If you are just getting started using Ableton, one of the first things you'll probably want to do is build your plug-in arsenal. While there are plenty of great plugins that come for free with the full version of Ableton Live, there are many top-notch Ableton-compatible plugins that you can use to enhance your mixing and sound design capabilities.
If you are overwhelmed by the sheer number of plugins on the market to choose from, come dive in with us as we take a look at our favorite plug-ins for Ableton Live.
Best EQ Plugins for Ableton Live
1. FabFilter Pro-Q3
It's hard to talk about great EQ plugins without making mention of FabFilter Pro-Q3 . This multi-functional parametric EQ delivers up to 24 bands, nine filter types, three latency modes, a dynamic EQ function, and an incredibly useful spectrum analyzer that you can use to compare the frequency content of multiple tracks when you have a network of Pro-Q3 iterations up and running.
The user interface is sleek and clean in standard FabFilter fashion, helping to create a smooth workflow. With surgical capability, FabFilter Pro-Q3 can help you with any EQ work imaginable. It has a transparent character that never sounds digital or mechanical, even when pushed to its limits.
The visual representation from the analyzer is a true blessing as well. With unlimited flexibility, a user-friendly interface, and low CPU usage, it has become the go-to EQ plugin for many music producers.
2. Waves PuigTec EQ
If you're a fan of the sound of old-school Pultec equalizers, such as the EQP-1A and the MEQ-5, then you'll absolutely love the PuigTec EQ bundle from Waves. For starters, not having to spend thousands of dollars to get your hands on one of these units is a huge win. Secondly, Waves has somehow packed the warm and musical quality of these iconic EQ units into plugin form, allowing you to shape your signals to perfection.
The EQP-1A has long been my favorite for low and high-end boost. A bit of 60Hz on a kick or a bit of 12kHz on an acoustic guitar can do absolute wonders for a mix.
3. TDR Nova EQ
TDR Nova is a free EQ plugin that offers precise functionality and dynamic capabilities. It is one of the best free plugins on the market today. While it might be just as intuitive as the stock EQ in Ableton Live, the dynamic EQ capabilities are what make it a stand-out plugin.
You can use it to make precise and surgical cuts and boosts, just like EQ Eight, but the dynamic EQ functionality is very useful in certain mixing situations where you don't want to completely kill resonances throughout the course of a track.
Instead, you can set the threshold so that any nasty resonances are cut only when they should be, keeping the overall tone and character in check. Anyone looking for a free EQ plugin that has the functionality of some of the most popular paid parametric EQ plugins on the market should definitely get their hands on TDR Nova EQ.
Best Dynamics Plugins for Ableton Live
1. Xfer Records OTT
Xfer Records, a company most popular for the Serum wavetable synthesizer, came up with the idea of extracting the popular multiband compressor from its famed synth plugin to create the standalone OTT multiband compressor. It quickly became an icon in the world of EDM music production and is still used by some of the biggest names in the industry, including KSHMR, Deadmau5, and W&W.
You'll find four controls on the simple interface, allowing you to set the level of compression, the attack and release times, and the input and output gain. You'll also find three independent frequency bands to shape your sound, and two upward and downward compression knobs to choose whether you cut or push your signal.
It's a truly inspiring plugin for when things need to be pushed to their limits. With a punchy and aggressive tone, it's one of my must-have Ableton plugins.
2. PSP FETpressor
The 1176 might be one of the most emulated pieces of hardware equipment ever. With countless emulations, finding the best one can be difficult. After much trial and error, I've determined that one of my favorites is the PSP FETpressor , which offers the true sound of the original piece of hardware with a few authentic features that bring it into the modern era, making it far more flexible than the original.
For example, you can adjust the attack time so that it is much faster than what was possible with the original analog gear. You can also set longer release times to give you smoother, more transparent compression.
It also comes with parallel compression capabilities, a high-pass filter module, and a sidechain function with stereo linking functionality, giving you incredible control over your tracks.
3. Waves Smack Attack
Waves Smack Attack has become a go-to plugin for my drum production, delivering plenty of transient-shaping functionality and crisp algorithms that aren't as easily available in Ableton. I often find myself using it on kick drums to get a bit of added punch by boosting the transients on the front end.
It can also be a useful plugin for stacking drum samples. You can shave off the front end of a roomy snare stack so that the transient doesn't interfere with your main snare or trim the room sound off a drum fill sample to time it to your mix.
The plugin is super transparent and comes with plenty of parameters that you wouldn't find on a standard transient shaper, including the protection limiter, which stops you from going into the red when giving your drums a good dose of attack.
Best Saturation Plugins for Ableton Live
1. Softube Saturation Knob
Saturation plugins are great for adding harmonic richness to your tracks, and one of the best saturation plugins, Softube Saturation Knob , happens to be completely free. This extremely simple plugin delivers three saturation modes, allowing you to apply harmonic distortion to your highs, lows, or mids.
The saturation style is very warm, with an undeniable analog style. You can use it to add a bit of shimmer to your lead vocals, add a bit of mid-range smack to snares, or a bit of low-end warmth to bass guitars.
Honestly, it's a great plugin for just about anything. It's been one of my go-to saturation plugins for quite some time and offers a much better tone than the saturation plugin built into Ableton Live.
2. Dada Life Sausage Fattener
A few years back, the producer duo Dada Life released their Sausage Fattener saturation plugin to much acclaim. This cheeky little plugin can add saturation and distortion to individual tracks, giving them the dirt and assertiveness they need to break through a mix. I've even found myself using it on the master channel to effectively boost loudness.
You'll find three simple controls on the interface, including Gain, Color, and Fatness. The interface truly couldn't be more straightforward. You start with the Gain knob, adjusting the input level, then use the other two knobs to add some grit to your track.
While it might be a small tool, it shouldn't be underestimated. From discreet thickening to all-out annihilation, it is one of the most powerful little saturation plugins on the market today.
3. Fresh Air
Fresh Air is one of the few free plugins from Slate Digital, perfect for adding that luxurious sense of air to your tracks. It's a truly exceptional plugin for adding sizzle and brightness to your high-end tracks, such as your vocals, acoustic guitars, or hi-hats.
The plugin acts like a vintage multi-band exciter, altering the excitement on high-band and mid-band frequencies. What's great about this plugin is that it creates and accentuates frequencies that wouldn't exist without it. You can use the mix knob to dial in around 30-40% of the plugin to add just the perfect amount of brightness to your tracks so they poke through the mix.
Best Reverb Plugins for Ableton Live
1. FabFilter Pro-R
FabFilter Pro-R is one of the most powerful reverb plugins on the market with its transparent reverb algorithms and near-limitless processing capabilities. It uses an integrated six-band EQ, opening up a number of sound-shaping possibilities.
There are seven main controls neatly placed near the top of the interface, giving you control over the brightness, distance, character, decay rate, space, stereo image, and mix. You can create anything from simple room sounds to never-ending, atmospheric spaces in a pinch. The plugin is great for transparent sounds, as it wasn't made to color the signal. It's a reverb I find myself using on just about every project, thanks to its flexibility and unlimited possibilities.
2. Valhalla Supermassive
Valhalla has a number of top-of-the-line, time-based plugins and a great reputation for emulating the sound of vintage in budget-friendly plug-in form.
Valhalla Supermassive is a beautifully designed reverb plugin, capable of creating ethereal and atmospheric spaces. This free reverb plugin is not only one of the best free VST plugins for creating massive, never-ending reverbs but also one of my favorites for creating psychedelic, swirling delays.
One of the elements of Supermassive that makes it stand out from so many other reverb plugins is the long list of algorithms. There are 14 unique algorithms to pick from, each of which is named after a constellation, providing numerous nuances to your ambiance.
Valhalla also gives you a huge list of presets to get you started. Some of my favorites are the room-like sounds that are great for when you need super short spaces, such as a small drum room or ambient space for rhythm guitar.
All in all, it's a great plugin for sound design purposes, creating huge, nearly granular soundscapes or adding the cherry on top of unique effect chains.
3. Soundtoys Little Plate
Sometimes, simplicity exceeds all. This is certainly the case when it comes to Soundtoys Little Plate , which emulates the sound of the EMT 140 Plate Reverb in a superb little package. You'll only find one switch on the plugin, which allows you to choose between two plate characteristics. Beyond that, there's a knob for the decay time and a low-cut filter to take unnecessary low-end out of your reverb tone.
Little Plate goes beyond your standard plate reverb emulation, exceeding the physical dimensions when pushed to its limits. Turn the Decay knob to Infinity and take your listeners on an adventure. With low CPU usage, a simple interface, and a vintage touch, it's a wonderful take on the traditional plate reverb.
Best Delay Plugins for Ableton Live
1. Soundtoys Echoboy
No list of great delay plugins is complete without talking about Soundtoys Echoboy . This plugin is one of the most flexible and comprehensive delay plugins on the market today, giving you 30 different delay styles to choose from, many of which emulate some of the most iconic delay devices on the market today, such as the Electro-Harmonix Memory Man, the Roland Space Echo, the Echoplex, and the Boss DM-2.
There are plenty of great presets to get you started and a world of relevant parameters to tweak to your heart's delight. The capabilities feel nearly endless, making it an all-purpose weapon for time-based effects, meeting any demand you might have along the way.
2. FabFilter Timeless 3
Timeless 3 from FabFilter is a digital emulation of a tape echo plugin that gives users functionality beyond your standard delay algorithms. In my eyes, it's a delay plugin for sound designers, using two high-end multimode filters with adjustable cross-feedback, phase inversion, and a number of built-in effects, including flanger, chorus, and phaser.
There are so many cool modulation possibilities integrated into this plugin. And, as you could expect from FabFilter, the interface was designed to the highest standards. It's very easy to navigate and the small information bubbles that pop up when you hover over different controls are very helpful.
3. Waves H-Delay
Having a good vintage delay in your arsenal can be helpful when you need to give your digital mixes a bit of analog flavor. H-Delay is one of the most versatile delay plugins on the market today, providing flexibility and low CPU usage.
There are tons of delay effects to pick from, thanks to the large menu of presets, and a host of parameters to tweak your delay to perfection, including standard delay parameters, such as Feedback and Time, as well as modulation controls, high and low-pass filters, and a nifty little lo-fi knob for when you need that added bit of grit.
From slap delay on lead vocals to spaced-out dub delay on drums, H-Delay can do it all.
Best Effect Plugins for Ableton Live
1. Glitchmachines Fracture
Fracture is a unique VST glitch effect plugin that delivers a granular-style distortion effect. The developers describe it as a "buffering" effect, which sounds a lot like a computer that is malfunctioning or putting out robot sounds. It's an excellent plugin for electronic music, as it provides glitch-style effects for manipulating and mangling your tracks, creating unique soundscapes, and adding texture to your mixes.
The interface has a very pristine look and is extremely easy to navigate. With a newly upgraded look and added controls, you can manipulate the filters, delays, repeats, and buffer size.
When it comes to creating high-quality glitch effects and granular soundscapes, I really can't recommend Fracture enough.
2. XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color
I find a way to fit XLN Audio RC-20 in just about every mix I do these days. It's one of the most versatile tools in my toolset. No matter what genre of music you're working on, this Swiss army knife of a plugin delivers several unique effects to add interest to otherwise bland sounds.
You'll find six distinct modules on the interface, including a Noise module, a Wobble module, a Distortion module, a Digital (bit reduction) module, a Space module, and a Magnetic module. Each of these modules has different algorithms, giving you a long list of sound characteristics to pick from.
The beauty of the plugin is that it is incredibly streamlined. You can quickly churn out grungy and processed sounds to add character to your mix.
3. Sugar Bytes Effectrix
Sugar Bytes Effectrix has been around for quite some time now, and it is still one of the wackiest effects plugins on the market. It uses a looping step sequencer, which you can control by painting in colorful blocks to process your sounds using the effect in the corresponding lane.
It's one of the most useful plugins for building up large layers of effects that interact with one another, creating deceptively complicated processing.
You'll find 14 effects altogether, as well as a modulator track, which you can use to assign a few parameters to manipulate or shift effects as they go. It's a truly remarkable feature that gives Effectrix more of a tactile experience. In essence, it makes the plugin more like an instrument.
Overall, Effectrix is simple in its concept, though provides a surprising amount of flexibility and power that I've yet to find in another multi-effect plugin.
Best Synth Plugins for Ableton Live
1. Sylenth 1
Over the years, Sylenth has established itself as a must-have synth VST for electronic music production. With a straightforward user interface and tons of great built-in sounds, it's one of the most popular synth VSTs on the market today.
The beauty of Sylenth lies in the large online community, which is why you'll find so many great free presets for Sylenth. Several developers have even come out with free skins, allowing you to customize the look of your Sylenth plugin.
Taking it even further, you can customize this virtual analog synthesizer with up to four oscillators and eight unique waveforms. There are also two LFOs with their own set of eleven waveforms, as well as three separate filters and a robust effect section.
From melodic synth lines to heavy synth basses and beyond, the possibilities with Sylenth are near endless.
The Serum wavetable synthesizer is another must-have synth VST, especially for music producers in the electronic realm. It has tons of sounds well-suited for modern production, an easy-to-use interface, and 450 contemporary presets to get you started. If you're someone who likes to build your sounds from the ground up, you'll appreciate the 140 included wavetables as well.
The sound creation capabilities set this VST apart from so many other synths, thanks to the visual user interface. You can see how your waveforms are reacting in real-time, which can't be said for most synth VSTs.
Whether you're creating leads, basses, or pads, you'll find rich tonal quality and a wide, powerful stereo image with plenty of filters and oscillators to manipulate your sound. From House to EDM to Dubstep, any kind of music producer can enjoy the wide offerings Serum provides.
3. Vital Synth
Vital is a free VST plugin that was released in 2020 and became somewhat of a small icon in the electronic music production community. This four-oscillator wavetable synthesizer plugin is very similar to the popular Serum synthesizer from Xfer Records.
While it's different from Serum in several ways, the community has hailed it as a copy of Serum.
When you download Vital, you get total synth access with 75 unique wavetables and 25 built-in presets. Beyond that, you'll find several noise samples for adding texture to your mixes.
The things that make Vital different from many free VST instruments are the ease of use, the sound quality, and the near-limitless modulation shaping possibilities. Seriously, the modulation versatility feels endless. With a drag-and-drop design, you can shape and customize every section of the plugin, manipulating the many filters to design sounds from the ground up.
If that wasn't good enough, you'll also find a large built-in suite of effects in this CPU-friendly plugin.
Ableton has long been one of my favorite DAWs as a music producer. It has some of the best free plugins that come in stock, offering killer sound quality and control, even in the free version.
However, if you want to expand your music production horizons beyond the stock Ableton plugins, consider getting started with some of the plugins above!