Buyer's Guides

Best Plugins for Vocals 2024 - Top Tools For Studio Quality Vocals

If you plan on adding vocals to your track, you need the best plugins for mixing vocals.

For most popular music styles, the lead vocal sits front and center, so it's imperative your recording and mixing quality are first class if you want your track to succeed.

First things first, a great vocal starts at the tracking stage, so if you need some advice on how to record vocals, we recommend you check out this article too.

After you're happy with the initial tracking, the best plugins for vocals will enhance a great recording. In some cases, purpose-made remedial plugins can improve a bad recording, but we recommend striving for the best front-end recording possible for truly professional results.

To help you on your way during the mixing stage, we've listed the best plugins for vocals currently in use by the Headliner team.

Antares Auto-Tune Pro

Auto-Tune divides opinion in the music production world. Your decision to use it (or not) depends entirely on the production style and the vocal performance quality.

That said, many modern production styles call for the subtle application of vocal tuning plugins as standard, and they don't come much easier to use and effective as Antares Auto-Tune Pro.

Thanks to the Auto-Key function (which automatically detects the key of your track), applying Auto-Tune is almost as simple as plug and play.

However, that's not to say you can't go more granular in your editing if needs be. Thanks to the graph mode, you can easily apply non-destructive time correction or apply pitch correction only where it's needed.

In summary, you can use Auto-Tune subtly to tighten up a vocal, or apply it liberally for classic Auto-Tune effects.


Celemony Melodyne 5 Assistant

Melodyne took the vocal processing world by storm with their intuitive drag and drop interface for editing vocal pitch, timing, vibrato, and phrasing.

The midi-like drag and drop editing interface made it easier than ever to deep-dive into a vocal or even quickly create perfect vocal harmonies.

For surgical and highly creative vocal composition in the mix, Melodyne is at the top of its game. What's even better, most edits are almost always inaudible and natural-sounding thanks to the ever-improving Melodyne algorithms. Version 5 is a huge step forward for an already established industry standard.


Soundtoys - Decapitator

Add complexity and analogue warmth to any digital vocal recording by applying this superb saturation plugin at the beginning of your vocal plugin signal chain.

Recording entirely in the box can often result in a clinical sound. After all, it's the saturation caused by the sound of tubes, transistors, and circuitry being pushed to the limit that adds so much character to classic recordings.

If you're looking to infuse your digital recordings with an authentic "analog" sound, Soundtoys Decapitator is one of the best plugins for vocals currently on the market.


Oeksound - soothe2

Originally created to help identify and remove harsh, unwanted frequencies in vocal recordings, soothe2 has quickly gained popularity as a multi-purpose resonance suppressor.

soothe2 makes effortless work of removing harsh frequencies and unwanted sibilance from vocal recordings without affecting the original timbre of your recording.

Compared to attempting this task manually using remedial EQ, the effects are quicker and more transparent sounding; soothe2 is a must-have in any production toolkit.


Fabfilter - Pro-Q 3

As part of the Fabfilter Total Bundle (one of the best plugin bundles on the market) the Pro-Q 3 is a must-have EQ for mixing vocals.

It's a remarkable sounding visual EQ that enables you to subtly shape the sound or dig deep to remove specific resonances. What's more, the new dynamic EQ feature now lets you change the gain of an EQ band dynamically - making Pro-Q 3 act in many ways like a multi-band compressor and EQ in one!


Pultec EQP1A

Available as the Universal Audio classic, or as a superb emulation from Waves, the EQP1A imparts a classic, warm character when mixing vocals.

What a lot of producers will do is apply light EQ earlier in the signal chain before compression using a plugin like the Plutec, followed by a more surgical and flexible EQ (like the Fabfilter - Pro-Q 3) after compression. This enables us to avoid over-working the compressor with high-energy lower frequencies that might make the compressor work overly hard.

The Plutec is best for adding broad boosts to your vocal while imparting a smooth, warm, vintage sound quality.


Universal Audio - 1176 Collection

The 1176 is one of the most-loved classic compressors ever made. Earlier versions feature classic coloured FET gain characteristics found in the original 1176 while later incarnations are cleaner-sounding. The 1176 Collection represents one of the most versatile compressor packs on the market.

You'll find the cleaner sounding 1176LN Rev E most versatile on vocal recordings, but the original Rev A is a revelation when recording guitars and bass for adding warmth and grit.


Waves - CLA-2A Compressor / Limiter

It pays to have a choice of different compressors in your production toolkit. Every compressor behaves differently and sounds unique; some are more transparent, others impart more character and colour to the signal.

Waves produce a superb range of lightweight emulations based on classic outboard gear. The CLA-2A is a first-class (but CPU-friendly) emulation of a classic Teletronix LA-2A compressor limiter.

When mixing vocals, a clever trick to achieve a very up-front vocal that stands out over a dense mix is to use not one, but two compressors.

The idea is, instead of making one compressor work really hard, you apply a more subtle compression spread over two plugins. The result sounds really up-front in the mix, with each syllable and nuance standing out clearly over the most complex and dense of compositions.

A UA 1176 upfront, closely followed by an LA-2A would make the perfect combination for this modern mixing technique.


Waves - DeEsser

A common problem when mixing vocals is excessive sibilance. Put simply, these are irritating and prominent 's' and 't' sounds that quickly distract the listener and destroy an otherwise balanced and pleasing mix.

Excess compression can accentuate a sibilance problem, so a plugin like the Waves DeEsser is just the ticket later in the signal chain.

Waves DeEsser is widely considered one of the most neutral and effective DeEssers and one of the best plugins for vocals.

It effortlessly reduces undesirable sibilant sounds without over-colouring the sound. Quite simply, for essential De-Essing, it's still up there with the very best.


Universal Audio - Capitol Chambers

When you're done with pitch correction, EQ, and dynamic control, you will invariably need to add space (reverb and/or delay) to your recording.

For a reverb plugin on vocals with the distinct, classic sound of so many great records, it doesn't come much better than the UAD Capitol Chambers emulation of the world's finest echo chambers.

These rich and luscious-sounding rooms have lent their magic to so many classic and modern recordings, from Ray Charles to Frank Sinatra, and Beck to Muse.

This dense, natural reverb works particularly well on a sparse mix to add real depth, timeless character, and impact to your vocals. Listen for yourself below and you'll hear how it's one of the best plugins for vocals if you love classic, natural reverb.


Leapwing UltraVox

This new set-and-forget style vocal plugin is designed for songwriters and producers that want to dial in a great sounding vocal mix very quickly and in one place.

The user interface is highly intuitive, making it simple for even the most fresh-faced mix engineer or home recording musicians to dial in a great vocal based on four core algorithms: Compression, Gate, Harmonics and Air.

Check out our full review of UltraVox for a complete overview

iZotope VocalSynth 2

For those seeking the best synthetic effects, VocalSynth 2 is one of the best plugins for mixing vocals.

As the name suggests, this plugin adds synth effects such as classic vocoder sounds, modern glitchy, computerized sounds, and even vintage talk-box envelope filter effects.

If that wasn't enough, VocalSynth 2 is a fully functional pitch-correction tool and can easily generate additional voices and harmonies.

From both a music production and a sound design application standpoint, there's a lot of creativity to explore with iZotope VocalSynth.

Check it out for yourself using the 10-day free trial.


Conclusion: What are the best plugins for vocals?

Ask ten different producers, and their list of the best plugins for vocals will undoubtedly all be different.

The plugins we've selected are frequently touted as the best in the business. They regularly make it into the signal chain for our productions here at Headliner, and I can personally vouch for the quality of each plugin.

Ultimately, it depends on what you're trying to achieve and the style of production, so instead of choosing your vocal plugins based purely on recommendation, make sure you try them out yourself and listen critically.

Most of the plugins we've included have a free trial period, so you can give them a spin on your next production risk-free and hear the result.

Related Question: In What Order Should I Place Vocal Plugins?

While the rules are always made to be broken, there are some rules that are best left untouched when it comes to your vocal processing signal chain and where to place each plugin.

As a general rule, any gain-stage plugins, such as saturation plugins, for example, are best placed right at the front. These plugins emulate the effects of a tube preamp as though it were in the front-end of our signal chain during recording.

Next, it pays to apply any deductive EQ before the signal reaches further plugins. This allows us to remove any unwanted excessive resonances or low-end that might drive other plugins unnecessarily hard (particularly compressors).

With the deductive EQ applied, we can add compression to the chain. A nice trick here is to use two compressors (as mentioned earlier in the article). Rather than having one compressor work really hard, we can use two compressors with a light touch to create a vocal that sounds very up-front in the mix.

A note on compression: Purist engineers will insist that too much compression will destroy the life of your vocal. To help avoid this issue, some mix engineers will apply automation to a vocal track before any plugin processing. This method helps to even out volume levels in a more transparent way compared to compression.

With the dynamic levels sitting nicely in the mix, now is a good time to add EQ enhancement. By applying additive EQ at this stage, we can avoid driving the compressor too hard with any boosted frequencies earlier in the signal chain. This is where we can add shimmer and sparkle to a vocal without worrying about changing the behavior of a compressor.

Next up: De-Esser plugins. It makes sense to add a De-Esser after any other tonal or dynamic processing, as it removes a lot of the guesswork from the process. In other words, we don't have to worry about any EQ or compressor plugins bringing those harsh sibilant frequencies back up in the mix if we position this stage at the end of the insert chain.

Last but not least is our spatial or modulation effects. It's best, generally, to apply reverb, delay, and modulation effects via an AUX send rather than through a plugin insert. This way, we can adjust how much of the signal is sent to the plugin and send multiple sources to the same reverb or modulation effect.

In the end, this order that I suggest is just one opinion on how to effectively construct a vocal processing chain. As a producer, you will develop your own techniques and tricks of the trade over time as your style and approach develop.

That's the beauty of mixing as a craft; each engineer imparts their own 'sonic signature' on a production. You'll develop yours over time, and if it's a hit, artists will seek you out for a particular sound. The possibilities are endless.