If you’re a music enthusiast or producer, you understand the importance of having the best VST plugins in your toolkit. With countless options out there, selecting the ideal ones can be daunting. In this article, we’ve curated a list of the top 20 VST plugins to elevate your sound and production game.
Choosing the best VST plugins is essential for quality sound. Omnisphere dominates as a top synth and sound design engine, while Serum excels in wavetable synthesis. CLA Vocals is the go-to for vocal processing. Nonetheless, one’s specific musical genre and needs play a key role in the ultimate selection.
Top 20 VST Plugins Reviews
Omnisphere by Spectrasonics: Ultimate Sound Design Powerhouse
Omnisphere stands as the magnum opus of virtual instruments, offering an expansive sound library and powerful synthesis capabilities. Its heart is the STEAM engine, which facilitates layering multiple sound sources, from organic recordings to intricate waveforms. Key features include a vast modulation matrix, granular synthesis, and an array of onboard effects. Whether crafting ethereal pads, thunderous basses, or otherworldly soundscapes, Omnisphere delivers unparalleled sonic depth. Ideal for composers, producers, and sound designers, it’s the quintessential tool for those seeking a limitless palette of sounds in a single plugin.
Kontakt by Native Instruments: Ultimate Sampler Workstation
Kontakt is the industry-standard sampler from Native Instruments, offering a versatile platform for musicians and producers alike. Its expansive library boasts a myriad of VST instruments, from orchestral ensembles to niche world instruments. Key features include a flexible and intuitive scripting system, allowing for deep customization of sounds, and an extensive VST effects section to further sculpt your tones. Use cases for the Kontakt VST plugin are nearly boundless. Whether you’re crafting a cinematic score requiring realistic string sections or producing a modern pop track in need of unique soundscapes, Kontakt’s vast library and its ability to host third-party sample libraries make it an indispensable tool in any music production setup.
Xfer Serum: Best Wavetable Synth
Serum, developed by Xfer Records, stands out as a cutting-edge wavetable synthesizer renowned for its crystalline sound quality and intuitive design. At its core, the Serum VST plugin allows users to craft and morph wavetables in real-time, offering unparalleled sound manipulation capabilities. Key features encompass a visually dynamic UX for wavetable editing, a vast array of high-quality filter types, and an effects rack boasting ten modulatable effects. Serum shines in electronic music production, where its use cases range from creating growling basses for dubstep, ethereal pads for trance, or intricate lead sounds for EDM. Its drag-and-drop modulation system further streamlines the sound design process, ensuring Serum remains both powerful and user-friendly for producers of all levels.
Labs by Spitfire Audio: Free Instruments Collection
Labs by Spitfire Audio is a treasure trove of high-quality instrument samples offered completely free of charge. This collection encompasses a wide range of sounds, from haunting choir ensembles to ethereal strings and beyond. One standout feature of Labs is its minimalist and user-friendly interface, which allows for quick tweaks without overwhelming the user. The use case for the Labs VST is vast; it’s perfect for budding composers on a budget or seasoned professionals seeking authentic instrument sounds for their mix. Whether you’re scoring a poignant film scene or layering atmospheric sounds in a chillout track, Labs provides an array of sonic textures that punch well above its weight, considering its price tag of zero dollars.
Keyscape by Spectrasonics: Premium Keyboard VST Collection
Keyscape stands as one of the most comprehensive piano VST and keyboard libraries in the market, meticulously crafted by the experts at Spectrasonics. Spanning over 500 acoustic and electric keyboard sounds, this collection captures the nuances and character of each instrument with unparalleled precision. Among its key features is the “Duo” mode, blending two instruments to create unique hybrid sounds. Additionally, its integration with Omnisphere offers extended sound design possibilities. The application for Keyscape are vast: from the hauntingly beautiful celeste tones suitable for cinematic scores to the iconic Rhodes sound for jazz and R&B. Whether you’re a producer, composer, or keyboardist, Keyscape offers a world-class palette of keyboard sounds that are both authentic and inspirational.
Strum GS-2 by Applied Acoustics Systems: Realistic Guitar Emulation
Strum GS-2, developed by Applied Acoustics Systems, is a masterclass in guitar VST emulation. This VST captures the authentic essence of both acoustic and electric guitars, offering unparalleled realism in the digital realm. Key features include an intuitive strumming engine, which mimics the nuanced techniques of real guitar playing, and an expansive sound bank, catering to various styles from flamenco to rock. Its MIDI loop library further aids in crafting convincing guitar parts with ease. Strum GS-2 finds its use in projects where recording a real guitar might be impractical or when seeking a specific timbre without extensive miking setups. Whether you’re producing a country ballad or an indie-pop anthem, Strum GS-2 ensures your guitar tracks resonate with authenticity and depth.
Trilian by Spectrasonics: Premier Bass Module
Trilian is Spectrasonics’ answer to the quest for the ultimate bass VST module. Harnessing a vast library, it encapsulates everything from the deep warmth of vintage electric basses to the punchy clarity of modern synth basses. A key feature of Trilian is its dynamic “True Staccato” system, which provides a realistic playing experience, capturing the nuances of fingered, picked, and slapped bass techniques. Its integration with Omnisphere further broadens the sound design horizon. Trilian is the go-to for producers and composers across genres; whether you’re laying down a groovy bassline for funk, designing low-end ambience for film scores, or dialing in a thumping 808 for hip-hop, Trilian delivers top-tier bass sounds with unrivaled authenticity and versatility.
Addictive Drums 2 by XLN Audio: Dynamic Drum Sounds
Addictive Drums 2, from the house of XLN Audio, is a powerhouse drum VST, delivering a comprehensive suite of meticulously sampled drums and cymbals. Its standout feature is the realistic room simulation, allowing producers to place drums in various acoustic environments, from tight studios to expansive halls. Coupled with an intuitive mixer and a plethora of onboard audio effects, crafting the perfect drum tone has never been easier. The application for Addictive Drums 2 spans genres; whether you’re programming a tight jazz groove, laying down rock beats, or crafting electronic percussion, its dynamic range ensures realism and punch. For producers and songwriters seeking studio-grade drum sounds without the hassle of miking and recording, Addictive Drums 2 is an undeniable asset.
Arcade by Output: Loop Synthesizer with Cloud Integration
Arcade by Output isn’t just another loop synth VST; it’s a transformative tool that redefines the boundaries of loop manipulation. Its most distinctive feature is cloud integration, ensuring users always have access to a fresh and ever-growing library of sounds. Within its intuitive interface, the Arcade VST plugin allows for deep loop customization, from pitch shifting to advanced modulation. Moreover, its “Kits” provide curated sets of loops, catering to various moods and genres. Whether you’re scoring a moody film sequence, crafting ambient textures, or seeking the perfect groove for a pop production, Arcade’s flexibility is unmatched. The seamless blend of cloud-based content with on-the-fly manipulation makes Arcade an innovative tool that’s essential for modern producers and sound designers.
Sylenth1 by LennarDigital: Virtual Analog Synthesizer
Sylenth1, crafted by LennarDigital, has long been celebrated as a stalwart in the virtual analog synthesizer realm. Its architecture, reminiscent of traditional analog synths, boasts four unison oscillators, producing rich and warm sounds that can cut through any mix. Key features include its crisp filters, robust modulation options, and a comprehensive effects section. The Sylenth1 VST plugin truly shines in electronic music genres, with its use cases ranging from creating thick basses in techno to shimmering leads in trance. Its user-friendly interface, combined with its sonic fidelity, makes it a favorite among both novices and seasoned producers. For those seeking the warmth of analog synths with the convenience of a digital workspace, Sylenth1 is a must-have tool.
Scarbee Rickenbacker Bass by Native Instruments: Authentic Rickenbacker Bass Emulation
Scarbee Rickenbacker Bass, a collaboration between Native Instruments and Scarbee, offers an impeccable emulation of the iconic Rickenbacker 4003 bass guitar. Known for its unmistakable punch and growl, this VST captures the essence of the real instrument in stunning detail. Its key features include an array of articulations, from palm mutes to harmonics, and a meticulously sampled signal path to ensure authentic tone. Producers aiming for the vintage rock sound or the jangle-pop vibe will find this tool indispensable. Whether you’re laying down a groove in a Beatles-esque track or seeking that classic rock foundation, the Scarbee Rickenbacker Bass delivers the characteristic sound of this legendary bass, blending seamlessly into any production.
Portal by Output: Granular FX Processor
Portal, conceived by Output, is a granular effects processor that pushes the boundaries of sound manipulation. At its core, the Portal VST dissects sound into tiny grains, allowing for radical transformations and ethereal soundscapes. Its standout feature is the visually arresting circular XY control, which intuitively shapes the granular synthesis in real-time. Paired with an extensive modulation system and a plethora of effects, the creative possibilities are endless. From turning simple guitar plucks into expansive ambient textures to morphing vocals into otherworldly pads, Portal’s application is vast and genre-defying. For producers and sound designers eager to explore uncharted sonic territories and add a unique texture to their projects, Portal is an unparalleled gem in the world of effects.
OTT by Xfer Records: Multiband Upward/Downward Compressor
OTT, a creation of Xfer Records, is a compact yet potent multiband compressor that has become an integral tool for many electronic music producers. Its name, an acronym for “Over The Top,” aptly describes its character, as it delivers an aggressive compression that brings out the nuances of any sound. The compressor operates both upward and downward, ensuring sounds are dynamically consistent yet full of life. Its simplicity, with just a few knobs for depth, time, and gain, belies its transformative power. Whether you’re looking to add clarity to synth leads, beef up drum loops, or give vocals that sought-after EDM sheen, the OTT VST plugin is the go-to. Its ability to make sounds “pop” in the mix while maintaining a punchy character has cemented its legendary status in modern music production.
Guitar Rig 6 by Native Instruments: Comprehensive Guitar Effects Suite
Guitar Rig 6 by Native Instruments is the ultimate guitar effects VST playground for guitarists and producers alike, offering a vast arsenal of effects, amplifiers, and cabinets. This latest iteration brings enhanced realism, capturing the nuances and character of iconic gear with impeccable detail. Key features include its modular drag-and-drop interface, allowing for limitless signal chain configurations, and the addition of new machine learning-driven models for unparalleled authenticity. From the growling distortion of a vintage tube amp to the spatial echoes of classic delay units, Guitar Rig 6 covers all bases. Whether you’re a guitarist seeking the perfect tone without a room full of gear or a producer aiming for a specific sound texture, this suite is a comprehensive solution for all things guitar and beyond.
CLA Vocals by Waves: All-In-One Vocal Processing Chain
CLA Vocals, a standout vocal VST and collaboration between Waves and the legendary mix engineer Chris Lord-Alge, is a one-stop solution for achieving professional vocal mixes. Designed with simplicity in mind, this plugin offers a curated selection of essential processing tools: dynamic EQ (equalizer), compression, reverb, and delay, all tailored to enhance vocals. What sets CLA Vocals apart is its signature presets, imbuing tracks with the characteristic warmth and clarity Lord-Alge is renowned for. Whether you’re aiming for a lush ballad vocal, an edgy rock shout, or a crisp pop lead, this plugin delivers with minimal fuss. For producers and engineers seeking that radio-ready vocal sound without diving deep into complex chains, CLA Vocals stands out as an invaluable tool in the mixing arsenal.
Antares Auto-Tune Pro: Industry-Standard Pitch Correction
Antares Auto-Tune Pro, a leading autotune VST, has long been the gold standard in pitch correction, seamlessly blending technology with artistry. Revered for its transparent sound quality, this plugin can subtly perfect pitch or transform vocals into the iconic “Auto-Tuned” effect heard in countless hits. Key features include its real-time pitch correction, advanced graph mode for meticulous tweaking, and classic mode for that renowned Auto-Tune 5 sound. Whether you’re fixing a slight pitch deviation in a ballad or crafting a robotic vocal for a trap track, Auto-Tune Pro delivers with precision. Its use has transcended genres, making it a staple in studios worldwide. For artists, producers, and engineers aiming for pitch-perfect vocals with an industry-approved touch, Antares Auto-Tune Pro is the undisputed champion.
Valhalla VintageVerb: Classic Reverb Emulations
Valhalla VintageVerb is a masterclass in reverb emulation, offering a nostalgic journey through the reverbs of yesteryears while packing a modern punch. This plugin meticulously captures the essence of vintage digital reverb units from the ’70s and ’80s, providing that distinct shimmer and warmth. Its standout features include a wide range of reverb algorithms, from dense rooms to expansive halls, and a color control that shifts between different eras of reverb sound. Whether you’re aiming to drench a synth in retro ambiance or provide a vocal track with a spacious, modern tail, VintageVerb adapts with finesse. For producers and sound designers who yearn for the character of classic reverbs with the flexibility of modern processing, Valhalla VintageVerb is an indispensable gem.
Decapitator by Soundtoys: Analog Saturation Modeler
Decapitator, a brainchild of Soundtoys, is not just another saturation tool; it’s a beastly harmonic generator that adds character and grit to any sound source. This plugin excels in emulating the warmth and drive of classic analog hardware, bringing sounds to life with its rich overtones and harmonics. A key feature is its ‘Punish’ knob, allowing users to dial in aggressive saturation or keep things subtle with just a hint of warmth. The five distinct saturation modes emulate different analog devices, offering a palette of tonal colors. Whether you’re aiming to give drums a biting edge, warm up a vocal, or add some growl to a bassline, Decapitator delivers with authority. For those seeking the magic of analog saturation in the digital realm, Decapitator is a must-have.
EchoBoy by Soundtoys: Versatile Delay Effect
EchoBoy is more than just a delay; it’s a journey through the annals of echo devices, presented with Soundtoys’ hallmark precision. Renowned for its versatility, EchoBoy offers a range of delay styles, from the warm tape echoes of vintage machines to the crisp repetitions of modern digital delays. Its distinctive feature is the variety of emulated echo devices, each bringing its unique character and coloration. Paired with an intuitive interface and a comprehensive modulation section, crafting rhythmic patterns or vast soundscapes becomes second nature. Whether you’re adding a subtle slapback to a rockabilly guitar, designing ambient textures, or syncing dub-inspired echoes to a reggae track, EchoBoy stands tall as a delay powerhouse. For producers and mix engineers, it’s the quintessential tool for all things echo, delay, and chorus.
Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor: Legendary Mastering Compression
The Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor captures the magic of the famed SSL 4000 G console, renowned for its punch and glue on countless hit records. This plugin emulation masterfully recreates the distinct character and tonal richness of its hardware counterpart. Key features include its transparent compression algorithms, auto fade capabilities, and a wide-ranging threshold for varied dynamics control. When applied to a mix bus or master, it instantly brings cohesion, making tracks feel unified and “finished.” From tightening up rock drums to giving pop mixes their radio-ready sheen, its applications are vast. For producers and mastering engineers aiming for that legendary SSL warmth and presence, the Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor remains an iconic tool in the audio realm.
Buying Guide: Navigating the World of VST Plugins
What is a VST Plugin?
A VST (Virtual Studio Technology) plugin, originally developed by Steinberg, is a software-based tool that emulates the sounds or effects of physical instruments and hardware. These plugins can be integrated into digital audio workstations (DAWs) to enhance and expand your music production capabilities.
Understanding Your Needs
Distinguishing between virtual instruments and effects
- Virtual Instruments: These are plugins designed to emulate the sound of instruments like pianos, guitars, drums, etc. Examples include Serum, Kontakt, and Keyscape.
- Effects: These alter or process the sound in various ways. They can include reverbs, delays, compressors, and more, like EchoBoy or the SSL G-Master Buss Compressor.
Identifying your genre and its specific requirements
Different genres have distinct sonic signatures. EDM might lean heavily on synthesizers and drum VSTs, while rock might emphasize guitar and drum plugins. Understanding your genre helps in selecting the right tools for the job.
Compatibility and System Requirements
Ensuring the plugin is compatible with your DAW
Not all plugins work with every DAW. It’s crucial to ensure that the VST plugin you’re eyeing is compatible with your specific DAW, be it Ableton Live, Pro Tools, FL Studio, or any other.
Checking system requirements for optimal performance
VST plugins, especially those that are more complex, can be demanding on your computer’s resources. It’s vital to check the system requirements of a plugin to ensure your computer can handle it without lag or crashes. Consider factors like RAM, CPU speed, and storage.
When diving into the VST world, budget plays a pivotal role. Plugins can range from free to several hundred dollars, and it’s essential to understand what you’re getting for your money.
Price Range: What you get at different prices
- Free VST Plugins: Many reputable companies offer free versions or entirely free plugins. These can be surprisingly high-quality, like Spitfire Audio’s Labs or Xfer’s OTT. They’re excellent for beginners or those on a tight budget.
- Mid-Range Plugins: These often provide a balance between quality and cost, offering professional-grade features without breaking the bank.
- Premium Plugins: High-end plugins, like those from Spectrasonics or Native Instruments, come with a hefty price tag but offer unparalleled sound quality, features, and support.
The value of some free Plugins vs. Paid ones
Free vs. Premium: While free plugins can be fantastic, premium downloads often offer more extensive sound libraries, better interfaces, and more regular updates. However, it’s always wise to gauge the value based on your needs.
Ease of Use and Learning Curve
User-Friendly Interfaces: A VST’s interface can make or break the user experience. Plugins with intuitive designs, clear labels, and logical layouts can significantly enhance workflow and creativity.
Tutorials and Community: The best plugins usually have a robust online community. This means plenty of tutorials, forums, and user-generated content that can help newcomers get to grips with the software faster.
Expandability and Updates
Value of Expansions and Updates: Some plugins, like Kontakt or Arcade, offer expansion packs or cloud-based libraries, ensuring you always have fresh sounds at your fingertips. Regular updates keep the plugin compatible with newer DAW versions and often bring new features or improvements.
Longevity and Current Sounds: Investing in plugins that continually evolve ensures that you always have access to the most up-to-date and trending sounds, keeping your productions relevant.
Frequency Asked Questions
What plugins do big producers use?
Big producers typically use a combination of industry-standard plugins and niche ones to craft their unique sound. Popular choices include Serum by Xfer Records for synthesis, Kontakt by Native Instruments for sampling, the Waves bundle for mixing and mastering, and Antares Auto-Tune for vocal processing. However, every producer has their favorites, and the best tool often depends on the specific project or genre.
Which DAW comes with the most plugins?
While most Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) come with a decent selection of stock plugins, Logic Pro X is often cited as offering an extensive range of high-quality instruments and effects out of the box. From synthesizers to samplers and a wide variety of mixing and mastering tools, Logic Pro X provides a comprehensive toolkit for music production without necessitating many additional purchases.
Is VST3 better than VST?
VST3 is the latest standard for VST plugins and comes with several improvements over the older VST format, including better performance, improved metering, and the ability for plugins to use resources only when they’re needed. This technology, first developed by Steinberg, has revolutionized the way we produce music today. While VST3 offers technical advancements, not all plugins or DAWs support it yet. It’s always best to check compatibility with your specific DAW.
How many plugins should I use?
The number of plugins you should use varies based on the project and the desired sound. It’s crucial to prioritize the song’s quality over the quantity of plugins. Often, less is more. Using too many plugins can overcomplicate the mix and lead to a cluttered sound. Focus on what serves the song best.
What plugins do I need to make music?
At a basic level, you’ll need instruments (synths, samplers), effects (reverb, delay, EQ (equalizer), compression), and possibly some mastering tools (limiter, stereo widener). However, the specific plugins you need depend on your genre and production style.
What is the best VST plugin for vocals?
While many excellent vocal plugins are available, Antares Auto-Tune Pro is often considered the industry standard for pitch correction. For all-in-one vocal processing, Waves’ CLA Vocals offers a comprehensive toolkit. However, the “best” often depends on the specific needs and desired sound of the producer.
What is the most stable VST host?
Stability often depends more on the user’s system and the specific plugins used than the host itself. However, DAWs like Ableton Live, Logic Pro X, and Pro Tools have reputations for stability and robust VST handling.