In this review, we will look at the best mastering plugins for your home studio based on functionality, sound and reviews.
Mastering is the last step in the production process and it’s what will make your music sound professional. Mastering engineers use the same set of effects and processors that are used in mixing but these effects and processors are applied to the whole mix or the “master channel”.
Mastering is the polish that goes on your song before it is heard by the world.
This is why it’s important to find a good set of plugins or suites that provide all the features you need for mastering. There are so many plugins on the market to choose from that it can be hard to know where to start. In this blog post, I’ll review some of my favorite plugins for mastering in your home studio.
If you’re looking for an EQ plugin, compressor, limiter, metering plugin, or saturation plugin then you’ve come to the right place.
Table of Contents
Full Mastering Suites
- Ozone 9 Advanced
- Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain
- Eventide Elevate Bundle
- Brainworx bx_masterdesk
- FabFilter Pro-Q 3
- UAD Pultec
- UAD SSL 4000 G Bus Compressor
- Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor
- Leapwing DynOne 3
- Sonoris Mastering Compressor
- Fabfilter Pro-L 2
- PSP Xenon
- Nugen MasterCheck Pro
- Brainworx bx_meter
- Sonarworks SoundID Reference
- Sonnox Oxford Inflator
- Plugin Alliance Blackbox
- Slate Virtual Tape Machine
Consider Hiring a Mastering Professional
You can also consider hiring a mastering professional to handle your tracks. This is often the best option for those who are new to the world of audio engineering. Check out our article on Audio Mastering for some links to mastering engineers.
It’s a big step for any musician to learn how to master their own work. There is a lot that goes into it and so much of what makes a great mastering engineer is experience.
However, hiring a professional mastering engineer is definitely worthwhile if you wish to make final masters for your own music. Even if you’re already familiar with the process. It’s difficult to be objective when it comes to creating music, so getting someone else to master your own song, if nothing else, brings another set of ears into the process.
But what if you can’t afford to hire a mastering engineer? If you’re working on a tight budget, or just want to try mastering your own music before committing to it, there are some great options for home studio producers. Let’s take a look at some of the best mastering plugins available.
Best Mastering Plugins – Full Mastering Suites
These are plugins that contain all the necessary effects, processors, and meters you will need to master your songs. The beauty of these is they are all integrated into one plugin, so you don’t have to worry about moving in and out of multiple plugins.
Ozone 9 Advanced
With its wealth of intelligent features and capabilities, Ozone has long been at the forefront of mastering technology. This new version builds on a nearly 20-year legacy, with an emphasis on modernizing the sound for streaming and other digital formats. Whether you want to give your mix that classic vibe or go for a more modern approach, Ozone 9 can help you find the perfect balance.
It comes with an “auto-match” function that analyzes the frequency spectrum of a reference track and creates an EQ curve for your mix. This makes mastering easy, whether you’re starting out or want a one-stop shop.
Ozone 9 also utilizes the master assistant AI that will create a master for you in seconds. After you have used the master assistant you can go into each module and tweak the parameters to your liking. This is a great way to learn to master.
Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain
The Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain plugin gives you all the tools you need to create classic Abbey Road-style masters in your own studio. With its flexible routing and a range of authentic EMI TG12410 modules, you can achieve that unmistakable Abbey Road flavor in your own mixes. So why not step back in time and experience the sound of one of the most famous mastering studios in history?
Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain is the perfect compressor/limiter module for those who want vintage sound with more control. The Original setting offers aggressive and dirty compression just like the ’70s, while the Modern setting gives you pristine sound with higher levels of perceived loudness.
This is one of the least expensive options available for an entire mastering suite.
Eventide Elevate Bundle
Elevate is the perfect suite for any mastering engineer. From EQ to saturation, these plugins will help you get the most out of your mixes. With Elevate’s artificial intelligence, you’ll be able to shape sounds quickly and easily.
This powerful plugin suite analyzes and alters the gain, speed and transients of each filter band in real-time, giving you precise control over your sound. With presets by some of the industry’s top engineers, Elevate Bundle automatically adapts its settings for each track, ensuring a cohesive mix with punchy transients and reduced pumping and breathing artifacts.
With its auditory filters and match EQ functionality, EQuivocate makes it incredibly easy to achieve natural-sounding results, while the linear-phase filter shape reduces pre-echo for a cleaner sound. Additionally, the bundle includes a parametric EQ, compressor, gate, soft saturation, transformer emulation, micro pitch shift, and stereo delays.
This is a great choice for a fully functional mastering suite and definitely on the best mastering plugins on the list.
This powerful plug-in gives you a complete mastering environment, with all the tools you need to get the job done.
This simple, yet powerful plugin offers four compressor circuits, a “tone stack”-style EQ, and Brainwork’s acclaimed M/S processing, Mono Maker, and Stereo Enhance features. Masterdesk is perfect for polishing mixes quickly – its hardware style GUI with bulky pots makes it easy to use.
This is perfect for beginners to dial in a mix quickly and intuitively. Reason enough to be counted in the best mastering plugins.
Best Mastering Plugins – EQ
Up next is a collection of the best mastering EQs. The EQ can be your most powerful tool in mixing, and it’s important to have one you can trust when it comes time for mastering.
FabFilter Pro-Q 3
The Pro-Q 3 may be one of the most recognized EQ plugins ever created. It isn’t based on any vintage equipment; it simply takes the best elements of what the digital world has to offer and expands on them. The GUI is beautiful, and the sound quality is unrivalled. This is a fairly transparent plugin and for that reason, it is a great addition to a mastering workflow.
FabFilter Pro-Q 3 is the perfect EQ for any audio application. It offers clear linear phase operation, zero latency and unique Natural Phase modes, smooth dynamic EQ, per-band mid/side processing, full surround support (up to Dolby Atmos 7.1.2), an intelligent solo feature, optional Auto Gain and a built-in, fully customizable spectrum analyzer.
As far as EQs go this is the best you can get for “in the box” mixing and mastering. Should be fast at the top of any list of the best mastering plugins.
The UAD Pultec-Pro is a legendary tube EQ that has been used on countless hit records over the years. The plugin emulation was developed in close collaboration with the original Pultec designer, Paul Wolff. It offers three different models of the classic EQ, each with its own sonic fingerprint.
The UAD Pultec-Pro is a great plugin for adding warmth and character to your mixes, and it can also be used to tame high frequencies or add air. It’s one of the best mastering plugins out there, and it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for an EQ with vintage flavor.
Best Mastering Plugins – Compressor
We all need a great compressor at times, one that won’t color the mix in a bad way and one that won’t take the dynamics out of your song. It is important to note that you need to spend time learning about compression and how you can use it to help your song, but once you do that, get your hands on a good plugin. I’ve put a list of what I think are the best ones.
UAD SSL 4000 G Bus Compressor
First out of the gate is another plugin from Universal Audio. This is the SSL 4000 G Bus Compressor. This plugin emulates the sound of a classic SSL compressor found in many famous studios. It’s definitely one of the best mastering plugins, and it can be used on anything from vocals to drums.
This plugin will help you make your records sound bigger, punchier, and more powerful while retaining the detail and clarity of a mix. It’s often known as the “glue”; When it comes to transparent compression, we’re talking about transparent, high-resolution compressor plug-ins that offer accurate emulation of classic compressors. So how can you use the UAD SSL 4000 G in a mastering chain? Well, the first thing you need to know is that transparent compressors are used as the primary compressor in a mastering chain.
Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor
Peter Reardon founded Shadow Hills, and his Mastering Compressor is a celebrated piece of gear that has been used on songs by Foo Fighters, Beck, and Green Day among others.
It includes the power to mix and master with all of the Shadow Hills Compressor’s might, thanks to its two-stage switchable dynamics control and variable transformer matrix.
The distinction between the two stages is that one uses discrete compression, while the other employs optical. This allows you to compress the signal in small amounts through both stages, so you’re not smashing it with one compressor.
Users can change the output type of a single transformer to Nickel, Iron, or Steel. This feature gives you access to a wide range of distortion flavors and transient limitations.
All of these reasons make it a contender on the list of best mastering plugins.
Leapwing DynOne 3
The DynOne 3 is a three-band compressor that can be used for mastering. It has an input stage, detector stage, and output stage. The detector stage uses peak or RMS detection to control the compression. There are also sidechain filters available so you can compress only certain frequencies.
This plugin is great for controlling the dynamics without losing the feel of the song. The program-dependent attack and release is the icing on the cake. You choose a range for the attack and release, and DynOne takes care of the rest. Depending on the type of sound, it will select a shorter or longer attack or release duration. As a result, you’ll have far less chance of overcompressing any part of your song.
Sonoris Mastering Compressor
Sonoris Mastering Compressor is a very transparent plugin that gives you the ability to compress without changing much of the tone. It’s great for mastering because it doesn’t add any coloration to the sound.
The compressor has a wide range of settings, so you can really hone in on what you need for your track. The graphic interface is fully clickable so you can be as detailed as you want. It also includes a sidechain filter, which is great for ducking certain sounds when needed.
It is not much to look at but this compressor is still one of the best mastering plugins out there.
Best Mastering Plugins – Limiter
Mastering chains always end with a limiter, and the quality of that limiter has a big impact on how much distortion is generated when pushing the track’s loudness. Here are 2 great limiters that are the quality you need for finishing your songs.
Fabfilter Pro-L 2
The Fabfilter Pro-L has been one of my favorites for a long time, as with anyone who has used a Fabfilter plugin. It is simple to use, yet provides great-sounding results. The interface is straightforward and easy to understand, and it comes with some great features like stereo linking and mid/side processing.
Fabfilter Pro-L is a true peak limiter with a linear phase response, making it perfect for mastering. It is capable of very high levels of distortion-free limiting without sacrificing any transient detail.
In addition to the user-friendly interface and an extensive list of features, Pro-L’s main appeal is its real-time level display, which provides users with all of the information they need to achieve desired results.
The downside to the Fabfilter Pro-L is that it is a bit expensive compared to some other limiters on the market. But in my opinion, it’s worth the price and definitely one of the best mastering plugins.
The PSP Xenon is a 2 stage limiter that is designed for mastering and mixdown. It is a very versatile limiter with a wide range of possible applications.
The first stage is an aggressive peak limiter that can be used to control the peaks in your mix. The second stage is a smooth, opto-limiter that provides subtle dynamics processing and harmonic enhancement.
The Xenon is great for being aggressive in getting the loudness up without having to sacrifice the sound quality. It is also very transparent, so it will not color your mix.
The only downside to the Xenon is that it can be a bit CPU intensive, but for the quality of sound that it produces, it’s well worth it.
If you’re looking for an excellent limiter plugin, then I highly recommend the PSP Xenon.
Best Mastering Plugins – Metering
Metering is vital in the mastering process. To be able to see what’s going on with the levels in your track is crucial. It’s also important to find the right output levels so that you can get your song to industry loudness. Finally, metering will help you determine if what you are hearing is translating truly what is on the track.
There are a few different metering plugins that I would recommend.
Nugen MasterCheck Pro
This plugin is a great option for metering. It has many different options for viewing your audio and also includes a loudness meter. You can also use it to compare your mix to commercial releases.
It comes pre-loaded with presets for a variety of listening platforms. Let’s assume you’re looking to make sure the song will sound great on Spotify. In MasterCheck, go to the Spotify preset.
This is a fantastic plugin for making sure your release sounds great on all platforms.
The Brainworx bx_meter is really the swiss army knife of metering. It has everything you need in a sleek layout.
In linkable stereo or M/S mode, you can monitor signals using peak, RMS, and dynamic range indicators. The Brainworx bx_meter supports K-metering as well as weighting filters of A-weighting, C-weighting, and K-weighting.
This is a great pick for upping your metering game.
Sonarworks SoundID Reference
The biggest tool you will use in mastering is your ears. But one of the biggest problems we face as bedroom producers is knowing if our ears are telling us the truth. We often mix in less than ideal rooms, or even exclusively on headphones.
This is where Sonarworks SoundId Reference can help us. The frequency spectrum is modified by Sonarworks to take into account your speakers and/or headphones. You can really hear how your mix sounds because of this.
Sonarworks does one thing, help you hear your mix without the color of your room or monitors, and it does it really well.
This plugin is a great investment for the bedroom mastering engineer. No question!
Best Mastering Plugins – Saturation
One of the things lacking when mastering digitally is that sweet sound that comes from analogue consoles and gear. Analogue gear gives us that distortion that our ears love and we describe it as warmth. This is where saturation plugins come in. They can help to add that analogue warmth, without making your mix sound too muddy.
Some of the best saturation plugins out there are:
Sonnox Oxford Inflator
The Inflator is a miracle device for making your mixes sound more substantial and fat. With a little push, Inflator unleashes tube-like musical warmth and serves as the ‘sonic glue’ that binds your track together!
It is not really a saturation plugin, per se, but it is also not a compressor. But make no mistake it is still one of the best mastering plugins you can get.
Plugin Alliance Blackbox
The Blackbox is an excellent plug-in for producing warmer tube and traditional transformer effects, which not only enhances the sound of recordings but also makes them seem louder, bigger, and punchier at the same peak level.
This plug-in has a lot going on parameter wise, luckily it comes with pre-sets from well-known industry producers. The presets are a great starting point to tweak your sound.
The plugin has 4 fully customizable tube emulations as well as a host of other features like bandpass filters and a calibratable high-frequency response. It also has pentode and triode 6U8As, plus two 12AX7s for parallel saturation.
Slate Virtual Tape Machine
The Slate Virtual Tape Machine is a powerful instrument that may improve the sound of some tracks. The warmth it adds to the lows and color to whatever it’s placed on make this a great option. The subtle warping it produces might also make things seem less digitally produced.
It can be very loud so keep an eye on your output levels to minimize clipping.
Consider your Stock Plugins
Getting started in mastering your own tracks can be totally affordable. Your DAW has stock plugins that can get you started. All you really need is a compressor, a limiter, and an EQ to get started. Most DAWs also come with some sort of metering.
Your stock plugins are pretty powerful in their own right. I’ve been able to do some basic mastering tasks with just the stock plugins in Pro Tools and FL Studio.
When you get to a point where your stock plugins aren’t taking you where you want to go, then check out some of the options on the list.
The Bottom Line
There are a lot of great plugins out there for mastering. It really comes down to what you need and what your workflow is. Some people prefer to use just a few plugins, while others like to have a whole suite of options.
Find what works best for you and your budget and go from there!
What’s your favorite mastering plugin on this list?