The lo-fi sound seems to be taking over the music production world right now, and we're not mad about it. While we have the ability to produce and record crisp, clean digital audio at this point, there's something about the warm, retro tones of yesteryear that invoke a uniquely nostalgic emotion in all of us.
But how do you get these sounds in your productions?
To start, you need some dedicated lo-fi VST plugins.
The good thing is that there are more lo-fi plugins available than ever before.
If you're ready to make some tunes that your biggest fans can chill and study to, come dive in with us as we explore the best lo-fi plugins on the market today!
Best Paid Lo-Fi Plugins
1. XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color
The XLN RC-20 Retro Color makes creating wonky, noisy, analog-style audio easier than ever before! You'll find six modules in this colorful plugin, including a Noise Generator, Wow and Flutter, Saturation, Bit crusher, Reverb, and Volume.
Whether you need to make your track noisy, fat, lively, warm, or spaced out, RC-20 can help. The beauty of analog is that it's a chaotic recording medium, which is one of the reasons we love the flux parameters on the plugin, which allow you to randomize the module settings to really mess things up!
I often find myself using this plugin for subtler textures. I especially love the filter section and pitch warping capabilities, as it gives audio that old sampled-from-vinyl feel. It does absolute wonders for digital sounds and VST instruments, such as pianos or Rhodes. The great thing is that it combines so many different types of processing as well, which would usually require six or seven different plugins in your chain.
While the plugin can be a bit overwhelming at first glance, there are many great presets to get you started.
The XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color is by far one of the best lo-fi plugins out there and one you should absolutely add to your arsenal!
2. Baby Audio Super VHS
The Baby Audio Super VHS plugin provides users with a flexible, single-knob design with effects that pay homage to the era of VHS. The tool is incredibly easy to use, and you can add super interesting sounds to your productions. There are six effects baked into this plugin, including:
- Static: Internal synthesizer-generated static noise
- Heat: Analog tape saturation
- Shape: 1980s-style 8-bit sample rate reducer
- Magic: Juno-style widening effect
- Drift: LFO pitch fluctuation
- Wash: 1980s-style rack unit hall reverb
While you control everything with one knob, it's easy to tell that there are functions working under the hood. I absolutely love stacking multiple instances of this plugin to mix and match the included effects, taking my audio from subtle audio degradation to full-on analog annihilation.
If you're looking to add the sound of gritty and grainy 80s lo-fi to your production, the Baby Audio Super VHS can deliver all of the results you'd expect with a streamlined workflow.
3. Audiothing Vinyl Strip
Audiothing Vinyl Strip is another multi-effect plugin like RC-20 Retro Color, delivering six effect modules: Compression, Distortion, Bit Crushing, EQ, Vintage Reverb, and Vinilyzer. Unlike RC-20, however, you can arrange these modules in any combination, thanks to the plugin's drag-and-drop design.
If there's one thing to say about the Audiothing Vinyl Strip, it's that it adds an old-school touch to digital audio to give it the classic sound of vinyl records. It's also been optimized for low CPU usage, allowing you to use multiple instances of it without bogging down your session.
4. iZotope Vinyl
iZotope Vinyl is one of the easiest vinyl plugins to use. It simulates all of the best vintage characteristics of vinyl, including dust, warping, scratches, and mechanical noise. Essentially, you have the ability to take your clean digital audio and transform it into something that sounds like it was sampled from a vinyl record.
iZotope recently updated the iZotope Vinyl plugin with a new lo-fi effect, which adds a signature resampled tone, perfect for dialing in authentic lo-fi vibes. It's also compatible with Native Instruments, allowing you to use a Komplete Kontrol or Maschine controller to get total control over the plugin.
The true beauty of iZotope Vinyl lies in the fact that there is zero learning curve to using it. The user interface is clean and simple, allowing you to craft believable vintage tones in a matter of seconds. As you might imagine, with such a simple lo-fi plugin, it's also very easy on the CPU, giving you the power to use it on multiple tracks without any lags in your session.
5. D16 Group Decimort 2
D16 Group Decimort 2 takes bit crushing to an entirely different level, giving you anti-aliasing features, imagine filtering, adjustable dithering, jittering, and dual-quantization algorithms for total control over your lo-fi sound.
With the included multi-mode filter, you can work with your audio in pre or post, allowing you to sculpt your audio in the best way possible for your needs.
While Decimort 2 might seem overwhelming at first glance, it's quite simple once you get tweaking. You can recreate coloration and dial in a vintage character to any sound in a matter of seconds.
Hip hop producers have long been aware of the unique character old-school samplers add to audio. With color and grit, early E-MU and Akai units made sounds "fat," helping them to sit well in mixes.
D16 Group Decimort 2 recreates the unique coloration and character of these magical vintage samplers with the addition of a beautiful bit crusher algorithm for total destruction if warranted!
6. WavesFactory Cassette
Cassette from WavesFactory imparts the unique sound of an often forgot-about medium. It's somewhat of a time machine plugin, giving you all of the funky characteristics of a cassette tape.
While these imperfections may not have been sought-after back in the Walkman days, they now instill a sense of nostalgia in listeners.
Cassette provides tape emulation with an exhaustive model of the sound signal recorded into real tape machines. The result is a plugin that gives you the same behavior and sound as the original units.
The cool thing is that you get a bit more control over what was once a random and chaotic medium. Magnetic tape is certainly not the most manageable medium. It would impart its own character to sounds running through it. These unpredictable, non-linear effects are what made the sound of this medium feel alive .
WavesFactory Cassette brings you into that dimension with a bit more control over how these characteristics react.
7. Aberrant DSP SketchCassette II
If WavesFactory Cassette doesn't do it for you, we recommend checking out SketchCassette II . This plugin takes itself a bit less seriously, introducing the wonderful world of lo-fi effects into your productions and mixes.
Whether you want subtle warbles or distorted destruction, SketchCassette II unlocks the entire range of tape machine sounds. It offers control and flexibility, pushing you into the unreal realm of lo-fi.
SketchCassette II includes 12 unique tape types and two tape saturation modules, including Gentle and Harsh. The wow and flutter section is highly adjustable, allowing for tempo sync, FM effects, and flanging.
Get started with more than 61 factory presets, which show off the versatility of the plugin.
8. Goodhertz Vulf
Goodhertz Vulf sets itself apart from the crowd as a unique compression plugin that is more than capable of delivering premium lo-fi wholesomeness.
Vulf is a product of a collaboration between the funk band Vulfpeck and Jack Stratton. It's a model of the "Vinyl Slim" algorithm, which was found on the old-school Boss SP303 sampler. The compression effect is certainly odd, though hip hop gurus will remember that it was the compression effect that changed the game for producers and beatmakers like J Dilla and Madlib.
You could almost say that the Boss SP303 compression algorithm was the reason for the lo-fi generation, and Goodhertz Vulf is simply a continuation of that inspiration. From stylish and smooth to squashed and distorted, you can push the Goodhertz Vulf plugin to every extreme possible.
It's a monster truck of an effect plugin and one you should absolutely have in your DAW!
9. u-he Satin
If you're looking to inject the sounds of old-school analog tape machines into your mixes, u-he Satin is the perfect low-fidelity plugin to do so. Some of the most desirable characteristics of lo-fi music come from magnetic tape.
With Satin, you can dive deep into tape characteristics to gain control over the various forms of its behavior. There are several controls to mess around with, including cross-talk, wow and flutter, bias, cross-talk, asperity, repro head gap width, and azimuth.
We have yet to find a plugin that emulates tape machines with such careful attention to detail. It's certainly not a set-it-and-forget-it plugin with the various modules, models, and modes built-in, though for someone who enjoys tweaking to no end, it's one of the most exciting lo-fi plugins around.
10. Cableguys Timeshaper 2
One familiar effect we often hear in music is the sound of vinyl slowing down and speeding up. Of course, if you're working with turntables, this kind of effect is super easy to create. However, if you're strictly working in your DAW, dialing this effect in can be quite difficult.
Timeshaper 2 offers total control over these speeding up and slowing down effects that you'd get from your standard turntable. It even works great for creating unique warble effects you'd only be able to get from a broken turntable.
Beyond that, there are plenty of options for looping and time manipulation. The modulation signal is LFO-generated, and you can see the waveform on the crisp GUI to get an idea of how it's being manipulated in real-time.
Timing is everything with CableGuys Timeshaper 2, and with an extensive curve editor and tons of unique tape effects, you can dial in precisely what you want!
11. Tritik Krush
Tritik Krush is a triple-threat distortion effect plugin with an included analog drive knob, a downsampler, and a bit crusher. It comes packed with dual filters and an LFO module that can be used to modulate any parameters you want.
The sound palette on this plugin is extremely wide, allowing you to dial in everything from dirty digital effects to crunchy modulated saturation. The drive stage sounds absolutely fantastic, perfect for imparting a sense of liveliness into otherwise sterile sounds.
Beyond that, the GUI is clean and clear, making it easy to navigate and dial in the sound as you see fit.
12. Devious Machines Texture
Texture is a fairly recent plugin that hit the market with a huge wave. The unique thing about this plugin is that it draws from a built-in library of more than 300 acoustic and electronic source sounds. Whether you want to beef up that kick drum with a sine wave, add dynamic filtered noise to tame your transients, or add a plethora of leftfield sounds to enhance your experimental sound design capabilities, Texture allows you to do all of this and more.
You'll find advanced envelope controls, independent EQ sections, source-specific synthesis controls, limiting, and an array of beautiful organic layers to give your sounds the extra dirt and bite they need to make your mixes more interesting.
The GUI is clean and colorful, giving you real-time detail into how your audio is reacting to the processing.
It would take us forever to go through all of the details of Devious Machines Texture, and it's a plugin that you should certainly explore for yourself.
13. Waves Retro Fi
Retro Fi is a relatively new Waves plugin that gives you the prized sound of vintage hardware, including tapes, samplers, vinyl records, and recording environments. The cool thing about this plugin is that it doesn't simply focus on one aspect of vintage gear. Instead, it gives you the flexibility to dial in several kinds of processing, making it one of the most versatile plugins on this list.
You'll find intuitive control sets across four distinct modules, including the Device Module, Space Module, Noise Module, and Mechanics Module, one of which can add noise to your signal. The strange thing is that Retro Fi does not tell the name of the devices it is emulating, meaning you'll need to be keen with your ears.
There's a massive range of presets to choose from and a large noise sample collection with detailed impulse responses to drastically change the way your audio sounds.
14. Initial Audio Analog Pro
Analog Pro is a simple and effective lo-fi plugin for bringing your digital audio to life, using the best characteristics of analog hardware like tape machines, vinyl turntables, and tubes. Initial Audio did a fantastic job at recreating the imperfections of audio playback from these various mediums, especially with the included wow and flutter controls.
Of course, beyond wow and flutter, you get access to a number of adjustable parameters, including Noise Type, Noise Level, Impulse Type, Emphasis, and more.
This plugin sounds fantastic on live instrumentation, including brass and pianos, perfect for helping otherwise dull recordings stand out in a mix. Analog Pro comes with an intuitive, resizable interface and has a clear-as-day Amount Knob on the front for mixing in your effects in parallel.
15. Arturia Tape MELLO-FI
Arturia has long been renowned for emulating vintage pieces of analog gear, bringing the sweet, warm sounds of yesteryear into modern music production. The company pulled out all the stops with MELLO-FI , modeling the aesthetic and behavioral characteristics of the bizarre and beautiful Mellotron keyboard instrument, which was used by icons such as The Beatles, Genesis, and The Moody Blues.
MELLO-FI starts you off with a top-tier preamp section that gives you access to drive, tone, and noise parameters, which is great for adding as much crispiness as you need to your incoming signals.
Next, you have the tape section, which offers wow, flutter, wear, and mechanical noise controls. Whether you're looking to age, modulate, or degrade your signal, these knobs make it easy to do so.
I love the included tape stop function as well, which allows you to capture the sound of tape slowing down. You can even sync it to your project to slow down your tracks in time!
At the very end of the plugin chain, you'll find a 12 dB per octave high-pass and low-pass filter section, which further ages your tracks, giving them a richer, warmer sound.
16. PSP VintageWarmer2
PSP VintageWarmer2 is one of those classic plugins that will likely be around forever. The beauty of this plugin is that it has been around for so long, and the developers have seen no reason to make any adjustments, as it's practically perfect how it is.
This high-quality VST plugin offers analog-style multi-band compression and limiting, providing rich and warm analog VST processing with an intuitive user interface.
Start it up by flipping through the comprehensive preset library and dial-in the Drive knob until you get the amount of compression and saturation you need.
The overload characteristics of this plugin are the reason why it has remained so popular, even after all these years. You can generate gorgeous saturation effects typical of analog tape. For better overload control, PSP added accurate VU and PPM metering.
When you purchase the PSP VintageWarmer2, you get three different versions, including the VintageWarmer2, the VintageWarmer (LE), and the MicroWarmer. The VintageWarmer (LE) offers lower resource usage, while the MicroWarmer offers a simpler single-band interface and low-latency performance.
17. Thenatan Vybz
Vybz is one of our favorite multi-fx plugins for adding color, noise, and retro crackle to mixes. You'll find several effects built into this plugin, such as saturation, echo, and reverb. The texture section delivers nine different effects, including vinyl noise, a low-pass filter, and a high-pass filter. You can even load your own custom texture files into this section for something totally unique!
One of my absolute favorite elements of this plugin is the reverb section, which comes with many impulse responses and models. As with the texture section, you can also add your own impulse responses here. You can even route your reverb and echo sound to the LFO module, creating out-of-this-world rhythmic effects.
Lastly, you have the saturation module, which Thenatan refers to as the "Damage" module. This module allows you to draw in your own custom waveshapes. For example, you can add VHS-style audio wobbles with the Time Machine shape, stereo imaging with the Motion section, or frequency shaping with the single-band dynamic EQ.
Overall, Vybz delivers the complete lo-fi experience with an array of retro sounds and total flexibility, which is why it is one of the best lofi plugins on the market today!
18. BeatSkillz SampleX V3
SampleX V3 from BeatSkillz is one of the more specific lofi plugins on this list, as it emulates samplers. In addition to emulating some of the most sought-after vintage samplers, it allows you to create your own based on your preferred specs.
You'll find a considerable number of controls for sculpting your incoming signals, including filters, sample rate, aliasing, bit rate, and more!
The Drive section sounds absolutely fantastic, giving you a sound reminiscent of what you would find in old-school hip-hop samplers, such as the s9000. With the adjacent "Shift" section, you can set your aliasing value accurately to get unique saturation characteristics without pitch manipulation.
The analog filtering is also top-notch, thanks to the resonance-rich low-pass filter. With the plugin's self-oscillation algorithm, you get an interesting pitched tone as you increase filter resonance.
BeatSkillz SampleX V3 is a great plugin for old-school performances. You'll find plenty of interesting lo-fi textures and modern algorithms to add that slight bit of flair your sound needs to intrigue your listeners.
Best Free Lo-Fi Plugins
1. HY Plugins HY-Lofi2
HY-Lofi2 is a unique free effects plugin that allows you to process sounds in several unique ways, from bit crushing to waveshaping to filtering and beyond. The beauty is that it's one of the simplest versatile plugins available.
You get a total of four quantizer modes, which offer a decent range of degradation, taking you from subtle saturation to all-out distortion. These four modes respond differently to the quality and bit depth values you dial in.
HY Plugins simplified the drive section with the last update, giving you a single knob to control the amount of saturation you want to add to your tone. At the end of the chain, you'll find high-pass and low-pass filters for a bit more tone control.
The GUI feels simple and familiar, and we love the randomize button for when you're not totally sure what sound you want to create.
2. Sb Audio Retro Boy
Sb Audio Retro Boy is a free Windows-only plugin that delivers a single oscillator to give you the unique sounds of a chiptune synthesizer. It is super lightweight on your CPU and is perfect for dialing in retro game sounds in a pinch.
Retro Boy uses subtractive emulation and a few built-in effects, including vibrato and decimation. You can toggle between seven waveshapes, including pulse, 25% pule, saw, square, sine, triangle, and noise.
While it's certainly not breaking any boundaries as a VST plugin, it loads fast and works as it promises. There's not much more we can ask for.
Keep It On The Lo-Fi
There you have it, some of the best lofi plugins around!
Unless humans ever have a sudden urge to dispel all aspects of nostalgia, lo-fi music seems like it'll be here for the long run.
With warbly, woozy, warm flavors and characteristics, the sounds of lo-fi seem to find their place across all genres of music.
With these lofi plugins, you can achieve an entirely unique form of sound design in your DAW.