The world of VSTs offers a rich stream of plugins to to create inspirational sounds and help spark your creativity.Rob Boffard casts his eye over six of the very best…
Every producer has their favourite plugins. It’s easier that way – if you’ve got a synth or effect you know inside and out, then it’s easier to start producing quality music. You don’t have to think about what you’re doing; you just do it.
But there’s that nasty little adage about familiarity breeding contempt, and sometimes our favourite plugins fail to spark our creativity. Fortunately, the world of VSTs is vast and wonderful, and if your preferred synth isn’t helping you get the sound you want, there are dozens of other unusual plugins to help spark some ideas. Here are six of our favourites.
1: Sonic Charge Synplant
It’s an old standby, but it’s still fantastic. Synplant is a synth with a difference: each sound is based on a seed. Yes, an actual, onscreen seed, with roots growing out of it.
Extend these roots, of which there is one per octave, and the sound then changes. The longer the root, the wilder the sound. You can then plant a new seed once you’ve found a sound that you like, and take it even further.
Did we mention that you can delve into each seed’s DNA – again, actual DNA strand – and mess with it? With a gorgeous user interface and a wallet-friendly price ($99), we can’t recommend Synplant highly enough.
2: Krakli Vurtbox
The front end of any plugin is known as the Graphical User Interface, or GUI. It’s pronounced ‘gooey’, and for the Vurtbox, it’s a surprisingly appropriate adjective.
The whole thing looks like someone has taken a synth and actually melted it down. Half of the fun with Vurtbox is figuring out what everything does. This is a synth that lends itself to squelchy, grungy, glitchy sounds, perfect for ambient or trip-hop tunes.
Couple of caveats here: Krakli says that the VST can eat through your CPU, and the output is sometimes loud enough to shatter speakers. Proceed with caution, but definitely proceed.
3: Krakli Gargoyle
Yes, we’re recommending a second Krakli synth. This one’s little visual highlight is an unsettling eye, staring out at you from the right of the plugin. Unlike Vurtbox, the interface is relatively straightforward, and where the Gargoyle excels is in sound design.
This is a synth that is perfect for generating weird textures and unsettling audio elements, perfect for either scoring a horror movie or just adding some flavour to a track. For a freeware synth, it offers a staggering amount of control, and you could happily spend hours unlocking its secrets. Or at least, we could. Both the Gargoyle and the Vurtbox are free to download.
4: Hercs Music Systems Alien Artifact
Say what you like about Vurtbox – at least it makes some effort to tell you what its melted controls are. Hercs Music Systems, on the other hand, has a masochistic streak.
Its’ Alien Artifact plugin has four buttons, each of which has a mysterious symbol on it. Each button comes with two sliders, none of which have any scales or measurements on them.
This is a plugin that rewards experimentation, and you’ll need to make good use of your preset save button – or risk losing that brilliant sound you just made. The end product is all howling wails and eerie warbles – perfect for sound design.
5: Linplug Relectro
Weird effects units are actually surprisingly hard to come by. Most mass-market ones are kind of Catholic, and are very transparent in their function. Relectro is different. The best way to use it is to take a very boring sound – say, a basic kick-snare-hat drum loop – and start messing with the controls.
There’s a pitch section, a compressor, a full EQ and filters, and – this is the really cool bit – a variable wave function, which treats every wave in the sound differently.
It’s rare to find an effects unit that is so well laid-out, and is also capable of such mindblowing sounds. It’s on Linplug’s website for just $79.
6: Native Instruments Molekular
Weird and unusual plugins are usually the domain of small indie developers, so it was a little surprising when Native Instruments debuted Molekular. But it’s still one of the most creative effects plugins there is.
The gimmick here is modular multi-effects. You build the effect you want with a series of block-shaped units, each with their own unique controls. You then use the plugin’s powerful automation facilities to get it moving.
And finally, you use the big central control area to morph it, changing the sound to something truly spectacular. It’s one of the pricier plugins here, at $200, but it’s absolutely worth it.