Synthesizers

11 Best Free Linux Synthesizers (Updated 2022)

A software synthesizer, also known as a softsynth, is computer software which creates digital audio. Computer software that generates music is not a recent arrival. However, with processors that offer multiple cores and faster clock speeds, software synthesizers can complete tasks that previously needed dedicated hardware. The advantage, of course, of software synthesizers is that they are less expensive than dedicated hardware, and simpler to integrate with other types of music software.

Synthesizers are often controlled with a piano-style keyboard. Several other forms of controller have been developed to mimic guitars, organs, stringed and wind instruments. A real analog synthesizer has a lot of knobs and switches which give immediate access to all important parameters of the generated sound.

Linux has a good range of open source software to be a serious contender in music production without having to venture into the commercial software world. Some of the software featured in this article provide operation similar to analog synths from the 1970s, such as the Moog Minimoog and Roland Juno-60.

To provide an insight into the quality of software that is available, we have compiled a list of 10 capable software synthesizers. Hopefully, there will be something of interest here for anyone who wants to create a known or unknown, common or unusual sound experience without the outlay of dedicated hardware.

This chart offers our opinion of the featured software.

Best Free and Open Source Synthesizers

All the software is published under an open source license with the exception of SunVox, which is closed-source freeware.

Let’s explore the 11 software synthesizers at hand. For each title we have compiled its own portal page, a full description with an in-depth analysis of its features, screenshots, together with links to relevant resources.

Synthesizers
Surge XTHybrid polyphonic synth supporting MPE; run as an LV2 plugin, or VST
ZynAddSubFXRealtime software synthesizer with many features
FluidsynthSynthesizer based on the soundfont2 specifications
DIN Is NoiseSound synthesizer and musical instrument
YoshimiMIDI software synthesizer; fork of ZynAddSubFX
HelmPolyphonic synth with lots of modulation
amSynthTwo oscillator software synthesizer; subtractive synth topology
terminatorX"Scratch" on digitally sampled audio data
AlsaModularSynthRealtime modular synthesizer for ALSA
SunVoxModular synthesizer with pattern-based sequencer
BristolVintage synthesizer emulator

Read our complete collection of recommended free and open source software. The collection covers all categories of software.

The software collection forms part of our series of informative articles for Linux enthusiasts. There's tons of in-depth reviews, open source alternatives to proprietary software from large corporations like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, IBM, Cisco, Oracle and Autodesk. There are also fun things to try, hardware, free programming books and tutorials, and much more.
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7 comments

  1. please i beg of you clarify which ones have plugin versions. i just spent half an hour figuring out how to install Bristol and then discovered there’s no plugin version, so it’s useless to me

    1. When you say “plugin,” do you mean a binary file ready for installation? That is, does not require compliling of source code? The instructions for Bristol can be found in the HOWTO link.

      1. A synth plugin is not a ‘binary file ready for installation’. Some synths can be run as a standalone synth or as an LV2, VST, VST3 or AU plugin as is the case for Helm.

  2. Bristol synths are pretty cool, you can start them via the terminal command line after installing them. On the website they have the names so “startBristol -odyssey” will start that stand alone, but slighty odd behaviour with the presets though, but using something like pipewire and it’s GUI management qpwgraph you can run them standalone and patch into whatever DAW or recorder or just play them live with a MIDI or virtual keyboard, Just currently testing the rest of them, could do with a update perhaps, will look into that further, so many good emulations, but not 100 percent sure about them yet. SurgeXT is the best of them (works great as a VST plugin) ZynAddSubFX is worthy, also Helm for more of a gritty sound. Yoshimi is cool for old school retro synth sounds and Din is Noise more for abstract sounds. SunVox is a great tracker modular approach.

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