Friday, April 26, 2024

The best free audio plugins (Robin Edition)

It's been a while since I wrote an article in this series. Perhaps because I don't obsess over tools and am happy with what I have. Or perhaps it's more accurate to say that I don't always obsess over tools... but when I do, I like to share with you!

Recently I've been asked what plugins I would recommend, assuming that you have no cash on hand. The problem is not finding plugins, as there are so many. The problem is finding tools worth using. 

Unlike other areas of music production, you don't need to spend any money on plugins. Seriously. Likely your DAW already comes with the "basics"... which translates to tens of thousands of dollars of outboard equipment, the likes of which we could only dream of back in the 1980s. So, start with those. Learn them well. 

When you wish to extend your palette, these are the best free tools I've uncovered. I'll divide these into two categories: instruments and effects.


For sample-based instruments grab Decent Sampler and then cruise to Pianobook for instruments to load into this player. Spitfire Audio Labs quite generously provides many free sample-based instruments, alongside their professional libraries.

Native Instruments entice you into their product line with Komplete Start, which includes Reaktor Player and Kontakt Player, loaded with six synths, several sample-based instruments, and so on.  Personally I don't rate the quality of most of these, but it's good to have Kontakt on hand. Web searches will reveal many individual sample packs for Kontakt, though the best of these might require the paid version. Look out for that.

If you prefer to avoid the big companies, the following three synths will do just about anything you need:

  • Dexed is a DX7 emulation that reads all archival patches from that famous Yamaha FM synthesiser. 
  • Surge XT is a subtractive synth with wavetables, FM, etc. that supports microtuning, MPE, etc. Emulate analog goodness!
  • SunVox is a modular synth with a pattern-based sequencer (tracker).

I must mention that the full version of Reaktor goes on sale for 100 clams twice a year. This includes several thousand effects, synths, sequencers, and so on... plus the ability to make and hack your own. Yes, it's not free, but the per-instrument cost is only pennies.


Check out Tokyo Dawn for:

  • TDR Molotok, a zero-latency compressor with side-chain.
  • TDR Kotelnikov, a mastering dynamics processor with sidechain filter.
  • TDR Nova: parallel equalizer with dynamics processing.
  • TDR VOS SlickEQ: 4 EQ models, 5 output stages, and saturation.

Valhalla offer several worthy plugins for $50 each. I couldn't do without VintageVerb and Room. But they also generously offer the following free of charge:

Here are other effects that top my list:

And finally, two essential tools for getting your mix right:

Further Reading

Recent articles in the same series:


No comments:

Post a Comment