In a digital world where everything is clean, crisp, and sterile, saturation has become one of our best friends.
For decades, our ears have become attuned to classic analog tones, and using saturation plugins is one of the best ways to emulate those qualities.
Today, we're going to dive in and take a look at some of the best free saturation VST plugins on the market so you can add some warm, gritty goodness to your mixes!
1. Softube - Saturation Knob
Let's start out with one of our absolute favorite saturation plugins - Saturation Knob .
Softube came out with the Saturation Knob a few years ago and its simple one-knob design has taken the market by storm. It's made for those who want a fast workflow and high-quality saturation.
You'll find three saturation algorithms within the plugin, including neutral, low, and high, depending on what frequencies you want to impact. Then, you can simply use the large knob to dial in the amount of saturation.
The beauty of Saturation Knob is that you can use it across multiple channels in your mix, as it doesn't require much CPU. Whether you want to add a gentle bit of saturation glue to your mix bus or to apply a semblance of cumulative grit to multiple tracks in your session, Saturation Knob can be your new best friend!
2. Caelum Audio - Tape Cassette 2
Tape Cassette 2 is an update to the original beloved Tape Cassette plugin, which delivers all of the noise, warmth, and character found in the original. The difference is that Tape Cassette 2 has a much sleeker interface and some under-the-hood changes.
Beyond the original elements of the plugin, you get an all-new impulse response, an improved saturation algorithm, real sampled tape noise, and a warbly wow and flutter engine.
Tape Cassette 2 is best used on individual tracks to add vibe, warmth, texture, and movement. Of course, there's nothing quite like pushing the material limitations of the plugin to use it as a sound design tool for experimental landscapes.
Overall, Tape Cassette 2 from Caelum Audio is a surprisingly dynamic and versatile saturation plugin that every producer should have in their arsenal.
3. Voxengo - Tube Amp
Whenever we want to add some new free plugins to our arsenal, one of the developers we look to is Voxengo . The developer's Tube Amp plugin is absolutely incredible, giving you the drive, warmth, and character of a real tube amplifier.
The interface might not look all that up to date, though the sound you can get out of this thing is pretty impressive.
Looking at the interface, the first three knobs you get to mess with include the drive, bias, and low-pass filter knobs. You can dial in the desired amount of saturation with each while flipping between the two types of tube distortion. The more saturation you dial in, the more complex and compressed your signal becomes.
On the last part of the Tube Amp signal chain, you have an output gain rotary knob that's paired with a handy meter to give you the amplitude status in dB.
If you're looking to impart gritty and complex tube saturation on your mixes, Tube Amp from Voxengo is a great choice!
4. Analog Obsession - TUBA
Another great plugin for tube saturation is TUBA from Analog Obsession. You can simply place TUBA at some point in your signal chain to create complex harmonic generation. To increase the complexity of your harmonics while reducing the level of the original signal, you can use the high and low gain settings.
While the plugin is fairly simple, you get access to high and low-frequency shelves, as well as a mic and line switch depending on the input signal.
However, what's truly unique about this plugin is the phase inverter. It won't process the signal in its entirety, though it will invert the processed signal's phase to give you a unique saturation style.
No matter how hard you push the plugin, you can enjoy the gain compensation on the rotary knob, which decreases the gain as you drive the input, maintaining a constant level at all times.
If you're looking to get quality console-style saturation in your mixes, TUBA from Analog Obsession is a great choice.
5. CODA Labs - Szechuan Saturator
If you've ever been a fan of McDonald's infamous Szechuan sauce, you'll instantly fall in love with the Szechuan Saturator from CODA Labs. This saturation plugin was designed based on the Szechuan look and comes with unique functionality that you won't find elsewhere.
For starters, the Szechuan Saturator saturation is determined by the level of the signal that is passing through it. You can then manipulate that signal using six knobs. The Intensity knob changes how aggressive the saturation is, while the Gain knob can give you an overdriven, highly compressed sound.
Where things really get saucy is with the Mod Rate and Mod Depth knobs. These control the tremolo effect found in the saturator.
While you can use this free saturation plugin just about anywhere, we really like using it on drums busses to deliver a solid boost. However, if you're using the tremolo effect, it's excellent for guitars and synths. Overall, it delivers interesting harmonics and beautiful compression. Plus, the design of the Szechuan Saturator alone makes it one of the best free saturation VST plugins on the market!
6. Bedroom Producers Blog - BPB Saturator
The BPB Saturator from Bedroom Producers Blog is one of the best free saturation VST plugins for subtle saturation. You'll find six knobs on the BPB Saturator interface, including the high-pass knob, low-pass knob, Tube knob, Tape knob, input knob, and output knob.
We love the fact that you can choose to use tape or tube saturation, as you typically have to use separate plugins if you want to utilize both. Plus, with the low-pass filter included, you can reduce the high frequencies in your signal to give it more of an analog-style saturation.
The BPB Saturator plugin works really well for virtual instruments, warming them up and giving them the harmonic distortion they need to sit well in a mix. Beyond that, BPB Saturator has simple controls and a minimalistic design, allowing for low CPU usage that works well on just about any computer.
7. Shattered Glass Audio - SGA1566
The SGA1566 from Shattered Glass Audio emulates a vintage hardware preamp using dual 12AX7 amp settings. You'll find some pretty cool features on this thing, especially when you consider it's free.
For starters, Shattered Glass Audio included a high and low CPU switch, which you can toggle depending on the strength of your computer. Next, you get two EQ knobs, which you can use to exaggerate the high and low frequencies of your signal. Taking that even further, the EQ can be used before or after the saturation is applied, making it a bit more versatile than you'd expect.
To get an even more realistic tube sound from this free saturation plugin, you can flip the oversampling switch. While this switch uses more CPU, it'll deliver a gorgeous tube sound that sounds great on all kinds of instruments, from drums to vocals to bass and more.
8. Nick Crow Lab - TubeDriver
The TubeDriver plugin from Nick Crow Lab introduces tube saturation that beautifully matches the qualities found in real tube preamp hardware. As soon as you insert this VST plugin on your track, you notice the complex harmonics generated.
The middle of the plugin features a drive section and a bias knob that you can use in tandem to increase the harmonics and alter the amplitude between the new complex harmonic signal and the original signal. To the right of the plugin, you'll find a high pass filter and a low pass filter, which feel like they have pretty relaxed and natural slopes.
For a bit of additional monitoring help, you have a phase inversion button and a mono monitoring button.
Lastly, the pre-EQ is extremely helpful for determining what part of the signal you want to impact, which is even better if you're using this VST plugin in parallel.
9. Chowdhury - Chow Tape
The Chow Tape plugin was released back in 2019, delivering an open-source software that you can mod to the day's end. While the original plugin was developed to emulate the tape saturation found on the Sony TC-260, it quickly became capable of modeling a wide variety of reel-to-reel machines.
On the face of the Chow Tape plugin, you'll find a wide range of sliders and knobs to mess around with. The main focus is the saturation knob, which determines how much saturation this VST plugin applies.
Of course, as you might expect from an analog tape plugin, you also get a Bias knob, which affects the quality of the signal, and wow and flutter settings, which are great for adding some lo-fi flavor to your tracks.
Beyond what you'd expect, Chow Tape also provides access to a few more unique knobs, including chew, tone, filter, degradation, and tape compression knobs. Chow Tape certainly has the potential to be one of the best tape saturation plugins on the market, and we will find out as time goes on and more people mess with the open-source code.
10. Analog Obsession - PreBox
Though we've already discussed another Analog Obsession plugin on this list, the PreBox is different enough that we have to shed some light on it. This plugin beautifully emulates an analog preamp, giving you 11 different settings to choose from in order to create complex harmonic generation depending on your needs.
As with a standard preamp, the input rotary knob increases the amplitude of the input, giving you greater harmonic distortion and more compression. Once you have the ideal amount of distortion, you can flip through the styles to find one that suits your music.
The additional high and low pass filter knobs are great for honing in on your tracks to only impact certain frequencies. While this saturation plugin may seem simple, it can deliver tons of unique saturation styles to suit just about any genre or instrument.
11. Sleepycat Audio - Crush
The Sleepycat Audio Crush saturation plugin can look a bit complicated off the bat, though once you get into it, you'll see that it can create some pretty unique distortion.
This VST plugin is different from any other saturation plugin on our list in that it emulates crossover distortion from class-b amplifier latencies between input and output. So, right off the bat, you get a very unique premise with this free saturation plugin.
To get a bit more amplification before hitting your distortion, you can use the Pre Gain Function. You can lower the bias function to trigger a bit more distortion as well.
Then, you have the Alias function, which turns your oversampling off to deliver phase cancellation to higher frequencies and gives you a bit of intermodulation distortion.
Lastly, you have the Edge function, which is a bit confusing. Even the manual doesn't do the best job of explaining this portion of the plugin. When using it, however, you can almost notice that it turns the distortion from the Bias slider of.
Of course, you can then run everything through the high and low pass filters to clean up your mix a bit more or mix the plugin in parallel using the Wet/Dry slider. There isn't another free saturation VST plugin like this on the market.
12. Klanghelm - IVGI
IVGI is one of those classic free saturation VST plugins that continues to stick around. With this unique saturation plugin, it's easy to add warmth and character to your mix in seconds.
You can introduce complex harmonic content using the Drive rotary knob while dialing back the output to maintain a consistent level. You also get an Asym Mix knob, which tells you the amount of compression going into your signal. Dial it to 0 and you don't get any compression, though dial it to 10 and you can smash the life out of your signal to give it that tasty crunch you know and love.
Overall, this VST plugin is very simple, perfect for those just entering the world of saturation who want a quick fix to sterile audio.
13. Roxolder - Tomato Preamp
While one look at the Tomato Preamp plugin might have you thinking "warmth," this thing actually creates a unique lo-fi sound that is great for dirtying up signals that sound a bit too clean. If you want to add some unexpected character to your signals, it is one of the best free saturation VST plugins around.
You get three distinct tube models to play around with. The "New" tube model gives you a warmer, slightly saturated sound that maintains a cleaner signal, while the "Aged" tube is the harshest and most distorted of the bunch.
Each of the settings almost sounds as if they come paired with a high-pass filter, attenuating the lower frequencies to give you a thin signal. While tubes can be naturally chaotic, Roxolder provides algorithms so precise that you know what you're getting each time you load up a different setting.
One unfortunate thing about this plugin is that you can't do much with the input, output, or gain level to reduce the present distortion, which limits this plugin quite a bit. However, with its unique functionality, we had to put it on our free saturation plugins list.
14. Audio Tools - Leveling Tool
IF you're looking to add simple warmth and analog saturation to your audio, Leveling Tool is a fantastic plugin. The interface is incredibly straightforward and the 4x oversampling delivers astounding results.
Of course, you can pretty much tell by the controls that Leveling Tool is first and foremost a compressor. However, with handy drive features and input gain that can control the amount of saturation you get, Leveling Tool can also deliver an additional bit of drive.
It's an excellent plugin for vocals, drums, bass, or any other tracks that need a bit of taming.
15. Audio Assault - Headcrusher Free
Headcrusher Free is an analog saturation plugin that is great for drums, vocals, bass, and just about anything else. Though we've experimented with it on a few things, what we most like it on is the master bus. It has an incredible amount of snap and can deliver unique saturation with only a few knobs to worry about.
There's not a lot to write home about with this plugin, though if you need to give your master bus a vintage saturation sound, it's one of the easiest plugins to get the job done.
16. Yuri Semenov - Aux Saturation
Sometimes, you don't want a specific style of saturation, but rather something that can enhance the harmonics in your sound with standard harmonic processing. Aux Saturation is one of the best plugins for the job, as it neither emulates tape recorders, vintage tube amps, or tape machines.
Instead, it uses its own unique algorithm to bring richness and life into your audio. You'll find two sliders that allow you to blend between odd and even harmonics, as well as high and low pass filters at the output stage of each.
While there aren't any fancy bells or whistles on this plugin, the interface is very easy to use and the end result is of the highest quality.
17. Wave Arts - Tube Saturator Vintage
When the original Tube Saturator plugin came out, it was one of the best saturation plugins around for those who wanted the true sound of a vintage tube. With the release of the second iteration of Tube Saturator, users get a far more efficient and realistic circuit simulation technology that allows this plugin to sound like the real thing.
Under the hood, you get an emulation of a Baxandall three-band EQ that feeds into dual 12AX7 triode preamps. These are the same types of preamps that you could expect to find in a hi-fi amplifier. Essentially, you can get the same sounds and characteristics that you would get from driving your audio through a high-end tube amplifier.
Note that because this circuit simulation technology is very CPU intensive, you probably won't be able to run it in larger sessions unless you have a computer that can handle it.
From analog tape machine emulations to vintage tube amp recreations, there are plenty of great free saturation VST plugin options on the market. If you're looking to get that analog sound in your digital mixes, then we highly recommend adding some of these free plugins above to your arsenal!