by Charles Hoffman

5 of the best color box plugins
for music production

color box plugins

Color box plugins can add depth, warmth, and sonic personality to your digital recordings. In this guide, we’ll learn more about color box plugins and how they impact your sound, as well as explore five of the best color box plugins for music production, each with unique features that can help breathe life into your tracks.

The plugins featured in this list include WUNDERLICH, Trash, SILVER BULLET mk2, HG-2MS, and SA2RATE 2.

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What is a color box plugin?

“Color box” refers to any piece of hardware that adds character, tone, or color to an audio signal. It’s common to address tape machines, tube amplifiers, vintage equalizers, and classic compressors as “color boxes,” assuming they deliver flavorful audio. In contrast, you wouldn’t classify mastering-grade hardware that aims to be transparent as a “color box.”

When the goal is to add mojo and pizzazz to a sound, reach for a color box. Color box plugins warm digital sounds, making them feel more alive, rich, or analog-like. Depending on the desired effect, they can be used on various sources, including vocals, drums, guitars, and full mixes. Different color box plugins offer various types of coloration, mimicking specific gear or providing unique tonal characteristics that can help achieve a certain vibe or sound.

5 color box plugins for music production


NEOLD is a company known for creating unique one-off analog machines made from rare components. The hardware is then modeled and made available to producers worldwide in a plugin format. NEOLD’s plugin catalog includes the U2A, U17, WARBLE, BIG AL, V76U73, and WUNDERLICH.

WUNDERLICH is NEOLD’s latest creation and the epitome of vintage vibes. It includes a Wunderlich-powered tube preamp, a vintage equalizer, a variable-mu compressor, and a unique Travel screw. The Travel parameter allows you to adjust the blend between Now (modern sound) and Then (lo-fi character). If the goal is to make your mix sound like a blast from the past, WUNDERLICH is the answer.

2. iZotope Trash

Trash is a reimagined version of Trash 2, which was one of iZotope’s most coveted distortion plugins. Trash 2 was a deep plugin with seemingly endless processing options, but due to its complexity, many users stuck to using presets. Through intensive beta testing, it was discovered that a streamlined and easy-to-use version of Trash was in high demand.

Trash has been rebuilt from the ground up with a focus on creativity and productivity. Waveshape blending, impulse response blending, and envelope modulation create the foundation of Trash. Three Dice Roll buttons allow you to randomize Trash’s distortion module, Convolve module, or all of the plugin’s settings. With a minimal menu-diving approach to its GUI, Trash provides a fun, exploratory, and intuitive way to add subtle color or extreme distortion to your mixes.

3. Louder Than Liftoff SILVER BULLET mk2

Louder Than Liftoff’s SILVER BULLET mk2 is a hardware emulation that provides the color of a two-channel analog console. It delivers a combination of sweetening effects that help shape individual tracks, instrument buses, and stereo mixdowns. Most of the plugin’s tone comes from MOJO amp A (American), MOJO amp N (British), and MOJO amp C.

Colour is a modular platform for creating custom analog signal chains. These compact, swappable analog circuit blocks snap into the hardware version of SILVER BULLET mk2; they’re available as MOJO amp C inserts within the SILVER BULLET mk2 plugin. Use these Colour modules to add effects like saturation, distortion, and warble to your sounds.

When you load the plugin onto a track, you can access a hidden serial number feature by clicking on the “SILVER BULLET mk2” text. By inputting a custom six-digit serial number, the plugin implements a unique version of the digital model; this mirrors the way in which every piece of analog hardware sounds slightly different due to tolerance variances and factors like age.


4. Black Box Analog Design HG-2MS

Black Box Analog Design HG-2MS is a color box plugin with a rich and creamy sound. It emulates four different vacuum tube stages, leading to rich and varied harmonics that make it ideal for stereo bus processing and mastering. Dave Pensado, Bob Horn, and Jack Douglas have famously used the HG-2MS in their mixes.

The HG-2MS’s Air knob controls how much high-frequency gloss is added to your sound, making it ideal for vocals, strings, and pianos. The HG-2MS is the mid-side version of the HG-2, allowing you to process left-right or mid-side channels independently. With additional features like tolerance modeling technology (TMT), five parallel circuit filters, and stereo width controls, the HG-2MS is a mastering engineer’s best friend.

Black Box Analog Design HG-2MS
Black Box Analog Design HG-2MS

5. Looptrotter SA2RATE 2

Looptrotter SA2RATE 2 capitalizes on the company’s solid-state saturation circuit to infuse tracks with low-order harmonics, simultaneously leveling out the audio in a way that’s pleasing to the ear. SA2RATE 2 boosts RMS levels without raising peaks while adding analog character to your mixes. It has pre- and de-emphasis circuits to prevent common issues associated with oversaturation, which include low-end distortion and top-end harshness.

SA2RATE 2 includes a “Magic” feature from Looptrotter’s SATUR summing mixer that warms and opens your mixes; this knob delivers the color and thickness you’re looking for without going overboard. Adjusting the Density knob increases the input gain while simultaneously decreasing the output gain to compensate for loudness. Cranking up the Density knob results in a thicker and less dynamic sound, perfect for rock, pop, and EDM tracks.

Looptrotter SA2RATE 2 plugin
Looptrotter SA2RATE 2 plugin

Start using color box plugins to add unique warmth and character to your sound

Whether you’re looking for a sweet and subtle color or in-your-face distortion, the color box plugins on this list have you covered. Use WUNDERLICH for old-school vibes, Trash for mind-melting distortion, or one of the other flavor-blasted color boxes for more refined tones. With the right tools at your disposal, learn more about how to use saturation in music production.

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