Before the guitar took the center stage as the primary instrument, the saxophone was one of the most popular lead instruments in most bands, especially in pop and jazz. And to this day, its sound is considered classic and vital.
Whether in the hands of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, or otherwise, the sax has an unforgettable tone that paved the way for lead instruments of the day.
And in this guide, we’ll look at the best saxophone VST plugins out there. Use these to incorporate the legendary sound of the sax in your music.
Vintage Big Band by Big Fish Audio – Best Overall
Big Fish Audio has obviously got a horse in the race with multiple horn oriented Kontakt instruments suited to different applications. Vintage Big Band is one such VST you might consider if that classic big band sound is what you’re after.
It’s obviously a lot more than just a saxophone though. Vintage Big Band comes with a set of big band virtual instruments spanning the 30s all the way through to the 70s.
Big Fish Audio, in partnership with Funk / Soul Productions, developed these sampled instruments for writers, arrangers, and producers. It includes over 75 instruments taking after some of the greats, like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Buddy Rich, and others.
They’ve kept the user interface quite minimal, choosing to corral everything into a single page interface with dozens of features for producers at any level. And to that end, we do enjoy the vintage vibes of the interface. While simple, it is very balanced and attractive.
In total, Vintage Big Band includes 33 brass and woodwind instruments, nine keyboards and vibes instruments, four bass and guitar instruments, seven drum and percussion instruments, seven Arranger Tools instruments, 12 multi patches, as well as Komplete Kontrol and Maschine integration, in a 17.8 GB download.
Overall, there are a good variety of sounds here, and they are quite capable. Some sounds are better than others, and some are a little cheesy. But If classic 30s to 70s big band sounds are what you’re looking for, then we’re not aware of a better collection than this. And there are many saxes and sax sections that can be utilized with Vintage Big Band, and they’re quite good.
If a standalone saxophone is what you need, this might be a little too much power. But there aren’t many of those out there. So, Vintage Big Band makes our best overall pick.
Vintage Big Band is compatible with Windows and Mac and is available at Plugin Boutique.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
MOJO 2: Horn Section by Vir2 Instruments – Best Premium Option
Vir2 Instruments’ MOJO 2: Horn Section certainly likes to think of itself as the top-of-the-line solution for virtual horn sounds, and doubtless, there are plenty of producers who would agree.
This pro horn collection is extensive in scope and quite possibly one of Vir2 Instruments’ most ambitious projects of its kind. With MOJO 2 (not just a clever name), they sought to improve upon the original MOJO, redesigning the instrument from the ground up.
The result is a virtual instrument that can handle a variety of genres (not just jazz, as many horn VSTs are known to specialize in that area), including pop, funk, big band, and yes, jazz too. MOJO 2 also comes with improved samples, four new simulated muted instruments, new legato options, better simulated vibrato, and more.
Developer Vir2 Instruments loaded it all into a modern looking, flat vector, daisy on grey design with deep customization options. In a way, that does go a long way towards justifying its rather high price point.
The previously mentioned deep customization options can be accessed through “pages,” including:
- Performance page. Features global and articulation controls – volume, release length, legato, sustain vibrato (real and simulated), pitch bend range, keynoise, and round robins, among other parameters.
- Mixer page. With controls for three mic positions – close, near, and room. There’s also a full mix option (pre-mix of all mic positions), as well as ensemble settings with options for one to 10 players.
- Effects page. EQ, cabinet, saturation, tape saturator, compressor, limiter, delay, reverb, and controllable parameters for each.
- Key mapping page. Customize keyboard layout, as well as how articulations and release samples are triggered.
But most importantly, can we get a decent sax sound or two out of this sucker, am I right?
You’ll be happy to know that there are 17 brass and reed instruments onboard – alto sax, baritone sax, tenor sax, soprano sax, clarinet, flugelhorn, muted flugelhorn, French horn, muted French horn, trombone, bass trombone, muted bass trombone, muted trombone, piccolo trumpet, muted piccolo trumpet, trumpet, and muted trumpet.
You also get 13 articulations per instrument, four Era presets (retro, vintage, and modern), three mic positions with a full mix option, true legato, ensemble settings, auto Divisi mode, up to four velocity layers and three round robins, 169 articulation patches (with speed knobs), articulation on / off switches, and nine effects with dozens of presets.
This isn’t the first time MOJO 2 has shown up on one of our best of lists, and we know the overall quality it offers. The retro and vintage sounds are quite capable and nice, the muted sounds are better than you might think, and the overall sound quality is noteworthy.
Now, can you tell the difference between MOJO 2 and real brass and woodwinds? If you listen closely, yes. I know I can. But this is the full meal deal, effects, and all. And I don’t mean to take away from the sound quality, which overall, is quite breathtaking, dynamic, and versatile.
So, MOJO 2 is a shoo-in for our best premium option. If you’re looking for a singular sax sound, you might look elsewhere, but if an entire horn section is what you need, it’s hard to think of an alternative that sounds close. And we’re not sure there are any VSTs that compare sound wise either.
MOJO 2 is compatible with Mac and Windows and can be found on Plugin Boutique.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Sax Fury by Have Audio
Have Audio’s Sax Fury is a creative Kontakt instrument that’s been designed with producers and composers in mind. It comes with a mix of melodic and atmospheric techniques and textures, with everything from Coltrane inspired sheets of sounds synched to tempo, multiphonics, frullati, vibrato, slap, and even sounds processed through analog effects pedals.
It comes with multiple effects (arpeggiator, reverse, time travel bar withrealtime controllable time stretch, nine quality reverbs, delay), five melodic articulations (frullati, key noise, multiphonics, slap, vibrato), six texture articulations (air, circular breathing, free textures (melodic, combined, key noises, slap, tremolo, and so on), frullati textures, key noise textures, and key noise rises.
Developer Have Audio bundled all this into a relatively simple (and maybe even a little busy) interface, with clearly marked controls. We’re not sure if we agree with the “thrown together” background and small font size, but aside from that, we get what they were after stylistically.
Sax Fury is ideally suited to jazz applications, and best we can tell, it’s mostly for unique, bizarre, ear-catching textures. And that’s something it does well – the sound quality is quite superb. But if you’re looking for a more conventional saxophone sounds, this VST might confuse you a bit. So, user beware. Watch the video first before deciding.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Vintage Horns 2 by Big Fish Audio
Big Fish Audio’s Vintage Horns 2 Kontakt instrument is the outgrowth of the original Vintage Horns that put a collection of virtual instruments at your fingertips. As the name would suggest, the VST features vintage horn sounds from the 60s and 70s, if the psychedelic vibe of the graphical user interface wasn’t a dead giveaway.
These sounds can handle a variety of genres – vintage funk, soul, cool jazz, roadhouse R&B, rock & roll, 60s pop rock, vintage film noir, and soul jazz. Of course, you could try auditioning the horn sounds in any other project you might be working on to hear how they sound, but they are ideally suited to 60s and 70s style productions.
The sounds weren’t designed to be perfect. They’ve been made to sound just as horns in the 60s and 70s sounded – quirks, imperfections, and all. That was true of the original Vintage Horns as well, but Vintage Horns 2 features a brand-new library inspired by a variety of recognizable playing styles – Miles Davis, King Curtis, Stan Getz, and many others.
Big Fish Audio listened closely to the tone, vibrato, instrument, as well as genre-specific articulations (like growling, singing, flutter-tongue, and others) of the sounds they were most inspired by in creating Vintage Horns 2. The tuning has been kept loose, and they even captured honking, squawking, warbling, and cracked and slurred notes for added realism.
We think the graphical user interface is sharper than the original. We like the colorful, worn look of the “casing,” as well as the semi-realistic looking dials with label maker styling. You can see from the interface that you can control reverb, tape saturation, bass, treble, as well as standard ADSR parameters.
While highly rated, reviews for Vintage Horns 2 are slightly mixed. One of the things that might hold you back (and may have been a sticking point for other users), is its price point. Though not overpriced to excess, it is at a price point that requires a bit of commitment.
I find the sounds to be quite capable, and so have plenty of other users. If you’re not looking for 60s and 70s horn sounds, then obviously this might not be your top pick. But if you like imperfect horn sounds, you should enjoy this.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
VI.ONE by Vir2 Instruments
We’ve covered Vir2 Instruments’ VI.ONE in other guides, and there’s no denying that it’s a capable Kontakt instrument. Future Music Magazine, Keyboard Magazine, and Sound On Sound Magazine all had nice things to say about it and thought of it as a bit of a workhorse.
“Workhorse” probably is a good name for it. VI.ONE is a massive sample library with over 2,000 instruments, kits, and sound effects, across a wide range of styles and genres.
Whether it’s basses, drums, drum loops, world and ethnic instruments, guitars, keyboards, orchestral instruments, organs, pianos, synths, horns and brass, or sound effects, VI.ONE features a bit of everything, especially for those who have a rather scant collection of virtual instruments in their VST library. The complete list of instruments can be found through the link above or below.
The user interface gives you control over EQ and reverb, and you can even remote-control sonic parameters via MIDI CC.
“What about saxophones?” you may ask. Of course, like a gift, VI.ONE comes with a variety of saxophone sounds, not to mention trumpet, trombone, as well as a near comprehensive set of orchestral woodwinds.
The quality of sounds varies a little bit. Nothing stands out as outstanding or amazing, and nothing sticks out as unusably bad, either. But in that sense, it’s kind of a middle of the road instrument library. Many of the keyboard and synth sounds are quite nice, but like I said, most are like a six or seven on a scale of one to 10.
What VI.ONE has got going for it is that a) it’s quite affordable given everything it includes, and b) it’s very versatile. This is a near comprehensive workstation.
Regardless, we do recommend having a listen before committing, as this collection isn’t for everyone.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
DVS Saxophone by Dream Vortex Studio – Best Budget Option
There are only so many saxophone VST plugins out there. Which is why we’re featuring a couple of free ones that have been received relatively well by users.
The first is Dream Vortex Studio’s DVS Saxophone. This simple virtual instrument gives you control over auto expression, auto vibrato, reverb (size and depth), and your volume (level). That’s it. The developers say they designed this instrument with expressive playing in mind, so they paid close attention to velocity and pitch bend with the filters, as well as the reverb they opted for.
The user interface is quite basic. There’s a picture of a sax slapped on in the middle, a “Dream Vortex Studio” watermark plastered over it, and a few elements that were made to look a little like thrown together “switches” and “dials.” But you can’t get too worked up over free stuff, can you?
Have a listen and you’ll likely agree – DVS Saxophone sounds better than you might expect it to. Like me, you might notice a little inauthenticity in the decay as well as the transition between notes, but the sustains are not bad. Slap a little reverb on there, and you’ve got an okay sounding sax.
DVS Saxophone is about the only standalone sax that’s decent, so it easily makes our best budget option, especially since it’s free.
Best to our knowledge, DVS Saxophone is only available for Windows as a 32-bit VST.
Learn more: PLUGINS 4 FREE
Iowa Alto Sax By bigcat Instruments
bigcat Instruments has done us all a service by putting a wide array of virtual instruments at our fingertips, and the Iowa Alto Sax is just one example. Sampled at the University of Iowa Electronic Music Studios, it doesn’t get a whole lot more “legacy” or “backlog” than this.
At the very least, it puts a basic set of configurable parameters well within reach – volume, pan, and of course, ADSR controls. And there isn’t much point in talking about the interface because bigcat has fitted many of their instruments into the same template.
Sound quality wise, not surprisingly, the Iowa Alto Sax is the most inferior of all featured here. It sounds a little like a free-reed instrument in the upper register, and more like a Casio keyboard in the middle register. But it might be a fun thing to toy around with if you’re an electronic producer.
Amazingly, Iowa Alto Sax is available as a 32- and 64-bit VST for Windows, and as a Mac VST and AU.
Learn more: PLUGINS 4 FREE
What Should I Look For In A Saxophone VST Plugin?
So, saxophones are often bundled up with horn plugins and instrument libraries. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. But it does mean you could end up spending a lot on things you may not need.
To that extent, it’s not a bad idea to think about the future. Sure, you may only need a saxophone, and not an entire horns section now, but what about in a few months? Will you need that functionality? Because chances are you are going to end up with it either way if you opt for one of the better VST instruments.
Aside from that, here are the key factors we suggest paying attention to when shopping for the ideal saxophone VST plugin:
- Sound quality
Not sure what this means? Not to worry, we cover each factor in more detail below.
How a virtual instrument sounds is always going to be a consideration. But there are always a few things to think about, such as: How realistic of a sound do you need? What does “sound quality” mean to you? How will you be using the sound?
Sound quality is more than just how “good” something sounds. It has a lot to do with clarity, the presence or lack of sound artifacts, how the sound was captured, and so on.
It’s an interesting discussion, given that a plugin like Vintage Horns 2 has left in a lot of the imperfections that were characteristic of studio recordings of the time. And some will absolutely love this.
So, take some time to go and listen to the various sounds. Consider how you’re going to use them in your projects (the perfect match is a plugin that’s in alignment with your goals and intentions). And pay attention to the subtleties in the tones.
In the realm of horns and woodwinds, there are more specialized virtual instruments than not. Vintage Horns 2 features a collection of 60s and 70s sounds. Vintage Big Band comes with sounds from even earlier than that. Sax Fury is primarily for weird and interesting textures.
In other words, as a consumer looking for saxophone VST plugins, you’d better know what you’re buying. Otherwise, you might be surprised or disappointed by your purchase. Be wary of buying vintage horns if you’re not making 60s and 70s R&B. Be wary of buying big band horns if you’re not trying to emulate those types of sounds.
This isn’t to say you can’t take a sound out of its usual context and place it somewhere else. You can! That’s the fun and beauty of music production in general. But as I said earlier, consider how the sound is going to be used in your projects, because that will help you make better choices.
So, what do you need in a saxophone VST?
As you’re probably starting to see, it’s hard to find one that isn’t loaded up with a ton of instruments, if not effects and other parameters too.
These are obviously great to have. If you’re starting with a great sound, whatever FX add to it will only enhance the sound.
Of course, if you already have your favorite EQ, reverb, delay, chorus, and other VSTs lined up, these extra features may or may not be of much use to you. The convenience is nice, but you can end up paying a lot for these extras.
Given that there are only so many choices, you might not be able to control how many features you ultimately end up with. But generally, when choosing the right VSTs, this is a good factor to consider.
Budget is a good filter to put most purchases through. When all else fails, it can help you whittle down your options in a hurry.
We’re not going to beat around the bush. Most saxophone VSTs are more like horn collections, and to that extent, they aren’t exactly cheap. Certainly not like buying a top of the line, or even intermediate level guitar. But kind of like investing in a quality pair of headphones.
Sure, we featured a couple of free options here too, and if they’re good enough for you, then more power to you. But if you’re a producer that needs everything to sound impeccable, we suspect you’ll wear down those free VSTs relatively quickly.
The main thing we want to hammer home is to not overspend. Don’t go into debt for VST purchases. Save up if necessary. Otherwise, buy within your price range.
Top Saxophone VST Plugins, Final Thoughts
The saxophone is a fantastic instrument, and we have no doubt you’re going to have a lot of fun incorporating it into your musical projects. Be sure to take your time, look around, and select a product that’s right for you. Just don’t take too much time because that can easily lead to decision paralysis! Once you get your new VST, download and install it, and spend plenty of time experimenting with it so you know all the ins and outs of it. We wish you all the best on this journey.