This article will discuss the 12 Best Physical Modeling Plugins, including both Virtual Instruments and Effects, and some free plugins that work on this technology.
Physical modeling, also called component modeling, uses algorithms, equations, and mathematical models/formulas to create virtual instruments from scratch that emulate acoustic instruments’ physical components and vibrating characteristics. Hence, you can create realistic and organic acoustic sounds using physical modeling synthesis.
For example, a plugin can model drums in terms of the mathematical formula for the drum head or how striking it transports energy into the membrane. Similarly, the same technology is used to model other acoustic instruments like the violin, saxophone, and human voice.
The concept has existed for a long time and has many advantages over sampling, especially in terms of storage and CPU load. In addition, you need not have a huge range of sample libraries to get the sound you desire, as each processing step takes place in the synth. However, it could be combined & layered with samples to make some more realistic and creative sounds.
Top 12 Physical Modeling Plugins 2022 (Synths, Pianos, Strings, Effects & More)
1. AAS Chromaphone 3
Chromaphone 3 is essentially a percussive synthesizer but physically models much more than that.
It emulates eight acoustic resonators: Beam, Marimba, Closed Tube, Plate, Drumhead, Membrane, Open Tube, and Strings, which gives us sounds and acoustic characteristics of different types and materials of instruments & percussions, and they can be combined in creative ways to produce realistic instruments.
In terms of interface, it is user-friendly and has four tabs: Home, Browser, Editor, and Settings. The Editor tab is further divided into modes, synth, and effects, in each of which you have complete hands-on control over the sound. In addition, the layout is streamlined & straightforward to navigate through.
For those producers/composers who find Physical modeling too complex, there are 1000+ presets present in the plugin, to which we can add effects and tweak them as per our needs. Also, the huge range of presets covers various sounds and can fit into multiple genres. Further, one can also download or buy expansion packs from the internet.
- Dual-voice Multitmbrality
Chromaphone 3 uses two independent timbres- stacked or split – to make sounds that are expressive and have unique textures & spatial qualities. In addition, the effects section can be utilized to further shape the synthesizer’s sonics. The dual layer expands the sonic depth and versatility to a great extent.
- Macro Control
The macro controls are grouped into modulation, timbre, envelope, and effects. So you can link the macros to multiple parameters at once and make your workflow easier. So four macros per layer can be controlled using MIDI.
- Extensive Effects
The effects window present in the Editor tab has three switchable layers of effects: Equalizer, Compressor & Reverb, and in addition, two variable layers consisting of drop-down menus from which we can select other effects like chorus, flanger, tremolo, phaser, and other effects.
It’s available as a standalone instrument or a plugin in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and NKS formats, that require Windows (7 or later) and Mac (OS X 10.7 or later) versions of operating systems.
You can create a great variety of timbres and textures with the synth, which has a unique sound and realism. As the technology evolves, the plugin and its upgrades will keep evolving and becoming more realistic. The MIDI-based functionalities make it responsive to the producer’s creative touch and more expressive than sample-based instruments. Finally, it’s undoubtedly one of the market’s best physical modeling virtual instruments.
2. Minimal Audio Rift 2.0 (Physical Modeling Feedback & Delay)
Rift 2 is a multi-band effects plugin that allows you to create unique distortion, delay, filter, and feedback effects.
You can apply different types of delays, filters, and distortions of varying degrees to a particular band of frequency while keeping the rest of the range clean or apply these effects to the entire sound. In addition, various modules of harmonic processing like Distortion, Drive, Bit Depth, and Wavefold allow different types of sonic shaping of the sound.
- Unique Distortion Effects
The plugin allows multi-polar distortion, and you can choose from 30 different distortion algorithms, which you can use to create solid and creative distortion effects. Furthermore, you can apply the distortion algorithms to different polarities of the sound and blend distortion types. This feature makes Rift 2 stand out, as you cannot achieve this with a typical distortion plugin. Further, you can edit the waveshape, sample rate, bit depth, and more features of distortion.
- Feedback Module
You can apply various delays and resonators to the sounds with advanced features, like tuning the resonance to a key/note or even MIDI notes. Further, you can sync the delay, adjust feedback, spread, feedback mix, and highpass & lowpass filters.
- Filters Section
You can choose from 24 custom filter shapes, including some interesting harmonic filters, formant filters, and comb filters, which have varying degrees of complexity. In addition, you can control the wideness of the filter, set it to mono or stereo, and set it to pre or post.
- Curve Sequencing
You can easily draw patterns and effortlessly create modulation shapes, which could be assigned to any parameters, and can be saved and loaded as presets. Modulations, even otherwise, can be easily assigned.
It’s available in 64-bit AU, VST, VST 3, and AAX plugin formats for macOS 10.9 or higher and Windows 10 or later.
Rift 2 by Minimal Audio is an advanced multi-effects plugin with stand-out features and variety that allows immense sound design capabilities. Even for mixing, the plugin is great for bringing about different flavors to your drums, vocals, or instruments. The plugin deserves a ten-on-ten for innovation and utility and also has a good interface, which you can switch its interface from dark to light mode.
3. Softube Model 72 Synthesizer System
Modeled after the classic Minimoog Model D, Model 72 Synth by Softube is a vintage software synthesizer with deep analog sonic capabilities.
It’s a three oscillators monophonic subtractive synthesizer with a voltage-controlled filter, an ADS envelope, and modulations like LFO and glide. In addition, the plugin has a double switch that clones the current synth with a slight detune and sums it up with the output giving it a thicker and richer sound. There’s also a Spread knob for stereo width and an overload switch for higher voltage.
- Additional New Features by Softsynth
The plugin allows MIDI tracking on the filter to brighten up the sound as it’s played on the upper octaves of the keyboard. Further, the Doubling switch is unavailable on the original hardware synthesizer and can only be found on Model 72. Lastly, the filter can be fed back to itself, creating some interesting harmonics in the sound.
- In-depth Modeling
The nonlinearity of the Minimoog Model D is modeled in detail in the plugin, along with a large library of presets classified in different types & classes and some additional modulation sources and routings.
You can use the plugin in DAWs that support VST, AU, and AAX formats.
The new add-ons by Softube don’t seem like a good enough reason to have another clone of the Model D. However, it’s one of the better emulations of the classic synthesizer and could be a better alternative as compared to Arturia’s or Native Instrument’s version due to its detailed physical modeling and high sound quality.
4. Expressive E Imagine
Imagine by Expressive-E takes models of real-life instruments and lets you modulate and morph their aspects & characteristics into innovative and unique sounds.
The audio engine combines two instruments, with each instrument made of two resonant bodies; for example, you can combine a string with a drumhead. You can further tweak both instruments’ tune, pan, gain, and octave. In addition, to the two acoustic bodies, you combine an exicator that makes them come alive, which could be a mallet, Noise, or sequence.
Further, each exicator has its own set of parameters and a window in which you can tweak these parameters to shape the sound. For example, a mallet can have the following parameters:
- Shine (high cut filter).
- Mute (palm muted playing).
- Position (the point where the hammer hits on the resonant body).
- Impact (hammer material).
In addition, there are also macro controls, quality selection, voicing, effects, modulators, and a MIDI learn section, where you can further shape the sounds.
- Expansive Exicators
All three exicators have a unique and extensive set of controls. Depending on the timbre, texture, envelope, dynamics, and transient of the sound, you can choose it per your needs. For example, Noise allows you to select the color, and resonance, break the sound down into tiny grains and choose the shape (sine, saw, etc.), sync rate, and amount (mix).
Similarly, sequence allows you to create unique movements, shape the timbre, and allow arpeggiation and randomization of the sound.
- Expressive Modular Effects
The FX page has a Vibrato and Frequency shifter, different expressive effects like tremolo, resonant low/high pass, auto pan, etc., stereo delay, EQ, Compression, Plate reverb, and more.
- Modulation System
The modulations are multi-dimensional, with a switchable & editable multi-stage envelope control, in which we can load different waveforms, and modes like a loop, one shot, etc., can be selected. Combined with macro controls, the amount of command & creativity you get over your sounds is insane.
- MIDI Learn
The plugin allows easy assignment of parameters to a MIDI control of your choice. It has a great interface that maps directly to the parameters and macros for them to be assigned to different buttons, knobs, sliders, etc., of your MIDI device(s).
It’s available as a VST 3, AU, and AAX plugin (64 bits only), has a minimum processor requirement of Intel Core i5-7400 or Ryzen 5 2600 or higher, and works with Windows 10 (or later) or macOS10.13 (and higher).
Imagine has immense functionality, takes time to fully explore, and may come across as complex to new producers. However, it has huge capabilities to create innovative, rich, and organic sounds. It’s especially great for sound designers and synth nerds. This Expressive E plugin is highly recommended as one of the best physical modeling plugins.
5. Audio Modeling SWAM Products (Solo Strings v3, Woodwinds v3, Brass v3)
SWAM (Synchronous Wave Acoustic Modeling) combines physical and behavioral modeling with the Multi-Vector/Phase-Synchronous Sample-Morphing technique.
It models various string, woodwind, and brass instruments, to create an entire ensemble without having an orchestra play that for you. In addition, it has worked on technology that emulates the physical and acoustic features of the instruments to create organic sounds within the DAW and the computer system.
SWAM-S is the modeling that simulates strings by virtually recreating various articulations, playing styles, and physics of string instruments like violin, cello, viola, etc. Similarly, SWAM-B models the mute distance, vibrato, shake, portamento, and valve/slide transitions of a brass instrument, and SWAM-W emulates musical expressions, resonant bodies, pipe shapes, materials, and more of Woodwind instruments.
- Instant playability and natural sound
The instruments are readily available to be played, and you can express yourself through them anytime. In addition, you’re not just limited to your playing capabilities and a single instrument; you can further tweak the performance and articulations, along with the capability to tweak the physical and mechanical properties of the instruments, giving them an authentic sound.
The instruments are highly adaptable and can be articulated differently between legato, staccato, pizzicato, col legno, glissando, bends, trills, and grace notes. In addition, you can tweak the expressivity, play modes, timbre, pitch, etc., to create & re-create instruments of your choice.
- High-level Customization
For each instrument, you get its own set of unique tweakable parameters. For example, while using the SWAM-B engine for brass instruments, you can tweak parameters like flutter tongue, growl, pitch bend, vibrato, breath control, mute control, expression, and more.
The plugin is available in AU, VST, VST3, and AAX formats and demands a minimum of 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, OS X 10.10, and 4GB RAM on a Mac, and Windows 10, with the same CPU requirements for Windows.
SWAM is great for capturing creative expressions on orchestral sounds and is an optimized and cheap alternative for it. You can create a good enough ensemble with the plugin with the right approach. For composers, and scoring musicians, it’s also a great tool to create demo songs/projects, and many producers use it for that purpose. I believe layering SWAM with a session musician recording can give great results, but it can also work as a standalone instrument.
6. Arturia Piano V3
Piano V3 is a virtual piano that packs nine different acoustic models for instant and realistic piano programming and playing.
It’s available in 2 types: grand and upright, and it has a simple interface with minimum controls on the surface, giving you immediate sounds to be used. There are four knobs in the main window: brightness, timbre, dynamics, and stereo width, with an additional reverb mix, a volume button, and a limiter. However, when you go deep inside, it gives you advanced tools to set your sound further.
- 9 Modeled Instruments
Arturia has modeled pianos like Classical Upright, Pop Grand, Class Grand, Intimate Grand, Metal Grand, Pop Upright, etc., for all your piano needs, whether rock, jazz, hip-hop, or any other genre. Every little nuance of these instruments is emulated virtually, with editable physical properties.
- Hands-0n control
We can manipulate everything from the mic positioning to mechanics like Lid Position, Soundboard Resonance, Velocity Curve, Hammer’s dynamic range, noise, and hardness. There are also expansive effects like EQ, Reverb, etc., for in-depth sonic shaping.
It requires a Windows 8.1 (or higher), at least 4 GB of RAM, four cores of CPU with 3.4 GHz fan frequency, and 3 GB of free hard disk space for Windows users. For Mac users, it demands Mac OS 10.13+ and similar CPU requirements or M1 CPU. It’s available as a standalone instrument in VST, AU, AAX, and NKS formats.
The piano is one the most evergreen and highest used instruments, and Arturia offers a versatile solution to its different needs with Piano V-3. It has a streamlined interface, which works for someone who wants to explore it on a further level and for someone who wants to get into the nitty-gritty and every small detail of its physical modeling.
7. IK Multimedia Modo Bass 2
Modo Bass 2 emulates bass guitar and is one of the most realistic-sounding bass virtual instruments.
It has 22 different types of bass instruments that it physically models, ranging from modern J-Bass to Horn bass, covering bass sounds of different genres and styles with elastic strings, pickups, effects, and other physical construction. In addition, the well-designed audio engine creates an easy workflow and organic sounds, which makes the plugin sound just like a real bass instrument.
The expressions can be captured and edited using any MIDI instrument, with a tweakable playing style and physical mechanics. Hence, you can play, record, and program bass in different genres, ranging from rock, funk, RnB, jazz, classical, and more.
- Highly Customizable
In the Play Style section, you can tweak everything about the instrument, from choosing the playing as pickup, slap, or finger to mixing a muted texture to it for more percussiveness, using a single knob. In addition, you can tweak the amount of slide and detach noise, turn the Open String on or off, and many more options for customizing the instrument.
- Strings selection
You can create a bass of four, five, or six strings and extend its range by drop-tuning it. You can also select the lifetime and gauge of the bass strings, the material and build they’re made of, their length, and the distance between them and the fretboard. The complete string customization gives you an expansive physical model of the instrument that you can tweak to have complete sonic control over the sound.
- Expressive playing
The MIDI control section allows you to re-assign key switches or MIDI controls to automate and record artistic performance changes during playing, like playing style, phrasing, etc.
- Alterable Micing & Pickups
You can choose bass pickups from 32 different choices, and you also get active or passive electronic piezo pickups, along with dedicated rooms & adjustable mic positions on the two acoustic double basses.
For Mac, Modo Bass 2 requires a minimum of Intel® Core™ 2 Duo or Apple M1, 4 GB of RAM (8 GB suggested), macOS 10.13 or later, and is available in AU, VSt 2/3, and AAX formats. For Windows, it demands Intel® Core™ 2 Duo or AMD Athlon™ 64 X2, 4 GB of RAM (8 GB suggested), and Windows® 10 or later. In addition, requires an ASIO-compatible sound card and is available as VST 2/3 and AAX plugins. Lastly, it’s also available as a standalone instrument.
The plugin is well-designed, taking music programming to the next level, with high-level articulation editing, playing styles, and editable physical behavior. Of course, that also makes things complex, but your control over your sounds is unbeatable. Depending on your creative workflow, you can use in-built patches and presets if you don’t want to spend time getting into the nitty gritty of sound design, as the presets are also well-made.
8. Arturia B-3 V2
The B-3 V2 by Arturia is a virtual tonewheel organ and rotary speaker.
The organ is a classic instrument used in various genres, from jazz, rock, hip hop, gospel, RnB, and more. Unfortunately, performers had to carry the huge instrument to gigs to play it live, but Arturia gives us a great alternative in the form of this plugin, which is versatile, sounds realistic and rich, and is capable of creative expression for both studio and live settings.
On top of that, you can also add modulations and effects to it in real time. Hundreds of presets are at your disposal, allowing for an effortless sound selection and immediate inspiration.
- Drawbar Modulator
Using drawbars, you can add creative movements from LFO, multi-point envelopes, or top sequencers. Organ players usually use drawbars a lot while playing, and B3 V2 allows up to ten slots for its programming.
- Advanced Physical Modeling controls
Controls like tonewheel profile allow you to select a profile from seven different organ types, in addition to tonewheel leakage, drawbar leakage, and brilliance control (that controls the amount of boost applied on the upper and middle frequencies).
- Detailed Effects section
You can apply high-quality effects like chorus, EQ, flanger, reverb, compressor, analog delay, limiter, tape echo, distortion, and more to the organ sound opening the gates of its realistic sounds to more sound design capabilities. You can add up to 4 effects from 12 different effects.
The minimum system requirements for a Windows system are Win 8.1 or higher, 4 GB RAM, and 2.5 GHz CPU; for Mac, are macOS 10.13+, 4 GB RAM, and 2.5 GHz CPU. The B3-V2 is available in AU, AAX, VST, and NKS formats and can work as a standalone plugin.
Arturia has done a good job creating a versatile and authentic virtual organ instrument, with a good collection of presets, high-grade in-built effects, and modulations options for additional sonic shaping. In addition, the interface is eye-pleasing, easy to use & understand, streamlined, and straightforward.
9. u-he Twangström
Twangstorm is modeled after the built-in spring unit Bazille, with two more reverb tanks and additional new features.
The plugin has shakeable springs, which a parameter called twang can control, and the shake of the spring could also be modulated and automated. It impersonates mechanical reverberations’ physics rather than impulse responses like other virtual reverb plugins. Also, it doesn’t try to recreate the sonic characteristics but rather formulates the mechanical characteristics of the physical unit.
It also adds a drive knob, a tone knob, a filter section, a modulation section, an envelope, an LFO, and a width & mix knob for more control and innovation. The GUI is attractive and resizeable, and the plugin contains 76 different factory presets to get started with it.
- Tone-shaping parameters
Multi-mode filters are available as high pass and low pass types and have a variable type blend. It can be set as pre or post-tank, with adjustable stereo and resonance knobs. Further, for more heat and color, there are drive and tone knobs to add more flavors to the reverb sound. Finally, you can use the decay, density, and tone knobs to play around with the tail of the reverb, resulting in a unique character.
- Interesting Modulations
The modulation options in the plugin are powerful, along with a morphing filter, which makes the reverb sound wavy and dark and gives it more movement. There are up to four modulation assignments sufficient for a reverb plugin.
The plugin is available in AAX, VST2, VST3, AU, and NKS formats and has operating system requirements of OS X 10.9 or later or Windows 7 SP1 or later. In addition, it has processor requirements of Intel Core i3 or higher, 4GB RAM or more recommended, and Intel Core i3 or higher, 4GB RAM or more recommended for Windows.
Overall, tonally Twangstorm sounds low-mids heavy due to its guitar amps origin, which makes it sound dark, which somehow works for spring reverb, but may not always work. Apart from that, it’s quite realistic and has a unique analog characteristic which is difficult to achieve in software reverbs. Though not versatile, it carves its niche and stands out as a one-of-a-kind reverb plugin.
10. Modart Pianoteq 7
Pianoteq 7 is a physical modeling-based plugin that emulates acoustic pianos.
In the first listen, browsing through the presets, the plugin produces a full and realistic piano sound. Its aesthetic is a bit old school, but the interface is well laid out and easily editable. It’s available in three versions: Stage (for plug and play, without tweaking the physical modeling), Standard (editable physical modeling tools), and Pro (Standard + Note Editor).
- Innovative Physical Modeling
There are four physical pedals with eleven possible assignments, including the Progressive sustain pedal, Sostenuto pedal, Harmonic pedal, and Una corda pedal. You can also have complex resonances like sympathetic, duplex scale, damper position effect, and other distinct effects like staccato, sustain, etc.
- Instrument Morphing & Layering
You can create hybrid instruments using morphing and layer and mix different instruments to create interesting, deeper & fatter piano textures and sounds. Further, you can also add effects like delay, eq, reverb, phaser, fuzz, tremolo, etc., for creative sonic shaping.
- Microphone Mode
You can change the mics that record the piano and also how the piano is recorded. You can change the mic positions, angles, and piano placements in an interesting three-dimensional graphical interface of the recording room.
Pianoteq is available as a VST, VST 3, AAX, and AU plugin, in Windows (7 or later), macOS (10.7 or later), and Linux (x86 and URM) operating systems.
Pianoteq is one of the most powerful piano plugins that utilize physical modeling at the deepest levels. The plugin sounds natural and has extensive capabilities for customizing the sound, and it is a great tool to keep in your arsenal.
11. T-Racks Tape Machine 99 By IK Multimedia
The Tape Machine 99 is a recreation of the Revox PR99 Mk 2, an 80s sound recorder produced by Studer.
It’s a part of IK Multimedia’s T Racks Tape Machines collection and is a great tool for adding analog warmth and texture to your sounds. The Revox PR99 Mk 2 is known for its smooth sonic performance and is emulated in this plugin, with in-depth controls and advanced tape machine features.
- Four distinctive tape types
You can choose from tape formulas of unique colors and tones, like the 250 (Modelled after the 3M/Scotch 250 formula), GP9 (Modelled after the Quantegy GP9 formula), 456 (Modelled after the Ampex 456 formula), and 499 (Modelled after the Ampex 499 formula).
- Variable Signal Path
You can have the signal flow from the entire analog recording system (repro) or only through the recorders’ input and electronic output stages (input). That creates all the difference in the final output.
- Analog Texture
The analog touch due to the tape machine comes from the difference in distortions in the left and right channels of the stereo tape machine, called “true stereo,” and different frequencies of the tape machine, via which lower frequency delivers extreme warmth & rounder tone, and higher speed results in more fidelity. Recording bias is another control that brings about this nature of sound.
Tape Machine 99 is 64-bit software that demands a macOS 10.10 or later, or a Windows 7 or higher version, with an ASIO-compatible soundcard. It also requires a minimum of Intel® Core™ 2 Duo or AMD Athlon™ 64 X2, and 4 GB of RAM, and is available in VST, AU, AAX, VST 2, and VST 3 versions.
The plugin has a great vintage interface with expansive controls that result in interesting sonic characteristics and that classic analog tone. The presets make it easy to start, although some features may appear unfamiliar. The Tape formula section makes it stand out and gives you different auditory flavors, making it a useful tool for analog sonic shaping.
12. Madrona Labs Kaivo
Kaivo by Madrona labs is a semi-modular soft synth that combines physical modeling and granular synthesis.
It uses FDTD (Finite-Difference Time-Domain) method to model the acoustic nature of sounds while combining it with a patcher section that lets you control the synth’s signal path, along with a granulator. It utilizes physical modeling to create natural sounds that sound both pleasing and realistic but also has generators/oscillators and sampling capabilities not limited to algorithmic sound sources.
- Complete freedom & control
You can change the signal flow however you want and create interesting paths using its modular synth capabilities. Further, it allows you to load your own samples in the granulator, but you have to place those samples in a different place for them to be used. However, this allows you to use and manipulate samples along with the physical modeling part of it.
- Sound Design Capabilities
You can morph, manipulate, warp, and uniquely animate your sounds in unlimited ways to create out-of-the-box textures and interesting movements. As there’s no one fixed audio routing, you can utilize and order the LFO, noise, envelopes, sequencer, gate, resonator, body, and other modules to uniquely create different innovative sonic scapes.
- Creative Modulations
You can modulate all controls in the Granulator, Gate, Resonator, and Body sections to different extents and at different mixes.
- Body Modes
The Body Module has an XY pad and mechanical controls like tone, sustain pitch, and non-linear response mix, and you can choose from the following body modes: large wooden box, small wooden box, metal plate, and frame drum. That lets you go in-depth in the physical modeling part of the plugin.
You need a macOS 10.9 or higher or Windows 7 or later versions operating systems to use the plugin and a DAW that supports VST & AU plugins.
Kaivo is not easy to understand, as the signal flow, the underlying technology, and the interface are tricky and complicated and hence require some time to get used to. Patching the signals in a small but resizable window could be a hassle. However, its functionality is insane, the technology is innovative, and the sound architecture is one-of-a-kind & inspiring. Due to its sophisticated algorithm and model, you can create some really interesting and organic sounds using the plugin.
Best Free Physical Modeling Plugins
1. ChowDSP Chow Kick
Chow Kick is a kick-based synthesizer that is physically modeled on old drum machines.
It allows you to create kick sounds from scratch rather than a sample and emulates the circuitry of vintage drum machines. It essentially simulates three main parts: Pulse Shaper, Noise Generator, and a Resonant Filter. You can create kick sounds at any note, making it easy to fit them in the key of the song, which is convenient compared to pitching the kick samples otherwise to tune them.
- Pulse Shaper
The pulse shaper has width, decay (using R162 resistor), amplitude, and sustain (using R163 resistor) as its main controls, with additional noise amount, noise decay, and noise cutoff parameters that allow you to generate a good kick sound.
- Noise Generator Section
You can control the noise amount, decay, cutoff frequency, and shape (white, pink, Gaussian, etc.), which gives you flexibility over your kicks, the characteristics of which can also be automated differently for different sections of the song.
The plugin is available as a VST/VST3/AU/LV2/AUv3 for Windows, Linux, Mac, and iOS.
Kick is one of the essential elements of a song in modern music, and Chow Kick allows you greater flexibility over the kick and gives you so much functionality over the bed of your song. In addition, it does a good job of emulating electronic drum machines and has a good quality noise generator for good-quality kick sounds.
Surge XT is a highly advanced & capable open-source subtractive synthesizer.
Carrying a unique interface, divided into 2 “scenes” with three oscillators per scene and 64 voices of polyphony, the plugin allows you to create high-level modulations using its eight macro controls, six LFOs, two EGs, and more. The interface is well laid-out and compressed, with adjustable signal flows and routing configurations.
- Sound splitting & layering capabilities
The sounds can be easily layered or split using the scene modes; for example, the keyboard split allows different scenes to be played on different parts of the MIDI instrument, and the dual mode allows you to play scenes A and B at the same time.
- Expansive Modulation Section
The mod matrix allows you to drag and drop different parameters to the modulators and the macros. In addition, MACROS allows you to link multiple parameters under one control. So you can go in-depth with the modulations and create some cool effects and movements.
In Windows, the Surge XT is available as a 32 and 64-bit VST and CLAP plugin, which demands Windows 7 (or later versions), at least 4 GBs of RAM, and Pentium 4/Athlon 64 or above CPU. To use the 64-bit version on Windows, you require a CPU supporting the x64 (AMD64/EM64T) instruction set.
For macOS, the plugin is available in 64-bit Audio Unit (AU), VST3, and CLAP versions, which requires a Mac OS X 10.11 or newer, a 64-bit x86 Intel or ARM Apple Silicon CPU, and at least 4GB of RAM. On Linux, Surge is available as a 64-bit VST3 and CLAP in the form of a deb and RPM package.
It’s almost hard to believe that the plugin is available for free, as it offers functions that are hard to find even on many paid synthesizers. It’s one of the best subtractive synths, which is best suited for sound design. The overall user experience with the plugin is smooth owing to its simple interface and Surge being light on the CPU.
3. Keolab Spicy Guitar
Spicy Guitar is a virtually modeled acoustic guitar which great hidden features that sound organic.
The innovative under-the-hood technology simulates the real Guitar as a virtual instrument and has nine different models, like different types of folk guitars, jumbo guitars, flamenco guitars, classical guitars, and gypsy guitars. In addition, there are sixteen presets to choose from, with readily available sounds. You can program single notes and chords, which can be strummed differently.
You can select between pick and hand strumming and also add different mixes of the two. You can also set different plugin positions for the Guitar and trigger certain effects through the MIDI notes. In addition, you can assign many controls to your MIDI device and modulate & automate them for real-time performances. You can select from a Nylon or s Steel guitar, and many other customizations are available.
- Easy on CPU
The plugin is very light, only 20 MBs, and you can open many instances of it once. Despite being based on the complex mathematical modeling of a real guitar, Spicy Guitar takes very little CPU load. That is the advantage of using a physical modeling plugin over samples-based synthesizers.
It’s available in VST and AU formats for both Windows and Mac.
With a single window interface with a lot of functionality, the plugin has a learning curve that requires time to get used to but offers great realism if used correctly. You can program realistic drum patterns without them sounding artificial or robotic. I recommend having this in your toolkit.
Native Instruments Reaktor Prism (For Reaktor)
Prism uses a unique combination of physical modeling and additive synthesis to create a wide variety of sounds.
The basic working principle of Prism works starts with an exciter (an impulse generator), which is further fed into a Modal Bank, which includes an array of over 200 filters that creates partials, which is further fed into a delay and mixer module, after which it passes from a chain of five effects units, then two feedback loops, two envelopes, a polyphonic LFO, a MACRO control section, after which you get the output.
Hence, it’s a unique synthesizer with a complex and unfamiliar interface, which is great for creating plucky and percussive sounds. In addition, the modal bank is a great way to sonically shape the timbre and other characteristics of the sound coming from the impulse generator/exciter, which opens its range to even ambient and spaced-out sounds and also unusual organic textures.
- The Unique Modal Synthesis
The underlying technology behind the synth is based on physical modeling but is yet different from it and carves its niche. The fundamental sound of the plugin is based on wooden and metallic sounds, for which we can change the partials and edit its harmonic structure, add effects to it, and create interesting output. You can also change the ADSR of the output and decrease the attack if you don’t want any harsh or transient nature sounds.
- Exciting presets and effects section
The plugin offers several sounds as presets categorized as bells, pads, keys, bass, plucked, lead, etc., which allow you to have a huge range of sounds that are readily available to be played around with. In addition, effects include a cabinet, an 8-pole filter, a flanger, an echo, and a reverb section, which form a unique set of effects that are not conventionally found in a synthesizer or plugin.
PRISM requires a Reactor 6, and its general system requirements include a macOS 10.13+, i5, 4 GB RAM for Mac users, and Windows 10 (latest Service Pack), Intel Core i5 or equivalent CPU, and a 4 GB RAM for Windows users. It also demands an Internet connection and a graphics card that supports OpenGL 2.1 or higher.
An additional oscillator section would have increased the scope of the instrument, as with the current sound architecture, the extent of sound design is limited. For example, one cannot create fat lead sounds, but one can create some really interesting and organic string sounds, metallic sounds, plucks, bass, and more. Also, Prism is too unique, both good and bad, as it’s irreplaceable, but it takes some time to get used to as it’s not as intuitional.
Technology has evolved a lot, and physical modeling is the next front of creative music technology that is changing and rebuilding itself every day and getting more capable and advanced. However, there’s no denying that digital virtual circuits are being successfully programmed to replicate the nature of real instruments.
However, it’s important to understand how the original physical instrument works and how a professional player approaches it. It’s hard to replace years of practice and built-artistic capabilities with experience and talent. However, physical modeling technology gives producers and sound designers a huge chance to push their limits.
Plugins like SWAM, Piano V3, and Modo bass have replicated the real instruments so closely that with the right technique and understanding of the instrument, you can play it with a MIDI device and program it, if not play it in real time. These plugins are real money savers and can sometimes replace session players.
Innovation is driven by plugins like Twangstorm, Chromaphone, and Kaivo, as they open gates for combining the organic nature of sounds with digital processing, pushing the scope of innovative sound design. Overall, as we have seen, we can go beyond the boundaries of what we see as capable and create unimaginable textures and sonic scapes with physical modeling and derivative technology.
Shaurya Bhatia, is an Indian Music Producer, Composer, Rapper & Performer, who goes by the stage name MC SNUB, and is also 1/2 of the Indian pop music duo, called “babyface”. A certified Audio Engineer & Music Producer, and a practicing musician & rapper for more than 6 years, Shaurya has worked on projects of various genres and has also been a teaching faculty at Spin Gurus DJ Academy.