When it comes to virtual instruments, it is so easy to collect far more than you ever need – constantly seeking out that next plugin to add to your collection.
As someone that’s fallen into this trap myself (and has only been able to justify it by writing these articles), let me tell you – when it comes to soft synths, less is more.
It is better to get just a few that completely covers all of your bases and actually take the time to learn how to create patches with them, than it is to simply keep purchasing more and more.
But with so many software synthesizer VSTs on the market, which are actually worth buying?
In this article, let’s look over the true ‘must have’ synthesizer plugins that every producer should own. Pick up these five, and you’ll have 99% of your bases covered – and can finally lay your credit card down to rest.
If you’ve spent much time learning about soft synths, you already knew this one was going to be on the list.
While not strictly a synthesizer, Omnisphere is a huge collection of more sounds than you’ll ever be able to use.
Many people consider it to be the king of software synthesizers and you could literally spend years without discovering everything that Omnisphere 2 has to offer.
There’s a reason after all that it’s the standard in all professional studios, and it’s used heavily in film and cinematic work – even by media giants like Disney.
If you could only have one synthesizer plugin to cover the most ground possible, Omnisphere would be clear choice. However, if Omnisphere isn’t in the budget, click here for a list of Omnisphere alternatives.
Who Is Omnisphere Best Suited For?
While Omnisphere has its place in just about every genre of music and is a fantastic all-in-one solution, I find myself turning to it most for film and cinematic work. It excels with its excellent pads and is a critical tool while building immersive soundscapes. The complex and powerful tools available combined with the library of samples (plus the ability to add your own) allow you to create incredible sounds that few other VSTs come close to.
If you want to best mimic the analog synth sounds of the 1970’s and 1980’s, it doesn’t get any better than Diva.
Diva – although quite CPU-heavy and requiring a beefy computer to use, has a fidelity and quality about it that’s unmatched in other analogue synth emulations.
While it isn’t always going to be the first choice for those looking to model certain synths perfectly, it allows you to combine oscillators, filters and envelopes of synthesizers such as the Moog Minimoog, Roland Jupiter 6, Roland Jupiter 8, Roland Juno 60, Roland Alpha Juno and Kork MS20.
The ability to mix and match components allows for far greater capabilities, and you are not bound by the limitations of the original synths.
If you’re looking for a wide collection of classic analog synths that do try to remain truer to the original hardware, we recommend Arturia’s V Collection. The V collection may provide a bit more versatility than Diva due to the sheer number of instruments available in the package, but in our opinion doesn’t sound quite as nice as Diva does.
Plus, you have to learn how to program a bunch of different synthesizers. From a workflow standpoint, getting really good at making Diva patches will help you dial in the sound you’re looking for much more quickly.
It’s also worth pointing however that if you’re looking for emulations of specific synths, there may be individual products that also make better sounding VSTs than Arturia does. For example, Synapse’s The Legend is a nicer Minimoog, and Memorymoon’s ME80 is a nicer CS80.
Who Is Diva Best Suited For?
Because Diva sounds closest to classic analog synthesizers, Diva is best for producers looking to create music that matches that time in history.
Rock, synthpop and funk are a few standout examples.
Diva also sounds great with guitar tracks, if that’s your thing.
If you produce hip-hop, trap, EDM or any other sorts of modern music, Serum is pretty much the industry standard.
Everyone knows it, and everyone uses it.
And because of that, there are thankfully plenty of tutorials and plenty of preset banks available to play around with.
Serum’s oscillators make perfect waveforms – they’re crisp, sharp, and clean. In fact, it’s the ‘too perfect’ feel that makes it so great for modern music, and less desirable for those that enjoy analog synthesis. Real hardware units weren’t perfect and didn’t always sound the same, you know!
Speaking of waveforms, Serum is a wavetable synthesizer – meaning you aren’t stuck with the same waveforms from the same oscillators. You can cycle through an entire table of waveforms right after one another, leading to complex and interesting sounds you wouldn’t otherwise be able to get.
If you’re new to wavetable synthesis, a good explanation can be found in the video below:
Part of what makes Serum so great is it’s simple, straightforward workflow. Everything is intuitive and just sort of makes sense. Coming to grips with how things work (and how each thing affects the sound) doesn’t take as long as it would on many other synthesizers, which makes it quick and easy to dial in your sound.
Who Is Serum Best Suited For?
As mentioned earlier, if you work with any sort of modern music, you’re going to run into Serum. It’s pretty much a required purchase if you’re going to be working on other people’s projects.
For this task, it’s exceptional, to the point where some people believe that it’s now overused (so make sure you don’t just stick to the stock presets, haha!)
Speaking of tweaking the sound, the straightforward and intuitive interface makes Serum great for those looking to explore sound design for the first time.
Serum includes a lot of options for modulation and the ability to import or draw your own waves / wavetables, which is a feature that is only shared by Zebra 2 on this list.
As an alternative to Serum, you may consider Arturia’s Pigments, which is a bit newer and has some other options that aren’t available in Serum. This is also the software featured in the video above.
Both have their pros and cons, so it’s hard to say one is better than the other.
Serum is available via rent-to-own on Splice, so it is quite affordable too!
4. Zebra 2
Another synth by U-he on this list, there is very little you can’t do with Zebra 2.
While Diva best resembles the sound of analog hardware, Zebra 2 (being a modular synth) is an entire suite of synthesis tools that give you an incredible number of options.
Zebra 2 can handle additive, subtractive, FM, and wavetable synthesis giving you an insane number of options at your disposal.
It can be a bit complicated to use due to the sheer volume of options available, but this is also what makes it so powerful. Investing your time into learning Zebra 2 is certain to pay off.
While Omnisphere is an enormous package with an incredible number of sounds, Zebra 2 might the the complete package you’re looking for if you only want one VST that is specifically a synth. And considering how large it is, it may as well be multiple synths in one single package, because you have an unbelievable amount of options to choose from.
Who Is Zebra 2 Best Suited For?
Zebra 2 is the most versatile synthesizer-specific package on the market, and many professional producers find themselves turning to Zebra 2 more than any other soft synth.
I can’t think of anyone I wouldn’t recommend it for. You will save yourself a lot of money avoiding cheaper, lesser-quality synths by picking this one up.
5. Komplete Package
Okay, this isn’t one synth, but here me out.
Every producer needs Kontakt, as it is by far the most popular sampler. Many virtual instruments won’t run without the full Kontakt player, which runs for $400 on its own.
For an extra $200, you get a ton of other virtual instruments… but also a ton of soft synths, including:
- Absynth 5
- Massive X
- Monark (which is an excellent Minimoog VST)
- Reaktor 6
- Reaktor 6 Blocks
- Reaktor Prism
- Reaktor Spark
- Super 8
Although I find myself turning to the other synths on this list more frequently, this is a heck of a deal… especially when you consider everything else that Komplete comes with.
And despite the previous synthesizers covering so much ground, there are still things you can do with Native Instrument’s Komplete synthesizers that wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.
Who Is The Komplete Package Best Suited For?
Komplete is a great introduction to virtual instruments in general and the full version of Kontakt is unavoidable if you ever get serious about music production.
This package of synthesizers can be a great introduction to virtual synthesizers and will keep most people busy for quite a long while. The package contains many different types of synthesizers for you to create with, and by the time you outgrow them you’ll already have a better idea of what you actually need for your music.
Komplete also comes with plenty of other instruments and a ridiculous number of other samples to add to your tracks, and it really is one of the best-value purchases in music production today.
Grab these 5 products, and you’ll cover the overwhelming majority of your synthesis needs.
Although it can be exciting to collect more VSTs, it can actually hurt you more than it helps you.
Instead, pick a few synthesizers, and really delve deep into them. Learn them inside and out, and really become familiar with how to program your own patches.
Ultimately, this will do more for you than simply buying another synth well.
Are there any that you’d add to this list? I’d love to hear your ideas through the comments form below.
Thank you for reading!