Looking to create a punchier drum sound? Want to enhance your percussion tracks?
A transient shaper is an essential at the mixing phase, as it gives you more control over the sound of your tracks, and importantly, their dynamic and even harmonic content.
In this guide, we look at the best free transient shaper VST plugins available, and answer some of the most frequently asked questions.
Couture by Auburn Sounds
We keep a close watch on Auburn Sounds because they always seem to value quality over quantity, only launching plugins that meet their high standards.
The fashion forward Couture is kind of unique, like most of what Auburn Sounds creates. This VST gives you extensive control over your dynamics, especially attack.
Couture works independent of the volume, which gives you the option of changing the input gain. Its two-band, half-spectral, RMS, program-dependent detector can find all transients, with no internal thresholds.
All told, this makes Couture a versatile plugin. It can add dynamics and punch to your drums, remove unwanted noise in your drum samples, make an entire bus less dynamic, add light compression and saturation to a mix, de-ess vocals, add some vibrancy to lead synths, give your guitar tracks some grit while maintaining dynamics, and more.
Basically, this transient shaper can be used on anything – it can add distortion, create more space between transients, increase dynamics, and even enhance or remove room reverb.
We would be remiss not to comment on Couture’s design, as well, and whoever is doing the design work at Auburn Sounds is clearly a savant. Each of the plugin’s controls are clearly broken up into different sections, which makes it easier to use.
As most users will testify, Couture can have a massive impact on your sound. If you need to reshape any track in your mix, this is an excellent tool to have at your disposal.
Auburn Sounds’ Couture is available as a VST, AAX, AU, and LV2 plugin for Windows, Mac, and Linux. But just so you know, to get access to the saturation functions, you will need to upgrade to the full edition for $19.
Download: Auburn Sounds
Transpire by Sonic Anomaly
Sonic Anomaly’s Transpire is a transient processor designed especially with drums in mind.
This VST can enhance or dampen the attack and body of a sound. It is not a linear transient processor, so smaller transients are more affected than larger ones. This is ideal for bringing out smaller, finer details in a track without pushing the harder hits. This gives your drums and percussion a more consistent, controlled sound.
Overall, you can use Transpire to enhance or dampen attack and sustain and control the sensitivity (detail). The developer suggests less sensitivity is better for non-percussive tracks.
The developers hard-clipped the output at -0.1dB.
Overall, we find Transpire to be an effective plugin, and not a bad one to add to your toolkit, especially since it’s free.
Transpire is available as a 32- or 64-bit VST for Windows on PLUGINS 4 FREE.
Download: PLUGINS 4 FREE
BitterSweet v3 by FLUX
FLUX’s BitterSweet v3 is an acclaimed freeware transient processor with a large user base (no license activation required).
With a streamlined design, you can make big changes to your tracks and mix with the turn of a knob. It’s got rather unique “Sweet” and “Bitter” markers at either side of the spectrum. When you turn the knob towards Sweet, transients reduce, and when you turn it to the Bitter side, your transients magnify.
BitterSweet v3 includes up to eight channels of input/output, output gain (at the end of the processing +/- 12 dB), and link to output gain, which compensates for the gain depending on the transient amount.
You also get true bypass control routing for the incoming signal direct to output, transient amount (bitter/sweet), transient integration (fast, medium, and slow modes), period for setting the time window, three operation modes (main, center, stereo), and open sound control support.
The user interface is where BitterSweet truly shines. We love its streamlined design, which makes it user friendly. And it’s attractive.
Sure, it features a bit of a mid-2000s style “realistic” design, but certainly the good kind. Not the kind that had us shaking our heads in dismay. In this case, the layer effects (gradient overlays, drop shadows, etc.) capture our imagination instead of leaving us feeling like we’re witnessing a Photoshop tutorial train wreck.
Of course, it all comes down to one thing – sound. If BitterSweet can’t enhance your mix, it doesn’t matter how good it looks or how streamlined its design is.
One of the things producers love about BitterSweet is the fact that you can add more punch to your drums, as you would expect, but by turning the knob towards Sweet, you can soften the sound of your drums, making them better suited to ballads or songs with a softer vibe.
So, all in all, there’s a lot you can do with BitterSweet, and it can come in handy in a variety of situations. A great VST to add to your library.
Transient by Sleepy-Time DSP
Sleepy-Time DSP plugins fall under the category of “legacy.” Developer Dustin Ralston halted development of VST plugins in 2019. But to this day, they are still highly effective and usable, not to mention simply but effectively designed.
Sleepy-Time DSP calls Transient a “transient-driven signal shaper” with options to adjust attack and sustain. This is relatively standard.
Transient detects rapid changes to the incoming signal regardless of amplitude. You can use the envelope shaper to make quick changes to your percussion, and you can also fine-tune your audio signal’s transients. Even slight changes can make a big difference.
This VST also features mono and stereo compatibility, transient detection and volume processing, manual timing adjustment for detection and processing, adjustable filters for detection and processing, external sidechain inputs, solo attack, sustain, left, right, and adjustable volume range for detection.
In terms of UI, we find Transient and all Sleepy-Time DSP plugins minimal but effective. Some designs are, in fact, more sophisticated than others, but Transient would certainly fall under the category of one on of their simpler designs. It’s not the best we’ve ever seen, but certainly not the worst. The blue “pops,” and the knobs look reasonably real.
You can get Transient for free on PLUGINS 4 FREE as a 32- and 64-bit Windows VST.
Download: PLUGINS 4 FREE
Transient Shaper Ableton Rack by Seed to Stage
If you’re using Ableton Live, you’ll probably appreciate this one. Transient Shaper was developed by Seed to Stage, and it’s available as a “pay what you want download on Gumroad.
With Transient Shaper Ableton Rack, you can manipulate the shape of dynamics and transients of your sounds. The sustain and attack controls along with the length controls can help you add some energy to your tracks. Saturation and base, meanwhile, allow you to control the spikes and harmonic content. The makeup gain helps ensure you can maintain full control over the volume after making relevant adjustments.
Overall, we find this free VST helps you shape the tone of your percussion (organic or sampled) without coloring its sound. That’s what we love most about it.
We can’t comment on the design of Transient Shaper Ableton Rack, as its interface utilizes Ableton Live’s. That said, its controls are streamlined while remaining versatile.
dominion by Sascha Eversmeier
Sascha Eversmeier (sometimes called digitalfishphones, which is their domain name) is the developer of plugins like the “fish fillets” (including BLOCKFISH, SPITFISH, and FLOORFISH), normalizer, endorphin, and others.
dominion was designed as a tool to give you control over the envelope of a signal, including its attack and sustain phase.
The envelope section gives you the ability to adjust the attack and sustain independently regardless of input level. You can also change the envelope’s time constraints. The saturation stage allows you to reduce harshness characteristic of digital recordings and add some warmth and life to your audio source.
With the high frequency details section, you can brighten up a signal and add transparency, depth, and even harmonics. dominion also includes a non-clipping output stage, with a brickwall waveshaper circuit that prevents your output from exceeding -0.1dBFS, while maintaining a clean signal.
Generally, we like Eversmeier’s UI designs, and dominion is no exception. If we were to be nitpicky, though, we feel the controls could be a little more spread out. The faders and knobs, as well as text markings are all a little small, giving us a tight, cramped feeling. That said, we have no complaints regarding the controls, which offer a high degree of customizability.
While it isn’t the first freetransient shaper people tend to think of (the ones already mentioned on this list usually are), dominion is a capable plugin with solid functionality, and we think it’s worth experimenting with.
Download: Sascha Eversmeier
ATK Transient Shaper by Audio ToolKit
The ATK Transient Shaper is a mono transient shaper that gives you full control over the parameters that generally aren’t accessible to the end user.
And you can tell, just from its UI design, that it’s a little different from the other transient shaper VSTs.
You’ve got control knobs for RMS, attack, attack fraction, release, release fraction, threshold, slope, softness, color, quality, make up, and dry/wet.
These controls are explained in more detail on the Audio ToolKit website, but suffice it to say, we are impressed with the amount of customization they allow for.
Its user interface, while not state of the art, at least lays out the controls in a simple, straightforward manner.
ATK Transient Shaper is available as a 32- or 64-bit VST2 and VST3 plugin for Windows, as well as a VST2, VST3, AU, and AUv3 plugins for Mac.
Download: Audio ToolKit
Do I Need A Transient Shaper VST?
It’s no secret that most modern Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) come with their own transient shapers.
As I’ve discovered for myself, most music producers and sound engineers are most effective on “home court,” using software and hardware gear they know and understand well and are fully comfortable with.
Which means this. If you’re happy with your DAW’s transient shaper, and it works for you, then there isn’t necessarily a need for anything else. Someone else might say, “that plugin sucks,” but if you’re able to work with your magic with it, it doesn’t matter.
I personally had that experience. I was using a set of plugins my business partner had written off as “junk,” but he was ultimately surprised at the results I was creating. Turns out, those plugins weren’t junk in the right hands.
That said, it’s always nice to have options. Too many options can be suffocating in the same way too few options can be limiting, but there’s nothing wrong with adding one or two free VSTs to your toolkit, even if it’s just to give them a try.
There are some strong contenders on this list, and to be honest, all the plugins featured here have their strengths.
Bottom line – experiment, and don’t forget to use your ears. The most ineffective music producers, in my experience, are those who rely too heavily on theory and knowledge they’ve learned in school or in articles and books, versus those who only open that toolkit when they need it, and instead lean more on what sounds good and right to their ears.
Are Transient Shaper Plugins Just For Drums?
Obviously, most transient shapers have been designed with drums and percussions in mind. But that doesn’t mean they are only for drums.
The fact is, transient shapers are basically like advanced compressors that allow you to control the degree of compression while giving you the option of expansion, not just one or the other.
Transient shapers are also threshold-independent, so they react to incoming audio signals. They aren’t stuck at a set threshold as compressors are.
Which seems to suggest that transient shapers are better, but that’s not always the case. There are times when a compressor is right for the job (such as when you only need to compress or expand), and there are times when a transient shaper is the better choice.
But the key point here is that when you understand what a transient shaper can do, and why it’s useful, you begin to gain a better sense of its wider application. It can be great for most instruments, including bass and guitar, and even for full mixes (as you may have seen in the above videos).
Okay, So When Should I Use A Transient Shaper?
There’s no denying that making music and mixing tend to be a lot of trial and error. And it’s possible to get stellar results with outdated, cheap gear, and lackluster results with top of the line, expensive gear. It’s just a matter of who’s doing the tracking and mixing, as well as their overall level of competency.
So, the use of effects tends to be intuitive in a lot of ways. Like a guitar track that’s a little uneven. Your first thought would probably be to add compression. Or a vocal track that’s a little out of tune, and a little too upfront. You might add autotune and reverb. And so on.
Well, transient shapers are a little like that too. If you wanted your drums or percussion to stand out more in a mix and even add some grit, that’s a good time to bust out a transient designer. Of course, if you wanted to go in the opposite direction and soften the drums, you could also take advantage of a transient shaper.
It would basically be the same idea with other instruments, like the guitar. Do you want to hear more of the percussive aspect of the instrument, such as the pick attack or pluck? You might bust out the transient shaper for more rawness and punch.
Top Free Transient Shaper VST Plugins, Final Thoughts
If you already have a transient shaper VST and know how to use it, you might be well equipped already.
If not, then be sure to download a transient shaper now and add it to your VST library. Do a bit of reading on the topic and start experimenting right away. It’s an essential tool to add to your toolbox!