No matter what type of musical projects you might be taking on, synths are a practical necessity. They can provide atmospheric backdrops, soaring leads, booming basses, magical effects, risers, and enhance your music in so many other ways.
So, what are the best synthesizers, anyway? Synths should be considered a “sexy” category in VST plugins, and since that is the case, there are correspondingly many options to choose from.
But guess what? We’ve narrowed it all down to a few synths just for you. Here are the best synth VST plugins on the market.
Pigments 3 by Arturia – Best Overall
Another exciting development via Arturia, Pigments 3 is a polychrome software synth. Plaid thought there was “real detail and depth” to its sound, Mylo called it an analog-wavetable beast, and Mark Ayres referred to it as deep, old-fashioned, and modern.
Naturally, Pigments 3 is an improvement on its predecessors. New functionality includes CrossMod, a distortion module with 16 algorithms, expanded comb filter, enhanced sample engine browser, Apple M1 compatibility, a streamlined UI, dozens of new wavetables, and 150 brand new factory presets.
But its feature set is expansive to say the least. You get two engines running in parallel with a choice of virtual analog triple osc engine, complex wavetable engine (with over 160 wavetables), sample and granular engine (including sample library), and harmonic oscillator additive engine. There’s also a third utility engine with an analog-style oscillator layer with five waveforms and six-octave range, as well as dual noise sample players with built-in sample library.
The interface is color-coded with modules and graphical feedback, and there are dual filters with continuous series / parallel routing, classic filter types from V Collection instruments, and modern filter types.
There’s a powerful FX section with insert or send routing, modulable parameters, as well as 18 modern and vintage algorithms.
The advanced modulation system allows for graphical editing (source based or destination based), and it comes with envelopes, LFOs, function generators, Random src, and more.
Not enough? Well, we’re not done yet. There’s also a polyrhythmic sequencer and arpeggiator that allows you to create complex sequences and arpeggios.
Producers agree that Pigments is on its way to becoming one of the most powerful synths out there. You can easily create some powerful, unique, and quality sounds with it.
Pigments 3 is compatible with Windows and Mac.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Omnisphere by Spectrasonics – Best Premium Option
Like I said, there are a couple of names that frequently dominate the top of best synth lists. Spectrasonics is another, especially their Omnisphere. There isn’t anything exactly like it, and its versatility is near matchless, making it our best premium pick.
But what makes Omnisphere so great? How did it rise through the ranks to become one of the most recognized names? This won’t be news to anyone in the know, but if you’ve never heard of it, you’re about to have your world rocked.
The latest version of the award-winning synth now features hardware synth integration. Per Spectrasonics, Omnisphere is the only synth out there with this functionality. This means you can transform 65+ hardware synths into controllers, turning Omnisphere into a virtual hardware synth.
The improved arpeggiator comes with humanity and life controls, a new preset library, new strumming modifiers, chord voicings, pitch slides, and step dividers. You can even capture MIDI files.
The new hardware library features over 1,600 new patches created by Spectrasonics and Eric Persing.
The enhanced and expanded synthesis engine comes with four layers per patch, new state variable filters, over 500 DSP wavetables, granular synthesis, eight LFOs, 12 ENVs, and 34 filter types per part, doubled mod matrix, and full FX modulation.
Omnisphere now lets you use your own audio files as a sound source. It’s drag and drop. These and other creative tools (like granular synthesis, Harmonia, Innerspace, and others) mean unprecedented versatility.
You also get a high-resolution interface, over 14,000 sounds, and 58 effects units, including distortions, phasers, flangers, choruses, vibrato, tremolo, wah, compressions, EQs, filters, reverbs, delays, and many others.
Ominsphere has excellent sounds and presets. Of that there is no doubt. You’ve got countless categories – distortion, electro perc, electronic mayhem, ethnic world, guitars, human voices, keyboards, organs, percussive organic, and many, many more. It’s honestly crazy just how much there is.
The true power of the synth, though, lies in your ability to customize to the nth degree. I wouldn’t quite say that it’s a waste to pick it up for the presets alone, because frankly, the presets are stunning. But there’s just so much more you can do with this synth, and you’re unlikely to exhaust your options any time soon. Crafting your own sounds is where it’s at.
Learn more: Spectrasonics
SynthMaster 2 by KV331 Audio – Best Budget Option
There is nothing but super-powered synths on this list, and KV331 Audio’s SynthMaster 2 tends to hold its own, even among the luminaries highlighted here. But we can’t think of anything better for our best budget pick, as it is the most affordable synth here, even when it’s not on sale.
Martin Solveig says he uses it on every session, Axwell loved that the sounds were pre-treated, and Armin van Buuren loved the FM sound as well as the editing workflow.
What is SynthMaster 2, then? It’s a two-layer semi-modular software synth with 2,000 factory presets, and various synthesis methods, including Additive, Wavetable, VA, Wavescanning, Phase Modulation, Ring Modulation, Frequency Modulation, Pulse Width Modulation, Amplitude Modulation, Physical Modeling, and SFZ Sample Playback synthesis.
The stereo oscillators come with unison / voice stacking, stereo output, and you can take advantage of the voices, voices mix, detune curve, detune spread, pan spread, tone spread, and phase spread parameters to create a supersaw style tone.
The basic oscillators can synthesize a variety of waveforms, like sine, square, triangle, sawtooth, noise, pulse, single cycle waveforms, and multi-sampled WAV / AIFFs defined in SFZ files. The oscillators come with 17 algorithms in spectral (LP, HP, LS, HS, BP, BS), sync (rect window, half cos window, cos window, tri window, saw window), bend (bend+, bend-, bend+/-), pulse (pulse1, pulse2), and quantize.
The wavetable oscillators let you scan waveforms through up to 256 waveform shapes. Additive and vector oscillators are also onboard.
There are two layers to SynthMaster 2, and each layer comes with its own arpeggiator, two oscillators, four modulators, two filters, four ADSR envelopes, two multistage envelopes, two 2D envelopes, two LFOs, and four keyscalers.
The modulation architecture features ADSR envelopes, 2D envelopes, multistage envelopes, LFOs, keyscalers, vocoder bands, MIDI velocity, aftertouch, pitch bend, and MIDI CC.
There are zero delay feedback filters, with four new categories – VAnalog filters, multimode filters, dual filters, and comb filters.
You also get 11 effect types (distortion, LoFi, ensemble, phaser, six-band EQ, compressor, vocoder, delay, chorus, tremolo, reverb), arpeggiator, easy parameters, microtuning, preset browser, online presets, multiple skins, MIDI import of arpeggiator sequence, and more.
The video below features a song that was made entirely with SynthMaster 2 (aside from the piano), and it shows off just how cinematic the SynthMaster synth can be. And one of the great things about the synth is that you can get some sounds you might not be able to get with other synths. Bonus!
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Diva by u-he
u-he’s Diva has popped up in our guides before, and because of that, we don’t necessarily have anything new to say about it. That said, we still want to equip you with all the information you need to make up your mind about what synth(s) you need right now.
Diva is cool. It’s got a classic red and black design that puts all the controls and parameters at your fingertips for fast and easy tweaking. Diva also happens to be a fun acronym that apparently stands for “Dinosaur Impersonating Virtual Analogue Synthesizer.” And just as you would expect, Diva sets a large palette of classic monophonic and polyphonic synth sounds before you, and you can leverage them as you please.
Oberheim, Roland, Yamaha, those familiar 80s sounds are basically all here.
The oscillators, filters, and envelopes all model classic components, and 1,200 presets are just begging to be utilized in a variety of ways. Use the filters, envelopes, effects, modifiers, trimmers, and oscilloscope to dial in your perfect sounds. Check the link below for more details on this killer soft synth.
If you love the sound of classic analog synths (and why wouldn’t you?) it’s practically guaranteed that you will love Diva. This synth delivers.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Serum by Xfer Records
There are a couple of names in the synth world that tend to dominate all others. And Xfer Records’ Serum is one of those names.
This synth is almost universally loved. You’ve got your pads. You’ve got your leads. You’ve got your basses. And with this much flexibility, you’re sure to be able to come up with your own sounds too. But why don’t we talk about said features before making any kind of judgment?
Serum lets you draw or import your waveforms, and it will even provide you with real-time wavetable animation.
You can set up your modular modulation with drag and drop routing. LFOs and envelopes can be used to animate any part of your sound – effects too!
Speaking of effects, Serum comes with 10 built-in effects, including reverb, compression, phasing, distortion, Xfer Dimension expander, and others. You can even reorder your signal chain.
There are also 450 presets and 144 wavetables organized by categories – Bass (Hard), Bass, FX, Leads, Misc, Pads, Plucked, Seq, Synth, and User.
But some of that could easily get missed. So let me summarize. Serum gives you access to three oscillators, advanced unison oscillator stacking, four filters, four assignable LFOs, 10 effects, 16-voice polyphony, 450+ presets, 144 wavetables, and real-time wavetable animation.
Serum was designed to have crystal clear oscillators with up to 16 voices. You can play endlessly play with wavetables and stack up to 256 on one oscillator. You can even import wavetables that look like cartoon characters or draw your own.
The included sounds are lush, mysterious, warm, full, cutting, atmospheric, classic, goofy, expansive… and everything in between. While this is true of most powerhouse synths, there is just so much you can do with Serum, and the sounds are high quality.
Most producers would consider Serum a must have, and that makes it our best overall pick. If you don’t already have it, it might be time to inject your life with this Serum.
Learn more: Splice
Sylenth1 by LennarDigital
LennarDigital’s Sylenth1 is an enduring classic among electronic music producers. It may have a bit of history behind it, but that doesn’t diminish its legacy, or suggest that it’s done telling its story. This synth is still favored, highly usable, and loved in the music production community at large.
This virtual analog synth does its darndest to take the best aspects of classic hardware synths while capturing their magic in a digital bottle. Designed from a producer’s point of view, all relevant factors were considered in its creation – sound, musicality, performance, clarity, analog style warmth, and of course, a visually pleasing and nicely balanced graphical user interface.
The four alias-free unison oscillators act as the centerpiece of the equation, generating analog shaped waveforms. These oscillators can produce eight unison voices in stereo. With 16-note polyphony capabilities, you can have up to 512 simultaneous voices.
The two filter sections come with four filter stages and nonlinear saturation. You can run the resonance control as hot as you want and preserve the rawness and warmth of analog style filters.
There are also many modulation options that have been supplied for you – two ADSR envelopes, two LFOs, as well as two amplitude envelopes.
Naturally, there are effects too. You’ve got an arpeggiator, distortion, phaser, chorus / flanger, equalizer, delay, reverb, and compression to enhance your tones.
I could go on, but basically, you’ve got everything you need here, plus a little more.
As the video below demonstrates, it’s entirely possible to create an entire track using Sylenth1. There are a lot of great sounds, well suited to electronic music – leads, basses, pads, effects, and more.
Learn more: Lennar Digital
Spire by Reveal Sound
Reveal Sound’s Spire is yet another one of those synths that repeatedly comes up in conversation and even in our guides. As with Sylenth1, it has been around a while, but the reason it keeps popping up is because, to this day, this synth VST still holds up.
It doesn’t hurt that it’s got an attractive graphical user interface. There are multiple themes to suit your tastes too, whether it’s lighter or darker themes.
As a quick rundown, you’ve got your undo, redo, mod 1 through 4, microtuning, transposing, and pitch and mod wheel controls on the left.
The parameters that dominate the screen are obviously the four multimode polymorphing oscillators (classic, noise, FM, AMSync, SAWPWM, HardFM, Vowel), which you can tweak using the many onboard controls. You’ve got 9x unison voices per oscillator, which can be spread by chords and octaves. It can imitate supersaw and hypersaw style sounds too.
The two multimode filters allow for both analog and digital type filtering (Perfecto, Infecto, Acido, Scorpio, Combo, and Shaper).
You can also add various effects – reverb, delay, chorus / flanger, phaser / vowel, and shaper / decimator.
So, as with most quality synths, there are many features and parameters built right into the VST.
Spire will come in handy in a variety of situations. The video below highlights some of Spire’s best presets, and it’s worth watching, especially if you’re curious. There are sounds suited to a variety of genres and styles, and they’re all quality.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Hive 2 by u-he
Developer u-he generally doesn’t steer us in the wrong direction when it comes to synths, and based on how much the electronic music community likes to talk about Hive 2, we’re pretty sure they hit it out of the park with this one too. And does its user interface bear some resemblance to Spire, or is it just me?
Anyway, one-name synths are all the rage. Serum. Diva. Spire. Omnisphere. Pigments. Hive. If you’re a developer, you would do well to observe this trend.
Not surprisingly, Hive 2 is quite expansive in scope. You’ve got your two oscillators (standard waveforms or 2D wavetables, 16x unison, tunable sub-oscillators), drag and drop modulation assignment, 12 x 2 modulation matrix slots (with modifiers for curvature, rectification, quantization, sample & hold, slew rate), and four user definable XY controls.
You also get an eight-step shape sequencer with four independent outputs, arpeggiator / step sequencer with real-time recording, scale quantizer (with pre-defined list of scales), two function generators (which you can use as extra envelopes, gate generators, LFOs, slew limiters), and seven rearrangeable effects (distortion, chorus, delay, phaser, EQ, reverb, and compressor).
Additionally, there are panel presets for oscillators, filters, envelopes, LFOs, sequencer, FX and modulation matrix, solo buttons, microtuning support, 2,400+ NKS ready factory presets, resizable UI, and more.
The video below features some of Hive 2’s best presets, so you can hear what it does best. As with most superpowered synths, though, there are just so many things this VST can do. If you need another versatile synth, then this certainly isn’t a bad place to look.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Mini V by Arturia
Arturia is another developer with a horse in the race, and you could take just about any synth in their V Collection, pit it against some of the best synths, and in most cases, their range of soft synths would probably come out no worse for wear.
Arturia’s Mini V is just one among many amazing synths of their creation. And what else would this be besides a recreation of the famous, timeless Mini Moog sound that dominated the funk lead lines of the 70s, hip-hop tracks of the mid 90s, and much more.
In partnership with creator Bog Moog himself, Arturia made sure to model even the subtleties of the synth’s internal characteristics to achieve a fully authentic sound.
Mini V comes with three voltage-controlled oscillators with five waveforms, a 24 dB / octave filter, two ADSR envelopes, LFO with seven waveforms, noise generator, VCA, mixer, external audio input, external oscillator, and filter modulation input.
You also get a modulation matrix with up to eight connections (15 sources and 35 destinations), arpeggiator, a fully automatable vocal filter (formant-based effect), up to 32 voice polyphony, unison mode, more than 1,000 presets, stereo chorus and delay, soft clipping, and advanced automation mode.
I probably don’t have to tell you how great this thing sounds. If the famous Mini Moog sound is what you’re after, but can’t afford the hardware counterpart, you’ll probably fall in love with this VST in a hurry. Being able to use the legendary Mini Moog tone in your recordings is sure to be an exhilarating experience.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
What Should I Look For In A Synth VST Plugin?
The good news is, in most cases, you can buy a synth based on its sounds. If you like what it does and can see yourself using it in your productions, you will probably be satisfied with it.
Synths aren’t all the same. But. They do tend to share many things in common, and usually give you access to a range of common sound types, like pads, basses, leads, effects, arps, and the like, that can be tweaked using the included parameters.
The Mini V and Diva, for example, may have specific use cases – retro sounds, funk, synthwave, etc. (although that’s not to say that’s the only way you can use them). But most other synths here still tend to model legacy analog gear. So, it’s rare to find a synth that does something completely new.
That said, virtually all other synths mentioned here are less specialized, and will work quite nicely in a variety of musical scenarios, including electronic music, pop, R&B, hip-hop, rock, and more.
Top Synth VST Plugins, Final Thoughts
If you’re an electronic music producer, then synths are a must. But they aren’t any less relevant in a variety of genres, be it pop, rock, funk, R&B, hip-hop, and so on. So, no matter the project you might be working on, it’s not a bad idea to add a synth or two to your VST library. If you don’t need it now, you will need it later.
Just don’t get too carried away with buying up synths. You need to learn the ins and outs of your toolkit, especially when it comes to synthesizers, and the more options you have, the longer it’s ultimately going to take to learn your way around your gear.