5 free instrument plugins every music producer should have in 2021 (VST / AU)

Instrument plugins that are both high-quality and free have never been more abundant.

Updating our selections from the list we created last year, in the video above we highlight five free instrument plugins that you simply can’t go wrong with. We’ve also included the complete list of instruments below, along with download links; all of the plugins are compatible with both Mac and Windows.

1. BBC Orchestra (and LABS) by Spitfire Audio

The first plugin on our list is BBC Symphony Orchestra: Discover, which normally costs $49, but is absolutely free if you simply fill out a survey. This is an incredibly high-quality, complete virtual orchestra that could easily work as your main orchestral toolkit unless you’re doing some really serious work in the world film scoring. It has 33 instruments in total, spanning strings, brass, woodwinds, and percussion.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention LABS as well – I had this on my previous list of best free instruments (which I think are still all worth getting if you haven’t checked that out already), but LABS specifically updates all the time with new instruments, which makes it a continually relevant option.

Download Spitfire Audio’s BBC Orchestra here, and learn more about LABS here.

2. MonasteryGrand by MeldaProduction

This is a realistic sounding piano emulation from MeldaProduction. They used dozens of microphones to capture this instrument – it feels ideal for pop, but with a little audio processing, I think this can be used in a wide variety of applications.

Download MeldaProduction’s MonasteryGrand here.

3. Zebralette by u-he

Zebralette is the light version of u-he’s powerhouse synth, Zebra2. It was also on my previous list, but it’s UI was recently updated and it’s simply such a great synth. While it only has one oscillator, it’s polyphonic (up to 16 voices) and has plenty of sound design capabilities with its 24 built-in spectral effects.

Download u-he’s Zebralette here.

4. KOMPLETE START by Native Instruments

Native Instruments offers a great bundle of free instruments in KOMPLETE START. It includes seven synths, nine sampled instruments, two effects, and the KONTAKT PLAYER and REAKTOR PLAYER. The broad assortment of instruments definitely makes this one worth picking up.

Download Native Instruments’ KOMPLETE START here.

5. Vital by Vital Audio

Last but certainly not least, Vital is a spectral shaping wavetable synth that has a sleek UI and is a delight to create sounds from scratch with. It has garnered a lot of attention recently, and lives up to the buzz.

Download Vital Audio’s Vital here.

Which of these free plugins are your favorites? Are there any hidden gems out there that we missed? Let us know in the comments below.

March 6, 2021

Nick Chen Content Marketing @ Splice. Nick Chen is a producer, performer, and educator under the aliases "nickthechen" and "Enix."