Top 12 Plugins You Absolutely Need For Mixing Hip-Hop Music

These days, there are an impressive number of pro-quality plugins for mixing music. But some are more suitable than others depending on the music genre. In this article, I give you a list of 12 plugins that I consider you absolutely need for mixing hip-hop music.

12 Plugins For Mixing Hip-Hop Music

Here are the 12 plugins you absolutely need for mixing hip-hop music:

  1. Waves CLA-76
  2. FabFilter Pro-Q3
  3. Antares Auto-Tune Pro X
  4. Valhalla VintageVerb
  5. FabFilter Saturn 2
  6. Antares Auto-Tune Vocal EQ
  7. Waves Vitamin
  8. Soundtoys Decapitator
  9. FabFilter Pro-DS
  10. Black Box Analog Design HG-2
  11. Waves Doubler
  12. UAD SSL 4000 E Channel Strip

Selection criteria

Before we get to the heart of the matter, it’s important for you to know what criteria we used to select these 12 plugins.

The list would surely have been different if I had relied only on my own experience, or on the experience of other engineers. So here is what was taken into account.

1. My Own Experience

The first criteria I relied on was obviously my own experience as a mixing engineer in the hip-hop and pop music scene.

Over the past few years I have been able to try out many different plugins and to evolve my selection towards plugins that help me to work efficiently but also and above all qualitatively.

Besides the subjective aspect of these choices, I am convinced that they will also help you in your mixing process.

2. Experience of engineers around me

Over the last few years, I’ve been able to meet a lot of different sound engineers who have helped me open my mind about my choice of plugins and the way I work.

I also thought it was important to take this into account in this selection of plugins.

3. Legendary Mixing engineers

Some engineers have proven themselves over the course of their careers, so much so that some have become legends in the hip-hop mixing community.

Leslie Brathwaite, Lu Diaz, Mike Dean, Dave Pensado,… and I’m probably forgetting a lot! All of these legendary engineers have something to learn in the Hip-Hop mixing community. I learned a lot from them myself, and I’m still learning a lot today!

Need a professional sound engineer specializing in pop and hip-hop mixing ? Great! Take a look at our services and let’s blow up your career together!
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1. Waves CLA-76

Waves CLA-76

The CLA-76 is an emulation of the legendary 1176 compressor from Universal Audio. There are many emulations of this compressor on the market, but this one is particularly effective in mixing thanks to the slight distortion enhanced by the plugin.

In hip-hop mixing, this plugin will be especially effective on vocals. Used properly, it will add character, punch and robustness to your vocals. Exactly what you need for this kind of music!

ℹ️ Other plugins are also ideal for mixing rap vocals, I let you discover them here: Top 9 Plugins For Mixing Rap Vocals

Its use will be optimal by aiming at a gain reduction of 3 to 5 dB with a rather fast attack and a relatively fast release time as well.

The ratio will always depend on the vocals you are working on and their dynamics. But as a rule of thumb a ratio of 4:1 is sufficient to get the best out of the CLA-76.

This tool also emphasizes the frequency range associated with warmth. This gives a very pleasant feeling of closeness to the processed vocals.

With vocals, I advise you to use the Blackey mode, as the Bluey is more aggressive and can quickly create excessive compression.

ℹ️ Do you actually know what a compressor is and how to use it properly? I’ll let you find out in this article: What Is An Audio Compressor ? How To Use It With Vocals ?

Key Feature(s):

ALL Button:

The ALL button allows you to switch the compressor to limiter mode (∞:1 ratio). This mode is particularly suitable for parallel compression to give power and robustness to the direct source.

This often works very well with vocals and drum busses.


✅ Adds character and robustness

✅ Very versatile

Easy to use

Adds a very nice slight distortion

❌ CONS ❌

Sound result very different from the original hardware unit

Pro Mix Engineer

2. FabFilter Pro-Q3

FabFilter Pro-Q3

For those who know me, you know that I am a big fan of this plugin for its ease of use, its efficiency, its accuracy and the number of features it offers to its users.

Pro-Q3 can be used in many situations. I really like to use it on my vocals for the precision it offers. But you will also be likely to use it on your mix bus, on your instruments, your drums busses, everywhere!

ℹ️ There are a lot of great alternative plugins to Pro-Q3 on the market. I tell you about them in detail right here: Top 9 Alternative Plugins To FabFilter Pro-Q3 (Free & Paid)

You have to keep in mind that this is a very transparent EQ and that it will never add much character to the processed sources. That’s why it’s better to use it as a subtractive EQ than an additive one. But it all depends on the situation you want to use it in.

Another thing to watch out for with Pro-Q3 is not to overuse it. As mentioned earlier in this article, this plugin is almost limitless, but that doesn’t mean you have to use every feature. Use only what you need!

ℹ️ Pro-Q3 is an essential plugin for a good vocal chain. I tell you more about it here: Crafting A Pop Vocal Chain: The Pro Guide

Key Feature(s):

Dynamic Mode:

The dynamic mode allows you to adjust the dynamic compression of each band separately. You can also decide to trigger the dynamic control of each band with an external or internal source (another band for example).

MS Mode:

MS processing (which stands for Mid/Side or Mono/Stereo) is a feature that is increasingly being integrated into modern EQs. It allows to process stereo and mono signals completely independently. This is very useful in many situations.

Modifiable EQ type:

Most EQs are generally either linear phase or non-linear (or natural) phase. With Pro-Q3, you have a choice!


✅ Almost unlimited features

✅ Very accurate tool

✅ Very instinctive and easy to use

✅ Frequent updates

❌ CONS ❌


3. Antares Auto-Tune Pro X

Antares Auto-Tune Pro X

In 2022, who says hip-hop and rap often says auto-tune. But among all the tools available on the market nowadays, you have to be able to choose the right one. Because not all of them are of great quality.

Auto-Tune Pro is a plugin built by Antares that aims to correct the pitch of a melodic source in real time and in a more or less robotic way according to the user’s choice of parameters.

ℹ️ Auto-Tune Pro is an amazing plugin when it comes to pitch correction, but it is very expensive! There are a lot of great alternatives on the market: Top 9 Alternative Plugins To Auto-Tune Pro (Free & Paid)

The sound result, which will always be of high quality thanks to Antares’ algorithms, depends mainly on 3 parameters:

  • Retune Speed: Determines the speed at which Auto-Tune Pro targets the note in the nearest scale. The shorter the speed, the more robotic the effect.
  • Humanize: Makes transitions and correction smoother for a more natural result.
  • Flex-Tune: Makes the correction a little less precise to make the note transitions less aggressive.

Auto-Tune Pro remains a classic in the field of auto-tune and few are the plugins that compete today with the rendering of this tool.

Key Feature(s):

Graph Mode:

The super cool feature of Auto-Tune Pro, besides its very precise tuning capabilities, is the graph mode. This mode allows you to use the plugin in a manual way and to correct each note in a very precise way with the mouse.


Nowadays, this Humanize mode seems to have become commonplace. But with Antares, this parameter is impressively efficient and really allows to obtain a good pitch correction while keeping the human timbre of the vocals.


✅ High audio quality

✅ No artifacts through correction

✅ Accurate pitch correction

❌ CONS ❌


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4. Valhalla VintageVerb

Valhalla VintageVerb

The VintageVerb is a Valhalla reverb that combines reverb types from all eras. From the 80’s to the most modern reverbs, the VintageVerb leaves nothing to chance.

The VintageVerb interface may seem complicated and uninstinctive, but the plugin is actually easy to understand and pick up.

Working from left to right, you can really shape the color of the reverb with precision and get some very atypical results.

This reverb is recognizable among many others for its very organic and natural tone presets that will fit very well in your hip-hop mixes. But in what situation to use it? Actually, the VintageVerb works in many different situations.

I find the plate presets, for example, very suitable for snares, adding a lively but not too cluttered space. With vocals, the Hall presets are all equally impressive. VintageVerb’s Rooms are also effective for placing multiple elements in the same space and giving a sense of unity.

Need a professional sound engineer specializing in pop and hip-hop mixing ? Great! Take a look at our services and let’s blow up your career together!
Let’s start now!

Key Feature(s):


This color button is one of the greatest inventions of the decade in the field of reverbs. The purpose of that feature is to reproduce the reverb colors of several different decades and to change the timbre, color and tone. This is brilliantly emulated by the plugin.

Modulation section:

This modulation section is really great for bringing the reverb tail to life. It gives movement without being excessive.


✅ Very atypical reverb color

✅ High quality presets

✅ Large amount of reverb types

❌ CONS ❌

Overloaded with parameters

5. FabFilter Saturn 2

FabFilter Saturn 2

Of all the saturation plugins available on the audio market today, Saturn is probably the best and most complete. With this tool, nothing is left to chance.

The first element that makes Saturn so strong is the number of saturation types that the plugin offers: at least twenty. And each type of distortion and saturation is very different from the others.

ℹ️ Saturn 2 is clearly one of the best plugins when it comes to 808 saturation. I give you my top 6 right here: Top 6 Saturation Plugins For 808s

Once you have chosen the type of saturation that suits your needs, you will have all the tools at your disposal to shape the sound you want to achieve. A tone section, a very precise drive knob, a dynamic knob, the possibility to work in multiband,… It’s all there!

In hip-hop mixing, I advise you to use it in two different ways:

  • Either in a relatively subtle way, in mix bus processing for example, by playing with the mix and drive knob.
  • Or in a much more aggressive way, on 808s, basses or kicks, to add an inimitable harmonic richness and create a fuller and more powerful mix.
  • Saturn is also to be tried on snares, in tube mode. To add a touch of warmth but also harmonics in the upper spectrum.

ℹ️ A good saturation plugin is an amazing tool to give more punch to your 808s, but this is not the only thing to do! I tell you more about this in this article: How To Give More Punch To Your 808s

Key Feature(s):


This knob dynamics is simply impressive when Saturn is useful on a mix or drum bus. It adds extra energy without altering the balance or the overall frequency spectrum.

Categories of transformers:

The number of transformer categories (or saturation types) allows you to choose the saturation color that best suits the desired result. This is quite impressive.

Multiband processing:

Multiband processing can be very useful when working on a whole mix… or even on an 808, to split each frequency zone with a different treatment.


✅ Complete plugin

✅ Multiband processing

✅ Dynamic control

✅ High-quality saturation

❌ CONS ❌

Can be complicated to use

6. Antares Auto-Tune Vocal EQ

Antares Auto-Tune Vocal EQ

This recent Antares plugin is an 8-band EQ armed with a low-pass, high-pass, tilt filter to balance the low and high frequencies and a dedicated air boost filter. It is designed to be used in vocal mixing exclusively.

But above all, it has a feature that no other EQ has (at least not to my knowledge): an active frequency band system.

The principle is simple. By activating the “Track” button of any Vocal EQ band, then selecting the harmonic to track, the band will be made active and will follow in real time the harmonics and aggressive resonances of the audio source.

Of course, you should not abuse this feature, as it could completely kill the core of the source (often vocals). But this feature is simply revolutionary and will put an end to many worries about the resonances and harmonics of a voice.

Besides this very handy feature, the plugin is very simple and modern in its design, allowing the user to quickly and efficiently rebalance his vocals.

ℹ️ Need to know more about Vocal EQ? I’ve done a full review for you right here: Auto-Tune Vocal EQ – Review & Analysis

Key Feature(s):

Track button:

You will have understood, the key feature of this plugin is in this “Track” button. This option is a complete game changer! The rest of the parameters is quite “classic”.


✅ Allows the user to track all harmonics and resonances

✅ Intuitive

❌ CONS ❌

Limited in the number of full parametric bands

Pro Mix Engineer

7. Waves Vitamin

Waves Vitamin

Vitamin is a unique Waves plugin, no other plugin available on the audio market looks like it (so far…). Vitamin is advertised by Waves as a multiband sonic enhancer.

In reality, this tool combines several uses in a single plugin. It is an EQ, a compressor and a multiband harmonic enhancer all in one.

The principle of this plugin is quite simple. Each fader is associated to a frequency band. By boosting a fader, you boost the frequency range it is associated with, but not in a common way. The tool will enhance the harmonic richness of the band and make it much more robust. The sound result is unique!

ℹ️ Vitamin is a real beast when used on hip-hop vocals. I’ll let you discover it here: Vitamin | Waves : A Key Plugin To Mixing Hip-Hop Vocals

When used in stereo, you can also widen (or narrow) the stereo image of each band separately. A very practical feature.

This tool can be ideal in two different mixing situations:

  • First of all on a mix bus (in stereo) to have a total control on the stereo and to take advantage of the robustness that the tool can provide in the low spectrum.
  • And then on the vocals (in mono). By pushing slightly all the faders, then by boosting the air zone to build pleasant and powerful highs. The fader associated with the mid-range frequency can also be effective to give a little more presence to the vocals.

The last cool parameter of Vitamin is the “punch” button which allows, as it says, to add more punch to the source. It’s effective, but in small doses! So be careful not to overdo it.

Key Feature(s):

Multiband stereo widener:

The simple fact of having a multiband control on the stereo allows to work in detail when used in mix bus processing.

Punch button:

If your mix lacks a little punch, use this feature. The result will be subtle but noticeable in terms of energy.


✅ Enhances the harmonic richness beautifully

✅ Versatile tool (EQ, compressor, sonic enhancer,…)

✅ Super easy to use

❌ CONS ❌

Does not allow to work in details

8. Soundtoys Decapitator

Soundtoys Decapitator

In recent years, Decapitator has become a classic in the field of mixing. Its ability to mimic analog saturation types of legendary hardwares with almost flawless quality is impressive.

Through each mode (which refers to a specific brand and manufacturer) you will find a type of saturation that is both vintage and totally adapted to today’s modern sound.

By properly adjusting the Drive knob and playing with all the features available within the plugin you can sculpt the color of your saturation with precision and a very analog feel.

Decapitator can be used in many different ways. But in the context of this article dedicated to hip-hop mixing, I will focus on 3 of them:

  • First of all, you can use it on 808’s in a rather extreme way to add harmonic richness in the high end of the spectrum and thus introduce it more easily in the mix.
  • Then, you can also use it in a subtle way on vocals to add a certain warmth that is usually very adapted to hip-hop vocals.
  • Finally, you can use it to add character to your drums. Either individually (kick, snare, hihat,…) or on the drum bus. In both cases, the results are amazing.

ℹ️ Decapitator can be an amazing tool for adding harmonics to your vocals! But… how to use distortion on vocals? I explain everything here: How To Use Distortion On Rap Vocals

Key Feature(s):


A plugin that emulates the exact saturation produced by legendary preamps and devices in the history of music is rare! Decapitator does it brilliantly!


This punish button is a super powerful feature of Decapitator… I let you discover what it creates….

Thump switch:

To the left of the low-cut knob, you can see a small switch called Thump. It allows you to add more punch to the processed signal. Great on drums!


✅ Unique harmonic richness

✅ Reliable and accurate emulation

✅ Amazing quality presets

❌ CONS ❌

Balance sometimes hard to find

9. FabFilter Pro-DS

FabFilter Pro-DS

Deessing rap vocals may seem trivial, but it requires more precision than you think. So arm yourself with the right tools to get the best possible result!

In the world of de-essing, a dilemma has reigned for a very long time, and few tools are in the middle:

  • Either the de-esser is very simple to use but lacks precision
  • Or it is more complicated to use but can work with great precision

Pro-DS has both advantages: it is easy to use and very precise. Moreover, the FabFilter plugin proceeds in an intelligent way and is able to differentiate sibilant sounds from other high pitched sounds. Not bad!

In terms of interface, the plugin is also a winner compared to its competitors. Everything is designed to help the user identify sibilant sounds and their behavior.

Need a professional sound engineer specializing in pop and hip-hop mixing ? Great! Take a look at our services and let’s blow up your career together!
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Key Feature(s):

Single vocal mode:

In single vocal mode, Pro-DS will, as mentioned above, be able to differentiate human sibilant sounds from any other similar sound.


The lookahead knob is not just an off/on switch like it is on most de-essers, it can be adjusted in milli-seconds and thus adapt to any type of sibilance.

ℹ️ Want to learn more about de-essing? I’ll tell you everything here: What Is A De-Esser ?


✅ Accurate de-essing

✅ Pro and helpful interface

✅ Smart and flexible de-esser

❌ CONS ❌

May take a long time to set up for each voice

10. Black Box Analog Design HG-2

Black Box Analog Design HG-2

The Black Box Analog Design HG-2 was not a well known plugin until recently. But in the last few years, the plugin has become more and more talked about for the unique energy it brings to the processed sources.

HG-2 is a plugin created by Plugin Alliance emulating a legendary hardware device of the same name. The purpose of this plugin is to produce a punchier, richer and louder sound through 4 different saturation stages. The main ones being a pentode and a triode.

Each type of saturation, being placed in series in the plugin, produces a very speicla sound. It is the combination of each that makes the richness of this tool.

The triode will produce a warmer and rounder sound. While the pentode will focus more on the high frequencies and produce a richer sound in harmonics and enhance the clarity of the source.

Through the plugin you can also play with the general tone using the low-flat-high switch or using the air knob on the right. HG-2 is the only plugin that allows you to combine so many different types of saturations in one plugin.

It will be efficient…:

  • On 808s and basses, by pushing the triode and pentode knobs a little further.
  • As a mix bus processor, using it in a subtle way by setting all the saturation knobs a bit higher than 50% (I do this in almost all my mixes).

ℹ️ Want to know more plugins to use as mix bus processing? It’s all in this article: Mix Bus Processing: 10 Must-Have Plugins

Key Feature(s):

Pentode and triode emulations:

This triode-pentode duo is clearly the great strength of this plugin which adds an incomparable frequency richness.


✅ Creates unique colors

✅ Adds power, energy and punch at the same peak level

✅ Can focus on specific frequency ranges

❌ CONS ❌

Complicated to manage in terms of gain staging

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11. Waves Doubler

Waves Doubler

Doubler is probably the easiest plugin on this list to get started with, but also the most effective. Its goal: to double a mono signal into stereo. As simple as that!

It uses 3 principles to perform stereo doubling:

  • Panning
  • Delay
  • Detune

These 3 simple elements will allow to create a kind of fake stereo and doubling in a very clean and precise way, without artifact.

If this plugin is in this list, it is for a very precise reason: to widen the backing vocals.

Indeed, in hip-hop, and especially in home recording. It often happens that artists (maybe it’s your case if you’re a rapper) record only one track of backing vocals, which normally forces the mixing engineer to place them in the center.

But having all the vocals in mono can be tiring for the listener as he listens to the track. And creating a false stereo with the backing vocals can instantly make the mix breathe and give it more energy.

ℹ️ Using Doubler is not the only way to create a fake stereo! All the techniques you can use are described here: How To Create A Fake Stereo – 5 Ways To Proceed

Key Feature(s):

There is not really a very special feature in this plugin. Just simplicity and pure efficiency!


✅ Super easy to handle

✅ Clean sound result

❌ CONS ❌


12. UAD SSL E 4000 Channel Strip

UAD SSL E Channel Strip

The fact that this plugin is placed last in this list does not mean that it is the least good, quite the contrary! UAD SSL E Channel Strip is probably one of the best SSL unit emulations I know of! But what is this plugin actually?

This UAD plugin is an emulation of the legendary SSL console slices that shaped the sound of the greatest hits of the 20th century (and still today!).

Being a channel strip, it can be used as a preamp, EQ, gate and compressor in one tool, and with remarkable authenticity!

This UAD plugin fits in this list thanks to the SSL tone it adds to the processed tracks with brilliance. You can even choose which transformer you prefer to work with depending on the timbre you want to get from the channel strip.

Anything that needs an analog and vintage touch in your mix can be processed by this plugin:

  • A snare to make it more aggressive and snappy
  • A kick to give it more body and punch
  • Vocals to boost the heat, presence or air zone
  • Or even a whole mix, to make it more coherent

Key Feature(s):

Transformer switch:

By activating this switch, you can enjoy the authentic color and tone of a Jensen transformer. A great luxury!

Mic preamp:

Even if you don’t use this plugin for recording, you can still use the mic preamp to give more power and robustness to the source at the input.

Black / Brown EQ switch:

Want to enjoy the SSL sound without the saturation key? Choose the “black” mode! Want to enjoy that vintage touch in your mix? Switch to “brown” mode.


✅ High quality channel strip

✅ Vintage tone/color that fits with everything

✅ Super close from the SSL sound

❌ CONS ❌

May be very complex to use for beginners

Need a professional sound engineer specializing in pop and hip-hop mixing ? Great! Take a look at our services and let’s blow up your career together!
Let’s start now!


The choice of plugins depends a lot on your taste and needs. But whatever the mixing situation, some manufacturers like UAD, Waves, FabFilter or Soundtoys represent a safe bet for mixing hip-hop music.

Don’t just rely on the brand name and think that all plugins from these manufacturers are suitable for all mixing situations, but by trying and listening to what they can produce, you will train your ear and make faster and more efficient choices in the future.

Personally, I strongly recommend that you at least try the plugins presented in this list for your next hip-hop mixes, as many of them can completely change the game.

If you have any questions about these plugins or about anything in the field of hip-hop mixing, please contact me, I’m always very happy to help!

Related Articles:

Top 9 Plugins For Mixing Rap Vocals
What Is An Audio Compressor ? How To Use It With Vocals ?
Top 9 Alternative Plugins To FabFilter Pro-Q3 (Free & Paid)
Crafting A Pop Vocal Chain: The Pro Guide
Top 9 Alternative Plugins To Auto-Tune Pro (Free & Paid)
Top 6 Saturation Plugins For 808s
How To Give More Punch To Your 808s
Auto-Tune Vocal EQ – Review & Analysis
Vitamin | Waves : A Key Plugin To Mixing Hip-Hop Vocals
How To Use Distortion On Rap Vocals
Mix Bus Processing: 10 Must-Have Plugins
How To Create A Fake Stereo – 5 Ways To Proceed

My favorite tools for mixing pop and hip-hop music:


In the field of auto-tune, I’m convinced that nothing’s better and more efficient than Antares Auto-Tune Pro. As for the EQ’s, FabFilter Pro-Q3 and Slate Digital Infinity EQ are, in my opinion, the best tools. For compression, I have 2 favorites plugins: Waves RComp and UAD EL8 Distressor.

As for reverb, I’m a big fan of the Soundtoys Little Plate, but generally, I go for the Valhalla VintageVerb for its versatility. I also love the Arturia Rev PLATE-140 and the UAD Pure Plate for its organic side.


The closed headphones I love and will always love using for mixing pop and hip-hop music are the Beyerdynamic DT-770. As for the best open-back headphones, I use the Sennheiser HD600 headphones, and I’m really happy of them!


Having a pair of Yamaha HS7 in its studio or home studio is always cool for more excitement while listening to your mixes. The Adam Audio T7V monitors are also super accurate. In my studio, I also have a pair of Genelec 8030 for their reliability.

Hardware gear

For anyone who wants to start using hardware in their mixes, I always recommend these 2 units from Klark Teknik: the EQP-KT and the 76-KT. Don’t forget to use good converters, such as the Apollo interfaces. This is essential for a good rendering.


IDeez (real name Gauthier Claude) is the owner and head engineer of IDeez Studio. He has been working as a mixing engineer in pop and hip-hop music for several years and collaborates with many artists and independent labels around the world. His goal is to provide quality online mixing services and to teach, through his blog posts, the principles and techniques of mixing in pop and hip-hop music.


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About IDeez

IDeez is the head sound engineer of IDeez Studio. He studied BA and MA in sound engineering at IAD (Belgium) and has been a specialist in vocal mixing for several years, especially in pop and hip-hop music. His goal is to help artists, rappers and singers in their mixing process through online mixing services, tutorials, blog articles and e-books. Contact him for any information!

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