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The 13 Best Synth Plugins 2024

23/01/2024

Synth plugins have the power to go far beyond what’s available in your DAW, letting you explore hardware synth sounds without the price tag, experiment with different types of synthesis, and achieve anything from ’70s pop to trance-inspired sounds.

If you have access to a variety of plugins made by specialised professionals, you’re well on your way to crafting the exact sound your track needs with the best quality possible.

This article will provide you with everything you need to know about the best synth plugins and give recommendations to help you make the right choice for you.

In a hurry?

Here’s the best of the best to get you started:

u-he DivaUnrivalled analog sound through mixing and matching filter, oscillator, mixer, and envelope modules from legendary synths.Check the current price
Arturia Pigments 5Allows you to blend up to four different synthesis types simultaneously; analog-modelled, wavetable, harmonic, and sample-based.Check the current price
Cherry Audio GX-80Immaculate recreation of two of the most coveted synths, the Yamaha GX1 and Yamaha CS-80.Check the current price

The best synth plugin

1. U-he Diva –  The most authentic analog feel and sound

u-he Diva Virtual Analog SynthesizerKey features

  • Mix and match modules from up to five legendary hardware synths
  • World-class host-syncable arpeggiator
  • Tweakable “under the hood” parameters

Pros

  • Immaculate analog accuracy in feel and tone
  • Complete solution with two stereo effects slots
  • Discover all the sounds on offer with over 1000 presets

Cons

  • Not the most elegant preset browser when compared to modern plugins

U-he Diva has been meticulously designed to replicate the essence of classic analogue synthesizers in a digital format. Imitating the oscillators, filters, and envelopes of five iconic monophonic and polyphonic synths, you can mix and match each module to create a custom-designed analog-modelled synth.

The sound quality Diva possesses surpasses the norm, providing an authentic analog-modelled experience through the application of real-time circuit simulation techniques. The zero-delay feedback (ZDF) design of Diva ensures that the filters behave just like their physical counterparts, offering rich and authentic resonance.

Going far beyond what’s possible in hardware, Diva’s modulation options are expansive, including three ADS(S)R envelope models based on classic hardware, two host-syncable LFOs with multiple waveforms, and a user-definable modulation source.

Additional Trimmers and the Modifications panel in Diva allow users to control voice detuning, oscillator drift, and other small imperfections, bringing an organic feel to patches and enabling more experimental and modern manipulations.

Diva’s sound character is not just a mere imitation of analog sound, but a modelled representation right down to the last resistor and capacitor. For this reason, it’s a must-have for any musician or producer.


2. Arturia Pigments 5 – Everything you need in one plugin

Arturia Pigments 5Key features

  • Blend four synthesis techniques into one complex sound
  • Process external sound through the instrument
  • Highly CPU-efficient for powerful sound design without latency

Pros

  • Nearly unbeatable value for money
  • Generative sequencing means you’ll never run out of creative ideas
  • Easy to access all parameters with drag-and-drop modulation routing

Cons

  • The massive range of possibilities could be overwhelming for beginner users

Pigments 5 has earned its place as one of the most powerful soft synth VST plugins. This multi-functional synth offers unbeatable value for money. Its multi-engine design allows for a blend of synthesis methodologies – virtual analogue, wavetable, additive, sampling, and granular to create intricate and lush sounds.

Leveraging the expertise gained from emulating classic hardware, Arturia have infused Pigments with premium virtual analogue elements. This is manifested in robust VA engines and a variety of vintage filter emulations.

The strength of Pigments lies in its balance between complexity and user-friendliness. It provides an exciting array of modulation tools and effects, inviting you to experiment. If you prefer simplicity, Pigments 5 comes with a wide range of ready-to-use presets and a streamlined Play View for adjusting core sound elements.

The user interface is aesthetically pleasing and intuitive, allowing access to all of Pigments’ features without the need for navigating multiple screens. Colour-coded modulation routes with drag-and-drop routing make what was once difficult, easy.

While no single synth can provide every desired feature or sound, Pigments 5 comes remarkably close. It’s designed for musicians willing to delve into its capabilities, rewarding those who invest time in its features. However, its extensive and growing sound library ensures there’s something for everyone, making it accessible and enjoyable for all users.


3. Reveal Sound Spire – The best synth for trance producers

Reveal Sound SpireKey features

  • Unison engine offers nine voices per oscillator
  • Huge range of modulation across nearly all parameters
  • Built-in effects including EQ and multi-band compression

Pros

  • Excellent at producing trance-inspired sounds
  • Huge amount of flexibility for customising your sound
  • Dual resonant filters with self-resonance modes

Cons

  • Very little analog flavour, can be a bit sterile-sounding

Not just another trance ‘n’ dance synthesizer, the Reveal Sound Spire offers a variety of clever and unusual features that transcend typical virtual analogue synth expectations. A broad selection of waveforms is made available, extending beyond the standard sine, saw, square, and triangle shapes commonly associated with virtual analogue synths.

Crisp and clear, Spire is recognised for its impact on progressive music and  excels at creating sounds synonymous with the trance genre. Whether it is big supersaw chords, stabby baselines, or lush pads that are sought after, Spire serves as a reliable option across genres.

A wide range of tones can be produced using Spire, depending on the chosen wave, synthesis mode, and knob settings. Labelled as “polymorphing”, this hybrid wavetable/waveshaping technique contributes to Spire’s power and flexibility. A nice touch, you can copy and paste settings between oscillators.

Inspirational and simple, the intuitive interface and collection of 500 presets bring real value to this synth plug-in. The filters’ clarity and quality alone justify the price, and the distortion and tube effects add depth and energy to the sound.


4. Cherry Audio Synth Stack 4 – For the vintage synth enthusiast

Cherry Audio Synth Stack 4Key features

  • 22 synth plugins in one bundle
  • Each synth is recreated with proprietary modelling techniques for indistinguishable sounds
  • Over 8,000 presets across every synth to fully explore the sonic potential

Pros

  • Extremely affordable for the vast array of different synths included
  • Capable of producing any sound across all synthesis techniques
  • Expanded parameters and functions over the hardware counterparts

Cons

  • Not every sound may be useful, and there’s plenty to navigate

The Cherry Audio Synth Stack 4 offers an impressive array of 22 virtual instruments at an astonishingly affordable price.

This comprehensive bundle includes 19 meticulously crafted emulations of revered vintage synthesizers, each artfully reimagined to meet the demands of contemporary musicians. That said, with 8,000 presets spread across the entire range, you might find yourself clicking endlessly to find the right sound where not all might be useful for you.

Among the standout emulations are the Cherry Audio Quadra, a faithful recreation of the ARP Quadra synth; the Mercury-6, a powerful virtual-analog rendition of the iconic Roland Jupiter-6 synthesizer; and the GX-80, an emulation of Yamaha’s legendary GX-1 “Dream Machine” and its renowned descendant, the CS-80.

Cherry Audio’s sound designers not only emulate but elevate, preserving the sonic essence of bygone eras while introducing possibilities unimaginable in the past. This multidimensional approach is evident in the entire suite, ranging from historic synth recreations to cutting-edge futuristic modules.

Synth Stack 4 is currently available at a remarkable price of £299, equating to less than £14 per instrument. It’s a no-brainer for any musician who’s always wanted to experience the sound of revered vintage synths, without the headache and cost associated with owning original hardware.


5. Native Instruments Kontakt 7 – The best for realistic instrument sounds

Native Instruments Kontakt 7Key features

  • Unites sampling depth with synthesis flexibility
  • Discover 900 included sampled instruments or utilise third-party libraries
  • Realistic samples deliver authentic instrument sounds

Pros

  • Simple interface makes navigating the functions easy
  • Native Instruments often offer more instruments in free updates
  • Manipulation of audio files produces unique results

Cons

  • Very resource-heavy will slow down less powerful machines

Primarily a sampler, Kontakt 7 transcends conventional sampling capabilities by incorporating a variety of synthesizer engines. This integration means audio files can be processed using traditional synth parameters such as Low-Frequency Oscillators (LFOs), Envelopes, and Modulation.

The Factory Library of Kontakt 7 has undergone a revamp, now boasting over 900 meticulously sampled instruments. This vast collection provides you with a wealth of options, allowing you to produce a diverse range of sounds. With the Kontakt platform, you can also take advantage of third-party developers to find sample libraries that align with your needs.

What makes Kontakt unique in this list is also what holds it back. Realistic sound libraries mean there is less room for creative sound design as the sound has already been established in the recording of the samples. So, unless you have a specific instrument in mind for a sound, Kontakt 7 won’t inspire creativity like other synth plugins.


6. Universal Audio Moog Minimoog – The exact sound of the vintage Moog in a plugin

Universal Audio Moog MinimoogKey features

  • The only Minimoog endorsed by Moog themselves
  • Self-oscillation and extreme resonance deliver the signature Moog sound
  • Enhanced features including additional LFO, Sample&Hold circuits, legato, and more

Pros

  • Clear and precise interface, mimicking the hardware original
  • Dedicated LFO frees up use of the third oscillator
  • Brought up to date for modern producers and workflows

Cons

  • Lacks polyphonic support

A virtual reincarnation of the legendary Minimoog Model D, Universal Audio’s Minimoog plugin is the only emulation endorsed by Moog themselves. This plugin features an identical user interface and sound to the original synth, offering the same delicious warmth and gritty texture. Unlike other plugins that sound flat and digital, this one retains the charm of interacting waveforms from each oscillator.

Conscious of bringing the plugin to the modern era, Universal Audio introduced enhancements to make creating fat basses and searing leads simple.

An extra LFO is included (freeing up space to use the third oscillator), velocity controls with MIDI for dynamic movement to loudness, frequency cutoff, and other useful parameters, all contributing to a plugin that’s incredibly versatile and suitable for live shows, if you wanted to!

The price of admission makes this so worthwhile when compared with the hardware counterpart, saving you an estimated £9,850 on the cost of an original unit. That said, mirroring the mono-only nature restricts its versatility for chords and pads. While a deliberate choice, the absence of polyphony is a debatable aspect, as adding it could have enhanced the synth’s adaptability without compromising its authenticity.

Nonetheless, it remains an incredible value, simply a must-have when looking for “that” sound.


7. Rob Papen Predator 3 – A must-have for Eurodance musicians and producers

Rob Papen Predator 3Key features

  • Versatile synthesis with wavetable and virtual analog for diverse sound creation
  • Innovative XY pad provides dynamic control over multiple parameters
  • Over 6,100 presets are available spanning a diverse range of sounds

Pros

  • Flexible synth architecture suits various styles and genres
  • Includes high-quality B.I.T analog-modelled sounds
  • Four pairs of 16-note arpeggiators let you create off-beat rhythms with ease

Cons

  • Preset manager could do with revamping for ease-of-use

Now old enough to be considered a “vintage classic” synth, Predator by Rob Papen is an innovation in sound design. A successor of a legendary line, Predator 3 brings more to the table than its predecessors.

The synthesis engine was and still is quite ground-breaking, granting the user an extensive range of sonic capabilities. It provides a plethora of presets – over 6,500 in various styles, both from previous versions and entirely new ones.

It’s not just about how it sounds, but also how it feels. The playability is lightning-fast, allowing for seamless integration into any workflow. The layout is slick and simple (especially when compared to previous versions), yet beneath the surface, it offers a depth that encourages exploration and experimentation.

Suited to both novices and seasoned professionals, Predator 3 is more than just a synth plugin – it’s a testament to the artistry in sound creation. Whether you’re layering sounds or crafting a standalone masterpiece, Predator 3 is a reliable companion.


8. Cherry Audio GX-80 – Cinematic soundscapes with distinct analog flavour

Cherry Audio GX-80Key features

  • Blends the GX-1 extended features with the CS-80 functionality
  • Dual-layer voicing architecture with 16 polyphonic voices per layer
  • Studio-quality integrated effects with global or dual-layer modes

Pros

  • Extremely affordable recreation of a virtually unobtainable hardware synth
  • Two synths in one, enhancing the performance of the original synth
  • Fantastic interface that labels all parameters clearly

Cons

  • There’s a steep learning curve if you’re not familiar with the original

The Cherry Audio GX-80 synthesizer plugin is an emulation of the classic CS-80, widely celebrated for its rich cinematic chords that were integral to Vangelis’s Blade Runner soundtrack. Yet, the GX-80 goes beyond mere imitation; it incorporates elements from Yamaha’s rare GX-1 organ, adding to its depth and potential for creativity.

Reintroducing the high-pass filtered square wave, band-pass filtered sawtooth wave, and the distinctive triangle wave one octave higher, the inclusion of the GX-1 filter adds a characterful dimension to the sound palette.

Moreover, the GX-80 allows you to layer two complete CS-80 voices and their effects together or split them across the keyboard. Each rank can be independently panned in stereo, creating truly massive sounds. Herein lies the secret for those immersive soundscapes the hardware is known for.

The GX-80 also offers minute pitch and timing variations throughout the synth, replicating the authentic analog feel of the CS-80. This detail helps to deliver an enormous range of tones, from soft and elegant to engaging and thunderous.

The GX-80 synthesizer plugin represents the core benefit of synth plugins, taking what made hardware special and improving upon it. Its impressive soundstage, extensive extra parameters, and intuitive interface make it a dream come true for synthesizer enthusiasts. It excels in producing big, synthy sounds with a distinct ’70s edge, making it an indispensable tool for any digital musician’s arsenal.


9. Arturia Mellotron V – Producing the sound of ‘60/’70s pop

Arturia Mellotron VKey features

  • Includes 65 tape banks sampled from the original tapes
  • Adjustable modelling parameters and modulation options
  • Import custom samples and process with dedicated time-stretching feature

Pros

  • Create unique tones by blending all three tapes per key
  • Mix-ready sounds with onboard studio-grade effects and processors
  • Tailor your sound to your mix by digitally “ageing” your tapes

Cons

  • Limited in terms of its sound potential

Revered for its historic significance in the catalogue of artists from The Beatles, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, and King Crimson, the Mellotron’s raspy, flowing tone has enamoured listeners for over five decades.

The Arturia Mellotron V plugin is a comprehensive recreation and includes 65 original tape banks to give you a huge amount of sounds to explore, including the ubiquitous orchestral sounds the original was made famous by.

Undeniably vintage, Mellotron V’s sound harnesses that typical tape sound, warbling with hints of Lo-Fi. Where the hardware original only allowed for one tape per key, as with all Arturia emulations, Mellotron V has been augmented with the ability to blend all three banks per key, customising the vintage timbre of each tape for a truly unique sound.

What really sets Mellotron V apart from the rest is its customisation. To combat the rather limited sound functionality of the included tape banks, you can load custom sounds, time-stretch them, pan, trim, loop, and add effects to them to essentially create your own Mellotron synth.

Synonymous with prog rock, Mellotron V’s modern features and extensive onboard sound design capabilities go far beyond the glory days of experimental pop and rock of the sixties. It’s a diverse enough tool that anyone with an interest in lo-fi synth sounds should be able to get very useable sounds from.


10. Rob Papen SubBoomBass 2 – All things low-end

Rob Papen SubBoomBass 2Key features

  • The quintessential bass synth for dance music
  • Manipulate six parameters simultaneously with intuitive X/Y pad
  • Create sounds quickly with “Easy Mode”

Pros

  • Physical modelling mode offers realistic bass sound possibilities
  • Over 2,000 presets to explore
  • Excellent filters and sequencing capabilities

Cons

  • A third oscillator would offer better flexibility

It does exactly what it says on the tin. The Rob Papen SubBoomBass 2 is the go-to synth plugin for EDM and dance music bass. It’s unashamed in what it’s meant for, and that’s what makes it a must-have synth plugin, it doesn’t try to give you something that does everything but, instead, focuses on giving you what you need to make sub-rattling low-end.

SubBoomBass 2 includes an impressive range of waveforms and diverse modulation possibilities. The new waveforms contribute to its sonic colour, making it a more flexible and vibrant synth. A combination of pulse width modulation, symmetry, and sine or square sub-oscillators form the core of this powerful synth, allowing for an extensive variety of sounds.

The addition of Karplus-Strong, filters, and physical modelling modes enhances the flexibility beyond traditional bass synth tones and lets you create string-based sounds from plucked bass, bass arps, and metallic hits.

Classy, powerful and full of sounds, SubBoomBass 2 should be on every producer’s plugin list and with the extremely attractive price point, it’s hard to say no!


11. Arturia V-Collection X – Creative producers looking to go beyond hardware

Arturia V-Collection XKey features

  • Over 50GB of sound spread across 39 instruments
  • Includes pristine pianos, vintage synths, and experimental sound design tools
  • In-app tutorials, helping to explain each instrument immaculately

Pros

  • Includes just about every synth sound you could need
  • Each instrument is augmented with controls beyond the hardware original
  • Download and manage seamlessly through Arturia Software Centre

Cons

  • Individual plugins can be very CPU-heavy

Boasting emulations of renowned analogue instruments including the Sequential Prophet-6 and Roland Juno-6, alongside acoustic and electric piano models, V-Collection X expands its collection with six additional synths, creating an impressive 39-strong collection.

Two notable upgrades are the completely rebuilt Wurli V and Mini V. New synths MiniFreak V, Acid V, and CP-70 V enhance the hardware-like experience with a blend of digital and analogue fusion.

In particular, the MiniFreak V features dual sound engines, detailed analogue-modelled filters, expressive sequencing, and experimental modulation. It also provides preset unity and syncing capabilities for seamless transition between hardware and software – ideal for hybrid setups.

For those who enjoy seductive basslines, the Acid V bassline synth offers an analogue-style oscillator, sub-oscillator, and Resonant low-pass filter. Beyond the hardware original’s capabilities, it introduces a Distortion with 14 algorithms, an added Vibrato feature, and an advanced polymetric sequencer and arpeggiator.

The CP-70 V, an emulation of the 1976 Yamaha CP-70 electric piano, combines multilayered sampling with accurate modelling, capturing the original’s intimate and expressive character. It also includes a three-band EQ, built-in effects, numerous presets, and further sound-shaping options.

The V Collection X also introduces three hybrid instruments from Arturia’s Augmented series. These synths integrate meticulously recorded samples with synth engines for a wide range of sonic possibilities, blending traditional and futuristic sounds.


12. Native Instruments Komplete 14 Standard – Perfect for world instrument compositions

Native Instruments Komplete 14 StandardKey features

  • 86 titles including synths, instruments and studio-grade effects
  • Includes the industry-standard sampling engine Kontakt 7
  • Suitable for producers and musicians in any genre

Pros

  • Massive savings when bought as a bundle
  • Allows you to diversify your sonic palette with realistic instrument samples
  • Improved browser function to find sounds quickly

Cons

  • Huge amount of hard disk space required

Native Instruments Komplete 14 Standard is a highly acclaimed software suite that stands out in the world of digital music production. It offers a diverse array of virtual instruments, effects, and sound libraries, making it a versatile choice for producers, composers, and musicians across various genres.

At the core of Komplete 14 Standard is the renowned Kontakt 7, a powerful sampler that offers a vast library of sounds, ranging from intricate orchestral textures to cutting-edge electronic beats. This makes it an essential tool for both traditional composition and contemporary sound design.

The suite also includes a selection of synthesizers that cater to a wide spectrum of musical styles. These synthesizers boast advanced sound engines and an intuitive interface, allowing users to effortlessly craft unique sounds.

Additionally, Komplete 14 Standard provides a range of effects plugins, offering everything from reverb and delay to dynamic processing, which is crucial for polishing and enhancing musical productions.

Ideal for both beginners and experienced users, Komplete 14 Standard is designed to inspire creativity and streamline workflow. Its comprehensive content and user-friendly design make it a top choice for anyone looking to expand their sonic arsenal.


13. Universal Audio UAD Producer Edition – The versatile producer and musician

Universal Audio UAD Producer EditionKey features

  • 22 premium plugins including synths, other instruments, and effects
  • Native compatibility, no UA hardware required
  • Save big when buying as a bundle

Pros

  • Outstanding sound quality, replicating the warmth of analog gear
  • Advanced DSP technology ensures minimal latency and optimal performance
  • Intuitive interfaces allow users of any ability to dial tones

Cons

  • Less focused on synths than other bundles

With its exceptional DSP engines which power a choice few different synthesizers, the Universal Audio UAD Producer Edition is one of the most sought-after synth plugins in the market today. The inclusion of famed instruments such as the Moog Minimoog and Opal Morphing Synth offers the perfect mix of digital modern synth design and classic analog-modelled vintage goodness.

Compatibility with leading Digital Audio Workstations on both Mac and PC platforms ensures that the integration process is smooth for producers, musicians, and sound engineers alike, without the need for additional UA hardware.

The UAD Producer Edition also includes a carefully curated selection of 22 premium plugins, among them the Brigade Chorus Pedal, Oxide Tape Recorder, and Pure Plate Reverb. These offer a broad range of sonic possibilities, allowing you to add depth, warmth, and character to your synth tones.

A fantastic option for producers who need a bit of everything, the UAD Producer Edition gives you a virtual look across the lifetime of synthesis techniques. It augments them with industry-leading effects for a complete suite of mixing and music-making tools.

What to look for in a synth plugin

When shopping for a new synth plugin, there are a few careful considerations you need to make. Primarily, compatibility. Ensuring that your new plugin works on your operating system, CPU, and your DAW is the first specification you need to know about.

Plugins come in three main formats: VST and VST3, AU, and AAX.

As a general rule, VST and VST3 are primarily used on Cubase, though are supported in most major DAWs. AU is a proprietary Apple format and will only work in Logic Pro and AAX is specific to Avid’s Pro Tools.

It’s also worth checking your computer processor. Newer Apple products using M1 to M3 processor chips may not be compatible with every plugin.

Types of synthesis

Synthesis comes in a plethora of types, each providing a unique approach to crafting sound. Subtractive synthesis, one of the most common forms, starts with a harmonically rich sound and filters out unwanted frequencies to shape the final output. This contrasts with additive synthesis, which builds complex sounds by combining multiple simple waveforms.

Virtual analogue synthesis emulates the hardware of classic analog synths digitally, offering the warmth and depth of vintage gear without physical limitations. Wavetable synthesis, on the other hand, generates sound by scanning through a series of waveforms in a table, enabling the creation of complex, evolving tones.

Frequency Modulation (FM) synthesis creates rich timbres by modulating the frequency of one waveform (the carrier) with another (the modulator). Sample-based synthesis uses recorded audio snippets as the basis to reshape the sound, allowing for realistic instrument emulations or experimental soundscapes.

Granular synthesis, meanwhile, breaks sound into tiny grains and reconfigures them, resulting in textures ranging from the familiar to the uncanny. Lastly, modular synthesis offers unparalleled flexibility, allowing various modules to be connected in any configuration to generate a wide range of sounds. Each synthesis type brings its unique flavour to sound design.

FAQs

What are synthesizer plugins?

Synthesizer plugins are virtual instruments used in a DAW to generate sounds. Eliminating the need for physical hardware, synthesizer plugins come in a variety of styles including recreations of vintage keyboards, granular synths, wavetable, FM, subtractive, additive, sample-based, and more.


What is the most powerful synth?

Arturia Pigments 5 is the most powerful synth for music production. Blending between four types of synthesis engines – Wavetable, Virtual Analog, Sample & Granular, and Harmonic – lets you achieve a near-limitless range of rich, complex sounds in an intuitive and colour-coded interface.


What synth did ABBA use?

ABBA used three main synthesizers, the Mellotron M400, Minimoog, and, most notably, the Yamaha GX-1. Heard across their debut and sophomore albums Ring Ring and Waterloo, the Mellotron M400 and Minimoog were used extensively. From 1979 onwards, the Yamaha GX-1 became the primary synth used.

Final thoughts

The multiple different synthesis techniques, each producing a distinctive sound, have given us a plethora of synth plugins on the market. Knowing what sounds you want to produce in your music and what features you need will dictate what to buy.

Fortunately, synth plugins are nowhere near the cost of what hardware once was, meaning that buying your favourite plugin for your workflow should be within reach! If you were stuck on which synth plugin to purchase, we hope our guide to the best synth plugins has helped.

Eager for more insights? We’ve also rounded up the best mastering plugins as well as top reverb plugins.

 

Content Writer - High Tech

I'm an experienced content editor and copywriter with a passion for music and technology. When I'm not writing engaging blogs or comprehensive product descriptions, I spend my time working with bands and musicians as a producer and mixing/mastering engineer.

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