The magic of trance is getting your listener engrossed and immersed in the music. If you can do that, you’ve hooked them.
As with any other genre or style of music, though, you’re going to need the right tools to get the job done. And while there isn’t a shortage of VST plugins available, if you’ve got budget constraints, no doubt you’re going to want to seek out the best free options out there.
The good news is the number of solid free VST plugins is mushrooming by the day. Here are some of the best free trance VST plugins available.
TyrellN6 by u-he
This sports car soft synth is a staple in free VST plugin guides, so if you haven’t heard of it already… what rock have you been living under?
This Windows, Mac, and Linux compatible synthesizer looks good, sounds good, and is conceptually based on analog hardware synths (as many virtual synths are).
Loosely based on the ever-popular Roland Juno 60, this was originally set to be a real-life, hardware synth. Unfortunately, it would have spent years in development, perhaps never seeing the light of day, so the project was quickly transitioned to the software realm.
I recently used this baby for some scoring, and… while I won’t say it sounds as good as vintage synths, it really comes close.
The speedy TyrellN6 features two oscillators, noise, ring modulator, two LFOs with eight waveforms, audio source mixer with overdrive and filter feedback, a Diva style twin filter, ADSR envelopes (loopable or LFO-triggered), a customizable UI and 580+ presets.
That is a generous number of presets for a free plugin, wouldn’t you say? I would.
It’s got a great Juno-like sound quality to it, along with Oberheim style patches, and even a patch called Bladerunner, which sounds quite authentic to the original tone.
For all types of projects, TyrellN6 is an amazing pick.
Rack 2 by VCV Rack
What is trance music without modular synthesis, right? Well, as you’re surely aware, the cost of hardware modules can be quite high, and a little complicated to wire up.
But if you’ve ever wanted to dip your toes into the limitless possibilities of modular synthesis and dial and tweak controls to your heart’s content without the cost or complexity, you’ll be glad to know there’s a virtual solution that’s well loved by the producer community out there.
It is, of course, VCV Rack’s Rack 2, a virtual Eurorack studio. And thanks to its virtual construction, you can experiment, risk-free, at a time and place that’s convenient to you.
There are over 30 built-in modules to get you started, with the option of expanding available modules through the VCV Library. Not surprisingly, there are both free and premium module add-ons, but the plugin itself is, astonishingly, free.
Wacky, versatile, and fun, Rack 2 is sure to be a source of entertainment in your studio.
Rack 2 is Windows, Mac, and Linux compatible.
Download: VCV Rack
Helm by Matt Tytel
Matt Tytel’s Helm is practically a shoo-in for your trance projects given its cross-platform compatibility and disposition towards electronic music.
This free soft synth is a polyphonic synthesizer with extensive modulation options.
It’s got sections (and controls) for oscillators, sub, mixer, feedback, filter, stutter, formant, distortion, delay, amplitude envelope, filter envelope, mod envelope, mono LFO 1 and 2, poly LFO, step sequencer, keyboard mod, and more.
Whether leads, basses, effects, plucks, or other, there are plenty of great presets to cycle through.
This synth sounds great, features an awesome user interface, and is more versatile than you might expect.
Helm is available for Mac, Windows, and GNU / Linux as a 32- or 64-bit LV2, VST, VST3, or AU plugin.
Download: Matt Tytel
Synth1 by Daichi Laboratory (Ichiro Toda)
For trance specifically and electronic genres in general, there’s simply no denying that it’s wise to have several soft synths at the ready. Even if you already have multiple synths in your arsenal, this one is worth a look too.
Daichi Laboratory’s Synth1 is a rather surprising subtractive / analog style synth modeling the Clavia Nord Lead 2 Red Synth.
Altogether, this “sound design” synth comes with two oscillators, FM modulation, ring modulation, sync, modulation envelope, four filters, distortion, two LFOs (synced to host), arpeggiator (synced to host), tempo delay (synced to host), and stereo chorus / flanger.
It’s also got legato mode, portamento, 16-note polyphony, 128 presets, and automation. As a bonus, it’s also got a light CPU load.
Launched in 2002, this synth is among the most downloaded VST plugins in existence. It has, however, received some updates along the way.
While it may not look like anything fancy, Synth1 has got a ton of functions, a great sound overall, and extensive versatility.
Synth1 is available for Windows and Mac.
Download: KVR Audio Software
Tunefish 4 by Brain Control
This “fishy” entry just so happens to be a beautifully designed soft synth with a hybrid additive synthesis-based wavetable generator.
But you’re probably asking yourself… “where’s the tuna?” Or, in this case, “where’s the tune?”
Tunefish 4, of course, replaces previous iterations on Tunefish, including Tunefish 3. Tunefish 4, by comparison, it’s a lightweight replacement for the preceding. It’s probably best thought of as a separate beast, mind you, given that it uses different synthesis algorithms.
Besides an improved UI, Tunefish 4 also comes with a noise generator, lowpass, highpass, bandpass, and notch filters, two ADSRs, two LFOS (that can be linked to just about any parameter using a modulation matrix), and effects (flanger, chorus, distortion, delay, reverb, EQ, formant). Up to 10 effects can be hosted at the same time.
Overall, this is an impressive aquatic creature. Great sounds, great filters, and great effects make it a standout free soft synth. It’s got basses, leads, pads, plucks, and a great deal more. Perfect for trance.
Tunefish 4 works with Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Download: KVR Audio Software
Ribs by hyova audio
Here’s an entry you may not have heard of already.
hyova audio’s Ribs is a granular FX / synth that gives you everything you need to glitch, filter, scratch, mangle, destroy, and even reconstruct sounds in a variety of ways. This baby is sure to give you textures you simply wouldn’t be able to create with FM, subtractive, or wavetable synthesizers.
Ribs works both as a synthesizer and as an FX unit. This means you can drag and drop audio or add it to an effects chain as you see fit.
The latest version of Ribs features a new, better organized UI, FX mode (with voice note and voice volume), refill mode, refill on fast envelope changes mode, and much more.
Overall, Ribs is an amazing free tool.
Ribs is available for Windows and Mac.
Download: hyova audio
LABS by Spitfire Audio
If you don’t already know about Spitfire Audio’s free LABS series of plugins, then know this – you won’t regret adding this link to your most prized bookmark folder.
A collection of free instruments, LABS can be used independently of Kontakt, which is probably a revelation to those who can’t afford the full version, or simply don’t want to commit themselves to the Kontakt ecosystem.
While these tools were clearly developed with composers in mind, they have far-reaching applications for producers, beatmakers, and songwriters too.
Plus, they sound phenomenal. Oh, sure, each instrument is no doubt a one- or two-trick pony, but the tricks they do, for free, will dazzle and delight.
Not every instrument will be of especial interest to you, but here are but a few that could come in handy for your trance projects:
- LABS – Tape Piano
- LABS – Astral Forms
- LABS – Glass Piano
- LABS – Synth Strings
- LABS – Tape Orchestra
- LABS – Arctic Swells
- LABS – Textural Pads
- LABS – Pedal Pads
- LABS – Synth Pads
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You never know when LABS – Gaelic Voices or LABS – Electronic Antique might come in handy.
The sample libraries aren’t small, and they do require you to download through Spitfire’s app, but that’s a degree of “inconvenience” we can easily tolerate when the collection is this free and this good.
LABS plugins work for Windows and Mac.
Download: Spitfire Audio
MSaturator by MeldaProduction
Sometimes, tracks can come out sounding a little too clean. Some synthesizers come with built-in distortion or saturation effects, but not all virtual instruments – especially free ones – come with such luxuries.
Even when it comes to mixing bass sounds, or drums, mind you, it’s worth incorporating a capable saturation VST in your collection. The reason being, saturation can add character, make a track pop, give you a more worn, vintage feel, and more.
Well, MeldaProduction’s MSaturator is certainly competent. This smooth, tube-like distortion can boost the clarity of your tracks, and it’s powerful enough to work as a distortion module for guitars and more.
One of the best things about it is perhaps that it’s not overly complicated. In addition to master input, output, and dry / wet controls, you’ve got an additional two sections – harmonics and compander.
MSaturator comes with many Melda standards, like a stylable, resizable, and GPU accelerated advanced GUI, automatic gain compensation, safety limiter, global preset management and online preset exchange, smart randomization, and more.
From dirty basslines to soaring, saturated leads, MSaturator puts a world of possibilities at your fingertips.
You can get MSaturator as part of the MFreeFXBundle, which features 37 virtual effects and utility tools you can use to get better mixes and masters. You pay a small fee if you ever want to extend their feature set, but the free versions are awesome all on their own.
Melda plugins are compatible with Windows and Mac.
Saturation Knob by Softube
Here’s another VST tool that gets a lot of love in free VST plugin guides, and for good reason. It’s so gosh darn simple that you practically can’t go wrong with this Saturation Knob. Throw it on the effects chain, adjust the knob, and select a saturation type (keep high, natural, and keep low).
Just like that, you’ve got yourself a fatter sound with shimmer and enhanced harmonics. But whether it’s your intention to warm up a track or make it punchier, there are settings to suit the application. It doesn’t matter whether it’s drums, guitars, vocals, or otherwise.
What else is there to say? This is a great plugin!
TDR Nova by Tokyo Dawn Records
Every producer needs a good EQ. Your DAW’s stock EQ is fine, but the most basic equalizers usually only have three bands with a few other basic features (if any). Tokyo Dawn Records’ TDR Nova four-band equalizer is sure to be a significant upgrade if you don’t already have a better solution in your arsenal.
It’s probably too good to be free, but it’s free anyway. As a parametric equalizer, dynamic equalizer, frequency selective compressor, multi-band compressor, and wideband compressor, it can handle a laundry list of mixing and mastering tasks you’d usually need to perform using a larger array of tools.
TDR Nova is incredibly easy to use, and it’s quite transparent to boot. The visualizer is also very helpful, because you can see exactly the frequencies you’re affecting and how you’re affecting them.
As a versatile EQ, TDR Nova has got a ton of built-in features and parameters you won’t find in any stock EQs.
TDR Nova is available for Windows and Mac.
Download: Tokyo Dawn Records
Valhalla Super Massive by Valhalla DSP
What’s a universally sexy but essential music project tool? Echo based effects, of course!
But let’s face the facts – you can’t find competent free reverbs, right? Wrong.
Being that it is a sexy category of plugins, of course you can find some great free ones. We just don’t think you’re going to find anything quite as good as Valhalla Super Massive.
I suppose that’s why it’s free… it’s just so good. It’s obvious Valhalla DSP wants you to take their products for a spin, too, but man. This is fan service to the extreme.
Valhalla Super Massive comes with 16 astrological reverb and delay modes you can further tweak to suit your preferences. That certainly takes some of the guesswork out of the equation.
As of this writing, the latest version of Valhalla Super Massive is version 2.0.0, updated on June 1, 2022. You can download it for Windows or Mac.
Download: Valhalla DSP
BitterSweet v3 by Flux:: Immersive
Free transient shapers do exist, though they can be a little harder to find. Flux:: Immersive’s BitterSweet v3 is a plugin well worth knowing about and downloading if you don’t already have a competent solution in your VST toolbox.
This transient processor follows the trendy “one-knob” design of multiple entries found in this guide. Turn to the left for a sweeter sound and less transients and turn to the right for a bitter sound with increased transients. Perfect for taking control of percussive sounds in your mix.
But it doesn’t end there. BitterSweet v3 also comes with multiband features. You can use the built-in M/S encoder / decoder on the mid (center) or side (stereo) to process each part of the sound independently.
There are three controls – Main, Center, and Stereo.
Main is for multichannel operations, and it processes using a regular stereo signal.
Center will use the internal MS encoder to process just the mid channel. Post-processing, the sound is decoded back to stereo. That this makes this setting especially useful for snares and kick drums.
The stereo setting will use the internal MS encoder to process just the side channel. Again, the processed signal is decoded back to stereo. This setting is great for panned rhythmic instruments.
Download: Flux:: Immersive
RoughRider 3 Free Compressor Plugin by Audio Damage
RoughRider 3 is one of the most popular free dynamics processors available. It’s had over 500,000 downloads during the 10 years plus it’s been available.
As you can see from the interface, the main controls are sensitivity, ratio, and makeup. But you’ve also got input level (with on/off full bandwidth), sidechain HPF (with on/off external sidechain), as well as attack, release, mix, and output level controls.
With RoughRider 3, Audio Damage added an external sidechain input, more accurate metering, and the ability to turn off the built-in “warming” filter.
RoughRider 3 comes with a resizable and attractive interface, and it works great as a sound warmer for drums and other rhythmic sounds.
RoughRider 3 is available for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Ubuntu.
Download: Audio Damage
FreeAMP by Klevgrand
Klevgrand’s FreeAMP is another “one-knob” wonder. In this case, they’ve added the luxury of a mix and output knob, but your main control here is drive, plain and simple.
FreeAMP is a stripped-down version of their amp modeler REAMP plugin. Klevgrand took their favorite profiles from REAMP and combined them to create a universal profile for FreeAMP.
As a tape and tube saturation plugin, this baby can not only add grit and dirt, but also wear and tear.
The drive knob is powerful enough to mangle your track at higher settings, so beware. But it does sound great at most settings.
Simply create an account with Klevgrand to access this free download.
Vinyl by iZotope
Whether you’re looking to add a bit of a lo-fi vibe to some of your tracks, or if you intend to expand your horizons beyond just trance, you might like iZotope’s Vinyl.
There’s nothing overly complicated here. Just a plugin that will add an instant vintage vibe to your tracks with a year control to select the exact decade of retro you might be looking for.
Beyond that, it’s simply a matter of dialing the parameters to meet your lo-fi needs.
Simple, attractive, and effective. Whether you need to dial back the pristine or add some grit, this is a no-brainer solution that can work for virtually anyone.
Vinyl is available for Windows and Mac.
MAutoPitch by MeldaProduction
Unless you’re strictly creating instrumental trance, or trance with pre-processed vocal samples / loops, you’re probably going to need a few vocal processing tools of your own.
MeldaProduction’s MAutoPitch is easily among one of the best free pitch correction / auto-tune VST plugins available.
Simplistic in design, this corrector includes automatic tuning and pitch correction, perfect for monophonic voices and instruments.
There are also some creative features to make it even more valuable, like the formant shift (gender change) and stereo expansion tools. MAutoPitch even works as a doubler, which is another great tool to have on hand for vocals.
It’s simple, it’s easy to use, and it just works. That’s MAutoPitch.
MAutoPitch is available as part of the MFreeFXBundle.
TAL-Chorus-LX by TAL Software
TAL Software has got a few freebies worth commenting on, and TAL-Chorus-LX is a good representation of the type of work they do.
This chorus was based on the Juno-60 chorus, which makes it great for all your synth tracks (especially if the synths you’re using don’t already have a built-in chorus). TAL-Chorus-LX also comes with two modes, a dry/wet control, and volume knob.
It’s very simple, so you can’t possibly fail with this plugin. Overall, it’s got a very warm quality to it.
TAL-Chorus-LX is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Download: TAL Software
MT Power Drum Kit 2
Nowadays, it’s quite common to use loops and samples for your drumbeats. They’re especially convenient, given that many of them have been expertly recorded and processed, and are practically mix ready.
But it can’t hurt to have access to organic drum sounds, even if you intend to mangle them beyond recognition later. Hey, I’m not judging.
Find a producer who takes advantage of free virtual instruments, and I can say with some certainty that they will agree with me, that MT Power Drum Kit 2 is among one of the most realistic sounding options out there.
Sure, you’ve also got LABs percussion and drums now, and they’re quite competitive as well, but they don’t come with the same feature set that MT Power Drum Kit 2 has.
This kit was created for pop, rock, and metal projects. It was also designed to sound good in a mix, a trick some of the best drum plugins haven’t, for whatever reason, mastered.
It helps that the built-in mixer gives you more control – you can adjust volume, pan, and compression for every drum element included.
MT Power Drum Kit 2 also comes with a Groove Library, so you don’t have to start from scratch every single time you want to make a new beat.
MT Power Drum Kit 2 works with Windows, Mac, and Linux, and it works on most if not all Digital Audio Workstation hosts too.
Download: MT Power Drum Kit
Top Free Trance VST Plugins, Final Thoughts
If you want to get the job done for free, you can! There are solutions for practically everything you can name. And while you won’t always find solutions that sound or look as good as the premium ones, there’s no question some of the free plugins will do nicely on your next track.
But never fear spending where it counts, especially as you gain more experience. Premium plugins usually are better than free ones.
Also, with free plugins, updates and support are not guaranteed, so if anything doesn’t work, for better or for worse, you get what you get.