The Best Saturation Plugins for LoFi Hip Hop

We talkin’ bout, “Saturation?”

Within lofi hip hop, there various characteristics and nuances that are used when creating tracks. One of the main elements of lofi hip hop is saturation. The origins of saturation are firmly in the analog aesthetic of the genre, especially tape saturation.

Technically, saturation is when the decimal level is compressed, creating soft clipping. The audible result creates a fuzzy overload, consolidating distortion, phasing, compression, and pitch irregularities.

To re-create saturation, you thankfully don’t need a tape machine as there are a wide range of saturation plugins that are capable of emulating tape saturation. As there are so many on the market, we’re here to offer a helping hand and have picked out our five favorite saturation plugins for lofi hip hop.

FabFilter – Saturn 2

With 28 different distortion styles, the Saturn 2 plugin by FabFilter offers an almost endless amount of saturation options. Although the plugin puts emphasis on distortion, its range of tube, tape, amp, and transformer emulators gives the plugin plenty of depth.

Its multi-band feature allows you to use crossover filters and extra modulation options, adding plenty of character and depth to your sounds. While its interface looks basic, don’t be fooled by the Saturn 2’s possibilities. Its range of frequency, volume, dynamic range, time and panorama options are easy to change and create.

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Soundtoys – Decapitator

Soundtoys, the makers of the Decapitator plugin, brilliantly sum up of what makes saturation so special; “it’s the essence of what makes analog hardware sound so musical and pleasing to the ears”. In short, they know how important and effective saturation is and have created a plugin to fill the void.

The Decapitator offers five different analog models, easy parallel processing, modeled tone control, and mix control. This gives the plugin versatility. While the five analog models have been thoroughly researched, and have been made to re-create different hardware. These consist of the Ampex 350 tape drive preamp, Chandler/EMI TG Channel, Neve 1057 input channel, and Thermionic Culture’s Culture Vulture triode and pentode settings.

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SSL Native X-Saturator

Solid State Logic (SSL) realize how vital saturation is when producing, mixing, and mastering. So they created the X-Saturator plugin to equip creators with the right tools to create the best saturation.

It’s a plugin that offers brilliant analogue style distortion effects. The analogue circuit emulation offers 2nd order valve style or 3rd order transistor style distortion, or you can blend both of them together.

Its interface consisting of depth, harmonics, drive, mix, and shape provides detailed control for users. While the headroom button adds 6dB for those wanting more distortion without clipping. Also, if you’re wanting to quickly compare the effects of two settings, there is a useful A/B feature. For further versatility, a dedicated wet/dry mix control which facilitates parallel processing, along with input/output meters and level control.

Whether you’re after a low drive or an adding edge to your instrumentation the SSL X-Saturator plugin is worth testing out.

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Waves Abbey Road Saturator

By collaborating with the iconic Abbey Road studios, Waves’ Abbey Road Saturator allows you to create authentic saturation with ease. Influenced by Abbey Road studios’ TG12321 unit feeding into either the aggressive REDD or the warmer TG12345 EMI desk preamps provides the plugin with classic tubes and transistors.

As for its options, the Abbey Road Saturator has detailed pre- and post-gain EQ, phase control, crossover frequency control, M/S processing, and a range of presets designed by Grammy Award winning producers and engineers.

Since its release, the Abbey Road Saturator has been praised for providing a natural sound, giving great flavor and character with ease.

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XLN Audio – RC-20

When we think of saturation within lofi hip hop, it reminds us of its nostalgic tone. Therefore the XLN Audio RC-20 is an ideal plugin when you want sentimental saturation. With the RC standing for “retro color”, you can quickly realise what this plugin has to offer.

Its simple interface is built around six effect modules; noise generator, wobble & flutter, saturation & distortion, degrader & bitcrusher, reverb, and volume drops. When these are combined with the plethora of preset effects (instruments, full mixing and postproduction), it makes the XLN Audio RC-20 a fun and easy plugin to use with plenty of depth.

The XLN Audio RC-20 has credited for its realistic artificial processing, providing texture, character and warmth. Ultimately, it brings your digital sounds to life (but with rose-tinted glasses).

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Conclusion

Whether you’re looking to softly smooth out harmonies, compress beats, or add a hint of nostalgia to your sounds, these five saturation plugins offer plenty depth when creating lofi hip-hop. While they may vary in price and options, each plugin can be used effectively allowing you to create unique sounds.