In OBS, there are several ways to improve the quality of your audio for your content. For starters, the broadcasting software comes bundled with many filters for you to use right out of the box.
- Invert Polarity
- Noise Gate
- Noise Suppression
- And finally, The VST 2.x Plug-in
The focus of this article is on that last filter, which has the most potential to improve your audio. But it is a fair bit more complicated than the standard filters. VST stands for “Virtual Studio Technology,” and is a piece of software that runs alongside OBS in this situation. Apart from merely acting as an audio filter, there is a ton of functionality built into them.
Things to be aware of for VST plugins with OBS & SLOBS
OBS’s implementation of VST support is not without its bugs. Many plugins will outright lock up the program, especially in the many forks available for the streaming software.
For example, my second pick, Melda Productions Free FX Bundle, will simply not work with Streamlabs OBS, at least the last time I tried it. Even OBS Studio has some minor issues with them. I’ll explain this further in their respective prompts; I just want you to be aware of this before you get frustrated with some odd and buggy functionality.
Plug-in organization explained
The order in which the filters are in the “chain” matters and this is especially important 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.
Understanding this order is essential when manipulating audio filters in OBS Studio, or any broadcasters software for that matter.
My recommended plugin order
For an idea of what I recommend, here is a quick and generalized list of the order that the filters should appear within the list of filters.
- Noise Suppression
- Noise Gate
- Expander (optional)
- Equalization (optional)
My #1 Pick for the best free VST plugins – Reaper’s Reaplugs
First up in 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 quite possibly the best free VST plugins out there that I am aware of, and they are widely adopted by the streaming community at large as a means of managing their audio. What this suite lacks in user-friendliness, 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 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 we do care about is it’s “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. 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 a few advantages over Reaplugs, but also drawbacks that should be considered when getting it.
The main advantage is that these plugins have a much more user-friendly design and are, as such, far more beginner-friendly. 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, dependant on software
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. 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.
Streamlabs OBS takes this issue a step further, and 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.
As you can probably guess from the name, this is Melda Productions Equalizer, which until very recently, was my go-to Equalizer for every day 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.
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.
Once again, it has access to presets, to which I think Sing 2 is a high starting point for any streamer.
A final word – Do your 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!