This article will discuss the best free synth plugins for various purposes in 2023.
In a nutshell, here they are:
5. Heavyocity Foundations: Synth Bass
15. Archetype Instruments Lokomotiv
17. 2getheraudio Cheeze Machine 2
Selecting the right synth is an essential part of the job of a sound designer and music producer. Depending on the application, the choice of the synth will vary. For example, film sound design and trailer SFX may require a different synth engine than an EDM song production.
However, we live in fortunate times in which we have plenty of free tools at our disposal. But so many options could get overwhelming. Hence, we have gathered a list of the most expansive and feature-rich free synth plugins that you should have in your arsenal. We have carefully selected each option in the list, making it easy for you to find the right tool for your purpose. So, let’s dive right into it.
Top 20 FREE Synth Plugins For Musicians 2023 (All Sorts of Synths)
1. ujam Usynth Drive
Usynth Drive is a free synthesizer, sequencer, and effect plugin by ujam.
It’s a simple-looking plugin with an intuitive interface but has excellent functionalities under the hood. The synthesizer section packs wavetable, virtual analog, FM, multi-sample synth engines, modulators like multi-mode filters, a 5-stage envelope, LFOs, a modulation matrix, and more.
Drive is great for creating House music but has good sound design options for pop, RnB, funk, retro, and many dance genres.
- Easy to use
The plugin is designed to be used by anyone, whether a beginner or a professional. It has about a hundred presets split into categories like Keys, Leads, Plucks, Pads, and Effects. However, the plugin is not as easy as it looks, but the complexity doesn’t appear in the workflow, as it stays in the synth design only.
- Simple synthesis workflow
Usynth Drive has a synthesizer section, which two knobs can control: Dark/Bright and Fast/Slow knob. Further, there are knobs like Calm Down, Scream, and More Sub. You can change the presets for the synth window by using arrows and a dice, by which you can select anything from bass sounds to pad sounds.
- Sequencer Engine
The switchable sequencer allows you to adjust the rate between quarter and 1/32nd note. You can also sync it to the BPM and key and select various patterns. Further, you can adjust the note length, swing, octave shifts, and pattern length.
- Finisher section
Finisher is a multi-effects section that consists of 60 different effect combinations that you can set at every instance of the knob. Every Finisher preset is a different configuration of different effect modules.
- Generative functions
All sections consist of the Surprise button, symbolized by the Dice icon. You get fresh Sequencer and Finisher ideas and presets when you click on them.
- Under-the-hood functionality
The knobs/controllers that appear very simple from the outside have complex functionalities hiding behind them. For example, the bright/dark knob helps you adjust the harmonic content to get even harmonics at the bright end and odd harmonics at the dark end.
- Detailed editing
Drive lets you go in-depth with your sound design by adjusting the mix of effects like a multi-band compressor, transient, chorus, and focus EQ in Finisher. You can set the intensity of the Surprise switch to range from small to big. In addition, you can adjust the delays, spreads (stereo imaging), reverb (ambiance/stadium), etc.
Drive is available in AU, AAX, and VST 2 plugin formats and requires a minimum of macOS Catalina (10.15) or Windows 10 operating systems, 8 GB of RAM, and 1.23 GB of hard disk space.
Ujam has created a great synthesizer with high-quality sounds, presets, and effects. The plugin is easy to start with and has a simple workflow with a user-friendly GUI. The bass sounds are fat, punchy, warm, and sounds analog. The pad sounds are lush, spacious, and wide.
2. Matt Tytel Vital
More Info & Download (Paid Version Available)
Vital’s synthesizer brings spectral oscillator warping to add new life to your wavetables.
Acting directly on a waveform’s harmonics, this technology can create drastically different tones and shapes from a signal source. Thanks to this simple tool that creates endless possibilities, what was already incredibly customizable became even more so.
If you want to import your samples to create a wavetable, Vital’s pitch-splice and vocode converter are two great and easy add-ons to get even more specific on your sound design.
You can also develop wavetables from scratch via the built-in wavetable generator or even directly from the text!
- Excellent oscillators
These oscillators have a shallow low noise floor and a sharp cut-off at Nyquist for almost no aliasing, creating the cleanest sounds with the best quality possible. “Nyquist” means that each periodic signal should be periodically sampled at a rate twice the size of your audio signal. So, to overcome this, a higher quality sampling is sought after on synths like Vital – and a cut-off might be the simplest tool you’d ever need.
- Microtonality at its best
This synth can load .tun, .scl, and .kbd files – which can alter and configure how the tuning will perform – and play in a microtonal setting without any trouble. A brand new tuning system can unlock new possibilities regarding how the samples perform. This expands how you’ll play notes and frequencies and how to sample and interact with one another via the oscillators.
- Key-tracked LFOs
It’s possible to create key-tracked bass lines with this LFO setting, combining it with an audio-rate modulation and using your LFO as an oscillator modulation source. This enables you to instantly automate certain modulation parameters in relation to whatever notes are being played.
- MPE support
If you have a ROLI keyboard, a Linnstrument, or other MPE-compatible gear, Vital offers full support and control. This way, you can add more expression to your sound and use dynamics as you’re used to.
- Audio-rate modulation
The audio modulator kicks in when you have an audio signal or a parameter being varied and brings much more personality to your tones. The variations can be tracked down and edited in the most creative ways possible. The signal whose waveform is used to trigger is modulated accordingly, with extreme precision and character.
- Excellent oscillators
The plugin is available for mac OS 10.12 or higher, Windows 10 or higher, and Ubuntu Linux 18.04 or higher. All 64-bit only, with OpenGL 3 or higher. It comes in VST, AU, and LV2 plugin formats.
Vital Audio brings a different wavetable synth than most, especially regarding creating new sounds. Most allow you to develop wavetables based on audio files, but this is probably the only one on this list that can handle microtonality, text input, and effects like vocoder and pitch-splice.
The warping oscillator ensures that each harmonic will be shaped to your desire, and this is truly unique to find in a synthesizer.
3. Newfangled Audio Pendulate (Great For Bass & Subbass)
Pendulate, by Newfangled Audio, is an impulsive free synth that borrows the double pendulum engine from its paid sibling.
The plugin offers an innovative synthesis method based on a double pendulum, a chaotic system governed by ordinary differential equations. In short, the plugin generates sound from a sine wave, and you can shape it with the six oscillator parameters. In addition, the Wavefolder section helps you add wave-bending harmonics to the sound, and the Low Pass Gate offers an ADSR and a smooth sound.
Here, you can set the parameters for voice and pitch on a global scale. In addition, the modulation sources within this area let you add MIDI and MPE modulation into any parameter in Pendulate’s upper half.
This section creates three modulations sources when a note is pressed. You get a full-envelope ADSR modulator, an ADR envelope, and an ASR. These slightly different shapes let you affect multiple parameters with similar intentions but exceptional results.
Lastly, we have a single LFO with five outputs in the modulation chain. Each modulation output offers a different waveform that you can use to modulate other parameters. For example, the LFO gives you sine, triangle, pulse, sawtooth, and ramp waveforms.
Sound & Usability:
While the upper half has been mostly copied from Generate, the lower half of the plugin offers limited effects and modulations. And even though that was expected, it isn’t bad for Pendulate’s users. Having more LFOs and envelopes would be nice, but this is a free plugin.
As a sample for the paid version, this plugin works marvelously, as it also borrows the user-friendly experience from Generate.
It’s absurdly easy to create modulations. You can click the circles and drag and drop the mouse into the [+] of whatever parameter you want to modulate from the bottom half.
This plugin is available for Windows 8.1 and higher and macOS 10.9 and newer in AAX, VST, and AU formats.
Newfangled Audio’s Pendulate is a powerful plugin in its own right, but it’s merely a slice out of Generate’s pie. Nevertheless, it’s a worthy addition to your collection thanks to its one-of-a-kind synthesis method. So if you’re looking for a specific sound to add to your productions, try this one out, and you won’t regret it.
4. Infected Sounds LITTL3-S25 (Moog-Inspired – Great For Bass, Leads & Plucks)
LITTL3-S25 is a free synthesizer with two oscillators and one sub-oscillator.
It is an 8-voice polyphonic synthesizer with sixteen waveforms with modulations/morphing and seven expansive effect modules to enhance your sounds. In addition, you get access to a ladder filter, four LFOs, three envelopes for pitch, filter, and amplitude, and syncable modulations to sculpt your sonics.
- Simple workflow
The plugin has the following windows: Presets, Pitch, Modulation, Oscillators, Mix, Filter, Envelopes, and Output. Each window allows you to go in-depth into your sound sculpting, covering each step in subtractive synthesis.
- Creative filters
The filters are warm, responsive, and smooth, allowing you to add vowel effects to your sound. You can change the slope, adjust the resonance, add harmonics, and change the filter’s envelope mix amount and level.
- Sound sources
There are two oscillators and one sub-oscillator so that you can adjust the exact frequency, octave, and waveform for the main oscillators and just the waveform and amount of the sub-oscillator. You can also mix in noise (white, pink, etc.) as a sound source.
- Expansive modulations
You can add LFO to the pitch and envelope and adjust its rate, source, waveform, and wave amount. You can sync the LFO to the session’s tempo and apply the LFO to just the second oscillator.
The plugin is available only for windows in 32/64bit VST/VST2/VST3 plugin formats and doesn’t work with Logic Pro and Pro Tools, but it is compatible with FL Studio, Abelton, Studio One, Cubase, etc.
Everything from the interface and the workflow in the virtual synthesizer is pretty sorted out, with about a hundred sounds to get you started with the LITTL3-S25. The preset collection is great and the synth also sounds good! It has a warm tone and is great for Moog-type sounds. Too bad it’s not available for macOS.
5. Heavyocity Foundations: Synth Bass (Requires Free Kontakt Player)
Heavyocity Foundations: Synth Bass is a simple dual-knob synth bass plugin.
The beauty of the plugin is its simplicity. Sometimes you just need a sound without having to dive into the sound designing aspect of it or spending hours on creating the sound. Synth Bass saves you all that time by featuring just two sound sources: bass and growl. The bass knob lets you add low-end rumble, oomph, and weight to your sound, whereas the Growl knob lets you add a more aggressive tone.
- Deep tone
The plugin lets you add more depth, richness, and solid analog characteristics to your sound by using the bass knob. Heavyocity has crafted this knob by modeling many vintage analog synthesizers that give the sounds great resolution and quality.
- Scoring applications
The aggressive tone of the Growl knob expands the applications of the synthesizer and gives it more bite and impact. It also extends its use to cinematic effects, trailer SFX, scoring, game sound design, and more. Especially with the synth being a product of Heavyocity, which specializes in cinematic sounds, it’s a great tool.
The plugin allows you to add master effects like punch, delay, and reverb, which further gives more depth to the sound, allowing you to create a space for your bass instrument, and settle it in the mix with more impact.
- Other features
You can apply GATE and arpeggio to your sound for more rhythm and movement. In addition, you can add envelope modulation and adjust the mix of both sound sources. You get ten presets to get you started with the plugin.
Heavyocity Foundations: Synth Bass is available in VST, AU, and AAX plugin formats and requires a minimum of 530 MB of hard disk space, 2 GB RAM for Windows, and 4 GB RAM for Mac. The minimum operating system requirement of the plugin is Windows 10 and macOS 10.14.
What’s special about the plugin is its simple and attractive interface and warm and versatile sound. It gives you mix-ready and instantaneous sounds and inspiration and is great for cinematic bass and EDM genres.
6. SONICBITS Exakt Lite
Exakt Lite is a flexible and expansive FM synthesizer.
It has four operators: A, B, C, and D. In each of these, you get adjustable Offset, Detune, Phase, Velocity Sensitivity, and Pan parameters. You can select the waveform from a Sinusoidal wave to a sawtooth and everything in between. In addition, there’s a separate waveform editor, four envelopes, one filter, one LFO, and an output volume knob.
- Algorithm window
The algorithm section in the plugin allows you to adjust the signal flow of the operators and the feedback. That gives you complete control over how the operators flow into each other.
You can adjust the attack, decay, sustain, and release times for each of the four envelopes and apply them to different parameters by simple drag-and-drop. In addition, you can also adjust the LFO modulations and the level of LFO in each of the sound sources/operators.
The filter section allows you to adjust the cutoff frequency, resonance, envelope amount, and velocity sensitivity. In addition, you can also adjust the type of filter, which is a low-pass filter by default.
- FM Synthesis
The plugin has eight classic FM algorithms, four aliasing-free operators, and twelve unison voices. The natural FM characteristic in the Exact Lite helps you create punchy bass, snappy plucks, and fat lead sounds.
The plugin is available in VST2, VST3, and AU plugin formats, compatible with 64-bit Windows 8 and higher and macOS 10.11 and later versions.
Exakt Lite has a smooth and easy workflow, along with a straightforward and easy-to-understand signal path. The flexibility you get with the Algorithm window is great, and the collection of presets is expansive. Overall, it’s a versatile synth and sound design tool, which is also light on the CPU.
7. Fruitymasters Hercules V3 (Similar To Sylenth1)
The Hercules V3 is a four-oscillator synthesizer with an easy and effective workflow.
The plugin consists of two left and two right oscillators, which you can also pan in the middle. Further, it consists of 2 LFOs, a filter envelope, a pitch envelope, and effects. There’s a screen in the middle on which you can browse through presets and control the signal flow.
- Intuitive GUI
Hercules is an interactive synthesizer with a straightforward and easy-to-follow interface. You can also change the skin of the synth to another color.
- Complete control
You can command your controllers, make the synth as mono and legato modes, and mix a portamento effect. You can change the global ADSR. You can change the oscillator shape, octave, note, voices, and parameters like Detune, Stereo, Pan, and Volume.
You can create extensive modulation effects using the two LFO sections, with parameters like depth, rate, and rise. In addition, you can adjust the cutoff frequency, resonance, and ADSR of the filter.
Hercules is only available in VST plugin format and is compatible with DAWs like FL Studio, Cubase, Abelton, Studio One, Reason, etc., and incompatible with Logic Pro and Pro Tools.
The plugin has good sound with good control and flexibility over your interface. Its functionalities and workflow give paid synthesizers a run for their money.
8. Phuturetone Phutura 2 (Ensemble For NI Reaktor)
Phutura 2 is a free and expansive polyphonic virtual analog synthesizer.
It has two main oscillators with waveforms selectable between Sine, Triangle, Square, Pulse Width, and Noise. In addition, there are sections for Pulse Width Modulation, Filter, Amp, Pitch, LFO, two envelopes, and a modulation window. Plus, there are controllers for glide, detune, spread, unison, legato, poly, mono, and chord.
- Sound sources
The first sound source: OSC 1, lets you adjust the octave and X-Modulation parameters. It’s switchable between Sine, Triangle, Square, and Pulse Width waveforms. OSC 2 lets you adjust the pitch in semi-tones and cents and has a LOW and SYNC switch. Lastly, you can adjust the mix of both oscillators using the Mix knob.
You can add a high-pass, low-pass filter with a slope switchable between -12, -18, and -24 dB/octave. Further, you can adjust the cutoff frequency and the resonance.
You can create the pitch modulation with an LFO or an envelope and choose its destination as either of the oscillators or both oscillators. For the pitch bend, you can adjust the pitch amount and cutoff. You can adjust the ADSR, choose its polarity and assign it to either oscillator.
You can add an arpeggiator, select the range in octaves, adjust its movement as up, down, or hybrid by using the Mode switch and select the rate of arpeggiation.
The plugin allows you to add some great high-quality effects that let you shape and customize your sounds per your taste. These effects give a new dimension to your sounds.
The plugin is available in VST3 and AU formats.
The preset management in the plugin is great, allowing you to browse through some great-sounding analog presets. Phuturetone has included everything possible within the plugin, making it a great free tool for sound designing with limitless potential.
9. Matt Tytel Helm (Made By the Creator of Vital)
Helm is a great subtractive soft-synth to create all EDM genres, which comes with 200 presets.
It has two oscillators with interesting waveshapes and 32-voice polyphony and is connected via a mod knob, which is a great way to alter the timbre of the oscillators. In addition, it has switchable modules, a filter, a filter envelope, two mono LFOs, one poly LFO, a modulation envelope, and a step sequencer.
- Four oscillators.
Helm includes two main oscillators that come with a wide range of shapes. There’s a mod knob between them so that you can blend them. The knob can be modulated for some extra control. There are also sub and noise oscillators that offer further sound design control. A mixer helps blend all these oscillators and can also be modulated.
- Powerful dedicated formant filter.
Helm includes a feature that’s not usually found in free synths: a formant filter. The formant filter has an X/Y pad to help you visualize the filtering, and sounds excellent. It’s particularly useful for creating Dubstep’s signature wobble sounds. You can modulate its parameters through the LFOs provided for some genre-accurate sounds.
- Multiple modulation sources.
Helm includes multiple modulators, like two LFOs, a Poly LFO, amplitude and filter envelopes, a modulation envelope, a step sequencer, and keyboard modulation knobs like aftertouch, note, velocity, random, pitch wheel, and mod wheel. Each of these modulators has the Helm logo included in its interface. By clicking on it, sliders appear underneath each parameter that can be modulated, and by dragging them, you can set up modulation settings. It’s a very easy and clean interface.
- Functional effects.
Helm includes four effects: delay, reverb, distortion, and stutter. All of the effects parameters can be modulated for extra control. The stutter effect is especially eye-catching since it’s not usually featured in software synthesizers. It is excellent for creating glitchy sounds or adding moments of unpredictability to your patches.
Helm is available on GNU/Linux, Mac OSX, and Windows, in LV2, VST, VST3, and AU formats, or as a standalone synthesizer.
Helm is an excellent free synth. The oscillators and effects are great, and their true power lies in features like the stutter effect, formant filter, and modulation system. The fact that it’s free makes it even more appealing since you can customize and redistribute it. I’d suggest this plugin to every beginner producer looking to start Dubstep music production.
10. TheWaveWarden Odin II (Great For Bass & Leads)
Odin II is a free hybrid virtual synthesizer designed by TheWaveWarden.
Odin II is a 12-voice polyphonic synthesizer that supports multiple synthesis styles. In addition, it’s built in a way that supports endless modulation combinations.
- Flexible oscillators
The two oscillators included in Odin II are highly flexible. They support 11 types of synthesis, including analog, vector, wavetable, FM, and many more. There’s even a waveform draw oscillator that lets you draw your custom waveshape. This is an imposing feature, especially considering a free synthesizer.
- Modulation matrix
The modulation system is the crown jewel of Odin II. It provides multiple modulation pairings and combinations. The modulation matrix has nine slots that help you connect and keep things clean and tidy. In addition, there are multiple loopable ADSR envelopes, multi-mode LFOs, MIDI sources, and filter output. All these can be sent to up to two different destinations.
- Impressive filter selection
Odin II has three filters that support multiple different types of filtering. Some are classic choices like lowpass, highpass, and bandpass, while options like a comb are also on board. In addition, a few analog filter module emulations are included, like the legendary filters from the Oberheim 12 or the Diode Ladder filter. They all sound excellent and can provide taste and unique character to your sounds.
There are five built-in effects inside Odin II: a delay, an amp distortion, a phaser, a chorus, and a flanger reverb. The amplifier has a useful width control and a dry/wet knob for parallel processing. The delay has a built-in highpass filter for cleaning up unwanted rumble and can ping-pong delay. Overall, the effects sound great and offer plenty of sound design options.
Odin II is available on Windows Vista or higher, Linux, and macOS 10.11 in VST3 and AU formats.
Odin II is a very flexible and versatile free synthesizer. It supports multiple synthesis styles, and the wide selection of filters adds a good amount of character. In addition, the modulation system is well-built and resembles an expensive synthesizer.
These features make Odin II a great free synthesizer, especially for new producers who don’t want to blow their wallets on expensive plugins before they are sure they even like synthesis.
11. Surge XT (Most Advanced & Versatile)
The Surge XT is one of the best and most advanced open-source subtractive synthesizers.
It has a unique interface and signal flow. It operates under two scenes, with three oscillators in each scene, resulting in a total of 6 oscillators, with 64 voices of polyphony. In addition, it’s a modulation-heavy plugin with eight macros, six LFOs, two envelope generators, and other modulators.
- Easily Adjustable signal flow
Under the Filter Configuration windows, you can set how and in order the filters are applied to the sound. There are eight different types of configurations that you can set, with three serial, two dual, a stereo, a ring, and wide types. You can also map it to the controller or key and add automation lanes. By default, it’s set to Wide, as it’s stereo and will allow you to get the best results out of unison voices.
- Scene Modes for layering and splitting the sounds
The Scene modes decide how the scenes can be used together, whether layered or split. Single mode allows you to play only the selected scene simultaneously, whereas Key Split allows you to play different scenes on different keyboard parts. The third mode, Channel Split, will split the scenes to be played by the midi channel. Lastly, the dual mode will allow you to play both scenes together.
- Wide Oscillator Section
Three oscillators per scene can be mixed, soloed, muted, and even multiplied or cross-fed into each other. In addition, the oscillators can be key tracked or retriggered, and we can change their pitch up to three octaves above and blow. Further, their pitch, shape, pitch range, width, sync, unison detune, and unison voices can be changed and edited.
Further, you can choose the oscillator type from an insane number of options, including classic (saw and square), modern (triangle, sine, saw, and square), wavetable, window, FM, String, twist, Noise, and more.
- Huge scope of modulations
The modulation matrix is located right at the bottom of the GUI. Here, we can use the MACROS to control multiple parameters simultaneously with a simple drag-and-drop option. Almost every knob and slider in the interface can be modulated using the macros, and you can also rename the modulators as per your taste. However, the modulators in the plugin have so much depth and options that it could take a while to explore the software completely.
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.
The developer and management team has done a great job with Surge XT. It gives paid synthesizers a run for their money, given the limitless possibilities of sound design and synthesis that one can explore.
There are absolutely no downsides to having this plugin in your toolkit. It’s also CPU-friendly and extremely versatile.
12. Ronan Fed Pneuma (Great For Uplifting & PsyTrance)
Pneuma is a free arpeggiator synth plugin that is great for uplifting and the psytrance genres.
It consists of four oscillators, one noise oscillator, and two sample oscillators. In addition, there’s a filter, amplitude envelope, 2 LFOs, 2 MOD envelopes, a mod matrix, and an effects section. Lastly, you can add distortion, saturation, and bass frequencies in the output window and enable stereophonic output.
- Expansive sound sources
There are seven sound sources: four oscillators, 2 samplers, and one noise oscillator. The oscillators are switchable; for each, you can adjust the note, octave, waveform, voices, fine pitch, pulse width, phase, detune, stereo imaging, pan, and volume.
You can add high-resolution effects like a parametric EQ, phaser, chorus, delay, reverb, and compression. In addition, you can add saturation and distortion and alter the harmonic content of the sound.
The arpeggiator allows you to choose the range, mode/direction, speed, GATE, and swing of the movement of the sound. That means you can make some great creative movements with the synthesizer.
Two envelopes have adjustable destinations, mix amounts, and ADSR sliders. In addition, you can use the MOD matrix with two sources and two destinations for each source.
- Global FX
You can add effects like glide and vibrato, choose the synth mode as Legato, and adjust the output octave. You can keep the synth monophonic, turn on the mono retrigger, and change presets through the preset browser.
- Great sounding filter
You can set the filter to be a state variable filter (low pass, band pass, and high pass) or a Low Pass Moog Filter, both of which have different characteristics, but the low pass Moog type filter sounds warm and has more analog characteristics.
The plugin is only available in the Windows-64-bit VST version.
Pneuma is a “too good to be true” free plugin with great feature-richness, flexibility, and expandability. Your creativity is only limited by your imagination when you use the synthesizer. Whether it’s the Oscilloscope Visualization, the three-band EQ, the 4-voice chorus, or the four multi-voice oscillators, Pneuma is a masterpiece!
13. Phuturetone GR-8
GR-8 is a free virtual analog dual-oscillator synthesizer by Phuturetone.
It consists of two oscillators, a filter section, a PWM segment, a Pitch envelope, two envelopes/ADSRs, and Bend, LFO, and Mod windows, all packaged in a slick interface that seems like an inspiration of the vintage Roland synths. GR-8 has a classic warm and punchy analog sound and texture.
- Powerful sound sources
The plugin allows you to select Saw, Triangle, Square, and Pulsewidth waveforms in oscillator-1 and an additional sine wave in oscillator-2. Hence, you get a good range of sound starters. You can use a sawtooth for pluck bass and a sine wave for soothing pads. In addition, you can adjust the pitch in semi-tones and cents and add X-modulation to it.
- Expansive effects.
GR-8’s multi-effects processor page allows you access to high-quality effect plugins like reverb, delay, EQ, distortion, and chorus/flanger. In addition, you can use the filter to shape your sonics.
You get access to an LFO for which you can set the destination as the filter, pitch, or amplitude. Apart from that, there are two envelopes/ADSRs, a pitch bender, and a mod wheel that you can assign to pitch, filter, and amplitude.
- Fat sound
The good thing about the GR-8 is its thick and fat sound that could be used to create punchy bass lines and impactful lead sounds, and you can use the unison or polyphonic features to create lush chords/pads. You can create rich and full sounds across many genres of dance music.
GR-8 is available on Windows and macOS, 64-bit only, in VST and AU formats.
The plugin has a fully functional arpeggiator that you can use to create rhythmic movements, sequences, and melodic patterns in different directions and octaves. Overall, the synth is a compelling virtual analog synth which is too good to be true for a free plugin.
14. Full Bucket FB-3300 (Semi-Modular Synth)
FB-3300 is a virtual recreation of the KORG PS-3300 Polyphonic Synthesizer.
The free plugin is one of the best free semi-modular synthesizers, with three independent polyphonic synthesizer blocks and a fourth block to set the signal flow of the plugin. The virtual analog semi-modular workflow gives you complete control over your sounds.
- Expansive sound sources
All three sound sources are switchable signal generators between the waveforms triangle, saw, square, rectangle, and pulse width. You can set the PWM intensity, fine pitch, coarse pitch, and octave.
Each sound source has its low pass filter and envelope. Further, you can set and adjust the signal modifiers, resonators, amplitude modulation, and the two modulation generators.
- Detailed tweaking
The plugin has twelve chromatic scale knobs for each sound source so you can micro-tune the sound source as per your choice. Further, you can adjust the VCA’s signal flow and the KBD trigger, assign trigger sources, and more.
FB-3300 is available in VST2 and AU plugin formats.
It’s a surprise that the plugin is free as it’s extremely feature-rich and detailed. It may be complicated, but it gives you complete control and flexibility over your sounds. The modulations and filtering in the FB-3300 are insane, and you can create killer sounds. As a cherry on top, it also sounds good!
15. Archetype Instruments Lokomotiv
This retro analog synthesizer can help you get new sounds from the same notes.
Archetype Instruments Lokomotiv was crafted to bring a powerful analog synth sound inspired by different vintage equipment along the process. As a result, the sounds that come out of it are huge and widening, aside from allowing many different tones to be explored effortlessly.
The oscillators included in Lokomotiv are mathematically generated without the help of wavetables or interpolation, helping with the power processing when running this VST inside your project in the DAW. They provide a silk smoothness to different waveform shapes, with detuning options also available.
You can choose between “Low Pass,” “High Pass,” and “Band Pass” modes within the “Filter” module, with “Cutoff,” “Resonance,” “Key Tracking,” and “Envelope” knobs that will make it sound very responsive to each frequency value selected, in a matter of seconds.
A dedicated section called “Drive” boasts a single “Amount” knob that details the input gain value, and switchable modes “Pre” and “Post” will make it sound different, depending on the order it’s affecting the signal chain.
- Clean looks
The beautiful interface is elegant and sober, showcasing every single control and parameter as clearly as possible. The black-in-white color choice can also be helpful when working for long hours in front of a PC screen, with little exhaustion to your eyesight.
This plugin is available for macOS 10.9 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 7 or higher (64-bit only). It comes in VST and AU plugin formats.
The most significant plugins are the ones helpful to your needs, even more, if they come in packaging that stimulates constant interaction with its controls.
Archetype Instruments Lokomotiv nails that perfectly, with good sonic results coming from a cohesive and comfortable design interface to work with. The sounds are good too, and special effects such as the pre/post drive are nice additions to this virtual instrument.
16. Hvoya Audio Ribs (Granular Synth/FX)
Ribs is a granular synthesizer and effect unit designed by Hvoya Audio.
Ribs is an unusual and intriguing synth/FX unit. At its core, it’s a granular device that captures sound, chops it into granules of audio, and plays them back in beautiful ways.
It can also perform cool scratches that can be realistic or totally creative and unique, break audio down and turn it into new soundscapes, or even create interesting transition effects. What’s even better is that it’s free to use.
- Three performance modes
Ribs have three performance modes, simple, notes, and beat. There is no granular processing in simple mode, and Ribs play back the buffer content. In notes mode, the audio is cut into pieces and put back together to create new notes. Finally, the beat mode works like the notes mode. The only difference is that the audio pieces’ length depends on the tempo of your DAW and other customizable parameters.
Scratching is just the surface of what Ribs can do, but it can perform them in amazing ways. All you need to do is record the audio you wish to scratch in the internal buffer and then move your mouse over the waveform. The mouse will move a virtual playhead which will create scratches. What’s awesome about Ribs is that you can assign said playhead to a midi control on your midi keyboard, for example, a knob. Now, you can just play your song and move the knob to perform scratches. Remember to always capture the audio in a separate channel because Ribs cannot save buffer contents. Scratch is available in simple mode.
- Excellent for sound design
Like any granular software, Ribs is an amazing sound design tool. It can birth to complex polyrhythmic beats and create rich and evolving atmospheres. Its ability to chop audio into granules and reproduce it in different orders and ways means that anything you feed into it will give you vastly different sonic results. If you’re into experimental music, sound design, or just fun, this plugin will be extremely joyful.
- Excellent for live performances
The ability to assign different parameters to midi controls is just one of the reasons Ribs is excellent to use in a live setting. For example, you can record a vocal performance live and send it to Ribs to modulate. If you own any midi controllers, then you can assign different controls to different knobs and buttons in advance to have an interactive and fun live performance.
Ribs is available on Windows and macOS in VST, AU, and Standalone formats.
Ribs are a fun tool if you’re into sound design or live performance. You can get it for free, so I recommend it to anyone looking for a new granular device to play with. The scratching sounds realistic and quirky, while the different performance modes enable a wide range of sound design possibilities.
17. 2getheraudio Cheeze Machine 2
Cheese Machine 2 is a free virtual synthesizer for retro pop sounds.
It’s a simple plugin with an Oscillator section, envelope section, and effects section. In between, there’s a volume and pan slider, along with a preset browser with over 60 user-editable factory presets. It consists of two virtual analog oscillators and one sub-oscillator capable of outputting fat and warm sounds.
- Oscillator section
Here, you get access to knobs Shape, Pulse Width, Detune, Pitch, Fine, and Filter knobs, along with switches like Double, Octave, and Sub. Double is used to layer another sound with the existing sound. The Octave button changes your oscillator’s octave, and the Sub switch adds a sub-bass layer to your main sound.
- Effects section
You can add effects like Ensemble, Phaser, Vibrato, and Reverb, along with Wide and Mono switches. You can go into details and adjust the nitty-gritty of these effects. For example, you can select the right reverb algorithm and adjust its amount.
- Independent Amp and Filter Envelopes
When you turn on the Amp switch, you can adjust the ADSR sliders of the amplitude/volume, and when you turn on the filter switch, you can adjust the filter envelope.
The synth has over sixty strings, brass, bass, pads, and keyboard sounds. You can use these sounds across different genres and styles of songs. In addition, its simple interface, intuitive workflow, and CPU-lightness make it even more usable.
Cheese Machine 2 is available in AU, AAX, VST, and standalone plugin formats and requires a minimum of mac OS X 10.12 or Windows 8 operating system, 50 MB hard disk space, 1 GB RAM, and Intel Core i5, i7, 2.3GHz processors.
Cheese machine, as the name suggests, has plenty of sweet, romantic, and cheesy sounds that could make for a great pop record. In addition, it has a streamlined signal flow, great-sounding effects, and high flexibility, which makes it a total package!
18. Digital Suburban Dexed
A multi-platform and multi-format synthesizer plugin modeled after the classic DX 7.
The first free option to emulate vintage gear is from Digital Suburban. Their Dexed plugin aims to recreate the intrinsic aspect of this iconic synthesizer with extended possibilities and different plugin formats that can be relevant to almost all kinds of users and producers.
- DX 7 tool
Although this plugin can be used on its own, Dexed is also a great tool to use along a genuine Yamaha DX 7, incrementing its sonority and acting as an expansion of the instrument as a patch editor or SysEx manager. You can even use the original Mark I cartridge in it, but other models are currently not supported.
There are 144 DX 7 parameters in Dexed that can be fully automatable inside your DAW, all distributed in a single panel for easier visualization. These are nice parameters to be included, but the possibility to automate them freely gives unprecedented freedom when creating new sounds.
- VU meter
To ensure an operator is active, you’ve got to check the VU meters. Each operator has dedicated metering that ensures which is active and which isn’t. Even so, this can be a simple feature. When working with multiple controls and knobs, it can be easier to have a nice visualization tool to get by.
Seeing a virtual instrument brought to so many different interfaces is not common. You can run it in multiple operating systems, but the nice thing is that there are different formats to enjoy Dexed, with particular attention to the uncommon LV2 plugin format.
- DX 7 tool
This plugin is available for macOS 10.11 or higher (64-bit only), Ubuntu Linux (64-bit only), and Windows 7 or higher (64-bit only). It runs in VST3, LV2, and AU plugin formats.
The cool thing about Dexed is that it’s not only a recreation of some vintage synth; you can use it to increment the sound of the original gear it was supposed to recreate. Of course, you can still use it, but the expanded possibilities are awesome. You can edit patches, load and save SysEx programs, and more. The visual integration is nice and sober, perfect for anyone used to dealing with these instruments.
19. TAL-NoiseMaker (Great For Dubstep Wobble Bass)
NoiseMaker is a virtual analog synthesizer, which is great for dubstep-style wobble sounds.
It consists of two main oscillators, for which you can adjust the waveform, tune, fine pitch, phase, and pulse width or frequency modulation. Due to the FM knob, this plugin’s texture makes it great for dubstep sounds, whether the wobble bass sounds or the harsh & hard-hitting leads.
- User-friendly GUI
The synth has a colorful and attractive interface with a straightforward layout and signal flow. Everything you need is right on the screen with tweakable controls.
- Expansive effects
The plugin allows you to add effects like chorus, crush (distortion), reverb, and delay. You can do detailed editing and in-depth tweaking of these effects and shape your sounds flexibly.
There are two LFOs with adjustable rates, amounts, and phases. In addition, you can choose the waveform and destination of the modulations and switch on Trigger and tempo-synchronization switches. You can also adjust the ADSR, velocity sensitivity, etc.
You get access to up to 4x oversampled filters and the following bands: 24 dB LP, 18 dB LP, 12 dB LP, 6 dB LP, 12 dB HP, 12 dB BP, and Notch. Further, you can adjust the filter’s cutoff frequency, resonance, key, and envelope.
NoiseMaker is available in AU, AAX, VST, and VST3 plugin formats and is compatible with Windows, macOS, and Linux operating systems. Its minimum operating system requirement is Windows 7, mac OS X 10.9, and Ubuntu 18.
Noisemaker by TAL is light on CPU and has a good quality output. It has 256 presets that you can browse through and get started with. Its FM synth engine can cover multiple genres, making it great for grittier and more aggressive sounds. In addition, the JUNO-inspired chorus gives a great retro feel and stereo-imaging to the sounds.
20. Extent of the Jam Digits
Digits by Extent of the Jam is a phase-distortion synthesizer inspired by the Casio SZ series.
It has a classic digital/8-bit aesthetic with an Oscillator section, a Mix section, an LFO section, an Amplitude envelope, effects, filter, envelope, resonance, map, and control sections. It has great tweakability and scope for detailed editing and sound design.
- Detailed Sound Design
The oscillator lets you select both sound sources’ waveshape and skewness (waveshape) and has a Duty Cycle knob. Similarly, there are three LFOs, each with tweakable controls like Delay, Rate, Repeat, Waveshape, Shaper, Amplitude, Pitch, and Width.
The amplitude envelope lets you adjust the attack, decay, release, sustain, and fade time, along with another parameter called the R. Scale. Further, the Shape Envelope window allows you to adjust the envelope/ADSR along with controllers like Shape min, shape max, etc.
You can add three effects: reverb, chorus, and bitcrusher. Reverb allows you to add space and ambiance to your sounds, whereas chorus allows you to add subtle movement and stereo width. Lastly, bitcrusher allows you to add distortion and alter the harmonic content of the sound.
The plugin is available in VST and AU plugin formats and is compatible with mac, Windows, and Linus operating systems.
The minimal interface and expansive collection of 70 preset covering pads, leads, bass, and stab sounds make Digits an easy-to-use and simple synthesizer. You can create anything from aggressive leads and bass sounds to lush pads. However, the synth is especially great for 8-bit and video game sounds.
Bonus: Free U-He Synth Line
1. u-he Triple Cheese
Apply some cheesy sounds to your track with the Triple Cheese.
U-he wanted to bring a new way of making synths by removing all classic frequency modulations. They achieved that by having you tweak different comb filters to get the sound you want.
The Triple Cheese features exciting options, such as a delay-based effect and a Vibrato that gives your waves a “human-voice” characteristic.
- Comb filters
U-he decided to base their synth production on a new method. The comb filter can create 3 unique sounds, either by having a new wave for each or following the previous output signal. Each oscillator has several knobs to tweak the sound wave to your liking.
- Delay-Based Effect
Choose to apply a delay effect to your synth, and tweak it with the Speed, Mod, Feedback, Damp, and Mix knobs. The damp and mix knobs determine the “wetness” of the signal, while knobs such as the feedback and mod determine the effect’s strength and duration.
The Triple Cheese offers an excellent vibrato effect that typically appears on human vocals to add to your synth. You can choose in what waveform the vibrato applies to the synth and determine the effect rate and the effect’s strength.
- ADSR Envelope Controls
For each envelope you add to the oscillator sounds, you can use sliders to tweak how they change the sound. You have the classic Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release sliders and a Velocity knob to control the strength of the envelope.
Triple Cheese is available for Windows 7 or higher, 32-bit and 64-bit, macOS 10.9 or higher, 64-bit, and Linux. It comes in VST2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
For producers looking for a fresh way of making their synths, the Triple Cheese by u-he will offer just that. The plugin provides extensive parameter modulation, so you can ensure that every sound you make will be unique.
2. u-he Tyrell N6
Tyrell N6 by u-he is a great synth for creating game audio and synthwave music, which comes with 580 factory presets.
Originally, a German music publication called Amazona wanted to create an affordable analog synth based on features and ideas from their readers but did not have the resources to. Fortunately, u-he took this concept and turned their idea into a free software synthesizer, which is how the plugin came into existence.
- Drift Mode for Realness
The analog nature of the sounds on the synth comes by switching the DRIFT mode on the top-right corner of the synthesizer. That is the secret sauce that gives the synth its vintage vibe. The chorus effect at the bottom of the synth also adds to the richness and width of the sound, hence adding to the analog characteristics. In addition, the VCA Envelope also contributes to that.
- The unique sound of its self-modulating filter
Under the Filters section, there are two modulation knobs, which you can tweak to add modulations to this filter. In addition, you can use the “Mixer” window and adjust the volume sliders of its oscillators, ring modulation, and feedback.
- Great Sound Design Capabilities
Tyrell N6 consists of two oscillators, one noise generator, and a ring modulator with editable oscillator modes. On top of it, it has a dual filter related to Diva (another synth by u-he), two gated ADSRs (0ne of which is voltage controlled), two LFOs, a modulation matrix, MIDi-learn, resizeable interface, and a voltage-controlled filter.
This soft-synth by u-he is not standalone software and requires a host application. It’s available as VST and AAX in Windows and AU Vol. 2, VST 2, and AAX in MacOS. It can run on Linux, Windows 7 (or newer), and Mac OS X 10.7 (or newer). A minimum of 1 GB of RAM is required to run it.
Considered a hybrid between the u-he ACE synth and Juno-106, Tyrell N6 is one of the best free synthesizers, as it features a wide range of analog sounds in an organized and simplified interface. Lastly, the sophisticated analog modeling done in the software is evident when you listen to the sound of it.
3. u-he Zebralette
Zebralette, by u-he, is a free, miniaturized version of a paid synth, the Zebra2, that keeps some of its goodies.
The plugin offers an oscillator, one envelope, 16 voices of polyphony, 2 LFOs, and three built-in effects. Additionally, you can use MIDI interfaces to control most of the plugin’s parameters. Zebralette was developed to work as a learning interface for the Zebra2, but it turned out to be a great synth on its own, thanks to its robust oscillator.
The heart of Zebralette’s sound is the thorough Zebra2 Oscillator, which gives you all the expected controls, including 1, 2, 4, and 11 unison voices. The wavetables are shaped in the Wave Editor, and you can save your modifications by clicking the Presets button.
- Wave Editor
The big graph-like panel in the middle of the oscillator area allows you to create and edit up to sixteen wavetables in four different modes. There are two Morph Modes and two Blend Modes, each with distinctive build characteristics that add versatility to your oscillator. You can use the Wave knob to change and blend the wavetables.
- Morph Modes
These are handle-oriented shapers. In GeoMorph mode, you can add up to 32 handles to adjust the curvature to taste. In SpectroMorph, you’re not handling the waveforms but the harmonic spectrum. There are 1023 harmonics spread logarithmically across 10 octaves, and when all handles are at the same level, you get a sawtooth wave.
- Blend Modes
GeoBlend, the first mode, depicts the waveform, but each cycle is represented by 128 vertical bars. Thus, when you turn the Wave button, the waves are cross-faded. The next mode is SpectroBlend, in which the harmonic spectrum is depicted by 128 bipolar bars, which show the in-phase and anti-phase harmonics.
Sound & Usability:
Zebralette’s sound is shockingly interesting for a single oscillator synth, and with 300 presets, it’s also easy to get started with. The simplified interface makes for an easy-to-learn plugin, and the phaser and delay effects further its versatility. Moreover, adding the MSEG to this free plugin is astounding, making it possible to achieve crazier-than-normal sounds with this simple tool.
This plugin is available for macOS 10.9 and newer, Linux, and Windows 7 or higher in VST, AAX, and AU formats.
U-he’s Zebralette is not precisely a flexible plugin, but it offers enough control for you to bend it to your will and come up with unusual sounds of your own. Overall, it’s a beginner-friendly plugin that deserves a place in your toolbox.
4. u-he Podolski
Podolski is a free and simple virtual analog synthesizer by u-he.
It consists of one oscillator, one filter, one envelope, and an arpeggiator/sequencer, which contributes to its uncomplicated and streamlined workflow, makes it easy to use, and doesn’t load the system much. In addition, it has over 300 factory presets consisting of diverse and versatile sounds, from which you can select high-quality pre-made patches.
- Synth Engine
The envelope modes in the plugin include ADSR/HDSR or linear/exponential, with sustain with a rise/fall control. In addition, oscillators can generate sawtooth, triangle, or pulse width modulation waves, with up to 16 voices of polyphony that you can play in mono, legato, or arpeggiator modes.
- Multi-mode Filters
The filters can be lowpass, bandpass, or highpass, with drive and FM controls that can thicken up the sound and create more movement. That can create the required G-Funk movements and textures.
Podolski is available only in AUv2, VST2, and VST3 versions and requires Windows 7 or newer, Mac OS X 10.9 or newer, or a Linux system.
The plugin is extremely light on the CPU, and you can load up multiple instances without loading up the system. Its simplification is its beauty and can be easily tweaked to create West Coast chords, synth leads, and bass lines. The VCA-based envelope contributes to its warm analog sound. The editable arpeggiator gives you interesting ways to create new groovy sounds.
Audiolatry Cosmic Lite ($1 Only)
Cosmic Lite is the free version of the ambient and pad synthesizer called Cosmic by Audiolatry.
It takes eight sounds/presets from the full version, which consists of forty sounds. It’s great for EDM and film sound design and consists of high-resolution effects, ADSR, LFO, filter, pan, and volume controllers. In addition, it’s polyphonic, has a glide function, and has some interesting modulation capabilities.
The effects included in the Cosmic Lite are Reverb, Chorus, Distortion, and Delay. Each effect is switchable, and the Reverb module consists of parameters like Amount, Damping/Width, and Dry/Wet sliders. Similarly, you can adjust the frequency and modulation in the chorus effect and time and feedback in the Delay effect.
- Other features
All the sounds in the plugin are 100% royalty-free. Further, there’s an LFO modulation section, an ADSR section, a voice mode, and a glide option.
Cosmic Lite is available in VST2, VST3, and AU plugin formats and requires a minimum of 2 GB of RAM and 84 MB of hard disk space.
It’s a great plugin for cinematic pads, ambient effects, strange textures, sci-fi sound design for games and films, and more such applications. Lastly, the sounds are of great quality, and the plugin’s interface makes it intuitive and easy to use.
We have seen various kinds and types of free software synthesizers. Some of them are FM synths, and some are subtractive synthesizers. Some are wavetable synths, and some are modeled after analog/vintage synthesizers. Based on your purpose, you will find the right synth for you.
Out of all of them, Vital is the most versatile and feature-rich synthesizer, followed by the Surge XT. Synth Bass by Heavyocity is great if you’re looking for an easy-to-use and simple bass plugin. Exakt Lite is great for gritty sounds and is one of the best FM synthesizers.
I hope the article was of help. Thank you for reading.
K. M. Joshi is a multi-award-winning composer and sound designer, specializing in film, game, and TV audio. He enjoys making cinematic music, rock, blues, and electronica. Read more..