Synthesizer Buying Guide 2020

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Despite the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, synthesizer manufacturers have been churning out some magnificent instruments with a wide pallet of sonic inspirations. This buying guide features 2020’s best offerings. From the top of the line to the basic budget, you will find something for everyone.

Arturia

Arturia turned some heads years ago with its release of the classic MatrixBrute. This year, the company upped the ante with PolyBrute Analog Morphing Matrix Synthesizer, a six-voice polyphonic analog synthesizer with powerful morphing capabilities and multi-axis performance controls for next-generation musical expression. Its morph function allows a sound to exist in two states (A and B) within a single preset, with seamless morphing between them. The Morphee three-dimensional performance touchpad can manipulate any facet of PolyBrute's sound, from delicate morphing to extreme dynamic shifts across the X, Y, and Z axis in an instant.

PolyBrute Analog Morphing Matrix Synthesizer

Arturia has also released the MicroFreak Vocoder, which updates the original, cutting-edge, experimental hybrid analog/digital MicroFreak synthesizer with a 16-band vocoder and a detachable gooseneck microphone. Additionally, owners of the original MicroFreak can upgrade the firmware to include the vocoder mode for free and purchase the gooseneck mic separately.

Arturia MicroFreak Vocoder Hybrid Analog/Digital Synthesizer with Advanced Digital Oscillators

Elektron

In early 2020, Elektron released the Model:Cycles, an affordable, compact, and lightweight six-track FM-based groovebox. The instrument is designed as a companion to the Model:Sample, a similar-sized sample-based groove box. The Model:Cycles offers a ton of professionally-designed percussive and melodic synth tones, all of which are easily sculpted using the twelve controls on the front panel. Like all other performance machines by Elektron, the Model:Cycles offers parameter locks, which allow any sound-shaping function to be sequenced to any point on the sequencer resulting in powerful effects that are accurately timed.

Elektron Model:Cycles Six-Track FM Based Groovebox

Korg

Korg has a history of making great synthesizers and its 2020 offerings do not disappoint. The latest offering, the Opsix Altered FM Synthesizer, features a true six-operator sound generator with a diversity of waveforms and operator modes that goes far beyond the realm of standard FM. The Opsix offers the editing simplicity of analog synthesis to control the power of the FM engine.

Korg Opsix Altered FM Synthesizer

Released early this year, the Wavestate Digital Wave Sequencing Synthesizer generates an organic and inspirational pallet of lush, evolving pads and driving rhythms that are ever-changing. At the heart of the Wavestate lies Korg’s latest Wave Sequencing 2.0, which splits apart the timing, the sequence of samples, and the melody, so that each can be manipulated independently. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the re-release of the full-sized MS-20 FS. Available in multiple colors, this re-issue of the original is complete with semi-modular patchbay and has been updated with MIDI and USB.

Korg Wavestate Digital Wave Sequencing Synthesizer

Moog

Early this year, Moog released the Subsequent 25, a paraphonic analog synthesizer that’s capable of playing two notes at a time and features two VCOs, a sub oscillator, and a noise source, plus two ADSR envelopes for the filter and amplifier and a dedicated LFO for modulation. The classic Moog ladder filter has reshaped gain staging to boost harmonic saturation and analog compression, resulting in a richer low end, while the filter's multi-drive circuit has been tuned for a wider range of grit and growl.

Moog Subsequent 25 Paraphonic Analog Synthesizer

More recently, Moog released the Claravox Centennial Theremin in celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the first demonstration of the instrument by Leon Theremin. The instrument offers traditional 100% analog theremin operation and expanded modern performance features, as well as an onboard analog BBD delay and presets that can be recalled and stored.

Moog Claravox Centennial Theremin

The Werkstatt-01 has been reissued for a limited time and includes the CV expander. This patchable synthesizer kit is based on classic Moog circuitry that provides the ability to study the analog circuits while creating a single oscillator synthesizer. The kit is easily assembled without the need for any soldering skills. This is a wonderful gift for the budding synthesist or for anyone yearning to know more about analog synthesizers.

Moog Werkstatt-01 Analog Synthesizer Kit with CV Expander

Finally, Moog released the Subharmonicon Polyrhythmic Analog Synthesizer, which falls into its semi-modular desktop category that’s shared with the Mother 32 and DFAM. The Subharmonicon is designed for the exploration of sequences that unfold and evolve over time, by way of two four-step sequencers that can each trigger polyrhythmic patterns, alongside a six-tone chord generator made possible by two oscillators and four subharmonic oscillators. Create spiraling progressions, six-tone subharmonic chords and organic polyrhythms. A new 4-tier rack stand allows you to transform any combination of the Mother 32, DFAM, and Subharmonicon instruments into an ergonomic desktop enclosure.

Moog Subharmonicon Semi-Modular Polyrhythmic Analog Synthesizer

Waldorf

Waldorf’s Iridium packs a very similar digital sound engine to its flagship Quantum synth, but loses the analog filters and keyboard for a compact, less expensive desktop module. The powerful, all-digital synth conjures up futuristic sounds that are only possible with today’s intensely programmable soft synths. The sleek and accessible user interface features a multi-touch display with an onscreen spectrum analyzer and oscilloscope for deep, visualized editing.

Waldorf Iridium 16-Voice Digital Polyphonic Synthesizer

ASM

Although technically released in 2019, the ASM Hydrasynth should not be overlooked, because it is a stunning powerhouse of a synthesizer at an affordable price. Available in a keyboard version and a desktop version, the Hydrasynth is an advanced wavetable synthesizer with an easy-to-use interface with minimal paging and workflow shortcuts, well suited for any sound designer and performing musician. The keyboard version sports a proprietary ASM polytouch keybed to provide the usual velocity sensitivity and aftertouch, but also supports full polyphonic aftertouch, while the desktop version offers 24 polyphonic pressure-sensitive pads with several pad layouts and multiple scales for a robust musical experience.

ASM Hydrasynth Keyboard Digital Wave-Morphing Synthesizer

Behringer

Behringer has upheld its promise to produce the classic analog synthesizers and drum machines of yesteryear at affordable prices. For the price of a single vintage analog synthesizer, you can have them all! Check out the WASP DELUXE, CAT, K-2, Model D, and Pro-1, as well as MS-1, TD-3, ODYSSEY, Vocoder VC340, and Poly D. Also, the RD-8 and RD-6 are based on the classic TR-808 and TR-606 drum machines, respectively. These recreations sound like the original, allowing budget-minded musicians and collectors to have these iconic sounds at their fingertips. They are definitely worth a look for sure!

Behringer WASP DELUXE Hybrid Analog Synthesizer

Eurorack Modular Synthesizers

For modular synthesizer enthusiasts and collectors, there have been a ton of great offerings this year. My favorite pick is the Cre8audio NiftyBUNDLE Eurorack Synthesizer Kit, which includes the NiftyCASE powered 84 HP case with integrated MIDI to CV conversion, the Chipz Dual VCO module, the Cellz Touchpad Sequencer module, and the Box ’o’ Cables. This is a perfect setup for someone wishing to get into modular synthesizers because it’s self-contained with plenty of room to grow. It is also a great option for someone with a larger modular setup looking for a portable case. Should you wish to add more modules, then definitely check out the latest Behringer Eurorack offerings, which are based on the Roland System 100M, the Moog Modular 55, 35, and 15 series, and the Arp 2500. Click here for B&H’s full list of Eurorack-compatible synthesizer modules.

Cre8audio NiftyBUNDLE Eurorack Synthesizer Kit

Stocking Stuffers

If you are looking for small and/or inexpensive gifts for DJs, music producers, sound designers, and sonic explorers, then we’ve got some great ideas! teenage engineering has released two more Pocket Operators to its stellar lineup of pocket calculator-sized music devices. Designed in collaboration with the video game manufacturer Capcom, the PO-128 Mega Man is a synthesizer/sequencer that features sounds and waveforms from the original Mega Man video game, while the PO-133 Street Fighter is a micro-sampler and sequencer that offers sounds and samples from the Street Fighter video game. Both are available with matching blue or red cases. teenage engineering has also released the PO Metal Series Super 3-Set Bundle, which includes the PO-32 Tonic Drum Synthesizer, PO-33 KO Micro Sampler, and PO-35 Vocal Synthesizer, as well as three silicone cases and 3.5mm mini cables.

teenage engineering Pocket Operators

Korg’s Nu:Tekt NTS-1 is a digital synthesizer that fits in the palm of your hand. Don’t be fooled by its size; this small synthesizer packs a punch! It comes in an easy-to-assemble kit that requires no soldering. The synth engine includes a digital oscillator inspired by the MULTI engine found in Korg’s acclaimed Prologue and Minilogue XD synthesizers, which produces sawtooth, square, triangle, and VMP waveforms. You can also load custom oscillators created from Korg’s logue-SDK, allowing for near-infinite sonic possibilities. Add the effects section and a well-spec’d arpeggiator and you’ve got one pico-sized powerhouse!

Korg Nu:Tekt NTS-1 Digital Kit DIY Programmable Synthesizer

And last, but not least, check out the Modal Electronics SKULPT virtual analog synthesizer, which is currently on special through the holidays. SKULPT offers four discrete polyphonic voices, eight oscillators per voice, waveforms that can be morphed between oscillators, plus a wide array of modulation options to deliver a huge sound in a highly portable package. With a 16-note keypad for note and control input, a step sequencer, an arpeggiator, and 128 patch presets, this synth can run for up to 12 hours on six AA batteries, so you can have it with you whenever and wherever the inspiration strikes.

Modal Electronics SKULPT Virtual Analog Synthesizer

Conclusion

As you can see, 2020 has been a great year for synthesizers. I hope this guide helps you find the perfect gift for friends and loved ones. Are there any we haven’t mentioned that you favor? Share your thoughts in the Comments section, below. Check out all of B&H’s synthesizer offering online or drop by the B&H SuperStore when you’re in the neighborhood.

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