Sampling used to be a labour-intensive task, but with the rise of the internet, the sharing and distribution of small audio files has become the norm.
While ‘90s producers had to sift through crates of vinyl to earn the fodder for their tracks, today’s artists have it simpler: with subscription services like Splice and Sounds.com providing all-you-can-eat sample plans, and tools like Loopmasters’ Loopcloud bringing millions of audio files right into the DAW of your choice to audition.
And all this has been a boon for producers who can’t or won’t fork out for samples. Today, a simple Google search will turn out thousands of entries as a gateway to seemingly millions - or billions - of free samples. But with such a wealth of material out there, it’s sometimes hard to know which one of the many sites to head to.
So in this rundown, we do the legwork for you, sorting the wheat from the chaff as we aggregate the aggregators, curate the curators, and shine a spotlight on what are, for our money (or lack of it), the ten best dedicated free sample download websites out there right now.
Samples: Over 64,000
Our own collection of samples is in the late five figures and continues to grow. All of our 64,000-plus samples are royalty-free, which we can guarantee as we’re not acting as aggregators - these unique sounds have been made especially for us via our sister magazines Computer Music and Future Music.
We list the sample packs alphabetically, and they’re categorised into themes. SampleRadar is regularly updated and we list the latest update at the top of the main hubpage.
What started out as an online mastering platform is now becoming a 360-degree service for producers, encompassing distribution, collaboration and now sample-hunting. The best bit about the new sample download service? It’s free for everyone - all that’s needed is to sign up for a LANDR account.
LANDR’s sample packs have been created especially for the service by a mixture of artists and LANDR users. Packs can be filtered by Genre, Vibe and Artist, and individual sounds can be filtered by type, genre, key, BPM and more.
The company says that, in the future, it plans to accept user-submitted samples that will be included in the offering.
Rights: Personal, educational and research purposes
The BBC’s authority has long been evident in audio standards and practices, and now the corporation is offering a creative resource to the world as well, in the form of this huge library of 16,000 liberated WAV sound effects.
There’s a massive range of sound effects here, from the humdrum (‘two women approach and stop’) to the esoteric (‘Anglo Nubian Goat, exterior, bleating’), although the samples aren’t categorised or even searchable via page URL.
The entire collection is being distributed under the RemArc Licence [‘Reminiscence Archive’], meaning that these samples are not for commercial use, but are fair game if you’re using them for unreleased music, educational or research purposes.
It’s almost worth paying your TV licence for.
SampleFocus is a searchable database of samples that’s well-categorised for browsing, with tags, collections, categories and more guiding any search of the content. This is a modern curated collection, so efforts have been made to tag it from the start.
Currently free while in its Beta stage of operation (a fee may be introduced later), this website uses credits for sample ‘purchases’. Users earn ten credits every Monday, and every upload that’s approved by the website nets you a further four credits.
Watch out, though: SampleFocus’s download credits system incentivises people to upload as many samples as possible in order to download some of their own.
Samples: Over 1,400 sources
This producers’ website has been charting free sample pack releases since 2010, meaning there’s eight years’ worth of prime content to go for. Rather than distributing the samples itself, BPB is more of an aggregator, but it’s one of the very best such sites out there when it comes to sample collections and Kontakt instruments.
Some of the entries - especially the older ones - may not exist any longer, or may be introductory offers that have expired, but there’s more than enough to get along with here.
Rights: Mostly royalty-free, but not guaranteed
SampleSwap is chokablok with free, high-quality sounds that have been very well categorised in over the decade that the site’s been online.
You’ll find every type of drum hit as well as loops and breaks, full kits, multisampled instruments, acapella vocals, ambience and noises, and even whole pieces of royalty-free music.
SampleSwap is supported by donations, and many of the samples are uploaded by users. Because of this, the website cannot guarantee the rights status of every single one, although it does mention that most of the samples are royalty-free.
Rights: Public domain
FreeSound is less a musical resource, and more a treasure trove of public-domain sound effects and real-world sources. The site refers to itself as a ‘collaborative database’, with the intention of “providing new and interesting ways of accessing these samples.”
FreeSound’s search function works descriptively with the sounds’ well-thought-through tags, and each sound’s waveform is usefully displayed alongside its entry in the search results, giving you some insight into the dynamic character of the sound before you get started.
The formats and quality of sounds are variable across the site - you might find a few WAVs that are clearly not full-quality - and you should be aware that, since this is an upload platform, the copyright status of the sounds cannot be guaranteed.
Samples: Nearly 100,000
Rights: Royalty-free samples, acapellas subject to rights
LooperMan caters for a huge number of loops and hits to use in your tunes, and counts its 8000 vocal samples in a separate acappella category.
Samples are searchable by tempo, category, genre, key and date, and you can also filter the huge collection by tags – it’s pretty necessary to do this if you want to whittle down LooperMan’s 90-odd-thousand samples to find something just right for you.
LooperMan is a collection that focuses on quantity rather than quality, but we certainly can’t fault it in the former category. If you can’t get enough of LooperMan, you also grab the T shirt from the online store!
Samples: Large collection of interesting space sounds
Rights: Public domain
What’s better than samples? Space samples! Every entry on the main page (via archive.org) take you to a playlist of sounds. You can look up extracts from Apollo 11’s moon landing mission, bleeps and bloops from Voyager 1, or just veg out to some uber-stimulating NASA press conferences.
Downloading is simple, and working out the copyright implications shouldn’t be rocket science either, as NASA is obliged to classify all its materials as public domain and free of copyright.
One problem with the NASA sounds is their lower resolution and file size. Fortunately, older sounds are pretty grainy to begin with thanks to time and tape degradation, so you might not notice MP3 artefacts as much!
Samples: Over 100 packs and counting
This site aggregates free sample packs given away on the web, providing a curated selection of the drums, vocals and anything else that’s been recently released. A lot of the packs are sample labels’ ‘taster’ packs, but there’ll be plenty to work with if anything on SoundPacks.com appeals to you.
SoundPacks also serves for presets, furnishing users of Absynth, Massive, Serum, Sytrus and more with fresh fodder for their favourite synths.
Crucially, SoundPacks is a current site, regularly updated with new content.
We found that SoundPacks’ server isn’t especially reliable, though, so you may find downloading samples to be a tougher experience than it should be. It’s a free sample download site, though, so you can’t complain.