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Music production technology is constantly evolving, making staying on top of the latest trends and techniques increasingly difficult. These days, especially in light of the ever-growing electronic dance music scene, understanding the uses and value of different types of virtual synths is often crucial for music producers and DJs. There are countless virtual synths created under a slew of brand names, including new and improved models coming out each year. Which virtual synths are the best? Which synths are best for a specific type of sound? Check out this list of the top seven virtual synths, curated from several music tech and audio websites dedicated to keeping up with the latest in the music industry.
Native Instrument’s Massive has been a favorite among artists for years, guaranteeing it a place on most lists of top virtual synths out there. It’s designed with a straightforward setup for subtractive synthesis, offering three oscillators with controls for pitch, intensity, wavetable position and amp. Each oscillator also provides a range of waveforms, adding to the model’s flexibility, which is already substantial because of the synth’s tabbed sections to further control your sound design, including Voicing, Oscillator, Routing and Global sections. Overall, the Massive is as well-known for its flexibility as it is its accessibility, making it an easy choice if you’re looking for a traditional subtractive virtual synth.
The Sylenth 1 has become widely popular among EDM artists looking for a simple and effective way to design sounds simply without sacrificing quality. The straightforward layout, the intensity and quality of the sound, and the large number of default sounds make this a perfect synth for almost any EDM artist – or many other sound designers looking for an analog synth with classic sounds. This synth model offers four analog-style, alias-free oscillators, a traditional subtractive synth setup with two analog sounding filters, two ADSR envelopes and LFO’s to create several modulation options, and a master FX section that includes an arpeggiator, five types of distortion, a compressor, reverb, and more. One of the major benefits of this synth is that it’s manufactured to use a lower percentage of your CPU power than some other virtual synths.
This original Spectrasonic Omnisphere was a great synth, and the updated version, the Omnisphere 2, leaves nothing to be desired. Offering over 2,700 sound sources and over 5,000 patches, including “Phrase-based Soundsources,” “Psychoacoustic Soundsources” “Melodic Cave Stalactites Soundsources,” and more! To help navigate the sound library, there’s a built-in browser to make this virtual synth as user-friendly as possible, allowing you to tag sound sources for future use. Overall, this synth can create huge sounds with its eight parts, broken down into 16 layers of individual oscillators and sound sources. The setup allows for “Stack mode,” flawlessly combining the eight parts into one sound. Particularly for EDM artists, this synth is one of the top models available, and it boasts a new “Spotlight EDM” library, which features “cutting-edge, modern sounds.”
4. u-he Diva
The Diva synth is known for its amazing ability to replicate analog sounds. A byproduct of this capability is its extremely high use of CPU power, but if you’re looking for a synth for producing the highest quality analog sound possible, the Diva may be worth it. The Diva boasts the ability to create the sound or “essence of 7 or 8 vintage synths for about 1% of the cost,” something many other synths simply cannot do, and uses zero-delay feedback filters to ensure an authentic sound. The Diva also allows you to mix and match several modules to create “hybrid” designed sounds.
Rob Papen’s flagship synth Blue II combines FM, subtractive, phase distortion and waveshaping synthesis – a combination Rob Papen calls “Crossfusion synthesis.” This virtual synth model offers six oscillators, two analogue-style modelled stereo filters, a powerful arpeggiator, diverse processing and modulation options, and much more. Despite its many features, according to reviews, this synth is still straightforward and easy to use without too much of a learning curve.
Marketed as the universal synth for all, the SynthMaster has a reputation for being just that, incorporating features that you’ll find in each of the previous five synth models. Offering the same quality as other synths designed for more specific sounds and uses but still allowing for the production of a wide range of sounds, this is the virtual synth that’s hailed as one of the most cost-effective synths available. This semi-modular synth offers two layers, each including two oscillators and their own filters and envelopes. Although it may look overwhelming because of its ability to be used in so many ways for so many sounds, including FM, Wavetable, Wavescanning, Additive, Phase Modulation, VA, Pulse Width Modulation, Ring Modulation, Amplitude Modulation, Physical Modeling and SFZ Sample Playback synthesis, this synth is laid out intuitively and therefore fairly simple to navigate.
Looking for an easy-to-use virtual synth? The Carbon Electra is a subtractive synth that’s characterized by a simple design, which includes a single-screen interface without any hidden options, making this the perfect synth for beginners and more experienced artists looking for a simplistic synth. This virtual synth model offers four oscillators, five types of filters and three LFO’s. With a simple setup, including the Mixer, Filter, Effects, and Master sections, the Carbon Electra is unique in that it includes a Step Envelope section to allow for creating unique movement in sound patches. Despite the synth’s simplicity, it’s not lacking in sound, and it’s quickly making it to the top of the list for subtractive synths because of its ease of use and quality sound.
Check out these lists of “top synths,” which include the synths we chose to include on our “Top 7 Virtual Synths” list:
• 5 Best Synth VSTs
• 6 of the Best: Soft Synths (2016)
• 7 Virtual Synths That Blow Most Hardware Synths Out of the Water
• Best Soft Synth Plugins – 2016
At The Los Angeles Film School, our music production students gain insight into all elements of music production in our Associate of Science in Music Production program. Through training in music composition, digital music production, mixing and mastering, and music copyright and publishing, we prepare students to face the music industry head-on, whether they’re looking for the synth that will help them begin successful careers or getting to know the music industry from all angles.