Demands are on the rise, musicians are ever more fascinated, and new products make their way on the market to extend already boundless creative possibilities. Indeed, nothing is more valuable than pressing a key or a button, activating a few settings and hoping for an unheard sound to come out from one of these mythical instruments. After weeks of research, we have compiled a few fundamental questions every synthesizer consumer should ask himself.
We also took the time to analyze (in depth) the 6 products which we believe are the most noteworthy and best synthesizers in today’s market.
table of content
- Creative possibilities
- Fully analog chipset
Korg Volca KeysLots of possibilities
- Great-sounding analog synth
- Compact & well built
- Great external integration
- Semi-modular design
- Step sequencer
- Converts USB MIDI to CV
Review: Best Synthesizers | Top 6
Pros & Cons
Self-tuning function – overcomes pitch drift, the weak point of an analog synthesizer.
Connectivity – jack and MIDI IN connectors allow synchronized performances with multiples hardware units or with your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).
Manufacturing assets – Compact size and built-in speaker for enjoyment anywhere.
Battery – Necessity to buy AA type batteries in order to use the product.
Absence of filter automation – One of the most important features of electronic music is unexploited.
Too specific – focuses on only one element, the bass.
We appreciate the all-in-one aspect of the product which offers endless possibilities on one specific element of music, bass. This product possesses all the necessary connectors of our age with a headphone audio output, sync in and sync out midi options which make it easy to incorporate it in your home studio setup. In our opinion, a flaw would be the battery life which even though it lasts an honorable 10 hours, necessitates the provisioning of two AA alkaline batteries. Other than that, the product is extremely portable and very light which makes it a great travel companion.
Pros & Cons
Converts USB MIDI to CV gate – easy translation of MIDI data.
Nonetheless, we would have liked to see this 25-note synthesizer offering more than 3 waveforms in sync with the sequencer. This is less than on most software synthesizers (i.e: Sylenth1, Spire). The available modulation matrix permits the modulation of sound produced by the Microbrute by linking modulation sources and destinations that can be external gear. Stackable patch cables give even more modulation possibilities. Overall, connectivity is good with an audio input and output as well as a midi input.
Pros & Cons
As you can understand by its name, the microKORG includes a mythical vocoder which allows the emulation of pastiche and mellow Daft Punk vocals. The handy arpeggiator contributes to the possibility of designing a whirly and dynamic sound. If the process of patching is available and allows a diversification of the somehow repetitive sounds, it is a process that is very difficult to master for a beginner. We also didn’t like the display which isn’t very intuitive. Two external audio input jacks are provided. This extends creativity since you can run other instruments or CDs through the microKORG filter and effects.
Pros & Cons
Creative possibilities (connectivity with external sound modules is possible)
Fully analog chipset – (different compared to a digital synthesizer)
Furthermore, you can implement up to 5 simultaneous effects including distortion, reverb, chorus, delay, and compressor. If the manufacturing quality once again suggests a cheap physical aspect, don’t let yourself be fooled, this piece of technology is more exhaustive than a microKORG in terms of creative possibilities. Sound design is once again put in the limelight with 20 available modulation slots which allow the shaping of sound by linking modules of the synth engine together. A particularity of this product is that there are 14 filter types. 2 can be run simultaneously. Like the microKORG, this product is the descendant of the decades-old Ultranova, attempting to retain the same qualities as its predecessor.
Pros & Cons
In terms of connectivity, it comes with a sync jack (allows to clock sync with the other Volcas) and MIDI IN connector that allow synchronized performances and control from your DAW. This product also has a built-in speaker. It has a compact size enabling you to easily travel with it. It has life span of 10 hours which is impressive compared to its competitors. A dedicated potentiometer knob offers six combinations (Poly, Unison, Octave, Fifth, Unison Ring, or Poly Ring) which extend the possibilities of sound design. Additionally, this little piece of technology also provides a 16-step sequencer. The Volca keys delay effect which is more than sufficient in our opinion and delivers good results in music productions, although it might sound a bit thin at times.
Pros & Cons
Monophonic synthesizer (You cannot compose chords with this machine )
Not really subtlesounding (considering the amount of noise leaking that goes through the VCA).
One of the most famous characteristics of the MS20 was its self-oscillating high-pass and low/pass filters which create a well-known distinctive distortion which was removed mid-way through the production cycle. The MS-20 mini is equipped with this filter, which was considered to be superior due to a more radical sound. We really liked the fact that this device provides an ESP (external signal processor) allowing great creative possibilities through the recording of external signals. Dimensions are obviously smaller than the original MS 20-Mini, but its weight makes it difficult to transport. It is a product which should stay in your home studio. Furthermore, considering how fragile synthesizers are, its supposed sedentariness is definitely not a bad thing.
1. Is it better to go for an analog or a digital synthesizer?
We believe that both are just different and can be equally useful in the process of music production. In the end, it all boils down to whether you want to design your own sounds from scratch or if you just want to stick to presets. Nonetheless, some synths come with both of these features (see Novations’ Mininova). In our opinion, both “analog” and “digital synthesizers” are a good choice, the most important thing is to know what you want to achieve.
2. How many voices do I need from a synthesizer?
3. Value for possibilities
For example, the Korg Volca series offers a great possibility in the sense that you can pick the central musical element you want to focus on, be it bass or keys. In any case, when picking one of the products that we have listed for you, you should not make a mistake. We have thoroughly searched out the best deals on the market and believe that between all the products that are displayed below, you will find one that matches your expectations.
4. Are the connectivity options of a synthesizer important?
Finally, it is also useful to know if you would like to use your synthesizer as an addition to an already existing home setup (see: most essential music production equipment) or if you would want to use it as a portable device. Some synthesizers come with the possibility to charge your synthesizer (see the Teenage Engineering OP-1). Others include a long battery life that don’t require charging. Nonetheless, these implying the regular purchasing of AA type of batteries (see Korg Volca series).
5. Why do I have to consider a synthesizer’s specifications?
In contrast, if size, weight, portability and price aren’t a limiting factor, you can go for a bigger synthesizer which also has the advantage of providing a more extensive amount of keys (yes, we are talking to you piano players !). They make it easier to compose big chords and try out new melodies in general. That being said, very often, synthesizers with a bigger number of keys tend to be more pricey since they generally also provide a more considerable amount of features.
6. What sound styles are you looking for?
For beginners, getting a synthesizer where you have to start every sound you create from scratch might not be the best option (i.e: Korg MS-20 mini). All the synthesizers that can be found on our list are versatile in terms of electronic music sub-genres (ranging from dance music to electronica or techno), although some of them are limited in terms of sound design. This can be due to a limited number voices or lacking creative features.
However, if you want to learn more about the best cheapest synths, we would strongly recommend you to read a full review about this category of products. Notwithstanding, the other synths we listed are also worth looking into. For instance, the Korg Volca Keys and Korg Volca Bass make capable synthesizers that are good at delivering what they specialize in (Keys & Bass). The Korg MS 20-mini and the Arturia Microbrute are great analog and vintage synthesizers. The Korg microKORG offers the most extensive palette of quality built-in sounds with restricted tweaking possibilities. To conclude, if our article made you make your choice, we also wrote a review about some necessary accessories and equipment for synthesizers.