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Music Industry

The 10 Best Synthesizers

Photograph of the blog post author, Georgia Carter

Georgia Carter

30.9.2022

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Synthesizers have been real game changers in the music industry and more artists are using them as part of making music. People can make music from their bedroom now just using a laptop, and some software, so let’s make sure we still champion the hardware synth. In today’s market, hardware synths can be versatile, portable and durable. 

What are the best cheap synthesizers or which is going to be the best synthesizer for beginners if you are just starting out? Also, what are the best synthesizer brands out there? All these questions will be answered here today. 

What Is A Synthesizer? 

It’s important to remember how much a hardware synth has come since the early days of the Yamaha DX1 FM synthesizer, which was a heavy and expensive instrument. Thankfully technology has moved on and allowed the artist to still create sensational music, but at a more affordable price and saved them lugging around a weight of 51kg on tour. 

Synthesizers are electronic musical instruments that generate audio signals. Synthesizers typically create sounds by generating waveforms through methods including subtractive synthesis, additive synthesis and frequency modulation synthesis. In short, they can artificially produce audio sounds of many instruments in one machine. 

Origins Of The Synthesizers

The origins of the synthesizers go way back to 1897 The Dynamophone, patented by Thaddeus Cahill. You may have also heard of the theremin, which is still used today, a contact-free synthesizer composed of electronic oscillators, that was patented by Léon Theremin in 1928.

Finally, the RCA Electronic Music Synthesizer Mark I was released in 1956.

Technology has greatly improved since then and synths really had their breakthrough in the 1970s and 1980s. Models such as Yamaha DX7 was one of the best synthesizer keyboards around. You want to be able to transport your kit, so in terms of the best portable synthesizers, let’s have a look below at what you can buy for your money. 

I have listed these in price order from cheapest to the more high-flyers of the synths, which if you are beginners, you can find the best affordable synthesizers put there right now. 

IK Multimedia UNO Synth

A budget analogue monosynth which delivers. 

  • Synth engine: Analogue
  • Polyphony: Monophonic
  • Keyboard: Touch keyboard
  • Sequencer: Yes
  • Effects: Delay, Dive, Scoop, Vibrato, Wah, Tremolo
  • MIDI I/O: Minijack In/Out
  • Connectivity: 3.5mm stereo output (mono summed), 3.5mm stereo input (mono summed), Micro USB
  • Power: Four AA batteries 

Price: £279 

It is certainly versatile, easy to use and you can produce a great sound, but the product feels lightweight and cheap. I suppose for something just under the £300 mark, you get what you paid for. I wouldn’t say it is the best digital synthesizer of all time, but it could be one of the best beginner synthesizers for sure!  There is a 27-note ‘keyboard’ for live playing and both the arp and sequencer are features you will enjoy on this synth. 

Arturia MicroFreak

  • Synth engine: Digital
  • Polyphony: 4 voice paraphonic
  • Keyboard: 25-key capacitive keyboard
  • Sequencer: Yes
  • Effects: None
  • MIDI I/O: In/Out
  • Connectivity: Mono 1/4-inch output for audio, headphone output; 3.5mm CV/Gate/Pressure outputs, and 3.5mm MIDI I/O
  • Power: USB-powered, AC adapter

Price: £274.00 to £359.00

For this price, this quirky synth from the french company packs a punch and you can really fall in love with the programming potential in one little box. Featuring a 12-mode digital oscillator, an analogue multimode filter and myriad sequencing options. Even though it is small and feels a little lightweight, these are definitely both advantages and it could be a contender for the best budget synthesizer. 

IK Multimedia Uno Synth Pro

  • Synth engine: Analogue
  • Polyphony: Paraphonic
  • Keyboard: Full 37-note keyboard (or touch on the desktop)
  • Sequencer: 64-step sequencer
  • Effects: 12 effects in three slots
  • MIDI I/O: Minijack In/Out
  • Connectivity: 2 x 1/4” outs, 3.5mm headphone out and input, 2 x CV in and out, USB
  • Power: PSU (desktop via USB)

Price:  £399 

You will be surprised with the features you can get with this synth at such a price, and with a very efficient sequencer and a keyboard that doesn’t feel lightweight it is a great buy!

UNO Synth Pro sports three analogue VCOs and a white noise generator, all with some great tone-shaping options. Each of the three oscillators has continuous wave shape variations from saw to pulse width, with modulation. There are two analogue state variable filters, with dedicated cutoff and resonance controls. It performs in terms of sound and functionality. 

Korg Minilogue XD

  • Synth engine: Hybrid
  • Polyphony: 4 voices
  • Keyboard: 37 slim keys, velocity-sensitive
  • Sequencer: Yes
  • Effects: Delay, Reverb, Chorus, Flanger, Ensemble, Phaser
  • MIDI I/O: In/Out
  • Connectivity: Headphones, stereo output, audio in, sync in, sync out, USB, 2x CV in
  • Power: AC adapter

Price: £471 

It has great CV connectivity, a good build quality, powerful sequencer, extended general versatility and user-customisable Multi-Engine/effects. In addition, there is a joystick for real-time control, user scales/tunings, more inspiring vibe and excellent motion-sequenceable stereo effects/output. Now who could argue with that and we are seeing more of a professional look and feel with this particular synthesizer. 

Elektron Digitone

  • Synth engine: FM digital
  • Polyphony: 8 voices
  • Keyboard: None
  • Sequencer: Four synth tracks and four MIDI tracks
  • Effects: Chorus, delay, reverb, overdrive
  • MIDI I/O: In/Out/Thru
  • Connectivity: Two 1/4-inch balanced audio outs, two 1/4-inch audio ins, headphones, USBPower: Power adapter

Price: £629 

This FM four operator synthesizer is something special as it uses the old school synthesis where waves modulate each other. As well as it being extremely portable, there is seamless integration between sequencer and sound engine. This synth can also be a great FM MIDI module or a powerful external MIDI sequencer. However, it can be hard to learn how to use the sequencer. 

Studiologic Sledge

  • Synth engine: Virtual analogue
  • Polyphony: 24 voices
  • Keyboard: 61 keys with aftertouch
  • Sequencer: No
  • Effects: Chorus, phaser, flanger, delay, reverb
  • MIDI I/O: In/Out
  • Connectivity: Left and right audio outs, two headphones outs, USB (to host and MIDI), hold and expression pedal inputs
  • Power: AC adapter

Price: £799

This lightweight virtual analogue synth is well put together and stands out on stage. The Waldorf designed sound engine sounds rich, full and suitably analogue-like. The new user sample capability vastly expands its appeal and sound palette. There is also a black version for anybody who doesn’t fancy the yellow tone!

ASM Hydrasynth

  • Synth engine: Digital Wave Morphing
  • Polyphony: 8-voice
  • Keyboard: Full, 49-note with polyphonic aftertouch
  • Sequencer: No (includes a deep arpeggiator)
  • Effects: Nine pre effects, delay, reverb, nine post effects
  • MIDI I/O: MIDI In/Out/Thru
  • Connectivity: 2 x 1/4″ outs, 2 x headphone out, sustain and expression in, 2 x C V in, 5 x CV out, USB
  • Power: External (wall-wart) PSU

Price: £1,222

The look and feel of this synth will make you glad you purchased it – even if it is expensive, but not as much as a few others I will mention. You really do get what you pay for in terms of the clear, intuitive module-driven interface and the layout is logical, with clear blocks of functionality which I’m sure will make any user happy. You can build patches from scratch and it offers a wealth of powerful programming tools. 

Roland System-8

  • Synth engine: Digital (ACM modelling)
  • Polyphony: 8 voices
  • Keyboard: 49 keys, velocity-sensitive
  • Sequencer: 64-step sequencer
  • Effects: Overdrive, distortion, metal, fuzz, crusher, phaser, delay, chorus, flanger, reverb
  • MIDI I/O: In/Out
  • Connectivity: Left and right audio outs, left and right audio ins, headphones, CV/Gate outputs, trigger in, hold and control pedal inputs, USB (audio/MIDI)
  • Power: Mains power

Price: £1,299 

It sounds stellar, covers huge sonic territory with well-thought-out, hands on control. It includes Juno-106 and Jupiter-8 Plug-Outs, plus there is the ability to buy more if this takes your fancy. Solid sequencer onboard, plus plenty of versatile FX, including the famous Juno Chorus. 

However, the sequencer unfortunately doesn’t have a click-track, the arp has no swing or gate modes which you would expect at this price and the performance mode doesn’t store edits.

Sequential Pro 3 SE

  • Synth engine: Analogue + digital
  • Polyphony: 3-voice paraphonic
  • Keyboard: 37-key with velocity and aftertouch
  • Sequencer: 16-track
  • Effects: Dual digital effects (11 types)
  • MIDI I/O: In/Out(x2)/Thru
  • Connectivity: 2 x 1/4″ outs, 1 x 1/4″ audio in, 2 x 1/4″ Pedal in, headphone, 4 x CV in and out, 1 x Gate out, USB
  • Power: Mains

Price: £1459+

One of the best keyboard synthesizers out there, it combines both an analogue and digital synth engine. It has excellent build quality, a warm and distinctive tone, there is a huge array of sound design options. There is a very comprehensive mod matrix, which is intuitive, and the OLED screen helps keep everything in check with its immediate feedback and simple navigation. There’s also a fantastic sequencer that could easily be a product in its own right. Four tracks at 16 steps alone would be good but here there is so much more, from swing to programme change mode. However, it is quite heavy in build, but the wooden panels are quite a beautiful design feature so maybe it makes up for it. 

Arturia Polybrute

  • Synth engine: Digitally-controlled analogue
  • Polyphony: 6-voice
  • Keyboard: 61-key velocity and aftertouch keyboard
  • Sequencer: 64-step polyphonic
  • Effects: three stereo digital: modulation, delay, reverb
  • MIDI I/O: Minijack In/Out/Thru
  • Connectivity: 2 x 1/4″ out, 2 x expression and pedal input, Sync in/out, USB
  • Power: Mains

Price: £2,259

The PolyBrute is a fantastically characterful, well-designed synth; a top-tier poly synth and a worthy flagship for the Brute range. The morphing engine is fab for creating evolving, complex sounds. The hands-on modulation matrix is a great design choice. And in terms of the digital effects, they have excelled here. 

However, in terms of cons for the incredible synth, there is no audio input or CV I/O. Secondly, for this price and only having six voices, you would expect more and there is no poly-aftertouch.

Best Synthesizer Songs

Here are just some of the best songs that were made using a synthesizer. Do you recognise these defining synth tracks?

  • Tainted Love – Soft Cell
  • Take On Me – A-Ha
  • Don’t Go – Yazoo 
  • Blue Monday – New Order
  • A Little Respect – Erasure
  • Everything Counts – Depeche Mode 
  • Hey Boy Hey Girl – The Chemical Brothers

Final Thoughts

So have you got a clearer idea of what you are looking for in a synth and of course there are going to be plenty of criteria for you making the decision to purchase one and which style to go for. Budget and functionality will play a part in this but really look into the product and what is going to work for you. Technology has really advanced now, so it is the best time to invest in a hardware synth that will spark off your creativity and take you to the next level. 

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