7 Best Hardware Synths For Beginners (All Budgets)

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Are you drawn to brutal bass lines or sweeping, ethereal pads? Plucky lead sounds or distorted rhythms?

Synthesizers are more popular than ever, and there are a lot of options out there that make all sorts of cool sounds – at all sorts of prices.

If you’re new to making music with synthesizers, it can be a lot to take in. So how do you pick a hardware synth that will work for you?

Some of these synths are based on classic analog synthesizers from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Others are built on entirely new sounds and concepts.

These hardware synths fit many different styles and are all at a price point below $2000.

They all have user interfaces that are hands-on and easy to understand, making them perfect for beginners. 

What Are The Best Hardware Synths For Beginners?

The Korg minilogue xd is a popular choice for beginners who want functionality, quality, and simplicity. Its numerous options for customized user settings make it a workhorse.

If you’re on a budget, the small-but-mighty Arturia MicroBrute is a solid choice and is built on the legendary Steiner-Parker filter from the 1970s, so you get that retro sound while utilizing the technology of today.

If you have a little more to spend, the Roland System 8 is a powerful synth that can be further built on with the Roland Cloud subscription, giving you many classic Roland synth sounds all in one package.

Here’s a rundown of our 7 best picks for 2022:

  1. Korg Minilogue XD (Our Pick)
  2. Artaria MicroBrute (Best Value)
  3. Roland System 8 (Premium Choice)
  4. Behringer Deepmind 12
  5. Novation Bass Station II
  6. Roland SE-02
  7. Teenage Engineering OP-1

1. Korg Minilogue XD

OUR PICK
Korg minilogue xd

With the Korg minilogue XD hybrid synthesizer, you’ve got a 4-voice analog synth bolstered by Korg’s digital multi-engine.

Why We Love It:
  • Saves up to 500 presets
  • Gives analog architecture a modern twist
  • Four voice modes
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The Korg minilogue xd is a four-voice analog polyphonic synthesizer. It comes with 200 presets and can save a total of 500 presets.

You can even use the Software Development Kit to customize each of the 16 user oscillators and 16 user effects, giving you ultimate flexibility when creating sounds

Features

  • Unison mode for thick oscillator stacks
  • Drive switch to thicken up each filter for fat bass sounds and heavy lead lines
  • 32 DSP digital effects which can be used simultaneously: reverb, delay, and modulation effects including chorus/ensemble

Review

The Korg minilogue xd expands on Korg’s Minilogue series, taking analog synthesis a step further with additional filter controls, including cross-modulation and a 2-pole filter for even more sound design possibilities.

If you’re new to synthesis, it’s an approachable synth that gives classic analog architecture a modern twist with its digital effects and versatile multi-engine.

In addition to two analog Voltage Control Oscillators, the new digital multi-engine acts as a third oscillator with three different sound generators of its own, including one user-customizable setting.

The Korg minilogue xd has a polyphonic step sequencer with 16 buttons so you can create your own patterns and loops. It also has a pitch bend and modulation joystick control, making it easy to bend and manipulate notes.

It has MIDI/USB and CV/Gate input jacks, giving you many ways to control external devices and instruments

2. Arturia Microbrute

BEST VALUE
Arturia MicroBrute Analog Synthesizer
$382.23

The little brother of the award-winning, modern classic: MiniBrute. The MicroBrute is smaller in size but retains the pure analog sound.

Why We Love It:
  • Affordable
  • Unique effects
  • Easy-to-us step sequencer
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12/08/2022 05:36 pm GMT

The Arturia Microbrute is a 100% analog monophonic synthesizer with four oscillators (square, saw, sub, and triangle), each of which can be combined or manipulated separately with various effects. 

Features

  • Legendary Steiner-Parker filter, which is based on the original Synthacon filter from the 70s
  • Step sequencer with eight different sequences, each with up to 64 steps
  • MIDI/USB 2.0 connectivity and a 5-pin MIDI connector to use the MicroBrute with a full keyboard

Review

If you’re on a budget and want something that sounds bigger than its price tag, look no further than the Arturia MicroBrute.

For a synth in this price bracket, it has some really unique effects which can be layered to create a wide variety of sounds, from leads to bass lines to rhythms.

The Metalizer for triangular waveforms lets you layer high-pitched harmonies, the Overtone sub-oscillator gives you extra bass, and the Ultrasaw thickens up your sawtooth waves. 

Then there’s the notorious Steiner-Parker filter, which has not just a low-pass mode, but also a band-pass and high-pass to give you that much more control over your sound.

With other synths at this price, you’d usually only get a low-pass mode, but the Steiner-Parker – endorsed by Niles Steiner himself – gives you more for your money.

As for programming, the MicroBrute has the flexibility and ease of synths four times its price. Its Modulation Matrix has two different routing options so you can even control your sound using external devices and instruments. 

3. Roland System 8

PREMIUM OPTION
Roland System 8

At the core of this awesome synthesizer is Roland's Analog Circuit Behavior engine, fueling three oscillators across eight voices, all loaded with filters, effects, and a massive array of modulation options

Why We Love It:
  • Easy to use and understand
  • Captures the best of all of Roland’s classic synths
  • Packed with creative tools
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The Roland System 8 is an eight-voice polyphonic synth that captures the best of all of Roland’s classic synths, from the Jupiter 8 to the Juno 106 and more. 

Features

  • Jupiter and Juno modelled filters for vintage sounds at a fraction of the cost of vintage gear
  • Saw, Square, Triangle, SuperSaw, Fm, and Side Band oscillators for additional wave-shaping possibilities
  • Overdrive, Distortion, Metal, Fuzz, Phaser, and Crusher effects for even more creativity in your sound design

Review

Roland took everything you’ve ever wanted from its classic synths and stuck them in a digital hardware synth that’s built not just for today, but for the future.

It has all the functionality of the Roland synths from the 80s and 90s that we all love, in an interface that is easy to use and understand

Sounds can be mixed or split and layered across the keyboard. It has an arpeggiator and an onboard polyphonic sequencer that captures up to 64 steps per sequence, with the ability to layer sequences.

It has MIDI/USB and a CV/Gate option to communicate with or control external instruments or devices. 

If you want to go even further, with the Plug-Out option, you can connect it to Roland Cloud and play the Jupiter 8, Juno 106, and JX-3P.

You can add other classic synths and instrument collections with a Roland Cloud subscription.

For more ‘synthspiration’ check out the Waldorf Kyra VA Synthesiser!

4. Behringer Deepmind 12

Behringer DeepMind 12
$836.10

With the DeepMind 12, Behringer set out to create the ultimate analog polysynth, a 12-voice beast that can effortlessly deliver any classic synth sound you've ever heard.

Why We Love It:
  • Four effects engines and dual oscillators
  • 49 velocity-sensitive keys
  • Built-in WiFi
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12/08/2022 02:16 pm GMT

Behringer has made it easier for musicians of all budgets and skill levels to access the sounds of your favorite analog classics.

The Behringer Deepmind 12 is a true analog 12-voice polyphonic synthesizer. Its filters are based on the analog Voltage Control Filters (VCFs) of legendary 70s synths like the Roland Jupiter 8. 

Features

  • Two analog oscillators and LFOs per voice to thicken up your sounds
  • Three separate ADSR envelopes
  • Built-in WiFi so the Deepmind can be controlled remotely with your tablet 

Review

The Behringer Deepmind 12 has a whopping seven waveform shapes for many different sound design options: Sine, Triangle, Square, Ramp Up, Ramp Down, Sample and Hold, and Sample and Glide.

As for effects, it has four FX engines with over 33 algorithms from TC Electronic, Midas, and Klark Teknik.

Additionally, it has 9 reverb modes with the TC Deep Reverb effect and five reverb modes with the Lexicon 480L effect.

With 49 velocity-sensitive keys with aftertouch, it has a real keyboard feel, and its 32-step sequencer with up to 127 values gives you lots of room for your own patterns and loops.

There’s also an 8-channel modulation matrix, making it easy to program your own sounds.

5. Novation Bass Station II

Novation Bass Station II

The Novation Bass Station II is a fixture in synth-based music, a power-packed digitally controlled analog mono synth that growls and howls and is eminently tweakable.

Why We Love It:
  • Great for beginners
  • Advanced sound-sculpting tools
  • Can provide HUGE bass sounds
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The Novation Bass Station II is a pure analog mono synth and is an updated version of Novation’s classic Bass Station.

It has two oscillators which can each be tuned separately, as well as a sub-oscillator for extra bass.

Features

  • Free downloadable sound packs for even more presets, including the Artist Soundpack.
  • 64 presets with 64 empty user slots.
  • Variable waveforms for each oscillator: sine, triangle, sawtooth, square, and variable pulse width

Review

There’s a lot under the hood of this synth that makes it a solid choice for beginners who can’t afford a TB303 for their bass lines, or just want something different.

While its name hints at its capability for monstrous bass lines, you can also use the Novation Bass Station II  multi-mode and acid filters to get a huge variety of lead sounds. 

You can add the Noise or Ring Mod effects for even more classic acid grime, or turn up that Distortion knob to make things even dirtier. It has an arpeggiator and sequencer so you can create your own patterns with ease. 

If you find the keyboard to be a little small, the Novation Bass Station II has MIDI/USB and 5-pin MIDI, so you can connect it to a MIDI controller keyboard of your choice.

That said, its built-in keyboard has a very smooth but springy feel. The programming capabilities are spread out between function menus in a way that feels intuitive and efficient. 

6. Roland SE-02

Roland Boutique SE-02 Analog Synthesizer

The SE-02 is a 3-oscillator analog monosynth module with discrete analog circuitry that delivers massive vintage tone

Why We Love It:
  • Small and affordable
  • Practical
  • Modern synth sounds
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Roland teamed up with Studio Electronics to bring you the Roland SE-02, the first in Roland’s Boutique Designer series. It’s 100% analog and has one monophonic voice with three oscillators.

Features

  • Three oscillators with six wave shapes
  • Cutoff, Emphasis, and Contour for each filter envelope to shape them exactly how you want.
  • Delay effect with Time, Regen, and Amount controls

Review

Roland’s Boutique Designer series gives you the most wanted features of bigger (and more expensive!) monophonic synths in a small and affordable package.

You can even use Chain Mode to connect two or more of them together and create a polysynth. 

Beyond the sounds themselves, the Roland SE-02 is a very practical synth. It has plenty of spare user presets for you to fill up.

It not only comes with 384 presets, but there’s room for 128 user patch presets, 128 user pattern presets, and 16 user song presets. 

The Roland SE-02  has MIDI/USB and CV/Gate as well as Trigger In/Out, so you can even control it with a drum machine or connect it to a MIDI controller keyboard.

There’s also the Roland K-25m and DK-01, a detachable keyboard unit and dock, so you can take it anywhere.

7. Teenage Engineering OP-1

Teenage Engineering OP-1 Portable Synthesizer
$1,299.00

With its futuristic design, the OP-1 takes on the role of synthesizer, sampler, and controller all-in-one highly stylized package. 

Why We Love It:
  • Stylish design
  • Versatile Swiss army knife for music makers
  • Built-in 24-voice instant live sampler
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The Teenage Engineering OP-1 synth is the most portable option on our list and definitely the least conventional.

It’s not just a synth, but also a sampler, controller, and drum machine. If you want a synth that can do more and you want to go beyond the traditional programming approach, this might be the one for you.

Features

  • 13 synthesizer engines for a variety of sounds
  • Has a color-coded interface that is easy for beginners to understand
  • 16 hours of battery life with USB charging so you can play all-day

Review

The OP-1 is a real Swiss army knife for music makers; you can use its 4-track tape feature and either sync it with the sequencer, layer it with the built-in effects or even mix it live with a Virtual Vinyl effect.

It’s also a sampler and controller, with a built-in FM radio and a G-force sensor for motion-controlled effects. 

In addition to its 13 synthesizer engines which include everything from abstract drones to string sounds, there are seven built-in effects including EQ and a compressor to sculpt your sounds without relying on other gear. You can resample sounds within the unit itself for some truly unique effects.

The OP-1 can be connected to other gear with MIDI/USB or used as a storage device with your computer.

You can also get a variety of accessories for the OP-1, from a leather or protective case to a stereo splitter cable, all at affordable prices.

(If the OP-1 is out of your price range, you can check out our roundup of 5 Budget-Friendly Teenage Engineering OP-1 Alternatives)

What To Look For In A Hardware Synth

When you’re looking for a hardware synth, you should consider what kind of music and sounds you want to make, and how your want to make them.

Do you feel comfortable scrolling through menus, or do you prefer turning knobs, hitting buttons, and moving sliders? 

It’s also important to think about your own experiences as a beginner. If you have a musical background already and have played piano before, you might want something that has a keyboard with aftertouch and velocity sensitivity.

Similarly, if you’re a drummer, you might want a synth that can also make percussive sounds or be controlled by a drum machine. 

If you have the chance, play the synth and watch demo videos before you make a decision, so you can see if its features suit your needs.

Overall, it’s never been a more exciting time to get into electronic music and synthesis, and with some research and experimentation, you can find a hardware synth that works for you and your budget.

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