5 Free Soft Synths That Sound Great
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The world of synthesis is a terrific one, however it can also be a rather costly place to reside. Owning a slew of modular units or even just a few hardware synths of any kind may be unrealistic for many people. This simple truth is what leads many folks down the path of achieving synth sounds via software. It makes sense that with computers and music technology being as great as they are now that people would opt to use soft synths. But, alas even software synths can be too expensive for some. So whether you're in this boat, or just wanting to pick up a great free piece of music software, this list is for you.
This software has been around since 2011 and still stands out as being one of the best free soft synths you can get. The name Tyrell is from a project that originated on German music website, Amazona. Through a survey and several forum posts, information was crowd sourced to decide what an affordable analogue synth should look like. After a while some great minds boiled this information down to a fairly simple but efficient synth design (based off of the Juno). Unfortunately, it was obvious that this design was going to take too much time to fully develop. So, Urs Heckmann offered to take the circuit layout and make it into some freeware for all to access.
Ultimately, the Tyrell N6 is a fantastic 2-oscillator design that has plenty of great sounding presets. And if you are looking to make your own sounds, the layout of this unit is simple and easy to use. Wanting some free analog sounding goodness? Try this guy out.
If free and modular are two words you like the sound of, VCV Rack might be exactly what you’re looking for. If you know anything about modular synthesis, then you probably also realize that it is a very expensive thing to get into. Even in terms of music gear, this stuff is expensive. Luckily for all of us, VCV Rack is an open-source modular synthesizer that is completely free. I should point out that this software (nor any modular synth) is for the casual user to jump into carefree. There is a lot that goes on when dealing with modules, so don’t think it will be just as simple to use as any other soft synth. That said, there is basically no better starting point for beginning modular users than VCV Rack. There are also plenty of YouTube tutorials out there to help you get up and running.
As far as analog synths go, it does not get much more desirable than that of the Oberheim OB-X. DiscoDSP’s OB-Xd attempts to take this classic synth circuit and improve upon some of it’s design elements. While some of the features on the original OB-X can feel somewhat constraining, DiscoDSP’s soft synth takes care of many of these issues while adding their own flare. You also get a wide range of presets that have been very well dialed in so that you can have massive sounds right after downloading. The controls are all very responsive and reminiscent of its hardware inspiration. Furthermore, the sound is just as lush and rich as you would expect from an OB-X style synth, the micro random detuning inside this synth is representative of vintage units. And while there are no effects built in (like the original) you can pair this with any verb, delay, chorus, etc. to really take your sounds to the next level.
The OB-Xd by DiscoDSP is completely free use/download and is available across platforms. In terms of free soft synths, this is one of the absolute best sounding out there.
Fat and free. The Tal-Bassline is an incredible sounding piece of freeware. As the name implies this guy is primarily intended to be used for getting bass sounds, specifically like that of the Roland 101. This is actually what many consider to be as close as you can get to the Roland model. For being a free synth there are actually quite a lot of high quality (“analogue”) features going on. You are getting source oscillators of the square, saw, sub, and noise varieties along with pulse-width oscillation and a built in sequencer. But above all these features and at the heart of this software is the filter. The onboard -18 dB low-pass filter is warm and sounds absolutely wonderful.
If you are looking to make some spitty or acid bass tones, the Tal-Bassline is what you need to look into.
Wrapping up this list, we have yet another great and free softsynth, however this one is of the FM type. That’s right, even the more complex forms of synthesis can be acquired at no cost to you. Digital Suburban’s Dexed is an FM synthesizer that is modeled after the most famous of its kind, the Yamaha DX7. For those familiar with the layout/controls of an original DX7, the Dexed is a little different. Digital Suburban’s synth takes on a modern, more direct approach to make things easier on the user. Furthermore, the concepts of 6 operator FM sound design have never been made simpler than with this software. While it is still not nearly as simple to understand as subtractive synthesis, you could not ask for a better platform to learn FM on.
With Dexed you can get all those classic bell pad tones that resemble the DX7’s fame, but you can take it even further. There are plenty of great bass and lead tones to be created with this software as well, and all for the low cost of being entirely free.