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The Best Saturation Plugin for Music Production? Nonsense! One Can Never Have Enough Saturation Plugins. These 3 Have However Earned a Right to Be in Your Arsenal.

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Fact: The best saturation plugin is the one gets you the sound you want. Period. It may be some color or character for your keys, warmth for your wobble, glue for your guitars or even extra edginess on your exotic Endingidi.

Point is,  you never know just which harmonic enhancer will produce the magic you want in the moment.

So, if you want to get as many saturation plugins as you can get your hands on,  it's understandable. No judgement here! ;-)

In the post below you'll discover 3 solid saturation plugins to consider when you're ready to add some sweet sweet sonic sizzle to your studio setup...

A quick note about this series:

The purpose of this series of posts is to provide you with only 3 good DAW audio plugin choices for the different types of available professional music production plugins.

This, as you can imagine, is no easy task given the sheer amount of plugins available in most of the various audio plugin categories.  Some really excellent contenders had to be left on the virtual cutting-room floor.

Why not just list more?

That would've been the easier option for me, but there are countless blog posts listing the 20 or 10 "best [.....] plugins".  While these types of posts have their place and purpose they can still leave you with a bit of overwhelm when it comes to making a choice. Even more so when you start comparing plugin features.

So, the general idea of these posts is...

... to narrow-down to just  3 top contenders in each of the popular DAW plugin categories.  This means you can start with a solid shortlist and demo the plugins which appeal to you most, knowing that these have been selected for good reasons.

So, how are the included plugins selected?

Nothing too scientific.  It's a mix of my what I've picked up in my experience in audio and music for the past 20-ish years, coupled with some light research on sites with ratings and reviews and various lengthy "what's the best plugin for... ?" music production and audio forum posts.  You know the ones. ;-)

So, you can think of it as my opinion plus a bit.  Take it with a grain of salt as you would with any opinion about music production software and gear in general. My hope is you'll find the 3 recommended plugins in each category a good starting point and find the plugin that suits you best,  faster.

3 of the Best Saturation Plugins for Music Producers, Beatmakers and Audio Engineers


1. Satin by u-he

u-he Satin Screenshot

Most of us barely have a place to put our coffee cup in our studio,  let alone an old-school hardware tape machine.

Luckily, because of the great work done by u-he,  we can now access the sound of not just one but many different tape machines, with all the luscious smooth saturated compression we're looking for and we get to tweak it to our heart's content with all the little nuances of old tape machines.  All that and more in the box and in one plugin called Satin!

Now, if you've not yet spent some time with a tape machine it might take a little moment or two to get used to what the different parameter controls do.  Once you've done that you'll quickly realize why this is considered the best saturation plugin by many producers and audio engineers.

You probably know by now that tape saturation is a result of the interaction of various components of a tape machine and the flavor they each impart to a signal passing through.  Satin models each of these components and then allows these components interact in the way they would in hardware tape machines.

Apart from the saturation you also get to add/create tape delay and tape flange and you get to impart traditional tape artifacts like hiss, bias, crosstalk, wow and flutter to your sounds or mixes.

The Repro Head(s) section enables you to adjust Gap Width and Bump parameters to shape and modulate your tone even further.  In the same section you can play around with the Azimuth parameter that creates interesting spacial effects in the way you get with a skewed tape head on a machine.

In the Circuit section you can switch between different EQ circuits to use the modeled curves of classic machines or create more out-there processing effects by playing around with different combos between the recording and reproduction EQs.

From subtle saturation to more extreme distorted sounds and whether it's single tracks like vocals, bass, guitars, keys, synths or group tracks and even your entire mix,  Satin u-he opens up a world of delicious sonic possibilities, fun and goodness in the home studio.

Satin by u-he is available for Windows and Mac and has a trial version you can demo before you buy.

Take it for a test drive today. (affiliate link)

2. RC-20 Retro Color by XLN Audio

RC-20 Screenshot

Next on the list we have RC-20 Retro Color by XLN Audio, whom you may already know of by now for their plugins Addictive Drums or Addictive keys.

Now, while we of course have no way to scientifically say that this is the best saturation plugin,  we can say for a fact that it's one of, if not the highest-rated.

This versatile little monster gives you the ability to imbue your sounds and mixes with a variety of vintage artifacts like tape hiss and vinyl crackle, studio ambience and hum and static. Did anyone say instant vintage? ;-)

That's however just the Noise Generator module, where the fun starts...

You then further get to pass your sound through the following 5 modules:

  • Wobble & Flutter
  • Saturation & Distortion
  • Degrader & Bitcrusher
  • Reverb
  • Volume Drops

The handy Magnitude slider at the top of the plugin allows you to scale the mix of all 6 modules at once.

Finally, you can control the overall tone in the bottom EQ section and adjust the width and level before your output stage.

So, if you're looking for a powerful saturation plugin that pushes beyond the boundaries of a traditional tape machine plugin emulations and is easy and intuitive to use you must check out RC-20 Retro Color.

RC-20 Retro Color is available for Mac and Windows platforms and a trial version is available.

Try it out straight away here (affiliate link) to see what all the fuzz is about! ;-)

3. Tape by Softube

Tape Screenshot

Back to a plugin that focuses more on tape saturation, we now get to Tape by Softube.

Now,  what stands out with this saturation plugin is how good it sounds and how easy it is to dial in some serious sonic mojo with it,  fast and easy. 

Chuck it on your entire mix, group tracks or individual channels or all of the above if you're feeling boisterous! (It's pretty CPU-efficient,  so don't hesitate.)

Toggle between the 3 included A, B and C types of tape machines,  based respectively on high-end Swiss reel-to-reel, a transformer based machine and British tape machine. Adjust the amount and sit back satisfied with what you've just achieved with your day! ;-)

You can also play around further with different tape speed settings and open the Remote Control panel to adjust stability for wow and flutter artifacts and also crosstalk parameters,  among other things.

The believing with Softube's Tape is however in the hearing so take it for a spin straight away and let your ears decide. (affiliate link)

Tape is available for Windows and Mac and a trial version is also available.

The Best Saturation Plugin - Conclusion:

It's not possible to overstate how important a role saturation plays in achieving great mixes. Whether you're after fat kicks, chunky basses, smooth guitars and synths, luscious vocals or chasing that cohesive, loud and beautifully glued-together mix or all of the above and more,  saturation is your friend in the studio.

Now, you know and I know that one "best" saturation plugin will never serve all your needs.  That said,  I trust the 3 saturation plugins you've discovered above are each in their own right worthy of a place in your go-to arsenal of sonic sculpting tools.

Saturation is however one plugin type where it's a case of the more the merrier,  so if you want to explore the wide-range of saturation plugins available then check out Plugin Boutique's selection, sorted by rating for your convenience, right here.