6 of the best freeware synths

From emulation to experimentation, the best free synths out there…

1Martin Lüders PG-8X

Martin Lüders PG-8X

Roland made an impressive range of synths back in the 80s that would go on to become classics, and the freeware community pays homage to them in abundance. The PG-8X is based on the legendary JX-8P, but rather than the synth getting shown in the UI, the plug-in reflects the layout of the original programmer unit, which was optional. Make sure you download the presets via the developer’s Facebook page and you’ll have a very capable – and surprisingly varied – synth on your hands. Donations are encouraged.

Mac/PC, 64-bit. More info here.

2TAL U-No-62

TAL U-No-62

TAL Software has had many freeware titles featured in past MusicTech ‘Best Ofs’, including the Elek7ro Virtual Analogue and BassLine, based on a Roland SH-101. U-No-62 maintains that Roland theme, as it is modelled on a classic Juno-60. This one can sound authentically lush and vintage, although it’s only 32-bit for OSX users (64-bit for PC) so Mac heads might have to upgrade to paid-for U-NO-LX (for around £55).

Mac/PC, 32/64-bit. More info here.

3u-he Podolski

u-he Podolski

u-he makes some of the best synths money can buy, like Diva and Hive, and also some of the best that no money can buy (just check out Triple Cheese and TyrellN6). Podolski was originally developed in 2005, but has had many updates, the most recent of which is 1.2.2. It was designed as a CPU-light virtual analogue subtractive synth, and its arpeggiator/sequencer and chorus and delay effects really do help create some lovely presets to get you started – there are over well over 500.

Mac/PC, 32/64-bit. More info here.

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4Xhip

Xhip

Xhip, or Extended Chip is a dual-oscillator synth with effects, waveshaping and good modulation capabilities. Check out the SoundCloud demos and you might think it’s all about chip-tune, but there’s more to it than that. It does great leads, basses and effects and has been constantly updated to run on newer machines across the board. Be sure to download the presets folder for a good range that covers its capabilities.

Mac/PC, 32/64-bit. More info here.

5NUSofting Sinnah

NUSofting Sinnah

One of our classic choices gets an inclusion again, thanks to an update to v1.1 a couple of years back. Sinnah has, on the face of it, a simple architecture, but also boasts a large delay matrix and waveshaping for a sound that can be both acoustic and very electronic, so can be used for a wide variety of tasks and genres. It comes with a good range of presets with 50 free extras from julianraymusic.com.

Mac/PC, 32/64-bit. More info here.

6Matt Tytel Helm

Matt Tytel Helm

Open source polyphonic synth Helm makes the list because its GUI stands head and shoulders above everyone else’s. Helm also sounds as good as it looks, especially when you tweak those inviting controls that include oscillators, envelopes and a step sequencer. It’s the effects that make it synth, with stutter and formant drama alongside traditional delay and reverb. It sounds great and is fantastic to use, with loads of inspiring presets, too.

Mac/PC, 32/64-bit. More info here.

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