Most freeware synths and online synths, it has to be said, follow the virtual analogue model, but we’ve tried to select as many different Mac and PC ones as possible. It’s time to download the 12 best freeware synths!
Angular Momentum Freehand – Wavetable synth
One of the few great freeware synths that isn’t another virtual analogue, so it’s well worth including just on that score. Freehand allows you to draw your own waveforms, and adds FM synthesis and sequencers to give the synth a unique character.
It is an advert for a bigger, more fully-featured version, but that costs only $10, and does give you a stack more presets (300 in total, while the free version has 100) and 32 notes of polyphony. If you want something a little different from your average VA, then look no further…
W: www.amvst.com/freehand – Platform: PC
Green Oak Crystal – Semi modular synth
Crystal is still surprisingly all present and correct, and still going strong in the all-new Logic 10.2, after what seems like forever on both Mac and PC platforms.
It’s a semi-modular synth with both subtractive and FM synthesis. You build, or indeed breed, sounds using parent waveshapes from categories such as Vintage, Atmospheres and Temp Sync’d, and the results stand up pretty well. OK, the GUI isn’t that pretty, but she ain’t bad for an old ’un, and there’s certainly enough control and options to wrestle some decent sounds out of it, with abundant modulation control and more than 90 parameters.Also available for iOS for $4.99.
W: www.greenoak.com – Platform: Mac, PC
HG Fortune Alien Space Weaver – Space synth
To be honest, there are so many synths on this developer’s site that took our fancy – we seem to have the same penchant for sci-fi – that we could have been here all day recommending them. But one that seems to sum up HG more than anything else is this, Alien Space Weaver, as it combines synths with sc-fi.
Not surprisingly, it excels at deep and dark atmospheres, soundscapes and effects. It has two PCM wave oscillators, one of which has 75 samples created especially for it. Other features include a couple of filters, bass enhancers, effects (including pan and delay) and five lazy buttons – which we like particularly for easy editing.
W: http://www.vst4free.com/free_vst.php?id=1032 – Platform: PC
Linplug Free Alpha – Virtual analogue
LinPlug is one of the best plug-in developers out there, with big-name users including Paul Hartnoll, Pet Shop Boys, Vince Clarke and Boris Blank.
The company also makes MT favourite Spectral, but this is a cut-down version of its Alpha synthesiser, which has been around for a while but is still a good VA synth capable of great sonic results, down largely to an architecture that comprises dual-waveform oscillators, a multimode filter and a great modulation matrix.
The free version is fully functional, but ships with only a few presets. It’s still a worthy download, even after 15 years of doing the rounds.
W: http://www.kvraudio.com/product/free-alpha-by-linplug/details – Platform: Mac, PC
Solcito Musica SuperTron – Virtual analogue
This is one of the best-looking free synths, and features a step modulator that makes it one of the most distinctive sounding. It generates sequences, that SM says are “typical of the 70s and 80s, dance, trance, percussion, analogue strings and other retro sounds”.
The feature includes scenes, which also act as presets, giving SuperTron a lot more movement and character. It has two oscillators, two envelope generators, two filters, one LFO and reverb, chorus/flanger, delay, echo and distortion. The interface makes programming easy, and there’s an optional sound pack.
W: http://solcitomusica.blogspot.com.ar/p/virtuales.html – Platform: PC
Steinberg Model-E – Classic virtual analogue
One of the first VST instruments released, Model-E is a classic soft synth in its own right, and four years ago Steinberg decided to release it for free. You can still download it, and the last still unsupported versions came out in 2011, so could well run on the latest systems.
You get a quality synth with three oscillators and a noise generator, two envelope generators, a couple of filters, a stereo spread and a not inconsiderable 64 voices of polyphony, eight outputs and 128 memories. All things considered, it’s not totally unlike a MiniMoog in nature…
W: www.steinberg.net/en/support/unsupported_products/vst_classics_vol_1.html – Platform: Mac, PC
Synth1 – Virtual Nord Lead
Synth1 is a freeware synth classic, and has managed to survive and jump from system to system. It’s worth including on any best-of list, as it stands up sonically.
Synth1 is modelled on a Nord Lead 2, one of the best hardware modelling synths. It’s not red nor pretty like a Nord, but has 128 presets, derived from a two-oscillator, FM and ring modulation engine with four types of filters, distortion, two LFOs, arpeggiator and 16 notes of polyphony.
W: daichilab.com/synth1 – Platform: Mac, PC
TAL Software Elek7ro – Virtual analogue
TAL’s Bass line was one of the best, emulating the Roland SH-101. Elek7ro is just as simple, and also available for Mac and PC – the former only 32-bit, but it stands up well against some of the big boys.
It snarls, squelches and burps – with two main oscillators and a sub giving extra growl – and is well worth racking up with some of the more atmospheric offerings here.
W: http://tal-software.com/products/tal-elek7ro – Platform: Mac/PC
TubeOhm Alpha-Ray 4Free – Virtual analogue
This 10-voice VA synth is typical of some of the more recent hardware synth releases. With two oscillators, a sub and overdrive, you can get analogue bite and distortion, but it can be mellow too. It has a great look and atmospheric sounds.
There are plenty of controls and features, with optional effects (for €4.95). We like the drab Olive look and there’s a fantastic manual, full of all the tech specs and graphs.
W: http://www.tubeohm.com/TubeOhm/ALPHA-RAY-PIC.html – Platform: PC
U-He Zebralette – Virtual analogue synth
Some freeware is clearly designed to plug the paid-for version, and some does that but is usable in its own right; this fits that category. U-he admits that “the idea is to use Zebralette to demonstrate the virtues of Zebra2’s oscillators to everybody out there, and perhaps even convince some of them that upgrading to Zebra2 might be a good idea,” but in producing Zebralette, the company has delivered a charming plug-in that has lots to admire.
On top of that single oscillator are two LFOs, a multi-stage envelope and three onboard effects (chorus, EQ and delay). Some really great sounds can be produced, simple as that!
W: www.u-he.com/cms/zebralette – Platform: Mac, PC
Volt Kitchen Arppe 2600 – Classic virtual analogue
We guess that giving away what some of these freeware synths are supposed to be emulating will spoil some of the fun, but you couldn’t get much more obvious with both the name and the look of this release.
It’s one of the most fully-featured freeware titles we have included, with PWM, sample and hold, virtual spring reverb, ring modulation, a noise generator, FM, oscillator sync and low- and high-pass filter types all present. There are 12 patchable routings and 80 presets. If you want something to arp on about, for free, this is it.
W: http://glenstegner.com/softsynths.html – Platform: PC
Wollo Drone – Virtual analogue synth
This has been one of the top-rated synths with our friends over at Plug-in Boutique for quite a while now, and on download it’s easy to see and hear why. It has a cool blue fascia and is based on a classic Juno synth, with a few extras besides. Wollo Drone certainly has a great analogue sound, especially when you add in a Moog filter and lots of classic features.
There are 32 voices of polyphony, allowing two oscillators per voice for a truly fat sound. Other features include five oscillator waveforms with pulse-width and sync, four resonant filters, LFOs with eight waveforms and effects…
W: www.wollo.com/vst.htm Platform: PC