Plugging stuff together is fun. By jurvetson.

There’s a disturbing amount of free sound-making stuff out there, enough to clutter up your VST folder and make you forget where you put that multi-tap delay you wanted. It’s a beautiful thing. So, as a regular, erm, public service, I’ll be semi-regularly rounding up some of the free instruments and effects appearing around the Interwebs.

This week: a brilliantly deep reverb, plus everything from a beat box (as in human beat box) to a motorcycle simulator.



MechaVerb is a free reverb effect. Yawn… until you see the fact that the maze of knobs above allows you to individually set delays for each component of the sound on each band. That allows for some interesting special effects and makes this a real gem for tweakers.

Mechaverb v1.00 VST (Windows only)

via the CDM Forums

The developers Atom have tons of other free stuff, including a pulse wave synth (nifty!), an (intentional) clipper they just updated, and other effects and sampleware. If it doesn’t have “Add to Cart” next to it, it’s free; check the sidebar. Their payware effects look great, too — dig that $10 host-synced gate effect. Might have to just buy that one.

In other freeness news:

Instasampler is a free Mac OS X-only sampler. (Via Synthtopia.)

No, really — it’s a sampler. As in, something that records live from input (it uses MIDI as the trigger). Yes, the word “sampler” has come to mean “things that play back samples but don’t actually record,” but this is an exception. It’s also so ugly I can’t bear to insert a screen grab.

Earth to sample makers: we expect to see this in every product you release that you call “sampler” from now on. In the meantime, this is free for Mac. (Anyone know a good Windows or Linux alternative?)


xoxos is a legend in free stuff (Windows only). I’ve done a couple of entire pieces with the physical modeling stuff. Tour the VSTs for endless free oddities, plus some affordable payware tools. The latest from xoxos is Virtual Machine, which you’ll find on the main page. It’s not quite free, but it’s close — subscribers who donate get it as a gift. Via FutureMusic Beta.


Super Drum Generator FX is a … super drum generator. (Windows only) Stick in some audio files and go; as you can see, you get mixing, EQ, and effects. There’s even a preset for Roland E-Drum MIDI settings and MIDI filtering. Via


DSK DrumZ BeatVoiZe is a virtual, sampler beatbox plug-in. (Windows-only, sorry, again.) Yeah, I kinda thought the whole point of beatboxing was, like, using your voice, but if you really need a virtual rendition, here’s a plug-in substitution — complete with sample capabilities and MIDIhost automation. Via, who also host the plug-in.

Did we miss your creation? Be sure to email us next time!

Hands-on impressions of any of these? Let us know in comments.

  • "Windows Only"

    Oh, how I loath those words. I kept salivating while reading the descriptions only to read that painful phase, leaving me totally blue-balled. Next edition needs to be more OS X only, see how they like it hehe.

  • Well, Marcel, you arguably have the most interesting plug of the bunch — Instasampler may be simple, but the ability to take live input is appealing.

    Mac free plug-in round-up is clearly overdue, since they remain the exception rather than the rule.

  • haha true say; I just installed the plugin and I'm about to test it out. It does sound very promising!

  • kibibu

    I'll go out on a limb and suggest most free VSTs are developed by indie/hobbyist types, and pcs are a significantly cheaper platform to develop for. I'm sure if there was a cheap, simple way to develop cross-platform plugs then there'd be a veritable cornucopia of free AU plugs.

    Of course, this argument falls down in the face of linux – but that's largely an adoption, configuration and format confusion issue (there are plenty of free LADSPA plug-ins, but they mostly do one thing only).

    Also: synthedit.

  • Well, except you can spend $1000 and get a MacBook and write VSTs in Xcode for free. I think ease, not cost, is the primary factor here … and that perhaps there are just more Windows-based developers who would be writing plug-ins in their free time. But if anyone can explain it definitively, I'm all ears.

    (several of these examples are SynthEdit, too, so that certainly is a plausible theory!)

  • James

    "motorcycle simulator" ?

    It is really a shame the xoxos stuff is windows-only… such great stuff.

  • LZA

    Mac and freeware was never really happening because there never was an easy/cheap way to code anything for Mac before Mac OSx, unlike Windows.

  • phattaboy

    IMHO i reckon the main reason for the large amount of free vst's for pc…

    lotsa development progs:




    ?may be easier to develop for PC?

    and a much larger community of developers.

    but most important, a much larger user base.

    (if ur going to make something for free u want kudos

    from as many peeps as possible ;P )

  • I just love the many wonderfully weird plug-ins out there, built without commercial succes in mind. Some may look ugly, have bugs and poor support, but many are one of a kind, unique and inspiring.

    SynthEdit and SynthMaker are wonderful tools for people with limited coding skills to get their ideas implemented.

    And even for skilled coders SynthEdit seems a great tool (i.e. Sylenth1 is handcoded, wrapped in a GUI with SynthEdit).

    The Putney 2.0 by Ninecows is another cool freebie which was recently released. The guy says it's an architectural replica of the EMS Putney (it looks like a Synthi A).

    You can read more about it at KVR.

  • suxor

    also visual studio is actually really good! even the free editions. nothing comparable on any platform i think. (ok eclipse, but that is for java mostly). but i think it is just that pc's are cheaper, and lots more common.

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  • vvvoid

    91.46% windows

    7.57% mac

    re: overabundance of pc freeware explaimed right there.

    ok, just one website's statistics, but i'm certain it's not far from the real figures.

  • 7oi

    noone ever checked out
    It's loaded with free OSX audio tools/programs/plugs etc. counting 91 au and 120 vst (probably many of them the same), not to mention the other stuff. although it hasn't been updated in a while and many links have gone dead, it's a great resource for fun stuff.

  • ON

    Windows only… Blahhh…. I think I´ll sell my mac and get a PC. 🙂 Haha!

  • @vvvoid, phattaboy: in music, we've seen numbers closer to 55/45 Mac/PC, so I don't think it's user base. I think it's developer tools and ease of development.

    There actually was a really great effort to get more free plug-ins on Mac, but then that ran head-first into the Intel switch. There are still enough to keep you busy, though.

  • JollyRogered

    7oi – thank you so much – I had forgotten about studiotoolz!

    LZA – don't know where you've been looking, but there's always plenty of audio freeware for Macs, well pre-dating OS X.

    I'm still hanging on to one of my old PPC machines simply to run some of that stuff, which ironically is no longer usable on Intel machines (yeah, I know about Sheepshaver, but not had much luck with it so far…)

  • GaryG

    I'm one of these (Windows) people who probably try too many free plugins and never get much real 'work' done. I've, in the past, actually thought how nice it would be to have a more limited options like when I started way back when with a 4track cassette, boss drum machine and sci pro one. Obviously what I need is will power and more Elton John days…

  • GaryG, I have found a solution to that:

    Keep downloading the free plug-ins, but then try to make as much of one project with just *one* of them. There's something sort of satisfying about grabbing one in the morning and using nothing else all day … then feeling perfectly fine about never picking it up again, if it works out that way.

    Now, admittedly, this may not work if you're trying to record a professional-sounding demo of your zydeco band or something, but for experimentation or generating sound ideas, it can work.


  • GaryG, I have found a solution to that:

    Keep downloading the free plug-ins, but then try to make as much of one project with just *one* of them. There's something sort of satisfying about grabbing one in the morning and using nothing else all day … then feeling perfectly fine about never picking it up again, if it works out that way.

    Now, admittedly, this may not work if you're trying to record a professional-sounding demo of your zydeco band or something, but for experimentation or generating sound ideas, it can be satisfying.

  • GaryG

    Hmmm… That kind of sounds like a father forcing their kid to smoke a whole packet of cigarettes to put them off smoking for life… 😀

  • Ha!

    No, just one at a time…

    What I find is that, then you still get limited choices, at least, but without having to, erm, commit. 😉

    And some of these plugs really are sort of one trick ponies anyway.

  • There is actually an alternative to InstaSampler — and a better looking one;)
    It's a shame not so many people know about this amazing freeware AU sampler with a lot of opportunities.

  • Unfortunately, Musolomo is PPC Mac only.

  • cubestar

    Peter – I think the UB version of muslomo is available in beta from the Plasq forums!

    MOSTLY – We just need to convince the makers of synthedit and synthmaker to make Mac versions or at least a compile for Mac option in the Win versions.

    Maybe a huge mob of Mac users bearing $$$ instead of pitchforks?

    Start a petition followed up by donations?

    What do the Mac peeps think?

  • LZA

    Jolly Rogered: Ofcourse you are free to perceive the freeware on mac as "plenty", but in comparison to the windows-freeware it has always been a very, very small amount. Claiming anything else is stupid, sorry.

  • LZA

    Oh and what I love about PC is that apart from the sheer amount of free plugins there has always been free stuff that was truly unique. InsertPiz oder the whole smartelectronix-crew have done plugs that are completely nuts, unique and free.

    Also, I remember the time when someone did show me a Mac-Clone of the old Windows Freeware "Stomper", only with less options and a 60$-Pricetag. This told me alot about Macs.

  • mono/noise

    cubestar – Have you tried Sonic Birth?

  • I love SynthEdit freebies. Many of them are just so quirky and unique.

    Here's another cool one, The Putney 2.0 by Ninecows (a Synthi A type thing).

  • dead_red_eyes

    mono/noise, I was just about to suggest Sonic Birth! Good lookin out!

    Also, The Big Blue Lounge has an insanely HUGE list of free VST & AU instruments. Might be worth stopping by there to check them out.

  • The main reasons developers give for there being more Windows freeware (and just greater diversity in musical software in general) roughly in order of importance:

    1) MacOS breaks backward compatibility all the time. Especially with the Audio Units standard. It's simply not worth the time to have to re-create one's entire plug-in catalog that often. Unless you're a huge, rich company.

    2) Windows machines comprise about 80% of the computers in existence. Whether it's freeware or payware, if you make it for PC more people will use it.

    3) SynthEdit and Synthmaker. Espacially now with Synthmaker being included in FLStudio. Max/Msp is certainly impressive but astonishingly expensive in comparison; most Pluggo-developed VSTs are made by people who already owned it anyways, whereas SE and SM are owned only by people who want to make VSTs. And typically people who consciously intend to make freeware.

    4) Mac are way too expensive. More than that, since there's hardly and freeware for Macs compared to for PCs, there's that additional cost. Which is considerable. In the big, important areas this is changing finally (word processing, picture editing) but when I was first a Mac tech in, say, `95 or so there was almost nothing free for Mac. Also, to develop for both platforms a developer needs to own both types of machine. Mac users seem to overlook that.

    Regardless of whether you agree with or care about the above reasons I assure you that this is what dozens of devs have said, over and over again.

    I personally favor freeware over payware not just because it's free but because, predictably, it tends to be more task-focused and vastly more creative. You can't very well fuel your giant German software company's bottom line with polythythmic stutterers and grain cloud effects.

  • Wait a minute here, runagate: a giant Germany company making granular effects and stuttering polyrhythms? That's actually true of *both* companies that initially come to mind — Ableton and NI. 😉

    I am all about the simple, free stuff, too, though — as are some of the people I know who *work* for Ableton and NI.

    I think you're right that a lot of developers own PCs and not Macs. I'm still not completely sure about this "Macs are more expensive" argument, because you can get a very good machine for $1000-1500, which isn't far off from what most people spend on a PC — though the PC absolutely has more hardware choice and some much cheaper options if you want them. But I think what you can assume is that the freeware developer demographic is tending PC, for what may be complex reasons. There are plenty of Mac developers who charge for their work … though I would also say, there's some fantastic shareware and at least a couple of really great free tools (MIDI Monitor and MidiPipe spring to mind, at least).

  • Not that they don't make them at all, but that crazy stuff can't appeal to a large enough base of people to keep a lot of people on the payroll.

    There's huge, obvious exceptions to all of this: N.I. may not have developed Absynth but they certainly did create the weirdest-ever, Reaktor, though the point is that Guitar Rig and Kontakt are probably what pays the bills. I didn't even know Ableton was German. My only experience with it is trying to teach people how to use it on their Mac laptops!

    Whereas freeware allows for broken, misguided oddities. I know – I recently made one in SE to vocode drums that I don't understand why it makes the noise that it does but is indeed the noise I wanted.

    All the music in the little mp3 applets I made on my music page through my link there was made with $210 worth of DAWs and $190 worth of plug-ins + freeware. 1500+ freeware plug-ins. It's an amazing time we live in. Conversely, I've got a local friend who essentially works for N.I. and gets to use Komlete for almost no cost *cry* Usine the DAW Usine by Sensomusic (60$ USD) for a live modular environment is roughly how I imagines music technology would be if a UFO stopped by and handed me their hardware 10 years ago.

    MidiPipe? Hmm, off to google with me.

  • dead_red_eyes

    "Macs are way too expensive"


    Have you seen the price of Toshiba laptops?

  • LZA

    Don't compare laptops and new PCs vs. Macs.

    I recently upgraded my PC for 350€ (Mainboard, CPU, Ram), my case is 6 years old, my oldest harddrive is four years old, I didn't need a new power-supply and so on.

    With a Mac you always need a completely new one when you want to upgrade.

  • I'm with the arugment that there are more developers with PC's. For a long time Macs didn't really have an abundance of third party software because everything about the Apple ethos was propietary and more often than not Apple would provide their own software solution for most tasks which was good enough for most.

    Developers also used PCs because they needed to create software for businesses and of course this is changing but the majority of businesses all ran PC hardware.

    So with more developers creating software for the PC, it meant more people in their spare time to be creating these freebies (including tools like SynthEdit to allow non-coders to creating MORE freebies). It's really no wonder.

    However Apple did the right think with the switch to Intel chips and they have made a signifcant and very public shift toward providing more tools and documentations for people to take up coding for the OSC platform. So things will continue to become more balanced in terms of freeware and general access to tools on either platform and may swign toward Macs for their ease of use and stability in the future.

    All I know is that right now I want to start teaching digital music production and almost nobody in NY is using a PC anymore for that so I will have to add a Mac to my set-up when I have the pennies to do so. That said, where there's a will there's a way and maybe I can get going with my trusty (amd very sturdy) Dell laptop. Free introductory lesson in NYC anyone? 🙂

  • 7oi
  • I'm certainly not going to be involved in any PC vs. Mac fight. Bo-ring.

    I will, however, take up arms alongside whomever can foist OSC on the world and overthrow midi. It is hampering instrument development to such a degree, this "locked-in" data protocol that the original developers of which did such a brilliant job fitting to the then-current technology but now… I wonder if someone could fit Dave Smith with some Voltron-like mechanized armor?

  • Downpressor

    Some people commented about a supposed lack of development tools for OSX. This is not correct. XCode has been included for years now and there is plenty of sample reference code for Audio Units and VST development.

    Regarding backwards compatibility of AUs, well there is *some* truth to that, but unless an AU outright crashes the evaluator, you can still choose to run it in Logic. I've had to deal with this exactly once in the last 5 years, so I think "all the time" is a bit of an overstatement.

  • First of all can we stop say "Mac vs. PC" – they're both PCs, as in personal computers. Technically, isn't it Mac vs. Windows?

    Yeah, I don't think this is "vs." type discussion at all – I'm as tired as that crap as anyone. However, looking at why there is more freeware/shareware audio plugins for Windows is a perfectly non-partisan discussion for us trainspotters.

    And, yes, Macs are just more expensive. I was looking at a Best Buy advertising circular over breakfast yesterday morning and there wasn't one laptop offered that was over $800, and several were around $500. All of them were dual-core with 1gig or great RAM. And, as has been said, if I want to upgrade my desktop machine to the latest and greatest I don't have to throw out the baby with the bathwater and I can do it for well under $300. Plus for a Windows user with a software-stuffed audio rig to switch to Mac might require upwards of $1000 in software upgrades and crossgrades.

    But I am all in favor of cross-platform plugins, and really wish SynthEdit could/would be made platform independent. I think Macs are great machines and wish my Mac brethren could enjoy some of the same entirely unique plugins Windows users have been (ab)using for years.

  • Correct me if I'm wrong but didn't someone develop an app for mac that would convert pc vst's to vst for mac or au format? I remember a m8 of mine trying it and it worked on some free app. I don't know not to stir the pot more, and I can't remember for the life of me what it is called. Anyone have any more info on this or how well it really does work?

  • cubestar

    Honestly, how many PC only freebees are not SE SM or abandonware?

    One of the best nearly free things ever is Zebra CM, btw…

    I support PCs and Macs for a living, and have owned PCs for years.

    I miss a very few SE freebees, mostly FX.

    I also miss Wusikstation.

    But, Windows is just not acceptable for me.

    I have a hub with 10 usb devices that I use to "dock" to when I connect my laptop.


    – Forget which devices were installed because I plugged them into another port

    – "New device Found"

    – "Search the internet?"

    – "Install driver"

    – "New device installed and ready to use" or "Please restart"

    – Sometimes the drivers have to be removed & reinstalled.

    – X 10 devices

    Oh, and my fave is when my Toshiba laptop would forget it's own track pad.

    On the Mac side:

    – Plug USB cable into any port

    – Wait 1 second

    – Play

    To each their own, but I find my Macbook an absolute joy to use.

  • Rozling

    I can't believe this is still Mac -v- PC (or Mac -v- Windows, whatever you want to call it)…

    Where are people's favourite free VSTs??????

    I'm a fan of String Theory, all of the GVST/Betabugs packs, and Mr. Tramp (although it's unstable when recalling presets – better to manually re-add the plug as there's not many settings anyway). They're all Windows afaik, but that's what I have so deal with it, get parallels and give us your freeware Mac tips!

  • Sup

    Has no one heard of Sonicbirth? It is the Synthedit like environment for the Mac.

    We need to get a few more people hopping onto it. It didn't take a programmer to make a Synthedit plugin. Hopefully the same is true for Sonicbirth.

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  • Taxis

    I am going to go out and say it. You mac users have it easy. The sheer vast supply of free software plugins (in comparison the the number of free software plugins that sound good) totally killed making music on the computer for me. Windows users don't have to pay a cent in order to have the tools to make good music, but we pay for it every time we find ourselves staring at a list of plugins for ten minutes trying to figure out which one to use.

  • Thanks for the great tips. I just downloaded the drum software and I'm excited to give it a go.

  • FlashBastra

    Here's something worth possibly checking out. I've not used it yet so, I can't comment realy. Just thought that it looks pretty cool. It supposedly allows Mac to run Windows VSTs.

  • FlashBastra

    Here are some decent FREE VSTs:

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