Plugins Aren’t Perfect Yet: 5 Top Engineers Share Their Wishlist for Plugin Improvements

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Plugins are essential to an audio engineer’s workflow, and they’re improving every day.

But virtual tools for tracking, mixing, mastering, editing and audio post aren’t perfect yet. SonicScoop asked top audio engineers from across the professional spectrum what else they’d like to see, and we got some eye-opening requests: from upgrades in visual feedback to controls, intentional imperfections, new modes and more.

Along the way, these experts chimed in the plugins that are doing exemplary work, plus some dynamite tips on how they make the most of their plugs.

Following is their Plugin Wishlist – developers, are you listening? SonicScoop readers, don’t hesitate to add your own requests in the Comments section following the article, to help push plugins even further.

Scott Jacoby

Role in the Studio: Producer, Engineer, Mixer, Writer

Scott Jacoby needs his plugins to help him move fast.

Credit Highlights: Coldplay, John Legend, Rachel Platten, Ronnie Spector, Vampire Weekend Recent/Current: Cory Henry, Deva Mahal, Michael Blume, Katini Yamaoka. Check out…Deva Mahal, “Run Deep

My Plugin Philosophy: Plugins are very important in the process, but often play second fiddle to analog hardware, which do a bit more to shape my sound.

Having said that, if I had a philosophy about plugins, it would be simply to not let them interfere with the music-creation process. I don’t like to have infinite choices of plugins – just places I can quickly go to get what I am looking for.

I often divide plugins into two categories: ones that do the job well, in a utilitarian fashion; and ones that offer color. So, the common thread would be that they fall into one of these two categories. Specifically, I love UAD, Soundtoys and Valhalla for color; and Waves, Massey and iZotope for getting it done.

I’d Love it if… I’d like to see plugins be a little less literal. It’s great to have near-perfect emulations of boxes from the 1950’s and 60’s but this isn’t always interesting. As an example, SoundToys has an emulation of the EMT 140 Plate Reverb. It sounds excellent, but they included a few features (infinite decay and modulation) that don’t exist on actual plates, enabling the user to make sounds that you’ve never heard an EMT 140 make. This is cool.

I’d also like to see more plugins with a “Wet/Dry” setting. I find this to be one of the most interesting/useful parameters – and relatively few manufacturers do it. In the world of plugins, this should be pretty easy to achieve and I can’t see why it wouldn’t be a part of most every plugin.

This is more of a dream than a likelihood, but I’d like to see plugins have more randomness and anomalies. Most analog gear is exciting because of the tiny variations that happen when you send signal through it. I see this as an area where plugins can venture. It’s nice when certain things are not repeatable.

Jacoby hearts the GUI of plugs like the Valhalla VintageVerb.

They Got It Right: SoundToys – They incorporate “Wet/Dry” on just about everything. They have clever, very human attributes in their plugins such as “rushing/dragging” in their delay plugin, Echoboy. Brilliant.

Massey – Their ease of use and sonics are top notch. Their 2007 limiter and their de-esser are unmatched.

ValhallaDSP – Such great sounding reverbs, both real and surreal. Amazing user interface.

 

Mark Kondracki

Role in the Studio: Doin’ it ALL. Outloud Audio offers ADR and dialog recording studios in New York City and Los Angeles.

Outloud Audio’s Mark Kondracki expects three attributes from each plugin that he purchases.

Credit Highlights: Westworld, Homeland, Veep, NCIS, Ducktales, Lego Star Wars, see the full list on IMDB

My Plugin Philosophy: The most important plugins in post are EQ, compression, and pitch.  We use these on every session to get the sound of the dialogue to the mix stage in the most mix-ready fashion possible, and in many cases, as close to the original dialogue as we can.

I demo everything as I am always looking to gain an edge and provide our clients with the best audio we can deliver.  The most common thread in our plugins is quality, reliability and low overhead usage.  We need to use these plugins frequently while tracking so they need to be AAX or exhibit no noticeable latency.

I’d Love it if…I personally love the mix feature on some plugins allowing to mix dry and wet signals in both time based and gain reduction realms. I really rely on visual feedback as well – clear and informative levels, gain reduction and output for staging.  Pretty GUI’s are great, but we are about the work, so more pertinent information is always better.

They Got It Right: For Post Production – iZotope RX is our go to for cleaning up audio – we even have programmed quick keys to process the most usual audio offending suspects – this plugin is indispensable!

Digi stock plugins are AAX compatible, use system resources sparingly, sound great, and never crash.  You’ve heard these plugins on every TV show you’ve watched in the last 10 years so don’t pass them over since they come for free with Pro Tools – these plugins rock!

For my music side, I have to say the Universal Audio UAD stuff has made me a convert and if I had to choose, I would say their EMT reverbs are my desert island must-haves. 

 

Matt Verzola

Role in the Studio: Composer, Producer and Mix Engineer

Credit Highlights: I recently released the 2Beeps Little Lights EP and mixed the song “A Little Closer” by My Favorite Things.

For Matt Verzola, great gain staging is paramount.

My Plugin Philosophy: My setup is completely in the box, so plugins are the primary tools I use to make a project’s vision come to life. I look for plugins that are easy to use, offer something unique, or serve a purpose better or easier than what I already have. The plugins I reach for most are the ones that get the job done fast, or have a sound quality I love.

I’d Love it if… I’d love it if every plugin had input and output gain controls and wet/dry control. Input knobs help me adjust for gain staging issues, and output controls are useful when I want to hear the plugin’s effect at the same volume as the unaffected signal.

Wet/dry is similar to using a parallel channel, but it allows me to do “in-line” parallel processing. For example, I might want to tap the signal and add a parallel amp sim after one plugin, yet before another. To do this without wet/dry control involves at least three audio paths in my DAW (original, parallel, then both bussed together).

Lastly, I’d like developers to give more love to the GUI. We’re altering sound, but we’re using our eyes and hands to do it. Easy to read, large, intuitive interfaces help me work faster and stay in the zone.

The FabFilter Pro-Q 2 gets props for being extra-pretty.

They Got It Right: Gotta give it up to all the FabFilter plugins, but especially the Pro-Q 2. The beautiful adjustable display is just the start of what I like about it. Double clicking on the edges makes a hp/lp filter, single clicking on the edges makes a shelf, scrolling changes the Q, it has scalable dB ranges, input/output gain and wet/dry knobs, and the list goes on and on. It’s the king of clinical EQ’s, and it has a place on almost every track in my sessions.

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  • “I’d Love it If…” developers would just get over emulating classics (and exotics) and start making original designs. Would also love to see dedicated hardware controllers for plugins (i.e. Softube Console 1), with proper mapping and feel. I can only imagine how great it would be to have a channel strip designed by Massey Plugins or SoundToys with a hardware controller such as Console 1, where every control is right there, no need to scroll through pages and menus.

  • HotGritz-

    Greatly needed for guy’s like me knobs equal opportunity!