There are so many awesome software tools available with which to cook, drive and decimate your sounds that we've drawn up a list of our favourites. If you can't find the distortion you're after among this shedload of plugins, you're in the wrong game, pal.
This modern classic is designed to emulate the valve saturation and overdrive of five legendary pieces of kit: Ampex’ 50, the EMI TG Channel, Neve’s 1057 preamps and the modern Thermionic Culture Culture Vulture.
FULL REVIEW: Soundtoys Decapitator
Audio Damage Kombinat DVA
Three bands with 13 distortion types each, plus feedback and filtering, all resulting in devilishly dirty results.
Whether used as a DJ-style band killer or techno-peddling loop-mangler, you can always get something usably nasty out of DVA.
FIND OUT MORE: Audio Damage Kombinat DVA
Ohm Force Ohmicide
Four bands of multimode distortion (chosen from over 80-types), per-band dynamics, gate, EQ and more make this MIDI-enabled effect thoroughly unsuited to subtlety!
FULL REVIEW: Ohm Force Ohmicide
iZotope Trash 2
For convincing analogue sounds and modern digital naughtiness alike, this multiband jack of all trades has just about every kind of distortion you might want, plus some astounding tone-altering properties to transform your sounds.
FULL REVIEW: iZotope Trash 2
Audio Assault XCTR
Proving that low-budget needn’t mean low quality, this four-band exciter is at its best when pushed hard, becoming a gloriously analogue-style multiband overdrive. Selectively muting its bands adds another creative dimension.
FULL REVIEW: Audio Assault XCTR
IK Multimedia Amplitube 4 Deluxe
145 virtual modules - painstakingly recreated amps, pedals, speakers and rackmount hardware - give you practically every flavour of guitar-oriented distortion tool known to man. You can increase this number with additional purchases.
FULL REVIEW: IK Multimedia Amplitube 4 Deluxe
AudioThing Vinyl Strip
With a variety of modules associated with old vinyl records (compression, turntable noise, reverb, EQ, distortion, bit and sample rate reduction), Vinyl Strip is one of the best value all-round old-school distortions on the market.
FULL REVIEW: AudioThing Vinyl Strip
iZotope Ozone 7
Ozone has always had a fine harmonic enhancer/exciter module, and v7 adds a Vintage Limiter to this renowned mastering package.
Push it hard on drum busses and full mixes to round off the edges with hardware-style smooth saturation.
FULL REVIEW: iZotope Ozone 7
This company make many distortions, but the most extreme is this multiband bit-manipulator. Offering anything from subtle grit to skull-exploding digital audio destruction, MBBF is one bad MF.
Try the free single-band version - if you dare.
FULL REVIEW: MeldaProduction MMultiBandBitFun
PSP Audioware PSP VintageWarmer2
This one’s been infusing in-the-box mixes with old-school analogue saturation and warmth for almost as long as people have been mixing on computers.
We love it applied to individual channels, but there’s nothing to stop you throwing it on a whole mix, too.
FULL REVIEW: PSP Audioware PSP VintageWarmer2
Free with every issue of Computer Music magazine, the enormous cm Plugins suite includes no less than ten dedicated, pro-quality distortion plugins.
From amp sims and hardware-style saturators to flexible digital waveshaping and multiband processing, there’s plenty to turn a track with a clean bill of health into an extremely dirty, deranged monster!
READ MORE: cm Plugins
Slate Digital Virtual Preamp Collection
This stunning new pack fits two classic pre-amps - the Neve 1073 and Telefunken V76 - inside Slate’s Virtual Mix Rack system.
Other must-try Slate Digital warmer-uppers include Virtual Tape Machines, FG-Bomber, RC-Tube and Virtual Console Collection.
READ MORE: Slate Digital Virtual Preamp Collection
D16 Group Decimort 2
An acclaimed recreation of the bit depth and sample rate reduction characteristics of classic samplers, with a list of presets to emulate specific hardware, Decimort 2 is an ideal digital exciter or for authentic old-school emulation.
READ MORE: D16 Group Decimort 2
This multiband saturation and distortion allows convincing amp and tape recreation, classic digital and analogue hardware simulation, and experimental modulated patches. Saturn is truly one of those rare ‘desert island’ plugins.
FULL REVIEW: FabFilter Saturn
Sonimus Burnley 73
The distinctive saturation of Neve’s 1073 preamp is as revered as any in the business, and this faithful recreation (with its three-band EQ) is one of our faves.
Hear what it can do for your mixes in Computer Music's in-depth video.
FULL REVIEW: Sonimus Burnley 73
Native Instruments Guitar Rig 5 Pro
One of the most respected names in guitar cab and amp simulation, with 17 amps, 27 cabs and 13 effects. GR5’s presets offer just about every classic setup and sound you could wish for, and it’s also ideal for dirtying up vocals, drums, synths… you name it!
FULL REVIEW: Native Instruments Guitar Rig 5 Pro
Universal Audio UAD Thermionic Culture Vulture
The hardware is a modern classic, with three types of genuine valve saturation (one triode and two pentode types), and this is the definitive virtual version.
Use it as an insert or via a parallel channel on absolutely any type of signal, from drums and bass to reverbs and master buses! Hot stuff.
FULL REVIEW: Universal Audio UAD Thermionic Culture Vulture
Computer Music issue 228 on sale now
Think you know distortion? Think again! To give your sounds and mixes the heat they truly deserve, you can't just pile on the plugins and hope for the best.
Check out Computer Music issue 228 to find out how distortion really works, and what you've been missing out on in the quest for professional, attention-grabbing sounds.
Plus: FREE Distortion Plugin – 57 more VST/AU plugins – 916 Retro House Samples!