Computer-based musicians have a wealth of free VST (Windows) and Audio Units (Mac) plugins to use in their favorite DAW software. Here are some of my favorites (primarily Mac, though most are available for Windows as well). If you share my passion for this stuff, you are likely already a fan of the excellent website KVR Audio
, the ultimate resource for plugins of all stripes.SoundMagic Spectral
are Mac-only, and are perfect for turning audio loops into strange soundscapes, particularly strong in the use of granular synthesis as a way to mangle audio. The folks at TAL
offer up some great synthesizers and delays, along with all sorts of other effects goodies, and they're bi-platform (M/W). The Luxonix 1310
(M/W) is a Swiss Army knife plugin, with up to 3 simultaneous effects from a selection of 24, a very low memory and processor footprint, perfect for sonic novices (thanks to the many useful presets built into the plugin). If you're looking for a desert-island selection of effects, MeldaProductions offers a wide range of free plugins, including most of the bread-and-butter tools like equalizers, compressors and modulation effects, for a grand total of 24 different plugins (M/W), astoundingly good and free. Compressors are a standard item for serious audio geeks, and the rowdy little Rough Rider
(M/W) lives up to its name, it's a sonic bulldozer for drum tracks, perfect for dance music and all sorts of other things (Audio Damage
makes all sorts of inexpensive plugins worthy of your consideration, Dub Station
has effectively replaced my bucket-brigade Electro Harmonix Memory Man delay). Another must-have compressor is the C3 Multiband Compressor
(M/W), a great-sounding, comprehensive compressor for all sorts of audio engineering problems. Supaphaser
(M/W) is my go-to free phase shifter, with a better overall sound than a few hardware phase shifters I've owned.
In the case of synthesizers, it's downright surprising to see the kind of sonic power being given away these days, the choices are truly wonderful and useful. The Tyrell N6
(M/W), by audio guru Urs Heckmann
, was created as a giveaway for a magazine, and is juicer than some commercial offerings I've come across. Another great U-He synthesizer freebie is Zebralette
(M/W), the baby sister of his heftier Zebra 2
, both are in heavy use in my computers. An old go-to freebie is the highly programmable Crystal
(M/W), a nice addition to any virtual synth rack. Commercial developer Native Instruments has all sorts of great synths for sale, but I'm really partial to their free scaled down Reaktor instrument Mikro Prism
(M/W), it has some absolutely unique tonal qualities and excellent drone sounds, extremely musically useful little gem. A Mac-only favorite of mine is Automat
, which can potentially blow out your speakers, so handle with care.
I know there are plenty more where these came from, but these are some of the standouts I've found in my voyages, feel free to link any you might know of that rock your world.