The Lemondrop is one in a series of nanobox synths released by 1010 Music where the company has combined awesome colours in a compact little box which really is unbelievable in terms of both its intuitive nature and it’s portability.
With the other synth in their series being the Fireball, it really doesn’t have much difference except for one thing – the fact it is a granular as opposed to wavetable – but what a difference this makes. For those unfamiliar with granular synthesis, this little synth allows you to take almost any sample you like – whether running water, a snatch of music from your favourite song, or something else entirely – and it’s efficient processing will chop your sound up into tiny pieces, each of which is called a grain. When these grains are put together, it creates an otherworldly sound which is perfect for soundtracks or even for more experimental music projects, where it’s lushness can create atmosphere and add some depth to other elements of a track.
What features does the 1010 Music Nanobox Lemondrop mini synth have?
By using such a unique type of synthesis you could assume that the designers at 1010 music have already done all their work, but no – they’ve ensured that the Lemondrop has all the features which are available with the fireball as well.
In keeping with the way it is designed for musicians on the go, the Lemondrop has an extremely intuitive interface which involves a touchscreen which allows the user to shape the waveform directly giving the ultimate amount of flexibility and control over the shape of the wave and the way it interacts with other features such as distortion, compression, and so on. The only thing which has been noted by users is the fact that with the Lemondrop’s small size there can come a significant amount of menu diving which means that if you are not an organised musician or producer finding the things you need and the pre-sets you have created can sometimes come with some difficulty and annoyance. However, it is a small price to pay for such a portable synth which otherwise has an incredibly wide range of effects which are easily accessible and extremely creative.
The Lemondrop includes:
153 presets and 311 wave files
16 grains per oscillator for a total of 128
Sample memory per oscillator 30 seconds
24-bit DAC and ADC resolution and 32-bit internal resolution
A 49kHz sample rate
Included USB-C connection
3.5mm audio input and output
MIDI support for the following – note on/off, mod wheel, sustain, pitch bend, mono & poly aftertouch, assignable CCs, and clock
How does the 1010 Music Nanobox Lemondrop mini synth compare to others on the market?
What really stands out about the Lemondrop mini synth is the way 1010 music have taken a relatively uncommon type of synthesis – granular synthesis – and completely streamlined it. One of the ways they have done this is by taking into account that the target audience for granular may be slightly wider than for classic wavetable synthesis such as with the fireball – instead attracting artists and sound designers who are looking for something different to experiment with but as a result may not be fully versed in all the basics of using synths. As a result, it is the small size and simplicity of user interface which works so well with granular synthesis. This is how the Lemondrop – in comparison to the Fireball – provides something completely different as a result of the same smart hardware design – with the Lemondrop really making an unusual type of synthesis accessible and opening the learning possibilities for sound designers due to its hands on nature and the fact a visual waveform can be manipulated by touch.
If, to get the best of its granular capabilities, you want to involve as many of your own samples, the menu diving could become cumbersome. However, it isn’t much of a price to pay for a synth which can be easily slung into a back pocket. As an introduction to granular synthesis and at a much lower price than the rare few other granular specific synths on the market, it can’t be beaten. And with this encouragement to sample, the Lemondrop could easily become part of a portable kit bag which also includes a sampler for a sound designer who is looking for something to complete a fluid, on the go workflow.
Pricing and availability
Like the Fireball, the Lemondrop is a mid-range synth at 399 USD although if bought together the two end up coming to a pricier 798 dollars. It’s generally always available from the 1010 music website, although as a high quality and relatively specialised synth it isn’t produced in bulk.
Should you buy the two alongside each other? The 1010 music website demonstrates how they can work alongside each other as tabletop synthesizers. The Lemondrop’s sister synth the Fireball provides a wavetable synthesiser which, due to being more common, is potentially better at slotting into a roll with the rest of your equipment and established sound. Nevertheless, the uncommon nature of granular synthesis really gives the Lemondrop an edge on many other synths on the market. You can see the current price on the 1010 music website by clicking here.
Overall, the Lemondrop mini synth is really one of a kind. As a granular synthesizer, it doesn’t have many other competitors anyway, and as a mini, pocket sized, technologically smart and extremely efficient and compact little synth, it really steals the show in terms of the way it’s been designed for the needs of the creative. With portability as one of its greatest assets, it combines the rarity of finding it’s unique granular engine with the technology which helps it fit into the lifestyle of today’s modern music producer or sound designer – very often a digital nomad, one who goes from gig to gig or studio to studio and needs a compact synth to take with them. In this way, 1010’s Lemondrop is truly something special.
The 1010 Music Nanobox Fireball is one of two Nanobox synths designed by the team at 1010 audio and as a result, it follows much the same outline as its sister synth the Lemondrop, bar a few key differences and the fact that it is red instead of yellow. The trend for small, portable synths has been a relatively small but significant part of the synth market since the launch of the Volca by Korg in 2013. Nevertheless, with the Lemondrop and Fireball, what 1010 music has done so well is taken every feature you would want in a smaller piece of kit and streamlined them into an updated, cutting edge little polyphonic synth which grabs both the ear and the eye.
How does the 1010 Music Nanobox Fireball differ from other synths on the market?
One of the most stand-out features of the Fireball’s design is an overall pattern as opposed to a single piece of kit or specification. 1010 music have gone out of their way to create a synth which takes all the features needed to craft fantastic sound and executed their assembly with outstanding efficiency. The result is a synth which is really geared towards the modern musician in the sense that it is easy to learn from, portable, but also follows the natural process of sound designers in the way it facilitates ease and flow of work. Are there any cons?
The Fireball is not as stand out as its sister synth simply due to the fact it is competing against a much larger market due to wavetable synthesis being generally more common than granular. Therefore, if you already have a solid synth collection there may not be as much incentive to buy the Fireball; however, there is something to be said for its portability which sets it apart from other wavetable synths.
Specs and features
For all intents and purposes, the Fireball is much the same as the Lemondrop . The team behind 1010 music does actually market the two synths together, especially in the tutorial videos they have on their website. What’s more, the synths have the same interface and features – right down to details such as the number of inputs and outputs, compatibility, design, and layout of software. Off course, another thing they share is the extremely useful and intuitive touchscreen which allows users to mold the waveform to their liking, enabling them to get hands on experimenting with sound so as to control the custom synth patches they create.
However, there is one very big difference between the Fireball and the Lemondrop, which is that the fireball is a wavetable synthesizer in comparison to the Lemondrop, which is a granular synthesizer. This means they are capable of creating extremely different sounds and as a result it can be helpful to buy them alongside each other. You might not be getting two for the price of one, but the transferrable skills which are gained from learning the ins and outs of one mean that you can easily double the amount of creative possibilities open to you.
What is it like when getting your hands on the Fireball? One thing this synth does very well – like it’s companion – is using simplicity to get a lot of results. With two dials which control multiple parameters it is easy on the eyes and doesn’t require a lot of complicated hardware to create great sound. By simplifying things it leaves a lot more up to the musician’s own capabilities as opposed to spelling out every single possible way that sound can be shifted and altered. Nevertheless, it does have a good selection of default patches all of which share a characteristically creative way of looking at wavetable synthesis from the minds behind 1010 music. And for wavetable as opposed to granular synthesis like the Lemondrop, this means you are taking a type of synth which is more frequently seen on the market and with its bright hardware, easy to use software, and most of all the extreme control which can be had over the waveform, it gives any user a new spin on a form of synthesis which is more frequently seen. The combination of polyphony and visualisation of the wave in particular means that musicians are shaken out of their normal working patterns – this is really a synth which facilitates creativity.
The 1010 Music Nanobox Fireball has:
123 presets and 103 wavetables
A USB-C cable and 3.5mm audio input and output
24-bit DAC and ADC resolution and 32 bit internal resolution
A 96kHz oscillator sample rate
MIDI support for all the following: note on/off, modulation wheel, sustain, pitch bend, mono & poly aftertouch, assignable CCs, and clock
Price and availability
At 399 USD, the Fireball is a mid-range wavetable synth and due to its high quality it isn’t necessarily made in bulk, though nevertheless is generally always available from the 1010 music website. Check out the 1010 website for a price update.
Overall, the Fireball is essentially the wavetable edition of 1010’s attractive little nanobox synth series and because of this that it really depends on your priorities as a musician. Whilst wavetable synths are much more common than granular synths such as the Lemondrop and therefore the fireball is up against some stiffer competition, if your priority is portability, design, aesthetics, and simplicity – whilst all the while being an intuitive synth – then the Fireball is as worthy a synth for your collection as the Lemondrop despite having more features in common with other products. In fact, perhaps due to it doing similar things but more simply and cleanly than other synths on the market, it is a synth to really push you to use your maximum possible creativity.
Hello and welcome to our round-up of the best portable music studio gear in 2022, for producing electronic music on the go and also for live music shows. This list is by all means non-final, and will get updated when the market provides us studio-heads with more options. So if you want to go on the road, you found a nice spot that gives you inspiration or even if you don’t have a permanent place to stay, this one is for you.
Below you will find only the greatest portable music production equipment, we bring you the best of the best and the second offer, so don’t expect an all inclusive 15-item list, just our own selection.
This one is a no-brainer basically. It is the most compact portable digital audio mixer in existence, and had a very good reception when it was introduced back in 2019. While the 1010music blackbox studio – compact sampling and mixing device does not have the hands on control of a traditional mixer, it packs in all the features.
1010music bluebox provides 6 stereo 3.5 mm TRS inputs. Of course you are not going to get your studio-grade 16, 24 or 32 input mixing console, but if you are travelling, you will not be doing so with your full collection of synths to actually plug in to 24 audio channels. Yes you cannot do the smooth fader movements, often 3-4 at one time, but again going portable is all about compromises.
So yes, there is menu-diving and yes you rely on a touch screen for most of your work with this, but the size in unbeatable and the price is extremely good too. You can record everything on one or more micro-sd cards which is also a very nice feature as it can completely remove your laptop from your portable setup if this is what you want. If you are travelling on a plane and you are limited in weight of your luggage, it is excellent.
It also has two outputs plus headphones, so there is the option to have some outboard processing as well, as it has the option to create bus style routing. Overall, it can be the centre of you portable music studio or live act setup as it also comes equipped with MIDI I/O, a four-band EQ for each channel,
The Bluebox mixer supports USB power so it most definitely can run off an USB power bank, just make sure you get a name-brand one as the cheaper alternatives are not that stable and may end up frying your gear or just cutting the power without saving your work.
For live acts, it might not be the best weapon that you have as it lacks tactile speed of a normal mixing board. This one is more of a set-and-forget device, so you have to be aware of it’s shortcomings.
This portable music studio mixer is more for the old-school types that want to have a more hands on approach, and prefer to trade off some space for this (obviously). This Yamaha mixer does not have a screen, but it does have two microphone XLR connections with phantom power, plus two stereo/four mono inputs. It does not have the ability to record on external media, but it offers a metal rugged chassis and you can just use what recording device you can get including a sound card and a laptop; maybe take them from your fixed studio?
Yes while it has it’s drawbacks, it still boosts an extra compact layout and has some rather good built-in effects, two sets of (identical) outputs, phone outputs and high pass filter option on the inputs (to filter out the low 80hz frequencies). While 1010music are a newcomer to the game, Yamaha has been building studio gear for a long time, and knows its way around mixing equipment.
The inputs of the Yamaha MG06x are studio grade and other than the effects, the sound processing is fully analog. It is also good for the money you pay for it, and weight in at just about 2 pounds, it will fit into your bag without problems. Just don’t expect to run this thing off batteries, it will only work with mains level power.
Again a piece of studio gear from 1010music, who specialises in very portable equipment. The blackbox is a very interesting sampler with extra features. It has a touchscreen that is both bright and generous (given the full unit size).
Again, the purpose is mostly to replace your computer as it features an arranger and song builder completely out of your samples, but you can also use it to capture performances on your $20.000+ synths that never leave the studio and just jam with what you recorded when out and about.
For that purpose it gets the job done with a bit of creativity to spare thanks to the internal effects and presets.. The 1010music blackbox also supports an SD card like the blue box and takes in both mono and stereo samples at 16, 24 and even 32bit. It has a 24 bit DAC so your recordings from the analog world will sound best.
Just like the Bluebox portable music studio mixer, the Blackbox sampler can run off an USB power bank, just make sure you get a good one that provides a stable voltage.
As i/o connectivity goes, you can put one stereo channel in and get three stereo channels out but don’t forget that you can internally mix these analog signals with the samples that are run internally (16 channels). It also supports 16-note polyphony and USB and TRS midi (you will need an adapter if you want to MIDI interface with other traditional 5-pin sockets).
So this portable music studio piece of equipment seems to tick all the boxes, but what it does not have is hands on approach. So while it is good for production, in a live show you might not really want this as it takes a bit of time to do significant changes to your sound and also because of the touchscreen interface, the control might be a bit wonky.
While the previous sampler is considered by us the best, this is mostly because of the portability factor and also because most people use samplers more as sample players, and just changing the sample recorded from time to time without serious editing in real time.
However, for those that want more control and are willing to sacrifice a bit of portability, there is the Elektron Model:Samples.
Yes we are huge Elektron fans here at idesignsound. These Swedish guys nailed it with their grooveboxes, their workflow is fun and their specialty is flexibility. With the exception of the mixer and effect category, Elektron are present with offerings on all portable music studio gear types presented in this article
The Elektron Model:Samples is considered a very entry-level way of getting familiar with the way that this company handles it’s workflow. Everyone will tell you that they have a bit of a learning curve and that they see things a bit differently. Some will even say that they tend to make user experiences that are overly complex, even for the most trivial of tasks. But we tend to disagree, as all things that they do, they do for flexibility and power.
It is clear to us that with the Model:Samples they tried a bit of simplification. They offer a lot of one-function-per-knob controls which is very rare these days, especially in compact gear. They seem to create a lot of space between these knobs so they are perfectly suited for live performances where you don’t really get great lighting and you may twist the wrong knob if the controls are very close to each other.
The features are great on this product, and we would like to firstly point out the sequencer. Yes, Elektron have probably the best and most powerful sequencing options in the game and have made this their most important trademark. You can record live, you can program changes of parameters in each step, you can have odd sequencing times and you can have probabilities and micro-timing settings too. This is basically standard for this company, and the Model:Samples makes no exception. Then, you have the six velocity sensitive pads to get finger drumming, the retrigger and the stereo effects, all very useful.
While the sampling and sound engine is limited, this is to be expected as the company offers more products with a higher price tag and better sampling features. Let’s remember that this is an entry level product and that sampling is mostly just sample playback.
Ok, now we get deep and dirty with the Elektron offerings. While the previous product we discussed, the Model:Samples was considered an over-simplification, the Analog4 ticks all the boxes of the Elektron not-so-beginner-friendly way. The Analog4 is an excellent sounding and extremely versatile synth. Most people swear by it in every live show, although some consider the oscillators and sound engine to be a little thin. We personally disagree, and we have alywas enjoyed the sound that you can get with an Analog4.
This is mostly because of the complex modulation routings possible with it (basically you can modulate every parameters of the synth) and the waveshaping possibilities (all oscillator wave types can have the pulse wave modulated). There is a very interesting trapezoid wave type, there is partial oscillator sync, there are a lot of envelope shapes to choose from and there is AM. The new MK2 version of the Elektron Analog4 has a redesigned outer shell, it looks very pretty but if you want extreme compactness, you should look for a used MK1 as they have the classic rectangle groovebox shape profile.
The 4 in Analog4 stands for the separate synth channels that this thing can output. This is called multi-timbrality. What this means is that while you are buying one single unit, it is capable of creating four individual and distinct sounds that can have their own sequences and their own modulations (albeit these four distinct channels will be monophonic meaning you can only play one note at a time)
If you don’y want four mono channels but actually need some polyphony, this thing can switch to four-note polyphonic play (so you can do chords with it). The voice routing is extremely flexible and you can have eveything in between (two mono channels, one 2-note poly) including four note unison.
The sequencer on the Analog4 is state of the art, with every possible creative trick at your disposal. There is a lot spoken about the Elektron sequencer, it being an entire subject on its own, so it is important that you actually research this if you plan on buying this product. What is important to say si that with the most recent patches applied, you can even send the sequencer notes via MIDI to other gear and have the Analog4 as a midi brain, sending notes to the other compact equipment that does not have a means of inputting notes.
There are three stereo effects on board this beast, and there are also two audio inputs so you can use these effects for your other sound generators. The delay shines and you can sync it via MIDI too. Speaking of audio inputs, the Analog4 can even work as a sound card via USB, getting two mono channels of sound in your computer or getting two mono channels of sound from your computer in the analog realm. The converters on this are 48khz-24bit.
So for those of you that were a bit intimidated by the Analog 4, there is a much more streamlined option: the Moog Minitaur.
Sure, the first thing you will loose is features like a sequencer, polyphony, midi output, sound card features, modulation matrix, pulse width modulation, FM/AM modulation. Now that we got that out of our heads, the Minitaur is the easy way into the Moog Sound. And boy what a sound that is. if you are into bass-heavy music, you can’t go wrong with it. They even call it a “bass” synthesiser, but that is mostly because of the limited feature set.
What you actually get is a two oscillator one lfo synth. The wave shapes are limited; pulse or triangle and there is no way of modulating anything other than the pitch and filter. You do get two ADR/ADS envelopes, glide/portamento and an audio in for either plugging in external gear through the filter and envelopes or (more commonly) creating a feedback loop to thicken the sound.
Although by using a computer and the control VST you will get some added features including a preset management library, in a portable setup that can or can not be achieved. It all depends if you use a computer or not.
Although the computer brings in more flexibility (and midi – USB), we still think that the Minitaur is made to be tweaked-upon. The sound is lush and the filter is what you expect from a Moog.
As we said, we are big Elektron fans. Elektron Analog Rytm is made to be paired with the Analog4 and is Elektron’s take on drum machine, and also a successor to the highly sought-after digital drum machine from the previous generation: the Elektron Machinedrum.
What you get with the Analog Rytm is: basically everything.
You want to do finger drumming like on the MPC – you got it!
You want to use samples – you got it!
You want analog drums – you got it!
You want to modulate as much as possible – you got it!
You want to control other gear with the sequencer and midi – you got it!
You want to output individual tracks – you got it!
You want to process external sounds in each of the total eight tracks – you got it!
Coming it with it’s distinctive sequecing power, individual step settings (p-locks) and all the workflow improvements that this company is known for, the Analog Rytm is an eight-track monster packed in a very compact format.
The sounds it’s analog engine make are world class, you can hear it in most modern productions and if you still don’t like them, you can switch to your own samples without issues. You can even mix both in a single drum kit.
Drum machines are, in our honest oppinion more simpler than synths, so there is not much we can cover about them, the sounds you can either love or hate but the workflow, once you get used to it, will raise your standards for life.
If you would rather have something even more compact and more affordable than the Rytm, while still keeping true to the Elektron workflow, you should check out the Elektron Digitakt.
MFB-522 portable drum machine
Yes this is a classic and yes this is discontinued for a long time. Yes this is an 808-clone. But it is by far one of the most compact drum machines ever.
While really very simple and very hard to use, especially if you have big fingers, we still felt the need to mention this tiny piece of 100% analog gear. We just love it.
Yes we love it’s weight and it’s color scheme. We love that it has four outputs given it’s size and that you can really get some punchy sounds out of it. The hi-hats choke, and the kick bounces.
Just throw it in your bag, purse or even your pocket (this thing is tiny) for some instant 808.
What we don’t like is the sequencer. You really should not fiddle with the 522 during a live show, but for a portable music studio you really can’t go wrong.
You can find the 522 on the used market, however in recent times it’s becoming a rare sighting.
While the portalble music studio equipment landscape is as dynamic as ever, nothing will be able to replace the laptop or even an eurorack modular setup in terms of flexibility. This is why we did not bother to go into effects, because these tend to be one trick ponies and it’s a good idea to actually add effects in the digital realm. We have a great article about using analog effects right here, if you are interested. Most hardware effect units are actually digital inside so the whole analog vs digital battle does not apply to them. There is also something magic when you max in the digital realm and use a laptop, or max the opposite, analog spectrum and get a very multipurpose eurorack module selection. These are maximums for compactness that also allow you maximum flexibility and the most efficient storage space management possible.
While we did make a point into not discussing these two tools – eurorack and laptops, having a portable music studio for both production and live performances is extremely fun and inspiring. Just breathe in that fresh mountain air and sport a nice solar panel to recharge your batteries (you should have multiple packs of them), while you make your own flavour of music and soak all the inspiration that the outdoors can provide!
Building and having a modular synth can be a bit of a hassle. And when I say a bit, I mean a lot. Not being able to see any modulation values is one thing. Then, there is the fact that you will never be able to save a general patch due to the flexible nature of the synth. Also, another drawback is that stereo is close to non existent (unless you want to buy two of the same modules), not to mention polyphony (unless you want to buy six of the same modules to get a six voice synth).
But programming, or should we say patching a modular synth is so much fun. And you get a wonderful sense of freedom.
Still this alone does not make modular so attractive, especially if you are new to synths all along. Today, I will show you one product that makes entering this very distinct domain much more easy.
Yes, I am talking about Producertools’ new product, their Patchcables with Bi-color LED built in. This is a long time coming guys, for sure somebody would have done this by now. Now there is basically no excuse for you to not build that eurorack system that you wanted. This a pre-order program for now, delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, shipping is supposed to be in March 2021.
So basically with these patch cables you will be able to see the polarity of the voltage and a rough estimation of its value. The built in LEDs will glow red or green depending if the voltage is plus or minus, so if the envelope or LFO is basically negative sloped or positive sloped. Also, the light the LEDs emit varies in intensity. You can see how it looks in the video below:
There are of course drawbacks for now, but the manufacturer said that there is minimal interference with the Eurorack Control Voltage that passes through. They even had to design their own LEDs for this.
Still, a bit of voltage does get used by the LEDs so will not reach the source.
So don’t use it with signals that require precision, like controling the pitch of oscillators with 1v/Oct signals. Best use is for non random (S&H) LFOs and Envelopes, where you can just offset/increase send voltage in order to compensate for LED consumption.
Iconic analogue synthesizers are either too hard to find, too pricey, or both.
Even though we’d all love to have beautiful beats such as Steinberg’s E or Roland’s SH 101 physically present in our workspace, the age of technology provides far more convenient and compact alternatives.
Today we are going to talk about some of the most famous synth emulation programs; replicas that are true to the originals in terms of aesthetics and performance, and plugins that are incomparably cheaper.
The Jupiter 8 is, without any shadow of a doubt, one of the most eclectic synthesizers Roland has released, and it’s now available in a software format called the Cloud Jupiter 8.
It’s an exact replica of the original, sporting all of the features that Jupiter 8 comes supplied with, and it’s a perfect choice for people who are looking for a highly versatile and almost perfectly designed synth.
It offers eight polyphony voices, compatibility with VST, AAX & AU, total hardware control via USB connection to the Roland’s proprietary System 8, and a broad spectrum of configurable parameters, knobs, sliders, and faders.
Starting from the very top, the Cloud Jupiter 8 sports a customizable wavetable packed in the LFO section, a comprehensive modulator panel, two individual VCOs, and two identical envelopes.
Furthermore, it comes outfitted with the classic arpeggiator controls and five assignable modes.
The option to blend different patches, being one of the key elements of the original Jupiter 8 synth is also present.
The effects section is isolated, sitting right next to the 5-octave keyboard.
Even though it’s quite modest, it’s true to the original Jupiter 8 and sports effect type configuration, delay time, and revert type knobs.
Obviously enough, Jupiter Cloud 8 is perhaps not as versatile as some up-and-coming VSTs and plugins, but we should not forget that it’s been the industry’s standard for quality of sound for nearly 40 years straight.
Regardless of whether you’re looking for the Jupiter 8 specifically or simply are in need of a strong, well-rounded synth VST, we can safely say you won’t regret trying it out.
ARP’s Odyssey is almost a decade older than Jupiter 8, which can easily be discerned by its design and features.
Even so, it was a groundbreaking synthesizer at the time, and it certainly garnered quite a following in the old-school rock and alternative world.
Korg’s recreation of this remarkable synth is true to form down to the tiniest of details, but there are a couple of obvious differences.
For example, the original Odyssey has a different method of accessing the patch library (analogue) whereas Korg’s version allows you to do that in a much simpler and faster way.
Another striking difference is the fact that the original Odyssey is pretty small and the Korg’s recreation of it can be ‘stretched out’ a bit, which would make the features a bit more visible and thus easier to use as well.
Starting from the top, the first section is dedicated to a split between FM and wavetable-based features.
There are two frequency modulators that come supplied with the same sliders, only in different color.
The sections that follow are meant for fine-tuning of parameters such as key sync, tempo, cutoff, modulation, and such.
There are only a couple of simplified LFO settings on the table, although the Odyssey makes it up for you with a rich VCF section.
One of the biggest features of the KORG Odyssey is the massive EQ section, sporting sliders in different colors for easier organization and navigability.
Lastly, it packs a 3-octave built-in keyboard, which is excellent for electronic music, but not so much for slightly more complex genres.
In a nutshell, EFM’s SCP5 is a free VST that aims to recreate the performance of the heavily acclaimed Prophet V designed by Sequential Circuits back in 1970.
It doesn’t resemble it aesthetically, and it only borrowed a couple of its main features, but on the upside it’s completely free to use.
It did not ‘dress to impress’, rather the layout of its features is as such that whoever’s using it can expect to quickly navigate between the oscillators, envelopes, and arpeggiators, which is the reason why it’s suitable for both professionals and beginners.
Nearly all of the sections that SCP5 is outfitted with sport a multitude of control knobs and selectable modes (such as synchronization, filters, external oscillators, unison, and such), with the exception of the dedicated Filter, Mixer, Amplifier, Delay, Chorus, and Master sections, which offer control of the most basic parameters.
Using the SCP5 certainly has its downfalls too; it does not come supplied with a built-in keyboard, nor does it have any kind of wavetable editorial features; again, it’s a free plugin that does offer access to some of the most important Prophet V features, which makes it worth checking out.
Viper is the recreation of the infamous Access’s Virus, which is one of the younger top-shelf boutique synthesizers that came out back in 1997.
It offers a mixture of authentic and brand-new features, but its performance is definitely based on the actual performance of the original Virus.
Viper offers an all-encompassing wavetable editor, three oscillators, three LFOs, eight effects (all of which can be used simultaneously), twin filter sections, and a smallish Matrix board. It also sports a very versatile mixer board, as well as onboard amplifier controls.
Should you want to boost the well-roundedness of your Viper software, you can also download Phazor free of charge too.
Basically, this is a complementary plugin that offers stage-selection, an additional mix knob, a basic EQ section, and another LFO.
It was specifically designed to be gentle on CPU usage, and it can even be used as a standalone feature, although it’s pretty basic and offers minimal mixing options.
It fills the gaps in AS’s Viper performance, though, and given the fact that it’s a gratis downloadable feature, there’s no reason not to try it out.
There’s a lot to be said about Moog, but in short words it’s the longest-running, best-performing synthesizer that stretched from the realms of analog to the world of digital, increasing its already-massive versatility.
Nowadays with such incredible advancements in technology, Moog’s performance and well-roundedness can be tweaked, refined, and sharpened to cater to the needs of individuals with even greater precision via VST (virtual studio tools).
Today we are going to talk about some of the best Moog VSTs in 2020, so without any further ado, let’s get straight to it.
Truth be told, when it comes to Moog VSTs it doesn’t get much better than the Mini V.
First and foremost, Arturia is a massive brand, and you should feel free to set your expectations sky-high before checking out its specs and features.
Speaking of which, the highlight feature of Mini V is the fact that all of the original’s MiniMoog keys and control knobs are authentically positioned and replicated onto this software.
The main screen of the MiniV is separated into five main parts, including Controllers, the Oscillator Bank, a small mixing console, modifiers, and output.
Now, the controllers are pretty simple and straightforward; here you’ll be able to tweak the Glide, Tune, and the overall mixing controls; the Oscillator bank features three separate oscillator knobs, each featuring its own control knobs; the mixer is the essential component of the MiniV, although its features are pretty simplistic.
The Modifiers section is absolutely brilliant, as it offers separate Filters and Loudness contour controls; here is where you’ll spend most of your time if you’re into production and mixing more than actual recording and playing.
Last, but not least, let’s not forget the 4-octave keyboard that sports built-in glide, decay, legato, and bend controls. All things considered, the MiniV is a compact feature-packed VST that is an absolute necessity for all Moog enthusiasts.
Just like its name implies, Synapse’s Legend is an iconic VST that boasts unparalleled versatility and unequaled mixing capabilities.
Given the fact that Moog features some of the most authentic sounds that are virtually unattainable via digital software, we daresay that The Legend is one of the very few exceptions.
This VST is perfect for studio engineers who have a couple of years of experience under their belt (to say the least), as it is not as simple and straightforward as our previous pick.
It features multiple mixing, oscillating, and filtering control knobs, all of which are incredibly responsive.
The largest chunk of The Legend’s display is taken up by the Oscillator controls.
Basically, there are three separate Oscillators while each has its own set of fine-tuning controls, including 7 waveform presets, range-warping parameters, and semitone pitching.
The Filters section is relatively basic; it features Cutoff, Resonance, and Keytrack controls, all of which are pretty easy to use with a bit of trial and error.
Next up is the Filter Envelope, featuring four built-in effects that can massively alter your tracks; here you’ll be able to tweak Attack, Decay, Sustain, and Release after you’re done shaping the waveforms and recording the initial tracks.
The Legend is not super-cheap, but luckily you’ll be able to download a free demo, which will allow you to familiarize yourself with its features and decide whether or not it is worth the money.
The ‘MiniMonsta’ is true to its name only in regards to its relatively tiny features; this is a fully digital VST that comes packed with dozens of presets and built-in samples, as well as a fully customizable keyboard, all of which will definitely come in handy while experimenting with tracks regardless of your preferred music genre.
One of the biggest differences between MiniMonsta and other Moog VSTs we’ve covered so far is the fact that it has a digital mixer (instead of an analog one).
This means that it’s significantly more forgiving to beginners and intermediately skilled producers and mixers, as all you have to do is simply choose the samples you want to use from the massive built-in library.
The upper section of the MiniMonsta is also digital, and it features LFO, XADSR, and MIDI controls, again all of which are incredibly easy to use.
There are dozens of analog control knobs too; the Controllers, Oscillators, Mixing knobs, modifiers, output knobs, filters, and the overall settings are all analog and remarkably responsive.
In simple words, the MiniMonsta offers affordable means to spice up your Moog experience; it’s versatile enough to cater to the needs of seasoned veterans, but its most basic features are plain enough to be rewarding to beginners too.
Our final pick is the ‘Bully’, which is a vehement juggernaut of a VST that can easily overpower most of its competition with dirt-cheap price, accessibility, and sheer simplicity.
Now, this is the first beginner-based VST for Moog on our list, and that does not necessarily mean that it’s not as versatile as its more feature-packed counterparts.
Basically, this is a digital representation of a fully analog Moog mixer that features simplified FX, oscillators, filters, and volume controls.
This VST features two separate oscillators with Tune and De-tune controls; a relatively basic LFO with 5 built-in waveform samples, pitch, pan, and rate controls; an old-school loudness envelope section with Attack, Hold, Decay, Sustain, and Velocity faders, and lastly, one of the simplest Filter sections laden with a plethora of fader controls.
Although it does not feature a built-in keyboard, it’s supplied with a wonderful array of customization controls, sliders, and faders that more than make up for this little shortcoming.
All things considered, it’s twice as cheap in comparison to most popular VST plugins, and it’s certainly well worth the buck.
In all honesty, Moog is so iconic and authentic that most people don’t quite want to ‘defile’ it with VSTs.
Arturia is an innovative company and this hybrid synthesizer is our top pick all around for beginners.
It’s not the cheapest synthesizer on this list or the most portable, but it has a balance of features and high-end technology that makes it a great pick in general.
This 25-key paraphonic synth has a modern aftertouch keyboard. The hybrid hardware features a ton of high-end options for mixing and producing, including a wavetable, digital oscillator, modulation matrix, and analog filters.
The touch plate offers an unconventional way to control compositions but the options for sound palettes and sonic templates are amazing for the price.
Among these modes are enough software options for any beginner to try out different things and get the feel for their new synth. These include Harmonic OSC, KarplusStrong, Texturer, and Superwave.
Real-time sequence creation, randomization, and an arpeggiator are just a few key options that let composers get an incredible range of sound out of this cheap synth, with enough variety to make it a perfect pick for beginners.
We couldn’t do this list without an entry by the upscale synthesizer manufacturer, Korg.
However, you should know that this mini analog synthesizer is the priciest on this list, which is why it’s our premium option out of all the “cheap” synthesizers out there.
Beginners that want to come out of the gate with a big investment in their mixing or composing career should consider the Korg MS20 as the most expensive beginner’s synthesizer they should be looking at.
The Korg Mini Analog Synthesizer has self-oscillating high and low-pass filters with an external signal processor and flexible patching system.
It plugs in with a USB MIDI as well as a 5-pin MIDI. Those who are familiar with the Korg MS-20 should be familiar with its reputation – this is the same tech in a smaller package.
The same vibrant leads and resonant bases can be produced with the same premium features, including two VCFs, two VCAs, a noise generator, and more.
If you’re a beginner who knows they want to get into premium analog mixing and feel like you’ll shell out for a premium model eventually anyway, this Korg MS20 Mini is the cheapest of the high-end premium options from the company that makes it the best of the best.
Vibrant leads and resonant bases
Adaptable mixing technology, including two VCFs and two VCAs
This cheaper version of a full-size Roland TB-303 Synthesizer features the same realistic recreation of the TB-303’s baseline features.
This portable version, however, features an LED display, MIDI control, overdrive and delay effects, fine tempo control, and other pattern creation modes.
Other than that, the Roland TB-03 Bass Line Boutique Synthesizer has the same sound and user interface as the original version, with hands-on control over parameters like resonance, envelope mode, cutoff, decay, and accent.
This synth is battery powered and can send its control information to a studio controller via a USB or MIDI port while also functioning as an audio interface.
With similar but smaller construction and the same features as the premium TB-303 synthesizer from Roland, this portable analog synthesizer should work perfectly for beginners.
A variety of programmable effects and creation modes
Portability and multiple interfaces
The accent isn’t as good as the premium synth model
It has a 2-octave multi-touch keyboard, which is ideal for a portable synth, and it comes with an arpeggiator and step sequencer.
The IK Multimedia UNO Portable Monophonic Analog Synthesizer can be used on the go or plugged into a computer sound station or MIDI keyboard in the studio. It can be battery or USB-powered as the need arises.
IK Multimedia is famous for its hands-on programmability and advanced synthesis features.
Multiple independent VCOs, different waveforms, real-time sequences, an editor app optimized for Mac, PC, and iOS, onboard presets, and a 2-pole multimode filter with band-pass filtering round at an inclusive package for a beginning sound designer.
It has two interfaces: a mini keyboard to play notes and a sound strip that can slide between pitches. Battery operated and with a built-in speaker, this synthesizer is the ultimate choice for portability.
It has an audio line out for headphones or speakers as well as a low pass filter, envelope effect, and LFO. It can be switched between octaves and modulated with a pulse width switch to create a chorus effect.
Stylophone is an iconic model and this cheap, portable version of its next-gen technology is a great starting point for anyone’s music design gig.
Rich sound with effects features
Stylus wire is too short
Best Cheap Synthesizers for Beginners: Buying Guide
In order to buy a synthesizer that’s perfect for your needs, you should compare the features you value and your personal budget against the models we listed.
They feature a range of prices and technology, so one of them is bound to be a good fit for beginners looking for cheap synthesizers.
Each synthesizer comes with different modes, presets, mixes, and features. We tried to summarize them for you in the individual product reviews.
Since you’re a beginner and don’t know exactly what you want, you should choose a synthesizer with a ton of presets and different manipulation modes.
Being able to freely control the music mode and the mix is essential when you don’t know exactly what you’re buying.
We chose respected brands so you would have a pick of well-built technology with different wavetables, digital oscillation, modulation matrices, and analog filters.
The interface factors into the technology but should be its own separate concern for beginners. Some synthesizers have a touchpad keyboard and others have a regular keyboard.
Some feature two full octaves and others switch between them. Since the interface will allow you to mix and design music, your creative flow depends on an intuitive setup.
We listed good options for either interface in this article, but since you can’t get both, you may just have to guess what you will prefer.
The ability to plug into a studio computer or external speakers also makes a difference in terms of the interface, and thankfully that’s much easier to plan for just by looking at the specs.
You want a sturdy synthesizer, especially if you plan on making it portable. The size of the device factors into the kind of work you hope to do, whether you plan on mixing with headphones on a car or plane ride or prefer to keep the synth at a workstation in a studio.
We put options on this list for both preferences so that no matter where you plan on using this synthesizer, it will work for you so long as you keep this criterion in mind.
Construction and portability also factor into the power source. Some synthesizers are battery-powered and some can run on USB power, which makes a difference if you want to take it on the go.
Some are pocket-sized and some are full keyboards: it just depends on what you’re looking for.
Analog vs Digital
Digital synthesizers have some advantages of technology and can be hybrid devices, like our top pick, the Arturio MicroFreak.
In general, digital synths have more complicated interfaces, more advanced displays, and lit keys.
This isn’t the general recommendation for beginners since they can be more complicated to operate and can run more expensive.
We recommend saving on cost and on headaches with the interface to opt for analog synths or hybrid models.
For those that aren’t positive what they’re doing, analog synths should prove more efficient.
The cost range on this list is large: from less than a hundred dollars to over five hundred.
We did this so you could find something for your needs no matter your budget, whether it’s a cheaper pocket synthesizer or a full studio-ready model with displays and all the bells and whistles of hybrid analog and digital technology.
A synthesizer is an indispensable piece of equipment for a budding sound designer, producer, mixer, or composer.
These machines can run into the thousands of dollars, however, and beginners need cheap options so they can make a name for themselves and maybe buy the big stuff later.
This list of 5 options offers any beginner the chance to add quality sound equipment to their studio without breaking the bank.
Some are more budget-friendly than others, but we tried to give you a heads up on where each one fits into the market spectrum and the features they offer.
For many beginners that don’t know which features they need yet, prioritizing a good interface and a ton of modes could be the best bet.
That’s why we chose the Arturia MicroFreak Hybrid Synthesizer as our best overall pick for cheap synthesizers for beginners to buy in 2020.
Its after-touch keyboard is slick and modern while its hybrid hardware offers a ton of premium features at a mid-low budget range. These include a wave-table, digital oscillation, modulation matrix, and analog filters.
Once you’ve discovered which features are important to you, you may be able to shell out for a more premium synthesizer.
Until then, use these budget options to find your feet, gauge how much optimization you need, and get your audio mixing, composing, or designing career off the ground.
Investing in an online music production “masterclass” course is one of the best decisions you will make this year.
This might seem like a pretty bold statement, specially for those of you who have previously tried free courses or dabble around some youtube videos on production, but it’s the truth: Knowledge is more important than any piece of gear in your studio. Furthermore, enrolling in one of the below courses is nothing like doing a free course or watching youtube videos.
These online music production masterclass courses allow you to follow a tried and tested structure devised by top producers and engineers, plus incentivises you to follow through, as you have money invested.
Duration: Over 20 000 hours of video + over 20 books. 1 077 Courses 17 979 Individual Tutorials.
Main DAW used: All DAWs available.
Our Rating: 9.5/10
Skill Level: Beginner / Intermediate / Advanced
Certificate upon completion: No
High quality of content
Content available on all formats and platforms: Video, books, Desktop, iOS, Android, Apple TV, Roku.
Very affordable on a month-to-month basis
High quality instructors
Most comprehensive library of learning resources
Lack of focus
Can be overwhelming
We’ll start with our favorite online music production course: Groove3. What an absolute gold mine of music production knowledge.
If you watched all of groove3’s videos back-to-back you’d take over 2 years to finish, probably much more, given that they update the content regularly.
There’s tutorials on all topics you can image, including all DAWs, Plugins, and musical styles. If you search around the forums, it’s often mentioned as a student favorite, along with some of the masterclass courses we’ll review below.
When it comes to price, an all-access pass costs only 89$, with b&hphoto. This represents without a doubt the best value of all courses.
We’ve found this to be a great way to stay focused for idle studio time. Simply browse around their website, find an interesting video, watch it, then apply it to your current project.
The first course we’ve had a chance to review is Deadmau5’s Masterclass Course.
Music style: EDM / Electronic
Financial Investment: Low / Moderate
Duration: 6 hours of video + assignments
Main DAW used: Ableton, though teachings can be applied to any DAW.
Our Rating: 9.3/10
Skill Level: Beginner
Certificate upon completion: No
Very entertaining, huge production value. Very easy to follow through with the teachings.
Very well-rounded. All major topics are discussed (mastering, mixing, synths, drums, music business, live performance, and more).
Composed of videos, assignments, and discussions.
Great community if you’re willing to engage.
This 6 hour course will set you back 90$. It’s not a cheap course by any means, but we found the cost/quality relation to be quite good.
It’s a short course. It could benefit from going more in-depth into certain topics.
The course has 23 lessons, all delivered through video classes. It also has assignments and discussions.
The classes touch upon the following topics:
The Deadmau5 Production Process
Building Your Home Studio
Digital Vs. Analog Synths
Sound Design with Effects And Processing
Drums / Beats
Mastering (includes case study)
Starting a Career
On Stage Performance
Overall, this is a solid and very well rounded online music production masterclass course. It won’t hold your hand and automatically offer you a career in audio engineering or music production, but if you follow through with all the tips shared, your chances of making it will increase exponentially.
Furthermore, if you take your time to network and reach out to the community, you’ll likely make some useful connections out of this online music production masterclass course.
This is a great course for anyone looking for a well-balanced course on electronic / pop / hip-hop / digital music production, with no specific focus on any are of the music production process, but rather a wholistic approach. It gives you a framework, the one used by deadmau5, to produce a song. It is not a case study, i.e- it won’t show you how deadmau5 produces a song from scratch, but it will show you every single step of the process. We recommend deadmau5’s online music production masterclass course to people that are starting out and want something a bit lighter (shorter) and more fun.
Up next is Hans Zimmer’s online music production masterclass course.
Music style: Film Scoring / Soundtrack / Sound Design
Financial Investment: Low / Moderate
Duration: 4.5 hours of video + assignments
Main DAW used: N/A.
Our Rating: 8.5/10
Skill Level: Intermediate
Creating with Synths
Scoring to Picture
Scoring Under Dialogue
Case Study: Frost/Nixon
Working With Musicians
Feedback & Revisions
Learning by Listening
Life of a Composer
This is a very interesting course. The simple fact that you get to hear Hans Zimmer talk on the first person about stuff that he has never revealed on interviews is worth the cost of the program.
However, we found the structure a bit random.
Unlike deadmau5’s course, this program kind of jumped around topics, with one class being solely about Hans’ career and progression in the industry. To be honest, if we wanted to learn about that, we could just check one of the hundreds of interviews that he’s given.
Having said that, there are loads of golden nuggets there about his process, inspiration, and process. It is packed loads of synthesiser tips as well as general aesthetic in sound design.
To finish off our selection of Masterclass courses, we’ll have a look at Timbaland’s online music production course.
Music style: Hip-Hop / Pop
Financial Investment: Low / Moderate
Duration: 3.5 hours of video + assignments
Main DAW used: Ableton
Our Rating: 8.5/10
Skill Level: Beginner / Intermediate
Studio Session: Making a Beatbox Beat
Building Beats: Tim’s Process
Making a Beat: Getting Warmed Up
Song Origins: “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”
Making a Beat: Starting With a Chord Progression
Making a Beat: Tweaking and Layering Drums
Song Origins: “Pony”
Making a Beat: Manipulating Vocal Samples
Making a Beat: Creating a Breakdown
Song Origins: “Gossip Folks”
Making a Beat: Adding a Topline
Song Origins: “Are You That Somebody?”
How to Persevere
We found this masterclass to be the least technical of all online muic production masterclass courses reviewed. Perhaps on purpose, as Timbaland’s production process seems to be based a lot around feeling, leaning on his team to fill in the more technical gaps.
We still found it very useful and inspiring, with some pretty straight forward but useful tips such as thinking about drums through beatbox.
His team of “co-producers” also share some gems on drums layering, chord progression and more.
If you’re a hip hop head, you’ll love this course. You’ll learn about how Timba produced hits for Missy Elliot, Jay-z, and others, as well as some inspiring tips on how to succeed in the industry. If you’re not a hip hop nerd, then you might find it not that inspiring. Though we still recommend purchasing it as part of the masterclass bundle of classes.
Point Blank is an well established English music school, which has opened it’s expertise to the online sector. The sheer diversity of courses that they offer, including Music Business courses, is practically unmatched. This Online Music Production Masterclass Course set is both formal and fun.
Music style: None in Specific
Financial Investment: Medium-high
Duration: Depends on the subject of choice.
Main DAW used: Ableton
Our Rating: 9.5/10.
Skill Level: Intermediate-High
The “Online” courses of Point Blank Music School are actual real-time/live lecture by teachers, customised to you as a student. You get to ask questions and interact with your teacher via webcam. Each course thus has it’s own structure.
So this is clearly something different. Theere are no pre-recorded sessions, like the others. This would also explain the high price point compared to the others. As a drawback, their online music production courses are not instant, you have to enroll like you would to a school. Only that the school location is your home, if you cannot access the offline schools Point Blank Music School has running in London, L.A., Mumbai, Ibiza and China.
We feel like this product is for the more advanced music production, since asking questions is key here.
If you feel like you have run out of material to study on your own and feel like it’s time to get 1:1 with a teacher who can guide you further then look no further and click the button below to access the Point Blank Music School website.
Producertech is a well established music course provider. It was founded in 2009 by Rob Jones. Of all their online music production courses, EQ fundamentals is one of our favourites. Here’s why:
Music style: None in Specific
Financial Investment: Low
Duration: 2.5 hours of video + assignments +
Main DAW used: Ableton
Our Rating: 9/10.
Skill Level: Intermediate
Introduction to Frequencies
EQ in Isolation
Frequency Demo #3 – Combining the Piano and Sine Wave
The Frequency Spectrum Explained
EQ with respect to other parts
Common EQ Practices
EQ’ing Kick and Bass
EQ on the Master Channel
EQ In The Mix
This course is, in our opinion, a must do for all aspiring producers. Having a solid grasp of EQ can be the difference between an amateur sounding song and a commercial grade end product.
Producertech’s EQ Fundamentals online music production masterclass course will give you the foundation you need to make clean sounding mixed, at a very accessible cost (25$).
It doesn’t have a rock star teacher or cover 10 different topics, but that is, in our opinion, a strength. There is no magic pill that will make you a successful musician. Instead, the path to success is continued investment in small courses on different topics. This laser focused course will give you a very complete foundation on one of the most important skills in the game: EQing.
It also comes with the EXPOSE software, which allows you to “test” your final mix for any potential issues. We were positively surprised by the production quality of the course. Here’s a sample video from the course:
There is a special focus on bass and kick mixing, thus making it slightly more relevant to electronic, hip-hop, and pop producers, though it really suits any kind of music style.
Berklee is one of the most famous music schools in the world. This institution is a pioneer in online music production courses, having started in 2002! They still are an industry leader and offer the most formal type of education you’ll find in this list.
Music style: Electronic
Financial Investment: Moderate
Duration: Around 6 months (4 hours / week recommended)
Main DAW used: Ableton, though teachings can be applied to any DAW.
Our Rating: 9.5/10.
Skill Level: Beginner / Intermediate
Certificate upon completion: Yes
The Technology of Music Production
Introduction to Ableton Live
Creating Sounds for Electronic Music
The Art of Vocal Production
This is a solid course for students looking for a serious commitment and some degree of credibility. It teaches all the theoretic background + gives you a solid foundation in ableton production and recording / mastering vocals.
If you’re looking for some credibility in the industry, the Beerklee is something to stick in your CV that can also teach you some good theory.
However, there are more advanced and complete courses in this list in terms of knowledge.
Finally, one of the main advantages is that coursera offers financial aid to certain students.
All in all, it is pretty inexpensive, at 39$/month, and if you’re feeling motivated, you can knock it off in a couple of months, getting a “mini” degree for a very affordable price.
Next up, we have a couple of udemy courses. We’ll start with probably the most popular music course in the platform, “Music Production in Logic Pro X”.
Udemy has a lot of online music production course programs on it’s website, they mostly have a similar structure to the Logic X one which is our reference.
This course was developed by Digital Music Masters, a well established music school.
Music style: None in Specific
Financial Investment: Low
Duration: 38 hours of video + articles and resources
Main DAW used: Logic Pro X
Our Rating: 9/10.
Skill Level: Beginner / Intermediate
This is mostly for those more advanced. What we like is that you can just pay for one “topic” and not buy the whole online music production masterclass course package like with the others. You just get to Udemy, shop for what you want to know and that’s it.
These courses are mostly focused on daw workflows, with some specific items covering hardware gear like the Maschine and others focusing on specific sub-genres like music for games. All in all we think it is good product if you just want to fill some specific empty spaces in your skill arsenal.
Voltage Modular is a VST plugin that emulates modular systems (like Eurorack, Buchla etc). Unlike Softube Modular it doesn’t offer 1:1 emulation of real modules but comes with a handy collection of 20+ modules that cover basic synthesis needs. Collection of modules can be expanded with a Cherry Audio store that have 300+ modules built by Cherry Audio and third party developers.