Virtual Instruments are pieces of software that allow you to play an instrument without relying or owning any physical hardware. They have internal sound engines (which can be modelling, synthesis or sample based) and are able to generate sounds and music.
Most of them are usually controlled though some kind of MIDI (wired or wireless) input.
Let’s have an overview of some of the coolest FREE virtual instruments that can deliver professional quality sounds at no cost. The most common Virtual instruments are synths and drums.
This post is the follow up to 9 Free Plugins I Recommend: Effects, so if you’re looking for FREE FX VST or Audio Units, check it out.
A great sounding totally FREE emulator of the world famous vintage Roland 303 Bass Synth.
A minimal interface allows you to create FAT bass synth sounds which resemble the ones you hear in countless tecno, rnb and hip hop records. You can’t miss this.
Completing the 303 above, this sample based Roland 909 clone is the drum synth counterpart of the 303. Widely used in any genre from rock to dance to independent music (think Radiohead) , the vintage Roland 909 is still a staple of contemporary productions and highly sought after in second hand markets.
Here you get a fully working minimal but perfectly useable version.
The TAL NoiseMaker is a super powerful Virtual Analog synthesiser (meaning that it imitates the behaviour and sound of vintage analog synths) . It features 3 oscillators, 2 LFOs, a Sub Oscillator, a powerful filter, an advanced Envelope Editor and a Master section for mixing everything up.
The Noisemaker is capable of creating very realistic analog like sounds, much like other expensive commercial counterparts. It requires some time to learn its full potential, but the results are worth it.
Coming with a 500Mbyte pack of professional quality drum samples, MDrummer is a must in this list. Tough its interface might look puzzling and not very drum-like at first glance, this tool is very powerful. It is, at the same time, a drum sampler with advanced sound design and sample manipulation capability, a player of external drum samples, a sequencer and a rhythm editor.
If you consider that all of this is somewhat limited in functionality but completely free, you can see why I strongly recommend this instrument.
I personally am a fan of vintage String Machine synths. While these synths were actually conceived to imitate closely the sound of a string orchestra, they created a sound of their own, which is different from a real orchestra but very fascinating and lush. I use these synths for giving some lo fi orchestral vibe to my music. The Deputy is one of the best virtual string machines out there, for free.
Let’s be honest: no free piano virtual instrument will sound as good as expensive hyper layered sample based or convolution modelling based commercial pianos such as Garritan or Ivory.
But DSK Music’s TheGrand is perfectly usable for smaller productions. It is a sample-based multilayer piano that’s completely free and super simple to use. It features 4 velocity layers and up to 6 samples per note. It also comes with a reverb effect.
Last but certainly not least, one of the biggest players in commercial music software, Native instruments (which just received €50M in funding) has a great set of 3 FREE plug ins.
Especially interesting are:
KONTAKT Player – a limited but perfectly functional of the de facto standard software sampler, including a selection of 50 (yes, fifty) sample based instruments which also include dedicated interfaces and controls for easier sound design.
REAKTOR Player, a free edition of the super powerful hybrid modular synthesiser from NI.
The package includes also Guitar Rig Player.
As always, feel free to comment and suggest additions to this little list