Buyer's Guides

Best Plugins for Mastering in 2024 - Create a DIY Release-Ready Mix

Professional-level mastering is a particular skill that takes years to perfect and requires a controlled monitoring environment with the best possible speakers.

But just because your production budget doesn't stretch to enlisting Abbey Road's mastering team to polish off your mix, doesn't mean you can't improve the quality of your mix using DIY mastering techniques.

The worst thing you can do is nothing. Unmastered tracks are unlikely to gel together as a complete project—particularly if you're releasing multiple compositions as part of an album, EP, or single.

Learn the basics and arm yourself with the right tools, and it's more than possible to create a polished master that will translate well on a wide range of playback systems.

To help you get started, we've listed the best plugins for mastering currently available. Each has its pros and cons; some are complete bundles, while others are separate tools. 

iZotope - Ozone 9 Advanced

Ozone 9 is one of the best plugins for mastering your own music.

iZotope takes a lot of the guesswork out of the equation thanks to their extremely helpful balance control feature. Based on successful commercially released tracks, it allows you to quickly identify any tonal imbalance you might need to address. If you have a reference track you particularly like, you can easily upload it as a custom reference.

If you're mastering your own music for the first time, the additional "master assistant" feature can also help nudge your track in the right direction. This smart assistant will apply a pre-set signal chain based on your mix intention and intended listening platform. Choose from modern or vintage processing, high or low intensity, and optimize for CD or streaming service releases.

The following iZotope demonstration video covers the process of mastering your own tracks from start to finish, including the smart assistant feature mentioned above and making finer adjustments. In particular, you'll hear how they use the low-end focus module to tighten up the low end, followed by applying the imager, which uses multi-band stereo imaging to improve the sense of stereo width and space.

Available as: VST/AU/AAX


IK Multimedia T-RackS 5

T-RackS is a DIY mastering classic. Now in its fifth incarnation, IK Multimedia first took the "in the box" mastering world by storm all the way back in 1999.

The full package is available as a standalone unit or as a plugin suite for your DAW. It's an extremely comprehensive suite of tools IK Multimedia have expanded on with every version.

Version 5 now includes a really handy module called "master match" which automatically matches the sound of your songs using up to three reference tracks. This feature is pretty neat if you're new to mastering your own music and want to use a commercial track as a starting point from which you can customize to your own needs.

Working on full album projects is much quicker and easier in T-RackS as you can load in the entire project and quickly recall a custom signal processing chain for each individual track. If that wasn't enough, you can now also apply suitable track metadata, such as pauses, fades, track ID's, ISRC codes, and CD-Text, directly within the T-RackS interface.

Available as: Standalone/VST/AU/AAX


Acorn Digital - Mastering Suite

For those with a little more experience, the Acorn Digital Mastering Suite offers five very transparent-sounding plugins for professional-quality mastering.

Comparatively, the cost of Acorn's suite is very good value for money compared with others on our list. So while it doesn't offer quite the same amount of mastering assistant tools as the likes of iZotopes and IK Multimedia, it does offer all the tools you'll need for mastering your own music in the box at a very affordable price.

If you need a little assistance, I recommend following their complete online tutorial on how to mix and master a project using only Acorn Digital plugins.

Available as: VST/AU/AAX


Waves Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain

Based on the EMI TG12410 Mastering console, which has been in use since the 1970s on records such as Dark Side of the Moon, Nirvana In-Utero, and Radiohead's Kid A, the TG Mastering Chain emulates this legendary piece of kit inside the box.

Before the days of digital mastering in the box, studios were limited in their choice of components when putting together a mastering suite.

This same limitation is also part of its strength, as they often made very musical choices that add a sonic signature to each project they touch.

It lacks the abundance of control offered by modern suites, but that's often desirable if your mastering experience is limited.

For those seeking the legendary sound of many classic records, from The Beatles Abbey Road to present-day hits is what you're after, the TG Mastering Chain has plenty to offer.

Available as: VST/AU/AAX


Brainworx bx_masterdesk

Similarly to the Abbey Road suite, Brainworx is another option where simplicity wins the day.

Electronic music producers seeking surgical mastering tools might be left wanting. Still, those looking to quickly apply professional mastering without the complexity of many other tools will find this simple all-in-one analogue option refreshing.

It might not replace a professional mastering engineer, but with a good ear and a solid understanding of the basic principles of tonality and dynamics processing, any engineer can quickly apply the bx_masterdesk and make a positive difference.

Available as: VST/AU/AAX


Eventide - Elevate Mastering Suite

At the centre of Elevate (developed by Newfangled Audio) is the adaptive limiter and audio maximiser, which analyzes 26 frequency bands and alters the gain, speed, and transients for each band in real-time.

If you're looking to create loud, powerful masters that still retain their dynamics, you can push this nifty plugin hard and still retain a transparent, natural sound.

Try it out for yourself using the fully functional 30-day free trial.

Available As: VST/AU/AAX


Sonible - smart:limiter

Since the bad old days of overly-zealous brickwall limiting techniques from the late 90s and early 2000s, there's been a real drive to achieve loud, powerful masters without destroying dynamics in the process.

Sonible's smart:limiter is an intelligent, modern limiter that analyzes your signal and intelligently finds limiting parameters that enhance the loudness of a track while preserving detail.

Publishing to multiple formats and streaming platforms? Sonible's smart:limit helps you hit the right loudness requirements of streaming platforms or loudness standards.

See it for yourself in the video below or give it a try today using the 30-day free trial.

Available as: VST/AU/AAX


Summing Up: Best Mastering Plugins

Regardless of your mastering experience, pulling together a complete project fit for commercial release needn't be difficult.

Using the tools above, even the greenest of producers can apply subtle amounts of professional-grade EQ, compression and limiting and make a positive difference.

At the very least, you'll need to make sure your mix meets the loudness standards of you intended release format. So while you might not have the perfect mixing space for mastering (or the golden ears that come with years of experience), learning a small amount about industry expectations pays dividends when releasing your own music on a shoestring. The best plugins for mastering will guide you through these expectations and help you make an informed decision about any adjustments you apply to your music.

Further reading: If you enjoyed our recommendations for mastering, check out our best plugins bundles guide for a complete range of mixing tools, plus our guide to the best free plugins.