If you’re a music producer or songwriter, software synthesizers are your best friend. Not only are they super inexpensive compared to hardware, they sound just as good! Plus, a lot of them come with gigabytes and gigabytes worth of sounds and presets, making them extremely versatile as well.
If you’re looking for the best of the best in synthesizers for your DAW, look no further than these top options.
Serum by Xfer
Serum is a super high quality wavetable synth, used by countless producers and electronic artists. One of its key features is the ability to import your own audio to create custom wavetables and custom sounds. From Xfer:
“The dream synthesizer did not seem to exist: a wavetable synthesizer with a truly high-quality sound, visual and creative workflow-oriented interface to make creating and altering sounds fun instead of tedious, and the ability to ‘go deep’ when desired – to create/import/edit/morph wavetables, and manipulate these on playback in real-time.”
Serum also has some of the cleanest oscillators out of any wavetable synthesizer. The digital resampling occurring in wavetable synthesis means artifacts are created all the time. Serum has a built-in way of suppressing these artifacts for the some of the best-sounding wavetable synthesis out there.
Omnisphere 2.6 by Spectrasonics
Omnisphere is one of the most complete software synthesizers ever. Its massive library (14,806 sounds!) is enough to sift through for years, with sounds for any application imaginable.
Beyond that, a very unique feature setting it apart from other software synths is its hardware integration. Spectrasonics elaborates:
Omnisphere is the only software synth in the world to offer a Hardware Synth Integration feature. This remarkable innovation transforms over 65 well-known hardware synthesizers into extensive hands-on controllers that unlock Omnisphere’s newly expanded synthesis capabilities.
Simply put, this ground-breaking feature makes using Omnisphere feel just like using a hardware synth! By bridging the physical experience gap between software and hardware, users gain intuitive control of Omnisphere by using the familiar layout of their supported hardware synth. Virtual instrument users can now experience the joy of the hardware synth workflow and hardware synth users can fully expand their capabilities into the vast sonic world of Omnisphere!
As far as synthesizers go, Omnisphere is an absolute staple for music producers in any genre…
Arturia has one of the most complete collections of analogue-modeled virtual instruments available. If we’re talking synth basics, you have to cover your bases with some classic synthesizers and keyboards!
The synth collection includes a CS-80, DX7, Prophet 5, Jupiter 8, CZ V, and Synthi V. Arturia’s iconic keyboard emulations include the Wurlitzer, Rhodes (called Stage-73), and B3 organ, amongst others!
Massive X by Native Instruments
New for 2019, MASSIVE X is the successor to the iconic synthesizer that helped spawn entire genres. Get everything you need to create any sound imaginable. Quickly patch complex routings to bring your ideas to life – no matter how far-out they might seem – and take things further than you thought you could with expressive, playable modulation. Think it up, dial it in, and define what the future sounds like.
MASSIVE X will grow, adapt, and evolve with regular free updates – both inspired by, and to inspire, the cultures it helps to create.
Free Software Synths to Add to Your Collection
We’ve established that virtual instruments are very inexpensive compared to hardware. A single keyboard could run you well over $3000, and while it sounds great, it doesn’t pack quite the versatile punch that something like Omnisphere would at just $499.
But, you don’t even have to spend anything at all to get some great sounds for your home studio. Here are a few of the most interesting free software synthesizers available.
Dexed is modeled on the Yamaha DX7—pretty neat to have in free VST synth form! The following features are available from the developers:
- Multi-platform (OS X, Windows or Linux) and multi-format (VST, AU, LV2)
- The sound engine music-synthesizer-for-android is closely modeled on the original DX7 characteristics
- 144 DAW automatable DX7 parameters available from one single panel
- Fully supports DX7 input and output Sysex messages; including controller change. This means that you can use this with a native DX7/TX7 as a patch editor and sysex manager
- Each operator have a realtime VU meter to know which one is active
- Can load/save any DX7/TX7 sysex programs. It is also possible to save a single program into a different sysex file.
Interestingly, the actual Yamaha DX7 manual can be used as a reference for working with Dexed.
LABS is an “infinite series” of user-friendly free VST synth plugins. They’re developed by London-based musicians and released monthly at absolute no cost to users. Piano, guitar, strings, synth pads, choirs, and more are all available as standalone synths. The collection is fantastic, as is the entire premise of the project!
All you have to do is download the Spitfire Audio plugin (also free) which loads each of the sample packs. Once you’ve gotten that, start combing through the LABS selection and download whatever piques your interest.
u-He Tyrell N6
The Tyrell N6 was initially conceived to be a hardware synthesizer. Taking some cues from Roland’s classic Juno 60, the idea was to incorporate quality analogue sound and a few novel features in a low-cost hardware unit. When the developers realized it would have taken them years to design it, they decided to turn it into a free plugin instead. You can download it totally free here.