BPB Saturator is a free plugin that offers a great introduction into saturation - whether used on an individual instrument, bus, or full master, the harmonics it generates are complex. BPB Saturator allows you to introduce both Tape and Tube distortion as well as to attenuate the low and high-frequency range.
The Tube function introduces odd harmonics at first, but then also introduces a strong 2nd order harmonic and some high-frequency ones as well. Tape seems to stick with just odd harmonics starting with a 3rd order one.
One thing about this plugin that isn’t my favorite is that it doesn’t offer automatic gain compensation, but at least you can control the input and output.
If you’re looking for fantastic cassette emulation, Cassette by Waves Factory is a comprehensive emulator and saturator that gives you an immense amount of control over your signal. Whereas other cassette saturators keep to only a few functions, this one is definitely different and better thought out.
You can switch between 3 tape deck types, for high, mid, and low fidelity. This is paired with the 4 different tape types, each with different frequency responses, levels of distortion, and points of saturation.
The features on the bottom don’t greatly affect saturation, but if we click the settings icon we see we have a lot to work with. If you’re using this plugin for saturation, be sure the compression and saturation tabs are enabled.
Trash 2 is a unique saturator plugin with a wide range of distortion and compression types, as well as additional functions to emulate various processors. Additionally, Trash 2 gives you immense control by giving your multiple distortion types and letting you control the shape and drive of the distortion.
With it, you can create up to 4 bands, each of which can include 2 distortion filters. Within the shape section, you can alter the distortions behavior, and double click to create very unique distortion types.
You can then equalize the full signal, and if you want, add convolution reverb and delay. Additionally, the compression section lets you add some soft-knee compression - indicative of saturation.
Satin is one of my favorite saturation plugins since it offers truly convincing tape machine emulation and a wide array of functions that let you dial in the sound that you want. The majority of the saturation it creates comes from manipulating the input and the points of saturation.
For example, vintage will cause saturation sooner than modern. Additionally, less saturation occurs at higher tape speeds than slower. Functions like headroom and bias will also affect compression rate and the linearity or nonlinearity of that compression.
A great way to start with this plugin is to look at the over 100 presets, that sound great in their own right, but also give you a guide into how the functions all affect one another.
Presswerk separates saturation and compression to give you greater control over both forms of processing. With it, you can accomplish non-linear forms of compression, overdrive, soft-clipping, and saturation, as well as utilize the easier-to-use versions housed within the plugin via the top middle panel.
The compressor gives you 3 different types of compression, feedforward, feedback, and a combination of the 2, which offers very district and unique tonalities. Furthermore, some expansion is available on the right side of the plugin.
By combining these multiple effects you can accomplish expertly crafted saturation.
The PSP Vintage Warmer is somewhat of a classic - its sound is distinctly warm and full while still retaining detail and clarity. The functionality includes saturation, limiting, compression, and simple equalization - making it easy to perfectly craft the sound of your instrument, instrument bus, mix, or master.
The main function here is the drive, with which you create the majority of the plugin’s character. Altering the ceiling will determine when compression begins and can be made a limiter with the brick wall setting.
At the bottom, try out the fat function which will add additional low-order harmonic distortion, resulting in an impressively full sound. If you’re using it on a full mix, try the multi-band setting.
Saturn 2 is considered one of the best saturator and distortion plugins currently available - since it offers complex and high-quality saturation suitable for multiple types of emulation. This plugin is a go-to for many mixing and mastering engineers, due to the wide range of sounds it can accomplish.
If we use a preset, we can get a quick idea of how the plugin operates . Using the Tube preset, we can see that the plugin doesn’t just introduce distortion and compression, but also program-dependent modulation, stereo image, pre-emphasis with the tone controls.
Try using multiple bands and combine distortion types, and use oversampling and linear phase for a cleaner more intentional sound.