There are plenty of affordable ways of bringing some real analogue goodness into your productions, but if you want to keep everything in the box, the good news is that the plugin market is awash with processors that do an excellent job of adding that all-important warmth and character.
Here are a dozen of our favourites, starting with SoundToys' merciless Decapitator.
This brutal box of wave-chopping tricks houses five unofficial emulations: an Ampex 350 tape preamp, Chandler/EMI TG Channel, Neve 1057 input channel, and triode and pentode modes from Thermionic Culture’s Culture Vulture.
FULL REVIEW: SoundToys Decapitator
Universal Audio Vertigo Sound VSM-3
Developed by Brainworx, this recreates Vertigo’s $8000 saturation station in software, available natively and for UAD.
The VSM-3, with its tube-like FET Crusher and gritty Zener Blender, is aimed at serious mixing and mastering uses.
READ MORE: Vertigo Sound VSM-3
Slate Digital Virtual Tape Machines
Let the virtual reels spin as you choose between 16-track (recording) and 2-track (mastering) machines, two tape formulations, three bias settings and two running speeds.
VTM is dead easy to use and sounds as tapey as tapey can be.
FULL REVIEW: Slate Digital Virtual Tape Machines
XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color
All you need to retroise any sound, including six distortion colours. TubePair adds traditional tube glow and body; Iron adds transformer girth; Crunch does as its name implies; while Heavy, Zap and AirPressure offer more creative options.
FULL REVIEW: XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color
PSP Audioware MixSaturator2
A mini-classic from PSP’s nifty MixPack2.
You get three tape and three valve distortions, plus a digital distortion option. The Low enhancer is a secret weapon for reshaping and beefing up the low end, while High softens runaway treble.
FULL REVIEW: PSP MixSaturator2
iZotope Ozone 7 Advanced
Features the new Vintage Tape - great for mixing and mastering alike. Don’t overlook the Exciter’s valve, tape and transistor modes - reduce it to one band and engage Oversampling for a more authentically analogue experience.
FULL REVIEW: iZotope Ozone 7 Advanced
Universal Audio Culture Vulture
Via the power of Universal Audio’s UAD-2 DSP system, Thermionic Culture’s modern-day hardware classic offers UAD users all-valve saturation. The plugin also sports a dry/wet mix function that the original unit lacks.
FULL REVIEW: UA Culture Vulture
This bargainous plugin, with its rich, warm sound, could be the producer’s equivalent of a winter heating bonus. It’s almost four plugins in one, and each saturation mode - Tube, Digi, Fuzz and Desk - has its own graphics and controls.
FULL REVIEW: Klanghelm SDRR
Softube Saturation Knob
As simple as can be, and free to boot.
With that eponymous shiny knob dialling in the saturation amount, the only other thing to decide is whether to flick the switch right beneath it, which excludes bass or treble from the processing.
DOWNLOAD FOR FREE: Softube Saturation Knob
D16 Group Redoptor
While it was designed primarily as a guitar-oriented processor, Redoptor is surprisingly configurable. We’ve had great success using it to heat up synth sounds, drums, vocals and pretty much everything else.
FULL REVIEW: D16 Group Redoptor
Britson recreates the characteristics of a Neve 8014 console for impressively smooth results.
To create audible distortion, you’ll need to use a gain plugin before it to drive it harder. Hit the Fat switch for more distortion.
READ MORE: Sonimus Britson
Whether or not you choose to use the associated features of tape deck emulation (flanging, speed control, compansion and more), Satin produces excellent saturation aided by input gain and choice of tape types.
FULL REVIEW: u-he Satin