A big part of what gave 80's music its classic "sound", was the physical hardware gear that was used to record and mix the songs. 

Since synthwave attempts to recapture that same "sound", you'll want to use plug-ins that will have the same (or similar) impact as the physical equipment that was used in the 80s. 

So I've assembled a list of what I believe are the best plug-ins to help you create that sound. 

Oh, and be sure to read all the way to the end because I have a free gift for you that you won't want to miss!

By the way, this list doesn't include previous synthwave FX plug-ins that I covered in an earlier article entitled:

17 Best Free Plug-ins For Making Synthwave Music. 

You can check that out by clicking below.

Best Synthwave Equalizers:

Color is the name of the game when it comes to finding the right EQs for making synthwave.

This means EQs that not only boost and cut, but EQs that also add some subtle saturation and character to your tracks.

By the way, if you're wanting a complete step-by-step guide to making synthwave music, then check out my article here.

IK Multimedia EQ 81

The T-RackS EQ 81 delivers that legendary British warmth and tone with a few twists.

The EQ 81 is based on another classic piece of hardware whose character was instrumental in shaping the sound of many hit songs, the EQ 81 can be considered the evolution of its older brother, the EQ 73.

However, there are a few twists that make the EQ 81 capable of delivering a voice of its own.

The key here is in the versatility of the EQ section, sporting four independent bands (high / low shelving, plus two midrange peaking filters) rounded out by high and low pass filters this module is particularly useful when a more precise intervention on a track is needed, still maintaining tone and organic, analog warmth in the signal path.

IK Multimedia British Channel

Classic British sound and versatility

The British Channel was modeled after one of the most widely used and acknowledged pieces of hardware in the music history--the SSL channel strip.

Countless hit records around the world have been produced on this large format British mixing console since the 80's making it a true staple of the music production technology for its ultimate flexibility and trademark sound.

Many of these consoles are still in active use today in the control rooms of countless studios around the world.

It's proven sound dating back to the 80s makes this a great and versatile plug-in for mixing Synthwave music, as it comes not just with an EQ, but also a Compressor and Gate/Expander.

I especially love using this on my buses and drums. 

Waves Vintage EQ

Combining the best characteristics from two of the world’s most desirable console modules, the Neve 1066 and 1073, this 3-Band EQ, with its classic cutoff points and adjustable High Pass Filter, is ideal for mixing and mastering. 

With the V-EQ3, it’s never been easier to achieve the rich classic sound of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

This is also a favorite plug-in of the synthwave band, "The Midnight".

Best Synthwave Compressors:

Now let's move on to compressors.

The hardware compressors that were used in the 70s and 80s didn't just compress sounds, but they also introduced  pleasant "coloration", or subtle saturation, to sounds.

Here is a list of compressor plug-ins that can help you do the same things, and help you get that synthwave sound.

By the way, did you know that there are 6 different types of compressors, and each have different pros and cons. 

If you want to know which compressor type you should choose depending on your situation, then check out my article here.

IK Multimedia Dyna-Mu

Heavenly analog compression.
Silky, musical tone.

The Dyna-Mu is an amazing emulation of a well-known American tube compressor celebrated for its warm sound and vivid colored tone, which thanks to IK Multimedia’s virtual circuit modeling, is perfectly recreated and indistinguishable from the hardware.

The Dyna-Mu is an emulation of the Manley SLAM!, a tube mic preamp and Limiter.

At the studio I studied music production and audio engineering at, we used the Manley on every single vocal recording to create a warm and beautifully glossy sound. 

This modern-classic compressor has the characteristic of gluing a mix together with incredible quality, along with how it shines on individual tracks and is perfect as part of a professional mastering chain.

Additionally, the saturation it produces when pushed to its limits can be used to add unique color to your mixes as well as individual tracks.

In short, Dyna-Mu can help you...

Glue your mixes together with all-tube character.

IK Multimedia Bus Compressor

Add that "Glue" Effect To Your Mixes

The Bus Compressor is based on the mix bus VCA type compressor of a worldwide known and acknowledged British large format mixing console from the 80's: the SSL console. 

It was used on practically every hit record and major production from the 80's to present days, so much that its sound has almost become a trademark.

This compressor was so widely used that it later became a stand-alone rackmount unit, so that it could be used separately from the large format console.

This made for even more success; a thing that led to many hardware and software clones trying to emulate it.

Waves Vintage Compressor

Using time constants and a fixed nominal output gain, the V-Comp recreates the rich lush buss sound of the vintage Neve 2254 hardware compressor.

This super-responsive dynamics processor packs a recognizable musical punch heard on countless hit records.

Its controlled, gentle compression can really glue a mix together.

Waves DBX 160

Considered one of the best drum compressors ever, the original dbx® 160 stands tall among its peers, boasting a very clean sound with minimum THD (total harmonic distortion).

The fast-acting dbx® 160 compressor was used in almost every major recording in the late ‘70s and throughout the ‘80s, and later models in the 160 series also became industry standards.

Created in collaboration with dbx®, the Waves dbx® 160 compressor / limiter plug-in is an authentic-sounding software version of this storied piece of hardware. 

In addition to its meticulous modeling of the vintage compressor, the Waves dbx® 160 plug-in incorporates unique and exclusive features not found in the original hardware, such as Waves’ MS Matrix, mix and noise controls, and a stereo component. The result is a great compressor / limiter for use in the studio, live, or both.

You can use this on just about any track.

IK Multimedia Black 76

Timeless, classic compression

The Black 76 Limiting Amplifier is modeled after what is probably the most used, most known and most universally recognized compressor/limiter in the audio industry: The Urei 1176 

There are probably no professionally recorded tracks where this unit wasn't used. It's a true legend and a piece of music production history.

IK Multimedia White 2A Leveling Amplifier

The "Magic Touch"

The White 2A Leveling Amplifier is based on a legendary vintage unit that is entirely tube-based: The Teletronix LA-2A. 

It's a totally different device in terms of construction where all the compression magic happens inside an optically coupled element formed by a fluorescent panel and some photocells: the famed T4A element.

(Click here to learn more about Optical Compressors.

There is no electronic circuitry involved with the compression itself. It's just a tube amp with photo-resistors, lighted by a fluorescent panel driven by the output signal.

On par with the other great classic compressor, the 1176, the White 2A is so simple to use, yet very effective: just set the peak reduction knob to achieve the desired limiting effect, and adjust the gain knob to set the output level.

The result is a gentle, warm and fat compression is just magic at evening out dynamic tracks where a smooth and consistent compression is needed.

IK Multimedia Vintage Tube Compressor/Limiter 670

The "divine ratio" compressor limiter

This plug-in is based on the "Holy Grail" of compressor/limiters, the Fairchild™ 670.

With a faithful reproduction of each control, this is an incredibly accurate model that captures every nuance of one of the best Fairchild units available, one considered a true "golden reference".

This Vari-MU type compressor/limiter delivers an incredible magic touch that makes everything that passes through it shine and sound more musical and emotional, thanks to its tube signal path and gain reduction mode.

By the way, if you're not sure what all the different types of compressors do, and what compressors are better for some situations than others...

Then check out my article here breaking down all the different compressor types, and how to use them.

IK Multimedia Precision Compressor/Limiter

A legend turned plug-in

The Precision Comp Limiter is based on one of the legendary British compressors found in top-level studios worldwide.

Originally produced in the ‘70's as an evolution of the previous 2254 model, it quickly became a much sought after unit for many audio applications, including music recording/mixing, mastering, post-production and broadcasting.

Its sonic character is not as aggressive as that of many other popular units of the same era. Even when the unit is pushed to extreme settings, the compression is fairly gentle and retains a musical quality that doesn't "choke" or squash program material.

Nevertheless, the compression effect is clearly distinguishable.

Best Synthwave Saturation Plug-ins:

Saturation is probably the bread and butter of synthwave production.

The compressors and EQs I've gone over will add some subtle saturation to your tracks, but these saturation plug-ins will really help you to color your sound.

Soundtoys Decapitator 

Analog Saturation Modeler

Saturation - it’s the essence of what makes analog hardware sound so musical and pleasing to the ears.

The sound of tubes, transistors, and circuitry being pushed to the limit has long been the key ingredient in great-sounding analog recordings.

Engineers use saturation to beef things up, thin them out, give them edge, add warmth, pull elements out of the mix, and create signature sounds.

You can do all of these things with Decapitator. 

(*Cannot removed the heads of tyrants though...)

RC-20 Retro Color

Your color palette for sound

When it comes to saturation and coloration and RC-20, it might be better to ask what can't it do, because it does it all.

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...

Or most retro synthwave production.

Baby Audio Super-VHS

1980s Lofi Plug-in

What gives the sounds and the synths of the 80s their classic charm is the sound of slightly out-of-tune synths, warm tape saturation, gritty samples and grainy reverbs.

All of these elements are captured in Super VHS.

You can use this plug-in to add subtle saturation, or crank it up to quickly recreate the sound of warped VHS tapes.

If you grew up watching movies on VHS, this will take you back to your childhood. 

Get 10% Off

Just put in the code "OAA" at checkout to get 10% off your purchase.

Baby Audio TAIP

AI-Powered Tape Plug-in

Tape recordings have a musical quality that digital mixes often lack. TAIP brings this quality into your DAW.

It will add some authentic analog heat to your tracks, without the need to route any audio outside the box.

Tape plugins are not a new concept. However, Baby Audio's emulation method is. Instead of using traditional DSP, they've developed TAIP around an AI algorithm designed to decipher the invisible nuances of analog circuits.

The result is a truly faithful tape emulation that’s intuitive and creative in use – with some added features to accommodate a modern workflow.

Use TAIP to bring a touch of warmth and glue to your tracks, or ‘drive it like you hate it’ as an alternative to your distortion plugins.

Get 10% Off

Just put in the code "OAA" at checkout to get 10% off your purchase.

u-he Satin

Satin takes you back to the Golden Age of magnetic tape recording.

U-he's intention was to recreate all kinds of tape machines in software, from the ground up, and they nail it with Satin.

They also added the old noise-reduction systems that were often (mis)used for timbral compression effects. Then more heads and a global feedback path, which made an uber-tape-delay and realistic 'one-shot' tape flanging possible.

Users familiar with analogue recording gear should instantly feel at home with Satin, and digital aficionados will also learn to love the magic of tape.

Satin is another favorite of synthwave artists.

Kramer Master Tape

Developed in association with Eddie Kramer, the Kramer Master Tape plug-in is modeled on a rare vintage 1/4" reel-to-reel machine.

With adjustable tape speed, bias, flux, wow & flutter, and noise parameters, the Kramer Master Tape provides comprehensive control over the contours of your sound.

And to top it off, there is a flexible slap & feedback delay, ideal for rock, dance, dub, you name it.

This can be used for recording, mixing, mastering, and more, and brings the richness and warmth of real tape saturation to your DAW.

Best Synthwave Delay Plug-ins:

Now it's time to dive into delaaaaaaay plug-ins. 

These will help you add space and vintage delay effects to your productions.

Soundtoys EchoBoy

Decades of echo devices in a single plug-in.

EchoBoy is a plug-in that combines several different echo boxes into one, making it really the ultimate echo plug-in.

This plug-in comes with 30 different echo styles, and can even warm up vocals with a high-end tape sound modeled on the Ampex ATR-102.

You can also control saturation, tape flutter, and diffusion for strikingly analog-sounding effects.

And if you haven't figured out by now, "Analog" is code for "synthwave-friendly". 

Richard Chappell, the engineer for Peter Gabriel even said that he uses EchoBoy on every track of Peter's vocal!

Baby Audio Comeback Kid

Creative Delay Plug-in

Comeback Kid is an intuitive delay plugin that lets your sounds return as a better version of themselves — loaded with character and analog flavor.

The effect lay-out is inspired by the creative workflow of hardware. There are no sub-menus or hidden features. Just an ultra-flexible delay engine — along with 14 ‘flavor knobs’ to add sonic goodness to your wet signal.

I especially love the "Ducker" control, which allows you to "duck" or turn down the delayed signal while the dry signal is playing. 

This creates a cleaner sound in much less time than if you were to set this up manually through side-chaining or automation.

Get 10% Off

Just put in the code "OAA" at checkout to get 10% off your purchase.

IK Multimedia Tape Echo

Warm echoes from the past

The Tape Echo is a faithful recreation of the highly sought after Echoplex EP3 tape delay.

The original unit made its appearance in 1969 and was immediately adopted by musicians and guitar players as the standard for delay effects.

The principle behind it is a that of a traditional analog recording machine, where incoming signal is printed by a tape head onto magnetic 1/4” tape.

A second tape head placed afterwards plays back the recorded signal creating the delay effect. Varying the distance between the two heads determines the delay time.

Best Synthwave Reverb Plug-ins:

Reverb is a vital part of synthwave music, so here are some retro reverb plug-ins you can use to put the finishing touches on your productions.

IK Multimedia CSR Plate Reverb

Classic Plate Reverb Processor

Plate reverberation first came out in the late 50's when an electromechanical transducer similar to a common speaker voice coil was coupled to a long metal foil (a plate) and a piezo pickup was wired at the other end.

Running signal through the speaker would cause the metal plate to reverberate and the resulting sound picked up by the piezo transducer would be converted into electrical signal sent back to a mixing console to be mixed with the original dry signal.

Reverb character depended on several factors like metal sheet dimension, metal type, thickness of the foil and position of pickup elements.

IK Multimedia CSR Plate reverb is a thorough reproduction of that reverb type. Dense and even it has a characteristic sound that brings back to immortal 60's records where it was abundantly used.

In short, this plug-in is as vintage as it gets when it comes to reverb.

IK Multimedia CSR Hall Reverb

Acoustic Hall Reverb Processor

Reverb it's one of the most complicated yet natural acoustical effects in nature. Hall reverberation is a particularly articulated reverb because of the nature of the space producing it.

Thousands of reflections closely spaced together forming a lush and rich reverb tail.

The CSR Hall reverb was developed to recreate the illusion of the sound source being really placed into such acoustical space.

Concert halls are designed to enhance the sound produced into them, and so does IK Multimedia's plug-in: its natural decay is unobtrusive to the direct signal, the depth and precise image of the stereo filed make the reverb very clean yet deep and enveloping.

Valhalla Vintage Verb

ValhallaVintageVerb is a postmodern reverb plugin, inspired by the classic hardware digital reverbs of the 1970s and 1980s.

This plug-in is a true workhorse as it comes 18 different reverb types.

The 1970s color of this plug-in replicates the reduced bandwidth of the earliest digital reverberators, downsampled internally to reproduce the artifacts of running at a lower sampling rate.

The modulation is dark and noisy and can produce strange and random sidebands with sustained notes.

The 1980s color is full bandwidth/sampling rate, for a brighter sound than the 1970s. The modulation is still dark and noisy but will produce different artifacts than the 1970s mode as it is running at the full sampling rate.

The result is an authentic reverb plug-in that can transport your productions back in time. 

Other Synthwave FX Plug-ins:

Here are some other cool plug-ins that can majorly enhance your synthwave productions.

Ujam Retro Finisher

Vintage Multi-Effect Plug-in (Instant Old School Flavors)

Do you ever play classic records and think “That. Sounds. GREAT! How do I get that 60s (or 70/80/90s) vibe in my track?” With Finisher RETRO, it’s easy.

Ujam has done the hard work and captured the classic reverbs, delays, flangers, tubes, tape hiss and magic for you. Just load RETRO and go!

RETRO is so much more than just one effect. Each of its modes is a web of up to 20 interconnected sound modules. It’s like having a huge pedal board AND rack of studio gear with everything set just right.

Finisher RETRO’s modes are presented in decades, from 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s. Each mode is carefully crafted by our sound designers to give you an authentic snapshot of a great sound from that decade.

This plug-in is great if you have a particular sound in mind from a past decade that you want to dial up quickly on your tracks.

iZotope VocalSynth 2

Vocals, Evolved

If you're looking to quickly add a cool vocoder, talkbox, computer voice, or more to your vocals, then this is the plug-in for you.

Color and shape vocals with five blendable creative must-haves and stompbox-style studio effects. A one-stop for past, present, and future vocal sounds

Which FX Plug-ins Are The Most Important For Synthwave?

Wow, that's a lot of plug-ins! And unless you're independently wealthy...

You probably can't afford to buy all of them.

So which ones should you go for first? Which of these FX plug-ins will move the needle the most, and make the biggest difference in your Synthwave productions?

Here's what I suggest:

Test Them Out For Yourself

All of these plug-ins should have demo versions that you can download and try out for yourself.

This way, you can see what you like the best before buying.

You can also thinking about getting those plug-ins that most offer something your current DAW and plug-in collection can't do. 

Your Synthwave FX Plug-in Shopping List

That said, if I had to give you say my top five from this list, they would be:

I think these five are the best mix because they're all flexible and can do multiple things. 

You get vintage EQ, compression, different types of saturation, pitch effects, reverb, and a whole host of multi effects.

In other words, everything you need to get that synthwave sound.

But, like I said, feel free to test and go with what works for you.

Free Synthwave Drum Samples

By the way, I mentioned that I wanted to give you a free gift as well.

I want to give you a bunch of synthwave drum samples for free!

You can download them by clicking the button below.

Free Synthwave Drum Sample Pack

Just click the button below to download them!

Thanks for reading! If you got value from this post, feel free to share, and let me know in the comments below...

What other plug-ins do you love for making synthwave music?

Share below!

Reagan Ramm


Hi! I'm Reagan, and I've been writing, recording, and mixing music since 2011, and got a degree in audio engineering in 2019 from Unity Gain Recording Institute. I also work full-time in Digital Marketing and Entrepreneurship, and am striving to help fellow musicians and producers improve their art and make a living doing the work they love.

- Reagan Ramm


Tags

fx, plugins, Synthwave


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