Buyer's Guides

Best Plugins for Sound Design: Unleash Your Creativity

Sound design is one of the most rewarding jobs in all of professional audio. It’s a great mix of creativity, resourcefulness, analytical thinking, and problem-solving. Instead of chasing sounds, the goal is generally to create something totally new.

There are a lot of career paths you take with it, too, from film and TV and game design to content creation. More so than other aspects of audio engineering, the right tools are vital, and in digital audio, plugins are at the top of the list.

Let’s explore some of the best plugins or sound design and what landed them as our top choices.

Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2

Simply put, Omnisphere 2 is one of the absolute best synthesizer platforms. Considering how broad sound design is and the varied requirements of the field, a versatile virtual instrument like this wavetable synthesizer plugin is ideal so that you can handle any scene and any situation.

Exploration is the key to Omnisphere 2. The library includes a staggering 14,000 sounds that can be further expanded through the New Hardware Library, and you can even import your own sounds. Each patch offers four layers. Virtually every sound parameter is customizable, from the LFOs and envelopes to tuning and scale functionality.

The wavetable portion is as powerful as it is complex, and the ways you can shape sounds are really only limited by your imagination. Psychoacoustic sounds are ideal for sound design and paired with the 57 effects allow for endless possibilities.

With a plugin this complex you, need an interface that’s easy to navigate, and Spectrasonics did a great job in designing the GUI. Omnisphere 2 supports a large number of hardware synthesizers to provide further control over your workflow. It won’t work for every sound design situation, but if you need to manipulate, morph, and move sound in ways that might seem impossible at first this is one of the best plugins to do it.


Spitfire Audio Hans Zimmer

Epic. It takes on multiple meanings and executions in sound design. But the intent during production is the same. To create an auditorily engaging experience for the viewer. And who does that better than the legendary composer Hans Zimmer?

When it comes to sound design for film and TV, this is one of the best plugins to have in your library. Spitfire Audio breaks the Hans Zimmer collection into six categories including strings, percussion (with two levels), drums, piano, and cinematic sampling. Each offers a robust amount of samples and ways to manipulate sound parameters like microphone positions, room impulse responses, and editing directly within the plugins.

Each sample pack was recorded in London’s legendary AIR studios. But it’s not just the room that helps to bring these samples to life. Each sample is recorded from some of the best session players in the world.

The signal chain used to capture the sounds is as impressive as Zimmer’s body of work. The best microphones fed iconic Neve preamps on a classic Neve 88R console and went into some of the best converters in the world.

As someone who’s scored some of the biggest blockbuster movies in history, wanting Hans Zimmer’s sound at your disposal is a no-brainer. The packs are a little pricey, but considering the fantastic quality they’re worth it if it fits your budget.


Waves H-Reverb

In sound design ambience generally refers to what’s going on in the background. But background noise isn’t normally captured during the production phase; it’s crafted in post-production. So, what’s the best way to incorporate a sense of space and depth into sound effects and dialogue?

Reverb. But not just any reverb will do. You need a plugin with a broad range of settings that allows you to tailor the effect to whatever the scene calls for. Enter H-Reverb from Waves Audio, a combination of convolution and algorithmic reverb. This gives you the best of both worlds - the realism of convolution with the flexibility of algorithmic ‘verbs.

One of the reasons it’s so good for sound design is that you don’t just get a host of familiar room sizes. You can use it to create all kinds of effects that are perfect for picture. And there are a host of onboard processing features like compression, EQ, modulation, saturation, de-essing, and more.

It works in standard stereo and mono as well as 5.0 and 5.1 surround sound. Besides how tweakable the settings are, H-Reverb is very affordable. This proves that big sounds can come in budget-friendly plugins. And when they’re from a manufacturer as respected as Waves Audio you know that no quality was sacrificed to keep the cost down.


Celemony Melodyne 5

The debate between Melodyne and Antares’ Auto-Tune will never die. And in the context of music production, it shouldn’t. They both do very different things and so they each provide their own benefits and drawbacks.

Auto-Tune is more of an effect, though it does offer sophisticated pitch manipulation. But in the realm of sound design, Melodyne is a better choice. It’s built on an engine tailor-made to adjust pitch and time inconsistencies. The pitch analysis is top-notch, and you can even extract notes from audio or perform note comparisons.

It can be used as a standalone application or as a standard plugin in a DAW, so the editing capabilities can conform to how you need to integrate it into your production. Melodyne 5 offers a number of improvements to the software, cementing it even more in the pitch correction plugin category. The engine is highly accurate, even if it does eat up processing resources. And depending on how you’re using it, it can take some time to do its thing.


FabFilter Pro-Q3

Along with compression, equalization is one of the top tools any audio engineer has in their arsenal. Unlike with music production, when it comes to sound design an EQ plugin that is clean and versatile is really all you need to clean up audio and improve it. That’s why Pro-Q3 from FabFilter is a fantastic choice.

The Pro-Q series is one of the most popular EQs in the world. And though it’s one of the best “clean” EQs, it comes with plenty of settings to add color to the signal too. It offers up to 24 EQ points and works in stereo, mono, mid/side, left/right, and Dolby Atmos modes, so it’s one of the best for shaping any source signal.

A piano roll display works in tandem with the signal it’s sensing to make sure that no energy is lost due to slightly off EQ decisions. Auto Gain mode makes sure that everything is gain staged properly, taking a lot of the trial and error out and increasing workflow speed. All processing is done without adding any artifacts to the signal, even when using more extreme analog settings.

For those looking for a versatile EQ that can do it all, Pro-Q 3 is one of the best in the business.


Four Editors Cinematic SFX

Four Editors might fly under the radar, but their plugins hang with the best of them. When it comes to effects designed specifically for sound design, Cinematic SFX is a go-to. With over 1,000 original sound effects, any production will benefit from this library.

All sounds are professionally mastered and come in high resolution .WAV format. The sample categories come in multiple varieties like ambiance, percussion, risers, impacts, and more. Sound designers work across a number of different systems, and Cinematic SFX is compatible with every video editing application on Windows and Mac.

Four Editors offers other sound effects libraries as well, and with how cost-effective it is, you can easily combine it with other sample packs and still have a budget to spare. The bundle comes with a commercial license so you can use them at any level of sound design. With sample packs of this quality, it won’t be long before Four Editors is one of the top choices in the video production industry.


Best Sound Design Plugins: The Bottom Line

Sound design is unlike any other type of audio work. Whereas in music production “classic” sounds are often chased, sound design is all about creating something novel.

Beyond the processing tools you have at your disposal, consider the source sounds themselves. Using samples and pre-recorded libraries is more than fine, but as someone in professional sound design you’ll eventually come across a situation where you have to get creative.

By using a specific set of tools that benefit your workflow you can progress quickly and effectively to get the best results. In audio production sound design is one of the most creatively challenging fields.

But that’s what makes it fun.