Here is a curated selection of top-tier plugins and VSTs that are exceptionally well-suited for producing ambient music. These powerful tools have the ability to transform ordinary tracks into captivating works of art, adding depth, atmosphere, and intricate modulation to your compositions.
While in most genres, the initial sounds you choose play a crucial role in the production process, ambient music places equal importance on the spaces and nuances between these sounds. It is within these gaps and textures that the true quality of ambient music shines. With its emphasis on space, texture, modulation, movement, and meticulous attention to detail, having a collection of high-quality plugins at your disposal can give you a significant advantage over those relying solely on stock plugins.
However, with the abundance of options available, it can be challenging to determine which plugins are worth investing your time and resources in. As someone who has been crafting ambient house music for over a decade, I have carefully compiled a concise list of the most exceptional plugins that will undoubtedly meet your needs.
Diva, an outstanding virtual analogue synth VST plugin, stands out as an exceptional choice for crafting immersive ambient soundscapes. Drawing upon more than five decades of hardware synth technology, it flawlessly replicates iconic oscillators, filter modules, and ADSR envelopes. With Diva, users are granted unprecedented customization and control, allowing them to combine features like Moog and Juno oscillators or an Oberheim OB8 filter with MS20 oscillators. This modular approach enables Diva to cover a vast spectrum of sonic textures, ranging from warm pads to pulsating arpeggios, making it a truly indispensable tool in ambient music production.
One of Diva’s remarkable strengths lies in its exceptional sound quality, delivering analog emulations that are strikingly authentic. Its ability to achieve a warm, organic texture comparable to real hardware is truly impressive. Additionally, Diva boasts an extensive library of over 1,200 high-quality presets that cater to diverse musical scenarios and serve as a wellspring of inspiration for custom sound design. However, it’s worth noting that Diva’s notable downside is its substantial CPU usage. Nonetheless, the professional sound quality and modular flexibility it offers make Diva an invaluable asset for any ambient music producer.
DIVA’S KEY FEATURES:
Stunning Analog Emulation: Diva sets itself apart with its unparalleled authenticity in emulating analog synths. The oscillator voice detune feature faithfully reproduces the warm, natural drift found in voltage-based analog synths. Through the implementation of PSpice technology, Diva can emulate circuitry at a component level, resulting in an unmatched analog sound.
Robust Modular Capabilities: This plugin empowers users to mix and match components from various vintage hardware synths, providing unparalleled control to sound designers. This flexibility opens up a world of possibilities, allowing for the creation of unique, atmospheric, and captivating ambient sounds.
Novum, a synth developed by Dawesome, offers ambient music producers a rich array of sonic possibilities through granular synthesis. Inspired by the dispersion of light through a prism, this instrument dissects audio into fundamental tonal colors. With a user-friendly interface reminiscent of Dawesome’s Abyss, Novum takes a unique approach as a granular synthesizer that relies on sampled waveforms. It allows users to generate diverse sounds, from delicate soundscapes to resonant synth walls, using a single sample.
At the core of Novum is its ability to fragment a sample into six distinct layers, providing extensive control over timbral characteristics and temporal dynamics. Users can effortlessly import presets or their own samples, combining sonic elements for unique outcomes. The plugin introduces innovative features such as the Timbre Flower, enabling intuitive spectral modification, and Homogenized, which produces smooth, velvet-like textures. Remarkably, Novum achieves these groundbreaking features without straining the CPU, making it resource-efficient.
NOVUM’S KEY FEATURES:
Unique Granular Synthesis Approach: Novum stands out with its distinctive take on granular synthesis, allowing the decomposition of a single audio sample into six layers. This grants users unparalleled control over timbral characteristics and temporal dynamics, offering flexibility to static samples.
The Timbre Flower and Homogenized: Novum introduces two standout features. The Timbre Flower facilitates intuitive spectral modification of the selected timbre, while Homogenized enables the creation of smooth, velvety textures often challenging to achieve with other granular synthesizers.
Portal, a VST plugin designed by Output, is a dream come true for ambient music creators seeking the power of granular synthesis and intricate grain manipulation. With its innovative granular engine, Portal cuts the incoming signal into grains, offering extensive control over shaping and tinkering with the sound. It boasts the ability to generate up to 16 grains simultaneously, each adjustable in sampling rate and pitch, allowing for manipulation such as shortening, lengthening, slowing down, panning, and offsetting. The inclusion of grain delay adds a captivating dimension, resembling a delay effect and introducing additional granularization by routing the output back to the input.
Featuring an advanced and visually appealing interface, Portal also incorporates a comprehensive effects section with two processors in series, adding versatility to the dry and coarse signals. The plugin’s robust modulation system includes renamable Macro knobs and looping multistage envelopes/LFOs, providing users with remarkable customization and control over the output. These features position Portal as a strong contender among plugins for ambient electronic music production, offering a wide sonic variety and precise granular control.
In my latest track, “Algebra of Contentedness,” you can experience the delicate use of Portal on the melodic fills, where the modulated delays create a captivating sense of space that surpasses the capabilities of a standard Echo from Ableton.
PORTAL’S KEY FEATURES:
Intricate Granular Control: Portal empowers users to manipulate sound grains intricately, resulting in a diverse range of rhythmic, tonal, harmonic, spatial, and glitching treatments. Its granular engine can generate up to 16 grains simultaneously, allowing for pitch adjustments, lengthening, shortening, slowing down, panning, and offsetting for a unique auditory experience.
Versatile Effects and Modulation System: With a two-processor effects section and a modulation system featuring renamable Macro knobs and looping multistage envelopes/LFOs, Portal offers a distinct layer of customization. The inclusion of reverse functionality and dry/wet controls at each stage opens up a world of creative possibilities for users.
FRMS, developed by Imaginando, is a remarkable hybrid synthesizer that combines subtractive, granular, and FM synthesis, offering a powerful tool for crafting unique and captivating sounds. This innovative instrument revolves around four layers, each capable of functioning as a subtractive or granular synthesizer. In subtractive mode, users can access a traditional single-oscillator synth with four waveform options. The real magic of FRMS lies in its granular mode, where it excels at creating new waveforms by manipulating and adjusting time and pitch, resulting in a vast array of possibilities from a single source. With a library of approximately 150 waveforms and the option to import your own audio files, FRMS unlocks endless creative potential.
To add the finishing touches, FRMS provides a master filter, delay, and reverb for post-processing the combined outputs of the four layers. Despite its complexity, FRMS features an intuitive and user-friendly interface. However, it should be noted that this powerful synthesizer demands significant DSP resources, making it more demanding on system resources compared to other synthesizers. Nevertheless, the ability of FRMS to seamlessly integrate granular and FM synthesis alongside subtractive synthesis allows for the creation of unique and expressive sounds, making it an exceptional choice for achieving outstanding audio outcomes.
FRMS’S KEY FEATURES:
Granular Synthesis Capacity: FRMS shines with its robust granular synthesis engine, enabling the generation of virtually limitless waveforms from a single source. This provides users with an excellent playground for sound design, particularly valuable for creating ambient music.
Hybrid Engine Integration: By seamlessly integrating granular, subtractive, and FM synthesis within a single instrument, FRMS empowers users to craft layered, complex, and evolving sounds with ease. This powerful combination unlocks vast sound design possibilities and adds a rich and distinctive texture to the output, making it highly suitable for ambient electronic music production.
Rift, developed by Minimal Audio, introduces a fresh and unique approach to distortion-based processing, expanding the possibilities of sound production. With its arsenal of 30 diverse distortion modes, Rift allows users to add texture and character to any audio landscape, ranging from subtle overdrive to complete sonic destruction. One standout feature of Rift is its ‘bipolar’ trait, which enables users to apply distinct distortion processing to both the positive and negative elements of the audio waveform. This adds a unique dimension to the sound and opens up a wide range of creative distortion effects.
The plugin offers two interface modes: Play View and Advanced View. Play View provides quick access to Rift’s effects through macro-based controls, ideal for users seeking a streamlined workflow. Advanced View, on the other hand, offers deeper control and complexity for more experienced users.
Rift excels in real-time modulation, allowing users to add movement and spatial dynamics to their sounds, making it a powerful tool for ambient music creation. The easily browsable preset library and well-designed controls, such as Drive and Output, provide precise tuning of sound levels. The Blend knob and Mode switch showcase Rift’s bipolarity, allowing users to adjust the blend between the Positive and Negative distortion engines. Additional features include the Dry/Wet slider for parallel processing and the ability to add more stages to the distortion engine with Stages, offering a more pronounced effect. The plugin also provides two pre-configured macro controls on the bottom strip, enabling multi-parameter targeting and offering extensive control over sound output.
RIFT’S KEY FEATURES:
Innovative Bipolarity: Rift’s unique ‘bipolar’ distortion feature allows separate processing for the positive and negative aspects of the audio waveform. This distinctive capability adds depth and variety to the sound texture, resulting in a broader array of creative effects.
Versatile Modulation System: Rift’s extensive modulation system adds dynamic movement to sound production. With options such as Follow, LFO, Curve 1, and Curve 2, users have a wide range of familiar and innovative modulation choices. They can generate and modify curves, apply modulation based on audio input levels, and more, enabling highly customizable sound shaping.
6. CLUSTER DELAY
Cluster Delay stands out as a pioneering plugin that brings forth lush ambient textures through its multi-tap delay and comprehensive multi-effects capabilities. With up to 8 taps at your disposal, you have the power to create intricate delays by adjusting parameters like ramp, spacing, and scatter. The stereo and mid/side modes further enhance the sense of space and dimension in your soundscapes.
What sets Cluster Delay apart is its exceptional multi-effects section, offering a range of tools such as wobble time modulation, diffusion blurring, chorus, phaser, flanger, and frequency shift. These effects play a vital role in shaping the textures and keeping listeners captivated over time. The plugin’s animated visualizations provide an intuitive representation of the complex settings, making it effortless for users to understand and control the process.
CLUSTER DELAY’S KEY FEATURES:
Precise Modulation Control: Cluster Delay’s wobble time modulation grants precise control over creative sound design. By treating wow and flutter as digital effects rather than analog modeling, this feature ensures that your sounds remain crisp and engaging. It is especially crucial for producing ambient music, where modulation plays a significant role in sculpting and evolving sounds.
User-Friendly Single-Screen Interface: Cluster Delay boasts a visually engaging and user-friendly single-screen user interface. This intuitive design allows you to experiment and fine-tune parameters without getting lost in a maze of menus, empowering you to maintain your creative flow. This streamlined interface is a significant advantage, particularly when compared to plugins with clunky or overly complex interfaces.
7. ZEN DELAY
Zen Delay Virtual (ZDV) is an exceptional virtual studio technology plugin, perfect for ambient music creation. Its newly introduced Modulation and Options page offers unparalleled creative flexibility with two Low-Frequency Oscillators (LFOs) that can modulate delay time and filter cutoff. You have a wide selection of waveforms, including sine, ramp, saw, tri, square, pulse, notch, noise, and S&H shapes, enabling the creation of dynamic rhythmic patterns and expanding your sound design capabilities. Additionally, ZDV allows precise control over bit-depth, noise, and sample rate in digital modes, delivering a unique lo-fi crunch and a vast range of sonic textures to captivate your listeners.
One standout feature of ZDV is its ability to save presets, which is not available in the hardware version. The software comes with 56 artist-designed presets that can be sorted by name, category, and author. While these presets may vary in volume due to input and drive settings, the absence of an output volume control to compensate for volume differences is a notable drawback. However, the diversity and depth of the presets elevate the ambient production possibilities of the software, despite its more aggressive sound compared to the hardware counterpart.
ZEN DELAY VIRTUAL’S KEY FEATURES:
Versatile and Deep Modulation Capabilities: ZDV’s LFOs and comprehensive frequency and amplitude modulation controls open up an extensive range of rhythmic patterns and textures. The ability to modulate the sample rate using the same LFO as the filter enhances sound design possibilities beyond what the hardware version can achieve.
Comprehensive Preset System: With 56 artist-designed presets and robust sorting capabilities, ZDV provides a diverse collection of pre-engineered sound profiles. While some presets may have volume variations, they demonstrate the extreme range of effects that can be achieved, expanding the software’s utility in ambient electronic music production.
8. THE CUBE
The Cube by Lunacy Audio introduces a fresh and unique approach to sample-based instruments, providing a groundbreaking platform for ambient music creation. At its core, it functions as a robust sample player and effects engine, utilizing a 3D cube for sound processing. The Cube offers unparalleled versatility by allowing you to blend up to 8 samples simultaneously, assigning one sample to each corner of the cube, with the ability to add two layers to each sample. This blending technique, controlled by manipulating an animated orb within the 3D virtual space, unlocks endless possibilities for modulation and sonic exploration. Additionally, the included 2GB starter sample library, featuring a diverse range of organic and synthetic sounds, provides a wealth of raw material to fuel your creativity.
In addition to its innovative blending mechanism, The Cube offers a wide array of sound manipulation techniques. You have access to features such as reverse, looping, arpeggiation, filtering, envelope shaping, step sequencing, panning, pitch tuning, and more. The plugin also boasts an extensive FX suite comprising 13 modules, including filters, parametric EQ, saturation, waveshaping, compressor, chorus, phaser, delay, two reverbs (algorithmic and impulse response-based), and a limiter. Each sound source consists of two layers—the original sample and a processed version—that can be blended using the Ether slider. This comprehensive collection of effects and control options, coupled with the ability to import external impulse responses, makes The Cube an ideal tool for crafting intricate and texture-rich ambient music.
THE CUBE’S KEY FEATURES:
Innovative 3D Sound Blending: The Cube’s use of a 3D cube interface, where samples can be blended and processed, offers a visually-guided and engaging method of sound manipulation. This unique interface enables unprecedented sound blending, layering, and modulation, opening up new possibilities for sonic exploration.
Comprehensive Effects and Modulation Suite: With its extensive FX modules, diverse sound manipulation techniques, and the capability to import external impulse responses, The Cube provides a vast range of creative possibilities for sound shaping and texture creation. This results in a versatile instrument capable of producing lush, high-definition, and atmospheric soundscapes.
Generate, developed by Newfangled Audio, is a groundbreaking polysynth that pushes the boundaries of sound production with its innovative approach. Departing from traditional synthesizers, Generate harnesses the power of chaotic generators based on advanced algorithms, resulting in a sonic landscape filled with random character and vibrant energy. This modern VST plugin offers up to eight voices that can be allocated to mono, poly, or unison modes, allowing for the creation of larger-than-life sounds. Equipped with a comprehensive set of features, Generate empowers you to craft a diverse range of sound textures, from intricately complex pads to lively sequenced basslines.
At the heart of Generate are its chaotic generators, which directly feed into the wave folder—an advanced audio processing tool capable of delivering a spectrum of results, from harmonic coloration to gritty industrial textures. Alongside these innovative components, Generate incorporates familiar elements like MIDI input, two envelope generators, two LFOs, Sample + Hold, and a compact step sequencer. It also boasts a collection of high-quality effects, including EQ, Chorus, Delay, and a captivating Reverb that adds an ambient and immersive dimension to your sound. It’s worth noting, however, that Generate’s computational demands can be taxing on your system resources.
GENERATE’S KEY FEATURES:
Chaotic Generators: Generate sets itself apart with its unique chaotic generators. Each of the five generators imparts its own distinct character, resulting in an unpredictable and exhilarating sonic experience that pushes the boundaries of traditional synthesis.
Advanced Modulation Capabilities: With a wide range of modulators, Generate offers exceptional flexibility and control over nearly every synthesizer parameter. From MIDI compatibility to envelope generators, LFOs, Sample + Hold, and a step sequencer, the modulation options are extensive, allowing for in-depth and customizable sound design processes.
10. LOOM II
Loom II, developed by AIR, is a formidable additive synthesizer that serves as an excellent tool for crafting ambient electronic music and achieving rich harmonic complexity. It accomplishes this by generating up to 512 sine waves per voice, which can be collectively manipulated to emulate traditional synthesis functions like filtering and modulation. The primary Edit page of Loom II features a semi-modular environment with ten slots available for loading any of the 37 partial-processing modules, including filters, effects, sequencers, dynamic shapers, and more. Recent updates have introduced four new modules, including the intriguing Double Wave, further expanding its capabilities. The sonic possibilities of Loom II range from pristine and precise tones to lush and textured soundscapes, making it particularly well-suited for creating ambient music’s atmospheric pads, textures, and expansive sonic landscapes.
LOOM II’S KEY FEATURES:
Versatile Semi-Modular Environment: Loom II provides a robust and flexible sound design space with ten slots for incorporating any of its 37 available modules. The extensive range of filters, effects, sequencers, and dynamic shapers offers a wide palette of sound manipulation options, making it an exceptional choice for ambient music production.
Spectral Manipulation and Morphing Capabilities: Loom II excels in its spectral manipulation features, enabling the distortion and modulation of frequencies in innovative ways. Its macro-driven morphing system allows for real-time sound transformations, facilitating the creation of dynamic and evolving soundscapes commonly found in ambient electronic music. This combination of spectral manipulation and sound morphing adds depth and fascination to any music production.
11. KSHMR REVERB
KSHMR Reverb, developed in collaboration with W.A. Production, is a versatile plugin specifically designed for crafting immersive ambient electronic music. Drawing inspiration from KSHMR’s renowned reverb techniques, this plugin incorporates unique features like reverse swells, transient removal, and side-chaining. Its user-friendly interface offers a diverse selection of reverb types and an extensive library of presets. Users have control over essential parameters such as diffusion, pre-delay, width, length, and size to shape the desired ambiance. Notably, KSHMR Reverb distinguishes itself with its Mix Knob and two operating modes, enabling precise control over the balance between dry and wet signals.
KSHMR REVERB’S KEY FEATURES:
Innovative Bottom Panel Effects: KSHMR Reverb introduces cutting-edge effects, including Full Duck and Fade-In Duck, allowing producers to fine-tune the interaction between the reverb and the main sound. The reverb volume can be dynamically reduced to prevent interference with instrumental parts, while the Fade-In Duck effect provides a more natural reverb decay. Additionally, a Reverse Reverb function is available for creating swells that enhance the coherence of melodies.
Tonal Reset and Pitched Reverb Capabilities: The Tonal Reset feature detects transients and restarts the reverb with each new transient, resulting in a cleaner mix. The Pitched Reverb function adds an octave harmony to the reverb, allowing producers to enrich the timbre of instruments and create more complex and layered soundscapes. These unique features significantly expand the range of sound manipulation possibilities for producers.
12. ORB TEMPUS
ORB Tempus is a groundbreaking VST plugin that pushes the boundaries of audio transformation, providing an unmatched ability to immerse your compositions in polyphonic and atmospheric textures. Its most remarkable feature is the capability to slow down any audio sample and generate chords, unlocking a vast sonic landscape for creative exploration and experimentation. This tool is a game-changer for artists seeking to infuse their music with profound depth and captivating ambiance.
ORB TEMPUS’S KEY FEATURES:
Advanced Time Manipulation and Post-Processing Effects: ORB Tempus sets itself apart with its cutting-edge time manipulation capabilities, allowing precise control over tempo and pitch modulation of audio samples. Combined with its powerful post-processing effects, producers have extensive creative freedom to shape the texture and modulation of their sounds in innovative ways.
Versatile Sound Sculpting Parameters: With a comprehensive set of parameters including tone control, compressor, drive, and intelligent dry/wet control, ORB Tempus offers a wide range of sound shaping options. These parameters can be fully automated, enhancing the plugin’s versatility and enabling the creation of immersive, captivating ambient music that resonates with listeners.
Wormhole by Zynaptiq is a captivating plugin that combines pitch shifting, delay, reverb, and other effects to transport producers into a realm of unparalleled soundscapes. This extraordinary tool doesn’t simply cover a wide range of sonic possibilities but opens up parallel musical universes for exploration. Beyond ambient music production, Wormhole finds its place in ethereal musical compositions and film sound design, offering a wealth of creative possibilities. From creating shimmering, reverb-laden textures to crafting alien robot voices and manipulating pitch, Wormhole is the epitome of technology and creativity seamlessly intertwined.
WORMHOLE’S KEY FEATURES:
Versatile Effects and Sound Manipulation: Wormhole’s extensive collection of effects, including pitch shifting, delay, and reverb, enables producers to craft unique sonic textures and morph sounds in ways that transcend traditional boundaries. Whether you’re seeking otherworldly atmospheres or intricate sound design elements, Wormhole has the tools to take your music to new dimensions.
Limitless Creativity and Exploration: With Wormhole, you’re not bound by conventional soundscapes. This plugin encourages experimentation and invites producers to venture into uncharted territories of sonic expression. Its fusion of technology and creative potential empowers artists to push the boundaries of their compositions and unlock a universe of sonic wonders.
ZYNAPTIQ’S WORMHOLE’S KEY FEATURES:
Cutting-Edge Pitch Manipulation: The advanced pitch-manipulation algorithms in Wormhole allow for a wide range of tonal transformations with exceptional clarity. The four-octave range shift, free from unwanted artifacts, opens up new possibilities for creating unique and captivating sounds.
Innovative and Creative Control: Wormhole empowers producers with a vast array of customizable parameters, enabling them to explore and shape their sonic landscapes to a high degree of precision. The GUI’s mysterious yet intuitive design facilitates an immersive and engaging sound design experience, while the parameter randomizer sparks inspiration and encourages experimentation without sacrificing coherence.
Crystallizer, developed by Soundtoys, is a mesmerizing granular echo synthesizer that excels in shaping ethereal and ambient sounds. With its ability to fragment audio into tiny grains and echo them out in evolving spirals of sonic textures, this plugin offers a vast range of possibilities. Whether you desire delicate shimmering echoes, galactic reverbs, or immersive soundscapes, Crystallizer delivers the tools to bring your vision to life.
What sets Crystallizer apart is its incorporation of a time-reversing element, borrowed from Eventide’s H3000 Harmonizer® effects processor. This feature expands beyond traditional echoes, transforming them into captivating sonic experiences. By controlling the grain size and pitch/delay parameters, you can add depth and variation to your ambient compositions, further enhancing their complexity and allure.
An excellent example of the magic Crystallizer can bring to your productions is showcased in my track “Desperate Only.” In this song, the vocals are delicately treated with the plugin, allowing them to reflect and echo in intricate, near-granular ways. This technique amplifies the impact of the few elements in the mix, resulting in a captivating and immersive listening experience.
CRYSTALLIZER’S X-FACTORS ARE:
Granular Echo Synthesis: Crystallizer’s utilization of granular echo synthesis sets it apart from traditional delay and echo effects. By fragmenting the audio into tiny grains and echoing them out, it opens up a world of unique sonic possibilities, providing a rich and expansive sound palette.
Time Reversing Feature: The inclusion of a time-reversing element adds an extra layer of texture and space to the sound. This distinctive feature enables users to create intricate soundscapes and captivating sonic details that can elevate their compositions to new heights.
Written by: Artificial Intelligence Technology