Saturation is the unsung hero of music production and audio engineering.
It’s one of those tools in audio that can make a big difference, but is often overlooked. Saturation plugins add colour, warmth and depth to your sound, and when used correctly, can completely transform an otherwise dull and lifeless mix.
So if you’ve ever made a track and wondered why it sounds kind of flat and underwhelming, chances are it would benefit from some saturation.
In this blog post, we'll take a look at some of the best saturation VST plugins available in 2022. We'll discuss what makes each one unique, and show you how they can be used to enhance your music production. So if you're looking for some new saturation plugins to add to your toolkit, read on!
The best saturation plugins: overview
The Soundtoys Decapitator plugin is a saturation plugin with five different analog saturation models to choose from. It is perfect for adding character to every kind of track and instrument in your mixes. The plugin can be used to beef things up, thin them out, give them edge, add warmth, pull elements out of the mix, and create signature sounds.
I find this plugin really easy to use and it added a lot of character to my tracks. I was able to add warmth, pull elements out of the mix, and create signature sounds with ease. Overall, I really enjoy using the Decapitator on almost every track I produce and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a great saturation plugin.
Pros: the Decapitator plugin is easy to use and has a variety of different saturation models to choose from. This makes it perfect for adding character to your mixes.
Cons: there are no real cons to using the Decapitator plugin, other than the fact that it can be a bit CPU intensive depending on your system specs.
Price: the Decapitator plugin retails for $199 / £159, which is a fair price for all the features it offers.
Black Box Analog Design HG-2 is one of the best saturation plugins out there. It's perfect for adding colour and harmonics to your mix, and it also makes tracks sound louder and punchier. The Air knob lets you control how much high-frequency saturation you add, which is great for adding detail to vocal tracks, string instruments, and piano.
This plugin includes four different vacuum tube stages that can be combined in different ways, depending on the user's needs. This makes it a versatile tool for any kind of saturation effect. Overall, Black Box Analog Design HG-2 is an excellent saturation plugin that will greatly improve the sound of your mixes.
Pros: rich in features and sound quality, with a range of ways to control saturation across your tracks.
Cons: some might find the high price tag a little off putting, but it is certainly worth it for the features and sound quality it provides.
Price: Black Box Analog Design HG-2 is priced around $249 / £280.
When you first fire up Soundtoys Radiator, you'll be greeted by a simple, easy-to-use interface. The plugin consists of two drive channels, each with its own saturation control, input and output level controls, and bypass button. There's also a simple two-knob EQ for each channel, as well as a global saturation amount control.
The sound of Radiator is absolutely fantastic. The drive channels add tons of colour and character to your audio, while the EQ lets you sculpt your sound to perfection. And thanks to the global saturation control, you can easily dial in just the right amount of overdrive to give your tracks that extra punch.
If you're looking for an amazing sounding saturation plugin that's easy to use, then you need to check out Soundtoys Radiator. It's one of my favourite plugins of all time, and I'm sure it will become one of your favourites too.
Pros: Soundtoys Radiator offers a wide range of saturation options, from subtle sweetening to total tube distortion. It's easy to use, with just a few simple controls that let you dial in the amount of saturation you want. The plugin also has a built-in EQ, which gives you even more control over the sound.
Cons: the only downside to Soundtoys Radiator is that it can be a bit heavy on the CPU. If you're using a lot of other plugins at the same time, it might slow down your DAW.
Price: Soundtoys Radiator is priced at $95 / £79.
If you're looking for a subtle saturation plugin, then the Waves J37 Tape is a great option. It accurately recreates the sonic signature of the original analog tape machine, and comes with three different oxide tape formulas to choose from . These are modelled after those used by EMI during the ‘60s and ‘70s. It has a variety of user-adjustable controls, including Tape Speed, Bias, Noise, Saturation, Wow and Flutter, that allow you to recreate the sonic signature of the original machine.
The plugin is comprehensive and easy to use, and it delivers warm tones that are perfect for modern music production. You can really dial in the amount of saturation you want.
Overall, the Waves J37 Tape is a great tool for adding some subtle warmth and character to your tracks. It's definitely worth checking out if you're looking for a realistic tape emulation plugin.
Pros: an accurate emulation of 60s and 70s tape machine processing, making it a great tool for creating analog sounding tracks.
Cons: Waves J37 Tape is expensive compared to other plugins on the market.
Price: around $299
FabFilter Saturn 2 is a saturation plugin that can do everything from super subtle harmonic enhancement to pure screaming destruction. It's one of the most versatile plugins on this list, and its multi-band functionality allows you to create up to 6 saturation bands, each of which gives you access to its own dedicated feedback knob, drive knob, tone adjustment sliders, and mix knob. This means you can choose to saturate specific parts of the frequency spectrum — great for stuff like adding some harmonic richness to an 808, for example.
It can also achieve a variety of distortion effects. The saturation and linear phase processing are great for mastering, and the redesigned interface with modulation visualisation makes it easy to use. The new subtle saturation and distortion styles are also a nice touch. Overall, FabFilter Saturn 2 is an excellent plugin for any producer looking for versatile distortion effects.
Pros: the pros of the FabFilter Saturn 2 plugin are its versatility, multi-band functionality, and ease of use.
Cons: the cons are that it's a bit expensive compared to some other saturation plugins on the market.
Price: Saturn 2 is priced at around $150 / £129.
If you're looking for an all-in-one distortion tool with insane amounts of flexibility and creativity, iZotope's Trash 2 is the plugin for you.
With over 60 different distortion algorithms to choose from, along with four frequency bands to focus the saturation on, you can create any type of distortion you can imagine. And if that's not enough, the built-in amp and cabinet modeller lets you put your own audio into a unique space, making your distortions sound totally unique. If you're looking to add some serious dirt to your tracks, Trash 2 is definitely worth a look.
Pros: Lots of creative flexibility, meaning you can achieve a variety of different saturation and distortion effects beyond what you’d expect from a more basic saturation plugin. I use this for some heavier and experimental sound designs, but also for more subtle fattening.
Cons: there is a lack of filter-modulated presets.
Price: around $99 / £66
The Sausage Fattener VST plugin is a powerful tool that can create an array of different saturation effects. With just two knobs, the user can easily dial in the desired sound. The Sausage Fattener can be used as a compressor on a single channel or as a distortion/overdrive on a bus or track. It has been used by many professional DJs and producers, such as Tiësto, Kaskade, Diplo and Laidback Luke. If you're looking for an easy-to-use plugin with lots of sonic possibilities, the Sausage Fattener is a great option.
Pros: this is a VST plugin that’s a lot of fun to use. Its user interface is based around a sausage and I respect that. Plus, beyond its fun outer layer, it’s actually a great quality plugin.
Cons: this plugin might be a little basic for more seasoned music producers.
Price: available for $39
The Softube Saturation Knob VST plugin is a great tool for adding some grit to your tracks. I've used it to fatten up bass lines, add shimmer to vocals, and totally demolish my drum loop. It's a great tool to have in your arsenal when you need some quick and easy saturation. The three modes give you three different kinds of distortion, so you can find the right one for the job.
The plugin is free, so there's no reason not to try it out! If you’re interested in checking out some other freebies, check out our article on the best free saturation plugins.
Pros: it is free, easy to use, and has a variety of distortion modes to choose from.
Cons: may be too harsh for some applications, and there is no built-in bypass switch.
The Ozone 10 Vintage Tape plugin is an excellent tool for all of your vintage saturation needs when mixing and mastering. The interface is super clean and easy to use, and the controls are well laid out. I found the plugin to be especially useful for adding warmth and character to my mixes, and it gave my music a more analogue sound. Overall, I was really impressed with the Vintage Tape plugin, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a great sounding tape emulation plugin.
It features a 7.5 IPS setting for a brand new non-linear saturation mode with emphasis in low-mids, perfect for adding thickness and warmth to your music. It also has a Continuous Bias control for precise tuning of frequency and distortion, as well as phase effects.
Pros: it can add some great quality thickness and warmth to your music, has excellent frequency response, and is perfect for adding dimension, fatness, and depth to your recordings.
Cons: it can be quite CPU intensive, so you'll need a powerful computer to run it.
Price: (included in iZotope Ozone 10 mastering suite, starting at $199)
The Studer A800 Multichannel Tape Recorder is one of the most iconic and popular multitrack analog tape machines available. The machine has been used by some of the biggest names in music, including Metallica, Stevie Wonder, Tom Petty, A Tribe Called Quest, and Jeff Buckley. These artists and many others have recognised the warm analog sound, solid low-end presence, and overall musicality of the Studer A800 Multichannel Tape Recorder. As a result, the Studer A800 Multichannel Tape Recorder has become an industry standard for multitrack recording.
The Studer A800 Multichannel Tape Recorder VST plugin is an amazing replication of the original Studer A800 tape recorder. Not only does it sound like the original, but it also has all of the same features. This makes it an ideal choice for recording and mixing music.
The plugin is easy to use and has a very intuitive interface. It's also very stable, which is important when you're working with multitrack recordings. Overall, the Studer A800 Multichannel Tape Recorder plugin is an excellent choice for anyone looking for a great sounding and reliable tape recorder simulator.
Pros: a genuinely impressive emulation of the original analog tape recorder model.
Cons: it carries a high price tag, but is definitely worth it in terms of features and sound quality.
The Brainworx Vertigo VSM-3 VST plugin is a high-end hardware recreation that is highly popular with sound engineers and producers. As with many plugins from Brainworx, this software model of the Vertigo Sound VSM-2 Mix Satellite is well-regarded in its own right for bringing the power and much of the sonic character of the hardware to the convenience of the plugin format. The VSM-3 features two independent (virtual) saturation circuits, identified on the faceplate as 2nd Harmonic FET Crusher and 3rd Harmonic Zener Blender, referring to the different characters of distortion created by each circuit. The Crusher side can be considered more of a smooth, rich saturation, while the Blender side contributes more of a brighter, exciter-like vibe. You can blend any combination of the two with the central THD knob to dial in your desired tone.
Whether you're looking for a smooth and rich saturation or something brighter and more Exciter-like, the Brainworx Vertigo VSM-3 has you covered. If you're looking for an easy way to add some character and life to your mixes, I highly recommend giving this plugin a try.
Pros: I found the Brainworx Vertigo VSM-3 to be an extremely versatile saturation plugin that can add a ton of colour and character to your mixes. The two saturation circuits provide a great range of tones that can be blended together to create unique sounds, and the THD knob lets you fine-tune the amount of distortion added.
Cons: its user interface can be a little bit difficult to see, especially if you are working on a smaller screen.
Audio saturation is a powerful tool in audio production, and can add colour, warmth and depth to your sound. In this blog post, we've looked at some of the best saturation VST plugins available in 2022. We've discussed what makes each one unique, and shown you how they can be used to enhance your music production.
So if you're looking for some new saturation plugins to add to your toolkit, we recommend trying out the plugins we've featured in this post. They'll help you add some life and vibrancy to your tracks, and will help you create mixes that stand out from the crowd.