There are a lot of freeware plugins on the market. Most of them are good until you purchase something that gives you the same or better functionalities and more features. After that, you will not use these freeware plugins anymore. So the following list is supposed to differentiate a little bit from that as it consists of plugins that I still continuously use even though I own many of the best plugins on the market. Enjoy my favourite 10 best free VST plugins in 2020 & 2021.
1. Xfer Records OTT
Xfer Records is mostly known for their amazing synthesiser Serum. I first heard of them when they released a small freeware plugin called Dimension Expander which I thought was inspired by the Dimension Expander effect in Native Instrument’s Massive. Turns out that both effects were inspired by Roland’s Dimension D.
Anyway, OTT (over the top) is an amazing small multiband up- and downward compressor that can really make a huge difference on your sounds. You can easily achieve the over compressed sound that is so modern these days. A few tweaks here and there, and it works. But be careful, you can easily overdo it with this plugin and everything will sound too compressed and flat.
2. Valhalla FreqEcho
Oh, how I love this small little plugin by Valhalla! You may think that it’s a simple delay plugin judging by the name. But you are wrong. This is more of a sound shaping, crazy FX plugin, that you can use in all kinds of underground music. Personally, I have used the plugin in Techno and Psy-Trance tracks extremely successfully. It works so well!
3. Polyverse Wider
I love using Wider by Polyverse. Why? Because it creates a really great sounding fake stereo version of your material without compromising on its mono compatibility. Absolutely no phase issues when A/B checking in mono. This is because Wider cancels itself out when heard in mono, so the mono signal will stay 100% intact.
4. DMGAudio TrackControl
I use this plugin by DMGAudio on almost every channel. It is very similar to the Utility plugin in Ableton. So Ableton users won’t really have a need for this. All other users however will love this plugin. I often use it to automate volume, increase the stereo width, invert phases and more. Really a very handy tool!
5. Wavesfactory Cassette Transport
Wavesfactory is a lovely small company that I am quickly becoming a fan of. Been using their Trackspacer and Spectre plugins quite often. Anyway, Cassette Transport is a lovely small plugin that simulates – as the name suggests – the sound of a cassette player and tape. This is pretty cool and can be used for animation videos, or just to do a tape stop effect in your production. Since Glitch is not freeware anymore, I have been using this one and really like it!
6. Youlean Loudness Meter
Great little tool by Youlean to check the loudness of your track in case your DAW doesn’t come with a metering plugin itself. Super useful if you just quickly want to the check the loudness of a reference track that you have put into your DAW.
7. Ozone Imager
Following the recommendation for the loudness meter is another metering tool. Well not only, but I mainly use it for that. Ozone Imager by Izotope shows you the stereo width of a particular sound or your whole master in a stereo monitor oscilloscope. I used to love that visualisation when I was still working with the Pinguin Audio Meter. I also use this tool to analyse other tracks and the stereo width of certain elements in reference tracks.
8. Izotope Vocal Doubler
It’s a simple little tool that doesn’t need much explanation. Vocal Doubler is almost always used in the vocal chorus during the main-part of my tracks. Maybe just for a background vocal layer (not the main vocal). It will give the chorus more power and a bigger sound. And that’s all you want for your vocal chorus usually.
9. Audio Damage RoughRider 3
RoughRider 3 by Audio Damage is the third version of a plugin that I once got a recommendation for by Sied van Riel. It was during a masterclass that he held in Amsterdam during ADE. Ever since I attended this masterclass, I have been using this plugin. Why is this plugin so nice? Well, I don’t really use it so much as a compressor but more as a colouring tool. If I want my signal to sound a bit more mid focused, I just load the plugin as an insert effect and voila, almost done. I would maybe change the threshold slightly to get a little bit more punch or more colouring but really, that’s it. The sound you achieve is a bit different than just simply using an EQ, for some reason it often also takes out the harshness of digital aliasing in the high frequencies. Highly recommended!
10. WA Production KSHMR Essentials Kick
I only recently discovered this plugin by WA Production and I must say that I am quite blown away. It is a smaller version of KSHMR Essentials and only has 8 knobs. Those knobs really work well though. Your kick needs a brighter transient? No problem. You kick needs more punch? No problem. You want your kick to fit better tonally in the sub area? Just add some bass harmonies in the root note of your track. I have been constantly using this plugin and even though I own a lot of other quality plugins, this is my first choice plugin on kicks.
Conclusion – Best free VST Plugins 2020 & 2021
It is hard to believe how much quality you get for free these days! Of course, if you want additional or advanced functionalities, you will always have to pay. But for simple matters, often freeware plugins can be the best choice, as they are small & compact. They may have limited functionalities but most often they do what they are done for pretty well!