Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Buying Your First Synthesizer: The 2016 Guide





We're deep into 2016 and it's once again time share with you the latest and greatest in (mostly) analog synthesizers.  This year we have perhaps the greatest starting analog synthesizer ever, the Korg Monologue, a $500 4-voice polysynth.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Dave Smith Tom Oberheim OB-6 ranks as one of the biggest sounding polysynths of recent memory.  In between, we have some new additions as well.  Here's a breakdown of what's available.

I'm going to mark the synths that were not announced or released at the time of last year's guide with NEW, so you will be able to easily distinguish what's new.  I've also added some digital or not fully analog gear, so I'll be marking that accordingly to.

In addition what you see below, I plan on expanding this guide as new gear comes out and as new questions come in from readers.  If you're looking for something else, or have a question, shoot me an email and check back to this page soon.

As with previous iterations of this guide, it will be focused on new synthesizers, so don't expect anything that's not currently or very recently in production.  I've also mainly chosen to focus on analog synthesizers, although there will be a few recommendations that are either partly or fully digital.

Special note:  I've included Amazon links on the names of all the synths, so if you're interested in buying from Amazon, use that link!  Not only will it help support the blog, but you will also find Amazon has sales at times, so you'll find $10~$50 off on some synths.

Before you start, what do you need from your synthesizer?


If it's your first time, you no doubt are probably a little bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information there is on synthesizers.  Here are a few key things to think about before you start debating.

Polyphony: How many voices do you need from your synthesizer?  A voice is basically defined as how many separate notes on the keyboard you can play and get a sound pertaining to them.  For a basic example, a piano has 88 voices of polyphony, as we can play as many notes on it as our hands can manage.  On the other hand, a trumpet can only play one note, so it has one voice of polyphony.  Many of the synthesizers mentioned below are monophonic, meaning they can only play one note at a time.  Polyphonic synthesizers are generally more expensive because more circuitry is needed create multiple voices.  Monophonic synthesizers are limited to playing lead lines, bass lines, melodies, and effects, so don't expect to play harmonies with one, unless you plan to multitrack record it.

Analog/Digital:  I won't really make a case for complete digital synths here.  I've never been crazy about them, and I won't mention them below, because this guide would go on for pages and pages and be needlessly in depth.  But if you really need a full polyphonic synth for a low price, you can always go digital.  People have always debated if analog is better than digital, and each sides have great points, but I have always been a fan of analog, which is why this guide focuses on it.

Price: Much of what I will talk about below will be under $1000.  Depending on where you are in your life and how much you want to spend, and what this synth will need to be for you-- your EVERYTHING synth, your bass or lead monster, or something else will change how you want to spend.  If you have $3000 to spend, and only want one be-all-end-all synth, you could get the Prophet 12.  If you're a budget synth player, you might want to stick to a budget mono module.

MIDI Implementation and Memory:  Do you plan on using your synthesizer with your computer?  Do you need it to sync notes so you can get an in-time recording?  Do you need to store your synth sounds?  All of these are important considerations, as some synths will or won't have these capabilities. Watch out for this. Usually new synth players need MIDI and memory.

Drums: Some newer synth modules include drum sounds, like the Korg Monotribe and Volca Beats, and the new Akai Wolf.  These are pretty inexpensive options for analog drum sounds, so if you're looking for that, it's well covered.

Other features:  I'll do my best to highlight any pros and cons for each synthesizer, but if you're not familiar with some of the other terms I'll be using (LFO's, envelopes, filters, etc) I might suggest reading about these terms elsewhere, because they'll be beyond the scope of this guide.

And now, the categories:

If you absolutely need the 'Moog' Sound:


Every synth player learns what the Moog name means early on.  Moog's filter is arguably the fattest around, and seems to be synonymous with what many people want for their first synthesizer.  There's only one place to get the 'Moog' sound, and that's from Moog Music themselves, though many copy-cat filters exist, in modular form, in software form, and in other retro synths.  Years ago, there was no Moog under $1400, but that's changed the past couple of years, fortunately.  Moog's synths cover a wide range of prices, from the simplified $600 Minitaur to the robust $5000 Minimoog XL.

Keep in mind all Moogs are Monophonic, unless you spend the money to get multiple units and polychain them.

Moog Mother 32 (NEW):

In the fall Moog announced a new semi-modular synthesizer called the Mother 32, a perfect starter for a larger modular operation.  At $599, it's less expensive than a Sub Phatty, but it's limited by comparison with only one oscillator.  The Minitaur has since dropped in price to $499, so the decision remains firmly between these two lower level Moogs if you're not keen on the $1000+ range.  The benefits of the Mother 32 include its patchbay (which interfaces well with other modular equipment), the built in sequencer, and high pass filter.  The Mother 32 can be the base of a larger modular experience.

Minimoog Model D (NEW):



It's back from the dead!  The Model D is THE most famous synthesizer ever, an absolute staple of the 70s and 80s for synth players.  Moog has decided to resurrect the D, supposedly with the circuits all recreated and a copied layout and case to boot.  At the time of writing this, the Model D is only in pilot production for Moogfest (there aren't even official pictures available!), but it will be available for general sale soon.




Moog introduced the Sub Phatty last year, and it's garnered quite its share of great reviews.  The Sub Phatty now has a new competitor in terms of features, introduced this year and listed directly below this paragraph.  The Sub Phatty still gets the nod as the recommended starter Moog, because of its excellent price of $999 and fantastic interface.  While it doesn't have the light up knobs that the Little Phatty and Slim Phatty have, the increased number of knobs make it a greater joy to program and experiment on.  The Sub Phatty takes advantage of Moog's latest circuit developments, like the multimode filter, sub oscillator, and other cool hidden features (my favorite being beat frequency).  If I were starting all over and wanted a Moog, this would be my first choice, because of array of knobs to control each function, memory, MIDI implementation, and great look.  And the sound is all Moog, to top it off.




Moog's replacement for the Little Phatty is the Sub 37, the 'paraphonic' synthesizer.  "Paraphony" gets thrown around quite a lot and can have different meanings, but in the case of the Sub 37, this means that you can play two notes using one oscillator per note, instead of one note with two oscillators.  Of course, this isn't the only improvement over the Sub Phatty-- the Sub 37 has more keys, more knobs, and incredible user interface, for a $1499 price tag.  While the Sub 37 doesn't come out until May, the initial demos have been consistent with the quality Moog sound, so if you're looking for something a little more robust, more knobs, and more keys, the Sub 37 would be recommended as the next step up from the Sub Phatty.  The biggest factor, for me, would be the increase in knobs, which greatly enhances the ease of programming, and would make it easier to learn synthesis.  Of course, all of this comes with a 50% price increase, and unless you're positive you're making the firm step into the synthesizer world, the Sub Phatty should be adequate to educate yourself.

So you love Moog, but the $999 price tag scares you off? You can always grab the Minitaur for $599.  The Minitaur doesn't have a keyboard, so you'll have to control it by MIDI, but for fat basses, the Minitaur rocks.  Of course, it also has the classic Moog filter, which is probably the reason you're buying it.  Beware though, the octave tracking makes playing higher leads impossible.  There is also a basic "Memory" function hidden in the software too, but Moog has you covered elsewhere, as the computer software for this synth can save patches as well.

Moog Slim Phatty (now discontinued):
The $799 version of the original Little Phatty is still a great synth, although it lacks the keyboard and some of the more refined features of the Sub Phatty.  Still, it boasts a larger memory, and has a great interface, albeit less knobby.  If you want more features than the Minitaur, but can't commit to the larger price tag of the Sub Phatty (or just want a module!), this may be just what you want.

If you want classic sound, with modern reliability and non-vintage prices:


Old synthesizers from the 70s and 80s sounded better, there's no doubt about that.  There's a number of reasons for this (beyond the scope of this article) but what it comes down to is the vintage components, that were more unreliable, offered more variations in tone, and it created a more organic sound.  The human ear loves organicity in sound.  But unfortunately, many new synths, while more reliable, and still analog, lose a certain warmth to them.

A few years ago, the best route to get a vintage sound in a reliable package was to get one of the many boutique do-it-yourself kits that recreate vintage circuits.  Korg has formed a new niche of remade analog synths, starting with their MS-20 Mini, and continuing on this year with the larger MS-20 Kit, and the synth I'm most excited for this year, the remake of the ARP Odyssey.  If your budget is tight but you want the sound of the classics, look no further.


They said it couldn't be done, but Korg did it.  They revived the MS-20, an old favorite of vintage synthesists everywhere.  The Korg engineers made choices in this revival to preserve the sound of the original, and back to back listenings show how well it turned out.  At the time this guide was written last year, the MS-20 Mini  The original MS-20's prices on eBay are currently floating around $1500, sometimes more, sometimes less, but this beauty is $599.  They've also added in a MIDI over USB connection (and regular MIDI IN as well), something that the original lacked.  If you're looking for an aggressive, vintage style synth, this will be your best bet.  Beware though, as newcomers may be overwhelmed by the modular style patch bay, which could be tricky to wrap your head around.  If you do take the dive, however, you will probably vastly improve your synthesis knowledge by forcing yourself to learn it, as the routings will visually show you how different modulation sources affect your sounds.  It features 2 oscillators and both high and low pass filters, so you're really getting a full fledged synth here with no corners cut.  Keep in mind, this synth is monophonic, and without memory, so you'll have to write down, or take pictures of this synth if you want to remember your settings.

The Korg ARP Odyssey:



Corgi's latest analog endeavor is the ARP Odyssey remake, which has only just started to hit consumers at the time of writing this guide.  This synth has been known to be in the pipeline for about a year now, but was pushed back from the original September date and formally announced at Winter NAMM '15.  The new Odyssey looks to be the best incarnation yet, with several improvements over the original, like USB MIDI, multiple filter types, and adjustable portamento scaling.  Judging by the first reviews and comparisons trickling out right now, the new Odyssey does indeed seem to be the remake we're all waiting for, sounding incredibly close to the original, and expanding on it by allowing us to use all the filters from each generation.  The only complaint about the new Odyssey so far is that its size, and therefore keys, are smaller than the original, making it a little bit harder to adjust to for keyboard players.  Of course, the MIDI would allow you to simply control it with your favorite keyboard anyway.  At $999, the Odyssey might be a little expensive for a first time synth buyer, but due to its fantastic history and classic sound, it's a no brainer for vintage fans.

If you want the most full-fledged monophonic synth for the best price:


Sure, all that other stuff is cool, but you just want the most bang for your buck, and you want features!  So what do you get?

Korg Minilogue (NEW)::

The new de facto starter analog synth is the Korg Minilogue, introduced this year at NAMM, for $499.  The Minilogue is a 4 voice polysynth with a build in seqeuncer, full knob control, and minikeys.  The high pass filter and delay seem like bonus effects at the price point of this synthesizer. Really, for the price of the Minilogue one would expect Korg to have cut corners, but they haven't-- you have a two oscillator, two envelope four voice synth for an awesome price-- and don't forget the patch memory either!  I can't recommend a first synth any more, because the Minilogue will grow with you as you learn more about synths.  




The Bass Station II came as a bit of a surprise to everyone, even though the original is considered to be a bit of a hidden gem.  The BSII has an incredible feature set for its price of $499.  It boasts 2 oscillators and a sub oscillator, an arpegiattor and step sequencer, two distinct filter types, memory and USB/MIDI connectivity, and a keyboard.  For $499.  That's super-value.

While these two are a few years old at this point, the Mopho and Mopho Keyboard (priced $400 and $849, respectively) were, and still are, fantastic feature-laden synthesizers for their prices.  If you're unaware about DSI's history, Dave Smith created the Prophet 5 and Pro-One, two incredible synthesizers of the 70s and 80s.  Dave is a synth legend, and it shows in these two.  The Mopho module boasts 2 oscillators, a classic Curtis filter, large memory, and tons of modulation settings, but is ultimately limited by its user interface-- much menu diving is required.  Fortunately, Dave graced us with the Mopho Keyboard, which costs more, but adds knobs to fix the UI issue.  In addition to these great features, these can also be had for great prices on eBay if you're willing to take them used.

If you want the cheapest thing possible:




Much to the surprise of everyone, Arturia went smaller instead of bigger with the Microbrute last fall.  At $299 though, the Microbrute has become the go-to beginner synth because of its included mini-keyboard, aggressive analog sound, and funky patch routing.  Even if you ignore the keyboard, the price even makes it a deal as a module.  While the Minibrute has full size keys and an extra envelope, the Microbrute does win out in the fancy new step sequencer, which is a blast to play, and a fun yet simple creative tool.  For getting in the door, the Microbrute represents the best way to get into the analog world.  I have the feeling that in 10 years from now, a crop of young producers will still have their Microbrutes in their studios.

Korg Volca FM (NEW, digital)::


The Volca FM debuted in April in the US for $159.  Like the Volca Sample, the FM is digital, with 4 voices.  Hidden behind the simplistic interface is a full blown FM engine like the original Yamaha DX-7, which the FM borrows its neon colors from.  Unlike the other Volcas, the FM also features a patch system-- 32 to be exact.  While there probably won't be many who choose to program on the FM itself, you can dump your DX-7 patches to get your E. Piano 1 and Bass 1 patches to go.  Another nifty improvement over the other Volcas is the ability to chain your stored sequences-- not a bad way to perform or rough out a new track.  Getting a full blown DX-7 style FM synthesis isn't easy these days for hardware, so adding a Volca FM to your setup is a quick way to get new, rich sounds unlike those of subtractive analog synthesis, but be prepared to do more wandering in your sound crafting than precise movements, as FM is considered the hardest synth style to program.



Korg Volca Series (Beats, Bass, Keys):


The Korg Volcas released last year to universal acclaim, and rightfully so.  The trio each sound fantastic, and have fun sequencing and performance abilities.  The series consists of the Beats, Keys, and Bass, each inspired by vintage gear.  The Beats is a part-analog part-digital drum machine, with editable sounds and patterns.  The Bass is a 303 style bass machine.  The Keys is a 3 voice polyphonic synth, with build in delay.  Each is only $149, which is mind blowing, considering the features.  These are tiny, which might be a setback for some of you, and they only have headphone out (or internal speakers) so you'll have to get specific plugs to record them into your DAW, but it's worth it for the sweet price.  Also, they have MIDI in!  The Volca series is proof that Korg is watching over the forums of the internet and trying to make customers happy.  As an owner of the Volca series, the main detractors from the synths are their output.  I would have highly preferred a ¼" jack, which would have made the set easier to incorporate into a recording environment.  Aside from that, using a MIDI keyboard makes each very playable, and if you're not a fan of the battery power, you can buy a separate wall wart.

Volca Sample (digital):

While the Volca Sample is really part of the whole Volca series, it stands alone because it was released later and isn't analog, unless you're counting the isolator (in fact, analog samplers haven't been a thing since the Mellotron).  But while the Sample isn't analog like its older siblings, it does happen to make one of the best drum machines for its value, and also a pretty great introduction to samples.  Perhaps the biggest oversight of the machine is its use of MIDI and being unable to play back the samples in a "keyboard" form.  Still, loading up drum samples and creating beats is easy, fun, and flexible.  Samples are loaded in via a computer or iOS or Android devices.  At $160, it's the best drum machine for the price, even coming out above the Volca Beats, which can't keep up with the versatility of the Sample.

Roland Boutique Series (JP-08, JX-03, JU-06 and Optional Mini Keyboard)(digital):





The Roland Boutique Series is a limited run digital synthesizer set of emulations of three classic Roland synths, the Jupiter 8, JX-3P, and Juno 106.  The emulation engine is based on that of the AIRA series, and the sounds are excellent recreations.  Arguably, the JP-08 has the highest value of the three, given that the Jupiter 8 sells for thousands, but the JX-3P and Juno 106 are still reasonably priced, so choosing the Boutiques over them is a little more of a toss up-- whether you prefer the full polyphony of the originals and potential upkeep, or the tiny packages of the new units and smaller controls.  The Boutiques are not priced evenly-- the JP-08 is $399, and the JX-03 and JU-06 are $299.  The optional keyboard is $99.  There are countless comparisons to the original synths on YouTube, so if you're interested in how close the emulations are, I'd advise looking there first.  The Boutiques are limited to four voices but can be poly-chained to give greater polyphony.



Waldorf's newest mini-synth is the Streichfett, based on old 70's string synthesizers.  I don't have an official price on the Streichfett, but it should come in around the same as the Rocket, at about $329, and be released later this spring.  While the Streichfett isn't true oscillator-for-voice synthesis, it should work similar to those old 70s synths it was based on (apologies for a bare description-- the Streichfett isn't released yet, so I can't be sure what's going on inside the box).  I wouldn't recommend this for a conventional setup for EDM production, but perhaps if you're in the market for something more retro-sounding, or you love Waldorf's fantastic line of synths, or want polyphony for under $400, this may be your match.

Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators (Rhythm, Arcade, Factory, Office, Sub Bass, Robot(digital)


At NAMM this year Teenage Engineering added three more pocket operators to their lineup, bring the total to six.  Designed to be picked up off store pegs and jammed on, the Pocket Operators offer basic sequencing and customization of sounds.  The names give a hint to what each Operator is used for-- the Arcade mimics the sounds of classic gaming systems, while the Office works as a musical office simulator.  The Pocket Operators offer limited connectivity, so be prepared to use the small buttons on the face of them to make your sounds, as no MIDI exists.  The operators are $59 each.

If you want aggressive:


So you're trying to blow away the crowd with an in-your-face monster synth lead.  What would be a good match here?

The Arturia Matrixbrute:



The Minibrute was released a couple years back, but had an initial struggle in production.  Since the supply has increased, the Minibrute became many people's first synthesizer due to its analog engine and $499 price tag.  The Brute isn't just hype though-- it has one of the most unique sound engines, and works incredibly well as a counterpoint to ever-expanding world of Moog and Roland wannabes.  The MiniBrute has basic MIDI implementation (send and receive notes and pitch bend) but you won't be able to automate your parameters like you could with most of these other synthesizers.  You also have no memory, so you'll be finding yourself using patch sheets or taking pictures.  That said, the MiniBrute sound is awesome, and super aggressive, thanks in part to some of its features like the Brute Factor function (feedback), metalizer (a completely unique feature that adds harmonics to the triangle wave) and Steiner-Parker filter.  The MiniBrute also has only one oscillator, meaning you're a bit more limited in sound options, but Arturia has added in a neat function called Ultrasaw, which, as added, sounds like multiple saw waves in unison, which is a pretty standard and needed sound on synths but can't be achieved with just one oscillator-- so the Ultrasaw helps get around this.  Really, the MiniBrute is a labor of love from a new company, with everything incredibly well thought out, and a great price.

Other aggressive synths mentioned:
Sub Phatty
MS-20 Mini

If you want to be unique:


Sure, everything I mentioned is cool, but doesn't everyone know about those?  What about something a little more underground and boutique?



The Pulse 2 is the updated version of the original (and incredibly well respected) Pulse analog synthesizer, for the price of $799.  While it doesn't feature the keyboard of the Mopho, or the polyphony of a digital synth (it does have 8 voice Paraphonic mode, though), the Pulse 2's 3 analog oscillators and fantastic design offer an incredibly large palette of sounds.  The 8 knobs may not look like much to work with, but the design lets you get depth from those knobs.  As with many Waldorf products, it doesn't sit in the limelight because it doesn't have wild features for the price, but it makes up for it in sound, and continues on Waldorf's legacy as true synth craftsmen.  If you're looking for something off the beaten path but with a ton of depth, the Pulse 2 should fit the bill, and last you well into your synth career.


Vermona Mono Lancet:

The Mono Lancet is a little module with a different style to its sound than the other synths mentioned.  Vermona isn't too big in the US (yet), so this synth in your setup could set you apart.  At the $620 price, it can be a little on the steep side (more akin to the Moog Minitaur than anything else), but the warmth and beautiful filter make this worth having.  Unfortunately, there is no patch memory.  I've reviewed the Perfourmer Mk II elsewhere on the site, which is basically the expanded version of this into four voices for $1850.

Other unique synths:
I've highlighted the Mono Lancet above, but in truth, there are a ton of small companies making cool little pieces of hardware.  Off the top of my head, Analog Solutions is another pricey but cool synth maker.  Of course Dave Smith has the Evolver, which is half digital, half analog, which can produce some mind blowing sounds as well.  If you want to get off the beaten path, google around, check different synth dealer websites, check reviews, and you'll find just what you need.

If you want polyphony:


OK, we've beat around the bush long enough.  Almost everything mentioned above is monophonic, which leaves one last category, for those of you who want to play chords.  Here are a few polyphonic options.




The Futuresonus Parva is a new synth from a new company that comes in different voice configurations, so you can choose how many voices you'd like.  If you're in the market for a monophonic or 8 note polyphonic synth, the Parva has you covered, with a fantastic range of modulation routing, analog voices, full digital control, and a stylish aluminum case.  Details on the new synth are a little vague, but the idea and initial sound demos sound great.  While it doesn't have the retro pedigree of the DSI gear, the configurability could be a huge hit for Futuresonus.  Pricing hasn't been finalized, but the rumors have it coming it at under $1000 with polyphony.

Dave Smith Instruments Prophet 6 and Prophet 6 Module:


Dave Smith's long awaited return to VCOs (which are considered by some synth enthusiasts to have better sound than DCOs) has finally come.  Taking back the Sequential Circuits name, Dave Smith officially announced the new analog beast at NAMM '15.  The Prophet 6 lacks some of the bells and whistles of the Prophet 08 or 12, but makes up for it in a simple classic Prophet design with added digital effects.  Furthermore, the Prophet 6 abandons the Curtis filter chip that most DSI gear has been using, which has had a polarizing effect on players, and is the most criticized feature of the DSI fleet.  The thinking is that if you're looking for the vintage classic Prophet sound you'll prefer the 6, but if you're looking for more modulation features and an expanded sound palette you'll prefer the 12, with the 08 sitting somewhere in the middle with more control but still retaining analog oscillators.  If you've always wanted a Prophet 5 but have been too poor to afford it, the Prophet 6 might fill the void for you, but is probably well out of the reach of beginners at its rumored $2,800 price tag at its May launch.

Dave Smith/ Tom Oberheim OB-6 (NEW):



The Elektron Analog Keys is a polyphonic analog synth, but the emphasis is less on live performance and more on live sequencing-- you can play it live like a regular keyboard, but the intent is to use the onboard sequencer to develop parts and loops and tweak them-- so for example, with the 4 voices of the synthesizer, you can designated one to drums, one to bass, and two to lead sounds.  If you're a little confused, Elektron has an excellent video showing off the capabilities of the Analog Keys.  Elektron gear is some of the deepest around, and takes quite a bit of time to learn and master, but the deep editing allows a huge variety of results.  Not recommended for first time synthesists or people new to music, but excellent for someone who's looking for a full performance tool or is a tech head.  The Analog Keys comes highly recommended for its depth of sequencing and astounding performance potential, but you'll be reading and referring to the manual often.  The Analog Keys is priced at about $1,699 but the module version (without keyboard, of course) can be had for $1,199.


Dave Smith Instruments still holds the value award for polyphony. and the Mopho X4 and Tetra are fantastic achievements.  Both of these synthesizers offer 4 voice polyphony, meaning you can play 4 note chords.  The X4 is $1,299, and the Tetra, which is essentially the Mopho X4 without keyboard (but added multitimbrality) is $799.  Really, the functionality of these synths are fantastic, as they have so many routing options, you'll have so much programmability for an incredible range of sounds.  Of course, you have full memory control, and great MIDI implementation as well.

Dave Smith Instruments Prophet 12 and Prophet 12 Module (digital oscillators):


The Prophet 12 marks Dave Smith's ultimate synthesizer, featuring a massive 12 voice synth engine.  Though I'm normally an analog fan, the Prophet 12 features digital oscillators while still retaining analog filters.  What does this mean exactly?  The 12 can have way more flexibility in terms of oscillators, but still have the warm and squeaky filter.  The Prophet 12 isn't a high school synth, as the full version will cost you $2,999 and the module $2,199, but if you had to only have one new synth in your studio, this might be your best bet.  Highly recommended for professional producers and studios who can afford it, and are looking for a good catch-all synth.





The Waldorf Streichfett
Korg Volca Keys

What if 4 analog voices isn't enough?  Dave's catalog reaches upward, with the $3k Prophet 12 (or $2,199  in module form), which have 12 voices, and the Prophet 8, for $2,099 (or $1,549 in module form), which has 8 voices.  There are some differences in these synthesizers (the 12 has way more features but has digital oscillators), so if you are considering going this route, you'll want to look hard at the feature sets.

Drum Machines:

Roland Aira TR-8 (digital):


While the Roland TR-8 is digital, it is one of the most fun drum machines I've ever played on.  The TR-8 is the modern digital recreation of the classic analog TR-808 and 909, which are ubiquitous in rap and dance music.  In addition to the sounds of those two drum machines, Roland has released a paid upgrade to add the sounds of the 707 to the TR-8 as well.  The TR-8 lacks some features, but the ease of building patterns, spot-on recreations of sounds, and the colorful look of the unit draws you to it, especially at the $499 price tag, in a day where real 808s go for $2,000.  Even better, it has a nifty audio-over-USB so you could plug it into your laptop and record without having an audio recording interface.

Other great drum machines mentioned above:

Its out there, but I wouldn't recommend:


One synth/drum machine combo floating around is the Rhythm Wolf from Akai.  Initially, I had hesitantly recommended this before it was announced as a possible value pick up, but unfortunately all signs point to this machine being a huge bust.  While the $200 price tag is exciting, the Rhtym wolf's inability to track pitch correctly across an octave makes it unusable as a synthesizer.  The drums, in my opinion, don't sound good enough to warrant a the price tag either.  If you hear it and really love it, it may be a nice inexpensive option, but I do not recommend this myself.

If you have any differed opinions, recommended edits, or anything, shoot me an email at thesynthesizersympathizer@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter at @thesynthsymp.  Thanks for reading!

13 comments:

  1. Roland JD-Xi is in your list, but without any description. My GF fell in love with the design of the JD-Xi and suddenly she wants a beginner synth. She has no experience playing any instrument. I'm a piano player and quite enthusiastic about her new interest.

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    1. I'll get a description up soon hopefully.

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. I see the waldorf blofeld frequently on the list for starter synths. I know it is digital but I'd love to hear how it fits with the others.

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  4. I see the waldorf blofeld frequently on the list for starter synths. I know it is digital but I'd love to hear how it fits with the others.

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    1. The Blofeld is a fine synth. I think there's a bit more menus than I prefer, but it's widely considered a fantastic digital. You can't go wrong if you don't mind the interface!

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  5. Hi! Looking to buy my first hardware synth. Although I've been around a household full of musical equipment and playing drums for 20 years, I've ventured into the "producers" domain and have started using Ableton with hours researching everything from "what is an envelope" to "oh my god, this Moog thing is incredible!". I'm not saying cash is not a problem but a good day job pays more than just the bills for me... what would you recommend as my first time buy? Yeah, a refurbished Moog is great and I could probably throw some cash dollar at it but would it make any sense for a beginner like me to have such equipment or would I just be bragging?

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    1. Hi Mr. Brown,
      I would recommend first determining if you want something that is monophonic or polyphonic. If you want monophonic, Moog is a fine choice. Then you could decide if a Model D or Voyager is worth the extra cash to you, or if a Sub Phatty or Sub 37 would fit your needs.

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    2. Thanks Matt. I think I have a way to go before I start looking at things like this. Perhaps plugins should be my friend for a while until I'm ready for the next step!

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  7. Hello mate,
    All and wonderful but no 61 key synth here.
    Why is that?
    The minilogue is right up there for me (however the problem that it is only 37 keys). I would use as the whole synth however later on buy sound modules and use it primarily as a controller.
    Is a 37 key all right to be used as a controller, or would i need more practicality?
    Oh yeah i would like to create whole songs not just little part like albums Irrlicht and Timewind by k schulze and some modern day sounds. Would a 37 key do me justice?
    elliot

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  8. Any comments on the Roland Gaia for a first time synth?

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