A synth or synthesizer is an electronic instrument that produces sound digitally and then uses analogue processing to produce audible sound. There are generally 3 main types of synthesizers Analog, Digital and Software based. For this tutorial, I shall be exploring the third category of synths. But for now, here is what you need to know about how synths work, to guide your selection during your plugin purchases.
- Additive synths: this form of synthesis seeks to create tones and timbres, by overlaying commonly sine waves together. By layering waves of different amplitudes, it causes harmonic distortion.
- Subtractive synths: This synthesis mode removes harmonic frequencies from a wave sum by using filters.
- FM synths: FM synthesis uses a signal modulator to change the pitch of a sine wave produced by a carrier (a frequency generator).
- Wavetable synths: This synthesis is geared towards emulating analogue sounds, for example, the sound of a note on a guitar.
- Modular synths: This form of synthesis means that modular synthesizers are made out of different components (signal generators and oscillators, and effects).
Now with all this in mind, we will go through a list of the best synth VST plug-ins for Ableton. Make sure to check out our plugin installation guide if you are not familiar with getting these plugins to work with your DAW. You may also review the VST2 vs VST3 article for an understanding of plugin formats in Ableton.
Arturia V Collection 9
This is the ultimate and expansive collection of vintage synth collections such as the Prophet 5, CS-80, Juno 6, ARP-2600 and many more, with additions of digital synths and samplers such as the Emulator II and DX7 and many more. If you get the 9th edition of this plug-in, you will get new additions like KORG MS-20, SQ80, Augmented STRINGS, and Augmented VOICES.
- 9,000+ high-quality and innovative presets.
- High-resolution graphic interfaces, compatible with large displays.
- V Collection 9 works as a standalone plug-in, comes in VST, AAX, Audio Unit, and NKS* format, and is available for 64-bit DAWs only.
For only €599 you can get this incredible plug-in here. The different instruments can also be purchased individually.
Xfer Records – Serum
This is the premier wavetable EDM synth plug-in but has a wide array of high-quality presets, engaging and interactive visuals and extensive parameters that can suit any genre. With Serum, you can import your samples and create your custom wavetable using Serum’s wavetable editor, allowing you to attack up to 16 voices. Serum comes with high-quality oscillators that yield ultra-high-precision resampling with astonishingly inaudible signal-to-noise ratios for samples.
Serum comes with very powerful and atypical LFO filters for audio modulation to rework your samples and presets to suit your production needs. In addition to this Serum comes with in-built effects such as distortion, phaser, compressor, EQ and many more.
- Serum comes with over 450 presets, and 144 wavetables and is available as VST, AU, AAX 64bit.
- Windows: Windows 7 SP1 or later
- Macintosh: macOS 10.11 or later
- 64-bit VST2.4, AU or AAX compatible host software.
Serum is available here for $189.
Native Instruments – Massive X
With Massive X you will get 170 wavetable synthesizers and 10 different ways to process the via the aggressive Gorilla, to a wavetable-bending mode, Hardsync, Formant, and many more, each with their unique sub-modes and additional controls. Dial in two phase-modulation oscillators to inject extra movement into the main oscillators.
You can get the full version Massive X for €199, or the cross-grade version for €149 for both Mac and Windows here.
Omnisphere has one of the largest sound banks boasting more than 14,000 sounds of different characteristics ranging from arpeggiated sounds and MIDI patterns, stacked and morphs sounds, drums and one-shot sounds, psychoacoustic and instrumental loops, human voice samples across most genres etc. the possibilities with Omnisphere are endless.
You can go as far as to import your samples and use the Granular Synthesis, Harmonia, Innerspace and any one of the other 58 other creative tools and audio effects inside Omnisphere.
To be able to use Omnisphere, you shall need:
- 2.4 GHz or higher processor
- 8GB of RAM or more
- OS X 10.13 High Sierra or higher for Mac, or Microsoft Windows 7 or higher
- VST 2.4 or higher, AAX capable host software
You can get Omnisphere in either hard or soft copy for $499 here.
This is another banger by Arturia with colourful, expressive sound engines, effortless modulation, professional utilities, and studio-grade FX. You can Combine any 2 out of 4 sound engines for your custom timbres and pair them with up to 18 FX algorithms, from vintage to cutting-edge. You will get up to 1200 presets, spanning multiple genres, crafted by elite sound designers and producers.
For this plug-in, can get it here for $199.
This is the first digital modular synth on this list developed by Native Instruments to emulate the format of a modular synthesizer that enables you to build your synths, samplers, effects and sound design tools. It comes with more than 70 instruments and even more is included in the user library. Now, Reactor 6 is not the simplest plug-in in the world but on the other hand, you get to build an instrument that sounds unique to you.
You can get this unique synth here for €199.
In my opinion, synthesizers are the most important innovation in the music production and performance industry. They are revolutionary in their expansive utility and versatility. They can be used in any genre or sound design to add to or inspire your productions.
Unfortunately, owning the most powerful and expensive synth plug-ins will not improve your productions, but they are a hell of a tool to have in your back pocket. Use this tutorial as a starter’s guide to some of the best synth plug-ins for Ableton. Have fun!