The 12 Best Free VST Plugins Every Musician Should Have
Music production is more accessible than ever before. What once needed a professional recording studio can be done at home with DAW software and free VST instruments. Some of the biggest tracks in the last few years have been made by bedroom producers using affordable equipment.
While most music software has its own built in instruments and effects, learning how to use external VST (Virtual Studio Technology) provides you with thousands of tools to take your sound to the next level. Even better, there are a ton of great options that won’t cost you a dime.
To help you get started, here are the free VST plugins all musicians should grab.
1. Piano One
Sound Magic’s Piano One is arguably the best free acoustic piano VST available. The samples come from a Yamaha C7 Grand piano, captured using Sound Magic’s own Hybrid Modeling Engine technology. The free version lacks features but makes up for it with its incredible sound.
Download: Piano One
TAL-Noisemaker is a fully featured synthesizer with three oscillators, along with an array of effects and options. It is as comfortable creating soft and lush pads as it is creating harsh EDM lead lines and even drums.
The synth panel is intuitive, easy to use, and there are an array of presets bundled with it to help you get started quickly.
3. VK-1 Viking Synthesizer
The VK-1 Viking Synthesizer is a lovingly created emulation of an analog monophonic synthesizer. On top of three oscillators, two modulation channels, and an LFO, accurate transistor ladder filter emulation give this synthesizer an authentic sound that is hard to match.
VK-1 is a “pay what you want” product, and therefore technically available for free. At a time when Moog is releasing $30 iPad synthesizer apps , trusting the user with the price is a bold move.
Download: VK-1 Viking Synthesizer
4. Spitfire Audio: Labs
It’s impossible to feature a single instrument from Spitfire Audio’s Labs project. Each one is unique, ranging from overdriven cellos to high-quality live drums, to strings recorded on vintage mics from a professional ensemble.
They are all available as easy-to-use free VST plugins.
Download: Spitfire Audio: Labs
5. Guitar Rig 5 Player
Guitar Rig has been the go-to name in all things amp simulation and guitar FX emulation for years. Guitar Rig 5 Player edition brings some of the functionality of the full program to a free VST download.
While limited compared to the Pro version, the Native Instruments Factory Selection library makes a powerful tool for guitarists lacking in hardware. Even non-guitarists will find this plugin perfect for making screaming synths and dirty sounding drums.
Download: Guitar Rig 5 Player
The CamelCrusher plugin is known and loved by producers with good reason. A deceptively simple combination of distortion, compression, and filtering add up to some meaty results. Presets ranging from “Annihilate” to “Tube Warmth” give great options for radically changing your sound quickly.
Camel Audio stopped distributing CamelCrusher after Apple acquired it, but the original version of the plugin is still freely available from third party VST sites.
7. Panagement 2 Reverb
Reverb can make sounds blend together or stand out, depending on which you prefer. It can also give your tracks a sense of space and depth. Panagement by Auburn Sounds is a reverb, but also much more, with a Binaural Distance Panner feature to let you place sounds anywhere in the stereo field.
A more full-featured version is available for $39, but the free version offers plenty of power.
8. Glitchmachines Hysteresis
Glitchmachines makes free VST plugins and packs for those who love modern, sci-fi sounds. Hysteresis is a delay unit with a difference. Its primary design is to take any input sound and morph it in a variety of crazy ways—often leaving sounding radically different to the source sound.
While this VST will primarily be of interest to electronic music producers, the plugin can also be tamed to give more standard delay effects too. As with all of Glitchmachines VSTs, things get really interesting when you spend a little time in their documentation learning superuser tricks.
Download: Glitchmachines Hysteresis
9. Glitch 1.3
Illformed (also known as DBlue) is a name many producers know well. The Glitch VST does precisely as its name suggests. It takes your sounds and glitches them in a variety of mind-melting ways. Sounds get reversed, reshuffled, bitcrushed, and repitched, along with many other controllable presets.
Glitch 2 is now available, though Illformed still offers Glitch 1.3 for free, bundled with the excellent Tape Stop, Crusher, and Stretch effects. The only downside is that it’s only available for Windows in 32-bit form, which somewhat limits compatibility.
Download: Glitch 1.3
10. 4ormulator Vocoder Extreme
Vocoders have gone from fringe devices used in experimental music to mainstream instruments used in hit songs. 4ormulator’s Vocoder Extreme allows users to emulate these sounds, along with some extra features you wouldn’t normally see on a free instrument.
By adding a variety of effects and resonators, the Vocoder Extreme can be used as an instrument in its own right. This is the perfect effect to learn the basics of vocoding, or, as 4ormulator says, create “…musical entropy generators, ambient chaos fields, or even resonant soup machines!”
Download: 4ormulator Vocoder Extreme
Reaper is a fully fledged DAW, and one of the best alternatives to Garageband .
What many people don’t realize about Reaplugs (Reaper’s VST suite) is that they can use them with other programs. Reaplugs contains powerful compression and EQ tools, along with some unique ideas.
This can be especially handy if you used to use Reaper but have since moved on to other free DAW software . As you can still sculpt your sound with plugins that you’re familiar with.
12. Voxengo SPAN
Metering is important when it comes to getting your final mix or master just right. One of the downsides of many free (and some paid) DAWs is that the metering is basic at best. That’s where the excellent Voxengo SPAN comes in. This features various forms of metering including RMS, EBU R128, K-system meter, and true peak detection, plus a built-in spectrum analyzer.
Download:: Voxengo SPAN
Plugin and Play
Free VST plugins can completely change the way you create music. The vast majority of DAW software supports VSTs, and while not all of them are cross-platform, most work on Windows, macOS, and even Linux. If you love your DAW but feel like you need some new sounds, VST plugins can be a great new source of inspiration. And it’s a bonus if they’re free.
What if you don’t already have a DAW you love? In that case you should take a look at our list of the best free music production software for beginners .