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Windows music creation: Synthesizers and Effects October 19, 2006

Posted by oktyabr in audio, make music, software, tutorials, Windows.

Music Compositon: Synthesizers and Effects

One of my sparkling gems in this category has to be ZynAddSubFx! This isn’t just a “synthesizer”, it’s a whole freakin synthesizer workshop! Polyphonic, multitimbral and microtonal, this bit of kit comes with so many bells and whistles that the author could probably write a 200+ page users manual, if he wanted to. Superior to many of the commercial soft-synths (and hard synths too!) out there this one won’t cost you a dime. Cross-platform too! Of course Zyn isn’t the only FREE “softsynth” out there!

Mentioned VST in an earlier post! VST stands for “Virtual Studio Technology” and is basically a plugin format and protocol developed by Steinberg for use with it’s commercial Cubase products. Since it’s original inception VST has became probably the leading format in both the windows and macintosh worlds for software extensions to music applications and the number of alternative (see Buzz Machines and Skale up above, for two examples) “host” programs is quite large as well.

VST plugins can be roughly categorized into two types: VSTi, which stands for VST “instruments”, which are generally capable of creating new sound from scratch and just plain old “VST” which is generally thought of as “effects” that can be used to filter or otherwise process sound but not capable of generating internally.

There are literally hundreds of each out there, and that’s just the FREE ones! Commercial ones capable of reproducing an entire Orchestra, for example, are available as well, and can cost upwards of several hundred dollars.

Beyond Google (which will turn up literally thousands of hits!), one of the best places that I have found to look for free VST plugins is the legendary KVR Audio website. KVR posts news from the music software world and tends to feature headlines about both commercial and free applications without any apparant bias. It has a huge supporting community and fresh news appears daily. Bookmark KVR now, if it’s new to you, and maybe just send a nice thought my way each time you find something there that makes you smile Wink

Ok, well, I spent a bunch of my free time this winter downloading, installing and testing over 400 different FREE VST plugins (yeah, I need a life!) and can report some of my findings here:

Anytime you are talking about free offerings of anything on such a scale you will obviously find some of very poor quality, some of very good quality, and a majority that sort of fits in between…

Here is a screenshot of some of my sorting using Buzz Machines as my test host:

Basically, if it (the plugin) had a unique sound or potential to generate truly unique sounds; in other words, really impressed me, I filed it in the lower left hand corner. Truly terrible ones (including some “demo” commercial ones that seemed misleading when I downloaded them) ended up in the lower right hand corner. Upper left hand corner is where I put really unique instruments. These are instruments that produce only one or two sounds of a very specific instrument (door bells, for instance) but really weren’t all that useful in general unless you NEEDED that very specific sound. Upper right hand corner is where I put the “so-so” plugins… these are plugins that made pretty good sound but nothing really unique, or were less flexible than similar instruments or simply had non-intuitive interfaces. YMMV!

That said I’ll share a couple of my best finds to help get you started:

In a different thread I showed off my holy grail of linux soft-synth exploration, the truly magnificant RTsynth and even linked up a sample of just what this plugin is capable of: MP3 sample here

Others asked me if there was a similar FREE plugin for windows and after much searching I can reasonably conclude that YES, there are SEVERAL! None perhaps as realistic sounding as RTsynth, but at least one or two that come pretty darn close! Smile

Speargear’s Raspier is an excellent “string” synthesizer intended to be used as a bass guitar but capable of reproducing almost any “plucked” sound with a bit of fine tuning. Nice interface too.

Plugsound Free is actually a wav based sampler that is intended to entice you into buying the Ultimate Sound Bank’s commercial products. So is it a “demo”? Well, not really! It’s full featured and has simply the best Spanish guitar voices I’ve heard anywhere outside of the real thing! To quote a KVR reviewer:

All in all, for a *free* plugin, this is the way software should be sold to computer musicians. Release an uncrippled free version of their software, with a no-holds barred selection of their nicest patches, not the crap ones. Well done USB! I for one will be making a purchase based on this.

How about a more general synth?

Triangle II by RC Audio is a free offering to help draw interest to the companies notable commercial products and IMHO, should be included in everyone’s “Must-Have Top 10”! Many useful presets, great flexibility, a productive gui and sounds that are tough to match with much else. Excellent Grin

And my award for “Best Looking GUI with-so-many-bells-and-whistles-I-just-can’t-stop-playing-with-it” goes to microgram m1 by NovaFlash! Sounds great, looks great, intuitive interface that just insists you tweak and tune things! Impress your friends!

Share your favorites! Looking for something in particular? Let me know! (I’m dying to find a really good alto sax at the moment!)

Coming soon to a thread near you: How to set up a full MIDI capable studio on a windows machine without any extra hardware or expensive software!



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