Who doesn’t love free plugins, especially when it comes to synths? Synthesizer plugins are unique in that some are a digital reimagining of the unique sounds of analog hardware synths, some are a hybrid of old school and futuristic, and some present new ideas for sounds altogether.
The world of free synthesizer plugins can be a difficult landscape to navigate. That’s why we put together this list with our top choices. No matter if you do music production, sound design for film or TV, or just want some new synth plugins to play with, there's something here for everyone.
What is the best free synth VST?
Well, let’s dive into our top seven choices for the best free synth plugins and find out why they make a great addition to your plugin library.
Best free synth plugin overall - Vital Basic by Matt Tytel
If you’re looking for a legitimate freeware alternative to the incredibly popular (and expensive!) wavetable synth Serum, Vital Basic is it!
Wavetable synths are designed to be as versatile as possible, and Vital is just as good a sound design plugin as it is for music production. This is due to the multiple wavetable oscillators, modulation, and filtering controls.
This style of synthesizer plugin is known to be a resource hog, and Vital addresses this by using SSE optimizations so the oscillators play nice with system processing. It also supports MPE for trigger devices like a Roli to add more articulation when crafting parts.
If you’re not used to using wavetable synths, there will be a learning curve. There’s alot going on in the interface, but once you start using it you’ll see sections are segmented and your workflow when using it will go much faster.
Wavetable synths are a different beast, but they can conjure up some incredibly unique and powerful sounds. And when it comes to the best free synth plugins, Vital sits at the top.
Best free Nord synth plugin - Daichi Laboratory Synth1
Designed to model the Clavia Nord Lead 2, Synth1 is a faithful recreation that introduces a host of additional features not found in the hardware. It may be a synth plugin, but it offers realistic analog vibes that mix well with the clean, digital design.
There is a lot going on in the GUI, but once you get into it it will seem more intuitive. Two oscillators and a sub oscillator provide ring, FM, and envelope modulation and sync. Four types of filtering, phase shifting, saturation, EQ, delay and reverb, and panning let you add effects processing directly in the plugin. This speeds up the workflow and cuts down on process hogging, two main concerns for anyone using synth plugins.
Synth1 is a great marriage of clean digital sounds and the warmth and unpredictability that so many love in analog synthesizers. Though some might find it limiting, it is a faithful digital recreation of a classic Nord synthesizer that’s great at what it’s designed to do.
Best free synth plugin for sound design - Surge XT
Sound design is a complex and wide-ranging field. With that in mind, it takes a powerful synth plugin to step up to the varying tasks of the field. Especially when it comes to free synth plugins. And Surge XT is more than up to the challenge.
It’s built on a number of different synthesis techniques and offers a flexible modulation engine, multiple different filters, and more than enough onboard effects to keep your creativity flowing. Some of the most modern synth plugin features are part of its DNA including MPE (MIDI polyphonic expression) and microtuning.
The synth engine offers 12 oscillation algorithms with three for each “scene”. The selection is a versatile mix between classic and modern oscillators, and most of them have up to a 16-voice unison. Filtering is a focus point with how the Surge XT synth engine is architected.
When it comes to the Surge XT effects suite there are no shortage of options. There are 27 effects total starting with a filtering section that offers a 3-band parametric EQ, 11-band graphic EQ, harmonic exciter, and resonator.
There are five different types of distortion and five familiar modulation effects like chorus, phase, and flange. Delay and reverb let you tailor the size and space of the sounds, but the Mangling effects are the most interesting when it comes to sound design.
This category includes a frequency shifter, ring modulator, vocoder, and some ambiguously titled effects like Combulator, Nimbus, and Treemonster. Overall there are 16 effects units, four inserts per scene, four sends, and four effects for the master channel. This means pretty much any and all effects processing can be done directly in the plugin.
Surge XT comes in VST and AU plugin formats and runs on Windows and Mac systems. It’s not a resource hog either. A minimum of 4GB RAM is all that’s needed to run it - though more is recommended.
For sound design, free synth plugins don’t get much better than this.
Best analog free synth plugin - Novation V-Station
Modeling analog synths is a broad category in synth plugins. Novation’s V-Station has the claim to fame of being one of the most accurate models of an analog synth in a plugin format.
Modeling the Novation K-Station, it’s built on Novation’s Liquid Analogue synthesis engine and delivers the rich and dense sounds you’d expect in an analog synthesizer.
Three oscillators provide a range of different waveforms, and the noise generator accurately models analog noise generator circuit behavior. The ring modulator offers texture shaping, and through FM synthesis you get electric piano and tuned percussion sounds.
Some of the most familiar analog synth control parameters are here, including ADSR envelope generators, multi-wave LFOs, and a variable pattern arpeggiator. The multi-effects engine provides EQ, modulation, dynamics, and panning. A master section has a 5-channel mixer so you can balance the oscillators, noise generator, and ring modulator.
The V-Station’s GUI offers a clean layout that pays homage to the original analog model. And it comes with 400 preset slots that store your sound creations for easy recall.
Most versatile free synth plugin - The Wave Warden Odin 2
Some of the best free synth plugins aim to do a few things really well, like modeling analog hardware. And some are built to be as versatile as possible. Odin 2 is the latter.
This 24-voice polyphonic synth is ideal for creating thunderous bass parts, melodic leads, all with an effects engine that only inhibits you by the limits of your imagination. You can work off of analog waveforms or draw your own from scratch.
By design Odin 2 provides a number of different modules. You can mix and match them for virtually endless sound possibilities. Four envelopes of LFOs offer further customization, as does the modulation matrix, step sequencer, and X-Y pad
Odin 2 emulates some of the most popular analog filters that include the Korg-35 and Moog-ladder. As for effects, there are five onboard that include modulation, delay, reverb, and distortion. The versatility that Odin 2 provides is almost god-like.
Best free mono-synth plugin - Eventide Pendulate
If you’re looking for a free synth plugin that isn’t like the rest of the pack, this mono synth is it. It’s built on the concept of what a double pendulum would sound like in an audio context. This system is a mechanism that adds unpredictability to the signal.
The novel chaotic oscillator does things to the audio that no other process can. Routing is one of the primary elements of Pendulate’s design, and the modulation interface allows up to 169 simultaneous routings over 221 mod points.
Through animations in the Wavefolder and Low Pass Gate modules you get a visual representation of how the modules respond to the input and overall modulation. Even with all this, the interface is fairly simple considering how powerful it is underneath the hood.
Pendulate isn’t for everyone. If you’re looking for the same old synth sounds this definitely isn’t it. But if you want to push the…envelope…it offers a level of experimentation that isn’t usually found in a free synth plugin.
Best free Moog synth plugin - Blamsoft VK-1 Viking
A Moog Voyager plugin emulation this good shouldn’t be free. But it is! The VK-1 brings the classic analog sounds of this beloved monophonic synthesizer into the digital audio world.
With three continuously variable, adjustable wave oscillators, multi-wave LFO, and dual modulation busses it provides an accurate reproduction through next-generation DSP. There are three distinct types of noise you can generate from the noise oscillator.
Dual modulation busses and an LFO provide different modulation options. A transistor ladder filter was painstakingly modeled from the analog hardware. Multiple drive modes let you add grit, and the poles can be adjusted for access to a range of filter sounds.
It comes with 228 presets that offer an easy starting point. 100 Electro Bass and Synthwave presets were created by renowned sound designer eXode, and the VK-1 is tailor made for fat bass and melodic lead sounds.
For an analog synth emulation plugin there’s a lot to unpack here. But if you’re looking for an accurate model of a popular Moog synthesizer what do you have to lose by checking it out?
Best free FM synthesizer plugin - SONiCBITS Exakt Lite
Though it’s billed as an FM synth, Exakt Lite is fully capable of conjuring warm, organic sounds like the best analog synths. It uses four operators in a classic eight FM algorithm arrangement. Eight of the waveforms from the Yamaha TX81Z are emulated.
Like the TX, each operator features individual amplitude envelope generators that support the five point TX envelopes. Each envelope is modeled to mimic all of the characteristics of the TX. It has 12 voices, drag-and-drop envelopes, pass-filter resonances, and the waveforms are visualized for faster editing. The LFO can be synced to the session tempo of the DAW.
The GUI is arranged in a very digestible layout that resembles a classic synth. Exakt Lite is available in VST and AU for Windows and Mac in 64-bit only.
This list is just a sampling of the best free synth plugins that are out there. While these are our top choices, everyone has different needs and requirements when looking for the best free synth plugins.
The takeaway is that you don’t necessarily have to spend any money to add some of the best free synth plugins to your library. So whether you’re doing music production or sound design, need a next-generation wavetable synth or an analog recreation of yesterday’s classic sounds, with some focused research you can find the perfect free synth plugin for you.