Timpani or kettle drums are some of the most powerful and versatile drums out there. And the best thing about them is that they’re tunable on the fly, which means that they can be used in any piece of music in any key you want. Their thunderous voices have been used by composers for well over a hundred years, making them a familiar voice in most orchestras.
But what if you want to compose music with realistic timpani VST sounds? Finding a great sounding timpani VST isn’t easy. That’s why I’ve gone and done the hard work for you and found you some of the best timpani VST currently on the market. So, let’s take a look at them, starting with…
What are Timpani?
Before we jump into which is the best, I just want to explain what these drums are and what they do. In real life, timpani are big kettle-shaped drums that stand about waist high. In most orchestras, it’s typical to have a set of 4 or 5 timpani (a single one is called a “timpano”) all tuned up to give the timpanist several notes to work with.
How does the tuning work?
Each copper kettle drum has a pedal at the bottom. These pedals use tension to pull down on the rim, adding tension to the head. You can usually pre-tune the drums and then set markers at the right notes you want to hit. You can also bend notes while you play or change the pitch quickly with a controlled press of the pedal.
A VST or virtual studio technology plug-in is basically a set of sounds that you can import into a digital audio workstation (DAW). And then play through a MIDI controller or sequencer. But if you’re already specifically looking for a timpani VST, I bet you already knew that.
Timpani VSTs can be stand-alone or part of a percussion library. The best ones will allow you to easily produce hits, flams, rolls, and more with both mallets and sticks. They should have plenty of velocity levels. Oh, and of course, they should actually sound like timpani.
Here are the best free and paid timpani VST options I could find.
Timphonia – Best Affordable Timpani VST
This paid VST is for use with Kontakt (you’ll need the retail version, not just the player, to avoid time-outs) and costs about $80. You might be thinking that’s a lot for a single instrument, and in general, I would agree with you. Except here, Timphonia is giving you excellent quality patches and a truly diverse range of sounds.
You get three folders of patches that include:
- 11 regular patches of hits, ruffs, rolls, and flams with sticks and mallets.
- 18 irregular sounds of things like cymbals bowed on the timpani head, coin spins, splash cymbal spins, bouncing balls, and just about anything you can think of doing to timpani.
- 23 “Shaped Noise” patches of heavily altered timpani sounds.
This is a massive collection, recorded in a neutral studio but giving you close and room mic options. Plus, normally five velocity levels per sound. So for 7.1 GB, you really do get your money’s worth.
Synchron Percussion I – Best Timpani VST Package
Rather than a single instrument VST, Synchron Percussion, it includes the timpani as part of a larger library of orchestral percussion instruments. You get five sampled timpani drums as well as 15 other instruments, including snare, toms, xylophone, cymbals, bells, and lots more. Even a glockenspiel!
So why buy a full package like this? Well, if you’re composing high-quality tracks for film scores or orchestral quality releases, you can get all your percussion in one place. Usually, the price is a better deal, too. Here you’re paying close to $600 for the standard library, but if you compare that to $80 for just timpani (from Timphonia), it’s a deal.
Each instrument was recorded using 12 mics, and you can use their native player to adjust the mic sounds. These are orchestral percussion sounds, so they were recorded in a large hall. The timpani sound full and powerful. Plus, you can play with 16 velocity levels and eight variations for each hit. This gives you massive flexibility in your sound choices.
Spitfire Percussion – Most Versatile Timpani VST
Spitfire Percussion is another VST percussion package that includes timpani coming to you from Spitfire Audio. This company has been putting out some incredible VST packages lately, and Spitfire Percussion is definitely one of them.
You’ll need 55.8GB of free space to support this massive collection of 43,109 samples. You get more instruments here than with Synchron. These include:
- 9 tuned instruments.
- 13 drums.
- 12 percussion “toys.”
- 14 unpitched metal instruments.
- 3 unpitched wood instruments.
Each instrument gives you up to eight round robins and eight dynamic layers. The timpani sound very realistic here, whether played at the lowest volume or the highest power. So do the other instruments. And for $400, it’s a good deal if you need more than just timpani.
Berlin Percussion Timpani – Best Sounding Timpani VST
For just under $150, you can pick up Berlin Percussion Timpani from Orchestral Tools. This is a very accurate and realistic timpani-only VST. You’ve got four different mallet types here, and for each, you get up to seven velocity layers and ten round robins. Leaving you with tons of sounds to choose from.
You need to use Kontakt with this VST, and it also costs a bit more than its competitors. But the payoff is that you get great sounds, with rolls, flams, regular hits, and crescendos and diminuendos. You also get a unique damping ability by playing with release samples. All sounds are recorded with four mics, so you can adjust the set-up for close or room sounds.
If you want a truly accurate timpani-only plug-in, this might be the most accurate timpani VST on the market.
VSCO2 Timpani – Best Free Timpani VST
This is a very basic, free, free, free timpani VST. It’s easy to download and get into this sampled timpani VST. Although, you’ll find it pretty limited in comparison to many of the others we’ve seen so far. It’s only about 50MB in size, so you can guess that it hasn’t got the widest range of functions and velocity levels.
In fact, if you play it at really low-velocity levels, it will leap forward and actually be very noisy. So it has a bug or two. But for a free VST, the sound is pretty decent. You can adjust attack, decay, sustain, release, and reverb. However, it lacks specific controls for rolls and other special effects.
That said, if you just need something fast, simple, and free, you could do worse.
Interested in Percussion, Drums, and Making Music?
We can help you with that. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Drum VST Plugins, the Best Hardware Sequencers, the Best Drum Machines, the Best Beat Machines for Hip Hop, and the Best Electronic Drum Pads you can buy in 2023.
You may also like our reviews of the Best Electronic Drum Sets, the Best Jazz Drum Sets, the Best Portable Drum Kits, the Best Snare Drums, the Best Drumsticks, the Best Bongos, the Best Congas, and the Best Tambourines currently on the market.
Best Timpani VST Plug-ins – Final Thoughts
There are lots more standalone timpani plug-ins out there. Some of them sound pretty good and don’t cost all that much. A lot are free and sound pretty bad. Others are packaged with full percussion sets like the ones I’ve reviewed here. But for not a lot of money, or free, these are definitely some great timpani VSTs.
As a rule, try to buy a high-quality multi-instrument package if you do a lot of high-quality composing for films or orchestral pieces. If you only really need a great timpani, get a standalone VST. And if you’re not too concerned about the realism of the sound, since you’re going to process it through effects, go ahead and pick up a free VST.
And until next time, let your music play.