It's easy to find the synths everyone's talking about but what about the rest?
There's a lot of hidden gems available out there that for one reason or another remain in the shadows of the more popular names or only find friends in particular musical circles.
We've done the legwork and unearthed some soft synth gems that may not get the public exposure but are equally as good if not better than many of their peers.
So whether you're looking for a freeware gem, modular madness or unadulterated synth powerhouse there's something here for you.
Rapid by Parawave Audio
A hybrid, subtractive, wavetable, granular, re-synthesis, resampling monster of a synth. Wrapped up in a package that's relatively easy to get to grips with.
The feature list is staggering and would fill an entire article on its own. The main things to note include: 27 different oscillator types, 25 filters and a huge collection of not just synth presets but also samples and wavetables to get your own sound design going.
Including over 15 insert effects from the usual chorus, reverbs, delays to the more unique vintagerizers, tape stop and time manipulating glitch machines.
Rapid synth uses 8 different layers, essentially each a layer a synth so it''s entirely possible to create whole tracks just within Rapid synth itself.
The sound quality is very good, taking on a pristine, clean edge to it akin in some ways to Reveal Sound Spires tonal qualities but its feature set is so vast Rapid synth ensures you really could squeeze any kind of sound out of it.
Whilst it sounds very good at the usual bread and butter sounds for any genre, Rapid comes into its own when you start switching on and utilising it's many auxiliary systems such as modulators, ARPS, re-synthesis and resampling.
Very quickly you can start creating some hugely textural and inspiring pads, soundscapes, atmospheres and really unique tones.
Underrated perhaps because of its huge feature set and initial first glance complexity but Parawave do a good job of making it all accessible and usable.
If you're into sound design of any kind then this should be on your own shortlist to try out.
ArcSyn by SPC Plugins
ArcSyn synthesiser is an often overlooked (or unheard of) gem that features a more familiar one-panel layout synth design. A more traditional approach to sound generation it still features some really unique tone generation options such as unique oscillator waveforms, unique LFO waveforms and the main filter being modelled on the Oberheim Matrix 12 with unusual filter types. The synth engine utilises internal 4x oversampling with specific work being done in the higher registers to avoid aliasing. This results in ArcSyn being able to generate a very clean sounding tone. A very competitive price point and a fully functional demo means it's definitely worth checking out.
Falcon by UVI
Falcon's a hybrid synth of modular nature.
A real workstation of a synth popular in Cinema and TV audio production but owing to its initial complexity is often overlooked at the consumer end. However for those more familar with modular and hybrid style synthesisers should have a relatively easy entry with Falcon and will be rewarded by a sound generation system that could keep you in the game for years and years.
Falcon is an ideal centre piece tone generation unit, ready to take up the duties of whatever's required of it and is much a synthesiser as it is sample player/rompler.
Tone generation comes from a variety of methods via the 16 oscillators. Able to invoke sound from specific sound generation units such as Pluck, FM, Subtractive, Sampling, Resynthesis, Wavetable, Analog and more.
In addition to this sound is able to be routed around internally in many different ways and with over 90 onboard effects there's some wildly creative options to mangle, manipulate and control sound.
There's an authenticity and authority in the sound quality and UVI have a long pedigree in sample libraries and sound design.
If you're looking for a deep but ultimately rich sound design experience backed by top shelf audio quality then UVIs Falcon is one to try,
Carbon Electra by Plugin Boutique
Carbon Electra - Named after a 90's pin-up model is ironically a no frills does what it says on the box synthesiser albeit with a few unique tricks up its sleeve.
Adopting the one-panel layout everything is easily accessed and tweaked from the main page. With a solid feature set comprising 4 Oscillators, big style unison modes and ability to alter the shape of modulation sources means it can provide a lot of sonic utility in a very compact package.
A fair FX section and good sound quality Carbon Electra is a solid choice for modern electronic genres, Drum and Bass, Trap, House, Trance, MainStage and so forth.
Aimed at the producers looking for maximum creative flow, minimal barrier whom just want to get sounds out quick it's also backed up by presets from big electronic dance music names such as Kosheen, Carl Cox and the Freemasons.
Price point is very good so if you're producing any kind of modern electronic dance music and want an excellent workhorse synth with scope to get a little more complex if you want to then Carbon Electra is solid choice.
Mono/Fury by Full Bucket Music
A free (Donationware) offering here from Full Bucket Music. Based on the Korg Mono/Poly it's a re-creation of that classic synth in all ways down right down to the band limited oscillators, monophonic architecture and hard sync FX options.
A juicy sounding self oscillating filter and the sound is distinctly on point. Oozing authenticity and nostalgia in equal levels.
It doesn't pretend to be anything it's not so if full featured workhorse synths are your thing you may want to move on but if you're a synth fanatic or anyone into Disco, Synthwave, Retro and anything distinctly synth pop and 80s or you just want a solid sounding extra Synth in your Plugins folder then there's simply no reason not to pick this up.
Voltage Modular by Cherry Audio
£22 For the base version
Voltage modular is a full blown virtual modular system backed up my an entire eco system of over 500 independent modules all available to be obtained separately and integrated into your virtual modular rack. Everything from envelope generators, independent sound sources, mathematical utilities, oscillators, samplers, controllers and effect - to name just a few.
Additionally, each patch point can be used with unlimited amount of cables providing a flexibility and sound generation options that wouldn't be physically possible on a hardware modular system.
The base system comes complete with 20 modules to get you generating sound in no time and represents phenomenal value for money - in fact at the time of writing it's currently discounted to FREE and being modular you can simply add bits as and when you want from the extensive module shop.
Audio quality is top notch with real weight to it. An ideal software entry for modular users or anyone looking to get into the modular game as well as anyone keen on tweaking and audio experimentation.
Blue 2 by Rob Papen
It's fair to say most of Rob Papens synthesizers usually fly under the radar yet they often represent a unique and very well rounded feature set.
BLUE II is no different and it's an excellent staple synth in the Rob Papen line-up.
Six oscillators, 27 different filters and the ability for certain oscillators to be routed to certain filters in parallel with others.
A huge collection of oscillator waveforms as sound sources and four independent FX systems in play with each complete with over 30 FX types to utilise.
Step sequencers, ARPS and multi triggered envelope generators are also part of the show. There's a big catalogue of preset sounds (over 4000) and Blues synth sound is ideally suited to many genres but particularly Ambient, Psy, Electronica of all types and Film and Cinema where Sound FX, atmosphere and soundscapes are required.
Pigments by Arturia
Pigments is a hybrid wavetable, subtractive and sample based synthesizer with an emphasis on sound design. Visually appealing and well laid out it makes an ideal entry point for musicians and producers looking to step up their sound design game.
A sound can be produced by 2 'engines' (layers essentially) with triple oscillators and further tone sources can be selected between Wavetable, Subtractive, Granular and Sample based all routed through dual filters and combine with a slew of multi effects, modulation and step sequencer options along with excellent randomiser features.
Effects take on a more unique form than the usual chorus, delay, reverbs (though the usuals are still present)
The step sequencer too is full featured and offers some really deep modulation and tone generation options rather than just being bolted onto the side.
A really neat feature is little tool tips on many of the options that give top tips from high profile sound designers or save your own notes here and save them into your preset. Speak of presets that are a lot and of top quality rather than stocking filler.
We feel the price is very reasonable for the feature set and audio quality on offer.
Strobe2 by FXPansion
Strobe2 is an often overlooked but excellent sounding software synthesizer. It's sound generation centres around the single "Super Oscillator" which is stackable, detune-able and you can call on any sub oscillators and a noise generator to add more depth too.
There's basic but very good LFO and Envelope generators, an ARP section and a very complete FX section.
Modulation is very easy to get into and opens up another level of sound possibilities due to being very flexible and deep relative to the rest of the synth.
Audio quality is first rate and the synth has loads of weight and pleasing harmonics to its overall tone.
It's on the high side of pricing for its feature set but its top tier audio quality and deep modulation system give it the edge over similarly featured rivals.
Iris 2 by Izotope
The final one to make our list Izotopes Iris 2 - a sample based synthesizer with some nifty features that give it a unique edge.
On the surface Izotope have strived to make sample based synthesis as easy to use as traditional synthesis and they largely succeed in achieving that with Iris 2.
For those wanting to scratch deeper and tease out enhanced features there's spectrogram editing of individual samples and five independent LFOs and Envelopes which can be mapped to ANY parameter within the synth
In keeping with trying to maintain a low barrier of entry for musicians you'll find five independent effects which won't tick the out of this world experimentation box they will at least ensure you get high quality garnish for your sounds.
Speaking of sound quality, Izotope have been in the audio purity scene for a long time and as a result the sound quality is top notch. As is the back catalogue of factory content.
It's very fairly priced and represents an excellent way to go beyond standard synthesis and a perfect way to start dipping a toe into exploring more sonic options with relative ease.
So next time you're searching for a new musical tool, avoid the usual ad nauseam synth names and instead get off the beaten track and try out some of the more elusive gems - you might just fall in love with what you find.
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