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10 Underrated Synths You Should Be Using
Sylenth1, Massive, and Spire… we've all heard of them, and it goes without saying that they’re great synths. But there’s a huge number of other plugins available that are very well developed and each offer a unique style that can’t be found or replicated in popular synths.
Many of these fall under the radar, some more so than others. Not only is this unfortunate for the developers, but it’s also detrimental to the producers who don’t know about the synths. This is partly due to the sounds and presets that come with the synth not being as popular (so that you’re not using the same sounds as everyone else), and also because many underrated synths are creatively developed and offer different workflows and types of sound design that more popular, conservative synthesizers don’t.
In this post I list 10 underrated synthesizers that I think deserve more attention. Some of them are very specific and geared towards producers of certain genres, but for the most part, any producer regardless of skill level can use these plugins.
1. KV331 SynthMaster
I first came across SynthMaster in a Computer Music Magazine issue a few years back. Despite it being a limited version (as most CM plugins are), I found SynthMaster incredibly functional and versatile, particularly due to its multitude of features.
SynthMaster allows you to choose from a range of synthesis methods such as: VA, additive, wavetable, wavescanning, phase modulation, frequency modulation, the list goes on. It’s a sound designer’s dream!
In addition to its synthesis capabilities, SynthMaster also has an extensive modulation section that allows for even more complex and creative sounds. Couple this with high quality inbuilt effects and you've got a synth that works well in just about any setting.
2. Synapse Audio DUNE 2
DUNE 2 has been recently released as a predecessor to the more popular first edition of the synth. It’s got unison capabilities like no other synth on the market, and even though it’s incredibly powerful, DUNE 2 features incredibly low CPU usage making it perfect for those projects where you've got a lot going on.
Three different types of synthesis are included: VA, wavetable, and FM. Combined with intricate MSEG envelopes and the aforementioned unison capabilities, DUNE 2 is a truly unique synthesizer that should be seriously considered by all electronic music producers.
3. GForce ImpOSCar2
Many years ago, the Oxford Synthesizer Company released a world-renowned synth called OSCar. Since then, things have changed and OSCar is no longer produced and very hard to purchase. Fortunately, for those who aren’t keen on dropping a few grand on a discontinued hardware synth, there exists an emulation – ImpOSCar2.
It almost perfectly emulates the original synth, though some hardware purists will say it doesn’t. The lush analog sound that the synth features makes it a joy to work with, while the additional effects section provides an extra layer of creative freedom that wasn’t possible with the original model.
Presets are always a major selling point, which is why ImpOSCar2 have included 500 patches made by well-known artists such as Underworld, Basement Jaxx, and many others. If you’re after an incredibly accurate hardware emulation then this synth is perfect.
4. Rob Papen’s Predator
Rob Papen’s Predator is the replacement for the widely popular Albino synthesizer that now remains in the shadows. Unfortunately, Predator seems to be heading that way too, but not if I can help it.
With well over 4000 presets, Predator is a synth designed for all kinds of music. The 27 filter types allow for a range of different sounds, whether you want a plucked bass or harsh resonant vowel sound. In addition to the diverse range of filters, Predator also has a dedicated FX section with over 27 different algorithms and 3 processors. The FX processor can also be used as an insert on a mixer track, making this plugin a two-for-one synth and effects module.
Learn more about Rob Papen’s Predator and purchase it here. [PB AFF LINK]
5. Dmitry Sches' Diversion
A while back after switching to Windows 8 I was looking for a temporary Sylenth1 replacement (as it wasn't working properly on the new operating system). I had no luck looking for something competent until coming across Diversion.
Diversion is a wonderful synth that goes above and beyond the normal constraints that most synths feature with wavetable editing, extensive modulation with easy to program arpeggiators and trancegates, and a fantastic FX section.
If you’re looking for a synth that provides you with a ton of creative sound design options while retaining a level of premium sound quality, then Diversion is a great choice.
6. Sugar Bytes’ Cyclop
Whether it’s the widely used WOW filter or their much recent groove box plugin Egoist, Sugar Bytes are known for their out-of-the-box line of products. Cyclop is no different.
It’s angled as the ultimate bass synth, a monophonic beast of a plugin with a range of features that aren't for the faint-hearted. With 6 different synthesis engines and 10 different filter types, you’ll have to spent hours with this plugin before understanding its true capabilities. A quicker way to learn, though, is to browse through the 800 professionally designed presets that are included.
Learn more about Sugar Bytes’ Cyclop and purchase it here. [PB AFF LINK]
7. Cable Guy’s Curve 2
Curve 2 is yet another unique synth that deserves to be mentioned. While it’s more simple and straightforward than a synth like Cyclop, the comprehensive waveform editor allows for more complex sounds than would be expected from a simplistic interface.
Drawable LFO’s offer a unique spin on synthesis, giving sound designers the tools to create intricate evolving sounds that are hard to replicate. The flexible routing only adds another layer of capability that may be overwhelming for some but welcomed for those looking for a challenge.
Learn more about Cable Guy’s Curve 2 and purchase it here. [PB AFF LINK]
8. Calgar C's Saturn V
I thought I should mention a free plugin in this list so here it is – Saturn V. It’s far from unique in comparision to Cyclop or even Curve 2, but it’s still a nice synth.
Why do I recommend it? First of all because it’s free – you’ve got nothing to lose. But the main reason why it’s on this list is because it’s super easy to use. You’ve got four main oscillators, two sub oscillators (which are nice to have), and an arpeggiator with trancegate. It’s free, it’s simple, and it sounds great.
9. Sonic Charge Synplant
Great for those who just want to muck around and create interesting sounds, Synplant is truly one of the most unique plugins available on the market today. It’s not going to give you rich sounding plucks and complex basslines, but what it will do is provide the means to create organic, evolving sounds that bring pleasure to any sound design geek and fit perfectly into any ambient or experimental production.
The verdict? Synplant certainly isn’t for everyone. If you after specific sounds and styles, then it’s going to be stored away in your digital basement, never to be used again. On the contrary, if you’re tired of generic stock sounds and presets, and you’re looking for something new, Synplant is perfect.
Learn more about Synplant and purchase it here. [PB AFF LINK]
10. U-he Diva
Finally on our list we have U-he Diva. Not necessarily an underrated synth, but certainly one that needs more attention.
U-He Diva is a great emulation of classic analog synths combined with a range of modern effects such as chorus, phaser, reverb, delay, and rotary speaker emulations among many others. The inbuilt oscilloscope is a huge convenience especially for those who use visual metering extensively when designing sounds and mixing songs. One of the standout features of Diva is that it offers the ability to switch and mix different modules, meaning you can build hybrid synths and come up with new sound combinations that couldn’t be achieved otherwise.
What would you add?
I’ve covered 10 synth plugins that I think are grossly underrated and underestimated, however, there are far more out there. If you’ve finished reading this and feel I’ve missed a plugin, then please leave a comment below!
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