Best Free VSTs 2019
Something for nothing is always welcome when penniless musicians are trying to up their game, find new sounds or discover possible tonal changes. Well, there are a lot of freeware VST plug-ins out there in both the area of effects and virtual instruments. And free doesn’t have to mean dodgy, low-quality or rubbish. OK, sometimes the GUIs can be less than gorgeous and the manuals a bit rough and ready but there are plenty that offer great potential for absolutely no cash from you. Plus, it’s important to remember that someone has poured a lot of time and effort into these things and you get to use them for free!
So, here’s my pick of the best free VST effects and VST instruments currently knocking around for you to download and use without spending a dime.
Preview our picks for the best free VSTs available in 2019:
- Hornet Angle
- Vocal Doubler
- Tarabia Distortion
- Spitfire Labs
- Beat DRMR
- Hora Music Pure Mono
- Full Bucket Music ModulAir
- Sampleson Electrix
Note: “VST” tends to refer to plug-ins running on the Windows platform but there are nearly always AU versions that can run on MacOS and often AAX version for Pro Tools. Some free plug-ins may ask you to register an email address.
Best Free VST Plug-ins of 2019
1. Hornet Angle
Tilt equalizers are some of the easiest and most gratifying ways to process audio. Rather than fussing about with parametrics or frequency ranges, a Tilt EQ pivots about a set frequency and either boosts the highs and reduces the lows, or the other way around depending on which way you tilt. You could see it as a see-saw that lets you balance the frequency range of your mix. The pivot frequency is set to 650Hz and turning the “Angle” knob to the right increases the high frequencies while turning it to the left increases the low frequencies. There’s a bit of analog emulation in there to thicken the sound and oversampling keeps digital artifacts at bay.
Angle is available in AU, VST, and AAX formats for 32 and 64-bit Windows and Mac computers.
Link to Website: www.hornetplug-ins.com
Compressors are always important when mixing. ComBear is a parallel compression plug-in, which means it blends the compressed signal back into the original signal for a bolder and more intense sound. Compressors can be complex affairs but that’s not the case here. You get a Compress knob and a Mix knob and that’s about it. You also get a visual assistant in the shape of the bear’s face. As you increase the compression, the bear gets grizzlier so you’ll know when you’ve pushed it too far.
Link to Website: waproductionsamples.com
3. Vocal Doubler
From plug-in masters iZotope comes Vocal Doubler. It’s designed to offer a natural and authentic doubling effect for vocals to add richness and depth. This is usually done through double tracking, where the vocalist sings another take alongside the existing one and you blend the two together. The small differences and imperfections create this pleasing doubling effect. This plug-in is very easy to use by simply interacting with the visualization. You drag the position around to affect the stereo field and to introduce variations. You are guided by percentage amounts of “Variation” and “Separation” as well as an “Amount” knob.
Vocal Doubler is up for Mac and Windows computers in AU, AAX, VST2, and VST3 formats.
Link to Website: www.izotope.com
ComBear is a parallel compression plug-in, which means it blends the compressed signal back into the original signal for a bolder and more intense sound. Compressors can be complex affairs but that’s not the case here. You get a Compress knob and a Mix knob and that’s about it. You also get a visual assistant in the shape of the bear’s face. As you increase the compression, the bear gets grizzlier so you’ll know when you’ve pushed it too far.
4. Tarabia Distortion
Unexpectedly colorful and cuddly Tarabia Distortion is a distortion plug-in with two algorithms. Firstly, there’s a heavy overdrive and secondly, a more mellow version based on a Yamaha 1980s synth distortion. In amongst the cute images, you’ll find a Distortion Amount, a Hard/Soft switch and a Dry/Wet knob. Use it on synths, use it on bass sounds or drive your kicks and snares with it.
Tarabia is available in VST and AU formats for Windows and Mac computers.
Link to Website: smaolab.org
Reverbs can be one of the most expensive single plug-ins to buy and they can vary enormously in terms of quality and features. EasyReverb offers a great quality space with an eclectic collection of features. It has an uncommon feature, which is called the Surface Selector. You can choose between smooth, waves, granulated, rippled, zigzag and rich zigzag. Each has its own algorithm and you have control over “accent,” which amplifies or decreases the specific features of the selected surface. Otherwise, you can choose from 8 different spaces and there are 8 different algorithms for stereo reflections. It’s not particularly stylish to look at but there’s a lot of reverb in here to get your teeth into.
EasyReverb is available in VST and AU formats for Windows and Mac computers.
Link to Website: vst.saschart.com
Best Free VST Instruments of 2019
For your ambient percussion needs, here’s a beautifully sampled Steel Tongue Drum. It has a range of three octaves and has been sampled with two microphone positions and in four different ways of playing. Each note uses up to 12 sample cycles, giving it a more natural sound. The sound is lovely, uplifting and authentic and somehow manages to combine metallic tones, earthiness, and wide-open spaces in its playing.
Link to Website: www.amplesound.net
2. Spitfire Labs
Spitfire Audio produce some of the deepest and most interesting orchestral libraries out there. Lately, they’ve taken to releasing small self-contained “Labs” — instrument libraries — for free. I imagine it’s in order to get you hooked into the quality of their instruments so that you’ll eventually pay for something. But in the meantime, we can all enjoy an increasing range of very cool VST instruments for free. So far there’s a “Soft Piano,” an ensemble of 14 string players in “Strings,” a kit of “Drums” played by Oliver Waton, an “Amplified Cello Quartet,” a vintage “Electric Piano,” an Andean guitar-like instrument call a “Charango,” and a “Choir.”
The interface is stripped down, gorgeous and simple with sliders for expression and dynamics and a big customizable knob that changes depending on the library. Soft Piano was the first one they released and this video explains just a tiny bit about the whole concept. You’d be an idiot not to have these on your system.
Link to Website: www.spitfireaudio.com
3. Beat DRMR
You can never have enough drum kits and so here are 178 sampled ones for you. Beat DRMR has more kits that you can poke a drum stick at. They’ve sampled analog kits, defeated kits, DrumBrute kits, AirBase kits, Modular kits, Synthetic, 808, 909 and many more besides. It has a total of 2,136 sounds. Each kit has up to 12 sounds which can be mixed, panned and have their attack and decay adjusted. There’s also a filter cutoff you can play with, some reverb and an LFO. It has a bunch of pads but you’re not really going to be using those unless you have a touch screen, although they look nice.
VST/AU plug-in for Windows and macOS.
Link to Website: www.kvraudio.com
4. Hora Music Pure Mono
Pure Mono is a good old fashioned virtual monosynth. It has everything you’d expect for a virtual analog synthesizer. It has two oscillators with wavefolding and morphing, two envelopes, two LFOs and a 4-mode filter section with overdrive. It’s clearly laid out and doesn’t overwhelm you with features. This one is for Windows only but will keep you in leads and basses for as long as you want.
Link to Website: gumroad.com
Beat DRMR has more kits that you can poke a drum stick at. They’ve sampled analog kits, defeated kits, DrumBrute kits, AirBase kits, Modular kits, Synthetic, 808, 909 and many more besides. It has a total of 2,136 sounds.
5. Full Bucket Music ModulAir
If you ever fancied getting into a bit of modular music-making then ModulAir could be just the ticket. The favorite free modular synth environment is VCV Rack but it’s not a VST plug-in (and so doesn’t feature in this list) so if you needed something a bit like that then this is for you. It can load up to 18 modules, which you can patch together in any way you choose. Rather than using virtual patch cables that get in the way of seeing the controls, they’ve gone for a minimalist approach of selecting sources and destinations from drop-down menus. You can build a patch using 31 modules covering all the synthesis types you’d expect to see. There are 6 oscillators covering the basic waveforms plus a wavetable and a spectral formant oscillator. The 4 filter types include ladder, Korg, comb, and resonators. Then there are envelopes and LFO’s S&H and ring modulation. Three different 8-step sequencers and a 4 channel 16-step trigger sequencer. It’s possible to pull out up to 64 notes of polyphony and all parameters are MIDI learnable.
Full Bucket Music confesses that it can be a bit flaky in places and may unexpectedly crash on you…but it’s so good to play with that it’s worth a little bit of risk.
Link to Website: www.fullbucket.de
6. Sampleson Electrix
1,200 hours went into developing and sampling this old piano. It turns out that this is an extremely rare Hohner Electra Piano T piano, as used by Led Zeppelin on tracks such as “Stairway to Heaven,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” “No Quarter” and “Down by the Seaside.” The Hohner Electra Piano T is described as being halfway between the Rhodes and Wurlitzer, sort of a dirtier, grittier little sister. There’s not a whole lot going on in terms of controls, knobs or buttons but underneath it used forks struck by hammers and then took the vibrations electronically through a transistorized amplifier. The result is a gritty and playful instrument that drips with vintage vibes and is notably different from the usual Rhodes and Wurlitzer VSTi’s we’re familiar with.
Link to Website: sampleson.com
Free Stuff Is Great
This is by no means an exhaustive list of freeware plug-ins; there are hundreds out there and more arriving all the time. Many of them are as awesome as the ones in this list, some of them are terrible, but all have been developed by someone wanting to give people access to tones and sounds for free. It’s amazing that they exist at all and I would encourage you to donate a few dollars to the people who do this, especially if you find yourself using their plug-ins in your own music.
Featured image via Spitfire Audio.
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