MUSICnGEAR's Favourite Plugins of 2023
A look back at some of our favorite (and some of the most unusual) plugins from 2023.
Featuring Lofi Oddity by Aberrant DSP, Synthesizer Expander Module by Cherry Audio, Lines by AudioThing, Sprite by Air Music Technology, Synplant 2 by Sonic Charge and LowSane by Rob Papen.
This article was compiled independently, with each of these plugins being tested by our editors, to give you the best (and most fun): recommendations. All of the plugins (that are not free) have demo versions available.
Lofi Oddity - Aberrant DSP / Free
The signature visual style of Aberrant DSP’s plugins reminds me of illustrations from fun DIY science books that I had as a kid/young adult; or fictional books with imaginative and educational illustrations that were about robots or science-based wonders.
The fun does not stop with the visuals, however, as the quality of sound that comes from this plugin rivals a lot of the more expensive counterparts on the market.
There are four macros; the corruption button makes everything sound glitchy and deliciously degraded (think, a cult science fiction movie, in which the hacker has infiltrated the infamous mainframe). In addition to the digital artifacts, it also introduces a stuttering, rhythmic effect. This already has quite a powerful effect on the sound, from just one controller.
The second controller makes everything sound like a heavenly, cloudy dreamscape (think of an instructional 1980s “How To” VHS tape, but from another dimension). The tape controller is fun, warm, and wobbly, and the fourth macros comp, ties everything together.
This is now one of my all-time favorite plugins; if you have been seeking something that will introduce the character and warmth of audio from times passed, this is it. And is it free!!
Requirements (from their website)
- Windows 10 or later – VST3 and AAX at 64-bit
- macOS 10.12 Sierra through macOS 13 Ventura – Intel or Apple Silicon – AU, VST3, and AAX at 64-bit
Synthesizer Expander Module - Cherry Audio / Free
The opening installation screen for this is like something from my Windows 95 dreams; bringing back memories of opening up a new software/game on the PC in the 1990s/early 2000s. This introductory screen made the anticipation of using this so exciting.
Synthesizer Expander Module is a standalone virtual instrument and plugin; one that is an emulation of the 1974 Oberheim SEM (Synthesizer Expander Module); one of the first self-contained synthesizers.
I downloaded this as I have been loving Allie X’s new arpeggiated 80s synth-fuelled releases; and wanted to experiment with some delicious 70s/80s sounds. I cannot overstate how powerful the sounds from this are, how rich and high-quality think this, I think may be one of the best virtual instruments and plugins I have ever used.
Cherry Audio’s Synthesizer Expander Module comes with a colossal library of presets; which has some fantastically ominous bass sounds (Bring The Noise being one of my favorites). This can be used across a wide variety of genres; if you want to make a '90s acid-fueled rave song, a luxurious 70s synth song, a horror theme for what will eventually become a cult movie, and so much more. This will bring you hours of endless fun, this will transform your music - highly recommended.
System requirements on their website here
Lines - AudioThing / €69
I first discovered AudioThing via their plugin Wires (based on a 1970s Soviet wire recorder) which was created with Youtuber and composer Hainbach, and is amongst one of the most unique, and fun-to-use plugins I have ever come across.
Lines is another plugin created with Hainbach; and it is based on a telephone line simulator from the 1970s (the Axel Line Simulator, by Axel Electronics). This plugin came about when he used this piece of equipment outside of the purposes for which it was intended, with some astonishing results (you can watch Hainbach's video here). Pushing the boundaries of sound, and using a piece of analog equipment for musical use, when it was not intended for this purpose, is what makes the world of audio so fun; and this curiosity is what leads to sounds that are seemingly from other realms, sounds that are imaginative and alive; and unlike anything else you have heard before.
This transforms the quality of a sound completely; when I first opened it I used the ‘Bouncing Vibrato Shift’ preset on a pop organ sound; and it immediately made it sound like something from an unreleased Aphex Twin track.
One thing to also note about Lines is that is not just an effect; but also a feedback-based synthesizer. The pulse sequencer is where you can generate rhythms and some noise (I made some fun percussive fx with this), using this in tandem with the other sections you can craft fun, unique sounds.
I love AudioThings' approach to making plugins; finding obscure and interesting analog machinery and making them into a plugin. This is what makes audio fun, and it reminds you that it is OK to have fun and experiment with sounds; as when you use things outside of the realm for which they were intended; a whole new world of sounds awaits.
Demo version available
- LINUX (VST, VST3, AU, AAX, CLAP, 64-bit only)
- AUv3 and Standalone in the App Store
Synplant 2 - Sonic Charge
Synplant 2 is a plugin that utilizes botanical concepts for the manipulation and creation of sounds; at the center of the UI is a seed (this contains a source sound (there are patches you can select from, and, you can also upload your own sounds). As you click outside the seed, the branches (the green areas, as seen above, each of which corresponds to a specific note on an octave) are created. The closer to the seed you are; the closer it sounds to the source; however the further away, the more it deviates, morphs, and changes. If you make a sound you like, you can save this and then use that as a seed. There is also a DNA section, that allows you to manipulate the DNA of a sound (see below).
If you are loading in a sample, the Genopatch technology analyzes your audio samples, and generates synth patches that sound like it (or, sometimes it can generate something new, which makes it all the more fun and exciting to use). You can learn more about Genopatch here.
I loaded in a vocal sample for this, and it created eerie, extra terrestrial-like textures; like those wafting up to your ears from the lush undergrowth of an undiscovered planet. The fun continued when I used the new iteration as a seed and continued from there.
This is one of the coolest, most unique plugins I have ever used; this draws out the creativity and experimentation that making music is all about. This reminds me of a piece of software that I would have stumbled across on Linux in the early 2000s; something that was so fun to use that you end up spending hours on it, just messing around for the fun of it. This is a feeling that results in so much creativity, and is an element that is crucial to keep alive in the music and audio-making process.
Free three-week trial available
Requirements for installing and running Synplant (from the user manual)
- Microsoft Windows 7
A host that supports 64-bit VST® 2.4, or VST3 plug-ins
- macOS High Sierra (10.13)
A host that supports 64-bit VST 2.4, VST3, or AudioUnit 2 plug-ins
LowSane - Rob Papen / €25
This is so much more than just a Lofi plugin; there are so many things that can be done within Rob Papen’s incredibly powerful LowSane.
What first drew me to this, was the beautifully surreal 90s science fiction vibe of the UI (specifically the ‘Disrupt’ section). This plugin has sound-shaping abilities, filters, and distortion, and can also be used as a rhythmic tool. It comes with a substantial set of presets, my personal favorite being Vocal Lo Radio 01, and using it on strings and pads (also moving the disrupt value to -76, the results sounding like a VHS dream). This is so fun to use and has endless sonic possibilities, this is a plugin in which you can let your imagination run wild.
There is a free demo available for this, which you can download here.
System requirements are available here.
Sprite - AIR Music Technology
This multi-effects plugin is soothing to both look at, and to use. There are two GUIs, one that has 5 macros (as pictured above), and, if you press the edit button, this brings up an in-depth interface (pictured below), which allows you more control over the processing and shaping.
This plugin injects so much magic and life into your sounds; it can turn even the most basic of sounds into a shimmering, surrealist soundscape, which you can then annihilate with its distortion settings if you should so choose. You can also change the 5 macros pictured above to control different elements ( e.g for Mod 1, you can change this to control Wow, Tremulo, or Auto-Pan). This is another plugin that can do so much and can be used across a huge variety of scenarios.
A demo version of this is available.
System requirements are available here
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