Today’s computational processing power, sample rates, bit depth, and access to almost unlimited cheap data storage has enabled the novice, semi-professional, and professional music producer and recording engineer the tools needed to create exceptional recordings without having to rely on a large, commercial studio.
The amount of active developers making audio plugins and virtual instruments has surged tremendously in the last decade—pushing the innovations in digital music-making and meeting the demands of novice and professional producer alike.
Managing the buying, selling, and inventory expansion of the digital business at Reverb has put me in contact with an exorbitant amount of music software manufacturers, from one-person operations to large software companies with hundreds of employees.
The vast variety of products, processors, instruments, samplers, drum machines, emulators, modelers, and every possible kind of sound design tool imaginable can be overwhelming. I want to distill down a list of some of the highlights for me, from incredibly useful utilities to inspiring conceptual designs and exceptional signal processing.
Below, you’ll find a list of 10 great developers making top notch products that, I believe, are drastically underrated in this crowded marketplace—check out this congregation of boutique brands you should know.
Hailing from Ireland, by way of Italy, AudioThing offers a wide range of audio plugins, from vintage valve emulation to complex convolution processing effects.
Founded by composer, sound designer, and developer Carlo Castellano, AudioThing continues to carve out a unique niche in creative effects processing and virtual instruments, including vintage valve emulation, virtual analog drum machines, and, in my opinion, the best RE-201 Tape Echo emulator on the market—the AudioThing Outer Space plugin.
I use Outer Space all the time and I look forward to using the Dolby-modeling Type A Vintage Enhancer on more projects in the coming months.
Browse AudioThing on Reverb
Based out of Los Angeles via India, BeatSkillz was founded by award-winning composer and music producer Gaurav Dayal. This creative effects processing maker keeps it simple with reliable, intuitive, and easy-to-navigate tools focusing on compression, EQ, sonic maximization, tape saturation, and dynamic multi-effects processing.
In addition, BeatSkillz also offers a couple of quality drum libraries preloaded into a “Drum Instrument” plugin for easy playback and sequencing. To round out their virtual instrument category, Gaurav and company have released a few thematic synth romplers. Their current offerings in this format explore the Synthwave sounds of the ‘80s with RetroKZ, as well as a Sci-Fi, Vengalis-Noir aesthetic with the Dark Kz.
Browse BeatSkillz on Reverb
Hailing from Indonesia and bringing a focus on guitar pedal effects, EQ processing, and amp modeling, Kuassa derives its name from the Indonesian word “kuasa,” which can be taken to mean power, might, master, or authority.
They have a small offering of products, but what they do, they do really well. Their catalog features Neve and Pultec EQs, a classic maximizer, and a selection of guitar and bass amp modelers—but the real standouts can be found in its Efektor pedal series.
Covering all the standard effects—like Overdrive, Fuzz, Tremolo, Flanger, and more—Kuassa offers high-quality, simple, and effective signal processing for the best prices in its class. Some of their amp models are less than a third of the price of more well-known brands.
Browse Kuassa on Reverb
Audioutlaw, the newest company on this list, is based in Chicago and develops plugins for Max For Live, Ableton’s platform for making instruments and effects.
Audioutlaw’s initial offering of products spans a diverse collection of tools, including a drum machine pattern generator, noise and effects modeling, and a MIDI analysis tool, which allows the user to translate MIDI data live into a prefered visualization of choice—be it guitar tab, music score staff, piano roll, Ableton Push grid layouts, or others.
Even though Audioutlaw just entered the software market, they are off to a strong start with great product innovation, design, development, and pricing. I am very excited to see what’s in store for their future releases.
Browse Audioutlaw on Reverb
Founded in Germany by two former Brainworx employees, Black Rooster Audio produces precise models of two iconic VCA compressors, two leveling amps, a Pultec EQ, and a tape saturation plugin that is the go-to for me.
Reimund “Ray” Dratwa and André Kirchner run a tight ship by keeping the product offerings limited to the exact models they want to concentrate on perfecting, instead of just producing a large catalog of mediocre DSP processors.
I use the Magnetite tape saturator often and prefer it to the Waves J37 for its ability to capture mids and highs with a character I prefer.
Browse Black Rooster Audio on Reverb
Founded in 2012—and based out of Massachusetts and in Patras, Greece—accusonus makes award-winning plugins that solve problems, like removing mic bleed on drum tracks, de-verbing a recording with too much reverb, reducing noise, and more. These distinct utilities sit alongside accusonus’s flagship plugin—the innovative, groove-sampling, rhythmic-shifting tool Re-Groover.
Re-Groover has options to separate each layer of a drum track, sample, loop, or other element and place them in a linear-style sequencer for rearrangement, truncation, and audio manipulation.
The ability to change anything I want about the rhythm section—by testing it out in the plugin first, before I commit to destructive audio arrangement—is an extremely efficient workflow improvement.
Browse accusonus on Reverb
Relinquishing skeuomorphic design altogether (that is, the practice of matching software interfaces to real-world counterparts), legendary Ukrainian sound designer Artemiy Pavlov creates compact, non-serialised, OSX-only plugins that excel in otherworldly sound generation. They feature bit crushing distortions, warped reverbs, randomizers, and other extraterrestrial effects that are more influenced by the culture of circuit bending than academic processing.
I always seem to come to these plugins when I am getting some writer’s block and I need ideas that are way outside of me. I will just run some audio through Robotizer or Array and something always comes out of it that I use. I also apply them in place of traditional reverbs and delays to add an extra layer of confusion to any signal.
Browse Sinevibes on Reverb
A Norwegian engineering consulting firm founded in 1987, Acon began to primarily focusing on digital signal processing in 2012 and now offer unique tools that assist in audio repair, removing reverb from recordings, fixing phasing issues through equalization, and more.
Acon continues to take an unorthodox approach with releasing software products such as its free Multiply Chorus, its huge but realistic-sounding Verberate Surround, or its DeVerberate Reverb Reduction plugin, which can take reverb away from pre-recorded sources.
Included in their ever-expanding offering of easy-to-use complex processors, Acon created the Reverb exclusive SOLO Reverbplugin, which features a one-knob approach to creating space around any sound in your mix.
Browse Acon Digital on Reverb
With an unorthodox set of effects and utility plugins, Stagecraft Software has forged its own path in the music software industry. The company was launched six years ago by electrical engineer Aaron Leese with a turntablism plugin.
Stagecraft seeks to create products that no one else has made in the plugin market, such as LaunchCraft, which allows users of the Novation Launchpad to have access to more scales and modes and other expansive capabilities, and Vinyl Lab, a DJ software platform packed with extra options.
Earlier this year, Stagecraft sat down with Reverb to talk about the launch of the first free Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression-enabled soft synth, the Infinity Synth, exclusively with Reverb.
Browse Stagecraft Software on Reverb
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the high-quality audio and diverse synthesizer sample libraries of the Reverb Synth Collection. This collection is produced by Rik Marston of Ahnyxian Sound Design, exclusively for Reverb.
The nine volume series features complete, multi-sampled patches of iconic synths from Roland, Moog, Sequential Circuits, Oberheim, Dave Smith Instruments, Nord, ARP, and Access. You can get iconic synth sounds in any sampler, at a fraction of the price of other libraries.
Browse Reverb SYNC Synth Collection Series on Reverb