In the jungle of free VST plugins, there are many gold nuggets to be found, if you know where to look. Some of the free plugins out there hold such a class that they could easily go for several hundred bucks. And there are a lot.
Firstly, we would like to give a big thanks to all the VST plugin creators out there, who are willing to give out their amazing work for free. If you see a donation button anywhere on their websites, buy’em a cup of coffee, will you? Given how advanced and thought-out some of these plugins are, they probably live on the stuff.
So, let’s dive in. Here are our Top 10 Free VST Plugins of 2023. These definitely sets the standard of how good and thought-out a free VST can be. Our collection features some newer and some older. But with all great classics, they hold the test of time.
Let’s dive in!
Modeled after Yamaha DX7, one of the best selling synths in history, this top 1 free FM-style VST synth is ready to get you cooking. Included are over a thousand classic DX7 presets, with sounds ranging from classic electronic pianos to powerful stabs and strings. You’ll probably recognize many of the sounds from your favorite 80’s tracks as this, again, was modeled after the go-to synth of that era.
Really, it started as a tool to be used with the original synth. However, this is such a good replica that stands on its’ own. With so many different knobs and options for customizability, this is a synth that you can tweak forever.
Easy, powerful and stable are three things that summarise this freeware goodie. Go get it.
Here we have another great emulation of a classic analog synth. This time, of the Minimoog. The Minimoog’s success was huge when it came out in the '70s. For starters, it was the first synthesizer created for the average consumer and the sound was just incredibly rich and powerful.
Used in tracks such as Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn”, Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”, and Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”, it’s easy to see why this synth sound is loved by so many.
So, MinimogueVA. It’s an emulation but includes additional features not found in the original. To name a few, you now have a fully programmable digital delay, you can control the tuning of oscillator 1 (and fine tune oscillators 2 and 3) and have 3 overdrive sliders for each oscillator to make your sound even thicker.
This free synth sounds and behaves pretty much exactly like the original and is a must-have for every electronic producer. Deep, rich and yummy, and in our opinion best used for lead sounds and basses. Just beware that it might need some taming because of its’ power – the sounds take up a lot of space in the mix.
This powerful virtual analog synth has pretty much everything you’ll need as an electronic music producer. How about two oscillators (saw, pulse, triangle, and sine) with hardsync and PW/FM. One sub oscillator (saw and rectangle), one noise oscillator, wide-range LFO’s (0.1Hz up to 400 Hz) and a super user-friendly interface?
Users report a very analog sound from this synth, more than many of its’ competing virtual synths that comes with a price tag. So this free option will definitely satisfy you who wants to create rougher, analog, old school sounds.
The only thing really missing, in my opinion, is extra effects and an arpeggiator. But you can always use separate plugins for that, DAW-included or purchased.
All in all, a great, easy and powerful synth for electronic music production.
You know that crackly sound from old vinyl? Or the electrical hum in speakers, when an audio cable is not fully plugged in? Well, it’s funny. Turns out those audio distortions are in again.
Commonly heard in triphop and retro synthwave-style music, some cracks, and noises can really bring a track to life. We don’t know what it is, but there’s just something about the warm crackle of vinyl. Is it nostalgia? A sense of analog? Making digital sounds more “human”?
I don’t know. But for those of you who want to achieve this to your mix, look no further than iZotope Vinyl. Rather than layering different vinyl scratch samples, this plugin is fully customizable and does the job extremely well.
Apply it to certain instruments or your whole mix, and choose the amount of the following parameters:
- Mechanical noise
- Electrical noise
- Warp depth
The last option, warp depth sets the amount of spin down applied from the "Spin-Down" button below. That effect mimics what would happen to the sound of vinyl if you slowed it down manually until it stops. You know what I mean. But damn that’s cool.
You also have options for what decades you want to emulate, ranging from the 1930s up to 2000. There’s also an option for the number of RPM’s (of the “vinyl”).
Overall, a really cool plugin that can make the most digital sounds a bit more analog.
Looking for a great free alternative to the expensive tape saturators out there? Well, look no further. FerricTDS is it. Inspired to simulate the dynamics and warmth of high-end reel-to-reel tape recorders, this wonderful plugin does this in three steps.
Firstly, it controls the dynamics by gently shaping the overall dynamic response of the sound. Then it adds extra harmonics with its’ great sounding saturation and finally, the signal peak is controlled by its built-in limiter.
These three knobs are of course yours to play with as you wish, for a subtle or strong tape effect.
So, this plugin does a lot of wonderful things to your sound. Simply put, you can say that it warms up, controls and shapes. Like a compressor, saturation, limiting and a tape recorder emulator all in one neat package.
The plugin also won the KVR Developer Challenge of 2009. It’s ten years ago but its’ quality still holds with time.
Introducing the TAL-REVERB III, the top of the free plate reverbs. This little gem will wow you with its’ beautiful non-BS interface and brilliant sound.
To break it down, the plugin has 7 dials. The low- and high cut dials make for easy reverb mixing. The room size dial controls the duration of the reverb. A stereo width dial for easy stereo control (mono to full stereo) and a pre-delay dial which goes up to one second. The last two are simply dry and wet dials. Easy peasy.
With 10 factory presets to choose from it’s also good to go from the start.
The sound of the TAL is fantastic, and their goal of creating a colorless, maximal diffused plate reverb without digital artifacts is really heard. It’s smooth, shimmering and nice.
For a free reverb plugin, this is good stuff. Check it out.
Synth1 is another great synth that was made as a replica of the popular Nord Lead 2. The two actually sound quite similar, but being that the Nord Lead 2 is about $15,000, it’s not a great surprise that it beats a free plugin in sound quality.
But the Synth1 is totally free. It’s pretty cool that you can get at least half the quality of an expensive, top hardware synth just an easy, free download away.
So, what do we have in the Synth1?
For starters, we have 2 oscillators (sine, triangle, saw, and square) with FM and ring modulation, sync and a modulation envelope. 4 types of filters, 2 LFO’s and an arpeggiator. Included are also various effects, a tempo delay, and stereo chorus/flanger. You’ve got legato and portamento mode plus 16 notes polyphony. Not too shabby.
It’s optimized for extremely light CPU usage and is a fantastic starting point for any new producer who wants the learn the basics in sound synthesis. And the sound in this synth is great.
All in all, a great freeware synth that I think everyone should try at least once. It does have a few sound glitch bugs when changing the knobs sometimes. But generally, it's pretty stable and does the job. Very well.
BootEQ is another freebie who’s definitely up there competing with the big boys (top of the line, expensive plugins). It’s an SSL-style equalizer and pre-amp simulator, which “provides some nice and musical signal coloration effects” according to the product description.
The plugin is simple and easy to use with its’ four parametric and independent EQ bands and several classic sounding curves. You also have a drive-knob for saturation and two switches for vintage color and tube on or off. With a simple design, clear text and meter display, you can’t go wrong.
It colors the sound beautifully warm, but subtle and not over the top. To add some more life to dull life, or to fatten up sounds, this could easily be your go-to.
The ValhallaFreqEcho is many things, along with being a staple plugin you must have in your library. It's both frequency shifter and analog-style echo, which in combination makes for a very psychedelic, trippy delay effect that feels like it's going in and out of your head.
Frequency shifting the delay output makes for some very interesting results. Used subtly, it passes as your everyday light chorus/flanger or doubler but used in excess, you've created something entirely new and out of this world.
If you’re looking for an experimental effect to spice up your psychedelic production, or simply want something to get your creative juices flowing, get this. Right now.
The 4 voice polyphonic VB-1 is a plugin you either love or hate. It’s not the best sounding bass emulations out there, but it's not trying to be either. Its' strength comes from its' incredible ease of use. You basically have 4 knobs (release, shape, damper, and volume), a picture of a bass guitar and a pick you can drag left and right for different sounds.
On its' own, the VB-1 doesn't sound fantastic. But I've found great use for it in creating basses for trance music. It produces a nice, basic bass signal that is brought to life with the help of some extra plugins. Throw in some EQ, saturation and bass boost and it's suddenly kicking.
Definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re into creating rolling trance basses.
Thanks for reading!
About the author
Pelle Sundin is a Swedish music producer and freelance copywriter, currently active with his chillout project PLMTRZ. He also produces psychedelic trance. When he's not producing music, he surfs, skates and chugs coffee.
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