What is the best free midi player

The best freeware synthesizers 2020

free synth plugins and instruments

What are the best sound generators for Mac and PC?

There are tons of free synthesizer plug-ins out there, and now many of them sound really good! The plug-in folder is quickly full of synths that you ultimately don't use because they lack that certain something. You can discuss which are the best. However, there are some plug-ins that stand out from the crowd and should therefore not be missing on any music computer - especially since they are all free for Mac and Windows.

Basically: almost all manufacturers of free plugins have placed a "Donate" button on their websites. If you like a plugin, if you use it every day, it is more than fair to support a plugin manufacturer with a donation or by buying one of their paid plugins. To be fair, we only have one free plug-in from each manufacturer in the list, but some have a whole range of free synths in their program, so rummage through the respective pages from time to time. On the technical side, I would like to point out to all MacOS Catalina users that, especially in the freeware area, plugins often stay on old versions for a very long time and that the Mac versions of some plugins may not run on your system.

You can find even more freeware synthesizers for Mac and PC in our big special.

1. U-He Podolski

Yes, the synthesizer was always called like the Cologne soccer prince. And since 2005 it has been distributed for years as a supplement to a then important magazine from Cologne, the founder of which is probably not by chance a big fan of 1. FC Köln. So the naming should be explained and we now come to the synth itself. After a general overhaul by Urs Heckmann, it is now freeware together with a new soundbank from Howard Scarr and can be downloaded for free on the U-He website.

Die-hard synth fans will quickly realize that Podolski is no ordinary synthesizer. The usual oscillators are missing. The sound is created with a comb filter.

Actually, Podolski is a stripped-down version of FilterscapeVA with only one virtual-analog oscillator. This sawtooth oscillator can generate all possible waveforms through PWM, which creates a huge sound bandwidth. The equipment also includes an arpeggiator as well as a delay and a chorus / flanger. Podolski sounds very independent and not at all like any hardware emulation. Incidentally, it should be mentioned that with Zebralette, TyrellN6 and Beatzille and others there are a number of other great-sounding freeware plugins at u-He.

You can download the plug-in from this link.

November 2nd Audio Surge

In the test, we really liked “Surge”, which is why the wavetable synthesizer should definitely be on this list. You read it correctly: Wavetable synthesizer, free of charge. So if you are interested in the sounds and possibilities of Serum or Massive, but you would like to test it first, “Surge” is highly recommended. The plugin offers an almost outrageous number of functions (MPE-capable, 3 oscillators, FM) and sounds (over 1100) for a freeware.

At the top left you can switch back and forth between two “scenes” A and B, that is, create variants of a sound. You can also place two different sounds on different areas of the keyboard, control two sounds via two different MIDI channels or even superimpose them using "Dual".

Developer Claes Johnson develops the synth under an open source license, which means that willing supporters can participate in the development of the plugin. As a result, for example, “Surge” is now also available as a module in the modular synthesizer “VCV Rack” mentioned above. You can also participate in the plugin as a designer or tester.

You can download the plug-in from this link.

3. TAL NoiseMaker

The "noisemaker" is a bit reminiscent of an old Roland SH-1 with Moog controls and a bit of color. But the up to 6-voice polyphonic Noize Maker from Togu Audio Line has a lot to offer: 2 oscillators, sub-oscillator, 2 LFOs, filter with 11 variants, ring modulator, various effects including reverb, delay and bit crusher ... and if you get lost in the parameters, there is also a panic button! But the best thing about this improved version of the TAL Elek7tro is the sound!

Classic: The TAL NoiseMaker is older, but still top.

If you only step through the first factory presets, which are all monophonic, you will get the powerful virtual-analogue pressure of this little monster, but not even half of the possibilities actually available. The Noize Maker invites you to lend a hand yourself. In order not to cause visual chaos, you can only call up two of the four sections at a time in the GUI. This is sometimes a bit tricky because you can't see some parameters, but it's still better than displaying all parameters on one screen, which doesn't have to be better (see Dexed). Noize Maker has long been established and should not be missing in any synthesizer plug-in collection!

You can download the plug-in from this link.

4. Cherry Audio Voltage Modular 2

Cherry Audio recently released version 2 of their modular synth "Voltage Modular" and made the mini-version "Nucleus" available free of charge as part of the global lockdown. Sure, the top dog in the dense modular synthesizer field is VCV Rack, but as long as the freeware is not available as a plug-in version or with an updated connection to DAWs, “Voltage Modular 2 Nucleus” can rightly be the best free modular -Synth titled.

Since the large number of cabling can sometimes make a patch confusing, Voltage Modular offers the option of hiding the cables or showing them only in a shadowy way. This way it is not easy to get lost in larger patches.

If you are mistaken when you start to discover that the instrument does not emit a sound despite MIDI input and a loaded preset, patience is advised. When starting for the first time, all the modules have to be reloaded via the active Internet connection, which takes a moment. And then the instrument sounds extremely analog. And offers an excellent introduction to the world of cable walls and flashing lights that make the hearts of modular synth aficionados beat faster.

You can download the plug-in from this link.

5. Braincontrol Tunefish4

Tunefish4 does not swim in oil and does not come in a can. Rather, this virtual-analog freeware synth is a very good sounding representative of its kind with many effects and a very tidy GUI. With the four separate filters that can be switched on in all combinations (lowpass, highpass, bandpass and notch), you can do a lot on your own.

Braincontrol Tunefish4

Two LFOs, two envelopes and lots of stackable effects, including a formant section, and a modulation matrix make this polyphonic freeware (up to 16 voices) a versatile synth that has a good chance of being used continuously in the setup. The tonal range is demonstrated very nicely by the included presets. From the hands-up sawtooth sound to wide strings and fat basses to wonderfully electronic drums, everything is available here. And there is still plenty of room for your own sounds. An installation is definitely worth it!

You can download the plug-in from this link.

6. Full Bucket Music FBVC Vocoder

Full Bucket Music offers a variety of free instruments, in addition to the FBVC presented here, an extraordinarily good sounding vocoder based on the legendary Korg VC-10 (Kraftwerk, Electric Light Orchestra) vocoder, all of which also emulate instruments and effects from Korg . Programmer Björn Arlt seems to have a passion for Korg, this can (and should) be supported with a small donation via the "Donate" button. “FBVC” has 31 presets and a retro look that will make the hearts of all Kraftwerk fans open.

Click on the inconspicuous little circle at the bottom right to open the detailed view of FBVC. Settings can be made here for the width, frequency range and volume of all 20 bands.

Using a vocoder plug-in is not always easy, depending on the DAW, as the end result depends on an audio signal and MIDI notes. In Ableton Live, for example, you have to load “FBVC” as an audio effect on an audio track including recording and then load the “External Instrument” on a second MIDI track, in which you then route the MIDI notes to the “FBVC”. In Logic Pro you load “FBVC” as a “MIDI controlled effect” in a software instrument track and then loop in the audio signal via the sidechain.

You can download the plug-in from this link.

7. PG-8X

Martin Lüders' PG-8X is an excellent emulation of the Roland JX-8P analog synthesizer. You don't have to say much more about it, because the sound of the plug-in hits the bull's eye and sounds more "analog" to my ears than most software synths.

The PG-8X is based on the Roland JX-8P.

The interface is visually pleasing and easy to use. Version 2.0 has just been released, in which the PG-8X is polyphonic with 12 voices. Also good: JX-8P patches can be imported and exported as SysEx data. Definitely to be recommended! The only downer: So far there is no AU version. But that can still change!

You can download the plug-in from this link.

8. Futucraft Kairatune

The color scheme of Kairatune somehow reminds me of the movie "Ghost in the Shell" - namely the anime version from 1995, not this new-fangled real-life version. What looks like a Yamaha device with a few watts too much on the lights quickly turns out to be a powerful synth for the production of electronic (dance) music. Manufacturer Futucraft himself writes that Kairatune does not want to be an “all-in-one” synth, and he is absolutely right about that.

Futucraft Kairatune

Monophonic, powerful and with a master-level control that goes up to +24 dB: You can blow up almost any studio monitor. The freeware synth uses a bit too much CPU for my taste, but it doesn't want to be used on all tracks. For cutting leads, nasty basses and electronic bleeps, however, it is exactly the right sound generator.

You can download the plug-in from this link.

9. Matt Tytel helmet

Matt Tytel's helmet looks chic, clear and modern at first glance. The GUI is large, tidy and in a professional-looking dark gray. And hey: Has any Linux user actually read this list up to this point? This is your synth, because it is not only available for OS X and Windows! Helm is equipped with everything a polyphonic, subtractive VA synth needs: 2 oscillators, a sub-OSC and a noise OSC - all controllable via a mixer.

Helm is an excellent VA synth.

3 envelopes, which are set via sliders but are displayed as a classic curve, 3 LFOs, step sequencer and arpeggiator as well as stutter and formant effects plus the classic delay, reverb and distortion. All of this ensures that the helmet not only looks chic, but also sounds great. The supplied presets alone show a huge range, which makes you want to get started with the sound design yourself. Helm is still in the beta phase, but it is already very mature and completely ready for use as a plug-in or standalone version. Others bring something like version 2.0 ... Definitely try it, even if Helm regularly asks for a donation. It is not necessary, but not wrong with this synth!

You can download the plug-in from this link.

10.2getheraudio Cheeze Machine 2

"Back by popular demand" - back because too popular. 2getheraudio had actually given up the further development of their freeware synth "Cheeze Machine" in order to devote themselves to their commercial products. Version 1 was published in 2010, then nothing was heard for a long time, but the fan base grew steadily. Then two years ago a completely revised version was published. We liked it very much in the test, you will like the sound too.

The three buttons "Double", "Octave" and "Sub" can be used to activate additional oscillator waves, making the sound wider.

The retro look and the controls reduced to the bare essentials are a very good introduction for synthesizer newbies. Few controls, lots of sound. And with some of the pad sounds, the plug-in sounds so smooth and creamy that it can almost be compared to the large analog emulations from Arturia, u-He and Native Instruments. And that for free.

You can download the plug-in from this link.