Nostalgic genres like Synthwave or Hip-Hop are dependent on the vibe – heating things up and taking the listener to a time when snap, crackle and pop were a necessary part of the experience.

 

Here we’ll take you through 11 of the best plugins to bring a sense of LoFi sound into your tracks – whether you’re heating up Breaks, crafting Broken Beats or looking to add more musical material to Vinyl-tinged Samples, we’ve got the tools that’ll help you do it – and some of them are free.

 

Once you’ve looked over this selection of LoFi-specialist plugins, don’t forget to check out our LoFi Production Techniques Guide to find out how best to use them.

 

THE TOP 11 LOFI PLUGINS ARE…

 

RC-20 Retro Color
Psychic Modulation EchoMelt
iZotope Vinyl
Klevgrand DAW Cassette
AudioThing Vinyl Strip
FM Radio
Cableguys TimeShaper
Initial Audio Analog Pro
Devious Machines Texture
Aberrant DSP SketchCassette
D16 Group Decimort 2

 

RC-20 Retro Color

(£79.95)


With six nostalgic degradation processes to run your audio through, this VST/AU/AAX plugin from XLN Audio will send your sounds back in time like there no tomorrow – or if there is, it’s in 1981.

RC-20 starts with its Noise module, which offers 16 types ranging from Vinyl and Tape through electronic noises, cassettes and VHS, white noise, pink noise and more. Next comes the Wobble processor, which offers control over simulated wow and flutter, allowing you to set both independently and blend between them.

Next, the Distort and Digital panels offer different takes on signal saturation – tube and bit-crushing types respectively, with various types of analogue-style distortion for the former. The Space and Magnetic panels round things out: Space provides minor reverb with a Decay control and a basic EQ to ‘focus’ the sound, while Magnetic can imbue your signal with the sounds of tape – whether that’s VHS, Cassette or Reel-to-Reel studio tape.

It wouldn’t be analogue sound without a touch of chaos, and despite having plenty of that in each module, each also has a Flux parameter that works to gently randomise its settings, sending things even further haywire. 

There’s no re-ordering of modules in RC-20 Retro Color, but you do get individual depth amounts per processor, input and output gain, then master EQ and tone controls to finish the sound off.

 

Psychic Modulation EchoMelt

($49)


Psychic Modulation's EchoMelt does Chorus, Echo and EQ effects, but its main draw is actually the Melt section, which is designed to mimic the sonic effect of VHS reel-to-reel tape. 

The idea here is that you set two separate Speed controls, one operating slowly between 1 and 15Hz, and the other between 15 and 30Hz, and mix between the two, providing anything from warbling wow or off-the-wall flutter, or anything in between… or both!

These speeds can be assigned to affect the input audio signal’s amplitude and/or pitch, and you can tweak the Buffer size to reflect a better or worse interpretation of the audio, leading to more faithful or more destructive levels of signal smashery.

There’s also a Snag control here, mimicking a stuck reel on your virtual VHS tape, with all the required parameters to customise the sound of abso-failure.

 

iZotope Vinyl

(Free)


This plugin is completely focused on one type of sound degradation. Can you tell what it is yet? Yes, with Vinyl – a free plugin by DSP dons iZotope – you get six processes designed to spin your sounds back through time. 

There are all the ‘faults’ that make vinyl such a nostalgic format, with Dust and Scratches, Mechanical Noise, Wear, Electrical Noise and Warping all dialled in via the main six sliders. Dust and Scratch amounts are set by the two little knobs next to these, and there’s a Spin Down button for doing the classic ‘record stop’ function.

That’s not all – you can also select the record’s year of manufacture, from 1930 up until 2000, the RPM of your virtual disc, mono or stereo operation, and select the type of spin-down created by pressing that button. 

Vinyl used to be a paid plugin from iZotope, and is at least partly responsible for a lot of the company’s growth in popularity over the years. The interface shows exactly how old this plugin is – it’s been set free by its developers due to its age, but it’s still an incredibly comprehensive emulation of the magic of vinyl records.

 

Klevgrand DAW Cassette

($39.99 macOS/Windows, $12.99 iPad/iPhone)


Crank it all the way back a few decades with this Mac, PC and iOS tape emulator from Swedish developers Klevgrand

Featuring Tape Quality, Head Quality and Motor Quality dials, Tape Type sliders, a Noise switch, and global gain/mix controls, this one takes us back to a time when listening to the latest music could be a DIY experience, recording from CDs, records or other tapes in order to get it into your pocket – at a reduced quality, of course.

And it’s that reduced quality that Klevgrand are offering with DAW Cassette and its bouncing VU meters. This one gives you that essential tape tone quickly and easily, and thanks to that dry/wet mix knob, it can even be used as a flanger plugin.

 

AudioThing Vinyl Strip

(€55)


Italian plugin developers AudioThing have come up with one of the ultimate all-purpose audio degradation tools with Vinyl Strip. This VST/AU/AAX plugin lets you introduce Distortion, Compression, EQ, Reverb, Vinylizing and Sampler emulation, and lets you do it in any order you see fit, with each module being freely reorderable within the interface.

Taking a closer look at Vinyl Strip, the Distortion section gives a Drive control and a Harmonics dial to mix between odd harmonics, even harmonics or both. The Compressor has an Envelope setting (between fast and slow) for transient shaping, plus an Amount dial. The EQ is a simple Tilt model reminiscent of the Vinyl RIAA curve, which is one distinguishing feature of an uncalibrated vinyl turntable setup.

The real meat of Vinyl Strip’s processing is, of course, the Vinyl module, which gives control over the Dust Amount and Dust Rate you’re simulating, plus the amount of Noise and the simulated Wow of a record that’s not spinning completely flat. There’s a control for the Record Age and a continuous Mono to Stereo dial as well. 

Vinyl Strip is no slouch at bit-crushing, either, with its Bits control simulating a low-res digital system all the way down to 4 bits, and the Sample Rate running down to 0.1x your project’s sample rate. 

 

FM Radio

(Free)


This free Reaktor ensemble runs in only the full version of Reaktor – but if you have that, the sounds of an FM radio dial moving through the stations are yours for free.

There are 13 simulated ‘stations’ baked into FM Radio, and transitioning the Tuner and Radio FX knobs from their initial positions around the dials yield the effect of scanning stations, as your music drops out and other, foreign audio drops in and out, all in that inimitable fuzzy way.

So tune up, drop out and drop back in again for the sounds of scanning the channels – all for free.

 

Cableguys TimeShaper

($44)


Just draw a curve into TimeShaper’s central display, and this will determine the speed of your track, making things slower and faster to simulate vinyl scratches, or jumping through time to derive glitchy stuttering effects. There are plenty of presets to help you understand what’s happening.

The plugin also allows MIDI triggering, meaning that you can switch through predefined shapes that you’ve selected or drawn; and you can also operate in three bands, setting up different time-bending tricks in your low, mid and high frequencies.

TimeShaper runs as a module inside Cableguys’ ShaperBox software, which is a free shell for PC and Mac. You needn’t buy any other Shapers, but they’re available to use alongside TimeShaper if you do. 

 

Initial Audio Analog Pro

(£60.47)


This VST/AU plugin from Initial Audio emulates various types of LoFi and retro sound sources – and it looks great while doing it. Choose from four types of vinyl, three tubes, seven tapes, six general ‘analog’ types and three ‘FX’ for referencing work.

It’s the massive Amount knob that puts more or less of the effect into a sound, of course, and you get a number of other global properties such as filtering, stereo width and so on. Various effects can be tailored towards a direction of your choice, including Type selectors and wow/flutter controls for the Vinyl emulations, for example.

Analog Pro is a swiss army knife of LoFi sound and sounds great whatever it’s doing.

 

Devious Machines Texture

(£79.99)


A gate-meets-sampler plugin built for layering new sounds onto your existing audio, Devious Machine's Texture is a VST, Audio Units and AAX plugin that can be added to any audio track in order to put a new twist on it – and that includes a LoFi twist as well! 

Let’s say you put texture onto a piano line and choose, say, a water sound from the in-built bank. With the gate Threshold set up properly, that water sound will be added in with your piano sounds whenever it plays, meaning you can either thicken it up, add a constant crackle behind it, or use Texture to emphasise just a portion of the existing audio.

For Lo-Fi uses, Texture comes into its own when it’s used for its inbuilt Vinyl Crackle sounds, Electrical Hum and Noise, and other Foley sounds. And you’re not just limited to the onboard bank of noises, either – you can import your own samples into Texture for triggering, granulating and looping.

 

Aberrant DSP SketchCassette

($20)


Here we have a painstakingly emulated version of a four-track tape recorder from Aberrant DSP for Mac/PC, which will be a familiar concept for anyone with experience of recording guitars, drums and vocals back in the day. The hand-drawn GUI also helps take us back to a time when hours could be spent filling in song names and creating artwork to go with the listening experience.

SketchCassette gives you three types of cassette tape – Type I, Type II and Metal – to simulate running your tracks, whether individual or the master channel. There’s modelling of the ‘age’ of the tape, whether it’s New, Used, Worn, or anything in between, with SketchCassette obliging to degrade the audio to your chosen level, and giving you that nostalgic hit of magnetism throughout.

You get further features to twist those tapes into the personality you’re looking for, including Wow and Flutter Depth and Rate, Dropouts, Hiss and Saturation controls. 

 

D16 Group Decimort 2 

(€49)


Bitcrushing is the process of simulating a lower sample rate than the original audio’s, imposing, for example, an 8-bit depth and a low sample-rate on pristine audio. Decimort can do exactly that – and plenty more besides.

If you’re simulating classic video game music or even early sampling technology for LoFi hip-hop production, bitcrushing could be a strong part of your musical vocabulary. Decimort’s presets include settings that intentionally emulate old samplers like the Akai MPC and E-mu’s SP-1200, and 8-bit game-style sounds too.

But if you don’t feel like diving into the presets, you can also avail yourself of Decimort’s Sample Rate and Bit Depth controls, along with other, digital parameters such as Jitter, Imaging Filter and Dithering, plus load more technical tweaks like a pre- or post-crushing filter, Frequency Deviation and an Approximation Filter, and DC Shifting. There are loads to get on with here.

Decimort is available from D16 Group in VST and AU formats for PC and Mac, and AAX format for Pro Tools users.