Music Software Buying Guide: Find your next DAW, plug-in, or VST

Music Software Buying Guide

For a fraction of the cost of a new rack processor or hardware synth, a new software plug-in or virtual instrument can inspire your playing, transform your sound, or give your mix the edge it was missing. Find some of our go-to audio effects plug-ins, virtual instruments, and DAW software in this guide.

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Audio Effects Plug-ins: Essential Tools
Equalization, compression, reverb/delay. Along with gain and left/right panning, these effects are essential tools you can use to bring any audio element forward or back in a mix. While your DAW software likely has these plug-ins already built in, there's a whole world of plug-ins out there that emulate classic rack gear, or harness your computer's processing power in robust new sound-shaping tools. In addition to your go-to EQ and dynamics processors, another modern must-have is Celemony Melodyne, a plug-in you can use to manipulate pitch and timing on vocals and more. Use it for hard-tuning FX, or just to transparently tune up your performance.
Audio Effects Plug-ins: Creative Textures
Your computer is more than just a tape machine -- so why not see how far you can stretch your sound? Effects plug-ins give you the opportunity to get experimental, warping and mangling recorded audio into something unrecognizable -- non-destructively, of course. If you're in need of inspiration, throw some of these creative plugs on your tracks and see what comes out.
Audio Restoration Plug-ins
Whether you're digitizing a scratchy old 78 rpm record your great-grandma bought 100 years ago, or you want to clean up the background noise on a recording you made on your phone last week, audio restoration plug-ins can work miracles! With broadband noise reduction, and precision tools to remove hum, buzz, clicks, and pops, these plug-ins and standalone apps can help you repair and restore audio, making it more intelligible and enjoyable to hear.
Virtual Instruments and Software Synthesizers
Few musicians have the space, let alone the budget, for rooms full of hardware synths. But thanks to virtual instrument plug-ins in your DAW, all you need is one MIDI controller keyboard to tap into countless sounds. From sample-based virtual instruments that trigger recordings of world-class instruments (like Steven Slate Drums), to software synthesizers that create sick sounds from thin air (like u-he's Diva), these plugs let you get creative -- then tweak your sound and perfect your performance later by dragging MIDI notes on the grid.
DAW Software
If you're making music on a computer, your DAW is likely the gear you're going to spend the most time with. Modern DAW software comes loaded with tools to streamline your workflow. Avid Pro Tools is a longtime industry standard -- a solid choice if you're planning on moving your project back and forth from your home studio to a pro studio. PreSonus Studio One and FL Studio are hugely popular DAWs that have proven their worth in the rapidly growing home studio market, and are gaining traction in pro studios, too.