Give your music a fresh coat of synthetic beauty with our guide to the best synths under £500
Updated 24/06/2015 – prices correct as of this date
Like arguments over which is better between Mac or PC, Sega or Nintendo, Batman or Superman, you’ll find countless forums and discussions about which are the best synths littering the internet. And like all of the above, there really isn’t a definitive answer. Each synth has its own unique features and sonic character, strengths and weaknesses, so it stands to reason that there should be debate over which is ‘the greatest’. We won’t attempt to answer that question here, but with such an incredible range of affordable synthesizers now available right now, we thought we give you a mini guide to some of the best available for under £500.
The Korg MS20 is undoubtedly one of the best synths that Korg has ever produced. Offering truly pro analogue synthesis at a more affordable price, the MS20 became a classic in its own lifetime and beyond, with vintage units regularly fetching prices in excess of £1500. When the Korg MS20 Mini was launched at the NAMM show it was, rightfully, the star of the show. An analogue recreation of the original in a small cabinet, originally priced just under £500, it really was a dream come true for synth aficionados. With a now lower price, MIDI connections and USB, this vintage tone with modern convenience.
The Novation SuperNova is a synth that offered such a ludicrous amount of power at the time of its release that even today, producers and players bemoan the fact that it was discontinued. With the MiniNova, the guys at Novation took the technology that underpinned this classic synth and crammed a healthy chunk of it into this pint-sized unit. Additionally, a set of features that made it far better suited to the modern studio (such as a software editor, and USB MIDI connection) were also included, making this one of the best synths the UK brand has ever developed.
A new offering for 2015 from Roland, the JD-Xi aims to combine the best of both analog and digital engines to give you a versatile synth in a compact form factor, perfect for gigs or the studio. The digital side of this synth is built on the famed Roland SuperNATURAL engine, here with 128 note polyphony. Three digital parts are available: Synth 1, Synth 2 and drums, giving you access to a band worth of sounds that can be played together. Pair this with the monophonic analog engine, complete with true analog LPF, and you have a truly powerful crossover synthesiser with immense versatility.
Roland has made some of the greatest synths of all time over the years, and has done it, by and large, by focusing on great sound and great usability. The GAIA fits this remit in an effortless manner. A fully digital synth, it recreates classic, vintage style tones, with all of the requisite physical controls, but adds in modern style effects and flexibility. Sounds can be edited via editor software, and a USB port enables easy integration into a DAW set-up. The key to the GAIA’s power is in its intuitive interface. If you know nothing about synthesis, spending a few hours with this beauty will be a valuable education. It matches this ease of use with great, versatile tone, too.
Don’t panic because of the lack of keys, you’ll be surprised at what you can do with the Teenage Engineering PO Series. Consisting of 3 units (PO-12 Rhythm, PO-14 Sub and PO-16 Factory), you can easily get together a full drum, bass and lead synth set up running for just under £150! Note input is surprisingly simple, with an intuitive control system making the most of the pocket calculator style design. Best of all, all of the units can be synced to each other and other gear which outputs any sort of sync/metronome signal, meaning you could incorporate the PO synths into your DAW set up or run them alongside other portable synths like the Korg Volca series.