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Essential Plugins for Reaper

Kevin Nel

The first thing I realized when starting with Reaper was that I didn't have all the plugins I had before with logic pro and I was hunting down plugins for ages before I started really being productive. so here are my essential plugins for Reaper. TLDR at the end

Note

This is not a "top free plugins" list as there are plenty more free plugins that are amazing but I wouldn't consider essential to make reaper a complete DAW. If you've purchased better plugins like serum or sylenth1 etc, then you may not need all of these. This is a jumping off point intended to make Reaper a more usable environment for complete beginners or people coming from more production oriented DAWs looking to make electronic music.

Drums

Sitala Drum Sampler

Firstly, unless you want to try figure out reasampleomatic5000 or you make ambient drone music you probably want a nice drum sampler. For that theres Sitala an excellent free drum sampler that allows you to drag and drop samples, has multichannel outputs, gives your midi notes names in reaper, and gives you the ability to tweak the samples with a basic eq, reverse, fades and more! It also comes with an 808 and a 909 style kit.

sitala
sitala

Steven Slate Drums 5 Free Acoustic Kit

Steven Slate Drums 5 Sampler is the highest quality acoustic drum sounds you can get a hold of for free, the free kits it comes with can sound very heavy but the sounds are incredibly recorded and very velocity sensitive. You can tweak each drum sound individually, it supports multichannel outputs and the groove patterns that it comes with are pretty solid too.

ssd
ssd

Synths

I am going to split this section up between a couple categories, and because I come from logic pro I am basically just finding replacements for what I was using in logic.

Modern Synthesizer Plugins

These plugins are going to be your "workhorse" synthesizers. If you know your stuff you can make any sound using just these

Surge

is an open source digital synthesizer with great presets and modulation options, it sounds great and can pull off anything from wavetables and fm to fat analog sounds.

surge
surge

Vital

Vital is an excellent wavetable synthesizer in the vein of Arturia Pygments or Xfer Serum. Not to be over dramatic but this one is a game changer! It basically packs all the features of serum into a free (and open source) plugin. It is made by the same person who made helm which I suggested above. (I have completely switched from serum to Vital since it came out)

vital
vital

Honorable Mention:

helm used to be on this list before Vital came out and it is still an excellent plugin. it is an open source synth thats nice for more complex and experimental sound design like dubstep or weird glitchy ambience. The modulation options are quite extensive and it is extremely versatile.

"Retro" Synths

If you're like me you probably love a good cheesy 80s pad or warm vintage mono lead synth. Here are my recommendations.

discoDSP OB-XD

discoDSP OB-XD is an emulation of the classic Oberheim DX synthesizer. It is my go to for vintage polyphonic synth sounds. There are also a lot of preset banks available for it online.

obx
obx

Tal uno 62

Tal uno 62 is a great free emulation of a Roland Juno.

uno
uno

Uhe Tyrell n6

Uhe Tyrell n6 is an analog style software synth with some cool presets and lots of functionality. The link on their website takes you to a german site, the download links are just a bit lower on the page.

tyrell
tyrell

FM synths

FM synthesis can be pretty confusing, but if you give it time the sounds achievable can be incredibly rich and complex.

Dexed

Dexed is a one to one emulation of the yamaha dx7, it can even read old yamaha dx7 sysex presets. The interface is pretty confusing but since there are thousands of dx7 presets online you dont realy need to fiddle too much.

dexed
dexed

If you are looking for something a bit easier to use/understand then Sonic Bits Exakt Lite is what you are looking for!

The dead duck ddx10 (download the instruments bundle) could also be a viable alternative fo you if your just looking for something dead simple to get you going with some classic fm sounds.

If you don't already understand FM synthesis you can check out this great video by Andrew Huang for a starter, and this one by the excellent cuckoo.

Bass/Lead (Mono) Synths

What would a list of synthesizers be without some nice mono synths?

Tal noise maker

Tal noise maker is another free Tal plugin (see any trends?) it's great for grimey basses, and its interface is much more refined than Tal elektro. Tal's filters just sound excellent and wonderfully dirty.

noise
noise

HY mono

HY mono is my current favorite mono synth vst. It's not too complicated, has a great interface and has just enough to get you fiddling and making some cool sounds.

hymono
hymono

Real Instruments

But what if you need an upright bass or trombone or maybe a harp?

LAB's (Spitfire Audio)

Spitfire Audio has been giving away sample libraries for free every couple of weeks in their LABS plugin. It has tons of cinematic and orchestral instruments as well as pads and other textural/experimental sounds. The "soft piano" preset has also become a modern classic. You really can't go wrong with these they sound very professional and it's easy to get great sounds out of them. They are also very responsive to midi velocity and thus can be very expressive. Also be sure to check their site every couple of weeks as they add more libraries all the time.

labs
labs

Sampleson collab3

Sampleson collab3 is an excellent free tone-wheel organ reminiscent of the hammond B3.

collab3
collab3

Keyzone Classic by Bit Sonic

Keyzone Classic by Bit Sonic has a much brighter grand piano type sound as opposed to the soft upright felt piano that comes with LABs. It also has a decent Rhodes-like electric piano.

keyz
keyz

dead duck Dpiano E

dead duck Dpiano E has a few different styles of electric piano to choose from if you don't fancy the LABS wurlitzer or e-piano.

dde
dde

Ample Sounds Bass P Lite

Ample Sounds Bass P Lite is a deep sampled P-Bass with plenty of articulations and that classic P-Bass punch.

amplep
amplep

bonus: check out Ample Sounds, Cloud Drum, Hang Drum plugin and their acoustic guitar.

Native Instruments Komplete Start

Native Instruments Komplete Start has pretty much everything else you could ask for. Their plugins are very high quality and this is just enough of a taste to make you crave the full version of Kontatk but the sounds that are available in this pack for free are very good.

native
native

EQ

ReEQ

The stock eq plugin in reaper is great, but if you want to step up your EQ game you should try ReEQ (not ReaEQ!). It is a JS plugin, but does not come with Reaper (you have to copy it into your effects folder in the Reaper resource path). This EQ has quite a few more types of bands as well as Mid/Side processing capabilities which ReaEQ (the stock EQ plugin) does not have.

reeq
reeq

Analog Obsessions Rare

Analog Obsessions Rare is an excellent pulteq emulation. I am not normally one for preamps and analog emulsions of eqs but theres something really nice about Analog Obsession's plugins they add a little bit of drive in a very subtle and warm way. Certainly nicer than the white noise and distortion that some waves plugins add.

aorare
aorare

Analog Obsessions Brit Channel

Analog Obsessions Brit Channel aims to channel the sound of a neve 1073 channel strip. The drive is gain compensated which is amazing and it goes from adding some subtle warmth to full out blown capacitor sounds. the eq is also very nice and never sounds harsh even when pushing the highs up.

aoc
aoc

Analog Obsessions Merica

Analog Obsessions Merica is another console emulator this time emulator a famous american channel strip. I love the way this sounds when boosting the highs and lows and cutting the mids it very smooth and held back so don't expect it to be as exaggerated as the brit channel but its still very useful for adding some subtle spice to a track.

aorare
aorare

Guitars

Lepou amps

Don't let the age of the Lepou amp modelling plugins fool you. They're a classic and for a reason. Most of the amps are a little too high gain for my taste but the hybrit is my favorite amp model. I even think it sounds better than the free guitar rig stuff.

lepou
lepou

Note:

These amp sims don't come with any cabinet emulation and the will sound like a box of nails if you don't use a cab sim, but do not fear because that's the next suggestion.

If you would like to read more about impulse responses check out joey sturgis tones' great articles here (getting started) and here (common misconceptions)

Nadir Cab Sim

Nadir Cab Sim is an excellent impulse response loader plugin that comes with some great free mic and cab impulses.

nadir
nadir

Analog Obsession Kabin

Analog Obsession Kabin is a no frills cabinet sim with a few knobs to tweak. sounds great and gets the job done with minimal effort.

kabin
kabin

Voxengo Boogex

Voxengo Boogex can sound a little boxy but it gives you decent control over the sound with a graphical eq and some decent cab impulses.

boog
boog

Ignite Amps other plugins

Their Ts999 (tubescreamer emulation) and emissary (high gain amp) are also great guitar plugins.

ts999
ts999

Modulation

Acon Digital multiply

Multiply is an awesome chorus thats really tweakable but still easy to use. I highly recommend this one. It's especially good for more subtle chorus sounds or adding some width.

multiply
multiply

HY Modulation Plugins

HY makes great plugins and I often finding myslef using the modulation plugins Especially the chorus/flanger plugin.

hychofla
hychofla

don't worry! although plugins4free does looks kind of dodgy, all the downloads are legal, and each plugin has a link to the original developer at the top of the page

Pecheneg tremolo

Pecheneg tremolo is tremolo with a nice interface that makes it very quick to get the tremolo sound you want. From smooth to choppy in seconds.

ptrem
ptrem

Pecheneg auto swell

Pecheneg auto swell is like a boss slow gear in your DAW! No more automating volume swells!

pswell
pswell

Reverbs

Unfortunately when it comes to reverbs the free options are not quite as good as paid ones, I suggest your first plugin be a good reverb like Native Instruments Raum, or Valhalla Room. There are also plenty of reverb impulse responses available online that you can load into Reaverb or MConvolutionEZ. You can also wait for giveaways which most plugin companies do fairly often.

Tal reverb 4

Tal reverb 4 is an early 2000s styled digital plate reverb, you can get some crazy ambiance out of it, but don't expect anything too realistic.

talverb
talverb

Oliriver plate/hall reverb

Oliriver plate/hall reverb is a more subdued hall/plate style reverb that can get the more realistic and subtle sounds down.

oril
oril

Cloudseed algorithmic reverb

Cloudseed algorithmic reverb is an ambient machine! the controls are a little weird but it does that beautiful modulated ambient reverb sound really well.

cloud
cloud

Voxeno Old Skool Verb

Voxeno Old Skool Verb is goof for lofi room sounds.

oldskool
oldskool

Airwindows Reverbs

The Airwindows Plugins don't have pretty interfaces but they sound great! Verbity, Matrix, and BrightAmbience2 are more "realistic" sounding room/plate style verbs while galactic is an epic pad reverb that can literally turn any sound into a tonal pad.

airw
airw

Valhalla supermassive

Valhalla supermassive is another ambient reverb/delay with a funky control scheme brought to you by the team responsible for some of the best modern reverb sounds available.

valh
valh

Melda MConvolutionEZ

Melda MConvolutionEZ is the best free way to load reverb impulse responses. It also comes with a bunch of really good impulses. Melda also has a free pack of plugins with basically one of every plugin you could want. They're a bit mit or miss but its a great way to experiment with some unique effects.

mconv
mconv

Delays

Readelay

Readelay is the stock delay plugin in Reaper, has a few quirks but you can get a lot of decent sounds out of it. You can check out this video by Dan Worrall explaining it in more depth.

readelau
readelau

Leet Delay2 by Sonic Anomaly

Leet Delay2 by Sonic Anomaly can be downloaded through reapack or on reverb.com. It' a really nice dark gritty analog style delay with ping pong.

leet
leet

Spaceship Delay by Musical Entropy

Saving the best for last, Spaceship Delay by Musical Entropy is my all time favorite delay VST plugin! It does everything from pristine digital delay to gritty tape emulation with flutter and modulation. It is also very lightweight and versatile.

space
space

Saturation and Dynamics

Klanghelm

Klanghelm has 3 great free plugins for some aggressive compression and saturation (IVGI, DC1A, MJUC jr)

klanghelm
klanghelm

Krush

Krush is an awesome bit-crusher and distortion, really great on drums.

krush
krush

JS Waveshaping distortion

The JS Waveshaping distortion comes with Reaper and only has one slider but don't underestimate it!

jswd
jswd

FreeClip by Venn Audio

FreeClip is similar to JS waveshaping distortion but with a few more saturation curves. It doesn't have any eq but it's a very versatile saturation and clipping plugin that can do everything from hard digital clipping to flubby tube style overdrive.

freec
freec

Analysis

Voxengo SPAN is an incredible spectrum analyser that really shouldn't be free. A good spectrum analyser is a powerful tool for mixing and can help help you spot problems that your equipment might not be letting hear. Check This amazing video by Dan Worral explaining how to use a spectrum analyzer. He also has a lot great mixing videos for the more technically inclined.

span
span

Quality of life

Samples

If you are new then I suggest just searching for what you need when you need it and download free packs to build up your sample library. Just be sure not to hoard too many packs and don't be afraid to delete packs you think aren't that great.

Check out these great places:

Conclusion

TLDR: These are the best plugins on this entire list

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With these free plugins you can turn reaper from a great DAW for mixing adn live recording into a GREAT daw for everything from beat-making to remixes and EDM.