KVR Challenge 2021

What is the KVR Challenge? 


KVR Audio is an online, global community dedicated solely to music and audio applications. They are perhaps best known for hosting the KVR Developer challenge, where developers submit their plugins and the best ones are upvoted by the community. The best part? All plugins are free to download.


In a world with a rising number of bedroom producers, there is a real need to create new sounds and stand out from the pack. New plugins can help a producer do just that. Furthermore, some of the plugins from this year have simple & stripped back user interfaces. Some existing plugins, while powerful and effective, can be quite intimidating to use –  especially for producers who are just starting out.  


Five cash prizes are awarded to the top entries and a wildcard pick. Prize money is sponsored by the community-funded KVR Developer Challenge 2021 donation pool. Previous challenges have given us popular freeware plugins like YouLean Loudness Meter, Triple Cheese by u-he (original 2006 winner), and Roth Air.


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What’s new in 2021?


The 2021 challenge saw 37 entries in total, ranging from audio effects, to synths, to music composition tools. Here are our 5 top picks from this year:


 1. Chameleon 


Source: GuitarML.com, 2021


Chameleon is a guitar plugin/standalone app that uses neural networks to create three distinct sounds from a vintage style amp head. The core sound comes from a neural net inference engine which allows the plugin to disguise itself as a high-end tube amplifier. Advanced machine learning was used to capture three distinct sounds, named Red (high gain), Gold (crunchy), and Green (clean). In the same way that a real amp head is used with a cabinet and other effects, this plugin is intended to be used in the signal chain along with IR’s (cabinet simulation), reverb, and any guitar effects.


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2. GR-8 


Source: Phuturetone, 2021


Everybody loves a free synthesizer – and this free 8-voice virtual analog synth with built-in effects and an arpeggiator is pretty GR-8 if we may say so ourselves. It features 5 arpeggiator modes, a 4-octave range, 2 oscillators, and 88 presets. With its clean interface, it might be a good addition along with other free synths we like at Beat Lab like Vital & Helm


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3. Virtuosity Drums


Source: Versilian Studios, 2021


 Virtuosity Drums is an open-source (Creative Commons) contemporary Jazz drum kit library, performed with sticks, recorded at Virtuosity Musical Instruments in Boston, MA. It features performances by drummer Austin McMahon on the shop’s “house kit”, indicative of a typical setup in a live club or venue, recorded in the style of a live recording. The library is available in SFZ format and designed specifically to work in SFZ players like Sforzando.


The snare, toms, and kick were recorded with a ‘wave’ technique, where rather than attempting to record discrete dynamic levels, the drummer freely played louder and softer notes in a series of dynamic swells which were then cut and sorted. The result is up to 36 dynamic levels with no round robins, which makes these instruments very suitable to live playing on the keyboard or drum pad as they will benefit enormously from the natural variation in velocity. The cymbals on the other hand use a smaller number of discrete velocity layers at 4 round robins, to help in situations of high repetition.


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STFU is a super quick to use sidechainer that can be automatically synced to your DAW’s BPM or triggered by MIDI. Using MIDI trigger, you can overcome limitations of synth volume envelopes for several purposes. STFU can also output CV for use with hosts and modular plugins.


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5. LARAS – A Musical Typewriter



Source: KVR Audio, 2021


LARAS – which means Music Scale in the Javanese language), is a free (and soon to be open-source) tool that can be used as a music composition tool, scale learning tool, or musical “typewriter.” It includes a database of 175 scales, 74 chord types, and more than 500 common progressions.


Learn More

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All entries

And finally, here are all the entries from the challenge, sorted by category. All of these are definitely worth exploring to expand the range of your sonic palette. 


Audio effects:

  1. Cloud Chorus
  2. FKFX Influx resonator distortion
  3. Transperc Transient Processor
  4. GFilter Multitype Filter
  5. Blumlein Noise Suppression Shield
  6. Grain Strain Granular Looper
  7. STFU Volume Shaper
  8. RDistortion
  9. Olitanh Vintage Compressor
  10. Eplex7 Analog Filter & Distortion
  11. TiltEQ 
  12. More Distortion
  13. DeLate Delay
  14. FourHead Delay/Granulator
  15. NB01 Distortion/Sustainer
  16. Emphasis Multiband Compressor
  17. EchoMatrix
  18. PiKTrix Sample Collector & Rompler
  19. MixMaxTrix Mixer
  20. Chameleon Guitar Amp

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  1. GR8
  2. Switch Mode
  3. Hum 808
  4. BamBoomBa
  5. Reducktion
  6. WhispAir
  7. Solina2K
  8. Nettle
  9. Emergence

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  1. Drumodifier
  2. TRex V Beats 
  3. Virtuousity Drums

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Music Composition & Education 

  1. LARAS Musical Typewriter
  2. FilterDeMystifier
  3. Tick Metronome

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We hope you found this list helpful! Remember – we recommend first mastering the tools available to you inside Ableton before venturing into the world of VST Plugins. If you’re ready for a world-class education, learning the ins & outs of Ableton, right from the comfort of your laptop – check out our courses below to enrol as a Beat Lab student.

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