Here below is a selection of synth plugins that I have found have that nostalgic, lo-fi, vintage sound epitomized by Boards of Canada and others.
Last updated: 25-December-2018.
My philosophy: If you really want the Boards of Canada sound, use the synths that they actually used – or use vst emulations of those synths. Then process them like they may have. I have a whole deconstruction going on in this article here: https://larslentzaudio.wordpress.com/2018/02/20/deconstructing-the-boards-of-canada-boc-sound-and-music/
Here below are videos of vintage sounds you can get from the synth vsts listed below.
Truly Vintage Synth VST Plugins to Try
These can get you close if not spot on to the BoC sound. After all, Boards of Canada used some of these same synthesizers (in hardware form).
- Roland SH-101 – The iconic synth that typifies the bulk of Boards of Canada songs.
- Get the TAL Bassline 101 synth vst plugin (the paid one – not the free one). This synth is the bass synth to have. It can be made to have exactly the Boards of Canada sound. I’ve made the bass and lead for Roygbiv and they are dead on.
- By the way, I tried the D16 LuSH-101 synth vst, but it just isn’t as good, in my opinion. But try it if you think it can work for you.
- Roland Juno 60 – The Juno 6 is almost the same as the 60, but get the 60 if you can. Do not get the Juno 106 unless you have to – it has a weaker sound than the 6 and 60.
- Get the TAL U-NO-LX synth vst plugin (the paid one – not the free one). The Jupiter 60 sound is in most of the Boards of Canada’s works somewhere although they may not have actually used this synth hardware. You will be amazed at how it sounds like a lot of BoC’s songs.
- Also, U-he’s Diva has a basic setting to replicate the Juno.
- Samplers – Various samplers were used by Boards of Canada. Mostly Akai models. That does not matter as much as the sound you get from sampling.
- Replicate this sound on any synth vst by using effects like
- Goodhertz’s Wow Control is an authentic tape-sounding plugin that replicates the wow effect very effectively.
- TAL’s DAC, a free plugin if you own TAL Sampler (you should) that has a setting for the Akai S1000 sampler that is indicative of so much of the Boards of Canada sound.
- iZotope Vinyl, a free plugin, that gives a great simulation of the BoC sound if you leave out the record pops and dust effects.
- Dyvision’s VHS is an effect that gets you close to that VHS type of tape noise and wow-effect.
- Vinyl Strip by Audiothing is best on drums but can work well on synths also.
- alternatively, RC-20 Retro Color by XLN Audio. The Vinyl strip is easier on your CPU, but the RC-20 has more features.
- The plugin effect to replicate samplers is the D16-made Decimort. It is excellent at replicating sampler noise and bit crushing.
- U-he’s Satin, although a tape machine simulation, can make a lot of sense in a Boards of Canada effect chain.
- Replicate this sound on any synth vst by using effects like
- U-he Diva – The Diva synth replicates many of the vintage samplers out there. It can sound most like Boards of Canada in a single vst plugin. But, the drawbacks are that it uses a lot of memory and the interface can be intimidating. (You will notice Diva mentioned again and again in the listings because it is that good at replicating analog synths.)
- Yamaha CS-70m – The CS-70m had a different sound than the CS-80. Boards of Canada may have used the CS-70m. It may have been their “secret weapon.”
- It is worth having and the easiest way to get this sound in a vst plugin is the Kx-PolyM-CSE. It is free. But, the drawback is that it is not very user-friendly.
- U-he’s Diva can also be made to sound like the CS-70m with some experimentation.
- Yamaha CS-80 – The CS-80 is iconic for the Vangelis and Blade Runner Soundtrack sounds. The synth itself was so costly that it is not believed that Boards of Canada used it.
- However, a good emulation of it is the ME-80 vst plugin by Memory Moon.
- In Kontakt instruments, the Esper Noir by UnEarthed Sampling has an excellent sound.
- U-he’s Diva can replicate the CS-80 sound with some trial and error.
- Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 – This iconic synth was known for its string sounds. The later versions (6 and 600) were not as well-liked as the original 5. While Boards of Canada may not have used this synth, it is still an iconic sound from their era of musical rendering.
- A great vst plugin for this synth is the Memory Moon Messiah.
- In Kontakt instruments, I have found a Prophet 600 emulation via the Autodafe Prophet 600.
- Also, the U-he Repro is a vst that simulates the Prophet. U-he products are very good.
- The U-he Diva vst can come close.
- Moog Memorymoog – The Moog sound is undeniable and this was their last synth made back in 1982 before the company went bankrupt. This synth is like having 6 Minimoogs in one so get this one if you can instead of the Minimoog.
- Memory Moon makes a great emulation in a vst plugin called Memorymoon.
- Moog sounds are in the U-he Diva as well. There is a starting preset.
- Crumar Trilogy or Delta – A Crumar synth was rumored to be one that Boards of Canada used. It was probably not the Trilogy or the Delta, but these synths have the essence of the Crumar sound. They do sound a lot like some Boards of Canada sounds.
- I have not found a vst plugin but in Kontakt, the instrument The Sounds of the Trilogy and The Sounds of the Delta both by Synth Magic are very close to the BoC sound.
- In a vst, the U-he Diva can make a Trilogy-like sound. Some experimentation is needed.
- Roland Jupiter 8 – Unique sounds come from this synthesizer. It was not known to be used by Boards of Canada, but it is worth trying out just for the sounds it produces. Jupiter 6 is good as well.
- A good implementation of a Jupiter in a Kontakt instrument is the Mini-Jupe by Rhythmic Robot.
- In a vst, the U-he Diva can replicate the Jupiter 8 as well. The basic presets have a starting point for the Jupiter.
Recommended BoC-Sounding Synths and Effects
- TAL Sampler – This is a sampler that contains the sampler profile of the Akai S1000 that has such a distinct sound to it, mimicking closely the sounds of Boards of Canada. See below the bottom of this list for a video someone made where they are playing around with TAL Sampler and getting some great BoC type sounds out of it.
- Izotope Iris – This is a sampler at heart with four channels of sampled sound that can be overlayed to get very close to the Boards of Canada signature sounds. Here’s the Izotope-iris-2-reference-manual.
- U-He Diva – This is an analog synth in a plugin. It hogs memory for sure but produces some of the sweetest analog sounds possible. It is nearly indistinguishable from real vintage synthesizers. One can easily experiment and get that “BoC sound.” It can mimic the sounds of Moog’s Minimoog, Roland’s Jupiter 6, Jupiter 8, Alpha Juno and Juno 60, and Korg’s MS20. Diva-user-guide
- FXpansion’s Strobe 2 – It may seem unlikely at first, but Strobe 2 can generate almost exact replicas of the BoC sound. Strobe2_Operation_Manual
- Sonic Charge Synplant – This synth has a unique interface and a unique way of creating and “growing” sounds. Once able to navigate the DNA of the plants, it is possible and quite easy to get a nice vintage sound out of this synth. “Organic” almost describes the sounds this synth plugin puts out and it is definitely reminiscent of vintage synthesis.
- Psychic Modulation Phonec2 – A low-cost synth plugin that really packs a big punch. Wow, does it capture that lo-fi sound. It replicates the Boards of Canada sound almost exactly in some cases. At such a low cost and with a big impact, it is worth experimenting with. I have some presets available for it here: https://larslentzaudio.wordpress.com/2020/04/30/psychic-modulations-phonec-synth-vst-presets-boards/
- Echomelt, also by Psychic Modulation, is an effect that is excellent for causing the sound of old tape and samplers.
- Xfer Serum – It may seem strange to see Serum on a list purporting to replicate Boards of Canada sounds, but this versatile synth plugin can really replicate it. While not typically thought of as a vintage synth, with a wavetable input section and a noise generator that can load up any sound file, this synth can sound vintage along with the best of them. It is possible to add LFOs to many parameters and to add effects as well to get that “VHS-like” sound. See below the bottom of this list for a video.
- Lennar Digital Synlenth1 – This synth has a warm analog soul to it that gives it a convincing “old sound” perfectly suited for sounding like vintage equipment. Unlike Serum, it is not a stretch to call this synth analog. In fact, it reproduces analog sounds very well and sounds remarkably crisp in its delivery. Depth and warmth are strong points in this synth plugin and it does not disappoint in its versatility as well. It can be used not only for vintage sounds but for modern ones as well and although not a wavetable input type of synth, with some fiddling the controls can replicate that Boards of Canada sound.
- Kontakt Instrument Retcon by Audiowarp – This sampler instrument sound nearly exactly like BoC keyboards.
- For the Taylor Big Baby guitar that BoC used particularly on The Campfire Headphase, try these:
- Kontakt Instrument Gas by Audiowarp – This instrument sounds a lot like the guitars of Boards of Canada used on The Campfire Headphase.
- The Sonivox sampled instrument, Taylor Guitar – This is the same instrument that BoC used so how can you go wrong here.
- Kontakt Instrument Headphase by AudioReward – This sampler instrument combines elements to make a near-BoC sound.
- SampleScience plugins Hexagon Sky, Pastoral Tones, and Suntron all have a near-identical BoC sound.