Today we’ll discuss pluck synths and learn more about this category.
Varying dynamics in any song or musical piece is a great way to demonstrate musicianship. The general musical idea will be more fluid, the work will be richer in musical elements, and the final result will surely be gorgeous. This can be applied through certain articulations, such as legato, staccato, vibrato, and many more.
However, one of these articulations will be our focus in this week’s article: the plucking. Orchestral stringed instruments, like the violin, can also be played through plucks in each string instead of the classic bowing style. The resulting sound is gentler than usual and is generally not overused in musical contexts like this.
The sonority is so unique that some synthesizers from the 1970s onward began including a “plucked” setting, consisting of an option that ensures every note will have a sharp and short attack. Although this may seem too specific to be explored, the ideas and soundscapes that can be achieved are enormous and deserve an appropriate article.
So let’s head to our list to discover the top six pluck virtual instrument plugins, Kontakt libraries, and expansion packs available in 2023.
Top 6 Pluck Plugins, Kontakt Libraries & Expansions 2023
1. Heavyocity Mosaic Pluck
A cohesive collection of plucked tones that are generated from a solid engine.
Mosaic Pluck is a collection of various plucked sounds from the most varied sources: you’ll get synths, harps, strings, pianos, and chimes. The tremendous results are perfect for great cinematic productions and different dynamic layers in your track.
- Macro control
The big, center knob control is a concise tool for controlling the instruments inside Mosaic Pluck. Each macro setting features a specific combination of values among the six faders – “Env,” “EQ,” “Filter,” “Drive,” “Gate,” and “Space” – and you can also set them individually, ideal for a concise combination of sonorities.
- Macro sequencer
The main tool behind the Macro control knob, the Macro sequencer, is the force that modulates your signal in Mosaic Pluck. An on/off switch activates modulation whenever you want it, and you can tweak four parameters: “Rate,” “Steps,” “Perf,” and “Shape.” The last two are the differential because they set how the sequencer will react to the input MIDI signal and load the preset shape into the sequence.
The envelope included in Mosaic Pluck is the only effect to be modulated via the aforementioned Macro knob. In addition, you can set the perfect sonority through the “Atk,” “Dec,” “Sus,” “Rel,” “Sync,” “Start,” “Rnd,” and “Width” controls.
Mosaic Pluck has a built-in arpeggiator that instantly levels up your track’s soundscape. As with other elements on the plugin, you have three different channels available, and they all share the same controls: “Rate,” “Steps,” and “Type,” aside from a dedicated “Velocity Table” window. You can even link up the three channels and control the entire arpeggiator as if it was one, seriously increasing the possibilities for your sound.
- Parametric EQ
Each channel also counts with a 3-band parametric equalizer. Each band is divided between sections inside the effect, and each range has “Gain,” “Freq,” and “Q” knob controls. Unlike other options, the “Gain” and “Freq” knobs can also be modulated by the big Macro knob.
Mosaic Pluck contains a specific engine that houses every great element of the plugin. The awesome combinations created when the sources are layered upon one another make the plugin’s engine work at its best, ensuring that the resulting tones won’t sound muddy or badly mixed up.
The best part about complex plugins like this is having cool presets to explore. The analog aspect of this virtual instrument was kept in almost every instance, and the over 120 presets prove this is true. You can set the perfect starting point and expand from there, creating unique soundscapes in a heartbeat.
- Sample browser
The sample browser ensures you’ll find every sound you need without too much headache. This is crucial to ensure a nice user experience is achieved independently if you’re a beginner or experienced producer.
- Macro control
This plugin is available for macOS 10.12, 10.13, or 10.14 (64-bit only) and Windows 7 through 10 (64-bit only). It runs in standalone mode and VST, AAX, and AU plugin formats, aside from running on Kontakt and Kontakt Player version 6.5.2 or higher.
The reputation behind Heavyocity’s work pays off largely due to the main engine included in Mosaic Pluck. It dictates how the software will react upon every sample file, and the results fit any major cinematic production or beat-making session. You can control everything through a single knob – the Macro control – and it’s a fluid way to morph your sound with new textures. In addition, features like Arpeggiator and Sequencer adds more value to it and makes this plugin unique when it comes to pluck synth.
2. Image Line Harmor
Harmor by Image Line is an additive/subtractive synthesizer, with subtractive features like the filter also taking an additive approach.
Hence, to summarise the sound design process, you can build up your sounds from basic waveshape (like sine, sawtooth, etc.) and add harmonics to it, after which you can take the subtractive approach to subtract unwanted sonic properties from the sound.
Since you can add harmonics and harmonies to the waveform selected in the first step, hence the name – Harmor. However, this instrument’s unconventional design, layout, and terminologies may make you scratch your head at first and read its manual, but it will give you plenty of inspiration. So first, let’s look at the key features of the software.
- Two synthesizers in one
The unique feature of this synthesizer is that it has two parts, which can be the same or different, and you can also use them in a mix. Each of these parts is a separate synthesizer by itself, and you can have different sounds coming from both of these parts. You can also see these parts as the same by linking them.
- Easy modulation assignment
You can modulate parameters like Volume, Dry/Wet mix, filter parameters, pluck amount, and a lot of other different options, by selecting it from a simple drop-down menu and then assigning a modulator (like an envelope, LFO, keyboard mapping, velocity mapping, etc.) to it. Hence, there’s no drag-drop option to perform modulation. Further, modulations can be edited, snapped to the grid, and locked to the tempo.
The envelopes in the plugin are multi-stage and powerful enough to double up as sequencers and arpeggiators. In addition, Harmor can also analyze the audio and suggest an envelope based on that.
- Dual Oscillator section
Harmor has two oscillators to mix between and select from. You can load up a stock waveform on each of these, edit its phase, and randomize it. You can randomize the waveform itself and load up any complex waveform which you could further subtract from. The two oscillators can be mixed with and into each other using algorithms like fade, subtract, multiply, pluck, etc.
- Multiple filter algorithms
You get about 20 filters for the subtractive part, from a classic low pass to a band phaser to a custom shape filter. Further, there are ten more different algorithms like a wide bump, double cone, etc. So there are two filters in total that you could use.
- Instant visual feedback
To comprehend and understand the partials and harmonics of the sound, Imagine Line gives you analyzers and charts to monitor the audio visually. Apart from that, the envelopes, LFOs, knobs, sliders, etc., are well-laid out and easily editable, giving you good visual feedback for your actions.
- Image Synthesis
You can drag and drop JPEGs and PNGs on this synthesizer, and the Image synth engine will convert that to audio which you could further edit the image, control the speed, mix, loop, and position in time. This synthesis can produce great sounds with sweeping timbres and unconventional sonic movements.
- CPU Efficient
Harmor is programmed as a multi-threaded processing software, which gives us some extra CPU core. Hence, even after generating multiple harmonics and partials and using many tools, the plugin is light and not heavy on the CPU.
Unfortunately, Harmor is written in Delphi and is not available on Mac. However, it can work on Mac and Windows if you use it on FL Studio. Though, Harmor is not a standalone plugin and can only be used on FL Studio, with general FL Studio CPU requirements.
When it comes to generating pluck sounds, Harmor is a great choice. It has a unique additive synthesis approach with its interesting subtractive synthesis blend. However, the plugin may appear all over the place because of its complex arrangement and design.
It doesn’t function like other synthesizers but has a huge fan base because of its interesting sets of presets and functionalities. For example, that includes effects like blur, prism, harmonize, tremolo, etc., which may look unfamiliar but are great tools to shape your sound and give them a unique texture.
3. LP24 Serum – Essential Pluck Collection (Expansion For Serum)
An expansion package fit for a household name in synthesizer plugins.
Xfer Serum is an incredible synthesizer, famous among producers and musicians who need a reliable virtual rendition of such in their DAWs. Aside from its awesome features, you can now expand it with a bundle that includes the best pluck tones you want and need.
The presets are the starting point for some musicians and a reliable and trustworthy configuration for others. Independently of your primary use, there are 170 Serum presets in this Essential Pluck Collection, which can be incredibly helpful in presenting superior results instantly.
- Assignable macros
Four macros are available in Serum, and the Essential Pluck Collection uses them to provide a highly customizable experience that should rid you of any troubles and unnecessary work.
- Bonus loops
The 51 extra WAV loops included can be extremely helpful to nail most genres and uses that a plucked synth might need. In addition, this bonus feature is a kind invitation to newcomers who might want to explore deeper in this effect but need a little push up the tracks to get started.
The considerable lightweight size of the Essential Pluck Collection is another great argument to try it out. There are only 221 files in total, measuring 162MB unzipped, which doesn’t take up any considerable HD space and provide a superb extension of Serum’s power.
This expansion is available for Xfer Serum version 1.213 or higher.
4. SoundSpot KARA Pluck
A creative bus processor that helps you tame every plucked note in your track.
Pluck sounds are awesome, and SoundSpot wanted to ensure that these tones sounded as cohesive as possible by tweaking the envelopes of different layers simultaneously. KARA is an audio processor and thus receives no MIDI signal. It intends to be truly helpful to nail the pluck sounds with how many layers you’re working with.
- Cutoff envelope
The main idea behind KARA is to have a trigger for the cutoff envelope in a reliable way. This is done by creating an RMS trigger, just like in a compressor, so when the signal hits the plugin’s threshold, both envelope and filter are enabled during the pluck sound.
You can count on a delay unit at the end of your signal chain. This was added so that you don’t have to add another effect layer on top of your processed audio, and it works beautifully to add a determined ambiance to your patterns and tones.
- Preset manager
As KARA works only with a pre-existing audio signal, there are no factory presets. SoundSpot decided to do this because it wouldn’t make sense to “limit” the user experience with any configuration settings, but that doesn’t mean that the user can’t create some: the preset manager allows you to save and store multiple presets and configurations in a heartbeat.
- Cutoff envelope
This plugin is available for macOS 10.12 to 10.15 (64-bit only) and Windows 7 through 10 (64-bit only). It runs in VST, VST3, AAX, and AU plugin formats
KARA Pluck is an audio tool that is very helpful in not necessarily providing pluck sounds but instead organizing them and ensuring they will sound clear and concise. This is an audio processor plugin, not a virtual instrument, so, unfortunately, this may not be as intuitive to new producers as other products should.
5. LennarDigital Sylenth1 (Synth 2)
Built for maximum control and quality sounds, Sylenth1 is the plugin that will become your go-to software for melodies.
LennarDigital focused on creating a plugin from the producer’s point of view to appeal to every new and experienced EDM, Trance, House, or Future Bass producer. They added four oscillators that you can customize and added various filters and modulations to enhance the sound you’ve made.
When you’ve explored all those options, you can focus on the master effect section, which allows you to apply different arpeggiators, reverb and compression effects, and a phaser, distortion, and chorus effect.
- 4 Oscillators
To achieve a unique sound, the Sylenth1 gives you four oscillators. Each oscillator provides a distinctive analog sound that you can tweak to provide up to 32 voices per note. The plugin also features a polyphony option to expand the sound even more. Additionally, you can tweak each tone with the volume, phase, detune, stereo, and pan knobs.
- ADSR And LFO Envelopes
Sometimes you want to make sounds that don’t have a harsh attack but slowly enter your song without being in the way of other sounds. To achieve that, you can use the ADSR controls, which allow you to tweak your sound’s attack speed, decay, saturation, and release, and use the LFO to make interesting low-frequency additions.
- Mastering Effects
When you are about to finish your sound, you might try adding some arpeggio to it or giving a bit of delay. Those modifications are all possible by using the mastering effect available in Sylenth1. Next, explore different options, such as a Phaser effect, or try using the built-in compressor to reduce unnecessary signals.
- Built-in Mixer
When you have more oscillators working at once, you might notice that one specific sound needs to be slightly lower than the other. To help you with that, Lennar Digital implemented a simple mixer that lets you tweak the sound with three sliders. You have a Mix A and Mix B slider for the tones separately and a Main volume slider for the final product.
- Analog Filters
Since this is an homage to older hardware used in electronic music, the Sylenth1 features two sections for an analog filter integrated into the plugin. The first section gives you control of the filter’s loudness, resonance, and cutoff, while the second gives you different cutoff and resonance tweaks, a key track knob, and a warm drive mode for an even better analog feel.
Here is a free plucks preset pack for Sylenth1, check how it sounds:
Sylenth1 is available for Windows 2000 or higher 32-bit and 64-bit and macOS 10.7 or higher 32-bit and 64-bit. It comes in VSTi, AU, and AAX formats.
Sylenth1 is an excellent plugin for achieving an interesting analog vibe in your tracks, but at the same time, it offers great sounds that you can customize extensively.
In addition, the plugin is also wonderfully optimized and temporarily turns off any effects you aren’t using to keep the CPU usage to a bare minimum.
6. NI Massive X
Native Instruments’ much anticipated close to one of the best-selling soft synthesizers of all time is called Massive X.
Massive is one of the most well-known and well-liked soft synths from the preceding ten years. It is quite flexible, but its capacity to produce enormous growling and throbbing noises is frequently linked to dubstep and its offshoots.
Massive is still around, keeping old tunes compatible and giving NI a tasty synth with Komplete hardware and software at a mid-level. NI has entirely rethought the architecture and user interface, which is positive.
Wavetable oscillators with banks of pre-programmed wavetables continue to be the major source of sounds in Massive X. Although there are a few remastered versions of some of the first set’s hits, the wavetables themselves are all brand-new. More than before, wave tables may be bent and altered.
The original included a formant processor, bend modifications, and a spectrum filter. To thoroughly bend the sound at the oscillator level, you now have ten modifiers with several sub-modes and individual settings.
Inserts are one of the sections that receive the most remarkable and helpful improvements. You may add up to three more modules here, and each can be routed separately using the routing map.
Numerous effects and signal processors are available, including modernized versions of classics from the first Massive, like Frequency Shifter and Bit Crusher. The input signal modulates a Phase Mod oscillator and a straightforward Sine, Saw, Pulse oscillator.
Main effects are provided in three extra effect slots and can be altered differently. Some of them, like Reverb and Dimension Expander, have names similar to effects from the original Massive but of far higher quality. In addition, the Nonlinear Lab effect suite includes drive and amp sim effects and Quad Chorus, two recent highlights.
A more beneficial redesign has been made to the capacity to scale one modulation assignment with another. Each control’s scaling/sidechain source is now positioned in the middle of the three mod input slots. The dials give a way to set the scaling value when the slot is occupied, and they are located adjacent to the other direct modulators. Sidechain modulation in the older version of Massive was all or nothing. The first version of Massive contains four envelopes and four multi-mode modulators with LFO, Performer, and Stepper mode switches.
This plugin is available for macOS 10.10 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 7 or higher (64-bit only). It runs in standalone mode and VST2, AAX, and AU plugin formats.
Native Instruments is very experienced in creating virtual instruments like Massive X, which can be the perfect resource to nail synth sounds and may be the only one you’ll ever trust upon. The number of parameters and controls on the main screen may be scary, but they are all included to provide you with a full palette of sounds, including the plucks with the perfect attack and crispiness.
Best Free Pluck VST Plugins 2023
1. Matt Tytel Helm
Helm is a great subtractive soft synth to create all types of sounds, including plucks.
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 interchangeable modules, a filter, a filter envelope, two mono LFOs, one poly LFO, a modulation envelope, and a step sequencer.
- The formant filter
The formant filter is great for creating vowel sounds by picking different spots in the XY pad, which is especially great for creating dubstep and talking wobble sounds. You can also create interesting rhythmic patterns by connecting them to an LFO and changing their intensity and intervals.
- Cross Modulation between oscillators
The two main oscillators, as mentioned above, are connected via a mod knob, through which the left oscillator modulates the phase of the right oscillator, and the right oscillator modulates the tone of the left oscillator.
- Global Unison control
In the oscillator window, you can increase the width of the sounds by increasing the number of voices and adjusting the unison parameter by which the unison voices will be detuned by the value of cents you set on it. Further, a global voices knob controls the number of voices of the master output.
- Interesting Effects
There’s a dedicated arpeggiator section with frequency control and octaves up to which the arpeggiation can happen. You can also select different kinds of patterns of arpeggiation. What’s unique about Helm is the Stutter effect that you can add to the sound with frequency, resample, and softness parameters. That adds gated effects to your sound at different time intervals. In addition, you can also add distortion, reverb, and delay to your sounds.
The free plugin can run on Linux, Mac, and Windows as a standalone program and on DAWs/hosts that can run LV2, VST, AU, and AAX plugins.
Helm has many effects and features that make it great for creating electronic music with robotic movements and artificial sounds. In addition, it offers great inspiration for sound design due to its different pitch and amplitude modulation algorithms.
2. Daichi Laboratory Synth1
Synth1 is a virtual subtractive analog synthesizer plugin by Daichi Laboratory.
Synth1 is one of the most downloadable free synth plugins of all time. But, despite being free, it’s capable of some seriously intricate sound design and has excellent sound.
- Complex oscillators
The two oscillators inside Synth1 are capable of some serious sound design. They offer four wave shapes and can achieve ring modulation, FM, and sync. You can also fine-tune them and get access to a third sub-oscillator for some heavy low-end.
- Trance Focused
The modulation system includes LFOs that can be sent to various destinations, a dedicated amp envelope, filter envelope, mod wheel, and MIDI cc mapping. The onboard arpeggiator has four modes and a four-octave range and will provide the necessary melodic patterns of Trance music signatures.
Synth1 is available on Windows and macOS, 64-bit only, in VST and AU formats.
The oscillators provide enough sound design flexibility to compete with premium synths, while the onboard arpeggiator and effects will help inspire new sounds.
3. RDGAudio SawPluck
A great analog option that costs you nothing.
SawPluck is RDGAudio’s attempt to ease the creation of riffs and musical ideas regarding the trance style. The circuit is based on an authentic unit and was carefully done so that all your ideas sound as realistic as possible.
SawPluck’s oscillator comes in a single piece, which might be good. Firstly, it doesn’t consume as much CPU power as other advanced virtual instruments, and secondly, it provides a uniquely rich and warm sonority very faithful to the vintage units used in the 1980s and 1990s.
- Filter types
You can use up to 15 filter types in SawPluck, ranging from “Low Pass” and “High Pass” to “Notch” and “Analog,” thus covering a multitude of uses and soundscapes.
To nail every dynamic used in your track, SawPluck counts with two different envelopes: you can set a filter envelope and an amp envelope, both with ADSR configurations that can provide the amount of dynamic and attack to your plucked notes.
RDGAudio made SawPluck even better than similar software in this price range: you can expect to use and abuse the included factory presets, which are extremely helpful to shape instant sonorities and be a learning tool for beginner synth lovers.
This plugin is available for macOS 10.14 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 8 or higher (64-bit only). It runs in VST3 and AU plugin formats.
SawPluck might go straight to the point of delivering good-sounding pluck notes without too complicated configurations and multiple controls, especially when you deal with factory presets. However, getting the tones you want is easy, and the sound quality is generally acceptable for freebie software.
4. RDGAudio EZ Plucker
Another cool option for every plucked style you may ever need.
RDGAudio attacks one more time with EZ Plucker, which, as the name implies, was created to make pluck notes to be as easily played as possible. The difference between this item and the previous one is that EZ Plucker is significantly more robust and provides more options and general settings.
EZ Plucker contains several oscillators, over 30 of them, to be more precise. This means that combinations are seamlessly infinite, with lots of variations and different sonorities attached to them.
The other cool element about this virtual instrument is that it is polyphonic. You can explore 16+16 voices, which can expand your soundscape significantly. You can blend these voices and use as many as you’d like, and make each sound unique and very different from the other.
Aside from the multiple parameters in your window, you can also count on some built-in effects. For example, you can add EQ, Reverb, Delay, Phaser, and an overall SideChain FX to make everything sound as good as possible the way you want it.
- Two LFOs
EZ Plucker is a complete synthesizer, and part of that is thanks to the two LFO sections, entitled “A” and “B.” This allows the other areas to be modulated instantly, guaranteeing that your plucked notes sound as unique as possible as if created specifically for your track.
This plugin is available for macOS 10.14 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 8 or higher (64-bit only). It runs in VST3 and AU plugin formats.
More profoundly than our previous item, EZ Plucker showcases the intensive attention to detail that RDGAudio provides in its products. Of course, the number of configurations and parameters can be everything you may want from a synth, but the included presets and multiple features make this a reliable tool not only for trance tracks but everything that may need a bit of synth on top of it.
It’s curious to see how a specific articulation, such as plucking notes, has caught the attention of so many developers and producers over the decades. Of course, this specific way of playing notes has been applied for centuries in the most diverse songs and pieces, and modernity couldn’t be excluded from this.
This list sought to gather the best available options for pluck synths. They surely are specific, but they deliver what they promise with much style and effort. Among the best offerings, we must mention options like Heavyocity Mosaic Pluck, LennarDigital Sylenth1, and NI Massive X, all of which provide the asserted sonority with the expected sound quality and the clean looks of a well-designed user interface. Moreover, they can get things done quickly, even more with the included factory presets.
Of course, some slightly different tools may be useful to get different plucked notes blended more nicely, and for that, plugins like SoundSpot KARA Pluck delivers the results but don’t focus on the music performance per se, but instead the audio quality element of your track’s soundscape. It can also be achieved through some freeware options, like Matt Tytel Helm and RDGAudio EZ Plucker, which can be as comprehensive as a tool and as creative as a virtual musical instrument.
Ultimately, it all comes down to taste and preference, so test the options that catch your attention.
See you next time!
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Eduardo Cardoso is a musician and audio producer based in São Paulo, Brazil. He studied both music production and theory in college and has successfully launched his career as a solo artist in 2021. With over 10 years of experience with the music business, he currently acts as a session musician, music producer, audio editor, and content creator. Read more..