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, ringmod and true polyphonic unison. It could also be considered a stripped down Jupiter-8 (or Prophet-5) with a touch of JP-8000, but in general, it's its own take on the classic 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 with the unison feature, it can very useful for Trance, Techno, House, 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, stabs and 90s trance sounds. 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 (this goes for any poly synth really): 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It does not have 3 Oscillators with heaps of waveforms.
It does not have 64 modulation slots.
It does not have any effects.
It does not have an arpeggiator.
It does not have a photorealistic GUI with wooden sideparts.
It has only 16 knobs, 8 sliders and 31 buttons.
I like that.
When I first saw Charlatan, I instantly took to the GUI. It is extremely user-friendly, well layed-out, and all GUI elements are big enough so they can be easily handled with a mouse. And it is red, because red synths obviously sound better, according to "stanlea" from the official thread.
Once you get used to the limited feature set and remember that the elders of yore actually got some nice sounds out of their similarly limited minimoogs and pro-ones, you will discover that Charlatan is in fact quite versatile and capable of creating lots of different sounds. The limitations here need to bee seen as a feature, you are not overwhelmed by endless possibilities but can concentrate on creating good sounds that you can actually use in a song instead of just listen to in a preset.
All that would be useless of course if the sound wasn't good, but fortunately, it is. Charlatan has a very pleasant basic sound, nice and round with a beefy low-end, maybe not the last word in analogue emulation, but I don't think it is intended to be.
Charlatan may not be the most innovative synth, and especially nowadays where we soon have more virtual synthesizer plugins than ants on the planet, this seems a handicap. But as Charlatan has all the qualities of a good workhorse - good sound, ease of use and low CPU consumption - I am sure that it will find its way into many a song.
A relatively simple freeware synth with a real life and character of it's own. This freeware number can hold it's own around the supermodern VA's and new analog units coming out these days... and it won't let you down when it comes to bold analog-style sounds. The oscillators sound great detuned and the slew rate modulation going from triangle to sawtooth is always nice to have - I've no idea why this is such a rarity. Wheras PWM starts with a full spectrum and works a bit like a phased highpass filter as the pulse gets narrower, SRM starts with a full sawtooth and acts like a chalky, phased lowpass filter as the waveform approaches the triangle shape.
I kept wishing for more features, such as PWM on both oscillators, a wider detune range for wide octaved sounds, and the ability to have both envelope and LFO affect the filter. But I found creative ways around all of these problems. There are drawbacks, but that's part of the fun, I suppose.
Oscillator sync sounds very nice, as does the bandpass filter. In fact, the filter is very nice in general; It stays organic even in the high frequencies, which is usually where free VA's fail. It would be lovely to have a highpass in here, as well as a few extra odds and ends. But that doesn't detract from the vivid and lively sounds it produces, which don't need oversampling or effects to sound like something real. A must have for anyone into bread-and-butter analogue-style synthesis.
I'm working on a patch bank, also, because it's just one of those synths :)
When looking for a relatively simple synth that sounds good and gets the job done, it is surprisingly hard to find one that's the perfect balance between simplicity, enough features, and good sound. This is that balance. It's a "Virtual Analog" synth in every sense of the word. Not cluttered, but not simplistic and limited either. Good sound quality for low to moderate CPU usage. While you may be tempted to think of this as "just another VA synth," I urge you to try it out. It is an excellent little free synth.
Charlatan is a free Virtual Analog synthesiser VSTi that is 100% coded in C++ and has native 64bit support. At the time of writing, not many free synths share these two facts.
A first look at Charlatan might give you the impression that it's a very simple synthesizer, but once you start using it, you will soon discover that you can make some very interesting and impressive sounds with it.
When you take a look at oscillator 1, your first concern might be that you don't see a SAW wave. No worries, you can make a SAW wave with the Shape knob. When you select the Triangle waveform and turn the shape knob fully clockwise, you will have a very nice sounding SAW wave at your disposal. Now select the SAW waveform in Oscillator 2 and detune them both slightly. This is where you find out what sets this plugin apart from many many other free synthesizer plugins. It actually sounds amazing! Not digital at all, but it really gives you that sound you might recognize from real hardware synthesizers or other great software synthesizer plugins, often costing a lot of money.
This synthesizer plugin can be very versatile, you can make some fantastic sounding bass sounds with it, but it can also make some very convincing electric piano sounds, leads, pads, strings and percussion sounds. Actually, the sky is the limit, or should we say, your programming skills is the limit!
We made a soundbank for Charlatan and you can download it from here: http://www.kvraudio.com/product/charlatan-by-blaukraut-engineering/downloads
If you are interested to hear Charlatan in action, take a listen to this track that is made with 21 instanced of Charlatan using presets from our soundbank: http://soundcloud.com/solidtrax/solidtrax-charlatan-21
Thanks to BlauKraut Engineering for sharing this great plugin with us for free!
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?
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.