Must have VST by Top Music Arts Team

Posted by Esteban Miranda on

We´ve all purchased VST plugins that weren´t what we expected, they all look far more interesting, or useful than they really are in the demos.

Are you looking for the most useful VST Plugins? 

Today we bring you our selection of the MUST have VST for us. With the whole Top Music Arts team, we´ve come to realize that these are the most needed by us and colleagues EDM producers.
Not the cheapest or the easiest to use, but the ones we considered essential at the time of starting new productions. So we have the list here for all of you with some pro and cons of each one, to be fair and to help you make your decision about picking your own must-have vsts.
Always with some common questions, fundamentals, reviews and more!

Let´s start from the beginning…


What´s a VST?


For those who are new to music production, or maybe if you didn´t know exactly, a VST plugin is a software device that emulates the hardware equipment used in professional studio environments.

This equipment could either be an Instrument (synth), or an effects Processor (eq, comp).

The VST was created and standardized by the people over at Steinberg (the creators of Nuendo and Cubase DAW, and the Yamaha Ls9 Software) and first released in 1996. Since then, it's proliferated to a staggering amount of VSTs available on the market from different vendors (makers, websites) from all over the world.


Why should we use a VST Plugin?

Back in the day, in order to create a piece of music, you needed to record the audio signals from any instrument or microphones through your mixing desk and then onto a tape deck.
This required a lot of equipment in a large room because aside from the mixing desk, you needed to process each audio signal to get your sounds to "mix" together nicely. Connect all the devices, have them maintained properly, and all that was impossible to transport as easy as your laptop and audio interface.

These days you can have a top of the line MacBook and Apollo twin interface for example, and have exceptional results, with far less equipment!


These hardware plugins, as they were called, had a certain kind of sound to them that shaped music into what we know today. In order to get that sound, you'd needed to get the exact hardware and a mixing console. But you'd also need a big room to fit it in (and multiple thousands of dollars to afford them).


If you're building a home studio or a studio in a small room, this is not what you are going for.
Now even the commercial music industry studios are utilizing software plugins more and more that do a great job of emulating the sound of the devices that have shaped music over the 20th century.

We could say that the trend in modern music production is to capture the same "character" and "personality" that went into a vintage record production and apply it to modern day music production techniques.


Let's talk about the different kinds of plugins you can choose Different types and brands of plugins, there are two main categories of plugins:


Virtual Instruments


Also called VSTi, these plugins are for composers, Producers, and Songwriters. As the name suggests, they are "virtual" software instruments that are stored in your computer or hard drive, which you play via a MIDI Controller.

The technology now is advanced enough that you can compose and produce a realistic symphony or choir pieces in your digital audio workstation, without ever touching a baton or singing a note.

Making it all about your musical creativity. So we have no excuse!

There are plugin brands that offer all-in-one packages, and also there as specialized packs.
Chances are that your DAW already has a lot of these built-in as native plugins. But most of the best professional options are generally made by third party vendors.


Effects Processors

We already went a little into this when talking about what a VST plugin is defined. Effects processors will process your audio signals in your DAW by adding an effect to it (non-destructive) or changing it permanently (destructive).

These are generally the plugins you'd use when doing any mixing or mastering. But even if you only plan on composing tracks, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with these plugins.

For instance, if you want to emulate the amp sound of a guitar cabinet, there's plenty of distortion plugins for that.

There are also many third party plugins that combine the first two above a MIDI effects plugin. These uses MIDI notes from your controller or inside your piano roll to control the effects processors. The result is taking a simple loop or audio file and creating/remixing it into another piece of music.




Now for our selection we considered only the most used by all of us, it was a hard decision, but we listed 3 synth instruments, and 3 processors, let´s check them!


Xfer´s Serum



Serum, a Wavetable synthesizer with a truly high-quality sound, visual and creative workflow-oriented interface to make creating and altering sounds fun instead of tedious, and the ability to “go deep” when desired - to create / import/ edit/morph wavetables, and manipulate these on playback in real-time.

Being capable of loading up sounds and transforming them into Wavetables, combined with the easy to use and awesome-looking UI, made this one clearly the most used and popular software synth in today´s music everywhere!

If you´d like to know more about Serum, you can check out our previous article about it named Wavetable synthesis? Xfer serum is the answer or also to know more about synths, 4 Main type of Synthesis Explained: Wavetable, Subtractive, Additive, and FM


+  It has the most powerful wavetable synthesis out there.

+  It´s very visual and relatively easy to learn.

+  It has plenty of very good sound effects available built-in the plugin. 


    -  It´s one of the few that load your CPU very heavily if you have multiple instances of this plugin, you should re-sample your midi into an audio channel.

    -  Some of the presets can be too bright than most of the other synths. So have it in mind.

    Many complain about serum having weak built-in presets, and that’s why there
    are a lot of custom presets on sale.

      Minimum Requirements



      Intel CPU only (at least 2 GHz recommended)
      2 GB RAM
      Mac OS X 10.9 through 10.13
      Pro Tools 10.3.10 or higher or a VST/VST3/AU-compatible host
      Display resolution of 1440 × 900px or 1280 × 960px or higher 


      Intel-compatible CPU with SSE2 instruction set (Pentium 4 compatible or higher; at least 2 GHz recommended)
      2 GB RAM
      Windows 7 through 10
      Pro Tools 10.3.10 or higher or a VST/VST3-compatible host
      Display resolution of 1440 × 900px or 1280 × 960px or higher


      You can purchase it for $189 in Xfer´s site, or rent-to-own for $9.99 monthly until it´s fully paid off with Splice, a feature that went popular with this vst in particular, and it´s a practice that we hope more software makers adopt for their products.

      Lennar Digital´s Sylenth1

      This is a virtual analog VSTi synthesizer that takes the definitions of quality and performance to a higher level. Until now only very few software synthesizers have been able to stand up to the sound quality standards of hardware synths. Sylenth1 is one that does.

      Sylenth1 is not just another synth. It was built from a producer's point of view. It was built to produce superior quality sound and music. It was built to perform. A lot of research has been invested in order to achieve unheard warmth and clarity. The graphical interface ensures the highest level of usability so you can fully unleash your creativity.

      This synth's warm sound has made its way into the studios of producers such as Flume or Martin Garrix.
      It's great for basic sounds, but its limited possibilities will make it difficult to create more complex sounds. Still, it's a great synth which you can hear in hundreds of EDM hits.

      Having in consideration its simplicity, it makes it a great synth for those starting with music production!


      + It has great warm classic sounds in it presets. If you get used to it, you can make great ones.

      + This one is another very simple to use synth. 

      + It comes with a great preset pack, giving you more options to choose right from the start.


      - Compared with today’s synths, it has limited possibilities (no wavetable synthesis or FM modulation).

      - It doesn’t have the best effects built in the plugin.

      - It has no LFO customization over the sounds.


      Minimum Requirements


      Any CPU that supports SSE (Intel Pentium III and above, AMD XP and above, all Intel Macs but no PPC)
      128MB RAM
      Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7/8/10 (32/64bit) or
      Mac OS X 10.7 or higher
      VSTi, AU or AAX compatible host software



      The full version of the plugin is available for €139 or €9.95 on the rent-to-own way of purchasing on Lennar Digital´s site.



      Reveal Sound´s Spire


      The Spire Vsti brings an impressive range of oscillators and synthesis types, and an even more impressive range of third-party preset developers. Spire is an extensive VST plugin as it allows for complicated modulation options while sounding extremely big.

      You can choose between 49 waves in a Spire oscillator, and you can morph it using the CtrlA and CtrlB knobs. What these two would do to the waveform, is determined by the synthesis type, which is selected at the top of the oscillator. And that’s without mentioning the dual filters, the four LFOs, and the four envelopes and effects.

      Among others spire best features are It’s five-page modulation matrix, giving access to over 200 mod destinations.

      Reveal Sound, the maker of Spire also claims that the plugin is used by artists such as Dash Berlin and Hardwell.

      A thing you should have in mind about Spire is that it uses quite a bit of CPU processing and in our opinion, we think that could be improved.

      Overall it´s an awesome additive hybrid synth. It sounds very modern and punchy and has a lot of great presets. Our only complain it would be that it could have envelope shapes shown in a display, like Serum.




      + It has very nice oscillator warping (with a display!)

      + It features a very good preset variety.

      Presents plenty of features like Modulation Matrix.




      -  The envelope shapes are not visually shown in displays.

      - It can load your CPU very heavily, and like for Serum, if you have multiple instances of this plugin, you should re-sample.



      System Requirements

      OS X 10.8 or higher required
      Modern powerful CPU required
      Audio Units (AU)

      Windows 7/8 or 10 required
      Modern powerful CPU required
      VST / AAX




      You can buy it for a discount price of $129 at reveal sound´s site. With a +900 factory sounds.



      GVST´s Gclip


      This is a rather “old but gold” kind of vst plugin. GClip is a unique wave-shaping signal clipper. We´ve considered it in our selection because it´s not all about expensive plugins, there are many free ones that are simply very handy and certainly, a must have!

      It prevents the input signal level from exceeding a specified maximum. The clipping function used can be altered to have a hard or soft-knee.

      A graph showing the shape of the clipping function is displayed on the GUI. There is also a wave display that shows what effect the clipping curve is having on the signal.

      It´s a basic clipper plugin with nothing less than what you need and nothing more to get in your way.

      You can go with a Hard knee with no oversampling, for harsh digital clipping. Or maybe with a Soft knee with oversampling enabled for a clean, basic tube-like distortion that works greats with unsubtle saturation on drum buses or mastering your mixes.



      + Free plugin.

      + Works efficiently without affecting your tone.


      An old type of plugin.

      Doesn´t have the looks that people look for on plugins these days. And maybe not everyone can appreciate it.


        Minimum Requirements


        Available for Mac, Pc, and Linux in a 64-bit version only.
        With no minimum requirements detailed on their site.


        It´s available on GVST´s site for free! You can also download the manuals and everything you might need there.


        FabFilter Pro-q2


        Possibly the best EQ plugin on the market. Even without Spectrum Grab, Pro-Q 2 is amazing, but with it, it's unstoppable.

        Many of the original features have also been improved. What's immediately apparent is that the new interface is larger than that of its predecessor, and now includes a peak meter on the right- hand side.


        +  Eq match works brilliantly.

        +  Spectrum grab is a genuine and useful feature.

        +  Full-screen mode can be great.


        Only one band´s parameters viewable at a time (big con).


          System Requirements

          Mac OS X:
          32-bit: OS X 10.5 or higher
          64-bit: OS X 10.6 or higher
          AU or VST 2/3 host or Pro Tools
          Intel processor
          32-bit: Windows 8, 7, Vista or XP
          64-bit: Windows 8, 7 or Vista(x64)
          VST 2/3 host or Pro Tools




          This plugin is available for $179 on Fabfilter´s site. With a 30-day free trial for you to try it.



          FabFilter Pro-L2



          This plugin was a game changer for everyone. As with every other FabFilter plugin, the user interface is perfect. The metering alone makes it more valuable than most other limiter plugins. It isn’t the most transparent limiter out there, but it’s definitely the most practical and functional.

          If I could only have one limiter plugin, this certainly would be it.

          The metering, which gives you a brilliant readout of average loudness is the standout feature of the Pro-L.

          This one is the only limiter that doesn´t give you a ridiculous amount of latency, pretty easy to use, and also has a lot of useful presets.

          We recommend you all to get used to any plugin´s presets, so you can learn to use all of the features a lot faster. 


          System Requirements

          Mac OS X:
          32-bit: OS X 10.5 or higher
          64-bit: OS X 10.6 or higher
          AU or VST 2/3 host or Pro Tools
          Intel processor
          32-bit: Windows 8, 7, Vista or XP
          64-bit: Windows 8, 7 or Vista(x64)
          VST 2/3 host or Pro Tools


          Plug-In Formats

          Same as the EQ pro-q2, all FabFilter plug-ins are available in VST, VST3, Audio Units, AAX Native and AudioSuite formats (all both 64-bit and 32-bit), as well as RTAS (32-bit only).


          This one is also available at Fabfilter´s site but for $199. With a 30-day free trial for you to try it.



          Why are they called plugins?

          We would say that the Equalizers and Compressors, are the basic requirements when you are looking for a good plugin. But if you want to add space, you needed to add reverb or delay. Then comes a ton of other effects like Phasers and Flangers to add modulation, for example, all of them help to make the job easier.

          Imagine having all these plugins in their actual hardware version…

          In some cases, these were large devices that took up entire corners of a room!

          All of these effects were analog hardware devices that would literally be "plugged in" to your mixing console.

          Therefore, the term plug-in.




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