These are the best free VST plugins released in 2017! We went through every news article we posted this year, analyzed your comments, and compiled a list of this year’s finest VST plugin freeware.
Before you continue reading, we want to make it clear that these plugins were released in the past twelve months. We have separate articles for plugins from 2016, 2015, etc. For a the all-time best free VST plugins, visit our constantly updated free VST plugins directory.
The VST plugins listed below are sorted into five categories: instruments (10 entries), effects (20 entries), utilities (10 entries), guitar effects (6 entries), and plugin hosts (4 entries), making our Top 50 picks. We ordered the plugins according to a combination our own preference and your opinions posted as comments on BPB, but don’t take the rankings too seriously. We do it mostly for fun. The main purpose of these aritcles is to round up all of the best freeware VST plugins for each year, without explicitely claiming that a particular plugin is the best (after all, there can be only one). That said, enjoy the rest of the article and feel free to post a comment if you have any suggestions or tips!
Best Free VST Instruments
This part of the list covers the best free virtual instrument VST plugins of 2017. We’ve seen a couple of excellent virtual analog synth releases this year, along with some exciting granular stuff, and an excellent mono synth as well.
1. FB-3300 by Full Bucket Music (Windows, macOS)
Full Bucket Music released four brand new virtual synthesizers in 2017, along with a freeware delay effect and two updated synthesizers. The most impressive of the bunch was FB-3300, a detailed emulation of the KORG PS-3300 hardware synthesizer. This thing is an absolute beast of a VA synth, sporting a semi-modular layout with 48-voice polyphony, 48 voltage controlled oscillators, 48 resonant filters, and 48 envelopes.
But FB-3300’s synthesis engine is only half the story. Unlike the majority of virtual synthesizers on the market, the FB-3300 captures the sonic character of vintage analog hardware and successfully translates it into the digital domain. If you’re looking for a truly versatile VA synth that sounds like the real deal, FB-3300 is the one to check out.
Adding to the robust feature set of the hardware KORG PS-3300 synthesizer, the FB-3300 also comes with a built-in patch manager and MIDI support. The plugin includes a set of 62 factory presets to help new users get started with exploring its sonic capabilities. But with such a remarkable synthesis engine, who would want to waste time browsing presets? Btw, if you get stuck with any part of the interface, check out the included user manual – it’s very detailed and well-written.
The only minor drawback is the interface size. The GUI, although nicely designed, is a bit too large to use on lower-resolution screens, yet the labels might be a bit too small (for some users) to see on higher-resolution screens. Other than that, the FB-3300 is a top notch freeware virtual instrument and one of the absolute best free VST plugins released in 2017.
2. PolyGAS by Vasily Makarov (Windows)
PolyGAS (short for Polyphonic Granular Advanced Synthesizer) is a polyphonic granular synthesizer for Windows. At its core, PolyGAS is an advanced granular sampler packed with a powerful synthesis engine that is hard to come by elsewhere in the freeware world. The instrument is 32-note polyphonic and capable of loading external WAV/AIFF files for use as the sound source. The loaded samples are passed through the feature-packed granular engine with 18 envelopes, 11 filter types, 11 distortion types, built-in reverb and delay effects, microtuning, and parameter randomization.
The true synthesis power of PolyGAS is unleashed once you start experimenting with its modulation capabilities. The instrument features 40-point envelopes which can be freely adjusted to almost any curve shape and used to modulate a wide range of parameters, including the filters, tuning, amplitude, etc. All of this is packed in a user-friendly interface that’s easy to grasp, despite the synth’s versatility. PolyGAS is constantly updated to improve stability and performance in different host applications on Windows. The only big drawback is the lack of compatibility with digital audio workstations on macOS.
3. Fathom Mono by Seaweed Audio (Windows, macOS)
Fathom Mono includes the complete synthesis engine from the paid Fathom Pro version, and it packs quite a bit of punch for a monophonic synthesizer. Fully modular in design, up to twenty components can be patched together in real-time using a simple drag-and-drop mechanic – paired with the intelligent and uncluttered user interface, it makes sound design a breeze.
The choice of components to patch together is large, with no less than five oscillator modules, 30 different filters, an unlimited number of modulation sources (as many as your CPU can handle, anyway), and custom waveform import in WAV format. The wavetable and wave draw oscillators open a world of sound design possibilities and the filters of well above average quality. Fathom Mono offers a vast range of sounds, though obviously limited to monophonic types like leads, bass, sound effects, and drones. It is one of our favorite virtual instruments released this year.
4. VK-1 Viking Synthesizer by Blamsoft (Windows, macOS)
VK-1 Viking Synthesizer was first introduced as a Reason Extension a couple of years ago and as an iOS app a bit more recently. But in 2017, Windows users finally got the chance to use Blamsoft’s detailed Moog Voyager emulation as a VST plugin in their favorite DAW software. And more importantly, unlike its predecessors, the VST plugin version of VK-1 Viking Synthesizer is offered on a pay what you want basis with the free download option.
As a Moog Voyager clone, VK-1 does a fantastic job of emulating its hardware counterpart’s architecture and features. The plugin is less successful at emulating Voyager’s signature tone, though, especially in the filter section. However, as a package, it is a very enjoyable synth to use and also capable of delivering some top-notch results.
Download it completely free of charge from Blamsoft’s website and consider supporting its developers with a donation if you use the instrument frequently.
UPDATE: This instrument is no longer free! A PayPal donation is required to access the download link.
Download VK-1 Viking Synthesizer (No longer free.)
5. Seismic by Syntonica (macOS)
Seismic is a macOS-only virtual modular synthesizer with eight different nodes that can be assigned to the oscillators, ADSR envelopes, LFOs, and filters. Each node has three different waveforms and said nodes could be blended in untypical ways that would be difficult, if not impossible to accomplish on a more traditional synth.
A wide range of sounds can be produced using Seismic, ranging from thick pads to leads, noises, and more. There is a learning curve to it, though, due to some rather exotic-sounding parameters like twist, torsion, norm, and suspend. It’s up to you to play around with these and figure out what they do to your sounds. As an experimental, deep synth with modular design and capabilities, Seismic certainly holds its own.
6. Cloudrum by Ample Sound (Windows, macOS)
Ample Percussion Cloudrum is a sample-based steel tongue drum instrument featuring four different articulations (Open, Mute, Opened Release, Muted Release) and two microphone positions with stereo and mono modes for each one. The sample content is streamed in DFD (direct from disk) mode to ensure better RAM performance.
The user interface looks clean and modern, with the sampled instrument represented on the left and tone adjustment controls on the right. The user can adjust the volume and solo/mute the body and ambient microphones. It is also possible to adjust the volume of the synthesized tone layer, the master output volume, and the ADSR volume envelope. Cloudrum features a built-in preset manager and a doubling mode which plays different samples in the left and right channels for a wider stereo effect.
7. BD-808 & BD-909 by Synsonic (Windows, macOS)
BD-808 and BD-909 are freeware kick drum synthesizers in VST and AU plugin formats. But as their names suggest, these aren’t just any kick drum synthesizers. The two plugins were designed to emulate the bass drum sounds of Roland’s legendary TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines which became the staple of electronic music. One very important thing to note is that these plugins are not sample-based. Instead, the sounds are generated internally, emulating the synthesis engine or Roland’s drum machine classics. As stated by Synsonic, the two instruments are based on a “detailed analysis of the original 808 and 909 bass drum circuits”.
Synsonic’s bass drum synthesizers are very good at what they do, delivering authentic sounding 808 and 909 kicks. What’s even better is that both instruments can be played chromatically, meaning that one can easily use the 808 kick as a melodic bassline instrument in a track. Using the 808 sample as the sound source for the bassline is a well-known technique, but using an actual 808 synthesizer rather than a sample results in a cleaner sound. Highly recommended for anyone looking for authentic TR-808 and TR-909 sounds.
8. Little Spiral Generator by Soundemote (Windows, macOS)
Little Spiral Generator is a synthesizer that takes inspiration from Oscilloscope Music, a project where oscillators and oscilloscopes generate spectacular visuals. The synth is unlike most of its kind, featuring controls that may feel alien to those familiar primarily with standard subtractive synthesis.
While learning your ways with Little Spiral Generator takes some time, it’s all worth it, because the instrument is very entertaining and capable of producing some wicked, experimental sounds. Besides, it comes with a hearty number of presets to let you get a taste for how it sounds and help you figure out its workings. This freebie is excellent for getting into some deep, engaging synthesis and exploring strange, unusual electronic sounds. A must for synthesizer geeks!
9. SyndtSphere by Klevgrand (Windows, macOS)
SyndtSphere is an inspiring sp here-shaped synthesizer where preset selection and parameter morphing is accomplished by rotating a 3D sphere. As far as user interfaces go, Klevgrand’s synth is very innovative and inspiring. Thankfully, the sound is on par, too. The synthesizer features 70 preset sounds to get you started, and by engaging in spherical morphing, you are likely to discover plenty more on your own.
For extra character, it’s possible to kick in the built-in delay, too. The effect has mix, time, feedback, and stereo swap parameters which is plenty to tinker with! Furthermore, SyndtSphere can work in polyphonic or legato modes with portamento. An inspiring and fun instrument, Klevgrand’s creation earns its rightful place in this year’s list.
10. Syntronik FREE by IK Multimedia (Windows, macOS)
Released in July this year, Syntronik FREE is the basic free version of IK Multimedia’s sample-based virtual synthesizer. Whereas the full version of the software features over 2,000 presets from 38 deeply sampled hardware synthesizers, Syntronik FREE is limited to 50 presets. However, those 50 included presets aren’t limited in any way, meaning that you can use the full power of Syntronik’s sample editing and playback engine to tweak the provided patches to your liking. This includes adjusting the filter cutoff and resonance, tweaking the envelopes, changing the oscillators, applying internall effects, and more.
The free version of Syntronik is not the kind of instrument we’d recommend to a seasoned sound designer who is looking for a versatile virtual synthesizer to unleash their programming skills. However, it is a brilliant choice for a beginner producer or a composer who needs an affordable (or in this case free) library of classic synthesizer sounds to add to their music. Syntronik Free is just that, a great source of popular synth patches that are ready to play and also editable to some extent thanks to the instrument’s user-friendly interface.
Honorable Mentions – Instruments
PAPU by SocaLabs – This free emulation of Nintendo Gameboy’s sound chip is ideal for anyone making chiptunes with software tools or looking to add some video game-inspired sounds to their productions. PAPU recreates the two square channels and the single noise channel with remarkable authenticity, giving you the Nintendo sound at a minuscule price in terms of CPU hit. Also, each channel has an AR envelope for modulation, with the two square channels having pulse width, pitch, and fine tune controls. The first channel can be modulated further with a pitch envelope that has sweep speed and depth controls. So there are plenty of possibilities for synthesis, despite the original hardware’s simplicity. Speaking of simplicity, the user interface is very clean and easy to get around, even if a tad barebones. There’s also a real-time waveform display and a basic patch manager for user-made presets. Enjoy these classic sounds!
Drum Machine by 99Sounds/SampleScience – Drum Machine is a simple drum rompler developed by SampleScience and based on a free drum sample pack by 99Sounds. The plugin features eight drum sample slots, each with individual volume and pan controls. The drum channels can also be routed to separate outputs for further processing inside the DAW. Also included are global pan and volume controls, note velocity range adjustments, and an LFO for pitch modulation.
Best Free VST Effects
2017 was quite a fruitful year when it comes to freeware VST effect releases. There were almost too many to fit on the list. After quite of bit of tinkering and a few hard decisions, we managed to cut it download to twenty best freeware effects which are listed below.
1. Ambient Reverb by Vasily Makarov (Windows)
Ambient Reverb is a superb-sounding reverb effect designed for use in ambient music. Capable of simulating huge spaces with up to 100 seconds of decay time, Ambient Reverb was tailor-made for creating lush, larger-than-life tones. And if 100 seconds isn’t long enough, the Freeze button can be used to simulate a reverb that goes on forever.
Apart from its great sound and epic size, Ambient Reverb also stands out as a relatively CPU-efficient VST plugin. Considering the sound quality on offer, the CPU usage is lower than expected, and won’t hinder the overall performance of your DAW.
The effect is available for download as a free VST plugin for digital audio workstations on Windows (both 32-bit and 64-bit DAWs are supported). Host applications on macOS aren’t supported.
2. Unlimited by Sonic Anomaly (Windows)
Unlimited is one of the absolute best freeware maximizer/limiter VST plugins on the market. Capable of processing stereo tracks and 5.1 surround sound, it is a versatile tool suitable for a variety of limiting tasks, from music production to audio mastering, broadcast, and digital cinema mastering. Also, Unlimited features RMS meters and an ITU-R BS.1770 compliant loudness meter for output monitoring. The plugin automatically adjusts to the type of audio signal on the input, reducing the CPU consumption when processing stereo material.
The interface is simple but offers enough features to put the user in total control over the limiting process. Along with the standard Threshold, Release, and Output (output volume) control parameters found in most other maximizer plugins, Unlimited adds the Character slider for adjusting the aggressiveness of the limiting algorithm and the Weight parameter which sets the threshold offset for different parts of the signal. The plugin can also work as a limiter (as opposed to a maximizer) when Classic Mode is turned on.
3. Effects Bundle By Dead Duck Software (Windows)
One of the biggest releases this year was Dead Duck Software’s epic collection of 24 (!) freeware VST plugin effects that dropped virtually out of nowhere in May 2017. This bundle was a strong contender for the #1 spot in the VST effects category, but we decided to give a slight advantage to Ambient Reverb and Unlimited because those two plugins are amazing at what they do. The free effects by Dead Duck Software, great as they are, are more on the bread and butter side of things.
That said, if you’re a beginner music producer running a Windows-based digital audio workstation, you’re in luck. This free FX bundle covers everything you need to get started with producing music on your PC, from compressors and EQs to reverbs, delays, and various utilities to make mixing easier. The included effects are well-made, stable, easy on the CPU, and in some cases well above the average quality expected from a freeware plugin.
4. Tube Saturator Vintage by Wave Arts (Windows, macOS)
Tube Saturator isn’t exactly a plugin released in 2017 (it was first introduced back in 2009, priced at $149.95), but it became freeware in June this year and was renamed to Tube Saturator Vintage (to differentiate it from Tube Saturator 2 which costs $99). And what a piece of freeware it is! The code and the features remained the same as they were before the conversion to freeware, meaning that this isn’t feature-limited or a lightweight version of paid nope software. In other words, it’s a plugin that used to cost $149.95 which you can now download completely free of charge.
So, where’s the catch? Well, when it comes to sound quality, Tube Saturator Vintage is still a fantastic saturator. Its algorithm is based on a detailed emulation of a dual 12AX7 triode preamp which sounds fantastic. The only problem is that the plugin is a bit of a CPU hog, consuming around 20% of available resources on our test machine (tested on a single CPU core of our i7-powered machine). That’s not necessarily a problem if you’re using a single instance of the plugin in your project but might hurt the overall performance if you use the plugin on multiple channels. On the other hand, if sound quality is your primary concern, you should definitely add this freebie to your VST plugin arsenal.
5. Ribs by Eugene Yakshin (Windows, macOS)
Ribs is an advanced granular effect in VST plugin format for Windows and macOS. Due to its complexity and somewhat unusual workflow, this granular tool is not for the faint of heart. But in the right hands, Ribs is an extremely powerful sound design tool.
The plugin splits the input signal into grains and stores them in its internal buffer for further processing. There’s plenty you can do to transform the processed audio signal at this point, from changing its pitch and length, to completely rearranging its content into something new. However, to get the most Ribs, one should understand its controls and features. Thankfully, the developer posted an in-depth video tutorial a couple of months after the initial release, providing a helpful guide for new users. Another neat option is turning on the tooltips (click the question mark icon on the GUI) which explain the functionality of every control parameter.
6. Graillon 2 Free by Auburn Sounds (Windows, macOS)
Graillon 2 Free is an excellent free auto-tune alternative in VST and AU plugin formats for PC and Mac. Essentially a lightweight freeware version of the Graillon 2 ($29 value) plugin by Auburn Sounds, Graillon 2 Free is still a very capable plugin and one that we’d highly recommend as your next go-to pitch correction tool. Despite lacking some of the features found in the paid product, the most important functions, pitch shifter and pitch correction, are included and fully functional.
The thing we loved about Graillon 2 Free is how easy it is to use as an auto-tune alternative. The pitch correction workflow is simple and effective. It can be used for over-the-top auto-tune you hear in modern pop and urban music, or for subtle correction of vocal recordings. The user interface is very intuitive, which is why Graillon 2 Free is the perfect choice for beginners and seasoned producers alike.
7. bx_subfilter by Plugin Alliance (Windows, macOS)
If Q3D becomes your secret weapon for boosting the top end of a mix, then bx_subfilter will do the same for the all-important sub bass. Developed by Brainworx and released by Plugin Alliance, is a neat freeware utility for putting the low end of your mix under control and boosting the bass without masking other instruments.
The plugin uses a resonant low-pass filter to boost the specified bass frequency while cleaning up the extreme low end to improve clarity. It is a 2-in-1 tool for handling the sub-bass content, and it is equally effective and easy to use. If you’re looking for something more streamlined, check out the SK10 plugin by Wavesfactory which is another neat tool for processing bass and kick drum sounds.
8. MAX1 by BeatSkillz (Windows, macOS)
MAX1 is an automatic compression tool where an auto-release algorithm shapes the compressor’s response according to the characteristics of the processed signal. For an extra simple workflow, MAX1 features only threshold, attack, and output volume knobs, in addition to an optional soft clipper and peak/RMS switches. Simply add the plug-in to a channel that needs compression/limiting, adjust its threshold value to specify the compression amount, and set the attack time depending on how much transient impact you want.
MAX1 adds serious loudness and punch to percussion and bass tracks, in particular. The maximizer can be pushed hard without destroying the signal, and the soft clipper on the output aids in beefing up the sound further without generating digital artifacts. All things considered, MAX1 is a well-made maximizer that belongs in everyone’s plug-in arsenal.
9. Riviera by Nuspace Audio (Windows)
Riviera is a hybrid reverb VST plug-in where both algorithmic reverberation and convolution modeling are utilized to create the sound. The reverb is very customizable and powerful, yet with a reasonable CPU load. Utilizing a combination of algorithms and impulse responses, Riviera generates some unique reverbs. Its main parameters are called “Vooms” – a combination of volume and room. There are five vooms, and each relates to a different style of reverberation like spring, plate, room, etc. The vooms have separate controls for reflections, size, and offset.
Combining the vooms makes for unorthodox reverb sounds. There are also pan, width, and wet/dry controls, as well as a global delay time control. The frequency decay control lets users alter decay times of different frequencies, which is useful for preventing reverb build-ups and clipping. Overall, Riviera is a unique reverb plugin for the price of free, and although getting around the user interface takes some work, the results certainly do pay off.
10. HOFA SYSTEM Basic by HOFA-Plugins (Windows, macOS)
Based on the paid HOFA SYSTEM 2, the free Basic version is a modular multi-effect processor with 22 modules that can be hooked together in various ways. The list of available FX modules includes delay, reverb, compression, EQ, distortion, panning, gate, and more. Additional processing options include multi-band processing, parallel processing, and mid/side splitting.
Compared to the paid version, there are some limitations. For example, the compressor module has fixed ratio and release controls, and the EQ module only features a single band, to name a few. HOFA SYSTEM Basic is still a very powerful mixing and sound design tool, though. The trick is to use the available FX module to create your own fully customized FX units.
11. Angle by HoRNet (Windows, macOS)
Angle is a tilt equalizer whose pivot frequency is fixed at 650 Hz and cannot be changed. In addition to shifting the low and high end of the incoming signal, Angle features an analog processing mode that’s derived from HoRNet’s AnalogStage plug-in and its OpAmp analog emulation.
By engaging the analog mode, additional harmonics are added to your audio for a nicely enhanced and warmed-up result. Angle also features internal oversampling to keep aliasing to a minimum. All in all, HoRNet’s tilt eq is a neat mixing tool to have if you want to quickly alter the tone of a recording or mix.
12. VHL-3C by Black Rooster Audio (Windows, macOS)
VHL-3C is almost too simple to be called an effect. It’s more of a mixing utility, but either way, it’s very good at what it does. And that is cleaning up the extreme low and high end of an audio track or an entire mix, using circuit-based emulation of the classic Pultec passive filter design. It features two buttery smooth transparent filters ranging from 50 Hz to 2 kHz (high-pass) and from 1.5 kHz to 15 kHz (low-pass).
The performance hit is very low, but each filter can be turned off when not in use to save even more CPU cycles. The interface is well-designed and clean looking. All in all, a neat little tool for removing unwanted frequency content from your mix.
13. SimpleSide by Armando Montanez (Windows, macOS)
SimpleSide is a freeware volume automation plug-in designed to simulate the distinct pumping effect of sidechain compression. Although that is SimpleSide’s forte, the plugin is capable of some complex volume automation, too. The volume curve can be easily adjusted to any shape using the built-in wave editor. The only other control on the user interface is the timing knob, which goes from 1/32 all the way to 16/1.
Compared to other free plug-ins with similar functionality, SimpleSide feels very responsive, is bug-free, and uses very little CPU. We are very fond of this plug-in as a simple freeware alternative to paid products like KickStart and VolumeShaper.
14. FreeMod by Audiority (Windows, macOS)
FreeMod does stereo phase modulation with an interface split into four sections: phase modulation, LFO, envelope (both modulating the PM rate), and volume controls. There are ten modulation shapes (including a random modulation source) that can be assigned as LFO and phase modulation waveforms. The envelope offers simple attack/release controls to modulate the phase modulation rate with.
All in all, FreeMod is capable of some unusual modulation effects with its ability to turn a calm-sounding pad, for example, into a lively modulated sequence or completely change a sound’s timbre. The tool is also useful as a plain tremolo effect, though we’d rather use a simpler tool to achieve that. A couple of other interesting modulation effects released this year are OSL Chorus and JBR Chorus.
15. Regressif by Inear Display (Windows, macOS)
If audio degradation is your thing, check out Inear Display’s Regressif. It’s a multi-effect which offers a multi-mode filter, distortion, a bitcrusher, and a sample rate reducer – all of the audio obliteration essentials. These can be modulated by an LFO and parameter randomization lets you come up with some brutally chaotic parameter arrangements.
While Regressif’s modular synth-inspired interface looks pretty cool, its fixed size is definitely too small for comfortable use on a high-resolution screen. It’s an excellent download if you enjoy mangling audio, though.
16. Phasis by Native Instruments (Windows, macOS)
Phasis is a true stereo freeware phaser effect that goes after the sounds of classic units from the past while combining them with new and innovative features. For example, the Spread dial changes the spacing between the phaser’s notches, which makes for a thicker sound, similar to a doubler effect. Meanwhile, the Ultra switch activates extremely high modulation rates that make frequency modulation sounds possible.
With a selection of factory presets to get you started, a resizable user interface, and A/B testing functionality, Phasis is a great freebie that Native Instruments released just in time for the holiday season. Don’t miss it if you need a decent-sounding, great-looking phaser!
17. FAT Filter by SoundSpot (Windows, macOS)
As basic as filter plug-ins get, FAT Filter aims to recreate a smooth-sounding analog filter, designed for frequency clean-up and doing filter sweeps. The only available controls are cutoff and resonance, and there are two modes – high and low-pass.
There are no additional features like drive, modulation, slope adjustment, or input/output gain. It’s a basic tool, but it gets the job done and the CPU hit always stays very low. We wouldn’t say FAT Filter sounds like an actual analog filter, but it does sound decent enough for frequent use.
18. SpaceScraper by Rebel Audio (Windows)
SpaceScraper is a fairly unique distortion effect – its parameters are controlled by the input signal, which makes for an intriguing non-linear sound. There are seven distortion modes, each giving out a different coloration of the output signal. Furthermore, the analog-style high-pass filter sounds surprisingly nice!
By experimenting with distortion modes and the Rise/Fall parameters, one can achieve versatile and incredible-sounding saturation and distortion. However, the plug-in’s learning curve is steep for the user interface isn’t very intuitive and there is no user manual. So we’d recommend SpaceScraper for patient power users and sound designers.
19. ComBear by W.A. Production (Windows, macOS)
Remember the Sausage Fattener Dada Life’s saturation and compression tool? ComBear is a free alternative which relies on parallel compression to obtain a similar effect of fattening up audio.
While Sausage Fattener seems to apply a lot more processing behind the scenes, adding saturation and multi-band compression, ComBear is a simpler tool that gets the job done. The more you push the compression dial, the louder the signal on the output. Asso, the bear on the GUI will look angrier at higher compression settings, which is a fun nod to Sausage Fattener and its animated sausage GUI.
20. Free Clip by Venn Audio (Windows, macOS)
Free Clip is a soft clipper effect in VST and AU plugin formats for PC and Mac. Hidden underneath the simple user interface are multiple soft clipping alogorithms which can be used to achieve different types of saturation. Useful both as a simple tool to control the dynamics of your audio and as a versatile saturation effect, Free Clip is free to download and use with optional donations.
Honorable Mentions – Effects
Airwindows – Chris, the DSP genius behind Airwindows, released literally dozens of high-quality mixing tools this year. While lacking any sort of GUI design, Airwindows plugins are cream of the crop when it comes to audio quality and worfklow. Many thanks to everyone who reminded us about this in the comments section!
Best Free VST Utilities
1. HY-SEQ16x3 by HY-Plugins (Windows, macOS)
HY-Plugins released six different freeware plugins in 2017, including two fantastic sequencers, the HY-SEQ16x3 and the HY-RPE Free (both plugins also have paid versions available with additional features). It was hard to choose which one should be ranked as the #1 freeware utility plugin this year, but we opted for HY-SEQ16x3 in the end, simply because it’s a more traditional step sequencer which might be a better fit for a wider user base. But if you like your sequencers super-advanced and flexible, make sure to give HY-RPE Free a try as well. That thing is insanely flexible!
HY-SEQ16x3 is a 16-step sequencer with note, velocity, gate, mute, randomize and probability controls for each step. It also features global randomization for the entire sequence (with separate randomize buttons for note values, velocity, gate, etc.), sequence playback direction adjustment (forward, backward, bounce and random), sequence length and the starting step, as well as the global scale setting.
The user interface is clean in fully resizable to fit any screen size. The plugin also comes with a built-in preset manager for storing your settings for later use, undo/redo functionality, and MIDI channel selection.
2. ToolChain by RS-MET (Windows, macOS)
ToolChain is a synthesizer, an effect, and a utility at the same time. We’re including it in this category because of its superb metering audio analysis capabilities. The plugin features a scope, a multi-mode analyzer with real-time spectrum analysis, as well RS-MET’s excellent EngineerFilter and EchoLab effects.
All of ToolChain’s tools were originally released as individual VST plugins, some of them even commercial (EchoLab was priced at €59). They are now bundled in ToolChain which is available as a 64-bit VST/AU plugin for PC and Mac.
3. Utility by Venn Audio (Windows, macOS)
What better candidate for the best utility VST plugin category than a plugin called just that? Utility by Venn Audio is a freeware channel strip which features an array of controls and meters that can come in handy during a mix session.
Along with the gain, pan, and stereo width adjustments, you’re also getting individual pan controls for the left and right channel, a pair of filters (high-pass and low-pass), mute/solo buttons, and input/output monitoring. The CPU hit is very low, making Utility the perfect addition to your mixing kit. The same developer released two more interesting free VST plugins this year, the Quick-Haas stereo tool and the Free Clip soft clipper.
4. 2BusControl by MAAT (Windows, macOS)
2BusControl is a freeware mixing and mastering tool designed for monitoring the master bus. The plugin features stereo balance and correlation meters, along with a stereo flip switch, channel solo buttons, a stereo-to-mono control, and a stereo difference monitoring switch.
The developers at MAAT optimized 2BusControl’s balance and correlation meters to better match the way we hear sounds. This added precision can help in situations when your monitoring setup doesn’t provide the best representation of the actual stereo properties of the mix at hand. Another thing worth noting is that MAAT is formed by a group of seasoned audio mastering and engineering professionals, so chances are those guys knew what they were doing while developing a VST plugin for precise stereo monitoring.
5. ISOL8 by TBProAudio (Windows, macOS)
ISOL8 is a mix monitoring tool designed to keep an eye on the different frequency regions of a mix. All five frequency bands can be adjusted and soloed or muted individually so you are able to know exactly what’s going on in a particular section of your mix or master.
For example, you can isolate the mid frequency range inside the left audio channel only, and go on listening to it. There’s also filter bypass, an output volume control, and volume attenuation for more precise monitoring. The plug-in is pleasantly streamlined and easy to use. It’s very good that such a comprehensive and useful tool is available for free.
6. MScontrol by Tek’it Audio (Windows, macOS)
MScontrol is a mid/side processing tool with the ability to fine-tune an existing mid-side signal and convert it to stereo. The plug-in has a built-in preset manager, undo/redo functionality, and supports full MIDI automation. The mid and side channels can be adjusted separately, with mute, phase flip, pan, and volume controls available for each.
All in all, MScontrol is one of the best freeware mid/side processing plug-ins out there, even if it doesn’t really deliver anything new or innovative.
7. MFreeformPhase by Melda Production (Windows, macOS)
This tool works for tweaking the phase of the individual frequencies of an audio track with the goal of removing phasing issues in a mix. MFreeformPhase has an XY display with the frequency graph positioned horizontally and the phase graph vertically.The user can freely draw frequency responses on the graph, with the change in phase represented by a number.
The plug-in has extensive metering options and can handle both mono and stereo tracks, as well as up to eight channels of surround audio. MFreeFormPhase can be particularly useful on multi-track recordings with multiple microphones or instrument layers, where phase and comb filtering issues may arise.
8. mvMeter by TBProAudio (Windows, macOS)
mvMeter is a metering tool which looks like an analog VU meter but offers a choice between several metering modes. It features basic peak metering, RMS measurement, EBU R128, PPM, and, of course, VU metering. For something that looks so simple, mvMeter is actually quite a versatile little audio measurement tool.
Btw, mvMeter wasn’t the only freeware VU meter plugin released this year. Waves released their own VU Meter Plugin (now $39) as this year’s Black Friday freebie. As it turns out, that freebie was somewhat of a disappointment for users who were expecting something more interesting from such a well-established developer.
9. Spectrum by Ben/Schulz (Windows, macOS)
This plug-in is a free virtual spectrum analyzer and visualizer that handles up to four audio channels. It features a real-time spectrum display, which is helpful for analysis and mixing in a non-ideal listening environment. Spectrum’s main controls let you adjust the spectrograph detail, slow down and smooth out the analysis, and get a complete overview of a track.
A fairly unique feature is the ability to route multiple channels to the analyzer, which is helpful when you want to see how different instruments affect the overall mix behavior. Competent as the plug-in is, there is an issue where it adds 6 dB of unwanted gain to any track it’s loaded on, at least in the version we tested. You will have to keep this in mind and compensate for it when using Spectrum.
10. Snapshot by Non-Lethal Applications (Windows, macOS)
Many hardware compressors, synthesizers, and other outboard gear don’t have preset saving functionality. Music producers and audio engineers have, at least partially, remedied that problem by taking notes and writing down the settings on paper. Snapshot lets owners of hybrid software and hardware setups easily remember their outboard gear settings for each session by storing a photo of it within the DAW project itself.
Simply load Snapshot onto the relevant track and then load an image file (this could be a photo taken with your smartphone, a screenshot, or whatever else comes to mind). The plugin doesn’t introduce almost any CPU load and won’t affect your audio in any way. Very convenient!
Free Guitar FX VST Plugins
1. TH3 Free by Overloud (Windows, macOS)
There’s no doubt that the free edition of Overloud’s acclaimed TH3 amp sim software, available exclusively on Time+Space, is the best free guitar FX plugin of 2017. TH3 Free includes three guitar amp models, three cabinets, four effects, two microphone models, and a set of presets covering a variety of classic guitar sounds. The plugin sounds fantastic, thanks to the excellent TH3 engine, and is a versatile guitar processing tool despite the reduced feature set.
2. Cypress TT-15 by Black Rooster Audio (Windows, macOS)
Cypress TT-15 is an emulation of the Orange TT15 Tiny Terror guitar amp head. Black Rooster Audio used component-based circuit simulation to transform all the characteristics of the hardware amp into digital form. The plugin also features a 2×12 cabinet simulation which can be turned of if you prefer using a different cabinet simulation software. Cypress TT-15 works as a VST, AU, or AAX plugin on PC and Mac.
3. Greed Smasher by Mercuriall (Windows, macOS)
Greed Smasher is a virtual replica of the Mesa/Boogie Grid Slammer overdrive pedal. In addition to the bypass switch and tone/gain adjustment knobs, the plugin also features up to 4X oversampling and a mono/stereo switch on the input. As far as sound quality is concerned, Greed Smasher is an excellent emulation of the Grid Slammer stompbox, so it’s a good pick if you’re looking for a decent distortion plugin for processing your guitar recordings or any other audio for that matter.
4. ATKBassPreamp by Matthieu Brucher (Windows, macOS)
Virtual bass guitar amps are a bit hard to come by in the freeware VST plugin world, so ATKBassPreamp is a welcome addition to any bass guitarist’s gear arsenal. The plugin lacks any advanced features, and the control scheme is very simple, but the sound is on point. Available in VST, VST3 and AU plugin formats for PC and Mac.
5. Tone Deluxe by Lostin70’s (Windows, macOS)
Tone Deluxe is an emulation of the ECC83 and EL34 audio tube amplifiers. In addition to the basic guitar amp functionality, it features a built-in reverb effect and five different cabinet emulation models. A high-quality processing mode is also available, resulting in artifact-free distortion at the cost of increased CPU consumption.
6. Thermionik Serpent by Kazrog (Windows, macOS)
Thermionik Serpent emulates the Framus Cobra guitar amplifier in the form of a VST, AU, and AAX plugin for PC and Mac. The virtual amp sounds very good and seems to replicate the tonal characteristics of its hardware counterpart. The only not-so-great thing about it is the size of the installer which includes all other software by Kazrog, resulting in a somewhat larger download.
Best Free VST Hosts
1. Tracktion 6 by Tracktion Corporation (Windows, macOS)
No major surprises here – following the release of their brand new digital audio workstation called Waveform, the team at Tracktion Corporation unleashed the fantastic Tracktion 6 as a completely free DAW. It is the best free digital audio workstation you can download right now, period.
2. Element Free by Kushview (Windows, macOS)
Element Free is a free modular VST and AU plugin host for PC and Mac. The free version is a standalone application capable of loading third party plugins. The loaded plugins can be patched together like modules of a modular synthesizer, creating any possible combination you can come up with. The paid version can also work as a VST or AU plugin in other hosts.
3. vPlayer 2 by Digital Brain Instruments (Windows, macOS)
vPlayer 2 is a freeware standalone application capable of hosting up to eight effects in VST or AU plugin format. The app features four audio channels, each with two slots for loading plugins. vPlayer 2 can also record your performance as a WAV file. It works best as a simple plugin host for quick jams, although we also found it very useful as a testbed for trying out new VST plugins.
4. VCV Rack (Windows, macOS)
Wait, what? VCV Rack is one of the most amazing things released in 2017! How on Earth did it end up being the last entry on the list? Are you nuts?
While the above is completely true (that last part especially), the fact is that VCV Rack doesn’t yet work with VST or AU plugin hosts. It does, however, host its own format of plugins, which is why we decided to bend the rules a bit and included in the section of this list that’s dedicated to plugin hosts. The developers are planning to release the VST/AU Bridge plugin for VCV Rack in late January 2018, so there’s no denying that this amazing piece of software will rank very high the next year’s edition of this article.
So those were our 50 picks for the best free VST plugins of 2017. Leave your thoughts in the comments section below and feel free to suggest your own top picks. If you need more software for your studio, take a look at our main Free VST Plugins directory.
This article was brought to you by the entire BPB team, with special thanks to Lyubomir Dobrev for his extraordinary contribution! Please consider sharing this article with your friends if you found it useful. Thank you all for reading BPB!