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Synthesizers - Where to start

Posted: Thu Jul 18, 2019 8:52 pm
by Jbowerman
All, I’m new to this forum and to synthesizers. Most of my music experience has been on guitar and more recently electric piano. I’m primarily looking for a keyboard I can both learn (how to use synths) on and also use immediately for recording with great sounds. I know I could go buy something cheap to learn on and then upgrade but I had a similar experience with piano/organ sounds and found my creativity stifled by bad tones... so I got a Nord Electro, and now I play more just because the sound is so good. I’d like to be able to get/create some of the classic 80s sounds (Juno 60/106, Yamaha Dx7), but also stretch out into more modern sounds and samples. I’m starting to consider a Prophet X but not sure if this is able to do the 80s tones or if it’s more modern only. What other options should I consider? Moog One is too expensive, and again I’m not sure if this would be the right board. 3500 euros is probably my maximum spend. I’m not in a rush as I want to get the right tool, but there are so many options and I’m struggling to wade through all the videos/reviews/etc. Any advice or links to similar threads would be greatly appreciated, I’m sure I’m not the first to ask this type of question. Cheers!

Re: Synthesizers - Where to start

Posted: Fri Jul 19, 2019 3:49 am
by Z
If you are new to synths, I wouldn't jump into the deep end with a powerful synth like the Prophet X.

Hang out in the shallow end with a Behringer DeepMind12 until you've mastered the basics of analog synthesis. The DM-12 is loosely modeled after the Roland Juno 106 which has an intuitive workflow as far as synthesis / sound design goes.

Re: Synthesizers - Where to start

Posted: Fri Jul 19, 2019 12:48 pm
by Jbowerman
Thanks Z for the reply. Just so I understand, is the idea that the Prophet X is not capable of basic analog sythesis and therefore not a great machine to learn the basics on? Or is it more complicated to do so? I ask because I want to make sure I have a tool that will allow me to get super high quality sounds off the bat, and also allow me to learn both basic and advanced synth, and sample, capabilities. One of the reasons I'm drawn to the X, vs. simpler synths like the Behringer DeepMind12, is the blending of instruments allowing for great combinations which I find inspiring for song writing. My primary goal is song writing and I typically write starting with great tones which develop into parts for new songs. The scalability of the X seems nearly limitless, especially with all the 8DIO samples coming out, which feeds my obsession with tones. My hope is that I can also use the synthesizer to create new versions of those sounds, and blend sounds together as well. The Behringer definitely looks like a great starting synth, but at $999 its still not a drop in the bucket. Unless I couldn't learn the basics from the X, I'm tempted to get something more expansive, with tones I can tell I will already love writing with (from the YouTube videos I've watched), even if the initial cost is much higher (and saving me from buying, then selling the Behringer). I'm totally open to being convinced otherwise, but the more I listen and watch what people are doing with the Prophet X the more it seems like the tool I'm looking for.

Re: Synthesizers - Where to start

Posted: Fri Jul 19, 2019 1:38 pm
by Ashe37
The Deepmind 12's current retail price is $700. IF that's too steep, the Deepmind 6 is like $550.

Re: Synthesizers - Where to start

Posted: Fri Jul 19, 2019 2:31 pm
by meatballfulton
You can certainly learn the basics from a Prophet X, but it's pretty expensive for that purpose. You should only buy one because you love how it sounds out of the box. The Sequential Prophet Rev2 would be equally as good for learning, is half the price and analog (no samples).

For simply learning, there are lots of synths for $500 or less that are great for that purpose, especially those with no patch memory so you have to dial in sounds from scratch. Then once you have learned the basics then you can go drop your money on a Prophet X because you will now if it is the right long term solution. You might find that you just want a synth with great presets that can be tweaked rather than spend countless hours creating sounds from scratch.

Good luck.

Re: Synthesizers - Where to start

Posted: Fri Jul 19, 2019 7:46 pm
by Jbowerman
Got it, thanks everyone for the insights. I do love the sounds I'm hearing online, but at this price I definitely will need to play one myself and check it out. The more I learn the Prophet X/XL is a hybrid between a more classic synthesizer and a sampler, which does many things super well but won't do everything either a great synth or a great sampler will. I think I just need to understand how deep it goes and whether that would keep me happy for several years (given the price).

Re: Synthesizers - Where to start

Posted: Thu Jul 25, 2019 5:20 pm
by Rokk
Since you've got Electro which covers your keyboard sounds, I'd get a DX7 for additional keyboard sounds and FM synth sounds (some great banks can be found for it if you don't want to dive into FM programming), Nord Lead 2(x) for polyphonic analog stuff, because it is very straightforward and sounds really great if you figure out that the resonance knob has way too big range and go max 12 o'clock with it, and maybe add a pure analog monosynth without memory (this can be a lot of fun, believe it or not).

DX7 $300ish
NL2x $700ish (but you could get the rack for cheaper and play it with the great DX7 keyboard, which is what I did, because I feel the keybed on keyboard version doesn't do this synth a justice)
MINIBRUTE is discontinued and currently can be get for$250ish.
You have plenty of cash left for some good FX which you will need with these synths, although Nord Lead (and to an extent DX7) sounds really good without FX too.

I actually have this combo now and the three cover most of my needs and sonically compliment each other very nicely with DX7 being metallic or woody, Nord Lead being warmer, analogish, yet electric and metallic sometimes, although it can sound very warm and wide, too, plenty of 80's vibe if you want it. Minibrute is the softest sounding (actually one of the softest sounding synths out there (named wrongly) and quite versatile.

Another great synth to get is Novation Supernova. It's almost vintage now, but imho still beats many of the newer synths. It sounds punchy, thick, very fat (so much that its unison is mostly redundant), has good fx onboard (6 simultaneous) and is 8 part multitimbral with each part having its own set of 6 effects! Something you don't see on modern synths. It's filters sound better than many real analog filters found in todays analogs. No joke. I had it, and I miss it. A wonderful synth with a great and friendly user interface. If you're after warm and smooth, quite Roland-ish this is it. Just to say, I'm more impressed by it than with the new Peak/Summit.
You can find it for about $1000.

Don't forget about older synths. Late 90's were such a good period with manufacturers competing which Virtual Analog synth will have better filters, more polyphony, more parts and more effects.

If you want a real analog with 80's sound, look at Roland Alpha Juno 2, which imho is the best of the Junos although the filter doesn't self-oscillate. It sounds very warm and soft. Check this comparisson:

Another good option is Roland JX-8P, but it is mostly useful for pads/strings (which are really fabulous) and leads, but forget the basses because it sounds like it has a hi-pass filter on all the time :)
Keep in mind that you would need a controller for these two Rolands and there are different options.

My two cents...

Re: Synthesizers - Where to start

Posted: Mon Jul 29, 2019 11:21 am
by Jabberwalky
That's a nice amount of money to start, but imo, spend it incrementally. It's really easy to waste money on things that don't work at all for you in synth world. Start on the low end of things.

Access Virus
Yamaha An1x
Deepmind 12
Novation Ultranova/Mini
Korg Prologue or Minilogue
DSI Prophet 6 (this would be the most wise choice in terms of quality, but it's a limited synth)
Roland System8 or JDxa

Or you could look into software options which are ultimately more capable for sampling, such as Kontakt and the myriad of sample libraries in that ecosystem.

Re: Synthesizers - Where to start

Posted: Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:42 pm
by clubbedtodeath
Jabberwalky wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 11:21 am
That's a nice amount of money to start, but imo, spend it incrementally. It's really easy to waste money on things that don't work at all for you in synth world. Start on the low end of things.
Balanced advice from Jabs there, although I'd narrow that down a bit further: start on the simpler end of things.

Get something that has a good, raw (analogue?) sound, with a straightforward, immediate interface, that has everything laid out in front of you. Something that isn't too expensive, but also with a good enough sound to keep if/when you grow your arsenal of synths. Something to cut your synthesis teeth on.

Specifically, I'm thinking of an analogue mono synth. There are quite a few available brand new for a few hundreds of Euros. The ones I know (and own) are: the Korg MS20 (reissue), Behringer's recreation of the Moog Model D, or the Korg ARP Odyssey (I'd recommend against the original Minibrute, though). They're very simple to use, and have no patch memory. This may seem a bad thing, but it will force you to learn subtractive synthesis. Moreover, everything in front of you is pretty much it -- it will soon become clear what does what. If it's not your bag, then you're not going to lose much money.

I suggest this route, as something like the Sequential Rev2 is a very powerful synthesiser, and intuitive to an experienced synth geek, but I can also see how it could be intimidating to the uninitiated (this would go for any FM synth, too). And I say that as someone who has a Rev2, and loves it.

There's nothing to stop you buying it later, once you've gained your spurs. Except maybe your wife. :lol:


Re: Synthesizers - Where to start

Posted: Tue Jul 30, 2019 3:09 am
by ninja6485
I think you need to think about other things you've learned like this in the past, and figure out what kind of learning style and starting conditions fit you best.

Some people need to start with something over their heads with a lot of room to grow, and unknowns to explore. Other people need to strip everything down to the basics and move slowly from simple to complex. I guess it's like getting into a pool: do you like to start at the shallow end and wade in slowly, or do you go right for the deep end and dive in head first?

My first Synth was the Radias, and I think something like that is perfect to learn on. It's a little of both worlds: If you don't know anything, you can just sit down and play right away. When you want to start designing and editing patches, it has an amazing manual that can teach you synthesis from the ground up. The presets are easy to reset, so you can start with a preset and just twiddle knobs, and if you get stuck you just scroll forward and then back again and your patch is back. It's simple enough for a beginner thanks to the amazing UI, and complex enough so you will never "outgrow" it if you're looking to get into more complex sound design. I bought mine new, and it wasn't cheap, but used they should be very affordable by now!

Really, any of those VA polysynths with great knob heavy UI's are a fine choice. They're affordable, easy to use, and they cover tons of ground so you can use them for anything. If you have a Swiss army knife like that, then you can decide later if you want to use your resources to get more gear that specializes in specific areas. You won't feel so limited by getting something that hits one area out of the park, but is very limited in others since you already have your bases covered. These are cool too because a lot of the time they gave Fx inserts that can let you edit and use the Fx separately, great midi keyboards, sequencers, etc that all stay useful no matter what gear you get in the future. Anyway, hope that gives you yet another perspective!