If you want flexibility in synthesis with the opportunity to create complex sound designs, check out these top 10 modular synth plugins you can find in 2023.
Synthesizers are a staple in music production; there’s barely any modern song without some form of synthesized sound.
Synths range from a simple 2-oscillator monophonic analog synth to advanced wavetable or granular synths. However, besides the oscillation engine, a synth also features filters, modulators, effect processors, etc.
That’s where the synth environment comes in. Some synths have a fixed chain of processors, while some provide some degree of control. The only way to achieve complete control, though, is by separating each step of processing into “modules.”
What Is Modular Synthesis?
Modular Synthesis is the system of synthesis where you connect individual modules of oscillators, filters, effects, modulators, utilities, etc., to create a unique synth setup. This technique lets you have complete control over the synth’s signal chain and achieve as complex a setup as you want.
How Does A Modular Synth Work?
Modular synths work by connecting compatible modules together. For example, in hardware, you could use a Korg oscillator with a Behringer Filter and a BOSS distortion.
Similarly, most software versions come with a package of a large variety of modules or offer separate purchases to build your unique synth.
The most sought-for feature of a modular synth is its endless possibility of sound design. You could use complex filter chains, feedbacks, or parallel processing to achieve sounds impossible to reproduce via traditional synthesis.
And while having hardware is probably the most fun way to explore modular synthesis, there are some unique advantages to having software plugins.
The biggest plus for software is that it’s much cheaper than hardware. However, other than that, you can experiment more with software.
You have to restrict yourself to “safer” signal chains in hardware, whereas, for example, uncontrolled feedback would result in a crash at the most with software.
Similarly, some software synths let you create parallel chains with way more channels than their hardware counterparts have.
And with that in mind, let’s have a look at our list of the best modular synths in 2023.
Top 10 Modular Synth Plugins 2023
1. Arturia Modular V3
Arturia takes us back to the roots of synthesis with this emulation of a revered classic.
The Arturia Modular V is based on the Moog Model 55 modular synth, which was a two-notes polyphonic synth. This software emulation adds sensible features like formant filtering and 64-voice polyphony to the original design.
The interface, however, remains faithful to the hardware along with the manual patching workflow.
- Powerful Oscillators
Sometimes, more is more in synthesis. Modular V features 9 oscillators in total, and each can generate sine, triangle, saw, and square waves. Furthermore, they also feature frequency and amplitude modulations. While it may seem unnecessary to have so many oscillators, you’ll probably spend most of them for unison as there isn’t a dedicated feature for that. Also, there’s a noise generator.
- Moog Filters
There are three filter modules in the plugin, and they accurately recreate the sound of the original filters (low-pass). The plugin lets you select one of four types of filters for each module: a low-pass, high-pass, notch, and a band-pass, all of them with 24 dB/octave slope steepness. Furthermore, you’ll also find a Fixed Filter Bank, where you can equalize the signal coming from the two output amplifiers (VCA) using 14 bands.
- Effect Processors
The plugin features chorus, phaser, and stereo delay processors. There are three chorus types selectable with a toggle switch. And you can sync the stereo delay to the host tempo. You’ll probably want to use the delay as an echo effect rather than as a spatial effect.
- Sequence Generator
This module, better known as a sequencer, is comparable to the original model 960 sequencer but simplifies programming with internal connections. The low-frequency oscillator, the 8-step sequence manager, and the output controller are the three components of this module. The oscillator sets the playback rate, which can also be synced to the host.
The plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.11 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
Featuring over 600 presets, Arturia’s Modular V is probably one of the most inspiring synths yet.
However, the interface often feels overly large and clunky, especially if you use a smaller screen like a laptop, although it retains the original hardware’s feel. Sound-wise, the emulation is spot-on, and if you like analog sounds, this synth should be at a high place on your list.
2. Sugar Bytes Factory
Factory is the fastest way to create intricate, evolving sounds with a meager amount of effort.
At its core, Factory has two oscillators, eight kinds of modulators, and three effects. However, the plugin takes everything above and beyond what we usually see. You can modulate just about every parameter using two LFOs, two envelopes, and four sequencers.
Furthermore, Factory has a dedicated modulation matrix, which users of Image-Line Sytrus should immediately recognize.
On the left of the matrix, you’ll find the modulation sources like the LFO, envelope, etc. And at the bottom, you’ll find the modulation targets. We’ll talk more about this below.
- The Matrix
There are eight modulation sources and ten target slots. However, you can switch any of the slots for another. For example, suppose you used LFO 2 to modulate several parameters. Then, you realize you’d rather use Sequencer 1 instead. All you have to do is switch the LFO 2 slot for Sequencer 1!
In the Matrix, blue blobs show a positive value, whereas the pink ones indicate a negative value. Also, a value indicator at the top of the interface shows you precise percentages of your modulation, so you needn’t rely on the blob size alone.
Factory has two truly incredible oscillators. Each features ten modes, including subtractive waves, wavetable modes, waveguide, FM, and transformer. Here, the transformer mode lets you use audio samples as oscillators. Unfortunately, there is no visual representation of the waveforms in the wavetable modes.
Under the Modulator tab, you will find two envelopes and two LFOs. While they are pretty standard, both employ a shape knob that lets you create funky shapes out of your envelopes and LFOs. The envelopes get exponential shapes in various parts of their curves. Similarly, the LFOs dance around with different shapes, from the typical sinewave and saw-wave to asymmetric and randomized waves.
Factory’s sequencers are probably the most potent modulators of all. I wasn’t expecting much when experimenting with it, but then I opened its step shapes. Each step in the sequencer can have a unique shape, from a simple square or curved fade-in shape to insane curves that I can only describe as anime hair. You’ll find 36 step shapes.
Under the Effects tab, you’ll find three effect slots, where you can load from an array of effect processors and change the order of the slots. There are 17 effects in total, including delays, reverbs, EQ, filters, chorus, phaser, compressors, Lo-Fi, etc. Other than such effects, you’ll find features like arpeggiator, glide, scale quantization, intonation, and so on under the Arpiculation tab.
You can morph between two presets or variations of the same preset using the Morph slider. It’s handy for creating changes between two parts of a song, for example. Similarly, the modulation matrix features a knob that lets you control the value of each modulator at the same time, proportionately. You can automate both parameters to achieve complex results quickly.
The plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2, AU, and AAX formats.
In terms of features, Factory is chock-full of them. Thanks to the innovative step shapes, the oscillators are powerful, and the sequencers are second to none.
Furthermore, the preset library features a characteristic-based search, making navigating the large preset bank much more effortless.
However, I found Factory’s sound leaning towards a harsher sound. It works perfectly for EDM, hip-hop, electronica, and experimental music.
But I wouldn’t recommend it to create pads for ambient or similar genres.
3. Native Instruments Reaktor 6
Take complete control of your sound using one of the best synths made by Native Instruments yet.
Reaktor 6 is a powerful modular synth that uses “blocks” or modules to allow advanced sound design. However, instead of merely providing you with proprietary modules, Reaktor 6 enables third-party developers to contribute to the modular synth, making it an ever-expanding instrument.
If you have used a modular hardware setup, you’ll notice that Reaktor 6 resembles the workflow closely.
Native Instruments provides a Blocks Base version, which is free, and the paid version. The Blocks Base version features 24 blocks that let you explore an impressive level of sound production.
Conversely, the paid version adds 26 more modules (Primes) with NI’s acclaimed synth technology for complete sound design freedom. Let’s talk more about the latter.
As I’ve mentioned, there are a total of 50 blocks or modules in Reaktor 6. These include oscillators, filters, modulators, sequencers, effects processors, etc. In other words, you’ll find everything you’ll need for sound generation, mixing, and modulating. I also like how versatile Reaktor 6 is; it can create both soft and heavenly or ear-rattling and harsh sounds. Furthermore, you can even use feedback looping in your sound design, which is often only found in hardware.
- Included Instruments
While Reaktor 6 is a modular synth, it also features over 80 pre-programmed instruments that function like regular synths. These include instruments like Gauger Ensemble, Photone Ensemble, Space Master, Skrewell, Newscool, Lazerbass, etc. Furthermore, you can edit and customize these instruments any way you like.
- Beyond The Face
As impressive as Reaktor’s modular synthesis is, there’s much more it can do. Reaktor 6 features two structural levels called Primary and Core. Primary is the modular synth part, where you can create sounds using a hardware-like approach. Each part you use here is either called Primary Macros or Modules.
The second level, Core, is the deepest level. Here, you can access machine coding to modify macros or create new DSP algorithms essentially. Furthermore, Reaktor 6 provides you with a comprehensive library of DSP components.
Reaktor 6 supports 3rd party developers to expand their already vast library with more blocks and instruments. As of now, you’ll find over 200 partner modules from developers like Toybox, Euro Reakt, GENKI Instruments, etc. Similarly, you’ll also find a range of third-party instruments from companies like Heavyocity, Blinksonic, etc. Often, these instruments are made for the free Reaktor Player too.
The plugin is available for Windows 10 or higher and macOS 10.14 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
Reaktor 6 is enormous. It has far too many features and depth to summarize in a short text. Hence, I suggest checking out the free Reaktor 6 Player to find out what it can offer you.
Reaktor 6 is highly efficient at producing just about any kind of sound, from dub-step growls to cinematic atmospheres and gentle arpeggios.
And if you aren’t familiar with modular synthesis yet, the instruments included with the library let you utilize the sound of Reaktor 6 before you have mastered the synth itself.
Speaking of which, Reaktor 6 includes 19 preset factory patches that feature simple subtractive synths to experimental laboratories. You can either use these alone or incorporate them in your sound design to expand your ideas even more.
4. AAS Multiphonics CV-1
Featuring a real modular approach to the interface, this plugin is a playground for sonic creativity.
Multiphonics CV-1 is a gigantic library of modules ranging from filters and oscillators to handy effect processors. The interface and workflow are similar to using a hardware modular synth.
So, you do need to know the basics of modular synthesis (like connecting the midi signals into the gate of the oscillators/other modules) to get started. However, there are plenty of online guides to help you out.
On the interface, you’ll find a workspace on the right and a list of modules available for you on the left.
You can double-click a module on the list to insert it into the workspace, and you can also add duplicates of the same module. Furthermore, you can rearrange the modules to declutter your setup.
Multiphonics CV-1 contains 35 modules in total. I must mention that some of them, like the Keyboard, Master Clock, Macros, Output, or Patch Info, aren’t for sound design. So, excluding them, you will still have over 25 modules for pure sonic exploration. You’ll find an FM-capable oscillator module (and its younger sibling) capable of producing sine, triangle, saw, and square waves. Another generator is the noise module with adjustable noise density.
For CV (control voltage) modulation, you have a gate sequencer, an envelope, and an LFO. A fantastic feature here is that each produces multiple kinds of signals. For example, the envelope can create both positive and negative envelopes at the same time. Similarly, the LFO produces square, triangle, and sine waves simultaneously. So, you can “wire” them to multiple parameters without requiring numerous modules. Also, here’s a tip: you can also use the main oscillator as a source of CV modulation.
There are two filters in this plugin: State Variable Filter and Objeq Filter. State Variable Filter is the typical filter that features a band-pass, high-pass, and low-pass output, all of which you can use simultaneously for creative results. Similarly, the Objeq Filter is also a filter, which uses physical modeling. You can model a rectangular membrane, drumhead, rigid plate, string, marimba, and beam. It originates from the AAS Objeq Delay plugin and makes for an exciting sound design tool.
Other than filters, you will also find effect modules: a delay, dual delay, limiter, inverter, and a slew limiter. Furthermore, several other modules are useful for syncing sequences and general utility. Of course, learning to incorporate them all in your sound design will take time, but the freedom makes Multiphonics CV-1 an outstanding synthesizer.
The plugin is available for Windows 10 or higher and macOS 10.11 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
Multiphonics CV-1 is one of the best entries into the modular world that is unbelievably open and capable. The interface isn’t overly complicated, but neither is it nerfed; documentation and video tutorials help you get over the learning curve fast.
Furthermore, the included presets organized into fifteen categories are abundant, genuinely useful, and help get you started. Overall, the sound, workflow, and efficiency are all excellent, and I highly recommend the synth.
5. Cherry Audio PS-20
Breathe life into the renowned classic Korg MS-20 with this tribute by Cherry Audio.
PS-20 is a highly accurate recreation of the hardware but with many a twist and quirk. For example, it features 16-note polyphony over the monophonic original. PS-20 has a very unique and vintage-like sound you might love if you are into analog synthesizers.
- Oscillator Modules
PS-20 features two nearly-identical oscillator modules. Both of them can generate triangle, saw, and square waves (with PWM). However, the first one features a sub-oscillator as well. Similarly, the second oscillator can employ ring modulation with the first oscillator.
The filter module has a high-pass and a low-pass filter. PS-20’s filters accurately emulate the original MS-20’s sound. You’ll notice the signature fat, distorted sound immediately. The Drive knob on the filters accentuates the saturation.
PS-20 employs an LFO generator and two envelopes. You’ll find saw and square (with PWM) waveforms in the LFO generator, and you can also assign the modulation wheel (CC 1) to control the LFO. Similarly, you can use velocity to control the envelopes.
As with the original hardware, PS-20 supports modular functions via virtual cables. However, Cherry Audio has changed the hardware’s obscure terminology into modern, standard terminologies, which should help make the workflow easier. Similarly, you can assign colors to the cables.
The plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9.5 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
PS-20 successfully recreates the raunchy sound of the Korg MS-20 using deep software emulation. Furthermore, its 16 polyphony makes it an analog enthusiast’s dream come true.
And the price is fair too. While you probably won’t find much use for this plugin for creating evolving pads or atmospheres, it’s spot-on for dirty basses and leads.
6. Softube Modular
Are you looking for a premium environment for modular synthesis at a reasonable cost? Read on.
Softube Modular is a very expansive modular synth plugin. It features officially licensed, branded modules from top hardware manufacturers.
Doepfer modules are included in the base package, with Buchla, Intellijel, 4ms, Doepfer, and Mutable Instruments as premium add-ons. The system feels like a proper hardware modular synth setup.
The base package also includes 50 stock modules by Softube, including mixers, sequencers, filters, etc. Furthermore, the plugin features over 400 presets, making it a welcoming experience for beginners and Eurorack masters alike.
- Not Just An Instrument
Surprisingly, Softube Modular also comes with a Modular FX version, which lets you use the intuitive modular system to process your DAW tracks too. You can build unique effect chains featuring compressors, chorus, doubler, distortion, etc., with complex filter routings all in a single plugin instance.
- Integration and Expansion
You can use many of the Softube effect plugins inside Modular as modules. Furthermore, I’ve already mentioned the add-on modules, which are released and expanded regularly. And thanks to Softube’s detailed component-based modeling, each add-on brings a unique flavor to your setup without sounding awkward.
- The Base Package
The Base package includes seven Doepfer modules: A-110-1 VCO, A-108 VCF, A-132-3 Dual VCA, A-140 ADSR, A-118 Noise/Random, A-147 VCLFO, and A-114 Ring Modulator. Furthermore, you’ll also find 50 additional stock modules, including utilities like midi-to-CV/gate, slew, sample & hold, sequencers, and DAW sync. Interestingly, you’ll also find a ROLI Seaboard RISE interface module, which can be handy if you own a ROLI Seaboard.
The plugin is available for Windows 10 or higher and macOS 10.13 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
Softube is a reliable manufacturer of quality plugins, and Modular’s integration with their plugins makes the sonic possibilities near limitless. Furthermore, it’s one of the few modular synth plugins with add-ons.
Note that the Base package is undoubtedly feature-packed and capable of almost any kind of sound design. So, the add-ons are merely for tonal changes and variations.
7. u-he ACE
This plugin prioritizes the analog sound and provides a genuine hardware-like workflow.
ACE is an abbreviation for Any Cable Everywhere, and it stands up to its name. It’s a compact synth plugin that can be both simple and complex. It has up to 16-voice polyphony and a fully resizable UI.
Furthermore, there are over 920 factory presets, making it an outstanding choice for beginners. However, note that it’s not the most straightforward synth to use, although the manual makes it a breeze.
- Analog Sound
There are two oscillators modeled on analog hardware in the plugin. They produce saw and pulse waves with PWM, sync, internal ring and cross/frequency modulation. One of them can also generate a sub-oscillator. Further, you can add up to 8-voice unison with ±2 octave individual detuning. At the bottom left, you’ll also find white and pink noise generators. Next, let’s talk about the filters. ACE employs two analog-style filters that support overdrive as well as self-oscillation.
ACE employs two envelopes and two LFOs. However, it also features a Mapping Generator on the Tweak page, which lets you draw shapes/patterns. You can use the shape for per-note modulation, step modulation, transform any modulation source, or even as the LFO 2 waveform. The generator syncs to the host to boot.
- Modular Nature
ACE is technically a semi-modular synth because of its fixed architecture. So, you can play it even without patching the cables. However, you can override the default routing by starting to patch. And as with hardware, you can use the signals from an LFO as an audio source and vice versa.
The plugin only features a few global effect processors: a chorus with four modes, a stereo delay, and a treble and bass control. The delay can be synced to the host without any patching.
The plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher 32-bit or 64-bit, macOS 10.9 or higher 64-bit, and Linux. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
ACE appears to be geared towards beginners, but it still might be too complicated out of the box. Experimenting with the cables is highly rewarding, but you do need to know what you are doing. That’s when the oscilloscope visualizer at the top of the interface comes in handy.
Furthermore, the portamento features multiple glide options, which I found super useful for basslines. Overall, thanks to its large number of presets and the detailed manual, I think it’s a worthy investment for beginners, who can use the presets while learning this evergreen instrument.
As a final note, though, ACE can be very CPU intensive because of its analog models.
8. Tracktion Hyperion
Hyperion has been dubbed an instant source of sonic inspiration for music producers, and it’s clear to see why.
Inspired by 80s legends like Vangelis, Jean-Michel Jarre, and Brian Eno, Hyperion strives to become the most flexible digital synth yet. It features multiple layers or “tracks” of patches to create complex sounds. Furthermore, you can save such multi-layer patches as combi patches too.
Hyperion also models analog warmth to make it even more appealing. It includes a lot of surgical controls and data generating modules. And finally, you can use the included effect processors to mix inside the plugin.
- Layers and Depth
As I’ve mentioned, Hyperion features up to 10 layers or tracks. Each can have a unique patch, including chord, arpeggiation, and bus effects. Similarly, each layer has in-depth control over various parameters like the pitch bend range, polyphony, portamento speed, etc., all of which work together to form intricate sound designs from a single plugin instance.
The oscillators in Hyperion are nothing sort of amazing. There are 9 types of oscillators: OSC (mono/stereo), wave sequence, 4-operator FM, FM wave sequence, plucked string, sample player, sound font, and flute physical model. To me, the scale of this plugin feels on par with something like UVI Falcon 2.
- Layer Processing
Each layer features multiple filter types, including low/high/band/notch with cutoff and resonance, slope/depth, stereo offset, and saturation control. Furthermore, you can also add effect processors like distortion, tube resonator, ring modulator, and bit crusher.
- Buss Effects
In addition to layer processing, you are also provided with reverb, chorus, flanger, tremolo, filters, distortion, 3-band EQ, delay, granulator, pitch shifter, etc. You can add them to buses and control bus sends per layer.
The plugin is available for Windows 8 or higher and macOS 10.11 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 3 and AU formats.
In conclusion, I think Hyperion is an outstanding playground for sonic exploration. It’s a vast plugin with hundreds of presets and possibilities.
If you enjoy having creative freedom to the fullest, you should check out this underrated diamond by Tracktion. Also, the pricing is fair for the quality you receive.
9. Unfiltered Audio Lion
With their breakthrough debut synthesizer, Unfiltered Audio is aiming for new heights.
Lion is a dual-oscillator synth with multiple modes per oscillator that range from traditional to unique waves. Furthermore, Lion’s mixer has a variety of settings for mixing the two oscillators in ways that no other synthesizer does.
And once you’re done with those parts, you can explore new sounds using an array of high-quality effect processors.
- Oscillator Modes
Many synths have two oscillators, but few have as many as 26 modes per oscillator! You’ll find familiar subtractive and addictive waveforms to FM, super oscillator stacks, microsound, noise, and further variations. Furthermore, activate stereo mode on each oscillator even wider. These features are excellent for EDM.
- Effect Processors
Find over 40 effects that support modulation in Lion. You’ll find standard effects like reverb, delay, EQ, chorus, phaser, distortion, etc., and many more unique ones. Combining the effect processors with modulation sources like velocity and note tracking can create highly dynamic sounds.
There are over 600 presets in Lion that show the extent of the plugin’s efficiency. Furthermore, the randomization engine makes it even easier to create variations from presets to make your song sound as unique as ever.
The plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.11 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
If you have used Unfiltered Audio plugins before, then you’re no stranger to their efficiency. And Lion reflects the legacy well. The plugin features everything you’d need to create sounds that barely even need any more processing out of the box. Features like per-voice modulation, unique mixing algorithms, and a single-page UI makes Lion a futuristic synth.
10. u-he Zebra2 (Wireless Modular)
Zebra2 is the definition of quality – whether it’s an intricate pad or a simple lead, it sounds like a true instrument.
This masterpiece by u-he is far more than a modular synth. It’s a laboratory for sonic discovery. You can combine freehand wavetables with FM synthesis or route traditional sounds through complicated comb filters to redefine sound design.
Despite being so complicated, though, Zebra2 manages to make the interface comprehensive. Zebra2 features many modules that you can add to your patch.
And in the center, you will find a matrix, where you can route each module to four stereo channels. You’ll find the modules you’ve added on either side of the matrix, and below them, you will find various other pages.
Zebra2 employs 4 wavetable oscillators that support drawing wavetables freehand and using spectral shaping for additive synthesis. You also get a large, flexible editor to draw your wavetables. Furthermore, there are 4 FM oscillators featuring eight waveforms rather than the traditional sine wave. You’ll find quadric sine, dual AM sine, half-sine, sine shift, etc. Each main oscillator also features various parameters, including general ones like the tune, detune, unison (up to 11x), etc. However, the OSC effects are the most fun – you’ll find various processors that work on the oscillator to make it sound brighter, darker, or even cause complete turmoil. There are over 25 OSC FX.
Zebra2 has 4 regular filter modules with 23 modes and 4 cross-modulation filters (XMF) with 15 modes. Most of the regular filter modes sound very smooth and analog-like, and the module has a dedicated drive knob. However, the XMF modules are incredible. You can use two filters simultaneously in various modes, add distortion, and use FM via its extra input. There are five modes of distortion: XMF, Analogue, Biased, Eco, Folded. Here, the Biased mode emulates diode-based distortion, and the Folded mode introduces a Lo-Fi sound.
Zebra2 features 4 envelopes, 4 multi-stage envelopes generators (MSEG), 4 per-voice LFOs, and 2 global LFOs. The MSEG modules are envelope modules with 32 flexible segments instead of merely 4 (ADSR). Furthermore, Zebra2 also features 4 assignable XY pads, which are helpful during live performance to control multiple parameters at once.
You’ll find 21 effect processors in Zebra2. These include modulation FX, reverb, delay, compressor, parametric EQ, filters, etc. And you can apply up to six effects on either the master channel or on the 2 busses.
Zebra2 has a 16-step sequencer that functions similar to analog sequencers. You can create complex arpeggios using not only notes but up to two-parameter modulations per step. Using the glide feature along with modulated filters can create growling basslines or elegant, evolving arpeggios in no time.
The plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher 32-bit or 64-bit, macOS 10.9 or higher 64-bit only, and Linux. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
You can probably tell how gigantic Zebra2 truly is, and the sheer scale of it makes it intimidating to most people. However, the attempt to keep Zebra user-friendly is still laudable. Since it uses a modular workflow, you will not see all of the parameters simultaneously. Instead, you can focus on merely what you need.
So, Zebra2 can remain as simple or as complex as you want. Furthermore, the sound of Zebra2 is exceptionally smooth and sounds “realistic.” So, I would suggest it for softer music genres, film scores, media sound design, etc. Overall, it’s one of the absolute best synths on the market.
The 3 Best Free Modular Synth Plugins 2023
1. Sonigen Modular
Sonigen Modular is a capable modular synth with an interface that just makes sense.
This plugin functions quite similarly to hardware. You can right-click on the work area to add a new module and patch virtual cables between modules as you need by right-clicking the modules.
I also liked how you can click on the cables to make them loose or taut. Furthermore, the lack of having to assign midi inputs manually makes the plugin much easier to comprehend for beginners.
- Sound Generators
There are six generators in the plugin: Pulsaw, Wavetable, Supersaw, Syncrocs, Noise, and Polysine. You can also edit the Wavetable by clicking on the Edit icon, which I found super impressive for a free plugin.
You’ll find two filter plugins: multi-filter and comb filter. The modes in the filters are comprehensive. And you’ll also find two effect modules: delay and chorus. You can sync the delay to your DAW without having to route a midi clock. And finally, there are two modulators: envelope and LFO. There is also a Controller classification of modules featuring Velocity, Keymap, Note Random, etc.
There are three color codes for the cables, and you can easily assign a color to each cable by right-clicking them. Similarly, you can click and drag the cables to change their shape (for cable management). Unfortunately, you can’t drag and drop cables from outputs to inputs; instead, you have to right-click the modules and select inputs from a list. It’s probably the only disheartening thing about this plugin, although it’s not a deal-breaker.
The plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher 32-bit only. It comes in VST 2 format.
If you are on the lookout for a free, genuinely modular synth that resembles hardware, Sonigen Modular is your best bet. It’s a very usable synth too. There are plenty of presets, and analyzing them will help you learn the synth quickly.
Unfortunately, the synth doesn’t have a resizable interface, though. Complex setups can get tedious when you have to use the scrollbars. Still, I would undoubtedly recommend the plugin to beginners and people on a budget.
As crude as the interface looks, its capability remains apparent.
KX-Synth-X16 is based on a vintage hardware synth called VCS3 by Electronic Music Studios Ltd. It was renowned as a powerful electronic effect generator (whooshing sounds and the like), partly due to its lack of tuning stability.
However, KX-Synth’s software interpretation of the synth is very much usable as both an instrument and an effect generator.
Let’s acknowledge the elephant on the interface: the matrix. If you have used similar plugins before, you’ll find it easy to get used to. The rows show the various sound sources, whereas the columns represent the signal and control inputs.
- 3 Oscillators
Out of the three oscillators, the first one can generate sine and saw waves, whereas the latter two can generate pulse and triangle waves. You can control the level of each waveform and introduce ring modulation via the matrix too, which is an easy way to make complex sound designs. Furthermore, there is a dedicated noise generator as well.
There is a dedicated amp envelope and a modulation envelope. Both are virtually identical and feature the standard ADSR parameters along with an offset parameter. Similarly, there’s a standard filter module and an FX module with a delay effect.
The plugin is available for Windows XP or higher 32-bit and 64-bit and macOS 10 or higher 64-bit. It comes in VST 2 and AU formats.
I wouldn’t recommend KX-Synth-X16 to learn modular synthesis as it barely even resembles one. However, try it out if you wish to explore a new synth with a vintage sound that could inspire you.
3. Soonth Blocks
Getting started with modular synthesis has never been this intuitive.
Soonth Blocks is a synth that makes modular synthesis as easy as building Lego blocks. The interface features seven rows and columns, where you can add your “blocks” of oscillators, filters, and modulators.
The workflow is simple: the columns represent the signal channels, the rows represent the signal chain, and drag and drop modulators over other blocks to modulate them.
All you have to remember is that to process a block (say, an oscillator), you need to place the effect block (like a filter) below the first. And you can also drag each block’s edge to expand it horizontally. Doing so will increase how many columns the block covers. It’s useful when you wish to add a filter or effect to multiple oscillators. And finally, if you no longer need a block, drag it out of the work area to delete it.
- The Blocks
Soonth Blocks features five oscillator shapes: saw, sine, square, triangle, and noise. Each oscillator also has up to 8x unison. Similarly, there are two modulators: LFO and envelope. And there are three effects: filter, reverb, and delay.
The plugin is available for Windows 10 or higher and macOS 10.14 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 3 and AU formats.
Considering that you can add up to six oscillators, Soonth Blocks is rather impressive. However, it’s effortless to use. So, if you want modular freedom but free of cables, give Sooth Blocks a try. My only complaint is that you cannot view the parameters of multiple blocks at once.
The 3 Best Semi-Modular Synth Plugins 2023
1. KiloHearts Phaseplant
Phase Plant is one of the most reliable toolboxes of sound creation.
The UI of the plugin is organized into three sections: generators, effects, and modulators. The signal from the generator portion is sent to the effects, which you may route to any lane in the plugin.
Phase Plant’s generators feature all the basic settings like unison, detune, macros, and polyphony. However, the fun starts when using the generators’ other modes like sampling and combining them with effect modules.
- Sound Generators
There are four kinds of generators in Phase Plant: analog, noise, sampler, and wavetable. The wavetable generators let you use custom wavetables as well. And the sampler can both record audio and use pre-existing WAV files. Mixing multiple types of generators is one of the primary starting points to sound designing in Phase Plant.
KiloHearts’ effect plugins are called snap-ins, and you can load any of them to your signal chain in Phase Plant. There are three “lanes” for the effects. Each lane acts like a bus, where you can send signals from the sound generators. And if you load a preset that utilizes a snap-in that you don’t own, the preset still works, but you won’t be able to modify the parameters of the snap-in. I love that they don’t cripple the synth to force a purchase.
At the bottom of the interface, you’ll find an envelope, LFO, MIDI control, macro-control, multipliers, randomization modules, etc. Interestingly, the LFO lets you make new waveforms in this section and even use it as an envelope. It’s super helpful in creating evolving soundscapes.
This plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.7 or higher in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
Phase Plant comes in three flavors where one is the basic edition that ships with the free KiloHearts snap-ins. The Subscription and Ultimate models provide you every KiloHearts plugin in a bundle, including the VST/AU/AAX versions of the snap-ins.
I think most sound designers will want the ultimate edition to create elaborate sounds, but if you are just starting, the basic version is a great place to start. Overall, Phase Plant is a highly flexible synth.
2. Madrona Labs Aalto
Aalto is an efficient semi-modular synth plugin that can sound lush or edgy as you want.
A “complex oscillator” influenced by Don Buchla’s designs lies at the core of Aalto, with FM, timbre, and waveshape settings that allow for a broad range of expressive sounds. These sounds are particularly flexible and lively, thanks to the use of dynamic calculations instead of static wavetables.
The resizable interface features the modulators at the top and the oscillators at the bottom, while the middle part displays the routings. The small dots are the outputs in the routing section, whereas the small knobs are the input levels. At first glance, it appeared rather complicated, but I did get used to it soon enough.
- Frequency Modulation
When Madrona Labs say complex, they mean it. The Complex Oscillator is a true FM synth oscillator with both Modulator and Carrier oscillators. The module features Noise, Ratio to adjust the frequency between the Modulator and Carrier, and Offset to add a constant offset to the Modulator’s frequency. Furthermore, Mod Index lets you set how much the Modulator modulates the frequency of the Carrier oscillator. It also uses a low-pass filter called a “vactrol,” which uses an LED with a light-sensitive resistor to control voltage. I would honestly suggest you skip worrying about these and use your ears instead. In essence, the filter makes the sound feel more organic and flawed.
- Sequence And Movements
The plugin features two envelopes, an LFO and a sequencer. While most of these are standard modulators, you can add extra movements to the LFO by adding noise. Similarly, the sequencer can control the pitch like a regular analog sequencer or control parameters instead. Furthermore, the animations on the interface help display the effect of the modulations in real-time.
One would expect to come across some sense of familiarity here finally, but alas, Aalto has other ideas. It features a filter with low-pass/band-pass/high-pass, a basic reverb, and a delay. Except, the delay isn’t a delay because of its extremely short feedback time, essentially making it another oscillator.
The plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2 and AU formats.
Being an adventurous sound designer, I admired the grounds Aalto covered instead of staying traditional. However, if you aren’t into experimentation, you might find this plugin way too complicated to comprehend.
Thankfully, though, each parameter makes an audible difference, so you can also create patches using your ears. Still, it may be slightly less appealing, especially when you consider its CPU-heavy processing.
3. SYNTHMASTER V2.9
SynthMaster is one of the most notorious synth plugins on the market, thanks to its flexibility and excellent sound.
People love SynthMaster for the variety of sounds it can produce. And it’s evident in the plugin’s gigantic collection of 1800+ presets. The variety comes from its multiple synthesis methods.
Combine that with the included high-quality filters and effects, and you’ll have a complete environment for sound production.
Furthermore, another one of its notable features is the powerful arpeggiator, which can act as an integrated piano roll in addition to basic up, down, up-down, etc., modes. The sequencer can have up to 32 steps and has velocity, note length, slide, hold, etc., parameters per note.
- Synth Modes
SynthMaster employs Subtractive, Additive, Wavetable, Phase Modulation, Frequency Modulation, Pulse Width Modulation, Ring Modulation, Amplitude Modulation, Physical Modeling, and SFZ Samples Playback synthesis. Each features an abundant number of waveforms, features, and controls. For example, even a basic oscillator comes with 17 algorithms in many categories.
- Double Layer
A layer acts like a track that can send to two global effects sends. Each layer can feature an arpeggiator, two oscillators, four modulators, two filters, two LFOs, eight envelopes of various kinds, and four key-scalers. The envelopes include four standard ADSR envelopes, two multi-stage envelopes, and two 2D envelopes. Hence, an instance of SynthMaster features all of these twice over.
SynthMaster features four kinds of filters: VAnalog Filters, Multimode Filters, Dual Filters, and Comb Filters. The Dual Filters support running two multimode filters simultaneously in parallel or series.
Finally, you can insert five effects on each layer and also two in the global effect bus inserts. There are 11 kinds of effects in SynthMaster: reverb, delay, chorus, tremolo, vocoder, compressor, 6-band EQ, phaser, ensemble, Lo-Fi, and distortion. Interestingly, you can also add distortion before, after, and inside the filter, which helps sell the analog sound even more.
The plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
Other than the features listed above, SynthMaster also features micro-tuning, an excellent preset browser with multiple search criteria, online presets from other users, and multiple skins.
Similarly, you can import MIDI files as arpeggiator sequences and WAV/AIFF files as SFX definitions.
So, as you can see, SynthMaster is a massive synth and can potentially be your most valued investment in terms of sound variety and playability.
VCV Rack (Free App)
Revive the sound of the famous Eurorack using this incredible free software.
VCV Rack is an ever-expanding modular synth that currently features over 2,700 modules in its library. Unfortunately, so far, the software is standalone only, but the upcoming version (expected in November 2021) is set to launch as a VST/AU/AAX plugin for both Windows and macOS.
However, the launch will result in two versions: Community and Studio Edition. While the Community edition will remain a free product, the Studio edition, which is the plugin version, will cost you $150. However, considering the thousands of modules it features, the price feels like a steal.
- Deeply Modular
Just like hardware modular synths, VCV Rack also uses the same concept from the ground up. For instance, you need a VCV MIDI-CV module to connect midi signals to your oscillators. Similarly, you can connect inputs and outputs using drag-drop to create virtual cables between modules.
- The Modules
There are two kinds of modules in VCV Rack: Core Modules and Add-ons. The Core Modules include MIDI-CV, CC, Gate, Map modules. These come with the rack itself. The add-ons are the modules that create and manipulate the sounds. Unfortunately, I cannot describe the modules here as there are far too many to even list. So, you’ll have to trust me when I say there’s literally everything we need and way more.
The standalone software synth is available for Windows 7 or higher, macOS 10.7 or higher, and Linux (Ubuntu 16.04 or higher), all in 64-bit only.
VCV Rack is an outstanding way to learn and experiment with modular synthesis without spending. While there are other similar synths like Cherry Audio’s Voltage Modular, none of them come close to the scale of VCV Rack. You’ll find hordes of presets and tutorials online to learn more about it too.
So, if making new sounds and playing them is a hobby for you, I highly recommend this software.
Modular synths are truly liberating to use, and they can inspire a whole new world of music for every kind of music producer. And since most of them are highly efficient, there isn’t a set rule for choosing the perfect collection for you either.
Even so, I will write a few broad guidelines. If you prefer making EDM, hip-hop, trap, etc., I suggest synths that naturally produce dirty sounds like Sugarbytes Factor, Unfiltered Audio Lion, KiloHearts Phase Plant, and Tracktion Hyperion. While they’re all pretty efficient at creating a variety of sound, the interface and the filter types strike me as modern and digital.
Similarly, if you are into softer music or film scores, u-he Zebra2, Reaktor 6, and AAS Multiphonics are excellent options. SynthMaster, Softube Modular, and u-he ACE are ideal for either type of music production.
And finally, if you are a beginner, I highly suggest starting with Soonth Blocks and moving on to VCV Rack. After that, you can try out the free Sonigen Modular or consider purchasing a synth from the list. And on that note, we reach the end of this article. I hope it has helped you pick a modular synth for your next step in music production.
Best Synth Plugins 2023
Today, we’ll review the 13 best synth and instrument plugins of 2023 for producers and sound designers. Additionally, we’ll give you five free plugins so you can start making music right away.
Some people simply can’t have enough synths. If you’re lucky, you might have a collection of the best hardware units ever created, but for most of us mere mortals, the plugins will suffice.
Synthesizers have been around since the early fifties, but never before have they been able to do what today’s virtual synths can. And though some still pay homage to the early pioneers, others are pushing forward to create new ways of generating sound. We looked for the best modern synthesizers and reviewed them to help you pick your next music production tool.
The 13 Best Synth Plugins 2023
1. Arturia Pigments 4
Pigments 4 is a powerful and versatile synth that combines the best features of both virtual analog and granular synthesis.
It features a user-friendly interface and offers a wide range of sounds and presets, as well as the ability to create and modify your own sounds. It also includes a built-in modulation matrix, effects, and a step sequencer. Lastly, it features analog, wavetable, Harmonic, and sample-based synthesis engines.
It is the fourth version of their Pigments software, which is known for its versatile sound design capabilities and advanced modulation options. It includes new features, such as a granular engine, a revamped modulation matrix, and new user interface, as new upgrades. It also includes a wide range of sounds and presets and the ability to import samples and use them in the synthesizer.
- Virtual Analog and Granular Synthesis
The plugin combines the best of both worlds by offering the warmth and richness of virtual analog synthesis with the flexibility and granularity of granular synthesis. This allows you to create a wide range of sounds, from classic analog emulations to more experimental and unique sounds.
- Dual Oscillator Engine
The synth features a dual oscillator engine that allows you to layer and combine different waveforms and samples. You can also use the dual oscillator engine to create complex modulation and cross-modulation effects.
- Modulation Matrix
Pigments 4 includes a built-in modulation matrix that allows you to create complex and dynamic sounds by routing different modulation sources to various destinations. This feature is particularly useful for creating evolving, organic sounds.
- Step Sequencer
Pigments 4 includes a step sequencer that allows you to create patterns and sequences in various ways. The step sequencer can be used to create simple beats or more complex patterns and can also be used as a modulation source in the modulation matrix.
The synth includes several effects that can be used to shape and sculpt the sound. These effects include delay, reverb, distortion, chorus, compressor, EQ, filter, and more. The effects can be used in series or parallel and modulated using the modulation matrix, which allows for high sound design possibilities.
The arpeggiator in the synth can be used to create arpeggiated patterns. It allows you to adjust the tempo, the number of octaves, the direction, and the pattern of the arpeggio.
- Presets and Sound Library
The presets are organized into categories, such as bass, leads, pads, and effects, making it easy to find the type of sound you want. You can also search for presets by keyword, which can be useful when looking for a specific type of sound.
Lastly, the presets are categorized into Types (leads, pads, etc.), Styles (e.g., Ambient cinematic, modern, dubstep, etc.), and Banks.
- Sequencing capabilities
The synth includes a built-in step sequencer that can be used to create rhythmic patterns and melodic sequences, which allows you to adjust the sequence length, the number of steps, and the tempo. In addition, you can add and edit notes, rests, and ties and adjust each step’s velocity, swing, and gate. Lastly, the modulation matrix can connect the step sequencer to other synthesizer parameters, such as oscillator pitch or filter cutoff.
- Advanced Interface
The interface of Arturia Pigments 4 is well-designed and user-friendly, making it easy to navigate and adjust the parameters of the synthesizer. It also allows for a high level of customization, which makes it adaptable to different workflows and preferences.
For example, it lets you adjust the layout and color scheme to suit your preferences. It also includes a full-screen mode, which allows you to focus on the main panel and hide the sidebar and bottom bar.
The synth includes a variety of views that can be accessed from the left sidebar of its interface. These views let you isolate and edit different synthesizer sections, such as the oscillators, filters, effects, and modulation matrix. Each view displays the relevant parameters and controls for that section, making it easy to access and adjust the settings you need.
The plugin has a variety of skins by which you can change the overall look and feel of the interface. These skins include color schemes and layouts, such as classic, dark, and minimal. The skins can be selected from the global settings menu, and you can switch between them anytime.
- Macro Controls
Arturia Pigments 4 includes macro controls, a set of eight knobs that can be used to control multiple parameters simultaneously. They allow you to quickly adjust multiple settings with a single control, making it easier to create complex sounds and perform live. The macro controls can be mapped to any parameters within the synthesizer, such as filter cutoff, oscillator pitch, or LFO rate. This allows you to create custom mappings that suit your workflow.
Arturia Pigments 4 is compatible with Mac and Windows operating systems and can be used as a standalone application or as a plugin within a digital audio workstation (DAW) software that supports VST, VST3, AU, and AAX plugin formats.
In addition, it requires a minimum of 4GB of RAM and a 2GHz processor, and also a display with a minimum resolution of 1280×800 pixels. It is also compatible with eLicenser, iLok, and Arturia Software Center for managing and authorizing Arturia software products.
The synth combines the best features of virtual analog and granular synthesis and features a user-friendly interface. In addition, the plugin features a set of macros controls that allow you to quickly and easily shape and sculpt the sound of the synth, which also includes a randomize button that can be used to randomly adjust the values of the macros, which can be useful for generating new and unexpected sounds.
2. Universal Audio – Opal Morphing Synthesizer
Opal Morphing Synthesizer is a Wavetable & Analog soft-synth with unique morphing filters and classic UAD built-in effects.
The plugin consists of three main oscillators, which could be switched between conventional analog waveforms and 91 well-chosen and versatile wavetables, with up to twelve voices of unison, and an additional noise generator, with a separate Mixer section, in which you can balance the levels and even the signal flows of the oscillators and noise generators.
The oscillators have all seven basic analog waveforms, along with a special Ensemble knob that increases the number of voices of the synth, with a slight detune between them, giving a fat and wide analog sound. The plugin can also be rented out or subscribed to using UAD Spark.
- Continually variable filters
The shape of the filters can be morphed continually, from low pass to band to comb filtering to notch and so on, which can produce some interesting movements in the sound. For example, the filter shapes can be modulated using an LFO, creating cool rhythmic effects. On top of that, there’s a filter envelope available, along with a mix knob, controlling the amount of envelope mixed into the filter. In addition, there are basic resolution and slope knobs to support the filtering.
- Modulation Matrix Window
You can assign almost any control in the Opal Morphing Synth to a modulator. All you have to do is select the controls and modulators in the Source and Destination dropdown window. One can also set the amount, offset, and physical or MIDI control via the “Modulation via” option.
- Interesting Modulators
There are two basic LFOs available in the plugin, along with a unique multi-segment section, which lets you select different modulation functions like envelopes of different shapes and LFOs of different curves. In addition, there are plenty of presets to choose from.
You can add two effects to yours with an adjustable mix knob. These effects are of studio quality with parameters that you can modulate. The range of effects includes reverb, tape delay, 1176 compressor, and more.
Opal Morphing Synthesizer is currently available only on Mac, comes in AAX, AU, VST 3, and LUNA formats, and has a minimum system requirement of macOS 10.15. Now, also available on Windows 10 or more.
A huge drawback of the plugin is that you can’t load your wavetables into it, although the built-in presets are quite adaptable. Secondly, the CPU usage of Opal Morphing is high. However, the presets in the synth are great, along with its eye-pleasing interface with the changeable signal map. Overall the plugin sounds high-resolution, has immense functionality, and is versatile.
3. Knif Audio Knifonium
The Knifonium synthesizer plug-in is modeled after Knif Audio’s Knifonium hardware synthesizer. The plug-in, created by Brainworx, offers the same features as its hardware counterpart, along with a few additional features to expand on the great tube tone.
The hardware Knifonium is a monophonic, tube synthesizer that offers two VCOs, a 24 dB/Octave ladder filter, a ring modulator, LFO, 2 envelope generators, and a Sample & Hold. The plugin offers the same features along with 8-voice polyphony, an extended keyboard range, quantization control for sample & hold, voice handling controls, mid-side filtering, a unison mode, and a variety of FX created by Brainworx.
You can expect an analog-styled plugin capable of creating warm, smooth pads, edgy FM style tones, and deep, cinematic, and rhythmic pulses. If you would like to hear it for yourself, Plugin Alliance’s SoundCloud page offers 18 short tracks showcasing the plugin’s sound.
- Tolerance Modelling Technology (TMT)
Unlike digital, analog components varying in their ability to function and no two pieces of equipment can perform exactly the same. How far a component sways from the original intended performance value is called tolerance. In order to capture the authenticity of the original hardware, Brainworx have used their patented technology that emulates the the tolerance variations found in analog hardware.
- Selectable Tube Amp Modes
The hardware inspiration uses 26 tubes for amplification and the plugin has been designed to emulate this. And like the hardware counterpart, you have a three-position dial for selecting tube types. The three positions are: triode, pentode, or saturated. Each position adds its own level of tube saturation to color the tone of the sound for warmer or dynamic playing.
- Voice Handling Settings
You will have control over the thickness and range of voices within the voice handling section of the plugin. It offers a four-position dial for selecting the number of voices you’d like to use—one, two, four, or eight voices—and a switch for activating unison mode for thicker tones.
- Mid/Side Processing
For those not familiar, mid/side processing is when the center and the sides of an audio image are processed independently to enhance clarity, dynamics, or depth within a mix. The Knifonium plugin’s filter features an option to apply similar processing to the signal. You will be able to choose whether you’d like to send the mid, side, or both signals through the VCF for shaping.
- Sidechaining Additional Synth Plugins
Additional synth plugins can be sidechained to the Knifonium to act as a CV for modulation. You will be able to connect up to two external sources to modulate either oscillator’s pitch, the filter’s cutoff frequency, or aftertouch.
- Built-In FX Chain
Brainworx have compiled a selection of trimmed down versions of some of their best effects available for you to embellish the plugin’s sound. The effects offered include a BBD-style delay, Mäag AIR BAND® filter, reverb, flanger, blue chorus, metal666 amp simulator, phaser, SPL EQ Ranger, and a wavefolder.
The plugin is available for Windows 8 or higher and macOS 10.11 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2, VST 3, AU, and AAX formats.
Brainworx’s plugin is well made and offers a good software version of a particularly rare hardware synthesizer. The features included expand upon the tonal options well and overall I’d say that this plugin is a welcome addition to anyone’s library. It sounds great and has a wide range of controllable parameters for you to get creative with. In addition, if you’re looking for a synthesizer plugin that emulates the sound of a tube driven analog synth, you’ve found it.
4. AAS Chromaphone 3
The ultimate synthesizer focused on acoustic instruments’ sounds.
Applied Acoustic Systems has developed the Chromaphone plugin for some years now, and it finally reached version 3. This is a synthesizer with two voices that was entirely based on some modeled acoustic resonators, with a healthy mixture of famous acoustic sounds with the best sound synthesis.
- Performance macros
Chromaphone 3 contains four different performance macro controls per layer, totally sensitive to MIDI configurations. You can assign modulation, effect, envelope, and timbre alterations that can take place instantly after you adjust them.
- Microtonal tunings
Microtonal music is a specific style, and not all plugins can claim to feature a set of microtonal tunings. Gladly, Chromaphone 3 is unlike any other plugin, and you can expect full Scala support, which is the most preferred format to load and export any personalized tunings you may have.
- Previous library included
If you used Chromaphone 2 before and want to make use of its extensive library, be aware that it was included in Chromaphone 3 as well. The best thing is that every sound was re-processed and corrected in the finest details regarding gain-staging and more intrinsic dynamics, with an extra 676 sounds included in version
- Factory presets
The Chromaphone 3 library itself is also very huge: it contains 421 sounds created by the most diverse sound designer specialists out there today, like Michel Basque and Sean Divine
- Two timbres at once
You can load jointly two of the many timbres included in two different ways: stacked or split. This is a great way to achieve massive textures and creative soundscapes with as few adjustments as possible.
- Performance macros
This plugin is available for macOS 10.11 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 10 or higher (64-bit only). It runs in standalone mode and VST2, VST3, AAX, NKS, and AU plugin formats.
This is a very different synthesizer than most out there. The separation is so big you might call Chromaphone 3 what it implies: a chromaphone. The sounds are very original and unique, and the adjustments available only prove that this can be a serious contender for the next groundbreaking sound designer tool to be used in your score-making or sound effects production.
5. ROLI Equator2
Equator2, by ROLI, is a six-source hybrid synth with a highly flexible routing engine.
This plugin’s UI is divided into two halves. The top half contains the synth source modules, filters, settings, visualizers, and effects. Alternatively, the bottom half holds all the modulation sources, the five macros, and the routing engines.
This simplified workflow benefits productivity, even though the UI looks crowded. Equator2’s primary offering is the hybrid sources, though. You get oscillator, sampler, granular, and noise sources, which you can use simultaneously in up to six source slots.
- Multiple Sources
Equator2 offers the basic analog-like waveform oscillators, but it goes further. You’ll also benefit from a multi- and single-layer sampler engine, a granular synthesis engine, and a noise module with three different sounds. All these sources can be mixed and matched to taste. For example, you can use any sample as the source sound for the granular engine. This malleability, plus the six available source slots, makes the Equator2 a powerhouse of a synthesizer.
Within the Random Modulation Source menu, you’ll find four randomization sources in addition to the Flip-Flop. This module switches its output between 100% and 0% with every new note. What you get is a “note on, note off” feel. It works independently with each of the synth’s voices.
The plugin gives you a 12-slot effect rack so you can shape and texturize your patch to taste, all within the synth—no need to pile up more CPU-hungry plugins on this channel. The green line around the rack shows you the signal path, and at the top of the menu, you can toggle between four available configurations. There are fourteen effects, including a granular delay, a chorus, a flanger, a compressor, and many more. You can also add any of these effects multiple times until you fill up all the twelve slots.
- Routing Matrix
You can shape the sound to your liking simply by sending the outputs of any given source module to different parts of the synth. To do so, use the routing matrix to reposition a source’s output into the global filters or the effects’ inputs. Then, later in the chain, you can choose where you want the signal to go before hitting the main out. Alternatively, you can use the routing matrix to send sound straight from the source to the main output.
Sound & Usability:
If you want it to, the Equator2 can sound effortlessly warm, complete, and rich. Alternatively, it can sound harsh and powerful. The presets are entire trips on their own – you could spend days just playing and feeling the unusual sounds. Most presets that use the granular engine, such as “Harp of the Amethyst Circle,” sound natural while still soaked in granulation.
All that shows that you can create your patches and have them be as impressive as you want with Equator2’s versatility. Other than that, usability’s very simple, and finding presets is easy with the tagging system. You can search for sounds based on source, instrument, articulation, and timbre, making life easier and speeding the workflow.
This plugin is available for macOS 10.14 and newer and Windows 10 in VST, AU, and standalone formats.
The ROLI Equator2 is a fantastic synth for producers and artists looking for the best of all worlds. From the analog-like wavetable engine to the all-digital granular synthesis, you’ll have an extremely versatile plugin at your disposal. It’s expensive, but this plugin is a whole instrument, so that’s expected.
If you already own a ROLI keyboard, integration is seamless since you’ll be able to take advantage of all of the patches’ nuances. Nevertheless, it’s a hell of a great addition to your synth collection.
6. Softube Model 72 Synthesizer
The nicest retro sounds may be obtained by using an analog device.
The finest synthesizer sounds were frequently performed through antique machines, sometimes with hundreds of patch connections or knobs to fiddle with. However, the components inside its structure ensured that these sounds were as unique and original as possible, which is an important feature of their distinct tone.
Softube took the initiative to recreate the essence of a real 1972 hardware in good shape, capturing and translating every aspect into this virtual instrument.
- Designed and built with passion
Softube has extensive expertise simulating music gear and has collaborated with hundreds of audio businesses such as Solid State Logic, Tube-Tech, and Weiss Engineering. Model 72 does the same thing by meticulously reproducing every module of this synth to deliver the most realistic feel possible from every small adjustment in any knob or parameter.
- Expansion panel
One of the nicest aspects of a virtual instrument is the new features that may come with it. The “Expansion” tab, for example, allows you to freely adjust individual parameters such as “Doubling” and “Spread.” These two new knobs enable you to have the identical notes you played doubled by another synth and to adjust how much this doubling is spread out in the stereo image.
- Tone generator
The tone generator is the basic core of the synth, where all sounds are created to be subsequently adjusted. You’ll find three oscillators here, two with almost similar output waveforms and a third dedicated to working as an independent modulation oscillator with greater tuning range and slightly varied waveforms, providing modest variation when making new tones.
All of the magic takes place here. This part has a “Master Tune” knob that controls the overall tuning of the Model 72, the “Note Glide” pace, and the modulation mix. As an alternative modulation source, a dedicated LFO can be employed. The modulation wheel acts as an attenuator, fine-tuning the amount of modulation spread, and may also be routed to an oscillator pitch or a specified filter cutoff frequency.
- Amp Room module
The “Amp Room” module is responsible for creating the optimum instrument sound. This thick-sounding filter with “Envelope Follower,” “Cutoff,” “Drive,” and “Resonance” controls can make your guitar, bass, or keyboard sound as funky as ever. “Fast” and “Smooth” are the two settings of the “Envelope Follower.” A dedicated “Mix” knob can assist in balancing the effects and their resulting mixed sound.
- The modules
Model 72’s parts are separated into “Tone Generator,” “Amplifier,” “Filter,” “Envelope,” “Noise and Glide,” “Doubling,” and “Preamp.” All segments are created in the same manner as an actual unit, with identical signal flow. Specific components, such as the “Amplifier” and “Preamp,” offer the true feel necessary to make it sound realistic, flawlessly mimicking each subtlety that makes the frequencies stand out.
- Designed and built with passion
The plugin is available for macOS 10.13 up to 12 (64-bit only) and Windows 10 and 11 (64-bit only). It comes in VST, VST 3, AAX, and AU plugin formats.
Softube’s Model 72 is a great recreation of an instrument that influenced an entire generation of artists and producers, particularly in funk music. With a synthesizer on your side, the possibilities are nearly limitless, and Softube did an excellent job of reproducing virtually old hardware like this synth.
There aren’t many intricate controls, only simple commands that deal with frequency modification like the previous units.
7. Audio Damage Continua
Continua, by Audio Damage, lets you bend the wave shapes any way you want.
The plugin offers three independent oscillators, two filters, four envelope modulators, and four LFOs. You can use oscillators two and three to modulate the first oscillator and assign noise and drive to the filters. In addition, you can use the filters in parallel or series for different effects and pan them to taste. In the FX/Output menu, you’ll find a chorus, a delay, and a reverb – all of which are stereo effects. You’ll also get eight macros you can assign parameters to.
- Fifteen Voices
This polyphonic synth lets you play up to fifteen notes simultaneously, which can help you create beautifully layered arrangements.
Filtering in Continua is not restricted to the usual HP, LP, BP, and Notch shapes. Instead, thanks to the fantastic Morph knob, you can slightly shape your filter to make it unique. That ensures that not only do you get all the regular filters, but you can also unlock what’s between them.
- Envelope Generators
The plugin gives you two ADSR and two FEG envelopes, which can be routed anywhere in the plugin. The ADSRs operate simultaneously, while the FEGs can be set independently. The ADSR control panel gives you a knob for each parameter, in addition to the Curve knobs for the attack, decay, and release. That helps you shape the envelope to taste, but things get truly interesting with the FEGs. Its flexibility allows the user to add unlimited breakpoints to the envelope, shape them to taste, and even sync them to the host tempo.
- Unisons Mode
You can create a thicker sound by using Continua’s unison mode. That will make all fifteen voices, or fewer if you prefer, play the same notes simultaneously. Additionally, you can adjust the number of agents by using the knob under the Voice Activity graph.
- Sample & Hold
You can use this cool feature to generate random notes. The source can be either random numbers or the outputs of an envelope or LFO. You can mix the signal using the Smooth, Limit, and Level controls and choose the pace through the Rate knob.
Sound & Usability:
You can create mind-bending leads or entire soundscapes with the plugin’s broad set of controls. The extensive modulations, beautiful effects, and nuanced filters make it a unique-sounding tool. But obviously, a great deal of Continua’s magic comes from its three oscillators. Not only can you create the three most common waveforms, but the plugin also lets you distort the shapes to taste to design different sounds.
When it comes to usability, Continua offers one of the most user-friendly interfaces on this list. If you’re acquainted with synthesizers and have experience building sounds from scratch, you’ll find this plugin an effortless device.
This plugin is available for Windows 8.1 and higher and macOS 10.12 and newer in VST, AU, and AAX formats.
Continua is the perfect plugin for sound designers and producers who want to generate exciting sounds without wasting time. The interface is straightforward, and the parameters all have understandable names rather than confusing acronyms.
You can’t go wrong with this Audio Damage synth plugin. Its highly configurable nature gives you all the control you need over your patches, which results in an excellent workflow.
8. NI Massive X
Massive X, by Native Instruments, gives you the freedom to create innovative sounds effortlessly.
Even though the plugin only offers a pair of oscillators, the vast wavetable catalog ensures that two is more than enough. Of course, you can combine and shape several pre-made waves further, but you can also adjust the Wavetable Modes. Moreover, the signal chain can be rerouted so that you can achieve different kinds of synthesis techniques.
- Wavetable Modes
Massive X offers ten different modes (Standard, Bend, Mirror, Hard-sync, Wrap, Formant, ART, Gorilla, Random, and Jitter), which determine the behavior of the wavetable oscillator. Whatever mode you choose will determine the functionalities of the controls around the central wave knob. There are two dedicated parameters for each mode, which help add to Massive’s ease of use and versatility.
- Noise Section
The plugin makes it easy to add textures to your synth but way beyond the traditional white or pink noises. There’s a wide range split into seven categories: Static, Friction, Processed, Environment, Machines, Beings, and Transients. In addition to those, you can create and save your noises to use as textures. The plugin lets you add two noise generators and mix them with a fader and pitch controls.
- Insert Effects
You can add up to three effects anywhere in your signal chain. There are ten effects, including a bit crusher, a pitch shifter, and a ring modulator. Additionally, you can also use the insert effects to add another oscillator. It’s not as versatile as the other ones, but you can create a Sine, Saw, or Pulse wave.
The plugin gives you three Performer sequencers, nine primary modulators, four trackers to map MIDI controls, and a Voice Randomization unit. You can drag any of these modulators from the source bar and drop them in any parameter you desire. The modulators can be adjusted below on the Edit menu. Among all the modulators, the Voice Randomization is the one that helps the synth sound the most natural. You can apply it to several parameters, and they will be slightly different with every new note you play.
Use this menu to connect all parts of the synthesizer and come up with different sounds. You can link all parameters and effects differently or bypass an entire section to hear how it sounds. The menu is divided into Polyphonic and Monophonic sections. You’ll find generators and processors, busses, the feedback loop, and the modulation modules in the first area. Alternatively, the Monophonic area will sum the polyphonic signals and apply the stereo effects. Here you can change the order of the stereo effects for additional experimentation.
Sound & Usability:
Massive X makes it easy to create the sounds you’re looking for. The workflow is simplified by the logical, analog-like disposition of parameters and sections. Starting from the top left, you have the oscillators. To their right, you’ll find most effects and, below it all, the modulations. Overall, this is a simple-to-use plugin, which makes it accessible for beginners and experienced producers alike.
With over 600 presets, it’s easy to get started, too. Whether you want to change some preset a little or create your patch from scratch, Massive X gives you plenty of options.
This plugin is available for macOS 10.13 through 10.15 and Windows 10 as a Komplete instrument, without a standalone version. Also, to run Massive X, you need an AVX Compatible processor.
Native Instruments’ Massive X is a highly versatile synth that expands on the original’s mythos. Compared to most other synths on this list, its main advantage lies in the highly adaptable Wavetable Modes. They ensure a more extensive library of oscillations than would ever be possible by simply combining differently-shaped waves.
That and the highly user-friendly approach make Massive X an excellent download for your Komplete library.
9. Newfangled Audio Generate
Newfangled Audio’s Generate builds upon a chaotic generator to create complex and unpredictable sounds.
This plugin uses the concept of additive synthesis to expand a basic waveform and shape it into whatever you need it to be. The signal starts with the Chaotic Generator, rolls into the Wavefolder and the Low Pass Gate. Like a regular synth, you can also add effects and modulate any parameter you see fit with Envelopes, LFOs, and more.
- Chaotic Generator
With all parameters at zero, the plugin simply offers a sinewave sound. The Chaotic Generator transforms that sinewave into a mind-bending, intricate sound. Simply select one of the eight oscillator types, the chaos amount, shape, and animation. Additionally, you can mix in two sub oscillators, sync it to tempo, and define the key you want to work within.
Here, you can start warping the chaotic waveform by adding drive, folds, and shape and symmetry changes. The result is a harmonically rich sound that you can take even further, thanks to the three Wavefolder types.
- Low pass Gate
Overall, this filter creates a smooth and pleasing sound contributing to Generate’s natural-sounding patches. An ADSR drives the LPG, and you can track the filter’s cutoff frequency to the notes you’re playing.
- Seven Modulation Pages
Generate gives you five kinds of modulations spread across seven selectable and tweakable pages. You get global settings, two envelopes, two LFOs, a Sample & Hold unit, and a Step Sequencer. You can use the circles above each section’s name to use that parameter as a modulator for anything in the patch.
Sound & Usability:
Creating your chaotic waveform is the most straightforward task possible since you don’t need to understand anything about synthesizers to get started. Simply press a note and watch the yellow lines behind the parameters. Then, as you tweak them, a visual representation of what you’re doing comes alive on the screen.
This innovative concept makes it easy for beginners and fun for the experienced. Different shapes, parameters, and chaotic mode combinations create absurdly interesting sounds, becoming even more enjoyable with modulation.
This plugin is available for Windows 8.1 and higher and macOS 10.9 and newer in AAX, VST, and AU formats.
Generate, by Newfangled Audio, is an impressive tool that you should not take lightly. It might not be as versatile as others on this list in the long run, but it’s the plugin with a very unique sound. In short, Generate deserves a place in your collection, primarily if you work with sound design.
10. Vital Audio – Vital
Vital is a three-oscillator synth that lets you warp wavetables by addressing their harmonics.
With up to twenty polyphonic voices, two filters, three envelopes, and four LFOs, Vital is a powerful sound design tool. Though it only uses wavetable synthesis, it has a few tricks up its sleeve when shaping waves. Moreover, the plugin is highly customizable thanks to its multiple Macros and a Sampler that lets you drag and drop your source files into the plugin.
- Adjustable Wavetables
You can start shaping the sound to taste with the Unison and Phase manipulators at the oscillators. The plugin lets you add up to sixteen Unison voices and detune them the way you want. To change the phase, first, you need to choose one of the modes underneath the knob. That will give you plenty of freedom to find specific waves between the other ones. And not only does the plugin let you shape wavetables, but it also gives you a 3D view. This graph lets you understand the subtle differences that happen when moving the wave slider up and down. It’s helpful when you need to find the perfect nuance to achieve your sonic goals.
- Transpose Snap
This feature is present in all oscillators and the sampler, and it’s helpful when you want to transpose a sound harmonically. All you need to do is select the notes you want to be able to transpose to. These will be highlighted on the keyboard icon. If you modulate the pitch adjustment with an LFO, you’ll create an arpeggiated sound.
The plugin gives you nine effects, and the signal flow goes from top to bottom. You can change their order into something that suits your production better, but you can’t double any of them. Overall the effects are thorough and versatile, with the compressor even offering multi-band and single-band options.
- Advanced Tabs
Here, you’ll find some settings for oversampling, voice, and display, but mainly you’ll get options and unison controls for the oscillators and a couple of analysis graphs. The Unison controls give you enough parameters to let you place those extra voices wherever you want in the stereo field, but also the wavetable. That helps create an image with a lot more depth and width.
Sound & Usability:
Vital sounds like most synth plugins with simple settings engaged. Its characters are not much different from that of an analog synth. It’s when you start using the Unison Spectral Morph that Vital shows its actual capacity.
Under the Unison knob, you can dial in one of several Spectral options that will tackle the waveform’s harmonics. The resulting sounds are often unpredictable but generally very full and, depending on the amount you dial, almost granular-like.
Using the plugin is easy, but mostly if you’re acquainted with the way synths work. That’s not to say Vital isn’t beginner-friendly, although it could at least have some notes when you hover over parameters to give you tips.
This plugin is available for Linux 18.04 and newer, Windows 10, macOS 10.12, and higher in VST, AU, and LV2 formats.
It’s not hard to get a great sound out of Vital Audio’s Vital. It’s a complex plugin with an easy-to-guess workflow and excellent wavetable-shaping options. It offers what most synths plugins offer but delivers just a bit more in some situations.
That and its warping methods put Vital in a unique position among its competitors, making it an essential tool for today’s producers.
11. kiloHearts Phase Plant
Phase Plant, by kiloHearts, is a highly capable synth with a straightforward workflow.
The plugin’s interface is divided into three main areas: generators, effects, and modulators. The plugin sends the signal from the generator section onto the effects, which you can route anywhere in the plugin.
Phase Plant offers several standard parameters, such as unison, detune, macros, and polyphony, allowing you to create any effect you would be able to with another synth. However, its primary selling point is the multi-mode generators, including a sampler, paired according to necessity.
There are four generators, two effects, and four utility functions to add to this area. As for the first group, the plugin gives you analog, noise, sampler, and wavetable generators. You can mix and match them to taste and even repeat the same generator. That ensures the utmost flexibility, paired with a simple drag-and-replace system to organize the signal flow. The effects you get here are a filter and a distortion, which you can place anywhere in the chain. Finally, the utilities give you the ability to group generators or create auxiliary, mix, and output tracks.
Since Phase Plant is a kiloHearts snapin host, you can add any snapin plugins you own to the chain. If you load a preset that uses snapins you don’t own, they will work, but you won’t be able to tweak their parameters. The effects area has three lanes, and you can send any generator to any route. That gives you more control over the signal flow. From here, you can use the drag and drop arrows to apply modulation or use the effects to modulate any other parameter.
Here, you’ll find an envelope, LFO, and randomization modules. Additionally, this section lets you apply MIDI control and other utility modules to your patch. The envelope is straightforward, and the LFO offers all the basic shapes. Moreover, it lets you create new waveforms or use the LFO as an envelope. Finally, the random mode is a sample-and-hold LFO that outputs arbitrary values to create unpredictable movement in your patch.
Sound & Usability:
kiloHearts’ approach to making plugins is efficient when you’re inside its ecosystem. The snapin plugins on their own are good, but some lack features and the “wow” factor. However, when you put them together on a snapin host such as the Phase Plant, you see what they were made for. Incredibly, you can add as many snapin effects, generators, and modulators as you need without breaking your CPU in two.
The result of this integration is an endlessly versatile synth that sounds as good as any of the more expensive ones. Additionally, the user interface is clean and understandable, making it easy to get great sounds from the plugin.
This plugin is available for Windows 7 and newer and macOS 10.7 and higher in VST, AU, and AAX formats.
You can place this plugin effortlessly among your go-to synths, especially if you already own some snapin plugins. If you don’t, then you need to purchase some to start creating some more elaborate patches. Nevertheless, Phase Plant offers many generators, making the real difference in developing new and exciting sounds.
12. u-he Diva
Diva, by u-he, offers limited controls, but it sounds very similar to real analog synths.
Overall, Diva is an easy plugin to navigate. The plugin gives you five different types of oscillators, four kinds of high-pass filters, five main filter options, and three types of envelopes. You’ll find LFOs, the effects, and the available controls in the lower panels, such as sync, pan, and tuning.
Additionally, there are individual menus for modifications, trimmers, scope, and presets.
Each of the five types offers a slightly different GUI, which can be confusing. Other than that, they all sound incredible. For example, in the Voltage Controlled Oscillation area, the plugin gives you three options. A CPU-hungry Triple VCO with FM controls, a multi-wave Dual VCO with PWM, and a CPU-friendly Dual VCO Eco with ring modulation. In addition to those, you get a DCO, a single oscillator with a flexible sub-OSC, and a Digital oscillator, which offers several types of waveforms.
The heart of Diva is its filters. U-he has modeled all five units after a more significant number of classic hardware and, though the controls are similar, each has its unique flavor. For instance, VCF | BITE adds beautiful resonance by increasing the oscillator volume by 10%.
- Oscillator Voice Detune
Voltage oscillator synths detune slightly due to component wear, creating a natural effect that is almost like a soft chorus. To simulate this, u-he went above and beyond and gave us the Oscillator Voice Detune panel. You can access it by clicking the Trimmers section at the GUI’s bottom. There are three knobs for each of Diva’s voices, and you can fine-tune them to find your sound. Additionally, you get a “Detune Amt” knob below in the same panel, which controls the global detune. In high values, the same note will sound highly different if you play it twice.
The plugin gives you over 1200 presets, making life a lot easier, especially if you don’t have time to design your patches. Additionally, it’s easy to search for the right presets through tags or text. You can look up categories, features, or the character of the desired sound.
Sound & Usability:
Like most analog gear, you lose some flexibility to gain character and personality. And even though this is a plugin, it makes every effort to get the best of the most famous hardware synths. As a result, this plugin’s sound is warm, round, and punchy from the get-go. Additionally, Diva’s usability is unique. That’s because u-he went for a genuinely analog look and feel for this plugin.
However, the overall UI looks a bit crowded, with small names for small knobs. There are no fancy graphs or metering here, simply the parameters laid down as knobs and faders on a clean background. For that matter, controlling the envelopes with faders will come as a new experience for those only used to digital synths.
This plugin is available for macOS 10.7 or newer and Windows 7 or higher in VST, AU, and AAX formats.
Built as an all-analog solution for your synth needs, u-he’s Diva lets you grasp the sound of the original hardware for a thin slice of their prices. Unlike the originals, though, you can replace the modules and combine them to taste, just to remind you that you’re in the digital realm. Overall, Diva is a great-sounding plugin that will have a special place in your collection.
13. Xfer Records Serum
Serum, by Xfer Records, is a favorite among electronic music artists due to its remarkable user-friendliness.
Creating, editing, and manipulating wavetables is effortless with Serum’s quality-oriented workflow. Additionally, whenever you import an audio file into Serum, it will analyze and divide it into unique waveforms that you can use as wavetables within the synth. Then, you can warp and modulate the waveforms to your liking, and when they’re done, the plugin offers a 10-effect rack that eliminates the need for more plugins in your signal chain.
- Filter Types
The plugin offers four filter categories: Normal, Multi, Flanges, and Miscellaneous. You’ll get a large set of filter presets for each, and the numbers beside their names represent how steep the cutoff curve is. In addition to the ability to engage the filter for both oscillators, plus the sub and the noise engines, you can use note-tracking to keep the filter in tune with every new note.
Not only does the plugin let you see and hear the main wavetable, but it also offers different layers of the same sound, depending on how many Unison voices you have selected.
- Copy LFOs and Envelopes
Hold down “alt” (“option” on the Mac) while clicking on the ENV or LFO top bar and dragging it to another one beside it. That will copy the entire shape and its parameters onto the new slot. You can do the same process to copy an LFO or Envelope shape into any oscillator if you want to. That will create a custom wavetable with the same pattern as the source.
Sound & Usability:
With its two main oscillators, plus a sub and a noise generator, Serum provides a wide range of sonic possibilities. Unfortunately, even though its single filter has several presets and attractive controls, such as fat and drive, it lacks in number. If we could at least have a dedicated filter for each main oscillator, then Serum would probably be better positioned on our list.
However, usability-wise, Serum is as easy as they come. It’s fun to play around with Serum’s knobs when sculpting your sound. Additionally, the controls are appropriately named, which improves the user experience.
This plugin is available for macOS 10.11 and newer and Windows 7 and higher as a VST, AU, and AAX plugin.
It’s easy to understand how Serum got its famed status. Just from looking at it, you immediately know what you need to do. And truth be told, you can create great sounds even if you’re not that experienced. Overall, this is a user-friendly plugin that deserves a place in your collection.
1. Native Instruments Absynth 5
Absynth 5, by Native Instruments, is famous for its organic soundscapes and marvelous pad timbres.
You can find your modulations, envelopes, and more at the tab selector up top, but don’t let the counterintuitive design scare you away. Even though it’s one of the oldest plugins on our list, Absynth 5 still manages to impress. It offers oscillators, samples, FM, and granular synthesis, and the ability to use external audio sources as generators. The plugin lets you load up to three oscillators, but it leaves two slots open below each generator where you can load filters and modulators.
- The Mutator
This feature lets you turn some of your current patch characteristics into another patch in the search result list. In short, if there’s a sound you like in any given patch, but you’re using a different one, you can combine both patches using the Mutator. Moreover, you can add randomization and repeat the process as many times as you need.
Up top, the plugin gives you six window selectors named Perform, Patch, Effect, Wave, Envelope, and LFO. On the Perform page, you get an overview of control over the entire synth’s operations. The Patch window is where you can generate, filter, and modulate the sound. Then, there’s the Effect section, where you can add effects, change their order, and stack up some modulation. On the Waves page, you can manipulate your own waves within three categories: Simple, Morph, and Library. Next is the Envelope window, in which you get one 68-breakpoint envelope per oscillator. Finally, there’s the LFO section, where you can modulate your patch with low-frequency oscillators.
- Built-in Effects
The plugin offers six effect categories, all of which are proprietary and offer a surround panner. In addition, you get the Pipe, which replicates the resonating qualities of physical objects; the Supercomb Filter, which uses feedback to cancel frequencies and achieve a phaser effect; Multitap delay with three taps; Echoes, which creates classic echo sounds with the help of the built-in filters; and the Aetherizer, a granular delay effect that lets you create anything from whispers to shimmering sounds.
- Focused on Ambient Sounds
Absynth 5’s an exciting tool to create beautiful ambient and atmospheric sounds and pads. The three-oscillator engine, plus the power of the Waves and Envelope windows, make it easy for sound designers to create their dream atmospheres and producers to come up with the perfect beds for their tracks. In addition, you can take advantage of the plugin’s extensive set of waveforms to come up with unique sounds simply by mixing them.
Sound & Usability:
Absynth 5 may be as versatile as some of its most recent peers, but the user interface largely misses the mark when creating an intuitive experience. Nevertheless, it’s easy to find the perfect patch thanks to the Browser. All you need to do is choose the sonic characteristics, and the plugin will offer you several options within that category. Putting your patches together can be a little tricky, but the several synthesis methods, a truckload of effects, and the three oscillators do give you enough liberty.
This plugin is available for Windows 10 and macOS 10.14 and newer in standalone, VST, AAX, and AU formats.
Even though this plugin is famous for its pads, you can create exciting lead and bass sounds if you understand how to use it. Unfortunately, Absynth 5 doesn’t make it easy for beginners, but it sure feels right as a tool for more experienced producers.
2. Softube Parallels
If your current production requires massive, big ideas, you must have a trustworthy sonic tool that’s capable of delivering such results. Softube Parallels promises to be such a plugin, providing high-quality waveforms in various shapes, adjustable filters, and awesome effects.
- “Wavescanning” technology
Parallels is a synth plugin that’s constantly looking for the best sounds to fit your needs. The “Dual-Wavescanning” technology behind its algorithms assures that each waveform or sample contains not only the best sonic elements but full monitoring so you can decide yourself what’s best to do with it.
- Elegant design
Dealing with complicated synthesis parameters is not welcoming, even for more experienced producers, if the interface is confusing and polluted. Gladly, that’s not the case with Parallels: all controls are visible, the knobs may glow brilliantly, and you can set the most important parameters very easily.
- Filter types
To get the dynamic aspect of your sample nailed perfectly, a good filtering section is mandatory. To cover this, Parallels feature three filter types that were inspired by great analog modules: a set of three resonant peaks, one low-pass gate, and a state-variable filter.
- Additional presets
The preset manager allows for importing and saving multiple presets, including user-made ones. However, Softube asked sound designer Bjulin to add further 100 sounds that demonstrate what Parallels is capable of doing.
- “Wavescanning” technology
The plugin is available for macOS 10.13 up to 12 (64-bit only) and Windows 10 and 11 (64-bit only). It comes in VST, VST 3, AAX, and AU plugin formats.
Synthesizers can vary greatly in shape and form. They can behave aggressively, lightly, or just be a useful toolkit to include in most of your productions. Parallels get to be more like the last example due to the amount of customization you can apply to your samples and notes.
The futuristic approach towards its functionality makes it a nice tool for cinematic or audacious productions, capable of bearing the most amazing soundscapes you can think of.
3. Tone2 Icarus 2
Icarus 2, by Tone2, is a complete synthesis workstation with built-in tools no other synth in this list offers.
The plugin gives you three highly intuitive wavetable oscillators, each with 54 synthesis modes and up to 64 polyphonic voices. The result is a highly versatile tool that leaves no stone unturned when it comes to sound design. In addition to two envelopes, four LFOs, two filters, and an EQ, Icarus offers the Main Menu at its core, where you can access effects, the arpeggiator, drum, and glitch controls.
- 54 Synthesis Methods
Icarus 2 gives you all synth types offered by the others on this list, such as granular, additive, analog, etc. However, it’s the formant, vocoder, harmonic-morphing, phase-distortion, and many other modes that bring this plugin forth as one of the best out there. You can create absolutely any sound with its many synthesis methods.
- Drum Sequencer
The pattern-based drum sequencer contains over 100 pre-programmed rhythms, but it also lets you integrate your beats with the synth’s functions. The grid offers you sixteen steps to create your beats and five tracks to load or play a sample. Additionally, you can change the volume, velocity, pitch, panning, and many more details for each channel.
The built-in arpeggiator is almost a synth by itself, and it strikes the perfect balance between strength and usability. Additionally, it gives you advanced features such as autochords, polyphonic playback, pitch slides, swing-shuffle, etc. All these features make up for a powerful built-in tool that enhances the capabilities of the plugin.
- Glitch Sequencer
This rhythmic-based sound modifier adds multiple glitch effects that disfigure and enhance your sound. You get ten effect rows with sixteen steps per row, and you can add one or several per step. The sequencer gives you a Repeater, Gate, Pan, Tremolo, Low & High-pass filters, Bitcrusher, Degrader, Detune, and Pitchslide effects.
Sound & Usability:
Overall, Icarus 2’s tone is soft and rounded. Nevertheless, it can recreate any classic synth sound and push the limits further with innovative timbres. In addition to the extensive set of synthesis methods, the plugin also gives you dozens of effects and filters that can be combined to create new, one-of-a-kind sounds. The vocalic and resonator filters are examples of exotic types you’ll only find in Icarus 2.
When it comes to user experience, the all-in-one approach makes the UI seem a bit confusing. Even so, using the plugin is truly uncomplicated, as it operates as simply as any other synth despite the excessive number of knobs. You can use a drag and drop function to modulate any parameter and control all connections from the Matrix menu.
This plugin is available for Windows XP and higher and macOS 10.7 and new in VSTi, AU, and Standalone formats.
Tone2’s Icarus 2 has enough potential to be the next standard when it comes to versatile synths. It still doesn’t have such a broad user base as Serum, for example, but who knows, it may get there one day. Nevertheless, it’s a must-have tool for the modern-day producer.
4. Spectrasonics Omnisphere
Omnisphere 2.6, by Spectrasonics, works as a plugin but also as the software behind over 60 hardware synths.
The plugin’s impressive sound library and architecture are paired with 58 effect units for almost endless sound manipulation. Each oscillator has two modes: Soundsources, which provide samples, or Wavetable, which works like a regular synth. In addition, the plugin offers four layers in which you can create sound from an oscillator and apply modulation, filtering, and an envelope. It also provides neat features such as crucial tracking and up to eight LFOs per layer.
- Eight Parts
Thanks to its architecture, the Omnisphere 2.6 is like eight synths in one. Considering that each part lets you build a fully-fledged four-layered patch, this plugin gives you access to up to eight patches you can play simultaneously. That means a whole new world, in versatility terms.
This feature consists of a 32-step arpeggiator with velocity, shuffle, and pattern controls. Additionally, this module gives you step modifiers, which are flexible tools that let you add specific behaviors to single steps. Finally, each of the eight Omnisphere’s parts gives you an arpeggiator, which means you can have up to eight playing simultaneously inside a single plugin.
- Live Mode
Thanks to its hardware integration with some of the most popular synthesizers on the market, Omnisphere is a powerful live tool. You can switch and layer patches seamlessly using the different parts. If you’re performing, you can have up to eight different sounds per MIDI track, saving you time and CPU in live scenarios.
Sound & Usability:
Not only do the presets sound beautiful, but you also get a description for each of them on the main menu view. That is helpful when you’re searching for a defined mood or genre-oriented sound or want to copy some of the preset’s layers into your patch.
In addition to the wavetables and sample oscillators, the plugin also offers granular synthesis features, which significantly enhance its sonic range. Other than that, Omnisphere’s usability is effortless thanks to its intuitive interface.
This plugin is available for macOS 10.13 and newer and Windows 7 or higher in VST, AAX, and AU formats.
Few plugins offer as much flexibility as Spectrasonics’ Omnisphere, let alone its impressive bank of over 14 thousand sounds. It is a fantastic plugin for artists, producers, and sound designers, and you can’t go wrong with adding it to your collection.
Hopefully, picking your next synth just got easier with our 2023 list! No matter if you’re a producer, an artist, or a sound designer, we chose the best options so you can find the best bang for your buck.
Among the paid plugins, a few come ahead on the best-of list. Such synths as the NI Massive X, ROLI Equator2, kiloHearts Phase Plant, and Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2.6 offer everything you’ll ever need from a virtual synthesizer. And the fact that each has its characteristics and sounds makes it almost mandatory to collect with the four.
Among our free contenders, VSTZone’s Eclipsis and Newfangled Audio’s Pendulate will both give you outstanding results and add incredible value to your productions. And since they’re free, why not add both to your toolbox?
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