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The best sound tools of 2019

best sound tools of 2019 - Photo by Anton Shuvalov on UnsplashIt’s nearly the end of the year, so as is our tradition we’ve asked some of our regular contributors all over the world for their favourite sound tools, plugins, instruments and musical wizardry of 2019.

Following on from our previous roundups of the best sound design tools of the year (for instance in 2018 and in 2017). Here are the highlights – let us know your favourite sound tools of the year in the comments below!

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Baying Ridges

Auria Pro 

It’s hard to narrow down my favourite sound design tools, but there is one that has stood out and been used on all of my Cities and Memory projects and that is Auria Pro. 

It’s a DAW for iPad that cost $50 for the full version and is an absolute steal for what you get. If it were a desktop DAW, they could easily charge $200-300 and I would buy it in a heartbeat.  

To me, it is the most intuitive DAW to use for iOS, hands down. For anyone familiar with Logic or even old analogue mixing desks, the signal flow will be very familiar, and the best part is that Auria offers the entire suite of FabFilter plug-ins at an enormous discount.  

They are the same exact versions as the desktop ones and instead of $200 each, they were around $30 each. What a deal! For an example of what Auria can do and how it sounds, my track “Around the Bend” for the Yellowstone project was done entirely in Auria.  

Hear it in action:


Another very useful sound design tool that I have used quite a bit in Cities and Memory projects is Brusfri by Klevgrand. 

Brusfri is described as “an advanced audio noise reducer with a simple and straightforward interface.” I agree completely with that description.  

In addition to reducing noise, it is very useful in isolating certain parts of field recordings which can then be manipulated further inside a DAW. Brusfri was used in my Space is the Place submission and really brought out some interesting bits of the recording I was given.

Andy Billington

Teenage Engineering OP-1 synthesizer

The OP1 continues to be at the heart of all projects and albums I have worked on over the last few years. It is a remarkable synth that allows the user to create music end to end from idea to finished track in a quick and intuitive way. 

With a multitude of synth engines (all easily sculpted) as well as a digital four-track multi-speed recorder, the OP-1 allows the capture and manipulation of sound wherever you are. 

The most mundane of samples can be changed and sequenced in ways that as a musician you cannot begin to even comprehend as you layer in real time modelled material and multi effects. A design classic.

Hear it in action:

Jeff Dungfelder


In Logic Pro X by Apple, I use an extensive variety of software effects and synthesizers. One of my favorite “go-to” synthesizers is Omnisphere by Spectrasonics. I find it to be an instrument of extraordinary power and versatility. 

Technically speaking, some of the unique features of this amazing instrument are: the huge Sound Library (14,000 sounds), the audio import feature, the enhanced arpeggiator, more than 500 DSP waveforms for the synth oscillator, granular synthesis, wavetable synthesis, deeper FM/ring modulation capabilities, and polyphonic timbre shifting/crushing and waveshaping. 

A good example of my use of Omnisphere is in the recording of my Cities & Memory track “Roche Jaune”. I started off with a field recording of red-winged blackbirds reverberating across a lake amidst the sounds of boreal chorus frogs and sandhill cranes. 

My goal was to find ambient textures and rhythms that would help me to reimagine the sounds of Yellowstone National Park. At the beginning of the project I recorded multiple textures and patterns using Absynth 5, Arturia CS-80 V3, and Omnisphere. 

By the time I was done, I ended up keeping 17 out of the 30 tracks I recorded for this song (14 using Omnisphere). Often as a challenge to myself I will record an entire song just using one instrument, such as Omnisphere, Massive and Reaktor. In my opinion, Omnisphere is a great way to start any project.

Hear it in action:

Stuart Fowkes (Cities and Memory)


Output have a fantastic track record of producing amazing sound-mangling plugins, but they’ve outdone themselves with Portal.

It has a super-simple, intuitive X-Y axis interface, but you can get under the hood and make detailed adjustments to all of the sounds – but in effect, it processes any input sound in loads of fascinating and unheard ways.

It’s great for taking synth and instrument lines in a new direction, but it also takes on a new dimension when you feed a field recording directly into it – all kinds of new possibilities emerge! Here it’s applied to a sample of New York’s steam drains, and also to one of the synth parts in the track.

Hear it in action:

Analog Lab 4

This is a few years old, but I’ve gone right back to it this year – whenever I’m searching for a particular synth sound, I can run through dozens of programs but more often than not I end up back in Analog Lab because of the sheer quality of its lush analog pads and leads. It’s got some brilliant instruments in there, from a Prophet-5 to an ARP-2600, and the interface is a joy too – basically, it’s amazing value for money considering what you get in the package.

This track from Italy contains lead, bass and pad sounds all taken from Analog Lab 4.

Hear it in action:

Alex Hehir

Ableton Live

No other software in the last 20 years or so has given me more musical freedom than this. I use it in many different ways to capture/manipulate sound but always with a ‘playing in the moment’ mentality. I have tried really hard over the years to bring back spontaneity and the unpredictable into my workflow(like it was in the 90s!) 

Hear it in action:

Elektron Octatrack 

This machine blows me away every time it’s switched on. In my New York piece, I have used it to manipulate much of the rhythm over the length of the track. I do this live and by using its unique modulation per step feature.You have to work hard to get interesting stuff out of this box and it’s reminiscent of the old Akai sampling days.

Hear it in action:

Rob Knight

Galaxy Tape Echo

The UAD range of plugins continue to be some of my favourites. The Empirical Labs EL7 Fatso Snr/Jnr, The Ampex ATR-102 Tape plugin and the SSL G Buss Compressor all get used extensively on all the tracks I write whatever the genre. One of my favorites is the Galaxy Tape Echo which is based on the Roland Tape Echo. It can create beautiful subtle effects. For example, it’s used on the piano in my piece “Hilde”. 

SP2016 reverb

Added to the Piano part is another new plugin to me, Eventide’s SP2016 reverb. The first of two Eventide reverbs, which have both become my goto reverb plugins this year. The SP2016 is a reverb with room, stereo room and hi-density plate. It really can give plenty of depth and shimmer to a sound.

Hear them in action:

Eventide Blackhole

The other new Eventide Reverb addition is Blackhole. It can create amazing drone like textures and can be very otherworldly if desired. Here I use it on the sax part on the track Magnetosphere, composed for the Cities and Memory project Space is the Place.

It has some unique controls too, like a MIDI-controllable ribbon that can change parameters on the fly. A very creative plugin.


Final favourite this year is the updated Shaperbox plugin by Cableguys. Made up of 5 “shapers” – Time, Filter, Pan, Volume and Width, it can create some truly amazing effects. You can design LFOs, multiband the shapers so only certain frequencies are affected and the effects can also react to dynamics – it is very powerful. 

Hear them in action:

Andy Lyon

SP2016 Reverb 

This is a recreation of the hardware SP2016, the first rack-mount multi-effects processor,  It offers three reverb modes – room, stereo room and hi-density plate with vintage and modern versions. You also have pre-delay, decay position and diffusion controls as well as an EQ section for simple high and low filtering with adjustable filter ranges.

It sounds amazing: whether you need small, medium, large or massive spaces it can handle all of these and has an easy to use interface too. It’s my go-to reverb.

Hear it in action:

London Contemporary Orchestra (LCO) Textures

Spitfire Audio produce some simply stunning orchestral toolkits for Kontakt, luckily they work in the free version as well as the full version of Kontakt.  

This one was recorded in a massive aircraft hanger and uses unusual combinations of instruments and unconventional playing techniques to create unusual orchestrations that are organic and evolving.  

It uses an ‘EVO grid’ which is a 10 x 32 grid arrangement where you place ‘pins’ to access the recordings across 12 key ranges.  

There are options to randomise within specific combinations or randomise all; controls to adjust microphone placement; reverb delay and tape saturation effects.

It offers virtually unlimited possibilities and is great when you want an orchestral sound with a difference.  

Hear it in action:

Keira Simmons

Granulator – DIY Max for Live Patch 


The creative tool I use most heavily is a granular synthesis max for live patch I built during a coding class in university. The patch is set up to receive audio through the Ableton track in a 6 second buffer, which can be either be a live feed or an existing audio file.

Typically I use granular synthesis to freeze time and create still or dynamic textures. For cities and memory field recording remixes I often like to use (almost) only the given audio recording, and granular synthesis allows me to broaden the capacity of a single audio source through pitch shifting, resonating and reverberating granular textures. 

Fab Filter Pro-Q 3 

The plugin I use the most in all my work is undoubtedly FF Pro-Q3. This particular plugin has wildly increased my flexibility and technicality in EQing. The mid-side capability is especially useful in spatially mixing heavily-layered textures, which feature everywhere in my work. I can’t point out a specific track on which I use Pro-Q because it’s everywhere! 

Izotope Ozone Imager

I use the free Ozone Imager plugin for spatial mixing and mastering across the frequency spectrum. 

I tend to think visually and spatially in my composing process, and using an imager plugin gives me the freedom to EQ not just in the frequency spectrum but also across the stereo field. 

One of my mastering tricks is to take a render of the finished mix and layer it in the full mix again, but widening its stereo image with Ozone (and processing it through gentle reverb or Vitamin harmonic enhancer) to have it sit like a cloud underneath the piece. 

Hear it in action:

Tim Waterfield

Ableton Live 10 Suite

Since last year I have made the change to using Ableton Live for 100% of my production work. Previously I was using Cakewalk by Bandlab, but with the way I am working now Ableton fits my workflow better. 

It has some amazing tools built in like the Wavetable synth, samplers that are getting used on lots of projects plus Max for Live that has lots of crazy devices that you can even customise!

Massive X

The new version the classic synth soft synth was released this year and it sounds great.  It was released later than expected but it was worth the wait and NI are releasing updates with additional functionality so it’s all good.


Thorn is my go-to synth for bass sounds and I find the arpeggiator great in this one. 

Valhalla Delay

This is an awesome delay plugin that has loads of options and the latest 1.5.2 adds even more modes and I’ve not been using any other delay since it came out.


 When I want to inject some randomness into a track, this is great for drums and samples.  You just load the samples and play around until you get something that fits.

Hear them in action:

Simon Woods


My choice of useful equipment used this year is a piece software that I believe doesn’t get enough credit. I don’t like the sound of my own voice and so Yamaha’s Vocaloid is a very useful. 

I used it a lot on the ‘Museum Collage’ (Three Words Project). I didn’t want to use my own voice for the words, so the standard male and female voices worked a treat. It takes quite a lot of programming, but the results are good (or at least in tune without Autotune).

Hear it in action: 

GForce VSM String Machine

I’ve always been a huge fan of the synthetic string sounds of the 1970s string machines. Often beloved of prog rock and electronic musicians, I prefer the ‘phony’ Eminent or Solina sound to the realistic orchestral sounds. 

GForce’s VSM seems to have every flavour of string machine that ever existed!

Hear it in action:

Used it for a very simple string line on “Coltrane in New York”.


A useful tool / drum machine I’m new to this year is XLN Audio’s XO. I use it not just for drum sounds, but many other samples – great for finding a suitable sound quickly. 

I’ve made samples from handclaps in sports halls, staple guns in school halls, fireworks and vintage synths (whose lifespan could end at any moment!), and sampled Mattel Drum Pads and Yamaha DD5 Drum Pads for ‘Museum Collage’ (Three Words Project). Instruments that should be in a museum.

Hear it in action:

Softube Drawmer S73

Everything I do goes through this beauty on the master bus before it emerges – I just like the clear sound it has. Clarity 2 setting is the starting point.