The Top Synthesizers in 2017
Are you ready to take the next step as an aspiring or professional musician and buy an actual analog synthesizer? As opposed to relying on the MIDI controller and VST software digital combo which is now commonly found in many home or professional studios. If you answered yes to this question then you’ve come to the right place. In here you can find the best synthesizers for the money which have their own distinctive analog feel and incredible sound.
Digital technology has created a revolution for music makers everywhere but the experience of working with a hardware synth is simply unbeatable. Today the market has lots of options and many manufacturers are trying to offer as many sound customization features as possible as well as make their devices more portable than ever. Check out our other articles about the best dacs, best digital pianos, and best electric guitars.
Some premium synthesizers can easily exceed a thousand dollars but it doesn’t matter what budget you have, in this list you can find plenty of varied options. If you have a rough idea about how your future synthesizer should be like, check out these products below which have been researched very rigorously. They represent the most cost-effective synth choices on the market right now.
Best Cheap Synthesizer
The Korg Volca Keys offers an interesting combination of true analog synthesis with simple and intuitive control. It delivers all the performance required for flexible sound creation and fun loop making. If you need a portable analog machine for fun or professional use, this one seems very promising especially considering the relatively affordable price.
It is equipped with a 16-step sequencer and to extend your sonic possibilities as much as possible it comes with Ring Modulation and Delay effects. There’s a MIDI Input useful for note entry as well as many control operations from a DAW. Korg outfitted this model with a battery and added built-in speakers for playing the synthesizer quickly anywhere.
An interesting ability of this synth is the Voicing function which gives you six combinations for the three oscillators that are toggled using a special knob. Crafting the perfect loops is not an easy job and for adding some cool enhancements, the Volca Keys includes a Motion Sequence function which allows you to record knob movements and apply some interesting changes to the sound.
Using a structure of 3VCO, 1VCF, 1VCA, 1LFO, and 1EG, this synthesizer offers a lot of flexibility. It’s able to generate an amazing range of impactful sounds by carefully selecting and adjusting parameters. Basically, this is one of the most distinctive aspects of an analog synthesizer. Another handy thing is the sync jack that permits synchronized playback with other Volcas. Thanks to the ’SyncKontrol’ app for iOS, you can control more conveniently tap tempo and swing settings as well as the synchronized playback.
Considering what’s been said about the Korg Volca Keys, this represents a very solid investment for anyone who’s into these fun music machines. It’s rare to see such a high-quality synthesizer at a low price. The sound is very powerful and the controls extremely intuitive. Definitely recommended for beginners and experienced music makers out there.
- Three note true analog synthesis
- 16-step sequencer
- Flux mode
- Sync In and Out
- Built-in speaker
- MIDI In
A powerful mini-keys synth for the money, the Novation MiniNova will allow you to tweak and warp awesome onboard sounds with ease. But that’s not all, you can also throw your own voice into the mix as it comes with a VocalTune effect and a classic vocoder. Despite the small and compact size, the MiniNova is jam packed with incredible music making features.
With the help of an extremely powerful sound engine, this synth allows for great music creation possibilities. It offers 14 conventional waveforms, 36 wavetables along with 20 digital waveforms. The three oscillators have each density/detune for boosting up sounds, virtual sync and ’hardness’ that can act as an extra lowpass filter. There are also many filter types, envelope generators, and modulation slots which can be used to link together modules of the synth engine for shaping the sound.
You can add up to five effects for each sound. Besides Novation’s unique gator effect, you’ve got distortion, chorus/phase, compressor, reverb, delay and EQ to choose from. The vocal effects are also quite impressive. There’s a vocoder and a VocalTune. Running your voice through the effects engine of the MiniNova is a really cool experience. If you prefer, you can also use the input for plugging a guitar or another instrument to apply the same treatment to it.
This synthesizer comes with a very intuitive editing software to simplify the editing process which can get a bit overwhelming especially for such a powerful one like the MiniNova. With this software, you gain visual access to the engine of the synth and the MiniNova Editor acts like a plug-in within your DAW. Considering the staggering amount of onboard sounds (256 in total) and enough space for your own (128 more), you can create music according to many styles and types of sounds you’re after.
Everything being equal, Novation managed to create a very powerful tool in the hands of any aspiring musicians. It comes with 256 onboard sounds, a great synth engine, and many cool effects. Considering the compact design, the MiniNova is clearly intended for the on the go music producer so if this looks like what you’re looking for, you can rest assured that it’s fully worth the money.
- Nova sound engine
- Layer up to 5 effects per voice
- 256 onboard sounds
- Vocoder with unique VocalTune
- Live Synth
- Editing Software
Boasting a massive sound, hands-on ease, and a certain old-school charm, the Roland GAIA SH-01 brings a lot of value in the world of synthesizers. It has a triple-stacked engine which places powerful virtual analog synthesis right at your fingertips. With a fun, inviting control panel and logically arranged knobs, buttons, and sliders, this synth is truly a joy to play with no matter your level of skill.
The triple-stacked virtual analog engine delivers an amazingly thick sound full of impact by unleashing the power of three oscillators capable of driving a trio of multimode, multi-shape LFOs, amplifiers, resonant filters, and 9 envelope generators. To avoid note drop-out, it comes with 64 polyphonic voices onboard that allow for massive sounds to be played.
With the help of the instantly selectable multi-effects of this synth, your sounds can fully transcend into a new spatial dimension. To expand your creative potential, Roland makes it possible to layer up to five effects simultaneously. Included in the onboard effects are, among others, reverb, fuzz, distortion, pitch shifter, and delay. To tweak the effects in real time you have, of course, dedicated control knobs always ready at your command.
As it weighs less than 10 pounds, it is a very lightweight and compact synthesis solution for musicians on the go. A full-size 37-note keyboard is at your disposal to play comfortably. Powering this synthesizer can be done either via AC or with AA batteries for the ultimate portable experience. Roland also added a battery-life indicator on the synth’s front panel.
Taking what’s been said into account, the Roland GAIA SH-01 can be considered a solid synthesizer if we put its performance and features in balance with its price. It’s not perfect but it has lots of great sounds onboard, many lush effects and a fun step sequencer. With such a low weight, high level of versatility and reliability, this machine won’t disappoint any demanding music-maker.
- 64-voice polyphony
- 3 virtual analog engines onboard
- Lightweight, compact body
- D Beam, arpeggiator, and phrase recorder onboard
- Hands-on control panel
- 5 simultaneous effects
Best Synthesizer for Beginners
If big dollars on a sophisticated analog machine doesn’t really sound appealing to you then maybe the Korg Monotron Duo is more up your alley. It’s a very budget-friendly analog synthesizer that you can take virtually anywhere as it fits conveniently in your palm. It has a built-in speaker, gets its power through batteries and is a blast to play with.
The Monotron Duo offers two oscillators and delivers an extreme sound as they tune together for a rich analog tone. To generate new effects or for classic soloing sounds, you can also tune the oscillators in intervals. This synthesizer uses the X-MOD circuit which was taken from the classic Mono/Poly Korg and it’s able to add a mild or sharp edge to the sound. It resembles an FM synth as it can give off anything in between a rich vibrato or an intense metallic sound.
The familiar Scale function present here is now featured on the Monotron Duo’ ribbon controller keyboard. By pressing a single button you can choose one of four scales (Major, Minor, Chromatic). If you choose the Chromatic one, you can play very precise pitches like on a piano and if you prefer musically coherent phrases then perhaps going with a Major or Minor scale is a better solution.
The Korg Monotron Duo is a pretty good synthesizer for a bit of casual fun. It’s safe to say that this is not an instrument you’d want to add to your music making tool-set as it behaves more like a toy. While it won’t blow you away like some of the other models in this list, it’s still a decent option for such a low price.
- X-Mod circuit
- Ribbon Keyboard with Scale Select
- VCO1 and VCO2 with Pitch Control
- Original MS-20 Filter with aux input
- Built-in speaker
- 8 Hours battery life
A unique synthesizer definitely worth checking out is the OP-1 from Teenage Engineering. In one stylish little package, it fuses a synthesizer, a sampler, and a controller. There are also a few extra features like an FM radio and a G-force sensor which can be used for motion controlled effects, a really neat idea. With so many cool and quirky features, this synthesizer will surely appeal to a lot of musicians.
The OP-1 synthesizer has 10 unique engines which are all instantly accessible by pressing the sound selection keys. Its synthesis palette goes in a wide range from physically modeled string synthesis to stuff like frequency modulation. With DNA synthesis modeled on the device’s unique ID, every OP-1 has a slightly different sound. In the synthesis section, you can also discover an interesting selection of exchangeable LFO’s and cool effects.
Thanks to the two built-in samplers of the OP-1, sampling is done very efficiently. There’s one dedicated to instruments such as piano and another one which works best for percussion sounds and drum kits. There are a few cool kits and instruments pre-loaded on this synth but in case you decide so, you can sample pretty much anything with the help of the built-in microphone or line in.
A 4-track tape records a sequence or tweak or anything you play. You can match the tape speed precisely to the sequencer clock creating overdubbing with pitch changes, everything in sync. Changing tape speed while recording is a breeze as well as recording backward in real-time.
The 4 channel mixer adds effects and texture to your sound creations including a compressor, EQ, and 7 stereo effects. For all the tape tracks there are individual levels and pan controls. In the master out panel, you can add the final touches to your mix. With the push of a button in mixer mode, you can also solo and mute tracks or add special punch-in tricks for a more exciting live performance.
Taking into account all the features of the Teenage Engineering OP-1, including the outstanding sound quality, this is an absolute must-have for the music creator on the go. The long battery life and the intuitiveness of the controls are some of the other great aspects of this synthesizer. Admittedly, it’s a little pricey but if you don’t just need a basic synthesizer and want a true work of art, the OP-1 is strongly recommended.
- Modular architecture
- Compact design
- 10 engines and 8 effects
- 4-track tape feature
- Color coded interface
- FM radio
- Assignable G-force sensor
Although it looks tiny, the Arturia MicroBrute analog synthesizer has a massive sound and is loaded with cool features. Mixable waveforms, the Steiner-Parker multimode filter, a patchable mod matrix are just some of the few goodies of this synth. It has the ability to take your sound to a completely new level and the good news is that Arturia somehow managed to keep the price in a very affordable zone.
The MicroBrute has a 100% pure analog voice path and features a unique VCO. It can mix waveforms in multiple amounts and not just with an ON/OFF switch like other more expensive synths. Arturia added wave modifiers to each waveform to increase the possibilities for more tonal variations. The single oscillator present is highly capable of achieving a vast tonal range even though similar synthesizers usually need two or three oscillators to obtain a big sound.
Designed from the ground up, the brand new Overtone sub-oscillator on the MicroBrute allows, besides the usual -1 octave square wave, to add more complex harmonics with the help of the Overtone control. Making classic sounding leads and thick basses is a breeze. By modulating this control with the Envelope or LFO through the Mod Matrix, you can get even more creative with your sounds.
A great feature of the Arturia MicroBrute is the Ultrasaw. Working with the basic sawtooth signal, it builds two phase-shifted copies of it and creates an effect which, when turned up, thickens the sound. It can also duplicate the sound of two saw oscillators that are close to the same pitch. After this, you can get the Mod Matrix to forward the LFO to the SAW and bring a third saw sound into the mix simulating a much wider detuning effect.
Efficiently priced and extremely enjoyable to use overall, the Arturia MicroBrute has a plethora of tools to help you get the hang of synthesis. Highly versatile and able to produce a variety of sounds, this synth is also very portable and fun to use. It’s not as advanced as its more expensive competitors but for this price, it’s definitely a great option and is highly recommended.
- 100% Analog Audio Signal Path
- Voltage Controlled Oscillator
- Ultrasaw for generating shimmering sawtooth waveforms
- Steiner-Parker Multimode Filter
- MIDI In with 5-Pin DIN connector
Built on the revered Sub Phatty sound engine, the Moog Sub 37 Tribute Edition is a premium synthesizer geared towards music professionals. It comes with 40 knobs, 74 switches, and an LCD display, dedicated live performance tools always ready at your command. High-quality sound creation from Moog doesn’t come cheap but this is one of the best synthesizers on the market.
At first sight, the Sub 37’s steel chassis with a nice wooden finish leaves a pleasant impression especially when you notice the control panel bristling with all sorts of knobs and buttons. The dual oscillators found on this synth can be played independently thanks to the Duo Mode feature. A 64-step sequencer is included and it offers some interesting pattern options as it permits the introduction of two separate pitches per step.
Moog provides 256 sound presets which can be conveniently managed using the small LCD display which is found to the extreme left. The presets can be browsed according to their type and using the Compare button, you can easily see the tweaks made on a patch contrasting it with an existing preset. When it’s time to strike out a patch that you made yourself, all you need to do is toggle from Preset into a Panel Active mode. Above the keyboard, there are 16 preset buttons available for quick access.
Synthesizer fans will definitely appreciate Moog’s decision to add on the Sub 37 a full-on arpeggiator. It can run -2/+2 octaves and the available patterns include Up, Down, Order, and Random. If you prefer, you can play arpeggios continuously without the need to hold down any keys as they can be easily latched to do so. Additionally, the Back/Forth and Invert buttons can contribute to more pattern variation.
Is it worth the money? If you are a dedicated music enthusiast, the answer is yes. This synthesizer has the potential to take your sound creation to the next level. Considering the sheer quality and the intuitiveness of the design, the Sub 37 is a dream machine that will make waves on stage. The compactness, performance facilities, stability, and the amazing sound turns this into one of the most irresistible choices out there.
- 7-note velocity sensitive keyboard
- Built on the Sub Phatty sound engine
- Fully featured mixer section with dedicated controls
- 40 knobs, 74 switches
- Dedicated LCD display
- Classic Moog Ladder Filter with resonance
Based on the original Bass Station, the second installment in the synth series from Novation has been re-worked to contain the most advanced technology used today in analog music machines. This synthesizer was built for bass as it brings many strong features to the table like the powerful modulation section, a step sequencer, and the velocity sensitive full-sized keys.
It offers two oscillators which have syncing and tuning capability. There are four selectable waveforms and an extra third sub-oscillator that generates that huge bass sound. You can set this one to one or two octaves below Oscillator One and that characteristically powerful bass tone can be delivered as you toggle between square, sine or narrow pulse width.
Besides the classic original Bass Station filter, there’s a new Acid filter included whose design is based on a diode ladder filter. Both of them have a built-in overdrive to get the perfect filter tones. Switching the Bass Station filter from low pass, high pass, and band pass can be done with ease.
This synthesizer also has an arpeggiator that comes with a programmable step sequencer which allows you to store and retrieve patterns or to quickly sketch out ideas. A highly performant arpeggiator, it can be run through 32 different rhythmic patterns in more than one direction thanks to the switchable octave range. With the Step Sequencer, you can play up to four sequences with legato and rests.
Considering what this analog mono-synth offers, it’s a great option for the money. The Novation Bass Station II delivers a real punch in terms of sound and it’s relatively easy to program and master. If portability is another factor that you have to take into account, this is also a fitting choice. Overall, it is a highly recommended product for any creative musician tired of software/VST synths. The analog sound really makes a huge difference.
- Optimized for Bass
- Analog Distortion and Filter-Modulation Effects
- Acid Filter
- Pattern-based Step Sequencer and Arpeggiator
- Two Envelopes Generators and Two LFOs
- Two Oscillators and a Sub-Oscillator
- MIDI and USB
Like the classic Moog but with a modern flavor, the Sub Phatty analog synthesizer boasts many great features tightly packaged into a very compact machine. There’s an all-analog signal path, a noise generator, dual oscillators and the phenomenal Moog Ladder Filter just to name a few. The price is also decent for a Moog so this is a very attractive choice for a quality synthesizer.
If getting the best synth bass possible is your goal, this one is a very satisfying solution. The Sub Phatty’s Sub Oscillator was made to unleash an enormous bass but, as an authentic Moog, it’s naturally inclined to deliver impressive leads too. The Multidrive circuit is built right into the filter section and provides a good level of control over the rich post-filter overdrive. The Sub Phatty enables you to dial up pretty much everything from a gnarly, classic grit to a more modern kind of sizzling distortion.
An essential key to the Moog sound was the original Ladder Filter and you can find it in the Sub Phatty. It allows you to dial in the optimal filter cutoff frequency and finely tweak the resonance to master that classic punchy Moog sound. Modulating with your filter resonance is also possible. Thanks to this synthesizer’s onboard LFO, you can modulate like on vintage Minimoogs without having one of your sound-generating oscillators to take over.
The Sub Phatty gets along well with your other gear as it comes with control voltage and keyboard gate inputs for connecting through a CV/gate. It supports Filter, Pitch, as well as Volume CV. For more control, you’ve got the MIDI and MIDI over USB to pair it with your DAW.
If you have a generous budget, this synthesizer will cover all your music creation needs with ease. The Moog LPSSUB001 Sub Phatty is a brilliant synth in all regards, especially in terms of sound. You can hear the difference instantly, right after you play your first note. Considering the multitude of knobs which allow for very fine adjustments, this is an absolute blast to play with.
- 25 semi-weighted keys
- 31 knobs and 13 switches
- 100% analog signal path
- Square-wave Sub Oscillator in mixer section
- 2 ultra-stable variable-wave shape oscillators
Finding a capable mini-synth these days is not an easy job especially if you are on a tight budget. The Korg microKorg offers many music-making possibilities at a very reasonable price. It combines mini-keys, a practical user interface, solid sound quality, and battery power. Complete with a built-in vocoder and an arpeggiator with selectable step, this represents a very efficient solution for those looking to buy a synthesizer.
One of the most striking features of the microKorg is its compact design which simplifies the transport and the setup process. The synthesizer has a beige-gold body color and comes with wooden side panels. The design gives off a certain retro vibe and all in all the microKorg projects quite a strong visual presence. Adding to the ease-of-use is the simple menu structure. You’ve got all the parameters needed quickly accessible on the panel.
There are six types of arpeggio patterns built in. Adjusting the length and the resolution of the arpeggiated notes is possible and for producing awesome patterns with ease, you can switch steps on and off.
An interesting aspect is the ability to connect a mic by using the dedicated jack. This can be used for a performant vocoder which applies the tonal character of your vocal input to the great sound of an oscillator. Basically, it can produce the impression, in this way, that it’s singing. Other features worth taking into account are the 128 fully editable presets, the keyboard with its 37 mini-keys with velocity sensing, and the 5 real-time edit knobs which are also assignable.
A very versatile little synthesizer, the MicroKorg seems to be a good option for music enthusiasts who don’t want to spend too much. The vocoder sounds great and generally, the synth is a lot of fun, feeling like there’s a lot to explore. Considering how densely packed with features this compact analog machine is, any aspiring musicians will greatly benefit from it.
- 37 mini-keys with velocity sensing
- 128 editable presets
- 5 assignable real-time edit knobs
- 4-Voice Analog Modeling engine
- Interactive arpeggiator with selectable steps
- External audio processing