The best VST plug-ins in 2020 for music production beginners
If you are looking to get started producing music you will need some fancy VST Plug-ins to host in the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) of your choice. As music production software is a gigantic market with almost endless options to choose from, I will try and give you some starting points on which VSTs you should take a closer look at when starting out with your journey into music production.
As with almost all purchase decisions, I have only written down my opinion, which I have derived from my own experiences. You may have personal preferences that might influence your decision. Since this post is mainly aimed at beginners, I have written a lot about presets, but much less about sound-design. I simply thought this was out of place here. Additionally, I tried to pick plug-ins for every budget. I hope that there is a plugin suitable for everybody. So here are the best VST plug-ins you should consider for music production as a beginner in 2020:
Free and low budget (up to $100)
Stock VST plug-ins free
Depending on your DAW the available stock plug-ins are either better or worse. In most cases, however, they all provide the most basic functions. Unfortunately, reconstructing complex sounds is often rather for advanced users than for beginners.
In my eyes, Xpand!2 from Air is a must-have for every beginner and incredibly versatile for the price given. The plug-in has lots of presets to try out and is perfect for quickly implementing creative ideas. Not only for beginners in music production.
Air’s Loom II comes with over 850 pre-made patches, providing a solid base of sounds to experiment with. Even complex sounds are no problem with this softsynth. Since the plug-in also comes with a lot of effects, the sound design is not lacking.
U-he surprises with a compact little power pack that is also free for everyone. With 580 presets you can’t complain about a lack of choice of sounds. The sound-design possibilities are a bit limited, but for $0 it’s totally okay-
The Noisemaker from TAL is a minimalistic VST plug-in with 256 premade sounds. Even the most common effects have been included so you can let your creativity run wild.
If you’re looking for deep tones and heavy 808s, the SubLab from Future Audio Workshop is definitely a good choice. It already comes with 250 kick and 808 samples. In addition, various effects are also included.
Zone from Audiaire is an awesome VST plug-in that comes with 590 presets. Pads, plucks, synths, arps, there is something for everyone. The outstanding sound design possibilities are especially convincing. They are almost on the same level as Serum. For the price definitely worth a closer look.
With Kontakt Start, Native Instruments offers a first insight into the amazing world of Kontakt libraries. Although the possibilities and the choice of sounds are limited, they are definitely enough to try them out. Especially good is that the available sample libraries come from a wide variety of styles.
Spitfire Audio is known for its excellent Kontakt libraries, but also for its rather high prices (although the libraries are worth every cent). That makes it all the more great that Spitfire Audio provides a free sample, better known as Labs. If you plan to try your hand at orchestral music, you should start here – even though the sounds are not nearly as good as Spitfire Audio is capable of doing with f.e. Albion One.
Medium budget (up to $250)
The wavetable synthesizer in a class of its own. With Serum Xfer has definitely achieved the big shot. Popular with big names in the music industry as well as with beginners. Lots of included presets and expansions as well as nearly endless possibilities in sound design. If you have the necessary know-how, you can create almost any sound you can imagine with Serum.
Sylenth1 started to grow up years ago primarily in the EDM scene, but has successfully managed to spread across many other genres. For sylenth1 from Lennar Digital there are countless expansions with presets to buy, so that no boredom is guaranteed.
Electra 2 by Tone2 was considered an insider tip for a long time, especially in the hip hop producer scene. But in the meantime, Electra 2 has completely entered the mainstream and is really suitable for all genres. Electra 2 is very intuitive to use and has a great user interface. For me, it is clearly a recommendation for beginners.
Massive X from Native Instruments is the long-awaited successor to Massive and the long wait has really paid off. Massive X has all the features you would expect from a modern VST plug-in. Sound design and creativity are in my opinion the big strengths here.
If you like to work with vocals, then the vocalsynth 2 from Izotope is the right choice for you. Basically there is nothing you can’t do with the vocalsynth. It takes some time to get used to, but in the end you get unique effects and great sounds.
Personally, I find Pigments 2 by Arturia a bit difficult to get used to from the handling. But once you get used to it you will get an excellent plug-in with an incredible amount of possibilities. Including sequencer, synth mode, wavetable editor and sample engine. Sounds complex? It is.
Spire from Reveal Sound comes out of the box with over 900 presets to play around in your home. In addition, Spire offers powerful fx processors and great sounding filter effects. The VST plug-in has a built-in multiband compressor and many other useful tools.
U-he has been building hardware and software synthesizers of the highest quality for decades. And that’s exactly what you notice when implementing the VST plug-ins. Whoever expects the big innovation here may be disappointed, but you get very sophisticated instruments developed over the years. Hive 2 is a real monster with countless presets and functions.
Diva by u-he combines the best of 5 decades of experience with analog synthesizers. Additionally, Diva comes with over 1200 presets so you can get started right away. Diva is just the right thing if you need a mix of nostalgic flair and state of the art technology.
High budget (up to $500)
I will not lie, I love omnisphere. For me there is no VST plug-in that is so easy to use but at the same time profound. Of course the learning curve is quite high, but once you get used to it the powersynth can do just about anything. The price is high but I think it is justified. For a lot of money you can also get a lot of VST here.
Spectrasonics Keyscape offers everything you can imagine in terms of keys. Due to the seamless integration into Omnisphere you can combine the two plug-ins perfectly. Similar to Omnisphere, keyscape also calls for a rather high price, but offers the all-in-one solution in terms of key instruments.
And again Spectrasonics. This time with the all-purpose weapon for woofers – Trillian. Here every bass lover gets his money’s worth. Similar to Keyscape, Trillian can be used as a stand-alone VST, but can also be integrated into Omnisphere. If you own all 3 VST plug-ins from Spectrasonics you have a real all around carefree package. The 3 plugins together are priced at over $1100 but it’s definitely worth investing a little more. Especially in the long run.
Including all 24 instruments included in the V Collection bundle, there are over 8000 presets pre-installed. That is really a lot. Each of the instruments has its own history and deserves its own category. They are the most successful and formative synths and keys of the last decades on the latest technical level. Retro and vintage, however, also have a proud price.
If you want to work in the field of orchestral music, sooner or later you won’t be able to avoid Spitfire Audio products. Albion One is a kind of starting point on which you can begin to build your library. Spitfire Audio products are of very high quality. On the one hand, they are intuitive enough for beginners, but on the other hand, they are complex enough for professionals.
Although I have never been a great friend of the previous generations, I must say that Nexus 3 has the potential to overtake Omnisphere in the coming years. The ease of use and the intuitive design are convincing all along the line. This time even stronger than its predecessors, coupled with numerous sound design options. Depending on the package selected, different numbers of presets are included.
No limit (from $500)
The value you get from Native Instruments Komplete for your money is simply amazing. With Komplete 13 you get 68 instruments and effects. Additionally there are 24 expansions on top. There are both Synth VSTs and various sample-based instruments for Kontakt, bringing Komplete to a total of over 36000 sounds included. Komplete is released in a new version every year. If you own the previous version, you get the update at a discount.
I have already praised Spitfire Audio in the article above. BBC Symphonic Orchestra is a 590(!) GB Kontakt Library, which, even by professional standards, is one of the most realistic sounding orchestras you can imagine, without putting a real orchestra in your bedroom. If you’re sure (because you should be for the price) that you’ll be working a lot in the orchestral field, you’ve definitely got it covered with this library.
Many Contact Libraries $???
There are lots of great and realistic Kontakt Libraries you can buy as you need them. Some of them are exorbitantly expensive, but offer the best sounds available on the market. If you want to hit the right one you have to dig deep into your pockets, but you will be rewarded with excellent quality.
EastWest has been a very well known and reputable name in the business and in the orchestral and film scoring sector for a very long time. For some time now, the excellent libraries are also available as a subscription. This is especially great if you want to test the products for the first time, or if you don’t want to spend your budget all at once. A great alternative.