Every composer and producer needs a kalimba VST in their toolkit.
This beautiful instrument has risen in popularity in recent years, and it’s unique sound makes it suitable for a wide variety of genres – be it classical, ethnic, or even lo-fi hip-hop.
While kalimbas themselves are quite cheap, they can take some time to master, and getting quality recordings from them can be difficult. Therefore, turning to a software-based option is a great choice.
Fortunately, with the rise of the kalimba’s popularity, a number of fantastic plugins and virtual instruments have come out to meet the market’s demand.
In this article, let’s look over some of the best kalimba VSTs available. We’ll cover both free and paid options here, so you can find something that works for you regardless of budget.
Let’s start out by discussing our favorite free option – this kalimba VST from Echo Sound Works.
While not the best option on this list if you’re willing to spend money, the huge advantage here is that the kalimba is completely free – you only need to provide your email address.
This kalimba VST comes with 5 presets and a number of adjustable settings, including built-in IR reverb and an adjustable envelope. it also includes a ‘lofi’ option which adds flutter and tape hiss once the knob is turned up past 50%. Personally, this is something I’d add separately for more control, but this is still a neat option that makes it fun to play around with over a track.
Although not isolated, you can hear the Echo Sound Works kalimba in action with the video above.
This free kalimba VST is available for Kontakt, Ableton, and Logic X.
Next up we have EastWest Quantum Leap RA – which is a collection of rare and ethnic virtual instruments.
Many people don’t know this, but the kalimba originated in Africa, and is included in RA’s set of African instruments.
Although $299 may seem like an expensive price, RA comes with more than 70 instruments in total, and the kalimba is only one of them. As with most of EastWest’s offerings, their kalimba is beautifully sampled and you really can’t go wrong with it.
Note that EastWest frequently runs sales, so you shouldn’t pay full price if you can avoid it. Quantum Leap RA is also available as part of their Composer Cloud subscription service, which starts at $20 / month and includes all of their libraries and plugins. I personally consider it to be one of the best values available today, especially if you are composing for a living.
Next up we have the Glockenspiel Box from Cinematique Instruments.
Like EastWest’s RA offering before, this isn’t only a kalimba, but a set of five instruments that Cinematique Instrument has sampled – A metallophone, glockenspiel, spieluhr (music box), crystal bowl, and of course, a kalimba.
Like other offerings, this kalimba VI has plenty of options to affect the tone, and includes a second ‘noisy’ articulation.
If you’re willing to spend a little more money, the Glockenspiel Box is also included in Cinematique Instrument’s Fine Mallets Bundle, which is available for $110 and includes a sampled marimba and vibraphone also – saving you 55 euros.
Both the Glockenspiel Box and the Fine Mallets Bundle run in Kontakt, and are compatible with all modern DAWs.
If you are a fan of piano VSTs, you’ve likely heard of Pianoteq.
Unlike the other VSTs on this list, Pianoteq doesn’t sample their instruments.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term ‘sampling’, essentially, it is the process of recording a real instrument being played. Then when you play that virtual instrument with your keyboard, it is playing back the recordings that the company took earlier.
Instead of sampling, Pianoteq uses a process called physical modeling, where it uses complex math to recreate what the instrument would sound like in the real world, based on its physical properties.
In a nutshell, this means that you typically have a lot more options available to you that sampled instruments can’t provide, and some of Pianoteq’s instruments sound incredibly realistic.
You can learn more about sampling vs physical modeling from this video:
If you want a really authentic sounding kalimba VST, the grand kalimba from Orange Tree Samples is a fantastic choice.
There are a lot of really neat features with this one:
- You can adjust settings for each individual tine, instead of for the instrument as a whole. Detuning just a few tines a little bit for example can help the instrument sound more natural.
- You can adjust the likelihood that the kalimba will buzz, which is a natural occurrence when playing a real kalimba.
- You can adjust the distance between the microphone recording the kalimba, and the kalimba itself.
- Double the tines – playing two tines for each note (creating a chorus or spacey effect. I find this particularly useful for lo-fi, hip-hop, or psychedelic music.)
The one downside to this library is the UI could be improved in my opinion… there is definitely enough space to lay out more without having to use dropdown menus. Still, this VST sounds great!
Although there are many more kalimba VSTs on the market, these five are some of the best for your money.
Of course, if there are others you’ve used that we didn’t include here, please let us know in the comments below so we can check them out!
Have fun creating kalimba music,
– The Musical Sanctuary Team