Best Mellotron VST Plugins – 2020 Buyer’s Guide

We know it may sound odd, but, there was a time in the mid-20th century when synthesizers didn’t exist. Playing the keyboard was nothing more than playing an acoustic or some archaic electric piano. But from the moment this instrument came to the Beatles and Davie Bowie, nothing was the same anymore.

Our Top Picks for Mellotron VST Plugins

  • Huge Mellotron collection
  • 65 tape racks
  • User sampling feature
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  • Sample-based Mellotron
  • 15 looped vintage sounds
  • Phrase and chord generator
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  • Authentic Mellotron VST
  • 200 tapes with 700 patches
  • Synth editing parameters
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Comparison Chart of the Best Mellotron VST Plugins

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • The largest Mellotron collection on the market
  • 65 tape racks organized in 61 factory presets
  • User sample import with time stretching option
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  • Mellotron M400 sample-based emulation
  • 15 looped vintage sounds in extended key range
  • Useful phrase MIDI generator with Humanize option
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  • Lo-fi quality Mellotron M400 emulation
  • 75 patches included with 3x round robin
  • Incredibly small installation file
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  • Most realistic sample-based Mellotron emulation
  • 200 tape banks with 700+ patches
  • Bunch of synth editing parameters
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  • Multi-sampled authentic Mellotron library
  • 28 original sounds in 12 tape decks
  • Authentic mechanical noise and key-off releases
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What is a Mellotron and What Does it Do? 

Mellotron is an electronic instrument with the keyboard interface. It uses tape sampling and is considered as a predecessor of the sampling instruments. However, Mellotron tapes didn’t contain a loop feature, so once the tape ran out after 8 seconds it started to sound distorted and out of tune.

Every key was equipped with the magnetic tape containing a sample of individual notes that playback when pressed. It also responded to the key-press velocity and aftertouch. Because the sound is located on a tape, a different subtle pitch and volume difference occurs every time it’s being replayed. 

Arturia Mellotron V

History of Mellotron 

Mellotron idea derives from California actually, but it was first commercially made in England in 1963 Bradley brothers decided to help Bill Fransen and improve the design of the original Musicmaster 600 he bought. A year later the MK II model was developed with more sounds. In the 1970s, right after Mellotron M400, Bradley had to change the name into Novatron because of trademark disputes, while a completely different manufacturer continued to produce Mellotron on US territory. 

It was used by many rock musicians, even The Beatles used it on several songs, while The Moody Blues, Yes, and King Crimson used it as a trademark sound. 

When Would I Use a Mellotron Plugin? 

Mellotron is a vintage instrument and this is how it was used the best:

Vintage Rock

If you’re looking for re-creating the analog sound of the rock of the 60s, Mellotron sounds will accompany your organ and analog synth sounds very naturally. They can contribute a lot in creating a vibe that psychedelic rock craves.

Flute Sounds

Although limited regarding certain articulations, this patch was Mellotron’s trademark sound. It sounded realistic enough for any kind of legato playing and if arranged properly it could replace a flute instrument completely.

String Layers

Because of the tape sampling method, the Mellotron strings patch sounded exceptionally warm and useful for background pads and layers, especially if you add some nice chorus or phaser over it. It’s one of those sounds you won’t notice at first, but if you mute in your song project, you will detect something significant is missing.

Choirs

While Mellotron choirs can’t compete with the modern sampling choir libraries, they are still very useful, especially for pad layering. As a matter of fact, Mellotron choirs are one of those sounds you pick not because of the realism or sound quality, but because of the actual timbre that’s very authentic.

Is a Mellotron VST Hard to Learn? 

If you’re a keyboard player you won’t have any trouble playing Mellotron, otherwise, you may need to learn some keyboard basics first. Nevertheless, as it samples other instruments it’s recommended to approach song arrangement in a way that feels logical to the instrument you have selected.

If you’re composing a flute part, you will have to think as a flute player. And on top of that, if you want to create an authentic Mellotron behavior you will have to keep your layer keys shorter than 8 seconds. This can change your songwriting approach a lot.

Quick Take: 
Top 3 Picks

Review of the Best Mellotron VST Plugins

Now it’s time to see what Mellotron VSTs are out there. Roll on the tapes, but no longer than 8 seconds, please!

Best Overall:
Arturia Mellotron V

PROS

  • 65 tape racks organized in 61 factory presets
  • The largest Mellotron collection on the market
  • User sample import with time stretching option
  • Blend up to 3 tracks and apply various modulations
  • 10 different effects including amp simulator and room ambiance

CONS

  • Feels slightly overpriced
  • Some modern effects would come nice

Features and Specifications

Mellotron V contains 65 original tape racks from all kinds of Mellotrons from MKI to M400. Just like the original it allows you to blend up to 3 different tracks and manipulate them in the same manner like you would do on regular hardware - flutter with or without aftertouch applied or various mechanical noises. Every sample has its own envelope and loop controls and there are ten different effects available including Amp Simulation of Fender Twin and Leslie. You can chain them in a series of four and apply a room ambiance.

Why it Stands Out to Us

If Mellotron was designed today, we firmly believe this is how it would look like. Arturia did a terrific job combining all the signature features of the original hardware and blending them with all the options modern computers are capable of. Needless to say, the graphical interface is impeccable as usual with Arturia products.

Loading user samples might seem like a very logical add-on for this type of instrument, but it’s the time-stretching algorithm that makes a real difference. It will allow you to play any sample unaltered on a much bigger keyboard range compared to the typical sample playback device.

PROS

  • Well-organized FX chain presets
  • Samples are looped for an infinite time
  • 15 vintage sounds in extended key range
  • Mellotron M400 sample-based emulation
  • Very useful phrasing MIDI generator with Humanize option

CONS

  • You can’t layer sounds together 
  • You can’t apply all the effects on every sound

Features and Specifications

EZKeys Mellotoon is a plugin that contains high-quality samples of the Mellotron M400. 15 instruments were captured in the studio and extended from the original 35-note up to 64 key range. Samples aren’t limited to the 8 seconds length so they can be held down for an infinite time and you can even utilize a sustain pedal. You can stack up to four different effects and every instrument has its own set of effects. Apart from reverb, you can also add some delay, EQ, filtering, phasing, panning, rotary speaker and tremolo, 

Why it Stands Out to Us

This is a rare combination of proper sounding VST that includes a handy phrase generator. While it was meant for newbies and non-keyboard oriented musicians, everyone’s songwriting can benefit from it. Sequences are organized by genres and song sections so you may have a dedicated part for any part of the song with many variations. After you define chords and time signature, you can apply them by a simple drag-and-drop method. Speaking of chords, it has a quite interesting chord wheel interface that allows you to pick a chord inversion, root, or add some notes that you wouldn’t think of at first at all.

PROS

  • Incredibly small installation file
  • Lo-fi quality Mellotron M400 emulation
  • 75 patches included with 3x round-robin
  • Tape blend slider between two different tape decks
  • High-quality FX panel with interchangeable modules

CONS

  • Lo-Fi sound may not be for everyone
  • Requires the full version of Kontakt Player

Features and Specifications

The Newmello Collection contains 75 mellotron instruments based on the Mellotron M400 instrument so you can pick between many flutes, horns, woodwinds, strings, choirs, organs, woodblocks, and even guitar and piano sounds.

The user interface is quite basic and straightforward - there is a knob for adding the tape noise, switching between two different tape decks, and a knob for altering the attack and release envelope.

The effect section is made from EQ, several compressors, modulation effects, tape saturation and distortion, amp sims, and 40 IRs for both digital and convolution reverbs. Those effects can be stacked in any given order. 

Why it Stands Out to Us

Wavesfactory didn’t sample the original M400. They recreated how it works by applying a lo-fi sound quality that will suit the vintage rock sound perfectly or any soundtrack that may require from you to recreate the vibe of the late ’60s. That’s why the installation size is incredibly small coming at less than 3MB while delivering all the parameters found at the original mellotron including handy Start Offset and even including round-robin sample picking. On top of that in case you need it, you can limit dynamic range by changing the velocity curve and defining the minimum and maximum MIDI parameters.

Best 64 Bit Mellotron VST:
Gforce M-Tron Pro

PROS

  • 200 tape banks with 700+ patches
  • Most realistic sample-based Mellotron emulation 
  • Up to 35 individually sampled notes for every tape
  • Original features such as tape reverse and half-speed included
  • Bunch of synth editing parameters including dual and split mode

CONS

  • Huge installation size - over 3.5GB
  • Not so newbie-friendly user interface

Features and Specifications

M-Tron Pro is a sample-based Mellotron emulation that contains 200 tape banks with more than 700 sound patches. It was emulated to the core so every bank contains up to 35 individually sampled notes and includes tape reverse and half-speed features that can be assigned to any MIDI controller. Vintage delay and ensemble effects are also included. 

Besides being true to the original it also provides you with some advanced synth parameters not found on the original instrument including several resonant filters and the dual-layer or split playing mode. 

Why it Stands Out to Us

This is probably the ultimate Mellotron collection. It also supports other Force purchases of other Mellotron instruments such as Chamberlain or Streetly Electronics models. It was meant to emulate the original Mellotron as much as possible and still provide you with advanced features expected from modern software. That’s why most of the tape banks don't contain a loop feature. While this may be a limitation for some, we actually find it quite useful, because it will set your playing mindset in the exact mode required for playing Mellotron sounds. However, if this limitation bothers you, 40 tape banks contain looped samples.

Best Mellotron VST For Mac:
UVI Mellotron

PROS

  • 28 original sounds in 12 tape decks
  • Original and extended keyboard range
  • Multi-sampled authentic Mellotron library 
  • Authentic mechanical noise and key-off releases
  • Wonderful SparkVerb and analog tape delay effects

CONS

  • Parametric EQ would be better
  • We would love tape half-speed option

Features and Specifications

This plugin contains multi-samples from 3 different Mellotron machines with stereo samples of key noise and other mechanical sounds such as tape noise and key-off sounds with a dedicated knob for defining what amount of these sounds you want to blend with the original sound.

Effect panel is upgraded from the original Mellotron so it includes multimode resonant filter, 3-band EQ, tape delay, reverb, and unison mode that helps you out solve unwanted chorusing. But if such aliasing is your choice, there is a dedicated detune knob so you can fine-tune it.

Why it Stands Out to Us

We love how sounds are organized in a true Mellotron layout. You have 12 tapes and every tape contains 3 sounds. Tapes are organized by instrument category so all choirs or organs are placed in a single tape. User Interface is probably one the best we’ve seen so far and all the parameters are visible and MIDI-assignable. And in case you love the sound but find the original 35-note as a shortage there is a switch for an extended mode that allows you to cover a complete key range within the reasonable sound limitations.

Top 10 Mellotron Songs

Here’s a quick list of the most iconic songs that have used mellotron:

  1. The Beatles - Strawberry Fields Forever

  2. Led Zeppelin - Stairway to Heaven

  3. David Bowie - Space Oddity

  4. The Moody Blues - Nights in White Satin

  5. Genesis - Watcher of the Skies

  6. Aerosmith - Dream on

  7. King Crimson - The Court of the Crimson King

  8. Oasis - Wonderwall

  9. Radiohead - Exit Music

  10. The Rolling Stones - 2000 Light Years From Home

Real Mellotron vs. Mellotron VST

Let’s see how those two stand against each other:

Condition

Mellotron used the real analog tapes. Those tapes wear out during time and have very problematic tuning issues. Even weather conditions may cause slight out of tune, not to mention that pressing keys too hard may cause an analog drift as well. The VST version usually manages to replicate all the necessary sound characteristics without any need for occasional checking if your instrument is in tune.

Sound Characteristics

Plugins tend to provide you with the looping option while original mellotron will allow you to play only up to 8 seconds. While this may be a significant limitation, we actually like how the real mellotron behaved creating some unusual and authentic articulations once the tape has worn out.

Effects

Original mellotron had a limited amount of effects while plugins utilize all the modern technology to provide you with the usual FX modules found today in many plugins. This is a nice example of how vintage sound can benefit from modern times.

Portability

Real iconic mellotron models weigh around 350 pounds so they may not be your ideal travel companion for any regular touring. It was meant to be used as an installation.

Are All Mellotron Plugins The Same? 

All mellotron plugins try to emulate the original mellotron so more or less they will come with all the tapes found at the original Mellotron. But, they vary on features a lot. Some will emulate a specific Mellotron model, others will try to cover them all.

Some will allow you to load your own samples and others will provide you with the loop option so that you can hold notes much longer than 8 seconds or to manipulate with the modeling options and make it possible to cause mechanical noise, flutter, and other behavior found at the real hardware.

Conclusion 

We hope that you are now more aware of Mellotron's purpose and that next time you hear that famous Led Zeppelin song detects how important Mellotron actually was for modern music history. If you’re a big Yes fan, now you know what sound made them an authentic rock band.