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best free virtual instruments

Best free virtual instruments: Make music without breaking the bank

If you’re looking to add to your virtual instrument collection but your budget is slim, you still have plenty of options. Unlike a lot of paid virtual instrument plugins, some freeware is not to everyone’s liking.

But one of the biggest benefits is that you can feel free to try them at no cost to you. With so many great options out there it’s impossible to include them all. Here are some of our favorite free virtual instrument plugins!

Best free virtual instruments overall: Native Instruments Kontakt Komplete Start

native instruments kontakt komplete start
Best free virtual instruments overall
Native Instruments Kontakt Komplete Start
A free pack from one of the best players in the game that includes over 2,000 sounds to play with.
Pros
More than 2,000 sounds across every virtual instrument imaginable
Includes Guitar Rig 6 Player
Cons
Doesn’t include some of the best instruments for Kontakt


We all know that Kontakt is the shining gold standard when it comes to virtual instruments. With Komplete Start, their intro package, you get access to a great-sounding collection of instruments, loops, samples, and effects hand-picked by Native Instruments. These include over 2,000 sounds and 16 synths that can be customized to your production’s needs.

The bundle includes 18 instruments across percussion, stringed instruments, synths, basses, pads, and atmospherics. Every sample is of the highest quality. Guitarists get access to Guitar Rig 6 Player, and every sound can be highly edited to fit your production.

Even for free virtual instruments and sampling, Kontakt kind of runs the show. And Komplete Start is a great way to get your ears wet.

Best free virtual instrument multi-pack: Spitfire Labs

spitfire audio labs virtual instruments
Best free virtual instrument multi-pack
Spitfire Labs
Labs takes a unique approach, letting you acquire these free virtual instruments as you need them. And they come in a variety of plugin formats so they work with whatever system you’re using.
Pros
A unique take on virtual instruments
Everything runs through the streamlined Spitfire app
Cons
Virtual instruments might be too esoteric for some productions


Labs is a unique concept. At its core, it’s a collection of free virtual instruments. Some are what you’d expect, but many are very esoteric and quite unique. Things like like a Glass Piano, Frozen Strings, Peel Guitar, and more offer sounds not easily found anywhere else.

The sound packs can be downloaded individually or as a bundle, and all of them are free. Each operates in its own easy-to-use GUI installed through Spitfire’s app. Labs is compatible with every DAW in VST2/3, AAX, and AU formats.

No matter if you’re looking for the familiar or want to take a leap into the unknown there is something for everyone in this unique, robust collection.

Most unique virtual instrument: Martinic Kee Bass

martinic kee bass
Most unique virtual instrument
Martinic Kee Bass
An authentic plugin emulation of a unique 60s keyboard instrument with modern controls.
Pros
Accurately-modeled vintage string bass
Multiple modern controls over the sound parameters
Cons
Esoteric sound won’t fit in every production
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Kee Bass is an interesting take on a very esoteric instrument – a monophonic string bass. The plugin is built on the design of the analog Kee Bass, an interesting instrument from the 60s.

No sampling was used in creating the plugin. Included are some modern features like extended monophonic range, modulation, and filtering. It has a built-in fuzz and control over decay, sustain, and different tonal options.

The sound won’t fit in every production, but if you’re looking to inject your music with some authentic retro vibes it provides a solid simulation

Best free synthesizer plugin: Dexed

dexed synthesizer
Best free synthesizer plugin
Dexed
A great, free version of the famous Yamaha DX7 and TX81Z that runs on Windows and Mac recording systems.
Pros
Some of the most acclaimed Yamaha synthesizer sounds of all time
Runs on Windows and Mac systems
Cons
Not an exact replication of these famous Yamaha synths – but it’s close


The Yamaha DX7 is one of the most infamous synthesizers of all time. And if you’re looking to load your sample library with one on the cheap, it doesn’t get much more authentic than Dexed. It’s not a 1:1 comparison, but it’s damn close. You select between one of three engine types.

Modern is the original 24-bit model, OPL has a more avant, experiemental sound, and Mark I is a take on the OPL series with a higher resolution. This setting is the closest to the authentic DX7. In addition to being able to load patches from the original DX7, it can also conjure up sounds from the TX81Z.

Virtually every one of the 144 parameters of the sounds are editable, so you are only limited by your imagination. It’s cross-platform, so no matter if you’re on Windows, Mac, or Linux you can use it. Plugin formats include VST, AU, and LV2. The GUI has a lot going on, but most synth plugins do. It’s laid out logically but will take some getting used to.

Best free virtual drums plugin: Manda Audio MT Power Drumkit 2

Manda Audio MT Power Drumkit 2
Best free virtual drums plugin
Manda Audio MT Power Drumkit 2
One of the better free drum sampling plugins offers MIDI integration and some onboard processing.
Pros
Great drum sounds for freeware
GUI lets you mix within the interface
Cons
Doesn’t offer as much in-plugin processing as paid drum plugins


There are a lot of great drum plugin free virtual instruments, but if you’re looking for the vibe of a real drummer this is far and away the best choice. If you’ve used a paid drum plugin the GUI of the kit setup will look really familiar. A robust collection of grooves and beats is where this virtual instrument really shines. You get access to a number of styles and can build your drum parts in the DAW just like you can with every other MIDI-based drum plugin.

And if you like the grooves but not the sounds, you can use the MIDI information to trigger other drum plugins. The real acoustic drum samples might be somewhat limiting depending on the genre you’re looking to produce. There also isn’t much in-plugin processing available. There is a mixer and compressor but that’s about it.

It might be best in rock, pop, country, or metal territory but if you are looking for a free virtual drummer it doesn’t get much better.

Best free virtual piano: Sound Magic Piano One

sound magic neo piano
Best free virtual piano
Sound Magic Piano One
Running on Sound Magic’s Hybrid Modelling technology this recreation of the Yamaha C7 grand piano is one of the best plugin models of an acoustic piano.
Pros
Fantastic control over every aspect of the piano sound
Sound Modelling technology provides excellent piano sounds
Cons
Piano sounds are bright for a grand piano


You’re not likely to find a better free piano plugin that can do a baby grand like Piano One can. Modeled after the Yamaha C7, it runs on Sound Magic’s Hybrid Modelling Engine. This gives you the playability that comes with modeling as well as authentic sampling sounds. Truthfully, the sound is somewhere between a baby grand and an upright.

It’s bright, without really achieving the true low end of a mic’d up acoustic piano. But you can do some additional processing in the software to introduce some depth and space to it. It’s got a nice amount of controls, with harmonics, tone, and perspective over the piano itself. There’s also reverb, damping, tuning system, and key dynamics among others.

Best free guitar and bass virtual instrument: Ample Sound M Series and Bass P Lite II

ample sound m series
Best free guitar and bass virtual instrument
Ample Sound M Series and Bass P Lite II
Stringed instruments are notoriously difficult to simulate, but Ample Sound did a good job here. With multiple strumming patterns and articulations you can get your virtual guitar sounds right.
Pros
Multiple types of articulations
Mono and stereo modes
Great strumming engine
Cons
Isn’t as convincing as some other guitar/bass plugins but still sounds good


Stringed instruments are one of the most difficult to simulate, and they are generally one of the virtual instrument types that will never sound exactly like the real thing. But Ample Sound’s freeware packs do a really good job of providing access to a host of guitar sounds.

Each pack offers the same essential features – including mono or stereo modes, multiple types of articulations (hammer-ons, pull-offs, palm muting, and more). You can pick and choose which packs are relevant to your productions, and most of them come in at under 1GB so they won’t eat up too much space. Through the Capo Logic system you can experiment with alternate tunings just like you would with the real thing.

But the strumming is where these plugins can really shine. Each chord has multiple strum notes, can be played 28 different ways, and rhythms can be customized. To add another touch of realism there are four Humanization settings. All chords and rhythms can be customized across two modes and audio can be bounced to MIDI.

FAQ


Where can I get free virtual instruments?


There are a number of resources for adding free virtual instruments to your plugin collection. Sites like KVR Audio and Plugin Boutique are a great starting point. But a simple Google search can lead you to some great options.

What is the best virtual instrument software?


The “best” virtual instrument software depends on your needs. Our pick is the Kontakt Komplete Start pack. With over 20,000 sounds you’ll never run out of instruments or ideas.

How can I download VST instruments for free?


You can download VST instruments a few ways. One is to go to the manufacturer website and try to get a license or a free trial. There are also a number of websites that deal with nothing but plugins like the ones referenced above.

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