TOP 5: Budget Synthesizers

Posted on 9th March 2018 by

Rich Tone take a look at synthesizers this week! If you’re considering domiciling in synth land then you’ll want to look towards the lower end of the price range first of all. These picks offer great variety and scope of sounds, all without busting the bank. This isn’t just loading someone else’s preset and pressing the keys – this is for the creatives wanting to push the sonic envelope! Check out our selection below…

Arturia MicroBrute

A pure analogue powerhouse, the Arturia MicroBrute is a small-scale synth yet packed with features. Having been around for a couple of years now, this still remains as a great instrument to get started on. Sound is generated by a single oscillator that can be mixed between sawtooth, pulse, triangle and sub waveforms, each with a unique modifier. The Microbrute is equipped with the acclaimed Steiner-Parker filter, as well as a superfast ADSR envelope and LFO. This instrument really comes into its own with the “Mod Matrix”, allowing you to patch in modulation sources with destinations, or even external gear. There’s even a step sequencer here, which whilst slightly primitive will provide heaps of fun and expand the possibilities. If you’re new to analogue synthesis and want to create new, dynamic and interesting sounds then this is an ideal place to start. All the audio from this awesome video has been made entirely using the Microbrute!

Yamaha Reface Series Synthesizers

There are 4 models in Yamaha’s Reface series of synthesizers, offering great scope and a whole host of vintage tones. Modelled on the interfaces of legendary Yamaha keyboards of days gone by, these instruments that are great to play and sound massive! Operation is intuitive thanks to the simple yet detailed control panels. This great video showcases each of their specific qualities! Which one to go for depends on what you want to achieve:

Reface CP

Modelled on the CP Stage Piano from 1976 this is where you will find vintage electric piano sounds. There are 6 to choose from, and these can be massively customised with the rest of the effects controls.

Reface CS

An analog modelling synthesizer with simple controls and capable of creating colourful and dynamic sounds. This is a powerful instrument that you’ll have tonnes of fun playing with.

Reface YC

This is a fun and fresh take on the iconic Yamaha Combo Organ. Capable of warm old-school organ sounds and featuring groovy drawbars to customise tones. Classic sound at your fingertips that can rock and roll, and a riot once you get going.

Reface DX

Modelled on the incredible DX7, this is a powerful FM synthesis unit which produces anything from retro 80s cheese through to cutting-edge modern sounds. With straightforward yet deep controls, you’ll be able to use pads, bells, leads, percussive and bass sounds to great effect.

The whole range has built in speakers and can be battery powered, but they are far from toys! Check them out because they are serious pieces of kit that can offer you a lot of options.

Korg Volca Series

Korg’s Volca series has been nothing short of a sensation. These tiny units offer a great starting point for a range of electronic music applications, and any analogue synthesizer at such a low price point is always worth a look! Check out any electronic producer’s YouTube channel and you’ll likely see a Volca synthesizer somewhere in their set up. With innovative touch pad keyboards and bristling control panels, there’s a lot you can do with these modestly priced units. Have a look at this demo video to see what kind of sounds you’ll be working with. There are drum machines, samplers and synthesizers available, so we’ll take a quick look at our favourites:

Volca Keys

An analog lead synth which delivers powerful sound. With 3 oscillators, this synth can produce searing lead lines. There’s tonnes of features including effects, sequencing and automation to breathe life into your created sound.

Volca Bass

A great sounding analog synth that can act as a powerful sequencer too. This will make beefy and fat tones, and then you’ll be blown away once you incorporate the sub oscillator.

Volca FM

Created using the same circuitry as the Yamaha DX7, this synth can produce all your retro 80s FM sounds with ease. Probably the deepest Volca out there, there are so many parameters to play with that you’ll be making a huge range of sounds.

These are great fun and are designed to be linked together using a sync in and out, which now also works with many other Korg products. Start your collection and take a walk on the Volca side!

Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators

Teenage Engineering produce the crazy Pocket Operator series. Crazy in price, crazy in size, and crazy in capability! About the size of a credit card, these battery-powered gadgets are by no means toys. Geared towards the burgeoning chiptune market, these will create lo-fi sounds you’d expect to hear from your GameBoy or in the videogame arcade. The whole range compromises sequencers and drum machines in compact packages. They are great fun and offer a wealth of possibilities, although will be based in the glitchy and lo-fi world of chiptune. Check out this awesome Eurythmics cover to see what they sound like! If you’re looking at creating new and innovative electronic music on a budget, look no further. We’ve even seen these being used to great effect at open mic nights, which makes a welcome change from Oasis covers on acoustic!

Check out our post about the Metal Series, a set of Pocket Operators new for 2018!

Korg Monologue

After Korg’s fantastic Minilogue came the Monologue. This is a fully programmable monophonic anaologue synthesizer built from the same spirit as the Minilogue, although with its own voice and features. The monologue’s completely new filter, modulation, drive, and LFO can generate powerful basses and sharp leads, creating awesome mono sounds that showcase its single-voice design. There’s also a brilliant step sequencer that has been expanded, allowing for complex editing. For a better idea, check out the overview video with chief engineer Tatsuya Takahashi. With a sleek brushed control panel, wood back panel, and available in 5 colours this is a stylish and powerful synthesizer in its own right.  And at the price, what more could you ask for?

Special Mention: Moog Werkstatt-001

We’ve added this one as it requires a little more involvement than the rest of the plug-in and play options in the list. But your eyes do not deceive you – this is a budget Moog and it sounds top-drawer! Originally designed for Moogfest 2014 as an education tool, the Werkstatt-01 became such a success that Moog manufactured and released them world-wide, much to the rejoice of analog synth fans everywhere. It’s a build it yourself one oscillator analog synthesizer with a tonne of patching options. It’s straightforward to build and is by far the cheapest way of getting fully authentic analog Moog sounds. See some of the possibilities explored right here. Unleash your inner nerd with the Moog Werkstatt!


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