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best channel strip plugins

Best channel strip plugins

The term “channel strip” goes way back to the days of analog recording. As recording technology evolved and large-format consoles became de facto, so did the concept of the channel strip. In the most basic form they consist of a preamp and equalizer. More sophisticated models include additional processing like compression, gates, and expanders.

EMI out of Britain were pioneers in the early days. They created consoles that run on vaccuum tubes like the REDD, and solid-state models like their TG 12345 (yes, that’s it’s actual model name!). Other manufacturers like Neve, API, Midas, and SSL continue to push the concept forward. 

They’re now available in plugin format, and they make your recording workflow easier. With multiple types of processing in a single plugin instance you can free up computer resources for large sessions and dial things in more quickly.

Best all-in-one channel strip plugin: Waves Scheps Omni Channel

Waves Scheps Omni Channel
Best all-in-one channel strip plugin
Waves Scheps Omni Channel
Who better to design a channel strip plugin than one of the most legendary mix engineers on the planet. This versatile plugin is totally customizable and a great addition to your mixing workflow.
Pros
You can create your own custom channel strip signal chain
Multiple types of preamps, EQs, compressors
Works on mono, dual mono, stereo, and M/S sources
Cons
None
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There are certainly contenders, but Waves makes some of the best channel strip plugins around. And the Omni Channel is exactly what it sounds like.

You get preamps, filters, 4-band EQ, de-esser, three types of compressors and a gate/expander. They can be chained together anyway you’d like, giving you more sonic options. It’s just as good on single channels as stereo and mid/side processing.

Best API channel strip plugin: Universal Audio API Vision

Universal Audio API Vision
Best API channel strip plugin
Universal Audio API Vision
API’s legendary sound is available through Universal Audio’s peerless engineering. You get multiple preamps, EQs all modeled with API’s proprietary transformer.
Pros
Multiple types of API sounds
Models API’s proprietary transformer
Cons
Only works with UA hardware

Neve and SSL might be British, but the other member of the “big three” of channel strips was all-American. Neve equipment is known for adding color and character to tracks, and API gear has a reputation for a really clean, open sounds. 

The plugin includes the 212L preamp that includes UA’s Unison preamp tech and models of API’s proprietary transformers. For EQ it includes the 560L graphic unit and the 550L parametric.

The downside here is that it only works with their interfaces. It comes with presets from some of the best mix engineers in the world, and looking at how accurate the GUI is you might think you’re working on an actual API desk.

Best Neve channel strip plugin: Waves Audio Scheps 73

Waves Audio Scheps 73
Best Neve channel strip plugin
Waves Audio Scheps 73
Another channel strip designed in partnership with Andrew Scheps, this accurately models the Neve 1073 preamp and EQ sections of the console.
Pros
Preamp and EQ sections of 1073 console
Works in mono, dual mono, stereo
Four monitoring options
Cons
Neve sound might not be best for all situations
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This plugin combines two of the best things in professional audio. With it you get closely modeled sounds of the infamous Neve 1073 with design input from Andrew Scheps, one of the most respected mix engineers in the industry.

It includes the preamp and EQ sections from the console, so the warm sounds Neve is known for can now be on every track in your mix. You can use it in mono, stereo, or dual mono with four options for monitoring.

You can EQ the middle and sides separately through the Mid-Side Matrix. Each band is accurately modeled after the originals. Waves also made sure to include a digital recreation of the famed Marinair transformer, the component touted to be the reason the 1073 sounds so good. 

It might not offer as many options as other channel strip plugins, but the accuracy of the sound it’s modeled after is what matters.

Best SSL channel strip plugin: Brainworx bx_console SSL series

brainworx ssl console plugin
Best SSL channel strip plugin
Brainworx bx_console SSL series
Put multiple SSL consoles into your plugin library. Different EQ modes and saturation add value and metering is easy to read.
Pros
Different SSL models
Multiple EQ modes
A lot of presets to get you started
Cons
Some might prefer a channel strip with a warmer sound

SSL amazed everyone when they heard how they sound and function, and they’re still some of the most famous consoles and channel strips to this day. There are a few models in this series that model the 4000 E, 4000G, and 9000J. 

Each model has their own sonic character. The 4000 E imparts the large-format console sound everybody loves, while the 4000 G adds punchiness in the midrange that sounds great on things like guitars, vocals, and drums.

They include features like different channel emulations, EQ modes that you can tailor to your specific tracks, analog-style saturation, and a great amount of presets to get you working with it right away. Metering is clear and easy to read and the interface looks pretty much identical to the hardware. 

Most versatile channel strip plugin: PSP Audioware Infinistrip

psp audioware infinistrip
Most versatile channel strip plugin
PSP Audioware Infinistrip
This versatile plugin provides a lot of different types of processors that can be chained up to 7 in a row.
Pros
Versatile set of processing options
Up to 7 processors can be used at once
Affordable
Cons
Only comes in VST and AU formats, no AAX

Versatility is one of the best features of plugins. Not only can they emulate sounds of the most classic gear of all time, they allow you to do things with them that would be impossible in the analog world. And it doesn’t get much more versatile than the Infinistrip.

You can chain up to seven processors together across dual inserts. These include preamps, filtering, EQ, and dynamics controllers with multiple tonal options like compressors, gates, expanders, and limiters.

It comes in VST and AU formats for Windows and Mac systems. If you’re a fan of how plugins like the Slate Digital Virtual Mix Rack work and the options they provide, PSP knocked it out of the park on this one.

Conclusion

There are so many great channel strip plugins available, and these are just a few of our favorites. Consider using one if you don’t already. They sound great and speed up workflow, letting you access classic analog hardware sounds in your productions.

FAQ

What are channel strip plugins for?

There are a lot of uses for them. You can use them if you want to consolidate how many plugin instances you’re using, or if your front end hardware is lacking and you need to spice your tracks up a little bit.

Most of them also let you choose which sections of the “circuit” are engaged. So if you like the sound of the preamp but want to use a different EQ you can do it.

When should I use a channel strip plugin?

By nature of what they do, you’ll usually want to use it as the first plugin in the chain. Think about it. In the analog world you record through a mic or DI. The signal goes into the channel strip – first the preamp, then EQ, and onto dynamics shaping like compression.

But the beauty of digital audio is how it rewrote the “rules”. Experiment with different placement and have fun with it!

What is the most versatile channel strip?

A lot of channel strip plugins offer versatile sound options. Our favorites are the Waves Audio Omnichannel and the PSP Infinistrip. They both let you chain things together any way you want and have a great amount of processing options.

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