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There are several ways to improve the quality of your audio. For example, you could get better microphones or improve your room acoustics. However, the most cost-effective method is the use of audio filters. The focus of this article is that last point – filters known as VST Plugins. More specifically, I want to address the best free VST Plugins for OBS Studio that I know of.
At the moment, there are two free packages that I am aware of that bundle a whole heap of useful filters for your audio in OBS. These plugin packs include a wide variety of commonly used filters and are far more configurable than the standard, simple filters bundled with OBS Studio.
You can read a bit about those here – I haven’t quite covered all of them just yet, but I’ll update this article when I do.
- Invert Polarity
- Noise Gate
- Noise Suppression
- And finally, The VST 2.x Plug-in
It is important to bear in mind that these filters are not magic though. There are limitations to how far you can push them before they start to do more harm than good. For example, you might be tempted to boost your bass on your microphone to give yourself a powerful rumble to your voice. However, add too much, and it will get muddy, and bury the rest of the spectrum.
As the quote goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
What Is a VST Plugin?
VST stands for “Virtual Studio Technology,” which is an industry standard for creating and mastering all forms of audio. More specifically, a VST plugin is simply this VST standard applied to a program that can utilize this technology. A VST Plugin isn’t limited to just being an audio filter, either.
There is a special type of VST, called a VSTi, which stands for “Virtual Studio Technology Instrument.” As you might guess, a VSTi will allow you to recreate the sound of an instrument, virtually, within Digitial Audio Workstations (DAWs) or programs that support the use of VST Plugins. This allows the use of Midi devices to create any type of audio you can imagine, from sound effects to music.
And yet, this is only barely scratching the surface of what it is capable of. There is a reason music production studios pay in the thousands of dollars for very good VST and VSTi plugins.
Problems to Be Aware of – VST Plugins For OBS & SLOBS
Before you get too excited about the prospects of VST Plugins changing your life, I want to ensure that you are aware that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. OBS’s implementation of VST support is not without its bugs, and some of these bugs are extremely frustrating when encountered:
- UI elements not visible within the canvas after applying a preset
- Can be worked around by closing the plugin interface and reopening it
- Certain features in various VST filters can cause OBS to Crash without warning
- Some features don’t appear to work, or work incorrectly
- Attempting to use VSTi plugins will likely just cause a crash to desktop
- Doesn’t always save your settings on the VST plugin itself, prompting a re-configuring every time you re-open OBS
- OBS does not support some versions of VST.
- Must be VST 2.x, or VST 2. Will not work with VST 3 filters.
Many plugins will have bugs when navigating their interface or tweaking settings. Others, like many of the free VSTi plugins that I tried, can outright lock up the broadcasting program. Particularly notorious for outright VST incompatibility is Streamlabs OBS – It simply doesn’t work with the #2 VST package mentioned below at all. At least the last time I tried it anyway, which was a few months ago.
Order Matters in VST Audio Chains
The order in which the filters are in the “chain” matters, especially for your microphone source. For example, if you included a “gain” filter before a “Noise suppression” filter, you will amplify the noise and reduce your signal-to-noise ratio. However, if you did the opposite, you’d instead increase it and reduce the background hiss in your mic signal while simultaneously making it louder.
You tell me what you prefer. Try it out.
Understanding this order is essential when manipulating audio filters in OBS Studio, or any broadcasters software for that matter.
My Recommended Filter Order for OBS Studio
For an idea of what I recommend, here is a quick and generalized list of the order that the filters that should appear within the list of filters.
- Noise Suppression
- Noise Gate
- Expander (optional)
- Equalization (optional)
- Limiter (optional)
Regarding the optional filters, they are not required to get decent audio out of your microphone, but they can enhance it. For example, the Expander filter will make quiet sounds louder. Think of footsteps becoming more audible. Equalization is also optional, as that is more of a preference change than a quality one. Finally, a limiter will help to prevent your microphone from peaking.
My #1 Pick for the Best Free VST plugins – Reaper’s Reaplugs
First up on the list is the venerable Reaplugs, a stand-alone edition of Reaper’s built-in effects. In case you aren’t sure what Reaper is, let me just put it this way: It is a very high-quality DAW or Digital Audio Workstation software. These are the best free VST plugins out there that I am aware of in terms of functionality, and they are widely adopted by the streaming community at large as a means of managing their audio.
However, they aren’t super easy to understand, and you will often need a guide video to learn how to tweak each filter. What this suite lacks in user-friendliness, though, it more than makes up for with features normally seen from expensive paid VST plugins.
The filters that you get within this pack are:
Out of these plugins, you only need ReaFir, Reacomp, and Reaeq. The rest of them aren’t especially useful for streaming, at least to my ability to comprehend them. With that being said, you can undoubtedly fiddle with the various plugins to see what kind of result you end up with. The other plugins included tended to be a bit beyond my ability to use as a general-purpose filter.
Just make sure you download the x64 version, as OBS can not see the x86 variant.
Reafir’s Functionality Explained
Reafir has a few different modes available, which shares the functionality of several other plugins within the pack. However, they can more or less be ignored, as you will likely never need to use them for streaming.
The one feature you do care about is its “subtract mode.” You’ll specifically want to apply this filter to your microphone. This free vst plugin goes a long way to improve your audio by eliminating a lot of the background hiss in your mic source.
Subtract mode is an advanced noise suppression filter. It works by reducing the dynamic range of your microphone or audio source to eliminate noisy parts of the signal effectively. With that being said, you don’t want to be too blunt with it and eliminate all of the noise. If you are too aggressive here, the audio quality will drop off substantially.
The key here is to get the suppression as low as it can go to eliminate the problem frequency without reducing the quality of your audio too much. It is very much a delicate balancing act. For a quick and dirty solution, click the “automatically build noise profile.” and be very quiet while the program automatically tunes the signal to eliminate most of the noise.
However, this isn’t the best way to do that. I’ll be covering how to set up your noise profile for reafir in a later article.
Next up is the Equalization plugin, which is an infinite band Equalizer. The benefit of this plugin is that it can apply things like a “High pass” filter and do some very basic equalization of an audio signal or very advanced EQ if you want to put the time into moderating the tone of the audio signal to your liking.
It is not beginner-friendly, however, and does not offer any presets or useful starting points. Nevertheless, it is powerful for those who learn to manipulate it and is probably the best free VST EQ in terms of raw potential.
The final plugin out of the Reaplugs pack that you’ll care about is Reacomp. This plugin has a singular purpose: preventing peaking of your audio.
Peaking is an audio artifact in which the signal goes beyond the decibel range of the audio signal, and it begins to “clip” the top off. The Compressor will dynamically moderate the volume of a signal based on a defined ratio based on a defined threshold.
Say, for example, you set your threshold to -30dB and set your ratio to 10:1. This means that the audio signal will be reduced by 1dB for every 10dB that it is over the threshold. In short, it’s an automatic volume adjuster!
#2 – Melda Productions MFreeFXBundle
Melda Productions MFreeFXBundle is easily one of the most beginner-friendly VST plug-ins I have ever had the pleasure of using. This pack has many advantages over Reaplugs, but also drawbacks that should be considered before getting it.
The main advantage is that these plugins have a much more user-friendly design and are, as such, far easier to understand and use. They also feature several presets that can be loaded up with a double click to get you “Most of the way there” to a proper setup for your specific environment.
I use this pack for precisely two plugins:
The rest within the free version is more or less useful only as voice-changing effects.
Minor & Major Drawbacks From Incompatibility and Saving
As for the drawbacks, as mentioned above, this set of plugins doesn’t play super well with OBS Studio. When you select MEqualizer, for example, the interface is not correctly rendered within the boundary box. However, this issue can be circumvented by clicking the “Close Plug-in interface” button and then “Open Plug-in interface” again for it to be correctly visible with OBS Studio.
These plugins also do not save their configuration between reboots – potentially related to the fact that they are the free variants of the plugins that have paid counterparts. Still, this isn’t the end of the world, as all it takes is 30 seconds to reset the filter from a screenshot you made before.
Streamlabs OBS, however, is a whole can of worms. It will simply crash the client when you attempt to open the plugin interface. This issue applies to every single Melda Productions VST plug-in that I tried. This is super unfortunate because I would prefer to recommend the ease of use of these Melda Productions VST plugins over the complicated but powerful reaplugs for users of Streamlabs OBS.
As you can probably guess from the name, this is Melda Productions Equalizer, which until very recently was my go-to Equalizer for everyday listening use. The reason for this is that I was able to modify my music channel for my listening pleasure, emphasizing specific spectrums of sound, using pre-existing presets that make it easy to tune to individual songs.
Yes, I’m a bit of an audiophile. So what?
Anyways, this is the best beginner-friendly Equalizer VST plug-in I could find that had these presets.
While it lacks the infinite banding of ReaEQ, the fact that it has these premade profiles was a godsend for getting it tuned quickly to an acceptable level. It is undoubtedly at a “good enough” level for most individuals looking to add an EQ to their audio.
If you’re curious about what EQ VST I use now, Take a look at Ozone Elements 9. That one is definitely not free, though. I got that one out of a promotion they ran for the work from home movement that came from Covid-19.
This VST plugin is the final piece of the puzzle you would need to tune your microphone. As stated earlier, the purpose of a compressor is to prevent those nasty peaks and clips of your audio. The second you clip, the quality of the audio signal is heavily distorted.
MCompressor’s ability to do this job is fantastic, and it maintains the ease of use that I’ve grown to associate Melda Productions with. I recommend trying the sing 2 preset, as it is an excellent starting point, at least for my particular voice. Maybe it will work for yours, maybe it won’t. But, that’s the beauty of having these presets to work from.
A final word – Do Some Research on Audio
Improving the quality of your audio using VST filters can only take you so far. There are many thousands of factors that go into acoustics that you need to manage. I’ve covered this subject in a fair amount of detail in my guide on room acoustics treatment, so if you’re interested in taking things a step further, that is a good place to start. There are also several hardware options that accomplish the same task in a more efficient and user-friendly way, such as the DBX 286s. However, these options tend to be rather expensive.
You are more than welcome to join the Streamer’s Haven Discord and ask some questions there too.
Until Next time!