There are an insanely high amount of free VST plugins out there, and many of them can be a great addition to your production toolkit.
But sometimes it’s overwhelming. There are literally thousands of options.
And which ones do you really need?
Don’t worry – I’ve done the work for you and found 50 of the best free VST plugins that you can download today in 2021.
Let’s start 👇
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Table of Contents
- What Makes A Good Free Plugin?
- The Best Free Synth Plugins
- The Best Free Samplers & Instruments
- The Best Free EQ & Filter Plugins
- The Best Free Dynamics & Compressor Plugins
- The Best Free Amp, Distortion & Saturation Plugins
- The Best Free Reverb & Delay Plugins
- The Best Free Chorus & Stereo Plugins
- Other Free Effect Plugins
- The Best Free Plugin Bundles
- Some Final Thoughts on Free Plugins
What Makes A Good Free Plugin?
To narrow the thousands of free VST plugins out there down to 50, I had to be quite selective. Although there are a lot of great options out there, there are also a lot of low-quality ones.
Here’s the criteria I used to choose plugins for this list:
- Unique: these plugins aren’t easily replaced with stock DAW tools. So you won’t find basic EQ’s, compressors or other simple tools, unless they do something different.
- Quality: just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s good. This is why I’ve only included plugins that sound good, are simple to use, and are on a similar level to a paid option.
- Reputable: even if it’s not a popular plugin, the people who have used it highly recommend it.
- Compatible: although compatibility changes with many factors, these plugins are compatible with most DAWs (namely FL Studio, Ableton Live, and Logic Pro) on most operating systems.
With all that being said, let’s dive in.
The Best Free Synth Plugins
A lot of stock synths are great. But often third-party ones are better.
Why? More features, better interfaces and easier to understand. Let’s go.
Matt Tytel Vital
Vital has been making waves in the music production community, as it positions itself to be a free alternative to the powerhouse wavetable synth Serum.
It features 3 full customisable oscillators with multiple different stock wavetables, 2 filters and endless modulation capabilities. Great if you’re wanting an option that opens you up to the entire world of synthesis at no cost.
Matt Tytel Helm
The creator of Vital also has another great synth known as Helm. If you’re wanting a simpler workflow and a more ‘classic’ sound but with plenty of fun modulation capabilities, Helm is a must-have.
It’s got quality oscillators, filters, LFOs and FX that are on par with many other paid synths on the market.
u-he Tyrell N6
Although they won’t directly say it, Tyrell N6 is a great synth modelled off many of the features on the Roland Juno-6 – a timeless classic. But of course, they’ve made some great changes and additions.
You’ll get great analog sounds out of this one with plenty of modulation options and great presets. It also will open you up to the world of u-he’s great line of paid plugins.
Digital Suburban Dexed
As far as FM Synthesis is concerned, Dexed will have you covered. It sounds great and can handle a plethora of FM sounds.
It features 6 operators and functions basically like the original Yamaha DX7 – the world’s first digital FM synthesizer. So if you like those cheesy bells, warbly pads and plucky basslines, Dexed could be your go-to.
Okay, so VCV Rack isn’t exactly a plugin, but it’s an insanely good tool if you want to get into the world of Eurorack and modular synthesis, without spending bucketloads and finding physical space for it all.
Be warned though – once you’re sucked into it, there’s no coming back.
Newfangled Audio Pendulate
Occasionally a synth comes along that truly does something groundbreaking and unique. Pendulate is one of those synths.
Utilizing a unique synthesis engine, Pendulate is “a chaotic monosynth that uses a brand new double-pendulum-oscillator to create previously unheard sounds.” Basically, if you’re wanting some new textures in your sound design, check out Pendulate.
Hvoya Audio Ribs
I’m a huge fan of sample-based and granular synthesis. The textures and sounds you can get are just impossible to get with regular subtractive, wavetable or FM.
Ribs is a great because it’s half synth, half FX unit. You can drag in audio or turn on the FX mode when on an existing audio track. You’ve also got endless modulation options and lots more.
If you’re a fan of vocaloid-type vocal sounds, then this is your one-stop-shop. Alter/Ego is a text-to-voice synthesizer that is surprisingly convincing and a lot of fun to use.
Simply type what you want it to sing, choose your voice and play notes, with a few other parameters you can tweak while you’re at it.
The Best Free Samplers & Instruments
Although samplers and instruments can take a long time to develop (thanks to the laborious nature of recording individual samples) and are usually not free, nowadays there are some amazing free sampler VST plugins for you to try out.
LABS has truly made multisample instruments available to the masses. When previous libraries like Kontakt were always behind a paywall, Spitfire put out LABS and never stopped updating it.
If you want great pianos, strings, guitars and many other weird and wonderful instruments, go check it out. I use this on a LOT of tracks these days.
Ample Sound M Lite 2X
If you’re after a convincing guitar VST plugin for free, M Lite 2X is your best bet.
You can shape the exact tone of your guitar and choose between different playing styles to get a pro-level sound out of it.
Steven Slate Drums Free
If you want a high-quality virtual drum kit with a few bells and whistles, this is probably the best free option out there. Personally I love to make drum loops and add further processing with this plugin.
It’s also the gateway to their full paid version, so be warned that you might dive even deeper.
MT Power Drum Kit 2
Sometimes simple is good. And that’s what MT Power Drumkit 2 is.
Featuring a standard drum kit, this is great for traditional drum sounds without having to dial in so many different parameters. It has a bit of a dirtier feel to it than other drum kits though, so if that’s your thing, go nuts.
The Best Free EQ & Filter Plugins
EQs and filters can help shape your mix in drastic ways. So it helps to have a great-quality option.
Here are some of the best free EQ and filter VST plugins.
Dynamic EQ has always been a paid-plugin-only realm. Until Nova came out.
Not only does it allow you to perform dynamic EQ (a la Pro-Q 3), but is had 4 bands and a great interface with plenty of customization options.
TDR VOS SlickEQ
When this plugin came out, I literally used it on everything. Now I might not, but it’s an insanely good EQ for coloring your mix.
The EQ saturation models (American, British, German, and Soviet) are modeled off various analog EQs for plenty of options, depending on your taste. Great for busses, mastering, or certain applications.
Ignite Amps P-Teq X
When this first came out, I couldn’t believe how they managed to accurately model the MQ5, PEQ1A, and HL3C EQs, all of which are classics.
And now you can get them all for free in one VST plugin. How neat! If you’re looking to color your mix with a classic EQ, look no further.
Xfer Records DJM Filter
If you’re a DJ, you’ll know the sound of this filter. It has a nice resonance, great for sweeps, buildups and breakdowns.
The interface is simple – a cutoff, resonance boost and drive.
If your low-end is lacking presence in the sub range, sometimes you might want to layer in a sub.
Or, you could just use bx_subfilter, which allows you to accurately dial in the perfect amount of sub frequencies.
SPL Free Ranger
Graphic EQs might look old, but they can be highly useful and amazingly musical – working wonders for your mix.
Personally, these types of EQs are great on mix or master busses when you want to add a bit of something without overthinking or overanalyzing things.
Recommended: EQ: The Ultimate “How to” Guide
The Best Free Dynamics & Compressor Plugins
The right compressor the job can be a match made in heaven. And although it largely depends on the producer behind the compressor, different types can be good for different applications.
Here are some great free compressor VST plugins from across the spectrum.
Audio Damage Rough Rider 3
This plugin got me well acquainted with parallel compression. Because without dialing back that dry/wet mix, it sounds brutal.
Rough Rider is not designed to be subtle, and the pumping effects are extreme. So if you’re after insane compression, don’t sleep on this.
Flux Bittersweet V3
Although it’s hard to find a decent free transient shaper, Bittersweet is probably the best of the bunch.
With one knob, you can soften or emphasize the transient of your material. There are also a few other controls to get it sounding exactly like you want, such as stereo effects, transient period, or response time.
Xfer Records OTT
OTT is one of those effects that has truly shaped music production forever, thanks to its extreme compression sonics.
It’s a multiband compressor (modeled off the OTT preset in Ableton Live’s Multiband Dynamics) with both upwards and downwards compression, giving it any sound a very ‘squashed’ feel. Simple dial in the ‘depth’ and you can blend to taste.
ADHD Leveling Tool
If you’re looking for a free emulation of the 1176 compressor, the ADHD Leveling Tool is it. But it’s more than just a standard emulation.
Beyond the normal 1176 features, you’ve got a dry/wet control, a more adjustable ratio knob, drive, and an input filter. Sounds great on vocals, drums, or just about anything that needs colorful, musical compression.
Kotelnikov solves the unique problem of master buss compression. It helps tame transients and dynamics in a transparent way, giving it a very natural sound.
This makes it great as a pre-limiting compressor, as it helps to control the mix before the limiter does all the hard work, allowing you to get a silky smooth yet well-balanced master.
Recommended: Compression: The Definitive Guide for Producers
The Best Free Amp, Distortion & Saturation Plugins
It can be handy to have a variety of different distortion types at your disposal, so check out some of these free VST plugins to give your mixes a grittier edge.
Softube Saturation Knob
This was one of the first free plugins I ever got, and it sounds great for gnarly distortion and subtle saturation alike.
Simply dial in the knob until you get the desired effect. Plus you can relegate it to the low end or high end of the frequency spectrum.
In the vein of one-knob plugins comes Freeamp. This effect combines both tape and tube saturation to get a full-bodied sound that you can dial in as you like.
It’s got a simple interface with minimal controls, so tweak and you’re set.
Mercuriall Tubes Creamer
Mercuriall are known for their solid guitar pedal effects, and the Tubes Creamer is one of their free options.
This particular VST plugin designed to model the TS808 guitar pedal, and it sounds really crunchy, which can be great for getting rough guitar-like tones out of anything.
They also have some other great free pedals on their site, which you should check out.
Camel Audio CamelCrusher
I’ll be honest – I still use this plugin on every tune I make. For some reason, the combination of distortion, compression, and filtering just transforms anything into something huge and thick.
Unfortunately, Camel Audio went under quite a few years ago and all of their stuff was acquired by Apple. CamelCrusher is and was free, but it’s no longer updated. And many users report compatibility issues (the interface personally doesn’t load for me, but I can control it via Ableton).
IVGI is one of the best saturation plugins for controlled buss saturation. I like to drive it a little bit and tweak the knobs to taste.
Sounds great on bass, drums, instruments or even the whole mix.
Krush is less of a distortion plugin and more of a downsampler and bitcrusher with added saturation. Similar to CamelCrusher, it’s the combination of included effects modules that make this plugin shine.
Simply dial in the amount of the 3 distortion types, and adjust the filter and modulations to taste.
Recommended: The Complete Guide to Distortion and Saturation
The Best Free Reverb & Delay Plugins
I’m a sucker for reverbs and delays because each can have its own characteristics. So here are some of the best free reverb and delay VSTs, from simple echoes to mountainous reverbs.
Valhalla Freq Echo
Freq Echo is a grossly underrated free delay VST. Not only does it sound nice and ‘stretchy’ out of the box, but the shift knob adds nice a nice frequency modulation to the delay tail.
You can control the delay time, feedback, and filtering like all delays, but don’t mistake this for ‘just another delay’. It’s not. Plus the longer feedback amounts are great for crunchy-driven sounds.
When Valhalla released this plugin at the start of lockdown last year, I was immediately hooked. This is a reverb, echo, delay, chorus and more all in one.
I can’t really give you a specific use case for it, but if you want trippy or spacey sounds, this is your thing. I use it all the time for creating atmospheres.
Xfer Records Dimension Expander
This little free VST plugin is modelled of NI Massive’s Dimension Expander effect – a sought after sound for big leads and plucks.
It’s basically a very short slapback delay with a big reverb tail. Simple but effective. Control it with the size and dry/wet.
This is an interesting one – Protoverb functions off a randomized reverb model. All you control is the dry/wet and the reverb decay time.
By randomizing the model and delays, you can get any combination of crazy reverbs, one of which might happen to sound amazing. Or horrible.
Yet another underrated reverb – TAL-Reverb-2 is a creamy free VST that sounds great on any sort of ethereal or dreamy sounds.
It’s a plate reverb but just sounds so good – you’ll see what I mean.
The Best Free Chorus & Stereo Plugins
Getting full, wide, and fat mixes is truly an art form. Thanks to the wide variety of free stereo VST plugins available, these skills can be developed without blowing your budget on expensive plugins.
Since everyone has become obsessed with ‘mono compatibility‘, stereo imagers have had to up their game.
Not only do they have to sound good, but preserving the mono signal is paramount. That’s where Wider comes in. Just dial in the amount of width and you won’t have to worry about your stereo image.
iZotope Vocal Doubler
In wide and lush mixes, a mono vocal can sound quite thin and out of place. That’s why vocal doubling has become widespread in order to create a thick, moving vocal, without overdoing the stereo image.
Vocal Doubler allows you to blend the exact amount of the doubling effect that you want. You can also control the amount of pitch and stereo separation, plus any randomness you want to add via the variation knob.
Baby Audio Magic Switch
If you want instant chorus that sounds incredible on just about any musical sound, look no further. The best thing about this free plugin is that all you have is a button and a mix knob.
The chorus sound in Magic Switch is warm, thick and vintage. It’s truly magic.
iZotope Ozone Imager 2
Ozone Imager 2 is a free VST plugin version of the multi-band imager included in the full version of Ozone. Except here it’s just a single band.
Not only can you control the level of the stereo signal with the width knob, but you can add a stereo effect to anything with the ‘Stereoize’ button. Simply enable it, select mode I or II (I tend to prefer I for drums, and 2 for subtle pad/lead widening), and dial the miliseconds amount to taste.
If you can’t tell by now, I’m a huge fan of simple yet effective plugins. The TAL-Chorus-LX is just that – a simple chorus plugin yet again modeled off the infamous Roland Juno-6.
This one extends the original functionality by allowing you to control the stereo width, as well as the dry/wet.
Alex Hilton A1StereoControl
This is probably one of the most in-depth stereo shaping plugins out there, and it’s weirdly free. While it doesn’t ‘add’ any new stereo information to an existing signal, it’s great for shaping what’s already there.
You can do any number of stereo adjustments, including mono-ing bass, increasing the volume of stereo information, swapping the left and right, inverting phase, changing pan laws, and more.
Other Free Effect Plugins
Sometimes you just need a certain tool for a certain job. These weird and wonderful free VST plugins may do just that for you.
Cableguys Pancake 2
This is one of those great creative plugins that you can load up and see what happens.
In a nutshell, pancake 2 applies manually-drawn pan curves to a sound over a specified period of time. This is great for adding stereo interest to any sound.
Something about old vinyl can make a sound feel nostalgic and dusty. Luckily for you, that no longer requires you to press a record, play it on repeat and wait 50 years.
iZotope Vinyl allows you to choose the era of record, plus dial in the amount of gain, dust and scratch and any surface noise you’d find on a regular vinyl record.
Alex Hilton A1TriggerGate
Alex Hilton delivers again with A1TriggerGate – a MIDI-triggered ADSR envelope that you can apply on any sound to get fun rhythmic effects.
Personally, I love to pull up any of the presets and see what works – there’s always something you can use.
I’ve put both Hysteresis and Fracture in the one listing as I feel they are quite similar and are great companions.
Both are designed to create nice glitchy effects through advanced modulation and routing. Honestly, you’re best just to check them out and see what they do.
If you’ve ever watched a YouTube tutorial, you’ve probably seen Span being used at some point.
This is because it’s a solid option for a spectrum analyzer and gives you all the information you need.
Youlean Loudness Meter 2 Free
If you want a modern tool to measure your LUFS, then this is your best bet. It safely sits at the end of my master buss for every tune I make.
It gives you the short term and integrated values, as well as other helpful measurements like your loudness range, dynamics, and max/min LUFS.
I haven’t yet found even a paid version of a plugin that can do what s(M)exoscope does. It’s a great waveform analyzer that allows you to see exactly how your mix and master translates.
You can use the ‘Time’ and ‘Amp’ knobs to zoom in and out, allowing you to see all the detail you’ll need.
The Best Free Plugin Bundles
These bundles feature a number of different effects, instruments, and synths that can help you level up your music production game at no cost.
Although many bundles feature too many superfluous plugins, these ones don’t.
The MeldaProduction VST plugins are quite possibly my favorite free FX bundle out there. From waveshaping to vibrato to auto-tune, these plugins are a great addition to your arsenal.
They also all share a similar user interface, so once you understand one the rest will be easy to navigate.
Airwindows is a unique plugin developer because none of their plugins have a user interface. They’re just a combination of sliders that allow you to affect the audio signal in any way.
To make things more interesting, their suite of plugins ranges from utilitarian to strange. I love to use some of their strange FX offerings like the GllitchShifter to get crazy FX.
Native Instruments Komplete Start
Keyboards, samples, synths, and FX – Komplete Start is a healthy introduction to the world of Komplete, and music production in general.
Included in the package are plugins like Kontakt Player, Reaktor Player and Guitar Rig player – 3 lite versions of their powerhouse devices. You’ll also get a lot of libraries for all 3 of those players – including Hybrid Keys, Analog Dreams, and more.
IK Multimedia T-Racks 5 CS
The T-Racks 5 Custom Shop is a collection of IK Multimedia’s free plugins, but more than that it’s a gateway into their world of great plugins.
The benefit of the Custom Shop is that you get a couple of free plugins (the Classic Equalizer and the metering section) but also demo and purchase all of their other paid plugins in the same interface.
Some Final Thoughts on Free Plugins
There are some amazing options in this list that might be exactly what you’re looking for. But hold up before you go plugin-crazy.
There are 3 things you should consider before diving in:
#1: Don’t get ALL of them
There are 51 plugins on this list, and chances are you currently know how to use zero of them.
Each plugin you add to your library should be something you intend on at least solving an issue you’ve come across.
Otherwise there’s no point to downloading them.
#2: Free is not better than paid
On this list there are many plugins that compete on the same level as many of the paid options out there.
But that doesn’t mean you should assume the free versions are better. Sometimes a high-quality paid plugin can be far more useful & save a lot more time.
#3: Updates are not guaranteed
Let me be transparent – a lot of these free plugins come from hobbyists or small companies. They don’t have huge budgets and infinite time.
So, this means that updates are likely to trickle through a lot slower, or could stop at any time.
If you become overly reliant on any free VST plugin and they stop updates, it could prove frustrating for your workflow.
That just about wraps things up. To summarize, here are all the plugins we mentioned in this article!
- Softube Saturation Knob
- Polyverse Wider
- iZotope Vocal Doubler
- TDR Nova
- Audio Damage Rough Rider
- Cableguys Pancake 2
- Klevgrand Freeamp
- Voxengo Span
- Xfer Records OTT
- Valhalla Freq Echo
- iZotope Vinyl
- u-he Tyrell N6
- Ample Sound M Lite 2
- MT Power Drum Kit 2
- Mercuriall Tube Screamer
- Flux Bittersweet V3
- Baby Audio Magic Switch
- Ignite Amps P-Teq X
- Spitfire LABS
- Matt Tytel Vital
- Matt Tytel Helm
- Camel Audio CamelCrusher
- iZotope Ozone Imager 2
- Valhalla Supermassive
- MeldaProduction MFreeBundle
- Xfer Records Dimension Expander
- Xfer Records DJM Filter
- Digital Suburban Dexed
- Youlean Loudness Meter 2
- TAL Chorus LX
- Native Instruments Komplete Start
- u-he Protoverb
- Alex Hilton A1StereoControl
- Alex Hilton A1TriggerGate
- VCV Rack
- Newfangled Audio Pendulate
- Steven Slate Drums Free
- Hvoya Audio Ribs
- Plogue Alter/Ego
- ADHD Levelling Tool
- Glitchmachines Hysteresis/Fracture
- Klanghelm IVGI
- Brainworx bx_subfilter
- SPL Free Ranger
- IK Multimedia T-Racks 5 CS
- TDR Kotelnikov
- Tritik Krush
- TDR VOS SlickEQ
Missed any free VST plugins? Let me know at [email protected].