Techno is one of the most popular forms of electronic dance music (EDM), using a mix of synthesizers, drum machines, and sequencers.
Thanks to the evolution of software, it has gotten easier than ever to produce original techno music “in the box,” all within the confines of your computer. And you can find just about everything you need in the form of virtual effects and instruments.
In this guide, we look at the best free VST plugins for techno you can use to make some stellar tracks.
Tyrell N6 by u-he
Every techno producer needs a virtual synthesizer (preferably, many virtual synthesizers). But we can scarcely think of a better source to tap than u-he, who has generously provided Tyrell N6 as a rather superb, free virtual analog synth.
With over 580 factory presets, this baby offers considerably more out of the box than your average no-name legacy synth. You’ll find all the essentials inside the toolkit too – bass, FX, pads, percussion, synths, and more.
And again, it’s not one of those deeply archived synths that sounds good on paper but doesn't live up to the hype in practice. No, Tyrell N6 comes with plenty of great sounds. I have used it as a composition tool myself.
I’m not saying there aren’t better synths out there, but for free, this is a steal of a deal.
Better yet, Tyrell N6 is compatible with Mac, Windows, and Linux. Give it a try. What have you got to lose?
VCV Rack 2 by VCV
We understand well the devotion to modular synthesis. When we don’t mention VCV Rack in a guide like this, we always hear from you. Message received.
Modular synths may have emerged out of the 60s and found their footing in pop music in the 1970s, but it seems like they have been making a major comeback in the last 10 to 15 years.
For those who love to mix and match, combine, and patch together modules to come up with their sounds, there is nothing more satisfying than a VST like Rack 2.
Rack 2 will kick you off with 30 essential built-in modules, but you can extend its functionality considerably with over 2,000 additional modules you can find in the VCV Library (most for a moderate cost).
The free version of Rack is enough to give you a taste of modular synthesis (and how much more convenient it is in a digital playground), but don’t blame us if you get hooked and end up buying the Pro version along with a bunch of additional modules.
Rack 2 is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Download: VCV Rack
TAL-NoiseMaker by TAL Software
We hear rumors of TAL-NoiseMaker being a more “modern” techno synth. I’m not sure that’s true. TAL Software created it as a CPU-friendly virtual analog synth, implying that it specializes in classic sounds.
That said, from the inside to the outside, TAL knows something about designing great plugins. Dig beneath the surface, and you will find that TAL-NoiseMaker is a capable little synth.
Its feature set includes three oscillators, master tune and response, up to six voices, portamento, ringmod, self-resonating 4x oversampled filters, filter ADSR, volume ADSR, routable ADSR, two LFOs, velocity control, HP filter, detune, Juno Chorus, reverb, delay, filter drive, bitcrusher, and more.
TAL-NoiseMaker also comes with 256 presets, which is not bad, especially for free. It’s sure to become a favorite in your techno workflow in no time at all.
TAL-NoiseMaker works on Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Download: TAL Software
LABS by Spitfire Audio
For those who are interested in adding an orchestral touch to their techno productions, there’s Spitfire Audio’s LABS series of plugins.
The LABS series is rather extensive, with nearly 60 instruments as of this writing. Pianos and keys, basses, brass, drums, experimental, guitar, hybrid, orchestras, percussion, strings, synths, and much more are available within this frequently growing collection.
Most if not all LABS plugins are one trick ponies but listen for yourself – you’ll find the sample quality of these instruments to be exceedingly high, especially for free products. Plus, you do sometimes get multiple articulations and basic effects like reverb.
There are some annoying things about the LABS plugins though. You’ve got to download and install the Spitfire app to access any of the plugins, their hard drive footprint is significant, and they don’t always work. They are free, though, so we can’t be too hard on them.
You might think of LABS as compositional tools only, but if you have yet to experiment with orchestral sounds and sound designing in your techno tracks, you’ll be surprised and delighted by new plateaus waiting and begging to be explored.
The LABS series is available for Mac and Windows.
Download: Spitfire Audio
Saturation Knob by Softube
Softube makes a lot of good stuff. That’s why, when they come out with something for free, we’re eager to check it out.
To be fair, the Saturation Knob has been around for a while, and you will find it in many “best plugin” lists.
But saturation and distortion are a must-have in techno music. While it may not be quite as versatile and unique as something like iZotope’s Trash, Saturation Knob is nevertheless praised by producers almost unanimously.
Just as it sounds, this plugin can add everything from a gentle saturation to a more aggressive break-up to your vocals, bass, drums, and more. Saturation Knob also comes with three types, mostly for emphasizing different frequencies.
If your mixes are sounding boring, if that synth lead needs a kick in the pants, if your drums are lacking punch, you need Saturation Knob to fatten up your tracks.
TDR Nova by Tokyo Dawn Records
If you’re new to music production, then there is a chance you haven’t heard of Tokyo Dawn Records’ versatile free EQ, TDR Nova.
This is my go-to free EQ. It’s a very transparent-sounding effect, yet it offers plenty of useful features you would not expect from a free plugin.
Not a mere parametric or dynamic EQ (it can handle both tasks), TDR Nova also covers off multi-band compression, wideband compression, and frequency selective compression.
It’s not a new plugin, so it may not be able to compete with some of the more modern, premium options that have come out as of late, but for free, you will find none better.
Whether for mixing or mastering, TDR Nova features an intuitive workflow that should not take long to master, especially if you already know the ins and outs of equalizing your tracks.
TDR Nova is available for Windows and Mac.
Download: Tokyo Dawn Records
Valhalla Super Massive by Valhalla DSP
There are many ways to make your tracks sound more interesting. But lush reverbs and delays can fill out a track, giving your mix a bed of celestial beauty to rest upon.
If you’ve been making techno for any length of time, it’s very unlikely you haven’t heard of Valhalla DSP by now, but if this is your first time hearing about a free Valhalla plugin, you’re in for a treat.
Valhalla Super Massive isn’t your run-of-the-mill free delay. Just as its name would suggest, it comes with huge customizable reverb and delays that come in 18 intergalactic flavors you can adjust and customize as you see fit.
From creating muted pads to delayed synth leads, Valhalla Super Massive should help you add some nice variety to your tracks.
Valhalla Super Massive is available for Windows and Mac.
Download: Valhalla DSP
Valhalla Freq Echo by Valhalla DSP
One free Valhalla plugin would be generous enough. But we’re not quite done yet. While you’re checking out Super Massive, you might as well check out Valhalla Freq Echo too.
Yet again, we find Valhalla doing what they do best – echo. But Freq Echo is more than that, and in fact, its modulation capabilities make doubling, chorusing, flanging, and even phasing possible.
We know that modulation is a big deal, especially when you’re using a lot of synths. Of course, many synths have their built-in modulation features, but sometimes you need something a little different.
That’s when you might want to call upon the power of Valhalla Freq Echo, which can transform your tracks in fun and interesting ways – stutters, glitchy sounds, robotic sounds, and much more.
Freq Echo is available for Windows and Mac.
Download: Valhalla DSP
Ribs by Hyova Audio
Speaking of effects that can add some serious flavor to your tracks, we can’t ignore the modern trend of granular FX and synthesizers.
Hyova Audio’s Ribs may not be perfect so far as granular synths / FX go, but it is free. And overall, it is a versatile tool for creating evolving soundscapes and textures.
Ribs works as a mono or polyphonic synth. Using SIMPLE mode, you can create vinyl scratching style sounds, and BEAT mode lets you create complex polyrhythms. This plugin also gives you the ability to morph between harmonic and rhythmic structures.
Ribs can also be used strictly as an effect, and it even comes with a formant filter. Vocoder-style sounds are also but a few clicks away.
Ribs is available for Windows and Mac and it’s sure to come in handy for generating sound beds and textures in your techno mixes.
Download: Plugin Boutique
Top Free VST Plugins For Techno, Final Thoughts
There is an array of free tools to help you make your techno dreams a reality. Just remember one thing. If you use what everyone else is using, you’ll have trouble standing out in the glut of techno music that already exists.
If you want to be unique, you’ve got to use different tools or use the same tools in different ways, and that’s going to come down to skill level. So, commit to evolving as a producer. It will help with creating your masterpieces.