The top 10 plug-ins for your electronic productions

Écrit par Henry Hodson
Le 07.06.2016, à 13h03
06 MIN LI-
Écrit par Henry Hodson
So you want to make electronic music on your laptop but don’t know which plug-ins to start with? Here’s a selection (Mac and PC) of some of the best on the market, as recommended by our friends – the artists. Powerful synths, samplers and effects to shape your sound.  By Arnaud Wyart. Translated by Henry Hodson.

1/ Arturia V Collection 4

With a series of plug-ins designed to reproduce the sounds that defined the 70s and 80s (Moog, Sequencial Circuits, Roland, etc.), Arturia put virtual synths on the bedroom producer’s map. For three years now, the French brand has even invested in its own analogue range (Microbrute and Minibrute, but it’s also to them that we owe the famous sequencer BeatStep, used notably by Arnaud Rebotini) as proof of their engineers’ expertise. So to discover the mini marvels that are the ARP2600, the Jupiter 8V, Mini V, Modular V, CS80 and the Prophet V, you might as well opt for the collection of all 13 plug-ins – it won’t disappoint. Otherwise, each plug-in is available for purchase separately. 

Prophet V
Prophet V

Price: $399
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The producers’ verdict 

Aquarius Heaven: ‘This is a great selection. I am particularly fond of the Arturia collection, I use them all! Depending on what you want to do, some of its synthesisers have a really good sound. And there’s the added bonus that they don’t demand too much processing power.’

Korgbrain: ‘The ARP 2600 is THE machine on my want list! Failing that, I use the Arturia plug-in. I fell in love with its sound as much through the music of Herbie Hancock, Brian Eno and of course Bowie, as through more contemporary stuff like Todd Terje or the artists on my favourite label, Brainfeeder. Basically, this plug-in is a great alternative and I recommend it to anyone looking for a sound that resembles a modular or analogue set up. It may not be as violently unpredictable as the real ARP 2600, but it comes close to its warmth!’

Vangelis and the CS-80

George Clinton – Atomic Dog (Prophet V)

2/ Massive (Native Instruments)


With four oscillators and plenty of modulation settings (filters, ADSR envelopes and routing possibilities) Massive is a reference for bass lines and professional-sounding leads. Sure, there are dozens of virtual machines based on substractive synthesis, but with this plug-in, the sound is truly powerful and very typically analogue. Easy to program and intuitive to use, Massive has no fewer than 600 presets (there is an abundance on the internet) ready to use. The only downside, it’s fairly greedy on your computer’s power. But for making electro, dubstep, or anything a little bit balls-to-the-wall, it can’t be beaten.

Price: $224
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Society of Silence says‘Perhaps not as much today, but we have used these plug-in synths a whole lot. Massive has incredible potential. For a virtual tool, the results are really impressive. The assembly of different waveforms allows you to construct complex sounds that still go bang.’

3/ Sylenth1 (LennarDigital)


Designed for electronic music producers, Sylenth1 is another plug-in based on substractive analogue synthesis (four oscillators, filters and a modulation section). And as with Massive, you’ll hear the difference from its competitors from the first notes. Less raw but greatly complex, Sylenth’s sound is ultimately quite close to that of vintage machines. To believe it, you just have to give the 700 factory settings a go (there are many more on the internet too) which bring together an exceptionally broad musical spectrum (TB-303 bass and Moog, Juno pads, and Prophet or Access Virus leads etc…) and guarantee immediate inspiration. Ultra-intuitive and using relatively little processing power, Sylenth1 is clearly a must-have. 

Price: 139 €
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4/ Basic (Audio Damage)

Audio Damage

Like Arturia, Audio Damage designs modular synth hardware and software. They are extraordinary machines, but very hard to get your head around. That’s why the American brand has designed a virtual mono-substractive model, more accessible and relatively simple to use (with a touch-screen optimised interface). Three oscillators are available (with functions based on the Minimoog and the SEM). The signal then passes through a series of filters emulating the mythical Korg MS-20. Around 50 presets are also at your fingertips to get a taste of this beast’s potential. The perfect plug-in to get started with production.

Price: 39$
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5/ Reaktor 6 (Native Instruments)

Reaktor 6

Reaktor is a different kind of plug-in, in that it allows you to come up with (or customise) your own virtual machines (synths, samplers, effects etc.). You simply have to connect different modules to the central interface. Once created and combined with one another, you can save the new ‘instruments’ in an ‘ensemble’ form. But the machines proposed by Native Instruments are of such a quality that it is entirely possible to use them as they are. And the choice is broad enough too: with dozens of synths, sound generators, drum machines and other sequencers all built in (and thousands of others also available online).

Bonus: if Reaktor was still a little complex for modular beginners, version 6 includes Blocks, a feature which simplifies the user interface. Be careful though, it has an unfortunate tendency to beg for hardware…

Price: 199
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Society of Science says: ‘We’ve spent days on Reaktor! At first, you’re turning knobs in completely incomprehensible ensembles for hours. But it’s fun to make music in such a random way… The great thing about this software is that it also has a really active user community. Everyone can create their own ‘ensemble’ and share it on dedicated forums. We still use it from time to time, notably for pads, ambient sections, drones, etc. The last version seems really cool with Blocks and the integration of modular synths. We’ll be trying it out as soon as possible.’

6/ FM8 (Native Instruments)


If you wish to capture the sound of the 80s (starting with the Yamaha DX7 synthesiser), FM8 is the plug-in for you. With perfect reproduction of waveform frequency modulation (giving you lots of harmonic possibilities), the plug-in is otherwise equipped with an excellent arpeggiator and a range of 12 effects. A ‘morphing’ function even allows you to mix four different sounds to broaden still further the sound pallette. As a whole, programming it is much simpler than hardware synthesisers. Before creating new and interesting sounds though, you can expect several hours of exploring and tinkering. The FM synthesis demands a certain amount of control. Before that though, you will no doubt find fun in among the 960 available presets. 

Price: 149 €
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7/ Kontakt V (Native Instruments)


Kontakt is one of the most widely-used virtual samplers in home studios. As usual, the latest version brings a bunch of new features: four additional effects (Solid G-EQ, Solid Bus Com, Transcient Master and Tape Saturator) complete its sound processing capacities. Better still, NI have incorporated 37 filters (some of them coming from Massive): high-pass and low-pass, reverb, peaks, filter combinations, talk-box style voice modulators, etc. Fans of the mythical Akai MPC (notably the MPC60) equally have access modes simulating their characteristic vintage sound. Aside from all that, a brand new algorithm (Time Machine Pro) is dedicated to time-stretching samples. Developed by zPlane and very efficient, this one is notably the only to offer a real-time ‘reverse’ mode. To add to the sampler, there are a number of widely-stocked libraries online. What’s more, Reaktor can now read MIDI files, which allows you to play loops directly in the plug-in.

Price: 399 €
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Society of Silence says: ‘We really like all the crazy possibilities Kontakt has. Amongst the effects of the plug-in, we particularly like the convolution reverb, very creative.’

8/ Omnisphere 2 (Spectrasonics)


Without rivalling the Kontakt kind of sampler, this hybrid plug-in allows you to import any sound and play it. It is possible to change the octave, apply filters, effects, etc. A high-range arpeggiator also extends the creative capabilities of the software. Omnisphere includes a 50Gb sample bank (more than 10,000 samples) for direct access. But above all it comes with a powerful engine offering multiple synthesis modes (substractive, FM, granular). And harmony processing allows you to separate vocals from the music below it (with the possibility to transpose them, detune them, etc.). Despite the richness of its functionality, Omnisphere is built into a clear interface and using it is pretty intuitive. But if worse comes to worst, the program’s assistance features will help you to find the sound you want. A unique option on the market, ideal for sound designers and electronic producers. The only problem being: it demands a lot of RAM.

Price: 499$
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9/ CamelCrusher (Camel Audio)

Camel Crusher

To give warmth to your sounds, there is one simple yet effective plug-in. A compressor (complete with ‘phat’ mode), a gain (which emulates lamp distortion) and a low-pass filter: three buttons to mould the sound as you wish! CamelCrusher also stocks a good number of presets, so you can get familiar with its potential. Finally, a ‘randomize’ mode might come in handy if you’re suffering from a block. Give it a go on your bass lines, your kick drums or even your whole tracks (to give them a bit of punch!) There’s no reason not to, CamelCrusher is free (no longer officially available, but you can find it here).

10/ Glitch 2 (Dblue)


If you’re adept with rapid rhythmic changes à la Aphex Twin (notably in the song ‘Window Licker’, for example), Glitch could be the choice for you. The plug-in includes nine effects to radically modify sequences (with a ‘Randomize’ mode). The results are surprising and instant. The sequencer even allows you to add multiple effects simultaneously and there are 128 tracks to modify in MIDI (with a master keyboard). A modern classic!

Price: 49€
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