Synth plugins are One of things that make me envy, musicians that where born in this era.
Along with the powerful computers that allow them to bring work along with them.
About a few decades in the era of songwriting, mastering audio was difficult because we had to use one tape and use the other side for our recording.
This creates some loud hissing sounds that makes songs barely audible.
Wolfgang Palm’s PPG
This is actually Wolfgang Palm’s next-generation WaveGenerator.
It includes three oscillators, noise generators and some LFOs for more fun.
You have a 32-field grid Sound Map that holds up to 31 easy to customize presets and a Base preset.
It has a pretty cute but intuitive interface that allows you to drag icons of Oscillator Sound 1,2,3 the LFO, Filter, Noise, Gain and Oscillator parameters and connect them to each other.
You could see where this is going; you can create endless combinations of sounds.
In short, it’s like Wolfgang Palm created an awesome canvas that creates synthesizer sounds.
The preset management is the only thing I could think wrong about this product.
It’s created in a way that it categorizes presets depending on the changes you’ve made to them.
This makes it more complex and can be a major turn off for some. But not to me. This is good stuff!
Madrona Labs Kaivo
Here’s a synth worth your time. You get lots of signal routing options but you get no analog sound from these instruments.
Hybrid granular synthesizers are known for their glittery but cheery sound and the Kaivo is a physical modeling instrument that uses a granular exciter to make it sound unique.
You load a sample into the Granulator, a module in the Kaivo.
The sample could have up to 16 grains per voice.
The clicking sound worried me as with all grain-type sounds for synthesizers.
A beautiful quick or slow granular fade in or out proved to be quite useful for me.
If you’re a nut about modulation or you’d like to create unique and modern synthesizer sounds, Madrona Labs has this for you.
You won’t get any vintage love but you get a synth canvas where you could paint your colors.
Tone 2 Nemesis
FM synths sound like high-flying colors of the Aurora Borealis if you could set it right.
The Tone 2 Nemesis can do just that and many more.I know there are plenty of other better FM synths that could do very well against the Tone 2.
But it has twin-oscillators that use two waveforms per oscillator.
The combination creates a new form of FM/PM hybrid that sounds innovative.
You also get lots of controls including wavetable, shaping phase distortion, pulse wave modulation and more.
It’s something that any serious synth musicians should try out and see for themselves.
Yes, you could shape almost any kind of sound because you could tamper with the oscillator harmonics and frequencies.
I haven’t mentioned about the presets, right?
There are over 1,000 presets that sound excellent and are worth a look if you’re looking to expand the product.
I know you’re going to tell me that this bit of VST is a bit CPU hungry.
But I can look past that if it made possible constructing the very sound of your instrument at the core oscillation using a wide array of tools to make unique sounds.
Aside from what was mentioned, you also get six effects slots and a choice of 14 sound processors and DSPs.
It’s also an additive synthesizer that can morph sounds against each other.
With over 65 pairs of waveforms, you’ve got nothing more to ask for.
Add to that some awesome filters with great cutoff and resonance and you’ve got a virtual machine capable of creating something unique and has lots of controls that offset that CPU hunger it has.
Dimitry Sches Diversion
This musician is also a software developer and he’s one of the people who’ve made computer music design and recording possible.
Dmitry Sches Diversion is a synthesizer that delivers maximum sound from modern computers.
Think of it as modern computers games which strain your computer’s capabilities and even burn it to the ground.
CPU hungry as it is, it’s one of the best because it has oscillators that have an actual coordinate graph control.
This means drag point X to point Y and you can get unique sounding synthesizers along the way.
It can create for some great sounds, but not as quite as you expect.
Look at how they work it in YouTube and listen to it yourself.
You won’t believe how good it could sound.
AAS Ultra Analog VA-2
To be honest with you, this is purely subjective. I’ve been using the Ultra Analog VA-2 from Applied Acoustic systems for so long, I’ve grown used to it.
Luckily, a friend of mine re-sold it to me, so I got it for cheap. But it doesn’t mean it’s cheaper it’s bang for your buck.
Truthfully, it has that powerful synthesizer sound.
The “beef” as many musicians may call it while listening to virtual emulators of their favorite instruments or effects.
Beef, as you might say, the sound of the Ultra Analog VA-2 is thick, crisp and thundering.
You get two signal paths that mix together to form your own sounds.
Tabs navigate other options helping you sculpt your sound with different parameters.
With nice equalizers, compressors, phasers, flangers, delays and distortion, including auto-wah and other options, it brings out the sound quality any musician deserves.
The problem is are you willing to pay $200 for a full version of this software?
I would, but would you?
Cableguys Curve 2
Probably one of the silliest trade names out there, Cableguys’ eponymous humor is parred by their powerful synthesizer plug-in Curve 2.
Curve is a subtractive/analog synthesizer. Subtractive might be a big turn-off for many, but Curve 2 allows you to draw your own waveforms.
Yes, there’s a gigantic display on top of the plug-in’s interface that shows the shapes of the waveforms you’re drawing.
Without going into the math of parabolic function equations, Curve 2 gives you the ability to create harmonic-based tones to your liking.
You won’t have to mess around with just basic waveforms including square, sine and pulse, You could combine shapes, create new shapes or combine them all to create the perfect synth sound you’ve been looking for.
Again, VST synths like these can be quite expensive.
If you’re willing to shell out for plug-ins of this magnitude, better buy them for special features real synths couldn’t do, just like drawing new waveform curves!
Steinberg Padshop Pro
DAW developer Steinberg made Padshop Pro, also known as Pad World, an effort to branch out into the plug-in industry.
Steinberg’s synthesizer claims to bring you worlds of pad synthesizer sounds you’ve never thought possible.
But that’s not what I discovered.
Instead, I was able to do so much more, like rhythmic synth playing. Using its mathematical granular engine, I could shape the synth’s tone.
Using the effects, I can create some awesome new synthesizers on the fly.
A standout of its features is the Modulation Matrix, included with a Twin LFO, delays and a Step Modulator for size.
That Step Modulator is unforgettable for me; was able to do some unique sounds that step sequencers couldn’t do for me.
Despite having to be great at math using the granular engine, Padshop Pro is quite easy to use and get some fun sounds out of.
Togu Audio Line TAL-BassLine 101
If you’ve been in love with the Roland SH-101, Togu Audio Line (TAL) has something in store for you.
This is one of my favorites because they’ve made every setting really similar to the original SH-101, even the single ADSR envelope.
These guys at TAL had produced some of my favorite vocoders and other synthesizers (which I might review on other posts).
One thing I love about this little baby is authenticity and workflow management for classic SH-101 users.
Being one myself, I gradually got into the groove real quick, finding level sliders for saw, pulse, noise and sub-oscillators as similar to the original keyboard as I imagined.
Sounds from the 24dB self-oscillating resonant low pass model was just pure magical.
While I wouldn’t score it quite highly just because it sounds like the original Roland SH-101, its sound is in a league of itself, making it an outstanding VST purchase.
XILS-Lab XILS 4 Synthesizer
Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ was the first time I heard a synthesizer sound so good.
It’s been more than 50 years since the release of that album but whenever I hear the synths used by Richard Wright, I couldn’t help but think of how great his workflow was despite the lack of digital aides we have with today’s technology.
That, and the difficulty of his original EMS VCS3 being detuned for so long
But XILS-Lab had just released the XILS 4, one of the best emulations of the original EMS VCS3 used by Pink Floyd and other British artists.
The XILS 4 has the synthesizer itself.
It has a routing pin matrix and shows you the group of six oscillators in three pairs.
The oscillators have different waveforms. For example, on Osc 1, you have a sawtooth paired with a smooth sine waveform.
You then get a fat square wave on 2 and a different type of waveform for 3.
Unlike the original which was only mono, the XILS4 is polyphonic.
Your LFO can sync to the host’s tempo and you could even set them to a key trigger.
You also have an additional 256 step-sequencer for more fun!
Sonic Charge Synplant
Want something new?
Want to see the design factors in your synth-making in a plug-in?
Want to move every single strand of detail to make your audio sound the way you want it?
How about a genetic approach to things?
That’s how Synplant wanted to do and it achieved it with flying colors if I might say so myself.
Using a cross-platform idea that does not follow the oscillator-filter-amp setup, you see a seed floating in the darkness.
Yes, it’s like a videogame or an equalizer waveform in most media players.
Using the ‘branches’ to influence the ‘seed’ or the dot in the middle, you could make some unique synthesizer sound.
You could even use the branch as your reference point.
Clone them if you will and create new sounds.
There are a boatload of features I’ve never seen before which can influence sound-crafting in Sonic Charge’s outstanding synth product!
Synth elitists will tell you you’re not a synth player if you haven’t heard and praised the original Moog and Minimoog synthesizers.
But you’re not a synth player at all if you haven’t tried a Minimoog VST.
Unfortunately, they go by the thousands.
So why did I choose GForce’s Minimoog above the others?
GForce’s Minomonsta emulates the original sound of the Minimoog but has its own patch library and could categorize sounds depending on their type.
You can even emulate real-life sounds that you’ve done with the Minimoog if you’re an actual hardware owner.
With patches, you wouldn’t need to have a paper mark for your settings.
Heck, you could even create a ‘controlled feedback’ when you mix the low-level output to the external output, just like the original.
Sound quality is excellent.
I believe the only downside here is, there are lots of Minimoog and Moog emulations all around that have the same uniqueness factor.
Plugin Boutique VirtualCZ
If there’s a good description for the VirtualCZ, it would be its overwhelming appearance.
You have two lines up and down and filters all over the place.
This was the perfect machine when it was in physical form, back when it looked like the Casio CZ synthesizers.
Phase Distortion or PD synthesis isn’t as present in character as Phase Modulation or Frequency Modulation, but PD is simple enough to create some unique sounds.
Having eight basic waveforms, you could switch between them using the DCW knob to create some unique PD sounds.
Use the filters to fine tune your sounds.
Add sonic richness using the Octave, Semitone and Fine Parameters and create further creative sounds with Ring Modulation.
Add some Chorus effects and you can get some great sounds from the CZ-101, CZ-1000, CZ-3000 and CZ-5000 efficiently.
If you’re one to create some weird ambient sounds, you’re in the right place.
GForce ImpOSCar 2
The OSCar synthesizer from the Oxford Synthesizer Company was always on par with the Roland, KORG and Casio synthesizers.
You could consider it on par with the ESMs being that it is a British synthesizer after all.
The thing about VST synthesizers is you wouldn’t have to maintain them too much and you could save your patches for use at a later time.
GForce’s ImpOSCar 2 improves on the original ImpOSCar by adding a ring modulator to the original OSCar Synthesizer.
Unlike the original, you also get some pink noise and some great new effects.
The only qualm I have is the lack of reverb.
But that shouldn’t be much of a problem especially if you could always use a DAW effects chain and use a high-resolution reverb plugin effect.
Still, less CPU usage, the better.
Remember that it’s not a PCM Synthesizer but it’s a synthesizer capable of creating some great waveforms, oscillation and lead sounds.
You won’t get some realistic guitar or bass sounds here
So far, out of all the 50 best synths I’ve found, Steinberg’s Retrologue is the one with the least-intimidating GUI when it first popped out.
The best thing about it?
You wouldn’t need Cubase to go and use it.
The Retrologue’s two oscillators make it easy to mix some good old PWM with some good noise and subs.
If I wanted to make some really weird sounds, I’d go into a 12-mode resonant filter and shake up things with the distortion.
Sound quality is powerful enough to have me create some booming bass and awesome lead sounds.
However, the synths sound way better when I used them on modern electronic dance music.
For rock and pop, they do just fine, but nowhere near as useful when you need a good rhythm or lead with a flat square or sine character.
Many synth players and enthusiasts waited for so long for MPowerSynth’s release this 2015.
The synthesizer produces sound with three oscillators in a series pattern.
Each oscillator has a different character.
For example, Oscillation 1 has a mono output. Meanwhile, Oscillator two doesn’t have multiple voices.
This creates additive synthesizer opportunities, creating new synthesizer sounds according to the source material or harmonics you select.
I remember adding a distorted bass filter where I messed with the oscillators to produce some organic-sounding-but-not-quite type of synth sounds.
I used the Sharpen option (you also get Clean, Harmonicity, Slope and more controls) and you could create a digital harmonic that sounds analog, yet, a bit more of a real instrument.
Like most synths in this list, this synthesizer’s drawbacks can be staggeringly-high CPU usage.
But then, if you could find use for Comb filters, Formant filters and other combinations, you’re much at home with this synth VST.
Waves is well-known for emulations of famous rack-mounted preamplifiers, signal processors and other vintage hardware for signal processing.
They’re relatively new to the world of synth development in 2013 but their first effort did not go to waste.
Price can be a bit steep to be honest for the Waves Element.
The modular synth can create plenty of variations for a subtractive synthesizer. But not as many as additive synths.
While making my own sound, the two-oscillator synthesizers and the sub-oscillator afford many sound choices without destroying the composition of sound.
The sub-oscillator is great for adding body to my lighter-sounding synthesizer edits.
Oscillator 1 contains a sine modulation knob. Synchronize with Oscillator 2’s Frequency Modulator and you’ve got plenty of opportunities for a subtractive synthesizer sound.
I usually add some bit of noise and sub-oscillation (without using octaves) to add more body and not tamper much with the bass sound.
The best touch? The VCA envelope’s ‘Punch’ button creating powerful, pulsating attacks at every corner.
The Omnisphere engine is probably Spectrasonics’ most successful engine to date next to its earlier SAGE engine.
But Spectrasonics does not suck at sound. In fact, the only thing I find wrong with Trillian is a disgruntling GUI.
The Trillian is a bass sample library using its own player.
The Music Man five string bass is quite convincing for its sound. However, it works way better if paired with an emulated cabinet.
The Fender Precision works itself well with alternative and classic rock music.
I find it the only instrument to be useful with its original DI sound.
No need to amp things. But again, it depends on the genre of music.
The Fender Jazz and Chapman Stick all fit well with their respective genres.
They would need more processing if to be used with aggressive genres of EDM and rock.
I tried it myself and found the sounds desirable, with the character of each instrument preset despite heavy processing.
Togu Audio Line TAL-U-NO-LX
TAL is well-known for its emulations of the SH-101 and its high-quality vocoders having a distinctly-powerful Roland vibe.
Sure enough, TAL gives lots of vintage for its sound.
The TAL-U-NO-LX is much bigger than the TAL-Bassline or vocoders you’ve seen.
However, it reminded me of how the Juno-60’s interface looked like.
If you’re familiar with the Juno-60’s interface, great. if not, well, it’s not really a steep learning curve whatsoever.
One thing I like about this new synth from TAL is their coding is still solid.
No screw-ups and instability issues with multiple DAW usage.
And yes, they don’t recycle codes from their other synthesizers.
For $70, you’re paying for a Roland synthesizer having those sharp sounds.
Ambient patches all over.
The Juno-60’s soul is strong with this one. I should know, the synth really has that 80s new wave/ballad sound I couldn’t get enough of.
And it’s easy to create those sounds too!
FXpansion DCAM: Synth Squad
I’ve loved FXpansion’s sets of drums.
Combined with other samples, I can achieve some realistic-sounding drum patches of high quality other than ToonTrack’s Superior Drum Sampler Plugin.
They also make synthesizers apparently with the Synth Squad.
While it can be a bit pricey, it’s pretty much useful when you get the hang of it (being that it appears to get complicated and jumbled quickly).
Amber, the first synth squad member with a stringy but thick sound.
Adjust the slow attack a bit more and you’ve got an artificial synth useful in any audio situation.
Meanwhile, Strobe is a simple subtractive synthesizer where I found some of the best lead sounds possible.
Well, the combination of a sawtooth, pulse and noise oscillator sounds like a fine lead sound for me.
But I’ve been able to give it some powerful voices, from bass sounds to twangy, powerful character tones.
Cypher has three oscillators that combines different sinewaves to create a flowing-type of oscillation.
But it could get a vintage sound. I’ve tried using its dual wave-shapers, resulting into a warm, fuzz-less and thick sound reminiscent of early synthesizers.
FabFilter Twin 2
Now with twin oscillators as its name suggests, the FabFilter Twin 2 creates a plethora of sounds never thought possible with the first FabFilter.
For me, this synth had tons of value for money having two oscillators with a new modulation routing system.
With modulation routing, that meant new synth sounds possible rather than just combining two kinds of oscillators together.
The GUI is something unique. It often reminds me of a computer game or a Tron movie.
Routing is simple to follow.
In just five minutes, I created a fine lead sound and bass sound using the interface.
However, its simplicity can be its trouble because it lacks some features bringing additional capabilities and possibilities.
Oh, you get some excellent LFOs that make use of 16-step sequencers called XLFOs.
Fine-tune them to perfection (yes, this is possible) and you could edit every part of the LFO curve.
Pretty neat if you’re a nitty-gritty synth nut who wants every detail of the synth in order.
I wouldn’t recommend this synthesizer for beginners because the GUI’s quite difficult to make sense especially for a semi-modular synthesizer.
Figuring it out for at least two days after I purchased it, the u-he ACE has ‘that’ analog sound reminiscent of early synthesizers from the 80s-90s.
I was surprised to see it’s a bit basic with just two oscillators, two LFOs, two filters and two of everything but they could be connected using cards (ala drag-and-drop).
The ACE, however, routes itself in a standard configuration.
Things can get messy if you don’t make an effort to organize your cables.
But if you figure out the organization and where your cables are going, you could have your ADSR become a mix controller to create some nasty, filthy sounds.
That is not all you could do with this DAW though.
The ACE has loads more features in store for the advanced synth player.
Fan of hybrid synthesizers but couldn’t make a choice?
Maybe you could prioritize interface response and loading time into the mix. I could do with such.
However, Tone2’s Electra2 can be a downer if you’re looking for robust sounds and proper consistency when it comes to frequencies.
While the Electra2 comes with a library of 1180 presets, the first sin it commits is to overwrite the ‘X’ installation, if you have one that is.
ElectraX projects get replaced by two in other DAW projects and can load the presets or saved settings for ElectraX.
It’s truly annoying if you notice the immense sound quality difference between Electra2 and ElectraX, but if you get used to it (and the quality. Yes, the quality), you know it’s worth your money.
I was able to get some decent sounds using some powerful filter types ranging from simple auto-wah filters to AM filters that gave me some cry or yoying sounds.
The Yamaha CS-80V is an exemplary synthesizer from history and today, plenty of emulations had given it justice.
What makes Arturia’s own CS-80V emulation is the way they add to the features of the original CS-80V, which they’ve done a damn good job of.
I was once a CS-80V user and I seamlessly integrated myself into this virtual unit.
Two signal paths with two oscillators create some outstanding analog-grade filter sounds.
Once I’ve created my analog-style CS-80V sound (believe me, it sounds unexpectedly close), I could then use the LFO triggering section synced to MIDI tempo for each signal path to add new flavors.
Additional features not included in the original Yamaha synth include the VCO-VCF-VCA signal flow diagram that opens to reveal a modulation matrix upon clicking.
This makes the VST Synth a semi-modulating synthesizer where you could route ten sources to create new synth parameters.
Bang for the buck, I’d say!
GForce Software Oddity2
Lots of faders. That was my reaction to the GForce Software Oddity 2 upon seeing its interface.
It’s simple enough, to be honest. You get a polyphonic synthesizer that opens up lots of opportunities to create unique sounds.
The GForce Oddity is now fully polyphonic in version two.
You now have some legato triggers, some new X-LFO and X-ADSR similar to the Minimonsta.
Aside from such, you get a modulatable delay, an Output section, a pan switch and spread slider.
I’ve found the left-right Proportional Pitch Control (PPC) very useful.
The Transpose switch is extremely helpful live if you wanted to move from one octave to the other quickly. Most VST Synths fail to make octave runs, but this does the work so well.
If you’re a beginner, you have about 1,400 presets to learn how to develop your own unique sound.
Rob Papen Blue II
I know many guys who complained Rob Papen didn’t bother to include a sample import for its new Blue II interface.
But to be honest, it is up to the developer if they want to allow the use of personal samples in their synthesizers.
It’s up to Rob Papen and this synth is great for the way Papen designed it.
Blue II is easy on the eyes sporting a blue/light grey GUI.
You have six oscillators where instrument waveforms can create some awesome sounds with Frequency Modulation, Phase Distortion and Wave Shaping.
From here, you could create your custom sounds and not just some vintage tones.
But the quality of samples here are top-notch. Analog waveforms and sub-oscillators work together to bring some powerful tones.
I’m impressed with the way I could make some new and modern-sounding synth sounds go vintage with the filters.
These are of high-quality and makes paying $179 for this entire thing worthwhile.
D16 Group Lush-101
- Compare prices: PluginBoutique
Fan of the original Roland SH-101? D16’s version offers a boatload of features different from TAL-Bassline that can be right up your alley.
But if you’re coming from the Bassline, the small GUI for the Lush-101 is undeniable.
It can be difficult to read and navigate.
But given the simple design of the SH-101, I didn’t have much trouble.
This is not a direct emulation of the SH-101. D16 made multiple layers of SH-101 play together or play independently.
This can produce a variety of interesting sounds never thought possible with the original SH-101.
Tempo-Sync-able LFO rate sliders make it easy to make some wobbling bass or titillating synth flavors where you need them.
You also have a Unison mode, an arpeggiator and the ability to insert different effects in each layer for Chorus, Flanger, Distortion and Tremolo.
Rob Papen Predator
Rob Papen is all over the place and his products carry the clout of his high-quality digital goodness.
I found some of the arpeggiator patterns in the presets a tad overused, but who said about using just the presets?
I have to admit the patches sound great right out of the proverbial box. Working with Jon Ayres on both the Blue II and the Predator, they’ve given us three oscillators going through a multimode filter and plenty of modulators.
That, and I’ve run it through a PWM with a dedicated LFO and had a sound so unique, I couldn’t believe Papen just priced the software for this much.
Preferable for beginner synth players, creating sounds without much trouble is where the Predator excels.
Five-stage envelopes are easier to learn and LFO settings are easier to tweak. That’s where Papen’s focus is.
Madrona Labs Aalto
Madrona Labs’ Aalto is fun to look at with its cartoonish/blueprint design and easy-to-follow synth layout.
This could look unconventional for most synth players, but the semi-modulator feature is surely a must for any synth player
Aalot is based on Don Buchla’s analog synthesizers. You have multiple synthesis components you could patch in numerous ways.
The two sections of the GUI made work easier for me, with the higher half allowing me to modulate sounds quickly in a non-confusing manner.
The lower part has the oscillation, filter and amplification modules.
The Complex Oscillator is from Buchla’s 259 Complex Waveform Generator with a Modulator and Carrier oscillator for a gate-ful of experiences.
The gates are fully controllable and you could use the Waveguide option to use a peaking equalizer to create some new, interesting sounds.
Arturia Oberheim SEM V
Working with the Oberheim I went overtime for so long in my playing days I couldn’t get my hands off of its decent-sounding warmness.
Arturia definitely re-creates and adds something new with the Oberheim SEM V.
As much as I can, I don’t grade synths as to how close they emulate their sources. I rate them based on their actual, original sound.
This Arturia recreation of a 1974 synthesizer became a famous alternative to the rare original.
The original Oberheim had a powerful voltage-controlled filter intended for use with the synthesizers of its time including Minimoogs.
Arturia recreated the SEM V’s architecture without fault.
Add in a polyphonic option and you’ve got something more than the original Oberheim SEM V.
You also have multiple-voiced capabilities where up to eight voice can be edited individually.
True enough, Arturia’s Oberheim SEM V efforts have skyrocketed to surpass even the original’s sound, making its way into my list.
Native Instruments Razor
Additive synthesizers are often too simple or too complicated to make things work. Many get turned off with additive synthesizers just for this reason.
But if you’re given a particular set of sinewaves where you could just combine sounds in a less “scientific” way, then you’ve got a friend with Razor.
Razor is a modern synthesizer and is fully interactive with the free Reaktor player. From vocoders to vowels and formants, as well as Juno-sounding synthesizers, Razor’s got it all.
I found it useful making dubstep warbles, reverbs, unison and other kinds of sound. It’s got those high-impact samples we’re all dreaming about!
Native Instruments Monark
Aside from Razor, there’s Monark. Monark is for people who’re in the mood for smooth sound. Minimoog sounds addicted? Monark’s just right for you.
But you’ll find it annoying that Native Instruments had to make a dedicated Minimoog emulation aside from all the other Minimoog emulations from Reaktor itself.
But then again, this is a later Minimoog emulation wherein Native Instruments shows great attention to detail and a preset bank that can make any newbie worthy of playing the Minimoog his or her way.
Need a high quality Minimoog? You’ve got it!
Sonic Academy ANA
Analog synths come and go. Most work with lots of gimmicks, or features, as we would all prefer to call them.
Go with some partials to create an additive synthesizer. Use some PCMs to create lifelike recreations of famous instrument sounds.
PCMs are often downplayed because of this, but not the Sonic Academy ANA.
Imagine a Roland TB-303-sounding synthesizer capable of retro sounds.
The synthesizer itself is capable of shaping note transients.
While it could not use some old-school synthesis ala wavetable on sounds, the G-envelope had me achieve some famous 80’s pad synths and some lead sounds from that era flawlessly too!
iZotope Iris 2
The first Iris was capable of doing the following: it could emulate some vintage analog sounds and give it a modern twist.
You could quickly modulate your oscillators and use filters to define the overall shape of your synth sample. In Iris 2, there’s more.
It might appear like a usual run-of-the-mill subtractive synthesizer except for its Spectogram window.
The window is also a tool where users could edit their samples.
The X-axis represents time while the Y-axis represents frequency. The brightness of your spectrogram sample reflects the amplitude of your sample.
Pretty nifty and helps create some useful synth sounds while on the go, would you not say?
I remember loading up Bazille for the first time with a 1.0 Ghz computer because I didn’t have anything fancy during the time yet. My CPU was almost fried and my computer restarted.
I thought bad about Bazille. But looking back now, the CPU usage was just a small price to pay when you could get something that’s a complete joy to use.
Bazille does not go with the usual synth technical lingo.
Rather, users are treated to maximize their creativity by blurring the lines between modulation and audio signals, and allowing the routing to almost every part of the instrument.
And no kidding, these are high-quality sounds.
Imagine all the possibilities using Bazille. Think about that for a moment.
Native Instruments Absynth 5
NI’s dazzled the synth world in 2009 with the Mutator.
While everyone thought it was just a gimmick because it didn’t deliver some mind-blowing synthesizer sounds, I believe today it’s made a great difference.
A little bit similar to Sonic Charge’s Synplant, NI’s Absynth 5 pushes your bright and happy synth sound to the darkness should you select it to be that.
So imagine if you’ve got that sparkly, bright arpeggiated sound having some great boomy, percussive bass.
That’s where the Mutator stands out and why it remains in my list.
The first time I saw the interface, I knew this was an additive synthesizer. A unique, additive synth, if I may add.
Waveshaping sliders, contouring your waveforms, mixing them together, the Z3TA+2 is ‘synth science’ put nicely together.
Add the fact the users can map the waveshapers using the modulation matrix and I was completely sold.
Imagine you’re going from a smooth triangle wave then you shape the waves in a way you’re distorting or even ‘inflaming’ some parts of the waveform to create some weird, dirty sounds.
This is a creative sculpting tool where soundwaves are the stones you use.
Native Instruments FM8
NI is impeccable for great sound quality and absolute usability, especially when NI highly values the hardware-software interaction as an integral part for its products.
NI’s FM8 is a VST additive synthesizer, a digital clone of the Yamaha DX7, and a transforming sound powerhouse its users would not get enough of.
NI made it clear they did not want to make a Yamaha DX7 clone with the morphing additive synth feature.
In my experience, DX7 sounds, and with a few tweaking using the morph patches and arpeggiators, and I create some awesome vintage analog yet modern sounds.
Synapse Audio Dune 2
If there’s anybody who could save your CPU from power-hungry VST synths, it would be Synapse Audio.
Turning on 8320 oscillators that consume only a third of your CPU power shows the manufacturer’s powerful coding and development behind the VST instrument.
One of the less-intimidating VST synth interfaces, Dune 2 gives you two oscillators capable of achieving your own wavetable synthesis techniques.
Cheezy pianos to hyper-dirty DNB sounds take one second to create.
Frequency modulation, phase modulation, this synth can do almost anything. Just watch out for that steep pricetag.
u-he Zebra 2
We’ve known u-he to bring high quality for the right price. It’s a simple interface with tabs alright.
But in the right hands, the u-he Zebra 2 can do almost anything you want.
Don’t go for the user manual though; jump right in!
The Zebra 2 is actually three plug-ins. The first is the Zebra synthesizer, then the Zebrallete and the ZRev.
Being semi-modular, you can load four oscillators and four FM oscillators.
A Spectral Editor uses additive synthesis principles with different kinds of partials to combine and edit.
Use an assortment of filters for everything and you’ve got your own unique sound!
Native Instruments Reaktor 5
There is no reason I should refuse including Reaktor 5 in my list of Top 50 VST synthesizers just because several NI products have already appeared.
Remember, workflow, usability and capability is everything.
The only thing I’m sad about is the lack of 64-bit support.
With Reaktor 5 doing so many things, an updated architecture can help save some CPU struggles.
The original Reaktor is a powerful VST synth with lots of preset patches and creativity to unleash.
But it was not too intuitive.
Workflow and the advanced design principles, just small updates one might say, are huge improvements for me.
Again, something from u-he that looks simple. But many made that mistake judging its uselessness by the huge pricetag of $215.
Sound quality is one reason for that price. But there’s more.
Diva’s developers are well-known for their ground-breaking preset patches.
All inspired by classic and vintage synthesizers, the Diva could create modern sounds using its weird combination of standard and odd filters.
The interface is smooth and not-too intimidating.
But I might say, it’s really eating up lots of CPU power.
Still, the sound quality and workflow is perfect.
Besides, they’re only running through Apple Macs, so there’s no risk of breaking, I think.
Although Nexus is no recreation of an existing synthesizer engine, nor does it have oscillators to make your own sounds from waveforms.
It does have very nice features for changing the sound of an existing sample.
ROMplers do not limit creativity. Workflow optimization brings convenience.
When things are convenient, creativity comes out without force.
Get great sounds quickly using the ReFX Nexus2.
Functionality and intuitiveness is the core of any ROMpler.
Else, it’s going down the ranks. Samples are guaranteed good with the ReFX Nexus2 but if you’ve heard the patch sounds you get a lifelike instrument sound from famous emulations of samples with great tweakability.
If you’re familiar with Manuel Schleis’ works, you’re in the right place for high-quality sounds.
The Nexus2 categorizes sounds according to categories including classical to pads.
ReFX had also gone far to say they’ve used some very expensive vintage equipment to get the samples right.
The Nexus2 is less for real instrument sounds and more for dance music producers.
It fits right in the bill though for sound quality and fluid workflow.
It saved me an entire 10 minutes of setting up and finding the right sound for projects I’m working on.
Image-Line’s well-known for Fruity Loops in Windows.
One of its additive synthesizers, Harmor, is now available for export to different DAWs.
I’ll say this is an awesome business move.
The additive creative synth is much easier to use that most competition.
However, the interface can be quite intimidating for first-time users.
But then, here’s a small catch; use a photo and create some weird waveforms and sounds.
Something different indeed the resynthesis truly is.
For more fun, you could edit the image ala how you would in Paint or Photoshop to attain unique sounds.
The fun way to use Harmor, especially the inspiring image-based waveform generator is something I have not implemented as effectively as in other VST synthesizers.
If you don’t like presets and want to create your own sounds, the Image-Line Harmor is what you deserve!
Reveal Sound Spire
The world never knew much about Reveal Sound until they released Spire.
Many criticized the plugin for having a complicated interface.
But you can get some pretty decent sounds if you mess around with the synthesis mode and the waveform.
You get four oscillators with the Classic, Noise, FM and AMSync options.
The Wave menu, with its 49 waveforms, is an effective additive and contrast to the subtractive elements of Spire.
Waveshaping plus wavetables create some unique and powerful sounds.
Polymorphing as Reveal Noise says, is the future of synth-sound creation.
Add some more flavor with LFOs, unique-sounding filters that oscillate or cut frequencies at will.
There’s also a plethora of high-quality effects, including delays, reverbs, waveshapers,p hasers and chorus.
Native Instruments Massive
Again, an entry from NI. It would seem they’ve won the Top 50, but I wouldn’t say frequency plays a huge role.
Native Instruments’ Massive has three oscillators.
They’re quite different starting from a Square-Saw I shape (as Massive calls them), then transforms into different synth shapes depending on the knob position.
Not just a click and choose type of synth, Massive opens up different audio possibilities.
But the transform knob isn’t all! You’ve got 82 wavetable oscillator shapes to combine and create sounds from.
Combine this with a modulation system for every knob, you add new character and open new possibilities for your synthesizer sound.
If there’s any good NI VST synth out there, it would be Massive.
VST synth players have been raving about LennarDigital’s Synleth 1 and for good reason.
Sylenth1 is a analog synth which uses a polyphonic engine.
With up to four oscillators, while not using up to many processing power.
It’s two filter sections are recreated to sound like the real analog thing.
They have different saturation stages to give you that nice harmonic sound.
The modulation settings offer you the possibility to tweak your waveforms even further.
The mastering selection consist of six effects to even out your sculpted sound.
The simplicity of it all makes it one of the most-useable synthesizers.
Workflow optimization always starts with simplicity.
The intimidating interface becomes a fluid workflow per session because of easy-to-understand labels on synthesizers.
For beginners, the large preset library is a great place to start finding your sound.
However, it’s not for everyone.
Experienced and seasoned synth players could be disappointed with the limited approach of the Sylenth1, namely its simplicity.
But I’ve known some players, myself included, who use more than one VST during a live performance and find that Sylenth1’s workflow should not be taken lightly.
This thing will rock your world.
Omnisphere probably has the simplest interface ever to grace audio engineer and player screens worldwide.
With a price so high at $479, it’s probably a dream to own one.
Or maybe not at all.
The Omnisphere sports 42 GB of goodness.
You get 2700 sources for your sound base for oscillation.
In later versions, you can load your own sound sources too.
Using the hard drive to play the samples, you could use longer sounds to create your own sound effects
Shaping tools for samples include timbre, sample start and fine-tuning.
Six LFOs give you additional flavor. Filters spice things up a little bit further.
Use a MIDI file to insert your sound right and you’ve got one of the best VSTs out there!
KV331 Audio SynthMaster 2.5
I’ve found this synthesizer to be the most versatile of the Top 50.
With high quality sound and an intuitive control interface you know you’re paying so low at $129 for something that delivers this kind of immensity.
KV331 claims the SynthMaster 2.5 is the synth that could do anything.
They’re exactly right.
It’s a small deal to have the ability to edit your GUI.
But it’s not for me. You see, by editing your own workflow you create efficiency.
The included edit-your-workflow through the GUI feature is awesome.
I’ve also found the standard presets more than useful for my taste.
If you’re not satisfied with the sound, allow SynthMaster 2.5 to spell it out for you through a Draft, Good, Better and Best audio quality settings and you be the judge.
Xfer Records Serum
Wavetables make the drag-point-and-click additive synth editing easier for almost anybody with experience.
While a great CPU eater, you get some oscillators that produce sound never heard about if you use the wavetables right.
Sound quality is top-notch considering Xfer Records made sure the aliasing used to smoothen the sound of oscillators create high-quality, realistic and useful synthesis.
You get two of these clean, warm oscillators.
Blend your wavefoms through crossfading and spectral morphing.
I was able to get some unique bopping and wubbing sounds from this little synthesizer.
I even get some emulated output noise from classic hardware synths!
Sugar Bytes Cyclop
Cyclop looks like it has a great big eye on the right because of its FX knob.
The fancy LED light design in the middle of cutoff, resonance and lower-half knobs make Cyclop look like a behemoth.
And sound-wise and usability, it is.
The Wobble section is controlled by one of the four main knobs, which includes a morph knob that mixes both setups, the eponymous FX section knob and parameter knob.
The sound itself is something I couldn’t explain but I can hear it is of top quality.
A quick trip to YouTube should help, wouldn’t it?
Tone 2 Gladiator 2
Why give this one the place in the Top 50?
You get some great libraries of presets with new partials useful for additive synthesis!
Tone 2’s HCM Synthesis breaks down the sound and allows you to edit the smallest, meticulous details of the oscillation using the morphtable.
Use about 6657 waveforms to add more character to your sound.
Add more character using the flanger, phaser and reverb and you’ve definitely got a winner.
Two LFOs, multiple Unison modes and support for vocoders, the Gladiator 2 is a definite must-have.
Right from the start I saw the gigantic Modulation Matrix show itself as the ‘heart’ of Cakewalk’s Rapture.
The plentiful modulation combinations guarantee unique synthesizer sounds.
To be honest though, the level of unique sounds is not exaggerated here.
You will make different sounds if you forget your exact parameters.
While a ROMpler itself, it only uses a small number of samples from different synthesizers.
Too small for a ROMpler, the 500 presets will guarantee you get a high quality, unique sound from this VST Synth.
In the past, we often had only subtractive and PCM synthesizers.
Additive synthesizers are very expensive.
Also, if you wanted to add synths, you need to learn to play it.
Unlike today where people could just pick off their favorite synthesizer, download it from the Internet and program the notes so that it plays really awesome In the mix, in the past, you had to haul some heavy gear, particularly tape loopers, to do that.
We can say digital music’s golden age is today.
It also celebrates my era of electronic synth music because most of the top 50 VSTs in this list were manufacturers obsessed by some amazing sounds of the synthesizers during my time.
I chose the synthesizers based on the following.
How Should It All Sound?
For the sound, I want a VST that sounds like some of the synths I’ve used in the past. But as much as I’d like them to sound like those originals, instead I also look at their original sound.
You’d want to tweak around with waveforms to find the sound you’d want for yourself. But if you had lots of options, including LFOs, ADSRs, filters and other analog envelopes, it’s the right place to be.
In your DAW, you’ll be working with multiple VSTs including those for your signal processing. A VST synth taking up half of your CPU power is a no-good synth except for post-processing.
We want our workflow with instruments smooth and less time-consuming. If the VST synth guarantees that, maybe even better than the original, then it’s worth your time and money.
My Final Thoughts About All These Goodies
Phew! We’ve finally arrived at the end of this long list. Have you found the synth you’ll fall head over heels for? If not, well, no perfect synthesizer exists for any synth player. Grab and go and see if this list is indeed the best for your projects!
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