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.
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.
|Surge XT||Hybrid polyphonic synth supporting MPE; run as an LV2 plugin, or VST|
|ZynAddSubFX||Realtime software synthesizer with many features|
|Fluidsynth||Synthesizer based on the soundfont2 specifications|
|DIN Is Noise||Sound synthesizer and musical instrument|
|Yoshimi||MIDI software synthesizer; fork of ZynAddSubFX|
|Helm||Polyphonic synth with lots of modulation|
|amSynth||Two oscillator software synthesizer; subtractive synth topology|
|terminatorX||"Scratch" on digitally sampled audio data|
|AlsaModularSynth||Realtime modular synthesizer for ALSA|
|SunVox||Modular synthesizer with pattern-based sequencer|
|Bristol||Vintage 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 are hundreds 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.