It goes without saying that effects are essential tools for any modern producer, but what´s also true is that there isn´t exactly a dearth of quality processing plug-ins on the market.
Your DAW probably came bundled with a fair few of them, and you may also have downloaded some of the excellent freeware and shareware effects that are available.
There seem to be as many different types of FX as there are musicians who use them. Some are ideal for obscure freakouts, while others handle bread and butter tasks such as reverb and compression. It´s often the latter types that get overlooked because they´re so commonplace. However, a good reverb or compression plug-in can mean the difference between a home recording that sounds professional and one that sounds as if it was recorded, er, at home.
If you want professional-quality native effects processing, Wave Arts´ Power Suite 5 bundle may be the answer. In the past, the plug-ins that the Suite comprises have been praised for their sound and flexibility - you can now get your hands on updated versions of all of these in a collection that would cost twice as much if you bought all of its ‘parts´ individually. Of course, you could select and buy just the effects you really need/want, but if the majority of the plug-ins are good, $525 for the lot is a tempting offer.
Power Suite 5 contains all the essential effects, such as multiband compression (MultiDynamics) and reverb (MasterVerb), plus one ‘gee whiz´ processor in the form of Panorama 5 (a 3D space simulator). In addition, you get a couple of combo effects that are designed for use at opposite ends of the signal path. One is TrackPlug 5, which combines compression, EQ and peak limiting. This is ideal for wrangling your individual tracks into shape, and could be seen as a replacement for the front-end hardware that engineers generally employ during tracking. For the other end of the chain, there´s FinalPlug 5, which is designed to punch up the final mix using peak limiting and volume maximising tools.
Most of the plug-ins are standard fare but there are a few notable features. First up is Panorama 5. This is a stereo processor that Wave Arts claim can be used to create convincing 3D mixes. Slap this plug-in on an insert and you can not only pan the sound between right and left speakers, but also place it anywhere in a 360-degree space around the listener, using a graphical display. Now, to make 3D audio work at all, you need to have considerable control over your listening environment. Crosstalk between left and right channels must be kept to a minimum, and for this reason, Panorama 5 gives the best results if you use it while wearing headphones. The results you can get are mixed, but when you process individual tracks with Panorama, the entire mix does seem to have a bit more separation.
TrackPlug 5 is also very impressive. Combining dynamics and EQ as it does, TrackPlug sounds great on everything you throw at it. It´s useful for vocals and individual drums, and excellent for bass guitar. It even gives the beloved PowerCore VoiceStrip a run for its money.
On the subject of dynamics, Power Suite´s MultiDynamics plug-in offers noise reduction, clean and vintage modes and a simple interface - it could easily become your main dynamics tool. It's possible to consider strapping it across the stereo mix, if FinalPlug 5 didn´t sound as good as it does. Because mastering is so subjective, you might not take to this as immediately as some of the other plug-ins here, but with a little tweaking, FinalPlug can produce some good, clean and powerful masters.
Finally, there´s MasterVerb. This offers neat touches such as a triggered envelope controller and a sweet, sweet plate algorithm. It isn´t the best reverb around, but it is one of the better ones, and may well better the one that came with your DAW.
Obviously, this is a great package. However, at over $500 it may well cost more than your sequencer. Because the effects it includes are not exactly thin on the ground, you´ll have to think very hard about whether or not you really need them. If you only require one or two, you might be better off buying them separately. Logic and Sonar users, for example, aren´t at a loss for great plug-ins, but might be interested in Panorama and TrackPlug.
However you look at it, though, Power Suite 5 delivers excellent results and won´t leave you scratching your head. The CPU usage isn´t exactly low, but neither is it out of line with other pro effects plug-ins. Wave Arts are offering some extremely agreeable demos (they´re time-limited), so why not give them a try?