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There is no doubt about it, the glory days of tape are back! The digital audio revolution changed everything Tape was expensive (though not nearly as expensive as it is today) and editing required expertise and a very steady hand. But there is no doubt that the harmonic distortion, saturation, and compression provided by analog tape was sorely missing from digital audio, especially in its infancy. Enter the tape saturation plug-in! If your tracks need some analogue warmth, there are some great freeware options out there. Here are a selection of the best free tape simulation plug-ins out there.

Variety of Sound Ferric TDS

variety of sound ferric tds

As far as the best free saturation and tape simulation plug-ins go, Variety of Sound has a few options. Ferric TDS might be the most fully featured freeware saturation plug-in on the market. It is not (at least in name) a direct “tape simulation” plug-in, but it does model all of the elements of plug-ins that are trying to nail the tape sound like added harmonics, saturation, and compression. It can also emulate the vibe of overdriving a single-tube mic preamp.

It’s a workhorse for sure, with two main controls over Dynamics (compression), and Saturation. There is also a limiter for peak control, a sidechain EQ up to 250Hz, and two voicings – Modern and Classic.

Shattered Glass Audio SGA1566

shattered glass audio sga1566

Impart the timeless tone of a tube mic preamp to your mono or stereo digital tracks. The SGA1566 is built to respond just like real hardware. This means you can drive it just like you would a preamp. The Baxandall EQ section can be pre or post the preamp circuit, and it’s capable of up to 4x oversampling. It’s just as useful for tracking as it is for mixing.

Voxengo Tube Amp

voxengo tube amp

Voxengo’s voyage into tube simulation uses a topology based on the type of asymmetrical tube overdrive normally found in single-tube mic preamps. It can do warm and fuzzy all the way to damn nasty. To balance out the equalization, there is a 6dB/octave high cut. And if more drive is what you need, the MODE switch adds in additional saturation.

  • Download page (Windows 64/32-bit VST/3, AAX | Mac VST/3, AU, AAX)

Togu Audio Line TAL-Tube

togu audio line tal-tube

TAL’s lineup of freeware plug-ins is quite impressive, and their simple saturator comes with some pretty useful features. Four controls let you adjust input/output gain, the amount of drive, and by far the coolest feature – the dry/wet mix. This gives you total control over how the signal is effected and even lets you process in parallel. There are two additional controls for hard clipping and amplifier mode, which makes Tal-Tube function like a guitar amp. A gain reduction meter shows you how much the effect is attenuating the signal.

Download page (Windows 32-bit VST | Mac 32-bit AU)

Klanghelm IVGI

klanghelm ivgi

You can tell that Klanghelm really put some love into this one, because IVGI provides the capability to tailor the saturation like few others. It’s not just distortion thrown on top of your track, it lives and breathes with it, responding dynamically. This might be the most authentic free tape saturation plug-in we’ve seen.

With controls over the Response, Drive, and Asymmetrical Mix of the sound you can go for the vibe of any era. There is even a knob to control the amount of crosstalk! It’s at home on mono or stereo tracks, and busses will surely see the benefit. It’s also internally calibrated for use in the digital world at -18dBfs. 

Antress Modern Analoguer

antress analoguer

Antress’ plug-in suite may be a little older, but its apps still stand tall in the freeware world as solid emulations of some classic studio hardware. Its take on tape simulation is called the Analoguer. While it is more about tape saturation than compression, it has a range of controls to set input/output of the signal, as well as Tone, amount of analog Color, and Ceiling. The latter functions as a limiter of sorts. It might not have the depth and dimension that newer plug-ins do, but there is a throwback, lo-fi quality to it. And after all, isn’t that the point of tape simulators?

Variety of Sound TesslaPRO mkii

variety of sound tesslapro mkii

Variety of Sound’s software suite features a few analog “simulation” plug-ins, and TesslaPRO aims to provide that classic vibe while keeping the transients intact via a specific control for this. It specializes in saturation, so there’s no additional features like compression, but with 5 coloration modes – featuring 3 console models, an emulated tube stage, and pure tape saturation – there is something here for everyone.

The boost switch increases the input level by 12 dB, providing even more saturation or accommodating low level signals. It’s not only great for adding some harmonics, but it provides a bit more depth of field and some subtle widening.

Variety of Sound Rescue

variety of sound rescue mkii

Yet another product from Variety of Sound’s venerable freeware line, Rescue is a mid/side transient processor that features saturation and compression. There are separate sections for control over the middle and side information of the signal, and both can be used independently. The main controls are Punch for the Mid and Width for the Side, with gain and limiting controls for each. The Depth and Ramp controls are global. A useful Analog switch adds overall color and saturation, as Rescue can be used as a simple mid/side processor without it.

Samsara Cycle Audio TS-1

samsara cycle audio ts-1

One of the few true tape simulation options on this list comes from boutique company Samsara Cycle Audio. Five controls let you adjust the input and output levels, as well as the amount of saturation, bass compensation (low-pass filter), and the axis of the phase. It is great for busses, and a solid alternative to paid tape simulations.

That’s our list of the Best Free Tape Simulation Plug-ins! Let us know which was your favourite in the comments below.

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4 months ago

Uhe Satin should be on this list

4 months ago
Reply to  Huw

Not free

4 months ago

Airwindows Tape should be here also