There’s no denying that in this day and age our DAW’s give us the tools necessary to manipulate audio and reveal imperfections that analog recording gave straight out of the box, stock plugins will do a fine job, but some third-party options can take things to a different level, that’s why in this article we’re going to run down the 10 best lo-fi plugins ever.
So if you’re into producing Lo-fi music, you may want to bookmark this page and treat it as your new bible.
Lo-fi is all about creating a feeling in your music, therefore picking the right Lo-fi sample packs and VST’s should be your top priority as a producer.
Some of the features of the plugins below could easily be replicated by sampling hardware gear, such as a tape or drum machine, but software emulations have become so powerful in the 2020’s that not are they fast becoming the preferable option in terms of performance but also the most cost-effective.
Free Lo-Fi Plugins
Vinyl from Izotope has recently undergone a massive transformation, with a new skin, a simplified GUI and is now even lighter on your CPU, this plugins was one of the first vinyl emulation tools that I ever downloaded and still use today.
They describe it as the ultimate lo-fi weapon and I couldn’t agree more.
Use the year option to choose an era and dial in tones of the decade, not only that you can customize the tone further by using the Dust option and bring in artifacts and scratches, emulate the effect of someone slowing down a turntable with the spin option and much more.
RoughRider 3 by Audio Damage
RoughRider 3 is one of the best series of free compressors I have ever used, ever since the original RoughRider I have religiously watched every move that Audio Damage has made.
By forcing signals through this compressor, you’ll obliterate any sense of natural dynamics and what you’ll get coming out of the other end is a signal that pumps, squeezes and magnifies the original
If you want too assert your dominance over natural dynamics in a way that would seem strange to most engineers, then you my friend have just found the tool that perfectly encompasses what Lo-fi is about.
Labs by Spitfire Audio
Labs by Spitfire Audio is one virtual instrument that I would be shocked if you haven’t heard of it already, this plugin is not only perfect for Lo-fi but for most other genres as it has a vast array of phenomenal samples instruments that rival most paid options.
The GUI is probably one pf the most simple I’ve ever seen, so it doesn’t matter whether you’re new to production or if you’re a seasoned veteran, you’ll be able to get some amazing sounds out of it right from the get go.
With options for Reverb, Attack, Delay and Velocity it doesn’t get much easier then that, Spitfire Audio are consistently releasing new updates for Labs so it would be silly not to download it.
Ample Bass P II Lite
One of the most important parts of any track, (Lo-Fi included) is bass, In particular live bass, if you’re lucky enough to know a bass player or able to play yourself then this plugin isn’t for you, but if you’re like me and play bass like everyone else then Ample Bass P II Lite will become your new secret weapon.
Modeled on the P-Bass set up this VST gives users an insane amount of control and adjustability, it allows to edit very minute details of the instrument which makes it sound more and more like a real bass.
Through adjusting fret noise, buzz, sustain, action and much more, getting the perfect tone is quick and easy, which will surely make it your new go-to bass instrument.
Another core element of Lo-Fi is Reverb, whilst you can get some excellent results using stock reverbs, third-party options like TAL-REVERB III is one that really stands out, this baby is capable of giving you excellent sounding short and long-tail plate reverb.
Paid Lo-Fi Plugins
RC-20 Retro Color by XLN Audio
RC-20 Retro Color is a creative effect plugin that adds life and texture to any recording. It easily recreates the warm, cozy feeling of vintage recording equipment, but also works perfectly in any modern production setting.
- Adds life and texture inspired by classic gear
- Great on drums, guitars, keys, bass and full mixes
- Flux Engine adds warm, analog-style fluctuations
6 Unique FX Modules
RC-20’s six unique FX modules can replicate everything from vinyl records to VHS machines, adding noise, wobble and dropouts to your tracks. Its raw distortion and crunchy bit reduction will add grit to your bass and drums. The space and chorus effects will make your guitar sing like never before and the filtering effects fit right into the most modern club track.
Our exclusive Flux Engine adds subtle (or not so subtle) instability and fluctuations to all of the FX modules, providing the character, warmth and analog goodness of yesteryear’s best technology.
The Magnitude slider controls the intensity of all processing. Easily accessible all the time — even when browsing presets — it makes it easy to find the perfect sound and processing amount. Automate this control for awesome intros, breakdowns and transitions in your song.
The included presets for drums, keys, guitars, bass, full mixes, and post-production let you get to work right away. The RC-20 interface invites experimentation, and you can access the processing amount of each FX module while browsing.
SketchCassette II by Aberrant DSP
Inspired by 4-track cassette recorders, SketchCassette II is designed to introduce a wide array of lo-fi effects into your mixes. From subtle warble to unearthed-from-the-attic destruction, SketchCassette II unlocks the full range of cheap tape sounds, while also offering the flexibility and control to push your sounds even further into total lo-fi weirdness.
- 12 unique tape type & quality profiles
- Age modelling with continuous control
- 2 Tape Saturation models: A (gentle), B (harsh)
- Tape hiss
- Dropouts with newly extended Stereo Width control
- Highly adjustable Wow & Flutter section, including:
- Tempo Syncing to DAW
- An “FM Mode” which allows you to modulate the Flutter Rate with the Wow controls
- Noise-reduction encoding compression with controls over Brightness & Amount
- Mix controls for Tape Filtering and Compression
- Custom preset system with 61 factory presets showcasing SketchCassette II’s versatility
- Windows 7 or later
- VST3 and AAX
- 64-bit only
- macOS 10.8 Mountain Lion through macOS 10.15 Catalina
- AU, VST3, and AAX
- 64-bit only
Decimort 2 by D16 Group
Decimort recreates the colouration and adds the vintage sampler’s magic to any sound.
Electronic music (especially Hip-Hop) producers have long been aware that classic samplers (such as early Akai and E-MU units) had a character and sound all their own: they added a “grit” and “colour” to the samples and loops they played back which made them sound “Fat” and sit well in a mix. This sound colouration was due to the encoding techniques, lower sample rate and bit depth, and conversion circuits used by these early samplers. Decimort recreates this colouration and adds that vintage sampler magic back to any loop, any bassline, or any sound played through it for that matter! Beyond vintage sampler emulation, it’s also the perfect bit-crusher with filter, capable of extreme settings for dramatic results.
The highest quality low-quality effect you can buy
While this tagline may seem like an oxymoron on the surface, allow us to explain: the Decimort effect unit (available as part of the SilverLine collection of plugins from D16) is a premium grade bit crusher and sample rate reducer with some highly unconventional features. The advanced signal processing algorithms within Decimort simulate the complex behaviour of the entire sampling path that exists in every AD/DA converter, and with version 2 comes far greater control over the process!
Decimort has zero internal aliasing—in fact, the only aliasing present is the emulated aliasing of the classic samplers we modelled when creating it. Unwelcome artefacts are completely absent in the processed signal: only the desirable, modelled ones remain.
More control than any other effect of this type
Decimort isn’t just another bitcrusher with only bit resolution and sampling frequency to tweak; in fact, it provides far more advanced features than you likely could have ever expected from an effect of this kind, all implemented in stunning quality:
- Two optional anti-alias filters – A very steep low-pass pre-filter (Approximative Filter) coupled with the resampling frequency that removes all harmonic content above it, ensuring no aliasing will appear below this frequency in the spectrum. A further post filter (Image filter), also synchronized with the resampler, gives control over the amount of aliasing images appearing above resampling frequency when enabled.
- Adjustable Jitter – An unprecedented feature in the bit crusher’s world which introduces short-period, random fluctuations to the resampling frequency, thus making the process even more sonically interesting by producing a type of harmonic distortion you’ve likely never heard in this context.
- Two quantization methods – Two available quantization methods; the mid-raiser and mid-tread decimation algorithms, each of them characterized by a drastically different dynamics response.
- Controllable dithering – Dithering was conceptually developed as a means to reduce audible quantization errors by masking the harmonic distortions they cause. We added controllable dithering to increase the number of ways in which you can (mal)treat the sound.
All this adds up to a very powerful and musical tool which is not only another creativity-releasing item for your arsenal but one that gives you the ability to emulate classic sampling units in-the-box; now with even greater precision through access to a variety of parameters unavailable up till now in effects of this type!
Two in one
Decimort is also equipped with analogue-like filters with adjustable resonance that allow further sculpting of the signal. These can be used to smooth the sound or remove sonic artefacts introduced into the signal path by the modelling process to your taste.
- Ultra accurate resampling algorithm (ADC emulation, no harmonics above 22kHz)
- Approximative (pre) filter and Image (post) filter, both conjugated with resampler
- Adjustable jitter
- Quantization with controlled dithering
- Two quantization methods (mid-raiser, mid-tread)
- Analog-like filters with adjustable resonance and cutoff
- Tag-based preset browser
- Two alternative GUI sizes
- MIDI-learn functionality throughout
- 64bit internal processing
- No unwanted harmonic distortions at the output
Super VHS by Baby Audio
LoFi Vibes from a Strange Decade
As kids of the 80s, the Baby Audio team have always been drawn to the sound of slightly out-of-tune synths, warm tape saturation, gritty samples and grainy reverbs.
So they set out on a mission to capture the lofi spirit of our favorite decade — and bring it into a new decade. Meet a complex algorithm with eight simple knobs. They named it ‘Super’ for its powers and ‘VHS’ for its sound.
A chain of six meticulously crafted ‘one-knob’ effects:
- 1. STATIC — Static noise synthesizer
- 2. HEAT — ‘Analog tape’ saturator
- 3. SHAPE — Sample rate reducer
- 4. MAGIC — Dark chorus FX
- 5. DRIFT — Pitch fluctuation LFO
- 6. WASH — ‘Bad hall’ reverb
- + Internal/hidden EQ, bit-crusher and limiter.
Rewind to the VHS Era
Baby Audio wanted this plugin to be like sending your sounds back in time, then re-discovering them on a worn-out VHS tape 30 years later. All with the click of a single button, right inside your DAW.
The result is six unique effects coming together in a versatile signal chain. Super VHS will add some lofi authenticity to whatever clean sound you run through it — from a subtle touch of character to extreme sonic twists that leave your head spinning. Each effect has just a single control, but multiple parameters under the hood, allowing you to find endless combinations to transform your synths, samples, guitars, drums, vocals and beyond.
- STATIC: A synthesized hum, generated by a pink noise oscillator mixed with a digital saw wave.
- HEAT: A warm sounding saturation algorithm inspired by ‘consumer-grade’ tape machines from the early 1980s.
- SHAPE: A sample rate reducer (with some extras) inspired by 1980s 8-bit samplers.
- MAGIC: A lush “Juno style” chorus — but modeled with a slightly darker and more detuned tone.
- DRIFT: An internal LFO creating unpredictable pitch and time fluctuations, ranging from ‘natural’ to ‘supernatural’.
- WASH: A grainy, unnatural sounding, hall reverb, inspired by digital rack effects from the VHS-era.
- MIX: Controls the over-all wet/dry balance.
- OUTPUT: Controls the global output.
- HIDDEN PROCESSING: High shelf EQ attenuation, bit-crusher, limiter.
Wait, where are the Presets?
Like the ‘I Heart NY’ parallel compressor, Super VHS isn’t designed for preset browsing. Instead, you have all the controls you need at your fingertips — allowing you to create the right sound for any purpose in a simple and intuitive way (faster and more rewarding than by clicking through presets). The effect algorithms respond very differently to different sounds and instruments — so you never quite know where you’ll end up.
And a final word of warning: Super VHS is not a ‘one-size fits all’ kind of effect. Its six algorithms can sound heavenly on some things and totally destroy others. More often than not a little goes a long way!
- Platform: Mac OS 10.7 and up.
- Plugin formats: VST, VST3, AU, AAX
- DAWs supported: Ableton Live, Cubase, Logic Pro, Nuendo, Pro Tools, FL Studio, Reaper, Reason + more.
- Compatibility: 64-bit compatible only.
- Platform: PC Windows 7 and up.
- Plugin formats: VST, VST3, AAX
- DAWs supported: Ableton Live, Cubase, Nuendo, Pro Tools, FL Studio, Reaper, Reason + more.
- Compatibility: 64-bit and 32-bit compatible.
Satin by U-HE
Satin takes you back to the golden age of magnetic tape recording, this plugin is a successful software emulation of many different tape machines, there is also the added addition of old noise-reduction systems that were often (mis)used for timbral compression effects.
Users familiar with analogue recording gear should instantly feel at home with Satin, and digital afficionados will also learn to love the magic of tape – Satin invites you to explore and find out for yourself.
Satin ships with a wide variety of presets – emulations of classic professional tape machines, cheap ‘n nasty tape machines, tape delays, tape flanging/chorus… and a whole lot more!
The two large knobs adjust input and output levels – probably the most important controls in Satin!
Precise visual signal level monitoring is ensured through a combination VU & peak meter, with switchable RMS mode and variable reference level.
2 or 4-tap delay with variable routing, cyclic modulation, feedback filtering and limiter. Easily create beautiful organic space or precisely synchronized, complex patterns.
Unlike regular LFO-controlled digital flangers, this is the real deal. True tape flanging that legendary ‘swoosh’! Doing this on a pair of real tape machines takes skill and practice – with Satin, you simply activate the Trigger.
In Studio mode, you can assign each instance of Satin to one of the eight groups. Each group will behave as a multitrack tape, ‘remote-controlled’ from any instance in that group.
A choice of encoder and decoder circuits brings back the era of noise-reduction systems that were (mis)used for all kinds of dynamic and spectral effects, including the legendary ‘A-type vocal trick’.
Satin’s speed control is continuously variable from 7.5 up to 30ips – it even re-adjusts the entire machine model as you tweak. Pre-emphasis allows for precise control over transients, tone and fidelity.
Satin lets you get seriously technical whenever you want: adjust numerous attributes of the tape, the heads and the surrounding circuitry. A handy analyzer makes alignments such as biasing easy and precise.
- Mix-and-match emulation spans all major historical developments in tape technology
- Control multiple instances from one panel – ‘glue’ multiple tracks together
- High-quality: internal sample rate up to 384kHz, continuous tape speed control
- All the ‘goodness’ of tape (saturation, transient-smoothing, HF compression etc.)
- Full control over the ‘badness’ (head-bump, wow&flutter, asperity noise, hiss etc.)
- Record / repro EQ standards (separately selectable), classic NR compander standards
- Extra FX modes: through-zero tape flanging, host-synchronizable 4-tap stereo delay
- Current PC or intel Mac
- Multicore CPU with SSE2 (Sandy Bridge architecture or newer recommended)
- Mac OSX 10.5 or newer
- Windows XP/Vista/7/8
- 1GB RAM, more recommended
- 30MB free disc space
- Display 1000x600px and up
- OSX: VST2 or AU compatible host software
- Windows: VST2 compatible host software
- Supports 32bit and 64bit in all formats
- NEW: AAX support for Pro Tools 10 & 11