The Best Audio Plugin Subscriptions for Mixers? The Good, the Bad, and the Monthly

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Slate Digital’s Everything Bundle was one of the earlier audio plugin subscription services. They are now joined by names including Eventide, Softube, Kush and more.

One of the latest trends in the world of audio effects is software and plugin subscription. This relatively new business model (at least for the pro audio market) can offer an insane amount of value at a surprisingly low monthly cost.

Following in the footsteps of Adobe’s CreativeCloud and popular consumer-facing companies like Amazon and Netflix, audio developers including Slate Digital and Softube were quick to jump in and offer plugin bundles that aim to put more tools in the hands of audioworkers than ever before at a low initial price.

With more audio companies swiftly adopting this model, plugin subscriptions may soon morph from new trend to common practice. And although they provide deals that deliver tremendous practical right now, they also have the potential to become hazardous to one’s bank account over time.

Today, we’ll look at five of the most prominent audio plugin subscriptions on the market to find out where they excel, what their limitations are, and what kind of value you can expect from each of them in the years to come.

The Good

Let’s start on a positive note: Audio software subscriptions can just make sense for both their users and the companies offering them.

In a world that is often one-sided, this model presents a true win-win situation: Subscriptions allow audio engineers to acquire software that would otherwise be out of their means, immediately opening up a wide world of tools that help them do their jobs more effectively, right now.

Well, duh. The real question is: What’s the catch?

The exciting truth is that there isn’t one, necessarily. The way some of these subscription bundles are priced, you could subscribe for up to a decade before buying would be cheaper than leasing. (And that doesn’t even factor in the cost of eventually upgrading any plugins you might purchase outright over the years.)

A subscription model also opens up a new subset of the market to an audio developer, allowing them to acquire customers that would have otherwise passed on their products. Offering subscriptions allows plugin makers to choose to play the long game rather than asking for a lump sum upfront, which should be pretty exciting news.

This way, developers build stronger relationships with their customers over sustained periods of time, and users are able to easily, legally and ethically gather software that would otherwise cost them thousands of dollars to buy outright.

The Bad

However, just because a situation is “win-win” doesn’t mean that there are no tradeoffs. One issue is that collecting audio subscriptions can give users—especially beginning users— option paralysis.

If I had access to all the tools that I have now back when I first started, I know I would be a far inferior engineer than the one I am today. These subscriptions can end up selling dreams to beginners, unintentionally inhibiting their progress as they look to trying out new tools, rather than developing new skills, in order to overcome their challenges.

There are downsides for more experienced engineers as well: The dreaded recall could spell disaster for someone who has cancelled their subscription. With more software out there at your disposal, it can very easy to throw up something new only to cancel your subscription later on and lose access to the plugin.

Fortunately, most companies allow you to pick up your subscriptions for one month at a time to help remedy these issues (though sometimes at a marginally higher monthly rate than an annual subscription). Regardless, the annoyance remains, and realistically, many professional users may end up hanging on to annual subscriptions they rarely use just avoid that situation.

The Monthly

Now that we know the pros and cons of plugin subscriptions, let’s run over some of the most popular options on the market today:

Slate Digital Everything Bundle

Slate Digital’s Everything Bundle offers a diverse set of workhorse saturators, compressors and EQs inspired by vintage classics, and more.

Slate Digital was one of the earliest—if not the first—to come out of the gate with plugin subscriptions for audio engineers.

Unsurprisingly, Slate has refined this platform to a point where the subscription offers an amazing (and constantly-growing) set of plugins for only $14.99 a month.

Currently, the Everything Bundle includes five EQs, eight compressors, three saturation plugins, two preamp emulations, a mastering channel, an amp sim, and a world-class delay and reverb. All together, that is 24 plugins for $14.99 a month. That’s pretty crazy.

The value here is probably among the best out there: To purchase all of the plugins currently in the bundle, it would run you $1,771. Stack that against $14.99 a month, and it would take you nearly 10 years to to pay out that much for the plugins—and that’s not including the new plugins that are being added throughout the process.

What’s even better is that Slate Digital’s plugins sound absolutely amazing. If you have ever used one of these trusty tools, that should come at no surprise. Plugins like the Virtual Tape Machines and the newly released Verbsuite Classics are staples on every single mix I do.

However, I find myself gravitating more towards the saturation type plugins than anything else in the bundle. The compressors included seem to be the weakest link here to me. While Slate has done a fantastic job emulating classics like an 1176 or the famous SSL Bus Compressor, I often find myself moving more towards offerings like the CLA-76 or the Waves version of the SSL bus compressor. The upcoming FG-Stress (an emulation of a Distressor) does bring a bit of additional promise to the compressor side of things, however.

On the EQ end, the Slate bundle is a little lackluster for my tastes. The emulations of the Neve and SSL EQs sound good, but are not so characteristic of the classic channels to my ear. Often, I find myself just driving the Neve EQ (the FG-N) for saturation instead of actually using it to EQ. Your preferences may vary.

The exception to this would be the Custom Series EQ which has different shapes depending on whether you are boosting or cutting. Throwing two of these badboys next to each other and cutting then boosting in the same area can deliver results reminiscent of a Pultec.

Ultimately, Slate has managed to provide a great workhorse bundle with their subscription-based Everything Bundle, with typical workhorse tools.

The compressors and EQs included are good, but the rest of the bundle is even better. In particular, if you’re looking to color your mix with some of the best Native saturation processing out there, than the Everything Bundle is a no brainer.

If you haven’t had the fortune of trying out these effects, I would suggest you go and a month out right now.

Softube Volume 1 Subscription Bundle

Softube’s Volume 1 bundle specializes in more esoteric and unique hardware emulations.

Softube currently offers their Volume 1 Bundle of plugins for $19.99 a month or $199.99 a year.

All together, the bundle holds 16 plugins, equaling out to over $2,000 in value. The bundle includes just about everything under the sun, from EQs to compressors, to amp sims.

For me, the Trident A-Range and FET Compressor were the strongest plugins in the bundle, both offering color and vibe that was unmatched by any other bundle I’ve tried.

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  • Great article. The subscription model is now the standard. I wonder how long until other companies like Waves, and UA follow suite.

  • Colin Bennun

    I’d be more inclined to take advantage of things like this if it was made clear that your lifetime subscription payments are capped at the same amount as the cost of buying the plugins outright, and that when your cumulative payments reach that value you’re given a permanent license.

  • Jacob Roach

    Hopefully soon! 🙂

  • Jacob Roach

    That would be nice. The way I think about it, I’m willing to spend more later down the road because they gave such a deal upfront.
    Although, I wouldn’t complain getting some permanent licenses! 😉

  • Sean Thompson

    I’m surprised no discussion on how some of these companies have offset the subscription plans for people that already own some or many of their plugins. There are different approaches being taken here.
    Also, to really nail home why this shift to subscriptions is happening, it would be useful to point out the value of CAPEX vs OPEX spending to a business. Also, the fact that (in many countries) Assets are depreciated, but Liabilities and Expenses are taken off profits before tax. Upshot is, for a business (or maybe a Sole Trader – check with your accountant), subscriptions often make very practical fiscal sense compared to buying.

  • Russell Szabados

    I’ve been a subscriber to EastWest’s Composer Cloud since Summer 2016 and, for me, it’s about the greatest thing since sliced bread. Their sales pitch for CC is not far off the mark, it really would take thousands of dollars (which I don’t have right now) to amass the libraries they offer for $29.99 a month. Granted…they hold back the Diamond versions which are 24-bit and include extra mic positions. But I do my best with what they give, and they give a lot.

    I’m probably going to jump on the Slate subscription soon. I wish Flux and Fabfilter would do a subscription model!

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  • Justin C.

    Great point Sean. If you are unable to depreciate your software purchases in a way that’s optimal for your needs, a subscription could be of added benefit from a tax savings perspective.

    Yes, there are upgrade paths available from some of these companies, and that is worth mentioning.

    The rest is fairly advanced to go into in the context of a review, but very interesting! If you ever wanted to contribute a more business-focused story, we’re always open to pitches!

    I’d imagine that the prevailing interest rates would also have a significant impact on what most companies would be willing to charge for renting vs. buying the plugins on average. But there seems to be some great variety here on that front.

  • Arthur Young

    I’ve been using the Slate Everything bundle since it was first released, it’s brilliant. I agree with Jacob’s comments about some of the compressors and EQs, although I tend to use stock Logic plugins for simple stuff and Eioisis Air for character (along side hardware, of course). I was disappointed when they dropped support for the ReLab LHX80 reverb, as I really enjoyed the depth and space of this Lexicon emulation, although VerbSuite is also very good. I have the Lexicon PCM Native reverb collection anyway, but it served as a warning to not grow too attached to any plugin if it is suddenly discontinued.

    On a more general note, I’m far happier subscribing in this fashion, it feels more like renting superior quality hardwazre instruments or gear, which was something I did a lot when I started out. I also look forward to other manufacturers following suit, as I have a UAD quad PCI card in my main mixing Mac.

    I definitely agree with Jacob’s opinion about new user being somewhat dazzled by the options and consequently inflated expectations. As ever, only continued experience and learning will make you better at what you do, not instant access to a plethora of tools.

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  • Radbrad Smith

    i just saw that waves has a plugin based subscription service. they a silver, platinum and mercury editions. silver 9.99 a month and includes 16 plugins. platinum is 49 dollars a month and has 50 plugins. the mercury subscription is 149 dollars a month and has over a 150 plugins. http://www.waves.com/subscriptions < this is their weblink. im putting it here because it has columns about whats included or not included in each subscription, i personally have never used waves plugins. theyre way higher than my budget can allow, ive heard waves is a very respectable company, so im sharing this for people that are interested in waves subscriptions and might not know about it