Following on from my top 5 dynamics plugins article (read it here), I wanted to take a look at some essentials when it comes to my 'palette' of distortion plugins. Saturation and distortion plugins area bit of a tough one to whittle down into a short list as it's a bit like stating your five favorite colors are 'the best'. Its very subjective, but nevertheless I've selected five which tend to make it into my projects more than the others in my collection.
Black Box Designs HG-2
I've been in love with this plugin since day one. It's the ultimate 'better maker' plugin and just makes everything you put through it more three dimensional and jump out your speakers. Featuring controls for odd and even harmonics, a parallel saturation circuit and an air band for adding those sparkly highs back in, its just at home on single channels as it is on your master bus.
SPL Twin Tube
Another simple saturation box I've been a huge fan of for ages. Ridiculously easy to dial in, this adds a weight and punch to a ton of sources in my mixes. I love this on kicks and bass elements to harden them up slightly.
Yet another saturation box, this one from Soundtoys is capable of much more dramatic distortion than the previously mentioned plugins. Modeling 5 different distortion units, including the famed Thermionic Culture Vulture, it offers you nice selection of tones, coupled with the 'Punish' button to really shred your audio.
Unfiltered Audio Triad
While not a dedicated distortion unit, Unfiltered Audio's multi-band version of their Byome plugin features a ton of fantastic tools to rip and shred audio. It offers options like wave shaping foldingg, bit crushing and more. Definitely more on the harsh, digital side of things but incredibly useful nonetheless especially when coupled with its incredibly flexible modulation system.
Izotope Trash 2
Another multiband distortion unit, Trash 2 offers a huge mount if distortion algorithms for shaping and coloring your audio. Chaining up to two distortion units on any on of it's 4 band will give you huge variety of options, coupled with multi-band compression, delay effects and some excellent IR based filters.