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SQ8L VST Full Details And Review: ALL You Will Need to Know!

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Synthesizers have always been playing and will always play an essential role in modern music production. Ever since RCA (Radio Corporation of America) developed the first-ever synthesizer as far back as 1952, synthesizers have been playing an important part in the evolution of music and music technology.

Regardless of style or genre, synths (both hardware and software) can always fit in and make some magic if you want them to. Over the years, music technologists have done great work in emulating some of our favourite hardware synths and thereby giving us their VST versions. 

One importance of synthesizers over other hardware or software instruments is that it offers a wide range of sounds to choose from. Having a single VST synth in your DAW would be the same as having 100s of VST instruments, sounds, and patches. 

Also, the ability to tweak and customize your sound to meet your unique sonic taste is also an important feature and advantage. Also, the availability of several factory and user presets to choose from makes the use of synthesizers a lot more fun and crucial in making music. 

The SQ8L is a software (VST) model of the renowned Ensoniq’s classic 1980s synth SQ80—manufactured from 1987 to 1989. If you are in search of warm, ambient tones, then this might be the perfect VST synth for you. 

One of the most notable features of SQ8L is its rich and robust sound library. This virtual instrument has been designed to emulate the sound of vintage analogue synthesizers, offering a range of warm, organic sounds that are perfect for adding depth and texture to your music projects. 

Whether you’re looking for classic basses, soaring leads, or atmospheric pads, SQ8L has you covered. But SQ8L isn’t just about recreating the sounds of vintage synthesizers. 

It also offers a range of modern sounds and sound design options that can help you create unique and innovative sounds. With its intuitive interface and powerful features, this VST is perfect for both beginners and advanced users.

The SQL8 plugin features three digital wavetables that can be tuned to your liking with an array of filters, envelopes, and LFOs. In this article, we will review in detail the renowned SQ8L VST plugin and tell you everything you will ever need to know about it. To find out, all you have to do is read on! 

A Brief History of the SQ8L VST

Siegfried Kullmann created SQ8L as a software model (VST) of the Ensoniq SQ-80 synthesizer. The Ensoniq SQ-80, a digital/analogue synthesizer manufactured by Ensoniq Corporation from 1987 to 1989, was the successor to the Ensoniq ESQ-1 synthesizer. 

The SQ-80 combined digital wavetable synthesis with analogue filtering, offering a unique and versatile sound palette. The plugin was developed to recreate the iconic sound and capabilities of the original hardware synth, providing users with a digital emulation of the SQ-80’s distinctive tones and features.

The SQ-80 introduced Ensoniq’s groundbreaking Polypressure Keyboard technology, offering channel pressure and polyphonic pressure (aftertouch), setting it apart from previous products like the ESQ-1 and Mirage. 

Its use of non-mechanical sensors made it unique, which eliminated issues related to contact problems and pressure sensor wear-out, common in conventional keyboards, ESQ-1, and Mirage.

One of the significant aspects of the SQ8L plugin is that it is available as a free VST plugin. This contributed to its popularity among music producers and enthusiasts looking for cost-effective yet high-quality synthesizer sounds. 

Due to its abandonware status, development of the plugin stopped in 2008, meaning that no further updates or official support were provided beyond that point.

Despite being abandonware, SQ8L has continued to find a dedicated user base due to its unique sound and availability as a free download.

SQ8L VST Specs – Features and Sound


  • Wavetable Oscillators
    Like its hardware counterpart, the SQ8L VST features 3 digital wavetable oscillators per voice. These oscillators offer a selection of 43 additional waveforms, including drum kits, providing a diverse sonic palette.
  • Analogue-Style Filters
    SQ8L offers 1 analogue filter per voice, providing a 4-pole lowpass filtering with resonance. This filter type allows users to shape the sound with warm and rich analogue-style filtering.
  • Modulation Sources
    The VST plugin includes 4 envelopes and 3 LFOs per voice, offering a variety of modulation possibilities. That allows for expressive and dynamic sound shaping.
  • MIDI Modulation
    SQ8L supports MIDI modulation sources, enabling users to control various sound parameters using MIDI controllers such as aftertouch and velocity.
  • Multi-Timbral Capability
    The SQ8L VST can perform multi-timbral operations, allowing users to simultaneously play and sequence multiple sounds.
  • Reverb Effect
    The plugin has a built-in reverb effect, adding ambiance and depth to the sounds.

Sound Characteristics:

  • 80s Synthwave Vibes
    The SQ-80 hardware synthesizer was known for its distinct 80s-style sounds, and the SQ8L VST faithfully emulates those characteristics. It excels at producing lush pads, vintage leads, and warm basses reminiscent of the synth-wave genre.
  • Digital Sound with Analogue Flavor
    Combining digital wavetable oscillators and analogue-style filtering gives SQ8L a unique sonic quality, blending digital precision with the warmth of analogue components.
  • Versatile Sound Design
    With its multiple oscillators, modulation sources, and filters, SQ8L offers a wide range of sound design possibilities. Users can create everything from classic retro sounds to experimental textures.

SQ8L VST Detailed Review

The SQ8L is the free demo version of the SQ8X, where “L” stands for “Light” and “X” for “eXtended.” The SQ8L has a few limitations compared to the full version, including a polyphony limit of 8 voices and ignoring program change messages. 

Common MIDI controllers like Master Volume and Pan have no default effect and must be programmed as modulators. When used with a sequencer, only the sound in the edit buffer can be saved within the song file.

The much anticipated full version SQ8X (which was never launched) was supposed to offer additional features, such as combinations of up to 4 single sounds, adjustable polyphony with more than 8 voices, new filter algorithms with various modes, a second filter, and different routing options for the filters (serial, parallel, split). 

The SQ8L also has three volume envelopes, four LFOs, and three MAX buttons to tweak and shape the sound according to the user’s preferences. Additionally, SQ8L includes a reverb effect to add depth and ambience to the sounds.

Lastly, its sound bank menu lets you scroll through different sounds and recall, copy, and paste presets into one another. The presets give you a good starting point, and you get an interesting collection of pre-made sounds you can use in your production. 

Pros of SQ8L VST:

  • Free Availability: One of the main advantages of SQ8L is that it is a free VST plugin, making it accessible to a wide range of music producers.
  • Captures Vintage Sound: The plugin successfully captures the essence of the Ensoniq SQ-80 synthesizer, allowing users to create authentic vintage sounds.
  • Versatile Sound Design: With its multiple oscillators, filters, and modulation sources, SQ8L offers a diverse range of sounds, from digital and dirty to warm and analogue.
  • Compatible with Windows: SQ8L is available as a 32-bit VST plugin for Windows operating systems.

Cons of SQ8L VST:

  • Limited to 8 Voices: The plugin’s polyphony is limited to 8 voices, which might constrain complex arrangements.
  • Program Change Messages Ignored: SQ8L does not respond to program change messages, limiting its flexibility in live performances.
  • Abandoned Development: SQ8L’s development stopped in 2008, meaning there might be no further updates or bug fixes.
  • Available only as a VST plugin: This SQ-80 emulation is not compatible with DAWs like Logic Pro and the latest versions of Pro Tools that do not work with VTS. 

SQ8L VST Design, Interface, and Ease of Use

As an emulation, its design and interface aim to replicate the look and feel of the original hardware synth while providing ease of use for modern digital music production.

The plugin has an interesting vintage-digital aesthetic and an interface that shows the signal flow of the synth. It’s a simple button-based interface where you can select your preferable controls by selecting the button. 

The interface of SQ8L typically resembles a virtual synthesizer rack or panel, similar to classic hardware synthesizers. It includes essential elements such as oscillators, filters, envelopes, and LFOs, which are visually represented on the interface for easy parameter adjustment. 

The interface generally follows a signal flow from top to bottom, making it intuitive for users to understand how the sound is generated and shaped. The plugin’s visual design is straightforward and user-friendly, allowing you to access and manipulate its various parameters quickly.

All controls are well laid-out and easy to use. It has DCAs (Digitally-controlled amplifiers) for all oscillators, which allow you to control the mix and impact of all three oscillators. Next, its digital screen lets you monitor everything you’re doing. 


Rounding it all up, the SQ8L VST is a free software model of the classic Ensoniq SQ80 synthesizer, offering a versatile range of sounds and capturing the essence of vintage 80s synth-wave. 

Its design and interface replicate the look of traditional hardware synths, with a simple button-based layout that allows easy access to its various controls. The plugin’s signal flow is intuitive, making sound shaping and modulation straightforward. 

With its multiple oscillators, filters, envelopes, and LFOs, SQ8L offers a diverse sonic palette and customizable sound design possibilities. Despite being abandonware, SQ8L continues to find popularity among music producers due to its unique sound and availability as a free download. 

Sonically, it’s perfect for making synth-pop, retro pop, 80s pop, etc. If you want to create something along the lines of Tame Impala, 1975, The Weeknd, Top Gun soundtrack, etc., the synth can give you a good place to find inspiration and get started. 

However, it has limitations, such as being 32-bit and limited to 8 voices, and it does not respond to program change messages. Nevertheless, for those seeking a cost-effective and nostalgic synth experience, SQ8L remains a compelling choice. I hope the article helps. Thank you for reading.