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Best Synthesizers For Beginners

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Best Synthesizers For Beginners

Starting out in synth-land

If you, like many people, started out your musical journey playing the piano or keyboard you may be wondering where you can go from there. After all, despite the piano being one of the most expressive instruments you could ever play, it is also limited somewhat to certain genres of music. It may be that you have a natural propensity to 'tinker' too, or experiment, or just play around.

If any of this sounds like you, we would urge you to take a look at synthesizers. Despite sharing the same keyboard-style layout as a piano, these are really very different beasts. It comes down to control. With a piano, for example, you have the basic action of a hammer striking a string. You have control over the speed and force (velocity) with which the hammer strikes, but not a great deal else.

Synthesis, on the other hand, offers myriad possibilities for sound creation. It all starts with the oscillators. These devices use an electrical signal - either real (analogue) or artificial (digital) - to create a specific frequency you use as your base sound. You can choose different types of sound, from a smooth sine wave to a harsh sawtooth.

This sound is then fed through various stages of a signal path. You can affect how long the tone stays at peak volume, how long it lingers around, whether you mix/stack multiple oscillated sounds on top of each other and plenty more. That's before we start getting into effects, LFOs and other such fun. Synths really do offer an infinite amount of creative possibility.

Here's a look at some of the best synthesizers for beginners.

  1. Teenage Engineering PO-33 Pocket Operator
  2. Teenage Engineering x Capcom PO-128 Mega Man Pocket Operator
  3. Teenage Engineering x Capcom PO-133 Street Fighter Pocket Operator
  4. Korg volca Bass
  5. Korg volca NuBass
  6. Korg volca Beats
  7. Korg volca Kick
  8. Arturia Microbrute
  9. Modal Skulpt

 

1. Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators

Since their introduction several years ago the Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators have provided a fantastic entry-point into synths thanks to their ingenious design, easy to use functionality, and delightfully versatile capabilities.

In the Swedish firms own words,

"Pocket operators are small, ultra-portable music devices, with studio-quality sound and the flexibility to make music on the go. Affordable for everyone and compatible with all other music gear."

All pocket operator models are designed to perfectly complement each other and the range is vast - and growing!

Common Specs across all Pocket Operators:

  • 16-step sequencer
  • 16 patterns
  • Parameter locks
  • Built-in speaker
  • 3.5mm audio I/O
  • Jam sync
  • Animated LCD display
  • Folding stand
  • Clock + alarm clock
  • Battery-powered (2XAAA)
  • 1-month battery life
  • 2-year standby time

PO-12 Rhythm [drum machine]: 16 sound drum machine and sequencer, perfect for making beats. parameter locks and punch-in effects.

PO-14 Sub [bass synth]: deep bassline synthesizer with sequencer, parameter locks, play styles and punch-in effects.

PO-16 Factory [lead synth]: lead synthesizer for keys melodies. sequencer with parameter locks, play styles and punch-in effects.

PO-20 Arcade [synth & sequencer]: arcade synthesizer and sequencer, with parameter locks, chord control and punch-in effects.

PO-24 Office [drum machine]: noise percussion drum machine and sequencer, with parameter locks, solo functionality and punch-in effects.

PO-28 Robot [synth]: live synthesizer and sequencer, with parameter locks, glide control and punch-in effects.

PO-32 Tonic [drum/percssion]: drum and percussion synthesizer and sequencer with parameter locks, punch-in effects and unlimited sounds with microtonic vst through data transfer.

PO-33 K.O! [sampler]: micro sampler with 40 seconds sample memory and built-in recording microphone.

PO-35 Speak [vocal synth]: Vocal synthesizer and sequencer with built-in microphone for 8 different voice character sampling.

Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator Capcom Series

The team at Teenage Engineering recently released some Pocket Operators in collaboration with Capcom based on legendary gaming series, Mega Man and Street Fighter.

PO-128 Mega Man Pocket Operator

The Mega Man pocket operator is based on the playful PO–28, a live synthesizer and sequencer with parameter locks, glide control and punch-in effects. this special edition comes with 16 Mega Man soundtracks based on the original Mega Man video game by Capcom.

  • Real 8-bit synthesizer engines for making live and sequenced melodies and bass lines
  • 15 sounds + micro drum
  • 3 track sequencer
  • 128 pattern chaining
  • step multiplier

PO-133 Street Fighter Pocket Operator

The Street Fighter pocket operator is based on the ultra-popular PO–33 K.O!, and is a micro sampler with 40-seconds sample memory and built-in microphone for instant sampling. this special edition comes with 16 Street Fighter soundtracks and genuine samples from the original Street Fighter arcade game by Capcom.

  • Microphone for sampling
  • 8 melodic sample slots
  • 8 drum slots
  • 40-second sample memory
  • 15 punch-in effects
  • Step multiplier

SHOP  Teenage Engineering

 

2. Korg Volca

The Korg volca series of pocket-sized powerhouses offer portable synth power, the likes of which hadn't been seen before and still continues to confound today. This series includes a variety of units such as synthesizers, drum machines, and bass synths that all play a specialized role in your performance or studio setup. Users can perform with multiple units using the tempo sync included on all volcas. The compact design of the Korg volca series is packed with limitless possibilities.

volca bass [Loop Synthesizer]

A bass machine that delivers fat analogue bass sounds with three oscillators and a supercharged analogue filter.

volca nubass [Loop Synthesizer]

A new generation of acid bass machine that creates bold sounds with the warm, fat tone of vacuum tubes and analogue.

volca beats [Rhythm Machine]

A hybrid rhythm machine with analogue and digital sound sources, equipped with the standard drum sounds of dance music.

volca kick [Kick Generator]

An analogue kick generator that specializes in powerful kick drums and kick basses.

volca drum [Rhythm Machine]

A digital percussion synthesizer constructed with a six-part DSP synth engine. Synthesize a wide range of unexpectedly different drum sounds.

volca fm [Loop Synthesizer]

A polyphonic digital synthesizer that completely reproduces the luscious sound of a classic FM sound engine.

volca keys [Loop Synthesizer]

An easy to use analogue synthesizer with standard analogue sounds, capable of polyphonic performance from leads to chords.

volca modular [Semi-Modular Synthesizer]

An astonishingly powerful semi-modular analogue synthesizer that features eight modules, 50 patch points, and a sequencer for modular users from beginner to expert.

volca sample [Sampler]

The volca sample is a sample sequencer that lets you edit and sequence up to 200 sample sounds in real time for powerful live performances.

volca mix [Mixer]

Four-channel analogue mixer with a built-in speaker. You can perform by connecting up to3 volca units and an external effector.

SHOP Korg volca

 

3. Arturia Microbrute

image of a synthesizer

Our first fully analogue synth in the round-up. The Arturia Microbrute's excellence is a corollary of its simplicity. It doesn't have tonnes and tonnes of features. It has one single analogue oscillator. It has limited effects. But when you fire this bad-boy up...wow.

Our old friends, the synth purists, will say you simply cannot replicate the sound of an analogue synth using digital methods. There's truth in that, no doubt. While not everybody wants or needs that raw analogue sound, those who do will find it here in spades with the Microbrute. It does one thing and does it very, very well.

The MicroBrute was designed to be small but still retain an amazing sound quality. With a 100% pure analogue voice path and advanced interconnectivity via MIDI, USB, CV/ GATE, this machine is a true powerhouse synthesizer that takes your sound to a new level.

If you’re new to synths, you’re looking at one of the easiest to use and most unique-sounding synthesizers we think money can buy. And if you’re a synth veteran, we think it won’t have escaped your attention that MicroBrute is also a seriously capable semi-modular sequence-able beast. Wait till you hear how it sounds.

No presets, no menus, nothing to get between you and the ability to sculpt your sound live. Not only does MicroBrute give you the means to create, perform and be completely original every time you power up, but it also does it with astounding sound quality. Process audio. Sequence analogue gear. Give your modular a new LFO and Envelope Generator. Hook up to your DAW and make whole tracks. Hook up to your Drum tracks, open your door, and play a whole gig.

Tiny in size, tiny in price, huge in sound, and vast in potential. We’ve had so much fun with MicroBrute: Now it’s your turn.

SHOP Arturia MicroBrute

 

4. Modal Skulpt

Modal are a tight-knit UK-based team who are producing some of the most exciting digital and analogue synthesisers and samplers around. The Modal Skulpt was first offered as a Kickstarter campaign where the unit raised almost three times the initial goal. The Skulpt is a digital synthesiser with 32 oscillators and 4 true polyphonic voices. The Skulpt is a desktop synth with an enormous amount of power under its compact hood.

The Skulpt has managed to pack many features into such a compact unit by doubling up the 13 front panel encoders (knobs and buttons) with the use of a shift button that switches each encoder between one of two options. There are 8 banks of 16 patches of storage and recall which can be swapped and changed via the Modal App which can be used through Mac, PC, IoS or Android devices.

The sheer array of features in the Skulpt are more often found within much larger and more expensive units and it is a testament to Modal’s principals that they have kept the cost of the unit so low. With 4 polyphonic voices each with 8 oscillators, the first and most striking thing is the depth of sound you able to create. You can play large multi note pads and sounds either through an external controller via MIDI or via the unit’s own keyboard.

There are two very powerful LFOs audio rate and MIDI sync-able. One is a global LFO that affects all the active oscillators and one is per voice which has Attack, Decay, Sustain and release as well as Distort, Delay and alter Time. There are 3 envelopes for Amp, Filter and Modulation and 2 VCF filters controllable through Low, Medium and High bandpass.

The Skulpt has a live Sequencer with real-time polyphonic note input, storing 128 notes and four rows of parameter automation, 64 sequences can be stored onboard. The sequencer can be manipulated via the Modal App including choosing one of four lanes of sequence and altering any of the encoders live or post-recording. There is also a feature-rich Arpeggiator with selectable division, direction, swing and octave range.

The Modal Skulpt belies its tiny frame, the Skulpt is deadlifting a thousand tons of ideas in a unit much smaller than its obvious ambition. The sounds it creates are mesmerising and more importantly very inspiring. The Skulpt features MIDI in and out and sync in/out for working with other modular synths, a line out and a headphone jack. The unit is spectacular for the price and is a perfect synth for someone wanting to expand from soft synths or cheaper entry-level synths.

SHOP Modal Skulpt

 

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Product recap

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