Buyer's Guides

The Best Free Plugins in 2024 - Premium Sound Without Breaking the Bank

Getting started in music production can often feel like an expensive endeavour. There's always another piece of gear to buy or the latest plugin available that promises to enhance your production toolset.

While it's true that premium plugins can elevate and enhance a great recording, there are also many superb free plugins available, spanning a wide range of sonic options and utilities.

Below is our pick of the very best free plugins currently available to download for zilch; nothing... nada. Some of them are so good, you'll wonder how they're even free in the first place.

Spitfire - Labs

The Spitfire Labs series is an ever-growing collection of software instruments that will transform your sonic pallet; from organic textures to atmospheric piano and string instruments, Labs offers something for every type of production.

There's a lot to get your teeth into that will help keep get the creative juices flowing. And, because the library is built for musicians by musicians, you can expect a continual stream of fresh inspiration each time a new instrument hits the library.

Every producer or composer should add Spitfire Labs to their plugin arsenal if only to see just how good free virtual instruments can sound.

Full Headliner feature on how to compose with Spitfire Labs, here.

Available as: VST2, VST3, AAX and AU


iZotope - Vocal Doubler

When applied in the right way, vocal doubling can act as the secret sauce that transforms a lead vocal, helping to enhance an excellent performance subtly or make it a stand out feature when applied liberally.

Vocal Doubler from iZotope takes the hard work and time out of achieving a rich, double-tracked vocal effect, allowing you to add richness and depth to any performance.

The UI couldn't be easier to use, with a clearly labelled visual design that quickly enables you to adjust saturation, variation, and the amount of effect in the mix until you achieve the desired effects for your production.

For more of the best plugins available for vocals, check out our full guide.

Available as: AAX, AU, VST2, VST3


Softube - Saturation Knob

Modern productions can sometimes lack the character and warmth once enjoyed in the analogue realm when recording and mixing entirely "in the box".

If a little analogue character is your bag, then you have to check out Saturation Tube. This ingenious free plugin is perfect for adding harmonics to help liven up your recordings.

Add it to guitars to 'fatten' them up or even to vocals for a little extra shimmer. Push it to the extreme fringes on electronic drums, and you've got some instant saturated warm analogue charm right there in your digital DAW.


Available as: VST, VST3, AU, or AAX

Granulator II

If you're an Abelton user seeking atmospheric textures, then you have to check out Granulator II.

As you can guess, this free plugin is based on granular synthesis, which enables you to take a very tiny portion of a sample sound and transform it completely. It's perfect for creating warped, distorted, and otherwordly sounds - particularly very glitchy and noisy pads.

Available as: A Max for Live Device for Abelton Live 11


iZotope - Vinyl

For the ultimate in lo-fi vibes, check out the aptly named 'Vinyl' from iZotopes, which is one of the best free plugins for adding analogue soul in the digital realm.

Think late 80s hip hop at the push of a button. Depending on how hard you push the settings, 'Vinyl' simulates dust, scratches, and mechanical noise to create a charming vintage aesthetic. Add the plugin as an effect for additional character, or use it as a powerful sound design tool. In any case, 'Vinyl' is an excellent addition to any producers toolbox, and it's completely free, of course. 

Available as: AAX, AU, VST2, VST3


Valhalla - Supermassive

Channel your inner Brian Eno with this first-class otherworldly sounding reverb and delay plugin.

You'll quickly create lusciously spacey reverbs and harmonic delay textures with what is easily one of the best free plugins available for anyone making electronic ambient music, or perhaps even working on film soundtracks or sound design projects.

Available as: VST, VST3, AAX, AU


Audio Damage - RoughRider3

Over a decade after its release, RoughRider remains one of the most popular compressor plugins on the market. Even better, it's completely free.

The latest incarnation, RoughRider3, now includes an external sidechain input and the metering is now much more accurate.

RoughRider is traditionally known as a compressor that colours the sound quite significantly; it has a sonic signature that many like for its pleasing anlogue-style warmth. However, with version 3, you now have the ability to turn off the built-in warming filter effect for a more neutral sound.

Download it for yourself and discover why countless producers love RoughRider for its unique character and clean user interface.

Available as: VST, VST3, AAX, AU, AUv3, IAA, & standalone


Polyverse - Wider

'Wider' is a powerful pseudo-stereo widening plugin that can give the illusion of increased stereo width on any mono signal without affecting the phase.

You can easily increase the stereo width up to 200% without the negative side-effects of phase issues that often destroy the clarity and dynamics of a mix. Once again, completely free and we urge you to check it out for yourself.

Available as: VST2, VST3, AU, AAX


Waves - StudioVerse

StudioVerse - a feature of the Waves StudioRack plugin chainer - is a massive AI-powered community for mixing chains, featuring thousands of macro-powered chains, made by top producers and mixers (Young Guru, CLA, Manny Marroquin, Andrew Scheps, many more), plus easy Musical AI search inside your DAW.

This open online system lets you share your own chains with others, and with the ‘Scan Audio’ button, StudioVerse’s musical machine learning engine will learn your track’s “Audio ID” and instantly recommend mixing chains matching your unique sonic fingerprint.

Check out Headliner's exclusive review here to find out why this is the quintessential all-encompassing VST3 chain builder.

Available via: Waves StudioRack (VST2, VST3, AU, and AAX)


Do The Best Free Plugins Match Up to Premium Alternatives?

Clearly, not everything in life is free, and while we feel the plugins on this list offer a superb entry into the world of music production, there's always more to explore.

To a degree, you get what you pay for. The best plugin bundles do come at a premium, but it's a testament to just how far the technology has come when so many free plugins are capable of taking pride of place on some of the worlds best audio productions.

In music and audio production, you're only really limited by your imagination. I don't necessarily like the phrase "a bad workman always blames his tools", but there's an element of truth in this statement.

In other words, you could place a great producer in a small project studio with just a handful of limited instruments, gear, and basic stock plugins, and I guarantee you they would still produce something of note.

In many cases, limiting the available tools can actually breed fresh creativity compared to the limitless options of having the world at your fingertips.... Now there's a thought, who fancies producing a track using only the virtual instruments from Spitfire Labs, for example?