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7 Channel Strip Plugins for Mixing Vocals (+ Mix Tips)

Channel strips offer a lot of flexibility when processing vocals. Here are my favorite channel strips I use for mixing vocals, with some tips on how I may use them.

1. UAD API Vision Channel Strip

I keep going back to the API Vision for its unmatched sound quality. It’s clear, clean, open and beautiful. It can also get a little bit crunchy (if you want it to be). There’s very little you can’t do with this thing when mixing vocals. It can’t be completely reconfigured like some of the others on this list, and there’s no dedicated de-esser, but it doesn’t matter. The API Vision does not sound like a plugin.

I like it so much that I’ve begun using it when recording voiceover for my tutorial videos. If something can make my voice sound listenable, I know it’s special.

Mix Tip:

Drive the input gain for crunch. It’s a pleasant sound even when pushed to the extreme. Combine the gain with some extreme compression and EQ settings for a brash, bold, mangled vocal sound.

2. Waves Scheps Omni Channel

Arguably the most versatile and re-configurable channel strip listed here, you can easily move the modules on the Omni Channel around. Combine that with the fact that it has Saturation, Filters, EQ, Compression, two De-essers, a Gate, Limiter and more — and we’ve got an extremely flexible tool when mixing most any signal. The dual-band de-esser makes it a truly standout plugin for vocal mixing.

Mix Tip:

I know this is sort of a “cheap” mix tip, but because this thing has so many features, it can seem a bit overwhelming at first. Some of the artist presets are awesome and showcase what this thing can really do. You’ll see the Omni Channel used in ways you probably never would’ve tried yourself if you toggle through the presets. My favorites are the ones created by Andrew Scheps himself, and I’ve found spots in several recent mixes where the “Radio” preset works great.

3. Soundtoys Effect Rack

Alright, so I admit that the Effect Rack, which allows you to reconfigure all of the Soundtoys plugins in a virtually unlimited number of ways, is not technically a channel strip. However, this hasn’t stopped me from creating presets that I keep going back to when I mix vocals.

I usually start with the Decapitator used as a preamp — saturation to warm the vocals up, and then the low cut to remove mud. Sometimes I’ll swap out Decapitator with Radiator. The Sie-Q is a great EQ for adding color, and when the mix knob is scaled back, Devil-Loc/Deluxe is a nice up-front compressor. I do wish that Soundtoys had another compressor in their arsenal that was a bit more subtle, with more control. I’m not complaining, I just love the vibe of their plugins so much and would love to see their take on a more traditional compressor.

Mix Tip:

This whole point is a mixing tip. I suppose the global dry/wet blend? That’s something not many channel strips offer.

4. UAD Manley VOXBOX

Having used the hardware on numerous occasions, I was super excited when I heard UAD was releasing an emulation of this legendary unit. It has pretty much everything you want in a channel strip, even if the individual modules can’t be moved around like some of the others on this list.

It has a warm low-end and is transparent and airy on top — qualities found in most Manley gear — and a perfect match for many vocalists. You can also push the compressor pretty hard without it sounding smashed. This is one of those plugins that you don’t realize how good it sounds until you bypass it.

Mix Tip:

Sure, it’s called the VOXBOX, but don’t hesitate to use it on a variety of sources. The rich Manley sound works well on virtually anything, and I often find myself using this on Acoustic Guitar, Bass, and a variety of Drums.

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5. Softube Summit Audio Grand Channel

This thing is big and vibey, and the large, luxurious user interface is a pleasure to look at and operate. Out of all these listed channel strips, I can dial in a sound most quickly with the Grand Channel. This is in part because the compressor only has two settings each for attack and release with no ratio control. You can place the compressor before or after the equalizer, which is always helpful, and you have control over a dry/wet blend for the saturator.

Mix Tip:

The saturator gets pretty hairy, and I find that if I want to create an up-front, in-your-face sound with a lot of excitement and energy, the Grand Channel fares better than most other channel strips. If your source material is lacking in energy, and you need to add some intensity to a vocalist, this might be the best option on the list.

6. UAD Neve 1073

Most UAD plugins do this special thing that their hardware counterparts do — not only are they great for sculpting tone and dynamics, but they help your tracks sit right. Something about the space and depth changes when they’re used properly, and I find that’s exactly what the 1073 does. Technically not a channel strip, I can still dial in a vocal sound that sits perfectly among other tracks, despite the 1073 not having a compressor or de-esser.

Mix Tip:

Crank the preamp. It’s an absolutely bonkers sound. I use it on things that really need attention, and for a distorted special-effect vocal, almost megaphone-like, the 1073 is what I reach for.

7. UAD Century Tube Channel Strip

Certain UAD plugins including the Ampex ATR-102, the Vertigo Sound VSM-3, and the Ocean Way Studios rank among some of the deepest and complex pieces of audio processing software currently available. Wisely, Universal Audio has begun releasing plugins that are simpler to learn and operate, but at no detriment to the sound quality, whatsoever.

The Century Tube Channel Strip represents one of the easiest to use channel strips I’ve come across. It features a preamp, 3-band equalizer, and opto-leveler/compressor. The sound ranges from transparent, to highly colored, depending on how hard you drive the plugin. I’ve found it great for adding vintage vibe and weight to a wide variety of sound sources including vocals, bass, and drum buss, but I can’t picture any sound source that the Century Tube Channel Strip wouldn’t fare wonderfully on. The plugin is designed to work with Unison Mic Preamp technology, so UAD interface users can benefit from tracking through it if they’re looking to add inspiring color and vintage characteristics to their recordings.

Mix Tip:

More and more often these days, plugins are designed to be able to be pushed hard and introduce pleasing harmonic characteristics, and I’ve found that to be the case with the Century Tube Channel Strip. From a grinding bass, to an explosive snare, to a howling lead vocal, I’ve had a lot of fun dialing back the master output, and then driving the preamp section until I’ve achieved the desired effect. I often use a parallel buss to blend in some subtle pumping and warmth to certain elements of the mix, and recently have had great luck using the Century Tube Channel Strip for that exact application. Having saturation, equalization, and compression available in one place allows for a fast and efficient workflow, regardless of how you use this plugin.

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Ian Vargo

Ian Vargo

Ian Vargo is a Producer, Mixer and Audio Professor based in Los Angeles. He has worked on numerous major label and independent records. Get in touch on his website or learn more from him in Mastering in the Box and Mixing Pop.

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