In the world of music production there comes a time in a producers journey where you will want to branch out into the world of synthesizers and want to get your hands on some knobs. Getting your first synth can be a little overwhelming and I would highly suggest educating yourself a little before you pull the trigger to ensure you’re getting something that will help your production process and keep everything fun. Lets get into some different options and questions you’ll want to think about when choosing your first synthesizer.
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In the present day there are so many new affordable synths appearing on the market by well know audio companies. Whether producing house, techno or experimental there is something for your setup. Korg, Roland, Arturia, and Behringer companies have all came out with products within the last few years that are amazing entry level pieces that can spark endless inspiration and keep you entertained for hours. Seeing the newest product by any company and cause a knee jerk reaction to say “Hey I need this!”. So having a little background knowledge of synths can go along way so you do not end up with a little bit of buyers remorse. The more information you have the more you can ensure that your purchase will cross off all your boxes you intend it to.
Synthesizers come in all different shapes and sizes. Also the capability of that synth to play one or more sounds at a time is something to look out for. A monophonic synth allows you to express one sound at a time, while a polyphonic synth can will enable you to express more than one sound simultaneously. Think of a track you are making, a monophonic synth is something you could use for a bass line where you will want the emphasis to be one note cutting through the mix adding to the groove of your track. A polyphonic synth can play multiple notes at one time, so for instance the Korg Minilogue XD is a four voice(voice refers the number of notes that can be played at one time) polyphonic synth. Adding chords, progressions, or thick evolving pads are easily done with polyphonic synths. So you can press down 4 notes at one time and the synth will play all four notes, try this on a monophonic synth and only 1 note will get played.
So having an understanding of what you want the synth to do within your setup, and what the strengths are of that synth are important. The monophonic Roland TB-03 will be an awesome addition for bass lines and acid house sounds. While any polyphonic synth will be be able to create a multi voice sound right out of the box.
The choice of analog or digital synth will most definitely come up while making your decision. In the case of your first synth I would not put too much focus on this, getting something to help you learn and that fits in your setup is more important. Down the road this will absolutely be something to pay attention to the type of synthesis used can dictate whether you create your own sounds or have to use presets.
When starting out subtractive synthesis, which is typical associated with analog synths, is the easiest to pick up and learn. Digital FM synthesis is more involved and takes more time to become fluent. A Subtractive synth that has clear controls and labels for the oscillators, envelopes and filters would be an ideal first pick. This will have you picking up the basics of synthesis in no time.
Another question you will have to consider depending on your skill level will be how you plan on using the synth. Some synths come with small or full size keyboards while others will come with a sequencer built in, or it will have to be programmed from an outside source like a DAW or a sequencer.
Producers all have their own methods for creating and accessing the juice, and understanding how the synth can connect to your setup can be a major plus. Most new synths on the market today have a USB connection port so you can connect it to your computer and use it as a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface, or MIDI, is the name for the connection type and language by which computers, synths, drum machines, and other hardware communicate) mappable controller meaning you can control your DAW from the synth while still maintaining the ability to record it. Or send MIDI patterns to the synth, record it, and live tweak parameters. These type of options will expand your capabilities and inspire you to try new methods for your production.
Another aspect when choosing a synth would be to look at any extras they might include for instance onboard FX like reverb, delay, and distortion. Onboard FX allow you to add flavor to sounds without going through the trouble of bringing up a plugin on the computer screen and modifying parameters, all that can be done with the twisting of some knobs on your machine.
Synthesizers can come with built in sequencers that allow you to program from the machine without having to use any outboard MIDI controllers. This can allow you to program melodies or bass lines and tweak parameters like the cutoff or resonance live while the sequence plays.
Depending on your level of expertise I would start off looking in the $50-$500 range. Yes its a wide range but on the higher side of the list can offer more capability and options. There are numerous synths on the market currently by companies such as Arturia, Roland, and Korg that can offer you the simplicity you want from an entry level product while maintaining a timeless quality that will hold for years . These newer made entry level synths fit the range while providing user friendly interfaces that’ll help you spend more time making music and less time scrolling menus.
The Behringer TD-3, a remake of Roland’s famous TB-303 analog synthesizer and sequencer produces the throbbing rhythms and greasy bass sounds that have defined electro-funk, acid, techno, and house for the last 30 plus years. The TD-3 is an authentic interpretation of its iconic predecessor, with an all-analog signal path, a 16-step sequencer, transistor wave-shaping circuitry, a built-in arpeggiator, and a four-pole resonant lowpass filter that oozes with character. Grimy, squelching, and unapologetic, the TD-3 is a retro-style groove machine reincarnated for contemporary producers and sound designers that you’re sure to love.
The Korg Monologue is a monophonic, fully programmable, analog synthesizer for all players. The monologue is the next-generation of monophonic synthesizer with a powerful voice and many features.
While sharing its sleek layout, knob-per-function workflow and high-quality construction with the best-selling Minilogue, the Monologue is a truly unique new synth for all types of musicians; featuring new voicing and sound sculpting abilities – at an amazing price. With clearly labeled FX, Filters, LFOs, waveforms and envelopes creating your own sounds is fun and hands on. The semi modular aspect gives you presets options, which is convenient when feeling uninspired or if looking for a starting point to sound design.
The Arturia Drumbrute Impact is a true analog drum machine with amazing performance potential. Its 10 analog drum sound generators and a plethora of hands-on controls offer a ton of creative possibilities for everything from old-school techno and house to psytrance, dub, hip hop, and much more. The Steiner-Parker output filter delivers super-smooth HPF or LPF sweeps and can be bypassed with a single button press. Factor in the 12 individual audio outputs, and it’s clear the Arturia DrumBrute Impact is a powerful drum machine for both stage and studio. Including a 64 step sequencer, on board distortion FX, and the ability to easily create poly rhythms to keep your music fresh and interesting.
Arturia’s MicroFreak synth is an affordable hybrid hardware synth with wavetable and digital oscillators, analog filters, a modulation matrix, an unconventional but highly expressive touch plate — and tons of sonic possibilities. MicroFreak’s powerful digital oscillator features a palette of unique modes such as Texturer, KarplusStrong, Harmonic OSC, and Superwave. From adventurous newbies to experienced synthesists, the MicroFreak enables you to explore new sonic frontiers. The MicroFreak is an awesome blend of analog and digital that we are seeing more companies start to experiment with.
The purchasing of your first synth should be a joyous stress free time in a producers journey, however its easy to see something being used by your favorite artist and want to have it. So do yourself a favor when considering purchasing your first synth by keeping in mind the few things mentioned in this article. Along with that look heavily into reviews whether a video or just a written piece by a reputable source there is a ton of people putting out information. You can even find videos of people trying out synths and demonstrating the capabilities, which is great to hear especially if your playing skills are not up to par. Remember to dive in head first to learning all you can about your first synth and most importantly have fun. Stay up to date with all of the upcoming audio articles with 6AM.