7 free plugins you need to know about this month

Universal Audio LUNA
(Image credit: Universal Audio)

It's starting to feel a little festive around here at MusicRadar HQ. There must be a spirit of generosity in the air, as the past month has seen a veritable sackful of free plugins and music software made available to the budget-conscious producers amongst us. 

We've counted not one, not two but six free plugins put up for download throughout November, with the bonus addition of a free DAW from Universal Audio. If that's not enough to get your sleigh bells jingling, we're not sure what will. Read on for our curated selection of this month's finest freebies.

1. Cherry Audio Synthesizer Expander Module

Cherry Audio SEM free plugin

(Image credit: Cherry Audio)

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

Although it was just a basic monosynth, the Oberheim SEM is something of a legend. Released in 1974, it offered dual oscillators and a multimode 12dB/octave filter with lowpass, bandpass, bandpass and notch modes.

It was this filter that helped to elevate the SEM’s sound and reputation, and it’s been emulated in Cherry Audio’s latest free plugin with the help of synth designer Mark Barton. 

Barton has also added a ‘phasor’ effect, and there’s an echo that can be tempo-synced. Other features include two envelopes, an LFO and a “massive” Unison mode, while the 100 supplied presets cover basses, leads and percussion. All controls can be automated in your DAW, and there’s comprehensive MIDI control. Pretty much everything you need in a ‘first synth’, and all for free.

2. Klanghelm Tens Jr

Klanghelm Tens

(Image credit: Klanghelm)

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

Klanghelm's new Tens plugin recreates the sound of AKG's BX series of '70s spring reverbs. Inspired by AKG’s original design - which enabled various connected spring elements of different lengths and wire diameter to vibrate inside a small, isolated tank - Tens offers a wide range of decay times and outputs in stereo rather than the original mono.

While that plugin will set you back $24, Klanghelm have made its little brother Tens Jr available for free. Tens Jr gives you just a single reverb tank to work with, but it’s still stereo, and also offers a single fader that allows you to adjust its character.

3. Aberrant DSP Lofi Oddity

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

Makers of Digitalis and SketchCassette, Aberrant has now released a free plugin, Lofi Oddity. This is something of a ‘greatest hits’ package, taking elements from three of the developer’s paid-for plugins (plus one that may well be coming soon) and packing them into an easy-to-use ‘degradation toy box’.

In keeping with the old-school vibe, the interface looks like it’s been made for an early version of Windows or MacOS. It contains four sound-manipulating modules; Corruption, Tape, Comp and ????, the latter of which draws its sonic character from a plugin that's yet to be released.

4. Slate Digital Heatwave

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

Heatwave is a free one-knob saturation plugin that Slate Digital says will “set your sound on fire”. Designed to add “grit and aggressiveness” to any sound it gets its dirty claws on - drums, guitars, bass, synths and full mixes are all suggested targets - Heatwave’s primary control is labelled Drive. This is used to adjust a combination of saturation, EQ and compression.

You can also tweak the input level, which itself can have an impact on the overall sound. The Clip button, meanwhile, adds a clipper to the overall output, and can help to control “unwieldy” transients. Finally, you can adjust the overall output level, or turn Heatwave off using the Bypass button.

5. Bedroom Producers Blog Dirty VHS

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

Dirty VHS is aimed at recreating  the kind of imperfect sound you used to get from old video cassette recorders and VHS tapes. BPB says that the new plugin is based on analysis of multiple VCRs and tapes in varying states of repair, with the pitch variation, circuit and transport noise, dynamics, and frequency response information being extracted from each unit.

Accordingly, the eight processing modes emulate various machine/tape combinations in different conditions. You also get the sound of a VCR accidentally being switched into long play mode, a circuit-bent model and a vintage games console being recorded to VHS. Other features include a tape chorus with stereo spread - designed to emulate the sound of a signal being recorded to multiple VHS tapes - and the distortion algorithm from Dirt, another of BPB’s free plugins.

6. Full Bucket Music Oxid

Full Bucket Music Oxid

(Image credit: Full Bucket Music)

Platforms: Mac/Windows | Formats: VST/AU/CLAP | Download

String synths were big news back in the ‘70s, and one of ARP’s offerings in this area was the Omni, which was released in both mk1 and 2 versions. This is believed to have been used by everyone from Joy Division to Journey - on Don’t Stop Believin’, no less.

Now Full Bucket Music, which was emulated several vintage synths down the years, has brought the Omni 2 back as Oxid, and the good news is that it’s letting you have it for free. Offering a distinctly ARP-esque look, this offers 64 voices of polyphony and includes both String and Synthesizer sections. The former enables you to trigger bass, cello, viola and violin sounds, while the latter offers a filter and an ADSR envelope.

The original Omni-2 didn’t have any effects, but Full Bucket Music has furnished the Oxid with a phaser and a delay.

7. Universal Audio LUNA

Platforms: Mac | Formats: Standalone | Download

Universal Audio has now made LUNA , its free DAW, available to all Mac users, and while it may not strictly be a 'free plugin', we thought it deserved a mention nonetheless. 

LUNA enables you to record as many tracks as your Mac can handle, and promises a vintage sound thanks to the ‘analogue’ summing, tape machines, channel strips and bus/parallel compression that are built into its mixer. In fact, it comes with a dedicated Oxide Tape Extension.

There’s a built-in instrument, too, known as Shape. In fact, this contains lots of instruments - sample-based classic keyboards, drums/percussion, guitar/bass and orchestral content, along with synth sounds that are generated in realtime. The premise of LUNA is that, as well as sounding good, it’s also easy to use, so if you want a DAW that you can just pick up and start recording with, it could be a good option. 

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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