Best Software Synths 2023 – Did Your Favourite Make Our List?
2023 delivered some great software synthesizers for us to play with but which of them made our Best Software Synths 2023 list and do you agree?
As the year draws to a close, and many of us begin to wind down for the holiday season, we at Gearnews are busy reviewing the year. We’re looking back at some of our favourite bits of gear or software and making a list. Who knows, Santa might just deliver us one! However, my editor is chasing me for my favourite software synthesizers of 2023 and I have to say, it’s not an easy choice.
Best Software Synths 2023 – Highlights Of The Year
This year has given us some real treats to play with. Five of these will make my list below, but it is worth recognising some cool events. It would be difficult to argue that companies like Cherry Audio and GForce Software have had great years. Arturia just delivered the 10th iteration of their formidable V Collection and Roland Cloud have been busy updating their ‘Legendary’ range with much-improved browsers and user interfaces. There have been some great freebies which is great news for any computer-based muso in these troubled times.
The state of the software instrument, and plugin industry as a whole seems very healthy. With soaring hardware and shipping costs, software developers can avoid most of these. Clever use of ever-increasing computer power has yielded some brilliant instruments. So without further ado, and in no particular order, let me reveal my top five. If you agree or disagree, tell us in the comments. Remember, I’ve had to choose just five. I’m sure your choice will be different, so be nice!
GForce Software Oberheim-X
GForce Software has consistently made some of the finest software instruments for the last 20 years and 2023 was no exception. As well as updating old favourites like Minimonsta 2 or M-Tron Pro IV, they also delivered new items to their library, the best of which was Oberheim-X. GForce co-founder, Dave Spiers, has had a long and deeply held affection for Oberheim synthesizers. So when Tom Oberheim himself chose to personally authorise OB-E, a beautiful relationship was born. Their SEM plugin also bears the name and now we have the next instrument to bear the illustrious moniker.
The Oberheim OB-X, upon which Oberheim-X is based, is a true synthesizer classic. It has a list of A-list users as long as your arm and has featured on a plethora of great hit records. So the pressure to get this one right must have been immense. And if that was the case, it didn’t show in the final product which sounds just incredible. These software recreations of Oberheim classics nail their sound like nothing ever has before. Marrying up a faithful recreation, with a bunch of new features that bring the synth right up to 21st-century specs, Oberheim-X is a must-have in any plugin folder.
Cherry Audio Pro Soloist
Cherry Audio has had an amazing year! They’ve released eight, count ’em, EIGHT new synth plugins and they promise that they won’t let up in 2024. The question that most people ask is, “How do they manage to make such great synths, with brilliant sounds and amazing UI’s and sell them at such great prices??”. It’s a good question. And we are glad that they do. So with so many instruments to choose from, why did I pick Pro Soloist? The original instrument was one of ARP’s early forays into organ-top monosynths that succeeded the ARP Soloist. But it soon found itself a legion of fans who exploited its raw simplicity to great effect.
What Cherry Audio has done is take this fairly innocuous beast and go wild with it. All those famous (or infamous) presets are all there so you can do your best Tony Banks impression. But they have expanded this synth to not just be polyphonic, but twin-layered with 16 voices per layer! All those raspy resonators are in place giving you a really gnarly sound. And let’s not forget the ‘Growl’ feature, beautifully modelled here. Support for polyphonic aftertouch is here, just like the OG, and the addition of last-note aftertouch is a superb middle ground for those who don’t yet have a suitable PolyAT controller. What was once a fairly limited synth has been transformed beyond its inventor’s ambition.
UVI Falcon 3
Ok, this isn’t a “new” synth, per se. But UVI’s Falcon is, quite rightly, regarded as one of the most versatile and powerful synthesizer plugins available. It’s a true powerhouse and so, so much more than just a fancy player for UVI’s comprehensive library of sound libraries. It is choc full of synthesis engines and in version 3 they’ve added a formant-based oscillator, a bowed string oscillator and a harmonic resonator. Each of these brings new dimensions to Falcon. And it isn’t just new oscillators. There are new effects with more harmonic resonators as well as a physically modelled compressor, a Moog-inspired ladder filter and a transient shaper.
Workflows have been enhanced and a selection of truly inspirational event processors will have ideas flowing in no time at all. And to show all of these new things off, there’s a fabulous bank of new presets that really show off what the new toys can do. All of these new presets sport lovely new user interfaces that make the most of Falcon’s powerful scripting abilities. But it is the sheer depth of capabilities that Falcon contains that will have users reaching for it every single time. At launch, UVI dropped the price from €349 to €199, which was an absolute steal. I mean, it’s still a bargain at €349. There is no other synthesizer plugin at that price with this much power. The best deal is UVI’s Sonicpass. €/$24 a month or €/$240 a year gets you Falcon and every single other UVI product.
Cherry Audio Harmonia
It is testament to Cherry Audio’s most successful year to date that I could not include a second of their wonderful 2023 offerings. This time it is one of their original designs. Harmonia was the brain child of Mitchell Sigman, their lead synth designer. The concept is simple. At its core it is an additive synth. You select one of 285 sample-based waveforms for each of the two oscillators and then sweep through each waveforms harmonics and add a ton of modulation and filtering to come up with some truly rich and complex tones. There’s even a way to sequence those sweeps.
The real beauty of Harmonia is in its simplicity. It’s an uncluttered interface that rapidly responds to your tinkering and feels both intuitive and powerful at the same time. From the moment you open it, you will be drawn in and coming up with some really cool sounds. In my review of Harmonia back in August, I commented on how great it was for building big pads and evolving soundscapes. It can be both very clean and digital but also rich and warm too. Most of all, it has life. I’m still not bored of this synth and at a mere $49, it massively punches well above its weight.
Full Bucket Music Oxid
We all love free synths. And 2023 served up some very lovely examples. So it would be remiss of me not to include my favourite of 2023. Bjorn, aka Full Bucket Music, has been building and sharing some amazing plugins for a number of years now. If anyone asks me where to get started when getting into “in-the-box” music making, I insist they download everything he makes. I also insist they drop him a few bucks via his PayPal donation link. What this guy gives for free, others charge a lot of money for. And it was towards the end of this year that he served up Oxid, a superb emulation of the ARP Omni 2.
In FBM’s version, there’s 64 voices of polyphony and features both the string and synth sections of the original. You can explore paraphony with this too and there’s additional phaser and delay effects built in. The simple and incredibly ARP-like interface is a joy to play with and whilst Oxid evokes the classic ARP string/synth combo sound, it can make some wonderful tones that are both new and familiar.
Those Who Also Served
I honestly struggled with choosing just five (waves fist at Editor-in-Chief) but here is a list of those other plugins that deserve a mention in dispatches!
- Check out our Synth Zone
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