- Find out what VSTs all the top synthwave producers are using
- Including 3 drum machines for powerful beats
- Plus FX plugins to improve your synth tones
For those of us who grew up in the 80s, synthwave extracts everything we loved from our childhoods and updates it with modern touches.
So, as the genre has exploded over the last decade, many people understandably want to try their hand at producing synthwave themselves, but don’t know where to start.
That is why today we’ve rounded up our best synthwave VSTs, both free and paid, that will aid your neon-lit journey as a synthwave producer.
(For a deeper look at synthwave as a genre, check out Vaporwave Vs Synthwave (What’s The Difference?))
What Are The Best Plugins to Produce Synthwave Music?
Whether you’re just new to synthwave music as a genre, or new to production in general, the sheer volume of plugins out there can seem overwhelming.
Back in the 80s you’d be required to buy some bulky hardware with a hefty price tag to get those lush analog synth sounds.
Fortunately today that barrier to entry has been lowered so much that anyone can try their hand at synthwave production with nothing but a DAW and some free plugins.
Here are our picks for the best synths, drum machines, and FX for synthwave production:
- U-HE Diva (Our Pick)
- Arturia V Collection 8 (Premium Option)
- Vital (Best Free Option)
- Native Instruments Battery 4
- Synthwave Drums
- Sampleson SUB Analog Drums
- Fabfilter Saturn
- Valhalla Shimmer
- TAL Vocoder
1. U-HE Diva
Diva is the first native software synth that uses a groundbreaking approach that applies methods from industrial circuit simulators in real-time.
- Replicates every facet of all our old favorite synths
- Endless sonic possibilities
- A complete powerhouse of a plugin
For many of us, Diva is the only virtual analog synth you need.
The crew at U-HE have gone to great lengths to meticulously replicate every facet of all our old favorite synths into a ‘one plugin to rule them all’ package.
If you were allowed just one VST to produce all of your synthwave tracks with, this should be it.
U-HE’s goal with Diva was not to replicate a single synth, but rather to create modules so we can choose our own oscillators, filters, and envelopes and piece them together ourselves.
We get 5 oscillator modules, 5 filter modules, 2 stereo effects slots, and two LFOs to play with.
It’s fairly obvious to see from the UI which classic synth each one of these modules is trying to emulate, which will make your inner synth nerd giggle as you combine a Minimoog oscillator with a Roland Jupiter 6 multimode filter.
But to recreate that classic analog synth sound in a digital form is not a simple process.
Diva is well known for being quite brutal on your computer’s CPU, so be ready to start freezing tracks if you plan on using multiple instances of the plugin!
This is a complete powerhouse plugin for producing synthwave music.
It can handle anything from luscious and evolving pads to grinding, aggressive lead sounds. And it does so with absolute authority.
2. Arturia V Collection 8
A suite of 28 software instruments spanning analog synths, digital synths, organs, acoustic pianos, electric pianos, and string machines - V Collection 8 recreates some of the most iconic instruments of all time.
- Endless creative possibilities
- Staggering value for money
- 28 software instruments included
Taking a slightly different approach from Diva’s module-based system, Arturia has set out to more directly replicate all of the famous and classic synths of yesteryear.
While the instruments can be purchased individually, the collection offers staggering value for money considering how authentic each individual plugin sounds.
There are 27 classic instruments included in the package, and you’ll find all your favorites here from the Minimoog, the Juno 6, the Jupiter 8, and the OB-Xa. Anything you could possibly desire for synthwave production!
Not only that, many of these emulations have had some additional features added such as in-built arpeggiators, polyphony, and various effects to take their sound design capabilities above what you could achieve with their real-world counterparts.
If you already have some understanding of when you’d reach for a Minimoog or an Arp 2600, this plugin collection will be heaven for you.
Using the same interface and layout as the classics to program your sounds is about as close as you can get to owning the real thing.
3. Vital by Vital Audio
Give new life to wavetables by using Vital's immensely powerful and customizable free spectral oscillator warping synthesizer.
- Highly customizable
- An extremely visual synthesizer
Vital massively punches above its weight considering it’s a completely free plugin.
While it’s not necessarily marketed towards synthwave exclusively, there are more than enough features under its hood to facilitate any kind of sound you might want to make.
Even if you just wish to use it as a subtractive synth, what it offers is really quite amazing and it’s completely capable of standing toe-to-toe with any of the premium synth VSTs.
Vital has everything you would expect from a ‘heavyweight’ VST synthesizer – except the price.
It comes with three high-quality oscillators and a small selection of wavetables. If you want more presets and wavetables, there are plenty of packs for sale on the official website. It’s a respectable business model that helps keep Vital free.
Our Analog and Vintage Synth Wavetable packs also work with Vital, as well as most other wavetable synths. These are wavetables made from 96 kHz recordings of analog synthesizers, meaning you can emulate vintage analog synths with ease using Vital’s powerful wavetable oscillators.
Recreate the sounds of yesteryear and synthesize the future with our collection of 130 vintage synth wavetables, sampled directly from dozens of studio classics!
There are some incredible modulation options packed into Vital, in particular, the 4 ‘random’ LFOs offer amazing potential for creating movement in your texture and pad sounds.
It’s also worth mentioning that Vital has a very dedicated community who love creating preset packs that they doll out for free. There are plenty of synthwave packs out there too.
Check here for a more in-depth look in our full Vital VST review!
Vital is the absolute best free synth around regardless of the style of music you wish to produce.
With so many features and modulation options, this is a must-have in any synthwave producer’s arsenal!
4. Native Instruments Battery 4
BATTERY 4 is the cutting-edge drum sampler – the worldwide studio choice for creative beat production.
- Intuitive and easy-to-use UI
- Helps harbor a creative workflow
- Packed with great effects
Battery has experienced a number of overhauls/improvements throughout its lifespan.
Now, we’re on Battery 4, and finally in a good spot with an intuitive and easy-to-use UI.
It’s now easier than ever to load non-NI kits making this a really powerful machine for synthwave production.
One of the main things to remember about synthwave is that as much as we are trying to recreate the sounds of old, we are also still making use of modern production methods.
This is where Battery becomes an ideal drum machine to load your favorite samples into, but you can also stick to dedicated retro kits such as the popular ‘Neon Drive’ expansion.
It includes individual volume and pitch envelopes for each sample, a sample-by-sample filter and compressor, and even individual velocity control regardless of whether your sample is a one-shot or not.
Battery 4 gives you ultimate control over samples so you can get that signature retro 80’s sound with a modern touch.
5. Synthwave Drums
A selection of over 100 presets full of synthwave drum sounds, already processed and ready to inject into your production. BeatSkillz have done the hard work, so you don’t have to!
- 1300+ Drum Sounds
- Ridiculously cheap
- Simple to use
It would be difficult not to include a drum machine that specifically has synthwave in its name.
It’s no gimmick either, this is a fantastic all-in-one package that contains 73 drum kits and over 100 presets which are all specifically tailored to the genre.
Synthwave Drums has a very simple pad-based UI with all the typical features you’d expect. Pitch, pan, and envelope controls over each sample.
Beatskillz markets the drum samples as fully pre-processed and ready to go straight out of the box making this perfect if you’re just starting out or need excellent drum tones in a pinch.
It’s also ridiculously cheap for the volume of samples that are provided, and if that’s not enough you can even layer in your own samples inside the plugin which can then be sent to your DAW via multiple outputs.
Considering the cheap price, this is probably the best starting point if you’re looking specifically to have your synthwave drum needs taken care of.
Minimal fuss, just a nice and simple drum plugin!
6. Sampleson SUB Analog Drums
Taking inspiration from traditional analog drum machines such as the 808, Sampleson’s SUB Analog Drums provides a full set of 18 sounds that you can use to get your synthwave song started.
While there’s no sequencer in here, it does give us a full range of controls over each of the provided pads which includes pitch, pan, and volume.
Then, specifically for the kick and snare, we have click and snap knobs to tailor the sounds further.
So despite its simple nature, there is reasonable scope for customizing your drum tones individually.
Considering it’s free and the provided sounds are more than usable, there’s no reason not to download it right away.
You never know when these kinds of sounds will be just what you’re looking for!
7. Fabfilter Saturn
From subtle, clean, and warm tube or tape saturation to the wildest multiband guitar amp effects: FabFilter Saturn 2 delivers.
- Packed with high-quality distortion models
- Distorts individual bands of frequencies separately
- Easy drag-and-drop modulation
It’s important to remember that synthwave productions don’t need to be clean.
In fact, we are often looking for some of that less-than-perfect dirt in our sounds.
Fabfilter Saturn’s big claim to fame is that it can distort individual bands of frequencies separately, allowing you to grit up your top end while leaving your bass nice and clean.
It provides multiple types of distortion from the most gentle of saturation to full-on crushed destruction.
If you’re looking for other ways to add that signature analog warmth and saturation check out our tape emulation list.
Once you have Saturn 2, you’ll find yourself throwing it on absolutely everything, and it’s all going to sound great.
8. Valhalla Shimmer
At its core, ValhallaShimmer is a high-quality reverberator, designed to produce a smooth decay, that is both dense and colorless.
- Pristine-sounding reverb
- Works well as a sound design tool
- Perfect for synthwave
Synthwave as a genre is actually fairly broad – you will find downtempo head-nodders reminiscent of a beach at sunset, uptempo ‘outrun’ style synthwave, and soaring ambiance like Blade Runner.
Valhalla Shimmer is one of the best-sounding reverbs for those expansive pads and epic leads.
Also worth checking out are VintageVerb and Room!
Shimmer allows you to achieve atmospheric sounds without having to deal with any strange artifacts or unusual noises resulting from artificial diffusion.
It also works well as a sound design tool, with its pitch shifting capabilities giving that little bit of movement to your synth sounds. It’s also excellent on drums and vocals.
If you’re looking for some more great reverb plugins for vocals, check out our full roundup here.
This is a pristine reverb that is extremely well coded. Once you have this in your arsenal, I’ve no doubt you’ll find yourself reaching for it often!
9. TAL Vocoder
TAL-Vocoder is a vintage vocoder emulation with 11 bands that emulates the sound of vocoders from the early 80s.
- Completely free!
- Provides a great gritty sound for vocals
- Also amazing at re-synthesizing sounds
TAL has really spoiled us over the years with some great free plugins.
TAL-Vocoder in particular gives us access to those old school, classic, vocoded sounds that more modern vocoders tend to overlook.
TAL Vocoder is ideal for processing vocals to get that gritty vocoded sound you hear on things like Carpenter Brut’s Turbo Killer or Obituary.
But beyond that, it can also be great for re-synthesizing sounds and offering that crushed and gritty quality that is perfect for synthwave tracks.
Considering it’s free, this is a must-have in everyone’s plugin list.
In fact, just go download all of TAL’s free plugins. They all sound fantastic!
As synthwave develops as a genre, we’re seeing more and more companies release VSTs and sample packs specifically tailored to its sonic needs.
This can make it difficult for newcomers to the genre to know where to get the most authentic plugins that the big guys are using.
If this is you, we hope this list has pointed you in the right direction, and wish your neon-drenched productions all the best!