For this post, we tried to pick the 20 best plugins that work great for ambient & downtempo music.
The sounds that are used the most in these music genres are atmospheric sounds, pads, and leads. Other than that, you can spice up your production with textures, background noises like rain, foleys, drones, and soundscapes. Pianos, guitar, strings, and percussions also contribute to creating atmospheric vibes and make your track complete.
When it comes to effects, probably the most used is a reverb and delay that creates a vibe to create distant sounds and drags your pad and ambient tones even more.
Beginners Tip: For making your pads last longer, increase the Attack and Release on ADSR Envelope in your synth. This will make your pads sound smooth and dreamy.
As mentioned, the list includes 20 paid and free plugins mixed up together. If you are just starting out, feel free to use free plugins, though, if you are more serious, we recommend picking premium plugins.
Top 20 Ambient Plugins 2023 (Pads, Atmos, Drums, Soundscapes, Pianos, Guitars, Drones & Cinematic Sounds)
1. Tracktion Novum By Dawesome (Advanced Synth)
Novum is a granular & cross-synthesis instrument by Tracktion.
Novum takes the idea of a traditional sampler and flips it on its head by asking the question: what if we could break down a sample into different timbral instruments? Inside Novum, you can load any sample and hear it in different iterations. It also includes a powerful granular synthesis engine, a versatile modulation system, and the ability to edit the sound’s timbre and temporal evolution.
Novum’s main interface is centered around the waveform display, representing the loaded sample. Once you load a sample, it will be decomposed and split into six different layers, which you can turn on or off. The layers are frequency-based, and you can achieve interesting results once you start combining them with layers of other sounds. For example, if you load a drum loop, you can change the timbre of the six layers by dragging in a different sample from the preset section on the left-hand side, for example, a violin. Now, the drum loop will play with the violin’s timbre, creating a hybrid between the two that’s both rhythmic and melodic.
- Expressive sounds
Novum is ideal for producers and artists who seek expressive and evocative sounds. Once you load a sample, you can freeze it at a certain point and play it chromatically as a new instrument. To create expressive patches, you can load MPE modulation, such as aftertouch. You can map the aftertouch control on any parameter. The effects included on Novum are rich and creative. The filter, for example, works as a regular filter until you start messing with the syntify control. Syntify will add overtones to your sound, basically doing the opposite of a filter cutoff which takes away overtones. If you map this to aftertouch, you get evolving and expressive instruments.
- Timbre flower and modulation
The timbre flower is included in the timbre panel, and it’s a gorgeous visualization of how each layer’s timbre works. It offers a lot of spectral variation, and by clicking on one of its pedals, you create a completely different timbre for the corresponding sound layer. Furthermore, you can add LFOs and envelopes to the mix to modulate any parameter. The LFOs come with an array of different shapes, but you can still draw your own. Step sequencers are also on board to create rhythmic patterns and, most importantly, use other modulators to affect each step.
- Granular synthesis
Any sound you load into Novum can be processed granularly. You can access the grains panel to do so, and there you’ll find a set of controls that will help you create rich and beautiful textures. For example, the density control can make the grains slower or faster, the size makes longer or shorter and faster grains, skew can reverse the grains, and time jitter can spread the grains throughout the entire sample length to create rich textures. The grains can also be linked to the tempo of your host’s BPM. The most interesting part of Novum is that the granular engine can work separately on each of the six sound layers, meaning that you can have different granular instruments playing the same sound but in different timbres.
Novum is available on Windows 10 or higher, and macOS 10.13 or higher in VST3 and AU formats.
Novum offers a very unique and creative approach to sampling. The idea of treating audio as a prism that splits it into its fundamental elements is fresh and works beautifully in a sound design context.
You can decompose any sample into different layers and affect it in countless ways. I still haven’t mentioned the countless presets on board that you can drag onto your samples to create different instruments.
I would recommend Novum to experienced producers and sound designers who seek new instruments that experimentally tackle sound design, ambient and atmospheric sounds.
2. Heavyocity Mosaic Pads (Purely For Pads & Ambiences)
Mosaic Pads by HEAVYOCITY is a collection of otherworldly, ambient, and atmospheric textures created by manipulating various hand-crafted sounds.
This plugin, created by Heavyocity, creates synthesized ambiances, evolving soundscapes, and otherworldly settings that make you feel like you’ve left the planet entirely during your studio sessions. They used over 6GB of fresh content to create over 110 individual snapshots by the Heavyocity team, resulting in various otherworldly, ambient, and atmospheric textures.
Mosaic Pads are powerful because interesting combinations emerge when different sounds are layered across the three channels of the Mosaic Engine. In this way, mosaic Pads offer quick inspiration for establishing a specific atmosphere, especially when making music with a sci-fi or horror theme.
- User Interface
All told, there are over 110 photos here, and they are broken up into three distinct groups: There are fifty different tonal profiles available in Tonal (separated into Mellow and Gritty). Each sound has a clear tonal center and is ready for immediate use.
If you’re going for a calm, patient build, go with Mellow, whereas Gritty is excellent for big, cinematic pads. Atonal takes a more textural approach. These are great for when things go wrong, or you feel like someone is sneaking up behind you.
The Mosaic Engine stands out because it allows sequencing modulation on a channel-by-channel basis. Each channel features an advanced ADSR envelope controller, three bands of EQ, fully programmable filters, three overdrive and distortion flavors, and gate, reverb, and echo effects.
In addition, you can use the macro knob to alter any effect, resulting in a constantly evolving version that can be used with the mod wheel or sequenced in the macro sequence tab.
- Macro Knob
The six Macro Sliders, each of which controls a separate category’s settings, are operated by the central Macro Knob. For instance, each slider’s range and orientation are fully adjustable. Additionally, you can adjust the Macro Knob to generate a variety of unique noises.
There are many variables because the six Macro categories are replicated for each channel for 18 sets of controls. The Macro system makes it simple to adjust these advanced settings, but you may manually enter the instrument’s internals and customize the relevant parameters and Macro settings.
- 5 Sound Categories
Soft, velvety tones from ethereal sources make the room feel airy and free. You can find more harmonic complexity in sounds that originate from dirty sources. There’s something ominous about these deeper, more intricate sounds.
The sounds coming from the Decaying sources are one-offs, yet they have a powerful attack and a realistic decay. Decaying sources work well with sustained sources because they create a natural and dramatic ending to the sound.
Sweeps are rhythmically timed noises that fade out and then build back up again. This creates aural landscapes with dynamic variations, perfect for futuristic or aural space settings. Last but not least, the content is rounded out by noises, which are long-lasting, unpitched sounds.
- Options Tab And Master Effects
Under the Options button, you can alter each channel’s key mapping and pitch bend sensitivity. You can add new layers to presets with the help of the channel-specific arpeggiator found on the Arp page. This can make your sound more “extraterrestrial.” you can adjust the final sound output on the Master Effects tab, where you can access 40 convolutions reverbs to create an ambient sonic gumbo.
The library is available for Kontakt 6.7 or higher. Kontakt 6.7 is available for Windows 7 or higher 32-bit and 64-bit and macOS 10.10 or higher 64-bit. It comes in VST 2, AU, and AAX formats.
Mosaic Pads are a great instrument for instantly defining a track’s mood. This massive library of tones and otherworldly textures is perfect for those seeking an ominous and unfathomable sci-fi ambiance.
Media composers might use a single Mosaic Bass preset as the basis for an entire cue, and if you’re willing to delve into the engine yourself, you’ll find a vast amount of room for experimentation and creation. Heavyocity has done it again with the Mosaic series, delivering another highly engaging entry.
3. Native Instruments & Orchestral Tools Arkhis (Pads, Ambiences & Orchestral Instruments)
Arkhis is a collaboration between Orchestral Tools and Native Instruments, which are two elite music software developers.
Arkhis is a great library that features sounds perfect for theatrical atmospheres and cinematic scores. It is a Kontakt library that consists of deep pads, textures, ambient sounds, and much more. Upon its release, Arkhis gained a lot of positive feedback from producers and sound designers looking to create storytelling and progressive passages.
ARKHIS is complete in terms of presets. You can improve their scores by selecting highly versatile presets in various categories: Pads, Motions, Sparkles, Stutters, Sub, Swells, and Textures. Each section features more in-depth presets; for example, in Pads, you can select between nine pads instruments with different and unique sonic characteristics.
- Master Envelope
In the Master Envelope segment, you can shape the sound to whatever dynamic color you want. The Master Envelope offers controls for Attack, Hold, Decay, Sustain, and Release. All of these parameters will behave on the layers globally. For more experimentation, you can set the amount of influence the Master Envelope controls will inflict on individual layers by setting values for Wet/Dry knobs featured on each.
Native Instruments’ ARKHIS features six effects that are highly modern and intuitive. Filter, Chorus, and Delay work intuitively and provides easy-to-use interactive controls. Bits is an exciting distortion effect that provides low-resolution to the sounds. The “FX” section will offer Distortion and Flanger knobs, which results in colorful experimentations. The Convolution is a highly modern Reverb that features fantastic algorithms for simulating realistic early reflections on a virtual or physical space.
- Three Layers
ARKHIS has three highly interactive layers that you can blend and stack consistently. For optimal arrangement, you can use one layer for low-end cinematic presence, a second layer for exciting mid-range sounds, and the third layer for bright instruments to fill the high-end. Each layer will feature controls for Volume, Pitch, Envelope, and Effects.
Native Instruments Arkhis is compatible with Kontakt 6.2.2 or later. Kontakt 6.2.2 requires Windows 10 or higher for PC and macOS 10.14 and comes in VST/VST3/AU/AAX formats for 64-bit systems only.
Overall, Arkhis by Native Instruments in collaboration with Orchestral tools is a vital plugin for ambient pads and cinematic patches. Multi-samples for this library were recorded at the legendary Teldex Scoring Stage. This means that the quality you will get on Arkhis is guaranteed to be exquisite.
4. Native Instruments Ethereal Earth (Pads, Ambient & Atmospheric Library With Sequencer)
NI Ethereal Earth is an easy-to-use library for Kontakt 6 that is loaded with various features and customizable ambient sounds.
Ethereal Earth is part of the play series by native instruments, a series of very simple plugins to use and aimed more towards producers looking to create sounds quickly and less towards sound designers.
- Play Series Engine
Ethereal Earth is powered Kontakt 6 Play Series engine. This engine aims to simplify sound design for all users, including novices. In addition, the Play Series engine allows users to edit the existing factory quickly presets and create entirely new presets.
- Ambience Focused
The Ethereal Earth library contains exciting, atmospheric sounds that include pad, string, ambience, drone, FX, bass, lead, brass, texture, string, and wind sounds. In addition to that, Ethereal Earth provides users with a comprehensive set of tools that can be used to generate custom sounds according to their needs.
Ethereal Earth is a Kontakt 6 library. Kontakt 6 comes in VST/AU (32/64 bit) formats and supports Windows 10 or higher and Mac Os 10.14 or higher.
In conclusion, it can be easily said that Ethereal Earth by Native Instruments is the optimum plugin for users who have little knowowledge of sound design and need a tool that guides them to create atmospheric sounds through a user-friendly interface and a collection of ready-to-use presets.
5. Sound Yeti – Ambition
Ambition is a musical instrument that encourages new horizons of musical discovery and allows you to become a creative pioneer.
Sound Yeti’s first foray into the ambient soundtrack and electronic hybrid scoring, Ambition, is their third foray into the world of Kontakt sound design. Very few Kontakt libraries have matched the emotional depth and creative inspiration of the Pads and Textures in this collection.
The effects page is a crucial part of Ambition to mold and creates cinematic, ambient sound and more. You may unleash your inner creative force with Ambition’s eight effects and UI. It’s simple to move between the various effects.
When you put your mouse pointer over the name of an effect, the button corresponding to that term will darken. In addition, the box is highlighted white when the button is clicked, indicating that the selected effect is being displayed.
- LFO Modulation
The unique LFO modulation capabilities developed by Sound Yeti are a cornerstone of the Ambition of sound design. Use the bespoke LFO visualizer to create dynamic, evolving sounds. One LFO is assigned to each of Ambition’s channels.
They made it user-friendly by including many helpful controls and options for customizing the sound and keeping it flexible. Click the A or B Icon next to the word Bypass in the middle of the Ambitions 2 insert to disable the LFOs for that channel. When the channel’s LFO is highlighted in white, it’s being used, while when it’s highlighted in gray, it’s not being used.
The frame’s initial zone is dedicated to the channel configuration menu. Much like a mixer, channel settings give you full control over the basic aspects of each channel’s selected sound/samples. Channel settings are where you choose the channels instrument patch, volume mix, envelope shape, tuning, and stereo imaging.
The heart of Ambition is a two-faced mixing architecture, each with its unique yet complementary degree of adaptability. Channel A controls are on the left, while channel B’s controls are on the right. The configuration options for both channels are identical. Channels can be unique from each other or can be mirrored identically and anywhere in between. This versatility is crucial for making incredible sounds with Ambition.
- Global FX
The Global FX portions come last; each has its own XY controller. You can control these sliders using the mouse or the preset CC settings. You’ll need a MIDI controller with plenty of assignable controls to use the CC assignments. Here you may set the High Pass and Low Pass filters and their slopes, activate a dual delay with ping pong and select a cabinet to output the sound from.
The library is available for Kontakt 5.7 or higher (NOT the free Kontakt Player). Kontakt 5.7 is available for Windows 7 or higher 32-bit and 64-bit and macOS 10.10 or higher 64-bit. It comes in VST 2, AU, and AAX formats.
Ambition is a musical instrument you aspire to master. The huge picture sound alone captures your mind, and it’s sleek and easy on the eyes. Tell your tale with timeless soundscapes, emotion-filled pads, developing textures, anamorphic rhythms, elemental keys, and experimental undertones like never before.
6. Soundiron Holy Ambiences 3
Another Kontakt library synth pad is dedicated to ambient music, atmospheres, and progressive music.
Holy Ambiences is a synth pad that is made explicitly for ambient sounds. It is a Kontakt library aimed at composers looking to create atmospheric, progressive style sounds and music. The original idea behind the library was to have a winter theme.
However, it has then evolved into an overall cosmic synth and ambient instrumental patches that fit all genres of music. The sounds in the library are categorized into 18 types and are filled with sustains and one-shots. These sounds are luxuriously detailed and have unique flavors. The majority of sounds are tonal, but many are textural or abstract. They are designed to be played at root pitch, but you can retune them according to your needs.
- FX Rack
Since this is a Kontakt library, users have access to the FX rack tab, which contains 18 built-in special effects and dynamic controls. You can add distortion, delay, reverb, saturation, lo-fi FX, etc.
- Interface Controls
Users are given a few unique interface FX controls used to alter the output signal. This includes LFO, glide, filter, and arpeggiator.
- Automation-ready controls
Users can control the library sounds when given sound-shaping controls that are automation-ready to enhance flexibility. These controls include attack, release, swell, filter, vibrato, pitch, switching, articulation, crossfading, layering, etc.
- Dynamic Effects
To add to this plugin’s versatility, flexibility, and control options, users are provided with a set of advanced dynamic effects that include delay, reverb, flanger, phaser, distortion, EQ, compression, amp & cab simulators, and a lot more.
Holy Ambiences 3 is compatible with Windows 7 or higher for PC and Mac OS 10.9 or higher for Mac. It is a Kontakt library which means that it comes in AU/VST/AAX versions, both 32 and 64-bits.
Holy Ambiences 3 by Soundiron is an ambient synth pad loaded with several unique sounds categorized into 18 types, each type fitting a different vibe. It is a must-have tool if you are a composer of ambient music and searching for the perfect ambient pad.
7. Baby Audio Crystalline (Algorhitmic Reverb)
Baby Audio Crystalline is a bold attempt at modernizing reverb without following conventional reverb algorithms.
The resulting product is a reverb plugin that follows completely new algorithms and takes full advantage of modern CPU power. Conventional reverb plugins usually prompt users to choose between different reverb reflections, be it a large hall, small room, etc. Crystalline works much differently, allowing users to control the size, sparkle, and width of the reflections.
While this may seem like a complication for many users, Crystalline’s Baby Audio’s fantastic interface makes up for it. The interface is comprehensive and categorizes the controls into 4 different parts: reflections, clean-up, depth, and shape.
- Modern Technology
The technology and algorithm behind this plugin are 100% new and do not resample or emulate any classic reverb algorithm. This means that this plugin makes use of the modern CPU power and delivers a reverb effect that is very powerful and highly flexible.
- Easy To Use & Understand
It has a 3D graph that shows a spectrum analysis of the reverb for a short duration of time. In addition to that, the controls are well laid out and display drawings that reflect what each control is about. Finally, the interface is resizable and comes in both dark and light modes.
- Large Preset Library
Baby Audio Crystalline comes with a large preset library that features effects unique to this plugin. Having a large preset library is very rare among reverb plugins. This makes Crystalline stand out a bit from the competition.
- Integrated Help System
This plugin has an integrated help system which means that users can hover the mouse cursor over any control knob, and a pop-out will appear explaining how each knob works and what it contributes to the signal. This makes Crystalline a perfect reverb plugin for beginners.
Baby Audio Crystalline comes in AU/VST/VST3/AAX formats and requires Windows 7 or higher and Mac OS 10.7 or higher in both 32 and 64 bits formats.
Baby Audio made itself a pioneer with Crystalline. This plugin is one of the very few modern reverb tools built completely from scratch and features totally new algorithms. As a result, it is one of the most flexible reverb plugins out there.
8. Spitfire Audio Eric Whitacre Choir (Choir Vocals)
If you are looking for choir vocals to take your ambient track to the next dimension, then the Eric Whitacre Choir plugin by Spitfire Audio has got you covered.
This plugin is a collaboration between Spitfire Audio and Eric Whitacre, who is a renowned choral composer. The choir on this plugin comprises 22 singers that were handpicked by Eric Whitacre himself from his award-winning Eric Whitacre singers. Their vocals were recorded in AIR Studios’ Lyndhurst Hall.
The resulting product is smooth, luxurious, and rich-sounding choir vocals that hold the reputation of EWC. The multiple samples are recorded beautifully and are always in tune, even when the performers sing a semitone clash. In addition, the plugin follows a standard SATB format, whereby the ranges of the four sections overlap to a certain degree. This provides good opportunities for layering.
- Evo Grid
The Evo Grid is a creative feature used by Spitfire Audio in many of its plugins. A peg-board in a solitaire style allows users to assign an evolving sound to any of the keyboard’s nine-pitch zones. Users can choose from several Evo styles listed in 51 rows, each style with its volume and pan controls. These Evo styles are categorized into simple, episodic, dynamic, clashes, special and rhythmic categories, each with a different color code, for more straightforward navigation.
- Vocal Quality
As mentioned, the vocals on this plugin were recorded almost perfectly, and the quality that the users get is exquisite.
- Great Tuning
The choir vocals are accurately tuned, and the deliveries by the singers were very precise. This results in satisfying musical results that can be used instantly and incorporated directly into tracks.
- Impeccable Design
UsTwo Design handled the visual aspects of the EWC plugin. These guys created a pair of eloquent, flavourful, resizable GUIs that also have a minimalistic aesthetic to them.
This plugin comes in VST/AU/AAX formats and supports Windows 7 or higher and Mac OS 10.10 or higher in 32/64 bit formats.
The Eric Whitacre Choir plugin by Spitfire Audio is by far the best-paid plugin for users willing to add vocal choirs to their downtempo/deep music. The EWC plugin provides precisely tuned and high-quality samples that are a perfect match for the Evo Grid and Evo Styles of Spitfire Audio format.
9. Newfangled Audio Generate (Synth with Ambience in mind)
This plugin is a soft synth that is notorious for its chaotic feature.
Generate comes as a successor to the Pendulate mono synth plugin, also by Eventide. This plugin can be used in mono, four-voice, eight-voice modes, or layered voice unison. This is a powerful plugin, meaning that when producing downtempo or ambient music, you wouldn’t need to use four or eight voice modes.
However, this plugin is often described as a “chaotic plugin” due to its chaotic oscillator and its crazy interface, whereby parameters are placed in square boxes and have waveforms as backgrounds.
We also made a free library for Audio Generate with various presets, leads, basses, and pads as well. You can DL the library here!
- Multiple Presets
Generate plugin comes with a ton of presets that can help you get started including Basses, Keys, Pads, Sequences, Textures, Plucks & Leads. It also has a random feature that generates random presets if you are looking for different inspirations.
- Chaotic Oscillator
This oscillator is a unique feature exclusive to this plugin and Pendulate. This oscillator has 5 different modes; Pendulum, Vortex, Pulsar, Discharge, and Turbine. The working principle of the chaotic oscillator is that this oscillator is based on a non-linear system that reacts with the keyed oscillator. Therefore, the 5 different modes differ in how they react to the nature of the non-linear system.
- Modulation Flexibility
Modulation sources on Generate plugin can be patched to different destinations, and users are allowed to control the amount of modulation from each source as well as the waveform (sine. sawtooth, triangle, etc.) and speed of the modulation.
- Dynamic Controls
Generate plugin comes with its own built-in set of dynamic controls and effects. These include EQ, reverb, delay, chorus, and more. It also has a built-in limiter that saturates at high levels.
This plugin comes in AAX/AU/VST/VST3 formats and supports Windows 8 or higher for PC and Mac OS 10.9 or higher for Mac in 64-bit format only.
Generate plugin by Newfangled Audio is a powerful synth plugin with many uses. It can generate bass sounds, textures, loud leads, etc. At the same time, it can also have a chill, analog sound, achievable by toning down the chaos.
10. Native Instruments Absynth 5 (Great For Ambient Pads & Textures)
If you are looking for atmospheric, and unique pads for your ambient and downtempo tunes, this plugin is a great choice.
Absynth is great for those genres because other than creating pads, you can create interesting textures, soundscapes, drones, and even effects. It’s because it offers great unique effects like Aetherizer.
Don’t get me wrong, Absynth comes with a palette of sounds like any other synth including basses, leads, and drums other sounds but it’s especially useful and great for things mentioned above.
Also, sounds that Absynth comes with / your own that you can create fit great into RnB, Trap, Hip-Hop, and DnB (great for Liquid, Deep, Neuro). Though, if you are looking for pads for EDM we wouldn’t recommend this plugin.
Also, we made a free pads library for you in Absynth 5 that you can download here.
- Aetherizer Grain-cloud Effects
This is an advanced type of Granular synthesis whereby the granular delay effect is unique to Absynth 5. Here, each grain is given a random location in the stereo field, and each grain can be pitch-shifted before returning to the effect’s input.
Mutator helps users that are not sure where to start. All you have to do is choose a random preset as a starting point. Then you will be prompted to choose some of the tags from the Absynth database. The tags that you can choose from include Genre, Source, Timbre, Instrument, Articulation, and more. As you continue to choose relevant tags, the Mutator tool will narrow down the presets that can be used as targets for your mutations.
- New Filter
Absynth 5 now has two new filters. The first one is called Cloud and is like a mini version of the Aetherizer, only with fewer parameters and without a graphic window. The second filter is called the Supercomb and is an update to the existing comb filter, offering tonal extras and more feedback options. These new and improved filters in Absynth 5 help add to the richness and charm of the overall sound.
Absynth 5 has a wide range of support. It comes in a standalone version which means that it can be used separately without needing a DAW, and the sounds generated can be exported to and controlled by MIDI controllers.
Absynth 5 comes in standalone, AU, RTAS, and VST formats and is compatible with Windows XP (32/64 bit) or higher or Mac OS 10.5 or higher.
Absynth has been the number one plugin for producers and sound designers looking to create ambient, atmospheric, and progressive sounds for a long time now. This is due to its excellence in quality and the variety of features it offers. Try a trial first to see if it would fit your productions.
11. Mixed In Key Captain Beat (Drums)
The Mixed In Key Captain is a bundle of plugins that include chords, melody, etc. In addition, the Mixed In Key Captain Beat is its drums plugin.
Mixed In Key Captain plugins are not necessarily ambient-focused plugins. However, the Captain Beat plugin allows you to create drum patterns that fit the atmospheric/ambient vibe that you may be looking for. Captain Beat comes with several drum samples and kits as well as hundreds of pre-made drum patterns that help you create ambient drums to fit your liking in a few short moments.
- Pre-made drum patterns
The pre-made drum patterns on this plugin are incredible. You can choose from hundreds of genres, including hip-hop, reggae, pop, dancehall, etc. In addition to that, you can also mix and match drum patterns to create your unique rhythm.
- Standalone GUI
The Mixed In Captain Beat plugin comes in a standalone format which means that you can work on drum patterns without the need for a DAW. You can also export your patterns in MIDI format to use them in a project.
- Beginner Friendly
Mixed In Captain plugins are beginner-friendly and have relatively simple and easy-to-use interfaces. The Captain Beat plugin is even more straightforward than the rest with the drag-and-drop features and straightforward controls.
- Dynamic Controls and Effects
Mixed In Captain plugins come with built-in dynamic controls such as delay, reverb, chorus, etc, as well as effects that helps users mix their sounds without the need for external plugins, which also saves time.
Mixed In Captain Beat is available for Windows 10 or higher and Mac OS 10.14 or higher for 64-bit, VST format only.
Mixed In Captain beat is a nice plugin for users looking to create drum patterns for their ambient music quickly. The MIDI export feature on this plugin increases its compatibility and makes it a go-to plugin for many users.
12. Baby Audio Spaced Out (Pro Delay/Echo)
This reverb/delay plugin by Baby Audio is a vital tool for spacey, atmospheric beats that emulates the classic Roland Space Echo unit.
Spaced out by Baby Audio comprises 3 main sections, as evident in the interface. The echos engine on the left contains 16 blocks corresponding to tap delays. Each block can be turned on, off, as well as low accent, whereby the delay effect is minimal.
- Spaced Engine
The space engine on the right is the most exciting section, whereby supply the reverb and modulation to the delays and rhythm that comes from the echoes engine. Finally, the mixer section in the middle adds wetness and decay to the signal.
- Modes and Programs
In the echoes section, users can choose between 4 timing modes; straight, dotted, 2x, and triplet. The space section also gives users a choice between 4 different reverb programs, namely; Vacuum, Small Space, Medium Space, and Outer Space.
- X-Y Pad
Using an X-Y Pad to mix up the delays & rhythms in the echoes section, the reverb/modulation with the delays in the space section, and the wet/dry level in the mixer section is pretty intelligent.
- Ducker Feature
This unique feature in the mixer section allows users to duck the wetness effects for an external signal to achieve classic reverb effects.
This plugin comes in AU/AAX/VST/VST3 formats and supports Windows 7 or higher for PC and Mac OS 10.7 or higher for Mac, 32, and 64-bit formats.
Spaced Out is another incredible reverb plugin by Baby Audio that is innovative and packed with features. Unlike Crystalline, this plugin emulates a classic reverb unit, that being the popular Space Echo by Roland. While many other plugins emulate this classic reverb, Baby Audio always manages to add its creative touch to make it more exciting and inspiring for composers.
13. Arturia Modular V3 (Modular Synth)
This plugin is a bold attempt by Arturia to recreate a modular synth into a software instrument.
Arturia Modular V3 emulates the classic Moog modular synthesizer. The Moog synthesizer was introduced in 1971 and became an instant success due to its unmatchable filters and fat sound. Arturia used their TAE (True Analog Emulation) technology to accurately recreate the circuitry behind the classic synth, which delivers exceptional sound quality. Arturia managed to equip the plugin with all the sonic qualities of the original synth. Furthermore, it used modern technology to make the plugin more powerful and add to its functionality. These are discussed in the key features section.
- Dynamic Controls and Effects
In addition to the two ADSR envelope generators, the 3 oscillators, and the 24dB/oct resonant filter present in the vintage Moog synth, Arturia Modular V3 also gives the user further dynamic controls and effects that include polyphony, delay, chorus effects, arpeggiation, and much more.
- Tons of Presets
The Modular V3 provides users with a set of exciting presets to help beginners and advanced composers seeking inspiration as a starting point. These presets are tweakable and can be controlled using MIDI controllers.
- Advanced Automation
Through the advanced automation feature in the Modular V3, users can choose up to 4 parameters and automate them simultaneously, which enhances sonic effects.
- Vintage Interface
The interface of this plugin precisely resembles the classic synth, which is a pleasing visual to many users and can help those who are already familiar with the classic synth adjust to this quickly.
This plugin supports Windows 7 or higher for PC and Mac OS 10.6 or higher for Mac. It comes in AU/AAX/VST formats and supports 32 and 64-bit systems.
The Arturia Modular V3 is the perfect tool for creating deep, thick basslines and unique theatrical leads and melodies that fit the downtempo vibe of your track. It emulates a classic Moog synth and does so spectacularly while adding more modern functionality and power.
14. Cinesamples Soundscapes (Granular Synth)
Soundscapes create completely new sonic textures of tonal and atonal sound design through granular synthesis. It encompasses samples from violinist Michael Levine and is full of exciting textures.
While Cinesample’s new Soundscapes virtual instrument does not have an infinite number of options, it is an intriguing and a musical departure from the company’s usual fare. This Kontakt library boasts 1.5Gb worth of powerful granular synthesis effect. Granular synthesis is a technique that allows users to choose one or more tiny grains (1 to 50 ms in length) from a larger sound wave and merge them to create interesting new complex sounds. Cinesample approaches granular synthesis by prompting users to choose from a group of sounds recorded by violinist Michael Levine and categorized into pads, textures, one-shots, pulses, and sound design patches. The users can then control the motion setting and density of the grains.
- Auto Map
The auto map feature on this granular synthesis ensures that the sound generated follows somewhat of a western tuning at the very least. This helps the effect stay in tune and be more comprehensible.
- Grain Overlap
The Grain Overlap setting allows users to control how much crossfading occurs among grains; a low value usually results in a pointillistic sound with space, whereas a higher value may result in a more sustained sound even within transient textures.
- Jitter and Width settings
On top of the grain overlap feature, there are also the jitter and width controls. Jitter is used to add more randomization to the grain generation, whereas the width setting increases the stereo separation of the effect.
- Well-organized patches
As mentioned before, this plugin comes with a good number of patches and sounds that include samples by Michael Levine. These patches are so well organized that they can be used instantly. The density and overlap settings can be applied immediately to create magical sounds.
This library requires Kontakt 6.2.2 or later, which is compatible with Windows 7 or higher for PC and Mac OS 10.12 or higher for Mac. It comes in VST/AU/AAX formats and supports both 32 and 64-bit systems for Windows but 64-bit systems only for Macs.
As discussed previously, granular synthesis is an important effect if you compose atmospheric, downtempo-style tracks. It is a stimulating effect, and Cinesample Soundscapes is one of the more exciting plugins that execute this effect.
15. Spitfire Audio LABS Collection (FREE)
This plugin by Spitfire Audio features some absolutely spectacular instruments, and is entirely free!
Spitfire Audio LABS is well known among all producers, not just those composing ambient music. Developers at Spitfire Audio have been adding more sounds to their sample library since 2008. The most popular and exciting instrument in this plugin is the soft piano. This was recorded by Nick Taylor back in 2008 and is an upright, light piano that has a softer tone perfect for all genres.
- Multiple instruments
LABS consists of several outstanding instruments including pianos, guitars, drums, etc, all within one plugin. Furthermore, Spitfire Audio developers always seem to make an effort to add more sounds to each instrument to stay fresh and relevant.
- Dynamic Controls
The dynamic controls offered by a Spitfire Audio are always excellent, and LABS is no exception. Users can control each instrument’s reverb levels, compression, and other dynamic features. This eliminates the need for using 3rd party plugin to mix the sounds with your track.
- Dedicated plugin
A music library of this caliber and with different instruments is usually expected to be incorporated into a player like a Kontakt player. The developers at Kontakt are more experienced. However, the Spitfire Audio plugin is fantastic and works seamlessly with all its instruments.
- Free Updates
In addition to it being free, users of Spitfire Audio Labs also receive constant updates to the instruments in the library. Moreover, the developers of this plugin seem to give it a lot of care as they constantly add more and more sounds to their library, which is impressive for a free plugin.
LABS is compatible with Windows 7 and higher (32 and 64-bits) for PC and Mac OS 10.10 or higher for Mac (64-bit). It comes in VST/AU/AAX formats.
Spitfire Audio LABS is a very popular plugin for many users and for very good reasons. The fact that it provides users with a ton of instruments with frequently updated sounds, all for free, is very intriguing and highly appreciated among producers. Several instruments within this plugin can be used for downtempo and atmospheric music.
16. u-he Zebralette (FREE)
If you are looking for soft synths, then Zebralette by u-he is highly recommended.
Zebraletter is a 16-slot polyphonic wavetable synthesizer with waveform editing, three audio effects, a 32-stage envelope generator, 24 spectral effects, etc. There are also 300 factory sounds included with the instrument. U-He refers to Zebralette as “their Trojan horse” because it’s meant to pique your interest enough to upgrade to the full version known as Zebra2.
- Clear GUI
One of the most eye-grabbing features of this wavetable synthesizer plugin is its well-designed, easy on the eyes interface. It has a waveform display in the top center where users can also change the wave type according to their liking. The Oscillator and Mixers are the left and right laid out neatly.
- Advanced FX controls
Zebralette comes with its dedicated FX section in the bottom right corner of the interface. It includes EQ, chorus, delay, stereo imaging, phaser, distortion, and much more.
In addition to the fantastic set of presets already available in this plugin, Zebralette makes it easy for users to install their own presets on this plugin using their new incredible soundset installer.
This plugin is available in VST/AU/AAX formats and supports Windows 7 or higher for PC and Mac OS 10.9 or higher for Mac in both 32 and 64-bit systems.
In summary, u-he is a well-known developer responsible for some major plugins in the past. Zebralette is their free version of the Zebra 2, which is an incredible soft synth plugin that can take your sonic palette to another level. Although it is free, Zebralette still packs impressive features, and if you are a beginner or even an intermediate sound designer, this plugin could be more than enough.
17. Matt Tytel Helm (FREE)
Helm is a well-reviewed, popular synthesizer plugin developed by Matt Tytel and is perfect for designing deep, theatrical sounds.
The most popular feature of this plugin is its GUI, which is relatively clean and well-organized for a synthesizer of this caliber. Helm also has a very powerful engine capable of generating spectacular sounds that we don’t even get in some of the paid synthesizers. Users looking to create rhythmic sequences will be satisfied with the formant filter section and the stutter effect module. Additionally, Helm packs the necessary modulation controls and is laid out along the well-organized interface, which makes it easy to connect multiple elements of the sound engine.
- Formant and Stutter Effects
These two effects are pretty unique to this plugin. Given that this is a free plugin, some of the effects that it packs are pretty impressive. For example, the stutter effect can be used to add rhythm to your sounds, and these rhythms can be set according to 1/2 notes, 1/8 notes, and so on. The formant feature has an X-Y pad whereby the amount of effect applied can be selected from a grid.
- Free Source
Helm is not only a free plugin, but it also has an open source. This means that you can look at the code behind this plugin. Furthermore, you can alter this code to remove bugs and modify it according to your liking.
The modulation controls in Helm are laid out very neatly, and they display a waveform to the users so that the effects applied to the waveforms can be viewed in real-time.
This plugin is available in VST/AU/AAX formats and supports Windows 7 or higher for PC and Mac OS 10.9 or higher for Mac in both 32 and 64-bit systems.
Helm is a relatively new plugin developed and released first back in 2015. It is a free version of another synthesizer called Vital, also developed by Matt Tytel. Helm is well-liked among producers and sound designers of all genres and is known to be one of the best free synthesizer plugins. Some of its presets can be used as starting points to create deep, atmospheric, and theatrical sounds.
18. Cinematique Instruments Landscape (FREE)
Cinematique Instruments released this free Kontakt library to celebrate its 9th anniversary.
Landscape allows sound designers and composers to create dynamic ambiance and drones that are deeply woven. It has 7 different sound slots that can be filled with various sounds. Among the 7 slots, 5 slots contain several waveforms: sine waves, fragile sax, warmness, and flirring sound. In addition, a slot is preserved for rumblings and noise, whereby the last slot is preserved for atomic blips or waterdrops at any interval. Each slot has its own filters and speed adjustable automation controls that allow users to be more creative.
- Built-in Effects
Like many plugins on this list, Landscape also has its own set of built-in dynamic controls and effects. These include reverb, delay, EQ, etc. These built-in effects allow users to mix their sounds instantly without using third-party plugins.
Landscape requires Kontakt 5.6.8 or higher, which is compatible with Windows 7 or higher for PC and Mac OS 10.9 or higher for Mac. It comes in VST/AU/AAX versions and supports 32 and 64-bit systems.
Landscape by Cinematique Instruments lives up to its name in the way that it allows users to create ambient sounds that are similar to painting a landscape. It is a free Kontakt library that offers users a lot of controllability and space to be creative.
19. Surge VST (FREE)
Surge is an interesting plugin in its interface and it comes packed with a ton of features and excitement.
This synth is so complex that it can be used to make sounds for almost every genre, including dubstep growls, EDM supersaws, FM, wavetable, string, experimental, or even ambient or textural music. A huge plus point is that it has excellent sound quality and has controllable tonal features like oscillator pitch/drift variation, random modulation oscillator brightness, wave-shaping, and insert/send FX, which gives it a rich character and helps you achieve a “warmer” and more vintage sound.
- Analog and Digital Mix
This VST for Windows combines digital and analog synthesis technologies into a single package. This means that wavetable oscillators and FM-style algorithms produce dazzling and clear sounds, while its analog features can generate all the thump and gust you’d expect from a high-quality vintage keyboard.
- Easy to install
Unlike many plugins on this list, Surge is possibly the easiest to install. Once you request the plugin you are immediately given a download link without any cryptic copy protection. The download link has a Zip file containing the DLL file. This means that there are no installers needed or any other time-consuming procedures.
- Powerful Engine
Behind a smart GUI, Surge is made up of a trio of powerful Oscillators. Each oscillator can be used for a different function and the modulation controls can be edited individually.
Surge is compatible with Windows 7 and higher (32 and 64-bits) for PC and Mac OS 10.11 or higher for Mac (64-bit) for Mac. It comes in VST/AU/AAX formats.
Surge is an interesting synthesizer. It has an attractive interface and is packed with a ton of sounds and control options that can help users create any type of sound that they like. Much like Helm, Surge is a must-have tool if you are a beginner or an intermediate sound designer looking for a free synthesizer. Additionally, many advanced, top sound designers often find themselves using this tool as opposed to many paid synthesizers due to its light nature and incredible features.
20. Valhalla Space Modulator (FREE)
Valhalla is a well-known developer and is responsible for some of the best dynamic effects like reverbs and delays. Their attempt at space modulation is an exciting one as well.
Valhalla Space Modulator is a plugin that was released back in 2016. Initially, it was only accessible to existing users of ValhallaDSP. However, it is now free to use for everyone. Valhalla Space Modulator includes eleven modulation algorithms and an easy-to-use set of controls for shaping the depth and kind of modulation applied to the signal. Users can control the rate and depth of the modulation and the feedback amount, and the mix of wet and dry signals.
- Advanced GUI
The GUI of this plugin is an interesting one. It is made up of big colorful knobs that are very simple to use. The knobs consist of Mix, Rate, Depth, Feedback, and Manual. The interface is resizable and very easy to use.
- Preset Manager
The preset manager on Valhalla plugins is fantastic. For example, for Space Modulator, users are provided with 70 presets that can be edited according to needs. In addition to that, users can download and create their own presets.
Valhalla Space modulator is available in VST/AU/AAX/RTAS formats and supports Windows 7 or higher for PC and Mac OS 10.9 or higher for Mac in both 32 and 64-bit systems.
In summary, you simply cannot go wrong with a Valhalla plugin. Whether it be their incredible vintage reverbs to their impeccable supermassive delays, Valhalla always seems to get it right. The space modulator is no exception, as it offers users similar controls to the ones you get on premium plugins but for free.
As a result, the Valhalla Space modulator is very popular among sound designers and music producers, and it could be perfect for you if you are looking for a budget modulator.
1. Big Fish Audio Ambient Minimalism (For Ambiences, Pads & More)
This ambient plugin by Big Fish audio received a ton of positive feedback from composers, producers, and sound designers, and for good reasons.
Ambient Minimalism is a one-of-a-kind phrase and texture-based virtual instrument for quickly and easily creating unique and expressive ambient soundscapes, cinematic cues, and backing tracks. Each Ambient Minimalism instrument patch consists of many sounds, such as playful guitar effects, vocals, custom-generated pads, and so much more, to provide you with a broad range of musical aspects and themes to work with.
- The Dark Side
This plugin comes with another version called Big Fish Audio Ambient Minimalism The Dark Side. This is a dark mode version of this plugin with darker, more cinematic, and theatrical sounds. These include creepy pianos, detuned glass, Wurlitzer, and ominous horns.
- Well recorded patches
Ambient Minimalism plugin contains a ton of sounds. These are all well recorded and recorded in the same key, which gives users the ability to mix and match any sounds they like to create nice compositions.
- Control over the Patches
In addition to the fact that the samples on this plugin were recorded on the same key, users are presented with 12 key switches (red colored) that they can use to change the key of the music element of their choice.
- Komplete Kontrol and Maschine Integration
Ambient Minimalism has been developed to function seamlessly with Komplete Kontrol and Maschine, providing a one-of-a-kind hands-on experience. You can use the controls of any NKS-compatible hardware to easily manipulate the interface.
This plugin is a Kontakt library and comes in VST/AU/AAX formats. It supports Windows 7 or higher for PC and Mac OS 10.9 or higher for Mac in 32 and 64-bit formats.
In summary, this is another synth library specifically aimed at creating ambient sounds. It consists of some of the most beautiful vocal samples and cinematic ambient pads. If you are just entering the world of composing ambient music, then Ambient Minimalism by Big Fish Audio can be your perfect starting point.
2. Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2
Omnisphere 2 by Spectrasonics is probably the most popular synthesizer plugin by far.
Omnisphere plugin really needs no introduction. It is perhaps the most powerful synthesizer that offers users a ton of control over their sounds. It is perfect for composers, music producers, and sound designers of all experience levels. It comes packed with a massive library of sounds categorized based on their type, for example, Organs, Pads, Strings, Guitars, Bass, and much more. Upon selecting any sounds, users have a large set of controls that helps modify their sound according to their liking.
In addition to the pre-existing library that Omnisphere 2 comes with, there are many other libraries by many different developers sold online and provide users with more sounds and more options to choose from.
Omnisphere 2 is compatible with Windows 7 and higher (32 and 64-bits) for PC and Mac OS 10.13 or higher for Mac (64-bit) for Mac. It comes in VST/AU/AAX formats.
- Add your Audio
This feature was not present in earlier versions of Omnisphere. However, it is perhaps the most crucial feature whereby you can add your audio files to the sound engine and then modify them using controls such as granular synthesis, vowel-based filters, and the exclusive Innerspace FX.
- Sound Match
A feature that sets Omnisphere 2 apart from the rest of the competition is the sound match feature. This feature, present in the mini browser, allows users to upload their sounds, and this incredible feature will look for similar sounding sounds within the library.
- Sound Lock
Another unique feature present in the patch browser is the sound lock feature. This feature lets users lock an aspect of a patch such as the arps, envelopes, or Mod Matrix while searching for alternative sounds.
- Online Patches
As mentioned before, this plugin is viral among producers of all genres. Hence, many sound designers who are enthusiasts of this plugin have designed patches that fit their style and made them available online. This can help you save a lot of time if you produce for a specific genre.
Omnisphere 2 by Spectrasonics sets itself apart from any competition in the synthesizer world by its incredible range of features. From its gigantic library of sounds to the infinite controllability options that it provides to users, Omnisphere’s versatility and flexibility are yet to be matched by any other plugin.
3. XPERIMENTA Project MINIMA (Free Kontakt Library)
Project MINIMA is an ambient collection of pads, C3 rehearsal pianos, guitars, and more.
Minima, as the name suggests, is a collection of 14 instruments designed for creating minimalist music. It has a minimalist interface with control over instrument selection, pitch/pan, and a single FX knob. The developers behind this library describe it as a library made by musicians for musicians.
The pads on this library are just perfect for downtempo music. They blend organic samples and hardware synths with a theatrical quality. While some samples are calm, others are more rhythmic and contain motion.
- Minimalistic Design
The minimalistic design on this plugin may be a negative trait for many sound designers and producers. However, if you are looking for a focused plugin that only does what it says, you will love this plugin’s minimalism.
- Dreamy Sounds
The sounds in the library of the instruments present on this plugin have a common theme. This theme is a dreamy, atmospheric style that resembles this plugin’s minimalistic nature and name. This makes it an essential feature for atmospheric, ambient music.
Project Minima requires Kontakt 5.6.8 or higher compatible with Windows 7 or higher for PC and Mac OS 10.9 or higher for Mac. In addition, it comes in VST/AU/AAX versions and supports both 32 and 64-bit systems.
Despite not offering many control options, the default samples that it provides are already more than enough and can fit in perfectly with whatever style you choose.
4. MaxSynths Crisalys (FREE)
Crisalys is an all-around free virtual synthesizer as powerful as some of its paid competitors.
This synthesizer plugin is powered by an audio engine that can work up to 192Khz. Custom waveforms drive 3 oscillators, ensuring high-quality sound in any situation. Each oscillator includes Ring Modulator, FM, and Cross Modulation options controlled by three independent internal LFOs. Due to the internal custom circuit explicitly designed for this purpose, the Ring Modulator can obtain sound characteristics well beyond the familiar timbres of this effect.
- 3 Oscillators, 18 custom waveforms
The driving force behind Crysalys is made up of 3 oscillators. These oscillators give the user a choice between 18 custom waveforms. Each waveform can be edited using the set of control knobs that are offered in this plugin.
- 2 Multi Filters, 12 Different Filter Modes
Crysalys has 2 multi-filters that can be used to edit the output waveforms generated initially. Additionally, these 2 multi-filters give users 12 different filter modes to choose from for more creativity and excitement.
- Built-in Dynamic Controls
Users can mix the sound that they designed in this plugin without the need for external plugins. This is due to the excellent set of built-in dynamic controls and effects like EQ, delay, reverb, chorus, etc.
This plugin comes in a VST version and is only compatible with PC (Windows 7 or higher) in 32 and 64-bit formats.
In short, Crisalys is a very powerful synthesizer that comes loaded with built-in features and effects. So if you are a sound designer and synthesizers like Omnisphere or Serum are beyond your budget, then Crisalys got you covered because it is totally free.
In conclusion, this article discussed several different plugins that are perfect for ambient, atmospheric, or downtempo styles of music. Some of the plugins discussed are effects plugins such as Crystalline by Baby Audio or Space Modulator by Valhalla.
Other plugins were sample libraries such as LABS by Spitfire Audio and Ambient Minimalism by Big Fish Audio. Furthermore, synthesizers like Omnisphere, Surge, and Helm were also discussed.
If you are a beginner looking to create ambient-style music, then it is recommended that you have at least one plugin from each kind. For example, you could have LABS as your sample library, Space Modulator, and Baby Audio Spaced Out as your effects plugins, and Helm as your synthesizer.
Started as a rapper and songwriter back in 2015 then quickly and gradually developed his skills to become a beatmaker, music producer, sound designer and an audio engineer.