With 2015 almost behind us, the time has come once again to look back and pick the best free VST plugins released this year. BPB brings you our biggest plugin roundup yet, a selection of the 50 finest freeware instruments and effects released in 2015.
The list is organized into three sections: Top 20 freeware effects, Top 20 freeware instruments and Top 10 freeware utilities and MIDI tools in VST plugin format. Use the menu below to quickly browse the article and please make sure to share this page with your friends if you find it useful. Thank you in advance and make some great music in 2016!
- TDR Nova ( VST/AU/AAX | Win/Mac | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- Limited-Z ( VST/AU/RTAS/AAX | Win/Mac | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- Sanford Reverb ( VST | Win | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- Code Red Free ( VST/AU | Win/Mac | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- MJUC jr. ( VST/AU/RTAS/AAX | Win/Mac | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- A1TriggerGate ( VST/AU/RTAS/AAX | Win/Mac | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- FuzzPlus 3 ( VST/AU | Win/Mac | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- CL36 ( VST | Win | 32-bit )
- Gravel ( VST | Win | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- EQ1A ( VST/AU/RTAS/AAX | Win/Mac | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- Marauder ( VST | Win | 32-bit )
- MBitFun ( VST/AU/AAX | Win/Mac | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- Defacer ( VST/AU | Win/Mac | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- The Canary ( VST/AU | Win/Mac | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- OverToner ( VST | Win | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- Svep ( VST/AU | Win/Mac | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- HY-Delay ( VST | Win | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- Bob Perry Gate ( VST | Win/Mac | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- TAL-Reverb-4 ( VST/AU/AAX | Win/Mac | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- Qontrolr ( VST | Win | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- Grace ( VST | Win | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- Alter/Ego ( VST/AU/RTAS | Win/Mac | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- Helm ( VST/AU/AAX | Win/Mac/Linux | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- PG8X ( VST/AU | Win/Mac | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- Charlatan 2.0 ( VST | Win | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- Eclipsis ( VST | Win | 32-bit )
- Cybermath ( VST | Win | 32-bit )
- Aegis ( VST | Win | 32-bit )
- Kern ( VST | Win | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- JuceOPLVSTi ( VST/AU | Win/Mac | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- Quad Zamp ( VST | Win | 32-bit )
- Drumper 1 ( VST | Win | 32-bit )
- Anubis 2 ( VST | Win | 32-bit )
- Nero ( VST | Win | 32-bit )
- Ample Guitar M Lite II ( VST/AU/RTAS/AAX | Win/Mac | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- XM2 ( VST | Win | 32-bit )
- 4 Tune ( VST | Win | 32-bit )
- SUPER-7 ( VST | Win | 32-bit )
- Genobazz R Mono ( VST | Win | 32-bit )
- P/Nes 8-Bit Monster ( VST | Win | 32-bit )
- 4U Blind Test ( VST/AU/RTAS/AAX | Win/Mac | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- MiGiC ( VST/AU | Win/Mac | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- Chordz ( VST | Win | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- Pecheneg Tremolo ( VST/AU | Win/Mac | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- dpMeter ( VST/AU/RTAS | Win/Mac | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- Muteomatic ( VST/AU/RTAS/AAX | Win/Mac | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- Haa5 ( VST/AU | Win/Mac | 32-bit & 64-bit )
- DeHarsh ( VST | Win | 32-bit )
- fx_cutter ( VST | Win | 32-bit )
- Doppler Dome ( VST | Win | 32-bit & 64-bit )
More info about each plugin available below, along with demo videos and download links. Enjoy!
Free VST Effects
Previously known as Nova 67P, Vladislav Goncharov’s excellent dynamic equalizer plugin ranked as the #1 freeware effect in the 2014 edition of our freebie round-up. The plugin is now called TDR Nova (re-released by Tokyo Dawn Labs) and, having been updated with a brand new user interface and a variety of improvements across the board, takes the number one spot on our list, second year in a row.
Compared to the old version of the plugin, TDR Nova features a slick new GUI, a slightly extended frequency range (10 Hz – 40 kHz), improved filters with a smoother sound optimized for mastering purposes, a more precise real-time frequency analyzer, additional stereo modes, as well as M/S mode. These improvements come at the cost of a somewhat higher CPU usage, however the plugin is now mainly intended for use in mastering projects, in which sound quality is definitely more important than the plugin’s consumption of available CPU resources.
Combining the core functionality of Nova 67P and the updated features from the new version, TDR Nova is one of the best equalizer plugins you can download for free at the moment. An alternative paid version called TDR Nova Gentleman’s Edition is available for users who would like to expand the plugin’s feature set with two additional bands, steeper filters (up to 120 dB/octave) and several other improvements.
More info: TDR Nova (13 MB download size, ZIP archive or optional EXE installer, 32-bit & 64-bit VST/AU/AAX plugin formats for Windows & Mac OS)
Limited-Z was one of the few top candidates for our #1 effect pick this year, but the lack of oversampling support in the free version of the plugin pushed it back to the second place on our list. Everything else about Limited-Z is pretty much good as it gets in a freeware limiter effect, though. The plugin features six different limiting algorithms, a very helpful waveform display with real time peak reduction monitoring, an RMS gain reduction meter, automatic gain compensation, and a host of other useful features to help you speed up your mixing and mastering workflow.
Whether or not oversampling is an essential feature in a limiter will depend on your own mixing habits, of course. If you’re pushing the limiter hard in order to maximize the loudness of your mix, oversampling is definitely a required feature for preventing inter-sample peaks and avoiding audible aliasing artifacts. The paid version of Limited-Z (priced at $28) adds oversampling to the plugin’s feature list, along with X/Y controls for dynamic algorithm adjustments, a secondary metering mode, and a couple of other useful features.
More info: Limited-Z (3.2 MB download size, ZIP archive containing an EXE installer & a manual in PDF format, 32-bit & 64-bit VST/AU/RTAS/AAX plugin format for Windows & Mac OS)
Leslie Sanford returned to the freeware scene this year with Sanford Delay, shortly followed by the re-release of Bass Tightener. His biggest re-release of 2015 though, without any doubt, is the brilliant Sanford Reverb effect. It is one of the most versatile and best sounding freeware reverb plugins on today’s market. If you’re a fan of the legendary Ambience reverb by Magnus, you’ll instantly fall in love with Sanford Reverb.
Our favorite part of Sanford Reverb’s feature set is the excellent freeze mode which is tons of fun to play around with and a great creative tool for sound design purposes. Other notable features include detailed early reflections control with three early reflection points per stereo channel, full MIDI learn support and reverb modulation with depth and speed controls. Sanford Reverb can emulate anything from very small rooms to large halls and weird cavernous spaces. It is available as a VST plugin for 32-bit and 64-bit Windows based host applications.
More info: Sanford Reverb (751 KB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit & 64-bit VST plugin format for Windows)
Code Red Free is an excellent console EQ emulation, inspired by the legendary Abbey Road REDD mixing consoles. The plugin was created by Shattered Glass Audio, the same team of developers who made the outstanding SGA1566 tube preamp which ranked at #4 in our last year’s list (and which is still, in our opinion, the best freeware tube amplifier effect out there).
Packing tons of analog-like mojo under the hood, Code Red Free is yet another brilliant piece of freeware by SGA, equally useful for mixing and post production tasks. It can be used for subtly enhancing the output of multiple mixer channels, leading to a nicely saturated mix. Or, you can simply add it to your master channel and use Code Red Free to tighten up the sound and warm it up a bit.
More info: Code Red Free (4.44 MB download size, EXE installer, 32-bit & 64-bit VST2/VST3/AU plugin format for Windows & Mac OS)
MJUC jr. is a free colorful variable-tube compressor effect, based on the commercial MJUC plugin by Klanghelm. This is the same developer who created one of our favorite freeware compressor plugins ever, the brilliantly simple and effective DC1A. MJUC jr. is in pretty much the same ballpark in terms of simplicity and ease of use, however it is based on a different circuit model that adds more color to the processed signal.
With just two programmable knobs, dialing in the perfect setting with MJUC jr. is a very simple task. Setting it to auto-timing mode makes things even easier, however adjusting the timing manually is a good idea when working with more transient-heavy material like drums and bass guitars. The compressor does wonders on vocals, but it can also be used to great effect for tightening drums, guitars, and even for adding a bit of color and punch to a full stereo mix.
More info: MJUC jr. (4.4 MB download size, ZIP archive containing an EXE installer, 32-bit & 64-bit VST/AU/RTAS/AAX plugin format for Windows & Mac OS)
A rhythmic gate (aka trance gate) is a highly underappreciated type of effect. It can easily turn a dull sound into an inspiring groove, much like how an arpeggiator can turn a boring old melody into a thrilling sequence. A1TriggerGate by Alex Hilton takes all the essential features of a rhythmic gate and mixes them with a nifty set of additional effects, resulting in one of the coolest and most versatile multi-FX plugins around.
The plugin is built around a 16-step gate sequencer which can store up to eight different patterns (switchable via automation). The sequencer also supports triplets, step randomization and, of course, pattern length adjustment. An AHDSR envelope is included for controlling the amplitude of each step. Finally, A1TriggerGate features global swing adjustment, a set of three built-in effects (low-pass filter, distortion and an awesome delay!), a useful waveform display and a dry/wet mix knob.
More info: A1TriggerGate (1.57 MB download size, ZIP archive, installer also available, 32-bit & 64-bit VST/AU/RTAS/AAX plugin format for Windows & Mac)
A multi-effect that combines the crunchy sound of a vintage fuzz pedal and that juicy Korg MS-20 low-pass filter… sounds good, right? That’s exactly what FuzzPlus 3 brings to the table, along with self-feedback functionality for coming up with some really crazy distorted sounds.
FuzzPlus 3 works equally well as a distortion effect, a resonant low-pass filter plugin, and of course, a combination of the two. The distortion module is modeled after the MXR Distortion+ guitar pedal from the mid-70s, bringing that characteristic fuzz distortion sound which works excellent in tandem with the screaming MS-20 style filter. Overall, FuzzPlus 3 sounds great and it is also a joy to use thanks to its OpenGL-based user interface which looks fantastic and also helps to reduce the plugin’s memory footprint (it doesn’t use any bitmap graphics).
More info: FuzzPlus 3 (1.8 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit & 64-bit VST/VST3/AU plugin format for Windows and Mac OS)
Multi-band clippers are quite a rare breed, yet they are very useful for precise dynamic treatment of the processed audio material. J1000’s excellent CL36 plugin for Windows is one of the best multi-clippers around and also the only freeware one that we’re aware of. Packed in a classic J1000 style GUI with that clean minimal look and a relaxing color scheme, CL36 is a solid mixing/mastering tool optimized for a quick and efficient workflow.
The audio signal on the input is split into three fixed frequency bands which can then be treated separately using the built-in hard and soft clipping circuits. The plugin’s only major drawback is the fact that it will only work in 32-bit DAWs on Windows, since it was made with SynthEdit. If you still haven’t switched to a 64-bit digital audio workstation, then you should also check out the brilliant DQ65 dynamic equalizer VST plugin by the same developer.
More info: CL36 (2.5 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit VST plugin format for Windows, made with SynthEdit)
Gravel is a distortion effect on steroids. It combines overdrive distortion, bit crushing and sample rate reduction with an envelope follower, making it possible to transform the audio signal on the input in many different ways, from pseudo compression to subtle transient processing and brutal audio mangling. Gravel works great for beefing up drums and other types of percussive sounds. By boosting the sustain parameter and adding a little bit of distortion to the mix, you can really come up with some larger than life drum grooves.
More info: Gravel (1.9 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit & 64-bit VST plugin format for Windows)
Quick, lightweight, efficient; These three words perfectly describe EQ1A, a great little analog-style parametric equalizer packed in a tight user-friendly interface. Mellowmuse surprised everyone when they re-released this rather capable little EQ as a freebie, since it was originally available as a commercial product priced at $49 (first released in December 2011).
EQ1A is the kind of equalizer you reach for when you want to make broader tonal adjustments. It is very easy on the CPU, so adding it to multiple tracks throughout the mix won’t affect the overall performance too much. You can use the plugin to cut out the unnecessary low end rumble and high end hiss, as well as to boost or cut more precisely in the mid range with the Low Mid and High Mid frequency bands. EQ1A hits that perfect balance of usefulness and simplicity, which makes it one of our favorite channel equalizers on the freeware market.
More info: EQ1A (9.1 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit & 64-bit VST/AU/AAX/RTAS plugin format for Windows & Mac)
Marauder is a complex distortion effect with a physically modeled output stage which dynamically responds to the volume of the signal on the input. Finding the right balance can be a bit tricky with this particular plugin, but once you nail the perfect settings, you’ll get a wonderful sounding, creamy distortion. With a bit of work, Marauder can do wonders on a wide variety of recorded instruments, as well as vocals, since you can really tweak the distortion flavor to your liking.
More info: Marauder (28.5 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit VST plugin format for Windows)
Grab some ear protection and take cover because MBitFun will destroy your audio in so many different ways that it’s not even funny. But that’s why we love it so much! Undoubtedly one of the most feature-packed bitcrushers on the VST plugin market, this little gem from MeldaProduction is a must-have for any distortion loving music producer and/or sound designer.
To make things even better, MBitFun sports a modern user interface that is fully configurable (you can change the colors, knobs, etc.) and resizable, making it compatible with almost any kind of desktop or laptop screen. It’s worth noting, though, that MBitFun can be a bit of an overkill if all you need is just a simple tool for bitcrushing and sample reduction. But if you want to have complete control over the distortion process, then by all means download this excellent freebie right away. You won’t be disappointed!
More info: MBitFun (121 MB download size, EXE installer, 32-bit & 64-bit VST/AU/AAX plugin format for Windows & Mac OS)
Yet another excellent sound mangling tool, Defacer splits the incoming audio signal into two identical channels which can then be distorted, rectified, bitcrushed and filtered before being mixed together in the output stage. Both channels also include mix amount controls for easy parallel processing.
Defacer is equally good at subtle distortion, old-school compressor style bitcrushing for drums, and all-out sonic destruction. Thanks to its slightly different approach to bitcrushing (it randomly rearranges the samples of the audio signal on the input), Defacer has a unique distortion character which you won’t hear in other plugins of the same type.
More info: Defacer (1.4 MB download size, EXE installer, 32-bit & 64-bit VST/AU plugin format for Windows & Mac OS X)
While it doesn’t exactly qualify as a regular transient shaper effect, The Canary can certainly add some punch and body to processed drum hits. It works best when applied to acoustic drums, mostly for subtle enhancement of the transients and overall tonal shaping. It can also be used to change the tuning of recorded drums, but that feature is a bit of a hit and miss affair.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t use The Canary for processing electronic drums, though. We’ve achieved some great sounding results with it, even with the attack parameter cranked up to its highest setting, by setting the mix amount reasonably low and adjusting the value of the filter parameter accordingly. You should definitely try using The Canary for parallel processing of your drum loops. Chances are you’ll like the results!
More info: The Canary (82.5 MB download size, ZIP archive containing EXE installer, 32-bit & 64-bit VST/AU plugin format for Windows & Mac OS)
OverToner is a versatile and easy to use saturation tool, featuring thirteen different distortion algorithms. The included distortion types range from classic analog saturation and soft clipping to harsh digital distortion and everything in between. Also included are two analog style band-pass filters which can be used to further shape the audio signal on the output.
More info: OverToner (550 KB download size, DLL file, 32-bit & 64-bit VST plugin format for Windows)
If you can’t decide whether you want to use a chorus, a phaser, or a flanger, the easiest solution is to simply load up Svep. Klevgränd Produktion’s latest freebie is a versatile modulation tool which can do all three aforementioned effect types with ease. In classic Klevgränd fashion, the plugin is packed in an innovative and easy to use interface which is also a pleasure to look at.
More info: Svep (2.4 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit & 64-bit VST/VST3/AU plugin format for Windows & Mac OS)
HY-Delay emulates old digital delay units from the 80s, such as the RDD-10 and RDD-20 models by Boss. These old school digital delays were actually 12-bit, which is why they have a peculiarly gritty and lo-fi signal quality. To make things even more interesting, each repeat sounds a bit more distorted than the previous one. As you already know, lo-fi does not necessarily mean bad in the audio world, so it’s no surprise that these old delay effects have somewhat of a cult status, albeit not on the same level as vintage tape delays.
In order to achieve this type of sound, HY-Delay features a bitcrusher module on the input, allowing the user to manually set the amount of bitcrushing that will be applied to the signal before it reaches the feedback circuit. The plugin also includes a pair of filters which can be used to shape the delayed signal.
More info: HY-Delay (1.91 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit & 64-bit VST plugin format for Windows)
Bob Perry Gate is a noise gate plugin with some neat additional features, most notable of which are the side-chain input and the user-adjustable signal detection algorithms (linear, logarithmic and S-curve). With these added features, the plugin can be adjusted to perfectly respond to the volume of the processed audio signal, preventing the occurrence of audible noise gating artifacts. The side-chain input can also be used for creative effects, especially for getting that pumping side-chain compression sound.
More info: Bob Perry Gate (4.43 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit & 64-bit VST3 plugin format for Windows and Mac OS)
Do you like your reverbs super-compact and extremely easy to use? If your answer is yes, there’s no doubt that you’ll absolutely love TAL-Reverb-4! The plugin is based on the excellent reverb module that is included in Togu Audio Line’s commercial TAL-Sampler virtual instrument, bringing the same quality reverb sound in a much smaller package.
Don’t be fooled by TAL-Reverb-4’s miniature user interface. This little reverb sounds absolutely HUGE. And with such a simple control scheme, you’ll have no trouble dialing in the perfect settings for your track. It works very well on EDM leads and vocals, but you can, of course, use it on any type of sound that can benefit from a nice sounding long tail reverb effect.
More info: TAL-Reverb-4 (4.67 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit & 64-bit VST/AU/AAX plugin format for Windows & Mac OS X)
Another pretty straightforward yet very useful tool on this year’s list, Qontrolr is a distortion effect with four different distortion flavors: clipping, bitcrushing, fuzz distortion and static distortion. It is very handy in situations when you want to distort a certain sound with minimum fuss. The clipper and bitcrusher modules sound particularly nice.
More info: Qontrolr (1.49 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit & 64-bit VST/VST3 plugin format for Windows)
Free VST Instruments
For quite some time now, the world needed a nice workflow-oriented freeware sampler to substitute the legendary Shortcircuit 1 by Vember Audio (the plugin is no longer supported and doesn’t work on 64-bit systems). Thankfully, One Small Clue delivered the perfect substitute, and then some!
Originally priced at $29 and re-released as a freeware instrument in September this year, Grace is hands-down the best freeware sampler at the moment, for completing everyday sampling tasks. It won’t substitute a feature-packed workhorse sampler like Native Instruments Kontakt or MOTU Mach 5, but it is the virtual instrument to use if you want to quickly map some samples to you MIDI keyboard and start making music in a matter of minutes. TX81x and sforzando are still excellent choices for more complicated sampling tasks, however Grace is the one that we’re now using as our go-to sampler in almost every new project.
Simplicity and ease of use are not the only things that Grace has to offer, though. Dig a bit deeper and you’ll find a brilliant modulation section, paired up with a nice sounding set of resonant filters and some basic, but still very useful effects. The modulation section is Grace’s second biggest strength, sporting a pair of ADSR envelopes, two syncable LFOs, two surprisingly versatile step sequencers and a handy pair of XY pads which can be used to control multiple parameters simultaneously. The demo video linked below shows how easy it is to make some totally insane arpeggios using Grace’s built-in step sequencers.
Last but not least, Grace is delivered with a useful collection of factory patches created by none other than Waveshaper, a talented sound designer who’s drum machine sample packs are frequently featured in our Soundware News section. Oh and by the way, we liked Grace so much that we released some additional free sounds for it ourselves. These can be downloaded in our in-depth review which you can read below.
More info: Grace (12.4 MB download size, EXE installer, 32-bit & 64-bit VSTi plugin format for Windows)
There aren’t many free vocal synthesizers around (Aquestone 2 is the only other one that comes to mind, actually), which is why we were so happy to see one coming from a reputable company such as Plogue. Alter/Ego is based on the same technology used in Plogue’s popular Chipspeech virtual instrument, but with the focus shifted towards modern vocal synthesis algorithms instead of the ones used in various 80s computers and consoles.
The instrument comes with one voice bank, a female alter ego called Daisy. Additional voice banks will be available soon, however the pricing is yet to be announced. The peculiar thing about the free Daisy voice bank is that it can actually do both female and male vocals. It sounds quite robotic, but it can also sound very human-like in certain situations, as described in our in-depth review linked below. With some clever note programming and vibrato automation, Daisy can sound surprisingly emotional, considering that it’s a purely synthetic vocal. According to some speculations, future Alter/Ego voice banks will sound even more natural and human-like.
Alter/Ego’s main drawback is the fact that pulling off a convincing vocal performance requires a lot of effort and painstaking attention to detail while editing the notes in the piano roll. Purely robotic sounding vocals are very easy to do, on the other hand. Simply input some lyrics into the editor, load one of the available voice presets and you’re ready to go all robot on your track!
More info: Alter/Ego (12.4 MB download size, EXE installer, VST/AU/RTAS plugin format for Windows & Mac OS)
Helm is the highest ranked virtual analog synthesizer on this year’s list for two reasons. Number one, it’s a brand new freeware synthesizer and not an updated version of an older synth. And number two, it is a bloody awesome VA synthesizer that is also fully cross-platform and open source. You can run it on almost any Windows, Mac OS or Linux based digital audio workstation (apart from Pro Tools and Reason), be it 32-bit or 64-bit. All popular plugin formats are supported, apart from RTAS.
Helm comes with pretty much all the basic functionality you’d expect to see in a standard VA, however it also includes a set of interesting bonus features such as cross modulation, unison, oscillator feedback, an arpeggiator, a step sequencer, polyphonic LFO and a formant filter section, among others. The GUI is very easy on the eyes and the control layout is quite user friendly. We also loved the external modulation section, which makes it a breeze to connect external modulation sources such as velocity and aftertouch to various synthesis engine parameters.
More info: Helm (4.9 MB download size, MSI installer, 32-bit & 64-bit VST/AU/AAX plugin format for Windows, Mac OS & Linux)
PG8X has been around since 2009, originally released as a VST plugin that only worked in 32-bit plugin hosts on Windows. The instrument itself sounded great, but the fact that it was made in SynthEdit meant that the plugin couldn’t be used on 64-bit Windows systems, nor Mac OS based machines. Quite some time after the initial release, the synth’s developer Martin Lüders decided to re-code the plugin in C++ and make it fully cross-platform. Ever since that announcement, we’ve been impatiently waiting for the new and improved version of PG8X to arrive. And arrive it did, in April this year, sounding and looking better than ever!
The first impression of the new PG8X is amplified by the gorgeous looking GUI that was made by KVR Audio forum member ENV1. The interface looks beautifully retro and provides quick access to all of the available control parameters in a single panel, which is always a big plus for virtual synthesizers. But all of that visual beauty pales in comparison to PG8X’s sound – the organic, warm and rich sound that one still can’t obtain from most virtual synthesizers nowadays, free or commercial. The secret of PG8X’s sound is in the filter section, in our opinion. The synth’s brilliantly coded VCF saturates and warms up the sound produced by the oscillators, resulting in that authentic 80s sound that will remind you of the soundtracks of old VHS cartoons and movies.
PG8X is still in beta testing phase, but it is stable and completely usable. The latest beta version of the instrument doesn’t include any factory presets, however the download page also hosts a number of user-made patches, a lot of which sound very nice. As mentioned in our in-depth review linked below, PG8X is, in our opinion, among the Top 3 freeware virtual analog synthesizers on today’s plugin market, along with Tyrell N6 by U-He and the excellent Charlatan 2.0 by Blaukraut Engineering which is actually the next entry in our list.
More info: PG8X (1.36 MB download size, DLL file, 32-bit & 64-bit VST/AU plugin format for Windows & Mac OS)
Charlatan was first released back in 2011 and we immediately fell in love with this little VA for its lively, slightly unstable oscillators, paired up with some great sounding filters and packed in a brilliantly simple user interface with a punchy color scheme. “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” goes the old saying, however Charlatan was updated numerous times since the original release and the new Charlatan 2.0 version finally hit the virtual shelves in May this year. Thankfully, Blaukraut Engineering absolutely knows what they’re doing with these updates and each new version made the synth even better, resulting in the brilliant and polished 2.0 release that is featured in this year’s list of top freebies.
Compared to the previous versions of the plugin, Charlatan 2.0 introduces two major improvements: an optimized sound engine which results in 50% less CPU usage, along with a brand new stereo unison mode that significantly expands the synth’s sound palette. The stereo unison sounds fantastic in tandem with Charlatan’s fat oscillators and juicy filters, which can now be used to create those huge detuned bass sounds and wide stereo pads without having to use external effects for processing.
More info: Charlatan 2.0 (1.29 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit & 64-bit VSTi plugin format for Windows)
Eclipsis was one of the first freeware instruments released this year (announced in early January) and it was clear right from the get-go that it will rank very highly on our list of 2015’s top freeware plugins. Free wavetable synthesizers are hard to find and Eclipsis is definitely among the best out there.
Sporting three wavetable oscillators and 118 wavetables which can also be used for modulating other parameters, Eclipsis is one truly flexible synthesizer which can be used to create a wide variety of sounds. Other cool features include an arpeggiator, a powerful modulation matrix with nine modulation sources and 39 modulation targets, a great FX section with reverb, delay and chorus effects, and finally the handy randomization tool for generating new patches with a single mouse click.
The plugin’s only major drawback is the lack of multi-platform support. Eclipsis will only work in 32-bit plugin hosts running on Windows, due to the fact that it was developed using SynthEdit. With more and more users making the switch to a 64-bit DAW (ourselves included) it’s sad to see such a good synth not being able to operate on modern platforms.
More info: Eclipsis (2.3 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit VSTi plugin format for Windows, made with SynthEdit)
The second Wavetable synthesizer on this year’s list is Cybermath by Ricardo F. Gomes, a complex virtual instrument that will feed your appetite for sonic exploration in synthesis. Cybermath features a somewhat unusual oscillator section with two oscillators and two fully editable waveform slots per oscillator. The oscillator section alone can be used to create some very dramatic sounds, especially when phase distortion and oscillator feedback come into play. Once you have a cool timbre going on, you can modulate the living hell out of it using a variety of modulation sources and built-in sound effects.
Another really cool thing about Cybermath is its user interface which, despite its non-traditional control layout, actually is quite easy to grasp after you spend some time playing around with it. Using buttons to show different parts of the synthesis engine might seem a bit counter-intuitive at first, but it becomes second nature after you memorize the button layout. It also helps to stay focused at what you’re doing at the moment, instead of being distracted by dozens of control parameters scattered around the GUI.
On the flip side, the instrument is still a work in progress, and the developer has been silent for almost ten months. The last update was released in February this year. Cybermath is fully functional and also very usable, but not exactly polished and optimized for a bug free performance. In addition, it was built using SynthMaker, which limits its compatibility list to 32-bit plugin hosts on Windows. Either way, we are hoping that the developer will find some free time and inspiration to finalize this very promising (and already brilliant) synthesizer!
More info: Cybermath (2.91 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit VSTi plugin format for Windows, made with SynthMaker)
Kern is your bread and butter subtractive synthesizer in terms of available features, but it is quite exceptional in terms of sound quality and compatibility with MIDI controller keyboards. Although a sound engine consisting of a pair of oscillators, a low-pass filter, an LFO, an ADSR envelope and a chorus effect doesn’t like much on paper, the reality is that Kern actually sounds incredibly nice for being such a simple virtual instrument. The thing is, both the oscillators and the filter are very well coded and will give you that full and warm sound without having to fiddle around with the settings too much. Set up a saw wave, add some sub to the mix, lower the filter, tighten the envelope and BAM! You’ve got yourself an awesome sounding analog bass preset.
The plugin’s biggest strength, though, is the way in which the user interface is intentionally streamlined so that it can be fully controlled with most MIDI keyboards. A standard MIDI controller nowadays features between eight and ten sliders and just as many knobs, along with several buttons and/or switches. And this is exactly the amount of controls you’ll see on Kern’s user interface, which means that you can map all of the available parameters to your MIDI controller and use the plugin almost like a proper hardware synthesizer. Kern also features an alternative interface layout which resembles the look of a standard MIDI keyboard in order to simplify the MIDI mapping process. Pretty neat!
More info: Kern (870 KB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit & 64-bit VSTi plugin format for Windows)
Inspired by an old AmigaOS virtual instrument called Sonix, Aegis is an interesting phase distortion synthesizer that can be used to create some surprisingly organic sounding pads, leads and bass patches. The feature that makes Aegis stand out is its phase distortion module, which adds a sense of movement and character to the timbre created by the freely-drawable oscillator waveform. With just two controls (speed and depth), the phase distortion module is very easy to use, even if you haven’t used such a feature in a synthesizer before. Other parts of the sound engine are pretty much what you’d expect to find in a standard subtractive synthesizer, with the addition of a harmonic distortion module that adds 2nd and 3rd harmonics to the signal on the output.
The same developer has released another interesting freebie this year, a slightly more advanced phase distortion synthesizer called Lynx. It features additional modulation options and a 7-voice unison mode, but lacks the simplicity and ease of use that make Aegis so much fun to experiment with. Both plugins were developed using SynthEdit and will only work in 32-bit host applications on Windows.
More info: Aegis (2.6 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit VSTi plugin format for Windows, made with SynthEdit)
The highest ranked FM synthesizer on this year’s list is JuceOPLVSTi (phew, should have copy/pasted that instead of typing!), a charming little virtual instrument that emulates the legendary Yamaha OPL sound chip. JuceOPLVSTi (also known as AdlibBlaster on Mac OS X) is actually based on the two popular MS DOS emulators, DOSBox and ZDoom, using their sound chip emulation algorithms as the core of its synthesis engine. Much like the original Yamaha OPL chip, JuceOPLVSTi is a simple 2-operator FM synthesizer which works best for creating those nostalgic lo-fi sounds you’d expect to hear in an 80s video game.
Although programing new patches in JuceOPLVSTi is very easy, the coolest thing about it is that the plugin is distributed with a huge collection of retro preset sounds from old video games, adding up to over one thousand retro FM synth patches! Browsing through these old sounds is a blast and there are some true gems hidden in there, waiting to be discovered.
Video: click here
More info: JuceOPLVSTi (1.6 MB download size, ZIP archive, contains 1,339 instrument patches in SBI file format, 1 virtual instrument in 32-bit & 64-bit VSTi/AUi plugin formats for Windows & Mac OS)
Although it looks like some sort of weird contraption from a science fiction B movie, Quad Zamp is actually a rather capable little drum sampler with loads of sample mangling firepower under the hood. The plugin features four sampler modules with three WAV sample slots per module. Each module has its own audio output and an array of useful sound shaping tools like filters and pitch envelopes.
Quad Zamp is optimized for a quick beat making workflow, allowing you to load up to twelve samples in WAV format and easily tweak and shape them so that they sound well together. It also offers an easy way to randomize various parameters of the sound engine, which can lead to some unexpectedly cool sounding results. Unfortunately, the GUI components are a bit smaller than what we’d like to see in a modern plugin, making Quad Zamp quite fiddly to use on higher resolution screens.
More info: Quad Zamp (2.5 MB download size, RAR archive, 32-bit VSTi plugin format for Windows, made with SynthEdit)
Hey, if Marazmator and Quad Zamp weren’t weird enough for you, be prepared because Drumper 1 is on a whole new level of eccentricity. Advertised as a freeware groove box virtual instrument, Drumper 1 is a weird little sequencer-based drum synthesizer which you’ll either absolutely love or absolutely hate.
User friendliness is out of the question here. There is no manual and the labels on the GUI don’t provide too much information about their functionality. You’ll feel totally lost the first time you fire up Drumper 1 in your DAW. You know… how does this thing even work? But, if you enjoy experimenting with unusual groove boxes and weird sequencers, chances are you’ll have tons of fun with this one.
Once you spend some time figuring out the controls (and it’s not really that hard to figure it all out, after all!), you’ll be able to make some stunning percussive sequences with Drumper 1. To familiarize yourself with the plugin’s control scheme, program a percussive loop using the sequence editor and then tweak the various sound engine parameters during playback in order to create different variations of the same groove.
More info: Drumper 1 (3.0 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit VSTi plugin format for Windows, made with SynthEdit)
Anubis 2 is pretty much your standard subtractive virtual synthesizer, apart from the fact that it features an interesting modulation envelope with up to 32 envelope stages. This fully customizable envelope can be used to modulate the pitch and pulse width of both oscillators, the FM amount for oscillator 2, filter cutoff and oscillator mix. Even though having a wider variety of possible modulation targets would be pretty cool, the mod envelope can still be used to create some pretty complex sounds that evolve over time. It works equally well for making huge evolving pads, long risers and other FX sounds, as well as wobbly bases and unstable FM leads.
More info: Anubis 2 (2.6 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit VSTi plugin format for Windows, made with SynthEdit)
In November this year, plugin developer MaxSynths has announced that all of their commercial products have been re-released as freeware. The plugins can be downloaded completely free of charge from the developer’s website, although without any form of official support.
The plugin which we liked the most is Nero, a cool little monophonic synthesizer for making bass and lead sounds. It features a pair of internally synced oscillators, zero-delay filters and an interesting sequencer with 64 preset sequences. Although it is not possible to create your own sequences from scratch, the included preset sequences can be tweaked and shaped to create new melodies and progressions.
More info: MaxSynths Nero (5.3 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit VSTi plugin format for Windows
Ample Guitar M Lite II is a sample-based acoustic guitar virtual instrument for Windows and Mac OS based VST/AU plugin hosts. It sounds very nice and uses a very low amount of available CPU resources, which is even more noticeable when loading multiple instances of the plugin in the same project. If you need a simple and easy to use virtual acoustic guitar for your DAW, look no further!
More info: Ample Guitar M Lite II (265 MB download size, RAR archive, 32-bit & 64-bit VSTi/AUi/RTAS/AAX plugin format for Windows & Mac OS X)
Quite possibly the simplest virtual FM synthesizer in existence, XM2 (developed by Music-Society forum member LazyDog) is a great starting point for users who would like to learn about frequency modulation synthesis and its basic principles. Providing all the basic features of a 2-operator FM synthesizer and pairing them up with a low-pass filter module, the plugin is very easy to operate and won’t make your head spin like most FM synths out there.
On the negative side, XM2 comes with a very small number of factory presets and also requires you to be a registered Music-Society forum member in order to get the download link. The registration process is completely free, though, and totally worth the effort if you’re looking for a decent little FM synthesizer for Windows.
More info: XM2 (1.01 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit VSTi plugin format for Windows, made with SynthEdit)
Noizefield was very active this year, having released four interesting EDM oriented freeware synthesizers. Our favorite one is 4 Tune, a well-designed and nice sounding VA synthesizer featuring four oscillators, two multi-mode filter slots with over a dozen filter types, four LFOs, a built-in chorus effect and a handy 9-slot modulation matrix. The oscillator section features 58 different waveform types, with pulse-width modulation, ring modulation and frequency modulation controls for each oscillator. With so much firepower in the OSC section, generating those metallic sounding mid-range heavy leads and bass patches is a piece of cake for 4 Tune.
More info: 4 Tune (3.53 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit VSTi plugin format for Windows, made with FlowStone)
SUPER-7 is a simple virtual instrument designed for emulating the legendary Supersaw waveform which was first introduced by Roland in their JP-8000 hardware synthesizer. CFA-Sound’s freebie instrument is as simple as a subtractive synthesizer can possibly be, featuring one (Supersaw) oscillator, one low-pass filter and a pair of envelopes. The big question is, does the Supersaw waveform in SUPER-7 sound any good? Well, it does, especially when you turn on the “high quality” mode (which will also increase the CPU usage a bit). Of course, no one expects it to be a 1:1 recreation of the original oscillator, but the sound is reasonably close.
The coolest thing about SUPER-7, though, is its simplicity. With such a lightweight feature set, you’re forced to think out of the box, so to speak. And this is very useful for developing one’s synth programming skills. You’ll be surprised by how much fun one can actually have with a minimal synthesizer such as SUPER-7.
More info: SUPER-7 (3.4 MB download size, 7ZIP archive, 32-bit VSTi plugin format for Windows, made with SynthEdit)
Genobazz R is a nifty little monophonic bass module by Tek’it Audio, featuring eight different waveforms, eight filter types and a set of 50 factory presets. It is mostly suitable for generating those classic Roland TB-303 style acid basslines, but you can also use it for a variety of other electronic bass patches. The instrument is easy to use and handy to have at your disposal if you don’t want to fire up a big synth every time you need a simple bass sound.
More info: Genobazz R (6.1 MB download size, EXE installer, 32-bit VSTi plugin format for Windows, made with SynthEdit)
P/Nes 8-Bit Monster is a powerful chiptune instrument inspired by the 8-bit sound of the Nintendo Entertainment System gaming console. The oscillators sound quite authentic and the plugin is certainly capable of recreating those lovely old school video game sounds. Unfortunately, it is also a bit of a CPU hog and the user interface is absolutely huge. Nevertheless, P/Nes 8-Bit Monster is still one of our favorite freeware instruments released this year.
More info: P/Nes 8-Bit Monster (12.8 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit VSTi plugin format for Windows, made with SynthEdit)
Free VST Utilities
The coolest freeware utility plugin this year was 4U Blind Test, an incredibly useful tool to have around for when you can’t make up your mind about an important mixing and/or mastering decision. The free version of the plugin can be used to compare up to three tracks by playing them in random order, allowing the user to rate each track before revealing the track names. The test can be repeated several times, in which case the average rating for each track will be calculated automatically.
4U Blind Test also includes a couple bonus features to make the test setup as easy and foolproof as possible. The most useful of these additional features is the loudness analysis functionality which can be used to automatically adjust the volume of each track. Finally, the plugin features a fully resizable user interface, which is always a nice bonus.
More info: 4U Blind Test (6.41 MB download size for online installer, EXE installer, 32-bit & 64-bit VST/VST3/AU/AAX/RTAS plugin format for Windows & Mac)
MiGiC basically turns your guitar into a polyphonic MIDI controller. Nuff said, right? It gets even better, though. Technically a commercial plugin, MiGiC is currently in beta. Now, here’s the thing – everyone who tests the free beta and contacts the developer with some valuable info about the plugin’s performance and/or a bug will get the final version of the plugin (including future updates) for free. Awesome!
More info: MiGiC (1.17 MB download size, EXE installer, 32-bit & 64-bit VST/AU plugin format for Windows & Mac OS X)
Chordz is a handy utility plugin that maps full chords to a single MIDI note. This can be useful in a variety of scenarios, for example as an aid for beginner keyboard players, or as a simple solution for playing chords on a small 25-key MIDI controller, or even a MIDI drum pad. The chords can be easily customized to create inversions and other custom voicings. Also, a chord suggestion feature is included to help with the creation of chord progressions.
More info: Chordz (4.9 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit & 64-bit VST plugin format for Windows)
Don’t let the name fool you, Pecheneg Tremolo is way more than just a simple tremolo effect. This great little freeware plugin by PechenegFX can also work as an auto pan utility, as well as a simple tool for faking the side-chain compression pumping effect. It is very user friendly thanks to the nicely laid out user interface, with easy to understand controls and a very helpful waveform display in the upper-right corner.
More info: Pecheneg Tremolo (7.6 MB download size, RAR archive, 32-bit & 64-bit VST/AU plugin format for Windows & Mac OS)
dpMeter is an excellent multi-channel audio level metering utility with support for RMS, EBU R128 and true peak measurement. It can also record the metering results and export them as automation data for use in the host application, which can be helpful for automatic gain riding.
More info: dpMeter (1.42 MB download size, EXE installer, 32-bit & 64-bit VST/AU/RTAS plugin format for Windows and Mac OS)
Although its main purpose is to auto-mute the talkback microphone channel in a DAW, Muteomatic is capable of handling several other useful automation tasks. For instance, it can be used to automatically mute long-tail reverbs and delays as soon as you stop the playback. The setup process could hardly be more straightforward than it already is: load Muteomatic on your master channel and you’re pretty much good to go! A simple life hack such as this can really help with delaying ear fatigue during long mixing sessions.
More info: Muteomatic (2.8 MB download size, EXE installer, 32-bit & 64-bit VST/AU/RTAS/AAX plugin formats for Windows & Mac OS)
By taking advantage of the Haas effect, Haa5 by Apex Audio Technologies can turn mono audio signals into stereo, as well as widen the stereo width of signals that are already stereo.The effect sounds really nice on guitars, backing vocals and keyboards. The plugin is offered on a pay what you want basis, meaning that you can enter $0 as the price if you want to download it for free from the developer’s website.
More info: Haa5 (5.4 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit & 64-bit VST/AU plugin format for Windows & Mac OS X)
Deharsh is a simple utility designed for smoothing out the top end of the frequency spectrum in a mix. The plugin combines EQ processing and subtle tube saturation to warm up the audio signal on the input and remove any unpleasant and harsh frequencies. The single-knob user interface makes Deharsh very easy to use, but also not very flexible, which is why the results will vary greatly depending on the audio material at hand. The plugin can operate in stereo and mid/side modes.
More info: DeHarsh (3.1 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit VST plugin format for Windows, made with SynthEdit)
We love experimenting with beat slicer effects and fx_cutter is among the cooler ones we’ve tried. This is a probability-based slicer, in the sense that you can not re-arrange the slices manually. Instead, the user sets a probability value based on which fx_cutter will re-arrange the processed loop. In practice, the plugin works really well and you can get some really cool variations of the same loop if you let the effect run for a while (of course, you should record the playback in order to use the beat sliced versions of the loop later on).
More info: fx_cutter (332 KB download size, DLL file, 32-bit VST plugin format for Windows, 64-bit version could be released soon)
As the final entry in this year’s list, we’ve decided to include this interesting sound design tool which emulates the Doppler effect. Although this kind of effect could be emulated in most digital audio workstations with a bit of cleverly applied automation, Doppler Dome makes the whole procedure a lot less complicated. You get to control the volume, pitch and panning of the processed signal, which is more than enough for creating all sorts of transition and riser SFX, as well as simple tremolo and auto-pan effects.
More info: Doppler Dome (1.45 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit & 64-bit VST plugin format for Windows, a Mac version is announced for release in near future)
As a little bonus, here are several plugins that almost made it into our Top 50 selection. These are all really neat plugins, which is why we simply couldn’t resist including them in the article anyway.
La Petite Excite is a freeware exciter effect by Fine Cut Bodies. It is useful for adding clarity and focus in the higher frequencies, but do keep in mind that you will need to be very careful when using it on more than a few elements in a mix. The overall effect can sound very harsh if you overdo it.
Ochre Free is an analog style equalizer based on Acustica-Audio’s dynamic impulse response capturing technique. This is their most polished freeware plugin so far and it sounds very nice and warm, especially if you use broad and subtle boosts to enhance the audio signal on the input.
8kut 2 is a simple but useful filter effect which is mostly suitable for use in live performances and for DJing. The plugin is designed for quick and easy removal of a certain frequency range.
This year’s list was the hardest one to create so far, since we’ve seen so many new freeware VST plugins that were equally worthy of praise, especially on the FX front. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to decide which plugin is “the best” in a certain category while remaining entirely objective. With that in mind, please understand the list above as a roundup of high quality VST plugins from 2015, and not a competitive comparison that intends to say which plugin is better, or “the best”. Our #1 ranked plugin could easily be your #10 and vice versa. It’s all down to the user’s personal preference and workflow habits.
While compiling the list, an interesting thing we’ve noticed is how a different category of VST plugins seems to be popular among the developers each year. Last year there were so many freeware amp sims that we had to make a separate list just for them. This year, we’ve seen an unusually large amount of distortion and bitcrusher effects. It will be interesting to see which type of effect will be the most popular in 2016.
And that’s all we had for you this year! We hope you liked our selection and that you’ll put some of these instruments and effects to good use in your studio, or on stage. If you have any suggestions and tips on how we could improve this year’s list, you’re more than welcome to leave your comments below. Also, please share this page with your friends if you find it useful!
Before you go, take a look at our main freeware VST plugins directory and the previous two yearly roundups below if you haven’t done so already:
Enjoy using this year’s freebies, have fun making music and always keep your VST plugins folder nicely organized and tidy. Thanks for reading BPB! :)