10 Best VST Plugins for Trap Beats

The signature sound of trap music can be boiled down to two essential components you’ll need to have: knowing how to engineer that sound, as well as having the right plugins to get it.

Of course it goes without saying that this is true about any genre of music, but as many of us may know, there are some plugins that the pros in the trap beat production world utilize as their day-to-day workhorses.

These are just some of the plugins we’ll investigate, some you may already recognize, other which may be new to you.

So let’s a take a look at what we think are the best VST plugins for trap beats!


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Xfer Serum

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Xfer Records Serum

Xfer’s Serum is a wavetable synthesizer that boasts of noticeably higher quality sound than most other synths in that category. It has an intuitive, visually-oriented interface that makes creating and editing sounds a lot more fun than typical wavetable synthesis. Serum also lets you get deep into sound design with the built-in wavetable editor, so dedicated tweakers will find plenty to sink their teeth into.

Basic specs and useful features

The built-in wavetable editor is one of Serum’s best features. It comes with several patches ready to go, but the ability to build your own wavetables lets you come up with a virtually endless array of custom sounds. Wavetables can consist of single-cycle waveforms, and even bits of audio cut out from files on your computer.

Of course, Serum also provides several options for tweaking the wavetables in many creatively interesting ways. You can morph between them, alter them with a draw tool, and shape them until they sound radically different from the originals.

Serum also has an extensive modulation system that lets you set up complex modulations via drag and drop connections. This is the key to unique evolving sounds that wouldn’t be possible with other synths.

User impressions

Browsing through Serum’s presets makes the quality of the sounds abundantly clear. It has a noticeable hi-fi quality that contrasts sharply with the gritty and grimy sounds normally associated with wavetable synthesis. This quality isn’t lost on many users, most of whom have no hesitation about using Serum for bass, lead, and support duties.

The ability to craft customs sounds makes Serum a popular choice among hardcore tweakers. There are certainly more than enough sounds onboard to come up with radio-ready trap productions. But those looking to go beyond tried and proven trap clichés will find plenty of sound-shaping options available.

Bottom-line

Serum has earned its place among the heavy-hitters of the plug-in synth world. It can stand proudly with Massive, Sylenth, and even Omnisphere. Although a wavetable synth might seem like an odd choice for an all-around powerhouse, Serum definitely fits the bill.


Reveal Sound Spire

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Reveal Sound Spire

On paper, Spire seems to be quite an impressive synth. A polyphonic synthesizer with a flexible architecture and extensive modulation capabilities, it is capable of cranking out an impressive array of sounds. But the beauty of the synth truly comes to the fore once you dig in and make full use of its features. In many ways, Spire represents the best of hardware and software synthesis.

Basic specs and useful features

Spire has four multimode oscillators, which can morph between classic, noise, FM, AMSync, and SawPWM waveforms on the fly. The quality of these oscillators is absolutely flawless, a testament to the high-quality DSP utilized in the synth.

Each oscillator can be thickened up with Spire’s unison engine, which lets you stack as many as nine voices on each. This is the key to those coveted supersaw/hypersaw sounds that continue to be mainstays on musical forms from trance to trap to EDM. You can even spread these voices out for ultra wide chords and octave lines.

The two filters are equally impressive. Covering a wide array of digital and emulated analog flavors, the filters have names such as “Perfecto”, “Infecto”, and “Acido”, giving you some idea of the sonic character of each.

Spire’s modulation features are as extensive as you could hope for in a modern synth. Four envelopes and four LFOs are controllable via the mod matrix, with which you can set up two sources and four destinations.

Spire even has two steppers and an arpeggiator, which are as easy to use as the rest of the synth’s other features. Rounding it out are a flexible effects processor and a dedicated multiband compressor and EQ.

User impressions

The clarity and sound quality are what impressed users the most about Spire. It is simply one of the best sounding synths currently available, rivaling even some hardware classics. The filters are especially thick and juicy, with warmth and squelch that many users compared favorably to legendary analog circuitry.

Some users did find Spire to be quite processor-intensive, but this is pretty much the case with any high-quality synth.

Bottom-line

If you are looking for a synth plug-in to handle all your lead, bass, chord, pad, and sfx tasks, look no further than Spire. Capable of bright and fat sounds reminiscent of high-quality hardware, it will impart loads of punchy character to your trap productions.


VocalSynth 2 by iZotope

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As essential as drums, basses, and 808s are to trap productions, vocal hooks and cuts are equally important. Unless you have a rack-full of vocal processors at your disposal–and even if you do–you will definitely get a lot of use out of VocalSynth 2.

From respected audio software developer, iZotope, VocalSynth is an effects plug-in designed specifically for vocal processing. It combines a handful of studio and stompbox-style effects with more esoteric signal processing devices, giving you plenty of options to sweeten vocal tracks or warp them beyond recognition.

Basic specs and useful features

VocalSynth can do anything from pitch correcting out-of-tune vocals to creating harmony parts. It also lets you craft synthesized and robotic voices with its vocoding and talkbox effects, which include Compuvox, Polyvox, and Biovox variations.

Biovox is particularly intriguing, enabling you to mold any vocal with the unique properties of the human vocal tract. With this particular effect, you can apply throat and vowel modeling effects to the plug-in’s onboard synth or a sidechain input source.

The other effects are no less useful. The vocoder is the classic 10-band variety, making it possible to produce those robotic vocal sounds that come in and out of vogue every few years. Even more classic sounds are made possible by the talkbox effect, which might just be the secret sauce you need to spice up your trap tracks.

User impressions

Studio engineers and home recording enthusiasts find VocalSynth’s selection of effects units sufficient for most vocal processing duties. Although they are clearly optimized for vocals, many users find them to be equally effective for processing everything from synths to guitars, and even drums.

Bottom-line

VocalSynth 2 isn’t the most fully-featured vocal processor around, nor is it the most tweakable. You could conceivably get similar results by patching together your most capable effects plug-ins. Even so, the ability to set up complex vocal processing chains and the unique effects makes VocalSynth a worthy addition to your studio.


Exhale by Output

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Output’s Exhale enables you to craft an astounding array of melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic content from the most organic sound source around–the human voice. A virtual mad scientist’s laboratory, it comes with a bunch of meticulously recorded vocal hits, one-shots, loops, and melodies, all of which serve as fodder for Exhale’s extensive sound design capabilities.

Basic specs and useful features

What kinds of sounds can you get from Exhale? Try “pretty much anything”. From dreamy, ethereal pads to alien landscapes, attitude-laden hooks to funky vocal chops and stutters, Exhale cranks out a bewildering assortment of sounds and textures, any of which could play a major role in your trap productions.

Exhale’s sample arsenal is grouped into three categories: Notes, Loops, and Slices. They are further categorized by characteristics such as “Dirty”, “Percussive”, “Heavy”, and so on. There is also a category named “User”, so yes, you can use Exhale’s sound-shaping tools to twist, blend, and mangle your own sample content.

And what a set of tools they are. You can process vocals fairly extensively with the four sliders on the main page, but the various features and functions in the Engine view are the keys to sonic nirvana. Here you can edit and program virtually every characteristic of the source audio to an astounding degree, and transform even the most pedestrian vocal hits into otherworldly sonic tapestries.

There’s so much more to Exhale than can be covered in the space of a review. Suffice it to say that this intriguing and inventive plug-in could be the ticket to those unique sounds and hooks that you hear on cutting-edge trap and EDM productions.

User impressions

Users like how Exhale makes it easy to come up with absolutely stunning sounds simply by flipping through the patches. There is such a huge variety of sounds available, that you could lose hours auditioning them and tweaking the four macro sliders before you even get to the Edit page. Once there, you have access to a dazzling wealth of controls that make Exhale an endlessly fascinating tweaker’s playground.

Bottom-line

Exhale isn’t like any other plug-in you have ever tried. More a synthesizer than a vocal sample player, the word ‘synth’ doesn’t even cover the extent of its possibilities. Even just surfing the presets is a positively addictive experience, and digging deep into its controls unlocks even more of its sonic power and potential.


Spectrasonics Omnisphere

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Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2

Omnisphere is one of the best-regarded virtual synths of all time, and for good reason. It has tremendous power and versatility under the hood, although you could use it as a preset synth and come up with world-class productions. Omnisphere brings together almost every flavor of synthesis available and handles pretty much every musical role you could conceive of and then some.

Basic specs and useful features

Even the earliest version of Omnisphere had an extensive array of synth options. This has been expanded considerably in the latest release, giving you even more options for coming up with traditional and esoteric synth sounds.

You can set up as many as four layers per Omnisphere patch, each of which can then be massaged and mangled to your desire with excellent-sounding filters, 34 types of which are available. The plug-in comes with more than 500 DSP wavetables and it even has a powerful granular synthesis feature.

For modulating duties, Omnisphere comes with no less than eight LFOs and 12 envelopes, all of which can be set up via a doubled modulation matrix. You can also modulate the fully featured effects processor via this matrix.

Finally, Omnisphere has a comprehensive arpeggiator, which comes with step modifiers, dividers, slides, and chord capabilities.

User impressions

Users looking for a virtual grab-bag of synths find most everything they need with this single plug-in. The sheer number of instruments available is nothing short of impressive, and most users could use Omnisphere alone to come up with full tracks.

Omnisphere also has enough editing options to satisfy even hardcore tweakers, although most users seem happy enough to rely on the presets, a staggering array of which is available.

Bottom-line

Omnisphere is, hands down, one of the most capable virtual synths ever developed. In terms of sonic quality, it even gives the best hardware synths a run for their money. A mega synth of this caliber might seem overkill for producing trap. But if world-class sounds are what you are after, you simply can’t do better than Omnisphere.


Loopmasters Bass Master

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Bass is the foundation upon which trap is built. Bass works on conjunction with the drums and the 808 kick to produce that chest-thumping, speaker-rattling mix that gets dance floors bumping and booties shaking. And one of the best tools to achieve those goals is Loopmasters’ Bass Master.

With Bass Master, deep, thumping bass is just a couple of clicks away. As mentioned in a Gearslutz review, Bass Master is a powerful and versatile grab-bag of samples and single-shots, all laden with attitude and packing unbelievable punch. And for the price it’s going for, you simply can’t find a better bass plug-in.

Basic specs and useful features

Bass Master is set up with two layers, each of which could contain any of 217 waveforms from classic hardware synths and modern sound design wizardry. These are some of the finest sounds ever created, which is hardly surprising given Loopmasters’ reputation for producing earth-shaking content.

The samples can be mangled anyway you see fit by Bass Master’s 13 filter types, which include low-pass, band-pass, and high-pass models, along with more esoteric ladder and comb filters. You could modulate the filter via a dedicated envelope and an LFO that has “random” and “drift” shapes.

Rounding out Bass Master’s bag of tricks are distortion and chorus effects, and a reverb. With all these tools at your disposal, Bass Master lets you come up with a varied array of sounds that go beyond simple bass booms and thumps.

User impressions

Most Bass Master users are attracted to the plug-in’s slick and simple interface that provides just enough sound-shaping options without being too confusing. The ease by which highly-satisfying subsonic rumbles can be produced is definitely its biggest strength, but users also like how you can dig in and craft truly unique bass sounds. Best of all, the sounds produced by Bass Master have a way of sitting nicely in a mix without a lot of EQing necessary.

Bottom-line

Bass Master is such an excellent plug-in that it’s almost impossible to make it sound bad! Even with its outright simplicity, there are plenty of options to create fresh and inventive bass sounds.

Read more about this plugin in the Bass Master Review.


Hats by AudioThing

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Trap producers know just how integral hi-hats are to production. Although most producers rely mainly on samples, there are many good reasons to use a dedicated hi-hat plug-in. AudioThing’s aptly-named “Hats” is as good a choice as any, and you might find its hi-hat and cymbal creation capabilities ideally-suited to your productions.

Basic specs and useful features

Hats combines noise generation with sample playback to produce a wide variety of hi-hat and cymbal sounds. This set up allows you to use samples and combine them with synthesized noise, which is commonly used in crafting electronic hi-hats.

The noise generator is a lot more versatile than the ones that come with most melodic synths. Instead of the pink or white noise that most such generators crank out, this one has six square wave oscillators with varying pitches and phases. This is similar to the noise generator in the venerable Roland TR-808 drum machine, which is pretty much the standard for trap drum sounds.

Hats’ noise generator makes it possible to produce metallic clangs that can be a lot more interesting than white noise swooshed and hisses. But it is the ability to mix the noise with actual hi-hat samples that makes Hats such a potent studio tool. No less than 50 samples are provided, spanning the range from classic analog to acoustic hats and cymbals. You could also import your favorite samples in .wav and .aiff formats.

You can further process your hats with Hats’ effects processor, which includes a ring modulator, a bit crusher, a filter section, and a reverb. The filter section is a nice addition, combining high pass and band pass designs in series.

User impressions

Trap music producers get quite a bit of use out of Hats, even if they already have a dedicated drum sampler plug-in. The interface is the perfect blend of simplicity and functionality, allowing you to get convincing results quickly.

Bottom-line

Hats is a fairly simple and straightforward plug-in that makes no pretenses about being anything other than a hi-hat generator/playback machine. There’s not a lot in the way of modulation options, but there’s no denying the plug-in’s usefulness. If you need a dedicated hi-hat plug-in–as all trap producers do–Hats is definitely worth picking up.


DopeSONIX Beat Machine 2

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Now on its 2.0 release, DopeSONIX’s Beat Machine offers even more of the sounds and capabilities that made the original such an enticing plug-in. Much of Beat Machine’s content is drawn from hip-hop’s extensive and colorful history, rather than from its present and future. Nevertheless, even the most forward-looking trap and bass music producers should find plenty of sonic material to craft some certified roof-raisers.

Basic specs and useful features

Beat Machine comes with 600 drum kits, all of which are pre-mixed and EQ’ed to perfection right out of the box. You could get started producing your next trap hit within minutes after installing and loading up the plug-in, without having to hunt for that magic combo of kick, snare, and hats.

Of course, you do have the option to mix and match components if you wish. With 500 individual components included, you can pretty much come up with any type of drum kit you can dream of via an easy-to-use graphical interface.

When you load up Beat Machine, all four parts are routed to a single stereo output channel. However, you could route each to its own output channel for further processing if you wish.

User impressions

DopeSONIX is a relatively new company, so many producers didn’t know what to expect with Beat Machine. But the plug-in quickly surpassed the expectations of most early adopters, and word of the hot new drum plug-in quickly spread. The collection of sounds was noticeably high-quality, with many fine examples of gritty vinyl and glitched out percussive elements. Having the drums already EQ’ed and compressed was also welcomed by most users.

Bottom-line

Some may argue that Beat Machine is better suited for re-living the Golden Age of hip-hop rather than carving out new sonic territory. Admittedly, the plug-in is loaded with classic sounds that would be more at home in 90s hip-hop, gangster rap, and G-Funk tracks than in trap and future bass. Even so, a creative trap producer should be able to find some use for many of these sounds.


iZotope Ozone

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iZotope Ozone 8 Advanced Mastering Suite

Who hasn’t heard of iZotope’s Ozone? One of the certified classics of modern music production technology, Ozone is pretty much the gold standard in mastering suites.

For those that don’t know, Ozone combines a slew of signal processors into a single convenient interface. Now on its 8.0 release, the mastering juggernaut adds even more goodies to its already impressive feature set. As iZotope proudly proclaims, this version of Ozone is the most intelligent one yet.

Basic specs and useful features

Although Ozone is billed as a “mastering” plug-in–and is commonly used as such–you could also look at it as a very capable all-around effects processor. It has no less than 11 modules onboard, including equalizers, compressors, limiters, and other dynamics processing units. Even if you don’t plan on using it for mastering, the cost of Ozone is easily justifiable given the wealth of effects options onboard.

But mastering is what Ozone is truly all about, and it definitely excels at the task. The individual plug-ins work amazingly well together, providing impressive studio polish to even the dullest tracks. It also has a masking meter that lets you know where frequencies overlap so that you could fix potential issues.

If Ozone’s various features seem a bit confusing, have no fear. The plug-in comes with an innovative AI Track Assistant feature that provides starting point presets for your tracks. Even if you don’t know a whole lot about mastering, this feature could help you produce impressive sounding music.

User impressions

Ozone has been an indispensable addition to countless project studios. Many home studio producers–and even quite a few pros–regularly use it to pre-master tracks for demoing purposes. Pro users are the first to admit that Ozone won’t take the place of a professional mastering suite and a capable mastering engineer. Even so, the results are impressive enough to warrant having the plug-in around even just for pre-mastering duties.

Bottom-line

With Ozone 8, an already awesome mastering plug-in has been made even better. Some professionals would thumb their noses at the idea of hobbyists and bedroom producers using a plug-in to master their own productions. Even so, the results you can get with Ozone are undeniably impressive, and a capable producer should find plenty of uses for it


Smack Attack by Waves Audio

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Have you ever wondered how A-list trap producers get their drums and synths to hit so hard? There are many ways to achieve that goal, but perhaps the most effective solution is to use a transient designer plug-in.

Waves’ Smack Attack is one such plug-in, but it isn’t like most other transient designers you may have tried. It allows you to shape audio to a surprisingly precise degree, letting even the tamest drums and synth hits punch through mixes with astounding clarity.

Basic specs and useful features

Most transient shapers allow you to adjust only the attack and sustain levels of the sound you are processing. Although this is sufficient for most purposes, you may want to modify the transient’s duration and shape as well.

Smack Attack gives you the option to do so, enabling you to not only make sounds sharper and punchier but make them tighter too. This is an especially useful capability for creating booming kicks, cracking snares, and hard-stabbing synth hits.

Smack Attack also has a sensitivity control that lets you specify which transients you wish to process. With this feature, you can get only the loudest transients to punch through or affect all of them equally. Smack Attack even lets you adjust processing sensitivity from subtle to aggressive.

User impressions

Most users turn to Smack Attack when they need to make sounds cut through a dense mix. But the plug-in is just as useful for taming overly clicky kicks and lengthening the decay on quick-fading bass tones. Best of all, the plug-in does not introduce artifacts commonly associated with heavy compression.

Bottom-line

Smack Attack is a versatile and surprisingly useful plug-in that you will probably use a lot more than you think. An excellent solution for hard smacking drums, it could also be used to make overly punchy or clicky percs fit better in a mix. If you need a transient designer that does more than your average transient plug-in, Smack Attack will definitely deliver.


Extra Mentions

If you are dead-set on producing trap, there are a couple of other plug-ins worth looking into:

Plugin Boutique’s Trap Beat Bundle

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The Trap Beat Bundle is a Plugin Boutique exclusive that gives you pretty much everything you need to come up with fully fleshed-out trap tracks. It includes the UJAM HUSTLE beat machine and the Loopmasters’ Bass Master bass synth. Between these two plug-ins, you have a solid foundation upon which to build bumping tracks.

You also get 2 GB of samples from Loopmasters, covering a staggering array of beats, loops, drum hits, percs, synths, basses, vocals, SFX, and most everything else you might need to fill out your productions. Use these samples alongside the two synths in the bundle, and there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to come up with authentic trap productions.

reFX’s Nexus 2

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reFX’s Nexus 2 should be well familiar to anyone that knows his or her way around a DAW. One of the most popular software synths in the history of software instruments, it offers a virtual grocery list of synth sounds covering the entire history of synthesized music.

Nexus falls belongs to the rompler category of synthesizers, which means that you have access to a huge array of sounds ready to go. But like the best romplers, Nexus allows you to edit and mold the onboard sounds in many different ways. You could, therefore, come up with some fairly unique and interesting sounds simply by tweaking the included presets.

Of course, there is always a need for more sounds. Thankfully, you can expand Nexus sound set by purchasing additional expansion packs. With a handful of expansions, Nexus could easily cover all your synth needs, regardless of the type of music you produce.


What is Trap Music?

Trap music has its roots in hip-hop, but it has definitely evolved into its own thing. A bass-heavy form characterized by languid raps, subsonic beats, skittering hi-hats, and plaintive melodic hooks, trap is the sound of the 21st-century urban musical landscape, hyped up and turnt out, with the volume cranked up to 10.

From a production standpoint, trap shares a lot of the musical DNA of hip-hop. Booming 808 kicks are omnipresent, but they are often utilized melodically instead of simply holding down the bottom end.

Snare drums occupy an equally prominent role in trap music. Again, sounds derived from the Roland TR-808 drum machine are commonly used, typically hitting on the ‘three’ of every bar.

Apart from simply playing accents to the lower-frequency drums, snares are often programmed to play distinctive, ratcheting fills. Many producers use arpeggiators for this purpose, instead of painstakingly programming the individual hits in via MIDI or utilizing the limited pattern sequencers of old-school styled drum machines.

Hi-hats also get the roll treatment in many trap tracks. Like snare rolls, hi-hat rolls are typically played with arpeggiators, with the ‘rate’ knob often automated to produce that skittering, “lawn sprinkler” effect.

Other common trap elements include the lead melody line, which–more often than not–is played in a minor key. Arps and plucks are also fairly common, many of which are similar to the sounds used in big room EDM productions. And then there are the vocal hooks, which are often chopped up and pitched up samples lifted from other recordings.

Apart from that, you could incorporate pretty much anything in your trap productions. Check out this video for an irreverent but still informative and helpful guide to trap music production, and this one for more in-depth instruction in the art of drum layering and drum roll programming.

Which Type of Plugins to Use?

Trap music utilizes a lot of the same plug-ins that you would use when producing other genres of music. But there are certain plug-ins that you simply must have to come up with ‘signature’ trap sounds.

A drum machine plug-in isn’t absolutely necessary. You could get pretty amazing results by arranging drum samples along an audio track or triggering a drum sampler with MIDI notes. But drum machine plug-ins with step sequencers will allow you to put beats together quickly, so they are worth looking into.

Just like drum machines, samplers can improve workflow and make certain tasks easier. If you want to chop up vocals and play them musically, for instance, working with sampler plug-ins will be a lot more intuitive than shifting vocal clips along a timeline.

A lot of sampler plug-ins come with extensive libraries as well, so they could handle pretty much all your instrumental needs from “real” instruments (pianos, basses, brass, etc.) to synths, and even drum sounds.

As for synths, pretty much anything will work. A well spec’d rompler plug-in is always useful for bread and butter sounds such as pianos, basses, brass, and the like. Also, consider getting a capable subtractive/analog emulation synth (monophonic or polyphonic) for those evocative plucks and lead lines.

A compressor is absolutely essential for getting your beats to slam hard. A compressor with sidechain capabilities will give you that pumping effect that is so essential for trap and EDM, and also help make your kicks punch through a dense mix.

Finally, stock up on standard effects such as reverbs, delays, saturation, and modulation. These will help you polish your mix and come up with fresh and unique sounds.

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