10 Free Software Synths To Keep You Creative

US No charge, plenty to be getting on with      29/01/21

The internet is awash with freebies and introductory offers to get you making music - we're here to sort through the noise and provide you with the finest free VST (or standalone) synths that money...can't... buy. Some of these are multi-platform which are indicated in brackets next to the titles. 

TYRELL N6 [Win, Mac, Linux] - Mono/Poly 

U-he Tryell - free VST Synth

Establishing themselves as a high end software developer with some unstoppable software synths, u-He also offer three free synths. The Tyrell N6 is the pick of the bunch with a distinctly analogue look and feel, sporting cross modulation, dual LFOs and a superb range of presets.  It may be a little hungry on the CPU side but is otherwise an essential and inspiring freebie packed with all the essential features. 

Instant download, no signup required. 

Link: https://www.amazona.de/freeware-synth-tyrell-n6-v3-03/

VK-1 Viking [Win] Mono

VK-1 Viking Free VST Synths

The VK-1 Vikiing is a three oscillator powerhouse with a gloriously late 90s look about it. It's got enough modulation options to create some incredible sounds, while having a GUI that doesn't overload or intimidate a new user. Reminiscent of the original Waldorf Pulse architecture (minus the arpeggiator) it has a wonderful fizzy character to the filter and provides weighty low end - with well organized and plentiful presets on board.

Instant download, no signup required. 

Link: https://blamsoft.com/vst/vk-1-viking-synthesizer/

Dexed [Win, Mac, Linux] Mono/Poly

Dexed DX7 Free Synth PluginFor those who can't afford a DX7 or an FM8 license, Dexed faithfully replicates the sound of the 6-operator FM classic with nothing to pay. Those new to FM may be intimidated by the packed GUI so starting off with the presets and simply altering the algorithm is a great place to begin. Find some DX7 sounds online and Dexed's built in manager will load both individual sounds and banks of 20. If you do have DX7, Dexed will also operate as an editor and patch manager for your sounds, which is no mean feat on its own! 

Bonus fact: will send banks to the new Korg OPSIX too

Instant download, no signup required. 

Link: https://github.com/asb2m10/dexed/wiki/Dexed-as-a-DX7-editor

Cobalt [Win] - Mono/Poly

Cobal free VST synth plug-in

No, not the Modal Cobalt, but the one designed by Leslie Sanford, Cobalt is a digital hybrid-style synthesizer with two oscillators and a big focus on modulation. What it lacks in appearance it makes up for in a very instant and up front sound - capable of glassy leads, rich pads and gritty bass.

It has four FM sources for expressive and evolving sounds and three very capable effects  Audio modulation from one of the oscillators would have been the icing on the cake, but if you can stomach the GUI you'll get some great sounds out of it. 

Instant download, no signup required. 

Link: https://www.lesliesanford.com/vst/plugins/

VCV RACK [Win, Mac, Linux] - Mono/Poly

VCV Rack free modular Synth

Though not officially a VST plug-in, it works in standalone mode and will host other VSTs from inside itself, VCV Rack is the flagship free synth software, providing an entire modular rig with close to 2,500 modules to choose from.
For those uninitiated with modular, VCV rack is the perfect way to learn and have access to the workflow of eurorack synths and effects with the dexterity of sound the process offers.
With high quality DSP and no need to remortgage the house, there's enough here for it to be your only sound processing device for a while. It's also open source, which has resulted in a thriving developer community, replicating real modular units. 
With plenty of paid modules to add to the large collection of free ones.

BONUS FACT: If you like the Mutable Instruments modules, many of these have been replicated, such as Clouds 

Instant download, signup required for presets/modules. 

Link: https://vcvrack.com/Rack

Pendulate [Win, Mac] - Mono 

Newfandled Audio Pendulate Free Synth Plug-in

Coming straight out of the leftfield is Newfangled Audio's Pendulate, with a chaotic oscillator based on the physics of a double pendulum. It certainly has an moody, off kilter charm - its wavefolder and filter are both based on Buchla modules and you can feel a gristly energy  in the low end. It's got a semi-modular feel with patch points below most of the controls which can be routed in positive or negative degrees from  the LFO. The unconventional GUI may not appeal but the angsty sounds it generates surely will. 

Instant download, email required. 

Link: https://www.newfangledaudio.com/pendulate

ModulAir [Win]  - Mono/Poly

Modular Free Windows VST synth

ModulAir  is a stunning software modular synth for those not yet ready for the quantum leap into VCV Rack. It offers 18 modules per patch with 55 modules to choose from including oscillators, filters, sequencers, modulators and effects - giving you a diverse range of sonic possibilities. It's slightly dated and sometimes intimidating GUI will reward synth explorers with a rich selection of sounds good for all round use.   

Instant download, no signup required. 

Link: https://www.fullbucket.de/music/modulair.html

Vital [Win/Mac/Linux] - Mono/Poly

Vital free VST synth plug-in

Vital is a glorious sounding spectral wavetable synth, which will appeal to those looking for a Serum-style interface and sound on a budget.

This free version offers 25 wavetables and 75 presets to get you started, each with a distinctively bold and modern flavour. It's the most processor hungry synth on this list, but shouldn't worry most modern systems.
Developer Matt Tytel has also made
Helm which is a highly capable open source synth which doesn't require registration and is much less CPU intensive. Both are recommended. 

Signup required

Link: https://tytel.org/helm/

OB-Xd [Win, Mac, Linux] - Mono/Poly

OB-Xd Free synth plug-in
From the moment you open the discoDSP OB-Xd you get the impression it's going to deliver - it's excellent appearance and faithful design make you want to reach into the screen. Playing it is an evocative and rich experience, with a well crafted selection of presets showing off it's edgy filter, responsive modulation and warm low end weight.
It has all those bold and imposing 80s synths sounds we all need once in a while; this is a supreme vintage emulation.  

Instant download, no signup required. 

Link: https://www.discodsp.com/obxd/

Legacy award: SQ8L [Win, Linux] - Mono/Poly

SQ8L Free vst synth

It would be impossible to compile a list of free VSTs without mentioning the superb SQ8L, an Ensoniq SQ-80 emulation which has the lush pads and rich bass you'd expect to hear generated from a real unit. It's so accurate someone has done a  direct comparison of the two (albeit in MP3 form), see if you can tell the difference.
It's faithfull GUI and pristine sound make up for a lack of automation but it's a must for those with a 32 Bit system or those willing to use a
32 to 64 Bit bridge. An absolute gem!  

Instant download, no signup required. 

Link: http://www.buchty.net/ensoniq/index.html#sq8l

Those are just some of the free synths available which will inspire electronic musical adventures and prove you don't need to spend money to have fun making music. After all, that's what it's all about right? 

We know we've probably missed more than a few here, so please let us know in the comments if you have any other recommendations.

MidierrorAbout the author [midierror]: Synth Explorer, Programmer, Sound Designer, VJ, Community Music Maker, Graphic Designer, Interview Man, Film Fan, Photo Chap, Sky Watcher.
He hosts a podcast, Soundcloud and also makes some nifty Max For Live stuff too

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