Freeware 2017: Our Top 12 Best Freeware Synths

    We’re kicking off our brand new freeware roundups with the best freeware synths and a whole host of newbies, plus a comeback king and a couple that will never go away…

    The Best Freeware Synths

    TOGU Audio Line Noise Maker – Wavetable Synth

    Best Freeware Synths

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    We included TAL’s Elek7ro last year and its BassLine is a firm SH-101 freeware favourite. Add the fact that this is but one of three TAL inclusions this year, and you could conclude that we like the company a lot. NoiseM4k3r (as it‘s stylised) is a new and improved version of Elek7ro and includes a couple of oscillators plus sub, LFOs, ADSR and four oversampled filters.

    The effects really give it a nice pro edge with reverb, delay and bitcrusher on offer among others. But 256 presets also explore the full sonic palette of a virtual analogue synth, with leads, pads, arps and basses aplenty. An essential freebie and one of the best freeware synths

    W: tal-software.com/products/tal-noisemaker
    Platform: Mac, PC

    Nusofting Sinnah Complex – Waveshape Synth

    Best Freeware Synths - Sinnah

    They say: ‘Sinnah the sinner, is it a sin to be free, or is it a sin to sound so lush?’ We’d say ‘no’ on both scores, but Sinnah certainly stands out in the freeware-synth world as one of the best freeware synths.

    It only has one oscillator, but delivers a wide sound with complex waveshapes, a noise element and a rather bold and fully featured Delay Matrix, which takes up almost half the space on the GUI.

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    It results in some complex presets and some fairly mediocre ones on first listen. But there’s plenty to get these beefed up – and a fantastic, clean GUI to do this – and the bank of 50 free presets has got to be worth downloading, too.

    W: nusofting.liqihsynth.com/Sinnah_VA_synth.html
    Platform: Mac, PC

    Futucraft Kairatune –  Electronic Synth

    Best Freeware Synths - Kairatune

    We admire honesty, so we appreciate Futucraft’s claim that Kairatune is not an all-in-one synth, but one aimed at electronic-music composers. And for that, it does a great job, delivering a tight, punchy sound that will sit well in stripped-back dance mixes.

    We really like the preset-management system that allows you to get in there by category and then select your presets with absolutely no fuss whatsoever. There’s an almost bewildering number of controls on offer, but happily, the values are shown by great dial-type indicators. It stands among the best freeware synths

    The Delay section, including phaser, delay and EQ components, is particularly welcome.

    W: futucraft.com/category/kairatune/release
    Platform: Mac, PC

    Datsounds OBXD  – Classic Synth Emulation

    Freeware Synths - OBXD

    There’s no getting away from what OBXd is emulating: a classic Oberheim synth, as is everyone and his dog at the moment (including, thankfully, Tom Oberheim!). OB-Xd does it very well, and claims to take some of the features further than the original.

    There are a dozen banks of presets to explore including bass, drums, pads, leads, keys and brass and, in the main, it offers a great stab at all of them (even though we all know that brass emulations should really be made illegal in this day and age).

    The front panel is functional and large, with a Voice Variation section particularly handy. Very solid and useful – a worthy inclusion in this list of the best freeware synths.

    W: obxd.wordpress.com
    Platform: Mac, PC

    U-He Triple Cheese – Comb-filter Synth

    Best Freeware Synths - Cheese

    Like Frohmage, this is another cheese-based freeware plug-in that’s been around for a while, but now deserves a bit of a comeback. We suppose you could say they have ‘matured well’ (sorry). Triple Cheese is a comb-filter based synth that first appeared a decade ago.

    Since then, it’s been updated, had presets added and should run in whatever DAW you have. We had it up and running in Logic (although needed to reinstall it) and were soon enjoying its rather more unusual presets.

    There are lots to get your teeth into across more than a dozen banks: lots of percussive and out-there types, plus some great delayed sounds. Superb.

    W: u-he.com/cms/triple-cheese
    Platform: Mac, PC

    Green Oak Crystal – Semi-modular Synth

    Best Freeware Synths - Green Oak

    Yes, we included Crystal last year, and yes, we included Crystal the year before and yes, we will probably include it next year. If you’re new to freeware, we need to tell you: Crystal is where it’s at and probably always will be.

    It’s been around since 2002, and some say it will never stop working. Okay, that’s not quite true, but we downloaded version 2.5.4 (released last April) and it slotted in straight away within our sleek and modern DAW setup.

    It looks old but sounds amazing, with a huge variety of presets from a semi-modular synth with both subtractive and FM synthesis. There are also plenty of control and modulation options, too.

    W: greenoak.com
    Platform: Mac, PC

    Matt Tytel Helm – Original Synth

    Best Freeware Synths - Matt Tytel

    Despite stating it’s free, Helm is one of those downloads that makes you feel guilty for not donating at least a dollar, and maybe you should because while you can download this for free, it’s quite an object to behold.

    The GUI is great and very modern with some neat graphical representations of the various parameters and the sound is anything but boring with swirls, drones and even a gameshow theme to tempt you. It might be a little too out there for some but has masses of potential, thus it’s inclusion as one of the best freeware synths

    W: tytel.org/helm
    Platform: Mac, PC

    Archetype Instruments Locamotiv –  Synth

    Best Freeware Synths - Locamotiv

    Another out-and-out dance-type synth, Locamotiv might not be that pretty –it’s pretty dark and just black and white – but has a fat sound. It has some fantastic basses and leads, and is ultra clean and perfect for today’s electronic music producer.

    However, the developer’s site was down as we wrote this – which could be a shame – but the plug-in is downloadable at other sites.

    W: archetype-instruments.com (not presently live)
    Platform: Mac/PC

    Synth1 –  Virtual Nord Lead

    Best Freeware Synths - Nord Lead

    Synth1 is another freeware synth classic that we have to include every year, or people will march on the MT offices with virtual pitchforks. It’s apparently modelled on a Nord Lead 2 (sonically, not visually).

    We managed to get it working in the latest Logic pretty much straight away, although issues are creeping in, like odd mouse movements. Worth persevering with for the sound, but possibly its last inclusion (sound of protest march starts – oh dear).

    W: www.geocities.jp/daichi1969/softsynth
    Platform: Mac, PC

    Digital Suburban Dexed –  DX-type FM synth

    Freeware Synths - Dexed

    We’ve had Dexed in our plug-in folder for some time, but for some reason, have never included it as a recommendation. This could be down to an interface that attempts to expose FM synthesis in all its glory – something that not many have been brave enough to try.

    Yes, it might put you off wrestling with it, but actually all the controls are there to make some pretty dramatic real-time changes, something that FM is not known for but also something that both Yamaha and Korg have attempted in hardware.

    So dive in, enjoy the 32 percussive, chimey and dreamy presets and give FM a go. It’s never been easier.

    Okay, we mean it’s never been cheaper.

    W: https://asb2m10.github.io/dexed/
    Platform: Mac, PC

    Brain Control Tunefish 4 – Virtual Analogue Synth

    We’re quite chuffed that a) we’ve managed to get all Mac and PC freebies on to this list of synths and b) that they’re not all virtual analogue. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with VA, but there are rather a lot of them about.

    Tunefish 4 is, thankfully, an example of a good one that not only has a good analogue signal flow, but offers enough extras – the kind of thing you should get with software.

    So you get stacking effects, loads of modulation routing possibilities and loads of hands on and clean-looking controls to get to the heart of programming quickly.

    A fine looking and sounding synth.

    W: tunefish-synth.com/?action=about
    Platform: Mac, PC

    Nusofting DA Hornet – Virtual Wasp Synth

    Da Hornet

    Slight caveat with this one. We included Da Hornet as a fun version of the well regarded UK Wasp synth – itself becoming legendary, as it was one of the first truly affordable synths in the country and had odd touch-sensitive keys.

    The software version is available as a Mac and PC freeware synth, but only as a 32-bit version (so you’ll need to use bridging software for 64-bit installation).

    There is now a new 64-bit version – another reason it’s back in our list –but you are urged to donate at least $9 to keep support going for the plug-in which we’d recommend, because it is a great, if slightly noisy – but that is the point – synth.

    W: nusofting.liqihsynth.com/freeplugins.html
    Platform: Mac, PC

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