Best Synth VST Plugins of 2020 – Top Picks

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Synths marked the golden era of music in the 1980s. And now, 40 years later, things have changed so much in the music industry that we need the same synth sound again. But, the focus isn’t that much on hardware synths anymore. Synth VST are slowly taking up their role.

Comparison of the Best Synth VST Plugins

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • The most powerful VST synth on the market
  • 14.000 patches available
  • Sound Match helps you pick the right sound
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  • Ideal for vintage synth recreations
  • 1.200 patches inside
  • Extremely small storage footprint
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  • Affordable
  • 1.800 patches pre-installed
  • Allows microtuning and can read multisamples
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  • Dual engine - VA and granular synthesis
  • Based on Arturia V Collection
  • Advanced sequencer and arpeggiator
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  • Highly visual wavetable editor
  • 144 wavetables in 450 presets
  • Up to 10 effects in rack
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  • 64-polyphonic modular synth designed with Dr. Bob Moog
  • More than 600 patches
  • 24-step sequencer integrated
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  • Sample-based VST instrument of Roland VP-330
  • 49 notes of polyphony
  • 10 bands vocoder
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  • 32-polyphonic emulation of Roland Jupiter 8
  • 500+ patches ready upon installation
  • Additional step sequencer and “Galaxy” module
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  • 8-polyphonic software replica of the legendary Yamaha CS-80
  • Multi Mode adds up a great new functionality
  • Polyphonic aftertouch and virtual ribbon controller
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When Would a Synth VST Come in Handy? 

You are probably aware what role piano can have in a song, but synths are sometimes

Electronic Music

This genre wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for synthesizers. Bass sounds, pads, themes, arpeggiators, everything is synth related, even drum sounds and especially in modern electronic music. There are also some special VSTs or sound banks strictly made for specific electronic genres.

Atmosphere

Even if you don’t have a role for a synth or you don’t have a keyboard player in a band so you tend to avoid using it, your studio tracks can benefit if you layer several pads throughout your songs. They will be subtle and won’t affect your live performance too much, but can make a difference for your studio track and bring up the vibe you’re trying to achieve. This especially applies to more subtle parts or slower songs.

Retro Vibe

Instead of playing a theme on a guitar or saxophone, try emulating those sounds with a specific synth sound - you’ll get an instant blast from the past and these days it seems to be a plus for your song, so go and grab that analog synth VST and lay down some tunes.

Quick Take: 
Top 3 Picks

Review of the Best Synth VST Plugins

Synth software is the biggest field in the VST market. It’s difficult to categorize them properly so they could all fit into one article and that’s why we’re going to cover a bunch of VSTs here:

PROS

  • The most capable VST instrument in the world
  • Amazing FX section and new granular synthesis
  • Sound Match feature helps you to find similar sounds
  • Integrated support with different Spectrasonics software
  • Up to 20 oscillators per patch, either DSP waveform or sample-based

CONS

  • Heavy on CPU resources
  • Very complex and deep interface

Features and Specifications

Sound Match can help you to navigate through numerous presets based upon chosen sound aspects or sounds related to the bank you’re currently at. Hardware Synth Integration allows you to use your hardware synth panel while playing the sounds from the software. There are 500 waveforms available for synth oscillators plus you can use your own audio files as a source (every preset can have up to 20 oscillators) and it will take up 64 gigabytes of storage space while 8 gigabytes of RAM and more are recommended. 

Why it Stands Out to Us

Simply put, this is the Holy Grail of Synth VST. 14.000 presets are included in this software and if you can’t find what you need here, you probably won’t find it anywhere. We could use the complete article talking only about Omnisphere, but let’s try and put it this way. Many synth players complain that software cannot replace real hardware synths. If we could pick the one single VST that could change your mind about the sonic possibilities of the software synths we would go for Omnisphere in a second.

This is the most powerful VST synth ever created. Period.

Runner-up:
u-He Diva

PROS

  • Ideal VST synth for vintage sound recreation
  • Nice sound bank with 1.200 pre-installed patches
  • Dual DSP effect section with analog board emulation
  • Takes extremely small storage space and RAM memory 
  • Built-in oscilloscope with adjustable frequency and scale

CONS

  • Doesn’t have standalone version
  • Relies too much on CPU performance

Features and Specifications

Diva comes with a set of two oscillators, filters, and envelopes. Filters are stated as zero-delay-feedback which allows better emulation of analog sound. Every filter is made based on a hardware analog filter. It comes with a set of 1.200 presets that can be categorized further with 8 different favorite categories labeled in different colors.

While it’s not so demanding on storage and RAM memory (50 megabytes of storage and 1 gigabyte of memory required) it does rely on modern CPU performance so Sandy Bridge processors or newer are recommended.

Why it Stands Out to Us

We like the effort u-He invested in making this VST regarding recreating analog sound. You can go so far that you can slightly detune every single voice of your synth differently, just like it may happen on a real synth. The same goes for applying filter cutoff or envelopes.

Speaking about the sound, we couldn’t bet on a blind test if you’re playing - vintage synth or u-He Diva. And, luckily for any synth lover out there, the community for this VST is very active so you can download a lot of additional banks in case factory presets aren’t enough.

Best for the Money:
KV331 Audio SynthMaster

PROS

  • 16-step sequencer and arpeggiator built-in
  • Affordable software synth with various synthesis methods
  • 1.800 patches made by famous professional sound designers
  • Allows microtuning and support multisample WAV/AIFF format 
  • Flexible and nice sounding effects including 6-band EQ, Distortion, and Vocoder

CONS

  • No standalone version
  • Built-in presets are biased towards modern music

Features and Specifications

This is a semi-modular synth that supports many synthesis - virtual analog (VA), wavetable, FM, phase modulation, and even SFZ Sample Playback synthesis. You can load your own waves for a wavetable source, too. It has thirteen zero-delay-feedback latency filters and comes with thousands of presets made by professional sound designers.

Microtuning can be applied to both specific presets or SynthMaster in general, so you can play on a different scale than Western standard. Also, you can assign 8 knobs and 2 XY pads to any modulation source and controlled by the MIDI controller.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Multisampling allows you to load a lot of industry-standard samples and play straight away. Also, importing a pre-made MIDI pattern to use it as an arpeggiator is something you would expect from hardware workstation synths and here it’s done by a simple drag and drop function.

Oscillators can be blended together thanks to “voices” and “detune” features so they can be stacked together creating a thick detuned sound and create supersaw waveform, (well-known sound of electronic music) for example. It also comes with different skin packs for visual customizing that can improve your workflow.

Best Granular Synth VST:
Arturia Pigments 2

PROS

  • Advanced sequencer and arpeggiator
  • Mixture of virtual analog, wavetable, and granular engine
  • Includes modern and classic filters (taken from V Collection)
  • Deep modulation editing is shown in intuitive graphical panel
  • Virtual analog engine made from 3 oscillators, envelopes, LFOs, and 2 filters

CONS

  • Sound editing not suitable for newbies
  • Import of sample time is set at 60 seconds

Features and Specifications

Arturia decided to make a new VST synth and apply feedback they’ve gathered so far. They have changed the interface to improve the workflow and put a focus on new graphical elements that should make everything more intuitive. New patches, filters, and effects are included along with the others taken from the V Collection. 

Sequencer and arpeggiators are especially enhanced as they allow users to create unique advanced and complex patterns when needed. It even comes with a random generator for instant workflow inspiration.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Pigments are similar and different from your regular VST synth at the same time. They are made from two engines. One is a typical synth engine, leaning on virtual analog synthesis along with the wavetables and the other one is sample-based.

The latter allows you to apply granular synthesis to everything, including wavetables with the very powerful randomization for almost every single parameter beneath the granular synthesis panel that can create some amazing results from a single note. You can also increase the number of grains you would like to hear and choose the method of how the samples will be picked.

Best Wavetable Synth VST:
xFer Serum

PROS

  • Huge customizable effect rack
  • 450 presets and 144 wavetables
  • VST synth with built-in wavetable editor
  • Unison mode with many advanced varieties
  • Ability to load own samples and wavetables

CONS

  • VST3 protocol isn’t yet supported
  • Requires a higher level of synthesis knowledge for a proper use

Features and Specifications

This is the most advanced wavetable VST synth on the market that allows you to manipulate with the wavetables in a way no other software is capable of. It has a specific engine dedicated to play extremely clean wavetables without generating additional noise for your song mix.

While it provides you with 144 wavetables, it allows you to not just import your own wavetables but to shape and morph it as well. 

Effects panel can also be loaded as an additional VST effect and applied to any other track in your project.

Why it Stands Out to Us

When you’re into wavetable synthesis, the good user interface is very important. And Serum has an excellent visual interface that makes everything much more intuitive and flexible. Even the noise generator can be used like a mini sampler. With the given wavetables and filters you’re ready to use this VST for any electronic music genre. 

Effect rack can stack up to 10 effect modules which can be lined up in any given order and it comes with all the effects modern VST synths should have. Due to the Serum’s given nature, many effects were specially designed for this VST instrument.

Best Modular Synth VST:
Arturia Modular V

PROS

  • 24-step sequencer integrated
  • Comes with more than 600 patches
  • Authentic emulation of 24dB low pass filter
  • Up to 64 voices of polyphony per instrument
  • Full modular synth designed with the Dr. Bob Moog

CONS

  • Not compatible with DAWs that use 32-bit VSTs only
  • Complex interface that requires a lot of prior knowledge

Features and Specifications

Every sound can be played either as a monophonic or polyphonic (64 voices) and created with up to 9 oscillators, noise generator, and 3 different filters. Sound can be later modified with up to 6 envelopes and 2 LFOs and you can link up to 16 VCAs modulation inputs. It also comes with some very rare to find in real life modules and Arturia took a step further and designed a formant filter and ring modulator for this VST instrument, too.

Why it Stands Out to Us

While the sound itself is awesome, this VST synth wasn’t made for playing and song recording at first. It can be used, but it would be an overkill to use it for a basic project. This VST was designed for very complex solutions where the sky is the limit considering modulation possibilities and sound designing. That’s why it seems very logical that they increased the sound quality rate so you can record to 24-bit/96kHz sessions. 

But, it also has an educative note as people who are interested in synthesis can learn in practice what happens when they decide to make a certain modulation link.

Best Vocal Synth VST:
XLIS V+

PROS

  • 10 bands vocoder
  • 49 notes of polyphony
  • Sample-based VST instrument of Roland VP-330
  • Arpeggio and advanced modulation panel provided
  • Vocoder, Strings, male and female vocals are available as a patch

CONS

  • No standalone version
  • Bit expensive for such narrow sound choice

Features and Specifications

It comes with a very unique Top Octave Divider oscillator that was emulated in XLIS V+ for a very specific string sound without aliasing throughout the complete keyboard range. It can be mixed with other sounds to create a mix to your specific needs.

Built-in arpeggio has the ability to play broken arps to provide you a sort of random note triggering instead of repetitive patterns.

The effect panel is basic, made from stereo imager, basic phaser, and reverb.

It supports both Mac and Windows in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions and VST2 and VST3 protocols.

Why it Stands Out to Us

There are not so many VSTs that emulate Roland VP-330 which was also famous because of vocoder that allowed you to speak with that 80’s vintage robot vocals and the melody would be carried out by the keys you’re playing.

Other sounds are very close to the original and the slight difference can be heard only in auditioning with the original keyboard. But, we should ignore minor sound differences as we can play it with much bigger polyphony than the regular synthesizer and use an enhanced imager effect that can spread the sound much wider than the original one.

Best 80s Synth VST:
Arturia Jup-8 V

PROS

  • 500+ patches ready upon installation
  • Unison mode allows you up to 4 voices
  • Additional step sequencer and “Galaxy” module
  • 32-polyphonic emulation of iconic Roland Jupiter 8
  • Ability to split and layer keyboard with different presets

CONS

  • Doesn’t support 32-bit OS versions
  • Sound source of a single synthesizer

Features and Specifications

Arturia managed to replicate all the features of original Roland Jupiter 8 so you can split your sounds, layer, or play unison. Even the arpeggiator has the same options. 

But, they also went a step further, so it comes with 32 notes of polyphony instead of the original 8. Every voice of polyphony can be further affected differently to recreate the original authentic sound. And thanks to the “Galaxy” module you can add a different LFO and link it to the modulation source to enhance the overall Jup-8 V sound. 

Why it Stands Out to Us

Roland Jupiter 8 was undoubtedly an analog synth king of the 1980s. Arturia did an amazing job recreating this synth and pushing it even further with additional features. We spent some time analyzing the direct comparisons and this is the best clone available on the market. Everything was done properly including the front panel interface that resembles the original Jupiter.

So, whether you’re up to creating some beautiful and authentic pads and strings that Jupiter 8 is only capable of or you’re more into those retro synth brass sounds, Arturia Jup-8 V will be capable of doing it for you.

Best Vintage Synth VST:
Arturia CS-80 V

PROS

  • Virtual ribbon controller included
  • Multi-Mode adds up a great new functionality
  • More than 500 professional-grade patches available
  • Polyphonic aftertouch and modulation matrix included
  • 8-polyphonic software replica of the legendary Yamaha CS-80

CONS

  • Comes in 64-bit version only
  • Polyphony could be increased 

Features and Specifications

Arturia decided to replicate Yamaha CS-80 as well. That’s why every sound is made exactly from 2 oscillators, sub-oscillator, and ring modulator. It also provides you with the virtual ribbon controller, just like the original Yamaha. The nice modulation matrix is available with 13 sources and 38 destinations and besides chorus and tremolo, you can stack digital delay as an effect.

The MIDI controller will be able to access all the sound parameters and you’re going to need a 64-bit Win or Mac with at least 4 gigabytes of RAM to run it.

Why it Stands Out to Us

The sound is excellent - it gives you everything you would expect from CS-80 in a much cheaper solution.

On top of that, it’s very rare to see polyphonic aftertouch these days so we must congratulate Arturia to include every single trait from the original synth. It allows you to affect only specific notes with additional key pressing after the note is held down.

We are also amazed that they went a step further with the Multi-Mode which allows you to pick up to 8 different sounds and dedicate a voice of polyphony to every sound.

Types of VST Synths

Synth world is a huge playground, so let’s try to split VST synths into smaller groups:

Emulators (Vintage Synths)

Some VSTs are made to be a perfect clone of the already existing hardware synth. They tend to copy every detail and nowadays, many famous analog synthesizers have seen their digital counterparts. The most common difference among such instruments is the method of capturing the synth. Physical modeling is much more storage space-friendly, but it requires more knowledge and experience.

Legacy Synths

KORG and Roland are leading hardware synth manufacturers. They both have decided to provide us with the software version of their older synth workstations. These synths can be both analog and digital in general and it can be sold as a package or used by cloud service.

Modern Synths

There are also some who are inspired by the older products but don't feel like they should copy anything. They go a different way and bring the complete industry forward. They usually don’t have anything in common with vintage synths and try to create something original and unique which may result in exotic sounds or effects or editing panels that will have a certain character that makes them different from the rest of competition.

Analog Synths vs. VST Synths 

This is one of the biggest debates in the music world and it caught synths, too. Let’s try and break down traits for both categories:

Auditioning

Using the hardware synths only, we need to think ahead as it’s done once it’s recorded. With modern processors, DAW software allows us to record it in MIDI format, and in case we need to change something, edit it without additional recording.

This feature saves us a lot of time as we can actually try it out and listen to how it sounds all together before making a final decision.

Intuitive Workflow

People tend to be much more productive if they have a tactile experience. It’s much more convenient to press and turn something around instead of pin-point clicking on the screen. That’s the exact reason why there is a certain expansion of MIDI controllers on the market.

The Sound Difference

Analog gear is built with premium parts and based on a real sound generator instead of digital emulation. Digital counterparts can come very close, but the analog synth will always sound more fluid and organic as any sound change will go much more smoothly (without any audible steps) and often warmer or punchier sound eventually because of more expensive parts. 

How to Use VST Synths Live 

Nowadays, there is enough CPU power to provide you minimum latency for live performance and people are considering more about it. Luckily for Mac users, Mainstage works like a charm while for the PC Ableton Live is still the best option as the trusted dedicated app isn’t available yet.

So, here you are some general setting up tips:

Audio Interface Welcomed

Besides the USB cable to link the computer and MIDI keyboard you will need an audio cable to send the sound from your computer. Standard computer output can be used as the last resort, but we recommend a dedicated audio card to improve system stability. 

Performance-Friendly VSTs

The “ugly” truth is that a live audience won’t detect the difference between a 60 gigabytes piano and a portable one that fits in a couple of gigabytes. But your computer will, so, whenever you have a chance try to optimize (minimize) CPU resources.

Using Splits and Scenes

You can recall different presets depending on the song you’re playing. You can change it by either MIDI controller program change or changing directly on your computer. Presets can have various splits defined within a keyboard zone for every MIDI channel that is active in that specific preset.

Conclusion 

We hope that we managed to show you at least a part of the synth world. VST instruments are the next step in synthesizer evolving, so, getting better and more familiar with the VSTs and the DAW is something you won’t regret if you waste your time on it.