If you make music of any kind, you need to know about the best synth VST plugins available in 2021. Every year more bedroom producers are making great records using no more than a laptop, DAW, and soft synths. You don’t need a major label budget to create amazing music, and we are here to help you get on track. We have chosen our top 10 synth VSTs, including paid and free plugins, so no more excuses! Get started now.
Dec 22, 2020 If you aren’t a fan of that sound, get it anyway, it’s free and as a producer, the more options you have, the better. Surge Synthesizer. The almost perfect free synth. Surge was first released in 2006 and sold for over $100 back in the day. Now, it’s available as a free download, and it’s packed with some pretty impressive features.
Here are the best synth VST plugins 2021:
1. Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2
The king of VST synthesizers
Omnisphere 2 had to be number one because it’s the king of soft synths, as has been for some time. At the time of writing, Omnisphere is on version 2.6, which comes with some extensive updates. It now comes with over 14,000 sounds that cover just about every genre of music you can imagine.
The real beauty is in how deep into the sound design you can go, with up to 20 oscillators per patch. Oscillators can be DSP or sample-based, and there are over 500 DSP waveforms for the synth oscillator. There are also eight LFO’s per patch and 12 envelopes with ADSR or multi-breakpoint interfaces. Sounds can be layered, too, up to four layers per patch.
Omnisphere is the only soft synth with hardware synth integration. What that means is that if you own any of the supported 65+ classic hardware synths, you can use it as a controller for Omnisphere, so you have a hands-on workflow. Other updates include the unique arpeggiator with chord voicings, new step modifiers, and dividers; it’s huge.
Omnisphere is a very powerful granular synth as well, which is fantastic for adding texture variation to your patches. You can import audio files as a sound source for many Omnisphere tools, but it’s especially interesting with the granular synthesis. On top of everything else, there are 58 FX units, up to 34 filter algorithms in series or parallel, and much more.
|Image credit: SpectrasonicsCheck Sweetwater|
It’s impossible to cover everything that Omnisphere 2 has to offer in a short overview. The depth of this soft synth is truly incredible, and with each update, it seems to get better and better. New features like the hardware synth integration and granular synthesis open it up to a new type of user. Even if you are a dedicated hardware enthusiast, Omnisphere 2 will make your production better.
We said it’s used by many, and some see that as a sign that they should find something different, but it’s so big, you can always find your unique sound. It does come at a cost, but if you have the money, it’s worth it. Omnisphere 2 is the best synth VST out there right now.
2. Arturia Pigments 2
The best newcomer
Arturia is renowned for incredible attention to detail, so when they say Pigments was 20 years in the making, you can expect it to be one of the best synth plugins money can buy.
The first thing that we loved about Pigments is the colorful, easy to use interface. Too many soft synths have such convoluted UI’s that put you off even starting, that’s not the case here. Pigments utilizes a twin audio engine, which lets you combine virtual analog and wavetable oscillators with a sample engine. That’s the starting point for your patch; from there, you have three envelopes, thee LFO’s, and three function generators to at your disposal.
Pigments 2 has three main screens, the synth page, the effects page, and the sequencer page. Everything is clean and well positioned for a super-fast workflow. The second version of Pigments has some significant upgrades, most notably, the new sample engine. With the new sample engine, there are hundreds of useable samples, plus you can upload your own. There are six upload slots with six different playback modes and numerous modulation options.
The new synth mode then lets you take those samples and transform them into unique granular synth patches. Also updated for Pigments 2 is the sequencer, which now allows you to add randomness to your sequence without losing its original form. So, in live performance, this tool lets you add some excitement to a phase then return to the original version. The built-in effects have also been overhauled, and now include the iconic Buchla Easel low pass gate amongst other awesome updates.
|Image credit: ArturiaCheck Plugin Boutique|
Even though it’s relatively new, Pigments 2 is one of our favorite soft synths ever. The main reason we like it so much is that it bridges the gap between basic synths and Omnisphere so well. It offers more than most plugins, yet does so in a way that’s incredibly easy to use. If you are ready to take the step from free plugins to something serious, Pigments 2 is perfect.
3. Arturia V Collection 7
Iconic hardware synths beautifully recreated
Arturia’s V Collection7 is their flagship VST, and it’s absolutely huge. Since it came on the scene,it has been one of the most popular software synths amongst professionalmusicians.
It’s something a little different from the rest of the synths we have chosen, in that it offers acoustic instruments as well as synthesizers. The V Collection 7 consists of 24 immaculately sampled classic keyboard instruments. Acoustic instruments include grand pianos, electric pianos, and the iconic B3 organ. The Synths cover decades of electronic progression with the Prophet 5, Modular V, DX7 V, and more.
So, let’s take a look at some of the synths, starting with the Prophet 5. The Prophet 5 is one of the most iconic synths ever made; this plugin mimics the analog Prophet 5 and the digital Prophet VS. Dave Smith’s Prophet 5 was the very first fully programmable synth that paved the way for modern polysynths today. It is a two-oscillator synth that was famous for its analog warmth. The Prophet VS is powered by digital vector synthesis and provides an entirely different soundscape. On their own, each of these synths is incredible, but the ability to blend the two is something that even hardware purists have to admit is pretty special.
Arturia partnered with synth legend Bob Moog to recreate the synth that started it all. The Modular V takes us back to the days of ELP and Keith Emerson in stunning detail. Arturia’s True Analog Emulation is showcased here in digitally reproducing one of the most complex analog circuits in all its glory. This synth is too vast to go into everything, but something that stands out is the insanely accurate recreation of the iconic Mg 24dB low-pass filter. It really captures that warm, smooth bottom end that only comes from a Bob Moog synth.
The DX7 V is pretty easy, to sum up, if you have heard any hit records from the ’80s, you have heard the DX7. It is undoubtedly one of the most prolifically used synths on chart-topping records. As a 16-voice polysynth, the DX7 blew away much of its competition in 1983 when it was first introduced. It covers everything from slap-bass patches, stunning electric pianos, to funky leads. If you want to capture the sound of a DX7, just think of Beverly Hills Cop’s Axel F theme tune, that’s the one!
|Image credit: ArturiaCheck Plugin Boutique|
Arturia’s V Collection 7 is an industry-standard, any studio with VSTs most likely has it. The detail in which these classic keyboard instruments have been recreated is mind-blowing. If you aren’t interested in the acoustic instruments, you can purchase individual synths, but the best value for money comes in buying the full collection. It’s the closest you will get to owning iconic hardware synths without spending thousands of dollars.
4. Korg Collection Special Bundle v2
All your favorite Korg’s in one place
Korg’s VST Collection brings its most iconic synths together in plugin form. There are eight synths in total, which are the Triton, ARP Odyssey, MS-20, Polysix, M1, Wavestation, Mono Poly, and MDE-X.
The Triton is to Korg what the Motif is to Yamaha; it’s an absolute powerhouse that changed the recording industry. So much care was taken in developing this plugin that the original Triton developers even supervised it. It comes with over 4,000 radio-ready preset sounds, and eight-part multi-timbre combis.
The Triton was well-known for its arpeggiator, and that is brought to life here with 307 arpeggiator patterns that create instantly useable phrases. The UI is nice and simple, with a quick search function for sounds or characters.
Korg’s ARP Odyssey is another synth that changed how many artists and producers approached making music. Through their proprietary Component Modeling Technology, Korg has replicated the true analog feeling of this synth in remarkable detail. But, they didn’t just stop there, they also made some improvements that are only possible through software. For example, higher polyphony and new built-in effects that make this a vintage synth with modern functionality.
All three generations of the ARP Odyssey synth are represented here, each with their own filter characteristics. The arpeggiator has been enhanced with new parameter programming options, and can now be tempo-synced to the LFO via external MIDI.
|Image credit: KorgCheck Korg Shop|
This collection is similar to Arturia’s V Collection 7, in the way that it models hardware synths. The one downside is that it only includes Korg synths, obviously. That isn’t a bad thing, they are all fantastic, but if you want more versatility, then it might not be for you. However, if you are a Korg fan, and we are, you will go nuts for these plugins! As one of the newest synthesizer plugins, it’s yet to be seen if it will last the test of time, but right now it looks very good indeed.
5. Native Instruments Massive X
The dubstep monster
Massive from Native Instruments is the plugin that fuelled the dubstep movement. Artists like Skrillex and Rusko latched onto Massive as soon as it was released, and it become the go to source for that growling wobble bass.
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Massive X is the long awaited sequel to Massive, although it’s not a direct replacement. At heart, it’s still a wavetable synth, actually, it’s arguably the best wavetable synth VST there is. It has two oscillators rather then three found in the original Massive. The good news is, those two oscillators sport over 170 wavetables, far more than the original.
Included in those wavetables are remastered versions of some Massive classic like Crusher and Scrapyard. It also had double the number of wavetable modes as the original Massive with 10.
There are two noise generators that house over 100 looping samples, ranging from analog noise to mechanical sounds, and everything in between. Massive X has just a single filter, although it has nine types to choose from, and each type has multiple modes. The filter types are absolutely stunning, in particular the Asimov low-pass is gorgeous.
While Massive X has fewer filters and oscillators than the original Massive, there is the option to load more in one of the insert FX slots. Modulation is the area where the newer Massive X comes into its own. It offers up to 17 modulators assignable per parameter, which is, well, massive.
One of the stars of the new Massive X is the enhanced performers, which are monster step/curve sequencers. These are perfect for creating extended parameter movements. For live use, sequences can be up to eight bars in length, and each performer can hold up to 12 at a time. As far as effects go, Massive X allows three insert effects and three stereo master effects.
|Image credit: Native InstrumentsCheck Native Instruments|
Massive X is an absolute monster, just like the original Massive. It’s huge, and it outperforms its predecessor in a few key areas, like the modulators, especially the performers.
It does have its flaws, too, for example, you can’t upload your own wavetables, and you’d expect more effects with a synth of this stature. You could argue that with over 170 wavetables available, there’s no need to upload your own, but the option would be nice. All in all, this soft synth is another huge hit from Native Instruments.
6. TAL NoiseMaker
The perfect introduction to VST synths
TAL’s NoiseMaker is the first free synth to make it onto our list, yes that’s right, it’s free! It’s our highest-rated free synth VST!
NoiseMaker comes in VST and AU plugin formats, and works with DAWs on both Windows and Mac OS. It features two oscillators (with sub-oscillator), two LFO modules, a multi-mode filter, and some nice built-in effects.
Oscillators one and two can sync to the sub-oscillator to create some massive sounds. It offers up to six voices with mono and poly modes available. If you just want to get straight into playing, there are 256 presets, some of which are surprisingly good.
The UI is very simple as you’d expect from a free plugin, but that’s good, it makes it easy to use. The main screen is very clean, with oscillators, LFOs, and envelope controls clearly labeled. As well as the main envelope section (ADSR), there is a fully editable envelope that can be used as a modulation source for different parameters. For example, it can be used to create some pretty nasty bass wobbles using filter automation, think Skrillex at his filthiest.
The built-in effects include some reverbs, delay, a bitcrusher, and a dual chorus. As far as free plugins go, NoiseMaker has a fairly advanced synthesis engine. It can be used to create anything from warm analog-sounding pads to absolutely chaotic, screaming lead patches.
|Image credit: TALCheck Plugin Boutique|
For anyone who wants to learn how to use synth VST plugins, NoiseMaker is a great way to start. It’s a very simple synth, with a simple UI that will teach you the basics very well.
If we put this next to a synth that costs hundreds of dollars, there will be no comparison; it’s not a high-end plugin. But that’s not to say it can’t sound good and serve you very well in your music production. Considering it’s free, it punches well above its weight; there is absolutely no reason not to own NoiseMaker. Get it while it’s available.
7. TAL BassLine-101
The vintage synth bass master
We had to include this synth because it’s so cheap, and we just love some bass! BassLine-101 doesn’t officially share anything in common with Roland, but it’s incredibly similar to Roland’s legendary SH-101 bass synth. What’s even better is that it recreates that iconic sound so well for such a low price.
The UI showsindividual level sliders for pulse, saw, noise, and the sub-oscillatorwaveforms. Like the SH-101, the sub-oscillator is limited to two pulse widths,which are one or two octaves below the primary oscillator. Despite seeming likea simple setup, with some creative mixing, you can come up with some veryinteresting waveforms.
BassLine-101’s filter is a 24dB resonant low-pass, self-oscillating filter. It can be modulated via the envelope generator, LFO, or keyboard. The envelope is pretty standard (ADSR), and stays true to the SH-101. Despite only having one envelope, you can modulate the amp separately if yo switch to gate mode.
The LFO offers saw, square, random, and noise shapes, again just like the SH-101.
|Image credit: TALCheck Plugin Boutique|
If it were purely about value for money, BassLine-101 might be the best soft synth in our top 10. It’s harsh to say anything negative about this plugin. We mentioned that it only has a single envelope, but the same can be said about the SH-101, and it’s one of the things that give it a unique sound.
There are a lot of synths, that we won’t name, that try to emulate the SH-101, and they don’t all get it right. TAL got it right with BassLine-101, and provide it at a ridiculously low price. If you like synth bass at all, you should own BassLine-101.
- Our in-depth TAL BassLine-101 video review
8. Dexed by Digital Suburban
The FM sounds of the 80s
Dexed is a popularfree synth VST that in no way looks like a free synth plugin. This Yamaha DX7emulator comes with a UI that would look at home on most paid synths.
Digital Suburban arethe developers behind Dexed, and it’s come a long way since it’s debutappearance. The stylish UI that we mentioned wasn’t always present; it startedoff as a very cheap and dull-looking interface that we are glad to see changefor the better.
There are quite a few FM synth VSTs out there, like Native Instruments FM8, or Arturia’s DX7 V. It’s not outrageous to say that Dexed might be the most feature-packed, easiest to use, and the most stable of the lot. It comes with a large number of presets, which make it easy to get started straight away. There are 32 sound banks that each contain 32 presets, from electric pianos, to synth brass, and more.
Dexed was originally intended to be a software partner for the hardware DX7 synth. It still works as a program editor for the hardware Yamaha synth, which is handy if you have one. FM synth plugins are sometimes a bit tedious, but Dexed lets you get to the sounds you want easily.
|Image credit: KVR AudioCheck KVR Audio|
Dexed is a free synth that could probably sell for around the $50 mark, so there is no downside to it. If you are a fan of that classic DX7 sound, then you should already own Dexed; if not, you should get it now. If you aren’t a fan of that sound, get it anyway, it’s free and as a producer, the more options you have, the better.
9. Surge Synthesizer
The almost perfect free synth
Surge was firstreleased in 2006 and sold for over $100 back in the day. Now, it’s available asa free download, and it’s packed with some pretty impressive features.
It’s a hybrid-subtractive synth with a dual synth engine, and three oscillators per voice. There are eight oscillator algorithms, including analog, FM, and wavetable. It has a whopping 183 wavetables, and two filters with eight filter types, along with 12 customizable LFOs per voice. You can see straight away; there’s a lot to play with here, especially for a free plugin.
Adding to the sound design potential are eight FX slots with 10 FX types and a modulation matrix. As well as the quite extensive sound-shaping options, there are 1,010 presets with some absolute gems in there.
The UI isn’t the easiest to navigate, which is why it isn’t higher on our list. Although the massive amount of presets are organized into categories for quick browsing, which helps a lot. The issue is that the interface is relatively small, and requires more menu-diving than you’d want. Previously, Surge was only available for Windows, but thankfully, Mac OS is now supported.
|Image credit: Surge SynthesizerCheck GitHub|
It’s hard to believe that such a monster of a synth is available as a free plugin. However, the UI is an issue; it’s not the most intuitive interface, to say the least. But, when you get it for free, you can’t complain too much. Despite the UI being quite fiddly, some of the presets are worth the effort. To sum it up, it could have been the best free synth VST, but expect to get frustrated with the UI, so use it sparingly.
10. VCV Rack
The ultimate modular plugin for beginners
Don’t be fooled by VCVRack placing last on our list; this virtual modular synth is well worth a look.
Modular synthesis is a vast and expensive world, VCV Rack is the closest you will get to modular gear in software form without spending any money. The most significant aspect of modular gear is the workflow, and this plugin captures it better than most.
The workflow of any VST relies on a solid UI, and with virtual modular synths, the patch cables hanging everywhere can make it very messy. Thankfully, VCV Rack mages to maintain a very clean/clear interface.
The quality of the individual modules that make up VCV Rack isn’t anything spectacular. In truth, the oscillators, filters, and so on are very average. So, don’t expect to create patches that sound like high-end hardware, because it’s not even close.
The reason we have included VCV Rack in our top 10 is that it’s a fantastic learning tool. In the past, VCV Rack was only available as a standalone application, but it’s now functional as a plugin inside your DAW.
|Image credit: VCVCheck VCV|
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It might seem a little hasty to include this synth in our top 10. Especially since we don’t have anything too good to say about how it sounds, but there is method to our madness. Hardware modular synths can be very expensive, and very addictive once you get started. It’s a good idea to know what you are doing before you start throwing your hard earned money around.
What better way to learn the basics that with a free VST with a fantastic interface? Even if you rarely (or never) use it on a final mix, it’s well worth spending some time practicing on VCV Rack. It will save you time and money later on.
When we thought about choosing the 10 best VST synth plugins, we wanted to take into account different budgets, requirements, and ability levels. So, do we have the 10 best VST synth plugins overall? Probably not (although our top 5 certainly fit that category). But, we do have the best mix of sound quality, user-friendly GUIs, value for money, and potential to learn/progress as a producer. That means our top 10 has something for everyone, and we love every one of these awesome synths.
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James is a writer and musician with a passion for audio production. He is a lover of all things tech, especially the latest keyboards, synths, DAW’s, virtual instruments, and effects plugins. Musical interests include jazz, funk, hip hop, blues, and rock.