In this article, we’ll discuss the VST plugins for the sitar, the most representative instrument of Indian culture.
Ever since its introduction to western pop culture in 1966, thanks to The Beatles (Love You To) and The Rolling Stones (Paint It Black), many producers and composers – mystified by its unique sound – have sought to add the sitar to their music, whether they’re working on a project that contains music inspired by Indian tradition or adding an “Indian vibe” to a song, or experiment with its sound and possibilities.
But there’s an issue, sitars aren’t that easy to find; they’re not just an instrument that you can go and purchase in any music store. Also, a person who can play it is hard to find. Luckily, technology has given us VST instruments with quality of sound and performance as good as the real thing.
Some of the plugins and libraries listed also contain other instruments to help you achieve that Indian sound, and we’ll soon get to that. So without further ado, let’s begin!
To 7 Sitar Plugins 2023 (AND 3 Best FREE Plugins)
1. Native Instruments Spotlight Collection: India (Sitar & Other Instruments)
This Kontakt library is part of Native Instrument’s Spotlight Collection (previously known as Discovery Series), which, as its name indicates, is a set of collections of traditional instruments from many different cultures in an attempt to capture their sound.
With India, Native Instruments surprised us with this fantastic selection of traditional instruments divided into two sections: percussion (dhol, dholak, ghatam, kanjira, khol, mridangam, pakhawaj, and tabla) and melodic (bansuri, harmonium, santur, sitar, tanpura, and tumbi).
It’s also worth mentioning that NI went the extra mile sampling these instruments, not only conforming with basic hits/plucks/blows but also going deep with different ornaments for each of them to make sure the instruments not only sound authentic but also like a real musician is playing them.
- Samples & MIDI mapping
We can tell a lot of hard work was put into sampling these instruments by how good they sound. But also, the MIDI mapping is designed to make it easy for the users to get a realistic performance using the modwheel, pitch bend, and key switches to get different articulations and add ornaments.
- Complete and intuitive GUI
Users get a lot of control over the sound and yet don’t get overwhelmed as they’re very easy to manipulate. You can control the tone with the two EQ knobs, adjust everything in the mixer (including the reverb with a send channel), and many more features.
This feature allows you to set a scale for the melodic instruments. It comes with many traditional Indian scales and, also, the well-known major and minor scales. This is useful when you don’t know much about Indian music and have the instrument but struggle to get a more genuine sound.
This library comes with a nice bank of preset patterns (for ensembles and individual instruments) that can help you learn about the rhythms and how these instruments are played, stimulate your creativity, and help give you ideas. These patterns can also be modified, and you can also drag and drop them on your grid, so you don’t have to write the MIDI on the piano roll.
It comes with a set of different reverbs carefully modeled after many different locations to make the instrument or ensemble behave as if playing in those places, which means you can have your sitar sounding as if being played in the Taj Mahal!
The library is available for Kontakt Player 6. Kontakt is available for Windows 10 or higher and macOS 10.14 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
Native Instruments Discovery Series: India gives you not only a sitar with sound and realistic articulations but a whole real-sounding Indian music ensemble full of possibilities with its well-thought-out and easy-to-use controls and GUI.
The price is also very affordable and worth it, especially considering the quality of sound and level of performance you’re getting.
2. Swar VST SwarPlug 4 (Over 80 Instruments Including Sitars)
This plugin is a powerhouse boasting over 74 different instruments!
Swar Systems is a company dedicated to promoting the learning of Indian classical music and has been doing so for over a decade, so it’s no surprise to see them have the biggest collection of traditional Indian instruments from all over the sub-continent.
In regards to quality, many of the instruments in its collection show a great sound, like the sitar or the newly added veena (which was included in version 4), thanks to their multi-layer sampling, but there are also many instruments lacking this feature (i.e., single-layer), making them sound at an inferior level.
- MIDI Loops
With a large number of MIDI loops for melodies and grooves ready to drag and drop, it is very easy for the user to learn how to write for these instruments and have a better overall understanding of the music from this culture. Furthermore, these MIDI loops can also be tweaked, which helps stimulate creativity with a starting point.
This section is customizable and also comes with semitone tuning. It shows an impressive list of traditional Indian scales to choose from, and be ready to start playing the virtual instrument.
This section has four effects: Ladder, EQ, Convolution, and Reverb. The Reverb and Convolution define the ambiance for a realistic performance, and the 3-band parametric EQ gives the user a lot of control to shape the tone.
This plugin comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats and is available for Windows 7 or higher and Mac OS X 10.9 or higher.
Swarplug 4 is one of the best options for those pursuing an authentic Indian sound, thanks not only to its massive collection of instruments but also its loops and scales, meaning that it gives you the tools and the knowledge to be able to compose classical Indian music.
Keep in mind this plugin is fairly expensive, but it can be worth it depending on what the user is looking to accomplish.
3. NUSofting EMM Knagalis (Sitar & Other Instruments)
EMM Knagalis is NUSofting’s ethnic instrument sampler featuring several instruments from around the world.
Besides the sitar, this plugin also includes many bagpipes (a wind instrument made from several reeds connected to a bag, usually made of lamb stomach), the mbira (a thumb piano from Southeast Africa), the santur (Indian hammered dulcimer), the shamisen (a Japanese lute) and the Turkish lutes, and more. This plugin is designed with multi-layer sampling for a more realistic sound.
The samples it uses are well recorded and offer very good quality, its GUI is very easy to understand, and the controls are well displayed for the commodity of the user. There we find controls for Mono Mode, Pitch Envelope, Pitch Controls, Drone, Master, and effects such as Tone, Flanger, and Reverb.
- Multi-Layer Sampling
Each sample set comes with three layers: Lead (monophonic), Sympathetic Resonance (polyphonic), and Drone (monophonic), meaning that, for instance, when the sitar is played, the plucked string is the Lead Layer, the sympathetic strings tuned in octaves and fifths are the Sympathetic Resonance, and the low end and buzzing of the sympathetic strings are the Drone Layer.
- Mono Modes
There are three modes: Legato, Retrigger, and Alternate. Depending on the play style of the instrument, one of these modes would be the most appropriate. For example, legato can work better with woodwinds like the bagpipes because they always play a drone note, while Alternate can work better with plucked instruments like the mbira, the shamisen, or the sitar.
The pitch settings are divided into two sections to give the user more control over the sound and to accomplish a more natural performance for the instrument. The Pitch Envelope comes with Offset, Time, and Velocity controls to emulate the pitch variation of these instruments. Pitch Controls comes with a Pitch Bend Range, Glide, Semitone, and Fine Tune; also, this section comes with a set of custom and ethnic scales to help the user capture the real sound of these instruments.
The Drone Section offers three modes: Free, Sync, and To Split, with suggestions for when is recommended to use each of them. There are also Semitone and Fine Tune controls with an indicator.
This plugin is available for Windows 10 or higher and Mac OS 10.13 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST2 and AU format.
EMM Knagalis is set apart from the rest of the plugin/libraries in this top, thanks to its 30 instruments from around the globe. Moreover, it’s very well-made, meant to offer the user the tools to generate a genuine sound without much effort or a GUI too complicated to manipulate.
The effects section leaves some to be desired, with only a one-band EQ to shape the tone and a Reverb with only Mix and Space controls (keeping in mind how important ambiance is concerning the sound of the instrument), it’s also true that there’s an endless list of amazing EQs and Reverbs, both paid and free, so it’s not the end of the world.
4. Soundiron Bizarre Sitar
Bizarre Sitar is a virtual instrument based on a 24″ sitar meant to be a decoration, but the folks at Soundiron felt differently about it.
This “baby” sitar – as they call it – that was used for the creation of this Kontakt library is barely half the size of a regular one and also possesses fewer strings (5 main and 6 sympathetic) and was called “bizarre” because of its great sound that Soundiron described as “lush and full-bodied.“
Well, its size may be small, but Soundiron went really big with this library by very carefully and diligently recording and sampling it to have a top-quality sitar sound. Also, it comes with a ton of articulations, tools, and effects to help the user get the most natural sound possible or go crazy with experimentation.
- Strumming and Articulations
Probably the most remarkable feature of this library is how brilliantly it was designed to give the user so much control over the articulations and strumming. There are three Layers of articulations (1-3) and a Sub-Synth; they all have Swell, Attack, Offset, Release, Vibrato, Filter, and Pitch. Layer 1 is for Pluck playing, Layer 2 for Bowed playing (which can be used to create drone notes), Layer 3 for ambiance, and Sub-Synth is an oscillator with different basic waveforms. The genius part is that all of them come with many FX presets for playing the instrument, whether to help the user achieve a more realistic sound or – the opposite – to try new possibilities; users can also control the speed of the strumming with the modwheel on their MIDI controller which, combined with the FX presets, can generate a very realistic performance. Lastly, users can combine these layers to explore different textures or use the crossfade option to progressively change from one to another by assigning these layers to X-Fade A and X-Fade B.
- FX Rack
The FX Rack has 18 different effects to choose from and 10 slots to assign in any order. Among these effects, we can find the quintessential EQ and compressor, other common effects like phaser, distortion, delay, and flanger, and it also comes with amp and cab simulators. But the most notable of them all is the reverb, which comes with 99 different algorithms where you’ll find different rooms, chambers, halls, and outside environments, all of them from Soundiron’s favorite convolution reverb impulse responses; additionally, 40 custom FX responses for more musical exploration by transforming the sound.
LFOs can often be intimidating and hard to get a grasp on when you’re not experienced enough with them, but the GUI in Bizarre Sitar’s is designed to be simple and user-friendly. It’s divided into three sections: LFO, Filter, and Arpeggiator, all of them can be toggled on and off. In the LFO section, you can select the shape of the waveform for the oscillator, target the parameter you wish to modulate, and adjust the speed (Time), intensity (Intens.), and fade-in time (Fade); the Filter comes with 12 different LP, HP, and FX filters to choose from, the modulation target, and the usual controls (Reso. and Freq.); the Arpeggiator (Arp. in the GUI) has several presets for the notes it’s going to play, a panel to modify the velocity of the notes, and controls for swing (Swing), randomization (Rand.), duration (Dur.), direction (Dir.) and Beat.
The library is available for Kontakt Player 5.5 or higher. Kontakt is available for Windows 10 or higher and Mac OS 10.14 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
Compared to many of the other plugins and libraries in this post, the fact that Bizarre Sitar only has a sitar instead of many more traditional Indian instruments does not mean that it falls short regarding possibilities. On the contrary, it’s one of if not the most versatile in this top, offering a very realistic sitar sound and performance and also using the other layers and combining them to generate a very cinematic sound. So the sky is the limit regarding creativity and this library.
Also, the price is very affordable, making it a great option for producers and composers with any budget.
5. Sitargen Virtual Sitar And Tampure Drone
Sitargen is a plugin that, besides the sitar and tanpura, comes with the novelty of emulating the electric sitar!
It comes with a selector to change between different preset models. Its GUI is simple and intuitive and features Master Volume, LFO, ADSR envelope, Reverb, Filter, Amplitude Range, and Pan controls.
- Vast Number Of Presets
Sitargen comes with 20 different presets to choose from, featuring 4 different models of acoustic sitar, 1 of electric sitar, 1 of tanpura + sitar, and 7 models of tanpura having the option to choose between monaural and binaural for each model.
The LFO section is very simple and self-explanatory; there’s a LFO Rate knob and a LFO Depth knob.
The Filter features a selector to choose between High Pass, Low Pass, and None, and a knob to adjust the cut.
- Amplitude Range
The Amplitude Range has two knobs: Low and High; they affect the perceived loudness in a way that also shapes the tone.
This plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and Mac OS 10.12 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST2 and AU format.
Sitargen has a very decent sound and some simple but useful controls to shape it, although the reverb may feel a bit “plastic.” The element that this plugin brings to the table to set it apart from the rest is the electric sitar.
6. DSK Indian DreamZ
We all know DSK – and if not, you should! –, they make emulations based on real instruments and offer them for free.
For many years they’ve been a great option for producers, especially those who are just starting and have a tight budget. Despite being often overlooked for being free, DSK has some really good virtual instruments; Indian DreamZ is one of them. It comes with six different instruments (sitar, sarod, veena, tar, tanpura, and tabla).
Now, among these instruments, the sitar and the tabla drums are the ones that sound the best, while the tanpura is the one that sounds the worst, sounding very gimmicky. One issue is that, despite the instruments sounding really good, they sound very dry, so to get a realistic sound, you’ll probably have to use a reverb plugin to make them feel more natural.
Another issue with Indian DreamZ (and DSK plugins in general) is that it was designed to be used in a 32-bit build, but most likely, you’ll have problems running it with 64-bit DAWs like Studio One, Ableton, Pro Tools, and so on.
- ADSR Controls
You can control the volume envelope controls and fine-tune to experiment with the sound, be it to fine shape it to make it sound more natural or just make it weird and see what new sounds you can get. Get creative!
- HP/LP Filters
The filter controls are very simple; there’s an On/Off button to activate them, and you choose whether you want to use the High Pass or Low Pass, you’ll know they’re activated when you see them in white. Then, there are the Cut and Res controls; the Cut will depend on which mode it is (if High Pass or Low Pass), and the Res controls the steep of the Cut.
- Very Simple
The controls are very simple and intuitive, so you won’t see yourself overwhelmed by moving knobs and faders to shape the sound and make it more genuine.
This plugin comes in VST2 format and is only compatible with DAWs designed for a 32-bit Build, Available for Windows 7 or higher.
Even with its limitations, Indian DreamZ offers a decent sitar sound; although, admittedly, it requires some tweaking with other effects to accomplish that goal, but nothing out of the reach of your DAW’s stock plugins. So once you get the hang of it, it’s just a matter of saving the presets, and voila!
For most composers and producers, it is really difficult in the beginning when we find ourselves overwhelmed learning about DAWs and plugins and looking for the best options considering we’re struggling with a very limited budget, and for the longest time, this plugin has been one of the best free options for a virtual sitar and still is, so it’s worth keeping it in mind when looking for one!
7. Syntar Sitar
Syntar is a free virtual instrument with very interesting effects and GUI.
This plugin is one of the few virtual sitars in this post that does not come accompanied by other instruments. Its GUI has a somewhat psychedelic look that reminds you of the ’60s (and was probably inspired by the use of the sitar by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in that decade, as was mentioned at the beginning of this post) but is very simple to manipulate and comes with “V Sense,” sustain, and release envelopes and delay, distortions, and flanger effects.
It also comes with four “Sends,” one for Dry and one for each of the effects; these sends work independently of each other, meaning they’re parallel signals, which is quite useful as it makes it easy to blend the signals and shape the sound.
In general, it sounds pretty good. Its sound is not as dry as with Indian DreamZ, so it requires less effort to have it ready to roll, but it also means that the user has less control over the sound. It is what it is!
The Delay section has three knobs: Send, Time, and Feedback; depending on how you adjust them, you can go from very subtle to really wild delay, making them very responsive and manageable. One con with these controls is that you don’t get a visual indication of the Delay Time (1/2, 1/4, 1/8…), which is not a big deal, but it’s always nice to have for novices as the visual aid gives them a better understanding. Another con could also be that being so simple, you can’t experiment much with it, like using a “ping-pong” effect, for instance.
The Flanger effect comes with Send, Pitch, and Feedback knobs (from left to right). To be honest, it doesn’t really sound like a flanger, it sounds very weird and gimmicky. On the other hand, since when weird and gimmicky is a bad thing? It actually allows the user to go crazy and get very interesting new sounds, which is what it is intended for, considering a flanger wouldn’t make a sitar sound more realistic and natural.
Despite being called distortion, this effect acts more like a boost effect pedal and adds a very subtle drive. To the right of the Send knob there are the Shape and Level ones (respectively, from left to right); Shape controls how hard it clips the signal (which is not much even when pushed all the way to the right), and Level controls the gain. Beware of not pushing the Level knob too hard without care, as it boosts the signal and can hurt your ears!
The V Sense knob seems to be some sort of attenuator, but there really isn’t much practical use for it. The Sustain also controls the decay, meaning that spinning it to the hard left would pretty much kill the sound and just leave the percussion of the attack; when to the hard right is where it sounds the more natural, and, if you keep the key pressed, it will keep the sound (which isn’t really the most natural thing for a sitar, but can be useful for experimentation). Finally, there isn’t much to say about the Release knob; it controls the permanence of the sound as it fades away as any other release control would.
This plugin, like Indian DreamZ, comes in VST2 format and is only compatible with DAWs designed for a 32-bit Build, Available for Windows 7 or higher.
So, in short, Syntar is a really good plugin, probably more oriented to being included as an exotic element in western pop music and experimentation than to use it for traditional Indian music (which is what I would recommend it be used for), seeing that it comes with various effects to mess around with.
This sitar is part of the instrument series by Tone.lk.
Like the rest of the instrument series by Tone.lk, this library shines for its simplicity, featuring ADSR envelope, Distortion, Reverb, Delay, and a High Pass Filter in the Knob section, and also some additional toggle on/off effects.
- Straight Forward
The GUI and controls are very simple, so it is very friendly with new producers but also offers some effects to mess around with.
The Distortion can get aggressive when pushed hard, Reverb works on a single algorithm, its knob works as a Mix control, and Delay only controls the amount of Feedback; all these knobs are placed above the ADSR envelope. On the other hand, the Phaser and Chorus are toggle on/off, very simple, and not too aggressive; they’re situated between Portamento.
The library is available for Kontakt Player 6. Kontakt is available for Windows 10 or higher and macOS 10.14 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
This virtual instrument from Tone.lk offers a well-rounded sound and has great potential if you know what you’re doing.
So there you have it, folks, with this top, we have a great selection of virtual sitars and many options that adjust to our individual needs, be it to have the most authentic sitar sound or find out how we can use it in less conventional ways.
As for the winner of this list, Spotlight Collection: India is in the first place because it’s the best all-around. It comes with several other Indian instruments and allows the user to work with an ensemble and take the sound beyond tradition.
Bizarre Sitar and Swarplug 4 were both close second, but for different reasons. Bizarre Sitar has an incredible tone, offers the most detailed performance, and comes with a crazy arsenal of effects and articulations to make it very cinematic, but sadly, it does not come with other instruments.
Swarplug 4 was the opposite; it possesses the biggest collection of instruments but is meant to be used for classical Indian music; also, being able to play only one instrument at a time instead of being able to set up an ensemble makes it less practical and gives the edge to Spotlight Collection: India.
Regarding the best free plugin, despite all the hate and negative comments they often receive, we must give it to DSK Indian DreamZ, as it has a good sound that needs only to be combined with a good reverb. Also, offers a modest collection of instruments with decent potential.
Shaurya Bhatia, is an Indian Music Producer, Composer, Rapper & Performer, who goes by the stage name MC SNUB, and is also 1/2 of the Indian pop music duo, called “babyface”. A certified Audio Engineer & Music Producer, and a practicing musician & rapper for more than 6 years, Shaurya has worked on projects of various genres and has also been a teaching faculty at Spin Gurus DJ Academy.