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best virtual instrument plugins

Best virtual instrument plugins: A whole band in your computer

Virtual instruments are some of the most fun plugins to play with. You can create sounds you wouldn’t otherwise have access too, or add in instruments that you don’t know how to play. We’ve covered the best virtual instruments when it comes to freeware. Let’s talk about some of our favorite paid plugins.

MIDI is a powerful tool that has been around since the late 70s/early 80s. And there is a reason why it’s still a standard – it’s incredibly useful. I wanted to cover as many different types of instruments as possible. But it goes without saying there are a lot of amazing options – so don’t be afraid to experiment!

So let’s dive in. Here are eight of our favorite virtual instrument plugins.

Best virtual drums plugin: XLN Audio Addictive Drums 2: Creative Collection

xln audio addictive drums 2
Best virtual drums plugin
XLN Audio Addictive Drums 2: Creative Collection
An easy to use drum plugin with great samples, grooves, onboard FX, and mixer.
Pros
Great samples and grooves
GUI is easy to navigate
All drum production can be done in the plugin
Cons
If you’re used to another drum plugin there might be a learning curve


There are a lot of players in the drum plugin space, but XLN Audio’s Addictive Drums slightly edges out the competition. In addition to the library in the standard plugin, it comes with three expansion kits. All drum production can be done within the plugin like effects processing, transient shaping, and compression.

The GUI is easy to navigate, the samples sound great, and the performances are on point. It’s easy to assemble the drum parts by drag-and-drop and just as simple to build them from scratch. MIDI functionality gives a great deal of options for programming them yourself.

Best classic synthesizer plugin: GForce Software OB-E

GForce Software OB-E
Best classic synthesizer plugin
GForce Software OB-E
One of the most popular synthesizers ever is re-imagined as a plugin that adds new features.
Pros
A modern take on Oberheim synths
600 presets
Remains true to the original analog sound
Cons
Not a fit for every style
GUI might be confusing to those not familiar with synths
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Oberheim is famous for making some of the fattest synths in history. This is a great take on one of their classic 8-voice synths from the late 70s. It adds some modern touches, but still remains true to the original.

Some notable features include control over each voice individually, polyphonic aftertouch and MPE control. It has an 8-step sequencer and a whopping 600 presets to get you started. It’s a realistic emulation and does the original’s legend justice.

Best modern synth plugin: Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2

Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2
Best modern synth plugin
Spectrasonics Omnisphere
One of the most powerful software synths in the world is also the only one to offer hardware synth integration.
Pros
World-class software synthesizer
More than 14,000 sounds
Vibrant user community
Advanced routing matrix
Cons
Steep learning curve
Pricey for a software synth

It might seem daunting at first, but with over 14,000 sounds you’ll never run out of options for your productions with Omnisphere 2. And you can import your own sounds. It’s a great marriage of the two concepts that virtual instruments are based on – sampling and synthesis.

57 effects patches let you further modify your programs. And if you want to use it in a live setting or create your sounds in the moment Live Mode is great. A matrix lets you route the signal like you would with a modular synth. Filtering can be applied in series or parallel.

Additionally, Spectrasonics has a great user community and you can share sounds, tips, and tricks. This is a great application for sound design and film just as well as music productions.

Best guitar virtual instrument: UJam Virtual Guitarist Bundle

ujam virtual guitar bundle
Best guitar virtual instrument
UJam Virtual Guitarist Bundle
A virtual guitar bundle with elements that can be purchased separately so you have a choice over what you want.
Pros
5 virtual guitars
Included FX
Multiple pickups and mic positions
Cons
Interface is very different than other virtual guitar plugins
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The five virtual guitars in this bundle give you everything from chiming cleans to heavy distorted tones across acoustic and electric guitars. And if you only need a certain sound each option can be purchased individually.

Guitarists love effects, and there are several in the software. You can also get thick, doubled guitar sounds via the Doubling switch. You can also switch pickups and mic positions, which varies by each guitar.

Sample-based guitars are one of the most unique types of virtual instruments, so there might be a bit of a learning curve. But the sounds are solid and convincing.

Best bass guitar virtual instrument: Toontrack EZBass

toontrack ezbass
Best bass guitar virtual instrument
Toontrack EZBass
A plugin with modern and vintage bass sounds. The grid editor is a groove machine and the audio analysis engine is a unique feature.
Pros
Modern and vintage bass tones
Grid editor lets you build your own grooves
Audio analysis track matching is very cool
Cons
Can’t choose guitar types

Toontrack has a suite of virtual instrument plugins that are all fantastic. Their version of the four-string-thing is easy to use, affordable, and doesn’t skip on the groove!

You get modern and vintage bass guitars across two very different sound libraries as well as being able to convert audio files to MIDI. Or use a controller to input your own basslines. A built-in grid editor lets you easily build your grooves. And some automation tools let you establish a quick workflow by generating grooves from other tracks.

It would be nice if it offered more options for the types of guitars, but the way it can analyze audio and match it to your track is really cool.

Best orchestral virtual instrument: Sonuscore: The Orchestra

Sonuscore The Orchestra
Best orchestral virtual instrument
Sonuscore: The Orchestra
Put a full 80 person orchestra into your productions that comes in a wide variety of plugin formats.
Pros
Put an entire 80 person orchestra into your digital productions
88 instrument patches
Comes in multiple plugin formats
Cons
None
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This orchestral plugin puts an 80-person full orchestra into your productions. The company wanted to streamline adding in orchestral compositions and did a great job. There are 88 instrument patches and even a full choir!

So no matter how you choose to conduct your very own virtual orchestra, it has all of the sounds that you need in a simplified workflow. It comes in a wide range of plugin formats, can be run through KontaktPlayer or as a standalone.

Best string ensemble virtual instrument: Chris Hein Ensemble Strings

chris hein ensemble strings
Best string ensemble virtual instrument
Chris Hein Ensemble Strings
A virtual string quartet with 10 instruments and thousands upon thousands of samples.
Pros
53,000 samples across 10 instruments
Built-in DSP
Cons
Cluttered GUI


Strings add a certain elegance to a song, and this library is packed with them. 10 instruments, 53,000 samples, and 30GB of content. Each instrument has over 30 variations and styles.

It brings a true sense of realism with intelligent design and control over legato and portamento techniques – which is highly important with string instruments. Built-in DSP helps you create the ideal space.

The GUI is a little cluttered, but that’s not a deal breaker because if offers so many parameters.

Best piano virtual instrument: Pianoteq 7 Pro

pianoteq pro
Best piano virtual instrument
Pianoteq 7 Pro
Multiple pianos are available to you, with options to tweak almost every parameter. From the attack of the hammers to the microphone positioning.
Pros
Synthesis methodology of modeling pianos
Doesn’t eat much CPU
Multiple parameter customization
Cons
GUI isn’t as intuitive as some other piano soft synths

Put an entire arsenal of the best pianos in the world into your plugin folder. Each instrument is entirely tweakable, so creating your own piano models is a breeze. This virtual instrument is a bit unique in that it doesn’t use samples, but rather a synthesis method to present its collection of keys.

For all that it can do it has a pretty light footprint and doesn’t take up much processing power. Which is something that a lot of virtual instruments do. Almost every physical parameter can be manipulated, customized and edited. Five microphone positions were used to capture the sounds. And you can adjust them to your virtual micing content.

Best virtual instrument collection: Steinberg Absolute VST Collection 5

Steinberg Absolute VST Collection 5
Best virtual instrument collection
Steinberg Absolute VST Collection 5
One of the most robust collections of virtual instruments from one of the best plugin manufacturers.
Pros
Includes HALion 6 and Sonic 3
Over 7,500 presets
130GB of content
Cons
This many samples will take a while to discover all of the sounds

Wow. To say this might be the collection of the best virtual instruments doesn’t feel like an understatement. A lot of bundles is more about what they don’t have, but Absolute Collection 5 is more about what doesn’t it have?

It includes the powerful HALion 6 and Sonic 3 packs to handle the melodic side of things, and Groove Agent 5 gives you all of the rhythmic options you’ll need. Guitars, pianos, 808s, the list just goes on!

Absolute Collection 5 is a well-rounded bundle. It might take some time to discover all of its potential. But that’s part of the fun.

FAQ

What are some virtual instruments?

Every instrument you can imagine is available as a virtual instrument. Some come in bundles, some are standalone.

What is the best virtual instrument software?

This is really subjective. Some companies at the top of the game are Native Instruments, Arturia, Spectrasonics, and Xfer. But finding the right one for you is all about trying out different plugins. A lot of companies offer free trials, and there is an amazing amount of freeware virtual instruments.

What is similar to Omnisphere?

Serum is generally the plugin that’s most compared to Omnisphere. They are both very different, but very powerful applications that are top choices of musicians everywhere.

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