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Best Audio and MIDI Software - 2021 KVR Readers' Choice Awards Winners

Best Audio and MIDI Software - 2021 KVR Readers' Choice Awards Winners

We're excited to announce the winners of the KVR Readers' Choice Awards 2021. The KVR community has spoken and rewarded their favorite developers for work well done. The winners should be particularly proud this year because 2021 saw the largest bloc of voters since KVR started the RCAs in 2013.

There were several "three-peats". KVR voters continue to be impressed with many of the same excellent products as they have been for the last few years, and have rewarded their sustained excellence. There were also some interesting break through winners.

Favorite Developer

For the third year in a row KVR readers have chosen u-he as Favorite Developer. What more can we say that hasn't already been said about a developer who is doing the right things for the right reasons. Founder and "Boss" Urs is a tireless advocate for their clever and imaginative products, and the music creation software category in general. This year's release of Hive 2.1 as well as a bunch of free optimization and compatibility updates is another sign of their commitment.

Of note is that u-he was closely followed this year by Native Instruments. NI's increase in popularity could be in part because they maintain and support two product development platforms, Kontakt and Reaktor that allow sound designers throughout the world to create great products.

Favorite Audio Software

Cockos REAPER, which is short for Rapid Environment for Audio Prototyping and Efficient Recording, was again chosen as Favorite Software, proving once more that an entire DIY programming environment resonates with the KVR community. Perhaps it's REAPER's low cost of entry, or perhaps it's something else...

Favorite DAWs

Repeating their Favorite DAW for Production win from 2019 and 2020 is Steinberg's Cubase. Being cross-platform without the benefit of being intimate with the lowest level workings of an OS, Cubase has maintained a standard of excellence and a very loyal following since its initial release in 1987 for the Atari computer. And along the way, Steinberg has found time to create the VST format, the only cross-platform open plugin standard. Going even further, application and hardware designers have benefited from Steinberg's ASIO format, which, although proprietary, has standardized a low latency environment on the Windows platform. A final note: Steinberg also crept up the ladder to score well in the Favorite Software for Notation / Scoring category with both Cubase and Dorico.

In addition to being the choice for Favorite DAW for Performance Ableton Live for the third year in a row, Live was a strong finisher in the Favorite DAW for Production category. This may have something to do with its massive popularity, but also that Live users, in the last couple of years, have had far fewer opportunities to perform, so they've been mostly producing music at home. Ableton shipped Live 11 this year, which, among many other things, added track comping, a critical production feature. Even with the added features Live remains true to its original GUI concept. Musicians appreciate it when they can do creative things without relearning the software.

3-peat winners

The winner for Favorite Software for Notation / Scoring is again PreSonus Notion. From its beginnings as Music Printer Plus developed by Jack Jarrett, the Chair of Berklee College of Music's Composition Department, Notion has grown to being an important part of PreSonus' family of products and their Sphere program. Ironically Jarrett didn't set out to create a notation application, but rather a composition program where the input was notation and the output was performance. It was the first composition application to integrate a recorded orchestra. In this case the London Symphony, recorded at Abbey Road Studios.

Notion also has an iOS cousin, Notion for iPad, which is scaled down of course, but shares the same file format as the desktop version, very helpful for realizing ideas quickly.

Overall Favorite Virtual Instrument

Also for the third year in the winner for Favorite Virtual Instrument is the many layered and feature-rich Spectrasonics Omnisphere. It incorporates multiple types of synthesis, the ability to import, process and playback samples, an extensive and cutting-edge arpeggiator, and even has a database of mapping for many popular hardware keyboards and controllers. There will be more great things from the creators of this masterpiece.

In a year of upheaval we want to offer a special shout out to Eric Persing and the folks at Spectrasonics. They released a major upgrade to their Bob Moog Tribute Library for Omnisphere. Not only was the upgrade free to existing BMTL owners, but 100% of the profits continue to go to the Bob Moog Foundation. That's a nice example of how to support our industry.

Audio editing

iZotope had their usual strong showing in the virtual effects categories winning Favorite Audio Editor category with iZotope RX, the go-to audio repair and polishing suite for for producers of film, television, music, podcasts, video games, sample libraries, and more. With RX 8 iZotope has created new tools and improved modules to help speed workflow. There's a rumor that RX 9 to drop in the not too distant future, so keep an eye out for that.

And, Izotope's Ozone was again the winner in the Favorite Mastering Virtual Effect Processor category, building on their 17 year legacy in audio mastering. This category was another runaway. KVRists can see Izotope's cutting edge and timesaving applications for these parts of the workflow.

Both of their wins were for the third year in a row.

2 more 3-peaters

Applied Acoustic Systems Chromaphone percussion instrument wins in the Favorite World/Ethnic Virtual Instrument category for the third year in a row. It's marketed as a percussion instrument, but the range of choices is global. Pretty remarkable considering it is physically modeled rather than sampled. It's well supported with many available 3rd party soundbanks.

Speaking of Physical modeling and three-time winners, Modartt Pianoteq was again voted Favorite Keyboard Virtual Instrument. As far as we know their Steinway are the only physically modeled pianos approved by Steinway & Sons themselves. They also have a huge selection of instrument packs that span just about anything with strings that can be struck, plucked, or hammered, so there are plenty of things to be morphed with their powerful feature of the same name.

Favorite Sampled Instruments

Although composers and orchestrators are quite familiar with Spitfire Audio, making a thunderous entry into the hearts and minds of KVR readers this year was Spitfire's BBC Symphony Orchestra winning both the Favorite Sampled Virtual Instrument and Favorite Orchestral Virtual Instrument awards.

This deeply sampled library was developed in partnership with the legendary BBC Studios and the world-famous BBC Symphony Orchestra and sampled at London's famous Maida Vale Studios, home of the BBCSO, and host to The Beatles, Hendrix and Bowie. It is the stuff of composing dreams; strings, brass, woodwind and percussion, all housed inside their award-winning plugin.

There are three editions (Discover, Core and Professional) that are interchangeable through their groundbreaking mode-switching technology.

Favorite Virtual Instruments.

Not to be outdone Arturia's Pigments was a clear winner in both the Favorite MPE Virtual Instrument and the Favorite Softsynth categories. Pigments is great example of the forward-looking vision that Arturia has shown from their earliest days as a pioneer in the audio plugin market. Pigment's color-coded and animated GUI makes it fun to use while doing in-depth processing. With Pigments 3 oscillators are now wavetable, sample based, additive or analog. And it has a huge preset library of great sounds for people that just like to browse and watch gool graphics.

A bass player walks into a bar... We can all stop with the bass player jokes for at least another year because IK Multimedia MODO Bass is 2021's Favorite Guitar Virtual Instrument for the second year. It's a true physically modeled instrument developed in collaboration with one of Europe's oldest universities. MODO Bass still represents a positive trend in virtual instruments that delivers the the realism and sound of an instrument being played by a superior musician.

Marching to the beat of a superior drummer

The closest margin of victory this year was in the Favorite Drum Virtual Instrument category. Toontrack Superior Drummer was the winner for the third year in a row, beating out XLN's Addictive Drums 2 by a few votes. The win could have to do with KVR readers acknowledgement that Toontrack has released several updates and new libraries for Superior over the last year, including the just released Fields of Rock. In fact Toontrack's many libraries for Superior include just about every percussion instrument in any genre.

Favorite Sample Platform.

At the other end of the vote counting spectrum was Native Instruments Kontakt, which won the Favorite Sample Platform by the largest margin in any category. As previously mentioned, Kontakt feeds itself by offering a powerful development environment for themselves as well as independent sound designers. The effort required to keep Kontakt current on both the Mac and Windows OS, and support all the most important plugin formats is not trivial. Because NI does the low level plumbing, a lot of software developers don't have to. Thank you NI.

Virtual Effects

Another big winner in the 2021 Reader's Choice Awards was FabFilter. FabFilter's Pro-C won a victory in the Favorite Dynamics Virtual Effect Processor category, retaking the category after a year off. Pro-C 2 is basically five different compressors with features such as lookahead, range, hold, side-chain EQ, oversampling, and a fully redesigned user interface without a wasted pixel.

KVR readers also rewarded FabFilter for Pro-Q in the Favorite Virtual Effect Processor category. Like its sibling mentioned above, Pro-Q is designed to help the user do things quickly and easily. Via the large animated EQ display, EQ bands can easily be created, selected, and edited. Unique features like Spectrum Grab, Full Screen mode and EQ Match will speed up your workflow even more.

A first time win for a perennial favorite is AmpliTube, from IK Multimedia, which cracked through in the Favorite Guitar Virtual Effect Processor category. This is a richly deserved award for IK, who have made constant improvements and added clever features to this product over the last 20 years by sticking to the basics of processing a guitar's signal. Amplitube is clearly a labor of love for IK, and the reason they have attracted the attention and endorsement of some of the best guitar players in the world.

Favorite Reverb Virtual Effect Processor goes to ValhallaVintageVerb, which dominated the voting for the third year in a row. It's designed to emulate the history of reverb processors, from the 70s, to tomorrow, and, judging by its popularity, it's used by many of the musicians of today.

And last among the commercial products, but definitely not least, is SoundToys, who won the Favorite Multi FX Virtual Effect Processor for their SoundToys 5, also for the third year in a row. Even before this Vermont-based developer created the Effect Rack, they had created a diverse set of creativity stimulating plug-ins covering a wide spectrum of effects, with outstanding presets. The Effect Rack makes it easy to use them together and saves resources at the same time.

If you need to dip your toe in the water, try EchoBoy (Delay...duh!) or Decapitator, a mammoth distortion plug-in.

Getting more than what you paid for...

Last year we added two new categories, Favorite Free Virtual Instrument and Favorite Free Virtual Effect.

The winner for Favorite Free Virtual Instrument is Vital from Matt Tytel, a spectral warping wavetable synthesizer. Vital allows the user to stretch, shift, smear and skew harmonics up, down and around the spectrum with animated graphical displays when you need them. Everything moves in real-time so you can see what's going on behind the scenes. It available for Mac, PC, and Linux as a plugin and a standalone application. Pretty cool for free.

And the winner for Favorite Free Virtual Effect is our old friend Valhalla, this time with their ValhallaSupermassive, which has been designed to produce massive combinations of delays and reverbs and "blow your mind and your music to new levels of consciousness and experience."


The entire staff at KVR sends our heartiest congratulations to the companies and developers who have produced these magnificent products. We also congratulate all of the nominees, who were chosen by KVR Readers from thousands of products in the categories.

Check out the winners page at kvraudio.com/readers-choice-awards/2021

See you next year.

Read More KVR Readers Choice Awards



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