There are as many ways to use samples as there are music producers.
But many producers prefer the workflow of dedicated sampler plugins.
Sampler VSTs have a lot in common with hardware samplers—but they’re much more powerful and flexible.
Here’s the 10 best music samplers on the market today:
- LANDR Samples Plugin
- Logic EXS 24 mkII
- MOTU Machfive 3
- Artutria CMI V
- LANDR Chromatic
- Ableton Simpler
- Steinberg HALion
- Ableton Sampler
- discoDSP Bliss
- Air Music Technology Structure 2
- Native Instruments Kontakt
In this article I’ll break down the best software sampler plugins for creative sampling techniques.
If you haven’t checked out LANDR’s sample marketplace you definitely should. It’s got well over a million samples from the best sample makers in the game.
LANDR now has an accompanying free sampler plugin that makes it easy to port LANDR samples over to your DAW.
LANDR’s free sampler plugin makes it easy to port over and customize samples in your DAW.
The best part is you can independently time stretch or pitch shift any sample within the plugin, before dropping it into your arrangement.
It’s a super intuitive and powerful tool for easily adding samples to any arrangement no matter your key or BPM.
Logic’s built in sampler plugin is the powerful EXS24, now on version mkII.
EXS24 is another capable modern sampler well suited to loading hyperrealistic multi-GB sample libraries of orchestral instruments.
EXS24 it’s equally at home on loops, phrases and single samples. It provides the powerful envelope, filtering and velocity triggering options you’d expect from a modern, full-featured sampler.
MOTU Machfive 3 is another impressive sampler plugin from a respected manufacturer.
Machfive contains unique features such as a variety of noise oscillator styles and a dedicated synth engine with FM and wavetable modules.
MOTU offers a range of sampled instrument libraries that let you emulate studio staples like grand piano and orchestral percussion.
Here’s another top choice for an inspiring sampler VST to add to your plugin folder. Chromatic is the first original instrument from LANDR.
Brought to you by the team that built LANDR Samples, Chromatic is a loop-based virtual instrument that turns sampled sounds into playable parts at the touch of a key.
Download it for free and get started with a handful of free loop packs!
Using a MIDI controller, Chromatic lets you go hands-on with exclusive, artist-approved loops and manipulate them with effects in real time.
With an expanding library of inspiring loops built by top producers, Chromatic lets you browse by mood to find the perfect sounds to start a song or fill out an arrangement.
If you like loops but you prefer an alternative to the cut and paste workflow of traditional packs, Chromatic is a great choice to get ideas fast.
The Fairlight casts a huge shadow over the history of sampling. In fact, the term “sampling” itself was coined to describe one of the functions of the CMI.
When it first debuted the CMI came with a price tag of around $300,000 USD—and it’s sampling capabilities were primitive by today’s standards.
Nonetheless, artists like Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock embraced its futuristic sound and helped popularize the concept of sampling.
Arturia’s lovingly crafted plugin version gives you all the distinctive vibe of the Fairlight sampler without the price tag.
The unique sound and workflow of the CMI is an inspiring sampling tool.
The unique sound and workflow of the CMI is an inspiring sampling tool.
Sometimes the best solution to a problem is to make it…simpler.
The built-in Simpler plugin comes standard with all versions of Ableton Live.
Simpler is straightforward and creative yet deep and powerful. When it comes to manipulating single sounds, Simpler is one of the most immediate tools available.
With every parameter accessible from a single Live-sized panel, Simpler gives you direct access to the controls that matter most.
Simpler can only load one sample at a time, but that’s more than enough given how flexible and creative this tool is.
Here’s a great sample library plugins that comes with 1000s of samples out of the box and tons of parameters and controls to create your own sound.
SampleTank 4 is a comparable sample library to Output Arcade and Kontakt—it comes with all the same styles of sample libraries and customization option.
It’s also super easy to create your own sample libraries within the plugin and control themm.
Hot Tip: SampleTank 4 comes bundled with yearly LANDR Studio subscriptions alongside access to a variety of pro plugins, LANDR’s AI mastering tool, digital distribution, royalt-free samples and much more!
Steinberg’s HALion was one of the first advanced DAW samplers on the market.
It’s another powerful sound design tool capable of highly precise sonic sculpting and realistic emulation of acoustic instruments.
HALion also features a well-developed library of sampled instruments including vintage style synths, world instruments, and convincing pianos.
Since it’s been a favourite for so long, HALion has an active user community to help you get the most out of its powerful features.
Ableton Sampler is Simpler’s big brother and Ableton’s flagship sampling plugin.
Where Simpler is designed to keep things quick and easy, Sampler dives into the nitty gritty with advanced sound manipulation features and the ability to load multi-sampled libraries.
But Sampler doesn’t completely abandon the straightforward approach of Simpler.
Despite its advanced capabilities you’ll still find all the playability and ease of use that Ableton is famous for in Sampler.
10. discoDSP Bliss
discoDSP Bliss is a simple but powerful sampler with some extremely creative features.
Bliss can automatically create sampled instruments from patches on any VST instrument.
That’s a pretty useful feature if you’re working with CPU-hungry synth plugins that bog down your sessions.
Ableton’s built-in Simpler plugin comes standard with all versions of Live.
But that’s not all Bliss has to offer. In addition to its highly customizable envelopes, filters and LFOs it features a built-in wave editor for making powerful sample- level adjustments to your source material.
Air Music Technology Structure 2 is a full-featured modern sampler plugin with lots to offer.
Structure 2 comes bundled with a giant library of sounds to get started using right away. Plus, it supports every major format available for third party sample sets.
Its advanced sample editor gives you granular control over every parameter.
Native Instruments Kontakt is the biggest name in software samplers.
Kontakt is an incredibly deep and powerful sampler plugin with a huge library of third party banks and sample sets available.
Kontakt can handle every task you’ll ever need your sampler to do, but it’s uniquely suited to realistic imitations of acoustic instruments.
It’s the go-to sampler of sound designers and film composers. Entire orchestras can be simulated convincingly with Kontakt.
These deep sampling capabilities combined with the extensive third party content make Kontakt a top sampler choice.
So many samplers so little time
Sampling and samples are a revolutionary technology. Dedicated sampler plugins like the ones on this list extend the sonic possibilities of your samples.
Try one of these sampler plugins the next time you’re looking for a creative tool to work with your samples.
Michael Hahn is an engineer and producer at Autoland and member of the swirling indie rock trio Slight.
Gear guides, tips, tutorials, inspiration and more—delivered weekly.
Keep up with the LANDR Blog.