The consoling crackle of dusty vintage vinyl. The calming comfort of crinkled cassette tape. While the analog warmth of these strangely soothing sounds has existed for decades, it’s only in the last few years that they’ve transitioned to being a feature rather than a bug of music production. Once considered undesirable, these and other low fidelity production techniques are now being intentionally harnessed to sculpt perfectly imperfect sounds through deliberate audio degradation for maximum sonic nostalgia.
So whether you’re seeking seriously washed-out sounds or a simple sprinkle of lo-fi charm, we’ve got you covered. (Just don’t forget you’ll need a full version of KONTAKT).
Heavy on nostalgia and light on the wallet, here are five of our favorite free lo-fi instruments.
1. Vapor Keys Sakura
Named after the Japanese cherry blossom, the Vapor Keys Sakura from Karanyi Sounds perfectly embodies the ephemeral symbolism of its namesake. With four basic effects (dimension, vintage phaser, hall reverb, and EQ) and three panoramic patches carefully cribbed from classic analog synths, the Vapor Keys Sakura is the perfect pairing for pensive pads and sentimental soundscapes.
2. Yamaha PSS-130
Time travel back to 1987 with this impeccably-sampled Yamaha PSS-130 keyboard from pianobook. Boasting 8 different textures – clarinet, oboe, violin, xylophone, piano, banjo, harpsichord, and electric guitar – a filter section with frequency and resonance knobs, and 8 different rhythm loops packed with rarefied retro goodness, this sentimental synth is a treasure trove of supreme sonic nostalgia.
When it comes to nailing authentically washed-out tones, look no further than the Pianophone from Lullatone Sample Sets. With every nostalgic note carefully captured in the voice memos app on an old iPhone, this plaintive piano is dripping with lo-fi charm that ranges from kindhearted keys to drippy drones, warm micro-cassette warble, and everything in between.
The Kalimba from Echo Sound Works is a new spin on a classic instrument. A thoroughly modernized version of the Zimbabwean thumb piano, this multi-sampled VST features an extended note range with 5 presets, round robin samples, and a handful of tasteful tone shapers – plus the crackerjack convenience of a LOFI knob for sonic dirt on demand.
5. Drum One
Drum One From Rigid Audio is a grittily raw rhythm machine ideally suited for idiosyncratic sounds. With 7 drum engines, 3 tone-shaping sound generators, and 4 master effects (reverb, saturation, metal, and drive), this unconventional drum synth is packed with percussive power and unique tone-shaping possibilities for avant-garde artists and armchair producers alike.