Music Tech Showcase 2021: You can never have too many synth plugins, right? Whether you're in the market for something to inspire your creativity, or looking for a new workhorse to modernise your arsenal of VST, AU or AAX synths, 2021 has had something to offer all music makers.
Let's take a look at some of the best synth plugins released in the past 12 months. From the budget-friendly to Warlock to the animated fun of Lunacy Audio’s the Cube...
Warlock is probably the most surprising out of this whole lineup. Being so budget-friendly, you wouldn’t expect too much from this unassuming synth, but load it up and it packs a punch – it’s that upfront, dazzling Tone2 sound that EDMers can’t get enough of.
The 84 oscillator types, mono and stereo hypersaw function and 38 (drastically) different filter types all add to its character and make for a synth that’s fat, rich and wide – not to mention the two built-in FX slots, arpeggiator, 20 LFO types and 2,140 presets.
While Warlock isn’t going to win any awards for being the most parameter-heavy synth, it truly makes up for it in that it’s so easy to program such a wide variety of great sounding sounds from initialisation. The price point is an absolute steal for how usable this synth is and it will definitely become a go-to very quickly.
Newfangled Audio Generate
With its Chaotic Generator, Wavefolder and Low Pass Gate signal path, this experimental synth design can open a ton of creative opportunities that run-of-the-mill instruments wouldn’t afford you.
Those Generators are Turbine, Discharge, Double Pendulum, Vortex and Pulsar, all great-sounding sources inspired by the real-world oscillating phenomena. Each lets you set parameters of ‘chaos’, helping you add imperfection to the source. The Wavefolder and Low Pass Gate are great too.
Modulation is on-hand through very flexible LFOs and envelopes, plus EQ, Chorus, Delay and Reverb effects that are, again, oh so fitting for this synth’s unique atmosphere.
A powerful and most of all dark synth. It’s not for every genre, but try the demo.
This eight-operator FM synth is packed with functionality, providing the potential to create some of the most complex sounds you’ve ever heard, from DX7-esque presets that mark the beginning of FM synth history, to the future. Rather than modelling a vintage FM unit, Tracktion have focused on creating an extremely powerful plugin that’s very well equipped.
F.’em offers an abundance of controls and other cool features. One of the coolest is the two multi-sample operators which can be loaded up with factory sounds or your own.
One can modulate and the other can be modulated – which is where the fun starts. This feature alone creates another level of sonic possibilities on top of the usual sines-and-shapes tradition of FM. It’s also a useful tool for learning FM’s basic principles, thanks to the intuitive mod matrix. An FM synth which has it all.
Lunacy Audio Cube
In Cube, you’re given a graphic cube with a sound represented by each of its eight corners. By moving a cursor around the cube, you can freely merge sounds into something more complex.
This 3D sound space combined with “Orbits” (modulation paths that the orb can travel through) mean the possibilities of sonic evolution are endless.
The animations within the plugin depict exactly what is happening sonically, making it easy for new users to understand how a sound is being created. Cube has four LFOs, a modulation matrix, and eight built-in effects in case those options didn’t give enough sound-shaping power.
A very impressive soft synth, fun, intuitive and extremely easy to produce cool, unique sounds.
Arturia Pigments 3
You may know Arturia best for its classic gear emulations. Pigments, however, is a thoroughly ground-up digital synth.
The third version, a free update, adds Harmonic and Utility oscillator ‘engines’, providing additive synthesis plus two noise sources and a sub oscillator, respectively. Considering it’s free, this is a no-brainer update.
The Harmonic engine allows for some highly creative ways to shape your additive sound engine. Add to this the choice to set up two spectrums, and blend between them, and you’re just scratching the surface.
The Utility engine might not be innovative, but it’s highly solid and versatile, offering basic waveshapes and ‘pulse’ Width for the sub, and a huge variety of noise sources. This bulks up Pigments’ credentials as a drum synth.
Applied Acoustic Systems Chromaphone 3
Chromaphone was already an excellent physical modelling synth for creating realistic sounds by simulating the properties of bars, membranes, tubes, plates et al, but version 3 makes things even more flexible.
Instead of selecting a paltry two of these resonators to run alongside each other or coupled together, the physical phun is doubled here, as you select two pairs of them, with control over each one’s properties, and those of the mallet you’re virtually smacking them with.
Modulation is assignable per layer, as are a choice of 14 effects, and the well-featured arpeggiator and sequencer.
The consequence of all of this: you can run two complementary sounds in one Chromaphone patch, each wielding a pair of resonators, a different sequence or arp pattern, different modulation and different effects.
It’s a wildly comprehensive, hella realistic virtual instrument for people who like hitting things with sticks but simply don’t have time – or a comprehensive collection of percussion instruments – at their disposal.
Arturia Jun-6 V
One of the four new emulations introduced in Arturia V Collection 8, this is Arturia’s take on the Roland Juno-6, from Roland’s iconic Juno lineup.
As you’d expect from the V Collection, the Jun-6 V is an excellent-sounding emulation. Purists may argue that nothing matches the real thing, but this software version is pretty darn close – and cheaper. If you’re really craving that vintage analogue sound, Arturia have added Good, Average and Poor voice dispersion options to mimic the detuning of real analogue oscillators over the decades.
Other new features include up to 36 voices of polyphony, more advanced modulation options, an extra LFO and envelope, and built-in delay and reverb units.
Quicker and easier to use than the Jup-8 V, the Jun-6 V is an excellent addition to V Collection, perfect for characteristic keys, pads, bass and more.
Tracktion & DAWesome Abyss
As implied by the name, Abyss is a soundscape creation synth that has the ability to craft some very experimental and complex timbres.
The UI is beautifully designed with cool interactive features such as the gradient slider. This allows you to drag and drop a selection of pre-defined ‘oscillator’ sounds from the edit panel, and to reposition those timbres over time in order to create evolving soundscapes.
The synth boasts MPE and aftertouch functionalities, which give the user an expressive, tactile sound-shaping experience that also makes it a dab hand when it comes to performance duties.
Overall, Abyss is a fantastic tool for composers, sound designers and sound artists. Even anyone who just enjoys the process of discovering new timbres and soundscapes will be able to lose themselves for a few hours when playing around with it.
If you’re looking for experimentation or sounds you’ve never heard before, this should definitely pique your interest.
GForce Software OB-E
GForce’s take on the classic Oberheim 8-Voice vintage synth boasts multiple enhancements to its derivative hardware unit. With a plethora of presets and extra control over parameters, the OB-E is a solid option in the vintage softsynth market.
It sounds impressive, with a fat, lush character from the eight Synthesiser Expander Modules (SEM). The upper/lower mixer modules give control over the volume and pan of each SEM, making it easy to craft rich, dense, evolving walls of sound to fill the stereo field.
Overall, OB-E is a great purchase for anyone looking for a solid synth with a ton of control and great presets. It could also be a great source for processing, with other effects to open up new sound design possibilities. Despite some UI issues on smaller screens (parameter legending can be hard to read), this is a solid choice.