I have bought myself a number of VST instruments, some cheap and some expensive and I love them all, but I also have a few free instruments in my collection. It's obvious that the paid for ones are really good and will do everything that the free ones will do, so why do I have the free ones in my collection?
For starters, simplicity. I like the simplicity of the free ones. I find they are a lot easier to learn than the more complex VST's. Another factor would be CPU usage. As they are smaller, with less features built in, they require less CPU. Each synthesizer does more or less the same thing, depending on the type of synthesizer but they all have their differences and you can create a unique sound from any of them, so why not try out the free ones?
Since upgrading to cubase 9 I have had to ditch all my 32bit VST's as Cubase 9 dropped support for it's internal 32 bit to 64 bit VST bridge functionality. I'm ok with this as I found it confusing having some plugins in 32 bit and some in 64bit. I have Jbridge which is an external VST bridge, but I still decided not to continue using any 32 bit VST's any longer. So this leaves me with 5 Free VST instruments in my current collection.
1. TAL Noise Maker
This is as simple as it gets. The noisemaker features 3 Oscillators, which only have the common waveforms (Saw, Pulse, Noise, Rectangle, Triangle and Sine waveforms). It has up to 6 voices and has the common synthesizer features such as Portamento, Ring Modulation, Filter, Filter envelope with the standard ADSR, Volume envelope and a few effects such as Reverb, Delay, Bit Crusher and Chorus. Additionally there are few more features and controls which you can ready about on their website.
This is all you need to start learning how to synthesize. The interface is really simple which I love and you can get a lot out of it, so why not give it a go and start tweaking those knobs! This is really good for random weird sound effects (Perfect for Psy Trance). There is no Arpegiator but you could use a MIDI arpegiator plugin or just design your own Arpegiator patterns in MIDI.Download TAL Noisemaker
2. U-He Tyrrel N6:
The U-He Tyrrel is a very impressive Free synthesizer. U-He make some excellent VST's such as Zebra, Repro-1, Diva, Hive and a couple more and every single one of their instruments are very impressive. Again, this is a simple analog style synthesizer with the common controls - 2 Oscilators, 2 LFO's, 2 Envelopes, Detune etc. There is only 1 effect included, which is Chorus. I'm usually not so keen with effects on VST's so I don't mind this. We all have great effect plugins which come standard with all DAW's. Effects on VST's are made for the sound to sound good on it's own, not in the mix, which is why it's a good idea to use dry sounds from the VST and add external effects on afterwards. One of the main features of the Tyrrel N6 is that envelopes can be looped or retriggerd via LFO, like classic hardware. This is usefull for automating sounds without using automation.Download Instructions on the U-he Website:
Quote taken from the OBXD creator / website:"OB-Xd is based on the Oberheim OB-X. It attempts to recreate its sound and behavior, but as the original was very limited in some important ways a number of things were added or altered to the original design. The OB-Xd was designed to sound as good and as rich as the original. It implements micro random detuning which is a big part of that sound."
I have used it a few times so far and it really does produce a nice chunky sound. Also good for white noise / swish sounds. Again, no internal effects, no arpegiator - which is fine. It has a nice clean skin, and the design is quite close to the original Oberheim OB-X. You can choose between a few different skins, allthough I'm happy with the classic original skin. Another simple synthesizer, which is very easy to learn and use.Download OBXD
The Dexed is a FM Synth which is closely modeled on the Yamaha DX 7. This would be similar to Native Instruments FM 8. That alone should earn an install at least. The interface looks nice, but maybe a little intimidating at first, and could take a while to get used to. At this time I've only played with it once so far, and it did sound promising, but personally I have never really understood FM Synthesis properly and struggle with it. I have never purchased a FM VST synth because of it's complexity, but now I have a reason to start learning FM synthesis. I like the fact that this synth project is on Github and is open source.Download Dexed
Finally, I have the Zebralette installed. Again, this is by U-He and is a minified version of it's famous Zebra VST instrument. I have tried using the Zebra before but it's another synth which I struggled to use, so I have not purchased it yet, but it's on the bucketlist to learn. the Zebralette is a good starting point. The Zebralette is just 1 of the Zebra2's Oscilators and is fairly easy to learn, a lot easier then the Zebra. It comes with 2 LFO's, a multi stage envelope and 3 effects: Chorus, Reverb and Delay. This is worth installing if you don't have the Zebra.Download Zebralette
These 5 are a great starting point if you are new to synthesis and no doubt you will be able to create a wide range of sounds with all of them. Next time I will be discussing my favourite Free VST Effect plugins, so stay tuned. Until then, have fun and enjoy tweaking them knobs!