15 of the best software and virtual synths

It may seem like hardware synths are everywhere, but soft synths can still offer incredible value for money and sounds that you can't find in the hardware world. Here are 15 of the best out there in 2019.

roli equator seaboard

There are many reasons to opt for a software synthesizer over a hardware one. Software, especially in 2019, can faithfully emulate iconic models, offer brave new sounds, and even present fresh ways to synthesise audio – all at prices that are typically far lower than their real-world counterparts.

From legendary models to complex modular setups to newfangled instruments, these are 15 of the best software synthesizers you can buy today.

1Arturia V Collection 6

arturia collection v 6

You want every classic synth worth its salt ever made? Plus a few other keyboards that have reached classic status? What do you mean you don’t have limitless money to spend on the real thing? In that case, you need this, the software-emulation package for those in need of vintage-keyboard sounds. 21 classic synths and ’boards, over 6,000 sounds and the most emulation you will see for the cash.

Retails for $/€499. Check out our full review here.

2Propellerhead Software Europa

propellerhead reason europa

Reason 10 was released in October 2018 with a great deal of fanfare – it was billed as Reason’s biggest upgrade yet and came with loads of extra synths, instruments and samples. The fare that garnered the most fan was Europa. In fact, this excellent and accessible wavetable synth received so much praise that the Props decided to release it for users of all DAWs.

Retails for $149/£134. Check out our full review here.

3Rob Papen Go2

rob papen go2

It might have a familiar analogue-style interface, but Go2 is packed with Rob Papen quality, some 600 presets, effects, an onboard step sequencer and arpeggiator and a rather special morphing oscillator. While there are certainly more comprehensive soft synths on the market, this is a synth which is far from basic and there is plenty to keep the more experienced user happy. For the money, this will be very difficult to beat.

Retails for $49/£41.95. Check out our full review here.

4Spitfire Audio BT Phobos

spitfire audio bt phobos

Spitfire loves producing instruments and libraries for film scoring, and while BT Phobos is not one of the company’s traditional orchestral tools – it being the first synth the company has produced – Phobos is a sample-based synth with a 23GB library.

It has sources, modifiers and modulation aplenty, but this is no ordinary instrument. At its heart is what Spitfire calls Polyconvolution Synthesis – and like many other Spitfire Audio products, it’s aimed at soundtrack composers. So, orchestral scores no, out-there scores, yes.

Retails for $299/£269. Check out our full review here.

5IK Multimedia Syntronik

ik multimedia syntronik

An entire collection of soft synths for you here, although you can buy them individually. They are loosely based on classic analogue and digital synths, with 17 instruments covering 38 synths. There are 2,000 presets, a great filter so you can navigate to the type of sound you like and you can layer four virtual machines together. If you want classic Roland, Moog, Yamaha and many more sounds from the 70s, 80s and 90s, there’s no better collection to start with.

Retails for $/€149.99. Check out our full review here.

6UVI Falcon

uvi falcon

There are those synths that want to emulate older classics – like the IK Syntronik – and there are those that want to do something new. And if you want the latter, Falcon could be what you are looking for.

The vastness of the functionality that’s on offer shouldn’t be underplayed. The Falcon is an exceptionally powerful instrument, and while it has much to offer in terms of traditional synthesis, it was ultimately the sample-based resynthesis which we found the most interesting and exciting area to explore.

Retails for $349/£268. Check out our full review here.

7Carbon Electra

Plugin Boutique Carbon Electra 1.5

Carbon Electra could be ‘just another subtractive synth’, but behind its featureset and rather blusterous name lies a great synth, with lots of movement and a sound that really cuts through your mix.

It’s easy, fun and packed full of potential. The synth sounds great, and is very easy to get more from. It also has a sound that will not only act as the backbone to many a dance track, but one that could bring a lot to a variety of genres.

Retails for $49/£39. Check out our full review here.

8Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2

spectrasonics omnisphere 2

Spectrasonics spent a good seven years updating Omnisphere. And while the update is a complete overhaul, it pleasingly keeps all that was good about the original – not to mention a list of new features that is almost as long as a fully fledged DAW upgrade.

These new features include the ability to import audio, more sounds (included in a new 20GB download) and masses of new flexibility. It’s hard to imagine any software instrument delivering the same breadth and sheer sonic excellence as Omnisphere 2 does.

Retails for $499/£285. Check out our full review here.

9Fabfilter Twin 2

fabfilter twin 2

Fabfilter makes some very special outboard and effect plug-ins, but before any of these, the company made this spectacular synth plug-in which still stands up very well today.

Featuring some amazing (and very electronic and dance-based) presets, this is a virtual analogue that still cuts through any mix and still slots into many genres. Easy tweaking, routing and editing on the front panel and a sound that really works on many levels: one that will probably never go out of fashion.

Retails for $154/£114.

10Native Instruments Rounds

native instruments rounds

Rounds is a complex, powerful synth that provides huge sounds and creates clever, dynamic sequences. Featuring both an analogue and digital synth engine with up to eight sounds each, Rounds is an initially straightforward beast to tame but has a lot of depth and, when you start to ‘animate’ those sounds, some superb sonics. It will take work to make your own patches but you will see that this synth is capable of some stunning results.

Retails for $99/£89. Check out our full review here.

11iZotope Iris 2

izotope iris 2 effects

When does an audio sampler become a synth? When it has the modulation features and synthesis options that Iris offers, that’s when. The latest version of iZotope’s software features five complex LFOs and 20 oscillator shapes to enable you to extract and synthesise audio over and over again.

The true value of this instrument is capturing your own sounds and transforming them into playable music, a task made even more flexible with the new modulation system. This is a fantastic package and a unique instrument that is more flexible than ever – the sound library is worth the asking price alone.

Retails for $149/£129. Check out our full review here.

12Native Instruments Massive

native instruments massive

While we’d like to include only one soft synth from each company, it’s hard to when it comes to Native Instruments as it has such a rich portfolio – FM8 and Reaktor were also in the running. Massive is certainly the analogue to Razor’s edgy digital, the two together offering a great spectrum of sound. Huge basses and leads are what you get; the very elements that can make or break a track – and in this case most definitely the former. With more than 1,300 sounds to choose from you certainly won’t go wanting. Put simply: all the highs and lows you will ever need.

Retails for $/€149.

13Propellerhead Complex-1

Propellerhead complex-1

As an introduction to the wired world of modular synths, Complex-1 delivers both the West Coast oscillator/low-pass gates/shaper module setup, and the more traditional Moog-like oscillator/filter setup.

You get to enjoy all of the experimentation of plugging away, creating something new and taking the credit for what you absolutely had planned all along, and you also get the joys of software: meddle with someone else’s creations and save what you come up with, with ease. So, overall, Complex-1 might well be the non-complex route into modular you’ve been waiting for.

Retails for $/€99. Check out our full review here.

14KV 331 Audio SynthMaster 2.9 

KV 331 Audio SynthMaster 2.9

SynthMaster may have been around for a long time, but every update has kept it fresh for the competition with the world’s best soft synths.

Now at version 2.9, SynthMaster has practically every sound generation feature you could want in a synthesizer: wavetable oscillators, loads of voicing parameters, dual filters, multistage envelope generators and a modular signal flow – all times two with two synthesis layers. On top of that, there’s also four LFOs, an effects section including a Vocoder, and loads more.

Retails from $29 to $279. Check out our full review here.

15ROLI Equator

roli equator seaboard

Strictly speaking, you’ll need a ROLI Seaboard RISE ‘keyboard’ to get the best out of Equator. That is the futuristic controller with the latex multi-touch keyboard that allows you to play and record dimensions you simply can’t get to with a regular keyboard. However, Equator is a great synth in its own right. It looks pretty bland, but can sound incredible.

Retails for $179. Check out our full review here.

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