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The Great Plug-In Debate: Long List or Go-To Few?

It crosses my mind just about every week. “I wonder if I should get some more plug-ins?” Or maybe “I could make such better music if I just had [insert plug-in here].”

But is this really true? Or is the opposite actually true – having only a few trusty go-to plug-ins will make your productions tighter and better sounding.

There’s a lot of ways this discussion can go – let’s lay out the pros and cons of long vs. short plug-in lists.

Our friends over at The Recording Revolution posted this great article about purging your plug-ins.

Graham lists his five go-to 3rd party plug-ins – it’s such a good list! Check it out below:

Waves SSL E Channel (my workhorse EQ and compression, so smooth and musical), Waves CLA-2A (my “color” compressor that seems to enhance just about anything it touches), Slate Digital Virtual Buss Compressors (recent purchase, but does amazing things on my mix buss), Slate Digital Virtual Console Collection (major analog bang for your CPU usage buck), Izotope Ozone (all around amazing plugin of plugins for mastering or finishing off a mix). Between my stock plugins and the above five 3rd party plugs, I can do really anything I want sonically in the mix.

It goes against the instinct that more plug-ins equals more options and therefore will result in better sounds. But it really is true that fewer 3rd party plug-ins can allow you to be more focused while mixing.

This is the biggest “pro” to having only a few third party plugs. You’ll be able to get great sounds in the box and won’t be getting ahead of yourself while mixing. Also, you’ll be able to really learn and understand all of the sounds that can be made with those select plug-ins, allowing you to become a true expert in those plugs.

The biggest “con,” however, is that you won’t be able to achieve a wide variety of sounds. For example, if you only allow yourself to use two compressors, an LA-2A emulator and Waves H-Comp, you’ll never be able to achieve the sound of the 1176 emulator, which can sound great in many applications. Also, you’ll be “limiting” your creativity (kind of).

So where do you stand? Do you like the idea of focusing in and using only a few plug-ins? Or are you in love with every single plug-in on your list? Try both methods out on a single mix and see which mix turns out better – then you’ll have your answer!

3 thoughts on “The Great Plug-In Debate: Long List or Go-To Few?”

  1. I’ve got a ton of plug-ins from lots of different 3rd party’s, but I still have just a handful I reach for on a regular basis (SSL, E-Channel, UA 1176 and LA collections, Sound Toys, Slate VTM and VBC, Maag EQ, CLA-3A). The nice thing about having a big selection is that when you do need to more than what your go-to list will give you, you can. Even if you rarely need to.

  2. I have my go-to plugins, but considering I’ve physically used everything that’s been emulated on the market, I know their sonic characteristics and what situations they work best in.

    I believe that both sides of the argument are correct. HAVE your go-tos that you know intimately, but everything else you DON’T use will ALWAYS come in handy at some point in a mix, genre or arrangement dependent. If the Fairchild’s not doing it, H-Comp probably will, basically.

    Some of my go-tos:

    Vcomp (Any vocal, kicks turn into beasts, etc)
    SSL G
    33609 (lives on master)
    LA-2A (can’t go wrong with this on pianos, ac. gtrs and female vocals)
    Sonimous Satson on channels/busses
    Turnado (how I get my ear candy)
    ValhallaRoom (can’t beat it for beautiful, natural reverb)
    SoundToys suite (also for my nutty ear candy)

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