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March 3, 2014 7:34 AM   Subscribe

THE 14 SYNTHESIZERS THAT SHAPED MODERN MUSIC
posted by flapjax at midnite (97 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
You could also call this "the 14 synthesizers that are now brutally expensive on eBay (albeit for good reason)."

The exceptions are the alpha-Juno and alpha-Juno 2, which are relatively affordable. Snap 'em up if you can find 'em.
posted by sixohsix at 7:48 AM on March 3


Spread across fifteen pages. *shakes fist cantakerously*

The article's definitely worth reading if you're into this sort of thing, but here's the list (in chronological order) for the tl;dr-ers. (I've added some links to YouTube searches because you might want to hear them.)

EMS VCS3
MOOG MINIMOOG
ARP ODYSSEY
YAMAHA CS-80
KORG MS-20 (Korg recently reissued the MS-20 with a mini keyboard, plus there's a virtual synth, so be aware that there's a lot of that in there)
SEQUENTIAL CIRCUITS PROPHET-5
FAIRLIGHT CMI
PPG WAVE
ROLAND TB-303
ROLAND SH-101
YAMAHA DX7
ROLAND ALPHA JUNO
KORG M1
KORG TRITON

FWIW, sixohsix, DX7's have come WAY down in price over the last couple of years, and can now be had for even less than the alpha Junos. The M1 is pretty affordable these days, too. (1. This is no longer true, 2. Those two synths are not exactly in short supply.)
posted by Sys Rq at 8:09 AM on March 3 [4 favorites]


Weird seeing the Triton on this list. Unlike the rest of this list, it's really not the kind of gear that people seem to fetishize today.

I'd have put the Ensoniq Mirage on the list instead -- arguably the first commercial sampler that cost less than a new car. Or maybe the Mellotron.
posted by Foosnark at 8:09 AM on March 3 [2 favorites]


I agree, Foosnark -- something by Ensoniq belongs on the list.
posted by The Bellman at 8:13 AM on March 3


Foosnark, neither of those are, strictly speaking, synthesizers.

(Though I must admit I WTF'd at the Triton's inclusion, too. It's a popular workhorse, but it's a far cry from being influential.)
posted by Sys Rq at 8:15 AM on March 3


My university had an ARP 2600 that I got to play with. One of the profs was into musique concrète and so we did tape loops and scissor edits.

Also relevant, I ran across this link for the grandaddy of all synths today in my newsfeed this morning.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:18 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]


Not having the Roland Organ Strings on there is a travesty. Post-punk bliss.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:19 AM on March 3


Funnily enough, the Wave’s quirky synthetic sounds even fascinated jazz innovator Miles Davis, who heard music store employee Adam Holzman playing the synthesizer and invited him to join his band for a series of sessions.

Man, talk about livin' the dream.
posted by invitapriore at 8:19 AM on March 3 [2 favorites]


Seeing my little SH-101 on this list made my day! I love that little noisemaker.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:23 AM on March 3 [2 favorites]


*I would have put the Juno 6/60/106 on that list before the Apha series. I know they're talking about influence here and I can't help but think they make more appearances. And the 1:1 control scheme makes a more usable machine. I miss mine so bad.

*Got me an MS-20 mini on order. Can't wait to lock myself up with it.

*The Arp Odyssey is being re-released by Korg (who apparently secretly purchased ARP's IP a while back) later this year. I already own an ARP SOLUS (The Odyessy's cousin from the late 70's) but I suspect won't be able to resist the re-issue when it comes out.

*The DX7 doesn't sound bad in and of itself. People vilify it because it was so foreign to program that most people just gave up and settled for using presets. The same 6 or so presets. On everything. For about 6 years. Everything. FM EPIANO everywhere. Nonstop. We don't hate it for its sounds, we hate it for the limited scope of its (over)use.

*There were a few experimental synths around in the early days-movements away from subtractive analog. An intriguing digital budget synth to me is this additive guy from Seiko. Switched On in Austin had one for about $295 and I missed it.

*The CS-80 was a monster in more ways than one. An unsustainable monster. This is the sight an owner would deal with about once a month.
posted by sourwookie at 8:32 AM on March 3 [3 favorites]


@Sys Rq,

(almost) all the digitals are down in price because digital just isn't cool right now. (I think it will be again soon though, so now's the time to snap those up too.) However, digital synths can be mostly copied in software without much difference, while analogs still have noticeable differences when digitally modeled. Or they melt your CPU trying to calculate accurate tone.

The M1 is available as a software VST from Korg for relatively cheap, and it's a pretty nice copy.
posted by sixohsix at 8:32 AM on March 3 [2 favorites]


This is also a crazy golden age for synths--with many analog options to be had cheap.

In addition to the above mentioned Korg MS-20 Mini (599) Korg also sells the Volca Series (808 style analog drum machine, 303 style bass machine, and analog paraphonic(!) keys)--at $149 each! I have the Beats and Keys and have decided I need the Bass (Ironically it makes a better lead synth than the Keys).

Additionally Arturia has the Brute Line of analog synths ($300-$400), but most compelling to me right now is the Novation Bass Station 2 analog with arpeggiator and aftertouch for $500.
posted by sourwookie at 8:38 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]


Foosnark, neither of those are, strictly speaking, synthesizers.

I figured having the Fairlight CMI on the list meant that samplers qualified. (Admittedly the Mellotron is more of a stretch.)
posted by Foosnark at 8:40 AM on March 3


The wonderful Solina String Ensemble deserves some mention, though I think it sort of straddles the line between "electronic organ" and synthesizer.
posted by swift at 8:40 AM on March 3 [2 favorites]


Thanks Sys Rq for fleshing out a one-link all-caps post of a slideshow.

Korg has obtained the rights and is re-issuing the ARP Odyssey this year. It looks to be based mainly on the the Mk II Odyssey (black and gold, 24db filter), which is many people's favorite.

Korg is also rumored to currently hold the rights to Sequential Circuits Inc, having obtained them from Yamaha, so maybe a Prophet 5 re-issue is on the cards. I can dream, can't I?

I would kick out the boring Korg Triton and add in something designed by Chris Hugget, like the EDP Wasp, OSCar, Novation Bass Station (1 or 2), or the Akai s-series samplers. I know his weird cheap battery-powered portable EDP Wasp had a big effect on the musical scene I inhabited as a teenager.
posted by w0mbat at 8:53 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]


Even something like the Korg Poly-800 or Casio CZ-101 might deserve the spot more than the Triton.

Or, hell, the Casio VL-1. Or the SK-5, the darling of circuit benders.
posted by Foosnark at 9:00 AM on March 3 [2 favorites]


I don't know much about synths, but I picked up a Kawai K5000 some 15 years ago, and it's wonderful. It uses additive synthesis. Programming it is wickedly complicated, but it comes with lots of pretty spectacular presets.
posted by monospace at 9:01 AM on March 3 [2 favorites]


See also: this awesome collection of famous synth sounds with audio examples.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:06 AM on March 3 [4 favorites]


If you're interested in seeing what these machines can sound like in the hands of a very skilled patch designer, check out Jexus' Channel on YouTube. He records himself on synths of all eras, and does it with some bizarre Tim And Eric meets Nite Flite imagery thrown in.
posted by sourwookie at 9:07 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]


For more high-end 80's stuff, I'd add The Synclavier or The Emulator to the list. The Synclavier was a really interesting instrument. Pretty pricey though.
posted by ovvl at 9:08 AM on March 3


I was into synthesizers back in the day when many of these came out. I took a course in electronic music in college, and in the studio we had a Synclavier and an older Moog with all the patch cords. The DX7 had just come out, and had taken over the music world since it was pretty affordable, and made "realistic" sounds. I didn't buy a DX7 though, and opted for the Fender Rhodes Chroma Polaris for it's analog sound and digital controls. I still have it, and it's in great shape, though I haven't played it in a number of years. Looking back, I wish I had picked up a Moog with all the patch cords at the time rather than the Polaris. You could find them pretty reasonably since everyone was so enamored with the digital sound of the DX7.

Brings back memories seeing these...
posted by Eekacat at 9:10 AM on March 3


In the new-analog category, I highly recommend the Elektron Analog 4. I've also heard good things about the Prophet 12. Both of these are expensive, but compared to buying most of those 14 above on eBay, or getting into modular gear, they turn out pretty cheap.
posted by sixohsix at 9:12 AM on March 3


I've always wanted to hear this ultra-rare supersynth just based off its looks alone.
posted by sourwookie at 9:12 AM on March 3


I'd missed the news about the ARP Odyssey reissue. Anyone know what the pricepoint's going to be?
posted by item at 9:17 AM on March 3


I'd note: the Rhodes Chroma Polaris is quite a piece of history. Really cutting edge for its time, but assassinated by the sudden popularity of the DX7, and the sales failure brought down two manufacturers in the mess. Currently undervalued I think. If I had one, I'd hang onto it.
posted by ovvl at 9:18 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]


I'd missed the news about the ARP Odyssey reissue. Anyone know what the pricepoint's going to be?


No one knows but you should stay far away from the hell that is the Gearslutz and Vintage Synth Explorer's epic debate threads on the topic. And we're just a week into the news with over 6 months left to go.
posted by sourwookie at 9:19 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]


The funny thing is, with a little experimentation the DX series was really not that difficult to work with. Way less intuitive than turning knobs on an analog synth, but there was a logic to it that could be figured out with time.

Granted, I had a DX-100 which was a 4-op version, and had simpler envelopes and key scaling than the DX-7. But the basics of FM synthesis still seem to confuse a lot of electronic musicians, even with something like NI FM-8 where the interface is clean and visual.
posted by Foosnark at 9:19 AM on March 3


FWIW, sixohsix, DX7's have come WAY down in price over the last couple of years,

I am surprised; I bought a DX-7 for $1400 in 1987 and sold it maybe three years later for $700, which was more than it was worth. I am not much of an electronic musician, but I was under the impression that old electronics tended to depreciate steadily and a synth that cost you $3000 ten years ago was mostly good for parts to build a device to flush your toilet on voice command.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:32 AM on March 3


*Glances at list* Hey, I've seen at least one of most of these. Haven't seen a Fairlight, M1, or Triton, AFAIK.

If I could play keyboards I'd get a PPG Wave and a (recently restored) Minimoog D.

I'd also add the 2600 and the Jupiter 8 to this list.
posted by luckynerd at 9:36 AM on March 3


I love that Korg has worked so hard to make the MS-20 available again: in mini-form, the new full size kit, and many official virtual software versions. It's fun to play with, and I suppose I've bought it 3 times (the original bought and sold back in the 80s, the USB controller/Mac Legacy version & the iPad version). It doesn't really sound good though, which is why it turns up on so many fewer albums than you'd expect. It's always needed a meatier low-pass filter.
posted by w0mbat at 9:37 AM on March 3


My husband, who has lived and breathed these, wanted to say that Paul Schreiber's MOTM series really should be included.

(I repeated that phonetically, have no idea!)

And now he says Oh! Oh! The Alesis Andromeda was the greatest synthesizer ever made, yo! Especially the first USA batch. That's the one you want. Not once they started outsourcing. More gossip: the Andromeda cost Alesis so much money in R&D that it took the company from solvency to bankruptcy--but it's a killer synth.

Thank you OP for this, it's been fun to listen to my husband wax so poetic and enthusiastic even though I honestly only followed about a third of what he was saying!
posted by eggkeeper at 9:43 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]


This makes me really glad I picked up my TB-303 when I did.

I totally don't have one but you were so jealous there for a second weren't you
posted by davejay at 9:44 AM on March 3 [3 favorites]


If you can find it, Korg released a version of the MS-10 for the Nintendo DS (called DS-10, naturally). It's pretty good.
posted by hellojed at 9:45 AM on March 3 [3 favorites]


In some alternative article in some alternate universe, the Omnichord is in the top spot.
posted by davejay at 9:45 AM on March 3 [2 favorites]


I guess Buchlas are merely awsome & not influential.

But, no Moog Taurus pedals? They're partly to blame for Rush!
posted by univac at 9:51 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]


These days it’s easy enough to boot up your cracked copy of Ableton Live or Logic and open any number of VST synthesizers, giving you access to decades of technological innovation.

Classy.
posted by bongo_x at 10:00 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]


Not a single Oberheim on the list. Pffft.

In about 2004 I had a chance to purchase a full Fairlight CMI for about $300. I have regretted the decision not to on a very unfortunately regular basis.

And agree the Synclavier should be on there. I once got to play with Lyle Mayes' at a sound check...blew my little 18 year old mind.
posted by digitalprimate at 10:07 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]


I was a little thrown by the Triton too, but the title is "The 14 synthesizers that shaped modern music" and I’d agree it belongs. There are lots of cool synths out there, but that’s not what the article is about.

The only one I didn’t really know was the M1. The article says it’s the most popular synth ever. Where the hell was I? Those kind of realizations are always slightly disturbing.
posted by bongo_x at 10:07 AM on March 3


and the ubiquitous E PIANO 1 (possibly the DX7’s greatest legacy) was popularized by Phil Collins, Luther Vandross, Billy Ocean and far too many others to mention.

If I recall correctly, isn't this setting responsible for the "plinkety-plink" keyboard sound in all of those super-saccharine 80s ballads?
posted by evil otto at 10:17 AM on March 3


Not a single Oberheim on the list. Pffft.

Nothing by Casio!?!?. Seriously. Or Realistic -- not as serious, but still, there's always something to be said for cheap entry level stuff that any kid with a paper route could afford after a few months (though, I notice they're not cheap anymore).

Also, where is the Keytar? Or for that matter, the Birotron?
posted by philip-random at 10:19 AM on March 3 [2 favorites]


Yeah, you can think of this list as "what are the hardware synths you've mostly likely heard the most if you're decently literate on the last few decades of pop music?" The Triton is not cool, but you've definitely heard it all over the place in the Top 40. You're not hearing unpredictable, boutique analog synths on Rihanna singles, you're hearing modern workstations. A few decades from now, when people want to instantly dial in that nostalgic "00's sound" the Triton might be what they turn to.

It's funny how many stories there are of people dicking around on presets (from Vangelis to Clipse) and accidentally making iconic recordings without a whole lot of effort. I'm very much an anti-preset sort of guy. I have a twisted sense of integrity that demands I create all sounds from first principles - first patch I always program into any synth is the most basic tone possible, and then I build up everything from there (or, as with the Nord Modular, I literally start with the basic building blocks of synths and patch things up.) Presets feel like cheating to me - someone else is co-authoring the music I make on a certain level. Maybe it's because sound and texture are as or more important to me than melody. Anyway - it's probably why I haven't made anything iconic. I just haven't hit record while dicking around on the presets!

Super excited about that ARP Odyssey remake, but even more excited at the prospect that this might lead to an ARP 2600 remake. That's as close to a holy grail as you can hope for. (Sure there's an unofficial DIY kit you can order, but the project is way too involved for my skillset, and I haven't seen any offers to build that aren't insanely expensive.)
posted by naju at 10:31 AM on March 3 [5 favorites]


> I had a chance to purchase a full Fairlight CMI for about $300.

Don't regret it. They were amazing instruments but also a lot of work to use. And unless you were getting the III they were 8-bit audio at a reduced sampling rate. And they take up your whole desk.

And the worst thing about owning rare instruments is that if they break, they're nearly impossible to fix. I have a Buchla Thunder but I never bring it out for that very reason.

You're having more fun with your current set up - trust me!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:32 AM on March 3


> I have a twisted sense of integrity that demands I create all sounds from first principles

I admire this. I must confess to having drifted somewhat from this. The first instrument where I didn't do that was the Yamaha VL series - because if you used the advanced editor (which doesn't even work on any modern computers), it was very hard to even get it to make any sound at all - a "random" setting would produce only silence, and even tweaking a working setting would often make the sound go off.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:34 AM on March 3


> The only one I didn’t really know was the M1. The article says it’s the most popular synth ever.

You're missing nothing. It was popular because it did a whole bunch of different things fairly well, but it doesn't have any particular "sound" or amazing strong point...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:34 AM on March 3


The only one I didn’t really know was the M1. The article says it’s the most popular synth ever. Where the hell was I? Those kind of realizations are always slightly disturbing.

The Korg M1's Greatest Hits

(It does other things!)
posted by Sys Rq at 10:36 AM on March 3


Well, this list takes me back -- like 40 years.
MOOG MINIMOOG
Released: 1969 (prototype), 1971 (production)
Original price: $1495
For reference, you could buy a brand new Volkswagen Beetle in 1971 for $1999.

VCS3 I'm surprised the article doesn't even mention The "Won't Be Fooled Again". Yeah, yeah, Pete only used it to process the output of a conventional organ, but it was distinctive, and apart from maybe Dark Freud's "Pink Side of the Moon", that'd be the most familiar use on a record for most people.

ARP Odyssey
Bwowmp bwowmp bwowmp bwowmp . . . Bwowp! Bwowp!
Bwowmp bwowmp bwowmp bwowmp . . . Bwowp! Bwowp!

But really, when I think ARP, I think ARP 2600 and "Frankenstein".

Korg M1 If I never hear one of these again it'll be too soon. I dislike that slapbass sound almost as much as the teevy show it is a trigger for.

YAMAHA DX7 This sucker also wore out its welcome. A lot of people make excuses for it -- don't use the stock settings, you have to program it yourself to modify the sounds -- but most musicians do not want to spend their time doing that, especially using the methods provided. Can anyone point to a fantastic use of a DX7 by someone who went throught that process? This machine was almost the definition of musical satisficing -- not very good really, but the best you can afford.

Fairlight CMI A good friend of mine had one of these --1990-ish. I remember him telling me he'd bought it off of Daryl Dragon -- The Captain of Tennille -- but I think that was his Emu Emulator. Anyway, I used to go over there and play the Fairlight using a Casio DH100, a $100 plastic MIDI wind controller that you play with recorder fingerings. That's a mighty small tail waggin' a mighty big dog! Oh, yeah, he had a PPG Wave, too. Fun stuff, but waa-a-ay out of my league at the time.
posted by Herodios at 10:37 AM on March 3 [2 favorites]


"I've always wanted to hear this ultra-rare supersynth just based off its looks alone."
posted by sourwookie

Holy Moly, that is perfect!
posted by marienbad at 10:40 AM on March 3


In the new-analog category, I highly recommend the Elektron Analog 4.

I've had SO much fun with mine. In my setup I have an Analog Four clocked to a Machinedrum, and the workflow is absolutely incredible. I've seen 'em on Craigslist for under $1000, which is fairly reasonable considering it's analog, polyphonic (with the latest update), and has the best sequencer I've ever worked with.
posted by naju at 10:47 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]


bongo_x: "The only one I didn’t really know was the M1"

It's also got an organ patch that was used to death in 1990s house. The most famous example is probably "Show Me Love" by Robin S.
posted by t3h933k at 10:49 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah -- in 1982 you could buy a Moog synthesizer at Radio Shack.

It probably didn't shape modern music much, though.
 
posted by Herodios at 10:58 AM on March 3 [2 favorites]


I have a twisted sense of integrity that demands I create all sounds from first principles

I hear you, but I’m too lazy. I’m a preset tweaker. I always start with a preset, but keep thinking "that’s not right" and end up changing it until It’s unrecognizable.

I don't know much about synths, but I picked up a Kawai K5000 some 15 years ago, and it's wonderful. It uses additive synthesis.

High five. It also has a fantastic key bed and lots of knobs that send MIDI, which is why I bought it, intending it to be a controller. I found it is a wonderful machine with a unique sound, a great arp, and can make a lot of weird sounds if you play around with it. Unfortunately I have 2, and they’re rather large. If anyone would like to trade for a Chroma Polaris...
posted by bongo_x at 11:08 AM on March 3


*And now he says Oh! Oh! The Alesis Andromeda was the greatest synthesizer ever made, yo!

I've never touched one, but suspect it may be the synth I've always wanted.

*If anyone is truly interested, Switched On in Austin has a fairlight CMI in their inventory.

*I have a twisted sense of integrity that demands I create all sounds from first principles

Me too. I often feel it's cheating to use built in effects, like I should do clever things with the LFO to simulate delay or oscillator tunings for fatness to be legit (but, oh, that Juno chorus. OTOH, it was single oscillator so it's excusable).
posted by sourwookie at 11:33 AM on March 3


If you want something as sterile sounding as a MOTM, get an Emu. ;-) (I'm not fond of PS as a person for Reasons.)

Ah, the Andromeda! My husband was on the development team. I think some of his sounds ended up as presets, but that was so long ago, I can't say for sure. He got a red one as part of the contract and sold it to a musician friend before they were available for sale.

I LOVE Buchlas, but they're quite complex to patch. Part of the reason I did Roland System 700 modulars is because they're normaled like a 2600 and easier to get sounds out of sans patch cords.

Oberheim! How could I forget the synth I named a cat after! A two voice with a mini sequencer is made of win. :)
posted by luckynerd at 11:37 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]


So happy to see that the Prophet V is back in production, re-named the Prophet '08. Anyone have any real experience side-by-side comparing these to the original? Not like I can afford one, but what a machine.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:43 AM on March 3


I've owned a couple of DX7 synths. I've currently got a DX7S in my music room I'm slowly rehabbing. I've never been able to understand two things about the DX7 series:

One - why on god's green earth would you put *all* of the voice and performance data in volatile memory

Two, given that you've put *all* of the voice and performance data in volatile memory, why would you then back that data up with a CR2032 watch battery *soldered* to the *inside* of the motherboard, requiring near complete disassembly to replace??

(I've just soldered in an actual battery holder velcro stickied to the *outside* face of the mobo to futureproof this process. Now I just have to reload the stock voice and performance data from the DX7S factory rom cartridge I ordered from Ebay. Yes, I am a bit frustrated... Anyone want to buy a DX7S? :)
posted by stenseng at 11:47 AM on March 3


I am more of a preset tweaker at this point than a from-scratcher. But I often use chains of FX that make it a moot point anyway. (But then, I work 99% in-the-box at this point and so piling on and rerouting FX is cheap and easy. I do have a pair of Patchblocks coming at the end of the month or so, though.)

When I listen to music I made more than a few weeks ago, often I have no idea how I made a particular sound, so I guess that approach is working for me.

Sometimes I'm nostalgic about my old hardware, but honestly most of it didn't sound very good compared to the army of VST plugins at my disposal now.
posted by Foosnark at 11:55 AM on March 3


Roland D-50 was extremely popular in its time and never gained a bad reputation like the DX7 although most people used just the presets on that one too.

If you want a new monosynth, Arturia Microbrute is amazing. If you already have Eurorack modular gear there's simply no reason not to own one, but even on its own is an excellent deal.
posted by ikalliom at 12:30 PM on March 3


I'd note: the Rhodes Chroma Polaris is quite a piece of history. Really cutting edge for its time, but assassinated by the sudden popularity of the DX7, and the sales failure brought down two manufacturers in the mess. Currently undervalued I think. If I had one, I'd hang onto it.

I had one and didn't :-(

Built like a tank, probably could have survived an EMP blast, and did survive many frathouse concerts (live cover bands were a thing back then, not sure if they are now). Many fond memories.
posted by kurumi at 12:48 PM on March 3


Sometimes I'm nostalgic about my old hardware, but honestly most of it didn't sound very good compared to the army of VST plugins at my disposal now.

That's kind of the big debate these days, isn't it. To my ears, I've yet to find a VST plugin that's sonically comparable to any of the decent pieces of hardware I've used, even just in the realm of digital. I don't want to feel that way - it costs way more money and is simply inconvenient to go the hardware route. How amazing it would be to just use an iPad for everything. I've tried! But the sounds just don't bear out. (I do use software for effects, because I'm not gonna get into that insane world of hardware effects. It's enough for me to spend money on synths.)
posted by naju at 12:49 PM on March 3


Sometimes I'm nostalgic about my old hardware, but honestly most of it didn't sound very good compared to the army of VST plugins at my disposal now.


Yeah, I have to agree with naju on this one... I use a ton of VST instruments, and while some are very very good renderings - arturia oberheim sem v I'm looking at you, they rarely hold a candle to the original hardware for depth, tonality, musicality, and "vibe."

VSTs happen to be insanely convenient, and generally, "good enough" sounding.
posted by stenseng at 12:59 PM on March 3 [2 favorites]


With the crazy number of synths that are available for peanuts these days, I'm very curious to see what WILL change music again. The Dave Smith desktop Evolver was my first actual analog synth and it is still just a completely insane feat of engineering. Huge routing possibilities, 4 16-step sequencers, 5 oscillators, a bunch of effects...it makes my 303 look like the toy that it is. Not a good thing to start with by any means, but it is a hell of a lot cheaper than a wall of eurorack. I've tried going to software, but something is missing there. Believe me, moving, having your memory get wiped, trying to find the right plug...
posted by mike_bling at 1:46 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]


By the way there are some incredible ipad synths as well...Thor, Nave and Animoog spring to mind.
posted by mike_bling at 1:47 PM on March 3


(almost) all the digitals are down in price because digital just isn't cool right now. (I think it will be again soon though, so now's the time to snap those up too.) However, digital synths can be mostly copied in software without much difference

indeed, it's a great time to get the old digital synths - some of them are pretty darn complex and do things that modern vsts don't

i don't know that digital synths can be exactly copied in software as you still have the digital to analog converters which pretty much kick ass over a computer audio interface - even so, the simple fact is even if they could be copied, they often aren't - korg's done the wavestation and the m1, but that's it - many people have done the yamaha dx7 and 4 op synths, but later synths such as the sy77 and the fs1r have yet to be modeled - no one, and i mean no one, has touched roland's digital synths like the d-50 and the jv/xv series, not to mention obscurities like kawai's k series

this list is missing some pretty important machines from the late 80's to now

roland d-50
roland xv-1080

a lot of people used these when they came out and they're just as prevalent on record as the m1

korg microkorg/microkorg xl

beloved of indie bands everywhere - yes, there are better synths in that price range, but they still sell like hotcakes

korg monotron

ok, it's pretty much a toy and i'm not sure if anyone actually uses it professionally without sampling it, but is there any doubt that this cheap 60 buck analog synth pretty much started today's cheap analog revolution?
posted by pyramid termite at 1:48 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]


they rarely hold a candle to the original hardware...

People argue endlessly about real analog vs VA, and even digital hardware vs. VST plugins, but:

-- it's a subjective argument that nobody can ever really win or lose.

-- to me it's a moot point. I'm uninterested in emulations of hardware; I'm trying to create original sounds, not imitations. And if I had those imitations, half the time I'd be running them through chains of wacko digital distortion followed by a filter and delay and then sidechain the whole thing to another track anyway.

-- even if software can't do an absolutely perfect Minimoog that will satisfy Minimoog fans, the other side of that sword is far sharper: analog hardware can't come close to the kind of sounds Razor, Absynth or Chromaphone can easily crank out.
posted by Foosnark at 2:16 PM on March 3


You never forget your first synth. Mine was the Muson.

(hey, it was a big deal for a 9 year-old.)
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:58 PM on March 3


And if I had those imitations, half the time I'd be running them through chains of wacko digital distortion

that reminds me of something i meant to mention - old digital fx racks are going for even cheaper prices than old digital synths - a lot of interesting things can be done with them, as well as mini-kaoss pads, old basic guitar pedals and old multi-fx pedals - or modern cheap pedals, which can be sub-standard, but very quirky if pushed in the right way
posted by pyramid termite at 3:53 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]


The off-hand reference to Charanjit Singh's 1982 album Synthesizing: Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat should be followed up on. 5 years before Acid House he was combining Roland Jupiter-8, 808, and 303. Hadn't heard it before and thankful to hear it now. It can be streamed on Spotify or the tracks are on YouTube.
posted by larrybob at 4:12 PM on March 3


Charanjit Singh Previously
posted by larrybob at 4:19 PM on March 3


If I recall correctly, isn't this setting responsible for the "plinkety-plink" keyboard sound in all of those super-saccharine 80s ballads?

Sadly, yes, I think.

I always hated the theme song of "Doogie Howser, M.D." because of the cheap synth sound - it was almost as if the composer didn't complete the full version so they used the demo track and stuck with it.
posted by Ranucci at 4:47 PM on March 3


Anybody recognize this thing that Edgar Winter is playing? You get a decent look at the controller at about the 7-minute mark. The strap-on keyboard looks totally… um… Frankensteined.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:32 PM on March 3


There's a keyboard player I played with a little bit back in the day, by the name of Wayne Horvitz. As late as the early 90s Wayne was still using his old DX7 and getting great sounds out of it. Man had a way with programming that thing! (As far as I know he might still be using it.)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:15 PM on March 3


pyramid termite mentions the KORG Monotron, and yes, it can be classified as a *toy*, but the little thing sounds pretty damn good! Back when Mefi Music was doing some member collaborations, I did a piece with Mefi mod cortex. He sent me a drum track he'd recorded in his garage. Everything I added to it (with the exception of vocal) was from the Monotron. Here it is in all its Monotronic glory:

A FETID VORTEX OF SUN-DESTROYING CRAP
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:21 PM on March 3


I'm guessing that Edgar Winter is playing something like a Univox K2, which was actually manufactured by Korg. I recall an old magazine advert for Univox which went: "Edgar Winter; Piano Mover".
posted by ovvl at 7:52 PM on March 3


The original post is troll bait. The comments here are the substance.
posted by whozyerdaddy at 7:54 PM on March 3


Anybody recognize this thing that Edgar Winter is playing?

It looks to me like an ARP 2600, with one of the models of keyboard for it (reconfigured with strap).

On edit: "Basically, there were Moogs and ARPs back then. And the Moog was a built-in unit with the keyboards being a part of the control unit itself. But the ARP-2600 had a separate keyboard, a remote keyboard that was attached to the brain or the guts of the instrument with an umbilical-type cable. I looked at the keyboard and I said, ?Wow, that looks pretty light. It looks like you could put a strap on that thing like a guitar.’ That?s exactly what I proceeded to do. The rest, as they say, is history."
posted by naju at 7:58 PM on March 3 [2 favorites]


Go ahead and buy all of that trendy old gear. And please, keep ignoring the Waldorf Q. Please.
posted by Twang at 8:04 PM on March 3


Arp 2600. They had a removable keybed attached with a cable.
posted by sourwookie at 8:14 PM on March 3


The original post is troll bait. The comments here are the substance.
posted by whozyerdaddy at 19:54 on March 3 [+] [!]


What do you mean by "the original post"? You mean this post to Metafilter? Or do you mean the linked page(s)? At any rate, why you'd label either one of them as "troll bait" is a mystery. I can see where, because of the page-by-page design of the link, one might call it "click bait", and I'm not terribly fond of that particular web practice, but I think the substance outweighs that particular problem, in this case.

But yeah, I don't get the "troll bait" bit. You must've meant "click bait", referring to the link. Otherwise, you're way off the mark.

I do agree with your assessment of the comments here, however. As is usual here, especially with posts of this nature, people bring a lot more to the table with their comments. This is something I celebrate about Metafilter, and something I fully expected would happen with this post. And Mefi didn't disappoint!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:20 PM on March 3


I love synthesizers because they made it possible for music to be performed as it should be: by severe, remote, intellectual technicians. Then people like Eddie van Halen came in, and ruined everything.
posted by thelonius at 10:53 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]


Maybe not "troll bait", but the original post is an excellent list to disagree upon and argue about. We all win!

@pyramid termite,

I assume you mean Roland JV-1080 (not XV). Those are still relatively cheap, and their siblings are even cheaper. I picked up a JV-1010 for 200 EUR on eBay. It's got all the presets of the 1080, though it sacrifices some features I don't really understand or plan to use.

The downside of that era of digitals is that programming it is a nightmare. The presets also sound kinda flat. Maybe the 1010 has cheaper audio components or something, but it lacks some oomph. I need to connect it with some heavy analog-like delay/reverb/compression to give it some life.
posted by sixohsix at 2:43 AM on March 4


I assume you mean Roland JV-1080 (not XV).

whoops - and i have one sitting here, too ... as far as programming it goes, get changeit - this makes programming it much easier and it's free

----

I love synthesizers because they made it possible for music to be performed as it should be: by severe, remote, intellectual technicians.

like keith emerson? who used to stab his hammond organ with knives? who got those knives from lemmy?
posted by pyramid termite at 2:58 AM on March 4


that's not a synthesizer though! is it?
posted by thelonius at 4:55 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


@pyramid termite, unfortunately I don't have a Windows PC. I was gonna try the JV-1080 editor shown in this video. (Download from this site). Haven't had time to try it out yet, though.
posted by sixohsix at 6:47 AM on March 4


I love synthesizers because they made it possible for music to be performed as it should be: by severe, remote, intellectual technicians. Then people like Eddie van Halen came in, and ruined everything.

Eddie Van Halen had his own synthesizer love affair going on...
posted by stenseng at 9:51 AM on March 4


I know!
posted by thelonius at 10:03 AM on March 4


Metafilter: The Antitrollbait
posted by larrybob at 10:13 AM on March 4


I bought an ARP 2600 with keyboard in 1984 for $50. My high school wanted to get rid of it. They also had one of the Moog's that had the ribbon controller. I did a lot of recording with those things. The ARP actually had a physical reverb built in and you could run guitars and things through it. I lent it to someone and it disappeared. No one wanted those things back then and they could be had for a song. Everyone loved those crappy DX7's. I would have killed for a Juno.

Now I like playing with Absynth.
posted by misterpatrick at 11:44 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


The tonewheel organ is in fact very much a synth:
If, in the analogue domain, additive synthesis were limited to monstrously over-endowed modular synths, you might think that this would be the end of our story. But it isn't, so this isn't. The choice of nine harmonics in each of these examples is not an accident, because it describes a very common analogue, additive synth. Sure, you may not think of it in this way, and you may be surprised to discover that it predates what we now think of as 'conventional' VCO-VCF-VCA analogue synthesis by about 30 years. This instrument is the Hammond Tonewheel Additive Synthesizer. Oops, sorry. I mean, it's the Hammond Organ.
posted by invitapriore at 12:48 PM on March 4


Oh hell yes, that M1 was used everywhere. (Dunno why everyone was in love with that 'Pole Hit' patch though.)
posted by bitterkitten at 2:17 PM on March 4


No Roland JP-8000? The supersaw is pretty much the dominant sound in EDM these days.

Seems crazy to overlook the synth that introduced it...

Also, let's not forget the completely insane synths that had little to no influence or popularity, but were totally awesome in their own right.
posted by schmod at 2:23 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


The tonewheel organ is in fact very much a synth:

Fine with me. I will resort to my fallback position: Keith Emerson is in the class of "people like Eddie van Halen".

does Lemmy still sell knives?
posted by thelonius at 2:37 PM on March 4


Keith Emerson is in the class of "people like Eddie van Halen".

well, yeah, but he predates eddie by at least 10 years - and here he is, setting off fireworks with his moog and taking a spin on the piano

artistic merit debatable, but certainly more entertaining than william corgin interpreting herman hesse

lemmy still has lots of knives - (he gave keith his knives, he didn't sell them) - seems to me he's missing something by not starting his own brand
posted by pyramid termite at 2:55 PM on March 4


I bought an ARP 2600 with keyboard in 1984 for $50.

ohhhhhhh, mannnnnnn
posted by pyramid termite at 2:58 PM on March 4


I am familiar with Mr. Emerson's work.

I tell you who I'm glad I'm not: his tech. It must have been insane keeping those 70's synths working out on the road.
posted by thelonius at 3:12 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I bought an ARP 2600 with keyboard in 1984 for $50.

Late 80's I knew someone who picked up an ARP Avatar for $80. I even knew someone who picked up an old Minimoog for around $100. We all thought they were crazy, back then. Sigh.
posted by ovvl at 4:23 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I bought an ARP 2600 with keyboard in 1984 for $50.

This may hurt a little bit.
posted by sourwookie at 4:31 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Leaving out Oberheim ignores Rick Wakeman. Am I to believe that he is without influence?!

Sure, the M1 is in there (I had one, and hear it in music all the time). But for awesome M1 sound, pair it with an Oberheim (Matrix-1000). The pair are astoundingly complimentary. M1 lacks the warmth, the Matrix oozes bright warmth all over.
posted by Goofyy at 8:11 PM on March 4


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