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What's the easiest to use hardware synth (that sounds awesome)?

Hey all, need your opinion. What hardware synth would you say is firmly in the "respect" zone, but also is the easiest one to get into, tweak, and get some great sounds out of? I'll hear out some vintage options, but preferably out of the current crop of modern, available synths.

By easiest to use I mean WYSIWYG - what you see is what you get - provided you know a bit about synthesis, you don't really need the manual to wade through pages and pages of confusing menus.

Go!

(to give you an idea of my past synth experience, I've previously owned a Nord Lead 2, Roland JP-8000, Korg MS-2000R, Virus C)

GEAR:
  • Fender Telecaster Custom Electric Guitar
  • Fender Blues Junior IV
  • Boss Waza-Air Headphones

I hate to bring genre into this from the get-go, but if someone was asking the same re: a guitar or amp, knowing if they wanted to make metal or country would be key info.

Can you throw out some styles/genres or representative artists to help us whittle down the embarrassment of good synth options that are out there right now?

GEAR:
  • Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer
  • Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer
  • Roland SH-101 Synthesizer

Chill wave, chill hop, indietronica, IDM, extending to progressive house

GEAR:
  • Fender Telecaster Custom Electric Guitar
  • Fender Blues Junior IV
  • Boss Waza-Air Headphones

Do you need the minimum 8 notes of polyphony that your old synths had, or are you looking to pick up both some mono and poly options?

EDIT: Also, I'm assuming we're talking self-contained products here (keyboards, desktop modules, etc), and not eurorack modules, correct?

EDIT: Also, also... how important is patch storage to you?

GEAR:
  • Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer
  • Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer
  • Roland SH-101 Synthesizer

does it need to be new? because in polysynths it doesn't get simpler than the early Juno family and the polysix. I have both, they're dead fast and both have a great sound. The easiest to patch polysynths ever. Not particularly versatile but they each have a really distinct sound and a broad use case scenario. I have both and I never regret them. When I think "what do i want to play?" I usually turn on the polysix first actually. Its syrupy thick, plays great....g et one with the kiwi midi retrofit that's hopefully also been serviced recently though ;-) Junos may be too much money, that market is crazy.

New stuff that's easy? I like all of dave smith's synth on a chip ones, I have a mopho x4 but the prophet 08 and rev2 are also great, easy to patch but can go deep if you want. The whole fmaily is a colelction of riffs on a single chip synth engine where each has a different feature set, everything pre prophet6/ob6 is related like this except the prophet12 and the evolver which are kissing cousins and maybe worth considering too as their pallettes are very broad. They have a very specific sound that's like a punchy DCO thing but NOT a juno/jx sound... I also love the korg prologue. I just used it 2 days ago for a friend who wanted me to play on something. It is the best new keybed in my view though I've not tried the new rev4 prophets or the moog one. The main VCO based synth engine is very simple and limited but if you want some more texture you have the user oscillator, look that one up. But the synth itself excells at oberheim OBx type sounds and can do some pretty good vangellis sounds in the CS80 camp. It has some voice modes that alow you to create really deep bass patches in mono that's endlessly useful. Good enough digital effects if you want to play into the effect. The midi and analog clock implementation is glitchy on the arpeggiator though. Its very disappointing, but the arpeggiator is very primitive anyway and not worth using. If you really care about the arpeggiator and stuff go sequential.

Nothing else I own is easy. Modal's argon is endlessly cool and inspiring but its not easy to grok. I actually had to brush up my math to understand the manual. Its like a dx7 or k5 level of complexity but they gave you a lot of knobs. You probably want to avoid that.

Then of course there's the peak/summit which can be easy, layut's a poly minimoog on the front panel basically....its the most versatile thing out there if you deep dive. Again I've discovered some little firmware glitches in the summit but its really tweaky little stuff like the prologue arpeggiator, I can't even remember what they are. i think peak is better worked out. It sounds great in a very distinctly novation way. It has a lot of sound design potential if you want it but you can also just make some regular old patches that sound good. You read my review. I find I use the summit very little and it hasn't paid for itself. Its great bt can be a major time suck as you get lost in the endless possibilities... even the simplest task can turn into a ridiculous sound experiment, not because tis hard but because its actually pretty intuitive even the menus. Its not conducive to getting stuff done quickly. I found the peak to be almost as versatile and a lot less distracting.

I really think with your parameters in mind the top choices at a reasonable price today are peak, prologue and the rev 2... now the prologue is keyboard only and the peak is no keyboard unless you double up to the summit and its expensive then, and the rev2 you lose some knob per function in a module.

if money's no object by a rev4 prophet 5 or 10 and have done with it. I want a 10 so bad I can taste it but wow, I would have to sell my summit and then dump more money in!

GEAR:
  • Roland Juno-6
  • Gibson SG Standard Electric Guitar
  • Vox AC30 Guitar Combo Amp

Do you need the minimum 8 notes of polyphony that your old synths had, or are you looking to pick up both some mono and poly options?

Poly! I have a piano background and my best ideas usually come when playing chords.

I'm assuming we're talking self-contained products here

Yes

how important is patch storage to you?

Preferably yeah, but not critical.

Ok Jim here are the rec's I'm extracting from you:

  • Early Juno (but which ones exactly?)
  • Korg Polysix
  • Dave Smith Mopho x4
  • Dave Smith Prophet '08
  • Dave Smith Prophet REV2
  • Korg Prologue
  • Novation Peak (but no keyboard here)

If I were to steal an artist's setup I'm pretty obsessed with Amtrac's music, in terms of polyphonic keyboard synths he looks to have a Moog Little Phatty Stage II, Korg Minilogue, Sequential OB6. What are your thoughts on those?

GEAR:
  • Fender Telecaster Custom Electric Guitar
  • Fender Blues Junior IV
  • Boss Waza-Air Headphones

If I were to steal an artist's setup I'm pretty obsessed with Amtrac's music, in terms of polyphonic keyboard synths he looks to have a Moog Little Phatty Stage II, Korg Minilogue, Sequential OB6. What are your thoughts on those?

Ha! You read my mind. Given your previous synths were all (very excellent) VA realizations of classic 80s subtractive poly synth architecture, I was leaning towards these 3:

1. A No-Compromises Analog Poly:

  • Either the Sequential Circuits Prophet 6, OB6, or the new Prophet 5 re-release... Any of these 3 are going to give you chills after the first few patches, and represent a true step forward (sonically) from the VA-era flagship synths you had before. You will hear and feel a difference that I suspect you will love.

  • Note: the Prophet 6 and OB6 have an admirable amount of character differences between them. If you lean more towards Rush, VH, Prince and those epic, brassy, slightly cold/edgy Oberheim sounds vs. the more neutral, gooey, enveloping, do-anything Prophet sound, the choice is clear, but best to extensively demo both before deciding.

  • Any of the Prophet '08s Jim mentioned are also fantastic synths, and are better bang for the buck than the pricier stuff I just mentioned, as well as being bi-timbral... but sonically, the newer all-analog Sequential offerings just do it for me in a way the DCO-based '08 and digital/analog hybrid Prophet 12 never quite did. Regardless, if you want/need more than 6-note polyphony and need ability to play more than one patch at a time the '08 Rev2 is proven, solid, popular... great.

  • Dark horse alternative: UDO Super 6 -- haven't played one yet, but I love the simple layout and the edgy-but-classic sounds I've heard the demos. Worth listening to a few demos.

  • Budget alternative: Roland JU-06a. Great VA emulation of the Juno 60, super-easy layout and architecture, but handicapped by only having 4-note polyphony. Still $100/voice is pretty great.

2. A great (Moog) Bass:

  • I know you want a poly primarily, but if you decide to get a dedicated bass synth...

  • My top pick here is either the Moog Subsequent 25, or 37, or the older Sub Phatty 25. I know people are nuts for the newer semi-modular Moog stuff, but it took decades for us to get a truly great Moog with patch storage, and I don't think one should give that up so easily. If you want a good Model D style Moog without patch storage, save your money and get a Behringer clone.

  • The earlier Little Phatty and it's derivatives are very far from the 1-knob-per-function goal you stated, and the newer Sub Phatty-era sound architecture is better at cranking out aggressive, less-sterilized sounds vs. earlier Little Phatty.

  • The internet will scream Sub/Subsquent 37 > Sub Phatty/Subsequent 25 all day, but I prefer the form factor and less-overwhelming control panel of the cheaper 25 note version... this means a few more functions are hidden behind multi-function modes, but all the basics are right there on the front panel. Also, if it's good enough for Kaytranada, it's likely good enough for any of us.

  • Dark horse alternative: Moog Matriarch. It's a big, expensive paraphonic semi-modular beast with no patch storage... but it's basically a huge analog pedal board with keys... Since it's not true polyphonic, I have it here in the bass category... but it oozes wonky, vibe-y, warbling analog tones for days if you want something a million miles away from your previous synths.

  • Budget alternative: more Behringer clones: fake Sequential Pro One or fake SH 101. Both of these are going to lack some of the midrange heft that the aforementioned Moog clone brings to the table, but the Pro One can do wild, edgy, harsh modulated craziness in addition to the bread and butter bass and lead tones, while the SH clone gives you that Roland acid squelch along with arguably the easiest/cleanest 1-OSC control layout of all time.

3. A budget-priced analog fun-box to round it out:

  • I've always been partial to the Korg Minilogue, the first (silver) one, but the newer XD has a broader digital/analog hybrid palette. You just get so much for your $500 outlay: 4-note analog polyphony, patch storage, a cool little OLED display... The bigger Korg Prologue had people excited when it hit, but (anecdotal data alert) I've seen a surprising # of people sell theirs after the excitement wore off.

  • Any of the Korg MS-20 re-issues are great as well if you can live without patch storage and want to dip you feet in some basic semi-modular patching... doubles as a classic external analog filter too.

  • Moog's Mother 32, DFAM, SubHarmonicon fall in this price category, but if you're only going to get one Moog, I recommend one that lets you dial in the perfect bass patch, then save that patch. Leave the wacky filler/filter freak-out sounds to Korg or some other boutique semi-modular offering.

  • Dark horse alternative: Novation AFX station... I'm not a huge fan of the novation tone, but the AFX OS for the Bass Station II is my late-90's IDM dream come true.

This isn't my final ruling on anything, just trying to keep the ball rolling on this thread. Expect me to poke some holes in my own logic as this thread evolves.

GEAR:
  • Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer
  • Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer
  • Roland SH-101 Synthesizer
  • Early Juno (but which ones exactly?)
  • Korg Polysix
  • Dave Smith Mopho x4
  • Dave Smith Prophet '08
  • Dave Smith Prophet REV2
  • Korg Prologue
  • Novation Peak (but no keyboard here)

early juno? like the 6, I specifically got a 6 over a 60 because of the fully variable high pass, I really care about having that shit. Who needs patch storage? the 60 is more moddable for midi, the 106 has midi but doesn't sound as sweet although tis really he sound of 90s techno over the 6 and 60. I still prefer the 6. Its prettier too. The alpha juno is way better than the 106 sonically and featurewise to my ear but the interface is no fun at all. In my heart I'm like 6. Juno 6. Just the 6 and nothing but the 6. Its the bees knees. I think I'll play it right now. Its a players, performance synth with a precise, twangy sound and the lushest stereo chorus.

Strike the x4 and '08 and replace them with the prophet 6 rev4 or the 6 and the ob6 I guess... unless you need small and want 2 sub oscillators the x4 is probably not worth seeking out and unless money is an issue the rev2 kills the 08 all day... if money's really no object you can't beat the VCO prophets with a stick and the ob6 is no slouch although tis doesn't sound that much like an obx to me, its more like the ob8 which is also good though, but less distinctly oberheimy, that was the turning point where the oberheim sound disappeared and was replaced by really good feature sets with a more generic sound.

I have a subphatty, I almost never play it. Its a beast though. The little phatty is cleaner but terrible interface... then you have the new ones like the subsequent and the little 25 key guy and they're in between. Honestly you could probably just get a minitaur if you just want bass.

I eman, what's the budget? do you want quantity or top shelf quality? Or variety? Or what? I shoot for a balance of quality, quantity and diversity. I also have a thing for getting synths my friends have had that I was jealous of.

GEAR:
  • Roland Juno-6
  • Gibson SG Standard Electric Guitar
  • Vox AC30 Guitar Combo Amp

I have a subphatty, I almost never play it. Its a beast though. The little phatty is cleaner but terrible interface... then you have the new ones like the subsequent and the little 25 key guy and they're in between. Honestly you could probably just get a minitaur if you just want bass.

Minitaur has the sound, but is a far cry from the WYSIWYG request. What is it about the Sub Phatty that keeps you from playing it?

GEAR:
  • Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer
  • Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer
  • Roland SH-101 Synthesizer

its pretty dirty and it removes mix options, its a sound you commit to and know it will be very forward. Its not on a stand either, is it not played because its in a case or is it in a case because I don't want to play it?! What came first, the spam or the rat? also in 2 oscillator synths it doesn't have the discovery angle of my arps, the odyssey does bread and butter, although not THAT bass, but its a fun discovering strange new textures synth in a way the subphatty just isn't. Its a nice isntrument but its a bit boring, I'm sure the sub37 or subsequent are more versatile but probably not odyssey versatile....

there's one: ARP odyssey

immediate discovery of cool new sounds, huge tuning range, FM, ring mod, 2 noise sources etc etc.... and a real player's delight in full size keys, heck I even like my son's mini key reissue to play. I just always feel so freeform and experimental on an odyssey. Its inspirational. And it just sounds so good too. Everyone should have one..... almost anything can do great bass. I've got tons of bass machines for traditional sounds, but nothing that makes me feel as exxcited as tweaking the odyssey while playing.

GEAR:
  • Roland Juno-6
  • Gibson SG Standard Electric Guitar
  • Vox AC30 Guitar Combo Amp

its pretty dirty and it removes mix options, its a sound you commit to and know it will be very forward. Its not on a stand either, is it not played because its in a case or is it in a case because I don't want to play it?! What came first, the spam or the rat? also in 2 oscillator synths it doesn't have the discovery angle of my arps, the odyssey does bread and butter, although not THAT bass, but its a fun discovering strange new textures synth in a way the subphatty just isn't. Its a nice isntrument but its a bit boring, I'm sure the sub37 or subsequent are more versatile but probably not odyssey versatile....

I'm always impressed when I play with the Sub Phatty at synth shops... I once did a side-by-side with a Model D reissue and was shocked at how well it held it's own... I recommended the SP 25 to a friend as a first analog and they've been thrilled with it for years, recorded the #$%@ out of it... BUT what you described kinda sounds like one of the reasons my Little Phatty has been in it's box for the last decade: it has that often-imitated, never-duplicated Moog heft, but I never felt like I got back more than I put into it. You have the recipe in your head, you execute the recipe, it delivers with flying colors, but it's not a barrel of fun to explore with. I had high hopes that the much-improved interface on the SP 25, combined with its dirtier timbral inclinations would rectify these shortcomings... it sure seemed to in the times I've played it... but I've never had to live with one or make a full track with one.

I wonder how much of this preset-Moog perception is our own warped personal tastes from too many years of heavy-synthing?

there's one: ARP odyssey

immediate discovery of cool new sounds, huge tuning range, FM, ring mod, 2 noise sources etc etc.... and a real player's delight in full size keys, heck I even like my son's mini key reissue to play. I just always feel so freeform and experimental on an odyssey. Its inspirational. And it just sounds so good too. Everyone should have one..... almost anything can do great bass. I've got tons of bass machines for traditional sounds, but nothing that makes me feel as exxcited as tweaking the odyssey while playing.

Yeah, I think if one plays the Odyssey in a shop and likes what they cook up in the first 5 mins, they're going to like the next 5 years of stuff too. It's quality, and an especially-great recommendation when the topic is fun & easy interfaces. Also, the original Arp Odyssey has what I consider to be one of the most well-written and well-executed owner's manuals in all of MI.

GEAR:
  • Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer
  • Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer
  • Roland SH-101 Synthesizer

On the sub pharry, with the sub oscillator and the distortion or drive knob or whatever you can get all the classic bass tones of the model D Most of those are fairly unison so detuning on oscillator works and there's enough grit to get that overloading the filter thing. Sometimes too much of it.... but its not that fun to explore. I eman the model D isn't that fun either. I haven't been using my SE1 much lately. Maybe its just that I really want polyphony or insanity :-)

GEAR:
  • Roland Juno-6
  • Gibson SG Standard Electric Guitar
  • Vox AC30 Guitar Combo Amp

Maybe its just that I really want polyphony or insanity :-)

Well, we're both leaning towards a DSI/Sequential poly, and gchiaren wants polyphony and prefers patch storage... so let's find out how much he's willing to spend for his next polysynth :)

GEAR:
  • Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer
  • Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer
  • Roland SH-101 Synthesizer

Let's say $1000, give or take.

GEAR:
  • Fender Telecaster Custom Electric Guitar
  • Fender Blues Junior IV
  • Boss Waza-Air Headphones

Let's say $1000, give or take.

I stand by my original list.

GEAR:
  • Roland Juno-6
  • Gibson SG Standard Electric Guitar
  • Vox AC30 Guitar Combo Amp

If you can't stretch to the Prophet Rev 2, and it's a hard $1000 cap, and you favor non-vintage, subtractive synthesis & need some polyphony, here are 3 pairings:

1

https://imgur.com/aUSbxYZ

GEAR:
  • Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer
  • Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer
  • Roland SH-101 Synthesizer

2

https://imgur.com/a/uYDAh0w

.

GEAR:
  • Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer
  • Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer
  • Roland SH-101 Synthesizer

3

https://imgur.com/a/6EEwxmm

There's a Roland JU-06a in there up top, not sure why it's cut off when I refresh sometimes.

GEAR:
  • Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer
  • Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer
  • Roland SH-101 Synthesizer

I wanna buy that ghetto 2600, closest I'm getting.... when I went to drop my prophet at bell tone synthworks they had an original for sale, lets just say I couldn't swing it and I was sad.... I was seriously debating clearing my savings for a fewminutes... it was a blue marvin

GEAR:
  • Roland Juno-6
  • Gibson SG Standard Electric Guitar
  • Vox AC30 Guitar Combo Amp

I wanna buy that ghetto 2600, closest I'm getting.... when I went to drop my prophet at bell tone synthworks they had an original for sale, lets just say I couldn't swing it and I was sad.... I was seriously debating clearing my savings for a fewminutes... it was a blue marvin

I'm tempted too. A colleague brought an original one into work years ago, and it's the most love-at-first-keypress I've ever been with a synth. Just wonderful. I'm a big spring reverb freak too.

GEAR:
  • Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer
  • Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer
  • Roland SH-101 Synthesizer