It’s a jungle out there! Well at least if you are trying to navigate the world of free VSTs to power up your DAW or if you are in need of new inspiring instruments for that next project. In case you are a hardcore Propellerhead Reason user this might be a whole new turf of exploration for you, but if you are on any of the other common DAWs this is of course nothing new. In any case we did some scouting around the web to compile a descent list of VSTs to get you going, and the best thing is that they are all free. Before we start though it could be good just to tip on acquiring the latest issue of Computer Music, which always contains a plethora of free instruments.
Currently CM consists of some 70 free VST/AU instruments – go here to learn more.
Another great source to get you started is the Bedroom producers blog (bpb) where multiple sources of information and tips on free VSTs are available and perhaps most importantly – updated regularly.
Finally we would also recommend going to Cymatics who have compiled a great list of free VSTs – Check it out here.
Virtual Studio Technology (VST) is a software interface that integrates software audio synthesizer and effect plugins with audio editors and recording systems. VST and similar technologies use digital signal processing to simulate traditional recording studio hardware in software. Thousands of plugins exist, both commercial and freeware, and a large number of audio applications support VST under license from its creator, Steinberg. To get you started here’s a list from us here at Stereoklang of nice instruments and effects, and some crazy stuff to boost your music creativity.
Bassline Synth VSTs
1. Steinberg – Model E
The Model E is a useful 3 oscillator bass station capable of pumping out some nice lines.
2. TAL – Elek7ro
The Tal Elek7ro synth-plug is good for pretty much everything. Including making some nice full basses for your tracks.
3. Plogue – Sforzando TableWarp2
The TableWarp2 is part of Plogue’s Sforzando bundle. It’s a versatile synth that gives you tons of classic sounds…
4. NUSofting – Sinnah
The Sinnah is great. It can create cool noisy tones with its 3 channel delay matrix and feedback sculpting.
5. TAL – BassLine
The TAL-Bassline has a warm analog sound and ‘robust core‘ for all your bass and acid needs.
6. U-He – Tyrell N6
The U-He TyrellN6 is a powerful overall plugin that will give you all varieties of nice analog synth sounds.
7. Ample Sound – Ample Bass P LITE II
The Ample Bass P Lite II is a nice electric bass plug perfect for some groovier and more rock-centric bass sounds.
8. LinPlug – Free Alpha 3
Free Alpha 3’s 2 oscillators are perfect for all sorts of nice basses and the built-in presets are superb starting points for all types of bass and more.
9. Bruce Sutherland – JuceOPLVSTI
JuceOPLVSTI’s interface is a lot like a video game and is super easy to use to get some superb basses, leads and pretty much any other sound you need from an FM synth.
10. Synister – SYNISTER
Synister is one of the best looking and easiest to use synth plugins. This 3 oscillator synth is perfect for making all types of basslines.
11. Valhalla — Freq Echo
The Freq Echo is a frequency shifter with analog echo emulation. It adds chorus, phasing and flanger effects.
12. Audio Damage — FuzzPlus3
Here’s the updated FuzzPlus distortion pedal emulation from Audio Damage. Amazing on synths and drums for meaty, distorted effects.
13. MH Thump Percussive Subharmonic Synth
MH Thump adds low end to your track. It recreates that nice thump you get on a vintage TR-808 drum machine.
14. Tritik — Krush Bit Crusher
Krush is a very elegant bit crusher. It creates that crunchy digital bit reduction effect.
15. Mercuriall — TSC Overdrive
Meet the Mercuriall Tube Screamer 808—your new overdrive effect plugin. Modelled after the Ibanez TS-808 pedal.
16. Pecheng — Tremolo
The Pecheneg is a tremolo effect. It gives you the power to create rhythmic modulations with your sound.
17. TAL — Chorus-LX
TAL’s stereo Chorus-LX is inspired by the Roland Juno-60 chorus. It’s a simple but powerful tool.
18. TDR — Nova EQ
The TDR Nova is a four-band dynamic Equalizer (EQ). A true workhorse.
19. U-He — Protoverb 1.0
The Protoverb 1.0 by U-He is a different kind of reverb. It lets you generate random settings and save the ones you like.
20. CableGuys — PanCake 2
The PanCake 2 is most flexible panning effect you’ll ever find. It lets you manually draw the curves of your panning modulation.
21. Mx Project — T.Rex 606
The T.REX 606 is a compact rompler modelled after the iconic Roland TR-606 drum machine.
22. Wavosaur — DjinnDrum
The Djinndrum has you set for all that classic sound that the iconic Linn LM-1 drum machine packs in.
23. Studio Linked — Drum Pro
Drum Pro has 20 built in drum kits, 12 pads and global effects, what more do you need from a drum machine plugin?
24. Real Drum Samples — Line Of Legends
This plugin boasts 47 high quality samples, 8 individual output channels, and punch, release & attack knobs for some serious tweakage.
25. Sean Pandy — Drums Multi
If you’re looking for a heavier metal-style drum sound on your mix, this VST will definitely give you it.
26. Teragon Audio — KickMaker
The KickMaker is a plugin built for crafting the perfect kick. So what’re you waiting for? Get kickin’.
27. BeatSkillz — Beat Factory Drums
Beat Factory Drums is easy to use, sounds great, and packs a serious punch.
28. MT Power — Drum Kit 2
The MT Power Drum Kit 2 has a top notch drum sounds that cut through any mix AND a fully pre-programmed groove library.
29. Dub Turbo — DrumTroop
The DrumTROOP drum machine is big both in its sound and what it offers. It’s a “weapon of mass production.”
30. Sample Science — Vintage Drum Elements
Vintage Drum Elements has a nice, warm analogue sound that vintage drum machines have.
31. Dexed – FM Plugin Synth
Dexed is a frequency modulation synth, the perfect FM VST plugin. It’s closely modelled after the iconic Yamaha DX7.
32. Audjoo — Helix
The download of Helix is a ‘trial’ but it’s fully functional. It gives you ‘soaring leads, solid basses and glimmering pads.’
33. Martinic — Combo Model F
Combo Model F is perfect for when you need a fun little organ sound.
SYNTH1 is hosted on Geocities Japan. So get ready to take a walk down memory lane.
35. Brain Control — TuneFish 4 Synth
Tunefish 4 is a versatile free VST synth that can create just about anything: pads, leads, bass or any other tasty sound your track needs.
36. Muon — Tau Bassline
The Muon Tau Bassline is modelled after the Roland 303. This small but powerful VST synth gives you that sweet sweet 303 bass we all know and love.
37. U-He —Triple Cheese Synth
U-he makes cheesy infinitely fun with this ridiculous comb-filter synth.
38. Ohm Force — SymptOhm PE
Any instrument that has a preset called ‘Dirty Maurice’ instantly caught our attention. And it didn’t disappoint when we started playing with it.
39. MDSP Smart Electronix — Livecut Beat Chopper
LiveCut is a beat chopper that runs on some less-than-normal logic. Make some freaky loops!
40. Tytel — Helm Synth
Helm is a synth VST. But you can run it anywhere, change the source code and generally modify the crap out of it.
41. Alan Vista Plugins
We had to put all Alan Vista Plugins on the list since they are all great
42. Darwin Arts — Trilobite
Apply the basic laws of Darwin evolution to grow your synth patches over time with the Trilobite.
43. Wavosaur — VST Speek
This spell-and-speak plugin reads back anything you type into it. All in a tweakable voice capable of some pretty strange sounds.
44. Piz — Harsh Digital Nose
If a shape could make a sound, what would it sound like? Draw shapes, lines, or pictures right inside this plugin to see what they sound like.
Vocal VST Plugins
45. TDR — Proximity
The Tokyo Dawn Proximity lets you change the mic placement AFTER you record. Useful and pretty cool!
46. Acon Digital — Multiply Chorus
Vocals need some color. Acon Digital’s Multiply Chorus will thicken up your sound.
46. Melda — MAutoPitch
Auto-tune is the vocal mixer’s secret weapon. MAutoPitch is one of the best auto-tune plugins around.
47. Voxengo — OldSkoolVerb Auto-Tune
OldSkoolVerb has got you covered in terms of vocal reverb. Create the perfect sonic space in your mix.
48. Klanghelm — DC1A Compressor
The DC1A is a nifty character compressor. It has you covered “from smooth levelling to heavy pumping.”
49. Alex Hilton — A1 Trigger Gate
Using a step-style sequencer the A1 Trigger Gate packs in a boat load of cool effects.
50. Glitch Machines — Hystheresis
This delay plugin creates “robotic artifacts and abstract music malfunctions.” Count me in.
51. Acustica — Ochre EQ
The Ochre from Acustica is super useful. It’s perfect for sculpting out the best vocals you can.
53. Fine Cut Bodies — La Petite Excite
Exciter plugins add subtle harmonics for some extra sonic-excitement in the high range. Throw this one on your vocal track.
Analog Warmth Plugins
54. Shattered Glass Audio — SGA1566 Tube Preamp
Use the SGA 1566 as a saturation compressor to boost the warmth of your track. Or add a bit of grit with the tube overdrive.
55. TDR — Slick EQ
The TDR Slick EQ is a sleek easy-to-use three-band EQ that gives you amazing sound—like all Tokyo Dawn Records plugins.
56. Shattered Glass Audio — Ace Amp
This amp plugin has simple controls and doesn’t eat up your CPU.
57. Vladg — Molot Compressor
Vladg’s Molot is a compressor with character. It will give your sound interesting color.
58. Voxengo — Tube Amp
Voxengo’s Tube Amp gives you warm overdrive, fuzzy distortion and everything in between.
59. Klanghelm — MJUC Jr. Compressor
Klanghelm’s MJUC jr. compressor is simple and elegant. Use it for smooth compression or a heavier pumping effect.
60. Tone Boosters — TB Reelbus Tape Emulator
The TB ReelBus simulates everything that’s great about a tape machine: warm saturation, tape hiss, wow and flutter and more.
Download the TB ReelBus For Free (the demo version works great).
EVEN MORE STUFF
If you’re looking to give your tracks something extra, and make light work of creating unique sounds, take your pick from this collection of free creative effect plugins, sure to shake up your next production.
This fantastic free VST effect plugin allows you to mimic the dust, scratches, and warp of a worn record, as well as the electrical and mechanical sounds of the turntable it would be playing on. Download here.
Guitar Gadgets simulates a number of analog guitar pedals, including Delay Attack, Super Phazor, Crusher and more, and is perfect for using on electric guitars and guitar amp imitations. Download here.
Glitch is an audio effect plugin which can play multiple effects simultaneously. It features a sequencer and a collection of great effects, as well as the ability to randomize – or ‘glitch’ – effects for some off-the-cuff inspiration. Download here.
As the name suggests, the Head Crusher is not for the faint-hearted! But offers five different saturation modes to add something extra to a vocal track or make give your drums a heavier feel. Download here.
Ohm Force Frohmage
Frohmage by Ohm Force is a powerful filter with an easy-to-use interface, designed to provide warmth, dirt and many more unique effects more to produce a professional sound on any track. Download here.
Anarchy Rhythms is a cross between drum machine and an audio effect. It takes an audio input and applies a customisable mix of modulation, filtering, feedback loops, oscillation and compression to create a unique sound. Download here.
One of the ultimate free reverb plugins, OldSkoolVerb offers a broad range of options, allowing users to create many types of reverb. It is best to be used with softer instruments like piano and vocal tracks. Download here.
CamelCrusher is a popular free multi-effects plugin, featuring two different distortion tones which can be mixed together to develop multiple textures and sounds. It’s perfect for a wide range of instruments including drums, guitars, and more. Download here.
This glitch delay plugin can be used to create robotic-sounding abstract audio effects. It includes effects like delay, modulation and others, for processing percussion and much more. Download here.
Shattered Glass Audio Code Red
Inspired by the British consoles of the late 1960s, this plugin recreates the EQ and bold overdriven sounds of the Beatles, perfect for those nostalgic riffs. Download here.
BACKGROUND ON VSTs
VST plugins generally run within a digital audio workstation (DAW), to provide additional functionality, though a few standalone plugin hosts exist which support VST. Most VST plugins are either instruments (VSTi) or effects, although other categories exist—for example spectrum analyzers and various meters. VST plugins usually provide a custom graphical user interface that displays controls similar to physical switches and knobs on audio hardware. Some (often older) plugins rely on the host application for their user interface.
VST instruments include software simulation emulations of well-known hardware synthesizers and samplers. These typically emulate the look of the original equipment as well as its sonic characteristics. This lets musicians and recording engineers use virtual versions of devices that otherwise might be difficult and expensive to obtain.
VST instruments receive notes as digital information via MIDI, and output digital audio. Effect plugins receive digital audio and process it through to their outputs. (Some effect plugins also accept MIDI input—for example MIDI sync to modulate the effect in sync with the tempo). MIDI messages can control both instrument and effect plugin parameters. Most host applications can route the audio output from one VST to the audio input of another VST (chaining). For example, output of a VST synthesizer can be sent through a VST reverb effect.
VST instruments generate audio. They are generally either virtual synthesizers or samplers. Many recreate the look and sound of famous hardware synthesizers. Better known VST instruments include Nexus, Sylenth 1, Massive, Omnisphere, FM8, Absynth, Reaktor, Gladiator, Serum and Vanguard.
VST effects process rather than generate audio—and perform the same functions as hardware audio processors such as reverbs and phasers. Other monitoring effects provide visual feedback of the input signal without processing the audio. Most hosts allow multiple effects to be chained. Audio monitoring devices such as spectrum analyzers and meters represent audio characteristics (frequency distribution, amplitude, etc.) visually.
VST MIDI effects process MIDI messages (for example, transpose or arpeggiate) and route the MIDI data to other VST instruments or to hardware devices.