Originally published on dolphinmusic.co.uk Fri June 07, 2013 by Hugh McKenna
We're as excited as anyone about the return of analogue, understandable given the raft of great new hardware synths coming out from Korg, Novation, Arturia. It's been 50 years since Moog introduced their first analogue synth, and everyone from The Beatles to Daft Punk, Stevie Wonder to Queens Of The Stone Age, have used synthesizers, which remain as popular as ever - if not more so today!
And ROLAND are making waves with the new JD-Xi synthesizer, a modern take on analog synths, because it also feature digital FX. Even more excitingly, they've also announced the more sophisticated JD-XA Hybrid synth, already the most eagerly awaited synthesizer of 2015:
While many of us are old hands looking to add that special analogue character to our existing setup we're sure many of you are looking at synthesis for the first time and wondering just what's possible. This Beginners Synth Guide is here to help, offering advice on what you need, how to set it up and a few little advanced pointers on where you might want to go next. Not focused purely on the best analogue synths we also go over digital and computer based setups as these often represent the most flexible and affordable solution, providing credible synth sounds at a fraction of the price of the "real deal".
Getting started with synthesis
If you're just starting out with synths then there's a number of options available. If you've got a computer then there's a number of very affordable options available to you.
Here's our selection of the best MIDI controllers for synth novices. Hands on parameter control is important, the number of keys less so and if you don't already have a host DAW or many plugins then you might want to check the bundled software.
Best MIDI Synth Controllers
Novation Launchkey 25
Samson Graphite 25
A good MIDI controller for beginners with tons of potential for live tweaking. Setup the knobs to change parameters on the included V-Station & Bass Station virtual synths. Once you've recorded a few good parts you can make whole arrangements using the launchpad buttons to trigger loops and samples (the Launchkey comes with plenty of those too) in Ableton Live Lite or hooked up to an iPad using the free apps. There's no need to worry about setup, Launchkey works with the included software out the box.
There's no shortage of synth control with 16 knobs, 8 pads and 25 keys. Just as well because the Minilab comes with 5000+ synth sounds built in. If all that wasn't enough the controls are pre-configured to work with the Minilab software, just open, install and play.
Designed to feel more like an instrument than a controller, it is ideal for live performance. Comes with Komplete Elements from Native Instruments, which includes the heavyweight Reaktor synth engine for a serious range of cutting edge sounds.
REMEMBER! You'll need a way to listen to your electronic music creations properly. We'd recommend getting a proper audio interface and a pair of studio headphones. The dinky Focusrite iTrack is ideal if you just need a compact audio interface and is compatible with iPad. We sell a wide range of great quality headphones.
The Best Analogue Synth Setup
Now we get to the big one a complete analogue synth setup. Embrace the future by celebrating the past, there's an awful lot to be said for keeping things analogue and moving away from the mouse and keyboard. Keeping all the controls to hand and not presenting too many options at once means your synth studio becomes more like a true instrument and less of a techy spreadsheet. Seeing is believing so checkout this all analogue setup delivering some great sounds and getting tweaked on the fly.
The only question that remains is how you get such a setup for yourself. Exactly what approach you take will depend on how you plan on using it.
Live Analogue Synth Setup
Ok so why have we started out with a digital, analogue modeling synth? Because it's awesome naturally, also because it has CV outputs to be used as part of an analogue setup. Plus the KingKorg filters are incredibly close to the real thing, just check out the comparison below. It's light, has a massive range of sounds and works nicely as part of an analogue setup. Don't lug racks of gear to the gig, use the KingKorg and take a few select analogue modules for those big, fat sounds.
Syncs up nicely with the KingKorg via CV. Use it on stage for that real analogue sound plus tweaking and improvisation on stage. This is a new version of the classic MS-20 Synth. Plus it gives a bit of stage presence, remember Zia McCabe from
the Dandy Warhols? Course you do.
As compact as the KingKorg and MS-20 Mini are you still might not want to lug too much gear to the gig. The Monotron is all analogue fun for beer money. Just stick a delay pedal after it and you're in for hours of fun. The Korg Monotron Delay Analogue Synthesizer is also available. They're all great!
The Best Of The Rest
There's a wealth of great synthesizers out there, that cover all sorts of needs and budgets. We couldn't write an article about synths without mentioning:
The ever popular Korg microKorg was flying the flag of analog a few years before this recent revival. It's still a great little synth, affordable and packed with vintage sounds. If you're prepared to spend a little bit more of money, the microKorg XL+ is even better, with more features.
The Arturia MicroBruteis an analogue synth inspired by the classic models of the past, but made with the modern player in mind and includes MIDI and USB connectivity and comes with free software editor.
Anything by Moog
It would be sacrilege not to mention Moog! After all, they started this whole thing! Moog synths are still the #1 choice for many top artists worldwide, but until recently they were still not the most affordable option for beginners, with one of their cheapest models, the Moog Sub Phatty. But it all changed, with the release of Moog's most affordable synth ever - the Moog Werkstatt-01 Analog Synthesizer Kit! This synth is ideal for school children and education, but also suitable for anyone interested in synths, who wish to experience true Moog analogue synth sounds at a cheaper price. It's simple, sure, but still sounds great! Check out this video:
The New Kid On The Block
A new company, Teenage Engineering, is releasing the Pocket Operator synths, three different models that are super-compact (about the size of an old pocket calculator) and very affordable, but which manage to still sound great! It promises to be one of the hottest products of 2015, and is available now.