Best Pad VST Plugins – 2020 Round-up

Gear Savvy is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

There are sounds that might seem almost inaudible, but once you turn them off, you will notice something is missing or that song “feels” different without them.

Those sounds are called pads and let’s check what’s so special about them and what benefits you can have from them.

Our Top Picks for Pad VST Plugins

  • 20 waveforms per OSC
  • Morphing Wavetables
  • Granular synthesis
View Latest Price →
  • 256 wavetables per OSC
  • 16 unison oscillators
  • Draw or load wavetables
View Latest Price →
  • 64-voice polyphony
  • 2.500+ presets
  • 6 Smart knobs
View Latest Price →

Comparison Chart of the Best Pad VST Plugins

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • 20 DSP or sample-based waveforms per oscillator
  • Advanced Morphing Wavetable synthesis
  • Granular synthesis supported
View Latest Price →Read Customer Reviews
  • 256 wavetables per oscillator
  • Stack 16 oscillator in unison mode
  • Draw or load you own wavetables
View Latest Price →Read Customer Reviews
  • 64-voice polyphonic multitimbral synth workstation
  • 2.500+ factory presets in 29 categories
  • 6 Smart knobs
View Latest Price →Read Customer Reviews
  • Hybrid wavetable/FM synth
  • Spectral effects per oscillator
  • 21 effect modules and 23 filters
View Latest Price →Read Customer Reviews
  • Advanced wavetable synth
  • 10 Modulation Matrix slots
  • Very visual interface
View Latest Price →Read Customer Reviews
  • Flexible virtual analog synth
  • 4 oscillators and 2 multimode filters per patch
  • Up to 9 voices per oscillator in Unison mode
View Latest Price →Read Customer Reviews

What is a Pad VST Plugin and What is it Used For? 

Pad is a sustained subtle note or chord most often created by a synthesizer. They are mostly used for creating a background layer that makes the song sounds fuller. Some extreme editing values can make them ideal for creating fantasy environmental effects for video games as well

It’s very versatile in terms of sound character so it’s only up to you to decide if you need a hard, cold, and mechanical or soft, warm, and organic sound. And the most fun part of all is that there are software features that allow you to crossfade between those two types in a second.

Is a Pad VST Plugin Hard to Learn? 

Pads are those plugins that are easy to learn but hard to master. As a matter of fact, as it’s a never-ending artistic “job” - you may feel that there is always something new to learn. This shouldn’t discourage you as most of the music genres require pad sounds that are considered as basic to intermediate and you will know how to use them if not instantly, then very soon. 

However, don’t be afraid to experiment - the key of great pad sound is to create something unusual and new and during that process, you will evolve as a musician in general.

What Makes a Pad VST Great?

Pads are created from synth sounds, so let’s see what synth aspects are essential for creating a great pad sound:

Modulation Matrix

Pads are all about making moving and evolving parts. Being static is a big no-no regarding pad sounds. In the synth world, this is mostly done with some advanced LFO editing and applying the modulation matrix. The more matrix slots it provides, you can make more connections and make your pad sound more “alive”.

Effects & Filters

Effects are a very important part of the Pad VST as it’s all about being creative and unique. You may end up using some extreme settings you wouldn’t even consider in first place for any other instrument. That’s why having various effects options will make a significant difference for your pad  and the same said for effects can be applied for filters, too.

Wavetable Synthesis

Wavetables combine a bunch of periodic short samples with editable starting positions played together in a way so they create a certain harmonic complexity that can’t be so easily reproduced with the regular synthesis. The most important feature is that any part of the wavetable can be manually edited so you’re going to feel like an artist in front of the drawing board eventually. 

Quick Take: 
Top 3 Picks

Review of the Best Pad VST Plugins

There are many synths on the VST market that can bring you pad sounds, but we found the next software to have some kind of edge that makes them different:

PROS

  • 34 filters and 58 FX units
  • Granular synthesis supported
  • The most powerful synth on the market
  • Advanced Morphing Wavetable synthesis
  • 20 DSP or sample-based waveforms per oscillator 

CONS

  • Very large installation file
  • Might be too expensive if you’re looking just for pad sounds

Features and Specifications

Omnisphere contains more than 14.000 sounds and more than 500 DSP waveform selection. It can stack up to 20 oscillators per patch and it’s capable of pretty deep wavetable synthesis. It also provides you with the 34 filters in dual-mode, versatile modulation system. 58 fully modulated effect units and sample import options. On top of that, it supports granular synthesis, advanced morphing wavetable synthesis, and deep FM and Ring Modulation with very capable Stack mode which allows you to make some complex patch layering.

Why it Stands Out to Us

To be fair, the Omnisphere is much more than just a pad collection. It’s the best synth collection in the world no matter what type of sound you’re looking for. But, the number of the pads found in this collection makes it undoubtedly the best solution, especially because Omnisphere has a feature that suggests you sounds that tend to go together. 

Also, considering the number of effects, quality of the filters, and the range of instruments captured the only problem you may find is that you will have more than just one solution most of the time. So, good luck with your decisions!

Runner-up:
xFer Serum

PROS

  • 450 presets, 144 wavetables
  • 256 wavetables per oscillator
  • Draw or load you own wavetables
  • Stack 16 oscillator in unison mode
  • The most advanced wavetable synthesis on the market

CONS

  • Modulation matrix could be bigger
  • May break your productive workflow

Features and Specifications

Serum is a software synth that excels in digital wavetable synthesis. It can stack up to 256 wavetables per oscillator and uses high-precision sampling optimization using SSE2 instructions to remove any unwanted artifacts upon building a custom wavetable. 

These wavetables can be drawn by hand thanks to the graphical editor found in Remap modes with snapping tools and a couple of shaping tools such as Warp or.

The modulation system provides you with even four LFOs and a simple drag-and-drop option for connecting certain matrix points.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Serum wavetable creation is the tool prone to create some of the most complex pads created by synth software so far. If you’re not interested in getting typical pads found at other software, this is your gear. The textures you can create in this plugin can be detailed to the granular level and the only limitation is your mind. Possibilities are endless, and you’re definitely going to love to Hybridize function that will randomize parameters based on your direction and create something completely new. Very handy composer tool if you get stuck with the creative part of arranging.

Best for the Money:
AiR Music Xpand 2

PROS

  • 6 Smart knobs 
  • Arpeggiator available per instrument
  • 2.500+ factory presets in 29 categories
  • 64-voice polyphonic multitimbral synth workstation
  • 4 instruments per patch and 50 dual effects modules

CONS

  • Mediocre quality of keyboard sounds
  • No support for AAX & RTAS plugin versions

Features and Specifications

Xpand 2 is a synth that has a multiple sound generator. It combines subtractive and FM synthesis along with tonewheels and sample playback. The patch can be built up to 4 instruments and every instrument can have an individual arpeggiator, zone range, modulation, and MIDI channel assigned. Dual effects are also applied on the instrument basis and there are 50 modules to select from. Sound can be further manipulated with six smart knobs that allow you control of multiple custom parameters. Turning the easy mode on, Smart Knobs control all 4 instruments at once.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This is an incredibly affordable plugin for your all-around synth needs. For any kind of basic pad creating, Xpand will be a great solution and may save you a lot of money. It excels in making soft and mellow pads, and it also comes with a bunch of other “bread and butter” sounds you may need at certain points.

We also like the simplicity its user interface delivers - every parameter is placed in the front panel with leaving tab diving only for advanced situations. And Easy mode of Smart Knobs makes this VST ideal for live performance, too.

Best Complex Pad VST:
u-He Zebra2

PROS

  • More than 500 presets
  • Hybrid wavetable/FM synth
  • 21 effect modules and 23 filters
  • Intuitive and very graphical user interface
  • 4 oscillators with dedicated spectral effects

CONS

  • Cannot load external wavetables
  • Too many options can be a workflow-omen sometimes

Features and Specifications

Like Zebra has four legs, this 16-voice polyphonic plugin is all made in the sign of “four”. It has four wavetable or FM oscillators, cross-modulation filters, regular filters, XY custom pads, LFOs (per voice), 4 x 12 signal routing grid, and so on. You can stack up to 16 different wavetables per oscillator and every oscillator can have its own spectral effect assigned.

The only things that aren’t “on four” are the number of filters (23), effects modules (21), and the number of voices used in unison mode (up to 11). 

Why it Stands Out to Us

There are two elements that we find most important when we talk about pad creating - synth engine and user interface and Zebra has it both. The user interface is a real eye candy with so many aiding visuals that lead you through sound creation. It also has a massive community that will provide you with thousands of presets both free and commercially available. And, in the end, you just can’t regard the fact that this synth has been used in several Hollywood blockbusters such as Inception or The Dark Knight.

Best Wavetable Pad VST:
Waldorf Nave

PROS

  • 10 Modulation Matrix entries
  • Up to 3 XY assignable control pads
  • Advanced wavetable synth software
  • Extremely graphical user interface with beautiful Wavetable display
  • 2 independent wavetable + 1 analog oscillator with 2 ring modulators

CONS

  • Basic effects and filter options
  • iPad version should be bundled with the desktop purchase

Features and Specifications

The nave is a virtual synth instrument that uses advanced wavetable synthesis. It combines speech synthesis with 86 internal wavetables that include complete Microwave, Wave, and Blofeld collection with more than 500 pre-installed presets included. 

The preset is made from two wavetable independent oscillators and one analog-like along with two ring modulators. Unique Travel control lets you cycle all the waves of the active wavetable, synced to various clock sources. It’s also equipped with the typical effect panel made from chorus, phaser, flanger, reverb, and delay and also provides you with a 3-band EQ and a compressor

Why it Stands Out to Us

Waldorf is one of the wavetable synthesis pioneers. Their first wavetable synth was made in 1989. In the synth world, if you say “wavetable”, Waldorf would probably be the first manufacturer you would think of.

This is also one of the rare plugins that allow you polyphonic aftertouch and also provides you with iPad support so you will have a lot of fun using those XY control pads on the touch screen interface. It’s also one of the best iPad synths ever made. Creating a pad sound is a breeze, and the graphical interface just boosted our creativity while we were trying it out. 

Best Ambient Pad VST:
Reveal Sound Spire

PROS

  • Amazing modulation system
  • Flexible virtual analog synth plugin 
  • Double stepper and arpeggiator built-in
  • Up to 9 voices per oscillator in Unison mode
  • 4 oscillators and 2 multimode filters per patch 

CONS

  • Tab-diving menus can get you lost
  • Arpeggiator could provide more in-depth options

Features and Specifications

Spire comes with over 900 factory presets that are formed with up to 4 oscillators and 2 analog or digital filters. The modulation system can be very complex with four macros, envelopes, and LFOs along with fifteen matrix slots that can link two sources and four targets per slot. Every oscillator is built by selecting a certain synthesis mode such as Classic, FM, AMSync, Noise, or sample-based waveform. Regarding what synthesis you have picked ctrl-A and ctrl B knobs shape the waveform in a different way then.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Soundwise, Spire may work the best for trance and house music. It’s all about making analog sounds. Spire has an extremely versatile LFO / Modulation Matrix, a feature that is quite essential for making your pads unique.

Many synths have a unison mode but we haven’t encountered one that is so capable. It’s not about stacking up to nine voices per oscillator - the ability to spread those voices in octaves is where the real fun starts. If you’re into pad making, you will probably know how to utilize this feature for making fat and warm pad lines.

Aspects to Consider Before Buying

Just like other instruments, Pad software can be made for different purposes, so let’s see what you should pay attention to before you decide which Pad VST you’re about to buy.

Options

If you’re songwriting in a traditional music genre it’s good to know that your music genre doesn’t require you to create any moving parts in the pads as they will be mostly used as backing support for the singing or theme parts. That’s why any Pad VST will work for you, so you can save a lot of money and buy budget solutions instead.

Sound Designer

If you’re more interested in sound designing than song composing, making a complex pad will probably be something that thrills you a lot. That’s why you should seek VSTs that provide you with a bunch of wavetables, the ability to import your own wavetable samples, and that have a lot of high-quality effects. 

User Interface

Having wonderful 3D animations of your wave designing and an inspiring interface can make a real difference in your overall work. You will also appreciate having all-in-one within a click away because creating a perfect pad can make you focus so much that adding any third-party solutions will just make a mess in your head.

VST Pad Plugin Tips, Tricks, and Hacks For Success

Now, how about we give you some advanced tips on how to create a unique pad?

Use a Single Note

Instead of composing in a traditional way, try to use a single note. Focus more on sound designing than song composing. With Pad VST you can make this note interesting in so many ways that it can even become a rhythmic component that goes throughout the whole song. Full chords should be omitted and it will work better if you layer those notes around several octaves instead.

Let it Evolve

In general, pads are not meant to be a musical element of the song. The “less is more” principle applies here as well. They are used to build the atmosphere, create a certain vibe. That’s why holding a single note with a bunch of modulations and automatized controls will do much more than moving those notes anywhere from the “drone” position.

Make it Artificial

Let’s make another step from being a musical element - try to remove any harmonic component from the sound source - make it artificial, out of this world. Combine several noise sources, apply extreme effects - this will make wonders for any kind of cinematic scoring.

Conclusion 

If you’re a soundtrack composer or like experimenting with new and aspiring sounds, Pads VST can provide you with probably more solutions that you can think of. For the rest, Pads can’t do too much harm, but, if used properly, they can make your song stand out from the others.