Best soft synths?

So while l’m experimenting with setups, controller, and soft synths, I’m wondering which soft synths (not really sampler based) that are good for live performances? I have some that I’ve purchased and use (Union), and there are some I purchased and don’t really use (GS-80, Vacuum Pro). I use a couple freebies as well (Surge XT, OB-8x). I guess I’m kind of looking for a Nord type do-it-all, plenty of tweakable presets, I’m not likely to just generate A ton of new original sounds. I’m thinking Diva offers a lot, but am just not sure. I travel a lot, right now, so I’m only home maybe a day or two per week. What things fit the bill, in your mind? Thanks in advance! chris

I think Vital is really good. I’m using it in Unify. I bought an inexpensive bank of patches by Bob Dedes for $29 that have been a great starting point

In addition to Diva, Zebra and Hive. Korg M1 and Korg wavestation are great too. G-Force stuff is good of you are into analog, as well as Synapse Audio The Legend and Obsession.

  • Paul

I can do a lot with Surge XT, but it seems a bit finicky with “entire bank” patch saving and restoring. With Snapshots, it seems more reliable, but I’m watching it closely…

A +1 for Hive - very powerful and decent CPU footprint.

If you are looking for Nord type sounds, DiscoDSP have the Discovery and the Discovery Pro - they are built on the same architecture and can load Nord Lead Sysex files.

For allround bread-and-butter workstation sounds, Korg Triton is a great option.

And if you are looking for tons of classic synth presets, OP-X Pro by Sonicprojects is a good option - there are thousands of classic synth presets available for diwnload. But it is a bit of a pain to program, with tons of hidden functions - you don’t get far without reeeally studying the manual.



I’d add TAL J8 to the list.

1 Like

I’ve had the SoundCanvas hardware for many years and tried out the Roland SoundCanvas VA and do like the VSTi usability. If could only have one VSTi, that would be high on my list: 16 channels of individually assignable sounds, effects, mixing, etc.

However, it doesn’t seem to play well with others. I think there is a recent thread about this. So with the OP in mind, Is there something else besides the Roland SoundCanvas VA that has all those features?

After reading that first paragraph, I asked myself, “Why don’t I use it more?” I think when I need a piano, it’s easier to just load a dedicated piano VSTi. Or if I want to change the release on a sound, it’s much easier to do it with a Synth VSTi, and not the Sound Canvas (I’m note sure the sounds can even be modified on the SC). The SC takes more effort to use. But, I bet I could reproduce sounds (80%+ of the way there) with a SC for every song I play.

Arturia offers a very valuable package that covers about every classic keys. Many of their emulations are not as good as single dedicated instruments (I prefer AAS lounge lizard, VB3 II, Pianoteq over Arturia) but overall it’s very well done and could be the only synth you’ll ever need. V collection. Their original Pigments synth is also a very good synth but ir’s more a sound design tool compare to the v collection that is a ready-to-stage performance soft.

1 Like

TBH, I find SoundCanvas only suitable for playing back GM midi files initially - until I find better synths for the individual parts. It’s just too dated and cheap-sounding for “real” stage use for my taste. I still have it (or rather something like it, based on GM soundfonts) in my “rehearsal tracks” DAW template, so I can throw in some GM backings quickly to get a feel for the song.

But when I build a “real” live sound, I find myself reaching for a mix of better, specialized sound sources for my prominent sounds. And for the “bread-and-butter” variety, I usually find pretty good stuff in my Triton / Triton Extreme repertoire that is far superior to the GM Sound canvas stuff, that I typically find too bland and plasticky…

Just my 0.02 Eur…

If you’re looking for two synth plugins to cover the whole gamut from classic analog through the 80’s/90s “rompler”-based type sounds, look no further than a combination of Surge XT and Korg Triton (but get the whole legacy collection if you can afford it).

Add instrument-specific specialists to taste and budget, e.g. if you have a lot of prominent piano parts, invest in a great piano sample library (or Pianoteq?); for Rhodes/Wurlitzer parts, I haven’t found anything better than VTines and VReeds from Acousticsamples.

For Hammond sounds, there’s a whole thread which I’m not going to repeat here - investment is definitely worth it.

And for faking sax parts, there’s nothing better than AudioModeling SWAM

But this is me, driven by my repertoire (Rock, Blues, Pop, classic R&B) - if you’re into Prog and massive soundscapes, Electronica or Dance productions, you’ll need a broader collection of fancy synth plugins - the more and the more varied the better :wink: - but look out for CPU load - Diva may be attractive, but it’ll tax your CPU…



Thank you all! I was thinking it might be quicker and easier to work with a single synth for most bread and butter stuff.

I’m muddling through getting a controller all set up. I’m working with a Juno-DS88, so this is all on my secondary keyboard. I plan to eventually make the jump to all VST, but this is the first baby step.

Have you seen this site? A bazzillion free patches and some are pretty darn good:


Ah ha, a thing I have experience with. I’ve been through a lot of them.

Arturia Pigments is probably my #1 all rounder. If I’m trying to build a specific sound, I usually start there because it can pretty much do everything. I run 2 or 3 instances of it in some songs, which is safer than with some other plugins.

Roland Cloud Zenology has great sounds if you’re into scrolling through thousands of presets. On the plus side, the subscription is pretty cheap and you can find most anything. On the downside, they’re resource hogs and demand that you be online at inconvenient times when it forgets that you were logged in mere hours before. Actually, I haven’t had that problem in a while, so it may finally be fixed.

I use Native Instruments Super 8, Vintage Organs, Session Strings, Session Horns, and Massive X a lot. All good stuff. I use Noire a bit, but usually just the particles engine with a Wurly sound on my keyboard. There is some slight additional complication of running multiple instruments in Kontakt, but nothing major.

I usually just use the pianos on my keyboard, but when I don’t, I’ve mostly settled on Addictive Keys. I’ve had issues with loading times and latency with other VSTs. To be fair, I haven’t gone through the others since I got a new laptop, so that may be less of an issue these days. Noire seems to be popular for just normal piano playing with others.

Cherry Audio makes some great emulations of classic synths for cheap, I use Low Down (Moog Taurus) and Eight Voice (Oberheim) a lot - BUT they’re very accurate to the hardware, not necessarily to the mastered sounds you hear on records. You may want to run them through other effects to get your final sound. Usually Arturia Mello-Fi (tape saturation) and Relab LX480 Essentials (reverb) do the trick for me. I actually throw them on most analog synth VSTs.

I used a lot of Waves plugins a few years ago, but I had issues with pre-loading and their dumb update costs. The plugins themselves would pre-load in the set list, but the samples wouldn’t load until you played something, and they weren’t exactly fast. Don’t know if that’s been fixed, I finally got mad and quit using all of them.

I also used to use EastWest Composer Cloud. Many great sounds, but mostly not oriented to live playing. They do have a lot of light and single articulation patches that work just fine, but the subscription is kind of overkill just for that. I picked up their String Machine on sale, which is a really cool little plugin.

It occurs to me that I may have a VST hoarding problem.

Since I’m one of the resident guitarists, take this with a grain of salt I suppose, but I ended up with UAD’s PolyMax today because it was in a bundle of some other things I wanted. After messing with it today I will say that it surprisingly “doesn’t suck” in the least and imo it does a noticeably better sounding Juno Strings than Cherry’s Juno. Put the UAD Pultec after it for a bit of bass boost it starts sounding a whole lot like the hardware Junos on Youtube. Not exact but darn good imo. Also has a fascinating UI, super fast and easy for a synth illiterate like me to deal with, yet has pretty good functionality. It does suck that it doesn’t have midi learn though.

The bundle is pretty sweet $49 at Plugin Boutique:

BTW their LA-2 (not A) in the bundle is just superb on slow, held chord piano. And their Pultec is the best out there by about a mile imo. The plate in this bundle is also very good.

Vital has so much potential to create great sounding instruments. It’s a shame most designers want to focus on making crazy noise with it instead.

I bought Vital when it came out and found it interesting during the first programming sessions. Shortly after I stopped using it because I got no proper answer regarding copy protection and home phoning.
“Crazy noise” - good point. There are a lot of productions in the last decades that are exactly that - no need for learning to play an instrument - may be I’m getting old.

Hmmm, Vital sure looks like a nice option, but it doesn’t play nice at all with Cantabile’s HiDPI modes. And even with HiDPI turned off, scaling the GUI via dragging doesn’t work at all.

@brad, something you can do about this?

I’m using Vital v1.5.5 with HiDPI enabled (Enabled & Upscale Plugins) and I’ve resized the GUI by dragging but it is very difficult to grab the corner handle. Maybe the free version is missing some updates?

So far, I had only tried the release version (1.0.7). The early access version is a bit better behaved, but I only get the vst3 version to behave nicely. The vst2 version will consistently crash Cantabile when trying to resize the window (either by dragging the corner or by using size presets). Cantabile won’t even go through a crash report process, so this looks like a nasty crash.

Maybe @brad can get in touch with Matt Tytel to get this stabilized?

But looks I can at least move forward with exploring Vital using the early-access version 1.5.5. Thanx for the heads-up!



I spent a couple of hours looking into this crash when resizing the VST 2 version of Vital.

It’s a stack overflow with thousands of vital call frames. This needs to go back to the Vital dev, but I couldn’t find a way to contact them. If someone has a point of contact, please let me know.

Yes, Matt seems to be a bit contact-shy - only way I found to report issues is the forum:

I have obtained Wavestate Native, which is a brilliant soft synth. It is quite complex, but is great for basic sounds all the way up to having a ton of stuff going off at the same time. It does all manner of rhythms, and of course has 4 separate layers to make them really complex and involved. It also means that you can get some great multi-layered sounds from just the one synth, with loads of movement going on all over the place, and each layer can be assigned to its own MIDI channel.

It takes a while to get to understand how to do things, especially setting up the rhythms, but is well worth it. If I had got it earlier, I may well have not bought so many other VSTS.

Actually, who am I kidding? I’ll always want more VSTS, but the Wavestate would be my “go to” soft synth, and is already heading that way.

Ironically, I am just about to throw a question on the Wavestate into the mix for some advice, but that is another issue!

1 Like