In this weeks Top 10 we are sharing our favourite synth plugins.
The argument between soft synths vs hardware is a common one within the audio community these days, but even if you prefer the tangibility of a real piece of kit there is no denying that the quality of the soft synth has improved drastically since the first software synthesizer Reality was release in 1990 by Seer Systems.
Although the first soft synth to exist in the digital domain wasnt relased until 1990, digital synthesis came decades earlier. Throughout the 70’s Yamaha, New England Digital, and Casio created some of the earliest digital hardware synthesizers that were released on the market, but it wasnt until 1983 with the release of John Chowning’s DX7 FM sythnesizer that people really began to see the power and uniqueness of digital synthesis.
Now soft synths have amazing capabilities and features that many manufacturers struggle to pack into hardware models due to available processing power and cost of production, which is why many softs synths are a lot cheaper than buying hardware (not always) and tend to have a lot more features.
For this list we have specifically chosen third party plugins that dont come with standalone DAW’s meaning anyone can purchase them and use them in their own productions – for the right price of course.
Words: Callum Martinez
Omnisphere is one of the most powerful synths you could ever come across. It has a whole host of features, but for us its layering capabilities make it stand out. Each synth patch can have 4 oscillators with 2 voices which you can choose to be either a high quality sample or a synth oscillator/wavetable. On top of this, you can even layer up to 10 patches on top of each other to create a sort of mega patch. If you couple this with its extensive modulation possibilities that can be applied to each voice/patch, and stackable FX rack, it’s easy to see why this synth is so popular. It is literally a sound designers dream.
Famed for its incredible ‘hardware’ sound, Uhe’s Diva is a must have plugin for any real synth fan. The synth is unique as it can be customised in a modular fashion. You can right click and swap out the filters, envelopes, oscillators and LFO’s to create your own custom synth with hyper realistic emulations from classic hardware synths as well as some of Uhe’s own designs. This is an easy to use and great sounding synth.
We couldn’t make a list about soft synths and not add surge. Surge is a freeware open source synthesizer, considering it costs absolutely nothing to purchase and use, it’s astonishing how good this thing sounds. With 3 oscillators, FM routing, complex modulation, waveshaping, dual filters, and amp envelopes which can be switched between digital or analogue algorithms, this thing is a beast.
Aalto is a pretty amazing sounding semi modular synthesiser with a very competitive price point. The synth can be used without any additional connections however, you can greatly increase the potential of sound creation by adding a few connections here and there. With a complex oscillator, dual envelopes, amazing sounding reverbs and filters, and self modulation options via the various connections available, this soft synth is a steal.
Uhe make incredible synths, it really is as simple as that, but few are as popular and have been on the market as long as Zebra 2. Originally released in …. the synth is a favourite of award winning film scorer Hans Zimmer who used the synth to create some of the most iconic scores for Batman: The Dark Knight rises, and has even worked with Uhe to release his own version the synth that is jam packed with patches made by the man himself. The level of precision one can aquire with this synth is breathtaking, especially when manipulating wave shapes.
This powerful plugin is Arturia’s competitor to Serum. Pigments has two stackable engines capable of many forms synthesis such as analog (which include 3 oscillators), wavetable, sample-based/granular, and additive synthesis in harmonic engine. Additionally, the synth has some of the most intuitive modulation routing we have seen in any synth. Coupled with amazing sounding filters and a beautiful colour coded GUI there is no doubt you will be playing with this thing for hours at a time.
Kontakt isn’t a synth technically as it is a sampler, however as one of Native Instruments most popular product we feel that it more than deserved a place on our list. The best part about Kontakt is its seemingly infinite library of third party developers that produce instruments to be used within the software, as well the ability to make your own instruments.
If you have every wanted to get into modular but have been put off by the enormous price point then VCV rack might just be the best thing for you. VCV rack is a virtual modular environment but it might be easier to think of it as one endless eurorack. You can build patches as large as you can manage and with over 1000 free modules it’s the perfect program to learn modular. Best of all, many real life manufacturers such as Instruo have uploaded official emulations of their eurorack modules to be downloaded for free. The standalone version of the software if free, although they are offering a paid version with full DAW integration.
Dune 3 is the latest installment of Synapse Audio’s amazing Dune synth. Dune already sounded amazing and has powerful modulation as well as gorgeous sounding effects. The latest installment of Dune now inlcudes a dual multimode filter, dual arpeggiators, wavetable editor, and WAV file editor making this synth even more powerful than it already was.
Popular soft synth Sylenth 1 is the brainchild of Dutch designer Lennard Addink and has been a go-to synth of choice for musicians all around the world for 10+ years now. The synth is fairly basic in its design compared to many on this list, its a simple subtractive synth unlike some the others above that offer multiple forms of synthesis, but what Sylenth does do however, is offer an amazingly fun, easy to use, and great sounding synth that is perfect for making strong, squelchy, growling bass sounds.