+ Ryan Lott (of Son Lux) teaches how to build custom virtual instruments for sound design and scoring in Designing Sample-Based Instruments.
There’s no shortage of audio plugins out there by any stretch. So much so, in fact, that you can find yourself overwhelmed as well as in danger of overspending pretty easily.
But while you’ve no doubt all heard of the big dogs — Waves, Slate Digital, Universal Audio, etc. — you may not have come across some of these smaller plugin companies that are putting out absolute gold, and changing the landscape of creative audio production one virtual parameter at a time!
Here are five of the coolest small, independent plugin companies you must check out (in no particular order, of course).
1. Acustica Audio
Emulation of classic, high-quality analog gear is all the rage now. This is (sort of) what Acustica Audio does, only they take a different approach, emulating exotic equipment and using a very different methodology to do so — something they call “Vectorial Volterra Kernels.” Don’t ask us to explain that…
Acustica also has a line of exquisite reverbs, headphone correction (again with their custom, creative approach), and some free versions of some of the coolest stuff. You really just have to go check these guys out to take it all in.
2. Final Mix Software
Final Mix Software comes courtesy of Rob Chiarelli and friends, and while Rob himself may not be a small name, it’s guaranteed you’ve heard at least some of his many mixes and productions), Final Mix Software is an unassuming plugin company making some really handy stuff, including emulations of some classic retro EQs and compressors.
The kicker, though, is Rob Chiarelli’s signature series, a whole bunch of super streamlined, one-fader buss plugins that are like magic boxes. (*Yours truly has all of the Final Mix plugins and DrumBus Lite makes in onto pretty much every mix.)
3. Freakshow Industries
Okay, these guys are just cool. In fact, it would be easy to forget what they’re even selling. It’s plugins, or as they call them: “audio effects for the end times.” In fact, let’s quote them some more:
“We are creators of subversive and ridiculous audio production effects built for sound designers and experimental music producers. We have no intention of making safe and traditional, baby-food smooth, color-by-numbers effects. We mean to dissolve the demons of creative stagnation, opening portals to new and unique sound with exceedingly affordable audio product.”
Stuff like “Tape Abomination,” “Chaotic Reverser,” and “Dumpster Fire Nightmare Shifter.” All of which have a “steal” button if you’d like to get the plugin free in exchange for no updates and very little support.
Safe to say there’s no plugin company out there quite like Freakshow Industries.
Based in Dublin (but hailing from Italy), AudioThing specializes in effects and soft instruments, with special attention paid to cool stuff like vintage valve emulations and complex convolution effects. As with all in our lineup, AudioThing is just not the same ole same ole. From the “Gong Amp” to “Wires” (an “an accurately modelled and enhanced 1970s Soviet wire recorder”), there’s a slew of really cool, boutique plugins here you can’t get anywhere else.
Plus, they’re not at all expensive. Again, you really need to go check them out to grasp their objective awesomeness.
5. Robotic Bean
Robotic Bean started off doing extensions for Reason but has now stepped into VST and AU territory. The team consists of literally three guys, a developer, a graphic designer and a “the boring stuff” guy. As should now be expected in today’s list, Robotic Bean makes stuff that’s just left of center. “Hand Clap Studio” is getting really popular, there’s a 4-track Portastudio emulator, a physical modelling synthesizer, and cool utilitarian stuff like step note recorders, CV switches, and metronomes.
Oh and like two other weird ways to make hand claps happen (because why not?).
Sometimes musical creativity is best inspired not by travelling the glitzy, well-paved path of highfalutin audio software, but by opening up the door to a local store across from a university where something truly cool is happening, either that or a door to a melting cave that leads to a faraway universe.
All five of these smaller plugin companies fit that bill, while still offering great quality and some super useful plugins for the everyday bedroom producer. Check ‘em all out.
Don’t stop here!
Continue learning with hundreds of lessons on songwriting, mixing, recording and production, composing, beat making, and more on Soundfly, with artist-led courses by Kimbra, Jlin, Kiefer, RJD2, and of course, Com Truise: Mid-Fi Synthwave Slow-Motion Funk.