16 Of The Best Saturation Plugins In The World 2020


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We previously covered why you might want to use saturation plugins to add life, character and warmth to your mixes (see that post here).

So you know you want to use saturation to improve your mixes and increase their punchiness, warmth and presence, but don’t know where to start?

Or you want to take your analogue experiments up a notch while still keeping everything In The Box?

In either case, and whether your budget is $0.00 or $200+, there’s something for everyone here. Take a look at this selection of the best saturation plugins around:

fabfilter saturn 2 saturation plugin

1. FabFilter Saturn 2

Saturn 2 is a pro-grade distortion and saturation plugin with a fantastic interface and workflow for multi-band saturation, allowing you to apply broad strokes or get very detailed and clinical with equal ease when applying warmth and distortion to the parts and frequencies of your sounds that need it while avoiding the rest.

Saturn 2 can produce effects ranging from warm and subtle analogue saturation to full-on crunchy bit-crushed digital distortion, and for many users this plugin is a potential one-stop shop for saturation as it’s so flexible – the modulation, panning and even compression options are excellent (as always with FabFilter), and the clickable spectrum analyser field at the back is where you can visually set up the crossover points for your different frequency bands, that can then all be treated independently.

In between that feature and the simple mix knob, you have a whole bunch of options for how, and to what degree, you process your sounds. The latest update, Saturn 2, saw the interface get a welcome refresh and improved modulation visualisation, new subtle saturation and linear phase processing for mastering, and a range of additional distortion types in the processing Style menu. Recommended!

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU, AAX, RTAS

BUY NOW via Plugin Boutique.

soundtoys decapitator saturation plugin

2. Soundtoys Decapitator

Excellent sound, great interface and simple controls. As with other Soundtoys plugins, it’s easy to set up several settings and demo them against each other with the “compare” knob.

Beyond this, Decapitator also has a really cool “Style” selector feature. Choosing one of the five lettered buttons engages a different saturation algorithm modelled after each of five pieces of classic gear. The letters stand for Ampex analog tape machine, EMI channel, Neve channel, and the Triode and Pentode settings on the Thermionic Culture Vulture valve enhancer. Between the Style selection and the simple Mix, Drive and EQ/Tone knob controls, you have just the right number of options to quickly find the vibe you’re after without getting bogged down.

From the name you might suspect Decapitator to want to tear your head off with distortion the whole time — and it can indeed easily do this, with the Punish button! — but when you’re after more subtlety, it’s amazingly good at just sitting quietly too and adding that warm analogue vibe to any part or track.

If you get Decapitator as part of the Soundtoys 5 Bundle (which I definitely recommend, as featured in our Best Bundles roundup), you’ll also get other plugins that can provide a number of alternative saturation colours with the likes of Devil-Loc Deluxe (great on drums!) and the tube amp-modelling Radiator. Even the delay Echoboy, with delay amount dialled back to zero, can make an extremely useful saturator, with its multitude of colouration types for quick and dirty processing and sound design.

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, AU, AAX, RTAS

BUY NOW via Plugin Boutique.

izotope trash 2 distortion saturation plugin

3. iZotope Trash 2

Trash 2 can apply everything from extremely subtle tape-style saturation to the heaviest tube amp and digital crunch, fuzz and general destruction!

As I mentioned in our recent Sound Design series article on Distortion, Trash 2 is extraordinarily versatile, featuring a series of switchable filters, multi-band dynamics, waveshapers, LFOs, envelopes, and even delay alongside the distortion algorithm sections. It’s basically a very cool and unusual channel strip plugin in disguise!

But what makes it so good for saturation duties is the degree of control you have to sculpt the processing to your preference. Even by simply dragging around in the waveshaper window in the Trash module, you can stumble on a vast range of characters very quickly. Couple this with the algorithm menu and the ability to treat any of 4 user-defined frequency bands independently, and you have everything you need to add warmth and punch in any sound design or mixing scenario.

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU, AAX, RTAS

BUY NOW via Plugin Boutique.

softube harmonics saturation plugin

4. Softube Saturation Knob, Harmonics and Tape

I couldn’t decide between these so decided to just include all three under one listing. Totally cheating, I know. Softube offer something for everyone when it comes to saturation, starting with the Saturation Knob — which is free! Simple and light enough to use on many channels throughout a full production.

softube saturation knob saturation plugin

Softube Saturation Knob

The straightforwardly-named Tape has become a go-to for many producers when it comes to adding that cohesion and glue that recording to tape famously provided in the mythic Olden Days of the analogue studio era.

The most recent (and most expensive) addition, Harmonics, is an interesting beast, kind of a Saturation Knob in Hulk mode!

It uses what Softube call “Dynamic Transient Control” to analyse the input signal and apply its processing in a more program-dependent and sympathetic way than perhaps some earlier plugin algorithms might have done, which can help retain the details and transients of your sounds, which are typically the first things to go when you start to apply heavier saturation and distortion.

softube tape saturation plugin

Softube Tape

Like Decapitator above, it also features five different distortion models to choose from, but unlike that plugin Harmonics covers a broader (and less model-specific) range of saturation source types: Solid State, Transformer, Master, Tube and Modern.

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU, AAX

BUY NOW via Plugin Boutique.

klanghelm sdrr fuzz mode saturation plugin

5. Klanghelm SDRR

Another fantastic all-rounder for your saturation needs, SDRR centers around its four modes: Tube, Digi, Fuzz and Desk. Each mode changes the interface graphics as well as displaying some controls that are unique to that mode.

klanghelm sdrr digi mode saturation plugin

As with all the plugins from this highly-regarded independent developer, the sound quality is equal to any in the game and the value for money is exceptional. Plus, its the thoughtful details, and things like the clear controls and easy size, quality and calibration options that all add up to make SDRR a pleasure to use.

Also check out Klanghelm’s free IVGI saturation & distortion plugin, for a streamlined but excellent taste of what SDRR offers.

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU, AAX

BUY NOW via Klanghelm.

d16 group redoptor 2 saturation plugin

6. D16 Group Redopter 2

Redopter models hot-rodded vintage vacuum tube guitar amplifiers to impart that distinctive creamy, growly tube saturation to your sounds, which is quite different from some of the tape saturation plugins we’ve looked at so far. The Pre Filter and Preamp sections, together with the knobby 4-band parametric EQ, mean you have a deceptively huge amount of control to shape the overall tone and select the frequency points at which the saturation starts to break up the signal when driven harder.

And all without any flashy animated visual displays! Which is not to say the GUI isn’t great — in fact the skeuomorphic controls and hardware unit-style brushed metal faceplate are actually very inspiring for diving in and tweaking out parameters while keeping your attention fixed firmly on the sound. Recommended, especially for electronic/techno producers and anyone who processes a lot of synth sounds.

Also definitely check out two other D16 plugins for alternate flavours of distortion-type processing:  Decimort 2 is my personal favourite for bit-crushing, and the multiband distortion unit Devastator 2 is particularly good for harder and industrial techno styles, amongst other uses.

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, AU, AAX

BUY NOW via Plugin Boutique.

u-he satin saturation plugin

7. u-he Satin

As well as being extremely fast and simple to operate — you can basically get away with only touching the Input and Output dials while watching the nice VU meter 90% of the time — Satin is certainly up there with the very best-sounding tape emulation plugins.

Of course you can get under the hood when you want to, opening up the Service tab and messing with the finer parameters to your hearts content, from the amount of hiss and wow & flutter to setting a tape EQ “Bump” and changing the specific tape type and speed.

Satin also has some other cool tricks up its sleeve. In the regular Studio mode, you can assign each instance of Satin to one of the eight groups, with each group behaving like a multitrack tape, ‘remote-controlled’ from any instance in that group — great for real-world applications when you want to apply tape saturation across multiple tracks in a full mix/project setting, which is often the case.

You also have Delay and Flange modes, making Satin a multi-effect plugin with authentic tape delay and tape flanging effects!

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU, AAX

BUY NOW via Plugin Boutique.

sonnox oxford inflator v3 saturation plugin

8. Sonnox Oxford Inflator

Something a little different from the typical tape and tube-modelling saturation plugins, the Sonnox Inflator is — even after many, many years! — something of a secret weapon, and still particularly popular amongst media and film composers who are often processing strings and orchestral elements, largely acoustic mixes and other things where the typical compression and saturation tools and settings might produce unwanted pumping and other unwanted colouring.

When you want the power, warmth and modern presence that is typically associated with “saturation” but you also want to maintain a relative transparency in the processing, check out the Inflator.

I won’t pretend to know how it actually works its magic, but the sonic usefulness of the Inflator has definitely outlived its original, distinctly Windows 95-style interface…

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, AU, AAX, RTAS, UAD DSP

BUY NOW via Plugin Boutique.

brainworx black box analog design HG-2 saturation plugin

9. Black Box Analog Design HG-2

The HG-2 was already a highly coveted analogue hardware unit before it’s makers, Black Box Analog Design, partnered up with Brainworx to do the painstaking software modelling for the also-highly-regarded plugin version.

Typically used on the overall mix buss, the HG-2 adds a magical mixture of loudness, parallel tube saturation and highly controllable harmonics, the latter controlled with dedicated Pentode and Triode dials.

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU, AAX

BUY NOW via Plugin Alliance.

spl vitalizer mk2-t saturation plugin

10. SPL Vitalizer MK2-T

The original Vitalizer is another hardware staple of professional studios around the world, in part because it does a rather unique combination of things. Yes, boosting tube presence and harmonic richness is certainly its jam, but at the same time it’ll provide stereo widening, frequency separation, compression/expansion, loudness and overall clarity to a mix. Whether you’re looking to fix problems or to enhance an already great mix, the Vitalizer should definitely be considered alongside more typical saturation processors.

SPL Twin Tube Processor

Also check out SPL’s TwinTube: Modelled on their own hardware modules, TwinTube provides two big dials: one for adding tube saturation (warmer, louder), the other for specifically adding harmonic content like an exciter/enhancer (presence, clarity, sparkle). Awesome sound, and again the interface makes it a breeze to dial up your preferred settings.

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU, AAX, UAD DSP

BUY NOW via Plugin Alliance.

URS Saturation plugin

11. URS Saturation

One of the early professional favourites for in-the-box saturation, URS Saturation still deserves a mention on our list. The interface is streamlined, and the controls are extremely quick and intuitive to dial in. Choose from ten vintage analog algorithms (covering six tube preamps, two speeds of tape, and two transformer types), crank the Input for more drive, and set your Saturation and Dry-Wet balance in the middle for varying degrees of full or parallel processing.

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU, AAX


brainworx vertigo vsm 3 saturation plugin

12. Brainworx Vertigo VSM-3

A high-end hardware recreation that is equally popular with mastering engineers and adventurous producers when mixing. As with many plugins from Brainworx, this software model of the Vertigo Sound VSM-2 Mix Satellite is well-regarded in its own right for bringing the power and much of the sonic character of the hardware to the convenience of the plugin format.

The VSM-3 features two independent (virtual) saturation circuits, identified on the faceplate as 2nd Harmonic FET Crusher and 3rd Harmonic Zener Blender, referring to the different characters of distortion created by each circuit. The Crusher side can be considered more of a smooth, rich saturation, while the Blender side contributes more of a brighter, exciter-like vibe. You can blend any combination of the two with the central THD Mixer knob, as well as align them serially or in parallel, and each with its own stereo or M/S setting, for a huge range of spatially-enhancing saturation effects.

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU, AAX, UAD DSP

BUY NOW via Plugin Alliance.

izotope ozone 9 vintage tape saturation plugin

13. iZotope Ozone 9 Vintage Tape

Available in iZotope’s mastering suites Ozone 9 Standard and Ozone 9 Advanced, and with the option to load as a separate plugin in Advanced, the Vintage Tape module is an excellent go-to for typical saturation duties when mixing and mastering. It features stripped-down but extremely well-considered controls for choosing tape speed, Bias (for tuning the saturation response), Harmonics and smooth high and low-end EQ bumps with the Emphasis sliders.

With characteristics modelled on the Studer A810 analogue tape machine, Ozone’s modern, super-clean interface and clear controls will be especially appreciated by anyone who wants the desirable sound of classic hardware but without getting waylaid by the often strange and completely unintuitive quirks of the old machines and their controls, quirks that are usually — for some reason! — also recreated in the plugin versions.

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU, AAX

BUY NOW via Plugin Boutique.

uad ampex atr-102 closed saturation plugin

14. Universal Audio UAD Ampex ATR-102 & Studer A800 Tape Machines

Two separate plugins from Universal Audio, modelling two of the most popular tape machines that could be commonly found in most professional studios of the analog era. Thought I should mention both!

Speaking of Studer, Universal Audio’s model of the A800 Multichannel Tape Recorder is more of a one-to-one faithful recreation, the opposite approach to Ozone’s Vintage Tape above. You can almost smell the tape and motor oil. Probably the most accurate representation of how real multitrack recording tape actually sounds in a plugin, but with an authentic array of controls and calibration settings, you’ll also need to know (or learn) what you’re doing to really get the most out of this plugin.

The results can be fabulous, but it’s not necessarily the easiest route to saturation heaven if you didn’t come up in the era of operating real tape machines. On the other hand, if you want to expand your knowledge of the intricacies of classic tape recording and technique but you don’t have access to an actual studio reel-to-reel tape machine, the UAD plugins are a great, authentic option.

uad ampex atr-102 open saturation plugin

The Ampex ATR-102 with cover “Open”, exposing the under-the-hood calibration controls for many more creative options.

The same can certainly be said of the Ampex ATR-102, although this one was originally used in more of a mastering and “final polish” context than the recording-workhorse Studer. It’s my personal favourite of the two, especially for using on the master bus chain and mixing into it or when doing my own “mastering to tape”, and with it’s controls for applying destructive hiss and wobble, it’s awesome for processing synths in a subtle or extreme fashion too.

Available for: Mac, PC | UAD DSP only, requires UAD hardware such as the Apollo Twin MkII audio interface to run.

BUY NOW via Universal Audio.

fielding dsp reviver saturation plugin

15. Fielding DSP Reviver

Using a streamlined version of a saturation configuration we’ve seen used in a number of the plugins in our list, with Reviver you have direct control over the balance of second-order and third-order harmonics, which can be thought of broadly speaking as defining the characteristics of tube amplifiers (second-order, warm, smooth) and tape or solid state amplifiers when overdriven (third-order, punch, fatness, detail) respectively.

Reviver is a marvel of highly controllable saturation, that with minimal controls can cover a lot of distortion bases while also being pleasingly pro-quality and free of artefacts and aliasing, delivered via a disarmingly simple interface. And perhaps best of all, at a price that anyone could afford. Recommended.

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU

BUY NOW via Fielding DSP.

waves abbey road j37 tape saturation plugin

16. Waves Abbey Road J37 Tape

Modelled on one of the tape machines used at the world famous Abbey Road Studios in London (most famously the recording home of The Beatles, and many others), the Waves J37 Tape hits a sweet spot between authentic sound, highly useful features nicely laid out in an inspiring interface, and, importantly for many, sheer value for money with a price ($35.99 deal at the time of writing) that makes it a quality tape machine emulation for almost every budget. Recommended!

I noticed Billy Bush make an insightful point in this promo video for the J37 thats totally worth remembering: whether or not you want to “sound like The Beatles”, or even need or want the exact sound of a real tape machine and its characteristics, the specific way that this plugin (and by extension, all the plugins on this list) has been uniquely modelled and developed gives it a unique colour and workflow that, regardless of how authentically “analogue” it sounds, is a highly creative tool that can be used in a variety of ways by modern producers, making modern styles of music that might never have occurred to The Beatles or George Martin. So go crazy, stay creative, and don’t get too boxed in by the idea of “correct” ways to use and apply saturation and distortion!

Available for: Mac, PC | VST, VST3, AU, AAX

BUY NOW via Waves.


So there you have it, an (almost) definitive list of plugins that can help you achieve a better, warmer, more expansive Pro Sound. I recommend trying them all, but eventually wittling it down to a smaller selection of your favourite ones for specific tasks. Remember, Less Is More – you don’t want plugin overwhelm getting in the way of actually making music.

I really hope this article is useful to you – it takes a lot of time and work to research and put it all together, so if you’d like to show your appreciation do consider purchasing the Ultimate Guides below, and/or purchasing your plugins through our links, some of which will provide us with a small commission at absolutely no additional cost to you. Thanks!

For a lot more sound design and processing tips, check out the Ultimate Guides series, a definitive collection of tips and techniques for enhancing your music and bringing it to a professional level:

Ultimate Guides Complete Bundle v2016

Find more suggestions on great-sounding, analogue-warm plugins and how to get the most out of them in these related articles on GTPS:

50 Of The Best Compressor Plugins In The World

25 Of The Best Drum Plugins In The World

10 Ways To Make Your Soft Synths Sound More Analogue


  1. Jordan Mitchell on

    I love the Sound Toys Decapitator. Super versatile–I use it on pianos or strings to bring out the mid-range, or pushed hardcore on a synth bass, fattening up kicks and snares, or just a touch mixed in on the vocals for a bit of extra thickness. I use the SPL and Vintage Warmer frequently, as well. I also love the Waves Krammer Master Tape, but you didn’t include it on this list.

    I’ve never heard the D16 Redopter but am going to check it out now. Thanks!

  2. groupenterprise on

    I like two of the plugins, fabfilter & the vintage warmer. Out of the two which would recommendfor warming up track.

  3. Thanks for a great article. I am looking to get one of these. Could you tell me how Steve Slate virtual tape machine compare to these please?
    All the best

    • Hi Tim, yeah I think the Virtual Tape Machine came out around the same time or just after I published this article – it would definitely make it onto the list :) Hope that answers it!

  4. Hey! Nice article, thx!
    Just wanted to recommend iZotope Trash 2.
    Right up there besides Saturn, in my book anyway;)


    • Thanks for mentioning Trash Alex and john, yes it’s certainly a worthwhile addition to the list. When I get around to updating (pretty soon), it’ll be there :) Cheers!

  5. Thank you very much for this and the preceding piece, describing the concept of saturation, and then this rundown of plugins. I can imagine how much work it was to put together! Much, much appreciated.

  6. I have the wave arts and Alloy2 and their great. The Plug and mix analoger is a unsung hero. It sounds exactly like the waves tape plugin without waves trippy tape delay sounds. When you want just nice tube or tape saturation the Analoger sounds great. Radiator i tried recently and if it didn’t take up so much cpu i would go with it. I’m going to have agree with most here and say Saturn is the best. Most wide use functionality and best sound quality with only 1% cpu usage on a dual core mac.Sure beats Wave arts 49% cpu.

  7. thanks for doing this….will check some of these out!…i’ve already tried the redline and soundtoys as demos….. was very impressed by the redline preamp…. that is really cool….. personally wasn’t so impressed by the decapitator …can definitely get some cool sounds out of it but i have a thermionic culture vulture…..and lets just say i won’t be selling it in exchange for the plug-in…….

  8. Ohk ..this is just too awesome. The site, ur effort, plugs..preciate100. But now, which amongst them is free & most efficient @least cn get the job done. Tryna see if we underestimate most of these free plugs….. Thanks.

  9. Nice to give your opinion on the plugs but you should have also list the price of the plug next to it’s name.
    That would have given a more realistic comparison as it would have shown cost vs performance as well.

    Some would have found it very helpful or interesting to know that your number one choice cost less than half the price of your number twelve choice.

  10. This is the first time I have found your site, but based entirely on this page alone I intend to have a long look around as this has captured my attention.

    Although I have the fabfilter saturn plug (and wouldn’t part with it) I would also like to give mention to a very old plug I still get a great deal of usage out of. That is Melohman from Ohmicide

  11. wavearts seems the best tube saturation emulator “most accurate” eats 25% of my cpu at 96Khz…in your review missed Voxengo plugins…mellowmuse software, izotope ozone, aipl, etc… anyway…. the wavearts sounds very similar to a real 12ax7 tube saturator, at low levels, under <50%, but over its very different, for distorting/saturating analog kicks its useless, sounds like a fart compared to a real tube. mullard 12ax7 sounds big, round& fat, for heavy saturation, none is close to a real tube, but you must have a good DA, loudspeakers, room acoustics,& ear to hear the difference, in big club soundsystems the difference its like night & day, also plugins have a weird oscillation in the highs real tubes dont,.with some synth patches emulation sound like an mp3 at 128kbps in the highs, i think most plugins are overpriced. maybe using 2 plugins in serial could have more decent saturation, but using 2 real 12ax7 tubes in serial its better.

  12. #1. club sound systems using analog amplication, not class-d amps.
    #2. a very nice plugin comes free with protools 9hd, dont know if also comes in non hd, its the AIR Harmonics Distortion, Air plugins are amazing, but distortion plugin also has the same oscillation in the highs like wavearts., much better than the tube plugin that comes with cubase/nuendo.
    #3. dont like the sonnox inflator, havent tested ssl saturator, urs saturator… but i doubt they could be better.

  13. Tape plugins are another story, and give a very different effect, i have Yamaha Vintage Open Deck because it emulates an Ampex ATR100, i like the sound of that machine, there are others Digidesign Reel Tape, Avid Heat, UAD, but most emulate Studer, and i dont like Studer Tape machine sound, and yes, yamaha vintage open deck has 4 studer emulations, and 2 tapes formulas with 2 speeds, 30 & 15 ips, some times i wish it also had 7.5 & 3.75ips, just for fun.
    cakewalk fx2 tape machine emulation tis also nice..

  14. Holy Shit . . . No mention of U-He Satin – probably one of the best Tape sat plugs around and nothing about KUSH Audio Pusher which a tape Sat flavour type plugin which is outstanding? Huh?

    • Check the release dates of both Satin and KUSH Audio Pusher and the date of publication on the article. Also consider that it would be very difficult and time-consuming to test every single plugin on the market.

  15. Another of my favourites would be the Isotope Trash plugin. I know it’s distortion rather than saturation but it’s a blurry line separating the two eh. Trash can be used lightly to add very subtle levels of saturation that sounds pretty amazing. I like add some light blues distortion/saturation to my drum buss. :)

  16. Awesome! bt i agree to it that wen it kams to saturation, less is more, n more is dangerous.. use any of these PLUGINGS sparingly!!

  17. I tried many saturators but the best for my needs is undoubtedly the Fabfilter Saturn the thing that makes it special and unique is the possibility to intervene with multiband to saturate only the frequencies necessary to flesh out the sound or give different saturations to same sound depending on the frequency band selected. This really is a great plugin.

    • WOW its just because the original version of this article was indeed posted way back in 2012, got some comments; if I remember correctly I updated it once or twice since then; and most recently in 2019 I probably just corrected a typo or formatting error and accidentally let it register as a dated “update”. Unforgivable I know. But thanks for reminding me, anyway, that this one definitely does need a comprehensive update for 2020/21. I’m on it!

  18. Absolutely right! I totally agree with you! That one is the best. Thanks for sharing the great information with us!

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