At this point, hearing about a new wavetable synth is unlikely to raise any eyebrows. Wavetable synthesis has been the go-to method for powerful VST synthesizers for more than a decade. These days, if you’re buying a “do everything” synth plugin that doesn’t have wavetables, you’re not really getting a synth that does everything.
Vital by Vital Audio really does seem to do everything a powerful workhorse synth ought to. Ok, eyebrows are still not raised. Maybe you are thinking “What makes Vital stand out from other synths?” or “I already own Serum, what’s the point?”. Well, do the words free VST synth mean anything to you?
Yep, Vital can be yours for nothing, and there’s no catch.
In this Vital VST review, we’ll look at what makes Vital so special and why it ought to be in any producer’s synth collection.
Vital VST Review – The Best Free Synth?
Features – (9.5/10)
Vital VST features a handful of absolutely killer selling points that immediately help it to stand out from the pack. The most obvious one is its pricing model – Vital is essentially free, but you can also subscribe for a small amount to unlock a wealth of presets and extra content. We’ll get into the pricing later, but rest assured the free version of Vital is identical to the “paid” version and doesn’t include any nag screens or anything else that makes it feel free.
With that out of the way, let’s look at what’s actually on offer in terms of sound design potential.
Straight off the bat, you have 3 wavetable oscillators and two filters to play with. That already opens up a lot of doors in terms of sound design potential. There’s also a sample-based oscillator that lets you drag and drop audio files to use as an additional sound source.
(For more about how wavetable synthesis works, we’ve got you covered with Wavetable Synthesis: A Complete Guide (+150 Free Wavetables))
When it comes to modulation options, Vital has more than enough to keep any synth nerd happy. For starters, you can have up to 6 envelopes and 8 LFOs, plus you’ll find all the usual mod sources like velocity, aftertouch, and macro knobs.
However, Vital VST has a few tricks up its sleeve here. For example, there are dedicated “randomness” generators for adding a touch of unpredictability, or full on chaos. These are separate to the LFOs and envelopes you already have access to, but they work in a similar way as you simply drag them onto any destination like normal. This really helps you break away from the “digital” nature of VST synths and add in some organic movement.
By default you will only see 3 envelopes and 4 LFOs, but once you assign the bottom one to a destination, a new one appears until the limit is reached.
There are so many other features on Vital that we don’t have time to get into. Rest assured, Vital includes all the things you expect from a powerful wavetable synth, including all the standard effects (chorus, delay, reverb, etc), a wavetable editor, FM synthesis, text-to-wavetable, spectral wave morphing, and heaps more. Thanks to the fact that it’s free to download and use, you can dive into all the features on offer and hear them in action for yourself.
The good news is that Vital sounds great and this is another category where it is able to comfortably compete with premium products. Ranking synths on sound quality in this day and age is tough – most synths sound good by default and sound quality will be determined more by how much your computer can cope with various levels of oversampling.
In this sense, Vital offers you plenty to work with, giving you up to 8 times oversampling and an option to make wavetables hi-res. These settings will also save with the patch, so if you have a strong monophonic synth lead, you have more headroom to work with in terms of CPU load.
The wavetable oscillators are clean, precise, and able to handle heavy modulation without any aliasing. If you need some digital grit, you can apply the “downsampling” wave morphing effect instead.
The filters sound particularly nice, with satisfyingly warm analog models that really “sing” when the resonance is maxed out. Some other digital synths will sound nasty with high res settings, but the Vital filters remain musical on all settings.
A special mention is due for the “Dirty” filter types which sound like they are modeled on a Korg MS-20. This famous filter is known for adding distortion as the resonance is increased, providing face-melting growls, aggressive basslines, and special effects.
However, I was left a little confused and disappointed by the “Diode” filters. For starters, the “low shelf” seems to be a mislabeled low-pass filter, or at least I couldn’t understand what is “shelf-like” about this filter. The diode filters also have horrible “stepping” when modulation is applied to the cutoff, and slower modulation speeds are completely wasted. However, I noticed that with the Drive knob cranked to the max the character of this filter changes and it becomes more useful.
The effects in Vital sound great, despite being somewhat limited compared to other synths. Almost all parameters can be modulated, allowing for plenty of sound design potential in the effects section alone.
Although the reverb sounds fantastic, it is limited to just one model (it sounds like a plate reverb). Despite this, there are still plenty of controls available for shaping the reverb tone, such as shelf EQs, chorus, and pre-delay.
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The presets that come with Vital really show off its versatility and are particularly impressive with how they use the macro controls to morph sounds in interesting and sometimes very unpredictable ways.
With the free preset pack that comes with Vital, you get 75 presets. But this is really only scratching the surface when you consider that a synth as clever as Vital is capable of making a gigantic number of unique and interesting presets. Most other free synths come with many more sounds by comparison.
So how do you get your hands on more presets for this thing?? This brings us to our next point…
Value For Money (10/10)
Of course I’m giving it a 10/10. Not just because it’s free but also the tiered pricing for Vital is entirely reasonable, offering great value.
With Vital, anyone with a computer now has access to some of the most in-depth synthesis tools for free. This is a huge step for producers everywhere who may not always have the means to access alternatives like Serum, even during a sale!
Of course, there is a business model here – and it’s a very respectable one. In exchange for money, you get more presets and wavetables. Sounds pretty good, right? Well, for even more money, you get even more presets and wavetables. Finally, for $80 you get a huge library of over 400 patches as well as a bunch of other “Gold” member percs. Yes, the top tier is only a single $80 one-time payment!
You can also subscribe for $5 a month for exclusive preset packs, unlimited text to wavetable, and much more.
This is how the makers of Vital VST get paid, and so they should. $80 is nothing for professional standard presets and wavetables, not to mention all the other benefits on offer. So you should strongly consider chipping in to support the people that bring you one of the best synths around.
Vital Vs Serum?
Crucially, Vital features three wavetable oscillators. It’s hard not to see this as a deliberate attempt to one-up Serum, which only has two wavetable oscillators.
Vital also has two filters which is standard for many workhorse VST synths but yet again is an improvement over Serum which only has one filter. Although Serum has many “dual” filter types, actually being able to have two independent filters in Vital is just a bit neater overall.
There are a couple of interesting quirks when it comes to modulation that further distinguish Vital as a really powerful sound design tool. Firstly, modulation can be applied in stereo, which means you can apply an LFO to the filter cutoff, then change how the modulation affects the left and right channels independently using just one modulation source. It’s unique features like this that distinguish Vital as more than just a free VST synth or a Serum replacement.
Then of course, there’s the pricing. Although Serum is worth every penny, that means very little in a match-up against a free VST synth like Vital.
In Defense Of Serum
So is it a total wipe-out for Serum? No, Serum still has a lot that I like and I use it alongside Vital.
Personally, I think Serum sounds smoother, whereas Vital is a bit more raw and slightly harsher sounding when it comes to bright sounds. Although you have a lot of control with oversampling in Vital, Serum sounds slicker off the bat.
Serum also looks nicer all things considered, and the 3D wavetable view really cannot be beaten. The wavetable view in Vital looks “noisier” and less smooth as well but it still gets the job done.
When it comes to presets, Serum is still the king. Just naturally you’re going to have more presets available for a synth that has remained popular for close to 10 years. Serum presets are more widely available – for now – and even with free packs you’ll end up with a lot in no time.
Room For Improvement
This is also not to imply that Vital VST is totally flawless, as there are a couple of areas where this great free VST synth is lacking or feels underdeveloped.
Critically, you don’t have a huge amount of control over the gain-staging. Maybe Serum just spoils us by providing level knobs for every effect, but in Vital you don’t even get an output gain control for the distortion effect! This means all the gain has to be controlled either in the oscillator section or the final master output. Most of the time you’ll be fine, but if you find yourself in a situation where you need more precise control over levels, you can hit a dead end.
On this topic, the distortion effect sounds just fine but the options for distortion types are a bit limited. It would be great to see tube distortion and tape saturation algorithms worked into this effect. In the meantime, if you want more options for distortion you can use the Drive knob on the filters or try one of these fantastic saturation / overdrive VSTs!
In case there’s any doubt, Vital is one of the best things to happen to music production in the last few years. If that sounds like big praise, just ask yourself when the last time a synth with this many features hit the market for free!
Though there are other great free wavetable synths like Surge – which recently had an important update that included a much-needed facelift. But Vital really takes the cake when it comes offering all the features you want in a versatile do-it-all wavetable synth, plus it includes a whole lot of interesting stand-out features that are truly innovative and unique.
Producers have nothing to lose by checking out Vital, whether they are just starting out or experienced synth-heads. If you’re looking for other great free synths to check out, make sure you check out our list of the best free VST synths in existence!