Access Virus Synths: Why these Vintage Synths Are Still Relevant and A Guide to Their Range

Amongst vintage synths, the Access Virus line is a real gem. These are highly versatile, with a varied cultural legacy. In fact, they have been used by Tool, Butch Vig, and Garbage, as well as Richard Barbieri of Porcupine Tree. Yet they have also graced the tracks of Neptunes and Mary J Blige, Stevie Wonder, Fatboy Slim, and Nsync. Even Hans Zimmer has used them. Read on to find out what makes these synths so appealing to musicians of all stripes.

What Synths Are Included in the Access Virus Line?

  • Virus TI: Desktop, Polar, Snow, and Keyboard

Perhaps the most publicised part of the TI series, these were released in 2005. Snow and Desktop are small enough to keep by your computer. Polar is larger with 37 keys and Keyboard is the largest of all with a lush 61 keys. They also have:

  • Two independent multi mode filters with an analogue filter modelled after the Minimoog
  • 3 LFOs with 68 Waveforms
  • Knob quantising which syncs to the Virus clock
  • 192 Parallel effects
  • 512 RAM patches
  • Virus A, B, and C series

These were early editions of the Access Virus line when customers first discovered its fantastic features. Unlike the TI series, these do not feature wavetable synthesis. However, Access Virus A, for example, features 12-note polyphony and all basic analogue waveforms. Yet, its gritty, analogue sound is what really makes it a favourite.

  • Virus TI2

Released in 2009, the T12 features faster DSP controllers and additional polyphony. Like all in the line, it is a virtual analogue synthesiser. Otherwise, it is roughly similar to the TI series.

  • General traits of the range

As a general pattern, the filters and oscillators of these synths help them hit a sweet spot between genres. Their high-quality german manufacturing means they can cope with many different oscillators and effects. All models use a mix of techniques from FM synthesis, phase distortion, and subtractive synthesis. This design on the part of inventor Christoph Kemper unifies customers through love for quality as opposed to genre. Indeed, it also allows for new, cross-genre experimentation and super creative composition all on the same machine.

The Virus family of synths are widely available as second hand purchases on Reverb.com. You can check the current prices by clicking here.

What Else Makes Access Virus Synths so Great?

  • Combination of sounds

Another way Access manages to encompass different facets of music is through its VSTs. These allow you to connect your hardware synth to your DAW and store data directly on the sound files there. It’s a revolutionary way of working, meaning Access keeps what’s great about analogue yet also keeps pace with DAW-based production.

These synths are capable of creating a level of depth and variety as good as the options on any DAW. It’s super impressive in its ruggedness and processing power and some models in the line have up to ten different oscillators. Filters and FX such as wah and fuzz add layers of sound without exhausting your synth. These are really, really high-quality synths which Access has done its best to keep compatible with modern musicians’ habits. 

  • Keeps the pace with modern technology

Access Virus first hit the market in the 90s during the boom in DPU chip usage. This allowed for greater processing power and ambitious sets of sounds which were bigger and bolder. However, this DPU processing can easily keep pace with the average CPU needed on a DAW-created project. As a result, they are super relevant even today. In fact, when rigged up to a VST on your DAW, the Access Virus synths can save processing power. How? They actually do a lot of the work at the hardware end. This condenses the sound so when it reaches your master bus there isn’t too much data to handle. 

  • Complex and creative sounds

The raw material the musician is given with these synths allows for exciting and complex sound. To achieve this, Virus’s virtual VCOs range from sine to square waves, with 63 synthetic, spectral waveforms, a programmable filter section, and matrix modulation. Its legendary processing power also supports (on the TI):

  • between 20-90 voices on it’s dual DSP system
  • 6 balanced outputs
  • 26 banks of 128 ROM patches
  • A unique business model

The last major bonus of the Access Virus line is that they occupy a unique market niche. They are the only line of synths on the market which offer total system updates. These upgrades, overhauls, and other innovations actually come completely for free. Here, you can buy a product made 20 years ago and get entirely new sets of filters charge-free. Access is only able to do this because they are upfront about the fact that they are a premium product. They don’t hesitate to price their synths high. Nevertheless, for those who are willing to make the investment once, this pays off with future rewards. 

The Virus family of synths are widely available as second hand purchases on Reverb.com. You can check the current prices by clicking here.

Are There Any Downsides?

Perhaps the only complaint against Access Virus is they are a risky investment. Some fans have found that little support from the developers leaves them adrift. Others have discovered that there is no support at all for the VSTs. This isn’t necessarily a huge surprise. Access also focuses on other products such as guitars and is also the mind behind Kemper, so they’re pretty busy. It does mean, however, if you’re about to shell out for one of these synths it’s best to be certain about it. At prices of about 1200 plus USD – it’s really worth having a bit of experience behind you and a working studio setup beforehand. 

Final Thoughts

So there you have it. This vintage product shows how relatively recently the approach to music tech and sound design was very different. In some ways, Acces Virus shows synths used to be made of deeper stuff. Although financially accessible synths like the Korg Minilogue still had great hardware, the Access Virus opens sound designers’ eyes. These synths create a whole new world of musical layering. This really is from-scratch sound design on a totally different level. Even if they’re not in your price bracket, these synths are worth investigating for inspiration alone.

Enjoyed this article? Read more about synths in our hardware section here.

Synthesis for Guitarists: How to go from playing guitar to sound design with synths

If you choose to go from playing guitar to using synths in your music, you may think at first that it is a big step. Nevertheless, some similarities between guitar playing and synthesis make synthesis for guitarists much easier. Read on to find out more about these and how you can use them in your own work. This is especially true if you are investigating using synthesis in sound design for the first time.

Synthesis for guitarists is different to synthesis for other musicians. It is a lot easier to go to synthesis from programming beats than it is from playing guitar.. The reason why? When playing guitar, the musician affects tone and timbre with their fingers. Whilst guitar still involves adjusting knobs, there is much more control over tone simply by the guitarist handling the strings. However, guitarists can adapt to synthesis more easily by following a few simple tips. With these, you can easily create the same kind of feeling as your favourite Fender or Gibson.

Synthesis for guitarists: Find Your Tone

As a guitarist, it is likely you pay attention to tone. Tone is that hard to pin down quality which can make the difference between good and bad guitar playing. It is as much about the guitarist themselves as it is about the instrument. Many factors affect tone, from temperature, to air pressure, and the age of the guitar itself. With both analogue and digital synthesis, the musician will gain more control over tone and can remove this random variability.

With synthesis, musicians truly sculpt the exact tone they like, allowing for precision control. This includes variables such as timbre, richness, and depth. However, guitarists who are used to having tone come naturally can find it difficult to adjust. You might find it frustrating to get into the building blocks of sound – especially when you aren’t able to pin down those random, ephemeral moments you get when playing guitar.. Nevertheless, if you find a tone you like and memorise how to achieve it on your synth, everything will go much more smoothly.

Synthesis for guitarists: Choose Your Synth Wisely

For a guitarist, some of the best synths to start off with are analogue synths. This is because they mimic the rich tone you would find on a guitar. Small, portable, and easy-to-use classic analogue synths such as one of the ones by Korg are a good choice for a guitarist who is new to synthesis.

Four brilliant beginner analogue synths for guitarists (and one FM synthesizer)

  • Korg Monologue – The monologue is easy to use, does what it says on the tin, and focusses on lead lines. This monophonic synth is an easy transition to synthesis for guitarists. https://www.korg.com/uk/products/synthesizers/monologue/
  • Moog Minitaur – As one of the cheaper synths from a classic band, this is a bass synth but uses transferrable skills. The Moog Minitaur will give you the opportunity to play with big fat sounds which you can’t achieve on guitar as well. It this plus it’s other features which make it it a welcome addition to what you may be doing already. https://www.moogmusic.com/products/minitaur
  • Korg Microkorg – The Microkorg is another fantastic, small, and portable synth from Korg. The hands on nature and simplicity of this synth makes it ideal for transitioning guitarists. https://www.korg.com/uk/products/synthesizers/microkorg/ It also doubles as a vocoder.
  • Arturia Microfreak Hybrid Synth – As a hybrid synth, this uses a cross between analogue and digital technologies. The Microfreak is a perfect easy way to get used to the basics of synthesis for either of them. https://www.arturia.com/products/hardware-synths/microfreak/overview
  • Elektron Model:Cycles 6-track FM Synth and Groovebox – a small, easy to use synth which creates sounds which are fantastic for solos or riffs. These have much more space-age, ethereal possibilities than analogue synthesis. https://www.elektron.se/jp/modelcycles-explorer

Learn How Synthesis Works from Scratch

If you learn how sound works from the bottom up, you will be able to truly understand your synth. This means you will not only learn how it works, but how music works as a whole. As a result, the learning process will come quicker. You will be able to sculpt sounds to your liking whilst understanding where, how, and why they differ from the guitar.

Try getting technical with your guitar too. Learn exactly how to affect it’s sound with the subtlest things you do, and you will find that you can craft noise more easily. If you understand the roots of music as a whole, you can transfer these skills to almost any instrument. In addition, by specifically learning the details of your exact model of synth, you will become more in tune with it. Synths can have staggering differences between models and each of these inevitably has it’s own characteristics.

Synthesis for guitarists: Find your Flow

Every musician has to find their flow. Neuroscientists identify as the state in which you are playing and time appears to speed up or stand still. This happens as a result of the way music slightly alters the brainwaves. Guitarists who prefer to hold an instrument in their hands might struggle at first to achieve flow with a synth. However, when they learn how synthesis works can quickly program sounds without having to stop and get technical. Then, it is as easy to reach a creative state of mind with your synth as it is with your guitar. The only difference is that your flow state when playing synth may be a little bit different.

Make it Apply to Your Guitar Playing

Synthesis not only creates new sounds but mimics those which already exist. Lead lines and guitar solos are exactly the types of playing which translate really well to synthesis. As a result, an easy way to master a synth is to transfer some of your favourite riffs or soloing patterns to it. Therefore you will see the similarities, differences, and connections between the two instruments. Once you master this, you will be able to move more easily between them.

Synthesis for guitarists: Final Thoughts

Making the transition from guitar to synthesis is as simple as learning their similarities and differences. This means you can avoid too much technical detail, while still understanding how to make sound. At a deeper level, synthesis for guitarists allows you to design textures and timbres beyond those of the guitar. Knowing what sounds you want first is also very important. Once you do, you will find that synthisers can produce sounds which are strikingly similar yet give you have the freedom to craft your own forms of noise. This is a popular and creative way of producing riffs for both instruments. Therefore, knowing where you’re starting and where you want to end up before you move on to anything more synth-specific means you will have the best of both worlds.

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1010 Music Nanobox Lemondrop Review – All About this Portable Polyphonic Granular Synthesizer

What is 1010 Music Nanobox Lemondrop mini synth?

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 Reverb.com website by clicking here.

Final thoughts

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.

And if Music Production hardware is your thing, we have a full category for you, click here!

1010 Music Nanobox Fireball Review – All About this Portable Polyphonic Wavetable Synthesizer

What is the 1010 Music Nanobox Fireball?

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 Reverb.com for a price update.

Final thoughts

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.

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Best portable electronic music studio gear – for production and live acts [2022]

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.

Best portable electronic music studio mixer: 1010music blue box (very) compact studio mixer

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.

You can buy the 1010music bluebox mixer on Amazon right here.

You can also check out second hand options for the 1010music bluebox mixer on Reverb by clicking here.

Yamaha MG06x 6-Input Compact Stereo Mixer with Effects

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.

You can buy the Yamaha MG06x 6-input portable music studio mixer on Amazon right here.

You can also check out second hand options for the Yamaha mixer on Reverb by clicking here.

Best portable electronic music studio sampler: 1010music black box (very) compact sampling studio

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.

Still we think it has it’s place arround gear-heads and you can buy the 1010music Blackbox sampling studio it by clicking here.

Elektron Model:Samples portable music studio sampler

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.

You can buy the Elektron Model:Samples portable music studio sampler from Reverb by clicking on this link.

Best portable electronic music studio polyphonic synth: Elektron Analog4

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.

You can buy the Elektron Analog4 MK2 from this link as new on Amazon.

You can also check the Analog4 MK2 as second hand on Reverb by clicking here.

Last but not least, you can also try the older Elektron Analog4 MK1 as it is cheaper and somewhat similar. You can explore Reverb options for the MK1 by clicking here.

Oh, and if the Analog4 is up to your taste but not your budget, you can also check the Elektron Digitone – not analog, more compact, more cheap. We will write a review soon!

Moog Minitaur portable monophonic synth

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.

You can buy the Moog Minitaur on Reverb by clicking here.

Other portable synth mentions

There are some new Synth offerings from 1010music that we covered separately in individual reviews:

1010music fireball – wavetable synth – read our review by clicking here

1010music lemondrop – granular synth – read our review by clicking here

Best portable electronic music studio drum machine: Elektron Analog Rytm

As we said, we are big Elektron fans. Elektron Analog Rytm MK2 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.

You can buy the Elektron Analog Rytm MK2 here.

You can also check the Analog Rytm MK2 as second hand on Reverb by clicking here.

Last but not least, you can also try the older Elektron Analog Rytm MK1 as it is cheaper and somewhat similar. You can explore Reverb options for the MK1 by clicking here.

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. You can check Reverb by clicking here.

Portable Music Studio Gear: Honorable Mentions

Here we will put other compact studio gear with some notes, they are good just not the go-to for us so they did not have their own article sub-section.

Conclusion

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 – modular 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!

Modular Synth workflow for beginners – Visualise patch cable voltage values

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.

Get your own set of Patchcables with Bi-color LEDs on the Producertools website here.

Famous Synth Emulations- Classic Hardware Without All The Hassle

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. 

Cloud Jupiter 8

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.

Korg ARP Odyssey

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.

EFM Sc P5 (Prophet V)

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.

Adam Szabo Access Virus Viper

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.

Best Moog VST- The classics, updated for 2020

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.

1. Arturia MiniV

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.

2. Synapse ‘The Legend’

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.

3. GForce MiniMonsta

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.

4. Syntronik Instruments ‘Bully’

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.

Conclusion

In all honesty, Moog is so iconic and authentic that most people don’t quite want to ‘defile’ it with VSTs.

However, we have your back covered for the other topic as well, so make sure to check out the Best VST Synths 2020 rundown. Stay safe!

Best Prime Day 2020 Music Promotion Deals

It’s (kind of) finally here- The shopping season is upon us and as always, retailers are starting off with a bang with amazon’s prime day.

Although pioneered by Amazon, several brands have joined in on the fun and have started offering up to 90% off their products.

And, as always, we’re here to guide you through the best deals and freebies

VST Plugins Prime Day Deals

Waves

As usual, Waves is running a series of crazy discounts. They are marketed as black Friday deals, though we’ll include them here are they are still on time for prime day.

We still consider their subscription to be one of the best deals out there, especially because it includes a free trial period of 1 month– more than enough to produce several award-winning tracks.

Scheps Omni Channel- 74% off (38.99$)

The Scheps Omni Channel gets its name from the brilliant Andrew Scheps- engineer to jay z, Adele, Metallica, and many others.

This channel strip is a staple of any modern producer, and it’s now 74% off!

Vocal Rider- 86% off (35.99$)

Vocal rider is known for its simplicity and effectiveness. It will adjust your vocals automatically with great results.

It’s at 86% off for a limited time.

Waves Tune Real Time- 82% off (35.99$)

If you run a studio or record vocals frequently, this is a must have VST. It allows singers to stay in tune in real time. It’s basically a magic box that makes anybody a great singer.

At this price, this is a great tool to just play around if you ever wondered how your voice would sound if recorded professionally.

There are a bunch more waves plugins heavily discounted at the waves website, these are only the ones that caught our attention, for a full list, click on the link below:

WAVES DEALS

Plugin Boutique

W.A Productions Back to School Bundle- 95% off (9.99$)

For the price of an expensive coffee, you’ll get WA Babylon, instascale and instachord.

It’s a no-brainer.

Soundspot Union & Expansions sale 90% off (16$)

IK Multimedia

Total Studio Max 2- 75% off (249.99$)

17 synths with over 2000 presets, 2 400 instruments, 34 effects, 39 high end audio processors, guitar amps, samples, and much more.

All this for 249.99$ (Down from 999$). What more can we say?

Sample Tank 4- 50% off (149.99$)

Included in Total Studio Max 2.

This is a huge sound library of over 260GB with a beautifully designed interface.

IK Multimedia is running a couple of other promotions, which you can check in the link below:

IK MULTIMEDIA

Musical Instruments

Amazon U.S Prime Day Music Deals

Amazon’s prime music deals are too many to list in one single post.

So feel free to browse headphones, musical instruments, and home audio using the link below:

AMAZON DEALS

Cheap Synthesizers for Beginners: What to Buy in 2020

Sound engineers, mixers, producers, and artists know that a cheap synthesizer wasn’t always an option.

High-quality sound engines used to be premium hardware for only the most dedicated and well-equipped studios.

Now, keyboards, modules, and even pocket-sized synthesizers can be purchased for a relatively low cost.

The size of the synthesizer, whether it’s analog or digital, the features it offers, and the reputation of its brand all play into which cheap synthesizer is the best for beginners.

Since not all beginners are the same, there may not be a one size synthesizer to fit all sound engineers.

That’s why we compiled this list of the 5 best cheap synthesizers for beginners, including their pros and cons and main features.

We also made a buying guide to help you compare the major features between not only these brands but also any that you may find on your own.

The best synthesizer is a combination of your needs with the value you can get on your budget. This list should help you narrow it down.

5 Best Cheap Synthesizers: Reviews

Arturia MicroFreak Hybrid Synthesizer

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.

The Arturia MicroFreak Hybrid Synthesizer is versatile in both its hardware options and its sound output.

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.

Pros

  • Expressive touch plate
  • Hybrid software options
  • Wavetable and digital oscillators
  • Analog filters
  • Small size

Cons

  • Touch sensitive keyboards aren’t for everyone
  • Factory presets are a bit outdated

Korg MS20 Mini Analog Synthesizer

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.

Pros

  • Vibrant leads and resonant bases
  • Adaptable mixing technology, including two VCFs and two VCAs
  • Two ways to plug in
  • High and low-pass filters
  • Noise generator

Cons

  • Premium price for the cheap list

Roland TB-03 Bass Line Boutique Synthesizer

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.

Pros

  • Sturdy construction
  • LED display
  • A variety of programmable effects and creation modes
  • Portability and multiple interfaces

Cons

  • The accent isn’t as good as the premium synth model

IK Multimedia UNO Portable Monophonic Analog Synthesizer

Portable Monophonic Analog Synthesizer from IK Multimedia has 2 oscillators and a multimode filter. It can be easily programmed with 100 presets and taken on the go anywhere.

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.

Pros

  • 2-oscillator monophonic system
  • All-analog audio
  • Multi-mode filter
  • Arpeggiator and step sequencer
  • Intuitive touch keyboard

Cons

  • No lit buttons or display

STYLOPHONE GEN X-1 Portable Analog Synthesizer

For those looking for the cheapest and most completely portable synth out there, this Portable Analog Synthesizer from STYLOPHONE is a perfect pick.

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.

The STYLOPHONE GEN X-1 Portable Analog Synthesizer is a great portable secondary model for a professional or a budget pick with some great features for a beginner.

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.

Pros

  • Rich sound with effects features
  • Portability
  • Internal speaker
  • Sub octaves
  • Two interfaces
  • Budget price

Cons

  • 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.

Technology

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.

Interface

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.

Construction

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.

Cost

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.

The Takeaway

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.

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