Unlock the powr of sound design with these ten free synth VSTs!
A free synth VST gives you the tools to understand how synthesis works, and many are capable of creating complex, interesting sounds too.
While paid synth VSTs are often capable of creating more complex timbres, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it with a free synth. The difference is often the number of modules, effects, modulation capabilities, and so on.
So let’s talk about free software synthesizers that will set you off on your sound design journey!
1. Vember Audio’s Surge – the best free synth VST you can get today
Our first choice is a synth VST that will give you the fullest & most comprehensive sound design experience for free.
Surge is a free and open-source synthesizer that utilizes more than one synthesis technique. And as it’s open source, you can access the code and do what you like with it!
In practice, Surge layers two “Scenes” that act as individual synthesizer engines running together so you can create big, evolving sounds. As a result, we think Surge is the most versatile synth VST that you can get today.
Digging deeper, a scene in Surge can house up to 3 oscillators that can process any of 12 oscillator algorithms. Each oscillator algorithm has a unique band of parameters that you can control, and each oscillates in its own way too.
As a result, you’ll have access to classic analog waveforms, digital wavetables, and frequency modulation, in addition to noise & sub generators – and still more! In fact, Surge can receive and process external audio signals too!
12 LFOs are available in Surge – 6 per voice and 6 global LFOs inside a whole scene – and they feature 7 LFO waveforms that you can manipulate. Each LFO can act as a 6-stage envelope, or you can construct them from internal step sequencers.
Moreover, two multi-mode filters that house eight different filter types let you sculpt a clean sound out of the frequencies. Here, you can use low pass, high pass, bandpass, comb, notch, all-pass, and Sample & Hold filter modes.
An onboard envelope generator lets you control the amplitude and other parameters of Surge, and its formula modulator lest you build a custom modulator output!
Finally, Surge houses a functional modulation matrix, an intuitive preset manager for storing and accessing your sounds, and a huge digital effects engine with 8 effect slots per scene, ten different effects, in addition to 2 sends and 2 master effects routings.
Yes, Surge by Vember Audio is our favorite free synth VST for very good reasons!
2. Matt Tytel’s Vital – the best free synth VST for beginners
Despite everything sound design that is so good about it, Surge looks pretty intimidating. But Vital by Matt Tytel is a free soft synth with almost as much capability with a much more attractive user interface.
Vital is a free wavetable synthesizer that easily rivals the popular wavetable synths Serum and Massive. But its oscillators allow for frequency modulation, its modulation capabilities make for fun subtractive synthesis sessions, and more.
Vital has three oscillators, and the wavetables inside the oscillators are morphable. In other words, you can modulate the position wavetables over time and create some epic sounds effortlessly!
You can modulate the wavetable position, the pulse width of the waveforms, their pitch, fine-tuning, and more. In fact, you can edit the wavetables free-hand and emphasize specific harmonics and literally draw how the wavetable should morph.
While you can create cool sounds with the oscillators alone, Vital includes three multi-mode filters, 3 ADSR envelopes, and 5 LFOs. You can modulate almost every parameter on the synth with the envelopes & LFOs, and you can send any signal through the filters and route the filters through one another.
In short, Vital is all about movement. An abundance of LFO modes and sync options gives you an abundance of creative control. Whether you’re looking for a thick plucky sound or a long, evolving sound, you can do it all in Vital.
Meanwhile, the user interface is clear and reflects every modulation mapping & oscillation that’s occurring. The layout of the interface is carefully designed and is simply a joy to use.
Vital is available in three tiers with Basic being its free tier which has no less functionality or power than its paid tier. The only difference is that you get fewer presets (75) & wavetables (25).
3. VCV Rack by CVC – the best free modular synth VST
VCV Rack is a modular synthesizer with thousands of free modules that you can download. While the paid modules have VST plugin support, the free modules are standalone only.
However, an unofficial port – VeeSeeVSTRack – lets you use the free VCV Rack modules as a synthesizer VST plugin in your digital audio workstation.
Anyway, VCV Rack brings the almighty power of a modular synthesizer to your computer. You’ll find software modules modeled on almost every Eurorack module, so you can have emulations of modular racks that many spend thousands of dollars building.
You’ll find software emulations for oscillators, modulators, sequencers, filters, utilities, effects, mixing, blending, shaping, bending, and even granulating.
In fact, VCV Rack even utilizes a MIDI Output feature. Therefore you can control MIDI hardware with newer Rack modules like CV-Gate, CV-MIDI, and CV-CC.
You can build patches with virtual cables for the real modular experience, so VCV gives you a new world of sound design possibilities in modular form. But you’ll have to patch it all together yourself, so if you’re unsure how to work with the signal flow or modulation then click here.
4. Digital Suburban Dexed – the best FM software synth that’s free
Dexed is easily the best free FM software synthesizer that you can get right now. It’s a comprehensive emulation of the Yamaha DX7 – the classic digital FM synthesizer. In fact, you can use Dexed as an editor for the DX7 hardware synth itself, but the Dexed VST utilizes a filter that the original hardware does not.
In any case, Dexed’s interface does look pretty intimidating. However, it gives you every parameter from each of the DX7’s 6 operators so you have a broad overview of what’s occurring in the synth.
You’ll find over 100 parameters that you can automate, and the soft synth does make it clear which algorithms are in use and generating sound. While FM synthesis can get convoluted, Dexed is pretty good at keeping it accessible – despite the daunting user interface!
5. U-he TyrellN6 – the best free virtual analog synth VST
TyrellN6 is a versatile analog software synthesizer that’s completely free with classic architecture.
Developed by Urs Heckmann (DSP programmer behind software synths like U-he Diva), the features in TyrellN6 follow feedback given by members in the Amazona.de online forum.
In other words, TyrellN6 is the product of a “dream synth” conceptualized by members of an online forum. The result is a stylish software synthesizer with a strong analog sound, a simple workflow, and a diverse library of presets.
Two oscillators (with noise and ring modulator modules) are available with eight voices of unison, while two LFOs with eight waveforms and ADSR envelopes let you shape your sound how you like. And its twin filter section actually originates from an early prototype of U-He Diva.
Finally, TyrellN6 features more than 500 presets and you can find a multitude of free sound banks available online.
6. Sonicbits Exakt Lite – the easiest FM synth VST to work with
Exakt is an FM synthesizer with four operators and eight classic FM algorithms. Compared to Dexed which is an emulation of the DX7, Exakt has its own way of doing things.
The friendly user interface makes Exakt a software FM synthesizer for beginners and professional sound designers today. You’ll find the classic analog waveforms (sine, saw, square, and triangle) in the four aliasing-free operators, and Exakt’s intuitive interface makes it easy to control the operators with depth.
With real-time waveforms displayed, you can use Exakt’s five-point envelopes to modulate amplitudes while using its resonant multi-mode filter (low-pass, high-pass, and band-pass) and LFO that you can synchronize to your DAW tempo lets you create interesting movement.
Every control on Exakt Lite is simple and easy to use. Anyone can get started with this free software synthesizer and you don’t have to know the ins and outs of FM synthesis either.
7. Tal Noise Maker – the best virtual analog synth for digital music producers
Noise Maker is a free synth VST that doesn’t mess around. Everything is practically labeled, so anyone with a basic understanding of synthesizers can work the soft synths out easily.
Most people using software synths will have never used any analog hardware, so labels like “OSC”, “LFO”, and so on are easy to understand compared to the likes of VCO. So if you’ve used software synths like Vital or Serum then you’re set to have a good time with Noise Maker.
Furthermore, Noise Maker is divided into 4 main sections that you can hide/open by clicking on their headers: Synth 1, Synth 2, Envelope Editor, and Control.
- Synth 1
Here you’ll find 2 oscillators, an LFO, and a master module that contains a sub-oscillator, volume controls, a ring modulator, unison/voice, and portamento settings.
- Synth 2
Synth 2 also has an LFO with the same functionality, a filter with 11 filter modes, and an ADSR envelope akin to that of Vital & Serum that you can map to multiple parameters.
- Envelope Editor
The envelope editor is actually akin to the likes of Vital & Serum’s LFOs because you can draw a curve and modulate multiple parameters with it. It’s a customizable module that you can use to modulate parameters like filter cutoff, oscillator volume, and more.
Control refers to the global controls that determine the output settings of the synth (output level and so on).
You’ll also get a number of presets a large number of presets that show off the features of the soft synth like its Juno-style twin chorus effect and the synths’ ability to create noise and sound effects. Additional effects include reverb, delay, phase, and more.
8. discoDSP OB-Xd – best free analog synth emulation
OB-Xd is another analog software synthesizer, and it emulates the Oberheim OB-X analog subtractive synth – but with deliberate differences. While the sound isn’t totally honest to the original, OB-Xd really does capture its sonic character.
OB-Xd borrows its feature set from the Oberheim OB-X and utilizes two detunable oscillators that have unison, in addition to a noise generator, two envelopes, one LFO, and an epic filter.
You’ll have access to a variety of presets that do emulate classic Oberheim OB-X sounds fairly well. And the interface of the synthesizer is pretty intuitive and fun to play with. So much so that it can be a great first synth for anyone looking to learn about subtractive synthesis.
9. Daichi Laboratory’s Synth1 – an old but gold synth VST
Synth1 is one of the most popular free software synthesizers out there. While many soft synths have overtaken Synth1 in terms of functionality, it still remains a decent synth powerhouse.
But the functionality of Synth1 is actually modeled on the Clavia Nord Lead 2 Red Synth. Synth1 features frequency & ring modulation, envelopes, LFOs, multi-mode filters, and an arpeggiator that you can synchronize to the host tempo in your DAW.
Synth1 combines subtractive & FM synthesis while the synth behaves as an analog modular synthesizer.
Three oscillators & a sub-oscillator allow you to build a thick sound, and the first oscillator can operate as a detuned supersaw. Additionally, all oscillators have polyphony, monophony, and legato voices.
Meanwhile, the multi-mode filter gives you two high-pass, one low-pass, and a band-pass filter. You can synchronize the two LFOs to your host DAW tempo, or you can automate any parameter with your DAW.
10. E-Phonic Drumatic 4 – the best VST drum synthesizer
Drumatic is a slimmed version of a paid plugin – E-Phonic Drumatic 4 drum synthesizer – but this free version is full of functionality.
This free drum synth VST is the best drum soft synth because it utilizes a combination of FM, wavetable, and subtractive synthesis to generate sound!
Our 4 favorite E-Phonic Drumatic drum synth VST features:
- Over 40 noise types
- Two stereo noise oscillators
- Graphical envelopes for pitch, filtering, and level
- A plethora of professional presets
Now you have the tools you need to get lost in sound design! This list comprises so much functionality that buying a software synth could seem unnecessary.
I would say that’s not entirely true because paid synth VSTs like Serum, Vital, Pigments by Arturia & Razor by Native Instruments are sonic weapons.
While you can use these free synth VSTs to learn to synthesize sounds, upgrading to a paid synth when you’re ready will elevate your sound design.
Now go and get creative with your free synth VST of choice!