The future of music

10 Best Vocal Plugins

December 29, 2023
best vocal plugins

It all starts with a voice.

But in this day and age, it certainly doesn’t end there.

Once you’ve recorded your initial track, you are just at the beginning of your journey.

Unless you are an analog purist, you’ll probably encounter a vocal plugin during your long – and hopefully lustrous – career. 

Vocal plugins will enhance, improve, and polish your recordings.

You can also use them in a remedial capacity to remove flaws and add a sheen of professionalism to your sounds.

Indeed, for high-quality, world-class sound, a vocal plugin is mandatory.

It will take you from where you are now to where you want to be.

Here’s our round-up of the best vocal plugins!

Best Budget Vocal Plugins

1. Waves – DeEsser

Waves - DeEsser, the Best Budget Vocal Plugin.
  • Key features: Varies the range from 2kHz to 16 kHz to suppress high frequencies; offers wideband or split modes
  • System requirements: Windows (Windows 10 64-bit or Windows 11 operating systems) and Mac (macOS Catalina 10.15, Big Sur 11, Monterey 12, or Ventura 13 operating systems). Users need a minimum of 8 GB of RAM
  • Price: $30

A DeEsser solves the time-honored problem that faces all music producers: excessive sibilance, i.e., the prominent ‘s’ and ‘t’ sounds that distract and muddy an otherwise balanced finished product.

The DeEsser steps in and resolves that problem briskly and confidently, and adding it last in the vocal processing chain will take your finished product from ‘meh’ to ‘magical.

Its gentle de-essing action reduces amp sim harshness, tames cymbals in drum loops, and sweetens the sound of digital synthesizers.

Its neutrality is the stuff of legends, and it effortlessly balances sibilant sounds and unpleasant frequencies.

It does so without over-coloring or over-processing the sound, and it has an intuitive ability to remove the noise and discordance with surgical precision.

It’ll do all this without depriving your finished product of its originality and charm.

2. Waves Vocal Bender

Waves Vocal Bender Budget Vocal Plugin.
  • Key features: Real-time monophonic voice manipulation, zero latency, LFO, SEQ, Amplitude and Pitch modulators, ‘Flatten’ feature, Mix knob
  • System requirements: AAX/AU/VST2 & 3 (64-Bit), Mac OSX 10.13.6 or later (Intel only), Windows 10 64-bit (version 2004 and above); 8 GB RAM, 8 GB free disk space
  • Price: Normally $149, but on sale for $29.99 as of Summer 2023

With stunning levels of audio manipulation, the Vocal Bender is easy and enjoyable to use, making it an ideal option for newcomers who want to gain confidence.

It offers a range of plugins, but it does its best work with pitch adjustment and vocal processing.

The Vocal Bender is a winner and a compelling go-to across a broad swathe of different genres. 

The pitch and formant knobs allow you to adjust and enhance the timbre of your vocals and create resonant, flawless finished products.

The flatten button allows you to bring the input to a specific note and to adjust and augment your vocals.

The automation feature enables you to add vocal effects like pitch drops and also reinforces the varying intensities of your input.  

Best Mid-Range Vocal Plugins

3. Universal Audio – 1176 Collection

Universal Audio - 1176 Collection, Best Mid-Range Vocal Plugin.
  • Key features: Expanded controls for Headroom, Mix, and custom Sidechain Filter for reduced LF pumping.
    Features a lower 2:1 compression ratio and a 10ms attack time
  • System requirements: The Native version runs on a Mac or PC without UA hardware
  • Price: $149

Want sounds that are, well, universal? You know what to do.

This gem has a reputation that precedes it and has a storied heritage in the production space.

For a limiter, it offers astounding versatility and broad functionality, and the results are always crisp, clean, and effortless sounding.

It uses FET-limiting amplifiers and offers a series of stellar plugin emulations.

It also has parallel compression capacities. Oh, and it is a total pinch to use. 

It can tame and polish the grittiest, highest-frequency sounds and bring out the magic in the dullest tones.

It is not transparent but adds a beautiful sonic character to your recordings.

According to Universal Audio, the legendary 1176 is a “‘desert island” compressor that has lent its character and punch to some of the greatest recordings in history.”  

It also contains presets from famous 1176 engineers, including Joe Chiccraelli (Frank Zappa, U2), Andrew Scheps (Red Hot Chili Peppers), and Andy Johns (Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones).

Universal Audio is confidently and swiftly continuing its legacy of analog modeling excellence.

4. Antares Auto-Tune Pro

Antares Auto-Tune Pro, one of the Best Mid-Range Vocal Plugin.
  • Key features: Real-time autotuning, graph mode for manual editing, advanced scaling, MIDI and vibrato options
  • System requirements: AAX/AU/VST3 (64-Bit), Mac OSX 10.14 or later, Windows 10 or later; 4 GB RAM
  • Price: Free trial, $14.58/month, $459 one-time payment

Deep breath – we’ll start off with the most controversial subject in music production.

To autotune or not to autotune?

While it has a reputation as being the purview of tacky top 40, Autotune is a hard-working tool that can enhance and improve vocals across all genres. 

The majority of commercial production styles will tweak and alter your vocals to some degree, and most of the time, the results sound intuitive and unassuming.

The vocal tuning plugins that come courtesy of the Antares Auto-Tune Pro are easy, user-friendly, and mysteriously adept at detecting the key of your track, thanks to the Auto-Key function.

You can also utilize its graph mode to apply subtle time and pitch corrections for a stunning result.

The best part is that it corrects pitch in real time so that you can hear the adjustments immediately.

5. Fabfilter – Pro-Q 3

Fabfilter - Pro-Q 3 vocal plugin.
  • Key features: Filter shapes include Bell, Notch, High/Low Shelf, High/Low Cut, Band Pass, Tilt Shelf, Flat Tilt; Dynamic EQ mode, EQ Match, spectrum analyzer, External Spectrum Visualization, per-band mid/side or left/right processing and many more features
  • System requirements: VST, VST3, Audio Units, AAX Native and AudioSuite formats (all both 64-bit and 32-bit)
  • Price: $169

Fabfilter is a shapeshifter with surgical precision and an intuitive interface.

It allows you to edit and adjust your sound as subtly or dramatically as you want, and the EQ feature allows you to make professional enhancements without lifting more than a finger.

It will tame any frequency issues or inconsistencies in your vocals.

Ultimately, it amounts to a multi-board compressor, EQ, and vocal hand-holder in one and is recognized by many producers as one of the best EQs around. 

The interface is beautiful and futuristic, and the adjustable parameters allow you to seamlessly tweak frequency, pitch, and any other variable you care to improve.

It is famous for the Spectrum Grab feature, which allows you to manage and adjust errant dips and peaks with ease, and the Piano Roll display, which allows you to target your input at specific pitches.

The EQ Match feature allows you to blend different tonal characteristics from different source signals.

The Dynamic EQ mode applies attenuation at different rates as the input signal evolves.

Long story short – features galore. 

6. Universal Audio – Capitol Chambers

Universal Audio - Capitol Chambers vocal plugin.
  • Key features: Adjustable Decay, Pre-delay, sweepable cut filter, three-band EQ, Dry/Wet mix, and Width
  • System requirements: UAD Native plug-ins run on both macOS 10.15 Catalina or newer and Windows 10 and 11
  • Price: $174

If you’re a retro enthusiast, you need to drop everything and get your hands on the Capitol Chambers vocal plugin, as it emulates the haunting, evocative echo chambers that give old recordings their mesmerizing quality.

After EQ and pitch correction, you’ll struggle to find a better reverb plugin than this dream-maker.

If you love rich, timeless sounds and elegant finishes, this plugin is an absolute requirement.

You can enhance and dramatize the most lackluster vocal recordings and transform them into something cultivated and impactful.

Designed by legend Les Paul, it captures amplifier, speaker, custom preamp, and microphone inputs for unprecedented realism.

Bass, treble, and proportional Q Mid band let you perfectly season your track with gorgeous contour.

It also offers presets from Grammy-winning engineers, some of whom have worked with Radiohead and Steely Dan.

This is ambiance and luxury at its resonant best.

Best Premium Vocal Plugins

7. Soundtoys – Decapitator

Soundtoys - Decapitator premium vocal plugins.
  • Key features: 5 detailed models of studio hardware and analog-modeled tone control, which shapes the contour of the saturation
  • System requirements: Operating systems: Mac OS X 10.12 or later; Windows 7 or later.
  • Price: $199

Decapitate poor-quality sounds, anyone?

The Decapitator is our top choice for those hesitant or nervous to dive into the complex and futuristic world of vocal plugins.

It produces a lush, analog warmth and texture, making it the ideal choice for acoustic performers and down-to-earth singer-songwriters.

It helps infuse your vocals and instrumentals with subtle (or extreme) saturation and raw contour.

Soundtoys are confident in their plugin, calling it the “secret weapon of top mix engineers.” 

The Decapitator replicates the satisfying, heartening analog sound of tubes, transistors, and circuitry being pushed to the limits.

It offers five different analog saturation models to choose from and allows you to enhance your vocals with a heady, mesmerizing character.

It also features a mix control that lets you blend in a dry signal for parallel processing without having to use routing and sub-mixes.

Oh, and it allows you to push your tracks to the very limits with the Punish button.

8. Pultec – EQP1A

Pultec - EQP1A vocal plugins.
  • Key features: Bandwidth control, low noise floor for sonic purity, Low Boost +13.5dB, Low Cut -17.5dB, High Boost +18dB, High Cut -16dB
  • System requirements: Works on Windows and Mac (64-bit)
  • Price: Approximately $199

Pultec is another winning choice for vocalists who like the rich, inviting sounds of retro, traditional vocal mixing tools.

This makes it a clear stand-out for soul, jazz, folk, and indie performers who want to impart their sound with a resonant touch of magic.

Indeed, it is an absolute game-changer when it comes to vocals, with results that can only be described as flawless and professionally finished.

It also allows you to fortify your track with a “true blue” replication of the original Pultec EQP-1A, made from 1961 to 1971.  

It offers a low-noise floor for sonic purity and vividness.

For more robust results, some producers apply EQ before compression in the Pultec.

Afterward, they may use another tool like the Pro-Q 3 for more nitty-gritty precision.

If you require your vocal plugin to be a dynamic workhorse that can zero in on tiny imperfections in sound, this tool may fall short, but for straightforward vocal production, it is an absolute asset.

9. Celemony Melodyne 5 Assistant

Celemony Melodyne 5 Assistant vocal plugin.
  • Key features: Edit pitched and noise components separately with ‘Melodic’ algorithm; musical analysis of pitch deviations; Fade Tool and Levelling Macro; ‘Percussive Pitched’ algorithm
  • System requirements: AAX/AU/VST3 (64-bit)
  • Price: $99 (Essential), $299 (Assistant), $499 (Editor), $849 (Studio)

A vocal plugin with an alluring name, the Melodyne could process vocals in its sleep.

It has a nifty and satisfying drag-and-drop interface, which is, well, nothing short of addictive to use.

It allows you to drag different filters to edit your pitch, timing, phrasing, and vibrato.

This design makes it easy to render quick fixes and experiment with different settings.

You can make subtle adjustments and set controls on different filters for an efficient, non-headache-inducing experience. 

The meticulous sensitivity and precision mean natural-sounding edits and organic results.

Bad Y2K auto-tune is a veritable thing of the past where Melodyne is concerned.

Sure, the studio version costs the equivalent of a month’s rent, but why not cut your teeth with the more affordable Essential version?

Don’t blame us when you fall in love and upgrade immediately, though.

10. Oeksound – Soothe2

Oeksound - Soothe2 vocal plugin.
  • Key features: Soft/hard mode, Attack and Release parameters, frequency graph, optimized performance and lower latency, external sidechain input
  • System requirements: macOS 10.10 (Yosemite) and newer as 64-bit VST, AU, and AAX, Intel-based Macs; Windows 7 and newer as 32/64 bit VST and VST3, 64-bit AAX (PT11 and newer); iLok account and iLok License Manager installation required
  • Price: Approximately $210

A vocal plugin that sounds like a medieval Viking warrior, the Soothe2 is an absolute dynamo at removing unpleasant, ambient frequencies and is renowned for its suppression capacities.

It has a preternatural ability to remove harsh glitches and inconsistencies without impacting or diluting the timbre and authenticity of your vocals. 

It is a speedy, efficient, and precise tool, and much faster than attempting remedial work bit by bit the old-fashioned way.

Oeksound calls their plugin a “dynamic resonance suppressor” as it thoughtfully removes unpleasant or overdriven frequencies and prevents any one tone from showboating and dominating the results.

It tames the noise and grit without compromising the tonal integrity of the results.

How to Choose the Best Vocal Plugin

Learn the different sound signatures

If you have the technical expertise, creative desire, and savings, it is definitely worth investing in two different plugins.

Each compressor has a different personality and imparts a different sheen, or patina, to the final result.

Some vocal plugins are transparent and produce a true-to-form, organic finished product.

Some plugins have more character, adding more color and sparkle to your final track.

Some are meticulous and crisp, while others are honeyed and warm.

Position in the vocal processing chain

We’ll walk you through a basic vocal processing chain below, but it pays to know that every vocal plugin has a different role, and generally speaking, the best results will come from pairing a few together.

Some vocal plugins work best to autotune, add compression (which enhances vocals and adds a polished finish), add effects like reverb and delay, and to limit.

A limiter can reduce harsh transients and add a final sheen of flawlessness to your finished product.

You also want a plugin that offers EQ capacities so you can reduce harshness and muddiness and heighten presence and clarity.

Ensure you know where your plugin fits in the vocal processing chain. 

Payment flexibility

Some vocal plugins allow you to pay on a monthly subscription plan, while others require a one-time flat fee.

What works best for you?

Monthly subscriptions can be great for getting a taste of a product while making a one-time payment reduces your long-term, ongoing commitments.

Aspirations for the finished product

This is dependent on personal preference and genre.

If you want a lush, honeyed vocal finish, your needs for your plugin will be different than a gritty alternative vocalist or a folksy singer-songwriter.

Research the above plugins in the context of your own sound and how you envision your finished product.

Not every plugin is going to be your perfect match.

How to Get a Great Vocal Recording

Don’t leave all the hard work to the vocal plugin!

The best output correlates to the best input.

While your vocal track need not be flawless or polished, you want to remove as many of the rough edges as possible.

Ideally, you will record in an acoustically treated isolation room or booth, where no ambient noise or interference spoils your vocals.

If you are recording at home, however, ensure you are in a silent space without air conditioning, traffic, pets, or ambient noise.

Even light breezes or flies buzzing around can be picked up by a good microphone.

Furniture and rugs will dampen and soften the sound because these materials absorb some of the sound waves.

Moving your microphone away from walls and hard surfaces will further soften the sound.

Speaking of microphones, you will want to invest in a sturdy and sensitive one that can do your voice justice.

Don’t go ordering the cheapest one on Amazon.

Ensure you are in a positive headspace, and bring a sense of humor to the experience.

Don’t fear re-recording vocal phrases multiple times until you get your pitch right.

Even the pros do multiple takes. 

Do You Need Autotune?

Purists might not like this, but autotune is the name of the game in modern music production.

But here’s the rub: the modern generation of autotune plugins is nothing like the overwrought, overdone autotune of yore.

Forget eyebrow-raising Y2K flourishes and pitches that will break glass.

Modern autotune can be so subtle and meticulous that it is almost unintelligible.

Autotune will help you keep your pitch tight and your vocals stable and effortless.

It will remove natural inconsistencies and tonal incongruities.  

Back in the day folk, indie, and alternative musicians may have scoffed at the commercialized folly of autotune, but those days are now firmly resigned to the history books. 

What Order Should Vocal Plugins Go In?

Wait, I might need more than one vocal plugin?

Don’t worry, young grasshopper, we don’t want to throw you into the deep end.

But if we have demonstrated anything today, it is that each plugin has its own strengths, character, and tonal “fingerprint.”

Some are rich and textured, while some are clear and transparent.

Some are best at removing inconsistencies, while others can iron out uneven pitch.

Combining different plugins allows you to enjoy a fully polished, meticulously tweaked result.

This is how production professionals do it; and if it is good enough for them, it is good enough for you. 

The production of your track from A to Z is called a vocal processing signal chain.

It often involves multiple plugins and rounds of compression.

While the rules are always made to be broken, there are some rules that can help a newcomer become familiar with plugin order and optimization.

The best starting point is a gain-stage saturation plugin.

These plugins emulate the effects of a tube pre-amp. 

We then suggest applying deductive EQ processing before the signal gets edited and tweaked further down the chain.

This stage enables you to remove excessive or unpleasant resonances or low-ends that might drive your compressor plugin too hard.

Now that you have applied the deductive EQ and smoothed out some rough edges, you can add compression and get wild.

We suggest using two compressors if you can.

This allows you to ensure a dynamic, textured, robust outcome, with stellar vocal enhancement.

This also takes the onus off of one compressor and divvies the work up between two.

This method allows you to truly center-stage your vocals and remove any inconsistencies.

Some sound engineers and producers will warn against too much compression, arguing that it destroys the integrity and authenticity of a vocal track.

These critics opt to apply automation and volume leveling before plugin processing to create clarity and transparency in the final track rather than an overdone, over-compressed finished product.

This is absolutely in the eye (or ear) of the beholder, and different producers have different preferences.

At this point in the journey, we suggest using EQ enhancement and additives.

One of the key benefits of using EQ at this stage is that it prevents you from driving your compressor too hard with boosted frequencies earlier in the signal chain.

This stage is one of the most creative and gratifying, allowing you to spice up the vocals, add musical flourishes, and infuse the vocals with shimmering dynamism.  

Strap in because it is going to be a long night.

Jokes aside, we do recommend two more steps. At this point, we recommend using De-Esser plugins, which help stamp out harsh sibilant frequencies, which sometimes arise at other stages of the music production chain. 

The last step is to add spatial and/or modulation effects.

Some producers prefer to use an AUX to apply reverb, delay, and modulation effects, but you can certainly use a plugin to this end.

This is absolutely optional, given the genre and outcome you desire. 

Keep in mind that this is not a blueprint but rather just one production strategy.

As you become more confident and competent, you will develop your own techniques and preferences.

Ultimately, production is both an art and a science and the magic arises when you can eschew the rules in favor of your own original vision and process.

How Did We Choose the Best Vocal Plugins? 

We focused on brand reputation and recognition and on plugins that stand out in their class.

Some plugins are amazing at balancing frequencies, creating transparency, warming up vocals, and creating echo-chamber-like reverb.

Each plugin has its own unique signature and its own sonic “fingerprint.”

We focused on offering a range of plugins that fulfill different needs and can be incorporated at different stages of the vocal production chain.

We also focused on offering a list of plugins that offer free trials.

Because there are as many production needs and styles as there are producers, it is imperative that musicians feel out a product before committing. 

Best Vocal Plugins – Final Thoughts

Feeling dizzy and flush with the possibilities?

Yearning to hit the ground running?

Go spend the weekend recording some new music, and come back when you’re feeling fresh and ready to dive into the thrilling, dynamic world of vocal production. 

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Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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