The best new free music-making software: unmissable freeware synths, drum machines and effects for March 2023

Oi, Grandad! 

Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: VST/AU | Download

This curiously named granular synth plugin is equipped with four voices, each of which has its own filter, envelope and delay controls. It's basically four complete synths in one. Each voice can hold a .wav audio file and has familiar granular controls for manipulation. Use the on-screen dials to adjust grain, density, position, detune, spread and pitch. The filter has multiple modes and there's full cut-off and resonance knobs to play with.

And that's not all. There's an extensive modulation section offering 12 different modulation sequencers so you can use them as a simple LFO or get your groove on with controls over pitch and timing for more complex sequences. There's even a drone button for rapid envelope-ignoring creation of moody soundscapes and animating pads and textures. 

Lese Codec

Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: VST/AU | Download

While many audio degradation plugins are designed to add vinyl, tape or cassette-style vibes, Lese’s Codec freebie takes a more contemporary approach: it’s based on the sound of internet compression algorithms. Codec is basically a container that holds an ‘audio compressor’, though not the sort that’s usually associated with music production. You can use it to compress and decompress your sounds in real time.

Spitfire Audio LABS Vintage Drums

Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: VST/AU | Download

This sample-based instrument from Spitfire Audio is packed full of lovingly recorded vintage drum sounds that were captured at KERWAX, a French studio complex centred around vintage analogue recording technology. There's not much more to say here, as it's a no-brainer: expect warm, saturated hits perfect for use in pop, hip-hop and neo-soul productions. 

Black Rooster Audio RO-GOLD

Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: VST/AU/AAX | Download

Get it while it's molten… You can now grab yourself Black Rooster Audio’s RO-GOLD vintage reverb plugin for free. Black Rooster's RO-GOLD is an accurately modelled recreation of the classic EMT 140 featuring the same pre-delay and dry/wet controls but simplifying the original’s Input Filter to a Bass Cut control and the Reverberation Time to a plate Damper control.

What makes the RO-GOLD extra special is that it’s all set to sprinkle 24k magic on your tracks by virtue of the solid gold plate hidden inside. Yes, while all other plate reverbs have to do with plain old steel, RO-GOLD has a golden touch all thanks to the gold plate that’s physically modelled inside.

SampleScience Sitar Renaissance

Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: VST/AU | Download

SampleScience are regularly featured in this round-up, thanks to a habitual generosity that's seen them share more than 19 free plugins on their website. Their latest gift to the music production community is a sample instrument called Sitar Renaissance, which brings the exotic sounds of the sitar into your DAW. Now you can finally inject the vibes of Hindustani classical music into your next face-melting dubstep track. 

2Rule TugGlicento

Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: VST/AU | Download

TugGlicento is a multi-effect plugin that's ideal for creating glitchy, unpredictable sequences out of your source audio. Surprisingly powerful for a free tool, the plugin's equipped with a filter, reverb, delay, chorus, distortion, phaser, pitch-shifter, vibrato, tremolo, ring mod and bitcrusher, all of which can be sequenced using five channels that can run at independent speeds, and modulated using the onboard LFO.

Magenta DDSP-VST


(Image credit: Google)

Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: VST/AU | Download

The team behind Google's Magenta research project has been tasked with exploring how machine learning and AI can be integrated into the creative process. A couple of years ago, they blessed us with Magenta Studio, a set of five music creativity tools that use cutting-edge ML techniques for music generation. 

Their next release, DDSP-VST, uses 'neural synthesis' to transform source audio into the sound of different instruments: in the video they've shared, a guitar's used to trigger the plugin's synthesis engine, capturing the nuances of articulation in the guitarist's performance through the sound of modelled instruments like the flute and trumpet. The sound selection is a bit limited, but you're able to make your own models by entering new audio clips.

Matt Mullen
Tech Editor

I'm the Tech Editor for MusicRadar, working across everything from artist interviews to product news to tech tutorials. I love electronic music and I'm endlessly fascinated by the tools we use to make it. When I'm not behind my laptop keyboard, you'll find me behind a MIDI keyboard, carefully crafting the beginnings of another project that I'll ultimately abandon to the creative graveyard that is my overstuffed hard drive.

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