Sampler plugins can be invaluable additions to your studio arsenal.
So here we run down some of the best sampler VST plugins currently available, as well as two classic options that still pack impressive punch despite having been around for a while.
Phalanx by Vengeance Soundis a sample player that comes with a host of drum and loop mangling features. Part of the company’s Vengeance Producer Series (VPS), it is also capable of making magic out of almost any other source material.
Phalanx has more in common with drum samplers such as NI’s Battery and FXpansion’s Geist than multisampling instruments such as NI’s Kontakt. Although marketed as a drum and synth sampler, its features and capabilities are clearly geared toward the beat-making end of the spectrum. Nevertheless, it is quite capable in what it does, and it may just give some dedicated samplers a run for their money.
Phalanx has 16 sample pads, each of which are routable to one of the plug-in’s 16 outputs. You can load up to two samples in each pad, so you could potentially have 32 samples “live” in a single instance of the plug-in. Phalanx’s polyphony maxes out at 256 notes, so you aren’t likely to experience note-stealing unless you load all the pads and have them retrigger at the same time.
You can shape your samples in many ways, with pitch controls and low- and high-pass filtering provided. There is also a “lo-fi” effect that combines bit-crushing and sample-rate reduction, in addition to a transient shaper and a retrigger rate control.
Users find Phalanx to be a powerful and versatile sampler that never gets too complicated to use. The comprehensive modulation matrix and intuitive workflow make it easy to get great results quickly. The sound design features also allow for a good degree of creativity with drums and other sample content.
Phalanx is an excellent drum sampler that can be used as a pretty capable sound effects generator as well. Even if you already have a dedicated drum sampler, the sound shaping capabilities of Phalanx make it worth looking into as a source of weird and musically useful sounds.
Serato Sample comes from a company that is known primarily for its celebrated DJ software products. With the release of Sample, the company dips a toe into the sampler plug-in arena, with a product that may be just as innovative and forward-looking as its DJ-oriented offerings.
Sample is a surprisingly powerful plug-in that delivers a host of sample management and editing features. It enables users to easily chop, transpose, and even find samples amidst immense libraries. It also comes with a very capable time-stretch algorithm that longtime DAW users will immediately recognize.
Sample’s main selling point is undoubtedly Serato’s own Pitch ‘n Time, which remains one of the most highly-regarded time-stretching algorithms around. This particular feature makes Sample an excellent sample syncing tool, with samples of varying tempos syncing to each other effortlessly. Pitch ‘n Time even lets you find the key of your samples and shift it to a considerable degree with hardly any artifacts.
You can set Sample to select up to 16 of the best samples in your audio material or designate segments at random. You can tweak samples even further via the built-in pads, or play samples chromatically via your keyboard.
Sample appeals to users that aren’t necessarily expecting full-blown sampler capabilities. The chopping and pitching capabilities are some of its biggest strengths, and many users especially like how the plug-in makes it easy to find samples.
Serato Sample isn’t a traditional sampler in the sense of enabling you to play several tracks of multi-gigabyte libraries. But for an easy to use and inspiring solution that will breathe new life into your tired, old samples, it’s pretty hard to beat.
GlitchMachines Contract Sampler isn’t as much a sampler in the traditional sense as it is a duo of sample scanners, each with a built-in modulation sequencer. Billed as a “segment multiplexer”, it creates an assortment of sounds and textures suitable for electronic music production, as well as more creative sound design experiments.
Generative parameters and morphing capabilities work in conjunction with the sample scanning feature and modulation to create some pretty complex patterns. From delicate rhythms to full-on glitchery, Cataract makes it easy to get outlandish results in no time.
Cataract provides two sample slots in each of its two sample scanners. Each scanner also has a multimode filter and two LFOs, in addition to the dedicated LFO in the scan sequencer. There are also four percentage-based randomizers; five save states that you can trigger via MIDI; and a modulation matrix that can add a bit of movement to your samples or mangle them beyond recognition.
Further tone shaping is possible via the 3-band EQ, and there is a multimode delay unit for echo repeats and grain delay effects.
Users quickly found that Cataract isn’t meant to be played like an instrument, as is the case with many other sampler plug-ins. Instead, the processed audio is recorded onto a separate track, where it can be sliced and diced or used as is.
Between the scan section and the modulation sequencer, users were able to warp and twist audio to a surprising degree. Although most sounds produced tended to be fairly similar, they were almost always useful in a musical context.
Cataract seems to work best at fairly conservative settings. Most of the sounds produced by the plug-in somehow seemed to lean toward the glitchy and rhythmic variety. But if that’s what floats your boat, Cataract might be the secret sauce that livens up your loops.
GlitchMachines Polygon Sampler is a sampler plug-in designed specifically for sound design. Also useful for more experimental styles of electronic music, it bears little similarity to most other sampler plug-ins on the market. Nevertheless, its intuitive interface and the unconventional approach it encourages make it a worthy addition to your sound-creation toolbox.
The Polygon workflow centers on four sampler modules, each of which has a selection of different play and loop modes in addition to granular capabilities.
For adding a bit of motion to the proceedings, you can utilize the tone-shaping features that include eight LFOs, four variable-slope modulation envelopes, two multimode filters, and three effects processors.
Polygon’s features and global parameters are controllable via the modulation matrix. The setup lets you create evolving and rhythmic sounds quickly and easily, with a very precise degree of control.
Polygon also has a sub-oscillator that can be used to boost low-frequency content. Essentially adding a fifth voice to the four sampler modules, the sub-oscillator can be set to output a sine or square wave.
Those expecting Polygon to be limited to standard playback duties were pleasantly surprised at its effectiveness as a synthesizer. The various play modes and the pitch/amplitude control places it at par with a capable sampler, but Polygon can do so much more. The granular capabilities and deep modulation options make it a truly inspiring sonic playground, so much so that it has become a go-to tool for creative sound design.
Like most samplers, Polygon does rely heavily on the samples that you feed it. Even so, its wealth of modulation options make it possible to create some truly outlandish textures that bear little resemblance to the source material.
Regroover Sampler adds to the already-impressive capabilities of your DAW with a host of features that go well beyond standard sample chopping. By extracting individual loop elements in a truly innovative fashion, Regroover gives you more from your sample stash than you have ever gotten before.
Regroover lets you deconstruct and even un-mix loops to a surprisingly precise degree, instead of merely cutting them up in a time-based manner. Loops are splittable into layers, from which you can extract individual slices. You can then assemble these slices into a custom drum kit, or use them to spice up the original loop.
At the core of Regroover is an innovative “artificial intelligence” engine that lets you get deep into your loops and extract precisely the elements you want. You can combine these elements into a drum kit that is uniquely your own, or create endless variations from even the most boring loops.
After splitting your audio material into layers, you can treat them individually with volume and panning controls. You can even add effects to each layer, which gives you plenty of creative mileage for reimagining and repurposing your loops.
Regroover has proven to be a surprisingly capable and versatile plug-in that has numerous applications as a drum layering, sound replacement, and re-sequencing solution. It is a flexible and inspiring tool that can even be used to clean up messy and splashy drum loops.
As with many samplers, the results you get from Regroover depend on what you put in. Nevertheless, it definitely inspires a new way of thinking about loops, and beat merchants of all persuasions should find many uses for it.
GlitchMachines Palindrome Sampler seems to have been designed specifically for sound crafting of a more experimental nature. A “granular morph plotting” plug-in, it has four granular samplers, all of which are controllable from a coordinate plotting grid. You also get extensive modulation options, which make it possible to create a variety of uniquely evolving sounds.
Palindrome’s architecture seems fairly straightforward: four granular samplers controlled by a coordinate plotting grid. But this is actually a powerful and versatile system that can make some complex sounds from even the most vanilla samples. Add to that the generous selection of modulation sources, and you could get an impressive variety of morphing sounds and unusual timbres with very little effort.
Much of the action takes place via a virtual playhead that follows a user-defined path. The grid section is where you create paths that control the playhead’s trajectory. Eight modulation envelopes with multiple breakpoints let you warp the path into complex shapes.
Each of the four samplers has two effects processors for added sweetening, and there is also a global reverb. There are tons of presets to get you started right out of the box, and a randomize feature for creative idea generation.
Despite its ability to produce complex results, Palindrome is generally very easy to use. Users find a goldmine of sonic possibilities once you get deep into the engine. But it is also possible to get usable sounds simply by tweaking a few of the default settings.
Palindrome is yet another of Glitchmachines’ creations that excel at producing outlandish sounds. There is plenty of depth and breadth to create complex textures, and you could easily lose yourself in hours of rewarding sonic exploration.
Reason Studios ReCycle Sampler has been around for quite some time. It’s been designed to work seamlessly with its proprietary DAW, Reason and its own Dr. Octo REX Loop Player. For users of Reason, this add-on is a must-have to get the most out of your samples.
Basically, you can import any loop into Recycle 2.2 and it will automatically analyze its transients. It then creates “slices” that will enable you to stretch this loop into any tempo without affecting the pitch or sound quality.
Since ReCycle 2.2 has been released, users have been impressed with the improved interface. The ability to edit loops has also been mentioned by reviewers and this task is made simple. In terms of “chopping up” audio, most have preferred ReCycle over other programs such as Audacity.
Reason Studios’ ReCycle Sampler can make your loops come to life! There aren’t many pieces of software that offer such a seamless approach to “slicing” and none that work hand-in-hand with Reason. It’s a necessary add-on if you intend on getting the most out of your Dr. Octo REX Loop Player. Although it’s compatible with every DAW, users of Reason will get the most benefit!
With Accusonus’ new AI-powered plugin, Rhythmiq, you’ll be capable of manipulating your sounds like never before. Although its interface can still be controlled by you, it ultimately feels like it can take care of itself. Accusonus has referred to Rhythmiq as a virtual “beat-assistant”.
Once you’ve imported your audio, Rhythmic can be divided into sections granting you superior maneuverability. Each one of these sections can be edited independently and assigned to your MIDI controller.
The potential of Rhythmik’s AI has been noted by several reviewers. It’s opened up many possibilities for performing electronic music and it works seamlessly with their hardware. Users of Ableton will feel right at home with this plugin, granting them more flexibility for spontaneous creation.
Whether you plan to use Accusonus’ Rhythmiq in the studio or on-stage, it’ll be assisting you like a “bandmate”. Although compatibility may be an issue with certain DAWs, Accusonus provides a full free 14-day trial, so you’ve got nothing to lose. Making full use of the capabilities of artificial intelligence, this plugin will give you the edge!
For users of FL Studio, SliceX Sampler may become your “go-to” option. It has native compatibility with this DAW on both Mac OSX and Windows, but it’ll only work as a VST2 plugin on Windows.
Similar to Image-Line’s Fruity Slicer and Edison, it takes loop “slicing” to the next level. Its algorithms are designed to detect transients for the most accurate division of each loop. However, this plugin has been optimized for drum/percussion loops specifically.
Although it has been designed for drum/percussion loops, users of Slicex have praised it for its vocal-chopping abilities. Other users have also used it for synth loops as well. The included audio editor has also some good feedback from reviewers. It’s also one of the most affordable samplers on this list.
Slicex is Image-Line’s equivalent to Reason Studios’ ReCycle. It features the ability to “slice” loops using an advanced beat-detection algorithm and can also use pre-existing “regions” from a wave file. If you own FL Studio, you have access to a free trial, so you’ve got nothing to lose by checking it out!
DirectWave is one of the most complete samplers on the market. It’s compatible with nearly every audio format: WAV, SF2, AKP, REX, NKI, GIG, EXS24 and more! Other than that, it’s also got an abundance of features including but not limited to layering (up to 16-parts), 128 note-polyphony and a modulation matrix.
In other words, this plugin can do much more than simply “slice” your loops, it can be used as a full-fledged instrument. Owners of FL Studio already have access to DirectWave Player, but can upgrade to DirectWave Full at any time.
The main highlight of the DirectWave sampler according to most reviewers is its versatility. It can be used to trigger loop regions using velocity-sensitive controllers. The ability to layer different loop regions is also one of the features its users like most. It’s really easy to create an abundance of musical material from ordinary loops.
If you’re looking for the most “bang for your buck”, Image-Line’s DirectWave sampler is for you! You’ll never need to worry about audio formats when purchasing loops/samples since its compatible with most of them. Unlike most sampler plugins, DirectWave is much more comprehensive and can be used as an instrument.
AIR Music Technology Structure 2 is a multi-timbral sampler plug-in that allows a great deal of flexibility with how you layer samples. Capable of holding up to eight channels of samples across 128 levels, it can produce startlingly rich and complex sounds. You can combine samples in many different ways, and you even have a well-spec’d effects processor for added polish.
Structure’s integrated sample editor allows you to shape your sound in various ways without having to leave the plug-in interface. Apart from being able to edit samples on a per-zone basis, you can also change the pitch, alter envelopes, and apply filters and effects. The sample editor is also where you can set up output routings for the samples you have loaded.
Structure’s multi-effects processing engine offers more than 20 different effects algorithms, including stereo and surround capabilities. From reverbs and delays to compressors and EQs, you have pretty much eveything you need for most processing tasks. Best of all, you can strap on as many effects as you wish, and route each patch to an additional four global effects units via sends.
The quality of the bundled sample content is what most users seem to like the most about Structure. These are of noticeably high-quality and could rival the best that dedicated sample libraries have to offer. The mapping and editing features also earned praise from many users, particularly due to their ability to shape sound via powerful synthesis tools.
Structure 2 is a powerful and versatile sampler that especially stands out for its excellent content. It comes with a good selection of standard instrument sounds, along with a smattering of more esoteric options. And with the ability to tailor the sound in many weird and wonderful ways, Structure 2 is a worthy addition to your arsenal of virtual samplers.
BeatSkillz Drop-X is a sampler plug-in that packs an impressive amount of power in an easy-to-use drag and drop interface. You can quickly map samples across the keyboard simply by dropping them into the sample window. Up to three layers of samples can be auto-mapped according to pitch, making for a fast and efficient workflow. With Drop-X, you can create complex and intricate drum rolls, repeats, and stutter effects within seconds instead of hours.
Everything you need to do in Drop-X can be done right from a single page. This well-laid out and straightforward interface is the main reason why the plug-in is so easy to use. All parameters are clearly labeled as well, so there is no time wasted guessing what each one does.
Drop-X comes with ten banks of sounds, consisting of drums, percussions, basses, synth sounds, and more. You basically have everything that you need to put together full compositions, including vocals, chords, and textures.
But it is what you can do with this sample content that counts. After dropping a sample into a sample window, it is mapped automatically across the keyboard. You can then trigger it via the time-based beat repeat feature, which conveniently syncs to the host tempo.
You can also play samples as you would a conventional keyboard instrument, and shape them further with the simple-but-serviceable effects processor and the multimode resonant filter.
Users of Drop-X found it to be a fairly rudimentary sample player that nevertheless provides pleasing results. The generous sample library is a definite highlight, and the drag and drop capability streamlines workflow considerably.
Drop-X is a performance-oriented sampler that covers a fair amount of bases. It is somewhat pricy considering its limited features, but those without a dedicated sampler plug-in will get a lot of mileage out of it.
CMI V Sampler comes from a company that has made quite a name for itself with its plug-in instruments that recreate classic synths in software form. With the CMI V, the company has set its sights on the legendary Fairlight CMI sampling workstation, which is still highly-regarded by studio professionals and music producers in the know.
More than just a bit-for-bit recreation of the Fairlight, the CMI V adds a host of modern features that bring the lovably archaic system to the 21st century and beyond. An arguably more powerful version of the Fairlight, CMI V enhances the classic additive synthesis capabilities of its predecessor with a slew of new modulation and synthesis options.
The CMI V lets you mix, match, sequence, and otherwise mangle up to 10 digital instruments in musically-pleasing ways. You can utilize any of three different sound generation methods for each instrument: Fairlight-style sampling and additive synthesis and Arturia’s own take on spectral synthesis. With these three methods, you can recreate iconic sounds from many hit recordings from the ’80s, and cook up loads of amazing new textures besides.
CMI V is widely considered to be the only plug-in that comes close to recreating the sound and workflow of the original Fairlight CMI. But it is hardly a clone, and its modern features are in fact what has endeared the plug-in to many users. The sound generating capabilities are especially exciting, making it possible to create retro sounds as well as more unique sonic tapestries.
The CMI V doesn’t actually sample, which might disappoint those looking for that particular capability. Nevertheless, it is unique and quirky enough to warrant closer investigation, particularly if you want the classic Fairlight capabilities with more creative options in the synthesis department.
Native Instruments Contact is a bit long in the tooth, but it is still the de facto standard for software sampling as far as many professionals and hobbyists are concerned. It is still pretty much unbeatable for assembling multi-timbral arrangements, complex scripting, and playing back the vast universe of excellent Kontakt libraries available.
The free Kontakt Player gives you the ability to play many Kontakt libraries and even edit them to a limited degree. Although not nearly as capable as the full version, Kontakt Player gets you most of the way there at no cost.
It is important to realize that Kontakt Player 6 isn’t a full-fledged sampler plug-in. Synthesis capabilities are fairly limited, and you don’t get the scripting features that makes the full Kontakt plug-in such a powerful instrument.
Nevertheless, Kontakt Player 6 gives you access to all the instruments from Native Instruments, as well as a good range from third-party developers. Best of all, you can play back these instruments with the same fidelity as you would enjoy in the full version.
Kontakt Player 6 appeals mostly to users that don’t need to load custom samples or to edit patches extensively. It is used mainly as a virtual software instrument, which plays back ready-made instrument patches without a hitch. The quality of the content is generally flawless across the board, and the fact that it is free makes it a great supplement to a more fully-featured sampler.
Kontakt Player 6 is more than worth the effort to download it, if only for the ability to play back all of Native Instruments’ excellent libraries. You really can’t ask for more considering that it is free, and we strongly suggest that you at least give it a test run.
Tals Sampler is a classic in the software instruments world by now, and it still has legions of devotees to show for its lengthy run. Unlike many modern sampler plug-ins that take pride in their fidelity and pristine sound reproduction, TAL Sampler takes the opposite route. The sound is what users of TAL Sampler like most of all, and a quick taste of its gritty and distinctive character might make you consider adding it to your sampler arsenal.
TAL Sampler is actually a full-fledged synthesizer with a sampling engine at its core. You can drop in any sample you want and play it back as you would any virtual instrument. The modulation matrix adds a lot of mangling capabilities, and the multimode oscillating filter is as juicy as they come.
But it is the output stage that differentiates Sampler from most other modern offerings. You get a selection of digital-analog converters (DACs) to choose from, most of which recreate the character of the analog circuitry in old-school hardware samplers.
Many older hardware samplers are known for the distinctive sonic character they impart to samples. With unique interpolation methods and the limitations of the circuitry, older samplers make sounds wonderfully grungy, gritty, and laden with attitude. These characteristics are often difficult to recreate in software accurately, but TAL Sampler puts all that loveably dirty goodness right at your fingertips.
TAL Sampler tends to appeal to users that want the character of vintage hardware samplers in a more convenient software interface. For many, this is as close as it gets to the warm and juicy sounds of a classic Akai or Emu sampler, without the hassle of hardware.
TAL Sampler is the only real choice for getting those classic hardware sampler sounds in a plug-in. Even if you already have a fully-featured modern sampler, TAL Sampler is definitely worth picking up for the warm and characterful sounds it will add to your productions.
Sampler plug-ins are software instruments that play back “samples”, which are simply audio files of varying lengths.
Most sampler plug-ins are essentially software recreations of hardware samplers, in that they make it possible to play custom samples across a keyboard just like a standard instrument. When you load a sampler with chromatic piano samples, for example, you could play them pretty much as you would a real piano. In fact, there is a class of instruments known as “romplers”, which are essentially sample players with the samples burned permanently into ROM.
Of course, true samplers can do so much more than simply play back stored samples verbatim. The most capable samplers also incorporate synthesis and sound editing capabilities, which can alter the original sounds in subtle, as well as wildly creative ways. Entire genres of music have been invented based on the ability of samplers to twist and warp samples beyond recognition. And when you consider the fact that most any type of audio material can be used as sample fodder, the possibilities offered by sampling instruments are practically limitless.
It is important to make the distinction between actual samplers and sample players such as Native Instrument’s Kontakt Player. Although many sampler plug-ins don’t actually sample or record audio, their synthesis and editing capabilities make them closer to true samplers than instruments that simply play back existing libraries. Fully-Featured samplers generally provide more opportunities for creative experimentation and sound design than mere sample players.
With hardware samplers, running out of memory was always an issue. This is not the case with most software samplers, which generally utilize the computer’s RAM to hold as many samples as needed. Some of the essential features, therefore, have to do with editing and shaping capabilities.
When choosing a sampler plug-in, you will first have to determine how you will use it. The ability to map samples chromatically across a keyboard is essential if you wish to play them like an instrument. This feature isn’t as important if you simply wish to chop up and reorder drum loops.
It is always nice to have an extensive set of sound shaping tools onboard. Filters, effects processors, modulation routing, and re-sequencing options can take your existing sample library into weird and wonderful new directions, and make your sampler a powerful creative tool.