by Lasse Eilers | 4,6 / 5,0 | Approximate reading time: 6 Minutes
Best free plugins of 2023

Best free plugins of 2023  ·  Source: Cherry Audio, Mensla, Adam Szabo, Full Bucket Music, FreeImages.com/erics

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2023 was a fantastic year for free plugins! From gorgeous software synths to lush reverbs and other unique effects, our freeware section was filled with lots of fun stuff to discover, week after week. Join us as we look back at the best free plugins of 2023 and enjoy a free Christmas present or two!

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Cherry Audio Synthesizer Expander Module: SEM for the People!

Cherry Audio released a string of software synths this year at a breathtaking pace. From Mercury 6 and Octave Cat to the unique Harmonia to an outright mind-blowing emulation of the massive Korg PS-3300, Cherry Audio delivered the goods. Do they ever sleep?

And then, in early December, they put the cherry on top of an amazing year with an early Christmas present to the synth community. By pulling one of the SEMs from their impressive Oberheim Eight Voice emulation, Cherry Audio created the Synthesizer Expander Module plugin – and made it available for free

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As you might expect, it’s a gorgeous emulation of the module that paved the way for so many great Oberheim classics. From the dual VCOs to the famous state-variable filter, Cherry Audio’s SEM is as faithful to the original as it gets. For added versatility, they’ve even added a delay effect and an emulation of the Oberheim Phasor stomp box. This one is truly a must-have!

The free Cherry Audio Synthesizer Expander Module plugin is available for macOS and Windows in VST, VST3, AU, AAX, and standalone formats.

Fancy more than one voice? Well, it turns out that Cherry Audio also has an excellent and incredibly affordable emulation of the Oberheim Eight Voice – eight SEMs strung together to make one massive polysynth!

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Cherry Audio Synthesizer Expander Module
Cherry Audio Synthesizer Expander Module · Source: Cherry Audio

Full Bucket Music Bucket ONE: The Crumar Bit 01/99 unleashed

Full Bucket Music also kept themselves busy this year and released a bunch of excellent free software synths, including emulations of the Korg Lambda ES50 and ARP Omni 2 . My favorite one, however, is Bucket ONE, a remake of the Crumar Bit 01 and Bit 99 polysynths from the 80s. 

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Despite their sonic qualities, these analog rarities were always the weird kids on the block. That’s because they were unfortunate enough to be born at a time when digital synths were all the rage. Manufacturers like Crumar responded by abolishing all knobs and sliders in favor of a digital-style button interface. Crumar even went as far as calling an analog synth “Bit”, presumably to highlight the digital control interface (and conceal the embarrassing fact that the rest of the synth was analog). Like other victims of the digital takeover such as the Korg Poly 61, Roland JX-8P, and Moog Source, the Bit 01/99 was so cumbersome to program and play that you might as well go and enjoy the presets of your DX7 instead.

Full Bucket Music to the rescue! Bucket ONE not only offers a faithful emulation of this pair of 6-voice analog synths (but with 64 voices of polyphony). It also sports the user interface that the Bit 01 and Bit 99 should have had, with lots of knobs for tweaking. Pair this free software synth with a good MIDI controller and you’ll be scratching your head as to why the Crumar Bit remained a side note in the synth history books. Clearly one of the best free plugins of 2023!

Bucket ONE is available for macOS and Windows in VST, VST3, AU, and CLAP formats.

Bucket ONE Free Plugin
Source: Full Bucket Music

Ohmforce Frohmager: It’s the 2000s all over again

2023 also brought us the return of Ohmforce. Granted, this name may not ring a bell for our younger readers. But if you were old enough to produce music in the 2000s, the probability that Ohmforce Frohmage was in your plugin folder was close to 100 percent, if not more than that. Originally released in 2001, Frohmage was a very cool filter plugin that ended up being used in countless productions. Everyone had it, everyone used it.

Fast-forward two decades and Ohmforce surprises us with not one, but two excellent news this year. Not only are all of the company’s legacy plugins like Ohmicide, Hematohm, and Ohmboyz now free. They also released Frohmager, the worthy successor to the mighty Frohmage – and it’s also free!

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Building on the beloved classic, Frohmager adds a powerful modulation engine with an ADSR envelope, envelope follower, and cross-modulating LFOs. This takes the gritty filter to a whole new level. Thanks, Ohmforce!

Frohmager is available for macOS and Windows in AU, VST, and AAX formats.

Ohmforce Frohmager Frohmage
Source: Ohmforce

Adam Szabo Solaris: Best free plugin of the KVR Developer Challenge

To say that Solaris by Adam Szabo won this year’s KVR Developer Challenge by a landslide would be an understatement. The plugin received more than twice as many points as the runner-up, clearly earning a spot on the list of the best free plugins of the year. And once you’ve immersed yourself in Solaris’ mesmerizing soundscapes, you’ll know the reason why.

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Solaris is a shimmer reverb that excels at creating cascading washes of sound and sparkling, otherworldly reverberations. With a Chorale section including a vowel filter, two shimmer stages, a pair of filters, and a modulation section, Solaris provides ample opportunities for sound shaping. This isn’t just a reverb – it’s a massive sound designer’s playground.

If you love Valhalla DSP’s Supermassive (also one of the best free plugins of all time), Solaris is sure to tickle your fancy. From dreamy, ethereal soundscapes to complex, evolving textures, this reverb can turn simple signals into all sorts of captivating spaces.

Solaris is a VST/VST3 plugin for Windows.

Solaris Free Plugin
Source: Adam Szabo

Mensla MS-2: Free 3-OP FM Synth

MS-2 by Mensla is a quirky little FM synthesizer with three operators. That doesn’t sound like much – but this thing can sound massive! Once you get the hang of its slightly crowded UI, you’ll discover a wealth of sounds ranging from plucky FM stuff to deep and gnarly basses to pulsating arpeggios.

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The secret lies in MS-2’s modulation section, where you can adjust how the operators modulate and affect each other. Each operator can supply sine, saw, ramp, triangle, or pulse waves, or two different kinds of noise. There’s a choice of phase or frequency modulation, adjustable feedback, various response curves, filter FM, an LFO – you name it. Who would’ve thought an FM synth with just three oscillators could sound so powerful?

But that’s not all. MS-2 also has a convenient Macro control to which you can assign several parameters to control them all at once. There’s a multi-mode filter, a built-in arpeggiator, and even a bunch of effects like distortion, delay, and reverb. In terms of experimental sound design and discovering new timbres, I think this is one of the best free plugins to come out this year – it’s loads of fun!

MS-2 is available for Windows (VST3) and macOS (AU).

Want even more free plugins? Head over to our archive, where you’ll find all the best free plugins that came out this year!

MS-2 free plugin
Source: Mensla
Best free plugins of 2023

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One response to “Best Free Plugins of 2023: Freeware Picks of the Year”

    Michael says:
    1

    love this site!

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