Synthesizers have been an integral part of hip hop music since its inception. And even with so many subgenres cropping up over the years, they are as vital as ever. But what are some of the best soft synths for hip hop, and what makes them the best for you?
The world of soft synths is always expanding. And there have never been more options to choose from. If you want your music to stand out you’ll need the best tools at your disposal.
These are the top 10 soft synths for hip hop.
Spectrasonics really outdid themselves with Omnisphere.
The full extent of its features is too vast to be able to go over them all. Over 14,000 sounds provide you with all the creative freedom you could want. In fact, it’s so pervasive in modern hip hop and electronic music production that an overwhelming amount of popular songs contain sounds from this very plugin.
If that’s not enough, you can import your own audio and run it through the insanely powerful granular synthesis engine. Oh, and it works with 3rd-party libraries! And with Spectrasonics’ proprietary Flex-Mod modulation system you have access to modular synth-style routing options.
It’s amazing how much value Spectrasonics packed in here. The sheer number of sounds, 58 effects, powerful library organizational tools, a vibrant user community, and it can integrate with hardware for more hands-on control. And this is only about 2% of its features. It’s not inexpensive, but considering how powerful and versatile it is it’s almost a no-brainer.
Native Instruments Kontakt 6
Kontakt is hands down an industry standard sampler plugin. It gives the user an insane amount of virtual instrument and soft synth libraries built specifically for the program. With the range of options, editing and processing capabilities it provides, it’s got every soft synth option you’ll need for hip hop. You not only get access to modern synths, but some stellar recreations of models from the past.
You can load your own sounds or use libraries you purchase. There are plenty of free ones available too. There is also a free version of Kontakt called Player that is a fantastic way to get your feet wet with what this powerful program can do.
Kontakt isn’t just a sampler. It is a creation machine that is only limited by your imagination.
U-he Zebra 2
Zebra 2 is aiming to be the Swiss army knife of your synth collection. Through spectral processing Zebra2 lets you design your sounds based on a X/Y axis.
Generators appear on the left and Modulators on the right. The Grid window comprises four vertical lanes where the signal flows top to bottom. Modules can change up the signal flow between lanes. A four channel mixer lets you adjust volume, pan, routing, and how the effects interact. There is a separate global control to fine tune everything including voices, glide, and pitch before it hits the master output.
As powerful as it is, it’s designed to take up the least amount of resources possible. Modules only take them up when they’re in use, everything works in stereo, and it integrates with Kontakt.
The classic Roland TR-808 is reimagined with D16’s tribute to this legendary low end machine, They took painstaking care recreating the classic sounds of the original hardware.
Driven by a powerful internal sequencer, it features 17 instruments and two editable banks of simple (96) and extended (16) patterns that can be customized to preference. A Randomizer feature allows for subtle changes or the ability to create new patterns altogether. And they went one step further by adding additional controls than those found on the hardware. The EQ and envelope signatures can be altered in ways you couldn’t dream of with the hardware unit.
The TR-808 offered pretty extensive control over each module, and with Nepheton you can trigger them through MIDI, and MIDI learn lets you change up the assignments on the fly. There is an internal clock (30-303BPM) and can sync to whatever DAW or sequencer you’re using. Virtually every plugin parameter can be automated with MidiCC,
Routing is flexible. Each module can be sent to any of the 12 on-board outputs. Every channel can be routed to its own track within your DAW for additional processing. It also features the Trigger Output found on Roland’s unit. Each module has mute and solo buttons and an indicator for activity.
Xfer Records Serum
Serum is billed as an “advanced wavetable synthesizer”, and what it can do backs this up. Its powerful engine can analyze audio and split it up into individual waveforms. You can switch between different wavetables using harmonic morphing or crossfading. Serum offers over 450 presets and multiple easy to dial in sound options.
The interface is complex but pretty easy to navigate. So whether you’re using the on-board sounds or creating your very own, you can keep processing all within the plugin with a suite of effects, oscillators, and filters. It’s a resource-intensive application, but considering how powerful it is this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Reveal Sound Spire
Perfect for hip hop, there’s really nothing that Spire can’t do. It’s a versatile marriage of the digital and analog worlds.
It’s powered by an innovative, polyphonic unison engine. This means that two or more oscillators are detuned from each other making the track fatter. Think of it like a chorus effect.
Each oscillator has nine unison voices, and they can be spread over chords and octaves. It’s got an advanced modulation section with LFOs, oscillators, envelopes, macros – four of each.
More than 1,000 presets give you a great starting point. These are especially useful with how daunting the GUI might be to the less experienced. But if you are familiar with synths you should catch on pretty quickly. The filtering and effects processing are top notch.
It comes in at just under $200 and can be augmented with additional sound banks.
Billed as “one instrument to rule them all”, Arcade is a sample manipulation synthesizer. The idea is to doctor samples in novel ways.
It’s built around sampler and note kits that cover the rhythmic and melodic content. Through Modifiers you can change them into something new entirely. When you put samples into the kits, the tempo and key is automatically detected through the engine.
All assets can be sorted for easy search by instrument, style, or your own custom description. It comes with 11 effects as well as modulation. Through the multi-channel mixer interface you can add four inserts and bus two sends on each track.
The libraries expand daily, so there are always new sounds to try. It can run inside your favorite DAW or as a standalone and works with pretty much any modern studio setup on Windows or Mac. It can even be used offline for 30 days if you’d like to unplug but stay productive.
Future Audio Workshop SubLab
Low end frequencies separate fire tracks from amateur. And as hip hop music lives and dies by the low end, SubLab is tailored to help you get the best bottom possible. With it you are able to sample, layer, and process sub-bass sounds. Bass frequencies can be some of the hardest to get to translate across different playback systems. But with SubLab’s intuitive workflow you can dial in your 808s and more in minutes.
Included are 250 samples created with care from everything from analog drum machines to modular synths. It’s very affordable and with what it can do to your low end you might soon find it as an invaluable part of your production tool kit.
Lennar Digital Sylenth1
Looking to add some throwback to your hip hop productions? A lot of soft synths focus on the modern, but not Sylenth1. It’s a software dedication to analog hardware synths designed to inject the warmth of analog into your modern digital productions.
It’s built around four oscillators with a possible 32 voices each and two 4-stage filters. There are also sections to tailor the ADSR envelopes and LFOs. The effects gives you seven quality ways to process your audio with an arpeggiator, modulation, gain, and time-based effects. The interface is even structured to look like a modular analog synthesizer. There are mod and pitch wheels and a portamento pot - just like hardware.
It has great reviews and many believers that it is a great recreation of the analog synth days.
A lot of soft synths look to the past for their sound banks. Diversion is only looking ahead. The sounds are modern, musical, and multi-faceted.
Audio running through the oscillators is real-time, so there is no degradation. Each waveform has independent X/Y features for the ultimate sound shaping. The powerful wavetable editor lets you edit timing and equalization and add effects. Sound playback is done through a granular synthesis engine. It offers bussing, effect processing, oversampling, a modulation matrix, 32-step sequencer/arpeggiator, and 16-step trance gate module.
Considering how focused on pushing the envelope (no pun intended) Diversion was designed to be, the GUI is…intense. But that’s also what makes it one of the top 10 soft synths for hip hop. It’s resource-intensive and might not be perfect for every style. But the spirit of “anything goes” it offers should intrigue every producer.
So there you have it. The 10 best 2022 software plugins for Hip Hop right now. No matter what your preference, style of hip hop or budget there's a ideal synth plugin out there for every hip hop sound.