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

IK Multimedia MixBox CS

Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: VST/VST3/AU/AUv3 | Download

IK Multimedia's MixBox is a colossal modular effects package that gives users the ability to build a complete processing chain within a single plugin. The paid version is certainly worth your consideration, but what we're really here for is MixBox CS, a slimmed-down version that IK are giving away absolutely free. 

This should give you a taste of what MixBox has to offer, as it comes bundled with 8 starter modules (including a compressor, tape delay and overdrive) equipped with over 30 presets to help you get started. Pro tip: IK have a ton of other free stuff, including a free version of their flagship soft synth Syntronik 2, available on their website - go take a look.

Novation Bass Station and V-Station

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

Built to emulate two of the company’s ‘90s/noughties hardware synths, Novation’s Bass Station and V-Station plugins are now pretty long in the tooth themselves. In fact, the company has now discontinued them as commercial products and made them available for free as ‘legacy’ software. It’s worth bearing in mind that there’s no guarantee that they’ll be compatible with your OS and DAW. 

Bass Station is designed to create the monophonic 1993 hardware of the same name in your DAW. Like the original, which was used on countless dance records in the ‘90s, it offers two digital oscillators and an analogue filter. V-Station, meanwhile, is an emulation of the K-Station synth that was released in 2002. It has a 3-oscillator sound engine with noise and FM capabilities, an arpeggiator, effects, 200 user programs and 200 factory presets. 

Spitfire Audio BBC Symphony Orchestra Discover

Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: VST3/AU/AAX | Download

Previously available either for $49 or as a free download to anyone who was prepared to answer a questionnaire and then wait 14 days, Spitfire Audio’s BBC Symphony Orchestra Discover plugin is now free for everyone.

Designed to be an easy-to-use entry point into the world of orchestral composition, Discover features 33 instruments (these cover strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion) and 47 playing techniques, all mixed into a single signal. The instrument offers simple controls and weighs in at just 200MB, though Spitfire claims that the sound is “remarkable” nonetheless.

Car Test

Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: VST/VST3/AU | Download

The car test is an age-old method for test-driving a final mixdown. Just leave the house, jump in the car and bump it through your vehicle's stereo system to get a sense of how it might sound when you've made it big and they're playing your hit single on the radio.

The only problem is, we don't all own a car. And even if we do - well, gas is expensive these days. For those reasons and more, we're glad to see Rocket Powered Sound have devised a workaround in the form of a new free plugin. Car Test does exactly what you'd expect, processing your mix in order to produce a simulation of how it'll sound coming out of a car stereo. All you need to do is load it up on your master channel, hit the big green button, and you're away. 

Karp Synthesizer

Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: VST3/AU | Download

This free synth from developer Nathan Blair is a nifty little plugin that makes use of Karplus-Strong synthesis, a variant of physical modelling synthesis that's often used to emulate the sound of a plucked or bowed string, or just to design synth sounds with a string-like character. Karp has an undeniably pleasing, elastic tone to it - sample the sound in the video above. 

Mastrcode Music Substrate Subharmonic Bass Booster

Platforms: Windows | Formats: VST2/VST3 | Download

Bass sounds are notoriously difficult to design, mix and process in comparison to the higher-frequency elements of a track. It's especially tough to achieve an impactful, sub-heavy bass sound that doesn't overwhelm the rest of your mix. Substrate's new free plugin, the Subharmonic Bass Booster, may be able to help you in that regard. Designed to embellish your low-end with additional sub-harmonics, it should make sub bass frequencies more audible on weaker systems.

Ronan Fed Pneuma 

Platforms: PC | Formats: VST2/VST3 | Download

Pneuma is a subtractive polyphonic synthesizer plugin that's absolutely packed with features. Equipped with four multi-voice oscillators, one noise oscillator and two sample oscillators, it's got a multi-mode filter, two LFOs and a modulation matrix for tone-shaping and sound design. The real draw here is the bumper FX capabilities: Pneuma comes with an EQ, chorus, phaser, delay, reverb, compressor, saturation and distortion all built in. It's a shame it's not Mac-compatible.

Viator DSP Vibe Mechanic


(Image credit: Viator DSP)

Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: VST3/AU | Download

If your tracks are falling short in the vibes department, look no further than Viator DSP's Vibe Mechanic, a new lo-fi effects plugin that's "designed to give you different vibe-shaping flavors." Vibe Mechanic does it's magic by running audio through EQ, distortion and reverb modules, which can each be manipulated and controlled independently. That's good vibes.  

SR Musics Quantize

sr musics

(Image credit: SR Musics)

Platforms: PC | Formats: VST3 | Download

If Vibe Mechanic wasn't quite your vibe, see how you get on with Quantize, another free lo-fi plugin of the vibe-imparting variety. The makers promise that it's capable of reproducing everything from classic 8-bit grit to dusty old-sampler goodness, thanks to the onboard bitcrusher and filter, and two switchable circuit modes.

Manifest Audio Mod Squad v2

Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: Ableton-only | Download

If you're a Max for Live user, we'd recommend maxing out your modulation capabilities with this bumper pack of 15 modulators from Manifest Audio. Designed to 'inject life into your sets and compositions,' the set is made up of six MIDI effects and eight audio effects, all mappable to up to eight parameter targets and capable of producing probability-driven and generative ADSR envelopes, LFO cycles and more. 

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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