Straight Out of No Cash Part 3
Updates in bold:
Plenty of folks have asked me for advice about their DAW setups over the years. Mostly it has been about the issue of what sequencer software they should buy, or if they should go with a Mac or a Win PC environment (you can guess which direction I try to steer them towards). Occasionally, someone with little or no cash asks me about sites where he/she can download “free” software. Naturally, they almost always mean cracked/illegally copied software… However, since I know more than a few independent software developers, I’m not a huge fan of folks downloading, and then making money with software that small developers depend on to survive. So instead of steering them towards illegal copies of commercial software, I guide them towards totally legitimate freeware that’s often just as good as software that costs 100s of dollars.
That’s why I created Straight Out of No Cash, to give every Windows PC user a chance to make music using legal freeware.
In this installment, I’m helping those of you that already have a VST host sequencer, whether its a free tracker or Sonar 6, to all of the instruments, effects, and other gadgets your virtual studio would ever need. Once again, 100% free and legal.
I’ll start by covering each major instrument category, giving a proper description of each recommended plug-in. [Ed.: Note that for now these are all Windows-compatible; some are also Mac-compatible and I'll update the list within the next 24 hours or so with that information. Some are also direct download links, as far warning; I've indicated this where appropriate. -PK]
Virtual Analog (VA)
Asynth & Taurus: Two of the finest analog emulations ever. The fact that they are both freeware is just icing on the cake.
Synth1: A classic freeware that still holds its own today. If you’re looking for fat analog sounds, go elsewhere. Synth1 is 100% digital in the best (worst) possible sense. It can cut through even the muddiest of mixes like a hot knife through butter. Best used in situations where you want a sound to shine right through with clarity and precision.
Abakos: A great sounding poly VA with a twist. Using some programming voodoo Abakos is able to play back as many voices as needed using only a flat amount of CPU. In other words, your computer is taxed the same regardless if you’re playing only one note, or 12. Great for those of us with older (or notebook) DAWs.
Oatmeal [direct download link]: In ironic fashion it was labeled as “yet another bland virtual analog” by its creator, but has since become a bit of a cult favorite on the KVR forums. Not a Synthedit creation. Apologies to Fuzzpilz and all those mislead by my erroneous assumption.
Lallapallooza Lite [direct download] & Superwave P8: To make up for the Oatmeal faux pas, I’m posting not one, but two really good, really synthedit, and really free JP-8000 “supersaw” style virtual analog synths.
Ultrasonique: A wavetable synth not unlike some of the classic 80′s/early 90′s digital synths. It features a set of high-quality original waveforms and a step sequencer controller to help create moving pads, textures, and atmospheres.
Polyiblit: Another classic bit of freeware. The analog workhorse of choice for many cash-strapped producers. Sounds great in a mix with its anti-aliasing oscillators.
Grainz: By far the best freeware granular synths. Combined with a physical modeling oscillator, Grainz can produce a wide range of mild to wild sounds.
Highlife: I think I’ve said all that I needed to in a previous article. Ed.: Indeed. Adrian says it rocks. Readers say it rocks. I say it rocks. Could even be a reason for Mac folks to boot into Windows.
Paax: The Foreman to Highlife’s Ali. Was the champ of freeware samplers, and still has some use even after losing the belt.
SFZ: A great soundfont player and a good compliment to Highlife, as it can load the Highlife made sfz files with a less taxing interface.
H4xx0r: An honest to god freeware beatslicer made with Synthedit. While it pales in comparison to something like Guru or pHATmatik, it can do most of what the pro-boys can with standard wav files, plus a couple of nifty tricks like freely automatable start and end positions for all that glitchiness the kids are so fond of.
Loop Drive: After the initial publishing I remembered Loop Drive from the Synthmaker homepage. I personally find it very useful in creating FSU granular sounds, but less so for conventional slicing applications as the individual slices can only be triggered from the Loop Drive step sequencer itself (which cannot be automated). The upside is that Synthmaker has generously provided the source .osm file, so those who own Synthmaker can deconstruct the patch and create their own killer beatslicer themselves.
Grizzly [direct download]: Released as part of KVR’s Developer’s Challange contest, Grizzly is a drum sampler on par with Reason’s ReDrum (minus an internal step sequencer). Not only does it come with all the features for twisted beat mangling, it comes complete with a sweet sample bank that even Battery owners would want to get their “paws” on. (Alright, I’m allowed one bad pun.)
Drumatic VE: E-Phonic has made a name for himself over the years for the quality of his drum synths. His latest, Drumatic 3 & VE are some of the best software drum synths ever made. Nevermind that they were both made with Synthedit. In fact, you wouldn’t be able to tell that they were made with Synthedit unless someone told you. They are that good.
Dr. Fusion & Rhythms: Odo is another synthedit drum synth legend. Two drum machines, two different approaches to drum sounds. Dr Fusion is a combination drum rompler/drum synth with 20mb of built-in drum sounds. Great for hip-hop or mainstream dance music. For you old school electro/techno/IDM fans, the 100% synthesized kit coming from Rhythms may be more your thing. Rhythms can do all the beeps, bloops, and wiz bangs for your krafty beatbox sounds.
ERS Drums: a good all around “909″ style box. Like its VA brother Polyiblit, ERS Drums plays nicely in a mix.
Oxe: The best Freeware FM synth around since the Hexter VSTi was taken down due to bullshit GPL politics. Dead simple to use (for a FM synth that is). Although it cannot read DX7 patches, with a little bit of effort one can recreate almost anything done with a yamaha fm synth in oxe.
Karma Synth Modular: A great, easy to use modular synth. Perfect for both novices and masters alike.
Crystal: This baby needs little introduction. The loyalty some have to this free softsynth alone is unlike any I have ever seen for a single instrument (its not unlike the loyalty some folks have to Reason, Pro Tools, Live, or FL). Try it for yourself, and you’ll see why.
Rock: Hybrid synth with a rough and rugged character. The direct precursor to CoFX/Rob Papen’s Blue, but with its own unique sound.
Zynaddsubfx [open source]
You can download the lastest VST version from Don’t Crack. Don’t be scared off by the original coder’s preachy Christian language on the project site. Zynaddsubfx is THE best sounding open-source softsynth out there now. Using a combination of additive and subtractive synthesis, even us heathens can make heavenly sounds in a matter of minutes. Now go make some Satanic Deathmetal with it!
Curve: A unique synth that allows one to draw the waveforms for the softsynth’s oscillators. Think of it as reverse additive synthesis. Instead of having control over the partials which result in a given waveform, you have control over the waveform itself, with the additive partials being shown underneath the transparent waveform display.
Chimera: Majken’s Chimera is something that comes around only once every couple of years. Instead of trying to emulate this analog poly, or that wavetable-based digital synth, Chimera breaks new ground by demonstrating a totally new kind of synthesis. Chimera can best be described as a band-pass filter polysynth. What this means is that instead of conventional oscillators that change their pitch according to a midi note, Chimera has noise oscillators which are filtered by band-pass filters tuned to a given MIDI note frequency. This happens with every (poly) note, and the result is absolutely gorgeous. Even though it is sort of a one-trick pony, its “trick” is done so well that its bound to become a classic.
And Many More Favorites
Rather than go on and on about each and every great freeware VST effect out there, I’ll just list out my favorites in each category. I’ll leave it to you to figure out how they will work into your existing studio environment.
Choralozoide [download link]
What’s that? More you say? Well my friend, I can’t do all the work for you. If you want more than what I have listed above, or don’t feel entirely satisfied about my coverage in a given category (organ sounds for example) you can fill in the gaps by doing a little of your own legwork. Here are some resources for more great freeware plug-ins:
See you when the next big free/donation/cheapware story breaks…