Round-up: Wallet-Friendly Distortion Plugins

Six affordable fuxxboxes and signal smashers rated
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When two distortion transform curves meet two LFOs, you know you’ve got a beast of epic proportions on your hands. And with the AudioThing pedigree running through WaveBox’s veins, get ready for your audio to start frothing at the mouth. Tones you can get out of WaveBox run from rough and trashy to icy and haunting, with pulsating warble or aggression dialed in by the LFOs, while the bouncing transfer curve makes sense of it all in the oscilloscope display. There’s also an envelope follower onboard, although the destinations for this and the LFOs stop at the four parameters for shaping the distortion signal — some cross-modulation would have been a nice touch here. Despite that, WaveBox’s sonic capabilities make it an essential upgrade for creative destruction.

$22 (approx)


An audio-rate oscillator modulates the properties of an analog-style filter, after which a distortion module offers particularly extreme drive, shape and feedback controls. This is a distortion where you don’t quite know what’s going to happen, with certain settings dependent on the audio input… in a good way. Cruelle takes everything to a higher level, often providing a bed of feedback through which your original sound may or may not emerge. Again, it’s highly instrument-dependent, so less immediate to use, but contains a lot of sound-smashing character. Some more controls would have been nice for more diversity, but then for $22, who’s complaining?



Three iconic distortion stompboxes are emulated here. Big Goat is an EHX Big Muff copy; Blue Face is a Jim Dunlop Fuzz Face, an ode to the two-knob distortion pedal; Distortion 1 is a tribute to the Boss DS-1 that's in almost everyone’s gig bag. In each, ten presets hark back to classic songs that use the hardware. More controls geared at making different presets would have been nice, but that’s a minor complaint. Blue Face’s presets are the only ones that alter the Input, Output and Mix controls. All also recreate component-level sound massaging by altering the signal even with the stomp switch set to off – given the ability to bypass the plugins (only in your DAW), we’re all for this particular feature.



Indonesian amp-resarios Kuassa have been dealing with classic guitar distortion for years, so turning their attention to stompboxes was a logical move. These Efektor distortions (available individually for $30) comprise Fuzz, Overdrive and Distortion plugins, each of the three offering five models of its respective flavor of signal warming. Kuassa say they’ve modeled 30 top distortions and distilled them down into these 15 types, with the three knobs for each plugin refining the sound further. The Efektor Distortion Bundle gives you a huge palette of distortion tones, making it most suitable to guitar, but all three processors hold their own when put towards more creative tasks, thanks to the broad range of styles available. When compared to the other plugins on offer here though, the price feels slightly too high.

$47 (approx)


A tube-style distortion that takes things rough but manages to stay smooth, Devastor 2 is billed as a multiband distortion. With each filter acting on an exact copy of the input signal, there’s some room for overlap, and a choice of nine signal routings in which the distortion and filters can be swapped or combined. The plugin often feels more like a saturator than a true degradation machine, but this is the one on the testbench that I’d most like to ‘play’ like an instrument, waggling the analog-style filter cutoffs and notching up the Preamp dial to push the signal into harder territory.



At its heart, this is a multiband distortion with a choice of flavours per band, although there’s more than meets the synopsis. Kombinat Tri’s 13 types of distortion cover the usual clipping, saturation, fuzz and whatnot, but you’ll also find bitcrushing — which is slightly unintuitive but still destructive as hell — and an octaver, which is great to see in a multiband setup. The idea is to choose up to three distortions to combine in parallel or serial configuration through the multiband crossover network. The serial mode still employs the crossovers, sending the signal through the highest, then the mid, then the lowest (that octaver comes in especially handy here).

After the multiband network, there’s a Feedback control, a ‘Kompressor’ and a master filter. This specific set of parameters is restrained without being limiting, giving you the tools you need to mangle your input without going overboard with mouse clicks. Kombinate Tri isn’t just a guitar distortion, it’s a sound-mangler for all seasons, and an experimental effer-upper that will give you unexpected results, time and time again. The pricetag matching or beating almost every other option in this article is just more proof that Tri is the magic number.