Best Free Virtual Analog (Subtractive) Synthesizer VST/AU Plugins

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bpb Freeware Studio: Best Free Subtractive/VA Polyphonic Synthesizer VST/AU Plugins

For the first synthesizer round-up in our directory of freeware VST plugins, I’ve decided to try and make a list of the best free subtractive synthesizer plugins for Windows and Mac.

The goal was to include all of the relevant freeware subtractive synthesizers, picking the plugins which have at least two of the following qualities – great sound, powerful feature set, low CPU hit, and/or a large amount of available user-made presets.

Note that I’m using the term subtractive a bit loosely here – some of the included synths can do a whole lot more than just subtractive synthesis, while some others are indeed just simple virtual analogs. This sort of classification is a convenient way for me to organize things a bit, so that I don’t simply put all the good freeware synthesizers into one huge mess of an article.

Follow the links for screenshots & download info:

More freeware synthesizers:

It’s really hard to pick a favorite from the list above! I actually use quite a few of these synths on a daily basis – most of them come with one or several features that I can’t find in other synthesizers. In the rest of the article, I’ll write a bit more about the ones I use most often, and also provide links for some of my favorite banks, presets and add-ons for these awesome freeware synths.

Tyrell N6 by Urs Heckmann.

Tyrell N6 by Urs Heckmann.

Urs Heckmann and Amazona.de shook the freeware world recently with the great sounding Tyrell N6 synthesizer. It was designed by the members of Amazona.de online community, and then programmed by the chief developer at u-he. It sounds great, works very well, and will also provide a decent cardio workout for your machine’s CPU. ;] A pack of free Tyrell N6 patches from the KVR patch contest is available for download here. And thanks to KVR’s One Synth Challenge, you can hear some music made using Tyrell N6 only by clicking here.

TAL-NoiseMaker by Togu Audio Line.

TAL-NoiseMaker by Togu Audio Line.

TAL-NoiseMaker continues Togu Audio Line’s leagacy of well-designed and great sounding software synthesizers. Combining solid sound with a great feature set (topped off with a brilliant envelope editor!), TAL-NoiseMaker is a must-have in anyone’s freeware synthesizer collection. Grab 60 free presets via Emerge Audio.

Synth1 by Ichiro Toda.

Synth1 by Ichiro Toda.

There’s not much I can say about Synth1 that you don’t already know. A legend among freeware synths, with thousands of available user-made presets and the recent updates which allow browsing through all of those banks and presets more easily, this little Nord Lead clone is a great source of quality sounds for your tunes. The pre-installed sound bank may sound a bit disappointing, but the actual sonic range of this synth is simply astonishing. There’s an old Latin proverb that says Synthus Unus cum omnia potest, si peritiam (meaning Everything can be made with Synth1, you just need to pratice more). When it comes to free presets, my personal favorites are Mr Wobble vol. 1 & 2, and Ann Preset Banks 1, 2 & 3. For a set of tracks made using Synth1 only, click here.

SQ8L by Siegfried Kullmann.

SQ8L by Siegfried Kullmann.

Another synth that I seriously love using is SQ8L, an emulation of the Ensoniq SQ-80 hybrid synthesizer (and a pretty close emulation, as often reported by the owners of the original harware synth). It comes packed with two banks of lovely retro sounds, and the fact that it also loads the original SQ80 Sysex patches is what makes it my ultimate favorite 80s machine. And here’s the SQ8L One Synth Challenge page.

Oatmeal by Fuzzpilz (Lumina skin).

Oatmeal by Fuzzpilz (Lumina skin).

Reading the headline of the thread in which fuzzpilz announced the release of Oatmeal on KVR Forums, it would be hard to guess that it will quickly become one of the most popular freeware synths around. But the reality is that Oatmeal packs a set of pretty interesting features (X-Y pad, custom waveforms!) and it also looks rather nice, thanks to Limeflavour’s awesome design skills. An all-in-one bundle (conatining skins, banks and patches) is available here.

Voyager by Arguru Software (new skin).

Voyager by Arguru Software (new skin).

Another favorite of mine is Voyager, a very nice sounding virtual analog synth which also features a neat built-in vocoder (it’s been featured in BPB’s best free vocoders list). People are often not very fond of the original GUI (although I actually use the default skin and really like it), so you might want to check out the updated Voyager skin, as well as a free pack of presets, on Limeflavour’s blog. Anyway, looks aside, thanks to its four oscillators and a set of nice and soft sounding filters, Voyager works great for creating rich and lush sounds, evolving pads, etc. More free presets for Voyager are available for download here and here.

ZynAddSubFX by paulnasca.

ZynAddSubFX by paulnasca.

Not for the faint of heart, but ZynAddSubFX is probably the most powerful synth on the list. Featuring three separate synthesis engines (one of which is subtractive), a range of effect modules, as well as microtuning, this one is for the synth wizards among us. If you find yourself having trouble taming this wild beast, perhaps a tutorial like this one will help speed things up a bit. To hear some music made using ZynAddSubFX only, click here.

BR808 beta by BeRo.

BR808 beta by BeRo.

Somewhat less complicated for use than ZynAddSubFX, yet also very powerful – Benjamin Rosseaux’s BR808 features a mod matrix, 8 oscillators per instrument, freeform envelopes, a speech synthesizer (!), and a hole lot more. Note that it’s currently in BETA and that it might go commercial once officially released. A little tip for new users – the output level is set to -inf dB by default and you’ll have to manually turn it up in the Instruments/Global section!

Charlatan by Dominique Wurtz.

Charlatan by Dominique Wurtz.

And of course, my recent favorite – the lovely sounding Charlatan by Dominique Wurtz. There’s a certain something about this synth that just makes it sound so organic! The oscillators are great, the filters sound very nice, and the limited feature set forces you tweak the synth to its limits, trying to get the best of it. Sometimes having only a basic set of features at disposal is actually inspiring rather than limiting – I’m seriously enjoying creating new patches for this synth on a daily basis.

Finally, many thanks to Jimmy James and mono for suggesting Abakos!

To conclude the article with some practical examples, here’s a nice video presentation of the Tyrell N6 synthesizer:

So that’s all for now, but feel free to suggest your own favorite free virtual analogue synthesizers in the comments section below.

Also, please support BPB by sharing a link to this article on your favorite forums, social networks, etc (you can do that easily by using the sharing buttons below). Now go and make some great music with these awesome free synths!

Share it like a boss.

About Author

Tomislav is a musician and a blogger. He writes about free and affordable music production tools on a daily basis here at Bedroom Producers Blog.


62 Comments

    • bedroom producers blog on

      hi Jimmy, thanks for the comment. i know Abakos and i like it… not sure if i’ll include it in the main list (although if a few more people vote for it, it’ll be added to the main list for sure), but i will certainly update this article soon with a bonus synths section, where i’ll include Abakos and some other cool freebies.

    • Hi there, I think u-he Zebralette could be added to this very good list. It was set as freeware only a few months ago. One oscillator only, but what oscillator!

      – Mario

  1. i think abakos should be thrown in there too its certainly been a keen va and the cpu management is also noteworthy in a list like this. good job though. lists like these are tricky but i think overall you have highlighted the cream of the crop and will have satisfied a good spectrum of users too.

    • bedroom producers blog on

      hi mono, thanks for the comment! indeed, it’s hard to create a “best of” list that will satisfy everyone’s taste – but i’ve tried to include a large variety of VAs, and i’m always open for suggestions posted by the readers.

      btw, Abakos has been added to the list now, due to popular demand. ;]

  2. Thanks for this great informative page! Really appreciate it.

    You may want to include a link to KVR’s Charlatan page in that section’s text… Of course if it’s not 2 a.m. as it is right now, most people will probably notice the Charlatan links elsewhere on the page. :?)

    • bedroom producers blog on

      hi Ander, i figured the links in the upper part of the article are enough. the section with more info about the synths is used for linking to preset banks and custom skins.

  3. Good news – my favorite (from freeware) Synth1 is for Mac too now! I love this synth – quality sound, easy to tweak (recalls me my old Roland JX-3P) and lite for CPU (hate CPU hogs).

    • bedroom producers blog on

      cheers for the suggestion, although i’m not sure it would fit here. it’s more of an additive synth, right? it will be included in a future article for sure!

  4. Hey

    Thanks for the plug on the Tyrell video – i love that thing :) When I made the video I thought around 20 sound geeks like me might be interested. Its now tracking >35k views. I seriously wish I had gated that mic when playing the controller keyboard.

    Keep up the good work

    Nick

  5. ZebraCM and daedalus are missing from this list IMO. noisemaker and charlatan are aight but I’m not sure what about them that everybody seems to like so much. especially charlatan. probably cause its missing some good presets. I like both plugins GUI nonetheless

    • ZebraCM is awesome, but it’s not really free. i’m thinking about including it anyway though, will have to think about it a bit more.

      Daedalus was already on the list. :D

      Charlatan is very simple, but it just sounds so good to me. it’s definitely one of my top 5 favorite freeware synths.

  6. Hello BPB,

    I go to your site as first choice for VST news and downloads thanks to non-nerdy atmosphere and clear layout.

    I have just started writing FM synths on Synthedit and invite you to listen to my first 4 creations on http://whitebox.yolasite.com and… feel free to criticise and advise.

    Cheers!

  7. jamie griffin on

    i love to make music, it is my life, and i hope this download is foreal, cuause i`m exited for new sound in my studio.

  8. Charlatan is a pretty average synth. It sounds very clean, but also very digital. The GUI is okay, but the sound of the oscillators lacks character.

    I prefer Tyrell and the skinned version of Voyager (by Arguru Software) any day over it.

  9. podolski or whatever its called as well, another uhe synth.

    I must have downloaded 200 free synths the other day to do a massive evaluation project will come back and let you know what strikes my fancy

  10. Voyager Gui .exe installer by Limeflavour seems to be infected with a trojan horse, i wrote in the blog but no response, can someone confirm that?

  11. Hi there, I am having trouble installing most of theses synths on Windows 8, Ableton Live 9. Is there a particular reason the dont show up after installation? Thanks

  12. If I may add some suggestions:

    The Elektrostudio VST’s are good emulations of classic synths. My favorites are ODSay (Arp Odyssey), Mini Model (Mini Moog), and Six Month June (Juno 60). http://www.elektrostudio.ovh.org/index.php?go=pro

    I’ve also gotten good results from a percussion synth by xoxos called Saros.

    There is also Arppe2600VA (a freeware emu of the Arp 2600) and Hahaha CS-33 (Inspired by the Yamaha CS-11). I use Hahaha whenever I need some nasty distortion.

    And there’s a nice synth called Oxytocin which has lots of parameters and some great sounds.

  13. Wow man, these are some really good synth plugins to use. I have been using Sylenth1 and Massive for my synthesizer purposes, but ASynth is also a very good plugin, and furthermore, it’s free. I would recommend to all the people who seek for a free synth plugin.

  14. Really impressive list. I use quite a lot of them already, but there are definitely some new ones in there for me.

    Personally I use Tyrell N6 a lot and I love the deep / massive sounds it can produce. And I have to agree with one of the other commenters – Zebralette is nice.

    Supertron is a very cool free synth tool :-)

  15. Michial Gueffroy on

    I just downloaded again and it went all the way to the end of the download and failed only leaving the Part file in my download. This is showing me that Google expects me to use the Google drive to download to. I did not activate Google Drive when I activated my membership to Google and refuse to. I only joined Google because I had a Youtube account that I post to. I will not be doing this again. Thanks though.

  16. DJ Chaoskills on

    ZynAddSubFX is the first synth engine I started using very good way to learn about everything you could wanna know about making one bad ass synth line. The layering effect makes very fun to fool with! I would suggest people to try it and if your new to synth I would suggest start with it it will teach you how to make a nice to evil sounding beat “Chaoskills Approved Synth engine” :P slynth1 is bested in my eyes to ZynAdd :D just felt I should throw that out there!

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