PLUGIN WEEK 2023: As the boundary between producer and mix engineer narrows, those of us that create our own music need to have tools that will serve the song just as much as we need those that enhance the mix. If you’ve found yourself struggling to find the right sample or looking for ways to really make that section stand out, then you need one of the best creative multi-effect plugins.
Let’s face it: you’ve probably got enough EQs, compressors, and saturators to last a lifetime, but what about plugins that enhance the production itself? Whether it’s granular manipulation, time-based effects, or even multiband processors that apply different effects to particular EQ bands, there’s a surprising amount out there that many a producer/mix engineer could be missing out on.
In this article, we’ve listed some top choices for multi-effects plugins, with everything from your fairly typical modulation effects like chorus and flanger, right through to wild contraptions that will completely change whatever audio or MIDI you feed into them. So whether you’re looking to flip samples in a more creative way, or just add a touch of sparkle to a particular element of your composition, here are 12 of the best tools to do it with.
We’ve included some buying advice at the end of this article for those who are new to this particular genre of plugin, so head there if you’re looking for more information. If you’re already ready to blow some minds with your next production, then keep scrolling.
Best creative multi-effects plugins: Our top picks
Sitting pretty at the top of our list, Devious Machines Infiltrator 2 is an update for an already game-changing plugin. We gave it five stars in our review thanks to its easy-to-use interface and fantastic quality presets. A perfect option for pimping out your production.
OK, so it’s actually designed for guitarists, but that doesn’t make IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube 5 any less of a brilliant tool for song creators of all genres. With an incomparable amount of effects, amps, and routing options AmpliTube is a brilliant way to add a complete multi-effects suite to your workflow.
Best creative multi-effects plugins: Product guide
Devious Machines Infiltrator 2 is the latest iteration of its brilliant multi-effects plugin, now supercharged with 54 processors and a ton of new presets. Many multi-effect plugins offer multiple modules, but nothing else gives you real-time control like the Infiltrator 2.
Most of the improvements have come in time manipulation modules. You can now stretch, slow down and reverse at will, giving you backward audio, tape slowdowns, and some amazing stutter effects through the looper.
Many producers scoff at presets, but we find that they're a necessary part of your workflow, particularly when you’re working to a deadline. Infiltrator 2 now has 1500 presets to get you feeling inspired, with loads of amazing glitch, distortion, and pitch-shifting effects to really transform that stock-sounding sample you’ve got.
Read our full Devious Machines Infiltrator 2 review
OK, so we hear the question already - what's an amp simulator doing at the top of a best multi-effects plugins list? Well to answer, the IK Multimedia AmpliTube 5 software is far more than an amp simulator. In fact, it’s got one of the vastest sets of effects you can find anywhere, and infinite ways to configure them.
If you’ve never run a VST instrument through an amp simulator, we highly suggest you give it a go. Perfect for adding a touch of analogue warmth to a sterile preset, it’s a great way to bring life and a sense of real solidity to your sounds - and that’s before we even get to the effects section.
The basic version of AmpliTube enables you to run 24 effects models simultaneously, while the higher-end version allows for 57. This gives you a lot of space to customise any sound - analogue or digital - to exacting specifications, whether you want to completely carve it up with filters and slicers, or just add some beautiful delays and reverbs.
Read our full IK Multimedia Amplitube 5 review
The Eventide Physion Mk II backs up the company's reputation for incredible digital effects algorithms. But what this plugin so cleverly does is enable you to quickly edit and adjust your sound by splitting it into different parts, then put it all back together with a totally new and unique feel.
Physion Mk II automatically splits your sound using a complex algorithm. It separates it into Transient and Tonal sounds, both of which can be edited separately before being put back together. You can use it to emphasise a particular drum hit or add swathes of delay and reverb to your synth sounds with amazing slow-attack effects.
Transients can be edited with various delays, reverbs, gates or EQs. The Tonal section gives adds pitch shifting and chorus options to those present in the Transient section. Each effect has its own parameters and sub-effects, so you’re not likely to run out of inspiration when using this brilliant plugin.
Only a few hundred hardware versions of OTO Machines' digital distortion unit were ever made, but thankfully, this brilliant bit of kit has been revived in the form of the Softube OTO Biscuit 8-bit Effects plugin.
Combining sections that include an analogue-style filter, bit manipulation and sample rate reduction with waveshaping, delay and pitch-shifting effects gives you a powerful palette to paint with. As the few owners of the original hardware found, this thing is seriously addictive once you get hands on it.
The distortion flavours aren’t as extreme as you’d think, but they certainly offer in-depth tweaking via clock, filter, and brain controls. The effects are amazing as well - versatile with a unique sound that’s all their own. A perfect plugin for those who like to experiment.
Read the full Softube OTO Biscuit 8-bit Effects review
iZotope VocalSynth 2 is designed primarily for use on vocals, but you can actually chuck it on pretty much anything you like to give it a new flavour. Compared to a lot of the plugins on this list it’s pretty simple, but that just might be its real strength.
Taking your input signal, it’s first thrown through an optional pitch correction section before it hits a parallel bank of synth-based modules. These include a Vocoder, Talkbox and some more esoteric tone shaping in the form of Polyvox, Biovox and Compuvox.
Adding auto-generated harmonies, shifting formants or just using the Chorus and Ring Mod devices leads to some amazing results. You can also configure all of the modules in any order you like and pan, and filter them separately, giving you loads of ways to carve up your audio.
Read our full iZotope VocalSynth 2 review
Taking a slightly different approach to the blending ethos of many plugins on this list, the MeldaProduction MMorph doesn’t mix your signals together - instead, it progressively merges them into one another.
MMorph analyzes the sonic qualities of your sound, enabling you to add up to eight shaping processes on each channel before you even begin morphing them. Things like a compressor (which only amplifies quiet frequencies) and a harmonics generator (which adds depth to your sound) are just the start of the processing.
Blend bass with vocals, chords with FX, or even one complete track into another and you can get some absolutely amazing results. The smart randomisation is utterly brilliant and there’s a great selection of presets to choose from, too. An that's before you get to the mid/side processing, auto-gain compensation and MIDI learn.
The Polyverse Manipulator is designed to warp your voice and instruments into completely new sounds. Perfect for use at the creation phase of a track, it’s a great plugin to go to when you’re finding it difficult to get an inspiring sound.
It’s got 10 different effects built-in, from pitch shifter and detuning options to harmonic shifting and the smear effect that loops and crossfades to create ever-evolving sounds. There's great scope for tone tweaking here, and you go from subtle to unrecognisable pretty quickly.
There are also five types of modulators available. These enable you to link multiple parameters to one dial for instant adjustment, add an ADSR envelope to any audio sound, and convert MIDI messages to modulator signals. You’ll need to read the manual with this one, but it’ll be worth it for the amazing results you can get from it.
The Blue Cat Audio MB-7 Mixer 2 is a multiband mixer that enables you to separately effect different frequencies of the same signal. Rebalance with pan or spreading, or even just mute a particular band to change up your audio on-the-fly.
The most powerful feature of the MB-7, though, is the ability to add up to four VST plugins to any band - two pre- and two post-fader. As well as enabling you to get creative with your sounds, this also means that you can use it as a mastering tool for powerful mid/side processing.
You also get some great analysis options to look at your audio and how you’re processing it. There are two spectrograms that let you view the channels individually or all together. Super useful stuff for seeing how your manipulation is influencing the sound.
Read the full Blue Cat Audio MB-7 Mixer 2 review
It’s an oldie but still a goodie, created in conjunction with the godfather of trance and progressive house, BT. iZotope Stutter Edit 2 is a powerful plugin for transforming stock samples into warped and weird textures.
Balancing the fine line between power and ease of use, Stutter Edit 2 features all the in-depth editing features you could want thanks to the expandable curve editor window. Through this, you can shape how effects progress over the course of an edit, which unlocks powerful and time-consuming sound sculpting options.
Thankfully for those in a rush, there’s a whole raft of presets available, so you can instantly add that BT-style sound design. It’s incredibly easy to do and immensely satisfying - proof that in spite of all the competition Stutter Edit 2 faces, it’s still one of the most creative multi-effect plugins out there.
Read our full iZotope Stutter Edit 2 review
Modelled on one of the greatest hardware multi-effects ever made, the Eventide H3000 Factory is a powerful tool that will help augment your productions. It’s not a full emulation of the hardware, but includes some incredibly flexible algorithms that will keep you coming back for more.
There’s a total of 18 modules present here, including delay, pitch-shifting, filters, modulation, and many more. All of them can be rearranged, and most can be modulated using patch leads. Not one for the faint of heart, we recommend starting with presets before you get into making your own patches.
There are loads to choose from, too, with some great vocal doublers, wideners and other pitch-shifting effects. The special effect patches are really cool as well, giving you everything from jet-like phasers right through to properly mangled and filtered sounds that evoke some kind of sci-fi battle scene.
Read our full Eventide H3000 Factory review
Sugar Bytes Graindad is a granular synthesis engine that enables you to manipulate samples or real-time audio. Featuring intelligent randomisers, filters, reverbs, and delays, plus the ability to manipulate via transients, clocks or MIDI notes, this is an extensive plugin with serious depth.
The main engine gives you 12 parameters to play with, with playback of up to 64 grains simultaneously. Looping, stutter, pitch shifting, glitch and harmonisation effects are all here and ready to help tweak your sounds. The highlight, however is the dual modulation engine.
As well as your more typical LFO, envelope, and step sequencers, there’s also the powerful Harvest modulation engine which enables you to modulate all 12 controls at once. The parameters are scattered across your screen, letting you drive your sound through particular paths. It’s complex software, but thankfully there are some great presets to get you started, so don’t let the depth put you off.
At first Waves’ Kaleidoscope may just sound like yet another emulation of classic hardware. At face value you do get classic tremolos, phasers, and chorus effects with this plugin - but that’s just scratching the surface.
The powerful twin engines enable you to select two effects and run them side by side, tweaking each one individually. It can run in Series or Parallel mode, letting you add movement to your mixes that go from subtle to extreme.
You can sidechain input sources and use the target source sound as a modulation input (as well as your more typical sine, triangle, and random LFO waveforms) to provide a shape. Triggers let you dial in repeating patterns and bursts that respond to the dynamics of your track, as well as trigger activity around certain frequencies.
Best creative multi-effects plugins: Buying advice
If you’re buying a creative multi-effect plugin for the first time, you’re probably going to be wondering what it is they do exactly. Digital audio is full of new terms you might not have come across before, and a lot of the plugins on this list can seem pretty intimidating.
Fear not, though; we’ve got loads of experience with all the kinds of effects plugins here, so we’ve set out this buying advice section to help you navigate those unusual terms and come out with the plugin that best augments your production workflow.
What is a multi-effects plugin?
A multi-effects plugin enables you to change the sound of your audio, with effects that range from subtle enhancements to ones that completely change the sound from what it originally was. These aren’t plugins that don't necessarily 'improve' the sound of something - you should treat them like instruments in their own right.
If you work in electronic music, then these effects are not likely to be applied at the mixing stage (although a lot of them can be used that way) but should be used to generate ideas and help with your songwriting and arrangements.
Do I need a multi-effects plugin?
We firmly believe that all producers should have a few of these plugins in their arsenal. Individual effects can of course give inspiration, but these creative multi-effects will completely change your sounds, opening the door to fresh arrangements and ideas.
A lot of multi-effect plugins also work in real-time, allowing you to play in your compositions with wild stutters and glitches as well as regular delays and reverbs. This can help add inspiring tones to your standard presets, giving that project you’ve been working on for a while a totally new vibe.
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