The 85% Rule with EYAL LEVI – Desert Island Plugins – Part 2!

There’s no magical piece of audio equipment that works the same way for every situation 100% of the time. It just doesn’t exist. And you can take that further by saying that there’s no approach to recording and mixing audio that works 100% of the time. You have to be willing to try different things. And you have to work very hard to kill your preconceived notions that a certain piece of gear is going to be “the one.”


I have noticed that there is some gear that works out most of the time. I call it my 85% gear pile. It’s taken me 15 years to really refine what’s in my 85% pile but I gotta say, it really works. 85% of the time the stuff in this pile gets the job done well for whatever record I’m working on.

Welcome to part 2 of my desert island plugins list. The point of these posts isn’t to tell you everything about the plugins, or to tell you what you should purchase. It’s merely just to illustrate that if I had no choice, I could make a record with these and only these. Are there other plugins I love? Sure. And I’m sure that you have your own desert island mix. Check out my list, and give these plugins a chance if you haven’t already. They’re here for a reason.



What’s your process for listening to reference tracks? If you’re not using this plugin it probably involves either something convoluted with spotify and Itunes or something convoluted with aux tracks. And I’m willing to bet that 99% of you not using this plugin have to deal with pauses when A/Bing between your mix and that reference material. That pause is the worst possible thing you can do when referencing however. Silence is what I like to call an aural palette cleanser. With this plugin you can not only listen between your a and b instantaneously, but you can level match them. But the cool stuff doesn’t end there. You can load up to 9 reference tracks and even set loop points on the exact section you want to reference. Buy this plugin. You’ll thank me later.



I don’t do much mastering, but if I did, Izotope Ozone would be in my chain.



People often ask me I go about creating a fake room to make up for a badly recorded room mic, create one from scratch, or to just enhance what they’re already working with. Enter Valhalla. Valhalla is the best plugin company you’ve never heard of. They make time based effects like modulated reverbs, delays, chorus, etc. and they’re all phenomenal. I typically don’t like plugin reverbs very much, but these are some of the exceptions. The name of the plugin basically says it all. You want a great room style reverb? Here it is. The key to this plugin is in tweaking the early and late parameters in order to create the psychoacoustical “dimensions” of your fake room. Oh, and it’s priced really well at only $50. So while this isn’t the only way to skin the cat, this plugin can be a great tool in your arsenal for adding 3 tasty dimensions to your drum sounds.



Honestly, there’s a bunch of emulations of this classic FET compressor and I love more than one of them. The Waves versions are great, UAD makes a few amazing ones, and I even love the BF76 that’s included with Pro Tools. So I don’t want to tell you which one to purchase, I just want to tell you that this is a mainstay for me when processing vocals and drums. Oh, and if you get the waves version, click the analog button to off. All it does is add noise.



This plugin actually comes with Pro Tools, but I’m sure that every DAW has it’s own version. Gain staging is one of the most overlooked, yet powerful things you need to get right while mixing. When you nail the gain staging, the difference will be night and day. I use this to make sure the signal hitting my plugins is optimal.



I love this plugin so much. People often ask me what they can do to help something stand out in a mix and often the answer is EQ or compression. But that won’t always work. Sometimes you just need to add harmonics to really bring a track to life. Decapitator can give you very subtle harmonics to help fit a track into a mix, or it can distort with such extremity that it rips your head right off (see the punish button). I love that how it reacts to the audio coming in, and the fact that there are so many modes and variables to play with make Decapitator useful on many different instruments (drums, bass, vocals, synth). This plugin not only sounds great, but it also feels great and that’s why I choose it 9/10 times. Now let me just say that there are other saturation plugins I love. Fabfilter Saturn is fantastic, I love my Sansamp plugin, and a few others. But for some reason this is what I go for first.

For more info like this, as well as in depth recording, mixing, mastering, and music industry advice with myself, Joey Sturgis, Joel Wanasek and our amazing guests, be sure to subscribe to our podcast.

Written by

Eyal Levi is a critically acclaimed guitarist, composer, producer, educator, and engineer.

Latest comments
  • Thank you Eyal! Going to check out the Valhallaroom for sure, it’s hard to find an inexpensive reverb. If you get a chance check out Imperial Delay by Boz Digital – it’s now on my 85% list.

  • Where’s the Altiverb love? :'( Valhalla is a nice sounding room tone, but Altiverb can do so much more! Just my 2¢.

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