You could quite easily spend your entire music-making life using no other effects than the ones that came with your DAW, but what would be the fun in that? There's a whole world of third-party plugins out there to explore, and it just keeps getting bigger.
What's more, the variety of plugins on the market continues to grow, too. These days, it's not just about getting better versions of what you already have; this is still an option, but the imagination of music software developers never ceases to amaze us, and they're frequently able to come up with both fresh spins on the classics and new concepts entirely.
There's been plenty of evidence of this ingenuity this year, but which are the best new effects of 2021? We asked you to vote, and we can now reveal your top 5...
1. Winner 2021: Arturia FX Collection 2
Over the past few years, Arturia has been trickling out virtual effects under the umbrella of its ‘Effects You’ll Actually Use’ series – a clunky moniker but a factual one.
By combining, for the most part, quality analogue emulations with well-considered modern features, Arturia has hit on a winning formula. Its delays and filters, in particular, have become go-to plugins and a quick and inspiring source of creative processing.
The company’s FX Collection bundles all of these effects into one place, a total of 22 plugins for this second iteration. The collection can, mostly, be broken down into groups of three by category - three filters, three delays, three reverbs, three compressors, three preamps. New for Arturia FX Collection 2 is a trio of bus processors and, breaking from tradition, four modulation effects.
This is perhaps not quite the only effects bundle you’ll ever need – creativity and character are still served better than precise mixing tools – but it can handle a very good chunk of your music-making duties.
2. iZotope RX 9
iZotope’s RX software has always been a godsend to anyone who needs to improve imperfect audio, and with the release of version 9 this year, it got even better.
The focus with this update is on tackling “emerging audio capture and production issues to restore damaged, noisy audio to pristine condition,” which means that some of the most popular RX modules have been overhauled, particularly those that are widely used in post-production.
The end result is possibly the most cultured and refined noise removal software suite on the market.
Nugen's spatially-oriented releases to date have been geared more at the post-production industry, but the company’s first bonafide convolution reverb has universal appeal and – used in a production context – provides spectacular natural reverb straight out of the box.
Its prospects become even more delicious when you factor in its bewildering power to manipulate these real room impulse responses in the same manner as a processed reverb.
Nugen has crafted a reverb of remarkable scope here, with the authenticity of the room sounds – even after excessive tweaking – being truly impressive.
NoiseShaper differs slightly from the other effects in Cableguys' ShaperBox 2 collection. Instead of applying an effect to the incoming audio, it creates sound itself.
As you might have guessed, the primary focus here is noise. The plugin comes with a library of noise samples, which can be blended with the incoming audio and modulated in a variety of ways to create dynamic, rhythmic effects.
The primary element of the UI is the titular custom modulation shaper, which enables users to craft a wide variety of loopable envelope shapes or pick pre-made ones from an array of templates.
NoiseShaper is loads of fun and has the potential to be the most creatively powerful tool in ShaperBox’s arsenal. It’s fantastic for creating builds or adding drama.
Baby Audio’s take on the Roland Space Echo is more a re-imagining than an emulation; take the original’s forward-thinking and fun ethos and place it slap bang into the 21st century, inventing something new along the way.
We’re told that there are actually more than 50 individual effects at work, but there are actually just three main sections, and no sub-menus.
Echoes contains the delay sequencer, which has various modes and syncs to host tempo; Space offers an X-Y joystick that enables you to morph between reverb length and modulation behaviour; and the Central Mixer gives you another X-Y joystick that morphs between the echoes-space and wet/dry signals.
This really is a completely new tool with hints of the boldness of the original. More than that, it’s fun, and as Baby says, you don’t need a manual. Get in, tweak your X-Ys, add whatever you want and smile. It’s quite brilliant.