Free and easy
Freeware instruments have never been particularly thin on the ground, and we’ve already briefed you on some of the best ones that you can download.
Times change, however, and the releases have kept on coming. What follows is a round-up of some of the best new free synth plugins to have emerged since we published our 2016 freeware guide, so dive in and get downloading.
For more on 2017's best new freeware, grab a copy of Computer Music 244 (July 2017), which is on sale now.
At its simplest, HISE can act as a thoroughly kitted-out standalone hybrid synth/sampler, though if you’re willing to put the time and effort in, it can be a turn-key programming environment for creating your own VST, AU, and AAX plugins and iOS instruments. It can itself be used as a plugin, too.
Believe it or not, noise is an integral part of even the most beautiful sounds - the breathy burst that precedes a flute’s pitch or the sharp shock of a pick striking a string all are comprised of noise. NUSofting’s Noisetar is all about noise.
Darwin Arts Trilobite Free
Trilobite Free is a scaled-down version of Darwin Arts’ payware modular sound-design environment.
From the people who brought you the affordable Windows-only DAW Mixcraft, Nightlife is available to any and all comers who want to add a high-quality subtractive synth to their sonic arsenal.
Nightlife is aimed squarely at club merchants, with an emphasis on EDM, trance and other dance styles. It provides three oscillators, each with loads of waveforms to select, and you also get the ability to create custom waves by drawing them in. Ring modulation, FM and oscillator sync are included for when you need a bit of clamour and clang.
Once you’ve defined your waveforms, you can chuck them through any of 15 filter modes, five sequencers, four LFOs, a bitcrusher, five effects, and a modulation matrix for patching all of those bits to and fro.
It’s a powerful package, but there is one catch: like Mixcraft, this one is exclusively for Windows users and, in fact, only for 32-bit environments.
NUSofting has always been something of a maverick developer, creating plugins that sound - and operate - like nothing else. We’ve already briefed you on the company’s NoiseTar a few pages back and this, their second entry in our round-up, is no less quirky and experimental.
Sinnah is a single-oscillator synth that bears little resemblance to familiar virtual analogues. For one thing, the usually-obligatory subtractive filter is nowhere to be found, replaced instead with a bizarre algorithm based on a resonant delay network. The lone oscillator offers five waveforms to choose from; envelope generation comes in the form of a standard ADSR (with looping) for the main oscillator section, but a second AR envelope is available for the Delay Matrix.
If anything, the sounds on offer bear some resemblance to acoustic modelling - which should comes as little surprise, as that’s one of NUSofting’s stocks in trade. Sinnah is certainly not your standard synth!
Described as an “easy” synthesiser, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Synister might be a stripped-down one-trick pony. It is, in fact, a powerful, flexible subtractive synthesiser with all the trimmings and then some.
The interface consists of a scrollable panel with built-in virtual keyboard. A collection of collapsible modules occupy the main view, sensibly divided into oscillators, envelopes, LFOs, filters, effects and a step sequencer.
You get three oscillators, each capable of generating saw, pulse, and noise waveforms, then three ADSR envelopes and three LFOs, each with a respectable number of parameters. Dual multimode filters are available, and effects come in the form of delay, chorus/flange, lo-fi, and a clipper. The sequencer allows up to eight steps. You get control over step speed and length, direction of play, and it’ll even generate its own sequences.
Powerful and ballsy when it counts, lush and evolving when you need atmosphere, just about any analogue sound can be wrung from Synister, and it rewards effort with authentic character.
Synister is open-source, so if it’s missing something and you happen to be a dab hand with a zed and a one, you can adapt the code to suit your needs.
u-he Repro Alpha
The prototype to u-he’s full-blown Repro-1 synth, RePro Alpha was a public release meant as ‘researchware’, with the company requesting feedback on how its filter designs sounded. Fortunately, there was also an entire synth glued on to facilitate the experiment, and you can still get it for your musical endeavours.
RePro Alpha is a fairly standard-issue synth with two oscillators, basic modulation and, of course that huge filter that’s its raison d’être. But it’s the sound that counts, so you should remember that the synth modelled in creating RePro Alpha - and the full Repro-1 was the Sequential Circuits Pro-One.