18 Best Plugins for Sound Design

18 Best Plugins for Sound Design 18 Best Plugins for Sound Design

Sound design offers a seemingly infinite well of possibilities.

Many music makers enjoy extending their talents beyond the realm of producing, mixing, and mastering, learning how to sculpt and manipulate audio at its foundation to create unique auditory experiences.

And no matter what your sound design goals are, having the right tools at your disposal can make all the difference when trying to craft the sonic characteristics you hear in your head.

This is where sound design plugins come into play, bringing endless possibilities to your fingertips.

In this article, we're going to explore 18 of the best sound design plugins, from distortion plugins to convolution reverbs and beyond, all of which can unlock your sonic potential.

Ready to take your music production further than ever before?

Let's dive in!

#1 Arturia DIST Coldfire

When it comes to manipulating, mangling, or simply adding character to an audio source, distortion processors are some of my favorite effects. From subtle, tube-style warmth to fuzzy, aggressive audio destruction, distortion plugins come in a wide range of shapes and styles, and many of them work in distinct ways.

On one end of the spectrum, you'll find tape saturation, transformer saturation, and similar tools that introduce a gentle fuzz by adding harmonic complexity, lending a warm and cozy quality to your audio. On the opposite side, there are wave-shapers, bitcrushers, and other powerful distortion processors capable of destroying and reshaping your audio in more dramatic ways.

Now, of course, you could go searching high and low for different distortion plugins that can give you access to each of these effects, though that would probably be a time-consuming endeavor, not to mention incredibly expensive. On the other hand, if you want a convenient distortion plugin that encompasses all your distortion needs, Arturia's DIST Coldfire is the key.

Coldfire uses two versatile distortion engines, offering a total of 11 models to choose from, including Transistor, Germanium, Tube, Tape, Waveshaper, Rectifier, Wavefolder, Bit Crusher, and Bit Inverter.

It also comes provides pre- and post-distortion filter stages and six filter types on the pre-end with two more on the back>

The five routing options make it even more flexible, offering a combination of band-split, serial, mid-side stereo, and parallel engines.

For added movement and modulation, Coldfire takes things a step further with six modulators. The beautiful thing is that assigning modulators to the plugin's parameters is a straightforward process, allowing for complex and evolving effects.

Despite the potential for intense distortion effects, Coldfire includes a dynamics module to maintain control, which you can place either before or after the distortion stage. Do note that the multi-band option is somewhat limited, and the plugin only delivers basic presets.

As the cherry on top, Coldfire incorporates a built-in delay processor, capable of producing everything from beautiful lo-fi echoes to creative feedback-based effects. It's a truly dynamic plugin with a gorgeous visual interface for a one-of-a-kind sound design experience.

#2 Soundtoys Decapitator

Soundtoys Decapitator has long been one of the most sought-after saturation plugins out there, offering a wide range of control and versatility, all wrapped up in a user-friendly interface. From subtle analog character to aggressive distortion, this plugin can do it all.

The Soundtoys team meticulously analyzed numerous hardware components to create Decapitator, handpicking gear that showcased the most distinctive sound and character when used both subtly and pushed to their limits.

From this selection, they modeled their five favorite hardware units, represented by the A, E, N, T, and P styles within the plugin.

  • A : Modeled after the smooth Ampex 350 tape drive preamp
  • E : Modeled after the EMI Console Chandler/EMI TG Channel, perfect for silky highs and beefy lows.
  • N : Modeled after the unique input channel on the Neve 1057, which is known for its Germanium transistors
  • T : Modeled after the triode setting on the Thermionic Culture Vulture, great for punchy and even harmonic distortion
  • P : Modeled after the pentode setting on the Thermionic Culture Vulture, delivering an overdriven pentode tube sound.

Decapitator is a very straightforward distortion plugin with only a few included controls. One of my favorites is the Punish button, which is wonderful for pushing the boundaries of what's possible with distortion.

The thing that truly sets Decapitator apart from other distortion plugins is its reliance on analog sound. By emulating transistors, tubes, and pushed circuitry, it replicates the key ingredient that has made analog recordings sound fantastic for decades.

#3 Cableguys Shaperbox 3

ShaperBox 3 is a versatile multi-effect toolbox with a user-friendly interface, combining nine outstanding effects, including Width, Volume, Pan, Crush, Liquid, Filter, Noise, Drive, and Time. Modulating these effects is easier than ever, thanks to the intuitive GUI. Plus, if you're familiar with the past iterations of this plugin, the waveform is better than ever.

ShaperBox 3 offers unlimited effect combination possibilities, perfect for anyone that wants to breathe new life into their sample library or have fun with otherwise stale loops. The ability to trigger effects in the reworked browser, along with the extensive collection of 600 presets, all of which are neatly categorized, is just one of the main things that make this plugin so appealing.

If I had to spotlight one of the things that makes ShaperBox 3 so great, it would be its ability to generate completely unpredictable and unique sounds. The wacky, wild, audio-mangling presets offer immense creative fun.

I like that the plugin focuses on rhythmic modulation, giving you precisely modulatable LFOs that set it apart from the competition. You can combine multiple Shapers or use multiple instances of ShaperBox 3 to take your sound deformation possibilities even further.

One thing that's worth noting is that the team at ShaperBox avoided adding any modules that blur the signal, such as delay and reverb, giving you the most assertive and transparent results possible.

With so many different sound manipulation capabilities, ShaperBox 3 might just be one of my top five favorite tools for sound design, especially if versatility is what you're looking for. It offers an exceptional experience and has been highly recommended to me by many producers and musicians.

#4 Valhalla Super Massive

Valhalla Supermassive is a deceptively powerful plugin that offers a wide range of reverb and delay effect possibilities. What's interesting is that the clean and simple UI may not give away the depth of its capabilities at first glance, though trust me when I say it's worth having in your arsenal.

Oh, did I mention it's also free?

The plugin's controls are divided into sections, including mix, mod rate, mod depth, density, feedback, warp, delay, EQ, and width.

The mix knob, as you may have guessed, controls the wet/dry balance, while the width knob allows for reversing the left and right channels. The warp knob affects the smearing and wetness of the tails. The delay control determines the length of the delay, with options for tempo-synced settings or milliseconds. Lastly, the feedback section controls the level of feedback and the perceived number of echoes, while the mod station offers control over the rate and depth of delay modulation.

Super Massive blurs the line between reverb and delay, utilizing a series of feedback delay networks with delays of up to two seconds. Add the unique warp control in the mix, and the sonic possibilities are pushed even further, giving you everything from cascading harmonic echoes to fading echoes and rich reverbs that decay for many, many minutes. Super Massive is an understatement.

I often find myself using it to enhance synth sounds, create lush, never-ending landscapes, or add small bits of depth to regular instruments, such as drums, guitars, and vocals.

While it takes a bit of experimentation to harness its potential, as well as a bit of time to explore, Valhalla Super <assive is one of the most rewarding plugins for those seeking unique and customizable delay and reverb effects. From subtle, room-like spaces to dense, otherwordly reverbs ('otherwordly' being the keyword the team over at Valhalla uses to describe the plugin), Super Massive encourages users to rethink traditional approaches to time-based effects.

#5 Minimal Audio Cluster Delay

Cluster Delay is one hell of an effect, and I have to give kudos to the developer team at Minimal Audio, which took a unique and innovative approach to crafting one of the best sound design plugins on the market today. Cluster Delyay isn't your run-of-the-mill delay plugin, as it combines a multi-tap delay with a versatile range of multi-effects processors.

You get up to eight taps and customizable delay times, all of which are paired with stereo and mid/side modes, providing you with a dynamic toolset for crafting intricate soundscapes. Push that even further with the plugin's analog modeling option for manipulating feedback and filtering, and you can get warm, warbly tape-like characteristics.

However, one of Cluster Delay's standout features is its comprehensive multi-effects section, which includes a frequency shifter, flanger, phaser, chorus, diffusion blurring processor, and a wobbly time modulation section. When you combine these effects, you get a rich and textured sonic palette, none of which ever sounds 'plastic-ky.'

It's a truly valuable piece of software for producers aiming to push the boundaries of their sound design.

In addition to its powerful features, Cluster Delay offers an intuitive user interface that sets it apart from its competitors. Unlike what you might find in other ultra-versatile multi-effects processors, you get detailed visual cues for messing around with more complex settings.

The user experience is incredible, perfect for newcomers and expert sound designers who want added depth and complexity. The plugin also incorporates a ducker with time and depth controls, allowing you to craft more extreme effects and apply them to heavily rhythmic mixes without compromising integrity.

With its user-friendly interface and multi-effects section, Cluster Delay offers a distinct edge in the realm of sound design plugins, perfect for producers who want to explore new sonic territories and unleash their creativity with ease.

#6 iZotope Trash 2

Though it is more than a decade old at this point, iZotope's Trash 2 has earned its reputation as one of the best and most complex distortion plugins on the market today.

This distortion plugin stands out from other tools in the same category by seamlessly combining subtle digital nuances and precision with the rough and rugged qualities found in analog. It's an absolute delight for sound tweakers.

What I love about iZotope Trash 2 is that it goes beyond your ordinary distortion plugin, offering a wide range of possibilities from extreme bit crushing to gentle tube saturation. You'll even find a few unconventional effects onboard.

Overall, the plugin includes more than 60 distortion algorithms, over 100 presets, six multi-effect modules, and a remarkable multiband waveshaper. Essentially, you have more than enough to unleash your creativity.

If I didn't already make it clear enough, one of the standout features of iZotope's Trash 2 is its exceptional sonic versatility. It provides realistic speaker and space simulation, a dynamic effects chain, and sophisticated filtering possibilities, fulfilling every creative production need you could possibly dream up.

I often find myself reaching for it when I want to inject life and personality into dull sounds, though I'm not quite sure what it is I want to do. The beauty here is that you can dramatically transform sounds into something entirely unique.

It has truly become an indispensable tool in my arsenal.

And despite its impressive capabilities, Trash 2 remains relatively affordable, which is why I often tell producers it's a valuable investment if they're looking for a powerful distortion plugin. It'll no doubt surpass the capabilities of any stock plugins that you have in your DAW,

#7 FabFilter Volcano 3

Fabfilter's Volcano 3 was already an outstanding filter plugin even before they made any significant updates.

However, now, with its new scalable GUI, it offers an enhanced user experience and adds a completely new dimension to what you may have thought was possible with a simple filtering plugin. The team at FabFilter completely refined the workflow and allowed for the modulation section to support drag-and-drop editing.

Best of all, the interface gives you a visually appealing overview of all active modulations.

What I'm always impressed with each time I open up Volcano 3 is the simplicity and effectiveness of the modulation concepts it uses.

And, as a filtering plugin, the filters in Volcano 3 are the heart of its remarkable capabilities. With a combination of different filters, you can add incredible color and character to your sound.

The latest update introduces four additional analog modeled non-linear vintage EQ filter shapes, including All-Pass, Notch, Low-Shelf, High-Shelf, Bell, and an option for 6dB/Octave. Each filter shape also includes a Saturation/Drive control, allowing for precise sound manipulation.

Furthermore, you now have control over the panning and volume, as well as the choice between standard stereo or mid/side processing for each of the filters. You can get the best results out of your effect using what FabFilter dubbed the 'high-quality mode,' as it utilizes maximum oversampling.

The included presets are unbeatable, giving you plenty of starting points to jump off with, all of which serve as impressive examples of what can be achieved with this plugin.

Volcano 3 goes beyond your simple filter plugin. In all, it is a powerful sound design tool with truly impressive capabilities.

#8 Noise Engineering Ruina

Noise Engineering designed Ruina a few years back, and it quickly became an essential component of my sound design arsenal.

This distortion plugin's interface features a wide array of slider knobs in the "Tone" tab, offering multiband, multi-distortion effects such as buzz, saturation, fold, and overdrive. The company even included a wide range of filtering options.

When you pop open Ruina's "Modulation" tab, you find macro and LFO modulation parameters, while the "Config" window allows for UI customization. Not only can you adjust the size of the plugin, but you can also adjust the color with the "Hue" control and add a superficial glow with the "Fire" control.

While it may seem like an intricate piece of software at first glance, once you start exploring the Tone window, you'll quickly see how many remarkable outcomes you can get out of this sound design plugin.

If we deviate from the fundamental functionality and delve into "nudge" and "rand" functionalities, you'll see where this plugin truly opens up.

Efficiency and novelty are often the names of the game when I'm looking for a distinct sound, which is why the nudge and random controls are invaluable for quickly generating unique and usable sounds. When you activate the nudge functionality, you get slight parameter variations, offering incremental changes to the overall sound and throwing new sound variations into the mix.

On the other hand, the random functionality randomizes every parameter to produce entirely new sounds altogether.

Where Ruina excels is providing fantastic and surprisingly underrated sound design capabilities, which are oddly usable in many scenarios, whether your aim is to add texture to a stale sound or completely transform a sample or loop to make it unrecognizable.

To top it all off, Ruina is available for free as part of a Noise Engineering bundle that includes Virt Veror and Sinc Veror, two exceptional software synthesizers.

#9 Soundtoys FilterFreak

I mention it here on eMastered quite often, though I'll say it again. Soundtoys is one of my favorite plugin developers for creative sound design plugins. The company has a knack for drawing the analog sound into the digital sphere and offers a wide range of sound design tools for just about any style of music producer.

FilterFreak is one of those indispensable tools, offering a wide range of versatile filtering options.

The plugin comes in two forms: FilterFreak1, which functions as a simple, single filter, and FilterFreak2, which delivers two separate analog filters. Of course, two filters just mean more intricate modulation.

When you dig into the plugin's series mode, you can take its sound design possibilities even further.

With FilterFreak, you can access all of your essential filter types, including high- and low-pass, band-pass, and band-reject. The built-in Tweak button activates a virtual filtering circuit, giving you additional parameters to shape your sound.

Every filter effect can be activated in parallel as well.

So, what do I like to use FilterFreak for?

More than anything else, I find that it excels in tandem with digital synths.

Digital synths often lack the depth and character in the filtering section that you get from analog synthesizers. However, FilterFreak addresses the issue with its superbly designed analog-style filters. Plus, you can use the shape editor to create custom LFO patterns for creative sweeps or oscillating effects.

Whether you're a sound designer or an EDM producer, you'll no doubt appreciate the rhythm and tweak sections, which open new avenues for track modulation. FilterFreak is also one of my favorite sound design tools for enhancing drums. It has a special ability to inject punch and character into otherwise flat loops and beats.

If you use a mixture of live drums and samples, it can be an incredibly valuable tool for unifying your drum sounds, creating a more cohesive and organic feel.

#10 DS Audio Tantra 2

When the team at DS Audio put out Tantra 2, it exceeded every expectation I had, especially as an avid Tantra 1 user.

So, just what is this complicated-looking sound design plugin?

Tantra 2 is what the developer dubs a 'rhythmic multi-effects plugin,' offering an incredibly intuitive way to generate unique rhythmic sequences from any audio source that you inject into it.

Even the simplest sounds, such as a single piano chord or a snare hit, can yield breathtaking results with just a few clicks.

When you open up the plugin, the first thing you see are six two-stage effects — Glitch, Flanger, Lo-Fi, Delay, Distortion, and Filter. You can arrange these effects in any order and use them either in series or parallel.

With added flexibility, you get a much wider range of creative possibilities.

At the core of Tantra 2 lies the Modulator Section, which provides complex and configurable 32-step envelopes and a multitude of operating modes. The ability to create unique rhythmic patterns is out of this world.

Beyond that, the Convolution section includes impulse responses derived from an array of specialized equipment, as well as unique picks like old speakers and broken microphones.

If you're like me and enjoy generating fresh custom settings on the fly, you'll love one of my personal favorite features — the "intelligent" randomizer algorithm.

The plugin has undergone significant improvements since its first iteration, boasting a clean and clutter-free design with a modernized GUI for enhanced usability and control.

While I often found myself using a transient designer with Tantra 1 to reduce harsh attack sounds, Tantra 2 delivers much more ear-pleasing results. You can get much closer to your creative vision while having fun with unexpected effect combinations that you wouldn't even realize you needed until you found them.

Overall, Tantra 2 is an exceptional tool for sound design, music production, and creative mixing, particularly in the realm of electronic music. I highly recommend it if you're to looking to explore new sonic territories and unique sounds.

#11 Output Portal

Granularization is a unique audio effect, as it divides audio into smaller slices known as grains, which can then be individually manipulated in numerous ways, such as time-stretching, filtering, panning, scale quantization, reordering, pitch adjustment, reversing, and more.

Output has come a long way as a music production company, designing some of the most sought-after VST plugins and sound design tools on the market today.

What distinguishes Portal from other granular plugins is its unique ability to preserve the character of the original sound while introducing fresh and musical elements. While other granular plugins often tend to focus on creating more abstract elements, such as ethereal textures or evolving, atmospheric pads, Portal offers the option to completely transform and mutate any sound that's run through it.

To make things even better, Portal boasts an extensive preset collection, giving you more than 250 presets to work with. And, unlike with some VST plugins, where searching for the right preset can take up a lot of precious time, the team at Output thoughtfully organized the presets into 13 categories, providing you with a wide range of sonic possibilities that you can load up in an instant.

Of course, I can't forget the sleek XY Macro display pad. Output's plugins always seem to have a modern and intuitive look, and Portal is no exception. The colorful display adds a fun and interactive element to the overall user experience, making Portal not only a versatile plugin, but one that's exciting to use.

#12 Sugar Bytes Graindad

As a longtime fan of the plugins that the team at Sugar Bytes puts out, I was thrilled to discover their new addition to the lineup — Graindad. 

Like Portal, this is another unique granular plugin with a host of intriguing concepts and an equally fun-to-use interface. At the core of Graindad lies one of the most powerful grain engines on the market today, allowing you to play back up to 64 grains simultaneously in various configurations. 

You have the flexibility to edit pre-existing audio files or process live audio. Additionally, you can trigger your edits directly via MIDI or synchronize recording with your host clock. Allowing for this kind of flexibility was a clever idea on their part.

Of course, the most exciting part is the actual engine Graindad runs on.

When you open the plugin up, you find 12 main parameters that allow for experimentation with a number of unique processing styles, including reversing, pitch shifting, harmonizing, glitching, time stretching, stuttering, looping, and other creative effects. 

Alongside these effects, you'll find standard granular characteristics like pitch, position, grain size, density, and more.

However, in my humble opinion, the standout feature of Graindad is its dual modulation engine. 

It’s one of the most versatile modulation engines I’ve found in any granular plugin, giving you access to not only a range of standard modulations, such as step sequencers, modulators, LFOs, and envelopes but also the innovative Harvester Modulation engine. It’s one of those weird instances where you just have to explore its capabilities to find out what makes this unique engine so wacky yet powerful.

And while it may take some time to fully grasp the complexity of Graindad, as it’s certainly not a plugin for the squeamish, the results you can pull out of this thing are truly extraordinary. It’s also worth noting that Sugar Bytes has also incorporated various ways to randomize parameters. If you’re like me and get excited at the idea of adding a touch of unpredictability to your sound design, you’ll love it.

If that all wasn’t enough, Graindad includes an impressive multi-effects engine, featuring delays, shimmer effects, reverbs, multimode filters, and more. It’s an incredibly comprehensive set of effects that expands your creative possibilities even further than you could have imagined. 

To me, Graindad stands out as one of the most interesting and well-thought-out granular plugins on the market today, offering a fantastic playground for sound manipulation and exploration.

#13 Softube Tape

When you think of sound design plugins, tape plugins are not often the first to come to mind. However, tape can offer a number of unique sound design characteristics that can be used to completely transform signals.

For starters, tape emulations are known for their ability to add warmth, saturation, and coloration, all of which are very pleasing to the ears. Not only can the characteristics of tape bring life and richness to digital audio, but it can also make it more interesting and organic.

Even beyond the saturation and distortion, most tape plugins offer controls for introducing wow and flutter effects, mimicking the imperfections and fluctuations of vintage tape machines. These effects are very popular in the lo-fi realm, great for imparting a sense of nostalgia and unpredictability to your audio.

Plus, you’ll also often find tape delays, echo effects, and additional modulation parameters for creating uniquely lush spatial effects or adding depth and dimension.

Softube Tape is a wonderful example of a versatile tape emulation plugin with a budget-friendly price point. On top of that, the frequent 50% discount makes it easy to snag it for under $50.

It delivers a smooth and rich sound, faithfully emulating three distinct vintage tape machines, perfect for getting that nostalgic or vintage aesthetic to give your sounds a timeless quality.

It’s worth noting that while it offers a really pleasant sound, it does lack some of the advanced features and controls found in other tape emulators. You're limited to adjusting three parameters: character, tape machine type, and tape speed. While these options provide a good level of customization, they fall short of the more comprehensive controls found in plugins like Ampex or Satin.

The good thing is that this level of simplicity can work in your favor, as the plugin is notably lightweight on CPU usage. If you're working with an older computer setup, Softube Tape could be the ideal choice for getting that tape sound without straining your system resources.

#14 Devious Machines Infiltrator

When Devious Machines first hit the market with Infiltrator, I wasn’t sure what to think. This sequenced multi-FX tool seemed incredibly complicated at first glance, even with its sleek UI, very similar to that of Output’s Portal. 

Now, I can confidently say that it has become one of my go-to sound design weapons when I want to create something special. The beauty of Infiltrator is that it allows you to stack and combine up to ten effects simultaneously, all of which come from the diverse selection of 28 effects in total. 

The plugin also gives you the ability to harness complex sequencing and modulation capabilities, taking your creative potential even further than you could have imagined. 

Among the available effects, you'll find an impressive assortment of 12 filters, including high-pass, low-pass, and band-pass. Many of these filters were inspired by and modeled after renowned hardware synthesizers like the MS20 and SH-101. 

The quality and sonic character of these filters are truly remarkable. 

Even so, most people don’t gravitate toward Infiltrator for the filters — they do so for the effects. 

You can explore a diverse range of modulation capabilities, including overdrive, reverb, delay, looping, pitch shifting, phasing, FM synthesis, ring modulation, frequency shifting, and more. The only thing that I really wish Devious Machines included was a reverse effect. It truly would have been a fantastic addition to the plugin, and I can only hope they decide to add it in future updates.

Now, even though the effects are what draw people in from far and wide, the true heart of the system lies in its step sequencer, boasting 32 steps for breathing life into your effects. This feature allows for total control over the modulation and movement of your sound and the ability to create intricate rhythmic patterns.

Devious Machines went above and beyond when developing Infiltrator, considering almost every detail and adding a range of nifty features. If you’re someone who gets easily overwhelmed with new plugins, you’ll be happy to know that they’ve included an extensive library of over 750 presets, ensuring you have everything you need to find a solid starting point for your creative modulation journey. 

If you’re someone that likes to tweak and tinker, you’ll enjoy how clear, logical, and remarkably user-friendly the plugin’s layout is. I don’t think I ever felt the need to look at a manual once I got into it. 

One of the most intriguing aspects of the plugin is its tendency to yield completely unpredictable and unique sounds. Every time I open it up to explore, I end up with a delightful surprise. I truly believe Infiltrator has the potential to replace several existing multi-FX plugins. It’s one of the few true all-in-one solutions out there today.

With an intuitive design, an immense preset collection, and the ability to generate out-of-this-world sonic landscapes, Infiltrator is a standout choice for producers and sound designers looking for far-out creative possibilities.

#15 Output Thermal

With how simple and straightforward this plugin is, I’m going to keep this review short and sweet. 

It’s pretty clear that I like what the people over at Output have going on, and with another must-have sound design essential from Output Audio on this list — Thermal — I don’t have to hint at it again. 

This interactive distortion plugin offers a wide range of audio manipulation possibilities, including distortion, saturation, buzz, redux, and more. Yup, all of that is wrapped up in this ultra-intuitive interface. 

However, it goes beyond your standard distortion plugin, taking advantage of multistage and multi-band distortion capabilities for enhanced creative potential, similar to what you’d find in a plugin like FabFilter Saturn, though simpler. It’s ended up becoming one of my favorite tools for when I want to dial in quick yet precise saturation on vocals, drums, guitars, or synths.

Thermal is not only similar to Portal in terms of its user-friendly XY pad interface, but it also provides an extensive collection of high-quality presets. The workflow that you get with this plugin caters to both beginner and expert sound designers. 

Moreover, once you start digging under the hood, you’ll find the option to dive deeper into the plugin for fine-tuning specific modulation parameters.

Make sure to keep your eyes on the Output Audio website, as Thermal, among Output’s other plugins, is frequently discounted during holiday seasons.

#16 FabFilter Saturn 2

If you’re looking for a multi-band distortion and saturation plugin that is a bit more versatile, I recommend checking out Saturn 2 from FabFilter. This unique plugin stands out as one of the most versatile saturation/distortion plugins on the market today, offering a wide spectrum of options that range from subtle and clean saturation to complete and utter harmonic destruction.

Don’t get me wrong, the first iteration of Saturn was great. Beyond the fact that it felt a bit complex at times, I never had any qualms with it. However, when FabFilter released version 2 and introduced a user-friendly and completely redesigned graphical interface, complete with modulation visualization and five adjustable UI sizes, I knew what I didn’t know I was missing all along. 

Plus, they came in pretty hot with the addition of 16 new distortion algorithms (bringing the total to 28), adjustable crossover slopes (6, 12, 24, and 48 dB/oct), multi-band and side-chain operation, a few ergonomic enhancements, a new Transformer category, and more. 

I cannot think of a plugin like this that offers such a comprehensive set of features for precise control over your distortion effects.

The thing is, even with the multitude of distortion effects available, Saturn 2 excels in delivering subtle, organic, and natural distortion that surpasses other plugins in its category. Whether you’re looking to get that clean, gentle, and warm tape or tube saturation, or you crave the wildest and most destructive multiband guitar amp effects, FabFilter Saturn 2 can get you the results you want with finesse.

The user interface was redesigned for ease of use. While the modulation capabilities used to feel a bit inaccessible, I find myself tweaking them a lot more now. 

Any FabFilter user knows that there’s never any shortage of room for sound tweaking, which is why it has become a go-to choice for a wide range of sound design applications. 

I highly recommend kicking on the "Faster Master" preset when you download the plugin. It sounds absolutely gorgeous on most mixes. 

All in all, if you're seeking a top-notch multiband distortion plugin for production, mixing, and sound design purposes, I wholeheartedly recommend FabFilter Saturn 2. The developers truly delivered a standout product.

#17 Heavyocity Punish

Heavyocity has been around since 2009 and has gained recognition in the music production community for crafting some of the most innovative and cinematic sound design products.

Punish, which is arguably one of the company’s most renowned products, is an incredibly versatile effect that can be utilized in a multitude of ways, whether you’re looking for subtle processing or extreme sound mangling and manipulation. 

From the exceptional sound quality to the steampunk-style graphical user interface, every time I bust this plugin open, it’s sheer enjoyment.

One of the key advantages of Punish is its comprehensive collection of core sound design effects. I love not having the need to open multiple plugin windows to use different effects. All of your sound shaping can be accomplished within Punish. 

If you come up with an effect that you love, you have the ability to save it as an entire effect chain and load it up later as a preset, perfect for optimizing your workflow so you can focus on creativity.

The user interface of Punish deserves praise. The aesthetics are nothing short of unique and impressive, and all of the controls are well-organized. Unlike many other plugin manufacturers that are going for the sleek and modern look, the team at Heavyocity went for epic and powerful appearance. This look alone offers plenty of inspiration for industrial-style sound design. 

The visual design contributes to a more engaging and immersive experience, and I love that they recognized the importance of visual inspiration when it comes to music production.

The plugin lives up to its name, delivering nothing short of a hard-hitting sound throughout its effects chain. It’s pretty easy to overdo it with so many effects, so take care unless a chaotic end result is what you’re looking for. 

I often recommend it to producers in the cinematic realm, as where Punish truly shines is in epic sound design capabilities. It’s one of the most valuable pieces of software in my arsenal for enhancing drum and percussion elements, such as impacts, booms, stabs, accents, and more.

If you’re making trailer music, it brings that extra "oomph" that you need to make the speakers move.

#18 Soundtoys Crystallizer

While the team over at Soundtoys might market Crystallizer as a Granular Echo Synthesizer, its capabilities extend far beyond that title. With a wide array of unique parameters bundled together on an all-too-familiar Soundtoys interface, fake wood grain and all,, this plugin offers a plethora of possibilities for sound designers.

Pitch shifting, delay, reversing, and splicing are among the key elements at your disposal, making Crystallizer a comprehensive tool for all out granulation. Coupled with the extensive preset library, creating unique sounds and captivating soundscapes has never been easier. 

If you’re seeking further control, the Tweak button opens up an additional control panel with plenty more parameters to tweak to your heart’s content. As an avid sound designer myself, I can't help but adore Crystallizer. It almost feels as if I’m cheating when I load up a preset, as it always delivers lush soundscapes with one click. You get an immense amount of power with ths plugin, as well as an abundance of design possibilities.

While Crystallizer certainly excels when working with melodic tracks, especially when the goal is to create beds of cascading and evolving sounds, it’s also tons of fun to inject its magic onto other elements, such as drums. 

If you’re a fan of EDM or Drum n Bass, playing around with the pitch and splice parameters can yield excellent results.

If you’re a sound designer, Crystallizer is a no-brainer. It seamlessly integrates into the world of electronic music production and its versatility and creative potential make it an invaluable addition to any VST toolkit.

Your Journey to Sound Des Excellence

The world of sound design stretches far and wide. There’s no doubt that there are plenty more remarkable plugins out there. However, I hope that you've discovered at least one new tool on this list that ignites your creativity and motivates you to delve into your DAW to create something completely fresh and new. 

Bring your songs to life with professional quality mastering, in seconds!