I often receive email messages and questions on social media from aspiring beat makers looking for advice on a myriad of things from synths to drum machines to drum programming and song arrangement. So, from here on out I’ll take to the blog on some “Dear Abby” for beatmakers type of business. We shall call it Ask BBoyTech.
First up… I received a question on one of my social network accounts the other week regarding which synth would be a good first hardware synth for someone who is not really new to making beats. This person has used DAWs and software synths but has never owned an actual hardware synth. So, he was looking to finally take a dive into the world of hardware synths but he didn’t have knowledge of which to pick and for what reasons. However, there was one particular thing that he knew and that was his budget which was $400.
My advice? You have to know what you want to do. So lets take a few things into account.
Mono or Poly?
Are you looking for a monosynth or a polysynth? It’s a matter of if you only want to play riffs, leads and bass or would you want to play chords too. If you want ill leads and bass etc. then a monosynth may be exactly what you need. If you plan to play chords, pads and strings etc. then a polysynth is that deal.
Be sure to give this some real thought. You will definitely be mad and annoyed if you plan to play chords but you inadvertently cop a monosynth (i.e. mono = 1 …as in one note at a time). Just keep in mind that soft synths tend to have fancy little switches called “Mono / Poly” that gives you the luxury to switch modes at any time. This is not the case with hardware synths. Choose wisely. It is either polyphonic or monophonic unless of course you cop a polyphonic synth and choose to play one note at a time when doing leads or bass and such. Poly synths are flexible that way but mono synths are not as forgiving or flexible in that regard.
Digital or Analog?
Are you finding yourself enamored and caught up by the sound and allure of real analog? If so, good news. We are smack dab in the center of a huge analog resurgence with gangs of analog synths in all price ranges in the market place. So if you aim is analog, for whatever the reason, there are some good choices out there from the Moog Minitaur to the über popular Arturia Microbrute.
On the other hand, there are some really cool digital synths out there. VA’s or virtual analog synths have come a long way. Some sound less digital warm while others are unapologetically digital as a matter of fact. If you happen to be firm on a $400 budget there are loads of good choices for VAs with considerably more options and features on the used market over at eBay or something. Think M-Audio Venom, Korg Microkorg or even the classic Korg MS2000R (one of my personal favs – btw I copped one in 2012 for like $100 or something).
Keys or No Keys?
Another huge consideration. If you are coming from an all software synth sort of background, you’ll undoubtedly already have a keyboard controller of some sort. If you are a minimalist or even “space challenged” you may want to consider the keyboardless synth options such as the Waldorf Rocket or Dave Smith Instruments Mopho or the Moog Minitaur. They all have small footprints and can be controlled via your existing keyboard controller. This sort of option will not take you too far out of your comfort zone in terms of how you’ve interacted with your soft synths. Be mindful though, smaller desktop synths are less knobby and tend to rely on software editors or a knobby keyboard controller with your own custom mappings to get the most out of them.
Here are some options;
Ultimately, if you are looking to jump into your first hardware synth, you have a few things to consider. It may help to pay attention to what you like/dislike about your existing soft synths. It may pay off in the end to get something that compliments the existing rig so that you can bring it all together in the end.
Feel free to pile on in the comments below. Peace!