Not so long ago, if someone wanted to record audio professionally, their only option was to book time in a recording studio and invest in an audio engineer who could bring to life the sound they envisioned. Nowadays, successful albums are often recorded, mixed, and mastered by the artists themselves, and filmmakers and podcasters can achieve professional results, thanks to powerful plugins like CrumplePop’s wide array of effects.
There have been many songs produced in home studios using only free software and virtual instruments, and many modern producers make electronic music using virtual instruments, synths, EQs, distortions, and other effects. Today, you have the power of a recording studio at your fingertips! Even when recording audio for video, you can achieve remarkable results with the right VST plugin.
The plugins you can use to add effects and virtual instruments to your sound library are called VSTs, and they can have an incredible impact on your music production, podcast, recording, mixing, and mastering processes.
Entering the world of music production, sound design, or podcasting can be challenging at first, but VSTs can help you streamline your process so you can focus on other aspects of music, like theory, mastering your DAW, or unleashing the full potential of your creativity.
In this article, we’ll discuss the nine best free VST plugins that any producer or sound designer must have, regardless of their experience level.
Here’s the list of the best free plugins for those in a hurry.
Komplete Start by Native Instruments
LABS by Spitfire Audio
Valhalla SuperMassive by Valhalla DSP
Deelay by Integraudio
Surge XT by Surge Synth Team
Vital by Matt Tytel
Chow Tape Model by Chowdhury DSP
Kilohearts Essential by Kilohearts
Graillon 2 by Auburn Sounds
CrumplePop RustleRemover and PopRemover
If you want to know more about these free VST plugins, keep reading. I’ll also explain what VSTs are and how to install them on your computer.
Let’s dive in!
VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology, a technology first developed by Steinberg that has revolutionized the way we produce music today, allowing producers and audio engineers to have all the tools they need to make music in a virtual studio environment.
Even though producers and artists continue using recording studios to record the sound of acoustic and analog instruments professionally, the digital signal processing of VSTs is getting more and more advanced, to the point that many can almost perfectly emulate physical hardware.
VSTs are audio plugins that work inside your DAW to process audio or generate sounds. VSTs that process audio are called VST effects: reverbs, delays, EQs, and compressors. VSTs that generate sounds are called virtual instruments like strings, synths, pianos, etc., and they can receive input from a MIDI device.
You may have heard of other audio plugin formats, such as AU plugins, AAX, ARA, etc. However, VST is the most common due to its compatibility with most operative systems, DAWs, NLEs, and music programs.
There are several types of VST: VSTi, VST2 and VST3. VST3 is the latest update with more advanced MIDI features and seamless compatibility with most digital audio workstations and hardware while being less demanding in terms of processing power.
Some of the main features of VST3 are:
VST3 offers a better performance than previous versions, processing audio only when there’s an active audio input signal.
VST3 requires less processing power.
VST3 supports multiple MIDI inputs and outputs at the same time and adapts to channel configuration changes. The same goes for the audio inputs.
More compatibility to control VST via MIDI controllers.
Nowadays, you can find thousands of VST instruments available for all kinds of needs, and with multiple MIDI inputs, you can truly unleash your creative self. From free to download to paid VSTs, you could spend hours searching for the perfect VST3 for your sound design project.
Before you start looking for new VST plugins online, make sure your DAW can support Virtual Studio Technology. If you’re using the most popular software like Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Cubase, or Audition, you should be OK. Even the newer versions of Audacity support VST3 now!
VST3 can be downloaded from their developer’s website or plugins’ database. You’ll usually have to download an installer for your operating system, so make sure to download the right one and not get the AU plugin version instead of the VST3.
Run the file you downloaded to install the VST3 plugin on your computer. VST3 plugins will install in the following folders:
On Windows, under Program Files/Common Files/VST3
On Mac Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/VST3
All Virtual Studio Technology plugins installed will usually be located in that folder as a .vst3 extension. Remember this folder because you’ll need it to scan VSTs on your DAW.
Once installed on your computer, you must configure your VST plugins folder in your DAW. Go to your preferences or properties (it might vary for each DAW) and find the Plugins tab on your preferences window. There should be an option to add the plugin’s folder or path (it might be already there). Add your VST3 folder and click Scan or Re-Scan, depending on your software.
You should see your VST instruments in your effects and virtual library within your DAW. If you don’t see it after setting the new plugin folder, restart your DAW.
Keep the VST3 installers somewhere you can access them quickly in case you need to reinstall a VST plugin.
As part of the CrumplePop free tier option, RustleRemover and PopRemover can upgrade your podcast or vocal recordings and take your audio content to the next level, thanks to carefully crafted AI technology designed to target and remove only unwanted frequencies while leaving the natural characteristics of your voice untouched.
With PopRemover, you can easily and intelligently remove plosive noises, those sudden bursts of sound when recording your podcast or voiceover caused by the sounds of certain letters like “p” and “b”. RustleRemover, on the other hand, intelligently targets and removes only the lav mic rustle noise, leaving your voice clear and crisp. The result is a high-quality audio recording that feels natural and professional, thanks to two free VST plugins that are easy to use and incredibly effective.
If I could recommend only one VST plugin, it would be Komplete Start by Native Instruments. Komplete Start is a VST bundle that includes over 2000 studio-quality sounds, several virtual instruments including synthesizers like Carbon 2, TRK-01 Bass, powerful effects like Supercharger and Guitar Rig 6 Player, loops, and a wide range of sampled instruments.
Komplete Start is one of the best plugins you can get as a beginner music producer to start creating sounds, thanks to cutting-edge digital signal processing and carefully crafted digital instruments. There are enough virtual instruments, samples, and effects included to upgrade your DAW’s native plugins and expand your sonic palette.
LABS by Spitfire Audio is a dedicated plugin of virtual instruments made by musicians for musicians. You’ll have access to many sampled instruments from Spitfires’ sound bank, including pianos, strings, drums, and more.
LABS is a light and simple-to-use VST plugin with a clean and intuitive user interface that will work seamlessly in your DAW. The libraries are recorded at Abbey Road Studios, Maida Vale Studios, and AIR Studios to achieve the best cinematic sound.
Get LABS by registering and downloading the Spitfire Audio app, where you can get all the instruments that are available for free. If you’re looking for a professional sound library available for free, you can’t go wrong with LABS’ VST plugin.
ValhallaSuperMassive is a free reverb and delay effect developed by Valhalla DSP. As the name suggests, this VST plugin is designed to generate massive delays and immersive heavy reverbs thanks to its 18 reverb and delay modes.
Its heavy and artificial sound is what makes it great for sound designers to use on every sound recording they want to enhance. ValhallaSuperMassive is a must-have reverb plugin for sound designers and music producers alike. It can create an immersive and realistic effect that’ll emphasize the beauty of your sound project.
Deelay is a free VST delay plugin developed by Integraudio in collaboration with Sixth Sample. Though every DAW comes with a built-in delay effect, Deelay gives more tools and customization options to advanced producers and sound designers.
Deelay features five modes: normal, reverse forward, pure reverse, chaos, and reverse chaos, and eleven distortion types, including saturation, clip, tube, amp, and pixelated, among others.
You can customize the delay to create effects that are impossible to find in other delay plugins. If you’re looking for quick solutions, you’ll be happy to hear that Deelay includes a vast selection of presets to choose from. It also features helpful Tape and Duck features that can further expand your sonic palette.
All in all, Deelay is an excellent delay plugin that offers incredible performance and plenty of extra features.
Surge XT is an open-source hybrid synthesizer, so if you’ve used synth before, you’ll feel right at home. However, even beginner producers will soon realize how versatile and powerful this free plugin is.
Surge XT features an array of filters, 12 customizable oscillator algorithms, 12 LFO units, and 27 effect algorithms. It also comes with over 2800 patches and over 700 wavetables to start producing music right from the start or create your sounds from scratch.
Another great virtual synthesizer that quickly became one of the most beloved among music producers is Vital by Matt Tytel. Vital is a free spectral warping wavetable synthesizer capable of competing against the best VST synthesizers, like the Xfer Serum.
The first thing that stands out in Vital is its straightforward user interface. Vital’s filters, waveforms, spectrograms, and other controls are animated, making it incredibly intuitive and easy to use after just a few minutes of use.
Vital is available in multiple versions, including a free version with 75 presets and 25 wavetables to jump-start your sound design career. The paid options will unlock even more presets, wavetables, customization, and personalized support.
Chow Tape Model was developed by Jatin Chowdhury as part of the Chowdhury DSP project with other innovative and high-quality audio software. The Chow Tape Model is a digital replica of a reel-to-reel analog tape machine. It was created to emulate the Sony TC-260, but newer versions can emulate plenty of high-quality tape machines.
Chow Tape allows you to design the physical features of the tape machine to emulate its unique sound, with results even beyond the possibilities of the original tape machine. Operating Chow Tape is simple thanks to its friendly user interface, making it an unmissable dedicated analog tape machine emulator, open source and free.
If you need a bundle with the necessary VST effects for your music productions, Kilohearts Essentials will get you covered with a free collection of over 30 VST effects ready to use in your DAW.
Kilohearts Essentials targets all areas of music production with EQs, Bit Crusher, Chorus, Delay, Compression, Reverb, Limiters, and more. Kilohearts is constantly adding high-quality plugins to their free bundle, which will further expand your effects library.
Graillon by Auburn Sounds is one of the finest pitch correction, free VST plugins. It’s a vocal effect with Pitch Shifting and Pitch Correction, capable of generating throat sounds and choruses, transposing a voice up and down with the Pitch Shifter, and adding a robotic sound to your voice with the Pitch Correction module.
Pitch-tracking and bit crusher are only available in the Full version, but what Graillon 2 offers in the free edition are the right tools for simple and effective pitch correction processes.
A quick online search for free VST plugins can take hours due to the immense amount of plugins available. The first thing to remember when you search for VST3 is to have a clear understanding of what you actually need. It’s easy to get lost and excited when discovering new VSTs, but then you might end up with thousands of VSTs installed that you don’t need or know how to use.
I hope this article on free VST plugins will help you decide what VSTs are best for you. Depending on your digital audio workstation, you may already have great built-in plugins at your disposal, but having the possibility to get third-party effects and virtual instruments is the best way to craft your unique sound signature.