Straight Out of No Cash Part 3

Updates in bold:

Plenty of folks have asked me for advice about their DAW setups over the years. Mostly it has been about the issue of what sequencer software they should buy, or if they should go with a Mac or a Win PC environment (you can guess which direction I try to steer them towards). Occasionally, someone with little or no cash asks me about sites where he/she can download “free” software. Naturally, they almost always mean cracked/illegally copied software… However, since I know more than a few independent software developers, I’m not a huge fan of folks downloading, and then making money with software that small developers depend on to survive. So instead of steering them towards illegal copies of commercial software, I guide them towards totally legitimate freeware that’s often just as good as software that costs 100s of dollars.

That’s why I created Straight Out of No Cash, to give every Windows PC user a chance to make music using legal freeware.

In this installment, I’m helping those of you that already have a VST host sequencer, whether its a free tracker or Sonar 6, to all of the instruments, effects, and other gadgets your virtual studio would ever need. Once again, 100% free and legal.

I’ll start by covering each major instrument category, giving a proper description of each recommended plug-in. [Ed.: Note that for now these are all Windows-compatible; some are also Mac-compatible and I’ll update the list within the next 24 hours or so with that information. Some are also direct download links, as far warning; I’ve indicated this where appropriate. -PK]

Virtual Analog (VA)

Asynth & Taurus: Two of the finest analog emulations ever. The fact that they are both freeware is just icing on the cake.

Synth1: A classic freeware that still holds its own today. If you’re looking for fat analog sounds, go elsewhere. Synth1 is 100% digital in the best (worst) possible sense. It can cut through even the muddiest of mixes like a hot knife through butter. Best used in situations where you want a sound to shine right through with clarity and precision.

Abakos: A great sounding poly VA with a twist. Using some programming voodoo Abakos is able to play back as many voices as needed using only a flat amount of CPU. In other words, your computer is taxed the same regardless if you’re playing only one note, or 12. Great for those of us with older (or notebook) DAWs.

Oatmeal [direct download link]: In ironic fashion it was labeled as “yet another bland virtual analog” by its creator, but has since become a bit of a cult favorite on the KVR forums. Not a Synthedit creation. Apologies to Fuzzpilz and all those mislead by my erroneous assumption.

Lallapallooza Lite [direct download] & Superwave P8: To make up for the Oatmeal faux pas, I’m posting not one, but two really good, really synthedit, and really free JP-8000 “supersaw” style virtual analog synths.

Ultrasonique: A wavetable synth not unlike some of the classic 80’s/early 90’s digital synths. It features a set of high-quality original waveforms and a step sequencer controller to help create moving pads, textures, and atmospheres.

Polyiblit: Another classic bit of freeware. The analog workhorse of choice for many cash-strapped producers. Sounds great in a mix with its anti-aliasing oscillators.


Grainz: By far the best freeware granular synths. Combined with a physical modeling oscillator, Grainz can produce a wide range of mild to wild sounds.


Highlife: I think I’ve said all that I needed to in a previous article. Ed.: Indeed. Adrian says it rocks. Readers say it rocks. I say it rocks. Could even be a reason for Mac folks to boot into Windows.

Paax: The Foreman to Highlife’s Ali. Was the champ of freeware samplers, and still has some use even after losing the belt.

SFZ: A great soundfont player and a good compliment to Highlife, as it can load the Highlife made sfz files with a less taxing interface.


H4xx0r: An honest to god freeware beatslicer made with Synthedit. While it pales in comparison to something like Guru or pHATmatik, it can do most of what the pro-boys can with standard wav files, plus a couple of nifty tricks like freely automatable start and end positions for all that glitchiness the kids are so fond of.

Loop Drive: After the initial publishing I remembered Loop Drive from the Synthmaker homepage. I personally find it very useful in creating FSU granular sounds, but less so for conventional slicing applications as the individual slices can only be triggered from the Loop Drive step sequencer itself (which cannot be automated). The upside is that Synthmaker has generously provided the source .osm file, so those who own Synthmaker can deconstruct the patch and create their own killer beatslicer themselves.

Drum Sampler

Grizzly [direct download]: Released as part of KVR’s Developer’s Challange contest, Grizzly is a drum sampler on par with Reason’s ReDrum (minus an internal step sequencer). Not only does it come with all the features for twisted beat mangling, it comes complete with a sweet sample bank that even Battery owners would want to get their “paws” on. (Alright, I’m allowed one bad pun.)

Drum Synth

Drumatic 3
Drumatic VE: E-Phonic has made a name for himself over the years for the quality of his drum synths. His latest, Drumatic 3 & VE are some of the best software drum synths ever made. Nevermind that they were both made with Synthedit. In fact, you wouldn’t be able to tell that they were made with Synthedit unless someone told you. They are that good.

Dr. Fusion & Rhythms: Odo is another synthedit drum synth legend. Two drum machines, two different approaches to drum sounds. Dr Fusion is a combination drum rompler/drum synth with 20mb of built-in drum sounds. Great for hip-hop or mainstream dance music. For you old school electro/techno/IDM fans, the 100% synthesized kit coming from Rhythms may be more your thing. Rhythms can do all the beeps, bloops, and wiz bangs for your krafty beatbox sounds.

ERS Drums: a good all around “909” style box. Like its VA brother Polyiblit, ERS Drums plays nicely in a mix.

FM Synth

Oxe: The best Freeware FM synth around since the Hexter VSTi was taken down due to bullshit GPL politics. Dead simple to use (for a FM synth that is). Although it cannot read DX7 patches, with a little bit of effort one can recreate almost anything done with a yamaha fm synth in oxe.


Karma Synth Modular: A great, easy to use modular synth. Perfect for both novices and masters alike.

Crystal: This baby needs little introduction. The loyalty some have to this free softsynth alone is unlike any I have ever seen for a single instrument (its not unlike the loyalty some folks have to Reason, Pro Tools, Live, or FL). Try it for yourself, and you’ll see why.

Rock: Hybrid synth with a rough and rugged character. The direct precursor to CoFX/Rob Papen’s Blue, but with its own unique sound.

Zynaddsubfx [open source]
You can download the lastest VST version from Don’t Crack. Don’t be scared off by the original coder’s preachy Christian language on the project site. Zynaddsubfx is THE best sounding open-source softsynth out there now. Using a combination of additive and subtractive synthesis, even us heathens can make heavenly sounds in a matter of minutes. Now go make some Satanic Deathmetal with it!


Curve: A unique synth that allows one to draw the waveforms for the softsynth’s oscillators. Think of it as reverse additive synthesis. Instead of having control over the partials which result in a given waveform, you have control over the waveform itself, with the additive partials being shown underneath the transparent waveform display.

Chimera: Majken’s Chimera is something that comes around only once every couple of years. Instead of trying to emulate this analog poly, or that wavetable-based digital synth, Chimera breaks new ground by demonstrating a totally new kind of synthesis. Chimera can best be described as a band-pass filter polysynth. What this means is that instead of conventional oscillators that change their pitch according to a midi note, Chimera has noise oscillators which are filtered by band-pass filters tuned to a given MIDI note frequency. This happens with every (poly) note, and the result is absolutely gorgeous. Even though it is sort of a one-trick pony, its “trick” is done so well that its bound to become a classic.

And Many More Favorites

Rather than go on and on about each and every great freeware VST effect out there, I’ll just list out my favorites in each category. I’ll leave it to you to figure out how they will work into your existing studio environment.

Convolution Reverb

Digital Reverb
Magnus@smartelectronix Ambience
KR Micro Reverb

TLs Pocket Limiter & Saturated Driver
W1 Limiter (w/ GUI)
Classic Compressor


PushTec [download link]
Electri-Q – Posihfopit Edition
Overtone GEQ
Classic EQ

Tone2 Bi Filter
Classic Auto Filter
Coyote Wah

Christortion [download link]
Fuzzplus 2
E-Phonic Lo-Fi
Camel Crusher [download link]
Juicy 77
Cyanide 2
CoFX Lowbit [download link]
CMT Bitcrusher

Urs’ More Feedback Machine
E-Phonic Retro Delay [download link]
E-Phonic Tape Delay
Classic Delay
CoFX Tape Delay [download link]

UKM Chorus 2
Blue Cat Chorus
Classic Chorus
Chorus CH-2

mdsp Flanger
Kjaerhus Audio Classic Flanger
Blue Cat Flanger

Classic Phaser
Ultra Phazer
Bram@smartelectronix SupaPhaser

Choralozoide [download link]

Syncoder 32-2

The Fish Fillets


MDSP@smartelectronix Fre(a)koscope
Bram@smartelectronix s(M)exoscope

What’s that? More you say? Well my friend, I can’t do all the work for you. If you want more than what I have listed above, or don’t feel entirely satisfied about my coverage in a given category (organ sounds for example) you can fill in the gaps by doing a little of your own legwork. Here are some resources for more great freeware plug-ins:

KVR Audio
Don’t Crack
Audio Mastermind’s free audio plugin database – Another site I remembered only AFTER the initial posting.

Also check out the free tag and cheap tag here on CDM.

See you when the next big free/donation/cheapware story breaks…


Straight Out of No-Cash 1: How to Make Hi-Fi PC Music on a Lo-Fi Budget
Straight Out of No-Cash 2: Free Windows Sequencers/Hosts for Music

  • You seem to have forgotten the uber-classic mda ePiano!

  • meow

    Awesome post mate. I've just bought an second hand pc laptop to run logic on (is there any compelling reason to switch to another pc sequencer yet?) and this info is very timely indeed 🙂

  • Great list Peter. Excellent post. VSThost is a great free stand alone player for VSTis. You can find it on KVR.

  • Okay, for the record, I temporarily botched this post and listed it under my username instead of Adrian for an hour or two — Adrian deserves all the credit!

    And definitely lots of additional free plug-ins out there … these are just his faves, and given that he runs a trillion plug-ins in SONAR, I'll take that to mean a lot. 😉

  • Great list. Thanks!

    You forgot my favorite, but no biggie. You got the boys from smartelectronix up there.

    but check out supatrigga by bram, its a glitchy type plugin. its awesome.

  • Adrian Anders

    Ah, yes Supatrigga. Great plug-in. Personally I think it's been superseded by dblue Glitch (really, get that now if you're into IDM & have a PC). But yea, keep posting your favorite plugs people. I only covered a small fragment of freeware plug-ins (especially for the PC) for the sake of brevity. Later I might go in depth on a given category, and lay out what I think are all the plugs worth downloading.

    As much as I like the power Synthedit, Max/MSP (Pluggo), and Synthmaker among others have given to talented developers who lack some codings skills, the fact is that there is simply too much free PC VST plug-ins at this time for those new to computer music to wrap their heads around. A few are great (and I do mean great), there's alot of good, but most are either too bland, generic, buggy, or just of poor quality to be worth anyone's time (I do realize this is all very subjective). So in order to help out those who would get confused by all the choices available, I sorted out a list of what I think would cover every aspect of a "reasonable" [;-)] studio without making the list too long. Even now I think I could have trimmed the effects list down to one or two choices per category. But at least this way it gives folks a large palette of sounds to choose from.

    Thanks again Peter for cleaning up the way the links look, along with indicating direct download links. I realize some of our security-conscious readers appreciate such warnings.

  • Great list Adrian! Free audio software keeps getting better and better.

    For those who like Oatmeal, don't forget to check Grymmjack's skin for it. It's not totally finished yet (should be done this weekend), but it sure will make Oatmeal even (look) sweeter than it already is. There will probably be various colour schemes in case you don't like Maple and Brown-Sugar.

    He also recently (re)skinned the complete GVST plug-in suite (by Graham Yeadon), which might be a nice addition to your list as well.

  • Adrian, I mentioned it becuase its great and it works on Mac. There are plenty more for the pc, like Tweakbench's breakdown, but enough glitch plugin talk from me.

  • Meta G

    It's not all about synths and fx. When looking for a way to add notes to my tracks, I found

    VstNotes. It's in my default project template ever since. Great for documenting your projects, or for writing down lyrics.

  • Name Required

    Oatmeal is not Synthedit 🙁

  • I'd add Inspector by Roger Nichols (previously Elemental Audio) as well as PSP's Vintage Meter to this already great list. Both beautiful and very very useful.

  • I think what I may do is do a follow-up with the Mac list, just because it's easier … so anyone with Mac tips, please speak up. Windows definitely has the edge on plug-in freeware, of course, though Crystal alone will keep you plenty busy on Mac.

  • octatone

    Whatever you do, Peter, just make sure you distinguish between UB and non UB. There's hardly anything out there for the UB crowd in terms of freeware plugs. And I'm always looking for more.

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  • Is there a Part 2 to this series somewhere?

  • sasarasa88

    Excellent round-up. Let me add two entries:

    Augur by Antti, based on the Prophet VS

    MinimogueVA by VoltKitchen, based on the Minimoog

  • anon
  • A couple of quirky vintage plugins:

    Batsounds MellowSound, a solid Mellotron emulation;

    MrRay and MrTramp, Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos from;

    the BigTick CheezeMachine (string ensemble);

    plus AudioNerdz Delay Lama, the singing Tibetan monk!

  • Peter, Maybe a forum post to build the list of mac plugs so we don't need to muddy up this post.

  • Good idea, Thomas! I've added it here:

    Forum thread: best Mac plugs

  • DrBunsen

    What happened to Part 2?

  • sasarasa88
  • sasarasa88
  • mouseclicker

    after I read your comment about drumatic drum synths, I could not stop myself sending an email to the author of drumatic series since I was surprised too when I first realized that they were made using synthedit. I also asked about the effect plugins and learned that some of them coded entirely in c++ while some again uses c++ custom modules then added into synthedit for graphical user interface programming.

  • jdf

    Crystal from Green Oak software is available for windows (vst) and mac and is bar none the best free soft synth available. In fac it's better than many of the pay synths out there … can't praise it enough.

  • another great person who makes excellent plugs that are both free and weird:

    shoggoth is the freakiest plucked instrument i have ever heard. reccommended.

  • Debutante

    Oatmeal is NOT a SynthEdit Creation

  • Andrew

    I know it's not a VST, but it's worth mentioning that Reaper is a great free* host. With the combination of Reaper and a few free VST's anyone can produce great music completely for free.

    *Yes, I know it's shareware, and so not technically free, but it is unrestriced, and if someone likes it they will shell out the $40 or whatever low price it is.

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  • Ryan Gowen

    Wow, nice collection – I have some free VST stuff, but most of these I don't have. Thanks! 🙂

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  • jen

    Without forgetting of course, that anyone who already owns Reaktor can download thousands of synths for free off the site.

  • Thank you ever so much for the kind words on Chimera and Grizzly. It's really awesome for a small developer to see people enjoying the stuff you've spent your nights and weekends on.

    I'll keep making plugins for you guys to use and abuse. Many thanks for listing my stuff, it really means alot to me.


  • Great list of resources, especially for newbs to audio like us. Good to be able to dip our VJ-feet in the audio water and have a play around before we decide whether it's worth us buying software.

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  • Twinsonic

    Just want to thank all those developers of free

    pluggins without you life would not be so mutch fun. so big thanks to you…

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  • Max

    And just released: KX-Synth-X16, a freeware VCS3 inspired VA type instrument plug-in


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  • alfred beilin

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