I thought for a while about what my first list should be. Of course I wanted to just go for funny and witty right out of the gate, but I decided to just let my nerd hang out. So welcome to the musings of an audio engineer and sound designer. I present below my current favorite software synthesizers (that I actually own).
  1. Dune 2 by Synapse Audio
    My current desert island soft synth. While d16 group's LuSH-101 gets a lot of press for its multiple layers, Dune did it first. Dune 2 ups the game of its forebear and sounds absolutely amazing. Finally, while it does several types of synthesis (VA, Wavetable, and FM synthesis) I think of this one as a powerful subtractive Virtual Analog.
  2. Serum by Xfer Records
    This Wavetable soft synth simply sounds amazing. Apparently the digital oscillators aren't to everyone's taste, but I love the clear bright tone. It excels at lead sounds but is equally capable of delivering the goods for pads and bass. It also looks as good as it sounds. The awesome visualizations of the morphing Wavetable oscillators (which are now becoming ubiquitous) get a shoutout for being so damn cool. Anything hailed as a (Native Instruments) Massive killer has got to be good.
  3. Razor by Native Instruments
    This additive soft synth is another awesome "digital sounding" synth. It makes additive synthesis easily accessible and you'll find yourself stumbling upon amazing sound after amazing sound. It also has the distinction of having my favourite GUI. I still remember the first time I used this synth. The desire to save my own snapshots is what made me finally buy NI Komplete.
  4. Bazille by U-he
    This guy currently reigns supreme for when I want to nerd out and go modular. It's capable of generating some monster sounds. This one also embraces a digital sound and occasionally has audible aliasing (which has never bothered me even once). Bonus points for having a Spring Reverb that is actually usable.
  5. FM8 by Native Instruments
    A few years ago I became obsessed with FM synthesis. I even tried to get my fix with a few cheaper options (including Propellerhead's PX7 and Image Line's Toxic Biohazard). After I picked up Komplete I was finally able to use FM8 and it was every bit as awesome as I'd hoped! This thing (and to some extent FM synthesis in general) goes as deep as you want. Besides, anything Skrillex uses has got to be awesome, right? RIGHT?!?!
  6. Sylenth by Lennar Digital
    If there is such a thing as a "vintage" plugin this is it. Sure it's been around forever. Sure it's starting to show its age. Sure you have to use 32 Lives (or something similar) to use it in Logic or any 64 bit host. But you know what? It still sounds amazing and is light enough on the CPU to be used a near infinite number of times. This puppy still finds its way into plenty of projects. Bonus points for making me feel like Porter Robinson and I have the same taste in synths.
  7. Enzyme by Humanoid Sound System
    I think it's good to sometimes use tools you don't fully understand - and this guy fits the bill. This soft synth uses the scanned synth approach to sound generation (which is a bizarre yet awesome combination of Wavetable synthesis and Physical Modeling). When making adjustments it can be hard to predict exactly how it will affect the sound. While this method of exploration isn't the most efficient it is very rewarding and returns me to my naive days of knob twiddling wonderment.
  8. Kick by Sonic Academy
    This is the most specialized synth on my list. It is designed to make creating tuned synthetic kick drums a doddle. The first time I used this thing it was a revelation. Gone are the days of adjusting the cents parameter until my kick sounds like it's in tune (and hoping that someone with perfect pitch doesn't come along after to scoff at my work). Snapping to notes is my new bff. This one is put out by the same folks who made the great ANA (which, while not on this list, is worth checking out).
  9. Final Remarks
    Synths I'm currently lusting after: u-he Diva and Spectrasonics Omnisphere. I should also mention that while I technically own Absynth 5 (part of Komplete), I haven't gotten around to learning this semi-modular beast. It seems right up my alley, but is excluded from this list due to my own ignorance. Finally, if Absynth doesn't turn out to be the powerhouse I was hoping it would be I'd be interested in checking out u-he's Zebra 2.