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What is the best synthesizer for me?

Synthesizers are musical instruments with sounds that can be played, accurately adjusted in all sorts of different ways, and even created from scratch. That makes them quite different from keyboards that normally offer a number of built-in sounds that are ready to play along with automatic accompaniments. Synthesizers have been around a lot longer than most people realise. Hammond's Novachord was the first commercially-produced synth that was available to buy as far back as 1939! An awful lot has changed since then, of course, and nowadays, there are plenty of synth models to choose from. This guide provides information about different types of synthesizers to help you make an informed choice. If still have questions after reading the guide, feel free to contact us. We're here to help.

1. Why should i invest in a synthesizer?

A synthesizer gives you everything you need for a large source of sounds that can be used to create complete tracks. You can put together your own bass tone and shape sounds that are perfect for things like chords and leads as well as different sound effects. There are many more possibilities for creating and adjusting sounds with synthesizers than there are with keyboards. That means they tend to sound better and are more suitable for studio work too. You won't find any automatic accompaniments on synthesizers either, as music producers normally prefer to make their own. Almost every music studio is likely to have a synthesizer or two lying around. Many bands use them too because it allows them to shape sounds that match their music perfectly. Different synths work slightly differently, of course, so the more synths you have, the more sound possibilities you have as well.

 Synthesizers

Why should i invest in a synthesizer?

2. What should i look for when choosing a synthesizer?

If you're choosing your first synthesizer and you want to use it to produce music (with DAW software, for example), you should go for the most comprehensive model you can afford. Naturally, you'll need a good range of sounds for most productions. You should also check the polyphony (the number of voices that can be played at once), the multi-timbrality (the number of different instruments that can be played at once), and look at the number of built-in effects like reverb and chorus. Your first synth should be as complete as possible. You can always add more specialised models to your collection later!

 Synthesizers

3. Why should i buy an actual synthesizer when there are lots of software versions available?

The answer to this question is open to discussion and really comes down to your preferred way of working. Do you like actually pushing buttons and turning knobs or are you happy using your mouse to do the same thing on a virtual synth on your computer? Are you planning on using it for performances or just for working in the studio? Even when it comes to sound quality, software and synths are fairly well matched these days, however, there is one exception to this statement.

A true analogue synthesizer has analogue oscillators that are able to do things that digital oscillators simply can't replicate. While this is unlikely to be important to most people, it's good to be aware of it.

Tip: use the 'sound source' filter to narrow down your search when looking through our selection of synthesizers.

 All synthesizers
 Analogue synthesizers

Why should i buy an actual synthesizer when there are lots of software versions available?

4. Is it difficult to create and edit sounds?

Yes and no. Beginners are likely to be bombarded with unfamiliar terminology and it can be quite hard to come up with a synth sound that's suitable for what you want to use it for. It's best to get to grips with existing sounds first, learn how they behave and recognise the technical terms that make them what they are. The good thing about synthesizers is that it's easy to experiment with sounds, especially on models that have lots of control knobs and sliders. You can learn a lot simply by trying things out. Many of the more comprehensive digital synths also have a good number of built-in sounds on board to help you get started.

 Synthesizers

5. Module, keyboard, desktop, or modular component?

If you already own a suitable keyboard, then you'll be able to control a synthesizer module via (DIN) MIDI. If you don't have a keyboard, then buying a synthesizer with a keyboard is probably the most practical choice. These days, desktop models are also common and these have essentially replaced the 19-inch rack module synths that were more popular back in the 1990s.

A modular component forms part of a modular system and allows you to change a synthesizer's 'sound architecture' using patch cables. This equipment is geared more towards specialists and doesn't come cheap, which makes it less interesting to most beginners, although it is pretty cool to look at!

 Keyboard synthesizers 
 Module synthesizers 
 Desktop synthesizers 
 Modular components 

Module, keyboard, desktop, or modular component?

6. What is subtractive synthesis?

This involves beginning with a complex sound (sawtooth, noise, square wave, samples etc.) and using filters to suppress (or boost) certain frequencies. It's one of the easiest synthesizer methods to learn because there are generally fewer parameters involved and it's fairly easy to tell how each parameter affects the sound. A lot of synthesizers work this way, which gives you a lot of choice. Most sounds in genres like EDM have their roots in subtractive synthesis.

 Synthesizers

What is subtractive synthesis?

7. What is sample synthesis?

This is a common method that involves the storing of actual recordings of real instruments that can be recalled and edited whenever you need them. If you plan on using acoustic instruments like pianos, wind and brass instruments and drums in your music (alongside synthetic sounds), this method will serve you well. Often, you won't have to do much tweaking either as the sounds will be ready to use straight away. The downside of this, however, is that manufacturers of sample synthesizers don't expect users to do much tweaking and therefore tend to offer fewer editing controls. Sample-based synths are commonly used in pop music and music made for media applications.

 Synthesizers with sample synthesis

What is sample synthesis?

8. What is FM synthesis?

FM synthesis is actually just a very fast vibrato, but it's so fast that you no longer experience it as vibrato, but as a change in timbre. By adjusting the speed and intensity, you can make lots of different sounds that can be very musical. One of the disadvantages of this method is that there are lots of parameters to work with. In the 1980s, Yamaha brought out the DX7 FM synthesizer which, although wildly popular, put a lot of people off FM synthesis due to its complexity. Most people didn't appreciate having to adjust hundreds of parameters by means of 'membrane buttons' and a two-line alphanumeric display. Despite this, FM synthesis is still fairly common today and many sample-based synthesizers also offer samples of FM sounds. Theese types of synths are suitable for all sorts of genres.

 Synthesizers with FM synthesis

What is FM synthesis?

9. What are workstations?

These are synthesizers with a form of sequencing on board. With a normal synthesizer, you use a computer (or a separate sequencer) to assemble a piece of music, but with a synthesizer workstation, you can do everything in one device. Be careful not to confuse workstations with workstation keyboards (also called arranger keyboards). As previously discussed, keyboards normally have ready-to-use automatic accompaniments for all kinds of music styles and they usually have built-in speakers too.

 Synthesizers with built-in sequencers

What are workstations?

Links and more information

 Synthesizers
 Rack modules
 Stage pianos
 Keyboards

 

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