There are countless free software synths – and many of them are really good! That said, it’s all too easy to end up with a folder full of freeware synths that you don’t actually use because they lack that certain something. But that doesn’t have to be the case! Check out our list of 12 freeware synths you won’t want to miss.
Which one is the best is of course ultimately a matter of taste and workflow. However, there are some plug-ins that stand out from the crowd and belong in every producer’s toolkit – especially since they’re available for free for Mac and Windows.
To keep this list manageable, we’ve only included one free plugin from each developer in the list. Some developers offer a whole bunch of free synths, so it’s best to check their websites every once in a while.
Urs Heckmann, founder of u-he, spoils us with several excellent free software synths. Tyrell and Podolski have been around for years and are still very popular. However, our favorite freebie from u-he is Zebralette, aka “the Mini Zebra”. This slimmed-down version is supposed to showcase the sonic possibilities of the full version called Zebra.
Vember Audio Surge
The wavetable synth “Surge” by Vember Audio definitely deserves a place on this list of the best free software synths. Yes, you read that right: Wavetable synthesizer, free of charge. If you’re a fan of the sounds and possibilities of Serum or Massive, Surge is a powerful free alternative. For a free software synth, the list of features is seriously impressive – it even supports MPE.
Developer Claes Johnson develops the synth under an open-source license, which means that independent developers and supporters can participate in the development of the plugin. This has led to Surge being available as a module in the virtual modular system VCV Rack (see below).
Cherry Audio Voltage Modular 2
Cherry Audio Voltage Modular is a powerful virtual modular system, and the mini version called Nucleus is available for free! Sure, VCV Rack still is the top dog in this field, but it has one drawback: The free version is only available as a standalone app. That’s why Voltage Modular 2 Nucleus can rightfully lay claim to being the best free modular synth plugin.
Pendulate emerged from a collaboration between Eventide and Newfangled Audio and offers a novel sonic concept derived in part from ideas developed by Don Buchla. At the heart of Pendulate is a single oscillator based on a double pendulum and modeled chaotic behavior. What at first seems to be pure chaos and randomness works results in a wide array of unique and powerful sounds.
For further sound shaping, Pendulate offers wavefolder and lowpass gate modules, an envelope and LFO, and loads of modulation possibilities. Pendulate excels at interesting sounds with a lot of movement.
Full Bucket Music WhispAir
Full Bucket Music has long been one of the most prolific names in the world of free software synths. Picking one of their synths for this list wasn’t easy, but WhispAir is a strong contender ever since it won the KVR Developer Challenge 2021. Thus, the free synth has put the quite strong competition in their place.
Full Bucket Music WhispAir is a digital synth with three wavetable oscillators that can load user waveforms. It also offers a stereo filter, three modulation generators, and four envelopes as well as built-in chorus and vibrato. All controls are neatly laid out on the resizable interface.
DiscoDSP OB-Xd is an impressive free emulation of the legendary Oberheim OB-Xa – yes, that “Jump” synth. The free software synth sounds great and can even hold its own against some paid emulations.
DiscoDSP has also added a few features that the original doesn’t have. For example, there’s an oscillator mixer with an additional noise generator, and the filter offers several different modes. OB-Xd also features a micro-detuning function that simulates the small pitch deviations that give the original its character.
Here’s a true synth classic that’s now available completely free of charge: the Novation V-Station. The plugin emulates the K-Station hardware synth – a VA classic that first came out in 2002 and has long been retired. Luckily, it lives on in the free V-Station, so you can still enjoy its sounds today.
With three oscillators with four waveforms each, a noise generator, and both ring and frequency modulation, V-Station is capable of some seriously dense sounds. In addition, there’s an arpeggiator and a built-in effects section with six effects.
Matt Tytel Vital Basic
Ever since Helm, Matt Tytel’s creations are among the most popular freeware synths. Vital Basic is the free intro version of the developer’s latest creation, a powerful wavetable synth. But don’t be mistaken: It still offers the full range of capabilities, albeit with less presets and wavetables than the paid Plus and Pro versions.
Vital offers three wavetable oscillators, an additional noise oscillator, and spectral warping, which allows you to morph wavetables into each other. Along with two filters, a total of six LFOs, nine effects, MPE support, and a text-to-wavetable function for vocoder effects, this opens up endless sound possibilities. Vital runs on Windows, macOS, and Linux.
2getheraudio Cheeze Machine 2
Back by popular demand! At one point, 2getheraudio had actually discontinued the development of their freeware classic “Cheeze Machine” in order to devote themselves to their commercial products. But the number of fans just kept growing, so they just had to come back and do an all-new second version.
The retro look and the clearly laid-out user interface are a very good introduction for beginners. Few knobs, plenty of sound. Dial in some of its signature pad sounds and the plugin sounds so smooth and creamy that it can almost compete with some of the best commercial analog emulations. And that’s for free.
TheWaveWarden Odin 2
Odin 2 by TheWaveWarden is an open-source synth that has its roots in Reason’s Thor. As such, it’s a polyphonic, 24-voice, semi-modular synthesizer that uses subtractive synthesis. Up to three oscillators with classic analog waveforms serve as sound sources. The filter offers emulations of classic Oberheim and Korg designs, among others.
Odin’s features list also includes five effects (delay, phaser, flanger, chorus, distortion), four LFOs, four envelopes, an X/Y pad, flexible signal routing, a large modulation matrix with 24 slots, an arpeggiator, and an extensive preset library. Another plus is that Odin 2 also runs on Linux in addition to Windows and macOS.
VCV Rack 2 Free
What’s on every synth enthusiast’s wishlist? A massive modular system, of course! VCV Rack 2 Free is a virtual Eurorack system with a plethora of modules for pretty much any form of synthesis. However, it does have one weakness: the free version is only available as a standalone software synth – there’s no plugin version.
Apart from that, the potential of VCV Rack is virtually inexhaustible due to its modular structure and huge amount of available modules, many of which are also free. The only boundary is the power of your CPU. Just like in the real world, the individual modules are connected with virtual patch cables – and just like in the real world, you can do pretty much anything you like. This makes VCV Rack 2 Free a great toy with almost limitless possibilities, and absolutely free.
Of all the free software synths on this list, BLEASS Monolit has the most modern GUI. It’s quite obviously optimized for touchscreens, but Monolit is also available for macOS and Windows in addition to iOS. The monophonic synth combines various features of other BLEASS instruments.
Monolit offers two oscillators, the first of which offers four simultaneously usable waveforms. In addition, there’s a dedicated FM module. Furthermore, Monolit has ample modulation possibilities in the General tab, and a versatile filter.
More about free software synths and other freeware tools
Note: This article was originally published in German on bonedo.de.
- Zebralette: Bonedo
- Surge: Bonedo
- Voltage Modular: Bonedo
- Pendulate: Bonedo
- Whispair: Bonedo
- OB-Xd: Bonedo
- V-Station: Bonedo
- Vital: Matt Tytel
- Cheeze Machine II: 2getheraudio
- Odin 2: TheWaveWarden
- VCV Rack: VCV Rack
- Monolit: BLEASS