Although we have all the tools we need to produce extremely clean and precise music without any unwanted artefacts there’s something about the imperfections of analog recording equipment that triggers certain emotions in us.
So if you want to produce lofi music it’s important to pick the right sounds and samples from the start. You could, for example, sample old vinyl records or buy an old drum machine. It would however be easier to just get your hands on a decent LoFi House or Hip Hop sample pack.
Once you have a selection of cool sounds & samples you can further refine your music to sound like it was recorded a few decades ago. Luckily there are plenty of cool lofi plugins available so you don’t have to actually own an old tape machine. Here are some of the best options:
Free LoFi Plugins
I want to start this list with a bunch of free lofi VSTs, because I know that a lot of producers are one a budget, especially when they’re still going to school (or music is their only income lol). That said, you don’t always have to spend money to get some quality software. The freeware in this list can easily compete with some of the paid stuff I’ll mention later on.
BVKER LoFi Rack
The “LoFi Rack” is a free Ableton Rack based on Live’s stock plugins. It comes with 8 macros allowing you to decrease the band width, add vinyl crackles, detune and distort the source sound. Unfortunately it’s only available for Ableton Live users, so if you’re using another DAW you have to pick some of the other options in this list. If you’re using Ableton however, hop on my newsletter and I’ll send you a free download link.
As the name suggests, iZotope’s “Vinyl” is a plugin emulating the characteristic imperfections of vinyl records. Since the freeware only comes with a handful of parameters it’s easy to use and setting it up won’t take much time. What I love the most is that you can adjust the year of your “recording”. A must have for every lofi producer if you ask me.
Spitfire Audio Labs
Labs is a free software instrument made by the London based sound design company Spitfire Audio. There are several extensions available, including pianos, brass, choirs and synths. Most of these instruments are rather unique and therefore a nice addition to the basic instruments libraries you probably already own. The cool part about Labs is that it comes with only a handful of parameters so you won’t spend 10 years trying to get everything perfect. The sound either fits your production or not.
Tritik’s Krush is an effect plugin with 3 different distortion types. A bitcrusher , a downsampler and an analog drive knob. It further comes with 2 filters and an LFO that can be used to modulate every parameter. It’s available for both Windows and Mac in VST, AU and AAX format so really everyone can get their hands on this.
This one is a free bit quantizer, waveshaper & filter plugin made by Tadashi Suginomori from HY-Plugins. It’s meant to process “audio to give it a low fidelity sound”. Just like Krush it combines different distortion modes with high and low-pass filters. More precisely it has one drive knob and a quantizer, which can run in different modes and qualities.
Legowelt Ableton Racks
Legowelt is a dutch producer known for releasing samples from analog hardware units, but you’ll also find some Ableton Racks on his website, including the Smackos Tape Station, the Smackos Lemuria Vintage Sampler Simulator, the Smackos 808 Simulator and the Smackos Amiga 909.
Sound-Base Audio Retro Boy
The Retro Boy is a Windows only VST synth. It comes with one oscillator, 7 waveforms and controls for ADSR, vibrato and decimation, which makes it perfect for Chiptune or 8-bit music. Since there isn’t much processing going on, the synth is quite CPU-friendly.
Best LoFi Plugins
Although you can definitely do some cool stuff with the freeware I mentioned so far there are some paid options no lofi producer should miss out on. A lot of them do more or less the same thing so in the end it’s up to personal preference (and budget), which ones you should get. Luckily most of these plugins aren’t that expensive compared to some of the stuff by other brands.
XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color
Probably the most hyped plugin of this list is the R-c20 Retro Color by XLN Audio. It combines 6 different effect units, including noise, wobble, distort, digital, space and magnetic. Combining these options basically allows you to recreate any lofi characteristic you could possibly think of. If I could only pick one plugin of this list I’d probably go for this one, since it comes with the most features.
Baby Audio Super VHS
Considering that Baby Audio is a rather new plugin company, their products already gained quite much attention. Super VHS again combines multiple effects, including a distortion unit, a retro sounding VST reverb and detune knob labeled “drift”. All knobs sound surprisingly good and I really dig the design.
D16 Group Decimort 2
Decimort 2 is a bitcrusher on steroids. It offers two optional anti-alias filters, adjustable jitter, two quantization methods and controllable dithering. If you’re looking for a cool bitcrusher, this is definitely the one you should get your hands on. With less than 50 bucks it’s also pretty affordable.
AudioThing Vinyl Strip
The Vinyl Strip is just like RC-20 a multi-effect plugin consisting of 6 different modules: Distortion, Compressor, Bit Crusher, Tilt EQ, Vintage Reverb, and something they call Vinylizer. In contrast to most plugins mentioned in this list, you can change the signal flow simply via drag-n-drop. On their website is stated that you can activate your license without an internet connection, which is pretty cool if you still live in a cave 😉
Devious Machines Texture
Texture is a plugin I just recently found out about watching Virtual Riot’s production workshop he did for Cymatics. It allows you to add noise to any kind of source sound. The cool part is that unlike similar effects you can even load your own noise samples and can adjust the exact frequency range, amount, ADSR and stuff like that.
When it comes to beat making, there’s one plugin every FL Studio user slaps on their melodies: Gross Beat (you’ll find plenty of memes about this). The problem is that it can’t be used in other DAWs (at least on Mac). This is where the Cableguys come into play. Their ShaperBox combines different effects that can all be modulated. The Time one is especially interesting for lofi producers, because it allows you to play back your melodies in halftime, add cool pitching effects and mix everything in with the dry signal.
Initial Audio Analog Pro
Analog Pro is once again a plugin meant to bring your digital audio tracks to live by simulating analog hardware. It comes with a variety of adjustable controls, including Noise Level, Noise Type, Impulse Type, Impulse Mix, Emphasis, Stereo, Lowcut, Highcut, Wow, Flutter and Amount. While I’m writing this the plugin is on sale for €26.10 (which is 64% off) so feel free to check out if this offer is still available.
Aberrant DSP SketchCassette
SketchCassette is a VST inspired by 4-track cassette recorders. It comes with most features the other plugins in this list have. Since it’s however available for only $20 it’s particularly interesting for producers on a tight budget.
Goodhertz Wow Control
Wow Control focuses on the weird and random modulations of analog playback devices. According to their website Goodhertz has carefully studied the essence of three different tape machines to make sure their plugin is the most comprehensive tape model they ever heard. I haven’t tried it out to be honest, but there are some videos about it on YouTube so feel free to check them out if you’d like to learn more about it.
The PSP Vintage Warmer is a tool simulating the saturation of analog compression / limiting. It comes with classic compression controls, such as knee or release time, and since it can run in multiband mode you can further control the individual bands a bit. In contrast to most usual compressors it comes with a big drive knob. Since it also comes with a mix knob you can drive the compression / saturation quite hard and mix it in just a bit to make your drums or vocals or whatever a bit fatter.
According to Wavesfactory’s website “Cassette is an audio plugin that imparts the unique character and sonic imprint of an often maligned recording medium”. You can also get your hands on their free Cassette Transport plugin, which “simulates the sound of tape speeding up and slowing down”. Or with other words: it’s a pretty cool tape stop plugin.
Psychic Modulation EchoMelt
Echomelt is “designed for adding character, texture and warmth to your sounds”. It doesn’t look that stunning, but it comes with an echo and chorus unit, which sets it apart from the other options in this list.
Aphex Vintage Exciter
The Aphex Vintage Aural Exciter by Waves is modeled on a tube-powered hardware unit. It allows you to increase high frequencies without raising the level too much.
As you can see, there are plenty of lofi plugins available that make your productions sound like they were recorded with a toaster (or something like that). The free offers, especially Vinyl and Labs are no brainers, since .. well, they’re free, so make sure to download them straight away if you haven’t done so yet 😉