Best Analog Synthesizer VSTs: Sound Retro for Free!

Author: Brian Campbell | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

Several weeks ago, I wrote an article about great-sounding VSTs that emulated the sounds and workflow of vintage keyboards. Back in college, I trained as a classical pianist, but loved rock and jazz too.

I was fascinated by the sounds you could make with Rhodes and Hammonds, but didn’t have the money or connections to play any. Fortunately, with the possibilities brought to us from the internet, you can get remarkably authentic virtual emulations for free!

Now, truth be told, I was supposed to write a short article last time. And I did.

But I also wanted to add these VSTs to my keyboard article. I quickly realized that my article would have gotten very long, very fast. Instead, the wonderful folks at MusicStrive let me write a follow-up article!

As it turns out, there’s a fantastic selection of free VST emulations out there, specifically for vintage synthesizers. Below, I will look at 10 VSTs that fantastically bring analog sounds to the digital workstation.

Prerequisites

Before looking at the VSTs, here are the criteria I was using to rate VSTs in my first article:

First, I wanted to find VSTs that were easy to install and use. Second, I wanted quality emulations that mimicked the original hardware as closely as possible.

That’s a short summary of my prerequisites – if you want more details, check out my first article!

Iconic Analog Synthesizer VSTs

Virtual Model Mini (by Robert Krzywicki)

Original hardware: Minimoog

Classic example: “Flashlight” by Parliament-Funkadelic (played by Bernie Worrell)

Why this VST is great: it’s one of the most authentic-looking analog VSTs I’ve seen, and I use it frequently

Any reputable conversation about synths starts with two names: Bob Moog and Don Buchla. Both men invented the modern synthesizer around the same time, independently of each other.

The Minimoog was Moog’s flagship product, due to its portability, versatility, and intuitiveness. Anyone interested in analog synths will love “Virtual Model Mini” because every button is laid out just like the Minimoog.

The detail is so close that if you dig through old textbooks and manuals, you can still make authentic patches on it. If you only tried one VST on this list, I would recommend the “Virtual Model Mini.”

SxMJune (by Robert Krzywicki)

Original hardware: Roland Juno 6

Classic example: “Says” by Nils Frahm

Why this VST: much like Krzywicki’s minimoog emulation, SxMJune looks and acts exactly like a Juno 6 would in real life

You may have noticed that the creator of SxMJune, Robert Krzywicki, also made the Virtual Model Mini. You will see his name many more times in this article for two simple reasons: his VSTs are the most faithful analog emulators I’ve come across.

The SxMJune emulates the workflow and sound design of the Roland Juno 6. It doesn’t create as diverse sounds as the Minimoog or other synths, but it sounds beautiful!

In fact, many 80s musicians favored it precisely because it was simple to use, yet sounded rich and full. It also has a built-in arpeggiator, chorus, and delay, which means you can create complex, full sound with just one VST.

TyrellN6 (by u-he)

Original hardware: inspired partly by Sequential Prophet V

Classic example: “Everything in its Right Place” by Radiohead

Why this VST is great: with its presets and parameters, TyrellN6 is a deep VST capable of many sonically rich sounds

Maybe this sounds weird, but I like to say the Sequential Prophet V sounds like silk. Its basslines may not be “fat” like the Minimoog, but they are always rich in tone.

I listed Radiohead’s “Everything in its Right Place” as a classic example, but really, their entire Kid A album could be called a masterclass in the Prophet’s use. Thom Yorke uses it in most of his solo work, as well as heavyweights like Kraftwerk and The Cars.

As far as TyrellN6 goes, it has all the same parameters as the original Prophet V, plus a few more. Despite the additional features, it doesn’t seem cluttered.

Pair these parameters with its huge list of presets, and you can learn how to make plenty of cool sounds. If you treat the parameters as teaching devices rather than crutches, TyrellN6 could be the most educational VST on this list.

ODSay (by Robert Krzywicki)

Original hardware: ARP Odyssey

Classic example: “Chameleon” by Herbie Hancock

Why this VST is great: another impeccable VST by Zrzywicki, ODSay is his most feature-rich analog emulator

To be honest, I haven’t explored the ODSay as extensively as the other VSTs on this list. However, if you’re a full-on synth buff who wants as much hands-on experience as you can, then ODsay could keep you occupied all week!

As another Krzywicki creation, ODSay is chock-full of parameters – more than any others on this list. For some inspiration, check out Herbie Hancock’s bassline in “Chameleon,” or the subtle countermelody in the second verse of Elton John’s “Rocketman.”

CynthiaFX (by Nikolaj Kyndby Hohn)

Original hardware: EMS SynthiA

Classic example: “Heroes” by David Bowie (played by Brian Eno), and “On the Run” by Pink Floyd

Why this VST is great: the EMS SynthiA is an extremely rare synth, which means we’re incredibly lucky to get a FREE software emulator!

The EMS SynthiA synth is a very unique, early synthesizer. Essentially, it was a complete modular synthesizer packed into a single suitcase. Instead of patching separate boxes with cords, you put pins in a little X-and-Y graph.

Sounds weird? That’s because it definitely is!

As I like to say, it’s like avant-garde rock meets battleship. Nevertheless, it’s not difficult to learn. If you’re up to a unique challenge and learning opportunity, and enjoy weird and wacky gear, then CynthiaFX will give you plenty of opportunities to go hog-wild!

String Synthesizer VSTs

Redtron (by Artifake Labs)

Original hardware: mellotron

Classic example: “The Rain Song” by Led Zeppelin (played by John Paul Jones)

Why this VST is great: Redtron includes a fantastic selection of string sounds that are gleefully cassette tape samples, yet still beautiful

My remaining VSTs are dedicated to synthesizers that are used for string sounds, because let’s be honest, everything sounds great with strings!

The mellotron is a fantastically quirky instrument that saw widespread use in the 60s. Touted as the “first sampler,” each key was wired to individually sampled recordings of acoustic instruments.

Although crude by today’s standards, the mellotron’s quirks make for a remarkably loveable and lo-fi sound. Artifake’s Redtron preserves these quirks, while giving it a few upgrades for basic sound design.

Redtron includes cello, violin, and ensemble sounds, as well as voices, trumpets, and flutes. Check it out – I use it in almost every project!

Easy-crumar-MS (by eazytools)

Original hardware: Crumar Performer

Classic example: “Nude” by Radiohead

Why this VST is great: it’s an intuitive, true-to-the-original VST with a pleasant sound

Back in the 70s and 80s, two “string machines” reigned supreme in the synth market: the Crumar Performer and the Solina Ensemble. Both were great, but had slightly different sounds.

Of the two, the Crumar had more sound design options, and they were easy to understand. Along with the various string instruments, you could add brass, clavichord, and piano.

You could adjust the cutoff frequency and resonance for each, before blending them all with an ADSR envelope. If you want an analog sound that is also highly customizable, the Crumar is a simple and effective choice.

eSLine (by Robert Krzywicki)

Original hardware: Solina Ensemble

Classic example: The Cure’s Disintegration album

Why this VST is great: it sounds remarkable!

On the other side of the “string synth” debate, we have the Solina Ensemble. While it had fewer parameters than the Crumar, its sound was easily recognizable. Its iconic sound used a built-in phaser, which could be paired with a delay.

If you’re looking for a clearly-defined vintage sound, then the Solina would be the top string choice for you. For a taste of its powerful sound, check out “Plainsong,” the opening to The Cure’s Disintegration.

As an extra sidenote, this is also a Robert Krzywicki creation. He has many more VSTs I didn’t even list. Check out this blog post to read about them all!

Stringer (by Bengt Falke)

Original hardware: Solina, mellotron, ARP Strings, Korg Trident, Crumar Performer

Why this VST is great: it packs several synth sounds into one VST, with intuitive sound-shaping parameters

I thought I’d finish the string section with this handy-dandy treat by Bengt Falke. Stringer packs a bunch of classic string synths into one VST instrument.

Besides the Crumar and Solina, it includes the Eminent 310, Korg Trident, and mellotron. It includes ADSR envelope, cutoff frequency, and resonance faders. I use it as a fallback when the others don’t have the sounds I’m looking for.

Conclusion

As you can see, there is no shortage of free VST emulations out there! Over the last year, I have found many more that emulate acoustic instruments, effect racks and pedals, and other keyboards.

As you grow as a musician, I encourage you to study the gear and sound design of your favorite songs. Once you’ve done your research, see if you can find free VSTs that can replicate the sound you’re looking for!

Hopefully this article gives you a jumpstart on your VST explorations, and I hope it’s given you some ideas for your next creative project.

Until next time, enjoy your musical journey, and always, ALWAYS, have fun!

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About Brian Campbell

Brian has been playing piano since elementary school and started learning guitar in 7th grade. He teaches K-8 students in Columbus, Ohio, and writes lessons covering a broad spectrum of genres. As a child, he moved back and forth between Colorado and West Africa. He credits those experiences with opening his eyes to the cultural and artistic diversity he appreciates today. Several of his favorite musicians include J.S. Bach, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Radiohead. When not doing music and teaching, you can find Brian reading, hiking, traveling, or making just one more shot of espresso.

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