If you want to delve into the whimsical world of music or you are a budding composer, you will need the best musical instrument to make your work flawless. Trying to find the best synthesizer or workstation to suit your set up, style, and recording demands can sometimes be unnerving with the myriad of choices out there.
Whether you’re a novice in the world of recording or a professional composer looking for ways to expand your studio, you need something that will get your ideas down quickly.
Fortunately, there is no right or wrong answer as the quality of synthesizers and workstations is dynamically improving, with most of these instruments adding upgrades regularly.
Before we share our list of the best synthesizers and workstations with you, lets first define each device.
Synthesizers– A synthesizer is a sophisticated electronic keyboard that can copy virtual or generate any kind of sound. This enables the device to mimic the sound of a conventional instrument like piano or violin. It can also create a brand new voice. Synthesize means making something new often by using the preexisting pieces. Therefore, we can say that a synthesizer is an electronic device that is engineered to produce new sounds by patching together the old ones.
Workstations – a workstation can be thought of as a studio where composing, recording, and productions take place. Majority of workstations are equipped with features like the internal hard drive, built-in CD burners, multitrack recording, among many others. Workstations are the zenith of the professional keyboard world. They provide the producer or experienced lyricist with the necessary tools to compose, record, edit, and finalize songs.
Top 7 Best Synthesizers and Workstations
|Yamaha MODX8 Weighted Action 88-Key Synthesizer||88 Keys||42.5 pounds||4.3 stars out of 5|
|Korg Digital FM Synthesizer VOLCAFM||N/A||1.72 pounds||4.3 stars out of 5|
|Korg Analog Pocket Monotron Duo Duo Synthesizer||N/A||6.4 ounces||4.4 stars out of 5|
|Stylophone Retro Pocket Synth||N/A||9.6 ounces||3.9 stars out of 5|
|Roland 76-Key Music Workstation||76 keys||23 pounds||3.9 stars out of 5|
|Yamaha MOXF8 Music Production Workstation||88 keys||44.8 pounds||4.1 stars out of 5|
|Yamaha MX16 Music Production Synthesizer
|15.4 pounds||4.7 stars out of 5|
- Yamaha MODX8 Weighted Action 88-Key Synthesizer
Yamaha MODX gives you the confidence to take musical exploration with pride and fantastic sound. The lightweight and compact synthesizer design will help you take control and stand out from the crowd. The sound engine of MODX is based on the same high-tech powering the flagship MONTAGE. Take the chance and bring the sophistication of music crafting and production to real-time live performance with the help of motion control.
Potent Synth Engines
Yamaha MODX features the best of both worlds. The instrument incorporates Expanded Frequency Modulation (FM-X) and AWM2 (Advanced Wave Memory 2 sound engines to get a unique blend of synthesis technologies pieced into one powerful device. FM-X works by using one sound to modulate the frequency of another. This feature leads to the creation of harmonic and expressive sounds. On the other hand, AWM2 uses a potent combination of synthesizer engine and high-quality sound recordings to create synth sounds, drums, emulative acoustic instruments, and many more. AWM2 breaks down sound into elements that can be layered for a thicker sound.
The instrument’s performance has up to 16 parts. These parts can play different roles to create music that moves you. A Part might be an element of more complex sound. It can also be a stand-alone instrument like a synth lead or an acoustic bass.
With a modern, compact, and lightweight design, MODX is a dream to transport. It gives sound power without powerlifting.
- Super knob controls several parameters simultaneously
- Compact, lightweight design for easy portability
- The 88-Key note is perfect for experienced pianists
- Live sets allow performance organization without renaming, copying, or changing order
- Motion control synthesis helps in unifying and controlling the powerful sound engines
- There are complaints of keybed malfunction
- Highly Priced
- It does not come with a music stand or pedal
- Korg Digital FM Synthesizer VOLCAFM
The volca FM is a three-voice digital FM synthesizer that is explicitly designed to reproduce the sound engine of a powerful FM synthesizer. It’s fitted with unique volca interface for easy manipulation of the distinctive FM sounds, even when you’ve not familiarized yourself with the intricacies of FM synthesis. The instrument has 16-step sequencer to provide new functions like pattern chain and Warp Active Step. These functions allow you to make dominant rhythm patterns.
Stress-free Sound Editing
The instrument is engineered to make FM sound editing accessible with a carrier or modulator edit knobs. The knob movements are plotted to several parameters for super-easy sound changes. Furthermore, FM fanatics can menu-dive into full parameter edits.
The volca FM reproduces the sound engine of a digital synthesizer. It has 32 algorithms and six operators which provide complete compatibility. More so, it can quickly load files in the SYX/SYS-EX Yamaha DX7 format.
The volca FM provides an excellent sync connector that can get connected to Korg’s groove machine. By combining the vocal series to the SQ-1 or electribe, you will be able to clone the sequence data and the sound programs from volca FM to volca FM.
- Super-easy sound editing
- The Volca FM is fully compatible with the classic unit
- Ideal for beginners and pros
- Highly versatile
- Extremely portable
- The unit comes with batteries but no power cables
- It doesn’t have CV capabilities
- It has only 4MB of space
- Korg Analog Pocket Monotron Duo Duo Synthesizer
Korg Analog Pocket Monotron Duo is designed to fit in your pocket. Despite its compact size, the device delivers enormous analog sound. Furthermore, it is equipped with battery operation and a built-in speaker.
Duo Duo Concept
Korg Analog Duo concept revolves around a simple twist on the Monotron. The Duo’s twin VCOs produce square waves. You will get surprised by the real magic where the VOC1’s frequency can get modulated by the VCO2 output. It takes a few minutes to understand the Duo’s options.
The classic MS filter section helps in sculpting the voice from stubby basslines to ear-splitting leads. The Duo is also more flexible than the original Monotron. The auxiliary input process any signal through the signal.
Korg Analog Duo works with major and minor modes, which limits the keyboard to the basic scale. The device has a small button fitted at the back panel to toggle between four modes: off, minor, major, and chromatic. The chromatic scale plays precise pitches while the minor or major generates musically coherent phrases on the keyboard. The auto-tuning circuit keeps the keyboard tracking stable at any temperature level.
- Built-in battery power and speaker for go-anywhere analog sound
- You can use it with headphones
- Fantastic device for a competitive price
- Small enough to fit in your pocket
- Well designed
- It is noisy
- It lacks enough signal output
- Made of plastic, hence, can break easily
4.Stylophone Retro Pocket Synth
Synthesizers can be very expensive and bulky, especially if it’s your first purchase or working on your new station. But that doesn’t mean you cannot get a compact and affordable synth. If you’re working on a low budget and don’t have space for a big synth, then Stylophone Retro Pocket Synth can be the ultimate solution for your predicament. This is a unique pocket synth with the ability to allow you to produce retro music on the go.
Easy to Operate
The greatest reason for the success of this instrument is that it’s easy for anyone to play. You can do this by touching the notes on the metal keyboard that are fitted with a stylus to play your favorite melodies. There are three cool, retro synth sounds you can choose from. You can also select between effects like pitch or vibrato change. If you are a fan of pop culture and retro synthesizer, then Stylophone is a must-have instrument.
Weighing 9.6 ounces, Stylophone is a lightweight gadget that you can easily carry anywhere and at any time. The pocket and mini synthesizer resemble the 1967 synthesizers.
The tuning peg is easily accessible and modifiable. It allows you to turn the tone into the high quality you want. The headphone and MP3 compatibility if this device will enable you to listen to your synth privately.
- The Stylophone comes with a metal keyboard that can be played with a stylus
- It comes with optional headphone jack and built-in speakers
- The tuning know is easy to access and modify
- Pocket-sized synthesizer for easy portability
- Reasonably priced
- It’s monophonic
- It doesn’t have a power jack
- A few complaints about some keys not working
- Roland 76-Key Music Workstation
If you have been looking for a reimagined music workstation, Roland is your ideal choice. The instrument is engineered to maximize your creative flow. The supernatural synth engine is exceptionally compatible with the collection of free Integra-7 synth. It has over 2000 sounds from the expansive Integra-7 sound module. You will love its intuitive, streamlined interface that has a large color LCD.
No Work, All Play
Essentially, most of the workstations might be difficult and complicated to use their full potential. It can lead to bogging down of the creative process, impeding the flow of ideas. Roland is designed to completely reimagine the music station to give musicians a versatile, simple, powerful, and intuitive platform.
Create Songs Without Interruption
The 16-track sequencer has been engineered to allow the musicians to capture inspiration as it happens. You can fill up all the 16 tracks continuously, without any interruption.
Expand Your Sound Collection
The Ronald workstation sound engine is compatible with a powerful, growing collection of Integra-7 synth which is available as a free download from Ronald’s Axial sound library.
- Intuitive, streamlined interface fitted with a large color LCD
- Decent synths which you can layer up to 16 tones
- DAW mode is extremely useful
- Lightweight for portability
- Expandable via Axial downloads
- It does not come with a sustain pedal
- There is no mic input
- Pads are small and not velocity sensitive
- Yamaha MOXF8 Music Production Workstation
You don’t need to have an expensive and bulky workstation to create amazing music production. The stunning Yamaha MOXF8 is designed to produce unique and harmonic music, even with simple electronics and components. The gadget is fitted with a search category mode to enable you to search within the high 16 categories and sub-categories. You, therefore, don’t need to go through a tiring process of scrolling through every sound.
More so, you can add strings, drums, and many more. Although it might be hard to manipulate, with dedication and resilience, you’ll pull it over after some time.
Reliable and Well-Designed
The MOXF8 is lightweight and more portable: thanks to the plastic fabric it’s made of. Even though it’s made of plastic, it’s very reliable and doesn’t feel cheap. Weighing 44.8pounds enables you to move the instrument around.
The MOXF8 workstations provide 88-key GHS (Graded Hammer Standard) keyboard. These keys offer you a lifelike response of a real acoustic piano. The lower keys are a bit heavier but become lighter towards the treble keys.
- It has a 4-in-2-out USB audio interface to allow you to record the internal sounds with only two audio inputs to your PC.
- Sound quality is stunning
- It still has useful DAW features
- A great portable keyboard
- Reasonably priced
- It might be difficult to manipulate
- Keybed could have been better
- It has no built-in speakers
- Yamaha MX16 Music Production Synthesizer
This blue MX16 synth is the dream of every musician. Infused with great features, the instrument provides you with a versatile platform for excellent music production. The class-compliant USB MIDI/Audio offers true plug and plays connectivity without the need to install any drivers. More so, it has a virtual circuit modelling which helps you to recreate the sound. Furthermore, it recreates the behavior of vintage effects as well as the signal processors.
The keyboard also has an option where you can save your favorite tones to help you retrieve then when playing. Interestingly, with this model, you can easily record two pages of sheet music. The 128 notes of polyphony ensure there is dropout-free performance playing within full 16-track sequences. The motif sound engine is designed in a way that you can be able to layer, switch, zone, control, and randomize up to 8 components within a single voice.
The MX16 weighs at 15.4 pounds making it a lightweight workstation. The compact gadget has over 1000 voices from the MOTIF series iOS and plus deep computer integration.
The instrument comes in a compact design to fit in a small space. If you love traveling, then the MX16 won’t be a burden to you since you can easily store and carry it everywhere.
- Compact, lightweight for easy storage and portability
- It comes with a user manual
- Breathtaking sample quality
- USB card port makes it seamless to save many setups
- Excellent four knobs for real-time pitch shifts
- We wish it had more EDM/dance style sounds
- No layer and split simultaneous mode
- No weighted keys
Buying Guide for the Best Synthesizers and Workstations
Getting the best product – whether its shoes, clothes or anything else- means you have to invest your time in doing research. You have to consider a few yet essential features that will ensure you end up with the right pick
The same concept applies when it comes to buying the best synthesizers and workstations. Be wary of duplicitous vendors who will con you your hard-earned money.
Fortunately, we have outlined some of the essential factors to consider and the features to look for.
Let’s get to the nitty-gritty.
Features of a Great Synthesizer
The sheer number of synthesizers out there make the purchasing process difficult- but not impossible. Here is what to look for in a synthesizer:
Sound Quality– We all want a useful instrument. However, “good” varies depending on the playing style, the music genre, and the musician’s taste. You should, therefore, look for a synth that can produce the broadest spectrum of tone colors and sounds.
Magic Touch– Playing any instrument is a tactile affair. Hence, the synth’s keyboard feel should give you a nostalgic experience. Non-weighted, light plastic keys make the synthesizer easy to carry around. However, many users, especially those used to play electric or acoustic pianos fitted with weighted keys, might find it hard to use non-weighted keys.
However, this is a matter of personal taste and preference. Although ease of use is essential, some musicians might not want anything that’s too easy to use.
Full Control– Synthesizers are engineered in a way that they can create a large number of sounds. You will also realize that even entry-level synths come with several factory-created preset sounds. To some people, presets are mere starting points.
The most crucial factor to consider is how the synthesizer allows you to control the sounds. Pick an instrument that comes with several knobs, wheels, faders, dials, and pedals. These are the primary controls that you can use to alter and interact with sounds.
Excellent Flow– a good synth makes it easy to get from one point to another- hassle-free. Get a model that will give you the ability to streamline overall workflow and customize functions.
Features of a Great Keyboard Workstation
Enough Polyphony– When it comes to buying a workstation, ensure you pick an instrument with enough polyphony which can handle the passages you can play and record. During multitrack sequencing, the notes are deducted from the workstation’s total polyphony. Remember, the more notes an instrument can manage, the higher the sequencing and recording capabilities.
Computer Connectivity– This is a vital function in a workstation as it enables you to sync the workstation with a computer recording software. In most cases, the best workstations are fitted with USB or MIDI connections. Some units incorporate the mLAN interface to handle the audio data and MIDI transfers from and to other devices via a FireWire cable.
Sampler– Some manufacturers incorporate samplers when designing the workstations. Having a sampler enables you to import any digitized sound you want and use it in music. Sampler becomes a worthwhile feature especially if you like experimenting with tones outside the dome of standard instruments.
Trigger Pads– These are valuable features that can help you get quick access to samples or notes. The modern R & B and Hip-Hop producers like the trigger pads, to lay down quick loops and beats. But they can also be used in a variety of situations.
Synthesizers and workstations are potent instruments engineered primarily for users who are experienced with recording and sequencing. Chances are, if you want to buy your first synthesizer or workstation, the process might be a little over your head. Fortunately, you know the features to look into. Let’s check into the next category.
Factors to Consider When Buying the Best Synthesizer and Workstations
You can agree that there is a plethora of brands out there. Although there are plenty of models, do not be afraid to take your time to conduct research. Think about what you need the unit to do for you. You can think of a brand with shortened manuals and lightweight design for ease of use and portability.
A synthesizer of a workstation is a great investment in your music career. You, therefore, don’t need to gamble with where to buy. You can get the items on retail stores near you or online stores like Amazon. If you are buying from a local store, ensure the seller is reliable, reputable, licensed, and insured.
You can seek recommendations from close relatives and friends. This is to ensure you don’t get an imitated device that will drain your money. For online stores, read both amateur and professional reviews to get invaluable information from the previous clients.
Choose a gadget that is infused with all the necessary features that will make your work easy and efficient. If you love traveling, you can opt for a compact and lightweight instrument.
Price is a significant determinant when it comes to buying synthesizers and workstations. Mainly, these instruments tend to be expensive. Fortunately, with a myriad of choices out there, you can quickly get an instrument that fit your budget and meet your needs.
As technology continues to evolve, the analog stations are shrinking day by day. Computers are taking over in creation, recording, and production of songs. However, the feel and sound of analog workstations and synthesizers are unbeatable. Technology and be more influential and amazing, but it will never take away the real experience of having hardware of synthesizer keyboard station at your fingerprints in the studio!
Roland is a brand that’s extremely well known for creating very high-quality synthesizers, and the Roland JUNO-Gi Synthesizer is no exception.
Now as far as price goes, this particular model is actually on the lower end of Roland synths… so if you are on a budget but still want a high-end product with the Roland name, then you are in luck.
However, today I’d like to just focus on giving you an unbiased review of the synth so that you can hopefully make a decision as to whether or not it’s right for you.
Let’s Take a Look at Some of the Features of the Roland JUNO-Gi:
- 30 years of brand name experience – Roland is extremely well known among the synthesizer community for creating high-quality products, and the Roland JUNO-Gi Synth is no different
- You get the trademark Roland innovation and design at a price that’s easy to stomach and that you actually feel happy shelling out. You get serious bang for the buck with this synth
- Looking for a lightweight synthesizer to take with you on the road and on gigs? The Roland JUNO-Gi is a perfect match, weighing in at only 12.5 pounds and making it one of the lightest 61-key synths on the market
- Capable of surviving up to three hours on only batteries
- Brand new song library with over 1200 prerecorded effects
- You can mix and match up to four different layers at once
- Multi-track onboard recorder is capable of replaying up to eight tracks at a time giving you the ability to store, create and replay your sounds on the go
I know a $1000+ on a synthesizer may seem like a lot, but it is actually chump change once you get into high-end 61-key synth market. I’m sure you’ve still got some questions though, so why don’t we take a little bit more in-depth look?
61 Key Synth Action Keyboard with High Velocity
Admittedly, if you’re a hard-core composer or musician then you probably want an 88-key keyboard. However, for your standard on-the-road gigger, or the aspiring musician who can’t yet afford an 88-key synth, the Roland JUNO-Gi offers a middle of the line approach with 61-keys.
In other words, you’ve got options, but you’re not paying an arm and a leg to use them.
Built-in USB and MIDI Ports
This makes it extremely easy for you to connect your synth to a computer so that you can truly take advantage of this instrument’s vast capabilities.
This is a MUST if you intend to do software-side mixing.
The synthesizer also comes with a 2 GB SD card for external memory, making it even more convenient for you to take your music with you wherever you go.
In the end, this synth is jampacked with all of the features that make Roland such a reputable brand. There’s no reason not to go ahead and pick up the Roland JUNO-Gi if you’re a budget musician or hobbyist looking for a new way to expand your songwriting capabilities.
Tips For Finding The Best Synth
Whether you’re a new musician looking to make your first foray into the world of creative expression, or you’re a seasoned keyboardist with a hankering for a nifty new tool to add to your repertoire, we’re here to help you find the best synth for your musical needs.
Now, since this is the most detailed page on our website, I thought it would be fitting to go ahead and take this time to make sure that you know what to look for when looking through the rest of synthesizer reviews on our website.
I hope that sounds good – If you already know what you want, or what would make YOUR best synthesizer, then please feel free to just begin browsing through the rest of our site.
If not, then please continue reading below to learn the basics of reviewing synthesizers!
#1. How Many Sounds / Voices Come Pre-Loaded?
- Especially if you’re a beginning musician who won’t be recording your own samples, then having an expansive library of sounds and effects to choose from out of the box is extremely important, in fact, for many, this will be the sole deciding factor when it comes to buying a synthesizer.
- However, while having a bunch of cool sounds is important, it’s also important what you can do with those sounds, as well as how realistic the sounds feel.
- For example, if your synthesizer offers velocity (measuring the speed of key press), then you’ll be able to much more realistically manipulate sounds than an equal synth without that function.
- Here’s another example – One keyboard may have 2,000 voices pre-loaded, but if the sounds it creates aren’t realistic or easy to customize, then what does it matter? Which brings me to my second point…
#2. How Much Customization do You Have?
- When looking for the best synth, a general rule of thumb is that the more flexibility you have, the better.
- Ideally, you want to be able to edit every single parameter of every single effect and voice that’s on your synth. Without that ability, you will inevitably run into a creative wall as you use up all the sounds your synth can create.
#3. Weighted or Non-Weighted Keyboard Action
- For some people, this is the last thing they’ll look at, for the serious pianist it’ll probably be the first. Keyboard synthesizers these days come with keys of every shape and level of realism.
- If your only concern is being able to play lots of sounds quickly and easily, then synth-action keys with little weight will be ideal for you because you’ll be able to play faster.
- If, however, the best synth for you recreates an acoustic piano beneath your fingertips, then consider looking into semi-weighted, or even hammer-action keys. Hammer action keys are when there’s an actual hammer mechanism installed onto each key to perfectly replicate the piano feel; semi-weighted keys are a budget friendly compromise because they recreate acoustic feel by just adding more material to the keys.
- You’ll also want to look for velocity as well as aftereffect, because either of those is necessary to take full advantage of your instrument.
- This may seem like a small matter when you’re spending $1000s on a synthesizer workstation, but ideally, this is going to be your creative tool for many years to come, so it pays to look for something comfortable and diverse to play on.
Choosing a Soft Synth
Unlike an analog synthesizer or synth workstation that requires a massive investment of both space and money, a soft synth can be purchased inexpensively (sometimes they’re even free), allowing you to test out a variety of different programs before settling on one or two favorites.
Most soft synths now actually contain all of the features of hard synths like the Korg Triton as downloadable plugins. This way you get all the incredible features right on your computer and don’t need to lug around 100 pounds of hardware to keep recording music.
Analog Synth vs. Soft Synth
Despite the advances that modern technology allows us, some people still prefer to use physical hardware when composing and creating music.
For some people, the creativity just seems to flow more when they can put their hands on something physical. This is valid, but some artists just don’t have the money to lay down on an $800 piece of equipment.
No matter what you prefer, a soft synth can always make a valuable addition to your music repertoire, even if used alongside your analog synth.
Core Features of a Digital Synth Program
No matter what level you’re working on, there are some basic functions that the right software synth should always have.
First of all, you need a sequencer. This is a code that arranges notes into patterns, and will eventually constitute the “song.”
Next, your soft synth VST should have a library of effects and sounds that can be used as a starting point for your musical creations. Even if you don’t have any other input devices, you can still create some compelling compositions using library beats and some imaginative tweaking.
It’s always possible to download libraries and plugins as well, so lastly the right soft synth should welcome upgrades and plugins.
The Importance of a Sequencer in a Soft Synth
A good sequencer cannot be overlooked, no matter what else the synth software is capable of. With the sequencer, you will be compiling all the individual elements of the song: the samples, melodies, beats, effects, and vocals.
When all of this is placed into the sequencer, the audio information is stored as MIDI code. Even when something is tweaked in real time, such as the turning of a treble knob midway through the track, the MIDI will record that and produce the same effect each time the track is played back.
A good sequencer makes it really easy to piece together individual elements of a song.
The Importance of MIDI in a Softsynth
Musical Instrument Digital Interface, or MIDI, is an industry standard that interprets musical notes the same way no matter what software is reading them.
You might refer to it as the sheet music of your computer, and any worthwhile software synth will have a digital MIDI controller, allowing you to both input and manipulate MIDI files.
In nearly every case, the MIDI controller will be displayed as a piano keyboard, and it will be synched with the sound output module so as to produce a sound when a key is pressed, just like a piano.
Using An Analog MIDI Controller
For the diehard artists who prefer to use a physical piece of hardware when composing music, analog MIDI controllers can make the perfect addition to a soft synth interface.
Rather than purchasing an entire synth workstation that includes a built-in synth and step sequencer, you can instead purchase a controller that solely records MIDI directly through a USB connection into the computer.
This provides the hands-on experience and creativity that comes with a physical instrument with the portability and ease of use of a soft synth.
Software synth technology is suitable for recording artists of any skill level, regardless of experience, which is what makes it such a valuable asset in a home recording studio.
It is versatile, easy to use, and requires only a computer to operate. You can find a quality soft synth commercially for a price or as freeware, so they definitely are a suitable choice for an artist with any budget.
Finding The Best Synth For You…
Now, inside this brief buyers guide I’ve tried to give you an idea of how to identify the best synth for your needs… Ultimately though, you’re just going to have to get out there and try out some keyboards and read some synthesizer reviews to find the best synth for you.
When searching reviews on this site, just navigate to whichever category you are interested in and you will see a “Top 5″ ranking for that particular category. This is the best way to find out our top picks and ultimately the best synth for you.