Best Of 2018: Software Synthesizers

2018 saw a raft of updates and new releases, from emulations of vintage gear to new and totally unique soft synthesizers. There's never been a better time to make music with virtual synths.  

iZotope Vocalsynth 2

Not only is VocalSynth 2 a creative tool for vocalists, but it also offers the opportunity to process all kinds of instruments and audio material through the flexible chaining architecture. A multitude of controls and sonic surprises await you within iZotope’s clean and user-friendly design interface.

The BioVox, Vocoder, Compuvox and Talkbox Voice Modules all expand to reveal advanced sound sculpting tools, including two oscillators with 5 waveshape options, pitch shifters, multiple modulation knobs, filter, LFO and pan. In order to use multiple voice modules, it’s important to have access to these controls for blending, filtering and matching waveforms if need be. We’ve gone over the Vowel Shaper in the BioVox section, but also worth noting is the ‘Bands’ control in the Vocoder section.  Here you can adjust the Vol and the Pan of the Vocoder Bands to bring out or cut certain frequencies and also spread the frequencies of the Vocoder across the stereo spectrum. it's a powerful tool not only for voice processing but all kinds of other sounds too.

UVI Drum Designer

Drum Designer combines the best of synthesis and sample-based drum techniques, breaking down drum hits to the component level and allowing users to rapidly create, edit and combine sounds with the flexibility of a synthesizer and the polish and impact of high-quality sample libraries.

Users can make broad-stroke changes to preset sounds with front page macros or take complete control over individual hit components with detailed editors and a versatile effects section. Each voice archetype (kick, snare, clap and cymbal) allows surgical sound shaping through component-specific editors including control over time, gain, pan, pitch, key-tracking, HP and LP filters, sample start time, phase, AHD amp envelopes, stereo width and more. Drum sounds can be further tweaked and refined through an effect section including transient designer, soft clipper, stereo width, EQ and convolution reverb.

ROLI Cypher 2

FXpansion’s world-class sound designers and software engineers have built on the best features of Strobe2 and Cypher from DCAM Synth Squad, while also creating the world’s most extensive library of MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) compatible sounds.

 Cypher2 is an analogue-modelled synthesizer built for advanced sound design projects and expressive performances.

An intuitive, easy-to-navigate interface invites Cypher2 creators to manipulate sound in almost infinite directions with 1,300 included presets, a TransMod modulation system, dynamic oscillators and filters, a state-of-the-art step sequencer and 30 effect modules. Cypher2 is fully compatible with both standard MIDI controllers and MPE-enabled devices, which include ROLI’s award-winning Seaboard and BLOCKS instruments.

Learn more about ROLI's software and hardware and FXPansion's tools:

Roland JX-3P

Now available as part of the Roland Cloud, the virtual JX-3P offers crystalline ACB-component replication of the original’s sounds. From classic strings to crushing metallic pads, this six-voice polyphonic recreation is identical to its hardware counterpart. With push-button interface and supreme versatility, users will discover what made this synth a singular addition to Roland’s catalog.

In addition to its 64 iconic memory programs and revolutionary two DCOs, the updated JX-3P comes with an all-new effects module—including delay, distortion, reverb, etc. — and a powerful arpeggiator. Experience the JX-3P in its traditional format, or with a click, unleash the power of the coveted PG-200 interface.

Price: Cloud pricing tiers apply


Propellerhead Europa

Reason’s flagship Europa synthesizer was released as a standalone VST/AU plugin and in web audio format, running in a browser. Europa is an infinitely powerful spectral wavetable synthesizer capable of creating unforgettable sounds using 30+ engine models and wavetables, 24 filter types, advanced modulation and powerful effects. The Europa plugin and web version now bring these unending creative possibilities to even more musicians and producers.

Through accessible controls, sounds are shaped by bending and animating once static waveforms into kinetic modern sounds. With three independent synthesis engines, advanced spectral filtering, powerful modulation options, a full suite of effects, customizable envelopes, and over 500 presets from leading sound designers, Europa can create epic pads, huge chords, aggressive biting basses and everything in between. Reason users get Europa for free, but non-Reason users can buy it to run as a plug-in inside their DAW of choice.

Arturia Pigments

A late entry, this one. Pigments is the latest software synthesizer from Arturia. Combining the best of two worlds, it features hugely powerful, cutting-edge wavetable synthesis alongside their award- winning virtual analog technology. Pigments has some colorful tricks up its sleeve. In fact, it can do things other synthesizers simply cannot do. These include: scale quantized pitch modulations to build complex melodic sequences, continuous unison controls that can be modulated, with classic and chord mode, extensive waveshaping options for the wavetable oscillator, with great aliasing control and a Polyrhythmic sequencer with a strong emphasis on randomness, with scale control to remain musical.

Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2.5

Spectrasonics takes its time with new releases but when they do appear they’re always impressive. With the new version 2.5, Omnisphere becomes the first software synth in the world to offer a Hardware Synth Integration feature, which transforms over 30 well-known hardware synthesizers into extensive hands-on controllers that unlock Omnisphere’s newly expanded synthesis capabilities. Simply put, this ground-breaking new feature makes using Omnisphere feel just like using a hardware synth! The extensive new FREE update also features a newly announced hi-resolution interface, support for Windows Multitouch, new Granular Synthesis capabilities and a stunning new sound library of over 1000 brand new sounds, bringing the total number of included sounds to over 14,000. It's a sound designer's dream.

Price: $499 full version


Learn Spectrasonics instruments:

Sugar Bytes Aparillo

Aparillo has a 2-Operator FM engine with 3 FM algorithms. The carrier/modulator pair within each Operator section exclusively uses sine waves but changing up the modulation routing via the FM algorithm can lead to some really complex waveforms. It’s a 16-Voice polyphonic synthesizer but the real power comes when it's used in 16-Voice Unison mode. In Unison mode, parameters for individual voices can be modulated in very unique ways. It's a fun playground for sound design and great for creating weird otherworldly textures but it can also be used to create more controlled standard musical elements like basses, pads and textures.

Arturia Synclavier 2

With the release of Synclavier V 2, alongside many other workflow enhancements and improvements, Arturia expanded Synclavier so that it now now includes sampling capabilities and an exciting resynthesis engine for musicians, producers, and sound designers to explore. Load in samples by simply dragging and dropping, and play them back with vintage digital grain and pitch scaling. Samples of up to 30 seconds can be imported and processed using Synclavier V’s effects and routing, perfect for creating retro sampled keys and pitched-down pads. Arturia’s sound design team have been busy creating hundreds of new presets for you to enjoy in Synclavier V, showing off some of the key new features to get you inspired. On top of that, the updated version includes a selection of the original New England Digital sample library files for that authentic touch.

XILS-Labs Magical Matrix Modular

V1.5 represents a major update to its self-styled ultimate matrix modular soft synth, emulating a conceptual ‘blend’ of the legendary VCS4, a ‘dual VCS3’ analogue matrix modular synthesizer prototyped by British trailblazing entity EMS (Electronic Music Studios) back in 1969.

XILS 4’s full feature list is impressive — cue 12 aliasing-free oscillators, grouped in six pairs across two synthesizer modules, with wave shaping and hard sync, plus two additional noise generators, and two (virtual) analogue multimode filters, each with non-linear and zero-delay behaviour and three different (12/18/24 dB) modes... just for starters. With up to 1,140 simultaneous connections per patch, perhaps it is all the more understandable that it has been dubbed, “one of the best soft synths on the market for experimenting with new ways of creating sounds!”

Roland System-8

The latest update to Roland Cloud added several new dimensions to the already powerful SYSTEM-8 soft synth. There are 2 new FM oscillators with 6 variations each, providing virtually 12 new oscillator types to build upon! This update also adds 5 all-new filter variations, including the famous JUPITER-8 and JUNO-106 high and low pass filters as well as a formant filter that can apply vowel shaping to just about everything you can sculpt.

For synthesizer power-users, you can combine the Roland SYSTEM-8 Software Synthesizer with its hardware sibling. You’ll be able to play and shape your sounds with a great-feeling, velocity-sensitive keyboard with dedicated physical controls for nearly every function. And the SYSTEM-8 hardware is also a high-quality, high-resolution USB audio/MIDI interface making live or setups clean and simple. If you perform live, you’ll appreciate being able to transfer your SYSTEM-8 Software Synthesizer patches to your hardware and take to the stage computer-free!

Price: Sign up to Roland Cloud from $19.95 a month (30-day free trial available)


Samplefuel POLY / WAVE

Samplefuel is a relative newcomer to the software market, created by TV and movie composer Danny Lux whose credits include Grey’s Anatomy, Dawson’s Creek and many more. POLY is a 3-oscillator synth that includes up to 8 voices, all of which can be detuned, and Sub and Noise Oscillators. There’s a free demo version of this synth available from the website which you may want to check out.

The Main page provides hands-on control of the main parameters but to tweak the synth in-depth you can move to the Synth section where it’s a breeze to select waveforms, detune, mix and otherwise play about with controls. Modulation is controlled via the Motion page, with 2 LFO's, 2 Step Modulators, User Envelope, Amp Envelope and a Pitch Envelope.

WAVE is a slightly different proposition - a dual oscillator wavetable synth with presets featuring 2 layers, and patches in up to 16 slots that can be used multitimbrally or in layered mode. The core sections are much the same as POLY, but the synth section is different since the sound generation method is not the same. Here, you get two selectable wavetables as well as a sub oscillator and a flexible noise generator. There’s support for wavetables from Steinberg’s FLUX and ANIMA which can be used inside this synth. POLY and WAVE are excellent synths not just for composers or sound designers but electronic musicians as well. At the incredibly accessible price, they’re a very safe bet.

Price: $34.99 each. Hybrid Bundle (both synths with extras) $49.99



Sono Elements SolinStrings

Sono Elements SolinStrings features the sound of the legendary ARP Solina String Ensemble synthesizer. The Solina was a multi-orchestral keyboard created in 1974 by Eminent BV. The instrument was ahead of its time in its use of preset synthesizer sounds and has been used by such acts as Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Brian Eno, The Rolling Stones, Joy Division, and the Cure. More recently, during the 90s, Air used it in their music to create their classic records Moon Safari. Sono Elements sampled the 6 sounds of the Solina and embedded them in a "no fuss" easy to use plugin."

Audioutlaw Boots N Kat

Boots N Kats is the perfect drum machine for musicians and live performers who want to compose rhythm sections quickly, featuring an intelligent automatic algorithm that provides endless pattern combinations for spontaneous improvisational workflows. Packed with a sample library of 400+ meticulously sampled drum sounds, this automatic drum system seamlessly integrates with Drum Rack in Ableton Live 10 Suite.

The “Automatic” section chains and plays the 16 available patterns together sequentially in a sort of “Song Mode.” You can choose for all of the patterns to change every 1 Bar, 2, 3 or up to every 16 bars! Boots N Kats also features a dedicated Macro System that allows you to remap any of its knobs to any Ableton parameter you wish! it's also very affordable.

Price: £20.20

Learn more about synthesis in the virtual world with hundreds of pro video courses:

Hollin Jones was classically trained as a piano player but found the lure of blues and jazz too much to resist. Graduating from bands to composition then production, he relishes the chance to play anything with keys. A sometime lecturer in videographics, music production and photography post production, Hollin has been a freelance w... Read More


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