Free and cheap sound tools!

There’s a remarkable pool of resources out there that can expand your sonic tool kit. There are web-based electronic instruments like drum machines, downloadable audio manipulation tools, and plug ins you can add your the audio editor of your choice (like Audition). Click on the tabs below for a few options! 

Warnings and side effects

Computers may vary!
It is worth noting that the viability of each of these tools is limited to your operating system and possibly the browser you are using (if it is a web-based tool). Sometimes these free tools also might not be updated to work with rapidly changing operating systems. 

Tools age!
Some tools may no longer work with more recent operating systems

The good the bad and the ugly
For each tool I’ve included a list of pros and cons and some notes about ease of use and capturing sound.

Tools you can use right in your web browser

808303.studio

https://808303.studio/

808303.studio is a new online music creation platform created by Yuri Suzuki, the Design Museum and Roland, which features Roland’s innovative Step Sequencer technique, as well as emulating the sound of the original TR-808 drum machine and TB-303 bass synthesizer. There are actually other vintage rhythm machines and synths in there too, explore!

It is a professional sounding online musical interface, which records your masterpieces and allows you to share your creations through social media, messaging and also as a download

Type of tool:
browser-based sound generator
Learning Curve:
Low☆☆☆
Pros:
It’s easy to figure this one out.
Just start clicking and it becomes clear!
You can record your output.
Check the “about” section for a demo!
Cons:
None really

Musical Chord Progression Arpeggiator

http://codepen.io/jakealbaugh/full/qNrZyw?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss

The Musical Chord Progression Arpeggiator is a web experiment by Jake Albaugh that allows you to generate different musical scores based on a variety of different inputs. This tool allows users to create a series of arpeggios in a chord progression, resulting in a cycle of haunting, looping notes that rise and fall endlessly.

The results span an incredible range of tone and style. Choose a lower tempo, and you can practically see an astronaut silently running down the hallway of a spaceship, while at a higher speed, you can enjoy a new album of songs doing their best impersonation of Philip Glass.

Type:
browser-based arpeggio generator
Learning Curve:
Low☆☆☆
Pros:
It’s easy to figure this one out. Just start clicking and it becomes clear!
Cons:
no SAVE feature, so you’ll need to record via your headphone jack or some other capture method.

106.js

http://juno-106.js.org/
Synths you can play in your web browser are becoming more common place. This emulation of the classic Roland Juno 106 synthesizer is very enjoyable and easy to navigate and play. It’s quite impressive and you can even connect a MIDI keyboard to your computer and use it to playback the synth. Steven Goldberg is the creator of 106.js and has written up a nice overview of analog synthesis controls as well as how to use this particular browser synth on his Github page. In the interface you can share the 106.js and save, rename and recall patches.

Type:
browser-based synthesizer
Learning Curve:
Low ★★☆☆
Pros:
It’s fairly easy to figure out, but if you are unfamiliar with the way a synth works it can take a few minutes of noodling with sliders to understand all of the ways that sounds are shaped. It can be controlled with your computer keyboard. It is polyphonic so you can play multiple notes simultaneously.
Cons:
no SAVE feature, so you’ll need to record via your headphone jack or some other capture method.

Drumbit

http://drumbit.pluraldev.com/
Online drum machine with some nice features include the ability to record as a wav, add multiple pages of drum patterns, pan drums left or right, add a few effects, select from different kinds of genres (Jazz, Hiphop, latin, etc) and more.

Type:
browser-based rhythm generator
Learning Curve:
Low ★★☆☆
Pros:
It’s fairly easy to figure out, but if you are unfamiliar with the way a drum machine works it can take a few minutes to figure out the way the sequencer and multiple pages work as well as the other settings, but all in all this is EASY!
You can save an audio file (WAV format). You can save your pattern so you can open it again later and keep working on it. 
Cons:
Sound sometimes seems to break up a bit during playback in the browser, but the recorded file seems unaffected.

Stand alone sound design tools you can download

Samplebrain

https://gitlab.com/then-try-this/samplebrain/-/blob/main/README.md

A custom sample mashing app designed by Aphex Twin.

Samplebrain chops samples up into a ‘brain’ of interconnected small sections called blocks which are connected into a network by similarity. It processes a target sample, chopping it up into blocks in the same way, and tries to match each block with one in its brain to play in realtime.

This allows you to interpret a sound with a different one. As we worked on it (during 2015 and 2016) we gradually added more and more tweakable parameters until it became slightly out of control.

Type of tool:
Downloadable standalone sound manipulator
Learning Curve:
Highish ★★★
Pros:
You can do some really amazing sample manipulation with this.
Ability to record.
Ability to load your own sample files as raw material
Cons:
This one takes some time to explore so it’s not as “plug and play” as some other tools.
Be sure to follow the instructions to get started.

PaulXStretch

https://sonosaurus.com/paulxstretch/

Want to stretch your sound to EXTREME lengths? This application/plugin is based on the PaulStretch algorithm (Paul’s Extreme Time Stretch, originally developed by Nasca Octavian Paul), and specifically the PaulXStretch version from Xenakios. The UI has been updated, adapted for various screen sizes, and built for the latest platforms.

Type of tool:
Downloadable standalone sound manipulator
Learning Curve:
Highish ★★★★
Pros:
You can do some really amazing time stretching.
Ability to record.
Ability to load your own sample files as raw material
Ability to use as a plug in or stand-alone app
Cons:
This one takes some time to explore so it’s not as “plug and play” as some other tools.
The plug in doesn;t really work with Audition, but the standalone is fine!
Be sure to follow the instructions to get started. Here’s a good tutorial video that shows paulstretch loaded inside a DAW (Digital Audio workstation). The video below shows the standalone in use.

Video Trigger

https://www.zachpoff.com/software/video-trigger/
By Zach Poff. As he says: “I designed Video Trigger for artists who want to experiment with interactivity without building custom hardware or software. It aims to answer the question that I hear from many of my students: ‘How do I make a sound play when somebody walks by?'”

Type:
downloadable sound application (Mac only)
Learning Curve: High (4 out of 5)Pros: There really isn’t anything else out there that does this, certainly not for free! Triggering 6 different sounds when people walk into different zones? COME ON!
Cons: It takes some time to figure out and I have found that it can be a bit fussy about your camera set up. It takes time to test how the trigger sensitivity works as well as the various looping modes. Because Poff makes this in his spare time it may lag behind the various Mac OS changes. So test it out to be sure it works on your system!

Type of tool:
Downloadable standalone video triggered sampler
Learning Curve:
Highish ★★★
Pros:
free tool to add some interactivity to a live project.
Configurable to allow samples to loop or play once when a zone is entered
Cons:
Because this is Zach’s homemade open freeware tool it sometimes doesn’t keep up with changes in computer operating systems. Be sure to download and test it!
It can take some time to experiment with settings, sensitivity, and video trigger zones.

ISJS

http://joowonpark.net/isjs/?fbclid=IwAR0v0KrMQsE0g1EA6CzozhBiBNDgVxeOw7LQOw62wJqoIrz51P-Ty6NhLeE

ISJS app is a granular audio player. It takes small snippets of your audio from 3 files, loops them and, essentially, stutters them. ISJS is SuperCollider patch are free and available to download. 

From the creator:
“ISJS stands for I-Shim-Jun-Shim (이심전심, 以心傳心), a Korean word for “communicating through the hearts,” or in my interpretation, “empathy.” Featured sounds are recordings by collaborators, students, and family members. I often communicate with them without saying a word. The usual medium to do so is music, but sometimes it is a nod, smirk, sigh, eye contact, or eating in silence. You know.”

Type of tool:
Downloadable mouse/trackpad triggered sample granulator
Learning Curve:
Low ★☆☆☆
Pros:
ability to record
easy peazy interface
Allows improvisation and physical interaction to find sounds
Element of surprise
Cons:
Types of manipulation are a little limited.

Free VST and other plug ins

There’s a bunch of free plug ins out there. Most of them are either BAD or they do many of the things you can ALREADY do in Audition or in whatever editor you are using.
Here are some notable exceptions:

Remember that when you install a new plug in you will need to activate it within Adobe Audition and likely any other audio or video programs where you intend to use it! Here’s a little demo.

Fracture

glitchmachines.com/downloads/fracture/

FRACTURE is a FREE buffer effect plugin by Glitchmachines geared toward creating robotic artifacts and abstract musical malfunctions. Fracture features a buffer effect, a multimode filter, three LFOs and a delay. The order of the effects in the processing chain can also be reconfigured. This plugin is geared toward adding glitchy articulations and abstract textures to your projects. Use it on anything from drums and percussion to synth lines and sound effects. Fracture’s intuitive interface and diverse features make it simple to give your projects a unique technical edge.

Type:
downloadable VST or AU plug in
Learning Curve:
Medium ★★☆☆
Pros:
Fairly easy way to create glitchy effects.
Works as an Adobe Audition plug in (or in any other DAW)
Cons:
None really. it does what it does!

Hysteresis

glitchmachines.com/downloads/hysteresis/

HYSTERESIS is a FREE glitch delay plugin by Glitchmachines geared toward creating robotic artifacts and abstract musical malfunctions. Hysteresis features a delay effect with stutter, lowpass filter and modulation effects thrown into the feedback signal path. Process anything from drums and percussion to synth lines and sound effects. On top of being able to create incredibly wild signal mutations, it can also be used to generate classic delay effects.

Type:
downloadable VST or AU plug in
Learning Curve:
Medium ★★☆☆
Pros:
Fairly easy way to create glitchy effects.
Works in Audition or any other DAW
Cons:
None really. it does what it does!

Puremagnetik : Expanse

https://puremagnetik.com/blogs/news/two-free-plugins-expanse-driftmaker

This is a noise and drone generator plug-in that lets you spectrally blur, pitch, and filter audio. According to Puremagnetik, it’s capable of outputting “sweeping backdrops, resonating low drones, and many other textural canvases.” The plug-in has Filter, Stasis, Shift, Blend, Space, Size, and Output controls. The function of each is explained above the control set. This is a very interesting plug-in that combines noise generation, spectral blurring, pitch shifting and reverb into one seemingly potent unit. I gotta give this one a spin for sure!

Type:
downloadable VST or AU plug in
Learning Curve:
Low ★☆☆☆
Pros:
Fairly easy way to create smeary textural effects.
Works as an Adobe Audition plug in (or in any other DAW)
Cons:
None really. it does what it does!

Puremagnetik : Driftmaker

https://puremagnetik.com/blogs/news/two-free-plugins-expanse-driftmaker

Summed up, this plug-in chops audio into grains and mangles the signal in an analog-inspired fashion. Driftmaker has Parse, Chop, Time, Drift, Blend and Gain controls – the function of each explained above the control set. What we are looking at is a granular delay with analog-style saturation and filtering, which sounds very exciting to me.

Type:
downloadable VST or AU plug in
Learning Curve:
Low ★☆☆☆
Pros:
Fairly easy way to create atmospheric granular textural effects.
Works as an Adobe Audition plug in (or in any other DAW)
Cons:
None really. it does what it does!

Pancake

https://plugins.landr.com/en/product/cableguys-pancake

This tools allow you to pan sounds from left to right automatically. Use soft or hard control points to draw and construct your own modulation curves. PanCake’s easy interface helps you quickly create gentle transitions or sharp bends in your waveform and a precise display of channel left/right volume provides helpful visual control.

Type:
downloadable VST or AU plug in to automate panning
Learning Curve:
Low ★★☆☆
Pros:
Great tool to automatically move sounds around the stereo field.
Very configurable.
Cons:
This can take some time to figure out the settings.
I have noticed that it can stress out and crash Audition occasionally. For example, when i select a preset it crashes. I recommend working with and editing in the first screen that loads.

Emergence

https://daniel-gergely.itch.io/emergence

Emergence occurs when an entity is observed to have properties its parts do not have on their own, properties or behaviors which emerge only when the parts interact in a wider whole.

This plugin is a real-time granulator. It continuously records the input signal into a buffer. The content of the buffer is played back as many short pieces of sound called grains. Up to 600 grains can be generated in 4 streams, each having it’s own set of parameters that control grain generation.

A single grain is not that interesting. The most exciting things happen when hundreds of overlapping grains play together, creating anything from complex delay patterns to strange noises to beautiful layered soundscapes.

Pianoverb

https://www.pspaudioware.com/products/psp-pianoverb

PSP PianoVerb is our freeware plug-in which reproduces special kind of reverberation originally provided by piano strings. It generates reverberation using twelve string operators with adjustable damping and decay time. Each of them is tuned to a particular note starting from A(55Hz) to a G#(103.8Hz). The PSP PianoVerb string system can be transposed in the range of +-24 semitones, tuned within a range of +-100 cents and be detuned as well. Transposing to lower octaves produces a bigger and less resonant sound similar to traditional reverbs, while in turn transposing to higher octaves produces a very bright harp-like effect.

Chowdsp

https://chowdsp.com/products.html

This is a developer who creates pretty wonderful free plug ins that are highly configurable. Try them all! They include the following

BYOD
Build-Your-Own-Distortion (BYOD) is an audio plugin that allows the user to create custom guitar effects, with a focus on guitar distortion. The plugin contains emulations of guitar distortion and tone-shaping circuits from various, along with a handful of other useful effects.

Chow Tape Model
Chow Tape Model is a digital emulation of a reel-to-reel analog tape machine. The original algorithm was developed to emulate the Sony TC-260, but has since been expanded to be able to model a wide variety of tape machines.

Chow Matrix
Chow Matrix is an infinitely growable delay effect, with complex internal modulation and feedback. With extra features including pitch-shifting, diffusion, and distortion, the plugin can be used to create everything from subtle multi-tap delays to expansive reverberant spaces.

Chow Centaur
Chow Centaur is a digital emulation of the Klon Centaur guitar pedal. The plugin contains two modes, “Traditional” which uses traditional circuit modelling technicues, and “Neural” which uses a recurrent neural network to model the gain stage from the original Klon circuit. More technical details can be found in the accompanying technical paper.