cheap vst alternatives

Free alternative products to the BEST VST instruments and effects

Last Updated on January 4, 2024 by IDS Team

Ok, sometimes you may want the best plugins out there but your budget doesn’t quite cut it. Especially with popular plugins like the Serum synthesizer, you may want to know your other options. We have broken down some of the BEST free alternatives to the MOST POPULAR paid-for plugins. 

We offer you RC-20 free alternatives, ANTARES free alternatives, free alternatives for Effectrix, and more.  Yes,  ladies and gentlemen, for today will bring you our own favorite free alternative vst plugins to the most popular digital music production tools on the market.

Sure, VSTs are great, and VSTs are usually much cheaper than actual hardware music production tools. Still, when it comes to digital products, there will always be a free option. To some analog purists, digital does have its downsides. But it’s in cases like this that it really has its benefits, too. 

This is because digital is literally, well, digital meaning without physical form. This means that once some effort has been put into development, copying and distributing the product can be free of charge. This has in turn provided never before seen accessibility and democratisation of the music landscape. 

Now, all you need to make music is basically talent, a (fairly cheap) computer and your DAW of choice (which can also be free, of course). Let’s dive straight in and see what’s on “offer” – plus we have added some new options as of 2024 due to there being marginally more choice and variety on the market now.

Serum free alternative plugin synth: Vital

We start with the biggest one, in our opinion. So big that it is extremely hard not to use. Ok so we all know and love Serum, it is one of the best sounding and most powerful sound design tool there is. We stand by our words here, and we actually wrote a lot of articles here at involving serum, such as a detailed comparison between Serum and Omnisphere and also there is an evergreen, always updated article on the top best VST synth which Serum won (on the Value/Budget choice).

Thus, finding an alternative is a bit hard, but it is possible. Without further ado, we present the closest match in the free vst market for a Serum replacement: Vital. It comes pretty close in terms of power and sound quality, albeit it does have some bugs. 

Back when we wrote this article in 2021, Surge XT had not yet gained all it’s accolades. However, this free Serum alternative has a huge variety of synths and quickly became very popular for good reason. While Vital still stands as one of the most established alternatives on the market, Surge XT is a close and creative competitor that’s worth investigating if you want more options. 

One of the downsides is it is only available for MacOS. On the plus side, it gets pretty creative with its offerings, such as MPE, and microtuning. 

You can get Vital from their website right here. Don’t confuse it with Glitch 2, which is a (very good) paid effects unit. Meanwhile, you can get Surge XT here as well.

Effectrix free alternative vst: Glitch

Step into the world of sequenced effect units. These are a great addition to your home studio because they  apply effects only to certain parts of your sound, and you control which part you want to modify with a simple and known interface. The resemblance is not there, but trust us, it is basically the same thing. The effects are on par in sound quality, and there is even a randomiser on board for those that like to experiment.

Glitch is available free of charge here. Glitch is still by and large the best and only free Effectrix alternative out there on the market. However, we’d be lying if we said it was the ONLY viable option for low-budget musicians. 

Did you know that FL Studio’s Effector feature can also act as a POWERFUL EFFECTRIX ALTERNATIVE, free of charge if you already have FL Studio? 

Sometimes, all you need is a bit of creativity and resourcefulness.

RC-20 Retro Color free alternative vst: Izotope Vinyl

This is one of our favorites. It is soo simple to use and the results are extremely good. What we like about Izotope Vinyl that is comparable to RC 20 VST is the instant gratification element. You just slide a little fader and the sound takes so much color and character, a smile is guaranteed to appear on your face.

Sure, the graphical user interface is extremely spartan compared to the RC2o plugin but who cares, as long as the results are comparable. And they most certainly are. You even have the wobble from RC-20, represented on Izotope Vinyl as the “warp” control, with the added bonus of actually controlling the warp shape. On the RC-20 there is the “Digital” and “Distort” control which is basically a bit reduction and a form of distortion that can be replicated in any daw with built in effects, it’s really nothing special. 

If you really must have a 3rd party VST alternative, any distortion and bit reduction plugin works. Also, the “Space” control on the RC-20 is just a normal reverb, there are a lot of free reverb options out there. If you don’t know any free reverb, bit reduction and distortion plugin, let us point you in the right direction with this free vst mega list.

As of recently, the popularity of vintage and analog effects has dramatically increased. Depending on how faithfully you want a plugin that replicates the RC-20, there are a host of other vintage FX out there FOR FREE beyond just using the effects in your DAW. We can’t share them all, but one we would like to highlight is Superfly DSP’s Lost Vinyl plugin. 

Whilst it may not be precisely as similar sounding as RC-20, it does do a  superb job at giving you a range of ways to reproduce those vintage sounds and imperfections that fall under the name ‘lo-fi’. 

Izotope vinyl is available on Izotope’s website.

Otherwise, we hope this section gives you a bit of an overview as to how you can replicate this sound in a variety of ways. Although they may not have the qualities that earned Izotope its fans, they do at a pinch – and in some ways have their own charm.

Guitar Rig alternative: Amplitube

Well, kind of. Yes, Amplitube is a paid/licensed piece of software that has a free-of-charge version. Guitar rig also has a free version, a demo mode. Still, we consider that Amplitube is a good contender if you want to find a Guitar Rig replacement that is also free of charge. We decided to do a whole article on comparing Amplitube to Guitar Rig here.

Why do we also list this? This is because Amplitube Custom Shop, while not free, gives you more flexibility in your investment into plugins through its credit system. Another low-cost option is the rent-to-own model which many plugin manufacturers have now adopted. Again, whilst not free, it offers you a cheaper price and more flexibility with the same number of options as big FX bundles like Guitar Rig and Amplitube.

Antares Autotune free replacement: Graillon 2

Ah Auto-tune, the effect we really love to hate here at iDesignSound. That is because we consider ourselves serious music makers who don’t really like pop and the pop sound that you can find in basically all mainstream music including a lot of hip hop.

Still, if you must use it, there is really no point in getting a paid plugin unless you really really need all the very pro features, But if you just want to tune vocals without ruining the sound qualities then the alternative vst called Graillon 2 will work just fine, and you can find the free version here.

That was it, we hope we managed to make your music production journey a bit more budget-friendly. Still, if you want to use the paid plugins like a pro,  sign up to our newsletter. We always provide our subscribers the best deals on the market!

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