There are countless free insert effects out there (well, KVR says there are 1090 as of this writing). Most are made by individuals or a small team of audio enthusiasts and quality can range from don’t bother to must haves. Here are three that I use and a quick description of why they are special/useful.
iZotope – Vinyl
You may question the quality of a freebie from such a well known plugin company (if it’s good, why not just charge for it?) but iZotope’s Vinyl is a great plugin to dirty up an instrument or sample. With individual faders and knobs for each degrading attribute, you’ll have plenty of different ways to add some grime or emulate a certain style. I usually keep the SCRATCH parameter to a minimum as I find it just too disruptive, but other than that all the parameters are fair game. One thing to note is that the WARP function is only available if you load as a directX plugin (opposed to say, vst). Below is an example of a popular piano riff before and after vinyl. I put some subtle tweaks on the preset Scratched 60s Single to make it sound more sampled:
|Piano Riff – Original
|Piano Riff – Vinyl
Tone Projects – Basslane
Most professionals will tell you that bass frequencies should be mono. This topic probably warrants a whole article, but basically keeping the lows straight down the middle of the mix keeps things tight. I’ve seen differing opinions on where the mono cutoff should be, but recommendations seem to fall between 100Hz and 300Hz. There are plenty of EQs out there that treat the middle and side channels separately, but for a quick low profile/overhead (and free) solution, it’s hard to beat Tone Project’s Basslane. You could put it on individual tracks, buses, or even the master, just simply dial in the cutoff frequency and set width to zero.
When talking about mono-bass I can’t help but think of Timbaland and how wide his percussion was in 2006/2007 (think Loose, FutureSex/LoveSounds, Shock Value). This seems to be a very successful exception to our rule, but as an example, lets see if we can tighten/thicken the kick in Give it to Me:
|Give it to Me – Original
|Give it to Me – 400Hz Mono Cutoff
Notice how the kick really has an extra hard thud now (especially 0:10 to the end). 400Hz is a bit overkill, but I put it a little higher for comparison. If you are listening on computer speakers or headphones, the thud won’t be as pronounced. Luckily Basslane has some handy monitoring settings that allow you to isolate the pre and post signal (and even the difference signal) for only the affected frequency range. For example:
|Give it to Me – 400Hz and below Stereo
Give it to Me – 400Hz and below Mono
Valhalla – FreqEcho
FreqEcho is the first (and only free) offering from ValhallaDSP. After reading his Manifesto, you really get the feeling he’s loving what he does. The pay effects get good reviews (I have never tried) and I’m kinda digging the minimal/clean GUI. The reason I like FreqEcho so much is how easy it makes feedback builds before a big drop. The (frequency) shift knob is what makes this plugin great – all I need to do to get those dance style build-ups is increase mix, shift, and feedback simultaneously (all up to max for example below). I usually turn output mode to mono because I get some weird ping/phasing issues in stereo. Here is an example of a clap and highhat build using only 8th and 16th notes:
|Clap/HighHat with FreqEcho
What are your favorite free plugins and why?