Best Saturation Plugins 2023

With our selection of the top saturation plugins from SoundToys, FabFilter, Brainworx, and more, you can ignite individual tracks or add the finishing touch to your mix. Best Saturation Plugins 2023.

The greatest saturation plugins are a must-have item in your toolbox because they are the hidden weapon for producers and engineers of all genres. A saturation plugin can accomplish everything from simply infusing your recordings with a bit of vintage vibe and warmth to entirely altering them with a torrent of devastating distortion. It is both practical and creative. Best Saturation Plugins 2023.

Saturation, one of the most adaptable effects you can employ, can be added to just about anything, whether you want to tame transients on your drum bus or use it on your mix bus to give your mix a little additional oomph. Check out our buying advice section at the conclusion of the post if you want to learn more about saturation. Just scroll down to the good stuff to continue…

SSL Native X Saturator

SSL makes some top-quality music production gear and their native plugins are no different. The SSL Native X Saturator is perfect for natural sounding saturation that works a treat on vocals, drum buses, and pretty much anything else you can throw it on.

It’s not as creative as some of the other saturation plugins here, but if utilitarian is your thing then you’ll love what this adds to the mix. There are only a few knobs which make dialling in your desired sound a breeze and it sounds excellent whether you’re using it for subtle saturation or driving it hard.

SSL’s Saturator emulates valve and transistor-type distortion effects, allowing you to use them individually or blend the two together. The wet/dry knob is really handy for parallel processing, allowing you to mix in the distorted signal with the original dry signal, whilst a selection of presets get you up and running quickly.

Soundtoys Decapitator

Soundtoys’ Decapitator offers some delightful distortion algorithms paired with clever controls that make it a must-have saturation plugin. Based upon a selection of coloured preamp sections from legendary hardware, these sounds can be used to elevate any element of your mix.

We love the Decapitator for parallel drum compression, as well as for absolutely destroying bass guitars or just spicing up a DI’d guitar. Like us, you probably won’t be able to help yourself from hitting the ‘punish’ button the first time you load it up either, which adds a massive 20dB of gain to whatever setting the drive knob is currently on.

It does subtle effects too, so you can add a nice sense of body and warmth to a thin vocal track without completely changing the characteristics of it. Probably the most useful feature of the Decapitator is the toggle switch for ‘auto’ next to the output knob. This automatically matches the level to compensate for the effect taken by the drive control, ensuring you don’t get an increase or decrease in the gain of the track itself.

FabFilter Saturn 2

FabFilter’s Pro Series plugins are amongst some of the most loved by producers whether you’re working at a home studio or a fully-fledged recording studio. But FabFilter Saturn 2 seems to float under the radar a little compared to its more popular siblings like FabFilter Pro-Q 3 and FabFilter Pro-MB.

There are some powerful presets here, including our personal favourite ‘Magic Mastering’ which is like a cheat code for improving the sound of any source from DI bass to the full mix. Saturn 2 has everything from these subtle, mastering-type effects right through to your more creative fuzz destruction, making it applicable in pretty much any mixing or mastering scenario.

Saturn 2 offers incredible depth, an excellent UI, and a super powerful effect on your sound sculpting. Effects can be applied in bands, with EQ controls like that of a guitar amp used to add harmonic content to a select portion of your track. With a variety of X-Y pads and modulation sources plus the ability to assign a single slider to multiple parameters, Saturn 2 is probably the most flexible saturation plugin money can buy. 

Softube Saturation Knob

The Softube Saturation Knob is a simple yet powerful free saturation plugin that can add warmth and character to your audio tracks.

With only one control knob, the plugin is perfect for those looking for a quick and easy solution to add saturation to their mix.

Despite its simplicity, the Softube Saturation Knob offers a surprising amount of flexibility.

The plugin features three different saturation types, which can be selected using a switch located below the main knob:

  1. Keep High 一 Emphasizes the high frequencies
  2. Neutral 一 Applies saturation evenly across the frequency spectrum
  3. Keep Low 一 Focuses on the low frequencies

The Softube Saturation Knob is an excellent choice for producers who want a free, easy-to-use, and effective saturation plugin.

It’s perfect for adding warmth and character to individual tracks or an entire mix and works exceptionally well on drums, guitars, and vocals.

Brainworx Black Box Analog Design HG-2

Designed primarily for mastering applications, the Brainworx Black Box Analog Design HG-2 saturation plugin is based upon Black Box’s actual hardware unit, which will set you back somewhere in the region of $3,000 to buy. This plugin is considerably less than that and has plenty of use cases for instances other than mastering too.

It’s a brilliant-sounding plugin with a Pentode tube model for sweet harmonics and a Triode tube model for harsher, more angular distorted sounds. Low and high saturation modes add pump and shine depending on how you use them, whilst the air circuit adds a beautiful top-end shelf. 

The Triode and Pentode knobs set the input gain for each tube, so if either is set fully to anti-clockwise you won’t get any sound out of it as they operate in series. It’s an initially confusing setup, but once you get used to it the three different stages of saturation ensure finding the sweet spot for your mix is an absolute breeze.

XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color

(Image credit: XLN Audio)

With the ever-increasing popularity of lo-fi music, the XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color is perfect for producers looking to add old-school vibes to their music. Designed to add warmth and wobble, it’s not only an excellent tool but also an addition to your creative arsenal, especially for making that pristine piano sound decidedly more retro.

With six different modules, you can add various stages of processing to your audio, individually switching them in and out to create your ideal vibe. Add seamlessly looped ambience with the Noise module, Wobble for your ‘wow’ and ‘flutter’ effects, Distort for all your saturation needs, Digital for bit depth and sample rate manipulation, Space for reverb effects, and Magnetic for tape-style random dropouts.

It’s a comprehensive suite for retro sound lovers and the ability to manipulate both the input and output gain is super useful. You’ve also got an EQ section, a Tone EQ section for biasing towards low, high, and mid as well as a useful width control. Add in an excellent preset library and you’ve got a plugin that’s as fun to play with as it is useful.

Softube Harmonics

(Image credit: Softube)

Softube Harmonics saturation plugin gives you five different characters of distortion based on some of the best-sounding vintage hardware processors ever made. With a reputation for exceedingly accurate digital recreations of hardware, Softube Harmonics both looks like vintage hardware and sounds like it.

The five different modes are aptly named for you to understand their origin, with Solid emulating that 70s solid-state sound and Transformer adding American console saturation that’s perfect for work on the low end. Master offers a gentle mastering saturation whilst Tube gives you a boutique valve circuit and Modern offers an English all-valve triode aggression.

The sound of each is fabulous as you’d expect from Softube, and we particularly loved the Dynamic Transient Control. It acts similarly to a wet/dry knob, allowing you to mix your transients back in, super useful for drum processing. The only downside is there’s no auto-gain compensation, so you can end up with dramatic volume increases on your tracks.

Klanghelm SDRR

(Image credit: Klanghelm)

Another hardware-inspired plugin, Klanghelm SDRR gives you four different flavours of saturation to add some serious pizzazz to your tracks. It’s got an incredibly broad sonic range and at this price, there’s little reason not to add it to your collection.

Your four flavours of saturation come in Tube, Digi, Fuzz, and Desk. Whilst there’s an obvious miss here in the lack of tape saturation, you’ve still got plenty available to match any use case you might come across whilst mixing. Our stand out from the selection was the Tube mode, which adds warmth and glue to vocal tracks.

Desk mode gives you that console colouration with bass and treble shelving via the EQ controls. Fuzz and Digi meanwhile offer a more creative effect, with Fuzz replicating the stompbox effect albeit less harshly whilst Digi goes from subtle enrichment all the way to bit crush-type sounds.

Moog Moogerfooger MF-109S Saturator

(Image credit: Moog)

The Moogerfooger MF-109S Saturator is the only plugin in the Moogerfooger effects collection that isn’t an emulation of a hardware device. It’s actually based on the input drive stage of the Moogerfooger hardware, perfect for adding warmth, distortion, and crunch to your recorded sounds.

The MF-109S allows you to create a broad palette of saturation sounds with everything from subtle analogue saturation to full-on distortion. It works great on dynamic effects like drums and vocals, with the envelope controls giving you plenty of sound sculpting options for dynamics without killing the transients.

Despite their slightly confusing layout, there’s a lot of control available in the virtual knobs so you can dial in a perfect amount of saturation based on the loudness of your original signal. You can also add white/red noise to your signal and adjust the tone, making this an incredibly powerful saturation plugin.

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