If you’re going to be making music in any capacity, you simply can’t do without synths.
You can use them for effects, atmosphere, color, texture, melody, soaring leads, and more. They can play a supporting role, or they can be the main instrument in your tracks. It’s up to you.
VST synths are incredibly popular, and there are more free synths available than you might even think.
In this guide, we look at the best free VST synth plugins you can use to create pro quality sounds.
Surge By Vember Audio
The award-winning Surge is incredibly popular, and some even call it the best free VST synth available.
This open-source hybrid subtractive digital synthesizer comes with 2,116 patches (with two scenes) and 614 wavetables, which is quite stunning already. It has a quick-category patch browser too.
In addition, you get three oscillators per scene, two filter units in eight configurations, 12 LFO units, and eight effect units. We could go on, but we think you’re starting to get the idea, and besides, you can read all about this on their website.
So, what’s everyone raving about? Does this thing even sound any good?
If you’re still asking those questions, you probably aren’t impressed by specs, which is okay.
Sounding good isn’t the issue here, though. Surge is beyond versatile, because you can create all kinds of sounds with it – from ethereal and atmospheric, to simple and old school.
Honestly, it’s the kind of synth I would love messing around with, because of the old-school video game vibes. That said, you should probably give it a go yourself and see what you come up with!
You can get Surge as a 64-bit AU and VST3 for Mac, a 32-bit or 64-bit VST3 for Windows, and a 64-bit VST3 for Linux.
OB-Xd By discoDSP
OB-Xd by discoDSP is an enduring and popular free synth based on the Oberheim OB-X, the first of Oberheim’s OB-series polyphonic analog subtractive synthesizers.
Although OB-Xd emulates the Oberheim OB-X, it improves on some of its limitations. But authenticity was clearly on the developer’s mind because it comes complete with random micro detuning, which is part of what made the OB-X what it was.
If old school synths are your thing, then this is not one to overlook. There are plenty of early Sci-Fi type sounds available, as well as some you may have heard in early video games. To that extent, this is a versatile synth, too.
While the VST doesn’t have any built-in effects, its sound can certainly be enhanced by chorus, reverb, delay, and others.
OB-Xd is compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Pendulate By Newfangled Audio
Newfangled Audio calls Pendulate a “chaotic” synth. This monosynth uses a unique oscillator design (a chaotic oscillator) on a double pendulum. Though chaotic, to be sure, it utilizes patterns of interconnectedness, constant feedback loops, repetition, self-similarity, fractals, and self-organization.
Pendulate comes with wavefolder, low pass gate, MPE support, envelop and LFO, modulation, animations, three color schemes, and 136 presets (including artist presets from Matt Lange and Matthew Wang).
The graphical user interface has been impeccably designed, and it even visualizes your sounds.
Having listened to some demos, indeed, you can produce a lot of unique tone with Pendulate – from relatively standard to “way out there.”
If you’d like to create rhythmic sounding synth parts, likely you will enjoy Pendulate.
Pendulate is free, but you will need to enter your email address to obtain your free license.
Download: Eventide Audio
Helm By Matt Tytel
If I knew Matt Tytel, I might say he’s outdone himself here. But I don’t, and maybe this is the quality of software he always creates.
The flawlessly designed Helm comes with 32 voice polyphony, modulation with live visual feedback, dual oscillators with cross modulation and up to 15 oscillators each, unison and harmony mode, oscillator feedback and saturation for waveshaping, 12 waveforms, seven filter types with keytracking, two monophonic and one polyphonic LFO, step sequencer, polyphonic aftertouch, simple arpeggiator, and effects (formant filter, stutter, and delay).
Plus, this VST works on just about any system.
Sound wise, Helm is quite versatile. You would be hard pressed to find a premium plugin that does as much as this VST does. Lots of classic, old-school tones here, which could be great for video game style compositions. Right down my alley.
Helm is compatible with GNU/Linux, Mac, and Windows and is available as a 32-bit or 64-bit LV2, VST, VST3, or AU.
Download: Matt Tytel
dexed is yet another enduring free FM synth. It’s a multi-platform, multi-format plugin based on the Yamaha DX7.
The Yamaha DX7 was manufactured by Yamaha from 1983 to 1989. It was the first successful digital synthesizer, and one of the best-selling synths of all time.
dexed comes with 144 DAW automatable DX7 parameters, DX input and output sysex message support, realtime VU meter, and the ability to load/save DX7/TX6 sysex programs.
Translation – if you liked your DX7, you’ll love this plugin.
But even if not, if FM sounds of the 80s are your thing, dexed is a must-have. I wouldn’t say that all the sounds are highly usable (at least not for me), but there are a lot of great ones regardless.
dexed is available for Mac, Windows, and Linux, in VST, AU, and LV2 formats.
FB-3300 By full bucket music
The FB-3300 simulates the KORG PS-3300 polyphonic analog synthesizer.
The PS-3300 was a large, semi-modular two-piece synth with many knobs and patch points along with a classic KORG sound.
Suffice it to say, the FB-3300 is considerably lighter (it’s software), easier to use, and a little more reliable.
It emulates the behavior and controls of the original and comes with three independent polyphonic synth blocks, band-limited oscillators, two-pole lowpass filters, resonators section, two modulation generators per bank, sample & hold and paraphonic envelope generator, MIDI learn, and more.
To me, this thing sounds incredible. Which is to say, it sounds a lot like the PS-3300, which came with some classic, highly usable tones. Of course, there are some nonsense “noise” sounds too. I guess you might use them as effects.
The FB-3300 is available as a Windows VST and Mac VST or AU.
Download: full bucket music
TAL-NoiseMaker By TAL Software
TAL-NoiseMaker is probably part of most everyone’s plugin library (mostly because it’s been around for so long).
The TAL-NoiseMaker is an improved version of the TAL-Elek7ro with a new synth engine and other additions.
It comes with three oscillators, adjustable master tune and transpose, up to six voices, portamento in mono and poly mode, ringmod, self-resonating 4x oversampled filters, filter ADSR, volume ADSR, routable ADSR, two LFOs, adjustable velocity, adjustable pitch wheel control, one pole HP filter, detune, Juno chorus, reverb, delay, adjustable filter drive, bitcrusher, MIDI learn, panic button, 256 presets, and more.
This synth includes dirty, ethereal, intense, spacey sounds and more. You could spend a lot of time experimenting here.
TAL-NoiseMaker is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. TAL also has some free reverb, chorus, vocoder, and filter VST plugins.
Download: TAL Software
TyrellN6 By u-he
u-he describes TyrellN6 as a “sporty” synth, and we assume they’re talking about its attractive graphical user interface.
The TyrellN6 was based on hardware synths with a few modules, novel features, and analog sound. It’s the software version of that, basically. As legend has it, they originally set out to create a hardware synth, but ended up with a VST instead.
This “virtual analog” synth comes with two oscillators, noise, ring modulator, two LFOs with eight waveforms (host-syncable), audio source mixer with overdrive and filter feedback, twin filter, ADSR envelopes (loopable or LFO-triggered), skinnable UI, and an astounding 580+ factory presets.
This synth does a bit of everything, whether it’s pads, bass, leads, effects, or otherwise. It’s quite surprising.
You can get TyrellN6 for Mac, Windows, and Linux.
Zebralette: Mini Zebra By u-he
u-he’s Zebralette: Mini Zebra, by their own admission, is their “Trojan Horse” to get you hooked on Zebra2’s oscillators. Zebralette has one, while Zebra2 has four.
We’ll let you be the one to decide whether you want to upgrade.
Regardless, the free Mini Zebra comes with one Zebra2 oscillator with a 16-slot waveset, oscillator waveform editing with geomorph, spectromorph, geoblend, and spectroblend modes, 24 spectral effects (filter, sync, scatter, phase distortion, and others), up to 16 polymorphic voices, as well as monophonic and legato modes.
In addition, you get stereo VCA with pan and volume modulation, VCA oscillator stacking with adjustable stereo width (single, dual, quad, and eleven), ADSR envelope with fall/rise (sustain slope) and velocity controls, modulation (modwheel, velocity, pressure, breath, key follow, gate, and others), two LFOs, 32-stage MSEG, three built-in effects (chorus/phaser, EQ, delay), MIDI learn, polyphonic aftertouch support, 300 factory presets, and more.
Sounds plenty feature rich to us!
We find Zebralette to be a capable synth, and as always, some sounds we wouldn’t use, and most others we would. We think the sounds could be perfect for synthwave style tracks.
This is a solid find, and we don’t find it on every “best-of” list, so you should give it a try and see for yourself!
Zebralette is compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Exakt Lite By SONICBITS
Exakt Lite is an FM synthesizer with an intuitive, user-friendly design. From cold and harsh to warm and organic, it can do it all.
Exakt Lite comes with four aliasing free operators with classic TX waveforms, 12 voices, drag-and-drop envelopes, eight classic FM algorithms with feedback on operator D, resonant filter with 24db/oct lowpass, highpass, and bandpass, waveform visualization, and host-syncable LFO.
The included sounds, not surprisingly, are deliciously classic. If you like FM synths, this would probably be an instant download for you. Otherwise, it might not strike your fancy.
This VST runs on Windows (VST2 and VST3), as well as on Mac (AU, VST2, VST3). Only 64-bit versions are available.
People do go crazy over VCV Rack, and it’s not too hard to see why. As you can see, it emulates a Eurorack modular synth, and modular synths have been all the rage as of late.
The latest version includes 16-voice polyphony, full modular patching flexibility, MIDI output (for drum machines, desktop synths, and Eurorack interfaces), MIDI mapping, module browser, multi-core engine, and more.
If you’re not used to working with modular synths, then chances are you are going to want to spend some time learning how they work, or just messing around until you feel comfortable. Let’s just say modular synths aren’t terribly exciting until you start getting into them.
As you can imagine, tonal possibilities are not in scarce supply. And, you have total control over them.
For unprecedented flexibility, versatility, and tweaking paradise, get VCV Rack.
VCV Rack is available for Mac, Windows, and Linux.
Download: VCV Rack
ModulAir By full bucket music
ModulAir by full bucket music is apparently a work in progress with just a few quirky presets.
Nevertheless, it comes with a fully modular architecture, up to 18 modules per patch, 55 module types, polyphonic voice and monophonic master modules, up to 64-voice polyphony, external signal processing, TUN/SCL micro-tuning file import, MIDI learn, and double precision audio processing.
And indeed, the included presets are quite quirky. There are sounds that sound vaguely like voices, some that are a little more standard “bass” synth, and some that have a bit of a “bend” in them.
That said, on a list with so many standard or remarkable sounding synths, it’s refreshing to see one that’s a little “out there.”
The plugin is supported on 32-bit and 64-bit Windows and Mac.
Download: full bucket music
Charlatan By BlauKraut Engineering
Charlatan is a polyphonic, subtractive virtual analog synth. The developers focused on sound quality and ease of use to make it accessible to just about anyone.
The flexible feature set allows for easy tweaking, which of course is always the fun part of working with a synth. Charlatan can produce classic sounds as well as experimental noise, so that should give you an idea of its range.
Its feature set includes two oscillators with shape modulation, oscillator hard synchronization and ring modulation, unison mode with up to seven voices and stereo spread, stereo noise generator, two ADSR envelope generators, LFO with host tempo synchronization, three filter types modeled after analog hardware, three voice modes (monophonic, monophonic legato, eight-voice polyphonic), and more.
Charlatan also isn’t a CPU hog, which is always nice.
There are some beautiful, warm sounds here, along with some competent, classic synth tones.
Charlatan is available as a 32- or 64-bit VST for Windows.
Download: BlauKraut Engineering
Crystal By Green Oak Software
Crystal is a semi-modular software synth with subtractive and FM synthesis. It comes with over 90 parameter modulation control, multi-stage envelopes, tempo sync of envelopes and delay times, built-in effects (chorus, flanging, comb filter, echo), and a band splitter.
Crystal also has wave sequencing, granular synthesis, program morphing, MIDI learn, and more.
This synth gives you access to some dirty, wobbly tones, along with some sounds that literally make you think of crystals, and some great lead tones too.
Crystal is available for Windows and Mac.
Download: Green Oak Software
pg-8x By ML-VST
Here’s another VST that’s surely sat in many plugin libraries. pg-8x is a bit of a go-to.
It was inspired by the Roland JX-8P, a six-note polyphonic fully analog synthesizer.
The pg-8x comes with six to 12 voice polyphony, two DCOs with saw, square, pulse, and noise, hard sync and ring modulation, two exponential envelop generators, 24 dB resonant LP filter, three-stage HP filter, and stereo chorus.
There are so many great presets in this plugin, which include flute, bells, clav, guitar, and others. That said, there are plenty of other delightful, strange noises onboard too.
pg-8x is available for Windows and Mac.
Download: KVR Audio Software
VK-1 Viking Synthesizer By Blamsoft
Without question, the monophonic subtractive VK-1 Viking Synthesizer is beautifully designed. And I’m not just talking about the interface, though it’s basically flawless too.
It’s an authentic emulation of a certain classic monophonic analog synth with three continuously variable wave oscillators, two ladder fitters with dual lowpass or highpass/lowpass, multi-wave LFO, and two modulation busses. They also used DSP technology to reproduce the sound of the hardware as closely as possible.
VK-1 comes with 228 presets (in the categories of bass, bright, bright lead, electro bass, FX, percussive lead, soft lead, synthwave).
There are a lot of great sounds onboard, and while some are going to fall under “heard it before,” the overall quality of some of the sounds far exceeds other free synth VSTs.
Yet another free synth that’s hard to ignore, VK-1 is compatible with Mac and Windows.
COBALT By Leslie Sanford
COBALT was inspired by the hybrid synths of the 80s.
It comes with 26 waveforms, flexible modulation routes, PWM, LFO delay, polyphonic portamento, key tracked envelopes, rich overdrive, and stereo delay effect with MIDI syncable delay times.
I’m hearing a lot of warm, lush tones coming out of COBALT, which makes it great for atmospheric pads, background support, and so on.
That said, there are also some lead tones, experimental noises, among many others.
Download: Leslie Sanford
Odin 2 By TheWaveWarden
Odin 2 is a cross-platform, 24-voice polyphonic monstrosity with huge bass, powerful leads, and insane effects.
It includes emulation of legendary analog filters like the Moog-ladder and the KORG-35. Odin 2 also comes with four onboard FX.
Odin 2’s user interface is quite simple and beautiful, and it reminds us of some old school synths.
Although we’re not sure it’s as monolithic or massive as described, with Odin 2, you can create bells, analog piano, bass, leads, dreamy tones, and plenty of others. And to our ears, they all sound quite flattering.
You can download the ever-versatile Odin 2 for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Traveller By Severák
The Traveller doesn’t necessarily look like anything special. But it was inspired by the Korg Sythe-Bass, and there’s a little more to it than meets the eye.
The synth comes with one oscillator and six waveforms, twisted monophony, Traveller slider, slow/instant slider, bump/singing slider, hold switch, bite switch, quack switch, and volume.
You can create quite a few tones and noises with Traveller, which is probably its main draw. No presets included.
You can get Traveller for Windows.
Download: KVR Audio Software
KXPM23 By KX77FREE
KXPM23 is a digital simulation of a vintage analog subtractive synthesizer with a Moog filter, FX with two delays and a distortion, and ADSR. It comes with over 70 presets.
Although the sounds coming from the KXPM23 aren’t pristine, if you’re looking for bass-heavy lo-fi tones, along with some fiery lead sounds, you’ll probably dig this one.
You can get KXPM23 as a 32-bit Windows VST on PLUGINS 4 FREE.
Download: PLUGINS 4 FREE
Piky By The Colorspace
Piky is a rather basic looking two-oscillator synth.
Although we couldn’t find additional details about Piky, we suggest checking out the video demo. As you’re about to find out, it comes with a lot of great, usable sounds.
Piky is available as a 32-bit Windows VST.
Download: PLUGINS 4 FREE
XenFont By Xen-Arts
XenFont is a two-oscillator hybrid SF2 SoundFont and subtractive synth.
It comes with full-controller MIDI pitch microtuning, knob-less design with slider controls only, a dedicated control signal system, arbitrary microtonal oscillator transposition settings, velocity modulation, and envelope generators with per-stage ADSR keyboard tracking.
What some users may find especially attractive is the ability to load in their own SF2 SoundFont files.
Presets include instruments like electric piano, harpsichord, clavinet, vibraphone, marimba, xylophone, dulcimer, organ, accordion, guitar, bass, harp, strings, and others. Some of these are a little cheesy, but others are quite good!
So, in that sense, you could call this a “practical” synth.
You can get XenFont as a 32-bit Windows VST.
Download: PLUGINS 4 FREE
Syntler is a unique “groove and arpeggio” synth, and it can be played with a joystick(!).
It includes three oscillators, groove and scratch/FX mode, LFO, MIDI keyboard control, tempo sync delay, and 32 editable presets.
Although not the most professionally designed VST, its sounds are delightfully odd, full, and powerful. I’m not sure if you would use this for anything other than noise and effects, but effects can be nice to have for those odd mixes.
Syntler is available as a 32-bit Windows VST.
Download: PLUGINS 4 FREE
Gnat By Bitsonic
Bitsonic’s Gnat is a hybrid analog/sample-based synth. It comes with two alias-free unison oscillators, two simple oscillators, filter with ADSR module, velocity filter, filter LFO, 50 presets, and a solid variety of FX (reverb, delay, chorus, vibrato, phaser, key pitch, portamento in mono, distortion-overdrive).
A lot of Gnat’s sounds are odd, but many of them could work for “heavier” electronic genres like dubstep.
You can download Gnat as a 32-bit Windows VST on PLUGINS 4 FREE.
Download: PLUGINS 4 FREE
Crio By Solcito Musica
Rounding out this list is Crio, a virtual analog/FM synth for arpeggios, bass, solos, leads, and even FX.
The developer wanted to simplify controls while offering as much functionality as possible. That being the case, you can modify your sounds quickly and easily on the fly.
Crio comes with one monophonic oscillator with noise generator and three voices, one LFO, two filters, one envelope generator, one amplifier with booster and saturation, side tone control, MIDI learn, and so on.
The LFO allows for quantization of waveforms synchronized with tempo. The modulation wheel can be linked to the LFO function as well.
There are plenty of interesting sounds onboard. They aren’t all the utmost quality, but lo-fi never hurt anyone, right?
If you’d like to give this one a go, it’s available as a 32-bit Windows VST.
Download: PLUGINS 4 FREE
Do I Need To Upgrade To Premium Synth VSTs For The Best Sounds?
Honestly, we’re astounded by the amount of free, quality software synths available for music producers, sound engineers, and composers.
Do you need premiums synths for the best sounds? Perhaps so.
Do you need premium plugins for the most versatile, flexible synths with cutting-edge tech? Yes.
But do you need to pay for plugins to make awesome tracks? Not at all.
We’re impressed with most of the synths on this list, but especially – Surge, Helm, FB-3300, Zebralette, VK-1, and Odin 2.
Even so, you can’t go wrong with any of the above. It just depends on what you’re looking to achieve with your music.
If you feel like you’re missing something, or if you’d like to try an upgraded version of some of the above plugins, you might want to spring for it. But you can do plenty of damage with the above.
Are There Any Downsides To Free Synth VSTs?
We’d be lying if we said “no.”
Free VSTs don’t always come with preset libraries (though some do). They may not come with onboard effects (though some do), and they may not come with regular updates (but open-source plugins are often maintained long-term by their community).
We’ve included some of the “old guard” VST synths above, but it’s fair to say that many of those don’t come with long-term support or updates. And that means they may not work in every DAW environment either.
Also, in a rare instance, if you download from a shady website or the wrong provider, your plugin might come with adware, spyware, viruses, and so on. For better or for worse, that’s a risk you take with anything you download off the internet.
Other than that, there aren’t many downsides to free synth VSTs.
Are All Synths Cross-Platform Compatible?
No, and we’ve done our best to point out which VST plugins work on which platforms.
Compatibility is always a bit of a concern, be it operating system, plugin type (VST, AU, AAX, standalone), or Digital Audio Workstation.
That said, some of the more recent VSTs tend to work in a variety of environments.
What Are The Different Types Of Synthesis?
It’s important to remember that VST synths are often simulating or emulating hardware counterparts. But the main types of synthesis include FM, wavetable, modular, and hybrid synthesis. We’ll take a quick look at each below:
- FM: FM stands for “frequency modulation.” This is where frequency of a waveform is altered by modulating its frequency.
- Wavetable: Wavetable synthesis was developed by Wolfgang Palm of Palm Products GmbH in the 1970s and is a sound synthesis technique that creates periodic waveforms.
- Modular: Modular synthesizers utilize separate modules, each with different functions and you can patch these modules together. Some of the more common modules include voltage-controlled oscillators, filters, amplifiers, and envelope generators.
- Hybrid: Hybrid synthesizers typically use a combination of digital and analog components. Obviously, a VST would simply emulate the characteristics of a hybrid synth.
Do I Need A MIDI Controller To Use A Free Synth VST Plugin?
No, you don’t.
It’s nice to have a MIDI controller around, especially if you can play a bit of keyboard or piano. Oftentimes, this is the quicker way of playing and recording the parts you want for your tracks.
That said, you can still create a MIDI track within your DAW and “draw in” your parts manually using the piano roll.
As well, many VST plugins allow you to play with your mouse or computer keyboard.
Top Free Synth VST Plugins, Final Thoughts
Music production is all about experimentation, and the same can be said about VST synths too. After all, they come with plenty of controls, and are often highly tweakable.
There’s nothing wrong with using the presets. Oftentimes, that’s what I do too. But you don’t know the full power of a synth until you’ve started crafting your own tones. Which is why it’s worth doing.
We hope you found a few synths you can mess around with in your DAW. Have fun and enjoy the creative process.