61 key synthesizer

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The best synthesizers in 2021, featuring 24 top keyboards, modules and semi-modular synths

It’s fair to say we’ve all, over the past decade or so, become more reliant on using soft-synths. With just a few clicks of a mouse, you can create pretty much any sound you like with full polyphony and any effect you can think of. With all this variety, you’d be forgiven for thinking the hardware synth is on its way out but, as we’ve seen, the market has never been in a better place. Wherever you look, there is innovation and fun to be had from today’s breed of hard synths, so we’ve pulled a few of our favourites together into this guide to the best synthesizers around right now. 

From simple but sweet-sounding monosynths to fully tricked out poly behemoths, there is a synth out there with your name on it, waiting to be tweaked and played with. 

We’ve listed these synths in price order to make it easier for you to find the right one for your budget. If you need more info on how to choose the right synth for you, hit the ‘buying advice’ link above. Or keep scrolling to get straight to our top choices.

Best synthesizers: Our top picks

As you’ll see in this guide, there are synths out there for all types of player, and all levels of budget. As a middle ground, however, we’re particularly drawn towards the Modal Electronics Cobalt8. The Cobalt8 has enough tricks and advanced sequencing abilities to appeal to anyone who’s been playing for years, yet is laid out in such an intuitive way that anybody, of any ability level, could start tweaking and make some wonderful sounds from it. 

A special nod also to the Arturia Microfreak; for pure bonkers creativity and experimentation, the Microfreak is a very special synth indeed.

Best synthesizers: Under $/£500

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1. IK Multimedia UNO Synth

A super-cheap, quirky analogue monosynth that delivers where it counts

Specifications

Price: $199/£210/€229

Synth engine: Analogue

Polyphony: Monophonic

Keyboard: Touch keyboard

Sequencer: Yes

Effects: Delay, Dive, Scoop, Vibrato, Wah, Tremolo

MIDI I/O: Minijack In/Out

Connectivity: 3.5mm stereo output (mono summed), 3.5mm stereo input (mono summed), Micro USB

Power: Four AA batteries

Reasons to buy

+Versatile, weighty analogue sound+Flexible arp, sequencer and scale mode+Plenty of great sounding, highly usable presets

Reasons to avoid

-Hardware feels quite lightweight and cheap

The look of Uno may prove a bit divisive. Its slanted profile and push button control panel have a retro charm, but it’s a design that brings to mind the early days of home computers more than any vintage analogue synth. The lower part of the push button interface is taken up by a 27-note ‘keyboard’ for live playing, or to input notes for the onboard sequencer or arpeggiator. Despite all of this, Uno is an excellent-sounding, versatile analogue monosynth, and you do get a lot for your money. 

The presets offer a ton of highly usable sounds, and we could certainly see this becoming a go-to instrument for classic basses and leads. The arp and sequencer are great for inspiring ideas, and a software editor adds to the allure. If you can cope with a few compromises, Uno is a great source of classic, punchy analogue sounds at a bargain price.

Read the fullIK Multimedia Uno synth review

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2. Korg Volca FM

The best portable and affordable FM synth

Specifications

Price: $149/£129/€168

Synth engine: Digital FM

Polyphony: 3 voices

Keyboard: Multitouch

Sequencer: Yes

Effects: Chorus

MIDI I/O: In

Connectivity: Headphones, Sync In, Sync Out

Power: Battery or optional AC adapter

Reasons to buy

+Great FM Sound+More flexible than it first appears+Affordable

Reasons to avoid

-Only three voices

The Volca FM is a compact, battery-powerable instrument, housed in a plastic chassis with a design that gives a cheeky stylistic nod to the Yamaha DX7 from which it takes its sonic cues. It's equipped with a ribbon-style keyboard-come-sequencer, built-in speaker, MIDI input and 3.5mm sync in/out. This is easily the best of the Volca range so far. Where the other models have merely captured the general vibe of the instruments they took their inspiration from - albeit in a very fun and affordable way - the FM manages not only to nail the sound of its spiritual predecessor, but also adds an assortment of new and powerful features. 

It's not without its limitations - the lack of polyphony leaves it lagging behind the original DX7, Yamaha's Reface DX, and the various FM plugins out there - but the sound of those dark, percussive basses, icy mallets and '80s-style horns is bang on, and if you start to push the capabilities of this tweakable, hands-on little synth, you'll find it's capable of some truly unique tricks.

Read the fullKorg Volca FM review

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3. Arturia MicroFreak

A great fun, innovative and affordable digital synth

Specifications

Price: $299/£279/€299

Synth engine: Digital

Polyphony: 4 voice paraphonic

Keyboard: 25-key capacitive keyboard

Sequencer: Yes

Effects: None

MIDI I/O: In/Out

Connectivity: Mono 1/4-inch output for audio, headphone output; 3.5mm CV/Gate/Pressure outputs, and 3.5mm MIDI I/O

Power: USB-powered, AC adapter

Reasons to buy

+Lots of sonic potential given the price range+Weird and wacky oscillator modes+So much fun to program

Reasons to avoid

-A 24dB/oct filter mode would be useful

With so many synthesis features packed into such a small box, it’s hard not to fall in love with this hardware offering from Arturia. The multiple oscillator modes cover a near-endless range of timbres; the filter is smooth and versatile; the Matrix invites exploratory modulation; and the performance and sequencing tools are the icing on the creative cake. 

However, the real magic lies in the combo of all these together, making this odd little beast far more than the sum of its parts. MicroFreak should be top of your ‘must try’ list. 

Read the full Arturia MicroFreak review

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4. Behringer Neutron

The best semi-modular bang for your buck

Specifications

Price: $329/£229/€345

Polyphony: Paraphonic

Synth engine: all-analogue; 2 VCO, 1 VCF (12db LPF/HPF), VCA, 2 ENV (ADSR), LFO, BBD delay, overdrive

Control: External MIDI/CV control only

Patch points: 56

Other I/O: MIDI In/Thru, USB (MIDI in), master out, audio in, headphone out

Reasons to buy

+Great value for money+3340 VCO – a clone of the legendary CEM3340 found in analogue classics of the late ’70s and early ’80s+Flexible patchbay

Reasons to avoid

-Too easy to saturate the filter section

Behringer’s synth arm might be best known for its controversy-courting ‘tributes’, but the German brand also has a couple of excellent original instruments under its belt. Following in the steps of the Deepmind, Neutron is an analogue semi-modular that packs in a lot of flexibility for its very affordable price point. 

The Neutron has a few flaws, and there are some frustrating design issues, but it does sound good, and in terms of bang-for-your-buck, you can't really beat it. While it does a very good job of creating more sensible sounds, it also excels at the weird and wonderful.

Read the full Behringer Neutron review

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5. IK Multimedia Uno Synth Pro

Shames more expensive synths with functions and features you’d expect to pay twice as much for

Specifications

Price: from $399/£361/€399

Synth engine: Analogue

Polyphony: Paraphonic

Keyboard: Full 37-note keyboard (or touch on the desktop)

Sequencer: 64-step sequencer

Effects: 12 effects in three slots

MIDI I/O: Minijack In/Out

Connectivity: 2 x 1/4” outs, 3.5mm headphone out and input, 2 x CV in and out, USB

Power: PSU (desktop via USB)

Reasons to buy

+Some excellent stereo effects +Very capable sequencer +Full keyboard feels good 

Reasons to avoid

-Full version much more expensive than desktop 

UNO Synth Pro is an analogue synth, very much the big brother of the UNO Synth. It is available as a full-size and much more expensive keyboard version or a desktop unit with touch keys. The keyboard version is obviously larger, sporting a heavy-duty metal enclosure, as well as physical wheels for pitch and mod. Those differences – and the keyboard version’s power socket – aside, the two are identical. 

UNO Synth Pro sports three analogue VCOs and a white noise generator, all with some great tone shaping options. Each of the three oscillators has continuous wave shape variations from saw to pulse width, with modulation. There are two analogue state variable filters, with dedicated cutoff and resonance controls. 

The potentiometers all feel smooth and firm, with a nice amount of resistance and, while the filter controls are dedicated, the function of most changes is dependent on the active menu. There is also a fantastic modulation matrix, which is a doddle to use; fast and powerful, belying its appearance.

With a great sequencer and some fantastic effects – although not many of them – this is a great synth for the money with a really simple workflow. All in all, it is a fine instrument and one that definitely punches over its weight class, in terms of sound and functionality. 

Read the full IK Multimedia Uno Synth Pro review 

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6. Arturia MiniBrute 2

A seriously competitive semi-modular monosynth

Specifications

Price: $499/£439/€539

Synth engine: Analogue

Polyphony: Paraphonic

Keyboard: 32 RGB-backlit velocity-sensitive button grid

Sequencer: Yes

Effects: Distortion (three types)

MIDI I/O: In/Out/Thru

Connectivity: Headphones. line out, audio input, analogue clock in and out, CV, gate and aux CV outputs, USB (MIDI only)

Power: Power adapter

Reasons to buy

+The patchbay adds flexibility+Plenty of analogue grit+Decent control options

Reasons to avoid

-Osc 2 pitch control is a little too close to the filter cutoff

Where the original was a fairly straightforward monosynth with a few unique touches and some CV control, the MiniBrute 2 is semi-modular, boasting a beefed- up synth engine and a comprehensive mini-jack patchbay. As before, the primary oscillator can generate saw, triangle and square waves simultaneously, the outputs of which are blended via the oscillator mixer, where they’re joined by a white noise source and external audio input. 

Filter-wise, the MiniBrute 2 keeps the Steiner-Parker-style filter of its predecessor, which offers -12dB low- and high-pass modes, plus -6dB band-pass and notch filtering. On the whole, the MiniBrute 2 is a real success. It takes everything we liked about the original - the analogue grit, interesting oscillator shaping and Brute factor control, which overdrives the signal chain using a controlled feedback loop - and expands on it considerably. A serious competitor, then, and the same can be said of the MiniBrute 2S, which swaps the keys for a pad-based step sequencer.

Read the full Arturia MiniBrute 2 review

Best synthesizer: Under $/£999

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7. Korg Minilogue XD

Prologue’s four biggest features in a compact, affordable form

Specifications

Price: $649/£499/€675

Synth engine: Hybrid

Polyphony: 4 voices

Keyboard: 37 slim keys, velocity-sensitive

Sequencer: Yes

Effects: Delay, Reverb, Chorus, Flanger, Ensemble, Phaser

MIDI I/O: In/Out

Connectivity: Headphones, stereo output, audio in, sync in, sync out, USB, 2x CV in

Power: AC adapter

Reasons to buy

+CV connectivity+Good build quality

Reasons to avoid

-Only one filter pole option onboard-No low-cut/high-pass filter switch or dial

This model slots comfortably into the 'Logue' range between the original Minilogue and the Prologue 8. If we had to choose between this and the original Minilogue, it’d be the XD due to its more powerful sequencer, extended general versatility, user-customisable Multi-Engine/effects, the joystick for real-time control, user scales/tunings, more inspiring vibe and excellent motion-sequenceable stereo effects/output. 

Along with the new damper pedal jack and dual-CV inputs (to interface with modular gear), the XD is a nicely different flavour of Minilogue, and its unique personality is a hugely welcome addition to the range as a whole. 

Read the fullKorg Minilogue XD review

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8. Korg Wavestate

The wavetable revival is well underway

Specifications

Price: $699/£545/€649

Synth engine: Digital

Polyphony: 64 voices

Keyboard: 37 full-size, velocity sensitive

Sequencer: Yes

Effects: 14

MIDI I/O: In, Out, USB

Connectivity: USB

Power: 12V DC

Reasons to buy

+A lot to get stuck into sound-wise+Comprehensive modulation options

Reasons to avoid

-Bit of a learning curve to unlock its full potential

In the 1990s, wavetable synthesis was the fuel behind the dance and electronic music fire, delivering an intuitive way of accessing a wide variety of sounds within a single patch. For sound designers and experimental producers, it was unparalleled in its creative potential. As one of the pioneers of this method of synthesis, Korg has now reintroduced it to the world with the Wavestate. 

64 stereo voice polyphony and an insane level of sequencing potential add up to create one of the most diverse sounding modern synths on the market. Taking full advantage of that does take some effort but if you’re willing to put the work in there isn’t much the Wavestate can’t do. 

Read the full Korg Wavestate review

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9. Modal Electronics Cobalt8

Flexible, polyphonic and stuffed with creative potential

Specifications

Price: $749/£555/€649

Synth engine: Virtual Analog

Polyphony: 8 voices

Keyboard: 37 Fatar full-size keys

Sequencer: Yes

Effects: Yes

MIDI I/O: In, Out, USB

Connectivity: USB

Power: 9V DC

Reasons to buy

+Incredible sequencer+MPE support+So many sounds

Reasons to avoid

-Not much wrong here…

If you’ve got your heart set on a fully polyphonic synth, but don’t have the means to drop second-hand car levels of money at one, then the Modal Electronics Cobalt8 might just be the perfect option. This is a lot of synth for the money. From its full eight voice polyphony, to variety of effects, to a step sequencer which can carry up to 512 notes, there is an avalanche of stuff to play with here. 

If you’re coming from a playing history that’s only ever taken in VSTs and soft-synths, then the Cobalt8 might just be the perfect option to introduce you to the world of hands-on control. We liked the MPE support, which is of particular benefit to Ableton Live 11 users, and found overall there was very little we couldn’t do with this particular synth. Put your analog snobbery to one side; the Cobalt8 is a joy to play.

Read the full Modal Electronics Cobalt8 review

Sours: https://www.musicradar.com/news/best-synthesizers
Your Roland Juno-DS61 61-Key Synthesizer review


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61 Key Synthesizers

 

There aren’t really that many different (main) variations in which you can buy synthesizers. Along with 88 key synths, you can get 61 key synthesizers (such as these), mini synths like the Korg MS20, and others like the Teenage Engineering OP-1. Truthfully though, if you really know what you want, you’ll typically only have to choose between two, maybe three different type of synthesizer instruments. These 61-key synthesizers are quite versatile, as they provide a lot of the complexity and power that you would get on an 88-key synth such as the Montage 8, yet they are not as big and heavy as those other products. They are also nowhere near as light as some mini synthesizers, so they represent a modest middle ground when it comes to synthesizers. Not exactly for beginners, so those who have some experience are probably a bit better suited.

 

1. Roland JUNO DS61 Synthesizer

61 key synthesizersIf you’ve read any of my reviews, then you’ll probably already know that I absolutely adore the Roland JUNO DS88 synthesizer keyboard. It’s probably one of the best sounding electric keyboards I’ve ever heard in my life, and since then Roland had gained a ton of respect in my eyes, from a musical perspective. Now this DS61 is not exactly identical to that keyboard, but it gets pretty close; in terms of sound quality it’s hard to tell the difference. This Roland JUNO DS61 has slightly fewer features, but it still makes for a totally excellent synthesizer.

 

2. Yamaha TYROS 5 Synthesizer

best 61 key synthesizersNow this product here, is one unreal synthesizer workstation. Yes, it is quite an expensive product at first glance, but once you get a chance to see what the instrument is capable of, you will think it is actually underpriced. It is an outstanding performance keyboard, and easily one of the best (of all time) for 61 key synthesizer keyboards. Features are plentiful, sounds are wonderful, and experience is a treat. Take a look at the TYROS 5 and see why it is considered one of the greatest synths in history.

 

3. Korg KROSS 61 Synthesizer

The Korg KROSS is a pretty excellent keyboard. Not only does it keep the authentic Korg sound we all know and love, but many newer, modern features are added that you would not normally expect to receive on these types of instruments. Some say it is better fit as an entry level synthesizer, but I believe to be decent enough for even intermediate users. If you are more advanced, then you might want to consider going for something more on the high-end, such as the TYROS 5. Otherwise, this keyboard is quite good and has some things that I think might surprise you.

 

 4. Yamaha MX61 Synthesizer

Traditionally, I haven’t shown too much love for Yamaha’s MX61 Keyboard. It’s not really that there’s any one thing inherently wrong with the musical instrument, rather that it does not step up to the plate as other keyboards have in the past. In other words, it doesn’t do enough. Yes, there are some things to look forward to but in general it isn’t anything too special. The sounds are average, the functionality is decent, and we can’t realistically be too excited about the amount of features it has when other keyboards have quite a few more. As previously stated, the MX61 might be good as an entry level synthesizer, but even for a 61 key synthesizer there could be more. It’s still a neat product though.

 

5. Yamaha Montage 6 Synthesizer

I had not heard that Yamaha made a smaller version of their glorious Montage 8, but when I found out the news I was very ecstatic. Not only was that keyboard one of my favorite 88-key synths, but it was one of my favorite keyboards of all time! That’s how special it was to me. The Montage 6 is nearly a duplicate copy of its older brother, and that is an extravagant thing because that synth was extraordinary. The sounds are rich and full as you’d expect if you had any experience with the bigger brother, and the features are no less rejuvenating. If you’re looking for a 61 key synthesizer, definitely check out this keyboard because it is excellent!

 

Choosing a 61-key synthesizer

Obviously, one of the harder things you’l have to do is narrow it down to just one keyboard (unless you have unlimited money). One thing you should be aware of is that while these are some of the best 61 key keyboards this year, there are many other options. You are not limited to choose only from this list, be knowing of the fact that these are easily at the top of the food chain in this category. One synth that was not included on this list was the Korg Kronos, and that was due to the fact that it is a limited supply instrument, and most people are already aware of the magnitude of that instrument.

 

Conclusion

While I don’t usually go straight for 61-key instruments, I definitely respect them. It is certainly no easy task to create such a happy medium between something so large and complex like an 88-key board and something so minuscule like a mini synth keyboard. Clearly, there are far too many options to choose from to just list them here, but this is a good place to start.

Sours: https://www.synthesizerguide.com/61-key-synthesizers/

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Key synthesizer 61

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