Plugin Review: Are Slate Digital Plugins the Best Deal in Audio?
“Many folks think they aren’t good at earning money, when what they don’t know is how to use it.”
— Frank A. Clark
Before I get into a comprehensive review of Slate Digital Plugins, I have to admit something: I screwed up.
I spent hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars on plugins that I never use anymore, and have little to no value, even for resale.
I used to think that subscriptions were stupid because you never end up owning your tools. If I had picked up on a few things earlier, I could have saved loads of money, and started improving my mixes and productions faster.
Why get third-party plugins?
Your DAW comes with tons of plugins and effects. Plus, everyone is always saying that you can get great results without buying any more software, so why should you?
While it’s true you can get great results with just your stock plugins, this is actually rarely the case.
That’s because plugins from 3rd party manufactures are usually much more specialized and offer features, options, and quality you simply can’t get anywhere else.
Some things to consider about third-party plugins:
- Specialized plugins designed to offer “clean” processing that do their job without affecting the tonality of the sound generally perform better than stock stuff
- Stock synths are usually pretty meh (with the occasional exception)
- They can have better workflows, letting you get better results faster
- They frequently have more options (better design, more fun to use, a more unique sound or effect, etc.)
- They can be emulations of analog gear that provide faithful recreations of gear that are staples in studios everywhere
- These kinds of specialized tools can help you get a better sound with less tinkering
But why subscribe when you can buy?
Producing, mixing and mastering music can easily lead to spending ridiculous amounts of money on tools, and even more time searching for the tools that work with your general workflow and preferences, as well as and provide the sound you are looking for.
The Slate All Access Pass is just $15/month. For less than the cost of one quality plugin per year, you get ALL of Slate’s plugins, and many pieces of software from affiliate companies. This literally totals in THOUSANDS of dollars of value in the bundle.
This is especially useful if you’re just starting your plugin collection, as the bundle provides literally everything you need to make killer music.
It’s Growing! It’s About to Explode!
The Slate bundle is constantly growing. Since I became a subscriber in 2018 there have literally been dozens of software additions and multiple new company affiliations. By being a subscriber, you ensure your setup is future-proof.
That said, enough sweet talk. Let’s get into what really matters…
We are NOT an affiliate for Slate Plugins, meaning we do not stand to profit in anyway from writing this article. We simply put this together because Slate kicks ass, and we want to share with you the tools that work for us.
What digital plugins are included in the Slate All Access Pass? And more importantly, what are our favorite Slate Digital Plugins?
The Slate Digital All Access Pass: What You Need to Know
1. Improve your workflow with the Virtual Mix Rack (VMR)
Quite possibly the most powerful plugin in the bundle, and certainly the one I use the most, is the VMR. Much more than a single gear emulation, the Virtual Mix Rack emulates an entire studio rack of the most sought after hardware tools.
It would make this post way too long to detail all the emulations that are in the VMR and their strengths/uses, so I’ll briefly list my favorites and drop a link to the official page where you can learn more about it.
The FG-A (emulating an API 550a eq) is so beautiful it hurts. This EQ goes on almost all of my tracks when I’m mixing. Pro tip: With the FG-A if you hold command (Mac) or control (windows) you can adjust the frequency and gain without increment constraints.
I feel the same way about the FG-Stress (Empirical Labs Distressor) compressor. I literally know studio owners trying to sell their hardware Distressors because this emulation is so accurate that they don’t feel the need for the real thing. It’s also super cool to use in parallel with the mix knob!
There are also several 1176 models, SSL EQs, digital EQs, preamps, consoles, and more. There are over 25 modules that can be arranged within the interface in any order, without any limits, and they all sound incredible.
With all these awesome tools, you’d think they would be serious CPU hogs. Wrong. The VMR is super low latency, and can even be used during tracking.
It also has a feature called Dream Strips, which are basically presets of full racks that allow you to set up your favorite combinations and save them for later. This makes the VMR a breeze for fast and easy mixing.
2. Create lush landscapes with spatial FX
A) Verbsuite Classics
With tons of analog reverb units meticulously replicated, the Verbsuite Classics is an incredible reverb solution. This plugin is so versatile that it can easily be the only reverb you need in your mix.
I find myself using this reverb when I want natural and pretty sounding reverbs. It even comes with dozens of presets to help you get started- I love using the ‘Gatey 80’s Drums’ presets on snares, and setting the mix to about 30%.
B) Lustrous Plates
With multiple plate modes, the Lustrous Plates reverb can sound thick and lush, or bright and in your face. This is an amazing plugin for pushing elements of your song to the forefront of your mix.
Lustrous Plates is great to help add width to your tracks as well, and in the equalisation tab you can fine tune the tone, and even apply filters to the verb to ensure it sits well in your mix.
Sporting a super user-friendly interface, this monster of a plugin is capable of both clean and super retro crunchy delays, the Repeater is quite possibly the best delay I’ve ever used.
You can change between multiple delay modes with the ‘Delay Mode’ option, switch between clean and analog style delays, and even swap between different stereo spread modes (I usually like ‘A’).
When I bought Soundtoys Echoboy I never thought I’d want to use a different delay, but the Repeater challenges that for me. While I love Echoboy, I find the Repeater faster to work with and get the sound I want as it has an easier and more streamlined interface.
3. Grab the Kilohearts bundle while we’re at it
Slate partnered with an innovative company called Kilohearts to include all of their digital effect plugins. The Kilohearts bundle comes with 28 individual plugins (with more still being added quite frequently). Seriously though, props to Slate Digital Plugins for pulling this off.
The coolest part of these effects are the ability to use them within the larger plugin multipass, which allows you to serialize any number of these plugins (called “snap-ins”) in multiband. If that was a bit confusing, check out this video to explain it.
I consider these to be more sound-design oriented tools than mixing, but they are certainly super cool. I find you can get some wild results from just loading up Multipass and flipping through the presets.
Don’t sleep on the transient shaper included in this bundle- it is by far the smoothest most effective tool of it’s kind that I’ve used. I reach for it when I want to shape drum samples, especially snares.
4. The ANA 2 is an extremely powerful synth
Not just a company catering to mainly mixing engineers anymore, Slate proved how useful they are to producers as well by partnering with Sonic Academy to provide the extremely powerful ANA 2 synth.
With its ease of use and super powerful engines and FX, I was surprised with how often I find myself reaching for ANA 2 to lay down synth lines. It especially excels at emulating analog synth machines, sporting presets and wavetables designed to give retro vibes.
ANA even comes bundled with tons of presets from Echo Sound Works, who has been at the top of the preset game for many years.
While I don’t see ANA 2 replacing Xfer Serum as my go-to synth ever, it is definitely a great plugin to have and I constantly find myself using it in my productions.
5. Program vintage drum machine samples
Yep, there’s even drums sampled from classic drum machines, both dry and processed. Is there anything the Slate Digital Plugin bundle doesn’t have??
This mini sample-pack will most definitely not be the only sample pack you’ll need — but I don’t think it’s trying to be. These samples are super malleable, and can be super useful especially if you want to go for a bit of an old school sound. Use them to layer up your drums, or add a bit of that throwback vibe.
6. Clean up your audio with Eiosis
Fabrice Gabriel, the genius behind many of the Slate algorithms, started his own audio company called Eiosis. These plugins include a de-esser, and a digital EQ called the Air EQ. While I don’t find the de-esser to be my favorite, it’s certainly useful, and far superior to any stock de-esser. You can see my full breakdown of de-essers here.
The Air EQ is super smooth and beautiful sounding. It has the neat ability to make super subtle moves feel more intense, which makes it my go-to EQ for mastering and vocal bus.
7. Compress, compress, compress with the Virtual Bus Collection
As if there weren’t enough compressors already, there are also 3 bus compressors included:
- The FG-Grey: which is great as a 2-bus compressor.
- The FG-Red: which I don’t really find myself using ever.
- The FG-Mu: which is super cool as a vocal bus compressor when used subtly, though it does add quite a bit of midrange.
Just be careful and watch out as these compressors do add some gain to your signal before even doing anything, which can fool your ears if you don’t level match.
8. Add warmth with the Virtual Tape Machine
The VTM adds crunch, warmth, and vibe to your tracks. It’s a super useful tool for making sounds less digital, but be careful about what it does to your transients, and how much low-end it pushes.
I don’t find myself using it often, but it comes in very handy when I need it. I find myself using it the most on bass and guitar tracks.
9. Get amplified with Overloud THU
The THU has some very solid sounding amp simulations. I definitely feel that this plugin works better as a creative effect on synths, but it’s certainly a great amp sim.
If you need an exactly perfect amp plugin, I’d look into STL Tonality, but if guitars aren’t your main thing Overloud will provide more than enough to get you started in the amp sim world.
It even includes tons of great sounding pedals and rack-mounted guitar gear, which makes this suite super useful even if you prefer a different amplifier plugin. The reverbs sound great, and I’ve come to enjoy using the Wah pedals both on guitars and as a sound design tool.
I personally find you get the best results with THU using the Rig Player in combination with the Slate Cabinet IR rather than using the dedicated emulations.
10. Get surgical with the Infinity EQ
The newest addition to the bundle, the Infinity EQ is a super clean-sounding digital equalizer. Its biggest strength besides how great it sounds is its interface. It is super fast and intuitive, making your EQ moves that much faster.
The mid/side options on the infinity are pretty revolutionary, allowing for not just the binary mid/side, but having fully adjustable width. You can even set a band to work inversely on the mids and sides, which I’ve found to be a really cool way to carve room for a vocal while still accentuating a frequency.
The infinity EQ is insanely customizable, allowing for full control over all aspects of the curves and slopes. This means that you can dial in tighter reductive EQ moves, and even replicate famous effects like the legendary Pultec EQ’s high and low shelves.
Noticeably missing from the Infinity is a dynamic option. This is really the only feature I wish it had– and if it did– would make the Infinity replace the Fabfilter Pro-Q3 completely for me. As it is, I’ve been loving this for making reductive EQ moves on my vocal tracks.
11. You’ll even get courses
Expanding past just plugins, Slate Digital has started including courses from respected industry professionals, Including EDM legends Sevenn. This is a great place to start expanding your knowledge with some start to finish song creation courses and mix videos in multiple styles.
These courses won’t suddenly make you an audio professional- but they will make you a lot more comfortable with the tools provided in the bundle.
If start to finish videos are your thing, you should definitely check out what we have to offer here at Hyperbits.
12. And what about support?
Is there anything worse than the excitement of signing up or buying a new product, only to hear crickets when it actually comes down to getting some help? That won’t be the case with Slate’s team.
My experience with Slate staff has been ace. They are friendly, knowledgeable, and respond quickly. I’ve even had Steven Slate respond personally on several occasions!
Steven manages to maintain the image of a CEO that is not only very actively involved in his company, but also actually cares about providing the best for his customers– all while also providing a taste of friendly trolling.
Slate Audiophiles Facebook Group
There’s also an active community of Slate fans on the official Facebook group, and it’s a cool place to see what’s going on with the company. Even if you don’t have any Slate Digital plugins, it can be a cool place to start learning more!
13. Slate Hardware
While not included in the bundle Slate also makes a lot of amazing gear such as the Virtual Modeling System ML-1 and ML-2 (both incredible microphones), the VMS One Preamp, the VSR8 interface, and the Raven (a super cool touchscreen studio system).
These products all integrate super well with the Slate All Access Pass, and are all amazing pieces of studio equipment in their own right, with very reasonable pricing for the level of quality they are.
I have the ML-1 microphone and the VMS One preamp in my studio as my recording chain, and I love it. Since the ML-1 models many famous microphones all in one, I consider it to be the only vocal mic you’ll need, and the VMS One preamps are even cleaner sounding than the ones in my Apollo Twin interface.
To Sum it Up
Whether you are just starting your plugin collection or you’re already a veteran hoarder, the Slate Digital All Access Pass is a collection of extremely useful and quality tools that will improve both your sound and your workflow.
It sure did for me!