Best Mastering Plugins: Top 9 Picks

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Having quality plugins is a must when you’re mastering in the box.  You’re going to need a good EQ, compressor, limiter, and a handful of other tools to get the best sound possible.

In some cases, companies have created plugins with a combination of functions allowing you to manipulate just about every part of your music in one interface.  Others have compiled bundles of their “best” software to give you everything you need to complete a successful master.

If you’re new to mastering or a professional looking for new tools to up your game, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best mastering plugins out there.

Let’s check them out.

Top 9 VST Plugins for Mastering

  1. FabFilter Mastering Bundle
  2. iZotope Ozone 9
  3. Eventide Elevate Mastering Bundle
  4. Audified MixChecker
  5. Mastering the Mix EXPOSE
  6. Softube Weiss MM-1
  7. Leapwing Audio DynOne 3
  8. Softube Weiss DS1-MK3
  9. Sonnox Mastering Collection

1. FabFilter Mastering Bundle

FabFilter Mastering Plugins Bundle

As a company, FabFilter is still relatively young in the audio processing world. Even still, they happen to make some of the most forward-thinking VST plugins on the market. Grabbing the Mastering Bundle will equip you with FabFilter’s best tools all in one bundle.

The Mastering Bundle comes with the following plugins:

  • Pro-C mastering compressor – Comes with a variety of compression modes allowing you to change the tone of your mix.  You can also work in M/S or L/R mode which is a big deal in the mastering world.
  • Pro-Q – By far this EQ is one of the most flexible on the market.  The Pro Q comes equipped with a very precise frequency analyzer allowing you to make better mastering decisions all while use 24 bands simultaneously! Left/Right and Mid/Side processing are both available here as well.
  • Pro-L Limiter – Want that brick wall sound? You go it here.  You get 4 limiting modes to help shape and tone your track. The Pro-L also include some other parameters an adjustable Lookahead control and Channel Linking options for transient detection.

Overall, we like the FabFilter Mastering bundle for its flexibility.   What makes these plugins much more powerful, however, is that they can also be used for in mixing sessions as well.  In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a competent mixing engineer that doesn’t have FabFilter products in their toolbox.

Pros

  • Can apply to a wide variety of situations
  • Amazing for detailed tasks
  • L/R and M/S options

Cons

  • Pro-C Output volume can get hot quickly

2. iZotope Ozone 9

iZotope Ozone 9 Mastering VST Plugin

Izotope is a well-established brand and has created some of the best mastering software.  Ozone, Izotope’s flagship product, is an all-in-one solution for mastering in the box and has been favored by engineers for mastering solutions, since it’s first iteration.

Ozone 9 acts as a wonderful standalone solution for all your mastering needs.  Probably the best feature is that you can use their plugin outside of your DAW, helping to create a much-needed alternative perspective.

While inside your DAW, you can easily bring up the Ozone’s wide selection of processors like their dynamics section, limiter, exciter, and more.  Even though the plugin looks complicated at first glance, Izotope tries to make it as beginner-friendly as possible by including a ton of presets.  Browse the preset library to find something that best matches your sound or better yet, use that as a starting point to “dial-in” your sound.

We couldn’t end our Izotope overview without mentioning their Master Assistant.  This is by far the one feature that sets it apart from other mastering VSTs.  Just click a button and the Master Assistant will analyze your song before deciding on the best combinations of settings.  A truly customized “done for you” solution.  Just be aware you will most likely still need to do some tweaking.

Pros

  • A Vast catalog of processing modules
  • The Master Assistant
  • Beautiful and intuitive interface

Cons

  • No zoom controls for trimming and fading
  • Lacks song-spacing ability for Compact Discs

3. Eventide Elevate Mastering Bundle

Eventide Elevate Mastering Bundle

It’s no secret that Eventide has high-quality reverb plugins, but many producers and engineers aren’t aware of their mastering bundles.  In the Elevate bundle, you’ll get four quality plugins but the crown jewel lies in the Mastering/Limiting plugin, which will give you all the loudness you want all while maintaining as much dynamics where possible.

After journeying through a 26-band filter, the signal hits a limiter with dynamic transient emphasis and spectral clipper controls.  A nice feature with the filter bank is that the built-in AI assists with setting the amount of gain, speed and transient variation into each band.  The AI can also be applied to other limiting parameters, which can go a long way in helping to create a more natural end result.  Obviously, tweaking is a must as that’s where all the fun is!

Beyond the limiter, you get another 3 high-quality plugins.

  1. Equivocate – An EQ with 26 bands based on the human ear, giving you natural sounds for your mix.
  2. Saturate – is a spectral clipper, to help with the peaks.
  3. Punctuate – A transient shaper that lets you breath some life back after limiting.

Elevate is basically a complex processing plugin which can automatically raise the loudness of your tracks without sacrificing the original tone or character. Whether you want to use the vast amounts of presets or experiment your heart out, it’s totally up to you.

Pros

  • Auditory filter bank concept is unique
  • Offers a transparent and natural sound
  • Intuitive interface

Cons

  • filters on Equivocate are not very flexible

4. Audified MixChecker

Audified MixChecker

The Audified MixCheker isn’t a set of mastering tools like you’d normally think.  It’s a software bundle comprised of multiple speaker simulations for mix reference.  You can toggle through 12 different buttons allowing you to hear how the mix would sound in different environments such as inEar, radio, PA, etc.  The plugin comes with a total of 62 models giving you a variety of reference points.

Because the plugin is set up to “monitor” and not “tweak”, there aren’t any modifications built-in.  What you can do is rename buttons, check distortion and noise levels as well as change speaker models.  In terms of presets, you can save 5 at time, allowing you to bundle together your favorite hi-fi models into a single button.

A limiting factor that we see for this VST is that you need to be listening on a set of really good monitors to begin with.  If you want to replicate a pair of Ns-10’s for example, you won’t be doing yourself any favors listening on cheap speakers.

With that said, it doesn’t mean the plugin won’t replicate a reliable impression of the different speaker models.  It shines in the fact that it can give you different mixing perspectives, allowing you to make broad-stroke decisions you may not have thought of without it.  For improving the overall sound of your record, we’re happy to report that MixChecker Pro is a great tool.

Pros

  • detailed response provided by the simulations
  • Mono mode
  • A plethora of models to choose from

Cons

  • Play back system could affect the accuracy
  • Uninspiring interface

5. Mastering the Mix EXPOSE

Mastering the Mix EXPOSE

Think of Expose like a second set of ears on your mix – a set that has the knowledge to tell you exactly where your record needs improvement and what you can do to make the necessary changes to come out with a professional sound.  It only takes but a few seconds to load and could potentially be the audio lifeline you have been looking for.

Just load the program and drag your song into the dashboard.  From there, you can choose between a number of different presets for your track like Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud, CD, Broadcast, etc.  Surprisingly, the software provides a vast amount of information on the peaks, dynamic range, overall loudness, phase, stereo information, etc.  If any audio issues arise, they are highlighted in red so you can visualize exactly where the problem(s) exist.

An interesting feature is that you can highlight your mouse over the problem area and the software will give detailed information about the problem as well as some suggestions on how to fix it.

Basically, Expose is a data-driven plugin helping to get your mixes to the level of some of the top masters in the business.  This mastering VST plugin certainly isn’t the flashiest on our list, but it is high-quality and one that will help you craft flawless mixes every time.

Pros

  • Details the technical issues in your records
  • Offers helpful tips and solutions
  • Budget-friendly

Cons

  • Some users have seen errors when uploading professional masters

6. Softube Weiss MM-1

Softube Weiss MM-1 Mastering VST

Weiss first made a name for themselves with the DS1-MK3, a master processing unit that became a centerpiece for a number of mastering studios worldwide.

The Softube Weiss MM-1 mastering VST replicates the best components of the DS1 hardware and transfers them into a digital format for the modern ages.  The unit comes with 5 different limiting options: Loud, Transparent, Wide, Punch, and De-ess.

For a more natural and precise sound, the MM-1 comes with a Mix knob (should be standard in all plugins), as well as an Amount knob.

Even though the MM1 doesn’t have as many features as some of the other plugins on our list, it does have a top notch mastering algorithm, allowing you to easily compete with any song on the radio today.

Pros

  • Straightforward interface with professional results
  • Very Transparent
  • Includes 5 different modes

Cons

  • For the price, it’s not as flexible but the few things it does, it does well!

7. Leapwing Audio DynOne 3

Leapwing Audio DynOne 3

Oh no, not ANOTHER multiband compressor.  We get it!  But the Dynone 3 is definitely worth taking a look at.  The Dynone really stands out in its ease of use.  While other multiband compressors feel like they need a lot of tweaking to “get it right”, the Dynone has a very intuitive workflow and makes it easy to dial in the right tone.

A unique feature of the Dynone is that it automatically applies variable timing values in a transient dependent manner, assisting you in achieving the most natural sound possible.  You can also blend in the processed signal with the original to give your sound a bit more impact.

The controls on the unit are enhanced specifically for mastering and they include stereo linking percentages, variable RMS vs. peak detection, smart variable controls, and an adjustable retina interface with a smooth and ultramodern design.

In our opinion, there is no digital multi-band compressor available right now, better for mastering, than the Leapwing Audio Dynone 3.

Pros

  • Interface is very intuitive and simple to operate
  • Non-intrusive compression design
  • Helps to achieve loudness while still sounding natural

Cons

  • fixed crossover points

8. Softube Weiss DS1-MK3

Softube Weiss DS1-MK3

Ask any engineer and they’ll tell you that the Weiss DS1-MK3 is the gold standard for mastering applications.  The reason is because the MK3 provides compression, limiting and de-essing all while retaining the original sound.  If you’re after the “perfect” master, you can certainly achieve it with the DS1-MK3.

Though the DS1 plugin is based on the hardware unit from the 1990’s, the plugin actually offers much more versatility.  It can perform the same tasks as the original unit and then additional tasks that the DS1 never could while giving you a number of settings to play around with.

The DS1 allows you to de-ess mid-side separately and compress with variable soft-knee settings, while also having one of the most transparent brick wall limiters of any mastering plugin.

If you’re looking for a plugin that allows you to maintain dynamics all while creating a mix that feels punchy, natural and loud, then the DS1 algorithm is unparalleled.

Pros

  • Can be transparent or add character
  • Waveform view is very informative
  • RMS and True Peak limiters are helpful

Cons

  • Lacking presets.  I guess if you’re a pro, you don’t need them
  • A bit pricey

9. Sonnox Mastering Collection

Sonnox Mastering Collection

At first glance, the Sonnox Mastering Collection might not look like much, but included in the bundle are some of the most dynamic and transparent plugins on the market.  To make things easier for beginner and intermediate mastering engineers, Sonnox hand-picked these plugins specifically from their extensive collection.

Included in the bundle are the following five plugins:

  • Oxford Dynamic V3 compressor
  • Oxford EQ V3
  • Oxford Inflator V3
  • Oxford Limiter V3
  • Fraunhofer Pro-Codec

The V3 compressor offers musical-sounding compression while retaining sonic clarity throughout.  Besides that, the compressor ships with six independent parameters allowing for more control.

The EQ V3 is transparent and flexible allowing you to boost or cut with confidence.  Want to achieve overall loudness without adding any pumping compression?  That’s where the Inflator shines as it adds both power and presence, without the dreaded “pump”, perfect for helping the focus points stick out.

The true-peak limiter, which lies at the end of the chain, offers enhanced accuracy and maximum loudness.  This plugin Collection bundle is all you need for mastering, making it easy to create a reliable chain every time you sit down to master a song.

Pros

  • High-quality and transparent
  • The Transient Modulator is a unique take on dynamic processing
  • Available in multiple formats

Cons

  • Can be costly for non-professionals

Nailing the Master

Before purchasing any mastering plugins, be aware that the ones you choose will ultimately shape the entire mix.  It’s impossible to polish a turd (excuse my French), but you can certainly make a really good mix sound even better with the right tools.  Whether you are shaping the EQ curve of an entire album or adding in some power and emotion to a hit single, having quality plugins can make all the difference.

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