Experts Pick the Top 5 VSTs for Under $200

We speak to Claude VonStroke, Infected Mushroom, Tokimonsta, Carl Cox, and dela Moon about their favorite Virtual Studio Technology (VST) products that won’t break the bank.

5 min
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Jun 24, 2020
Graham Berry

With the right tools in their arsenal, professionals know that standing out means making new and unconventional sounds. Sometimes it’s the psychedelic twang of a guitar distorted beyond recognition. Other times, it’s the inexplicable sound of robot sex in a dubstep song. To the untrained ear, this isn’t far from sorcery, but just because it’s magical it doesn’t mean it’s magic. In the sections ahead, we’ll get to know a few tools that top-shelf producers are exploring in the big blue ocean of virtual studio technology (VST).

What’s a VST?

For many producers, VSTs are the secret sauce to their stylish flair, and can help with everything from layering tracks to adding signatures like pitch effects, equalizers, toners, and a bevy of other specialized tools. For instrumentalists and audio engineers alike, VSTs have endless versatility and are typically only limited by the creativity of those who wield them. Eventually, most will discover VSTs are the most surefire way to tap into the full potential of programs like ProTools and Ableton.

But not all VSTs were created equal. Like apps for your phone, VSTs offer plugins for just about any sound you’d want to make. In the right hands, VSTs have the power to transform ordinary music into extraordinary moments by augmenting the familiar sounds into sounds otherworldly mutations.

To learn more about the benefits of VSTs and get a glimpse at how music producing legends today like to use them, we caught up with Claude VonStroke, Infected Mushroom, Tokimonsta, dela Moon, and Carl Cox. Here’s what they had to say.

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TOKiMONSTA’s Pick: Portal

Genre: Hip Hop + Bass

Portal by Output is a granular FX plugin is now one of my favorites. The user interface is amazing and simple to automate. There is an incredible selection of different types of granular effects (glitching, stretching, crazy pitch adjustments). I add it to any layer of a song that needs something extra, many times melodies that are looping or ones where the patch isn’t quite interesting enough. It’s a great way to incorporate crazy DSP effects. 2:50min into my song “Renter’s Anthem,” you can hear it on many of the tracks within the song.

Price: $149.00

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Infected Mushroom’s Pick: Manipulator and iWish

Genre: Psychedelic Trance

Manipulator and iWish plugins are an integral part of not just our production process, but our creative process. We use it to create unexpected tones for our vocals and synths, but we also experiment and try new ideas by mapping the controls to midi keyboards and recording vocals in Real-time while manipulating parameters randomly until we find the sweet spot.

Price: $149.00 / $99.00

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Claude VonStroke’s Pick: Kick Tweak

Genre: House

I’ll keep it super simple. I like Kick Tweak by Singomakers. It’s $39. It can’t rescue a garbage kick but it can certainly give you that 20 percent you needed to flush out your already decent kick. I use it on every track. It has a parallel processing feature so you can even dial in the perfect amount if it’s overkill. (All effects should have this!). The secret funny thing is if you hit a certain button the graphics change into a crazy guy with a hammer and it’s quite silly.

Price: $39

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Carl Cox’s Pick: Massive and Scaler

Genre: Techno

“I love to use Native Instrument’s Massive as a go-to VST synth in a lot of my work and, indeed I used it to great effect in my recent release “Pure.” I also really love Plugin Boutique’s Scaler 2 as a way of working out musically rich chord progressions and ideas.”

Price: $199 / $49

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dela Moon’s Pick: Valhalla Room

Genre: Drum & Bass

Valhalla Room is always a go-to for stereo algorithmic reverb. It’s easy to use, has nice presets, and always sounds lovely. I generally use it to help place basses or instruments in a ‘space’ — to help make the atmosphere of the song more 3-dimensional.”

Price: $50

Graham Berry is a freelance writer. Find him on Twitter.

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