has enough modes to produce absolutely everything you would want from a mastering compressor. It allows treating left and right channels separately if you need. A mastering engineer can apply sidechain compression using it. The plugin also has “feed back” and “feed forward” modes of compression. We use this tool for almost every song in our mastering chain and love its smooth and gentle touch. Keep it among your best mastering plugins, it’ll definitely be useful.
Elysia Alpha Compressor
This multifunctional processor gives you not only many options for compressing your mix, it also allows adding a little color of distortion with different limiters and filters while mastering. This plugin provides the sound engineer with options of parallel compression, sidechain compression, Mid-Side processing, and others for mixing or mastering. Definitely one of the best mastering plugins.
The music is also transparent and clean as with Waves API 2500, and you can choose to use just one of them. But each plugin adds to the track a little unique difference, so you’ll have to see which you like better and when. So just one of them will certainly be needed for mastering, for example, Elysia Alpha, but it won’t hurt to have both in your tool kit.
Native Instruments Vari Comp
This plugin resembles Manley Variable Mu stereo compressor hardware. It retains all the prototype’s qualities: the clarity of sound, and the compression settings. A few features have been added though, compared to the old gear.
This tool is special and is built for mastering. It is slow and it’s built for processing a huge amount of information applying slight changes. It’s not the best solution if you are creating a heavily-compressed modern pop song, this tool won’t work for mastering this task. However, its slow release and slow attack work perfectly with mastering orchestral music. It creates no distortion, no jumps or heavy unrealistic changes. With its gentle touch, the sound remains crystal clear. So, this tool must be in your set of plugins, but you’ll use it in your mastering workflow for special, more classic tasks.
Waves PuigChild 660
This is a digital implementation for the legendary Fairchild 670 compressor. The mastering plugin reproduces the unique harmonics of the device. With this processor, the sound gains special crunchy color, harmonics, and subharmonics. It can be used in mixing as well as in mastering. Whereas with the help of Native Instruments Vari Compressor you can do slow compression to reduce general dynamics, this one in the mastering chain is more suitable for reducing peaks a little to fit the track into the needed dynamics.
This tool doesn’t work well for modern heavy compression either. However, its special and unique sound coloring makes you want it in your tool kit.
SSL Bus Compressor
This compressor is a digital version of a compressor in the famous G Series analog console from the 1980s. Almost all top-chart hits in the 80s and 90s were created using this console. Its solid and punchy sound is easily recognizable and legendary. That’s why every mastering engineer must own it.
We use this mastering plugin in our mixing and mastering studio as a slight final mastering touch. Many people love and appreciate the sound texture only SSL Bus can create, for them, this always sounds good. And we use it at the end of the mastering chain to add to the mix this so familiar and rich feeling of fame.
Softube Drawmer S73
The sound of this dynamic multiband compressor is based on Drawmer 1973 analog gear. And though this mastering processor doesn’t give you many settings options and freedom to shape the professional quality music how you’d like, it has its unique sound properties you might want to add to the mix.
We use it mostly to add color and some interesting texture to the mix while mastering. Keep this plugin among your mastering tools to enrich the sound you are working on.
Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor
This huge professional mastering compressor is made by a thorough emulation of the high-quality hardware unit. Definitely one of the best mastering plugins, with it you can compress the sound as hard as you like and not receive unwanted distortion and extra pumping.
A mastering engineer can make an amazingly massive and loud song using this powerful tool, so make sure you have it with you when you start mastering.
This famous and great soft clipper/distortion is being used by many celebrities for their own music, including Billie Eilish music mastering engineer. Some even use it as a final true peak limiter. Sonnox Oxford Inflator can help you increase the loudness of one track during mixing or of the mix as a whole, without the pumping effect of compression, and preserving the dynamics. The mix becomes louder, but the headroom stays intact.
It can help bring up one instrument or vocal during mixing, and make the whole mix more powerful and louder with mastering. Definitely worth trying and being among your best mastering plugins, because the “loudness war” will never be over and it’ll always help to add more loudness and power to your songs.
LVC-Audio Clip Shifter
One of the best mastering plugins, with a similar function as Sonnox Oxford Inflator but it is a bit different and even has some advantages. This plugin has more advanced settings, more options, works from hard compression and distortion to gentle clipping and subtle saturation. It has multiband control functions, you can choose which frequencies in the frequency spectrum you want to process in the mix.
This tool has perfect visualization, so the mastering engineers who like to “master with their eyes” and see as well as hear, will love this clipping-style limiter.
AOM Invisible Limiter
This is an amazingly soft limiter and we use it all the time as the main mastering limiter in our studio. Thanks to special true peak limiting algorithms, it works without distortion, so it doesn’t add color to your track when you don’t intend to do so. The difference between the signals before and after limiting is minimal.
During years of work we have tried hundreds of limiters and AOM Invisible Limiter still proved to be the best. So it definitely must be among your mastering plugins.
This is an alternative limiter you can use. The difference from AOM Invisible Limiter is that Pro-L2 has many more setting options and knobs. It’s not so clear as the invisible limiter, but with the right settings can work similarly.
Add it to the kit of your mastering plugins and check it out. You might like the slight color it adds to the sound and may use it as a final limiter for mastering a mix.
Waves WLM Plus
This loudness meter is excellent to measure the LUFS and other loudness characteristics of your final product. You can see the precise measure for short-term loudness, long-term loudness, true peaks, etc. In addition, this plugin has simple limiter and correction tools in it.
You’ll also need it if working with sound for movies and broadcast audio because measuring LUFS is crucial for this kind of work. This meter definitely should be among your tools.
MeterPlugs Loudness Penalty
This is a must-have tool for every mastering engineer because it helps you see how the song you are mastering is going to sound on each of the streaming services.
Every streaming platform will treat the master record you are preparing right now in a different way. Each platform has its own perceived loudness standard to ensure that all the compositions are going to sound on the same level. So the songs get normalized, and this way, the audience will have the most comfortable experience listening to songs one after the other.
Will your mix be turned down by a platform? How will this affect its sound? MeterPlugs Loudness Penalty will give you the exact idea of what your great master will sound like on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, TIDAL, and others after it has been turned down.
On the other hand, maybe your song is not loud enough, then the plugin will help you see how you can increase the loudness without exceeding the limits. So, this Loudness Penalty plugin is also a must-have among your tools.
MeterPlugs Perception AB
This plugin is a must-have tool not only for amateurs but also for experienced mastering engineers. It matches the levels of your master for you before and after some changes were applied. This way you can accurately compare the before and after versions and make correct mastering decisions.
It’s well known that a human ear perceives louder music as more beautiful and better sounding. This is the “loudness deception” or “loudness bias” which is one of the greatest enemies for every sound engineer. Does my mix sound louder or better? Use MeterPlugs Perception AB, you can just add it at the beginning of the plugin chain and at the end, and enjoy the possibility to evaluate your mixing or mastering decisions accurately, without the level difference standing in the way.
We don’t always use it in our studio, because we learned to hear the slight differences in music and detect whether the perception is related to volume or not, but still, we think it’s an amazing tool and you could definitely have it among your plugins.
TT Dynamic Range Meter
Quite old, but useful tool. It measures RMS value for perceived loudness, True Peak, Dynamics value and other important loudness parameters.
Measuring dynamics will give you a good idea of how expressive and breathing your master record is. With everybody striving to sound louder, modern music has become flat and unexpressive. Checking your dynamic range and trying to keep it reasonable within the style and genre you are working with, can help you create more emotional and breathing masters.
At the same time, it’s good to measure loudness parameters using not just one plugin. Sometimes the results can differ. For example, you’ve measured your mix using WLM Plus. Checking the parameters with another meter like this TT Dynamic Range Meter will help you get more precise data for a better mastering.
iZotope Insight 2
This is also a meter that has a good and convenient interface and can measure all the loudness parameters including True Peaks and LUFS. The amazing user interface with beautiful visualization makes many sound engineers fall in love with this meter.
Get it and use it to measure the levels of the tracks you master. Compare with the numbers you get from your other measuring tools to double-check.
Ask us if you have questions or need help with mastering
In this article, we shared with you the knowledge we learned practically, from our 10+ years of experience in online mixing and mastering. We named the plugins that will help you create great professional master records. We use all of them for mastering and know from experience how they work.
If after reading this article you still have questions, please, ask. We also can help you by offering to do professional, high-quality mixing or/and mastering for your song.
If you want to be successful as an artist, and make your songs sound like chart-toppers, with winning and captivating sound, just let us know. We’ll do our best to help you create top-quality songs and quickly boost your career.
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