Channel Strip Plugins: The 8 Best All-in-one Mixing Channels
Channel strip plugins can be extremely useful tools in your mix.
Tackling multiple mixing tasks with a single plugin can save you time and give you unique results.
But there are more channel strip plugins available than ever before. Which are worth trying if you’re looking for the best sound and workflow?
In this article I’ll explain the basics of channel strip plufina and suggest eight options to use in your DAW.
What is a channel strip
A channel strip is a plugin or hardware processor that offers a combination of mixing tools in the traditional layout you’d see in an analog console.
An analog mixer channel strip would include a pan control as well as aux sends and routing options, but plugin channel strips typically leave this to your DAW’s mixer.
As large format consoles began to be phased out of studios, some engineers decided to split individual channels into smaller, rack mountable units that could be used in hybrid setups.
Eventually, manufacturers began developing dedicated channel strip hardware to give engineers convenient options for common processing tasks.
In turn, plugin developers began package multiple features together and emulating classic console strips from the golden age of recording.
Why use channel strips vs. individual plugins?
If you’re used to stacking plugins one after the other, you may wonder about the advantages of a single channel strip plugin.
Firstly, there may be sonic benefits depending on the sound you’re going for. Many of today’s channel strip plugins are accurate models of well-known vintage consoles.
Whether you want the smooth yet full and musical character of a Neve 1073, or the punchy mid-forward sound of American consoles, full channel signal emulation can help get you there.
There may also be technical benefits with some digital-native channel strips that bundle multiple signal processing operations in a single piece of software.
Finally, the workflow of using a channel strip may be appealing to those who like to keep things simple.
After all, mix engineers in the classic era of recording didn’t have hundreds of compressors or EQs at their fingertips—they simply used what they had!
In some cases, having these decisions made for you can reduce the feeling of option paralysis.
Plugins for any production purpose
Mixing tools of all shapes and sizes, ranked.
The 8 best channel strip plugins for mixing
With the basics out of the way, here are eight of the best channel strips available for any mixing task.
The Manley Voxbox is a classic example of the modern channel strip.
Designed as a full suite of tube-powered vocal processors, it includes a mic pre with variable coloration, fixed 3:1 ratio compressor, Pultec-style EQ, de-esser and limiter section.
If that sounds like a lot, it certainly is! Even so, each section of the strip gives you great results for studio vocals.
Luckily, UAD produces a spot-on digital recreation of the Manley Voxbox in plugin form.
The channel strip from the classic 80-series of Neve consoles is one of the most renowned of all time.
With its pleasing saturation and musical EQ, the Neve sound is considered a must-have for many producers.
While there have been countless hardware and software recreations over the years, the NEED 73 from NoiseAsh is one our current favorites.
When it comes to digital channel strips, Metric Halo has a strong offering that sometimes flies under the radar.
Used regularly by top engineers for its clean and precise sound, MH ChannelStrip has been an industry standard for years.
Now in its third edition, ChannelStrip has the best ever sound and flexibility for professional results.
If you’re looking for a workhorse channel with uncompromising sound, consider trying ChannelStrip3.
SSL is known for some of the most enduring console designs of all time.
With a powerful EQ and dynamics section, the SSL Native Channel Strip brings the best of the original hardware with the flexibility of a plugin.
The API Vision is the legendary console manufacturer’s newest flagship large format console.
Combining the best elements of decades of designs, the Vision channel strip captures the soul of the API sound.
To get in plugin form, the UAD API Vision Strip is among the best options. With punchy preamp emulation, classic VCA compression and timeless EQ, you can’t go wrong.
6. Arturia Pre TridA
The Trident A-Range was one of the most unique vintage consoles ever built.
Known for its use on classic British LPs from the 70s, its EQ had a sound and response unlike anything else.
Arturia’s Pre TridA is a faithful recreation of the A-Range channel complete with preamp, high and low pass filters and four-band EQ.
Today’s channel strip plugins sometimes take a modular approach.
IK Multimedia’s MixBox SE offers a flexible suite of modules that go beyond typical channel strip applications.
In addition to the typical preamp, EQ, compression and filtering stages, you’ll find ambience effects like delay and reverb and even guitar amp simulation for all-in-one tone shaping.
Waves Abbey Road series is a groundbreaking line of plugins modeled on the rare equipment in the iconic British studio.
The EMI TG12345 was among the first solid state audio gear introduced at Abbey Road. It was used on the Beatles’ final album recording sessions.
With three stages of EQ and variable dynamics control, it set the stage for the transistor revolution of the 70s with its clean, bright and punchy sound.
Channel strips are still around because they offer a lot for mix engineers.
Whether you’re looking for an accurate take on a vintage classic or a convenient package for all-in-one workflow, there’s something on this list to consider trying.
If you’ve made it through this article you’ll have a great start when it comes to channel strip plugins.
Michael Hahn is an engineer and producer at Autoland and member of the swirling indie rock trio Slight.
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