Synthesizer Chat


#1

Didn’t see one so thought it would be cool to make a Synth thread.

It would be cool to see what other people have been using whether it’s good old analog hardware or some interesting software synths that do unusual things. Also it’d be great if people could share some of the more synth heavy music they have been listening to lately!

At the moment I’ve been using the Roland JD-Xi a lot which is a analog digital hybrid synth. I find despite it lacking in depth in a lot of places you can get some really cool (sometimes glitchy stuff out of it which is pretty cool even if not intended, the LFO can do some weird things).

I’ve also been listening to Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith a lot who does some really interesting things with modular synthesis especially with Buchla systems to create these kind of sound gardens. Her new album “The Kid” is pretty amazing.


#2

I’m a terrible musician but I have had my eye on two synths, Beringer’s Deep Mind 12 (seems like a really good polysynth for the money) and a Sub 37.

I’m also keeping my eye out for Teenage Engineering’s OP-Z (I love their pocket series), but I’m not that big on the fact that I’ll probably need an iPad to take full advantage of it.


#3

I’m not really one to buy or use hardware synths; I tried it out when I was younger with a Nord Lead but find I just like using soft synths more.

I’ve pared my softsynth collection down to just three, for real: Native Instruments FM8, u-he Diva and Xfer Serum. FM8 gives me the grit, quirkiness and malleability of FM synthesis that is great for sound design and game music composition. Warm analog sounds have never really gone out of style, and I love having Diva on hand for when I need to make a nice marshmallowy lead or that real thick kind of John Carpenter bassline or something. Serum is for modern digital nastiness; you can effortlessly make huge, monstrous sounds with it and the waveform options make it really expansive. Between these three, I feel like I can do anything.

I feel like these might be kind of plain to people who are into modular stuff and more experimental synths, but I kind of only buy the things I know I’ll get a lot of use out of and learn to use them to their maximum potential.


#4

Teenage engineering’s stuff is super cool, don’t own any of it but like watching videos of people using the OP-1 because of how versitile it seems. (Also I saw Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith use one in her live setup which is pretty cool).

I do agree that the instruments you have are only really what you make with them. It’s tempting to have a crapload of synths but you can get a lot of the sounds you’d want from just a few really.

In terms of Soft synths I only own the ones which come with Logic but I do find that Alchemy is a good (semi free) substitute to Massive in terms of its general sound making capacity.

I’d really like to get into more deep FM Synthesis but whenever I have a look at FM8 on my Uni computers the interface scares me cause it’s so different. I do really like the kind of sounds you can get out of FM synths, and it could be pretty useful for when I feel like channelling my inner Brian Eno :thinking:


#5

I stick to samples like 90% of the time but i do use the occasional VST. I mainly use just the freeware synth1 and then also a bunch of weird workarounds in renoise using a big library of waveform samples and stuff like the ringmod and LFO.


#6

I used to have a Korg Electribe and Yamaha CS1X but neither of those was quite what I was looking for. once I have a few bucks to spare I’m thinking of getting one of the new Korg *logue keyboard since they look like exactly what I had in mind a few years ago but didn’t exist yet: analog, knobs, an oscilloscope, with a simple sequencer built in


#7

I lovvvvvve the Minilogue, I tried one out in a shop. It felt so hands on and instant in a way that I hadn’t experienced with other synths before. Really like the sound and the in built sequencer is really great aswell. If I had a load of money right now(if I wasn’t a student) I’d snap one up quick.


#8

Yes!!! That’s the synth I have right now. Much love for the minilogue, I’m not sure there’s a better polysynth out there for the price.


#9

Bringing the thread back from the dead with an OP I had drafted last year. There have been some recent releases that would be included in the price range covered below, so I may add those at some point:

I mainly have experience with standalone hardware/software synths, videosynthesis, theremins, & the weirder side of DIY, so I won’t be talking about Eurorack/Frac/Buchla/5U too much (unless something earthshatteringly neat is announced).

If you’re interested in getting a synthesizer of your own, but aren’t sure where to start, I’ve written up a little buyer’s guide for the $50-400 price range below. I’ll be adding links to it for easy searching, and some basic feature info at some point.

SO YOU WANNA BUY A SYNTHESIZER: A Guide to Preventing Instant Buyer’s Remorse

Clicky

Synthesizers come in all shapes, sizes, & prices, and it’s very easy to drop a decent amount of money on something that sounds like it’ll fulfill your wildest fantasies. The first question you need to ask yourself is: Am I okay with spending that much on something that I might be disappointed with, or even outright hate?

If your answer is “lmao nope”:
The easiest and cheapest option is not to go with a physical instrument at all, but instead, try a VST or iOS/Android app. KORG has wonderful recreations of their more popular synths for $20-50, available on iOS, PC, and 3DS (wait for a sale, they frequently drop to half-price on each of these platforms). You’ll find on-screen keyboards, sequencers, effects, and all sorts of other bells and whistles built into these apps, making them extremely flexible to suit your needs. Most of the iOS versions of these apps are also AudioBus/InterAppAudio compatible, so they can be used with a wide variety of other apps.
If you have an audio interface with MIDI ports, and nearly any keyboard with a MIDI-OUT port (or a USB MIDI controller/keyboard), you have a decent-to-great version of that synth, ready to be used with a DAW of your choice, for a fraction of the price.

If your answer is “heck yeah”:
Think about your price range. If you’re just testing the waters, something in the $150-300 range is where you might want to be. If you decide you don’t like it, you’ll easily find someone who will take it off your hands for close to what you paid for it. Here are a few recommendations. Keep in mind that the majority of the following are NOT polyphonic. If that’s what you want, check out the Volca Keys/FM or MiniNova as your starting point.

First, a recommendation: NEVER BUY NEW (unless you can get a good [read: 20% off or more] discount).
Take a look around Craigslist or Reverb. You’ll be able to find pretty much anything for at least 20% off base retail price unless it’s in-demand vintage gear. Just as a quick example, here’s a Microbrute for $100 off retail.

If you do want/have to buy new, go to Guitar Center if you have one nearby, and try their demo units multiple times. See how the keys and knobs handle stress over time (and see if they can give you a sweet discount [they usually can]). Test every last thing you can think of. It’s okay to be “That Guy at Guitar Center”, no one really cares.

THE CHEAP

KORG’s Monotron synths are about as cheap as it gets, topping out at $50. The two currently-available units are extremely easy to use as standalone devices, and also double as effect units through the use of their aux-in jacks. The Monotron Delay is my favorite, with a lo-fi delay effect and a gritty lowpass filter based on the MS-20’s. They are pretty limited in functionality, though.

Teenage Engineering’s Pocket Operator series ranges from $50-90 and includes many different styles of sounds. Each unit has a built-in sequencer and speaker, and like the KORG Volca series detailed below, can sync with other PO units to keep tempo with one another. Their interface takes a bit of time to get used to, but they’re pretty darn neat! Also available are silicone cases made for each style, with unit-specific button markings to match.

KORG’s Volca units may look cheap at first, and in some ways, they are. Get yourself an external speaker for these, maybe some rechargeable AAs. BUT, they’re portable, they’re relatively easy to use, and they’re an excellent bang for your buck. They come in a few flavors, and they do pretty much exactly what you’d think:
Keys: lead synth, has a built-in delay effect and a hidden MIDI-OUT spot on the PCB that you can wire up for use as a MIDI controller
Bass: bassline synth, kinda-sorta like a TB-303
FM: FM synth, similar to the extremely popular Yamaha DX7, and is able to load Sysex patches from a program like DEXED
Beats: drum machine (can’t recommend this one without some reservations)
Kick: kick drum synth, pretty useful for gabber/hardcore if you run it through some nasty distortion, but kind of one-note otherwise
Sample: sample playback machine, and my favorite of the bunch. Tons of parameters to warp your samples, the process for uploading new samples is pretty painless (though the amount of available memory is… not what it should be for something that came out in 2015)
These little boxes top out at $170 new, but frequently go for far less secondhand. Standard features include sequencers with pattern memory, MIDI-IN, and Sync-In-Out jacks to link multiple Volcas together to keep a tempo with each other.

Mutable Instruments’ Shruthi is a DIY kit with multiple configurations available. The Shruthi is made from two boards: the control board, with encoders, buttons, & an LCD screen, and the filter board, of which many different types are available. This thing has a ridiculous number of parameters and kinda-hidden options for creating some super cool sounds. You’ll need a MIDI controller or audio interface with MIDI-OUT for this one. The “standard” filter board, and the one with the most documentation, is the SMR4 mkII. My favorite, however, is the Polivoks filter board, a clone of the filter used in the 1980s Soviet Polivoks synth. Gritty and growly, with a fancy little overdrive mode that you won’t find on any of the other filters. If you’re interested in giving DIY a try, the Shruthi is a GREAT kit, and the satisfaction I felt when I first fired mine up with no problems after 6 solid hours of soldering was immense. Mutable Instruments themselves no longer manufacture the Shruthi, but the schematics were released under a creative commons license, so companies like TubeOhm and Laurentide Synthworks (who, sadly, left the synth business last year, but the remaining stock of his PCBs are available on ModularAddict) have taken over manufacture and sale of kits. A full kit (containing a control board and one filter board along with every necessary component aside from a power adapter) from TubeOhm is roughly €200, and worth every bit.

THE CHEAPISH

Arturia’s Microbrute is easily the first synthesizer I would recommend to someone who doesn’t want to spend a ton of money and would like a nice, sturdy, hands-on analog synth. This thing is a BEAST, with raw, gritty bass and grinding, squealing metallic tones being its strongest points. A small patchbay allows for some basic modulation, and is also compatible with other semimodular/modular synths. Not especially great for the more mellow side of the spectrum at first glance, but if you’re willing to put some effort into really exploring its capabilities it’s pretty flexible. It does a lot for the price, and it does it WELL. It has CV/Gate in-out, MIDI-IN, and is frequently available on the secondhand market for around $250 or $300 new.

Novation’s MiniNova is an analog modeling synth that has a massive variety of sounds, deep parameter editing capabilities, sturdy build, larger keyboard (37 compared to the Microbrute’s 25), arpeggiator, and vocoder. I owned one for a few months and had a blast with it. Honestly, out of every piece of gear I’ve tried I wish I would’ve kept it. It’s more expensive than the Microbrute at $400 new, and it isn’t analog (if you wanna be a purist), but it’s one you have to try.

KORG’s MicroKORG and recently-released MicroKORG S have a similar featureset as the MiniNova, but I found the user interface to be a bit less friendly. Not a favorite of mine, but I admittedly haven’t spent a lot of time with it.

Dreadbox’s Hades is a semimodular bass synth. Not a lot of bells and whistles on this little guy, but it is POWERFUL. Excellent filter with good squelchy resonance, two sub-oscillators for fattening up the already beefy sound this thing puts out, MIDI-IN, and a little patchbay for use with any other V/Oct modular/semimodular synth.

From here, you start brushing up against pricepoints of $450+, which is beyond the scope of this guide.


#10

Oooooo, just noticed this thread. I bought one of the Korg MS-20 Reissues and it’s phenomenal. It’s very cool because there are elements of it that aren’t present in modern synths because the MS-20 was developed at a time when Synth language wasn’t unified. Resonance is Peak; it has a Low Pass and High Pass rather than the standard Moog-style Low Pass; and you can control the Synth with any pitched instrument, so you can plug a guitar in and control it with that.


#11

In highschool (late 90s) I was super into all things analog. I purchased a MicroMoog on eBay in 2000 and have never really graduated from the darling mono-synth. I’ll play with cheapo keyboards and pedals to add flavor, chords, etc. but have found a voice I can express with and properly maintain with my good buddy MicroMoog.
Everyone I know who plays with synths have all gone the way of digital (usually with something super portable like the OP-1) and there’s a lot of fun looking options out there.


#12

I’ve got a little studio I have put together over the years and the stuff I go to the most is Juno 106, DS-8 (similar to DX7 but with sliders), Korg Minilogue - which is the newest and most fun for me rn, an SV1 for piano / rhodes / wurli, and TX81Z which I really only use for a few bass patches like the lately bass. I have a Korg R3 which I used to use a lot but am going to sell as the Minilogue fills a lot of those sounds and has a better sequencer.

I use a drum machine from Elektron and have everything routed thru a soundcraft MTK12 that allows for individual input printing for live jams.

I’ve played with the volcas and korg reissues and think they’re totally fun, just don’t need em.

I think soft synths are really good nowadays too and I would always recommend them before someone buy an analogue synth to learn your way around. My Juno is scratchy which is kind of why I like it, but I can get sounds that are just as warm through the u-He Diva. In general the U-He stuff is all super solid and have tons of user banks on their forums for crazyyyy sounds. The NI kontakt stuff for piano / rhodes are really good, and I like Ultra Analog VA-2 for it’s great arp and MS20 style bleeps and squelches.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith is a legend!
-j