Best Distortion & Saturation VST Plugins of 2018 [GUIDE]

Best Distortion Saturation VST PluginsIf you’ve been watching some classic movies, their views on the future were all about synthesized music.

I remember everyone in the 80s talking about synthesizers dominating future music.

Movies in the past like Blade Runner have synth-inspired background music from Greek god of futuristic music Vangelis.

But you knew it wasn’t going to be like that. Even for distorters and saturators.

112dB Redline Preamp

112dB Redline PreampThe 112dB Redline Preamp plug-in isn’t an emulation of a historic analog saturation plugin.

Instead, it’s an analog-based emulation of different vintage and modern distortion and saturation rackmount effects units.

It has a warmth knob, a “thickening” module that modifies the tube low, mid and hi frequencies.

With soft clipping, you have precise control over your harmonics and the saturation you need for your track.

Acustica Audio Nebula3

Acustica Audio Nebula3Many rate this quite affordable piece of software highly because it can emulate vintage pieces of equipment.

Like most of my posts about vintage equipment in the past, if the vintage sound works for you, use it, if not, leave it alone.

It’s not because it’s a four and a half out of five star application it can make your sound better.

The Nebula3 eats lots of CPU power. But it’s suited that way because it’s better used as a buss saturator because of its “too clean” sound.

Brainworx bx saturator V2

Brainworx bx saturator V2The BX_Saturator V2 focuses on having lots of snapshot settings that make it versatile for any situation in a song.

But its distortion, which can be applied to the middle and sides independently, is nothing short of wondrous.

A clipping stage meter allows you to use a general M/S control that lets you pull down on your master fader to lower the amplitude but raise the volume.

Brainworx bx_limiter/ Plugin Alliance

Brainworx BX limiter Plugin AllianceThe BX_Limiter, also designed for use with busses, can be a bit pricey. But the payoff is a louder master sound and a distortion that isn’t quite a distortion.

You see, like the BX_Saturator V2, the BX_Limiter can glue sounds together without having unwanted distortion.

Instead, you get a desirable form of distortion that makes everything clearer and perceptively louder.

Camel Crusher

Camel CrusherCamel Audio’s own saturation plug-in allows you access to twenty presets that show you how the patch, distortion, filter, compressor and master sections work.

The Randomizer is one feature I love best. Camel Audio wants you to explore your other signal-crushing options that could be musical, or suitable to your current track.

Camel Phat

Camel Phat 3Camel Audio also has Camel Phat. It’s more than a saturator. It gives you signal ‘colouring’, something many musicians try to avoid with their solid-state equipment because it doesn’t sound suitable.

It has a few tricks of its own against it’s older brother, namely a bandpass filter for those frequency sweeps, a distortion module to completely crush your signal in color, a filter, flanger and a compressor.

It’s actually pretty great for vocals.

Crane Song Phoenix II

Crane Song Phoenix IIAs a tape emulation module created by David Hill of CraneSong, it faithfully recreates the trebly, mid-warm and singing sound of tape recorders.

You can notice it if you place it in front of a guitar signal and watch it round out and cut through the edges.

Unfortunately, David Hill doesn’t want it outside of ProTools HD.

D16 Devastor

D16 Devastor 2

Multiband distortion wouldn’t work for guitars because it’s lacking in the actual signal-destructive power unless you put a preamp in front of your guitar.

But the Devastator 2 Multiband Distortion is a different story.

I’ve tried it once on guitar and it’s like I’ve got my own guitar tone magic generator.

D16 Group Redopter

D16 Group Redopter

Redoptor is more suited for guitars than its older brother.

However, that’s where it’s only useful. You could feel the tube authenticity of the hardware.

Thanks to software technology, you can even control it. Well, you can use it on some synths with the new update.

But it was based on guitar amp circuitry, so it might be or not be suitable for your instruments depending on your needs.

D16 Decimort 2

D16 Decimort 2

While this one is still in the works and have yet to come out, Decimort 2 promises more anti-alias filters that allow you to filter even the most undesirable of artifacts.

D16 promises Jitter controls, different quantization methods that can create completely different dynamics responses and even controlled dithering.

FabFilter Saturn

FabFilter Saturn

It can be a bit expensive for some but if you want a beautiful and logical interface topped off by this Fabfilter top-notch distortion and saturation emulation, then this plug-in is for you.

As a multi band distortion unit, it’s capable of creating some powerful distortion effects and introducing some subtle ones, all with a few clicks.

Well, you get 16 saturation and clipping styles including tube, tape and some weird clipping emulations designed for creativity.

Kilohearts Faturator

Kilohearts Faturator

The best feature it has in my opinion is its ability to automatically level your output amplitude with your input level while retaining lots of distortion in the process.

It’s simple to use. By just using one knob in the middle, you could introduce a drive clipping that is quite musical.

If you’re not satisfied, the fuzz and color could create something better. Use the mix knob to see where the two signals stay.

FXpansion Maul

FXpansion MaulIt might not be for the newbies, but it’s capable of introducing subtle tube distortion.

With three bands, you could limit your signal using its own filters running in parallel. Using modulators, you might find a useful distortion to go along with such.

You have a choice of 32 distortion algorithms based on analog tubes, diodes, transistors, extreme ring modulations and clipping.

Definitely the sound shaper’s carving tool!

Izotope Alloy 2

Izotope Alloy 2The Izotope Alloy 2 will remind you of Ozone, except it has three bands and more filters based on classic units.

Most notable is the transient shaper that uses a trace meter to view attack and release changes.

A post processing low pass filter allows you to cut out the glitch in your distortion to make your sound much more pure.

iZotope Trash 2

iZotope Trash 2Trash is really more like it. Unlike Alloy 2, which uses more subtle tube distortion and saturation, Trash 2 uses a different form of architecture and algorithm.

But unlike Alloy 2, it has this particular chain: Filter 1, Filter 2, Convolve, Dynamics and Delay.Pretty useful for clean square synths because it’s easy to get a sound.

Massey TapeHead Saturator

Massey TapeHead SaturatorIt may remind you of a vintage tube head for guitar amplifiers, but the Massey TapeHead Saturator is not meant for guitars.

While you have a beautiful drive upon pushing up the drive function while controlling the EQ using a simple normal, middle and bright switch. The free version works on mono. Check out more free distortion plugins

My advice? You could always use a stereo imager if you want to stereo-ize the saturation plugin. But paying for it is also worth a shot!

MeldaProduction MDynamicLimiter

MeldaProduction MDynamic LimiterMeldaProduction’s MDynamics Limiter is useful for mastering and adding saturation for an entire mix.

The best thing about it is you could control saturation by frequency. So if you want to add some different coloration to your cymbals, adding them to the bass frequencies or middle is possible.

It functions similarly to Izotope Ozone’s Harmonic Exciter.


McDSP AC101The McDSP Analog Channel can be found in most professional recording studios. It may sound old, but many recording engineers and mastering engineers use it because of its characterful saturation.

I found that saturation pretty useful in almost anything, including vocals. The AC101 is part of the analog channel, which I may say it is the heart of such a channel.

Ohm Force Ohmicide Melohman

Ohm Force Ohmicide MelohmanIt’s fairly cheap and its interface is easy to understand. Ohmicide is a multiband distortion processor.

It’s a bit funny because you don’t have any marks around your knobs just descriptions. The four bands of distortion along with 27 algorithms for clippings.

Each have their own specialty when it comes to instruments, and it’s pretty useful to be honest.

RP Distort

RP DistortRob Papen’s plug-ins capture the needs of the contemporary producer and the RP Distort is nothing short of amazing.

With a 22 algorithm distortion, you are definitely going to find some lovely fuzz tones for guitars, some subtle overdrive and saturation for synthesizers and overall vocal saturation that is so transparent you could barely feel it’s there, but you know and hear that it is.

PSP Audioware Vintage Warmer2

PSP Audioware Vintage Warmer2The VintageWarmer2 is a successor to an already-outstanding plug-in by PSP Audioware. The early VintageWarmer gave us some stunning fatness with precision analog modeling controls. I genuinely felt the fatness of analog minus the all-too crispy clarity of my digital synthesizer tracks.

Now, you have the FAT algorithm, which uses fewer aliasing artifacts. The latter means it uses less artificial synth noise and more actual gain technique to provide for your saturation needs.

Sknote Roundtone

Sknote RoundtoneRoundtone isn’t very known to many producers. It’s because its algorithms eat up lots of CPU power. But boy do they sound really powerful. The best thing about it is it has this sort of automatic filter that could smooth out all-too separate tracks in a mix. It helped me stop overproducing much of my tracks in my DAW.

Slate Digital Virtual Tape Machines

Slate Digital Virtual Tape MachinesSlate Digital’s new masterpiece isn’t a drum ROMpler, but rather delivering the trebly but nifty sound of analog tape. It can eat lots of CPU power at some point. But you definitely retain the juicyness of tape. We all know how recordings sound in computers. It can be quite well, cold and dead. Having a sonic warmer, which is precise, is what you’ll get with Slate Digital’s VTM. Seriously, just get it.

Sonitex STX-1260

Sonitex STX-1260Sonitex designed its STX-126 as a compact virtual toolbox that is an all-in-one saturation plugin. The plug-in chain of the virtual box uses six individual stages that emulate the sound characteristics of different vintage hardware. The distortion stage is where the fun is. You get a pre-filter section with low, high and bandpass filters that introduce some sounds you might need in your mix.

Sound Toys Decapitator

Sound Toys DecapitatorThe Decapitator sounds like a Halloween name, I know. But Decapitator isn’t for death metal enthusiasts. While it offers a powerful distortion that could emulate that sound metal guitarists want, it can also be a subtle tape saturator that warms up different tracks.

It has five algorithms probably based on the early Neve 1057, Chanlder/EMI TG Channel and probably the Ampex reel-to-reel recorder.

SoundToys Devil-Loc Deluxe

SoundToys Devil-Loc DeluxeThe Devil-Loc is based on Shure’s Level-Loc, an analog audio processor that uses a talkback compressor. The artifacts on this vintage equipment is quite outstanding because it emulates the FET-style circuit perfectly and creating audible pumping compression where necessary.

On drums, it helps maintain the impact hit or transient while satisfyingly increasing the sustain of the sound.

SPL TwinTube Processor

SPL TwinTube ProcessorSPL partners often with Avid and for good reason; they really know how to make a sound come to life. The Twin Tube isn’t focused on emulating a specific form of vintage effect. However, it uses two separate tube based circuits that can be combined during the mastering or buss mixing stage. And boy do they sound really convincing.

TDR VOS Slick EQ (Gentlemen’s Edition)

TDR VOS Slick EQ (Gentlemen’s Edition)The VOS SlickEQ Gentlemen’s Edition features all the original SlickEQ options. But the GE offers a non-linear EQ and seven different output stages that offer some subtle saturation. Based on vintage analog equipment and saturators combined with a low and high pass filter, I found it suitable for most vocal tracks as well.

ToneBoosters Ferox

ToneBoosters Ferox 3The Ferox is useful for the most part when it emulates classic analog equipment coupled with the fierceness of modern digital malleability. ToneBooster’s plug-in isn’t as expensive as its counterparts. But it can deliver the sound you’re probably looking for if you’re trying to give your kick the big blow.

UAD FATSO Jr./Sr. Tape Sim. & Compressor Plug-In

UAD FATSO Jr. Sr. Tape Sim. & Compressor PluginThe UAD FATSO Jr. stands for Full Analog Tape Simulator and Optimizer. As a rack processor that reproduces the classic FATSO Jr. emulating the original FATSO, you get multiple algorithms for harmonic generation. The notable thing about this is the midrange. You get a pristine boost without coloration, and that’s very important.

UAD Studer A800 Tape Recorder

UAD Studer A800 Tape RecorderThe original Studer introduced a very warm sound for most recording engineers in the past. The sonic characteristic became infamous as it was synonymous with classic albums of the past. While it’s expensive, its digital counterpart can handle the stress. And quite efficiently so.

URS Saturation

URS SaturationYou get saturate, distort and even crush. Four algorithms include the even and odd ordered harmonics for distinct coloration. It’s just a simple plug-in with few controls. A parallel mixer can be used to control the amount you’d like to use in your track.

Variety Of Sound / Bootsy FerricTDS

Variety Of Sound Bootsy FerricTDSThe original FerricTDS was a high quality reel-to-reel tape recorder most musicians have used two decades ago. The device was known to add its own dynamics, saturation and limit to a track. It also adds some gentle audio dynamic treatments and can add extra harmonics where needed.

Vertigo Sound VSM-3 Mix Satellite

Vertigo Sound VSM-3 Mix SatelliteThe VSM-3 Mix Satellite works with UAD effectively. It can add some depth to your reverb if you’re careful with its settings. It can add powerful loudness quickly introduced in most mixes. However, you will have to be careful else you could introduce some clipping in your final gain stages.

Wave Arts Tube Saturator

Wave Arts Tube Saturator 2Modelling some powerful 12AX7 tube preamp designs, it works well even its fat mode is convincing when introducing some analog warmth. The only problem is if you have a weak PC, this isn’t for you.

Waves Manny Marroquin Distortion

Waves Manny Marroquin DistortionManny Marroquin’s LA mixes are used even by today’s popular music mixes. These plug-ins were designed to give him the crucial signature sounds he has with his mixes. Working with waves, it gives his own signature sound to mixes. The only shortcoming is you won’t have control over his preferences.

Waves OneKnob Driver

Waves OneKnob DriverThe OneKnob bundle is effective in introducing powerful saturation. For distortion, it works pretty well. But as it is a bundle, analog effects may need more than just one knob, to be honest. But the distortion knob itself can be troublesome in some occasions.

Hardware Vs Software

I’m an electronic and electric musician myself because I can play the electric guitar.

Many of us fathom the power of hardware-based guitar pedals and distorters and saturators with classic analog-based circuitry. These include pre and power amplification powered by tube technology.

Tubes, unlike transistors, did little for audio hardware. Solid-state amplification wasn’t for everyone because of its relatively “dull sound”.

But now everyone’s vying for transistors, in the form of software DSPs that use emulation instead of the hardware itself to recreate famous analog distortion and saturation sounds.

Are they any good?

Well, it depends on your preference.

If you love the round sound of analog synthesizers or grew up in a time of Internet and fast computers, you’ll decide between convenience and sound, to be honest.

So What Are Distortion and Saturation Plugins?

In the past, plug-ins were called rackmount effects or racks for short. These pieces of equipment were capable of modifying signals by “pushing” signals against their clipping threshold.

For tube distortion and saturation effecs, the clipping was smooth and musical. It was quite harsh and compressing with solid state versions.

However, the new-spring software analog emulators have come about 80% close to the original analog distortion and saturation effects known in the past.

Your DAW’s built-in Distortion & Saturation Plugins

My Reaper didn’t come with distortion and saturation plug-ins. While it offered some, I didn’t like them all that much. But surely, they worked effectively as I needed them. Sometimes, the solution is just under your nose. It’s worth a shot to use your DAW’s built-in distortion and saturation plug-ins, really.

Final Words

We’re finally done. Phew! Now, all that’s left is for you to take a taste test. I’ve been using most of these plug-ins in my own mixes. Tell me all about your experiences regarding these distortion types in the comments section!