So, you want a real synthesizer? It’s unfortunate we have to call them “real”, however nowadays, many home and even professional studios are run by a digital setup with a combination of MIDI controllers and VST software. Especially as technology continues to grow and evolve, we are seeing less and less analogue stations in the music realm. We digress, and still absolutely love the feel and sound of an actual analog synthesizer. In our opinion, technology can be amazing and more influential than we can fathom, but will never be able to take away the true experience of having a hardware synthesizer at your fingertips in the studio. Let’s take a look at the top 10 best synths in the market as of today.
How to choose your synthesizer
- Your budget – Synthesizers come in different shapes, sizes, sounds and of course, price points. When it comes to buying your synthesizer, how much cash you have to drop is really going to determine what you’re going to buy. You can grab a smaller Korg synth for a decent price that is geared towards a budget-friendly shopper, whereas a Moog Voyager will give you one of the greatest synths ever made for a couple grand.
- Type of sounds you want – What kind of synth do you want? Bass only? Fat synths? Strings? Some vox? With this factor in shopping for a synthesizer, you’ll want to really think about it considering you can’t replace sounds in the thing and you get what you choose forever (unless it comes with MIDI capability, then you can use it as a MIDI controller and replace the sounds at will, of course).
- Customization – Some come with just keys, some without keys, others keys, knobs, buttons and more. How eager are you to create your own patches? Use the modulation and FX? Perhaps you’d just like a synthesizer you can use right out of the box. It all depends on your wants and needs in a synth.
- Portability? Some are tanks you’ll be settling in your studio, others you can probably get away with traveling with if you’re careful with them, and some that are easy to carry around. The size will come in to play here, so if you’re looking to perform or go jam with others in their domains, you’ll want to grab a smaller, more compact synth.
The top 10 best synthesizers in the market
The following is our compiled list of the 10 best synthesizers (analog\hardware) in the market today. Now keep in mind these are of today, considering there have been countless classic synthesizers made in the past numerous decades. We like Vintage Synth to take a look at the whole spectrum. For this article however, we researched numerous websites, online stores and message boards for user reviews and more info on current models. Let us know if you have any questions or comments. We also love Reddit’s synthesizer community if you want to hang around there to get a feel of the culture.
Moog Sub 37
We didn’t want to be Moog biased (they’re synonymous with synthesizers), so we only have two in here. However, this one is a gem. We’ll admit it was more difficult than we thought when it came to choosing 10 synths let alone which Moog models to recommend. The reviews and mere sounds alone made this one stand out. In addition, it comes with 2 mod buses, 37 velocity-sensitive keys, 256 presets (16 banks), an arpeggiator, step sequencer and their classic filters (resonance, multidrive, and some filter slopes). Attached is 40 knobs and 74 switches, so the control you’ll have with this is unmatched. You’re really getting a wide spectrum of sounds as well — bass, leads and more, let alone the ability to customize and modulate them. So if you were torn on which type of synth to get when it came to the types of sounds, this’ll bring you an all-around package. Check out the video above to see for yourself.
This one is for serious synth heads. The price point really isn’t too bad if you think about what you’re actually getting with this machine, let alone comparing to others in the synth market. If cash isn’t a problem, you can also check out Moog’s Minimoog Voyager Performer Edition for another beast of a Moog synth. Either way you go, getting a Moog synthesizer is only right and you’ll be confident you have a brand that’s famous for their synths.
Dave Smith Instruments Prophet ’08
Here’s another heavy-hitter in the synthesizer realm. Check out any “best synth” article and you’re going to see at least one Dave Smith Instruments model in there. The Prophet 08 has a 100% analog signal path with 8-voices, an analog Curtis low-pass filter per voice, 3 envelop generators, 2 analog oscillators (with selectable saw tooth, triangle and pulse waves), 52 knobs to mess with, and 61 keys that are semi-weighted with aftertouch. You’re also getting four LFO’s (low-frequency oscillation, which basically allows you to tweak the sounds further), three envelopes and a gated sequencer for each voice.
Check the video to hear the sounds for yourself, but in our opinion they’re super smooth with a bit of an eerie touch (especially the strings). Grab this one if you want a higher key count and different sounds than the previous Moog model. You can also compare this with their other Prophet 12 synth that’s a bit more packed with features, albeit higher in price.
We all know that Korg brand name, and this here is highly reputable when it comes to synths and vocoders (the microphone at the center — think Daft Punk and their robot voices). It originally came out in 2002. There are 37 keys, two oscillators per voice giving 71 possible selections and some able to be shape shifted with their FX (width modulation and FM), and you can even insert external audio with the input to filter\FX it to basically create your own sounds from scratch. There are 8 oscillator types, an entire filter section on the face (cutoff, resonance, attack, release and tempo), and a USB plug-in to edit parameters straight from your computer (not necessarily vintage but more of a why not?).
128 programs and 6 types of arpeggios. The keys are not full-sized so at least keep that in mind (some have complained about that but it’s still very well playable). The sounds are super smooth. We absolutely love the strings — it brings us back for sure. It’s around the same price point as the MiniBrute listed later on in this article, so if you’re differentiating between the two, we’d say grab this if you want a vocoder and a bit more older-sounding synth sounds. They also have a microKorg XL for a few extra bucks.
Here’s a newer brand in the market as compared to Moog and Korg — Novation Music. They have quite a few different synths, so we went with this one considering it was rated the highest among the gear heads. This one is super configurable and controllable. You’re getting three oscillators, noise and ring modulation (for sound richness), classic waveforms and wavetables, multi-mode filters, 6 envelopes, 3 LFO’s and touch-sensitive encoders. You can build your own patches pretty easily (don’t need much prior knowledge on the concept). You’re only getting 18-voices but again, they’re completely able to be tweaked which can be customized using their LCD screen and filter knob. There’s also MIDI in/out if you want to turn it into a MIDI controller. Did we mention there’s a vocoder on it as well? Not much missing from this one besides perhaps those who want more keys and a more vintage-sounding synthesizer.
If you’re comparing prices with the synths in here, it’s a bit in the middle. We recommend this synth if you want something more new-age and technological. Sound On Sound’s Novation Ultranova review rated it highly. They also have a Novation Mininova if you want to save some money.
A popular brand nowadays, Arturia is relatively new to the game but come with some very solid synths available in the new-age category. This model is one you’ve most likely heard of if you’ve done any research on the net prior to reading our article. With this synth, you’re getting an easy-to-use interface, 100% analog audio path, multiple choices for sounds (bass lines, leads, arpeggios and FX), some MIDI in\out plugs if you’re into that sort of thing, and CV gate capability. As seen in the photo, you’re also getting 29 knobs, 14 sliders and 8 switches for customizing your sounds (the LFO waveforms help you with modulations very nicely). You have 25 keys that are semi-weighted with aftertouch for a natural feel while playing. An overall solid piece of synth here that isn’t too insane for the price to be too high for a normal budget. Check out the video for yourself to get a feel of the sounds you’ll be getting.
It doesn’t necessarily sound like a complete vintage synth (Moogs are listed in this article later on), but what really stands out is this things ability to make your own presets (it doesn’t come with any out of the box — that’s all up to you). Based on others in the synthesizer game, we’d consider it relatively affordable. You can also check out their Arturia MicroBrute; a smaller, cheaper version of this that still packs a pretty powerful punch. One of our favorite “budget-friendly” synths out there at the moment.
Elektron Analog Four
Here’s a bit of a different spin on a synthesizer. Many may associate synths with keyboards only (which was an obvious focus in here), but many should keep in mind there are also modules like this to get a hold of and enter a new realm of synths. Keep in mind that this thing is relatively complicated to use, but once you’re able to get a hang of it there are way too many to count possibilities at your fingertips when it comes to making music. The A4 holds new-age capability if you’re looking to integrate a synth with your digital-based studio. It has easy integration with digital audio workstations, MIDI in\out, CV/Gate, USB powered, and a variety of sounds (leads, bells, bass and more). For those performing, this is one many have used as it’s easily portable and can be incorporated pretty easily in an existing setup. It has it’s own sequencer built-in if you need a backbone to your live tracks. Lastly, the modulation control and FX are great for tweaking sounds – 4 voices, 2 sub-oscillators, 6 arpeggiators, 2 LFO’s per voice, reverb, delay, chorus, and more.
If you want the traditional keyboard attached to your synth for an easier time getting a hang of, take a look at their Elektron Analog Keys (37 keys) that barely missed the cut in this article.
Moog Sub Phatty
Looking for some bass? Here’s another Moog synth we absolutely love. Although you’re only getting 25 keys (some say that’s enough, some don’t), the sounds and features are awesome, let alone the price point being (for a decent synth) pretty affordable. Alongside the full-sized (synth-action) keys, you’re getting 16 presets (with panel mode), 31 knob front panel, their control design plugs, mixer section with a sub oscillator, and their “Multidrive Section” (tweak the resonance, waveshape and oscillator level). A few other additional features worth noting include CV/Gate Inputs, Ladder Filter (gives you that signature Moog massive, thick sound), and Noise Generator. Not to mention it’s highly portable with its relatively sleek size as compared to other synthesizers.
This thing packs a powerful punch. If you’re looking for a synthesizer (let alone a Moog) that’s under a grand that’ll give you a supreme bassy feel and sound, take a look at the Sub Phatty. It also appeared in Juno’s best synthesizers post.
Nord Lead 4
This may be less known around the synth market, but the 49-key (velocity sensitive) Lead 4 by Nord is a very powerful piece of gear. This is a synth that gives us more than some decent sounds when it comes to additive capabilities. A few standout features include two oscillators per voice (there’s a dedicated oscillator section on the synth itself), some cool FX (crush, drive, comb filter, reverb\delay, and more), as well as 12, 24 and 48 dB low-pass filters. Another nifty feature on the Lead 4 is their “Voice Unison mode”, which lets you stack up to four voices on one another to create a pretty layered, unique sound. It also has some marketed “morphing features” that allow you to alter the sound of the voices pretty uniquely — a mod wheel and velocity wheel, an “impulse morph buttons” (which let you do things like double the LFO rate, change from saw to square oscillation, mess with resonance and a few other smaller things that give you some nice tweaks). All in all, if you’re into unique features and extra pizzazz, we like the Lead 4.
There are quite a few “Lead” models so be sure to shop around if you want either a cheaper Nord synth or more powerful (and expensive). Their Lead A1 is also rated very highly among the internet for a bit of a lower price. This Nord Lead 4 review by MusicTech gives you some more information to check out if it peaks your interest.
Dave Smith Instruments Mopho x4
Here’s a monster synthesizer to keep in mind. Another Dave Smith Instruments synth keyboard here. It’s portable and gives us a broad spectrum of sounds (basses, leads, sequences and pads, too). As seen in the photo, a little LCD screen to help with working it, a pitch and mod wheel, some MIDI ins and outs, envelope and oscillator sections of the front panel, as well as modulation and filters. The x4 stands for 4-voices and you’re getting two sub-octave generators, two oscillators, 4 LFOs and three envelope generators per voice. It’s got a great reputation among the net and synth-world.
As stated previously, it’s pretty portable coming in at almost 14 lbs. This also made it into MusicRadar’s best high-end synthesizers article.
Novation Bass Station II
To top off our list, we’ve got another Novation synth here that gives us a different option if you’re looking for a strictly-bass piece of machinery as compared to the Moog Sub Phatty. In comparison, the Bass Station II is a lot cheaper if you’re looking to save some money. It’s got a very warm and fat sound. Attached are two tunable oscillators, a sub-oscillator, and noise and ring modulation. You’re only getting two analogue filters but they’re pretty solid (multi-mode and acid). As seen in the picture you have some necessary attachments such as a pitch and mod wheel, LFOs, envelopes, oscillators and arpeggiator.
We love the simplicity of this synth, and it saves us money by giving us less sparkle and merely the necessities of a synthesizer. Take a look at it if you want a portable, bass-heavy, essential piece of gear for your studio or stage-presence.