VU meters are crucial during mixing and mastering sessions, coming as both hardware and software units. Every professional studio has a VU meter among their studio equipment. Most upcoming producers don’t have such a tool in their recording studio and use VU meter plugins instead.
But first, let’s quickly look into what VU meter is and why you need to use one when mastering a track.
VU Meters In Recording Studios
Before we go over the 3 best free VU meter plugins every producer should use during the mixing and mastering stages, let’s find out what VU meters are, where they are coming from, and why you need one in your music studio.
What Are VU Meters?
VU meter is a measuring tool that indicates the average level of audio signals. Mainly, you need VU meters or VU meter software for two reasons.
Firstly, they have the ability to hear the loudness just like our ears do. Secondly, they’ll make you leave some space in your track.
If you don’t have any headroom, you’ll likely mess up the mastering track and eventually the entire track. Therefore, make sure to use VU meters or VU meter plugins in your DAW.
What Does “VU” Mean In Audio?
“VU” stands for volume units. It’s been with radio broadcast equipment since the early 1940s. You’ve probably seen it a million times in the movies and TV shows but didn’t know that was the hardware VU meter.
Why Use VU Meter and VU Meter Plugins?
A lot of the time music producers will only monitor the audio peaks to prevent listeners from flinching. What they forget about is that humans are not computers and we hear loudness differently.
For instance, our ears only feel the average sound level, not the peaks. And unlike a peak meter that monitors for top volume spikes, VU meter and VU meter plugins show you the so-called average volume.
What Does RMS Stand For in Music?
RMS in music stands for Root-Mean-Square. In math, It’s the effective value of the complete waveform, also known as average from the square root of the signal voltage over time. RMS is the music power that the amplifier can deliver in a continuous manner, more generally known as “average level.”
VU Meter or PPM for Mastering?
Of course, it would’ve been a lot nicer to focus on one of the two – either VU or PPM. However, both are significant when it comes to mastering, and you can’t do one without another.
Peak meters (PPM) and peak meter plugins (PPM plugins) will prevent any sorts of digital distortion which can ruin your track if you aren’t careful.
You can get clicks here and there, but once the volume is above the hard limit, the distortion will become horrible. The meters are easy to use because the concept is straightforward – once your meter is in the “red” zone, lower the volume until it gets back into the green area. This can’t be simpler.
As a result, you’ll be able to tell how much space a sound takes in the mix. If mixing two tracks, the VU meter plugin can be really helpful to determine how loud they are relative to each other.
If you were only to use a peak meter, you could have noticed some differences between the two but wouldn’t be able to see the bigger picture.
Example of VU meter vs Peak meter
If you look at the lower end of the frequencies range, you may notice your drums and bassline peaking at a similar volume of X dB.
Therefore, peak meter will only show the moments of the track when the drums and bassline get over the peak volume into the “red” zone.
Drums peak for short periods of time and the average loudness of the drum kit is a lot lower than its peaks. The bassline is entirely consistent, with low transients that peak close to the average volume levels.
As a result, you’ll only be able to hear loud bass and maybe some quiet drums in the back, instead of having them equal.
You’ll be able to see the loudness of the sound continuously. Therefore, you’ll notice how the loudness of bassline is consistently higher and fix it. In order to do that, you set them at X db with VU meter or RMS, so they sound well-balanced to a listener’s ear.
Why use a VU Meter Plugin?
Clearly, you’ll need to monitor average volume level to prevent your track from sounding muddy and avoid distortion. And using VU meter VST plugin can save you a lot of time and fixing things during mastering stages.
Waves Free VU Meter Plugin
Every DAW usually has a peak meter on each mixer slot, which helps a ton to see whether some elements of the track are too loud and peak to avoid distortion. Well, Waves has released a free VU meter plugin that replicates the hardware VU meter unit.
VU meters have been around for decades and used to set proper recording levels, achieve well-balanced mix, and leave sufficient headroom.
As mentioned earlier in the article, Waves VU meter helps you to not only monitor the loudest moments of your track a.k.a. peaks, but also average out the overall audio levels by imitating the way our ears work.
As you already know, the VU meter VST can be used on individual tracks and master busses. Everything depends on which stage of the mixing session you are at right now.
Yes, Waves VU meter works on PC and Mac and comes in VST, AU, and AAX formats.
mvMeter2 Free VU Meter Plugin
This free VU meter plugin offers outstanding performance. The mvMeter2 VU meter is nothing more than a small window in the corner of your workstation monitor to look at it once in a while or with your peripheral vision.
It imitates the analog VU meter and PPM meter. You can switch between various measuring tools with a simple arrow in the corner of mvMeter2 free vst. You can also adjust the display to show either one or two meters, up to your liking.
TBProAudio mvMeter2 free VU meter plugin lets you change meter delay and reference levels, which can come in handy at times depending on the goals of your mixing session.
The signal is being processed in 64-bit, and GUI can expand up to 400%, so even music producers with 4k displays won’t have issues with the image clarity. If you care about the aesthetics of your DAW interface, you are free to choose from 5 different themes.
For most beginner beatmakers and music producers, this is crucial, as they don’t feel like paying $50+ for a VU meter plugin that they may not like or utilize to its full potential.
mvMeter2 free VU meter plugin works with both Windows and Mac OS and is available in VST, AU, AAX, and RTAS to suit everyone’s needs.
LVLMeter Free VU Meter Plugin
This Free VU meter plugin imitates vintage VU meters that were used back in the late 1970s. That’s where the design is coming from. If you’ve ever seen an old movie where the action took place at a radio station or a studio, you must’ve seen the VU meters.
The signal of the samples can be processed in both 32 and 64 bits. LVLMeter free VU meter plugin works on both PC and Mac computers, and with VST, AU, and RTAS hosts.
Klanghelm VU Meter Plugin [Honorable Mention]
Klanghelm VUMT which is also known as VU meter plugin is fantastic to use on separate tracks, mix busses, or during the mastering stage.
You can calibrate ballistics and meters up to your liking or use the developers presets. The best way to use the Klanghelm VU meter plugin is to set peak meters for drums and acoustic guitars and VU meter to synths, electric guitars, and bass.
The first category is transient rich instruments, and the second one is the ones with a sufficient amount of sustain.
There is a lot of tweaking you can do with this VU meter plugin. The ballistics, for example, are fully customizable. You also get trim control, so gain staging gets easier.
GUI setting is also customizable, and you can make it look the way you want it, up to your aesthetic preferences, with 8 skins included.
I put Klanghelm VU meter plugin under the “honourable mentions” tag because it’s not actually free – it costs 12 Euro. It’s nothing for most producers, but if you don’t feel like buying a plugin today, keep Klanghelm VUMT in mind.
Commonly Asked Questions About VU Meter Plugins
To make sure you’ll leave with as few question as possible, here are a few common questions upcoming beatmakers, artists, and producers ask about VU meters
Don’t most DAWs like Ableton, Logic and FL Studio have VU meter VST Plugin Built-in?
I am not quite sure about Ableton, but FL Studio does have a plugin called Wave Candy that can somewhat compare to a VU meter plugin.
However, the free VU meter plugins on this list were explicitly made to monitor the average loudness levels (RMS). But you can definitely use the built-in Wave Candy free digital VU meter plugin wannabe if you don’t want to install more plugins.
Will the free VU Meter plugins work with Windows?
Yes, the free VU meter plugins on the list are all supported by all primary digital audio workstations and will work with Windows.
Will the free VU Meter plugins work with my Mac?
All free VU meter VSTs support AU format that will work on Mac-based DAWs such as Logic and Pro Tools.
Conclusion: Free Vu Meter Plugins
Hopefully, this list of best free VU meter plugins helped you to learn more about what VU meters are and why they are crucial for every beatmaker and music producer.