It’s been over 20 years since FL Studio (back then known as “Fruity Loops”) took on the bedroom producer scene, and since then it has been responsible for some of pop’s biggest musical innovations, such as Trap and Dubstep.
The DAW has certainly wiggled its way to becoming a more serious contender (and hence obtaining a more “serious” name), and so has its native plugins. So in this post we’re going to take a look at over 30 of the best plugins for FL Studio… not just native, but also 3rd party paid and even free.
VST stands for “virtual studio technology.” They basically allow you to digitally use virtual versions of studio hardware. This can be anything from a compressor to reverb unit.
Since computers came on the music production scene, they began to replicate not only the sounds of mixing plugins, but also entire sound-producing modules, even acoustic instruments. So now you can emulate legendary synthesizers and grand orchestras, as well as the samplers that will allow you to manipulate samples for Techno, Hip-Hop, and everything else in between.
Today, most music is actually made with VSTs in Digital Audio Workstations or DAWs, and FL Studio is not any less of them in the line-up of great DAWs.
Unfortunately, most versions of FL Studio don’t come with a complete list of plugins, and there’s a host of many other plugins not offered by Image-Line (the creator) that you may be missing out on.
So now we’ll take a look at some of these curated options ????
FL Studio can host virtual synthesizers. As you may know, synthesizers allow you to create you own sounds artificially, and they are an essential part of the whole music making process. You can read more about the whole process of synthesis in our series on the topic. This will definitely help you with choosing a good synthesizer.
Now, FL Studio comes with a few great choices of their own, but we’ll cover a couple that are not often mentioned, and which you’re most likely missing in your version.
Sakura is an interesting and unique sounding plugin that’s normally directed toward a very specific niche, offering unique sonic possibilities. If you find yourself gawking at it, keep in mind that its value comes from its unique synthesis concept – one for which it takes its inspiration from the brief life cycle of cherry blossoms. Let’s dig further.
For instance, Sakura can synthesize string instruments that breathe with possibilities. Adventurous producers might take fancy from its 5-stage “hanami” (transient) process which includes contact, vibration, string interaction, resonance, and acoustics. These comprise Sakura’s string physical modelling parameters. Contact, for instance, allows users to model plucks, scraps, and even finger action. You can even come up with physically impossible permutations, such as creating a 15-foot guitar. These possibilities make Sakura a whole lot of fun to play with.
Harmor, on the other hand, is by now already an established name, and is less on the fringe as Sakura. It’ well known for its remarkable versatility, and the newest iteration maintained the same additive synthesisarchitecture that makes it powerful. Now however, it has a multipoint envelope editor, image and audio synthesis capabilities, and greater CPU efficiency. Given how taxing additive synths can be on any music production computer, that last feature definitely makes Harmor worth its salt.
Harmor also carries a few native effects such as the usual distortion, delays, and others, including the famous Soundgoodizer. Being within the same architecture, we believe, helps the plugin’s CPU efficiency.
New users may choose to pass on Sakura, but if you’re looking to create fresh and interesting sounds, it is certainly worth playing with. As for Harmor, we couldn’t understate its importance in any producer’s bag of essentials.
Essentially a clone of the classic Yamaha DX7, Dexed is a free FM synthesis plugin. As such, it has become part of many new producers’ most powerful tools. But just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s a push-over. In fact, Dexed’s multi-platform and multi-format versatility is only one of its many abilities.
Dexed has six oscillators, each with their own envelope generators. This makes a messy, but detailed, interface. Nonetheless, the latest version has made a lot of visual improvements.
Users are particularly impressed with Dexed brass emulation. Don’t expect overly complex programming with this plugin though. It’s made with vintage sounds in mind, and accessible for new producers.
Fans of the DX7 can send their created patches between Dexed and their machines.
Those looking for a free and competent plugin should definitely give Dexed a try.
Soundspot Union is a wavetable synth that uses a unique synthesis system. It has two main analogue modelled oscillators which offer up to six waveshapes and 32 voices. Union then merges (hence the name) these two oscillators to generate wavetable waveforms for a third oscillator. This can result in very harmonically complex sounds.
Unlike most synths, each oscillator has its own independent filters. This gives users more control of the sound even before the third oscillator stage. Users can manipulate the sounds through graphical editing.
The modern-looking UI is intuitively designed, so navigation and editing is trouble-free.
Also mind-boggling is their unison engine which can play up to 96 voices in a single note. Add to that the nine effects that can further sweeten the sound. Even a cursory browse of the presets will tell you a lot about the plugin’s potentially limitless possibilities.
Any self-respecting producer will tell you that Massive was an industry game-changer. But the release of the newest iteration of this beloved Native Instruments plugin is also equally colossal.
Pitched as an entirely different plugin, Massive X has a pared-down visual look, but definitely more ‘under-the-hood’ features than its predecessor.
Boasting two gain stages and transformer emulation, MJUC Jr uses “variable-mu” compression that emulates older compressors. MJUC Jr is more of a vintage compressor, so expect more harmonics from your processed signal. More harmonics means dense and warm saturation that works best for submixes
The plugin has three position-timing switches: fast, slow, and auto. Minimizing the parameters to three means lesser choices and more things being automated under the hood. Some want more control from their compressors, while some like it simple. It really depends on one’s preference. As for the MJUC Jr, simple is clearly enough, and it delivers.
For a freeware, the capabilities of the MJUC Jr surprisingly fares well when put side by side with its paid counterparts. It is therefore not a bad option for one who has an extreme budget, especially if your compressor needs are not very demanding and if you have a less powerful machine.
Softube peddles the FET Compressor as “the most accurate modelling” of a solid state compressor. Softube dedicated itself to emulating not just through algorithmic approximation but through simulating every component from input stages to the differences between transistors. This results in a believable reproduction of the original FET models.
Some nifty features included are the modeled “all buttons in” mode, parallel compression capabilities, synchronized gain reduction, and remarkable CPU efficiency.
Visually, the plugin has a 90s hi-fi look that packs a hint of nostalgia for added appeal.
The biggest deterring factor for the FET Compressor, however, is the price. It is among the least accessible compressors in the market, and it is for good reason. It gives the user absolute control over the signal. Its emulation is also top-notch.
The Mutant Reverb is a mono-to-stereo reverb plugin that comes with a built-in ducker. It boasts total control of reverb tails, which are usually difficult to deal with
It has all the basic controls such as the mix control, size and diffusion, dampening and frequency shaping etc. The presets are also par for the course.
The highlight of the plugin is the Internal Ducker which is supposed to dynamically suppress reverb tail signals. Functioning like a sidechain, the ducker can be used to erase unwanted transients. A Hold function allows the Mutant to stabilize gain reduction when the ducker is used. Needless to say, this can be a nifty tool especially when dealing with complex reverb tails. This also allows you to save precious CPU power by not using another limiter or any external ducking plugin.
The Mutant Reverb has a modern visual look. The UI is also intuitive and easy to analyze.
In general, Mutant is a powerful reverb that has a lot of practical purposes. No fancy presets, no bulky features, just solid functionality.
WA Production also employs a dynamic ducking feature in their delay plugin. The Mutant Delay seems to have been designed to maintain signal clarity even when the delay effects get a little bit too crazy. This is great for vocals and other audio that need to be as clean as possible.
Like the Mutant Reverb, the Mutant Delay has a straight-forward interface made up of two primary parts, the Synced Delay and the Internal Ducker. The Delay has all the basic ingredients such as the mix controls, the filters, feedback, the L-R controls. As for the ducker, it has parameters similar to that of a standard compressor, such as attack, release, threshold, ratio, and hold.
The Internal Ducker module is useful for fast-tempo music where uncontrolled delay tails can make a track sound messy.
The Mutant Delay, aside from the ducker, is pretty much a basic delay plugin. Its dedication to clarity will make it a useful delay for instances when clarity is needed. But if you need creative control on your signal, you may need another delay module.
Adding to our list of analogue-modelled plugins, Soundtoys’ FilterFreak is an interesting plugin that has more tricks up its sleeve than you would expect.
It touts itself as being modelled from analog resonant filters. This accounts for its gritty, mechanical sounding saturation styles. You even can push the resonance filter to a self-oscillating mode, a testament to its fidelity to the hardware.
FilterFreak has several saturation styles which range from subtle distortions to hard-hitting compression. Users can also choose to use either one or two filters which can be put into series or parallel. The rhythm and groove functionality is also fun to use.
Soundwise, FilterFreak seems to be capable of handling the most common filtering tasks. The vintage ‘warm’ (or ‘cold, depending on who you ask) sound may not appeal to those who are not big fans of analogue-modelled filters. But the FilterFreak is by no means just a typical filter. It’s a perfectly capable plugin.
Perhaps one of the more idiosyncratic plugins in our list is denise’s Bad ape, a ‘tape harming’ plugin. Made to “cause crackling, detuning and buzzing” effects of tape emulation, Bad Tape rides on the fairly recent resurgence of the cassette tape. Bad Tape does well in achieving the detuned sound that has become very common not only in rap music but also in ambient music.
Aside from detune, it also has ‘wow’, ‘flutter’, ‘hiss’, ‘squeal’, and ‘harm’ functions. These presets can be further controlled with input, saturation, mix, color, speed, and output parameters on the lower half of the plugin.
The plugin incorporates tape artifacts, subtle bit crushing, and hysteresis emulation to achieve the tape sound.
It’s a pretty simple plugin, but the way it manipulates the sound is radical. It can be used for a wide variety of contexts and styles. If you don’t mind straying far into the left-field, Bad Tape is certainly not a bad toy to play with.
Bass provides the body of a sound. Bass makes hearing not just an aural activity but a whole-body experience. FL Studio hosts many bass VSTs of various kinds and sensibilities, each for every kind of producer and musical aesthetic.
FL’s native Transistor Bass was made from the Roland TB303. Using subtractive synthesis, the Transistor Bass is able to create acid house bass timbres from square and saw waves. In the spirit of the actual TB303, the Transistor Bass also includes a distortion unit to achieve a classic acid house sound.
The Transistor Bass is not the most versatile bass around given its limitations in available waveforms and synthesis capabilities. But it drives a powerful sound that approximates the Roland TB303. The native sequencer and its accompanying factory bank is also fairly useful.
There are not a lot of other hardwares more worthy of being emulated than the Moog Model D Minimoog. This is why the Model E VST plugin released by Steinberg continues to be popular. Even the critically-acclaimed composer Hans Zimmer uses it for his film scores.
But the Model E-10O pushes the Minimoog even further. Aside from the Minimoog’s signature 3-VCO monophonic bass sounds, the plugin has 64 voice polyphony and 16 multitimbral parts.
It also has a Glide and portamento effect as well as Mono-mode. These are not phenomenal additions given our modern standards, but if you are a fan of the Minimoog, having this in your arsenal will feel like a blessing.
A good bass sound is one of the trickiest to make, so any great bass plugin is heaven-sent. One such plugin is Loopmasters’ Bass Master.
Building on two layers from the 217 available waveforms, Bass Masters provide the tools for meticulous sound sculpting. There are 13 filters available as well as an ADSR and a LFO envelope.
Aside from the usual effects, further manipulation can be done through the three-slotted mod-wheel function. These are more than enough to make your bass sound natural and kicking.
Of course, if you couldn’t be bothered to make your own sound, you can choose from the 350 presets which include classics such as the 808, Roger Deacon’s iconic tone in “Another One Bites The Dust”, and many others.
Overall, Bass Master is an impressive plugin, especially those looking for versatility and total control over their bass sounds.