Free sampling solutions
The sampler was the first real casualty of the plugin revolution, and for obvious reasons: samplers have always been software-powered, even when they came in physical form.
The world of virtual samplers is reigned over by a handful of popular commercial products, but there are a few options on the freeware front. Thanks to SynthEdit and SynthMaker, the internet is peppered with free 32-bit, Windows-only sample-playback efforts, but there are far fewer coded-from-the-ground-up options. However, we've ferreted out a few of the finest.
For more on making music with freeware, check out the March 2015 issue of Computer Music (CM214), which is in sale now. Also be sure to browse our round-ups of the best free plugin synths, free mixing plugins and free creative effect plugins.
Vember Audio Shortcircuit
From the makers of the Surge synth, the once-payware Shortcircuit is a superb sampler.
It offers support for multiple sample formats and ten playback modes (including various loop modes as well as a sliced mode). There are two multimode filters with 28 filter types, a trio of step LFOs, dual AHDSR envelopes, Group LFO and dual effects processors per Group. This one's 32-bit and Windows only.
Sonic Charge Cyclone
This one aims to recreate the Yamaha TX16W down to its internal circuitry. That sampler was notoriously difficult to program but came to life many years after it was discontinued, thanks to the after-market Typhoon OS, created by the developer behind Sonic Charge.
Cyclone recreates the experience and sound of both, so using it is like stepping into the past - for better or worse! You can sample into it from your DAW or load the disk images available online. It’s also got a modulation matrix, loop-finder, dual LFOs and an ADSR envelope per channel.
The LinuxSampler Project LinuxSampler
Despite its name, this is a cross-platform solution that’s found some favour with users of the now-defunct GigaStudio.
The free, open-source LinuxSampler Project began back in 2002 with the goal of producing a free and stable streaming sampler on a par with the commercial heavy hitters. It doesn’t actually have its own GUI, though there are GUIs available for it, most notably the popular JSampler Fantasia front end. It supports Giga, SFZ and SoundFont files.
Designed to recreate the vibe of classic hardware samplers, TX16Wx is yet another excellent virtual sampler, taking its cue from the venerable, quirky Yamaha TX16W of the late '80s.
Available for OS X and Windows, it offers plenty of modern features as well, and is perhaps the most well-rounded cross-platform free sampler out there.