Here comes a category of plugins that can give you that warm, analog sound you are looking for…
You will find out also some plugins that can roughen and distort your tracks!
Keep reading on, and you will find out the top 15 distortion and saturation plugins for your musical creations.
But why should one use these plugins?
Without a doubt, distortion and saturation VST plugins will for the foreseeable future remain essential in sound production.
Why say so?
It’s almost obvious, but as it turns out, there isn’t a better way to add musical warmth and cohesion to your mixes than using these effects.
Think of it as the thin line distinguishing music that feels flat and dead or otherwise, lively and warm.
Additionally, distortion can also help in producing your own unique sound effects, especially for sci-fi!
That’s why there are so many products in different shapes and forms.
But before we help you with the selection headache, let me explain the difference between the various types of distortion?
Let’s begin with tape saturation!
In fact, tape saturation emulates the distortion that is produced by a tape recording machine when it receives a signal that is too loud for it to handle.
Tape saturation plugins are mostly used in mastering, in order to add a tape-like, lively character to the final mix.
Tube distortion plugins, on the other hand, are also emulating an analog device, but this time its tube amplifiers.
When these amplifiers are pushed to their limits, they create harmonic distortion that adds a lot of richness and warmth to the final sound. Tube distortion is often used with electric guitars, but it can be added wherever you like.
Digital distortion is a completely different matter. When digital audio signals are pushed above 0 dB, clipping occurs.
Digital distortion plugins might emulate this type of distortion, or use digital algorithms to create overdrive.
Finally, Bitcrushing adds distortion by reducing the sample rate or the bandwidth of an audio signal.
It is especially useful for creating lo-fi effects either in sound design or in music production.
Here’s a list of recommendations.
The 15 Best Distortion VST Plugins of 2021 include:
The Saturn 2 by Fabfilter is a top-notch distortion and saturation plugin. It produces a warm distortion effect and offers many options to tweak it to your liking.
The Saturn 2 offers different types of distortion that are inspired by tubes, tape, transformers, and guitar amps. You can also use one of its five creative effects distortion types for unique tone-bending.
It comes with a multiband design, per-band feedback, dynamics, drive, tone, and modulation options so that you can fully control what you do.
Especially the modulation section is very useful, as it comes with XLFOs, EGs, XY controllers/sliders, envelope followers, and MIDI sources, along with visualization in real-time!
Finally, this plugin makes it really easy to learn it, as you can use drag-and-drop for modulation, get interactive help hints as well as adjust the size of the plugin so that it better fits your screen!
Until now, iZotope Trash 2 is one of the most comprehensive distortion tools in the market.
Coming as a one-stop platform for distorting, mangling, and transforming sound, it harbors incredible power for complete sonic transformation.
So what’s its secret?
First and foremost, Trash 2 relies on the power of multi-band processing, dual distortions, and advanced post-filtering mechanism to ensure real-time sound changes.
Whether you want to treat your low-end with some punch or escalate you're high-end, it gets things done.
Besides, it works on anything you throw its way: talk of guitars, basses, drums, synths, pads, and more.
Also, it features dozens of distortion algorithms, filter modules, 100+ impulse responses, among other elements.
All this go a long way to ensure sound designers can rejuvenate, shape, and customize their tracks to suit desired flavors.
Are you looking for an advanced and versatile multiband distortion tool?
Want to add a bit of sizzle and intensity to your mixes?
That’s just what the Devastor 2 by the D16 Group is designed to help you achieve.
Want to know how?
Let’s take a closer look.
To begin with, Devastor 2 is made up of four basic components, namely the dynamics-flattener module, diode-clipper distortion, three multi-mode filter sections, and an optionally activated signal limiter.
As a result, tweaking the frequencies of various sound ranges and making the sound deep or otherwise comes thoughtlessly.
Of course, this seems simple, but it’s the full-range multiband processing that increases sound transformation possibilities.
Other than that, you'll appreciate up to nine arrangements for linking its filters and diode-clipper.
This way, the filters can process the signal freely either after or before it's fed into the diode-clipper.
And guess what?
You have some topologies that allow filters to function alongside the clipper, which greatly enhances possible mixes.
Most of all, Devastor 2 can serve well in mangling a wide array of sounds.
From making sounds dirtier and dynamic to bettering the timbre and character and making the warmth and detail more profound, you can get it wrong.
Another creation of the accomplished D16 team, Redoptor 2 stands out as a vintage tube distortion unit for many reasons.
In the first place, it features a new level of refined emulation.
Well, it captures the feel of tube saturation and analog circuits with an unprecedented of level realism.
That aside, it features a 4-band parametric EQ which accordingly allows matchless control over distorted sounds.
And you know what?
To ensure spot-on emulation, Redoptor 2 has independent stereo processing capability and adjustable tube bias parameter for gentle amplification and gradual signal shaping.
Similarly, it can keep all the dynamics in check thanks to the responsive compressor and master output limiters.
Unlike other alternative units, here you can tame overdriven and distorted tones smoothly and naturally without compromising the liveliness.
In short, anyone would perfectly be home with the Redoptor thanks to the responsiveness and richness of harmonics it can bring to their sounds.
Now, this is interesting.
Such an odd name, but guess what?
There's more to it. Let me explain:
Very well, the OhmForce Ohmicide isn’t about killing your sound literally but does more beyond your typical distortion plug-in.
At the core of Ohmicide are four frequency bands designed to allow breakage of signals into distinct groups.
In essence, it processes each band as well as manipulating other parameters such as dynamics, distortion, or feedback independently.
In the same vein, this plug-in offers a variety of distortion models, to be specific over 80 of them.
So it provides adequate ways to distort any audio source.
Don't forget- it has dozens of presets for all who need the inspiration to get things started.
But perhaps the best part is the Melohman technology optimized to provide playability and human-like liveliness.
The feature makes it easy to make use of MIDI controllers to trigger preset changes in up to 7 different modes.
To top it off, you have the advanced 3D skin interface which makes control simple and fun too.
If you are wondering whether this has anything special, this will be worth your time.
So keep reading.
In no certain terms, the D16 team Decapitator can best be described as the ‘bad boy’ of analog saturation modeling.
For one, it delivers excellent sound within a sleek interface with very intuitive controls.
More specifically, it avails five distortion models offering distinct ways to incorporate character to every audio signal that passes through it.
Even better, it features a modeled tone control for tweaking the overridden sound.
And what else?
It has mix control and a unique Punish button for parallel signal processing and giving sounds a bit of punch respectively.
That means it performs exceptionally well when it comes to capturing the aura of any hardware.
And as a matter of fact, you can notice very gentle changes as it reacts to approaching signals.
All in all, you can try it on vocals, drums, guitars and whatever else that speak its language.
Generally speaking, the Efektor bundle by Kuassa is essentially over thirty most wanted effect pedals harmonized into three great packs.
the series comprises of the fanciful Distortion (DS3603), Fuzz (FZ3603), and Overdrive (OD3603) effect pedals known for shaping wide-ranging sounds across different styles.
And unlike most alternatives, here all the parameters have been reconciled into three uniform knobs beside one dry-wet knob per pedal.
Again, each unit has five distinct effect models to cater for profoundly wished for tonal characteristics.
Along with the above, the series features Gain, Tone, and Output volume controls, A/B compare buttons, up to eight times oversampling, and the bypass switch button to allow responsive manipulation.
Warm and rich saturation is nice for many musical styles, but what about that heavy and dirty distortion when you need it?
That's when the Ravage plugin by Soundspot comes to the rescue!
This plugin lets you choose between six different distortion types: Digital, Tube, Diode, Lin Fold, Zero Sq and Rectify.
You can edit your distortion by panning the distortion across the stereo field, as well as by using filtering, input/output gain, and dark/bright weighting.
If that is not enough for you, you can draw your own modulation shapes and use playhead reversal, waveform smoothing, and pulse width manipulation.
The destroy parameter allows you to add even more dirt and grit by pushing the audio signal even harder through the distortion processor.
When you increase the Drive, the plugin automatically compensates your audio level.
All in all, you can really take your sounds to their limits with the Ravage distortion plugin.
Admittedly, very few plugins come close to McDSP's FutzBox as far as providing ample and flexible distortion effects are concerned.
Want to know the secret?
Well, it combines an ingenious Impulse Response (IR) processing with a pleasant range of bit crushing, distortions, a flexible noise generator, a hyper-sensitive gate, and dual-precision filtering to give a nice variety of low fidelity (Lo-Fi) audio signals.
It means a complete sonic transformation of distorted audio can be achieved in real-time through simple mixing.
And I should mention- the IR takes the form of readily adaptable Synthetic Impulse Models (SIMs) which allow more accurate modeling in optimized formats.
Other than that, FutzBox seven Futz sections or library of SIMs are organized into thirteen banks to match different devices.
Think of headphones to televisions, radios, speakers, and the likes.
Each is designed uniquely, and there's a Tune control to help adjust sections of its algorithm to give different effects depending on the SIM.
Overall, FutzBox is by all standards a worthy investment for post-production mixers and sound designers looking for a little extra from their plugin.
To say the least: Softube Harmonics is an accurate representation of a new approach to analog saturation modeling.
Here’s the thing, Harmonics is anchored on a five component-modeled, analog-style distortion completed by a revolutionary Dynamic Transient Control technology.
What does that mean?
Simple, it can listen and analyze the audio to ensure heavy distortion doesn’t destroy the details and dynamics.
And to make it more useful, it has high- and low-cut filters as well as a (Wet/Dry) mix knob.
In case you need to engage parallel processing, it’s well provided for.
Apart from all that, you’ll be happy with the included presets, THD for fine control for more subtle saturation.
Overall, this is by far a reliable weapon if you need a bit of distortion edge in your guitar, basses, or any other audio.
Let’s imagine this for a while: you need a plugin that will add a little bit of distortion to your sound, but not too much. You just need to add some color and character, preferably that good, old analog warmth...
If that situation sounds familiar to you, you’d better take a look at the RC-20 Retro Color by XLN Audio, because this plugin can make your tracks come to life!
This plugin comes with 6 separate effect modules: Noise, Wobble, Distort, Digital, Space,and Magnetic. You can combine them or use them individually to emulate old recording devices.
Tailor-made presets are also available for various instruments and mixes, in case you are looking for a quick solution, without a lot of knob tweaking.
If you are intrigued by the liveliness and warmth that this plugin can add to your mixes, you can try the RC-20 for free within a 10-day limit.
Satin by U-HE is a nice addition to your toolbox for adding some analog tape-like warmth to your sounds.
I know what you think: “There are so many plugins for tape saturation out there…
Why is that one of the best?’
The answer to that is flexibility. Satin has not been built to emulate a particular tape recorder, but it features a variety of elements that you can combine to create tape saturation the way you want.
Controls include hiss, wow and flutter, bias, head gap, azimuth, saturation, and high-frequency compression, among others. In addition to that, Satin offers a stereo delay mode, tape flange mode, and adjustable tape speed.
Last but not least, this plugin is pretty easy and straightforward to use, as it comes with a clean interface. The user interface is both scalable and skinnable so that you can customize it freely.
Do you miss the tape’s warm saturation, or you just want some tape effects for some of your tracks?
Whatever the case is for you, you will greatly appreciate the Reels by AudioThing.
This plugin is essentially a tape emulator that has been modeled to sound like an old Japanese portable tape recorder. It comes with three different 1/4” tape frequency responses and saturations, as well as a variety of analog imperfections of tape recording and playback.
These imperfections include harshness, WOW/Flutter, ducking, crosstalk, hiss, and motor noise. But this plugin goes even further, as it emulates the speed up and slow-down effects that are produced when you hit stop and play in an old tape recorder!
Don’t forget about the indispensable tape-echo effect, which is also part of what Reels can do.
In essence, if you want to create Lo-Fi sounds, this plugin is a must.
Do you sometimes wish that you could apply distortion and saturation only to certain frequency ranges, without using an additional equalizer?
That’s what God Mode by Denise has been created for!
Its modern push-pull technology lets you choose which frequencies will be distorted, while at the same time it subtracts the same frequencies from the output.
An even frequency response, with distortion only where you want it!
An equalizer visualization lets you see what you are doing in real-time and adjust it accordingly.
Connecting a side chain signal is also available.
God mode comes with three types of distortion: tape, warp, and buzz.
It also lets you pan dry/wet signals independently.
Another great feature for experimenting is that God Mode can generate random combinations of settings.
This versatile plugin is compatible with macOS and Windows, as AU, VST, VST3, and AAX.
What about a flexible distortion plugin that can do pretty much everything?
The Blue Cat Audio Destructor offers exactly that, and although its name might make you think that it’s only capable of heavy distortion, you can actually tweak it for smooth saturation as well!
This plugin is in fact an amp simulation that can emulate all different types of distortion such as analog or digital distortion, guitar and bass amps, saturation, clipping, compression, and bit crushing.
Don’t worry if that sounds overwhelming, because the plugin comes with hundreds of presets inspired by real gear that you can use to begin learning about the way distortion works.
Of course, it doesn’t stop there, as it lets you both edit the presets and create your own from scratch.
Other useful features include a brickwall limiter, real-time visual feedback, 1600 visual styles for the user interface, along with reference curves for tone matching.
So there you have our list of recommendations that can help distort your sound for the better.
While it isn't exhaustive, it highlights great distortion plugins worth including in your sound design toolkit.
So you can go out and level up your music like never before.