Some people simply like it dirty. Adding grit and noise to your recordings and sound production is a popular way of turning a sound into an aggressive, attention grabbing aural affront. Be it the punkiest guitar riff, to the heaviest of dubstep growls, audio mangling is a major identifier of genres. This article will show you some of the best free audio mangling plugins to get a completely nuked sound, from which you can salvage an almighty sonic identity. We won't cover simple distortion plugins, instead focusing on plugins that do more than just square off a waveform, for much more drastic character when pushed to max.
1. Metallurgy - Ugo Audio
Ugo Audio have created this insane plugin which never fails to impress me. I have had this one in my VST collection for several years and on first look (and default preset) it isn't much to behold. Aside from its challenging interface, initial tweaks yielded the wrong kind of audio destruction - the unusable kind.
What this plugin does however, is absolutely shine when you give it a bit of time and feed it the right audio. It has a multitude of different features: filters, distortions, sequencers, envelopes, down-samplers, and so much more. It is the sequencing options in particular that enable this plugin to truly turn into a musical instrument.
Another great feature on it is the "Metal" effect, which, aside from giving the plugin its name, donates a metallic sound which can be pitched and sequenced to generate lively alterations of the original sound.
This plugin compares to Native Instrument's Molekular effect, however operates in a much more destructive (and less user-friendly) way. To truly find your way through this plugin, I recommend grabbing some sounds - drum beats work great, and sorting through the presets on this beast. While some offer complete sonic destruction, there are plenty more which lend more to a gentle metallic sound.
This plugin would fit right in if you are a lo-fi electronica producer or, should the deep sequencing capability interest you, it works a treat for dark techno.
This plugin is about as easy as it gets. Everything is laid out intuitively and the look of the plugin is visually very appealing. It has four effects: drive, crush, dwsp (sample rate reduction), and a filter. Each of these are easy to modulate via the modulations section which offers four shapes.
It's range of use clearly exceeds that of a Bitcrusher, and with it's dry/wet controls, you can add parallel processing so even if you want a gentle drive in your track, Krush comes to the rescue.
Even though a Bitcrusher's purpose is to dirty up the sound quality, Krush does it very well. Due to the range of control in this plugin, you can really use it to add subtle high end to liven up a bad recording or drum track, all the way to making your track sound like a broken speaker.
With the presence of a modulatable filter, it is possible to create the "yoh" vowel sounds of many traditional dubstep tracks, and don't forget, as soon as you run out of possibilities on Krush's modulation LFO, you can start adding automations and DAW LFOs to it too!. These modulations allow much more sound possibilities than you'd expect for such a small plugin.
The presets provided are excellent, they cover pretty much all the plugin's features and really show the different range of sounds Krush can make. While on the less numerous side, the presets provided are all you need to really understand the modulations and inner workings. In the end though, the simplicity should allow even the most preset-loving producer to stray into designing their own sounds.
One of my favourite free plugins of all time is Glitch, a glitching effect which allows you to sequence a number of different glitches to the sound. This effect can go from subtle underlying glitches beneath clean audio, all the way up to total reimagination and destruction of the sound, made possible with a trusty Dry/Wet knob. I find it particularly exciting to use on vocals as you are able to completely transform the sound into something that sounds incredibly complex, all with an easy to use interface.
It is entirely programmable, or if you are struggling for inspiration, it will randomly generate it's own sequences and glitches for you to enjoy. Because everything is locked into beat, it can take pretty much any sound and turn it into music. I had a lot of fun one time, sampling a crowd and then running the audio through this, once it was processed, I had a glitchy percussion section all from completely random recorded conversations.
A massive plus with this plugin is the interface, despite being even busier than Metallurgy in terms of features, it still manages to be one of the cleanest interfaces on the list. Using this has almost no learning curve beyond the five initial minutes of seeing what each feature does.
4. Rough Rider - Audio Damage
Don't think I'm trying to sneak a compressor on this list for no reason, give Rough Rider a try first. You may be wondering why I've included a compressor on a list of audio mangling VSTs, and it would be a fair question. The reason I've added this plugin is because of how well it completely decimates the dynamics and the sound entering it. While it can (barely) be used as a normal compressor, it's whole purpose is to be in your face. When pushed to extremes, the sound distorts but is already compressed to extremes and so instead of the signal being compressed by the distortion, the signal is actually distorting from the post compression.