For the last couple of months, I have been searching heavily for the very best VST instruments out there that you don’t need money to buy. And after testing out a vast selection of instruments while COVID-19 has forced everyone to stay at home, I have decided to present my top discoveries for you in this article.
The best free VST instruments you need to own in 2021 is:
- BBC Orchestra Discover (Spitfire Audio)
- LABS (Spitfire Audio)
- The Free Orchestra (ProjectSam)
- Synth1 (Daichi Lab)
- Zebralette (u-he)
- DrumMic’a! (Sennheiser)
- Embertone Freebies (Embertone)
- Komplete Start (Native Instruments)
- Big Bang Orchestra (Vienna SL)
- Strezov Freebies (Strezov Sampling)
Note: This post will contain VST INSTRUMENTS only, so that means no effect plugins this time (if you are interested in the best free VST EFFECTS as well, you can discover my favorite ones in this article). Also, all these are free VST Instruments, but some of them might ask you to provide your email address in exchange for downloading their product. Some of them also require the full version of Kontakt.
Would you like a full symphony orchestra made by one of the best sound sampling companies in the world? An orchestra library that you could easily do professional work with for free? Then there is hard to find any better than Spitfire Audio’s BBC Orchestra Discover.
I suspect that some people might have missed this great offering because it is actually a paid product that sells around $45. However, as of right now, by filling out a little questionnaire, they will send the Discover library to you, free of charge! The only downside is that you have to wait for two weeks to get it – but then again, if you want to get the free edition, it is fair enough to wait for a little bit, right?
With the BBC Orchestra Discover library, you’ll get:
- High-quality recordings
- Basically every instrument you need to create orchestral music
- You could also download BBC Discover orchestral templates for you DAW that load every instrument for you on their website
So, if you are patient enough to wait, you could get this fantastic, realistic sounding library for free! If not, $45 is also a massive value for money deal, considering what you actually get for the price.
On their product page, you get this awesome option but clicking the “or free” button, below the price tag.
Perfect for: Those who want a free/affordable introduction to an extremely well-sampled orchestra for film scoring.
LABS is yet another initiative made by the brilliant Christian Henson, Paul Thomson, and the other guys at Spitfire Audio.
It didn’t take much research to get this excellent library on the list. In fact, I’ve been using LABS for a couple of years now, and I still love the icy strings, soft piano, synth pads, and the tons of high-quality sounds you get with LABS.
And they continue to expand the LABS library with a lot of awesome sounds and instruments. The great selection of creative tools combined with the fact that Spitfire Audio obviously put so much effort into producing this series makes LABS my favorite VST instrument library on this list.
LABS is a great offering and a quality introduction to what Spitfire Audio can do. As you can see, they continuously develop and offer new pieces of the library inside their wonderful app.
My favorite sounds from LABS:
- Soft Piano
- Synth Pad #1
Perfect for: Everyone who creates music. Simple as that.
The free orchestra by ProjectSam has a lot of goodies, such as heroic horns, strings, impact sounds, a luminous choir, dystopian drones, and much more.
Another cool thing about the Free Orchestra is that it comes with a Kontakt Player license. This means it gets a dedicated spot in the Kontakt Library along with other NI products you might have, which makes it a really user-friendly VST as well.
Perfect for: cinematic sounds, film scoring, trailers.
Now, the time has come to synths. And why not just start with one of the most downloaded VSTs of all time?
Designed by Ichiro Toda, Synth1 is sort of a modular analog synthesizer, that offers you a lot of options when it comes to designing your very own, unique sounds. I would say (without further comparison) that this one of the best free options if you cannot afford what many say is the flagship VST synth: Zebra2, by u-he.
Zebralette is actually the lighter version of Zebra, made by u-he. And I love it. It is a great introduction to Zebra2. Because it is a lighter version of it, it’s also less intimidating to learn.
And just like with the feature-packed Zebra2, Zebralette is really fun to experiment with, creating unique sounds and rhythms that you can save as presets.
I tried to find some good drums as well – and I ended up with DrumMic’a!, by Sennheiser.
Sennheiser does not need much introduction – they have been making quality microphones and headphones for a long time now. They do, however, make digital products as well – and DrumMic’a! is actually a really good one that you definitely should test out for yourself.
This is an extremely thoroughly sampled drum library, and it really pays off. It sounds absolutely incredible. I really like the broad range of musical genres (like Disco, blues, rock, hip-hop) you can explore with this VST.
Note: Sennheiser phased out their collaboration with Native Instruments in 2020. DrumMic’a! is still available for the Kontakt player, but the library will only work with the full version of Kontakt.
The guys at Embertone like to experiment with sounds. This has resulted in a lot of really quirky, unique free libraries that they offer to you for free. While they do offer free string libraries, flutes, it is actually their weirder stuff that I would recommend.
For example, the Kitchen VST. It just adds something unique to your musical pieces. And while you are probably not going to be using this all the time, the free stuff from Embertone is always a good thing to have in your arsenal, should you be needing something different.
In Kontakt, you can actually create an easier way to load up all your unlicensed Kontakt Libraries. If you press ctrl+f, you get the option to assign Quickloads, as you can see in the picture above. Simply drag the instrument folders from files into the Quickload area to create a more user-friendly and efficient interface.
Okay, this one also features a good amount of VST effects as well as instruments – but I had to put it on this list.
Komplete Start is the very core of the Native Instruments Komplete series. And it is totally free. You get synth pads, choir, and even world instruments like the ney flute, bagpipes, basses, drums, and a lot of other instruments.
Bonus tip: Native Instruments also have a helpful blog. From time to time they publish articles that contain free VST effects and instruments. I definitely recommend you check them out.
Want a massive, epic, and powerful orchestra? Then, the free Big Bang Orchestra by Vienna is the one to get your hands on.
Vienna is definitely up there with the greatest developers of virtual instruments and is used by composers like Danny Elfman (The Nightmare Before Christmas, Edward Scissorhands) and Blake Neely (The Mentalist, The Flash, Arrow).
Note: you must own a Vienna or Steinberg Dongle to use this library.
Be sure to check out my top 10 list of my favorite VST instruments as well. You can find it here.
I found Strezov when I was looking for ethnic woodwind VSTs. And their Xiao is maybe the best free VST flute I’ve ever heard.
On their website, you can also download the Duduk, an ancient Armenian instrument you might recognize from movies like Gladiator, and a great, thunderous-sounding drum library.
*However, this, like a lot of other really good VST instruments around the web, only runs in the full version of Kontakt.
How do you know if you are running the full version of Kontakt?
One easy way to see if you run the full version of Kontakt is the title in the upper left corner. If it only says “Kontakt” – and not “Kontakt Player”, you have the full version.
I want to give you a little piece of advice. Get the full version of Kontakt. Why? Because it allows you to run a lot of awesome free VST libraries, Like Strezov, Marble, and more. And the full version is a sampler, which means you can sample your very own sounds and instruments.
A useful tip for you
There are hundreds of quality VST instruments out there that will only work with the full version of Kontakt. If you decide to go for the full version of Kontakt, I recommend you do what I did:
If you consider buying Kontakt, I think you should buy Komplete 13 instead. The Komplete 13 bundle features a lot of awesome VST instruments and plugins – including the full version of Kontakt. While it costs a little more – the value for money that you’ll get is so much more than if you only were to buy Kontakt.
So, I do recommend that you read more about Komplete 13 on the Native Instruments website.