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5 Free Plugins for Mastering in the Box

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There are some incredible plugins available for anyone interested in computer-based mastering. Although nothing can replace an experienced engineer, working in an expertly designed room, on high-end equipment, there are some fantastic free tools available online that will aid engineers working on projects with limited budgets.

Here are some completely free plugins that you can work into your in the box mastering workflow …

1. Voxengo SPAN

As I cover in the course, Metering is absolutely essential to mastering, and SPAN is a versatile and free utility plugin.

It provides spectral analysis, correlation metering and clipping detection, as well as displaying RMS and max crest factor. The interface is simple, clear, and even somewhat customizable. It’s a truly deep, accurate and useful metering plugin, which is refreshing considering that it’s free. It’s also compatible with virtually every DAW.

2. LoudMax by Thomas Mundt

Described as “a look-ahead brickwall loudness maximizer plugin with a clean transparent sound, designed to retain the original character of the music as much as possible even at high compression levels,” LoudMax is a wonderfully simply tool. It has two sliders: threshold and output — and that’s all it needs.

If you’re interested in learning how a limiter works and affects your material, LoudMax boils the concept down to its most basic elements, all while providing a mostly transparent sound.


3. Limiter №6 by Vladg Sound

This is a more complex and versatile take on limiting. It offers more control than LoudMax, which can be helpful if your program material requires detailed tweaking.

Its five modules include: RMS compressor, peak limiter, high-frequency limiter, clipper, and true peak limiter.

Each of these modules have extremely flexible controls. There are some expensive and well-known limiter plugins that don’t come with features like mid-side processing, oversampling and true peak detection. The fact that these features come included with Limiter №6 makes it even more special.

4. mvMeter from TBProAudio

I’m still pretty shocked that this plugin is free. It looks great, it’s easy to use, and it’s deeper than some metering tools that cost hundreds of dollars more. It allows you to measure PEAK, RMS, EBU R128, VU and PPM. Additionally, it has multi-channel metering so you can see what’s happening on the stereo, left, right, mid, or side channels.

The five different themes allow the user to change the look to various classic VU and PPM Meters, which is a nice touch. (It doesn’t improve the sound quality — I prefer the sleek look of the retro skin.)

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5. Stereo Tool v3 by Flux

Some mixes require a bit of balancing the information spread between the channels, and Stereo Tool v3 is prefect for this application. It includes panning controls for the left and right channels, a vector scope display, global stereo width and pan controls, PPM Input and Output meters, a phase correlation meter, and a variety of other useful features.

If the content you’ve been delivered has balance and phase issues, this is an excellent free plugin.

6. Voxengo Marvel GEQ

Being able to sculpt your signal using an equalizer is essential for a mastering engineer. This linear-phase 16-band graphic equalizer is impressive in both functionality and sound.

I’m not sure why every plugin doesn’t have an “undo/redo” function, because after using this equalizer, I find it to be quite helpful. Being able to work in mid-side mode allows the user to treat information in the center separately from the sides, which, when used properly, can result in a much clearer stereo spread, and a more defined space amongst individual elements.

As with each of the great tools on this list, it’s surprising that such a useful tool is free.

I generally believe that in audio, you get what you pay for, but each of the aforementioned plugins are exceptions to this rule.

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 and learn more on his website.