We take a look at the best ambient synths and the best ambient pedals for creating ethereal soundscapes and epic post-rock loops
Whether you want to make Eno-inspired sound collages or just need some extra pedals for those huge atmospheric guitar lines, this gear is certain to help you on your way.
Read on for our favourite ambient music synthesizers, stompboxes, and other equipment!
The Best Ambient Synthesizers
Ambient music utilises a vast array of sound synthesis techniques, and there are no strict rules on how to make ambient synth music.
These synthesizers all offer an intuitive workflow and an excellent choice of sounds for beginners and professionals alike. So no matter if you’re exploring ambient music for the first time or you’re just in the market for a new bit of gear, you’ll find something worth adding to your set-up here!
Yamaha Reface CS Analog Modelling Synthesizer
Based on the legendary CS-range of Yamaha machines used by electronic pioneers such as Yellow Magic Orchestra, the Yamaha Reface CS Analog Modelling Synthesizer is surprisingly powerful.
Boasting 8-voice polyphony with 5 separate oscillator types (multi saw, pulse, oscillator sync, ring modulation, and frequency modulation), the Reface CS can be used for a range of ambient textures, melodies, and pad sounds.
The lack of presets forces you to take a hands-on approach to designing your sounds, making it a great option for a beginner synth or for those who want to get to grips with some different types of sound synthesis.
The range of tones at your disposal are further enhanced by the selection of built-in effects and the looper section, which can be MIDI-sync’d to a drum machine or a metronome for live performances.
In addition to all of this, you can now download the Reface iOS app to manage your sounds - perfect for building a setlist or for simple recall of your favourite voices.
On a modest budget, this is perhaps the best synth for ambient music available!
Korg Volca Keys Analog Loop Synth
Despite its low price, the Korg Volca Keys is actually an all-analog synthesizer capable of producing lead, rhythm, and bass sounds.
The workflow feels familiar and allows for different combinations of the 3 separate oscillators - Poly, Unison, Octave, Fifth, Unison Ring or Poly Ring.
A simple loop-sequencer is upgraded massively with the addition of Motion Sequence functionality that grants the ability to record knob movements and parameter changes as they are played.
This added feature, alongside the 8-pattern sequence memory, means compositions on the Volca Keys feel dynamic and versatile, with near-endless scope for experimentation with other pieces of hardware.
In a world filled with plug-ins and other ambient music VST’s, sometimes this sort of product is exactly what you need to make truly original and inspired music.
Teenage Engineering OP-1 Portable Synthesizer
It’s difficult to talk about the best synth for ambient music without the Teenage Engineering OP-1 being mentioned.
Since being released in 2011 this pocket-sized unit has been used by the likes of Thom Yorke, Beck, James Blake, and Jean-Michel Jarre.
With extensive sampling capabilities, recording with variable tape speed, and a built-in FM radio, the OP-1 is a dream for those who wish to utilise field recordings and real-world sounds in their ambient compositions.
Besides this though, it also has 10 distinct synthesizer engines, eight high-quality effects, and multiple routable LFO’s. With unique sequencing features a bonus too, it quickly becomes apparent just how powerful the OP-1 is.
Use it to sample, edit, and sequence some ambient drums and you’ve also got yourself one of the best drum machines for ambient music too!
The Best Ambient Pedals
These pedals have been picked because they’re perfect for adding space and modulation to ambient guitar chords and synth pads alike.
There are plenty of budget ambient pedals available for those looking for cost-effective ways to get started, and cheap ambient guitar pedals often offer a whole new sound when used with keyboards and other instruments.
We’ll take a look at the best ambient reverb pedal and some great ambient delay pedals which are perfectly suited for making discreet-yet-beautiful music.
Strymon Big Sky Reverb
The Strymon Big Sky Reverb is the industry-standard for all space-related effects. With 12 unique reverb types, 8 control dials, and 3 footswitches for dialling-in your exact parameters, it also offers 300 presets for instant playability.
With stereo outputs, extensive MIDI-support and the ability to add an expression pedal, the potential of this pedal is second-to-none.
The Big Sky also stacks up remarkably well with distortion and fuzz for when you need things to get a bit more experimental - check it out here:
Keeley Vibe-O-Verb Ambient Reverb with Modulation
Not only does the Keeley Vibe-O-Verb supply you with 3 equally-stunning reverb effects, but it also houses a delay space that is designed to follow the Fibonacci Sequence, also known as the Golden Ratio.
Whether this makes any difference isn’t really important, because this stompbox sounds lush and beautiful in so many different ways. The modulation section allows for choppy tremolos and phase-modulation to be added to the reverb, meaning this pedal can get a plethora of sounds that you’d struggle to replicate with other standalone reverb units.
As is always the case with Keeley, it’s built to supreme standards and comes in a rugged enclosure that will last a lifetime.
Strymon El Capistan dTape Delay Pedal
Another offering from ambient heavyweights Strymon, the El Capistan is perfect for introducing tape-style sounds and delays to ambient guitar chord progressions, synth textures, and samples.
The tape replications are meticulous and nuanced, even featuring extra-detailed parameters such as Tape Crinkle and Tape Bias.
Once again you can connect an expression pedal for even further control whilst performing, and with a Tap Tempo function you can be assured that even in the live arena everything stays on-beat and sounds wonderful.
This pedal gives you all of the joy of tape with all of the convenience of digital technology - a match made in heaven for ambient music!
BOSS DD3-T Digital Delay Pedal
The BOSS DD3-T has been a staple across all sorts of pedalboards for a long time, but it’s also a wonderful tool for creating ambient music.
Just as on the original DD3 you can use the Direct Output to send Dry and Wet signals to separate sources, but the addition of an on-board Tap Tempo does wonders for this unit which is already renowned for its easy operation and awesome delay tone.
It also retains the Loop function from the original unit, meaning you can ‘freeze’ up to 800ms of sound to create ambient drones. This feature is especially unique and great for introducing leftfield rhythms and a glitchy character to your sonic palette.
As with all BOSS pedals, it’s essentially bomb-proof and will last forever as an integral part of your ambient set-up.
If you’re on a budget and looking for some ambient effects pedals, your best bet might be a multi-FX unit.
Whether you’re making a new Selected Ambient Works, producing a post-rock masterpiece, or just looping spacey stuff alone in your room, check out these products for some of our favourite ambient effects and modelling units:
Still not sure how to get started with ambient music? Need some extra help with reverb trails and delay modes? Call us on 0151 448 2089 or check out your local store to speak to one of our Experts about your needs.