As the final stage of music production and engineering, mastering is your last opportunity to draw out the magic in the music. Specifically, mastering is the process of elevating your mix to a balanced, impactful level that’s optimized for playback across a variety of systems and audio formats.
Throughout the mastering process, you’re primarily using tools like equalizers, compressors, limiters, and stereo enhancement tools to take that mix to radio-ready quality. While not everyone can afford the hefty investment of a hardware mastering chain, there are several mastering plugins that can make your tracks shine in their best light.
Below, we’ll delve into some of the best mastering plugins available you might consider adding to your signature chain.
7 Top Mastering Plugins
From full mastering suites to standout limiters, here are some of our favorite mastering plugins:
This new and improved mastering suite release by Brainworx was well worth the wait. The PRO suite gives you enhanced control over shaping your sound, with robust dynamic control, several stereo shaping modes, and a three-band EQ, giving you more control over your tone.
The updated suite presents an exciting “clipper” preset that can be toggled on the compressor for a modern, big sound. You can also select the glue compressor preset for more of that analogue feel. The added “XL” section boasts saturators and harmonic enhancers built to bring more color to your master.
As in prior versions, this mastering suite has a predefined workflow, starting with setting your input level, adjusting with equalizers, and then adjusting the tone to taste. You can get as nuanced as you’d like with 10 TMT analog channel variations to choose from and additional tools like de-essers and resonance filters, but this master suite is built for easy processing that sounds great after some choice knob tweaks.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one mastering suite that has all of the bells and whistles you need to tackle several genres of music, iZotope’s Ozone 11 can be hard to beat. This is one of the first plugin suites to incorporate AI-powered mastering, allowing you to kick off the process by importing a reference track directly into the plugin suite.
The AI assistant will analyze your references, and provide you with foundational recommendations based on the current state of your master. Notably, iZotope has gone through the trouble of outlining the key processes of mastering with this suite, so it’s easy to make use of the master rebalance, clarity, low-end focus, transient, dynamics, and EQ modules. You’ll find other essential mastering plugins like an exciter, maximizer, and more within this industry-standard suite.
The T-RackS series by IK Multimedia has been around for a while, and is known for its keen ability to provide excellent hardware emulating-software. This full mastering suite includes an impressive 53 processors with favorites like the VC-670 and the Stealth Limiter to help you master just about anything.
Within this suite you’ll find robust dynamic EQs, compressors, meters, as well as effects like reverb, delay, and echo that can be used throughout multiple stages of the recording process. Notably, this suite includes a mastering soft clipper, providing you with all the tools you need to jump in on the clipping mastering trend – subtly and artfully pushing the limits of your master at certain moments to create a standout listening experience.
Named after the iconic Abbey Road Studios, this mastering chain is built to give you that classic warm ’70s sound, coupled with the convenience and polish of modernized mastering tools. This mastering chain has everything you need, including all five modules of the original TG12410 mastering desk, which can be bypassed and reordered to your liking.
Switch between the original mode designed to emulate the grit and warmth of the classic console or the pristine modern mode for a cleaner sound.
IK Multimedia also offers a mastering suite that’s compatible with most operating systems, including iPhone and iPad users, for mastering on the go. Choose between 40 mastering styles that vary based on genre as a starting point, or set your own levels from the get-go.
Use the input drive to set your levels, a 5-band EQ to tweak your sound, and the “PUSH” knob to let in some of those magic dynamics that give your song the special sauce. Toggle between waveform and VU meters for a clear view of your processing.
Newfangled Audio’s Elevate offers “AI-assisted” mastering at a fairly affordable price. Elevate engages with dynamic processing, with built-in algorithms focused on creating a consistent performance throughout, without squashing the highlights across a track’s dynamic range.
Upon setting Elevate on your chain, the plugin will automatically set each band to an ideal starting point for gain levels, speed, and transient emphasis to kick off your mastering process. You can go back into the filter bank to shape further, and the separate EQ module makes it easy to achieve peak precision. Elevate is lauded for its numerous separation across 26 filter bands, resulting in a natural yet polished master track.
If you’re not ready to invest in a fully-fledged mastering suite, the affordable and effective Waves L1 limiter is great for packing in that final punch after running through your choice chain of equalization and compression. This limiter is transparent and punchy, making it great for any sounds that don’t naturally call for that vintage warmth that might come with analog-emulating limiters.
L1 provides true peak limiting with look-ahead features, allowing you to accurately monitor your master. This classic tool is pretty versatile with its fairly clean output, making it a great resource during the mixing process as well.
Creating Your Signature Suite
Like any other stage of the engineering process, the plugins you use will in some ways come down to personal preferences and your ideal sound output based on your genre of music. Be sure to mix and match these powerful mastering tools to find what works best for you and your unique workflow.
About the Writer
Kate Brunotts is an audio engineer and music producer from New York City. When she’s not writing about music, producing music, or singing and songwriting, Kate helps others realize their unique sound, whether through a fresh mix, new instrumental approach, or total rework of a particular sound.