Finding high-quality free sound design plugins is kind of like using a fish tank to hack a casino. Let me explain. With hackers constantly looking f
or ways into networks, and casinos being a prime target, cyber thieves have recently started to target something that no one expected: the fish tanks. These smart fish tanks are connected to a casino's network, and once hackers got access to the tanks, they could then access the rest of the casino's and get the data they needed. It's everything that they could want: easy, creative, and powerful.
And in the world of sound design, we're looking for similar: tools that we can easily get, that help us be creative, and are super powerful. Thankfully, there are tons of free plugins that we can get that will check all of those boxes. Even though they may be just as unassuming and easily accessible as a fish tank on a casino network, these free plugins can open us up to a lot of sound design possibilities. So, let's dive in to 10 free and powerful sound design plugins that I use every day And before we dive in, you'll find links for all of these at the bottom of this message! 1. MeldaProduction Free Bundle Many of you probably know about this one, but MeldaProduction makes a ton of plugins that are useful to any composer/sound designer. They have a massive free bundle of pro-level plugins that work without any real restrictions. I recommend these to everyone, especially if you're using a DAW like Reaper, which doesn't come with a ton of plugins on its own. We're not going to dive into every single plugin in this pack, but it comes with compressors, EQs, reverbs, distortions, and a lot of fun effects, too. More than enough for pretty much anyone.
2. U-he TyrellN6 Next up is a super handy little synthesizer that has a lot of power. U-he TyrellN6. This synth is great to learn the skill of synthesis on if that's something you're not super comfortable with yet, and it's got basically everything you need: two oscillators, LFOs, filters, envelopes, and more. I reach for it when I just need something simple and quick, and don't really need the power of something like Serum, Massive, Vital, etc. Though speaking of Vital, the base version of Vital is also free, so check that out, too. But, if you want to learn how most synthesizers out there work, the TyrellN6 is an excellent place to start.
3. Valhalla Supermassive Valhalla Supermassive is an awesome reverb...delay... thing. If you ever want to create otherworldly, ethereal reverbs and delays, this is it. Everything Valhalla makes is gold, but if you just download their free plugins (they have a few on top of this one), you'll get a LOT out of them.
4. Spitfire LABS
Now, we're about to dive into a small bit of a musical section here. Even though we're talking sound design, using musical tools for sound effects work is really really common, and you'll probably need to make sound effects that are more tonal or musical a lot.
Every music producer knows about Spitfire LABS, especially the piano, which I was just using earlier in the supermassive example. God it's so good. But Spitfire LABS is a collection of really fun, great sounding, super unique virtual instruments. They have everything from guitars, drums, bass, strange atmospheres, textures, even a foghorn. You can take these sounds, morph the hell out of them, and bam, sound design.
5. Infinite Space Piano Remember how I talked about the Spitfire LABS piano being good? Well I like the Infinite Space Piano even more. Forget about that stinky old Spitfire LABS one. If Spitfire LABS' piano is our stodgy old dad piano, the Infinite Space one is our way cooler uncle piano that lets us listen to jazz records and smoke jazz cigarettes. And now that no one is confused with that analogy, let's continue. This is a gorgeous, ethereal, emotional piano instrument, totally for free. Need to make people feel like they're in space, or all nostalgic with minimal effort? This is the tool for you.
6. Project SAM Free Orchestra If you ever need to do some orchestral music or sound design, ProjectSAM Free Orchestra is the place to start. They have a ton of great, super cinematic sounding orchestral instruments in here for free. While, yes, you could use this all for music, I love their Dystopian Drones section so so much. Alright alright, no more MUSICAL stuff, that's gross, I know.
7. Eventide Pendulate I know I mentioned the TyrellN6 synth earlier, and that's a great one. But if you want a synth that's absolutely buckwild and insane, Eventide Pendulate is it. Do I fully understand how it works? Absolutely not. Do I love the results? 100% yes. Whenever I need to just shrug and try to make stuff, and see what the hell comes out on the other side, this is where I reach.
8. VCV Rack If you're interested in getting into the world of modular synths, but don't want to sell both of your livers to be able to afford it, VCV Rack is a great place to go. You can also get quite literally thousands of free modules from their website as well. It comes with a bunch of free modules, and you can get started plugging in cables at random right away, and hope that whatever comes out doesn't sound like garbage. Now, the main downside of the free version is that it can't run as a virtual instrument inside your DAW, so it only runs standalone. Still, it's a perfect place to learn modular synthesis or just synthesis in general.
9. u-he Protoverb Next up is the u-he Protoverb. If you've watched this channel before, then you know how much of a reverb pervert I am. I love using weird-sounding reverbs that make my sound design that much more insane. Well, U-he Protoverb is one such a reverb. It has a crazy simple interface, but boy does it sound good and weird as hell. It's meant to simulate the sound of rooms, including strange, and sometimes very pleasant reflections, or it can totally sound like butt. It's meant to be random, and the company even encourages you to send them your best and worst reverbs that you discover. Love it.
10. Paulstretch Many of you know about this already, but Paulstretch is a magic, beautiful time stretching plugin. It's famous for this Justin Bieber song being slowed down 800%, which sounds fantastic. It's also known for helping the sound designers of The Batman create the sound of the amazing Batmobile in that movie. Anytime you need to stretch a sound out and keep it sounding smooth, this is it. Take anything and stretch it over days if you want! Now, as a heads up, what you want to look for is actually "PaulXStretch", which is the latest version that comes with a nice user interface and works as a plugin inside your DAW.
But, I know exactly what you're thinking at this very moment. "But Akash you double chocolate s'more delicately roasted over a sweet cherrywood campfire" you say "Do I really need all of these plugins?" No, not really. Over time, you'll find that you reach for just a few sound tools most days. It's good to always go out and experiment and try stuff out, but odds are, you'll only really find 2-3 of these useful for your workflow for now, and then you might come back to the other ones later on. So, while you may not be using a fish tank to hack a casino You can use similarly innocuous and easy-to-access tools to do some really powerful stuff. And if you have any free tools that you love to use, reply here and let me know! I'd love to add to this list and make a Part 2!
Here are all the download links for all of the plugins mentioned above!