SynthEdit is among the most favored tools for creating virtual instruments and effects plugins.

However, there are several alternatives worth considering if you want more features/controls, different licensing models, or support for more platforms.

This article explores some of the top alternatives to SynthEdit.

AlternativeSupported OSPricing
VCV RackWindows, Mac, and LinuxFreemium
(Free or $150)
Pure DataWindows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOSFree
Cabbage StudioWindows, Mac, Linux, and AndroidFree
DISTRHO CardinalWindows, Mac, and LinuxFree
JUCEWindows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS.Freemium
SynthEdit alternatives

VCV Rack

VCV Rack user interface
VCV Rack’s user interface

VCV Rack works on Windows, Mac, and Linux, providing an intuitive drag-and-drop patching interface to build modules and systems.

The VCV Rack environment focuses specifically on modular synthesis, but the Pro version includes MIDI I/O plugins and integrates with DAW hosts.

Its intuitive workflow involves patching modules together to generate sounds and process signals.

A key advantage of VCV Rack is its large collection of community-contributed modules available for free.

The open-source code base also allows developers to create their own modules.

Pure Data

Working in Pure Data
Working in Pure Data

Pure Data is a free, open-source visual programming environment for building audio plugins. It supports Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS.

The focus lies more on experimentation rather than emulating classic hardware.

Pure Data can generate everything from basic effects to complex synthesizers.

The workflow is based on linking objects with virtual patch cords, making it beginner-friendly.

All plugins created in Pure Data can be used freely.

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Cabbage Studio

Making an audio plugin on Cabbage Studio
Making an audio plugin on Cabbage Studio

Cabbage Studio is an open-source tool tailored for building audio plugins and standalone applications. You can run it on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

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It provides a framework for building cross-platform audio plugins and applications using the Csound language. It leverages a GUI framework called Cabbage.

Developers can target Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android platforms from one code base.

Cabbage Studio’s strength comes from fast prototyping capabilities with a simple markup syntax.

The patching interface is easy to use for beginners. Any plugins generated in Cabbage can be freely distributed without limitations.

DISTRHO Cardinal

Working on DISTRHO Cardinal
Working on DISTRHO Cardinal

DISTRHO Cardinal is also free, open source, and available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

It is essentially a plugin adaptation of VCV Rack, with all parameters exposed for automation.

Here, you don’t have to load any external modules; everything you need is included.

It utilizes the DISTHRO Plugin Framework to create plugins through its intuitive visual interface.

Cardinal is a great introduction to building proprietary audio software, supporting common plugin standards. Any plugins created can be used freely.

While less expandable, Cardinal includes everything necessary for modular patching without installation headaches.


Building an audio plugin with JUCE
Building an audio plugin with JUCE

JUCE is a popular C++ framework geared towards audio developers.

It makes creating cross-platform audio apps much easier but requires some knowledge of C++ coding.

JUCE allows you to build software for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS devices. Both free and paid licensing options are available.

Many leading music software companies use JUCE to develop plugins and standalone applications.

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Other Options

A few other SynthEdit alternatives worth mentioning include Max/MSP, Flowstone, and CsoundQt.

All three tools have a visual workflow, generate great results, and give more freedom compared to proprietary options.

However, they may have a steeper learning curve.

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In Conclusion

When exploring SynthEdit alternatives, note that some may not provide a true equivalent in terms of simplicity and ease of use.

So, evaluate each tool carefully based on your technical background and goals.

SynthEdit lets you drag and drop modules and export a plugin without coding. This visual workflow is very beginner-friendly.

Some of the alternatives mentioned do provide a similar graphical patching paradigm, like VCV Rack and Pure Data.

However, tools based on coding like JUCE or those leveraging niche languages like Csound may have a steeper learning curve.

Consider the platform support, price, licensing terms, ease of use, and plugin format/host support needed for your use case.

Also, be sure to review documentation and tutorials (make sure those exist), which are very helpful when overcoming the initial learning curve with these tools.

A solid understanding of synthesis is a must for developing audio plugins of any kind on any of these platforms. You can’t compromise in this regard.

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