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5 Best Synth VSTs

Best Soft Synths
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Updated May 2021
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5 Plugins & VSTs

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Choosing what VST synth to use is not easy. It’s a very personal choice, and there are hundreds of them out there to try out - you could spend months auditioning software synth demos instead of actually making music! We say it’s a personal choice because you should pick a synth that fits you and the music you want to make, whether that’s how it sounds, how it feels, how steep the learning curve is, and if your computer’s CPU can even handle running it. If you learn how to you use your DAW inside and out, it’s only natural that you learn how to use a synth inside and out. Why? Well, while all 5 VST synths we recommend are different, they are all extremely capable and if you properly learn how to use any one of them, it will allow you to make nearly any sound you can imagine.

So, if you need a hand, we’re here to help. In this guide, we’re talking all about VST synths - what they are, what to look for, and we’ll review 5 of our favorites.

What is a VST Synth?

It’s worth spending a moment to clear up some terminology. If you’re reading this, chances are you at least vaguely know what a synthesizer (or synth for short) is. A VST synth is an instrument that generates audio that exists as software; it’s virtual, meaning you need to install it on your computer. What type of audio, you ask? It can be anything, from a monster bass to a screaming lead or an otherworldly alien noise. A VST synth can be its own original creation, or attempt to recreate a vintage hardware synth. For example, take a classic hardware synth like the Roland Juno-60. A developer by the name of TAL created a software-based synthesizer that emulates the Juno-60, and called it the TAL-U-NO-LX. It tries to copy the Juno-60 from the way it sounds, to the way it looks.

What is a Synth VST?

While the term VST synth is not quite a misnomer, it’s just one of the many names software synthesizers go by. You see, VST is actually the name of a format, or software interface (a hardware equivalent would be USB - it’s just one of the several ways to plug things into your computer, including Thunderbolt, FireWire, etc.). The more broad term would be a plugin, since various synths and effects “plug into” your DAW (if you want to read more about DAWs, check out our complete guide to the best DAWs).

So, to recap: you’ve got a DAW, and there are all sorts of plugins for your DAW. Plugins can either be effects that alter an existing sound (think delay and compression), or instruments (like synthesizers) that generate a new sound. Synth plugins can have different formats/interfaces, VST being one of those (there are others like AU, AAX, etc.).

So while plugin synth (or synth plugin) would be a more accurate name, you’ll hear all sorts of variations: synth plugin, VST synth, virtual synth, software synth, soft synth, virtual instrument, synthesizer VST... they’re all referring to the same thing!

Synth Plugin Terminology

What About Free and Stock Synth Plugins?

In this guide, we’ll be focusing on recommending VST synths that are readily available for you to go out and buy (and then download). But what about any VST synths that are freely available? Those come in two categories:

  1. Stock synth plugins that come with your DAW.
  2. Plugins that are 100% free to download from the internet.

Both of these are absolutely viable options, whether you’re just getting started or a veteran music producer. DAWs have come a really long way, and the quality of their built-in (i.e. stock) synth plugins is phenomenal. Ableton Live and Logic Pro come to mind as having some top-tier synths, like Ableton’s Operator and Logic’s ES2. There are music producers out there that rely on nothing but their stock DAW plugins to make music.

Similarly, there are a lot of VST synths available to download completely for free. If you spend enough time hunting them down, you can build a huge collection of free effect and instrument plugins. So, why are they free? Some manufacturers will use a free plugin as a way to get you in the door and recognizing their brand, so they can then sell you on their paid plugins. Other manufacturers are simply individual software developers who love to experiment with, build, and share their creations and don’t care to be paid for their efforts.

There are some downsides to be aware of with both stock DAW plugins and free plugins. Stock synth plugins tend to have slightly more advanced interfaces that could be intimidating for beginners. They usually look more spartan and utilitarian, and lack the visual cues and polish that is found in third party software synths. Free plugins suffer from a similar problem. Another thing that plagues free plugins is that there are so many out there, that it’s hard for any to stand out and gain mass user adoption. The more people use a synth VST, the more community-made tutorials and instructional material gets created. Furthermore, since developers are not being compensated for plugins given away for free, there’s not much motivation to keep releasing bug fixes and updates. It would be extremely frustrating to rely on a free VST, only to have it no longer be compatible with the shiny new update released for your operating system or DAW (we speak from experience)!

What to Look for in a VST Synth

1. Your Budget

We’ll start with budget because it’s the simplest thing to talk about. If you’re able to spend about $200, the sky’s the limit - that’ll get you just about any individual software synth out there. However, if you’ve only saved up between $60 and $100 don’t fret - there are several amazing choices at that price point.

Don’t worry too much about collecting a bunch of synth plugins until you’ve mastered one or two. Do your research, read our reviews (which we’ll get to shortly), and save up for a synth which will inspire you and make you want to spend some serious time with it to get to know its ins and outs. Any of the synths we recommend in this guide is capable of making nearly any sound you can conjure up in your mind; it’s just a matter of learning how to use it.

2. Type of Synthesis

Synthesizers - both hardware and software - come in many flavors. There are different types of synthesis, which is basically how the synth generates sound. While there are a bunch of similarities between the types of synthesis, they all have a certain distinct character. You don’t need to necessarily limit yourself to a certain type of synthesis (however keep in mind that subtractive tends to be the most beginner-friendly), and in fact many VST synths are capable of several. But knowing what’s what will help you make sense of things, so let’s talk about some of the terms you might come across (don’t worry we’ll keep it simple, this is just a crash course):

Subtractive: The old-school way. An oscillator generates a waveform (a square wave, a saw wave, etc.), then you use a filter to chip away at it (i.e. you subtract from the original sound). Subtractive synthesis is often regarded as the best way for a beginner to learn synthesis.

Additive: Sort of the opposite of subtractive. You start from nothing, and keep adding all sorts of sound waves together, the end result being new harmonically-rich waveforms (which you can then shape with filters, LFOs, etc.).

FM: A little more advanced, Frequency Modulation (FM for short) is where one wave (called the modulator) is used to quickly increase or decrease - or modulate - the frequency of another wave (called the carrier). This results in some very distinct sounds. Whereas analog sound is described as warm, fat, and unpredictable, FM is more thin, bright, and precise.

Wavetable: A wavetable synth takes one “loop” or repetition of a bunch of different waves and stores them in a table. When you want to make a certain sound, the synth loads that particular wave and plays it back over and over again.

3. Up to Date

What do we mean by up to date? Quite simply that the manufacturer stands behind their product, and releases updates, patches, and fixes as necessary (hopefully for free). The 5 VST synths we recommend in our “best of” list all pass this test.

How We Chose the Best Synth Plugins

There are a few incredibly popular software synths which we purposefully did not include in our list. The ones we’re referring to are LennarDigital Sylenth1, Native Instruments Massive, and reFX Nexus 2. It’s not that we snubbed them or that they’re inferior by any means - quite the opposite, just about every pro producer out there has used them. It’s just that nearly every single best VST synth list out there includes them, and we thought it would be a chance to highlight some different choices. Narrowing down the best software synths to just 5 is difficult enough without 3 spots being taken up by Sylenth1, Massive, and Nexus right off the bat. Besides, there’s a VST synth out there that gives Sylenth1 quite the run for its money, and we’ll cover it shortly in our reviews…

Anyhow, the criteria we used to choose our 5 best soft synths is the following: They need to have strong pro artist usage, they need to receive numerous recommendations in forums and communities, they need to be rated highly by publications like MusicRadar and Sound On Sound, they need to be up-to-date and frequently updated/patched by the manufacturer, they need to be under $200, and they need to be currently available to purchase from reputable stores. We recommend Plugin Boutique for their good prices, frequent sales, reward points system, easy purchase/download process, and good customer service. We’ve also had good experiences buying plugins from Sweetwater, and mostly good experiences buying plugins directly from manufacturer websites.

The Top 5 VST Synths


Xfer Serum

Xfer Serum Advanced Wavetable Synthesizer

Relative newcomer to the scene, Xfer Serum has rapidly established itself as one of the preeminent VST synths available. It provides a clear high-quality sound, incredible versatility, and a myriad of features, all based around a simple and intuitive workflow. It’s no wonder that Serum is supported by artists like Deadmau5, Skrillex, Virtual Riot, Kaskade, Feed Me, and many more.

Serum offers a host of features. If you crave immediate gratification you can start off by choosing one of the 450+ ready to go presets. Steve Duda, the creator of Serum, made several of these himself but you’ll also find sounds created by artists like Le Castle Vania, 7 Skies, and SeamlessR. Once you’re done with presets though, you can move on to where it really shines; creating your own sounds.

Serum’s world-class oscillators offer a beautiful bright green visualization of your wavetables (a feature which somehow many synths still lack). Serum provides you with over 140 pre-made wavetables, each of which provides a clean, professional sound. If you still don’t find the right sound for you, instead of using one of the built-in wavetables, you can drag in any sound you like! You could even drag a whole track into the wavetable. Finally, if you’re feeling brave you can even draw in your own wavetables. These oscillator functions make Serum one of the most versatile synthesizer VSTs out there. No matter what genre you are working in Serum is more than capable of crafting perfect sounds for you. Deep growls, screeching leads and soaring pads are all perfectly at home here.

Right next to your oscillators you’ll find a built in sub oscillator. Optimized for creating a crystal clear sub bass in seconds, this mini oscillator gives you just what you need and nothing more, making it next to impossible to overcomplicate. You’ll also find a powerful multi configuration filter (useful for sound shaping and automating) as well as a noise section which lets you add in sounds ranging from white noise to attack transients.

Below all that you’ll find your three envelopes (for shaping attack, sustain, decay, and release), four LFOs (for automating just about anything), and a velocity source (to set a velocity to any given control). These are all independently adjustable (with a convenient numbered guide for accuracy) and can be set to automate just about any parameter in Serum. Automation in Serum is as simple as a click and drag.

All of this is only the first “page” view of Serum. The second page (selectable from tabs at the top) brings you to Serum’s suite of 10 built-in effects. These high quality effects mean that not only can you start to create your sound within Serum, but you can finish it as well. Ranging from classic FX such as Chorus and Delay to built-for-Serum specials such as the Hyper Dimension, it’ll be a while before you run out of ways to break down and rebuild your original sound right within Serum.

The first time you open any synth plugin can be extremely intimidating, especially if it’s your first synth plugin ever. Many synths provide you with an array of knobs, buttons, and strange terms/abbreviations that you’ve never heard of (cough Massive cough). This especially tends to be true of the more feature-rich synths, which while powerful require a PHD to comprehend. The thing people love about Serum is that it offers features to rival the best of them but still manages to be one of the most user-friendly software synthesizers out there.

Serum’s large bright wavetables not only display what your wave-shape is but they actually move as you automate them. The LFOs and Envelopes also are easily visible in bright blue (easily distinguished from the oscillator’s green) and both have indicators, which easily show you exactly what small time-based adjustments you’re making. Anytime a feature is deactivated the area greys out so you don’t spend hours trying to fix a disabled parameter (happens more often than you’d think). Automated controls are highlighted in a bright blue that lights up when you have the source selected (ex. LFO 1 or Envelope 2) and operates as a range of automation control. The Effects section is also clearly set up with a linear color-coded click & drag system that removes any difficulty from creating an FX chain.

Finally, with Serum, gone of the days of endless searching through an outdated manual to find the function of a single knob. If you need to know what something does, just hover your mouse over it for a second and an explanation of the function appears. This feature makes so much sense, especially for beginners who wish to expand their knowledge of Serum and synthesis in general, and it’s surprising that more soft synths don’t do this. The name of the game with Serum is as deep as you want to get with it - you can get great sounding results with just its surface elements, or you can go crazy and dive into the highly customizable features and hone your sound to perfection. Either way Serum works hard to make itself as accessible to everyone as possible.

Bottom Line: Serum is not the cheapest of software synths, but given how powerful and user-friendly it is the price is absolutely justified. Serum provides a wonderful synthesis experience for both seasoned veterans and complete beginners. Pros will appreciate Serum’s depth and powerful features, while beginners will find it an intuitive introduction to synthesizers that quickly opens up as they become ready to explore more advanced techniques. Best of the Best.

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u-he Diva

u-he Diva Software Synthesizer Plugin

u-he Diva is one of those synth plugins that makes you realize just how small the gap is between the sound quality of hardware and software synths. In fact, if we had to boil it down to just two words to describe it, we would choose quality and analog. Diva is what’s known as a virtual analog synth, which just means it’s trying to recreate the way a true analog hardware synth works, except in the digital world. Analog synths are known for a warmth in their tone, and even a welcome unpredictability, and Diva gets closer to that feeling than nearly any other synth VST we’ve tried.

The great thing about Diva is that its developers did not constrain themselves to recreating any one specific analog synth; rather, Diva is modeled after a host of classics like the Minimoog, Roland Juno-60, Jupiter-8, Korg MS-20, and more. It takes characteristic elements like oscillators, filters and envelopes from all of them, yet steers clear of coping any one of them exactly (for example, Diva’s Triple VCO has Minimoog written all over it, and the Bite High-Pass Filter is lifted from the Korg MS-20).

Being a subtractive synth at its core, in terms of layout, we’re happy to say Diva is relatively simple (no full-featured synth is really all that simple, but Diva does an above-average job with its interface). One really cool thing is that this synth VST is known as semi-modular, meaning that you can swap out and mix & match the oscillator, filter, and envelope units, which can instantly give you a much different sound (it’s easy to do, just click the little triangle at the bottom of each unit and a dropdown menu appears).

We won’t spend too much time detailing every single feature - after all, just scanning through the very intuitive interface will tell you most everything you need to know. In the bottom-right corner you’ll notice the inclusion of an arpeggiator and a pair of effects units, which are welcome additions to any synth.

So, how does u-he Diva sound? In one word, phenomenal. When you think of synth VSTs that sound particularly amazing, Diva’s definitely in that top tier. This has everything to do with the engineering that went into it, and the highly touted zero-delay-feedback filters. The amazing thing is that Diva is very, very authentic to that analog sound we all love. You can’t just randomly pick any software synth and expect it to sound this good; Diva is definitely special in that way. We had our friends who have been around their fare share of classic analog gear audition Diva, and they couldn’t believe their ears. Diva will hold its own compared to vintage analog synthesizers. If you want to quickly audition this awesomeness, start with the 1200+ presets. In many synths, presets are overblown and way too fancy, complicated, and essentially unusable. Diva’s patch browser menu is not only extremely well organized, but the presets themselves are pretty inspiring. We wager it won’t take long for you to be sold on it after a short preset browsing session (you can even prune the list by selecting favorite or junk on any sound).

All this goodness comes at a cost. We’re not talking about price (even though it is somewhat of a pricey soft synth), we’re talking about CPU. You’ll read about this in every Diva review, and u-he themselves will tell you this. It’s a power-hungry synth, and if you use it on an older computer, you might not have a great time. u-he provides various playback quality modes, the highest and best (and most CPU-intensive) being Divine. Diva will sing in this mode, but you’ll need to experiment with how your system can handle it, especially if you plan on firing up multiple instances of Diva in your DAW.

Bottom Line: u-he Diva is an excellent synth to learn synthesis on since it’s laid out so intuitively, and it’s powerful sound engine will have synth experts drooling over it. A good way to describe it would be that it has a lot of character due to its convincing analog emulation. French music producer Madeon - despite not being a fan of analog - says Diva is his go-to if he ever needs it:

“...if I want an analogue sound, I can get it from a plugin. DIVA is useful for that.”

English electronic music duo Disclosure sing Diva’s praises:

“For this album, the one we used a lot was Diva by u-he; I love it. We love any soft synth that sounds like a Roland Juno basically. With Diva, you can put a twist on it and do something different that a Juno can't, but it has that warmth and that nice choral sound, so we were sold.”

Dutch electronic music producer Dash Berlin Tweets that u-he Diva is his favorite software synthesizer. With plenty of star power behind it and rave reviews, despite its high CPU requirements and moderately high price tag, Diva is absolutely worthy of a spot on any “Best VST Synth” list.

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Plugin Boutique Carbon Electra

Plugin Boutique Carbon Electra Synthesizer

Plugin Boutique is a household name for most music producers, and we’ve all been on there at one point or another hunting down our next plugin effect or synth. We were particularly interested to try their very own synth plugin, the Plugin Boutique Carbon Electra, when recommendations for it kept popping up in “What’s the best VST synth?” forum threads. It has some big name producers supporting it, and carries an attractive price tag. Let’s find out if it lives up to the hype.

The main thing that comes to mind when working with Carbon Electra is simplicity. In a world where software synths are all trying to outdo each other with loads of features hidden behind menus upon menus, it’s refreshing to see a synth that takes a simpler approach, while still being a powerhouse of sound.

So, what makes Carbon Electra so simple and effective? The interface is just a single screen, with no hidden menus or pages. When you first fire up this VST synth, what you see is all you have to work with. We love this about it, since it’s easy for a beginner to learn on, and doesn’t offer too much distraction for the more seasoned music producer. Carbon Electra is your basic subtractive synthesizer, and has 4 oscillators which can be mixed together in the MIXER section (along with a NOISE generator, which is nice). There are 5 different types of FILTER (the Vowel Filter is pretty unique), and 3 LFOs. It’s worth mentioning that the MIXER and FILTER sections include real-time displays so you can get a visual on the waveform and filter shape. Below all that is an EFFECTS rack with chorus, delay, phaser, distortion (we dig this), and equalizer. In the bottom-right corner is the MASTER section with a built-in limiter you can toggle on or off, and the usual master controls like polyphony, tune, volume, etc. While all the elements we just mentioned are pretty “vanilla” for a synth, along the bottom is something unique to Carbon Electra - the STEP ENVELOPE lets you add a lot of movement to patches and create some interesting results. We agree with Ask.Audio that the step envelope is this synth’s “most inspiring element... perfect for fresh ideas when the creative well is running dry.”

In terms of sound, Plugin Boutique’s Carbon Electra is a fantastic sounding software synth and manages to draw comparisons to a Nord Lead, or an Access Virus; a lush, warm sounding synth that’s capable of some real digital grit and dirt. It comes with over 600 presets (several made by famous producers like Carl Cox and Freemasons), and many of them sound pretty inspiring, especially the ones that make use of the step envelope. Navigating through presets is not as good of an experience as with SynthMaster, but that would likely require sending you to another screen which is something Carbon Electra doesn’t want to do. Based on the presets, there’s a definite electronic dance music angle to this VST synth; we’re not saying that this is a synth for dance music, but if presets are a way a synth markets itself, that’s the vibe we get.

Bottom Line: We love how straightforward Carbon Electra is. The fact that everything you can tweak is on one page is a big win in our book. Critics of Carbon Electra say it’s too simple, meaning that it’s not a whole lot beyond just a basic 4 oscillator subtractive synth. We think that criticism is missing the point; simple does not mean thin sounding or boring. We actually found ourselves playing with this plugin longer than any of the others, mostly because of said simplicity. Spend 2 minutes with it and you’ll see it’s capable of some huge sounding synths. Dance music legend Carl Cox says:

“It’s absolutely brilliant - My go to synth”

Take it from him or take it for us, Carbon Electra deserves a top spot for synth VSTs and is a very worthy alternative to its many competitors like Sylenth1. If you love synths with millions of hidden features (or if you can’t live without an arpeggiator) maybe this one is not for you, but it’s stable, feels good, sounds great, doesn’t hog CPU, and has a budget-friendly price tag.

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KV331 Audio Synthmaster

KV331 Audio SynthMaster Software Synthesizer

KV331 Audio SynthMaster is named appropriately - it truly feels like it’s the master of all synths. You get the feeling that the folks at KV331 Audio had a goal of making a synth that’s a combination of some of the most popular software synths out there (some people say it’s as if Massive and Sylenth1 had a baby, which is high praise). For the most part, we would say they succeeded. SynthMaster is insanely powerful, but it’s also laid out really nicely so that the learning curve for a newbie is not too crazy. It’s also ONE THIRD the price of Serum and Diva!

We want to keep this review punchy and just stick to the highlights; as such, there’s no way we could cover every single thing SynthMaster can do. This is a VST synth with a ton of depth, where nearly anything can modulate anything else and the sound creation possibilities are limited only by your imagination. When you fire it up you’ll notice the interface is split up into different panels/sections. It looks complex, but rest assured it’s well thought out. Like u-he Diva, SynthMaster is semi-modular, which means the routing of all the parts can be switched up and mixed & matched.

In the top left corner are 6 buttons that let you navigate to all the main parts of this soft synth, and clicking on Browser will take you to the preset browser so you can get a good idea of what SynthMaster can sound like. Just the basic package has over 1000 presets, and luckily they’re organized really intuitively. What’s great is that all of them have really useful meta-data attached to them (Instrument Type, Musical Style, Author, etc.). What this means is that you can find sounds exactly like you think - what we mean by that is say you think you want a Lead, that sounds Distorted, for something that would fit Dance Music. Well, that’s exactly how you can browse through the presets. Below the presets are 8 knobs that are shortcuts to tweak the sound any way you want. Basically you can assign any parameter to them, and then if you have a MIDI controller with knobs you can map those 8 controls to the knobs, and tweak away like you would on a real hardware synth. Really, really cool and useful. We’re generalizing a bit, but the presets tend to have an Electronic Dance Music flavor to them; many are hard hitting and energetic. Overall they sound good and would make great starting points for your tracks.

Another interesting section is FX, which as you can guess are the various effects you have available - Vocoder (yep, it’s got a vocoder), Chorus, Echo, Reverb, Compression, Tremolo and more. Like everything on SynthMaster they are extremely customizable.

The main components of a SynthMaster patch are its 2 layers, which can be accessed with the Layer 1 and Layer 2 buttons in the top left (if you’re familiar with Sylenth1, you know the two layer concept). Within each layer are the guts of your sound - oscillators, filters, envelopes, etc. Each layer has 2 oscillators with different algorithms like Basic, Additive, Wavescan, Vector, and more. Above the oscillator section is the routing (think of it like laying out the building blocks of your sound), which is what makes this synth VST semi-modular. The amazing thing is that routing can get as simple or as complicated as you can handle. There’s a natural flow to the building blocks that’s not too tough to understand, but when you get to digging deep into everything you see how every parameter can affect a different parameter; the amount of flexibility here is staggering. We recommend a basic understanding of how a synth works (oscillators, filters, envelopes, etc.) before jumping into making sounds with SynthMaster. A little knowledge will go a long way.

Bottom Line: So, does KV331 Audio SynthMaster live up to its goal of being the be-all and end-all VST synth? Just about. The downside to SynthMaster is that it can do so much, that it might be overwhelming to someone wanting something a bit simpler. That said, don’t be scared off by its immensity. KV331 Audio did a really great job making this a very usable synth plugin, even if you don’t care to dig too deep. The pros love it as well. Music producer Zedd has been quoted as saying:

“Synthmaster gives me instant inspiration and creativity. The sound engine behind the synth is brilliant and the presets offer me excellent options to start my productions. The modulation and sound design capabilities are endless and I can easily shape any sound into something that works perfectly.”

It’s also a favorite of Avicii, Martin Garrix, Knife Party, and many more. Lastly, you can’t talk about SynthMaster without considering its absurdly good price. It costs between one half & one third as much as competitive synths like Serum, Diva, and Sylenth1. At that price it’s absolutely a no brainer, and fully deserving the title of Best Bang for your Buck.

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u-he Hive

u-he Hive Software Synthesizer

At the start of this guide, we mentioned we’re purposefully omitting the ubiquitous Sylenth1 from our Best VST Synth list, and the reason why is u-he Hive. Called a “Sylenth1-killer” by many, they way Hive looks and sounds definitely evokes Sylenth1, but it has its own set of tricks up its sleeve, and in several ways is superior.

In one sentence, Hive is a modern, straightforward, two-oscillator subtractive software synthesizer with a strong inclination towards dance music production. If you’ve spent any time at all with a subtractive synth, the way Hive is laid out won’t surprise you, and you should be able to jump right in and make some noise. It’s got a Sylenth1 vibe, but the more modern look and feel of Plugin Boutique’s Carbon Electra VST synth. Much like Carbon Electra, Hive tries hard to give you everything you need on a single screen, though there are hidden menus to wade through the deeper you dig. In the center of the interface is a big hexagon which contains the arpeggiator and effects. The left side has the first oscillator, filter, LFO, amp and mod envelopes, and the right side is identical with the second set of those components.

Hive’s oscillators can be any of 9 waves (the usual suspects) - Sine, Saw, Triangle, Pulse, Square, Half pulse, Narrow pulse, White noise and Pink noise. To the right of each oscillator is a sub oscillator (same wave shape selections available) with a 4-octave range. You can swap out the keyboard keys at the bottom of the interface with a modulation matrix, which has a cool drag & drop feature which makes it easy to experiment and connect parameters you want to modulate. Back to the hexagon in the center (beehives are comprised of many hexagons hence the naming of the synth), there you’ll find a fantastic 16-step sequencer/arpeggiator and the effects section with 7 quality effect types (distortion, chorus, reverb, delay, equalizer, compressor, and phaser). There are even FX Presets which as the name suggests are presets just for effects, so that you can apply that effect config to any patch.

Hive sounds pretty amazing. It’s not quite as warm and analog-ish as Sylenth1. If you want that, have a look at u-he’s other powerhouse synth, Diva. Hive has a more digital and punchy sound. Judging by the presets Hive is ideal for electronic music genres, from hard-hitting modern dance leads to eerie atmospheric ambient pads. And speaking of presets, there are a 2700 of them. One very unique thing about Hive is that it has 3 so-called Synth Engine Characters - Normal, Dirty, and Clean, all selectable near the top of the interface. Each character changes the feel of things like the envelopes and filters and can instantly make a patch sound totally different. Some patches respond subtly, and some are night and day. Either way, we bet you’ll be experimenting with these modes since they are a toggle switch away. Speaking of experimentation, Hive has a very handy undo/redo function with 10 levels, something which Sylenth1 could really use.

Bottom Line: LennarDigital Sylenth1 left some big shoes to fill. It’s by no means gone, but it stormed onto the software synth scene in 2007 and has since only released minor updates, leaving people hungry for a v2. In the meantime u-he has been going strong, releasing some extremely powerful and polished plugins. Hive is very interesting because there’s a strong argument to be made that it’s the most Sylenth1-like VST synth out there; it has a similar feel and layout, but also feels more modern and up-to-date. Of course, a synth is only as good as how it sounds, and Hive doesn’t blow Sylenth1 out of the water. They’ve got slightly different characters, but u-he’s diligence in standing behind their products and releasing timely updates makes us favor Hive a little bit more.

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About the authors
Michael Pierce

Michael bought his first guitar, a Fender California Series Stratocaster in Candy Apple Red, in 1998. He likes rock of all types, from classic to punk to metal. Michael co-founded Equipboard to satisfy his curiosity around what gear his guitar heroes use. Read more

Giulio Chiarenza

Giulio co-founded Equipboard with his friend Michael. He plays the piano, guitar, drums, and had a brief stint signed to a label as an electronic music producer. Read more


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Comments 7

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jjbro1
4yover 4 years ago

what about omnisphere?

3
gchiaren
4yover 4 years ago

@jjbro1 Was wondering how long it would be until someone brought that up! Omnisphere 2 is an absolutely amazing synth, and was actually a runner up after the 5 we chose (Rob Papen Predator 2 was also close to grabbing a top 5 spot). One of the main things that kept Omnisphere from the top 5 is its price tag - the full package costs nearly $500. The 5 we ended up choosing as the top soft synths feel like they're more on an even playing field in terms of their price and also their capabilities. The other factor was that, of all the soft synths we tested, Omnisphere 2 was the one that was most prone to "trapping" us into preset browsing, as opposed to sound design from scratch. Omnisphere is capable of all types of synthesis, but it's not as immediately tweakable as the top 5 we selected. We feel that learning basic (and not so basic) synthesis is a crucial aspect of mastering your VST instrument, and others are better suited to that than Omnisphere.

3
larslentz
4yabout 4 years ago

Thanks to your list it confirmed to me that my choice of Serum was a good one, and it helped me decide to purchase Diva as well. Thank you!

2
T
4yabout 4 years ago

Anyone tried Lethal Audio (www dot lethalaudio dot com)? I downloaded the free demo but haven't pulled the trigger on the full version yet. Been playing with the demo for a few weeks and very impressed by the quality. Lead, synth and bass are all high quality. I'd like to hear from anyone that's bought it and using the expansion packs.

1
josh_richman
2yover 2 years ago

TAL-U-NO-LX is the best and was mentioned first!

1
mrjojo
1yover 1 year ago

What made you chose to not include the Rob Papen Predator 2 in this list? I am really interested in that plugin as well and would like to hear in how that one differs from serum

1
privatebardizh
7m7 months ago

Never knew "Nexus 2" was a synth. I actually thought it was a rompler.

1