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There’s certainly no shortage of free plugins available to music-makers these days. In fact, there’s almost – dare we say it – too many, with the ever-increasing abundance of freebies making the task of sifting through the pile more time-consuming and laborious by the day.
That’s where we come in. We’re regularly highlighting the best free plugins we come across every day in our news coverage, but if you’re too busy actually making music to keep a watchful eye on the headlines, we’ve got you covered. At the start of each month, we stuff the finest freebies in a shiny digital box, tie a cute little bow around them and present to you, via this column, a carefully curated selection of the month’s most enticing free music software.
This April, Spitfire Audio’s virtual choir instrument elicited more than a few ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ around the office, ChowDSP made us regret buying that expensive distortion pedal, and Ableton inspired us to break the shackles of equal temperament and go fully microtonal.
Spitfire Audio LABS Micah’s Choir
Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: VST/AU | Download
The good folks over at Spitfire Audio possess a near-legendary reputation in the world of free music software: their LABS series of free software instruments is an essential resource, and covers everything from granular whalesong to Philip Glass’ piano.
The latest creation to come out of Spitfire’s sonic lab is a gorgeous vocal instrument created by cinematic pop quartet Sons of Serendip. Powered by a lovingly recorded collection of vocalist Micah Christian’s ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’, this one’s perfect for injecting some emotional character into your tracks.
Platforms: Mac/PC/Linux/iOS | Formats: VST/VST3/AU/LV2/AAX/AUv3/Standalone | Download
ChowDSP is another favourite over here at MusicRadar – this editor has been known to use their superb free tape emulator Chow Tape Model on more than one occasion when a tasty dose of crunch and crackle is required.
Speaking of crunch, ChowDSP have recently shared a distortion plugin they’re calling BYOD, or Bring-Your-Own-Distortion. The plugin enables the user to dream up custom effects by linking together various digital tone-shapers in a modular fashion. It’s aimed primarily at guitarists and contains emulations of some classic amps and pedals, but we don’t see why you can’t run Serum through it, or even a trombone.
Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: Ableton-only | Download
Ableton are here to free you from the shackles of equal temperament with their new MIDI device, Microtuner. With microtuning, you can find the notes between semitones – the ones that would fall between the keys on a piano, for example – and any scale that you import into Microtuner can be saved for future use.
You can also create your own from scratch using parameters such as number of pitches (up to 128), octave frequency ratio, and pitch distribution randomisation. Lead and Follow modes enable you to sync tuning systems across entire tracks. Microtuner also offers support for Scala tuning files – more than 5,000 scales can be downloaded for free from the Scala archive.
Higher Hz Hz Delay
Platforms: Windows/Mac | Formats: VST/VST3 | Download
Billed as a “character effect”, Hz Delay isn’t your typical delay: it’s been designed to emulate the unique character of vintage analogue gear, and as such it does some things differently. Higher Hz have provided a conveniently labelled signal flow diagram to illuminate the internal workings of the plugin and help you achieve the sound you’re after – or discover a sound you weren’t expecting.
Capable of producing simple and multi-tap echo, saturation, chorus and even a rudimentary reverb effect, Hz Delay is a nifty little delay plugin that’s well worth adding to your arsenal.
Sample Science Crystal Harp
Platforms: Windows/Mac | Formats: VST/VST3/AU | Download
We’re living in troubling times, and now more than ever, music makers are in need of a little relaxation. It’s fortunate, then, that Sample Science have produced a virtual instrument based on the sounds of a crystal harp, an unusual instrument used in meditation, yoga and sound therapy. Ideal for adding some restorative tones to your ambient and new-age productions, the Crystal Harp is equipped with an LFO, high and low-pass filters, and a room reverb.