Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Distortion is a pretty important tool in mixing, and wading through the best distortion plugins is equally hard! As usual, we are here to help you with a list of the best distortion plugins, both free and paid.
Just a disclaimer – we will be including both distortion and saturation plugins here, since they are tightly connected to eachother.
Table of contents
- Best distortion plugins that are free
- Best distortion plugins that cost some money
Best distortion plugins that are free
Softube Saturation Knob
As simple as it gets, and one of the best distortion plugins that cost no money. It is super simple, with three different saturation types, one knob for intensity and a signal light. But the simplicity should not fool you, this plugin sounds great and in the end, extremely useful and versatile!
Melda is already a household name for good plugins, but also for one of the best distortion plugins that are free – the MSaturator. Tube-like and clear, but also powerful enough to go into full-on distortion. Clear commands and a plethora of control options – you can choose the order of harmonics to push!
The SDDR by Klanghelm is one of the best distortion plugins in general, and this is the free version of it! With clear analog vibes, this saturation/distortion plugin brings tons of mojo and a great sound. You can tailor crosstalk, the amount and balance of drive, and also the overall character of the distortion. And when you need to, you can upgrade to the big brother, the SDDR!
In the following article we address the question: What is distortion?
Best distortion plugins that cost some money
One of the best distortion plugins on the market, the Decapitator is a modern classic. It is both easy to use and very versatile at the same time. Emulating five iconic hardware pieces, this plugin goes from subtle saturation to wrecking distortion, all while having the controls under your fingers (or pointer).
Fabfilter Saturn 2
Definitely one of the most versatile, in addition to being one of the best distortion plugins. Fabfilter is now a household name for powerful plugins with a sleek modern interface. It ranges from super subtle saturation to obliterating the system with distortion, while having tons of control over it. You can create up to six saturation bands, and process each of them with a different type, intensity and amount of distortion/saturation. If you are looking for a do-it-all distortion plugin, this could be it.
With another entry to this list, you would think that Soundtoys make the best distortion plugins… you would not be too far from the truth. The Radiator is a dual-drive tube EQ channel, which sticks to its vintage roots. If your keywords are “analog dirt”, than this is the plugin for you – it is colorful, dirty, gritty and oozing with Motown character!
Izotope Trash 2
If versatility is the name of the game, this is one of the best distortion plugins for you! Taking things a step further than the Fabfilter, Izotope’s Trash 2 gives you 60 different saturation/distortion algorithms, four bands of saturation and different filters. On top of that, the built in amp/cab modeler lets you put any of those bands into a separate space!
Don’t let the price fool you, this is one of the best distortion plugins, even compared to ones that cost several times more! The SDDR offers four modes of distortion (tube, digital, fuzz and mixdesk) with tons of controls, response and UI that is tailored for each mode. In short, four completely different distortion plugins in one, and it sounds great!
Softube Overstayer M-A-S
One of the best distortion plugins that offers great versatility along with great sound quality. It is completely based on Jeff Turzo’s hardware, with saturation and peak-bending options taken right from there. It can add energy, act as glue, sculpt the character or do some general run-of-the-mill saturation duties. The Overstayer offers a very powerful filter set, and an amazing, organic sounding Dual mode, with two distortion stages, which sound very unique!
Plugin Alliance Black Box HG-2
Analog emulations often make the best distortion plugins… and this is no exception! Based on Analog Design’s Black Box tube saturation hardware, this plugin delivers on the promise. And the promise is four different tube stages, with apt controls and a very musical “Air” knob for presence. Definitely nailing the classic sound and definitely worth trying.
Dada Life – Sausage Fattener
You are looking for the best distortion plugins and you don’t mind the wacky looks? The Sausage Fattener might look like a meme but it sounds great! Combining compression, limiting, saturation and distortion, it streamlines it all into two controls. Fatness influences the amount of the effect, and Color influences the character… and that’s all there is! Very simple, sounds great, but also easy to overdo. And a wacky sausage is always a plus.
Finding the best distortion plugins for you can be a difficult job. There are so many plugins and so little time (not to mention the wallet constraints). We hope that this list will help you and work as a guide of sorts. Of course, wading through the plugins on your own is also a worthwhile and often a very fun task, so don’t be afraid to do that! The search for the best distortion plugins out there might begin now, but knowing how we producers are – it never ends.
No, not necessarily. You can achieve very decent results even with free plugins. That’s why in our list of the best distortion plugins you’ll find both free and paid premium plugins.
Distortion and saturation belong closely together. That’s why we also list saturation plugins.