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Synth (Analogue / Subtractive) Plugin by BlauKraut Engineering
Charlatan by BlauKraut Engineering is a Virtual Instrument Audio Plugin for Windows. It functions as a VST Plugin.
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Charlatan, a freeware polyphonic, subtractive virtual analog (VA) synth with focus on sound quality and easy usability. It comes with a flexible, yet not overwhelming feature set which encourages artists to start tweaking instead of just relying on presets. Inspite of it's simplicity, Charlatan's architecture is flexible enough to create both classic sounds and rather experimental noises. While making no compromise about sound quality, the sound engine has been highly optimized for efficient CPU usage making Charlatan well suited as a "bread and butter" synth even in projects with a large number of plugin instances.

Key Features

  • 2 oscillators with shape modulation.
  • Oscillator hard synchronization and ring modulation.
  • Unison mode with upto 7 voices and stereo spread.
  • Stereo noise generator.
  • 2 ADSR envelope generators.
  • LFO with host tempo synchronization.
  • 3 filter types modeled after classic analog hardware: 4-pole (24 db/oct) and 2-pole (12 db/oct) lowpass, bandpass.
  • 3 voice modes: Monophonic, Monophonic Legato and 8-voice Polyphonic.
  • Ultra-low CPU usage.

Latest User Reviews

Average user rating of 4.33 from 9 reviews

Reviewed By cyrb
July 29th, 2021

I'm giving it four stars only because it's been exactly 6 years since it was updated, and it desperately needs quality of life and bug fixes. Otherwise I'd give it a 5.

At first glance, Charlatan presents as a very simple and limited virtual analog synth, but what sets it apart is its quality analog oscillators and filter. It's oscillators and filters sound excellent and lively, made better by the subtle (almost unnoticeable) analog 'drift' effect employed under the hood, which is uncommon in free plugins. Also, it's kind to your CPU meter, so don't be afraid to use more than one instance.

In essence, Charlatan is somewhat comparable to Roland's Juno-60 or Korg Polysix in terms of capabilities and philosophy. But it actually has more features, such as a proper second oscillator, oscillator sync and ringmod. It could also be considered a stripped down Jupiter-8 or Prophet-5, but in general, it's its own take on the 80s poly synth.

Because of its limitations and wanting to keep things simple, you likely will not stray too far from typical 80s sounds like basses, pads and poly sounds. It's just not as versatile as your typical semi-modular hybrid soft synth. Though I'm sure it can be useful for House, Techno, and other surprising areas. Charlatan is particularly great for basses; some of the best 80s style basses I've heard in a free plugin! It holds up even for synth brass and stabs. It can do string machines, transistor organs, and all sorts of other keyboard sounds as well. With its noise oscillator, it makes surprisingly useful filler FX. It's even possible to squeeze out dissonant drones and usable drum sounds.

So in essence, it's dead simple and limited, but that's not a bad thing. Limitations breed creativity as they say. It sounds good enough to easily fill the 80s polysynth role, but is versatile enough that you can still find new and interesting timbres by experimenting. Also, don't neglect on the Unison and Stereo modes. Older versions of Charlatan did not have this, but they can really add a lot to the sound.

That said, it's not perfect. Osc 2 can only be detuned up to 6 semitones, which means... no perfect fifths. Does the creator have a vendetta against fifths, to stop at exactly 6?! There are also bugs. Sometimes I found patches don't load properly, glitches out, or don't sound right, particularly if in POLY mode. And it doesn't seem to honor initial pitch bend messages for fine tuning, though this may not be exclusive to Charlatan. An additional way to alter the drift amount would also have been huge in a free plugin. But these are not deal breakers.

Using it with a chorus greatly augments the synth: The free TAL Chorus LX is a great load-once-and-forget chorus, but any decent BBD or multi-voice chorus will do, but that's a whole other topic. Also you'll want a good reverb. TAL's free reverb plugins are well-suited for the job (I personally like the older TAL-Reverb-2 for its tone) Then there's also Supermassive (free), which can be warm and spacey.

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Reviewed By lolilol1975
November 21st, 2020

Don't be fooled by its basic interface. This synth is very capable and has a great sound that will sit perfectly in any production. Because it's so lightweight on your CPU, you can use as many synth layers as you want without taxing your computer. Charlatan does exactly what every subtractive synth should do but nothing more. There is no arpeggiator or no effect included. Just add your favorite delay, chorus, and/or reverb to it and you are set for any real world production. Soundwise, you will get the same kind of sound as the old synths like the Juno, but you'd be hard pressed to distinguish it from one of the big boys.

Because it is so basic, Charlatan invites you to tweak your sound instead of browsing through hundreds or thousands of presets. I consider it the best synth to learn out there.

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Reviewed By Will Zégal
March 7th, 2019

I'll make it short : I've nothing else to add and to cut off to all the good things said about this synth by other reviewers.

Charlatan sounds pretty good, is simple, efficient with low CPU consomption. What else ?

It's my workhorse when I want to make a sound with no hassle.

This only cons is the lack of internal preset management. It uses the host one... if it has one.

Of course it's a encouragement to do sounds by ourselves and that's easy with this synth. But when I do a sound in a DAW and want to use it in a soft that doesn't offer VST presets management (like Maschine), I have to mimic the tunings by hand, like on a oldschool hardware synth with no memory. An incongruity in the digital world.

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Reviewed By The Chase
December 29th, 2015

This is a remarkable instrument. You can tell it was made not just by a good programmer trying to engineer a synth in the ways that sound good on paper, but by an artist who knows how to tweak a synth to make it sound good musically.

Softsynths don't really get a better core sound than this. The oscillators and filters are perfect, very crisp and full. Great brightness without harshness, and warm low-mid presence without muddiness. The envelopes have great curvature, snappy decays and nice attack/release fading on pads. Unison detune rings out with good texture instead of the waveforms clashing into noise the way a synths' unisons do.

Great interface. Parameters left-to-right along the signal path, and is attractive and responsive. This is a very well-made plug-in. I've had no glitches or odd behavior even with many instances running at a time.

I couldn't believe this thing is a freebie. It would have fetched a few hundred bucks just a decade ago.

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Reviewed By oscillian
March 8th, 2015

It's hard to describe why I keep going back to this plugin even if I have a ton of other commercial alternatives. Maybe it's the great sound. Maybe it's the intuitive interface. Maybe it's just the stripped down features. Or maybe it's all of the above.

Plenty of character, lovely filters and actually just the right feel of how a slider or knob responds in the GUI (So many plugins just misses this detail) and all of this for free makes it a no brainer.

This is a track I made using only Charlatan for all sounds, including drums. Not one time did I feel the need to load another plugin and that is the true mark of a great instrument.


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Comments & Discussion for BlauKraut Engineering Charlatan

Discussion: Active
25 December 2011 at 11:27am

excellent synth, sounds great. perfect for all sequencer lines, with multiple

instances running. would like to see more from this dev in the future, taking

the concept a bit further. top-notch go-to machine. (would be nice to set different

background colour, too, next time ;) )

28 December 2011 at 1:28pm

That's also what we think and hope for (and more). Would be awesome to have a highpass filter and some more osc-options/waves f.e.

24 January 2012 at 6:16pm

I actually have grown to love this VST. The Organ 1 sound preset is so phat it's just awesome!

Great VST!

24 January 2012 at 9:30pm

sweet but solid sound. filter sounds great, would love to LFO and envelope modulation

thank you very much!

I hope for more...

12 June 2012 at 4:38am

Sounds great, especially the demo track on y'alls site. any chance of an OS X version for when I'm away from my Windows rig?

7 January 2013 at 12:16am

Just discovered the Charlatan synth, and I must say that for a free VST I am very impressed.

6 June 2013 at 9:43am

The best characteristic of this synth is that it is extremely simple and easy to use.

I like the sound especially playing keys and basses in poliphonic mode.

Would be fine add modulation to the LFO with the Mod. Envelope.




7 August 2014 at 9:54pm

Great sounds from a neat synth.

Will their be a better preset browser in future?

8 March 2015 at 9:40pm


Track made with 12 instances goes to show the scope of a lovely plugin.

10 March 2015 at 5:36pm

A beautiful demo! Great.

5 May 2015 at 5:02pm

Hello dominic I downloaded the 2.0 b file, except that it is version 1.4.1.

21 May 2015 at 1:56am

someday we will have a Linux version?

1 June 2015 at 1:15am

Im having trouble loading preset banks... I wanna use Charlatan in a DAW called Stagelight, but there is no button in the host to open complimentary files, like these preset files.

In Ableton it was easy to do because it offers a button to open preset files, but still, the presets won't show up in Stagelight. Is there another way to add presets?? I just don't see how within the GUI in Charlatan?

9 February 2016 at 8:36am

Please add the key tracking for the volume. I mean the key tracking that makes the volume for the notes different. Like the higher the note the lower the volume and vice versa.

Similar to the key tracking for the filter.

16 January 2017 at 10:16am

it ought to be possible to set up a multitimbral charlatan array with some sort of MIDI filtering and routing. i'll bet Reaper could handle that.

15 June 2016 at 4:13pm

Have just downloaded and instaled charlatan as i was its a good synth for a beginner so looking for a tutorial or help with using it.

16 January 2017 at 10:11am

this is an incredible instrument that has replaced (the previous king of freeware synths) for me. Charlatan is so ergonomic, easy to navigate, almost too simple, and it is almost impossible to make it sound bad. It is refreshing that it is not yet another clone of some other synth, and that it is a sincere attempt to deliver the goods without getting ahead of itself in terms of usability and expected behavior.

7 August 2018 at 6:01am

Very good filter sound. Quick GUI edit and a nice unisono option. Still state of the art and placed on one track in the mix.

Rack Extension?

1 February 2019 at 7:42am

I don't know do you still read that or not but we're looking forward Charlatan 3.0 :).

I'm kidding but if you have time it'd be really lovely.

Anyway Thank you a lot! It's great synth.

btw What's the trick? :).

28 May 2020 at 8:33pm

Great synth that I use to make some retro beats. Wrote a blog about it to support the developers that you can read from here: https://beatsbymirakle.beatstars.com/blog/the-best-things-in-music-happen-by-accident-charlatan-synth-8247

Also made a beat with it that you can listen here: https://bsta.rs/1f580ff9

Had fun with this synth, so I hope the developer get to see that.



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