Nowadays you don’t need expensive plugins to make electronic music, as the gap between paid-for VSTs and those available for free has narrowed considerably. From Synths to Compressors, Reverbs to full Orchestras, it’s just incredible what you can get for zero money outlay.
In this post I’m looking at ten of the best free music production VST plugins available in 2021. These are all plugins that I use regularly in my productions, and I'm willing to bet you’ll use them in yours, because they are all super high quality:
Super Massive by Valhalla;
Vocal Doubler by IZotope;
TyrellN6 by U-He;
BBC Symphony Orchestra Discover by Spitfire Audio;
Vital by Vital Audio;
Vinyl by IZotope;
OTT by Xfer Records;
MOscilloscope by Melda Production;
Komplete Start by Native Instruments;
Fresh Air by Slate Digital.
1) Super Massive by Valhalla
Valhalla are renown for creating reasonably priced, high quality audio processing effects, and although completely free, Super Massive is certainly no exception. It's an algorithmic reverb described by Sean Costello, the founder of Valhalla plugins, as being “designed to blow your mind and your music to new levels of consciousness”. Great for sound design, it excels in creating luscious waves of reverb and otherworldly echoes. It has seven modes named after astronomical constellations, together with an eighth ‘Great Annihilator’ mode, with each mode having its own distinct character or sound.
Like all Valhalla products, the user interface is clear and easy to use. I found that varying the controls whilst the sound is being processed can lead to some really unique effects that can be used to add interest to your tracks. High quality, versatile and completely free – What’s not to love? Super Massive by Valhalla is available here for both Mac and Windows.
2) Vocal Doubler by IZotope
Vocal Doubler is a free plug-in aimed at enhancing your vocal mixes with a natural sounding doubling effect, adding intensity and emotion to your choruses and vocal hooks. The UI consists of an interactive visualisation of the effect and is intuitive and well thought out. A Separation Control increases the perceived width of the doubled vocals, whilst a Variation Control adds some subtle differences to each channel to create a more lifelike sound. Both controls can be blended to taste using a single slider. Lastly, a separate Dry/Wet control changes the amount that the effect is applied. It’s actually quite simple to get decent sounding results with a minimum amount of effort.
I’ve included a before and after example below, together with the full track mix, so you can get an idea of how it sounds. Vocal Doubler by Izotope is available here for both Mac and Windows.
3) Tyrell N6 by U-He
Calling all Bladerunner synth fans! Inspired by the Yamaha CS-80 soundtrack to the film, the Tyrell N6 is a collaboration between renown synth developer U-He and Amazona.de. The attractive and highly intuitive interface just screams retro synth! The presets cover a wide range of analogue sounds, from emulations of classic synths such as the Juno to the Oberheim OB-Xa. They even have a preset called ‘Bladerunner’ which when combined with a generous amount of reverb always brings a smile to my face. Great for Synthwave style tracks and much more besides, the TyrellN6 by U-He is available here for both Mac and Windows.
Check out the Demo below for an idea of what this free synth is capable of:
4) BBC Symphony Orchestra Discover – Spitfire Audio
This next free plugin is an absolute steal. Fancy writing music with the world-famous BBC Symphony Orchestra? For absolutely nothing? Ok then...
Whilst Spitfire Audio gives you the option to buy this plugin immediately for £49, if you don’t mind waiting 14 days then you can get it for free after filling out a form on their website. It's well worth the wait as you get a full 33 instrument orchestra at your fingertips, and as it's a collaboration between the BBC symphony Orchestra and Spitfire Labs, you know the quality of the sampled instruments will be superb. The download itself comes in at only 175 Mb which just seems insane for the content you are getting. Available instruments include Strings, Brass, Woodwind and Percussion, all housed within a dedicated plugin with an attractive, easy to use interface. The BBC Symphony Orchestra Discover VST is available here for both Mac and Windows. Check out the video below for more details:
5) Vital by Vital Audio
Vital is a three oscillator spectral warping wavetable synth from developer Matt Tytel. You can buy it in several different tiers, however the Basic version is completely free and comes with 75 presets and 25 wavetables to get you started. If you choose to upgrade there is also a Plus version for $25 with 250 presets and 70 wavetables, a Pro version for $80 with 400+ presets, 150 wavetables, and lastly a subscription model for $5 a month which gives you additional perks.
Vital is a very visual synth. The User Interface is well laid out and very easy to navigate, and various animations give you clear feedback on what is happening when you make changes to a control or oscillator modulator in realtime. Waveforms can also be viewed in 3D which is a great feature, as is the drag and drop modulation workflow.
The stand-out feature for me is the fact that you can use your own samples as a seed for creating custom wavetables, or even create wavetables from scratch using the built-in editor. You even have the option to create new wavetables from a spoken phrase or text! Vital also has an in-depth modulation matrix, with eight effects, including chorus, phaser, reverb and delay.
Despite only owning the Basic version of the synth, I've been really impressed so far by what Vital has to offer, and have even been using it in preference to my previous go-to synth, Serum. I suggest that like me, you start by downloading the free version and give it a try to see what it's capable of, and then upgrade to one of the other packages once you've been suitably impressed. Vital is available here for both PC and Mac. Checkout the video below for more details:
6) Vinyl by IZotope
Described by IZotope as the "Ultimate Lo-Fi Weapon", the Vinyl plugin has been around for many years, however it recently got an update to its User Interface, and now (ironically) looks much more modern than it's previous version.
Vinyl allows the producer to add old skool vibes to their tracks, adding character in the form of electrical or mechanical hiss, dust, scratch, warp and even spin-down effects. A useful Year Control also lets you dial your track back to how it would have sounded in yesteryear. It's not just the UI that's changed in this update either. A new 'Lofi' button has been added which adds a bit-crushing effect to the sound and emulates the artefacts produced by vintage samplers.
This is a very useful plugin for anyone, but is damn near essential if you are a Lo-Fi producer. IZotope Vinyl is available here for both PC and Mac.
7) OTT by Xfer Records
OTT is so popular that its overuse has become an internet meme. At it's heart it's a recreation of an Ableton multi-band upwards/downwards compressor preset used by many dubstep and electro producers back in the day.
It's a really fast and simple way to get individual tracks to stand-out, by instantly adding punch and making them brighter and clearer in the mix. I regularly use it on synths, and sometimes just a touch on my drum-buss. If you're a producer with some years experience then I'm sure you already own this plugin. If not then OTT by Xfer records can be downloaded here for both Mac and Windows.
8) MOscilloscope by Melda Production
A few weeks ago I wrote an article on the BasicWavez.com blog, compiling the Best Free Oscilloscope VST Plugins. MOscilloscope by Melda Productions came out head and shoulders above the competition due to it's great UI and built in pitch detector. Check out that article if you want to know how I came to this conclusion, and how the competition stacked up. It's worth repeating here though that MOscilloscope is just one plugin within the MFreeFXBundle. They seem like a really impressive bundle of free effects and tools, which I plan to review in detail in a later post. MOscilloscope is available here for both Mac and Windows.
9) Komplete Start by Native Instruments
Komplete Start by Native Instruments is not just one VST, but a free bundle of several high-quality plugins. You get Guitar Rig Player, six synth plugins, a selection of sampled instruments, drums and effect plugins. You also get Kontakt Player, an application that hosts Native Instrument’s sampled instruments and is also compatible with a large amount of free sampled instruments from 3rd parties. It's an awesome bundle of plugins that you should definitely grab. Available here for both Mac and Windows
10) Fresh Air by Slate Digital
This easy-to-use plugin is a dynamic high frequency processor that uses just two knobs to breathe life into your tracks. It can help you remove muddiness from your vocals, give your snares and hi-hats a lift, and can even be used on your master channel to give clarity to your mix. The interface is clear and easy to use, with several pre-sets available to get you started. Note that although the plugin is free, you do need to have an ILok account and an internet connection in order to use. Fresh Air by Slate Digital is available here for both Mac and PC.
I hope you enjoyed this list and found the information useful. I think you'll agree that paying for Music Production plugins in 2021 is not essential, as there are so many fantastic free alternatives. I would like to add though that it's always good to support plugin developers where your budget allows.
Did I miss anything? - If so then let me know in the comments so I can add it to the list.
Have a great day, and happy producing!