Get that classic sound with these 5 free synths for Mac & Windows!
1. Steinberg Model E [Minimoog Model D]
The Minimoog is probably the most important synth in history. It was the first compact synth which musicians could easily use on tour. Combined with an easy to use interface and warm sound it quickly became the top synth in the world. It was used in countless hits - for example in Michael Jackson’s Thriller as the bass.
I was surprised by how good Steinberg's emulation sounds. It’s a nice free alternative to Arturia’s Mini V.
Here’s the bassline from Thriller recreated in Model E:
You can download the Ableton Live rack with this sound in our freebies section.
Trying to learn sound design with the Minimoog? Check out our article on tips for the Arturia Mini V3, which is another Minimoog emulation. Some of them apply to Steinberg's Model E.
2. Dexed [Yamaha DX7]
Yamaha’s DX7 was the world’s first FM synthesizer. FM synthesis works by modulating oscillators with oscillators to create more interesting timbres. The most famous FM synth sound is probably the cheesy E-Piano sound, used in countless 80’s hits.
Dexed is a free emulation of the famous DX7. It can be tricky to figure out, but works well for the classic DX7 E-Piano sound.
Here’s a “Dexed” version of the DX7 E-Piano from Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”:
For this sound I used a stack of Dexed presets panned in different directions to get that full sound. You can get the Ableton rack with this sound in our freebies section.
Check out our article on the top 5 free piano plugins.
3. U-he Tyrell N6 [Roland Juno 60]
The Juno-60 is one of the most famous synths which shaped pop music. Back in the 80s it won with the Korg Polysix thanks to its 56 presets bank. It has a 6 voice polyphony and produces very warm, yet “modern” sounds thanks to its DCO (Digitally Controlled Oscillators) - the Minimoog had a VCO (V for Voltage) which would cause pitch drifting at times.
The Tyrell N6 is a brilliant free plugin for classic Juno sounds.
For this demo I used the “TUC - Basic Boogie Bass” built-in preset along with some modwheel action.
Tip: To make this plugin look like a Juno you need to download this skin and if you’re on Mac, replace the folders in Library>Application Support>u-he>TyrellN6.
Another tip: To access the preset list click the Load button.
Check out our article on the top 10 most popular synth VSTs.
4. OBXD [Oberheim OB-X]
The Oberheim OBXa is another famous synth from the 80s, known for its fat unison option. It was a successor to Oberheim’s SEM synthesizer which wasn’t simple enough to use. With the OBXa you could easily create a supersaw - the sound used by Van Halen in “Jump” and in countless other classics.
The OB-Xd's presets sound very warm and retro. If you’re looking to throw in some 80s brass synths into your tracks, this one is for you.
To access its awesome library of presets you need to right click anywhere on the synth and select the right bank. Then, in Ableton, you choose presets from the “Preset selector” on the device (above the X-Y Pad). Once you choose a preset, you can switch between them using the down-up arrows.
For the demo I recreated the Oberheim synth sound from Van Halen’s “Jump”. I used the “BzBRS Hyper Trumpets” preset from the “Breeze_Meat-n-Potatoes rev3b-ALPHA” bank (along with some Ableton reverb). The bass is a slightly edited BzBSS Warm Jet patch from the “KVR Bass” bank.
Tip: To get the retro look of the OBXD, right click anywhere on the synth and select the “Totolitoto Classic Blue” skin.
5. Tal-Bassline [Roland SH-101]
The SH-101 was released by Roland in 1982 but lost the mainstream battle with the DX7 and got discontinued in 1986. However in the 90s the synth became popular again - it was used by artists such as Boards of Canada, Autechre, Luke Vibert or The Chemical Brothers.
The Tal-Bassline is a pretty cool little synth, but it won’t create crazy complicated bases. It’s nice for some warm pulse wave & saw wave retro patches. Unfortunately it comes with no presets and for Mac it comes as a 32-bit version only, so you're going to have to use a program like 32 Lives to use it.
Boards Of Canada famously used this synth in their track “Roygbiv”, so I recreated it using the TAL-Bassline. It’s not the same, but for a free plugin the result is nice!
Download the Ableton Live rack with this sound in our freebies section.
Tip: The “Modulator” section is great for creating that “LFO detune” effect in the style of Boards Of Canada.
I’m a music maker who likes to share his experiences with other producers. I regularly show up with tutorials, articles & project files at PML.
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