Thanks to increasing demand and technological advances, today’s market is flooded with the kinds of plugin instruments, FX units and time-saving software that would have been seen as impossibly advanced just a few years ago.
While 2020 may go down as the worst year since wartime, one upside is the blooming music production eco-system. There is now an extraordinary wealth of incredible plugin instruments available to the everyday music producer. While totally awesome, it can make it hard to choose the right ones.
We dig deep to find the best VST instruments for 2021. Use Captain Plugins to write your own Chord Progressions, Hooks, Melodies and Basslines.
Top Free VST Plugins, Final Thoughts
Export to your DAW. Available on Mac and Windows. The pioneering developers behind ROLI have been busy. Not only creating a range of MPE-enabled expressive controllers such as Seaboard, they have also crafted a stunning polyphonic VST Instrument to boot.
It’s clearly designed for use with ROLI hardware, but is nevertheless a breathtaking synth in isolation.
In essence, it’s all about modulation. So while you have 3 oscillators, a multitude of FX, LFOs, waveshapes and all manner of envelopes, plus sampler instruments galore, Equator comes to life when you start patching modulation sources.
Suddenly simple synth sounds start to evolve and augment in weird and wonderful ways.
Apply modulation to aftertouch or an MPE keyboard and a world of intesnse expression awaits, transforming the routine into the radical!
- Modulation could be the name of the game for 2021’s synth winners.
- Alongside impressive modulation developments within Ableton Live 11, and the above-mentioned Equator, Vital Audio must be reckoned with.
- Combining wavetable synthesis with spectral modulation of every conceivable parameter, it’s visually arresting, and capable of intense, evolving digital synthesis.
- It’s wonderful for adding textures to tracks, and can also produce intricate and idiosyncratic leads, basses, pads and much more.
- Think of it like adding a polyphonic sequencer to each oscillator, with each step being a remapped modulation source attached to any synth parameter of your choice.
Looking back to move forwards is sometimes a shrewd move, particularly in music. So if you’re in love with the sounds of classic synths, pianos and organs from yesteryear, such as the Minimoog, SEM Oberheim, Roland Juno-106, Buchla Easel, ARP 2600 or just about any legendary synth you can mention, Arturia V Collection could be everything you need.
There are more legendary synths to choose from than you could shake a stick at, even if you had a stick-sjhaking machine and an endless supply of miltary-grade twigs. In the 8th instalment in the heralded V Collection Arturia have improved the accuracy of synth engines throughout, while adding new legends to the offering:.
These new additions to the collection open up the sonic spectrum to incorporate a vocoder, another Roland classic, a filth-machine in the form of Oberheim’s OB-Xa, crunchy sampled weirdness and a much improved update to the Jupiter 8.
The Jupiter being one of the most iconic of all legendary synths that, up until now, Arturia have struggled to totally nail. The wait may now be over!
In addition, there is an update to Analog Lab, which offers a great value way of accessing the patch library of the entire collection for a fraction of the price.
2. Lethal Audio Lethal
For most electronic producers and knowledgeable dance music fans, names such as TR-808, SH-101 and Juno-106 are household names. Many of dance music’s early hits were produced using these classic machines.
A Guy Called Gerald ‘Voodoo Ray’ being a notable example. Unfortunately, most of these classic units were discontinued in the 80s and 90s, and now fetch astronimical prices.
What is Roland Cloud exactly? In short, a range of instrument plugins designed to look and sound exactly the same as the classic models.
In Roland Cloud they are referred to as the Legendary series. Additional synths are split into several categories such as Essentials, Flavr and AIRA.
Roland have also added some new excellent new features to the instruments not found on the originals. Being cloud based also gives the ability to push-out updates and new additions to the plugin range, at no extra cost to the user.
How do they sound? In one word, amazing! It should be noted that 100% replication of an analogue synth through software emulation is impossible.
However, due to these new plugins featuring the same Analogue Circuit Behaviour (ACB) technology Roland developed for the Aira and Boutique range, they come as close to the originals as the new hardware offerings.
It would be fair to say that most people agree that the new hardware models sound extremely close when compared to the original models. Another stand-out feature of these new plugins is the ability to load them directly into the Roland System-1 and System-8 keyboards.
Named ‘Plug-out’, this inventive feature means you can take any of the new soft-synths on the road by loading them directly into the System-1 or System-8.
6. Arturia V Collection
No connection to your DAW or laptop is required once loaded. If you’re a fan of Roland’s classic synths and drum machines, then I would highly recommend adding Roland Cloud to your studio.
U-He have taken a less literal approach to classic sound emulation, in that their Diva synth isn’t designed to look like any one particular synth.
However, it is capable of sounding like dozens of such classics. That’s because U-He have focussed on sound design and sound modelling above all, which is great for the user, so long as they’re not overly familiar with the layout of the originals.
By utilizing a module-based UI, it’s possible to select classic sounds from presets, or patch between modules to create entirely new sounds.
4. Native Instruments Massive
Perhaps due to the relatively cluttered UI, it may not be the easiest VST synth for the beginner to program.
However, if power, great sound and limitless sound design is your priority, U-He Diva is a fabulous option. Simple, easy to operate, and capable of anything from stomach-churning sub-bass to wild SFX, soaring leads and thumping percussion.
Sylenth is a VST Instruments that you could legitimately produce an entire album on. As such, it ticks a lot of boxes for modern producers: Simple interface, one-page design, excellent value for money and versatility.
The interface is nice and clean, easy to read and inviting, albeit perhaps a little dated looking.
- But the main draw is the clean and precise voices and multiple, stacking oscillators.
- Much care has been taken to give Sylenth an analog-sounding engine, and the same can be said for the filters, which are grizzly and biting, without digital harshness.
- 2 ADSR envelopes and 2 LFOs aren’t the most generous of modulation capabiliities, but the sound is so good that it’s not something I’ve ever really lamented.
- If you’re after virtual analog with easy customisation, Sylenth is a great shout.
- EastWest ComposerCloud conmes with over 40,000 award-winning instruments including 3 million samples, phrases, and FX.
- With 67 full collections plus upcoming new releases such as the Hollywood Orchestra Opus Edition, Hollywood Orchestrator, and Opus software it offers an unrivalled selection of realistic instrument sounds.
Ranging from all manner of orchestral sounds to drums, guitars, pianos and much more, this is a stunning package for anyone after ‘real’ sounds.
Partnered with Slate Digital, a company rightly renowned for their superior range of processors and effects, Sonic Academy have something a little special in ANA 2.
Packed full of features, including unexpected bonuses like sample and wavetable import, waveform visualisation and a 64-note polyphonic sequencer/arp, ANA 2 is a powerful, capable workstation VST Instrument.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one synth, capable of beefy low-end, creamy leads and enveloping pads, this could be the best value option around.
With 24 FX tools, a very useful big-screen graphical overview of ANA’s 3 envelopes, a powerful Modulation Matrix, and a chord mode, there’s almost nothing ANA 2 can’t do. Fortunately, it also sounds really good, too. I particularly like the easy-to-use envelope shaper and the ability to add my own samples as a synth voice.
How to use this guide
While many of the presets do enable vintage sounds, I find ANA 2 excels at experimentation and novel sound creation.
And at under $150, it’s a steal. Omnisphere 2 swaggers into the list, knowing full well it’s already the go-to VA synth of thousands of top industry professionals and artists across the globe.
Offering unrivalled power and effortless sound design capabilities, Omnisphere is a revered, almost mystical name in the world of VST Instruments.
My guess is they called it Omnisphere because it combines pretty every much every possible type of synthesis, from granular and additive to subtractive, wavetable and audio sample-based synthesis.
58 Effects, 4 layers per patch, a ‘doubled’ Modulation Matrix and an impossible number of wavetables and patching options mean you’ll never run out of inspiration.
Omnisphere also boasts a very cool ‘Hardware Integration’ mode, by which dozens of the most popular hardware keyboards can automatically map to Omnisphere’s engine for instant hands-on fun.
Another big name in the game, Serum is a mainstay of the electronic dance music producer and sound design afficianado. Its pioneering approach to wavetable synthesis offers users the power to customise, build and import thair own wavetables, to then apply to the powerful synth engines, or indeed their own audio samples.
(The aforemmentioned ANA 2 has clearly taken a nod from Serum here, offering a broadly similar wavetable editor and the ability to import wavetables directly from Serum.).
Since I’m no wavetable synthesis expert, I’ll leave it to Serum to explain why they believe their engine is superior: “In Serum, the native-mode (default) playback of oscillators operates with an ultra high-precision resampling, yielding an astonishingly inaudible signal-to-noise ratio” – which basically means their engine cancels unwanted artifacts better than the competition… a good thing if you want big, clean sounds.
1. LANDR Chromatic
Furthermore, Serum offers a fun and easy-to-use method of patching modulation – a drag and pull method similar to Massive X by which you can assign modulation controls to all manner of sources in seconds.
Another attractive aspect of Serum is its Unison stacking mode – you can add 16 additional voices to any given note, and have each of the 16 unison voices behave differently, or the same but play different octaves, thus allowing for truly gargantuan sounds, or intense swirls, sweeps and glitches.
Now in its ‘X’ incarnation, Massive was a game-changer from the get-go. By simplifying a traditional synth user-interface and focusing on usability, it quickly established itself as a go-to for bedroom producers everywhere.
Extremely powerful and capable of monstrous bass, artists like Skream and Skrillex found Massive a perfect weapon of mass dancefloor-destruction.
It’s not just a bass-face, either. A sophisticated and unique wave-scanning engine, 3 oscillators, 16 voices, a one-page visual design and enough patch-points to create any sound imaginable, Massive is a favorite among FL Studio producers.
A lynchpin of Dubstep, Trap and Tech-House, it’s a synth you’ve heard in countless bangers.
Captain Plugins by Mixed In Key presents a unique and intuitive way to aid music composition.
There’s a plethora of plugins on the market designed to create or effect sounds within your DAW.
Best Free VST Plugins For Vocals
However, until recently, the availability of music composition plugins to assist in music theory have been limited.
Music theory is a complex and often ‘mind boggling’ science, and with so many other aspects to consider when producing music, it can often be an area of knowledge which is overlooked.
Luckily, for those who are not classically trained in music theory, Captain Plugins offer an intuitive and fun way to produce stunning chord progressions, basslines, drums and melodies; while increasing your workflow, allowing you to spend more time on what matters most, making music.
Captain Plugins comes complete with five plugins for a one-off payment of only $99. These are named Captain Chords, Melody, Deep, Play and Beat and they’ll help you with every aspect of your songwriting.
They also connect to each other within your favorite DAW to make sure you have full control over rhythm, tension and more.
Captain Plugins is a must-have for any producer who wants to improve their songwriting skills.
Quite simply the most sophisticated audio collaboration tool on the planet. While yes, we are biased, we just love the simple, easy to use interface, and the fact you can share audio with anyone, anywhere.
You don’t even need to leave your own DAW! With a revolutionary approach to audio sharing, Satellite Sessions will open up new worlds of sonic collaboration. It’s so easy to use, the only limitation is your imagination!
It’s super easy to create your own ideas from scratch.
7. Native Instruments Kontakt 6
Visit the official Chords homepage and see how it will help you explore music and write your own original productions.
VST Plugins, love them or hate them, are one of the most important tools available to the modern music producer and help speed up the production process.
These days, there’s a VST (virtual studio technology) for pretty much everything. For any sound or music-related tasks, you can guarantee there’s a VST.
The issue with this is that the VST market is saturated, there are so many plugins that do the same thing, it can be hard to choose the right one for your needs.
Thanks to developments in technology, creating VSTs is relatively easy, and has become a process available to anyone with an interest in music and some computer literacy.
This is great because it opens up access to the wider community, but it also means that there are some terrible, amateur-quality plugins on the market.
I tested 20 products and found Native Instruments Kontakt to be the best. This is one of the largest and most powerful plugins and sample libraries around.
For any music producer, Kontakt is an essential tool. Not only is the plugin itself fantastic – a state-of-the-art sampler.
Best Free Virtual Instrument VST Plugins
But the huge quantity of sample packs makes this an infinite universe of instruments.
It isn’t just a vst sampler, it can be any sound you want it to. Throughout my time as a music producer, I’ve tried countless plugins. I’ve used some good ones and some bad ones. I’ve found lots of terrible plugins posing as the next best thing, and I’ve seen lots of underrated hidden gems.
The plugins in this guide are diamonds in the rough,. Because of the amount of variation in plugins and their use cases, we have split these into categories.
We put together this list to separate the diamonds from the dirt. Even the best Piano instrument VST will be no good as a compressor or reverb plugin.
Plugins tend to be specialized to a particular task. For this reason, VSTs can be split into Instruments, Effects, and Other.
Instruments can include both synthesizers and samplers. Keep reading for our roundup of 20 of the best plugins available today. List all the products as a table of content. Native Instruments Kontakt is a professional sampling VSTs.
It is highly developed, and one of the most feature-rich software samplers available. This industry-standard tool allows you to drag and drop samples into the interface to quickly create your patches, with sample editing and instrument building tools.Besides the sampling power, and the tools it gives you to make your own patches, there are thousands of Kontakt Patches available to purchase to expand your sound library.
Almost any kind of sound or instrument has been sampled and converted into a high-quality Kontakt pack, ranging from vocals to orchestras to random foley sounds.Perfect for both live performance or the studio, Kontakt is almost an essential plugin, that is found in all professional studios, and on most producers’ laptops.
It opens up new options in creative sampling and sound design that most stock samplers can’t. Huge Sound Library (Flexible install size: 5gb+ depending on samples included). Mac and Windows, VST2, VST3, AAX, AU, and Standalone.
4 GB RAM (6 GB recommended for large KONTAKT Instruments). “More than a sampler” this is a sampling platform.
Huge amount of patches & expansion packs available. Super Powered Sampling Engine. Some packs are expensive, some are terrible. Kontakt is an essential sampling tool that most producers won’t leave home without.For both studio and live use, there aren’t many better tools.
It is incredibly quick and easy to use, with a familiar and simple interface. Great for beginners who just need to find cool patches to quickly layer in, and even better for professionals who can go under the hood and make tiny adjustments and tweaks, or even use the scripting functions to manipulate sound with code in new and unique ways.
The V Synth collection is a bundle of analog modeled Synthesizer and Sampler VSTs.The synths included are faithful recreations of famous and legendary models from history, including the MiniMoog, Juno, EMU, Synclavier, Fairlight, Buchla Easel, ARP Solina, and many more.
All the plugins use Arturia’s in-house technology to create amazing quality instruments that sound identical to the hardware units. The interface designs are awesome too, taking heavy stylistic inspiration from the original units, but packaging the controls into a 21st century friendly, fluid layout.The preset browser is very well organized and contains many categories,.
These are easily some of the best synthesizer vsts around. If you have an interest in rare analog and vintage gear, this is the perfect bundle.
I use this bundle all the time, most songs end up needing some of Arturia’s vintage spice. My favorites are Synclavier, Fairlight, and Mellotron. The original units of these are mega rare and expensive, so being able to play with a digital version is an honor and a joy!
Mac and Windows, VST2, VST3, AAX, and AU. 13 Classic Analog Synthesizer Models. 5 Retro Digital Instruments (synths & Samplers). 9 Famous Pianos, Organs, and String Machines.
Classic Analog Instruments. Beautiful Sound and feel. Payment split options. Relatively Expensive. This bundle is ultimately one of the best out there for synthesizers. If you wanted to buy this combination of the original hardware synthesizers, you could easily be paying over $1million!
Unbeatable quality and user interface. Thousands of usable presets made by professionals. Each one of these plugins is worthy of a place on this list due to its stunning quality. They can be purchased individually but the bundle is the best value for money, and trust me, you’ll find yourself using every synth in the pack!
Write Your Own Original Compositions With Captain Plugins
This is one of the best mastering plugins on the market, do any compressors come close to this?This is an analog emulation plugin that mimics the iconic Shadow Hills Compressor.
Brainworx’s talented engineers have meticulously studied and modeled the original hardware unit to capture its rich and smooth tone. In the world of hardware compressors, the Shadow Hills is known to be one of the top models, which is reflected in their rarity and price.
This emulation makes no sacrifices or compromises in bringing you the original tools and tones of the unit.All the controls of the original model are included, and the emulation works by simulating the circuit at an individual component level for the most accurate and realistic analog sound.
This is a two-stage compressor with separate optical and discrete circuits. The is a choice of three output transformers (Steel/Nickel/Iron) each with a unique character.
This dynamic range plugin also includes some extra useful features which aren’t on the hardware, including a parallel mix control, sidechain filter, and external sidechain, which makes this even more powerful in a digital workflow.
Mac and Windows, VST2, VST3, AAX, and AU. 3 Output Transformer Models. Separate Optical & Discrete Circuits. Stereo and Dual Mono modes.
Brainworx Plugin-Only Features:. Parallel Mix, Sidechain Filter, External Sidechain. Top Quality Analog Emulation.
Faithful modeling of an unbeatable compressor design. 2 independent channels, with 2 compressor circuits (optical/discrete).
Attack and Release times may not be flexible or fast enough for some uses.
- If you need an analog mastering compressor, this is tough to beat.
- The quality is god-like, and I’m not joking when I say I use this in basically every mastering chain I make.
- The interface is a breeze to use, with some quality presets.
It can produce a huge range of compression sounds and works well on individual instrument channels as well as the master buss.
3. Xfer Serum
East-West Play is the interface plugin for the fantastic East-West Composer Cloud Library.This plugin, provided through a subscription, is the portal for accessing East West’s Hollywood-grade sample libraries.
These libraries are super high-quality recordings of real instruments and performers and have been used in many professional TV, Films, and video games.
These are industry-standard orchestral sounds.The choral packs are insane, with one choir tool having the option to type in words, which are then sung back to you based on merging the individual vowel and consonant recordings into a single vocal line.
Super impressive and futuristic. The interface is a little clunky, but worth it for the sheer volume and quality of material contained.
With the Composer Cloud subscription, you get access to most of their libraries with a solid amount of mic position choices and articulations. Mac and Windows, VST2, VST3, AAX, and AU. Huge amount of content & sounds available.
Cutting edge sample libraries and interfaces. Flexible Sampling Tools. Libraries have a large Install Size. Best to use with EW libraries rather than create your own patches. For anybody who writes scores for film, TB, video game, or advert soundtracks, this is an ideal plugin.Any kind of epic instrumental performance, orchestral section, or vocal lines, can be found in this package.
The samples have been recorded with incredible organization and quality, so you can quickly find the sounds you need. The sound quality is AAA and will be at home on Cinema screens and theaters.
The subscription beats Kontakt if you can afford the monthly payments. The actual sampling engine and the interface are geared more towards using the EW Packs than with your own samples, so bear this in mind.
This is probably my favorite reverb plugin ever made. Yes, it’s small, simple, with only a couple of controls, but they are all you need.
2. Spectrasonics Omnisphere
This creates the perfect, washy plate reverb sound that is a great match for vocals, synths, and drums.
The beautiful thing about this plugin is that it has an Infinite decay mode that creates stunning ethereal drones and atmospheres.
Stick this on an AUX channel and get sending! Mac and Windows, VST2, VST3, AAX, and AU. Simple but effective Interface. Infinite Decay Mode. Limited to “Plate” sounding reverb. If you are looking for a plate reverb VST, this is one of the best value for money in terms of quality and design options.
It won’t do much other than a plate sound but is still fairly flexible, and worth buying for the infinite drone setting itself.
A sampling plugin that is perfect for trap, EDM, RnB, and Hip-Hop producers. It has a massive bank of quality presets, with pads, arpeggios, and bass sounds.
The plugin is easy to use and will feel familiar to anybody who has used Kontakt or similar sampler plugins before. The presets are sorted so it’s easy to find different types of sound, you start by selecting a broad category and then make narrower more detailed selections.
It has some solid effects and filters that can be added to the patch. AudioUnit, VST, VST3, and AAX. macOS 10.11 and above.
5. Native Instruments FM8
14GB+ Hard drive space. Pentium class 2.0 GHz processor with SSE3 support. 8GB of RAM (16GB or more highly recommended).
Huge sound library. lots of great trap sounds. Resource friendly. Over featured for DAW users.
Nexus is another sample library player with a huge wealth of sounds.
11. REFX Nexus2
The external libraries are themed for all styles of genre and make it easy to find a new bunch of sounds.
This is a free version of Spitfire’s world-class sound library. Packaged in a simple interface, this sample library player is completely free to use.
Spitfire Audio adds new instruments to the library every month, the count currently stands at 39.The soft piano patch is very usable, other favorites include the AutoHarp and Tape Orchestra.
For a free plugin, the quality is not compromised, these sound fantastic and have a special vibe to them.Labs is a huge palette of sounds, so get stuck in!
Over 39 high-quality patches including strings, guitars, pianos, brass, drums, vocals, percussion, synths, and experimental sounds. Download each pack individually to save hard drive space.
Mac and Windows, VST2, VST3, AAX, and AU. High-Quality instruments.
Wide selection of sounds. Each sound has limited or 1 articulation. We included Spitfire Labs because it’s one of the best free plugins around.
It isn’t as flexible or deep as other sampling plugins, or Spitfire’s paid vst instruments, but for free – what can go wrong?
Best Free VST Plugins For Trap Beats
Download Spitfire Labs now.
The output bundle is so huge that we had to include it on this list. It includes all of Outputs’ 10 engines, 22 expansions, and effects, known to be used by artists such as Rihanna, Coldplay, and Diplo, and used on-screen for Black Panther and Stranger Things.
This can kickstart inspiration for a new beat or instantly lock in new sparkly layers and grooves for existing tracks.
The presets are sorted into specific categories so producers will be able to find exactly what they need very quickly.
Everything is customizable so presets can be tweaked and adjusted to fit. The vocal samples are particularly great. Mac and Windows, VST2, VST3, AAX, and AU.
Includes 10 Instruments: Analog Brass & Winds, Analog Strings, Substance, Exhale, Thermal, Portal, Movement, Signal, Rev x-Loops, and rev.
Best Free Drum VST Plugins
Includes 22 Expansion packs: Adrenaline, Airlift, Ambient Vocals, Barely Vocals, Base Bass, Beautiful Pads, Beyond 4/4, Booty Bass, Brass Knuckles, Chaos, CInematic, Classic Analog, current, Desolation, Dystopian Bass, Glow, Indie Vocals, Modern String Beds, Neon Strings Spacetime, Tape Loop, Translucence.
Includes a huge amount of plugins. Contains any sound you need.
The vocal samples are used a lot by other producers so need editing to sound unique. Each of the plugins included in this package could have been ranked on this list in their own right, so we chose to post this bundle.
These are well designed, with brilliant interfaces, the preset browser makes finding the right sound a breeze. Each plugin can be brought separately, or the bundle costs £760, at a 65% discount from the individual prices.Arcade is Output’s subscription product that gives access to their sounds at a more affordable price.
Antares are one of the industry’s biggest names in auto-tuning and vocal music technology. Their Antares plugin is arguably one of the most iconic and powerful autotuning plugins available and has been used on countless number 1 hits.
This is an incredibly flexible and well-engineered plugin that does more than just auto-tune, it is a one-stop powerhouse for vocal sound designers.
Auto-Tune Pro packs in all the features with, Auto and Graph mode, an Auto Key setting which detects the key and scale, Humanizing, even Formant Correction, and Throat modeling.
This allows highly detailed vocal editing in pitch and time and gives you all the tools you need to make it an easy process.
Any Other FREE VST Plugins I Should Grab?
Mac and Windows, VST2, VST3, AAX, and AU.
Different versions for everybody’s Budget. One of the Best Auto-Tune plugins around.
Dedicated to vocals. The Antares Auto-Tune software is broken down into a few different purchasing options based on budget and needs. The more expensive Pro edition boasts the most features but at the hefty price tag of $349.For a more wallet-friendly edition, Access is a slimmed-down version of the plugin that provides the bare-bones of the algorithm for $99.
We included it on this list because it’s a top-tier auto-tuner that will be a valuable tool in most producers’ pockets.
Pro-Q is an industry-standard plugin for filtering and equalization. This is an extensive and intuitive EQ tool that is nearly unmatched in quality and innovation.It allows effortless sculpting across the frequency spectrum, it has all the filter types you can imagine, including a bandpass filter, comb filters, even an eq match function, and linear phase setting for clean mastering use.
Mid/side band mode, dynamic eq settings,This is an extremely versatile filtering plugin that has too many features to list here!
20 Best VST plugins Reviewed in Detail
Windows 10, 8, 7,. VST, VST3, Audio Units, AAX Native and AudioSuite. One of the best vst plugins for filtering & EQ. Only good for eq tasks. If you can only buy one plugin for EQ tasks, this should be your first choice.
For speed, quality and flexibility it can’t be beaten. It also includes a preset library with eq settings for different instruments and situations, some crafted by renowned audio engineers.
This is my favorite vst plugin for dynamic eq tasks. As far as tape emulations go, this is one of my faves. Trust me, I love a tape emulation and have burnt through many different models until I found the ones I like.
The Magnetite is a saturation and tape emulation plugin that I keep on speed dial.
The simple interface hides a roaring beast of tone. Very realistic tape sound that adds that compressed retro crunchiness that tape machines are used for.
- The interface and control design make this plugin perfect to use for mixing and includes all the features you need to blend the perfect amount of saturation.
- Mac and Windows, VST2, VST3, AAX, and AU. 15 and 7.5 ips tape speed. Wow/Flutter controls and analog shaped noise.
- Simultaneous Input/Output gain adjustment. Fantastic warm analog sound. A great sounding and reliable tape emulation plugin.
- This gives a fantastic analog sound, even better when pushed into its distortion.
- For the price, this rivals other tape sims and mixing plugins on the market like the softube, and even some UAD models.
- Something is endearing in its sound quality that I find myself coming back for time and time again.
- As far as tape sounds go, this comes very close to the real thing and has a similar dynamic response to reel-to-reel machines.
- Slate Digital produces high-quality audio plugins often with an analog emulating element.Focusing on sonic quality and familiarity, this broad selection of over 35 plugins gives users fantastic audio tools at a low cost.Many of the analog-style plugins are faithful to the original hardware units, both in sound and interface.
- These are pro-grade plugins that are found in many commercial studios.The collection of preamp simulations and the sheer amount of color they add will prevent you from needing to buy another saturation plugin!There are 3 tiers of subscription, the higher tiers include bundles of Kilohearts, ANA-2, and TH-U plugins.
- Mac and Windows, VST2, VST3, AAX, and AU. Includes Educational Videos.
- Affordable Subscription. Huge catalog of plugins. Fantastic & faithful analog emulation.
- At the low subscription cost, the Slate All Access Pass is a great starting point for producers looking to expand their toolbox.
- It covers all the stops from EQs, to compressors and most other processors, with solid and easy plugins.The subscription model means that even on a tiny budget, a producer or sound designer can access a full selection of professional tools.
- Melodyne is an essential tuning tool for any serious engineers and producers.Boasting one of the cleanest and most transparent pitch correction algorithms, and a well-designed interface that allows the most precise editing, Melodyne is a pitch and vocal editing tool that everyone should try.
The perfect tool for pitch correction and vocal tuning, without a doubt this is found in every serious studio. Melodyne comes as both a vst plugin and a standalone application. Enabling producers to completely reshape sounds in both pitch, time, and harmonics, Melodyne can be used to correct any performance mistakes, or creatively enhance already good sounds.
Mac and Windows, VST2, VST3, AAX, and AU. Transparent Pitch & Time correction. Innovative interface.
Best Free VST Effects For Mixing
Scale and Key Detection. Available at 3 price points, Essential $99, Assistant $249, Editor $399, and studio $699 there is a version of Melodyne for everybody.
This is a vital tool and has both corrective and creative uses. For anyone working with vocals or live instruments, Melodyne is a must-buy!Even the simplest version of the vst plugin, Essential, has a solid set of features and can make a huge difference to the professionalism of productions.
Ozone is a mastering suite that provides high-quality mastering tools, including eq, compressor, limiter, analysis tools, saturation, mid/side, and more.
This is a go-to tool for producers looking to quickly master tracks with a competitive and polished sound.
Assisted by artificial intelligence, the detection mode helps to automatically identify and correct issues, or match the sound of a track to a reference track.
The plugin is used across the industry, by professional producers and mastering engineers worldwide.
The analysis tools help take some of the guesswork out of the mastering process and will help you create clear and solid sounding tracks.
Mac and Windows, VST2, VST3, AAX, and AU. A suite of tools including. Top-Quality mastering tool. Great preset selection. Limited to mastering & some mixing tasks.
This is a very powerful mastering tool, it makes tracks sound professionally mastered very quickly. The sonic quality is very high and worth buying for anyone who produces and releases their own music.
Being able to match the master sound to a reference track is a powerful tool for beginners.
Omnisphere could be one of the greatest vst synths yet!
Created by Spectrasonics, a renowned instrument specialist brand, Omnisphere packs in over 500 waveforms and 14,000 sounds to inspire and drive music producers.The state-of-the-art synthesis engine is easily navigated and can be customized for live performance.
The deep customization possibilities unlock an infinite amount of sound, with an additional 58 FX units which are flexibly integrated.It also connects with hardware synths to allow hands-on control of hemispheres parameters.
The full list of features is nearly longer than this article! Exploring this power synth vst plugin will keep artists busy for a long time and will enhance music from all genres.
Over 14,000 sounds. up to 20 oscillators per patch. Over 500 wavetables + import custom wavetables.
Endless sonic potential. great for studio and live settings. Huge collection of presets for instant inspiration.
Takes over 64GB hard drive space. Omnisphere is doubtlessly a top contender in the battle of virtual instruments.The enormous quantity of incredible sounds makes this superpowered wavetable synthesizer a superb tool for electronic musicians.
For guitarists, this is a dream plugin.
You may find yourself never needing to buy an effects pedal or guitar amplifier ever again! Native Instruments Guitar rig is a flexible effects processing environment for guitar and bass.
Its modular design allows virtual amps and pedals to be arranged in any way. It opens up a huge amount of creative options for guitarists.
Even the simple delay and reverb effects sound great on their own.It includes multiple delay modes and even the classic sound of a space echo type effect which I love to use on dub guitar tracks.
It’s even more flexible than the original unit, with a dual-echo to provide bouncing stereo signals. Mac Intel Core Duo OS X 10.5 or 10.6. Guitar tone power house.
Modular design creates endless choices. Stand alone version.
You need a guitar. Easily in the top 5 best plugins for guitarists – from indies to psychedelics to the heaviest of metalheads.Native instruments guitar rig processes your guitar’s audio signal in a very realistic way.
Many of the presets are indistinguishable from recording through real guitar amplifiers. But you have the bonus of a digital workflow.This helps you find and refine your own unique sound for guitar.
Spitfire Audio produces some of the best vst plugins on the market. For anyone serious about music production, their vst plugins are a must-buy.
8. Reveal Sound Spire
Labs is their free sampler and is my favorite free vst plugin.It has a huge library of sounds, from standards like drums, bass, and piano, to quirky and unusual instruments and textures.
The interface is simple to navigate so sounds can be found quickly.
Mac Intel Core Duo OS X 10.5 or 10.6 . Enormous library of free sounds. Updated monthly.
Can’t import own sounds. Limited Articulations per instrument. This is one of those plugin instruments that everybody should try.
There’s no reason not to. It’s one of the best free sources of sound directly in your DAW.
Serum is a synthesizer we’ve mentioned before in our best vst for trap beats.
It’s a super flexible wavetable synth. It has a polyphonic mode, tonnes of oscillators, envelopes, filters, effects, and racking them in a modern display.
It has internal effects including a bit crusher, ring modulator, two filters, four LFOs, and more making it a beast for sound design.
Windows 7 SP1, or Mac OS X 10.8 or greater.
4, AU or AAX compatible host software.
Synthesis Powerhouse. Huge modulation options. Sampling Synthesis mode.
effects are limited. This synth is a great purchase for anyone interested in electronic sounds, it’s at home in hip hop, trap, techno, EDM, house, and bass music.
This is a powerful virtual instrument and a huge synth in plugin form. This is one of the best plugins for synthesis and synth bass. This vst plugin from XLN Audio is the ultimate tool for drum production.
Addictive drums feature a huge amount of drum kits and processors for the drum audio signals.
Addictive drums contain a detailed mixer for handcrafting the microphone balance, convolution reverbs, and effects.
There is a tonne of expansion packs to find the perfect drum tone.This plugin sends drum sound straight to your DAW, or speakers when working in standalone mode.
Standalone, VST, AU, AAX. Intel Core 2 Duo /+, 4GB RAM minimum. Mac: OS X 10.9 or later.
One of the best vst plugins for drums.
Best VST Plugins in our tests
Huge amount of kits and customization. Studio Quality drum sounds. Limited selection of drums compared to Kontakt.
Everybody loves drums, but not everyone has enough room for a drum kit, that’s why we have drum machine vsts like xln addictive drums.
- This is the next generation of drum machine tools and will help any producer create the perfect drum track for their song with ease.
- If you need a vst plugin to get those beats pumping, this is a great choice.
This is a tasty reverb plugin from Fabfilter that has a huge amount of entropic potential. The interface allows for both natural and abstract reverb creation.
Having good reverb plugins to hand is essential in any production environment.Pro-R applies a musical approach to the interface, with non-technical descriptions like Character, Brightness, Distance, to help non-experts quickly get to grips with the reverb.
Sonic Academy – ANA 2.
VST, VST3, Audio Units, AAX Native, and AudioSuite formats.
Windows 10, 8, 7, or Vista. macOS 10.10 or higher (64-bit only). Unique Reverb Plugin. Quick, easy to understand.
Spectrum analyzer to help crafting. This is a cracking vst plugin for reverb. Few reverb plugins come close in terms of flexibility, usability, and value for money. Fabfilter Pro-R is a deep-reverb plugin that any serious producer should consider bagging.
What to look for when buying this type of product. Several sections talking about Features, Problems, Use Cases, etc. The best VST for sampling is probably Kontakt, it has all the tools and features, and the insane amount of expansion packs opens a portal to an infinite dimension of sound creation.
The sound design and customization options allow you to shape and layer sounds efficiently and precisely.For synth vsts with a vintage sound, the Arturia V collection is unbeatable.
It’s a time machine into the nostalgic sounds of the past, all the little quirks and nuances of historic synthesizers have been digitized for your musical pleasure.
For a more modern take on synthesis, Serum or Omnisphere are top contenders.
- They can produce sounds for many styles of contemporary music and are used by big names in the music production scene.
- For mixing plugins, arguably Universal Audio are the best, they make very high-quality analog emulation, and their DSP hardware can process at the input signal, a unique and powerful feature.The issue with UAD is that their plugins only run on their DSP chips, so external hardware is required.
- UAD is the highest quality but highest price.
- Professionals go to many brands for their plugins, there are some “blue-chip” names like SSL, Universal Audio, Waves, Izotope, Native Instruments, whose plugins have been used and loved across the board.Whilst bigger studios tend to rely on the industry names, many producers (and studios) have been known to use all kinds of plugins, and experiment with any plugin no matter how random or poorly made it is.
- Plugins are just a tool for design, like a paintbrush.
- Most plugins can achieve similar results, but some are made in a way to save time.
It depends on the use case, in terms of synthesizers, Serum is a serious contender.
It’s packed full of features at a good price, making it one of the best synthesizer VSTs around.However, for other tasks like mixing and mastering, Serum won’t get very far.
These tasks usually require specialized plugins. Several features make Serum such a great synthesizer. One being its simplicity yet flexibility, it has a streamlined interface, but still packs in a huge amount of customization and tweakability.
We chose Native Instruments Kontakt as our best plugin. Kontakt can achieve almost anything that other plugins on this can.
It can be used to perform any kind of instrument or sound. It is a powerful sound design tool, with endless modulation and transformation possibilities. You will be able to find any sound or instrument or sample themes in the vast amount of expansion packs.
If you only own one plugin, this should be it.You can buy Kontakt from the Native instruments website, alternatively, try out their free version Kontakt Player.
Every sound engineer, music producer, composer, and beatmaker needs access to powerful tools to be able to enhance and bring their music to life. These days, recording is mostly done “in the box,” with VST plugins.
And in recent times, even the free ones are starting to sound better and are quite versatile besides. There are different categories of VST plugins you’re going to need to build out your library to handle the many things you want to be able to do.
Best Free VST Plugins For Guitar
So, whether you need to build from scratch, supplement, or augment your toolkit, you’ve come to the right place.
In this guide, we look at the best free VST plugins of all time – essential instruments and effects. Effects like EQ, reverb, delay, chorus, compression, de-essers, distortion, and others are essential for individual tracks, as well as your overall mix.
Without these, you’re going to be quite limited in what you can do to your tracks (volume and pan, maybe?), and unless you’re 100% happy with what you’ve captured, you’re going to be severely limited in achieving a different result.
In this section, we’re going to be looking at several plugins in the categories already mentioned.
In addition to mixing and mastering, these can come in quite handy for shaping the tone and sound of individual tracks. EQ is a must-have when it comes to mixing and mastering alike, and Blue Cat’s Triple EQ is considered one of the best free options available.
This is a three-band semi-parametric equalizer. It can be controlled with a single filter, with a customizable shape.
Features also include dual mode (independent left and right or mid and side channels control), multiple channels linking modes, +-40 dB range per band, automatic gain compensation, no latency, real-time display of frequency response, and on-graph filter shape control.
Overall, Blue Cat’s Triple EQ is quite simple, and unlike some EQ VSTs, the effect is quite noticeable, letting you mold sounds to your heart’s content.
Download: Blue Cat Audio.
Reverb is essential to most mixes, and unless you’re happy with your DAW’s built-in reverb (which in some cases can be quite good), you’ll probably want to supplement your plugin library.
The OrilRiver reverb comes highly recommended by certain users. This is an algorithmic stereo reverb with 12 variations of early reflections, five variations of reverb tail, and three-band equalizer for wet signal.
Which means this – you can even shape the tone of your tracks with this plugin. With OrilRiver, you can add a natural sounding high-quality reverb to your tracks.
I don’t think any producer should be embarrassed adding this plugin to their toolkit.
OrilRiver is compatible with Windows and Mac. Download: KVR Audio Software. The moment I heard OldSkoolVerb I fell in love with it.
I’d tried a few reverb VSTs to that point, but most of them were quite basic or mediocre sounding.
Arturia V Collection 8
OldSkoolVerb comes with a lot of great presets (bright studio, warm hall, drum room, etc.) that help you get up and running fast.
Most of the time, I just start with a preset I like and tweak a little until I’m happy with the sound. In most cases, you will probably want to turn down the out gain on the reverb, though, because the presets can be quite intense.
A lot of reverb can be nice, but sometimes too much is too much! There are several reverbs on this list, and they’re all worth trying, but you probably won’t find me without this one.
Download: Voxengo. I didn’t even know about stereo-widening/vocal doubling effects until my producer told me about them a couple of years ago.
I was already sold on Voxengo’s OldSkoolVerb, so when I found out they had Stereo Touch, I was quick to download it and test it out.
Unsurprisingly, I was quite impressed with the results. It’s capable of making your vocals stand out in a mix without boosting their volume.
Again, there are several presets built in (vocal space, surround, stage, etc.), and they offer a great starting point for the sounds you’re looking to create. And while the tendency will be to add this effect to vocals, it can work quite nicely on guitar too!
Download: Voxengo. Valhalla Super Massive is kind of like a hybrid delay and reverb plugin.
Equator by ROLI
Which means you can get quite a bit of utility out of it.
Its user interface and design? But sometimes that’s all you need. It comes with controls for mix, width, delay, warp, feedback, density, mod rate and depth, and EQ high and low.
It comes with a lot of presets, so if you aren’t sure where to start, you’ll appreciate that feature. Super Massive offers a great sounding delay and reverb, and as a creative tool for harmonic echoes, space sounds, and huge reverbs, it shines.
A good VST to keep your inspiration alive.
Best Free VST Plugins For Bass
Valhalla Super Massive is compatible with Windows and Mac.
Download: Valhalla DSP. Klanghelm’s DC1A is a simple two-control compressor. It’s got controls for input, output, deep, relaxed, dual mono, and negative.
It also features a tasty, professional design. While it looks quite straightforward, its versatility might just surprise you. It works on vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, drums, or keyboards – just about anything!
This compressor is quite possibly one of the most effective free ones I’ve seen. It makes it incredibly easy for you to alter the dynamics of your track without coloring it.
You don’t even need presets to operate this baby – just work the input and output dials until you’re happy with the results, and experiment with the additional controls for full effect.
DC1A is supported on Windows and Mac. Download: Klanghelm. While some will appreciate the simplicity of a compressor like the DC1A, others will want more control over the dynamics and sound of their tracks.
Tokyo Dawn Records’ VladG Molot compressor gives you superior control of your tone. That said, if you’re new to compressors, you might want to skip this one, because it’s hard to tune your tracks to perfection with this baby.
The graphical user interface? I admit it’s a little intimidating even to me.
Spectrasonics – Omnisphere 2
Still, it is beautifully designed, in a vintage kind of way.
You’ve got controls for filter, attack, release, ratio, threshold, knee, makeup, dry mix, limiter, mid scoop, mode, upsampling, on/off, alpha/sigma, and input/GR.
The VladG Molot, unlike certain compressors, will color the tone of your instruments. You will need to experiment yourself to get a better sense of what that means.
The point is – if you’re looking for a compressor that’s more transparent, this isn’t it. VladG Molot is available for Windows and Mac through Tokyo Dawn Records. Download: Tokyo Dawn Records. Chorus can add some shine and sparkle to your tracks. In effect, it adds voices (as if a choir) to the track, regardless of what it is.
Blue Cat’s Chorus is a vintage style single voice chorus effect that allows for a wide range of sounds, from light ensemble, all the way to a deep, destructive modulation effect.
Its main features include stereo spread control, sine or triangle LFO shapes, and in or out of phase mix control.
Included are multiple presets to help you get started. Just as advertised, I find it to be a highly usable vintage style effect that can work on just about any instrument you want to add some energy to.
Best Free Synthesizer VST Plugins
Blue Cat’s Chorus is compatible with Mac and Windows.
Download: Blue Cat Audio. We’ve covered a range of free de-esser effects on MIDINation before. SPITFISH is just one among half a dozen or so you may find especially effective.
A de-esser can help remove harsh vocal sounds, also known as sibilants – “s,” “z,” “sh,” “teh,” ch,” and so forth. It’s a must-have, especially if you’re working with a variety of vocalists and clients.
In addition to removing unwanted noise and hiss, de-essers are also often used on mixes, to round off the corners and remove the harsher, high frequency sounds that can result from boosting those frequencies (it’s common practice to add some sparkle to vocal tracks).
The beautifully designed SPITFISH is simple, effective, and easy to use. It offers controls for sense, tune, depth, listen, bypass, stereo, and soft. Be sure to add a de-esser to your toolkit.
Most professionals find they use de-essers on 60 to 80% of the tracks they produce. Download: Sascha Eversmeier. If you’re planning to make electronic music of any kind, or pop, hip-hop, and in some cases even rock, you need synthesizers.
Synths tend to be quite versatile, and with them you can create leads, pads, bass, drums, effects, and more.
9. u-he Hive
So, whether you’re looking to add some atmosphere to your track, or want to play a blistering synth solo, having a few synth VSTs at the ready is best practice.
Break out that MIDI controller, because you’re probably going to be spending a lot of time having fun and experimenting with these.
There’s not a whole lot we can say about the free, open source, award-winning hybrid synthesizer known as Surge that we haven’t already said.
That’s because we’ve covered it in other guides, including the one on the best free synth VST plugins. Surge is known for its quality sounds, its versatility, its customizability, and more.
It even comes with over 2,000 patches. If you want to get a better feel for it yourself, have a listen to samples on their website, or watch the video below.
Fair warning – you’ll be watching and listening for a quite a while before you even start to get a sense of all this plugin is capable of!
Honestly, if you like synths, you’d be crazy not to download it and give it a whirl. You can download it for Windows, Linux, and Mac.
Download: GitHub. Pendulate is great because, quite honestly, it’s a little different from a lot of synths out there.
This free synth comes with a novel “chaotic oscillator” based on the double pendulum.
Native Instruments – Massive X
That gives you access to a lot of unique sounds you may have never heard before (let’s face it – a lot of synths are emulating the same thing, so this is refreshing).
With Pendulate, you also get wavefolder based on the Buchla 259 Complex Waveform Generator with mix and cutoff, low pass gate with poles and resonance, 169 simultaneous modulation routings, MPE support, envelope and LFO, up to 221 modulation points, animations for the double pendulum, wavefolder, and low pass gate, three unique color schemes, 136 presets (including artist presets), and more.
Classic synths are great, and they are often emulated for a reason. But if you’re looking for something new or different, you should give Pendulate a try.
You can get Pendulate for Mac or Windows in exchange for your email address on the Eventide Audio website.
Download: Eventide Audio. Again, as with Surge, there’s not a whole lot we can say about Helm that we haven’t already said at one point or another.
Helm is highly versatile and amazingly designed, with plenty of awesome, high-quality sounds reminiscent of video games in the 90s.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a big fan of video game music, which of course means Helm is right down my alley.
This isn’t to say there aren’t synths that specialize in video game sounds, but with Helm you kind of get all that and more.
Helm works on GNU/Linux, Mac and Windows. Download: Matt Tytel. u-he’s TyrellN6 was originally going to be a hardware analog synth.
Xfer – Serum
For a variety of reasons, it got turned into a VST instead.
Clearly, a lot of love and care went into its “sporty,” quality design, with all the knobs and faders you’ve come to love as a synth aficionado.
If not, don’t be intimidated, because TyrellN6 comes with over 580 factory presets(!). That should be more than enough to get you started. Besides, there are plenty of tutorials online. This VST is capable of just about anything, with plenty of classic and modern sounds.
TyrellN6 is compatible with Mac, Windows, and Linux. If you love tweaking, then I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t enjoy Odin 2.
You can draw a multitude of sounds out of this baby, and it works on Windows, Mac, and Linux besides. But if you can’t see yourself spending all your time tweaking, that’s okay.
Odin 2 comes with a diverse preset library too. This 24-voice polyphonic synth comes with endless modulation capabilities and is quite possibly one of the best free plugins to come out in recent years.
Download: TheWaveWarden. I’ve been getting into Spitfire Audio’s LABS series plugins as of late, as they are all quite high quality.
LABS – Synth Pads is one of the first I tried, because I happened to have a song in which I wanted to use a great sounding synth pad. And that’s exactly what I got with this VST. It sounded a little sparse and quiet to my ears, though, so I combined it with another synth, and that felt good to me.
LABS – Synth Pads is a one trick pony, and a big download besides, but there’s no denying how great it sounds.
Download: Spitfire Audio. Although guitar isn’t utilized in every genre of music these days, it’s still a popular instrument, and let’s face it – you would be hard pressed to find a genre where guitar doesn’t work.
Whether you play a bit of guitar yourself, or plan to have paying clients in to record at your home studio, you should be prepared for a variety of eventualities (even if you already have great guitar amps and microphones at your studio).
Here is some must-have free VST plugins for guitar. Emissary is near legendary in its status as a metal amp sim. And, as you would expect, it’s perfect for metal and other heavier genres.
I would not call it a versatile amp by any means, but what it does, it does with authority. And its user interface?
It looks just like a real guitar amp head, so even guitarists should feel at home with this plugin.
Ignite Amps NadIR
Glenn Fricker of Spectre Sound Studios even called the Emissary one of the best free amp sims for metal, and we don’t have any reason to disagree.
Just remember to use it alongside Impulse Responses (IRs) as Emissary and other amp sims mentioned here can sound kind of gnarly all on their own.
We won’t be covering what IRs are or how they work in any detail here, but they are kind of essential for use with amp sims. For some seriously heavy tones, give Emissary a try.
Download: IGNITE AMPS. I’ve talked briefly about IRs already. Well, to use IRs, you generally need an IR loader of some kind. The thing about Libra is that it’s basically like the Porsche of IR loaders.
It allows you to load up to eight cab types at a time and mix them together!
Once you’re up and running with Libra, you should never have to worry about thin sounding guitars in your mix ever again!
Download: IGNITE AMPS.
NadIR is another IR convolver that can be used as cab sim for both guitar and bass. Meaning – it’s essential. Now, you could get Libra, you could get NadIR, you could get both. You’re not going to hurt our feelings. But you should have at least one. NadIR is basically the simpler version of Libra, with two channels.
You can load up to two IRs, use them simultaneously, and mix them how you want them to sound. Download: IGNITE AMPS. When it comes to guitar VSTs, there are a few different kinds – standalone effects and amp sims, IR loaders, effects suites, and virtual instruments.
falls under the category of standalone effect. But you can tell, from its appearance, that it’s basically a guitar pedal.
It is, in fact, a digital emulation of a high gain distortion stomp box.
Native Instruments Komplete Start
But it just so happens that it can be used as a preamp/amp sim as well.
And just as its appearance suggests, this thing sounds mean. But it’s also got a nice balance of warmth and clarity. Download: IGNITE AMPS. The TSB-1 Tyrant Screamer is like a more powerful Tube Screamer, and as any guitarist who’s used stomp boxes will know, this is a pedal that’s perfect for adding a bit of dirt to a clean tone (making it crunch), or for tightening up a high gain lead tone.
You wouldn’t necessarily want to use the TSB-1 as a preamp, but it can work perfectly alongside an amp sim or even the ProF.E.T. If you don’t already have a tube screamer pedal, this is a must-have for every guitarist.
Download: IGNITE AMPS. Speaking of Tube Screamer sims, we can’t ignore TSE Audio’s TSE 808, which more closely emulates the original.
Now, if you’ve got the Tyrant Screamer, you wouldn’t necessarily need this one too, but it can’t hurt to have alternatives (IGNITE AMPS, by the way, has another free standalone effect plugin that works a lot like the Tube Screamer – it’s called the TS-999 SubScreamer).
As the video below will illustrate, the TSE 808 is perfect for tightening up all your favorite tones, especially high gain metal sounds. Plus, you just can’t argue with free.
Ignite Amps ProF.E.T.
Download: TSE Audio. Here’s another standalone effect that I’m quite impressed with. It’s the TSE R47, and it’s emulating the famous RAT Distortion that so many guitarists swear by.
It’s a go-to, just as the Tube Screamer is, but for different reasons. Listening to the demo in the video should give you a good idea.
It can turn a clean or half-distorted tone into high gain mayhem in a hurry.
- That said, I find the TSE R47 usable for a variety of situations – blues, rock, metal, and more.
Guitar Rig 6 Player By Native Instruments
It’s just a matter of messing around with the three knobs – drive, filter, and volume – to taste.
I’m relatively certain the TSE R47 would work as a preamp too, assuming you use some quality IRs. Again, for free? This is ridiculous. Download: TSE Audio. Before moving onto another category of free VSTs, we’re going to look at a couple of free guitar effects suites.
Typically, these are the “gimped” free versions that give you a taste of what the full effects suite is like to make you want to upgrade to the full version. That said, these days, you get quite a bit even with the free effects suites.
I’m quite impressed with AmpliTube 5 Custom Shop, which gives you access to 39 models including 10 stomp box FX and five amps with matching cabs.
That’s quite a bit of power you’re getting for free. Mixing and matching amp sims, IRs, and standalone effects can be fun, but with an effects suite, you get everything in one place.
- There are a lot of quality tones built right into this bundle.
- You’ve got to try it for yourself. Download: IK Multimedia.
- Guitar Rig 6 Player is another quality guitar effects suite with 21 amps, 13 effects, 50 presets, along with Native Instruments’ KOMPLETE START bundle with 2,000 sounds and 6 GB of content.
- Whether it’s clean, crunch, distortion, or solo, Guitar Rig 6 Player has got it all, and it all sounds great besides.
- If you’ve got a good selection of great amps in your studio, you probably don’t need this.
- That said, if you’re doing a lot of “in the box” recording (especially at home where you can’t crank up your amps to 10 without bothering your neighbors), this is a great VST to have at your disposal.
Download: Native Instruments. Bass is one of those instruments that can sound quite good direct or through a tube preamp.
That said, it’s hard to capture its full punch and warmth without amp sims or a pedal of some kind (unless you mic up a bass amp instead).
It just feels like it’s missing something when you don’t.
In this section, we’ll look at a couple of VSTs you can use to enhance the sound of your bass, even if it’s already recorded.
IGNITE AMPS’ SHB-1 is based on its hardware counterpart, the SHB-1 “Extreme Bass Head.”.
Its features include dynamic 12AX7/ECC83 coupled triode stages analog modeling, mono/stereo support, selectable oversampling rate (up to 8x), global input/output level controls, double precision (64-bit) floating point mathematical model, and fully automatable controls.
Its controls are quite straightforward – gain, bass, mid, treble, balance, volume, as well as switches for deep, bright, and shape.
With the SHB-1, you can get all those gnarly, raunchy bass tones you’ve heard on metal recordings. Download: IGNITE AMPS. TSE BOD is a SansAmp style DI in VST form, with controls for level, drive, low, high, blend, and presence.
This is an excellent choice for most applications, as it gives you more control over your bass’ tone.
And you can dial in a variety of sounds suited to different styles of music.
One Small Clue Grace
Better still, you can add a bit of crunch to your bass if you so desire, by taking advantage of the drive control.
This thing sounds quite authentic to the real thing, if a little “warmer” overall. Download: TSE Audio.
Want realistic sounding drums? The only problem is that there aren’t many free VSTs that give us that.
Most of the time, you must pay for better drums. Fortunately, there are a couple of high-quality free drum plugins that can get you what you’re looking for.
Give these a try. Spitfire Audio has been making some serious waves with their free LABS series VST plugins, and wow – LABS – Drums couldn’t sound more authentic to my ears.
While it is a big download, it’s worth the trouble given the realistic sound it can provide you with.
All LABS series plugins basically have the same user interface and are quite easy to use, so there’s no reason not to give this one a try.
Download: Spitfire Audio. Manda Audio’s MT Power Drum Kit 2 is basically everyone’s go-to when trying to get realistic drum sounds, because for a long time, it was about the only option available.
This plugin is easy to use, it’s got a nice graphical user interface, and you can even mix the levels of individual drums and cymbals.
Teragon Kick Maker
You can trigger the sounds using a MIDI controller, of course, but it’s probably far more practical to draw in your parts by creating a MIDI track and using your DAW’s piano roll.
With a little mixing wizardry (you don’t need to know a lot), you can make these drums sound spectacular, and if you want the parts you create to sound less robotic and more human, you can program little imperfections into the playing too.
Your options are a little limited for realistic sounding free drum VSTs, so you might as well snag this one.
Download: Manda Audio. We’ve already covered several plugins that could be applied to vocals, especially in the mixing section.
- That said, it never hurts to have more tools at your fingertips.
- Even the best vocalists usually have three to five effects on their voices (if not more), as that’s how they sound best in a mix.
Depending on how you dial it in, it can even make your vocals stand out in the mix, in a positive way. Acon Digital’s Multiply is an award-winning free VST, and excellent choice for a variety of applications.
Multiply is kind of unique in that each simulated voice is processed with a phase randomizing filter to avoid unpleasant sounding comb filter effects.
Multiply can make one voice sound like many (like a choir), widen the spatial image, or create other types of effects depending on what you’re trying to achieve with your mix.
Musical Entropy Spaceship Delay
It can simulate up to six added voices and you can even modulate the pitch and loudness of these voices.
The integrated equalizer gives you access to low cut, low shelf, high shelf, and high cut filters to shape the effect signal. The pre-delay section allows you to create modulated and diffuse echo effects too.
Basically, it’s one of the more versatile choruses available, and it sounds great besides.
This VST works well on vocals and instruments alike. Multiply is compatible with Windows and Mac. Download: Acon Digital. Well, you can’t talk about vocal VSTs without getting into pitch shifting and autotune.
Auburn Sounds’ Graillon 2 does all that and a little more, and as you can see, its design is breathtaking, especially given that you can get it for free.
Though it should be noted that the plugin is “freemium,” and to get access to all the features, you will need to upgrade for $29.
You can still do quite a bit with the free version. Auburn Sounds describes this VST as a Vocal Live Changer. Its functionality includes pitch-tracking modulation, pitch shifting, and pitch correction, while also offering bitcrusher for unique “degraded” sounds.
The pitch correction function can go from natural sounding to robotic. So, if T-Pain is your hero, well, you can achieve a similar effect here.
Bitcrusher is great for some flavor.
Not necessarily something to use on the entire track, but in sections, it can be quite useful.
It can work on instruments too. So, with all this functionality, it’s hard not to recommend Graillon 2.
More than just an autotune, it can do just about anything you want to do with pitch. Graillon 2 is compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Download: Auburn Sounds. As with several developer names that have come up to this point (like Voxengo, Spitfire Audio, IGNITE AMPS, etc.), Tokyo Dawn Records offers a lot of great VSTs for free.
So, it’s a good place to go if there’s something you need. Just thought I would mention that. Anyway, Tokyo Dawn Records collaborated with Vladg Sound to create the award-winning Proximity, which is a simple distance “pan-pot” VST.
This plugin gives you the ability to manipulate the depth of sound sources.
It comes equipped to handle several models, including distance signal delay by speed of sound, distance gain loss, absorption of high frequencies in air, stereo width manipulation, proximity effect with virtual microphone, and distance based early reflections.
These models can be turned on and off depending on the desired effect. All that sounds well and good, but if I were to simplify what we’re talking about here, Proximity basically gives you the ability to bring your vocal tracks into the foreground or push them further into the background (which can be useful for backing vocals).
Proximity can be used on instrument tracks as well, helping you enhance your mix. Such a versatile tool should not be left out of your toolkit, so grab it now!
Sample Science Vintage Drum Elements
Download: Tokyo Dawn Records.
We’ve already presented several stereo widening options, be it Stereo Touch or chorusing effects.
But it certainly can’t hurt to have more options at the ready, especially when the developer is iZotope.
Vocal Doubler can enhance your vocals with a natural doubling effect perfect for lead vocals.
This plugin is easy to use, and is light on CPU resources too. As the user interface would suggest, there isn’t much to this plugin.
It truly is easy to use. What’s cool is that you can have the doubled vocals slightly delayed and even varied in pitch by playing with the separation and variation controls.
LABS – Choir By Spitfire Audio
This is an excellent plugin for enhancing the sound of your vocals.
Vocal Doubler works in Logic Pro, Ableton Live, Pro Tools, Cubase, Nuendo, FL Studio, Studio One, Reason, Reaper, Audition, Premiere Pro, and Digital Performer.
Download: iZotope. We’re not going to beat around the bush here – the plugins that follow are all the creations of Spitfire Audio. But there is a reason for that. Their free VSTs far and exceed just about anything else that’s out there in terms of virtual instruments.
Sure, their plugins are kind of one trick ponies, but what they do, they do better than just about any other free VST available.
If you’re looking for versatility, look elsewhere, but if you’re looking for quality, you’ve come to the right place. Fair warning – you will need to create a free account, download the Spitfire Audio app, and install the VSTs individually to use them.
Each VST is about 1 GB in size, so make sure you’ve got adequate hard drive storage available.
There probably isn’t much I need to say about Spitfire Audio plugins at this point.
Basically, it’s has amazing sound + one trick pony + huge free download = LABS. That said, this VST is best for instances where you specifically need a softer sounding piano.
If you need aggressive piano, you should certainly look elsewhere. This VST is perfect for atmosphere, and quieter, softer melodies, making it excellent for composing work.
Also have a listen to it in the video below. Download:Spitfire Audio. How good can an electric piano VST sound? For all those who dare ask, there’s LABS – Electric Piano.
Obviously, this VST doesn’t do it all, but what it does is quite extraordinary, especially for a virtual instrument.
If you’re looking for the best free electric piano VST, look no further. The entire range, from the bass to the treble, sounds great.
Download: Spitfire Audio. Okay, an electric piano, sure. But not a Wurli, right? You can basically suspend all disbelief and skepticism with Spitfire Audio because everything they’ve created with LABS is great.
The Wurli is excellent for rock and jazz alike – anywhere you need its classic, groovy sound.
Download: Spitfire Audio.
Strings are essential for composers, and incredibly useful for a variety of other purposes – hip-hop, rock, jazz, or otherwise.
They can add a lot of mood and atmosphere to your music. This VST isn’t velocity sensitive, so it will not respond to dynamics in your playing. It offers a relatively dry, gritty, direct sound of strings, which makes it excellent for layering.
That said, you can add some reverb and other effects to soften the sound of the strings if you so desire. Download: Spitfire Audio. Another sound a lot of composers (and others) might be looking for is that of a choir.
Audec Spread Delay Lite
There’s nothing quite like recording a live choir, if you can, but that could easily blow your recording budget in one go.
LABS – Choir is bar none the best free choir VST available. And although you might not be able to control what the singers are singing, if you’re looking for some “ooh” and “aah” sounds, LABS – Choir will do the trick.
UhhYou Light Pad
The sample quality of LABS – Choir is great, but it doesn’t work all that well for stabs and shots and stuff like that.
It’s basically a “long build” the moment the sounds are triggered. Good for some things, not for others. Download: Spitfire Audio. I suppose you could say we’re getting into a little more obscure territory, but I just couldn’t resist featuring another LABS plugin, especially one that sounds so good.
A dulcimer is kind of a niche, nuanced instrument, but it can work great in a variety of compositions, whether it’s for films or games.
Check out the video below to get a better sense of what I’m talking about.
TyrellN6 By u-he
You’ll be impressed.
Download:Spitfire Audio. Trap beats are all the rage right now, and they appear in a lot in pop and hip-hop tracks. Love them or hate them, if you’re going to be working with clients in any capacity, you’ve got to be able to make them.
In this section, you will find virtual drum machines, of course – but you will also find a couple of VSTs that can come in handy for mixing, mastering, and enhance the sound of your beats.
Let’s get into it. Obviously, you need to be able to make your trap beats, and a lot of beatmakers prefer the sound of old school drum machines to real, authentic sounding drums.
Vladg Molot Compressor
This is a free drum machine VST, and it’s even marketed towards producers who make hip-hop, trap, and EDM.
Some producers say DRUM PRO is all you need to produce any kind of beat. So, you know we’re on point. This VST comes with 20 kits, sampling nine vintage drum machines (like the BOSS DR-55, Roland TR-808, 909, Novation DrumStation, and others).
DRUM PRO’s interface is simple and nicely designed, with ADSR, Vol, and Verb controls, 12 sliders and pan knobs to help you mix your drums exactly how you want them to sound.
If you aren’t happy with all that’s included, Studio Linked has expansion packs you can purchase on their website.
- DRUM PRO is available for Windows and Mac.
- Download: Studio Linked.
- Limiters aren’t just great for trap, they’re also amazing for mixing and mastering.
- Most music producers will probably want one in their toolkit.
- The Frontier Self-Adaptive Versatile Limiter, though, is highly usable in a variety of applications, be it single track, bus, or master out.
- It comes with configurable control input, optional soft clip, and self-adaptive automatic gain make up.
LABS – Soft Piano By Spitfire Audio
Its graphical user interface is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen, and includes controls for control input, release, threshold, output volume, and soft clip.
Limiters are incredibly handy any time you need to set the threshold and output of any track, making them useful for bass, vocals, and more.
Download: D16 Group Audio Software. Here’s another powerful multipurpose plugin every producer should consider adding to their VST folder. Softube’s Saturation Knob features three modes, and three kinds of distortion character (thus saturation).
That said, you’re probably going to find yourself using this baby on everything as a trap producer. It will fatten up the sound of drums and bass and add some harmonics to vocals too (you can do some of these things with the Frontier limiter as well).
Whenever you need to add some grit to a track, there’s always the Saturation Knob. Download: Softube. There are certain developers we’ve come to trust because of the quality of VST plugins they create.
Native Instruments Guitar Rig Player
They’ve demonstrated, through longevity, as well as through the applicability of their plugins that most if not all of what they create is worth a look.
Here are the main developers of free VST plugins we think are worth following.
IGNITE AMPS has among the best free amp sims (for guitar and bass), standalone effects, IR convolvers, and even the TPA-1 (digital emulation of a class AB tube power amplifier for guitar).
If you’re not a hard rock or metal player, you probably won’t be using all their plugins. But you will still find value in the IR convolvers (Libra and NadIR), standalone effects (ProF.E.T., TSB-1 Tyrant Screamer, TS-999 SubScreamer), and the TPA-1.
Honestly, even The Anvil amp sim’s clean and rhythm channels are great for a variety of purposes. The lead channel is mostly tuned for metal though.
IGNITE AMPS also has the PTEq-X plugin, which is a digital emulation of three famous vintage passive program equalizers.
#7 Spitfire Labs – Free
We don’t know what else they’ll come up with, or if they’ll come up with anything, but they’re a good one to watch.
One word – LABS. Their samples are just… so… good! Sure, they’re a little limited in scope.
But you can easily build out your virtual instrument library with a lot of the essentials on LABS alone.
They don’t have everything, but they seem to keep adding more to their collection, so they’re worth bookmarking. In addition to the two plugins already introduced, Tokyo Dawn Records also has free EQ, wideband dynamic range controller, as well as mixing and mastering EQ plugins that are worth a try.
I’ve used their dynamic equalizer plugin TDR NOVA quite a bit myself.
It’s well-designed and easy to use, but I find the effect to be kind of subtle and will sometimes stack multiple NOVAs to achieve desired effect.
I have no idea whether they will continue to add free plugins to their site, but based on the quality of what’s available, they would be worth checking out occasionally.
Voxengo’s free VST plugins have been around for quite a while at this point, so they should not be mistaken for cutting-edge VSTs.