Whether you’re just getting started in the world of sound design or you’re a seasoned audio wizard looking to upgrade your software, there has never been a larger selection of software to choose from to design anything your heart may desire.
However, in this sea of options, what programs stand out among the rest for providing cutting-edge user interfaces, ultra-realistic virtual instruments, or limitless customization?
Thankfully we’re here to help. Here’s our picks for the best sound design software of this year, from crunchy synth samples to the best DAWs on the market.
Digital Audio Workstations
The first thing any sound designer needs is a digital audio workstation or DAW. This is your mission control, the place where everything will come together to create your final product.
Avid’s Pro Tools has long been a darling of the audio production and for good reason. This feature-packed workstation can handle everything from music production to foley for film and TV and everything in-between.
You can customize your workflow to your heart’s content and edit on hundreds of individual tracks until you have a perfect mix.
Logic Pro is another favorite of sound designers who favor the Mac OS. Developed by Apple, Logic Pro is designed to work seamlessly on Apple products and can even be used with iPad’s and iPhones which can be used like tactile control boards.
With built-in effects, loops, and sampling software, Logic Pro has everything you need to hit the ground running on the audio projects of your dreams.
Audio editors fall into a slightly different category from DAW’s in that they are slightly more suited to audio polishing and finishing as they work with a stereo audio file instead of a combination of audio files. They also offer features that some DAW’s do not like pitch stretching.
Adobe Audition sits in a sweet spot between DAW’s and audio editors. It has tons of features and if needed, can function as your all-in-one audio production workstation, but it can also be used in tandem with your DAW as your dedicated audio editing and mastering program.
It’s great for audio cleanup, restoration, and precision editing, and is an essential tool for your sound design toolbelt.
Plugins & Modular Software
Plugins are where things get really fun. Depending on what you’re designing sound for, plugins offer unique sounds that can be bent and manipulated to your heart’s content until you have the perfect sound element for whatever it is you may be creating.
You’ll want to save this page, because iZotope has a suite of handy plugins that will allow you to modify vocal effects, pitch, speed, timing and a host of other effects.
They offer a Producer’s Club for a monthly fee that gives you access to royalty-free sounds, plugins, audio production courses and other benefits.
Vienna Smart Spheres
Vienna is most known for their beautiful orchestral samples, but with video game audio production on the rise, they’ve begun to stretch their boundaries and offer more futuristic audio sampling.
Smart Spheres was sampled from Vienna’s existing orchestral collection to create an etheriel, other-worldly sound set that’s perfect for sci-fi projects.
Ambition is a visual “virtual instrument” that can be used to create harmonic mixes and textures perfect for designing ambient sounds and scores.
Favored by trailer music producers, Ambition is the perfect synthesizer tool to have in your toolkit for mixing emotional synth scores.
If you’re mixing soundtracks for TV, film, or video games, you’ll want Cinesamples.
Its sample library of crystal-clear virtual instruments delivers orchestra samples worthy of Carnegie hall, allowing you to create soundtracks that sound like they were created in a concert hall, not a CPU.
Create together remotely, in real time
If you’re a video game or action film sound designer, Weaponiser is literally your secret weapon. Its library of samples includes weapons, footfalls, whooshes and a ton of other dynamic sounds that can be layered and manipulated to create totally unique sounds that can fit any project.
Whether you’re designing an old-west gunfight or a laser battle in space, Weaponiser has you covered.
Designed with video game trailers and soundtracks in mind, Evolution: Devastator is your heavy metal synth soundtrack platform for sculpting darker, grittier textures. This collection heavily relies on industrial samples, with over 200 sounds that include everything from heavy machinery to passing trains.
If you’re looking to create your next post-apocalyptic video game soundtrack, Evolution: Devastator is the sample set you need.
Valhalla SuperMassive is freeware that packs a punch. This reverb plugin is so powerful and controllable, it’s mind-blowing that Valhalla released it for free.
It can be used on its own or in combination with other Valhalla plugins for super fun reverb and feedback effects.
So far the best soft-synth modulator we’ve found, Krotos Concept is a fast, intuitive platform that allows you to create everything from zippy traditional synth sounds to more complex sound textures.
Its visual mapping and drag-and-drop functionality make creating a breeze.
If you love the “golden age” of rock and roll, you’ll love the Saturn 2 distortion plug-in. It offers distortions that mimic the vintage sounds of tube, tape, and guitar amps and gives everything from instruments to vocals that classic vintage feel.
And while the pre-packaged distortions may be all you need, like any good production tool, it allows you to modulate to your heart's content until you have just the right level of “wah.”
This absolute playground of sample sounds by Native Instruments is a fan favorite time and time again. This custom synth building tool works seamlessly alongside other plugins from Native Instruments as the ultimate sound designer sandbox.
Reaktor 6’s platform is limited only by your imagination as you create never-before-heard soundscapes and textures from its huge sample library.
Komplete 13 Bundle
Speaking of Native Instruments, if you truly want to take your modular system journey into the stratosphere, the Komplete 13 bundle is the way to go. With over 36,000 sounds included in this bundle, there is literally a sample for every single one of your needs, whether you’re mixing for a swelling romantic ballad or a crunchy heavy-metal feel.
When it comes to getting bang for your buck, the Komplete 13 bundle is one of the best values on the market.
With most teams now working remotely, collaborating on projects over a distance can be a challenge. That’s why every sound designer needs high-quality collaboration tools in their toolbelt to ensure that they can work with their teams seamlessly, from across the street to across the globe.
Evercast is the perfect remote collaboration platform because it allows you to stream your workstation in seamless, low-latency HD while also video chatting with your teammates and taking live notes all under one platform.
From pre-production meetings to final mix reviews, Evercast has all the tools that a sound designer needs to stay connected with your team and keep projects moving forward.
What you choose is up to you
Every workflow is different, so depending on what projects you like to work on or how you like to design, your software needs will evolve and change. We hope this list gives you a picture of what’s available and will be an excellent resource for you as you continue on your sound design journey.