Free Saturation VST Plugins

Saturation is an essential music production tool. It's one of the most useful audio effects you can use to add character and warmth to your sounds. You can use saturation on anything from Snares to make them pop more, to Bass lines that need a little extra oomph.

Saturation is great in a mixing scenario, and works fantastically to bring out harmonics that make your audio richer. A great use we love it for is, Sub Bass mixing. It's amazing for getting low-end subs audible through lower end speakers like phones, laptops etc.

Whatever you do in the audio world, saturation should be a part of your music production toolkit. However, they can get pretty expensive if you go for paid options.

That's why in this article we're going to cover the best free saturation plugins available in 2022.

We've made sure to include a range of options, from free saturation plugins that are great for warming your audio and adding subtle harmonics, to plugins that will completely decimate your tracks. Whatever your saturation needs, there'll be a plugin for you on this list.

What is Saturation in Music?

Saturation is a subtle form of distortion that adds harmonics to your audio signal, and soft-knee compression. Saturation is used as a creative effect to add warmth and character to recordings.

The effect of saturation was originally found in old hardware units when hot signals were run through them, and overloaded the meter.

When this was done, the old hardware would apply a warm, analog clipping to the sound, which is now what we call Saturation. It's a very similar effect to soft-clipping, and is often used to add presence, character and warmth to tracks.

Saturation can be used for a wide variety of things. It sounds great on Snares, Claps, Kicks, Synth lines, Guitar and more.

What is The Best Free Saturation Plugin for Beginners?

There's a huge range of free saturation plugins to choose from, so which are the best for beginners? The real answer is that any of them will cater to a beginner, it just depends on what suits you best.

Some are easier to use than others. Softube Saturation Knob, for instance, only has one control, whereas Camel Crusher has a lot more options for customisation. This can confuse beginners depending on their skill level.

Here are the best saturation plugin picks for beginners:

  1. Softube Saturation Knob
  2. Tape Cassette 2
  3. Camel Crusher

Are Free Saturation Plugins Actually Good, or Should I Buy One?

Free saturation plugins are great. Paid saturation plugins will offer a better sound quality, & more features, but you can get by with a free one. We wouldn't recommend purchasing a saturation plugin unless you're a serious mix/mastering engineer.

We've personally used free saturation plugins on all our productions, and haven't ever bought a plugin dedicated to saturation.

Softube Saturation Knob, and Ableton's stock saturation plugin work just fine for adding presence, distortion and warmth to sounds, and we always use them on Snares, Synths & more. However, you will find paid plugins will give a better sound quality.

For instance, the Soundtoys Range, will give you a far better sound, and as a result you'll likely get better mix results.

What Should I Use Saturation on in A Mix?

Saturation is a fantastic tool for mixing, and even applying to a final master. It can be used to add presence, character and warmth. Often times, a little bit of saturation is what your Snare drum needs to crack a bit more, or what your vocals need to sound a bit more present.

(Tube saturation is incredible for adding bite vocals)

Here's a few examples of what saturation sounds best on in a mix:

  1. Snare drum – fantastic for adding that 3-7kHz crack you want.
  2. Hats – brilliant for adding presence
  3. Synths – great for adding warm distortion and loudness
  4. Bass – used to add harmonics to beef up the low-mids & make them sound more present
  5. Vocals – tube saturation for adding bite to vocals
  6. Reverb – adding presence and crunch to reverbs

There are of course many more ways you could use saturation in your mix. Those are just a few of our favourites. Remember to experiment, and you'll find out what works!

Best Free Saturation VSTs 2022

These are our picks for the 10 Best Free Saturation plugins:

  1. Softube Saturation Knob
  2. Camel Crusher
  3. SGA1566
  4. Analog Obsession TUBA
  5. Voxengo TubeAmp
  6. Caelum Audio Tape Cassette 2
  7. Klanghelm IVGI
  8. Klevgrand FreeAMP
  9. Szechuan Saturator
  10. ADHD Leveling Tool

Softube Saturation Knob

Softube saturation plugin free

Softube are well known for their awesome amp and pre-amp plugins, as well as their OneKnob line of processing effects.

Saturation Knob is one of our favorites, offering a super quick saturation workflow, with a great sound.

You have the choice between 3 main saturation algorithms,

  • High
  • Neutral
  • Low

These are all adjusted with the single knob that's found directly in the middle of the free plugin.

Saturation Knob is awesome, sometimes you just don't want to spend the time designing a custom saturation sound, which is when Saturation Knob comes into play.

We prefer using this as our main saturator, laying down a baseline of saturation across the mix. It's got a nice a smooth tone, and when used subtly on multiple channels can serve to add character to your entire mix.

Do I Need iLok for Saturation Knob?

Although it's a free plugin, you need iLok for Softube Saturation Knob, and an internet connection. It uses WiFi to check that you have a license for Saturation Knob, using iLok cloud.

To grab the free plugin you just head over to Softube and set up an account. You can then either download the separate installer for Saturation Knob, or download Softube Central to install it.

We recommend getting the separate installer, because Softube Central often doesn't work.

Below is a quote from Softube themselves about how you can get Saturation knob, and whether you need iLok or not.

Saturation Knob is a free plug-in, but you do need to get a license in order to run it. First, set up a Softube account, and make sure to link an iLok account to it. Then go to the Saturation Knob product page and click the green “Buy: FREE” button.  A license will be sent to your iLok account, and you can then use the Softube Central app (found under the “My Account” tab on our website) to install your new plug-in.

Softube.com

Camel Crusher

camel crusher

Ever since Camel Audio came out with the original Camel Crusher way back in 2005, the plugin has been a staple in modern music production. Perfect for intense saturation, distortion and warmth, Camel Crusher is a must-have.

Camel Crusher is the Free version of Camel Phat, which is even more awesome, but even the more stripped back Camel Crusher holds its own.

Even though Camel Crusher is awesome at destroying and mangling your sounds, we prefer to use it subtly, to extract the warmth and subtlety from the plugin.

Camel Crusher is one of the best Free saturation plugins you can get, with a crispy sound, and incredible distortion capabilities. If you want to learn more about Camel Crusher, and get to the download page, check out our review on Camel Crusher!

SGA1566

SGA1566 saturation plugin free

The SGA 1566 by Shattered Glass Audio is an awesome freeware tube preamp emulation and is available for both Windows and Mac OS in both VST and AU formats.

At it's core, this is an emulation of a vintage single-channel tube preamp, featuring two amplification stages as well as a two-band EQ on the input or output stage.

Particularly, the SGA1566 shines on drums, adding really pleasant colour and tube-style saturation to your audio. One of the best free saturation plugins, SGA1566 is an awesome wasy to add depth and character to your music.

Three CPU performance modes also allow you to scale back the quality of the plugin, if your CPU is struggling. This is great, when you have a weaker computer, you can produce with all the CPU loads at lowest, and only increase them for the export.

SGA1566 is awesome, and we've had it in our library for a while now, it's definitely worth a look!

Analog Obsession TUBA

analog obsession tuba vst plugin

Analog Obsessions is undoubtedly one of our recent favorites, when it comes to indie plugin developers.

From vintage EQ's, to FET compressors and pre-amps, Analog Obsession is releasing some of the best sounding vintage emulations ever.

All of Analog Obsession's plugins are donationware, and available through his Patreon page. You can download any plugin for free, without making a donation, but please consider contributing to them, if you enjoy the plugin.

TUBA is a vintage channel strip plugin, made to add some classic tube saturation to your music. TUBA is great at adding harmonic content to your audio.

The Low/Hi Gain Settings change the number of harmonics present, while making the original signal louder or quieter. You also get a Low and High shelf filter, as well as mic padding and a phase inverter.

If you're familiar with studio console workflow, you'll love TUBA. It's sound doesn't disappoint either, and can stand head to head with other, commercial saturation pre-amps.

Voxengo TubeAmp

Voxengo tube amp free vst plugin

Voxengo is one of the best known freeware plugin developers out there.

In fact, their awesome Oldskoolverb is one of our favorite free Reverbs. TubeAmp is an emulation of a single-tube mic preamp, that is great at recreating low-quality vacuum tubes.

Low quality vacuum tubes can have issues with Noise and distortion, which is exactly what the Voxengo TubeAmp seeks to recreate. TubeAmp adds an asymmetric overdrive to your audio, which can be further shaped using your Drive and Bias knobs.

TubeAmp is not going to be your subtle compression device. Its comfort zone is with overdrive and distortion, pushing that asymmetric overdrive, to add more interest to your processed audio.

With that being said, TubeAmp can also work as a subtle tube saturation unit, if you keep the Drive levels low. TubeAmp is definitely worth picking up, for those times when you crave more distortion.

Caelum Audio Tape Cassette 2

Caelum Audio tape cassette 2 free saturation vst

Caelum Audio are a great source for both paid and free plugins and sample packs. Their awesome Tape Cassette 2 plugin aims to recreate the warm noisiness of old tape cassettes.

An update to the original Tape Cassette, version 2 adds selectable impulse response, as well as improves the saturation algorithm.

Tape Cassette 2 is perfect for warm and fuzzy saturation, and can even introduce some pleasant wonkiness to your audio, with the Wow and Flutter engine. The plugin even features Real, sampled noise from a Type 1 Cassette, to further enhance the authenticity of the sound.

Tape Cassette 2 is just awesome, we use it quite often when going for a more blown-out, lo-fi quality. It's unlike anything else on our list, and you will really enjoy using it.

Klanghelm IVGI

Klanghelm IVGI free saturation vst

Klanghelm's IVGI is a classic when it comes to free saturation plugins. Perfect for adding character and body to individual instruments or mixes, IVGI is one of the more versatile saturation plugins on our list.

A Drive Knob lets you introduce introduce complex harmonics, while the Output is your Gain setting.

The Asym Mix knob lets you control the amount of compression your audio gets, while the Response adds a shelf filter to the harmonics.

IVGI also features Controlled Randomness, which add slight variations to your saturation, for a more natural sound. A great Crosstalk knob also allows you to control how Stereo audio is processed, giving you even more flexibility.

Great for mastering, individual instrument processing or bus saturation, IVGI is one of the best free saturation plugins on our list.

Klevgrand FreeAMP

Klevgrand FreeAMP saturation vst plugin

Klevgrand have made some of the most beautiful, innovative and interesting plugins out there, their incredible REAMP modeler is one of the best saturation plugins money can buy.

FreeAmp is the free version of REAMP, offering a way more stripped back workflow, but the same incredible saturation. You do sadly miss out on the advanced saturation tone and character customization with FreeAMP, but since you're getting it for free, can't complain much.

You get a Drive knob, which controls the amount of saturation and harmonic content that will be added to the signal.

Mix will control the amount of Dry vs Wet signal you get, while the Output controls final output Gain.

Due to its simple layout, FreeAmp is pretty much a one-knob plugin. That being said, the sound of FreeAmp has all the awesome qualities of the complex analog saturation that REAMP is known for.

Szechuan Saturator

Szechuan saturator free saturation plugin

Developed by Coda Labs, Szechuan Saturator is a quirky saturation plugin, that can deliver a lot of different types of saturation. From gentle tube saturation, to rough overdrive and screaming distortion.

Best used on individual instruments, Szechuan Saturator is perfect for giving your drums or synths some more character and sauce.

Szechuan Saturator even has a built-in modulator, which lets you adjust the depth and amount of modulation you get with the plugin.

Szechuan Saturator is also one of our favorite plugin designs ever. Just going through the download page made us crack up and the actual saturation doesn't disappoint.

The awesome saturation character, versatility and added modulation will make anything you throw at it sound better. Cover your tracks in that sweet Mulan McDonald's sauce today, with Szechuan Saturator

ADHD Leveling Tool

ADHD Leveling Tool saturation plugin

AudioTools are an awesome developer, with tons of great plugins. Their ADHD Leveling Tool is an entirely free limiting amp, with a really cool sound, and quite extensive functionality.

While Saturation isn't it's main goal in life, the ADHD Leveling Tool is capable of adding a lot of analog-style character to your audio material.

One of our favorite limiters, ADHD Leveling Tool is a mainstay in our vocal processing chains.

Since it's a Limiter, it is great for evening out your vocals, while the awesome tube-style saturation adds harmonics and interest to your original audio.

The controls are quite standard for a dynamics processor, an Attack and Release section, as well as Peak Reduction, Ration and a Dry/Wet.

You also have two types of metering, as well as a High pass filter. The Drive knob to the left of the large Gain rotary is how you'll be adding your saturation.

Available for both Windows and Mac OS in VST and AU formats, ADHD leveling tool is compatible with both 32-bit and 64-bit plugin containers.

Honorable Mention – Variety of Sound

Variety of Sound make tons of awesome freeware plugins. Their channel strips and dynamics processors can cover a lot of your mixing utility, and the tube saturation sounds great.

Their saturation algorithms, especially their TesslaSE Transformer saturation simulator, are very high quality and they're well worth looking into.

Variety of Sound offer not only saturators and dynamics processing, but other great effects, such as EpicVerb, which is on our list of the 10 best FREE reverbs.

Scroll around the Variety of Sound website and you'll find some really awesome things, the only reason we're including this separately is that there is just too much choice for saturation alone, from Variety of Sound.

Check them out on their wordpress, here!

Finishing Up

To recap, these are our picks for the 9 Best Free Saturation plugins:

  1. Softube Saturation Knob
  2. Camel Crusher
  3. SGA1566
  4. Analog Obsession TUBA
  5. Voxengo TubeAmp
  6. Caelum Audio Tape Cassette 2
  7. Klanghelm IVGI
  8. Klevgrand FreeAMP
  9. Szechuan Saturator
  10. ADHD Leveling Tool

Whether you want to add some gentle saturation, or add complex harmonic distortion to your audio, a good saturatuion plugin is necessary for any producer.

Saturation is how producers add energy to audio, so a saturation utility capable of doing what you need it to do is essential. While there can be some quite expensive Saturation plugins, we hope our list of the 10 Best Free saturation plugins helped you find the next plugin for you.

If you want to read more like this, consider checking out some of our other articles, lists and reviews below!