Budget Sound Design Guide: Free Plugins and Alternative DAW Options for All Levels

Last Updated on May 16, 2022 by IDS Team

They biggest myth in sound design is the idea that defining your own sound costs the earth. Not able to afford the most expensive plugins? Want something other than Logic X Pro? Read on for some hidden gems – completely free plugins which are versatile enough to shake up the way you think about sound whilst still being adaptable to most genres.

Budget Sound Design Tool: Peavey Revalver 4

Peavey is one of the oldest and most established amp brands but they have used their past successes as a springboard for new and versatile products. Peavey Revalver 4 is just one example of this and how fine attention to detail pays off to create stellar sound design for absolutely free!

With instrument modelling at the input and tone matching at the output as a result of its finely configured audio cloning technology, the Peavey Revalver 4 is completely true to life and takes its name from valve amplifiers, renowned for giving a deep and rich tone bringing human warmth and sonic touch to your recordings.

Revalver 4 also allows third party plugins, pedals, and VSTs to be added, meaning it is without a doubt one of the more flexible free plugins you can find. Not only does the Revalver 4 meet the needs of audiophiles everywhere with its commitment to mimicking the natural tone of classic Peavey gear. While the amp store provides paid additions, at its basic level, tone cloning, independent mic placement, and the ability to control features by MIDI mean it still has much to offer.

Revalver 4 is available for free download at the following link and works for both Windows and OSX.

https://revalver.peavey.com

Budget Sound Design Tool: Chameleon by Guitar ML

It’s only occasionally you find such a hidden gem in the world of sound design. Whilst most plugin designers seek a competitive edge within the market, honing their skills so they can become the best at what they do, occasionally a designer breaks outside the mould to create something which really has a unique selling point. For a free plug in – and for what it does – Chameleon by Guitar ML is absolutely one of these.

Over the course of a song, the sound created by a guitar is in a state of constant motion, and this is responsible for much of the dynamism of both live music and analogue recordings. Chameleon by Guitar ML has gone one step further than most plugin designers, using artificial intelligence and machine learning to create a plugin which models three real world samples to create a virtual amp head. This is therefore the ideal plugin for those looking to develop an ear for sonic nuance, with less but richer and deeper options and extreme amounts of control.

Chameleon is available forWindows 7 and up, Mac 10.11 and up, as well as Linux. More information can be found on their website.

https://guitarml.com

Budget Sound Design Tool: Valhalla Supermassive

Valhalla Supermassive is all about reverb, reverb, and more reverb. Named after interstellar phenomena, it’s different settings all conjure up ethereal, spacey sounds which bring a dramatic edge to your sound design.

Is it worth it? Absolutely. For free, there is no reason not to give this plugin a try. Valhalla Supermassive has a clean interface and easy to use controls – perfect for anyone who wants to shake things up without learning too many new skills. Easy to master, it can be used both in moderation to add something subtle or to go all out and drown your guitar in dreamlike, deep space sounds ready to redefine anything from shoegaze to doom metal.

One of the biggest pros of this plugin is the neutrality of the sounds in the first place – they are bold and adaptable to any genre – a stellar plugin at zero cost and with plenty of features to explore.

It’s latest version (1.5.0) is available for both Mac and Windows computers with Intel and Arm features also available for Apple M1. This update sees VST fixes for Studio One and FL Studio as well.

Logic Pro X’s Amp/Pedalboard designer

It is extremely easy to overlook the options which are right there at our fingertips. Most of us graduate from Garageband to Logic X Pro or an alternative DAW very, very early on in our musical careers, often skipping it entirely.

However, for anyone with a Mac, Garageband is a worthwhile feature to investigate because of its availability alone – plus the achievement of working creatively with some of the most default plugins. Logic’s Amp/Pedalboard designer may not have the reviews, renown, finesse, or attention of the rest of what is out there, it’s important not to overlook what it has to offer. The humble pedalboard designer contains amps styled after those by Mesa, Orange, Vox, Marshall, and Fender, plus rare boutique cabinets, seven microphone options, and the ability to reposition the mic at will. Though not as specialist as some other plugins on the market, these generalist options mean it’s literally up to you how you use them – pushing your creativity to new heights.  

Naturally, Pedalboard Designer has been developed for IOS, and comes with Logic, though can be accessed freely on Garageband if you wish to test it before downloading Logic itself.

Reaper: An Alternative, Budget DAW as Worthwhile as Logic

With three hidden-gem, free plugins, and an unconventional option on the list, what about your DAW itself in terms of budget gear? Whilst most producers and sound designers choose to work on macs and use Logic or other popular DAWs such as Ableton, Reaper is an overlooked budget DAW which has a 60 day free trial period and after that costs only $60 for a discounted licence. Whilst commercial licences cost more – at $225 – Reaper is very easy to begin with at a low cost and offers plenty of freedom for deciding whether it is for you or not.

At a cheaper price, Reaper has a pretty mind-boggling range of VSTs and plugins. It’s simplicity and the fact it doesn’t cost the earth makes it great for sound designers on a budget who are happy stretching themselves to adapt to a new piece of software.

https://www.reaper.fm/download.php

Reaper is adaptable, supporting Linux with Intel and Arm, MacOs 10.5-12, and Windows from Windows XP to Windows 11 as well as working with WINE.

These are just some of the budget friendly options on the market, however, with them it is entirely possible to create a sound design setup for a very small amount – one which, when you get to know it, is as useful as any at a higher price or with seemingly more sophisticated gear.

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