If you want your songs to sound professional, you need to get them mastered. But finding the right mastering plugins can be tricky.
There are tons of great plugins out there, so finding the right ones isn’t easy.
That’s why we’ve picked out the 17 best mastering plugins of 2021. So if you’re looking for the greatest mastering plugins of today, you’re in the right place!
But first, be sure to download our free mastering cheat sheet. It gives you a checklist you can print out and reference while you’re mastering.
This cheat sheet will help you make your masters sound great EVERY TIME! Get it here:
A Quick Note…
It’s worth mentioning that none of the companies who create these mastering plugins are paying us to do so.
This article isn’t an advertisement. After trying out tons of different options, these are the ones we felt were the cream of the crop.
And they all have unique strengths. So take a look around at what each plugin has to offer.
To help you find the right mastering plugins quickly, we’ve provided some buttons you can use to zero in on the right match.
So if you need an EQ, just click on the “EQ” button. If you’re looking for the perfect limiter, hit “limiter.”
If these are out of your price range, check the honorable mentions. There’s a list of plugins that are cheaper but still sound terrific.
Consider Professional Mastering
Learning how to master is a huge step for any musician!
Maybe you want to become a mastering engineer. Or you just want to create rough masters for your tracks.
But when it comes to making final masters for your own music, it’s worth hiring a professional mastering engineer. Even if you already know how to do it.
If you’ve written, recorded, and/or mixed a song, it’s hard to be objective. Your ears are so used to the song, you may not notice problems.
That’s why you should get your own music mastered by someone else.
Mastering for others or creating rough masters? These plugins will be incredibly helpful.
Make sure to download the free cheat sheet I made for mastering at home. Referencing it while you’re mastering will keep you focused, which will make your masters sound better every time!
Download it below:
Ozone 9 Standard ($249)
If you’re even a little bit interested in mastering, you’re probably familiar with Ozone. Ozone is a mastering suite with everything you need to create a great master.
With an EQ, pre- and post-compression, saturation, and limiter, Ozone packs a huge punch.
I especially recommend Ozone for beginners, though pros can get a lot out of it too.
So why should beginners consider Ozone? It’s a great way to learn how mastering works.
Ozone comes with an “auto-match” function.
It’ll analyze the frequency spectrum of a reference track. Then it creates an EQ curve for your mix that’ll make it sound great.
And the other modules have similar functions that make mastering easy. If you’re just starting out, or you want a one stop shop, Ozone may be perfect for you.
Brainworx bx_masterdesk ($299)
This is the ultimate tool for making masters quickly.
Brainworx set out to make mastering fast and easy. Every part of bx_masterdesk was specifically engineered to be speedy.
So instead of dialing in really specific compression settings, you’ll pick between four compression styles and dial in the amount.
All in all, it’s a great plugin for quickly dialing in tasteful mastering.
If you’re a pro mastering engineer, this may not be the tool for you. It’s more geared towards beginners and people making demo masters.
But for learning and quick mastering scenarios, it’s perfect.
FabFilter Pro-Q 3 ($179)
The FabFilter Pro-Q 3 is one of the best EQs out there. It’s super transparent, so you can make large boosts and cuts without ruining the tone of your song.
And that’s exactly what makes it great for mastering.
EQs that add a ton of color are great for mixing. But mastering calls for precision.
So when you need an EQ that can control the frequency spectrum without changing the tone of your master, Pro-Q is here for you.
Softube Curve Bender ($299)
Chandler Limited’s Curve Bender is one of the most famous mastering EQs of all time.
Beloved by engineers for decades, the Curve Bender has sweetened the sound of many hits. And now you can have it in your DAW for a fraction of the cost.
Softube has carefully modeled the sound of the Curve Bender. And they created an emulation that sounds great.
It adds beautiful air and presence to your master, helping it shine. You can also do mid-side processing. So honing in on a clear master is much easier.
Brainworx bx_digital V3 ($299)
Brainworx makes the list again with bx_digital V3, a massive EQ with tons of features.
First off, let’s talk about the mid-side processing.
Bx_digital has five bands of EQing for mid and side. That allows you plenty of options for perfecting a song’s sound.
But Brainworx takes it a step further.
When you adjust a frequency band for the sides, it’ll solo that sound. So you can really focus in on how your mid or side frequencies sound.
Not all EQing needs to be done in solo, of course. But when it comes to precise mastering choices, this can be really helpful.
Cytomic The Glue ($99)
It’s difficult to make a mix feel cohesive.
Making a mix sound good is one thing. But making it sound like a unified song is another.
That’s where The Glue comes in. It’s aptly named.
This compressor is perfect for pulling the track together. Making all the instruments feel like they’re in the same room, like they belong together.
You won’t always need it though. Many mixers will put a bus compressor on their master chain already.
So don’t put it on just for the sake of having it.
But if a song feels like it isn’t quite gelling, The Glue may be exactly what you need.
Sonoris Mastering Compressor ($225.76)
The Mastering Compressor by Sonoris is exactly what it claims to be. This plugin is amazing at getting transparent dynamic control.
Want to pull back on the peaks without changing the tone? Mastering Compressor has you covered.
The color this compression adds is very natural. So you won’t notice it too much.
You’ll mostly notice how it elevates your song, making it sound tighter and more professional.
Leapwing DynOne 3 ($199)
Don’t let its simple, easy-to-use interface fool you. DynOne 3 by Leapwing is a beast of a plugin.
It comes with optional parallel compression, mid-side processing, and high-quality filters. All in all, it’s the perfect multiband compressor for getting detailed, high-quality compression.
But my favorite part is the program-dependent attack and release. You set a range for the attack and release and DynOne does the rest.
It’ll pick a shorter or longer attack or release time depending on the type of sound. So it’s much easier to get the perfect amount of compression throughout the whole song.
The DynOne is a terrific way to add excitement to your song. I’ve been using it a ton on masters that need a little more life. Check it out.
I used the “Wide and Powerful” preset and adjusted the thresholds, attacks, and release times to taste. In my opinion, the result is a song with natural movement. “Vibe,” if you will.
Sonnox Oxford Limiter (£195)
The Oxford Limiter is an oldie but a goodie.
Of course it has great limiting.
But the Oxford Limiter’s “Enhance” feature also adds nice saturation to the song. This really helps bring out the magic in a master.
You have to be careful with it though! Saturation is distortion, so too much of it can hurt instead of help.
Err on the side of caution to make sure you don’t have any crackling distortion in it.
While the 2nd track sounds much louder, it’s actually peaking at the same level.
FabFilter Pro-L 2 ($199)
When it comes to limiters, Pro-L 2 is one of the crown jewels. This plugin has both quantity and quality, with eight high-quality limiting settings.
Whether you want subtlety or aggression, pumping or transparency, Pro-L’s got you covered.
It also comes with true peak limiting and oversampling, so you’re assured to get the utmost quality.
It’s really a terrific all in one solution. By putting tons of different limiting tones at your fingertips, Pro-L may just be the last limiter you ever need.
The two are peaking at similar levels, but the second sounds much louder. But the impact of the drums isn’t hurt by overcompression.
PSP Xenon ($249)
PSP has made a truly unique limiter with Xenon. While most limiters only have one stage of limiting, Xenon has two.
The first allows the first transients to go through without being reduced. The second stage of limiting works on the transients. This is a great way to get superior dynamic control without getting any pumping.
It’s terrific for getting a song that’s loud without sacrificing quality.
Meters and Troubleshooters
One of the most important parts of mastering is making sure songs “translate” well. It should sound great no matter where it’s being heard.
People listen to music on all kinds of different devices, using different platforms. Spotify, Youtube, and Apple Music all have their own normalization standards.
This means songs will sound a little bit different on each of them. It’s the mastering engineer’s job to make sure the song is of the utmost quality no matter how it’s being heard.
These next few plugins will help you get a master that sounds terrific everywhere.
Sonarworks Reference 4 ($99–299)
Speakers and headphones naturally color the sound of your mix. No matter what you use, there’ll be boosts and dips in the frequency spectrum.
But thanks to Sonarworks, it doesn’t have to be that way!
Sonarworks adjusts the frequency spectrum to account for your speakers and/or headphones. Meaning you can really hear how your mix sounds.
It’s a terrific tool for mixing and mastering engineers everywhere.
Brainworx bx_meter ($99)
There are plenty of terrific meters out there. But nothing ticks all the boxes quite like bx_meter.
This meter has everything you could ask for when mastering.
Looking for peaks? Check.
Monitoring your RMS? Check.
Checking for phase correlation? Check.
Want to use K-system metering to ensure a solid dynamic range?
Brainworx’s bx_meter has you covered on all these fronts.
You can even monitor the mid and side channels separately.
With so many features, it’d be easy for bx_meter to look cluttered. But Brainworx has managed to make it look sleek and professional.
A quick glance at the user manual will make you a pro with this jam-packed plugin.
Nugen MasterCheck Pro ($199)
MasterCheck is a wildly helpful metering system.
It has metering presets for all popular listening platforms.
Let’s say you want to make sure the song will sound great on Spotify. You’ll want to open up the Spotify preset in MasterCheck.
The green bar along the meter shows how loud your song should be to sound great on Spotify. Any louder and Spotify will automatically turn it down.
With the PSR meter, you’ll always know just how dynamic your track is.
You can even hear how the different platforms will change your master. By pressing the monitor button, MasterCheck will turn your song down or up to match the platform.
No more worrying if your dynamic range will get wrecked by auto-normalization! MasterCheck has you set.
Mastering the Mix EXPOSE (£29)
Ever wished your computer could just tell you what needs fixed? You could save so much time if problem areas were highlighted for you.
By dragging your song into EXPOSE, it’ll look for any peaks that are too loud, phase issues, overcompression, and more. If it finds any problems, it’ll show you where it happens.
All in all, it’ll speed up the technical side of mastering. Double-check if your song will translate to different listening services in seconds.
But don’t worry, it won’t get in the way of your creativity.
EXPOSE points out technical issues that might hurt the quality of your master. The overall tone and mood of your master is still up to you.
How Are MasterCheck and EXPOSE Different from One Another?
At first glance, it can seem like MasterCheck and EXPOSE do the same things. They both measure peaks and LUFs, right?
But they’re really geared towards different parts of the mastering process.
MasterCheck Pro is terrific when you’re in your DAW working on the master. If I’m in my studio working on a song, I want to have MasterCheck in front of me.
EXPOSE is ideal for double-checking different versions of your master.
So before I send a draft to a client, I’ll throw it into EXPOSE. If it shows any issues, I know I need to make some adjustments before hitting send.
Basically, they’re both great for different parts of the process.
Ozone Imager 2 (Free)
Ozone Imager 2 is part of Ozone 9. But you can also download this standalone plugin for free. If you don’t have Ozone, you should definitely download Imager.
It’s a terrific plugin for adding subtle width to a master or mix.
But be careful! Imager relies on the same principles as the Haas effect.
This means it can cause phasing issues in your song. So use it sparingly.
You’ll want to watch a correlation meter while using Imager. That way you’ll notice any phase issues right away.
Double-check your mix in mono with it to make sure there aren’t any phasing issues.
Sonnox Oxford Inflator (£115)
Ever listened to a song and thought, “Wow, this sounds good. What if it sounded even better?”
I’m pretty sure this is the train of thought that led to the Oxford Inflator. It just makes everything sound better.
Ok, ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. You won’t always want to use the Oxford Inflator.
If a song is overcompressed or sounds a bit too harsh, you probably won’t want it.
The Oxford Inflator is a saturation plugin. It adds some distortion to higher frequencies that sounds pleasant to our ears.
Dialing in some subtle saturation can help maximize the perceived loudness of a song without wrecking the tone. The distortion on the higher harmonics can make your song feel bigger.
Aside from adding some pleasant harmonic distortion, it’s also brought the RMS level up. So even though these two tracks are peaking at the same level, the 2nd sounds louder.
Here are some inexpensive alternatives. If you’re new to mastering and want to keep costs low, these are some great options.
Though if you are a beginner, I recommend you check out the bx_masterdesk. It’s a bit pricey at first look, but it’s got plenty of tools within it.
Your stock plugins (free)
The plugins that come with your DAW are honestly really powerful.
Most stock EQs let you use them in linear phase mode. Do this, and your stock Eq will be pretty solid for mastering!
Your stock compressor should also work pretty well!
It probably won’t be as transparent as the other compressors on this list. But you can still get solid results with it.
And finally, your stock meter(s) should work terrifically.
Depending on your DAW, you may need to load multiple meters. But if you have a peak and an RMS meter, you should be covered.
The Wall by Boz ($99)
The Wall is a high-quality brickwall limiter with a relatively low price point.
It’s incredible that The Wall was made by a single person. It’s easy to use and it sounds huge.
Check it out if you’re looking to elevate the volume of your songs.
Tracktion Master Mix Stereo Mastering ($69)
Tracktion is another mastering suite at a startlingly low cost. With a three-band dynamic processor, two parametric EQs, a gate, and a limiter.
All in all, it has everything you need to get started with mastering.
Waves C4 (As Cheap as $29 When Bought On Sale)
C4 is a multiband compressor with four parametric bands. It’s sleek, easy to use, and sounds great.
The original price point may seem hefty, but it’s frequently on sale. So you can easily pick it up for as little as $30.
You could also opt for the C6, which comes with six bands of compression.
Bonus Tip: Mastering Chain
Once you’ve got the tools you need, you may wonder “Where should I put them?”
To get the most out of your plugins, be sure you read up on the mastering chain.
Let’s take another quick look at the 17 best mastering plugins in 2021.
- Ozone 9 Standard
- Brainworx bx_masterdesk
- FabFilter Pro-Q 3
- Softube Curve Bender
- Brainworx bx_digital V3
- Cytomic The Glue
- Sonoris Mastering Compressor
- Leapwing DynOne 3
- Sonnox Oxford Limiter
- FabFilter Pro-L 2
- PSP Xenon
- Sonarworks Reference 4
- Brainworx bx_meter
- Nugen MasterCheck Pro
- Mastering the Mix EXPOSE
- Ozone Imager 2
- Sonnox Oxford Inflator
They’re all terrific plugins, offering unique strengths.
So if you’re ever looking to upgrade your mastering setup, check back here. You may just find the perfect plugin for your needs!
If you want to dig deeper into music production and learn what it actually takes to make mixes that sound pro…
And you’re an intermediate or advanced producer…
Be sure to check out the free masterclass:
Again, I’m not going to ask for your email or anything like that. Just click on the box above (or click here) to start watching.
Producer and composer for film and video games. Helping you make music a little more fun and a little less tedious. Check out my work at Juniper Tapes.
3 comments on this article
Hi Drew! This is an amazing overview of so many plugins. Is there such a thing as a single mastering plugin that will automate most of the process for you? I’m talking about for use by a total beginner with mastering who wants to get a demo that sounds really good right off the bat. Like, the exact opposite of DIY! DIFM (Do It For Me?)! The closest I found to that in this article was Ozone’s “auto-match” function where you said:
“It’ll analyze the frequency spectrum of a reference track. Then it creates an EQ curve for your mix that’ll make it sound great.”
I’d love a plugin that does for the entire mastering process what Ozone’s auto-match does for EQ. I realize you’d sacrifice A LOT by automating the whole thing, but I’m not looking for GREAT let alone PERFECT results.
(Oh, and I’d really love an all-in-one solution, but if I had to go with a few different plugins to get all that automation, I’d be happy to do that.)
I’d really appreciate your thoughts!
I’m not aware of a plug-in that does that, but there are several online mastering services for this purpose that deliver “OK” results.
LANDR.com would be one example, but over the past few years, several others popped out of the woodworks.
It won’t be as good as a experienced and talented mastering engineer, but it’s better than what that “buddy” can do, who’s been learning music production for a whole 3 years, already, hahaha ;)
One other I recently found which has worked well for me for my last track is Masterchannel.ai.
Works well with my genre (house), but see other artists using it from different genres as well.