If you’re fond of 80s music, you’ll have heard a synth at some point in your life. But what exactly is this device? A keyboard often has a synthesizer attached to it. For this reason, many people including musicians use the terms synthesizer and keyboard interchangeably. However, a synthesizer is generally used in conjunction with instruments (like a keyboard) to generate various sounds. It doesn't have a distinctive sound of its own - it rather helps you come up with cooler sound variations of other instruments! A synthesizer, effectively, can make one instrument sound like other instruments or adds effects to an original sound. With thousands of products on the market, finding the best device for your budget may seem like a daunting task. However, we have done the research, so you don’t have to. We've put together a list of the best synthesizers in 2021 to suit every budget!
The beauty of a synthesizer is that you can effectively create an entire orchestra of instruments with only a keyboard and a computer. This is an invaluable device if you are a solo artist who is into writing and recording music. In addition, the best synthesizers sound like the real deal and give you the truest sound signal - whether it's drums, keys, pads, or other cool harmonics!
If you are considering investing in a synthesizer and would like to research around before deciding, you may want to consult the following buying guide. Within this section, we’ll cover all the factors you should look for in a synth, the average price for the most popular models, as well as a couple of frequently asked questions around the topic!
Things to Consider When Buying A Synthesizer
There are lots of things to consider when it comes to purchasing a synthesizer. These include:
Analog, Digital, or Hybrid?
Analog, digital and hybrid refer to a synth’s circuits and waveform. It has a big effect on both functionality and sound. To choose the right type, you should learn a little about each.
Analog equipment has a satisfyingly warm sound compared to many older digital synths. You can also use them to provide a wider variety of sounds because the sound waves are created in an analog circuit.
Digital waveforms/circuitry can sound more jagged than analog. However, it is also often cheaper and easier to produce. Some digital synths can convincingly imitate analog sounds but not quite as convincingly as the real thing. Many choose digital synths because they like the metallic sound that digital provides, but most choose it because it creates more effects and sounds than analog synthesizers.
Hybris is a mixture of analog and digital. You may find that hybrids sound like analog synthesizers with a couple of digital synth features.
Monophonic or Polyphonic
When looking at the specs of a synth, you may have noticed mention of voices. Voices simply refer to the amounts of notes the synth can play at the same time. The monophonic synth can play one note at a time. One note can still sound full on a synth if it has multiple oscillators per voice.
Polyphonic synths can play multiple notes. This is preferable to most people. However, polyphonic synthesizers are generally more expensive than monophonic synths. For this reason, you will need to weigh up the value of this feature for your needs compared to the price.
Drum Machines & Sequencers
Drum machines are synthesizers that focus on percussive sounds. This is not the same as an electric drum kit, as it imitates percussive instruments without the need to “play” them. Drum machines are available in analog and digital options.
Analog drum machines create punchy tones using filters and envelope generators that transform waveforms into the desired sound. Digital drums often use samples of existing drum sounds but will create the desired sound like analog drum machines do.
A sequencer can be used to control your synth instead of a keyboard. It is used to send information to your synthesizer. This could be a melody, a repeating pattern, a rhythm, or all of the above. If you cannot play an instrument well but want to compose a song, a sequencer will play the notes. This means you can focus on experimenting with the effects and dynamics of the song.
Modular synthesizers give you complete control over what signal is sent where. You can choose which component affects which, unlocking a larger variety of sounds and effects. Using certain functions in ways that were never intended to be used can create exciting and surprising results in your music. For example, you can use oscillators to affect volume, voltages to control the tempo, and envelopes to affect filters.
How Much Do Synthesizers Usually Cost?
Synthesizers can range greatly in price depending on their features and brand. You can buy a synthesizer for as little as $60 and as much as $4000 and up! We do not recommend buying an expensive synth before learning how to use one with fewer features. If you're passionate enough, you'll realize that a synth with fewer features is all you need to create the sound you want!
Things You Must Consider While Buying A Synthesizer
While the factors mentioned above were mainly feature-based, there are two more things you should watch out for when buying a synthesizer.
It is always important to check out customer reviews before buying any synthesizer online. This is the best way to ensure the quality of the product before you make any financial decision. If you are happy with your purchase, consider leaving your own feedback to help other synth enthusiasts in the future.
Synthesizers can be incredibly expensive. Therefore, when ordering online, we recommend only shopping through a reputable music vendor. Most of these online stores will offer a warranty for a certain length of time, protecting your investment if a fault should arise with the machine.
Best Synthesizer FAQ
Q: Do I need a synth with a built-in keyboard?
A: Look, keyboards often come with a synthesizer - no matter how complex or simple, they'll often have a synthesizer. That's exactly why the term MIDI keyboard and synthesizer have so much overlap. Synthesizers, on the other hand, are more like a controller and they don't need to have a built-in keyboard.
Q: What’s the difference between sampler and synth?
A: A synthesizer uses filters, waveforms, envelopes, and various effects to create its sound. On the other hand, a sampler uses pre-recorded samples of instruments that can then be altered to create the desired sound.
Derek is a professional musician who specializes in percussion and works with the independent WGI group Cap City Percussion. With a Bachelors of Music from Capital University, specializing in Music Industry studies, he consistently finds himself playing and teaching percussion to anyone who has the will to learn. Derek is also a former member of DCI groups Legends (2014-15) and Colts (2016-18); he is also the percussion technician and instructor of the drum line at Olentangy High School. You may find him playing a gig throughout the greater Columbus, Ohio area.