Top 12 FM Synth Plugins For Unique Sound 2022 (Free & Paid)

Top 12 FM Synth Plugins For Unique Sound (Free & Paid) | integraudio.com

Today we’ll learn more about FM synthesis and look at the best FM synth plugins of 2022.

Synthesizers have been present in our favorite songs since the late 1960s. To this day, these lovely instruments helped shape and expand the sonic possibilities behind pop hit tracks and modern rock songs alike, with dozens of different models with customizable controls and varied sounds packed within. 

One particular type of sound synthesis is the FM (short for “Frequency Modulation”), which we deeply explore in this list. In essence, FM synthesis work by modifying the original audio signal and shaping its frequencies to get a brand new tone, all based on that input. You can think of effects like an octaver, for instance, which takes the note and reproduces it one octave higher or lower than what you’ve played, thus creating an output frequency that equals half or doubles the original value. 

To get our heads wrapped around this subject even further, we’ve selected a few good examples of FM synth plugins that are relevant in 2022 to show you. Hopefully, by learning more about the plugins below, you’ll get a good sense of how this kind of synthesis can help you create new soundscapes and shape new, original sounds, making your track stand out uniquely. 

Top 12 FM Synth Plugins For Unique Sound 2022

1. Native Instruments FM8 (For FM Nerds)

More Info & Price (Trial Available)
All aspects of FM synthesis are inside the clean interface of FM8.

The Yamaha DX7 synthesizer was one of the devices that prompted FM synthesis in the market. First, it was an instant hit due to the new technologies contained – from a brand new protocol entitled “MIDI” to velocity sensitivity – eventually, it became one of the best-selling synths of all time. Following the steps of this awesome gear, Native Instruments introduced the FM7 a while back, and now we can explore this new, revamped version of a plugin dedicated to frequency modulation synthesis.

Key Features:

    • Factory sounds
      FM8 contains an incredible amount of sounds, ready to be used in any track you’d like. In addition, it supports all sounds contained in FM7, including the FM7 Sounds Vol. I & Vol. II from the Native Instruments Sound Line. There are 200 new sounds in FM8, all adaptable to the new configurations contained in this software.
    • New effects
      Some cool new effects are introduced in FM8, but this time with a rack concept that allows you to create varied effect chains and a preset system for the entire rack. You can count with overdrive, tube amp simulation, cabinet simulation, shelving EQ, peak EQ, phaser, flanger, talk wah, tremolo, reverb, psychedelay, and, of course, the old FM7 effect that is available as a chorus/delay unit.
    • Sound morphing
      This exciting new feature allows you to morph between four chosen timbres, which can be dragged and dropped from the “Sound Browser” menu. The XY control correlates each corner to a specific timbre, with the graphic handle in the square adjusting the interpolation between different sounds. You can also use it as a plugin in a host, thus automating the handle’s movement to suit your effect accordingly.
    • Arpeggiator
      Native Instruments could not let such a nice feature pass by, so a complete arpeggiator is also included in FM8. This tool features a sequencer-like matrix of up to 32 steps, with flexible and programmable modes for pattern generation and keyboard split features. You can also use preset arpeggio templates, which can provide a quick selection of usable profiles.
    • “Easy” page
      This page can be found among the other windows at the “Navigator” panel on your screen’s left side. In essence, the “Easy/Morph” page displays quick sound tweaks and adjustments you can add to your sound, contributing to a more intuitive workflow that won’t require much effort to achieve superior sound results.
A Complete Guide to Native Instruments FM8

Compatibility:

This plugin is available for macOS 10.14, 10.15, or 11 (64-bit only) and Windows 10 or higher (64-bit only). It runs in standalone mode and VST, AAX, and AU plugin formats.

Summary:

Native Instruments FM8 is a complete workstation for FM synthesis. This handy tool offers a wide variety of timbres, effects, and configurations expected from such a big name company as NI, with extreme care in simultaneously making everything look good and fluid. The nice arpeggiator included can provide unique patterns, and allied with the multiple factory sounds, FM8 can be a powerful plugin to get creative new ideas flowing without limitations.

2. XILS Lab KaoX (Modern 1)

More Info & Price (Trial Available)
This plugin displays the versatility and usefulness of FM synthesis.

XILS Lab brings a virtual instrument based on multiple synthesis methods, including frequency modulation. Entitled KaoX, this plugin offers multiple features besides the FM synthesis, thanks to the simulation of analog components such as oscillators and filters that provide authentic sounds with power that only an algorithm can provide.

Key Features:

    • Dedicated oscillator
      A dedicated oscillator to the frequency modulation section can result in a more convincing and authentic overall sound, and that’s what you can expect from KaoX. This FM oscillator contains eight operators that can make your frequencies sound like in a vintage unit, aside from working smoothly with the algorithms included.
    • Analog oscillators
      KaoX contains two analog oscillators created to reproduce the iconic sounds of old synth units. These oscillators have continuously changing waveforms, which can include subtle variations in each sound file that bear a resemblance to how these components would react in an authentic circuit.
    • Synth engines
      You can use two independent synthesizer engines to create even more audacious and different sounds. Although they act independently from each other, they are identical in terms of configurations and programming and can be configured in three distinct modes: “Single,” “Double,” and “Split.”
    • Double mode
      The dual mode activates the upper and lower layers, which contain independent modules such as LFO and oscillators. By playing these layers jointly, you can expect new and vast sonorities that can be perfect for a fat, thicker, vast, or dynamic soundscape in a matter of seconds.
    • Split mode
      When the “Split” switch is activated, you assign the lower part of the keyboard to play the lower layers while the upper part plays the upper layers. A triangle symbol is responsible for setting the appropriate split point. This mode is ideal for anyone working with two distinctive sounds on each keyboard’s zone.
    • GANG mode
      If you need to tweak and configure all parameters in lower and upper layers simultaneously, the GANG mode can help you. It permits you to alter the knob values instantly while always maintaining the relative settings of these parameters. For instance, if you want to edit the “Cutoff” of both layers at the same time, the relative cutoff difference will always be kept – if the upper layer has a cutoff level of 100 and the lower has a level of 50, if you decrease them by 40, the values will be 60 and 10, respectively.
KaoX: Tips on making simple FM Sound

Compatibility:

This plugin is available for macOS 10.8 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 7 or higher (64-bit only). It runs in VST, AAX, and AU plugin formats.

Summary:

While it does not aim to reproduce any specific vintage gear, KaoX contains all the flavors that a vintage synthesizer could include, thanks to the in-depth and detailed reproduction of analog components into the digital world. In addition, XILS Lab put a serious effort into crafting not only the most cherished tones but also the controls and configurations that make the FM synth popular while adding subtle digital variations on top of that, with features such as the multiple synth engines that can be run simultaneously. 

3. Arturia DX7 V (Modern 2)

More Info & Price (Trial Available)
FM synthesis has never been so easy to master.

Arturia is renowned for its excellent plugins, virtual instruments, and effects, always crafting and delivering iconic sounds with superb audio quality. Following this recipe, DX7 V brings the tones and controls of the famous Yamaha DX7 synthesizer inside your DAW, with concise emulations of the famous sounds that marked an era.

Key Features:

    • Operators and algorithms
      At the center of the main screen, you can find the colorful menu responsible for organizing the operators to your taste. Essentially, they’re all color-coded, meaning each operator bears a distinctive color, thus making it easier to create custom patches. You can also set up or alter any 32 original algorithms and tweak your sound meticulously.
    • Data entry faders
      Like in the hardware version, DX7 V offers the “Data Entry” faders close to the main volume control. They all deal with different parameters that can be assigned and activated simultaneously. You can select between the multiple available parameters, and by mixing them, you can make this plugin sound as versatile as ever.
    • Global controls
      Right at the top of  the interface, there are global controls for adjusting common synth-wide configurations, such as “Transpose (offers chromatic transposition of the preset within four octaves),” “Tuning (sets the overall pitch),” “AMD (sets the depth of the global Amplitude Modulation),”  “FMD (similar to the previous control, but relative to the Pitch Modulation),” and “P Mod Sens (introduces a pitch modulation based on the FMD knob).”
    • Quick edit controls
      These controls were included to offer quick adjustments to your operators. The “Feedback” knob controls the amount of feedback in a selected preset, while the “Pitch EG” knob sets the Pitch EG depth for any operators with this function included. Lastly, the “Poly” button allows you to switch between monophonic and polyphonic performances, with up to 32 voices available in polyphonic mode.
    • Portamento
      Also known as “Glide,” the portamento settings can be defined inside this section. There’s an “On” switch to activate it, while the “Gliss” button allows the pitch to change chromatically between two played notes (while deactivated, the notes will change smoothly instead). At last, the “Time” knob sets the amount of time necessary for the pitch to change from one note to another.
    • Arpeggiator
      The arpeggiator is one of the most distinctive aspects of the original DX7 hardware. Arturia included it here and made it as configurable as possible. You can turn this tool on by activating the switch, with the additional “Hold” and “Sync” buttons (responsible for allowing the arp to keep running after you stop playing and locking it with an external clock, respectively) and a “Pattern” menu, which provides six different response patterns to the arpeggiator. 
Tutorials | DX7 V - Episode 1 : Overview

Compatibility:

This plugin is available for macOS 10.13 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 8.1 or higher (64-bit only). It runs in standalone mode and VST, NKS, AAX, and AU plugin formats.

Summary:

The awesome sounds contained inside DX7 V are proof that Arturia always takes special care when it comes to recreating any sonority. The DX7 V is not only a synthesizer but also a pattern generator that can create intense, well-crafted tones present in multiple genres and styles. The number of configurations included is impressive, and each section can tweak your soundscape further. Special attention to the easiness behind configuring the operators and respective algorithms, with colorful and clear instructions on the screen.

4. Tone2 Nemesis2 (For Trance Makers)

More Info & Price (Trial Available)
Nemesis2 can deliver an array of timbres with precise controls with a futuristic character.

German-based company Tone2 offers good synthesizer options in their catalog, with different aspects and sound profiles. Among the most audacious ones, Nemesis2 is a great alternative to get FM synthesis in your productions, counting with a classic digital approach that differs its sounds from other hardware emulations but with just as many controls. 

Key Features:

    • NeoFM synthesis
      This new technology was crafted by Tone2 and eventually became the core for Nemesis – or NeoFM Synthesis. Aside from the traditional FM synthesis, this plugin showcases this improvement with high-quality audio samples that work well with any kind of shaping, especially frequency modulation and varied waveforms.
    • Oscillator section
      On the top right side of the interface, the dedicated section that houses the two main oscillators operates as intuitively as possible. Each oscillator gets specific knob controls, such as “Envelope” and “Filter,” and a small screen that indicates which waveform is active and how it has been manipulated. You can also alter the signal chain with varied orders.
    • Menu bar
      This section provides all the controls for Nemesis2’s feature displays. You can browse through the “Preset Manager” shop and download new content directly from the software, deal with basic preset management functions, and give a deep immersion into the available effects, among other standard configurations.
    • Arpeggiator
      The arpeggiator inside Nemesis2 is an inspiring tool for creating new patterns and melodic lines. Here you can select the note inside your sequencer as usual and choose the direction it should go – up, down, etc. There are also optional advanced configurations, such as an auto-chord generator, polyphonic playback, swing into every played note, glide, and matrix integration.
    • Effects
      Nemesis2
      counts with 48 distinct effects to be used and blended at will. You can create a flexible routing that can make your track sound like nothing in this world, with specific features like the “Smart-micro-tuning” that automatically analyzes the notes of any played chord to improve their sound. Contour, fading, swing, and shuffle are additional features available for any effect.
Tone2 Nemesis NeoFM Synth Plugin review

Compatibility:

This plugin is available for macOS 10.7 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows XP or higher (64-bit only). It runs in standalone mode and VSTi and AU plugin formats.

Summary:

Tone2 is focused on creating the most diverse synthesizer models for their plugins, sometimes even recreating an iconic circuit. This time, Nemesis2 showcases the wonders the digital world can do for us: aside from the awesome controls, the tones are very modern-sounding and can help bring a fresh new vibe into your production. The knobs may be diversely spread throughout the interface, but they are easy to tweak and offer an intuitive experience overall.

5. BLEASS Omega Synth (Great For Beginners)

More Info & Price (Trial Available)
This multi-platform plugin proves how beautiful synths can be.

BLEASS Omega is a plugin that provides a meaningful and simplistic visual experience, with everything you would expect from a synthesizer housed in a user-friendly interface. All controls are easy to read and operate clearly, delivering good timbres and making FM synthesis as easy as possible.

 

Key Features:

    • FM algorithms
      In software like BLEASS Omega, the algorithms are the main force behind every function. To get that nailed down precisely, eleven FM synthesis algorithms were carefully developed to provide the most varied sounds, with the help of four operators that can easily be interconnected.
    • Modulation
      All sound modulation can be achieved through the dedicated window, dividing the screen between three sections: “LFO 1,” “LFO 2,” and “Assignable EG.” The first two are a pair of assignable low-frequency oscillators, with visual waveform selections included, whereas the latter is an ADSR envelope control that showcases the dynamic response of your synth very elegantly. 
    • Motion sequencer
      This unique feature included in BLEASS Omega is a rhythmic movement generator, creating repeated patterns of modulation values that can be set to any of the two modulation destinations. In essence, it’s like an arpeggiator, but with refined adjustments that make it characteristic to the plugin. The possibility to include the modulation values inside your patterns can create different and varied soundscapes, as a reliable sound design tool should.
    • Presets
      Sometimes it’s nice to have a starting point to begin learning something, and presets are very helpful in teaching more about audio design in general. The 160 professionally designed presets included in BLEASS Omega display all the versatility this virtual instrument can muster, ready to be explored and used.
    • Effects
      The beautifully displayed screen that shows the available effects is very helpful in setting the perfect flavor for your track. You can choose between “Chorus,” “Tremolo,” “Delay,” and “Reverb” effortlessly, each boasting a distinct color to differentiate from the rest. The “On/Off” switch is big and clear to find, while other controls are also easy to tweak.
    • Waveshaper
      Inside the “Filter/Drive” panel, the dedicated “Waveshaper” section is the perfect choice for instantly adding a warm, overdriven sound. You can select from nine different shaping algorithms that offer the perfect control to boost your signal the intended way, while the close-by “Filter” effect will add more character and refinement to the overall frequencies.
BLEASS Omega 🎹 | A New Intuitive FM Synthesizer

Compatibility:

This plugin is available for macOS 10.9 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 8 or higher (64-bit only). It runs in VST3, AAX, and AU plugin formats.

Summary:

Displaying lots of character and elegance, BLEASS Omega is arguably the best-looking software on this list. This might sound irrelevant, but the easiness of finding and setting every control in every window panel is very intuitive, which can be helpful for experienced and beginner producers alike. Moreover, this simplistic visual experience can offer great learning opportunities and well-thought sound results when dealing with sound synthesis, especially FM synthesis.

6. Tracktion F.’em (Most Versatile)

More Info & Price (Trial Available)
One of the most powerful and versatile FM synths on our list.

Sometimes, plugins intend to be lightweight and fast to load, but sometimes the focus is on having the perfect interface design. Well, why not have both? Tracktion F.’em is a powerful synth that combines an advanced FM synthesis engine with a plethora of programming options available to you.  

Key Features:

    • Control elements
      There are some specific controls inside F.’em that can be used in some unconventional ways. For example, any knob inside this plugin has the “Dials” feature: click on a knob, hold down the mouse button and move the mouse up and down to easily set the desired value, while a double-click will reset everything to default. These fine details are a treat for a more fluid workflow, as simple as possible.
    • Main Edit page
      The Main Edit section is located in the middle of the screen, with powerful controls to set every specific value about a layer. Other than dealing with multiple layers running inside F.’em, you can set the FM Matrix for proper FM interconnections and tweak the operator’s order and which effects are altering it, such as pitch, envelope, and LFO.
    • Noise generator
      This section can be activated via the left list menu. In the first row, you’ll see an “N” option at the top, where you activate the noise generator. As expected, you can generate a noise according to your preferences, with controls such as “Noise Filter” and “Noise Selection” tailored to set your noise just like you imagined them, but also with unique tweaks like “Cutoff,” “Resonance,” and “Burst Rate.”
    • Operators
      Every layer has eight possible operators to be used in a set. Although they can be stacked freely, the parameters are essentially the same: you can activate or deactivate them individually, set the waveform, invert the polarity, set the frequency ratio, and much more.
    • Sample oscillators
      The two dedicated sample oscillators are a great tool if you want to tweak specific values to your samples. These oscillators are designed to alter the sample’s sound via some specific parameters, like “Detune (fine-tunes the sample in steps of 1/128th of a semitone),” “Octave (sets the basic pitch of the oscillator in steps of an octave),” “Semitone (sets the oscillator’s pitch in semitone steps),” and “Ratio (makes the frequencies of the sample oscillator to follow the keyboard notes).”
    • Modulation sources
      There are a few different modulation sources to be used with the operators, the sample oscillators, the noise generator, and both filters (aka the tone generators). You can opt between “Pitch LFO,” when a low-frequency oscillator is used to modulate the tone generator’s pitch, “Level LFO,” which does the same thing but with the tone generator’s level instead of the pitch, “Pitch Envelope,” which deals with up to 32 nodes that are used to modulate the pitch of any tone generators, “Level Scaling,” a curious feature that changes the loudness of the sound by using the played key number as a mod source, and finally “Level Envelope,” the perfect way to deal with changes in volume or cutoff frequency of a sound over time.
Tracktion F.'em Synth Overview

Compatibility:

This plugin is available for macOS 10.11 or higher (64-bit only), Linux Ubuntu 18.04 or higher (64-bit only), and Windows 8 or higher (64-bit only). It runs in VST2, AAX, and AU plugin formats.

Summary:

If you’re looking for a very powerful synthesizer, Tracktion F.’em might be a perfect choice. The incredible processing power this plugin can handle is worthy of the best CPUs, of course, but the results are equally great. This is mainly due to the number of controls and parameters available, all fully customizable and responsive to any changes you make. Furthermore, the design interface accommodates it colorfully and concisely, the perfect combination for a fluid session.

7. Sugar Bytes Aparillo (Minimal, Yet Powerful)

More Info & Price (Trial Available)
This advanced 16-voice FM synth is the perfect choice for majestic sounds.

Most of all, synthesizers can create beautiful sound layers within a track, with subtle frequency ranges and smooth-sounding notes. In other words, the perfect balance for aerial textures that can create the perfect vibe instantly. Sugar Bytes Aparillo is just like that, and it’s based on two interacting FM synths capable of forming complex and organic timbres, with a 16-voice-unison character on top of that.

Key Features:

    • 16 voices
      Synths are great for polyphonic phrases, with most of them natively controlling such parameters that will make it sound huge. Aparillo achieves this by using 16 individual synth voices that are triggered whenever you play any single note, thus quickly delivering complex sounds that vary from atonal noises to super rich and harmonic textures on the go.
    • Spacializer
      This awesome effect is not so well-definable, but it’s as useful as a delay, reverb, or pitch-controlled resonator. The character will be defined by the “Spacial Range” and the “Size/Pitch Fader” controls for fine-tuning, as follows:

      Small
      1 ms < Range < 250 ms
      Medium
      1 ms < Range < 500 ms
      Large
      1 ms < Range < 1,000 ms
      Pitch
      -24 semitones < Range < +24 semitones
      Sync
      1/16 bar < Range < 1/1 bar

      The “Feedback” fader can create a reverb wall instantly, getting the perfect aerial vibe nailed down instantly. The “Mix” control adjusts the dry and wet gain signals accordingly, with the possibility of including the “Arp” signal.

    • Envelope
      The “Envelope” section houses the common ADSR controls that affect the “Modulation System” and its output. Each parameter comes with individual modulation options, but with the addition of “Slope-Curve” and “Loop Mode” configurations. Lastly, the envelope mode can be switched between “Unison” (all 16 voices in sync, but with a monophonic envelope) and “Polyphon” for a 16-voice polyphonic synthesizer.
    • Orbiter
      This unique Aparillo feature is a one-touch macro-controller that affects the entire sound inside the plugin, giving you absolute control over the sound manipulation options. All this power is available at your fingertips’ reach, with an XY pad that controls all parameters. You can navigate between all sounds by mouse-clicking it or pressing the notes on your keyboard, containing 128 different sounds.
    • Presets
      Having pre-recorded sounds and phrases ready to be used is a great way to kick things off accordingly. You’ll be easily inspired by the 450+ hand-picked presets that are inside Aparillo, distributed within categories such as “Bass,” “Pads,” “Lead,” etc.
Overview - Aparillo Tutorial (1/8)

Compatibility:

This plugin is available for macOS 10.12 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 7 or higher (64-bit only). It runs in standalone mode and VST2, VST3, AAX, and AU plugin formats.

Summary:

FM synthesis is not easy to play around with, and this technology usually requires an equally good platform to run smoothly. Aparillo gets this aspect down easily, with concise parameters that can be customizable and reach higher dimensions by themselves. This plugin is one of the best choices to get ambiance textures, perhaps most sought-after by sound designers, cinematic composers, and score makers.

8. Klevgraand Baervaag (Minimal 2)

More Info & Price (Trial Available)
This clean-looking plugin gets the job done with a simple approach and elegant design.

Klevgraand is a Swedish company based in Stockholm that specializes in creating good-sounding plugins that are often versatile on their own and provide different soundscapes. Baervaag is another example of such a work method. The title comes from the Swedish word “Bärvåg,” which directly translates to “carrier” and can explain much behind this FM synthesizer.

Key Features:

    • Simple approach
      Unlike other items in this list, Baervaag is a very simple synthesizer: there’s only one carrier and one modulator included, allowing simplicity to take over your production. Although this can sound like something’s missing, it’s a valuable feature for increasing CPU productivity and good processing power.
    • Carrier oscillator
      The top-left small window displays the carrier oscillator, with an XY pad that sets the pulse width modulation (PDM) on the X axis and the wave shape on the Y axis. In other words, you can have a sine wave at the bottom of this window and a square wave at the top, with multiple possibilities going on in the middle.
    • Envelope
      This dedicated control deals with the carrier envelope settings. The ADSR controls are present just like you’re used to, but you can expand their usability a bit: by hitting the “VEL MOD” checkbox, the “Attack” time will be relative to MIDI velocity, meaning that you can set this parameter as you play the notes in your MIDI keyboard controller – high velocity makes the attack shorter, in essence.
    • Modulator
      Very close to the carrier oscillator, there’s a dedicated modulator oscillator panel in the same XY distribution as its relative. The main difference lies in the buttons included to the right: they can multiply the frequency value from “0.5” to “4,” which is the perfect tool to alter the pitch of any note played.
    • Wobble
      The two faders near the modulator oscillator panel are responsible for adding a subtle wobble effect to each note played, altering both the pitch and the amplitude. The “Speed” fader sets the desired frequency, and the “Depth” fader controls how much of the “wobble” effect is being added to your signal.
Baervaag – FM Synthesizer

Compatibility:

This plugin is available for macOS 10.12 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 7 or higher (64-bit only). It runs in standalone mode and VST2, VST3, AAX, and AU plugin formats.

Summary:

The simplistic approach behind Baervaag is one of the best qualities of this plugin. We all love and crave easy-to-use software that will not be tiresome to mess around with, and Klevgraand masterfully provides this effect in all their products. The elegant interface is a great appeal about this virtual instrument, with all displays and parameters shown to you via the main screen, but the simple design inside this synth’s functionality might be a good choice for slower CPUs. 

9. Imaginando FRMS (FM, Granular, Subtractive, Additive)

More Info & Price (Trial Available)
A versatile synth that combines granular synthesis with FM synthesis.

Imaginando is a Portuguese plugin developer that creates some cool effects and virtual instruments. Their name translates to “imagining,” which gives a good idea of how they approach their creations. FRMS is a powerful synthesizer consisting of a minimalistic interface perfect for controlling advanced concepts in a quick, simple way

Key Features:

    • MIDI Learn
      FRMS includes a dedicated mapping of its parameters that can be remotely controlled via a MIDI keyboard. If you toggle the “MIDI Learn” function, all controls will be darkened out in the interface, allowing for a selection of which controls you’d like to map connected to the respective keys chosen.
    • Layers
      Four available layers can be used as a granulator or an oscillator, with color-coded controls for each tone generator. These layers can be thought of as individual instruments that can be summed together or used as an FM operator. By displaying this architecture, FRMS becomes a versatile virtual instrument that blends different synth profiles into one.
    • Oscillator modes
      The engines behind FRMS can be differed by an “Oscillator Mode” and a “Granulator Mode.” The first one is focused on subtractive synthesis, allowing for close manipulation of each waveform (there are four different types included, by the way), while the latter combines tiny portions of audio units – or grains – to create complex, large sound structures.
    • Performance modes
      You have two performance modes available: the “Keyboard” mode works as a regular keyboard, with the addition of playing in MPE mode, allowing for up and down movements along the octaves and adding pitch and hold controls, while the “Chorder” mode lists common chords that can be chosen between the “Major,” “Minor,” or “Major 7th” categories.
    • Matrix panel
      If you want to define how much a modulation source will affect a modulation target, the “Matrix” panel is the right tool. You can see multiple values distributed, going from -1 to +1. Choose the correspondent intersection to alter a specific value,  and use the fader on the right side.
FRMS - Granular Synthesizer

Compatibility:

This plugin is available for macOS 10.13 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 10 or higher (64-bit only). It runs in VST, AAX, and AU plugin formats.

Summary:

Although it claims to bear a simple interface, FRMS might be a little confusing on the first use, mostly due to the darkened aspect of the GUI. The overall design is elegant, but it can be troublesome for any new producers exploring audio design. Even so, the multiuse behind this Imaginando plugin is a solid point to try out, with the possibility of blending different synth profiles in one window.

10. 2nd Sense Audio WIGGLE (FM / Wavetable)

More Info & Price (Trial Available) 
A useful tool not only to improve your track but also to be used in audio editing.

2nd Sense Audio offers WIGGLE as a synthesizer plugin created to assist producers and musicians alike in creating expressive sounds with a distinctive dynamic shaping engine and precise controls distributed along the interface. This soft synth can be a crucial element not only in creating specific timbres and tones but also in making every frequency and note in your track sound better.

Key Features:

    • Expressive sonority
      The four sound generators included in WIGGLE are imperative regarding wavetable manipulation and automation. Along with wave shaping, randomization, and wave distortion tools, you can create expressive and dynamic sounds with minimal effort.
    • Intuitive frequency modulation
      The FM matrix is very easy to handle, although it might sound otherwise. The controls are color-coded and prove how intimate the relationship between the modulator and the carrier is, with all parameters capable of modulation. This way, you can easily add a refined character to your sound that can sound complex and well-intentioned simultaneously.
    • Morphing
      Almost all controls inside​ WIGGLE can be captured as a snapshot. The plugin allows you to capture up to four snapshots of any sound you may be working on and blend them easily, manually, or automatically. This subtle integration between different snapshots makes the sounds come out so organic and smooth, capable of subtle variations or drastic changes.
    • Modulations
      As easy as it gets, you can free-draw the pattern for LFO/Envelope controls, while the four specialized modulators can be dragged and dropped to set almost every parameter. If that sounds too little, you can also count on eight additional step-based modulators to further expand your sound experiments.
    • Intelligent sampling
      WIGGLE counts with an internal recording function essential to quickly capture any sound you’re shaping or editing and create an audio file that can be instantly dragged and dropped into your DAW. This not only permits easily archiving your timbres and tones but also stimulates further editing and processing via other external effects, for example.
    • Useful sequencer
      The step sequencer inside this synth presents detailed controls that can arrange modulation and musical patterns in the same window. You can edit any pattern effortlessly, with the addition of generating an instant MIDI file of said pattern that can be inserted into your DAW.
2nd Sense Audio Wiggle | Plugin Tutorial & Review of Features

Compatibility:

This plugin is available for macOS 10.6 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 7 or higher (64-bit only). It runs in VST, AAX, and AU plugin formats.

Summary:

WIGGLE might seem a bit polluted initially, but the sections and their parameters are distributed logically throughout the main interface screen. Although it can be equally classified as an audio editing tool, this plugin offers good configurations that can be precise when nailing that perfect tone without sacrificing common synth functionalities that make it as musical as any other virtual instrument.

11. Image Line Sytrus (FM, RM, Subtractive)

More Info & Price (Trial Available)
This versatile synth might be the secret sauce behind your production.

Sytrus is a virtual instrument included in the FL Studio packaging, promising to be a reliable synth to be used and abused freely. This versatile synthesizer contains rich elements that allow for an extreme customization array within your sounds, including basses, pads, bells, drums, piano, and strings settings.

Key Features:

    • Operators
      The six included operators are fully customizable and work well with both FM and RM synthesis. They can modulate another operator, and these central components of the synth’s sounds can reach distinctive and unique results with this curious blending. Feel free to alter the dynamics, the filtering, or even the pitch of your sounds with the assistance of detailed configurations and knobs.
    • Harmonics editor
      This detailed editor is crucial to define an oscillator shape within the 128 harmonics available, either by manually drawing or external sample analysis. This work method is also known as additive synthesis, a blending of the harmonics and adjusting their respective phases. In other words, be ready to create any type of waveform you can imagine.
    • Effects
      The FX module brings some high-quality and tailored effects to your synth. You can use chorus, a delay that has three modes and can process sounds in series or parallel (with the extra possibility to send the module output to a mixer send track), and a reverb section with color selection, diffusion, and high damping modes included.
    • Filter
      To better tame the frequency spectrum in your track, the “Filter” section boasts 13 filter modes and various options that can be freely tweaked. It includes a full articulation segment that permits full control of the filter parameters, such as “Cutoff” and “Resonance.” As a bonus, you can also mess with waveshaping distortion with customizable mapping.
    • Presets
      You can create and upload pre-existing presets to be used within Sytrus, but one cool thing that the developers thought of is the possibility of importing DX7 SYSEX data. Yes, that’s right: you can upload a patch, and the plugin’s engines will automatically emulate the original Yamaha DX7 sound, perfect for an authentic recreation of a vintage unit.
    • Modulation matrix
      The modulation matrix allows for a setup in the FM synthesis algorithm while it adjusts the operator send levels simultaneously, panning the “Dry” and “Wet” signal levels. Even though you can’t automate any knobs here, you can do so with the volume knob in the operator module – this creates the same result, as the matrix knobs also change the amplitude and, consequently, the amount of frequency modulation.
Sytrus Tutorial - Everything You Need to Know

Compatibility:

This plugin is available for Windows XP or higher (32 and 64-bit). It runs in VSTi plugin format.

Summary:

FL Studio is a popular DAW among beatmakers and beginner producers, with easy-to-use virtual instruments and effects, aside from a very intuitive design. Sytrus is the synthesizer that comes inside the package and, in theory, should be able to operate flawlessly from the start. It does, actually, but the sounds are somewhat dull and not so good in terms of quality, mascaraed by an elegant and pretty interface. Another bummer is that it’s Windows-exclusive which alone should say a lot about this virtual instrument’s reputation.

12. u-he Bazille (Modular FM)

More Info & Price (Trial Available)
An immersive polyphonic modular system with digital oscillators.

The second installment in the “Berlin Modular” project, Bazille, features a polyphonic modular configuration with digitally-recreated components that resemble the past decades’ old units while offering modern features simultaneously. There are almost infinite ways to connect the different sections, and patching this synth should positively keep you occupied for a considerable amount of time.

Key Features:

    • Varied modules
      Although it claims to be a modular synth, Bazille offers some clues that it’s not a traditional virtual instrument. This is due to blending analog elements, like the traditionally-inspired filters, with digital creations, such as oscillators. This combination presents the two technologies that made digital synthesis affordable and mixing them might bring new sonorities altogether.
    • Oscillators
      The four included oscillators are distributed between two panels: “Oscillators 1 & 2” and “Oscillators 3 & 4,” being separated by the “Filters” and “Outputs” segments in the middle of the screen. Each panel has five different sections, “Pitch,” “Phase/FM,” “Phase Distortion,” “Fractal Resonance,” and “Outputs,” each with dedicated modulation input.
    • Mapping generators
      Bazille’s mapping generators are imperative to determine the frequency range of the four oscillators. Since they feature a frequency range that starts at zero Hertz, they can be adopted as synchronized and unsynchronized LFOs or to create any other custom shaping, getting all the frequencies trimmed according to your needs.
    • Oscilloscope
      This useful device was constantly applied to general sound design uses, and u-he decided to include one right at the top center space of the screen. This handy window can check and adjust waveforms, monitor any effects of modulation or filtering, display envelope shapes, and generally give you more info about what you’re hearing. It shows a mono sum of both outputs, without effects included. The “Frequency” knob adjusts the horizontal resolution, whereas the “Scale” adjusts the vertical.
    • Multiplex
      Some unique modules in analog modular synths were designed to serve as mixed or split devices. Since Bazille’s sockets can deal with several patch cables at once, the “Multiplex” section can be utilized as a crossfader, signal mixer, ring or amplitude modulator, and much more.
    • Alternative view
      If you prefer to have every available control shown in a single-window view,  an alternative skin called “GearPorn” dramatically changes the user experience. This is a skin ideal for more experienced users since the number of knobs and patch cables going along the interface might be hard to follow. To get this alternate view, simply right-click on Bazille’s interface and select it from the menu.
U-he - Bazille Basics - Making Experimental Sounds

Compatibility:

This plugin is available for macOS 10.9 or higher (64-bit only), Linux Glibc version 2.28 or higher, and Windows 7 or higher (64-bit only). It runs in VST2, VST3, AAX, and AU plugin formats.

Summary:

Bazille is an excellent reproduction and a faithful homage to the awesome modular units of the late 1960s and early 1970s. These astonishing synth walls are always remembered by a large number of knobs and buttons, aside from the patch cables connecting separate modules. It’s hard to translate all of this into the virtual world, but u-he did it masterfully by blending analog and digital aspects in a single package. If you’re serious about sound synthesis in general, this is one of the best tools for you.

Best Free FM Synth Plugins

1. SONICBITS Exakt Lite

More Info & Download
This user-friendly FM synthesizer gets all sound characters right.

Boasting a futuristic interface and cool sounds within, Exakt Lite is a freeware synthesizer plugin that allegedly can get you plenty of different sonorities, from harsh sounds to more organic ones. Such versatility is explored via the multiple controls and panels available, with easy control and fluidness in all operations you make.

Key Features:

    • Operators
      The core components behind Exakt Lite’s sound are the operators. There are four of them included, and they can be arranged in the classic eight FM algorithms with feedback on operator D. Each features different waveforms, like sine, saw, square, and triangle.
    • Waveforms recreated
      You can count on the previously mentioned waveforms to act with the operators, but SONICBITS decided to add something extra. In Exakt Lite, you have another eight classic waveforms recreated from the Yamaha TX81Z synthesizer, thus offering a better vintage aspect to the final sound.
    • Envelopes redesigned
      Each of the four operators has a separate amplitude envelope generator that supports the five-point Yamaha TX81Z envelopes, being remodeled to mimic another sonic aspect of this iconic synth. In addition to the aforementioned waveforms, you can achieve a pretty decent vintage sound in seconds.
    • Polyphony
      Exakt Lite has a polyphonic mode with twelve voices, which can be crucial to creating complex patterns and phrases. You can work with as many voices as you want, with the possibility to return to monophonic mode always present.
    • Waveform window
      You can easily visualize the current waveform being used at the top right corner of your screen via the waveform window. Most synths include this feature, but it’s nice to see it in a freeware plugin. Triangle, simple sine, or square, it doesn’t matter: you’re always monitoring the music you’re creating.
Free VST - SONICBITS Exakt Lite (FM synthesizer)

Compatibility:

This plugin is available for macOS 10.11 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 7 or higher (64-bit only). It runs in VST2, VST3 and AU plugin formats.

Summary:

The straightforward way Exakt Lite boasts new sounds is attractive to producers who want to get into FM synthesis, but don’t want to bust the bank for it. This awesome freeware option includes nice sounds, good quality, and plenty of options to get you going for a significant time. Overall, the functions are clear, and all controls are displayed in a logical sense, with all values being shown to you all the time.

2. Digital Suburban Dexed

More Info & Download
A multi-platform and multi-format synthesizer plugin modeled after the classic DX 7.

The first free option to emulate vintage gear is from Digital Suburban. Their Dexed plugin aims to recreate the intrinsic aspect of this iconic synthesizer with extended possibilities and different plugin formats that can be relevant to almost all kinds of users and producers. 

Key Features:

    • DX 7 tool
      Although this plugin can be used on its own, Dexed is also a great tool to use along a genuine Yamaha DX 7, incrementing its sonority and acting as an expansion of the instrument as a patch editor or SysEx manager. You can even use the original Mark I cartridge in it, but other models are currently not supported.
    • Parameters
      There are 144 DX 7 parameters included in Dexed that can be fully automatable inside your DAW, all distributed in a single panel for easier visualization. These are nice parameters to be included, but the possibility to automate them freely gives unprecedented freedom when creating new sounds.
    • VU meter
      To ensure an operator is active, you’ve got to check the VU meters. Each operator has dedicated metering that ensures which is active and isn’t. Even so, this can be a simple feature. When working with multiple controls and knobs, it can be easier to have a nice visualization tool to get by.
    • Multi-platform
      Seeing a virtual instrument brought to so many different interfaces is not common. You can run it in multiple operating systems, but the nice thing is that there are different formats to enjoy Dexed, with particular attention to the uncommon LV2 plugin format.
Digital Suburban Dexed [Free DX7 Style Synth Plugin]

Compatibility:

This plugin is available for macOS 10.11 or higher (64-bit only), Ubuntu Linux (64-bit only), and Windows 7 or higher (64-bit only). It runs in VST3, LV2, and AU plugin formats.

Summary:

The cool thing about Dexed is that it’s not only a recreation of some vintage synth; you can use it as a tool to increment the sound of the original gear it was supposed to recreate. Of course, you can still use it on its own, but the expanded possibilities are awesome. You can edit patches, load and save SysEx programs, and more. The visual integration is nice and sober, perfect for anyone used to dealing with these instruments.

3. miniSoftmusik Abstractor (FM, AM, Analog)

More Info & Download
A complete synthesizer that will not leave you unsatisfied.

miniSoftmusik describes Abstractor as an “additive synthesis plugin.” In essence, additive synthesis is achieved when you combine multiple sine waves to create a new timbre or a specific sound, tweaking the relative parameters, of course. Some would even argue that this is the best way to emulate an instrument’s natural timbre, and probably Abstractor can easily handle that.

Key Features:

    • Additive synthesis
      Focusing on additive synthesis, Abstractor has tailored controls to tweak and visualize your waveforms properly. You can generate non-specific waveforms, too, depending on how you twist the knobs around.
    • XY pad
      An XY pad included in Abstractor is crucial in nailing the perfect waveforms. As mentioned earlier, additive synthesis is based on combining waveforms to create new sounds so that this XY pad can morph any two waveforms very easily, and its visual aspect gives unprecedented control over your sound.
    • Sequencer
      Abstractor contains a two-step sequencer, which means you can create different patterns for your tracks. This acts just like an arpeggiator but is not only limited to doing arpeggios with your notes. It doesn’t matter if you’re messing with a bass line or a drum part, sequencers can add more groove and feel to your track.
    • Filters
      Another important addition to any synth is the filter section, and Abstractor contains two multi-mode filters. This means you can adjust your frequencies with two modules that present varied modes, with common controls like “Cutoff.”
Abstractor Synth Review miniSoftmusik Additive VST Plugin

Compatibility:

This plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher (32-bit only). It runs in VST plugin format.

Summary:

This simplistic synthesizer can get the job done quickly if you need a tool that can deal with additive and FM synthesis simultaneously. Abstractor has an old interface, resembling old software from the early 2000s, but it’s got all the controls to get your job done right. Although this could be a more expressive tool, though, the lack of macOS compatibility doesn’t make it as versatile as it could’ve been.

4. de la Mancha FMMF

More Info & Download
This simple plugin aims to make FM synthesis affordable and accessible.

Synthesizers are not always the most intuitive instruments, especially when dealing with virtual recreations. Obviously, the sounds coming from these instruments are still present to this day in our favorite songs and scores, but that doesn’t make it easier to mess with synths. Thinking about this problem, de la Mancha brings the FMMF frequency modulation synthesizer.

Key Features:

    • Envelopes
      The envelopes included in FMMF were designed with special attention to detail since you can customize them in many ways. You can set the number of stages, the contour relative to each stage, tempo sync, and much more. The envelopes are made for each operator’s volume, pitch, and even for the effects section.
    • Algorithms
      The main functionality behind a virtual synth lies in the algorithms included. They can dictate how the synth will operate and respond to the frequencies involved. FMMF counts with 17 different FM algorithms, a substantial quantity for a freeware virtual instrument to take care of that.
    • Waveforms
      Another important aspect of a FM synth is the waveform behind every operator, and FMMF includes 11 distinct waveforms per operator. They can be adjusted and selected freely, with the additional note sync option included.
    • Arpeggiator
      The included arpeggiator can be a handy tool to craft new ideas. The one included in FMMF has six distinct modes with adjustable tempo-sync, octave range, and note length.

Compatibility:

This plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher (32-bit only). It runs in VST plugin format.

Summary:

Although simple virtual instruments are cherished, sometimes it’s bad to have software that’s too simplistic. This is the main problem behind de la Mancha’s FMMF, which constantly feels like a cheap VST. The poor graphic design can be especially tiresome for long periods staring at your computer screen, and that sole fact should be enough not to give it a good review. However, every common function is present, sometimes even with substantial dedication – like the 17 FM algorithms – even so, it’s a Windows-exclusive software.

5. Xen-Arts Xen-FMTS 2

More Info & Download
This synth contains a special set of features to nail the best FM synthesis sound.

Usually, freeware software presents a simplistic approach to its function, especially if it’s a “smaller” version compared to its paid equivalent. When talking about virtual instruments, it reflects on the sounds in the package, the number of controls available, and even the sound quality in general – and most free plugins offer limited perspective here. But that’s not the case for Xen-FMTS2.

Key Features:

    • Operators
      The included four operators make the magic happen behind the Xen-FMTS2 interface. This FM synth can work as an exquisite tool to get new, bold sounds from the same parameters, and the operators are the force that drives any other component included. The parameters can be controlled via faders for each aspect of the sound, like envelope and LFO.
    • Algorithms
      The algorithms are relative to how the operators’ work and in which order. To get the most out of the components emulated, Xen-Arts included 57 new algorithms to deal with both common and unusual usages of a synthesizer, one of the most complete in the freeware realm.
    • Micro-tuning
      If you require software that can work with micro-tunings, Xen-FMTS2 is the perfect tool. It can load MTS (MIDI Tuning Standard) files that allow working with micro-tuning easily. If you work with different music styles with this kind of tuning, you will find your next favorite VST, with full compatibility with unusual tunings.
    • Pitch-bend ranges
      To better experience the micro-tonal functions, the pitch-bend ranges have been configured in cents, harmonics, and “superparticular” ratios that offer incredible versatility and flexibility when dealing with specific notes inside a micro-tuning arrangement.

Compatibility:

This plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher (32-bit only). It runs in VST plugin format.

Summary:

Even if this plugin is unavailable for other platforms, it deserves proper recognition for its services. Xen-FMTS2 deals with micro-tunings easily, which is the main aspect that makes this synth so great-sounding. It’s hard to understand how this freeware plugin could get so many good features and even expanded algorithms and effects. Unfortunately, the website for Xen-Arts is currently missing, and it seems this plugin was discontinued, but even so, it’s worthy of taking a look at it.

Bonus

Vengeance Producer Suite Avenger (Great For Trance/EDM)

More Info & Price (Trial Available)
A versatile alternative to get your sound synthesis up and running.

This massive virtual instrument is brought by Vengeance Producer Suite, which seems to be focused on delivering the best results in every product they make. The Avenger synth is like that, with multiple controllers and parameters to be adjusted and configured freely. 

Key Features:

    • Oscillator modules
      There are eight oscillator modules included in Avenger, and each counts with “V-Saw” waveforms (acting like a “super saw,” with up to seven voices), vibrato and LFO, Chorder (note stacker and unison), an additional sub-oscillator and varied synthesis models to choose from. 
    • Arpeggiator modules
      The included arpeggiator can be very handy for creating new patterns, and you can count on eight different modules: up, down, random, and play modes, editable note lengths, note transposition, and sub-patterns, aside from hundreds of arpeggiator presets that can be instantly rearranged.
    • Drum sequencer
      A dedicated drum sequencer can deal with all your track’s rhythmic needs, with up to 16 bars available. You can include triplets or quarter notes included, a roll function for each note (x2, x3, x4, and so forth), all common adjustments such as velocity, pan, and pitch, and special modes, like flip, mirror, and reverse.
    • Mixer page
      The mixer page can be extremely helpful in quickly setting individual parameters of the virtual instrument. You can count on different buses and their respective tracks to be displayed on a single screen, perfect for instantly mixing and leveling the sounds.
    • Modulation envelopes
      The eight modulation envelope modules contained in Avenger consist of freely configurable envelopes, numerous trigger modes (first/last notes, arpeggio, etc.), a sync mode to create moving patterns, and one shot, loops, and ping-pong reproduction modes.
Vengeance Producer Suite - Avenger - Tutorial Video #25: FM Cross Modulation

Compatibility:

This plugin is available for macOS 10.11 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 7 or higher (64-bit only). It runs in VST2, VST3, AAX, and AU plugin formats.

Summary:

Avenger is a reliable tool to gather everything about sound synthesis in a single window, with multiple possibilities and configurations hidden inside the interface. The variety in parameters and their functionalities is astounding, with precise knobs and values making the most difference in your final sound. 

Conclusion

Synthesizers can be hard to master, even more if we’re dealing with vintage units requiring patch cable connections and specific routings to get the sounds right. Nevertheless, many artists have constantly applied sound synthesis in their music, and this is the definitive proof that synthesizers can be as fun as other instruments, even virtual ones.

This list brought some information on frequency modulation synthesis or FM synthesis. It’s only one of the multiple types of sound synthesis available, and each can achieve a specific goal. In this case, all frequencies in our waveforms were changed by modulating them via a tailored modulator, thus resulting in FM synthesis.

Among our options listed, the best and most complete plugins are from major developers, as usual. Native Instruments shines again with the FM8 synth, a complete offering that will probably ensure all your FM needs are attended to. XILS Lab KaoX is a similar option, with complete configurations and nice presets.

Other cool plugins were BLEASS Omega Synth and Tracktion F.’em, as both feature an awesome interface design that makes it easier to mess around with a synthesizer. Such easiness is desirable since more and more producers and artists can get in touch with this sound technology in a very friendly way.

One of the most known synthesizers to deal with FM synthesis is the Yamaha DX 7. It has changed how synthesizers are built and operate since its conception in 1983. As these units are important to this article’s theme, plugins like Arturia DX7 V excel in faithfully recreating all the best aspects about this synth, as Arturia always masterfully does. But there’s more: the freebie Digital Suburban Dexed not only does that too but also acts as a tool and component to the actual DX 7 hardware, thus expanding its capabilities significantly.

Always try out the software you’re interested in, as these plugins can be very expensive and should be properly tested before a serious commitment is formalized. 

See you next time!

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