What synthesizer?

A forum for discussing the pros & cons of buying a particular synth and for advice on buying synthesizers.
the_noodlemeister
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What synthesizer?

Post by the_noodlemeister » Sat Jan 02, 2010 8:13 pm

hi. I'm looking to make music as a new hobby using synthesizers. I've been meaning to do this for some time but have now pulled my finger out. However, i'm a complete newbie and don't know where or how to start. I would like to make trance / dance / ambient music and therefore am looking for a synth (or synths)to do this (novation ks, Access Virus or Supernova i've heard are good). I'm also looking to buy secondhand as i haven't got a huge budget, but want to be able to record / store my music. Also, what is the difference between a synth with keyboard and a rack (ie what else do i need with a rack)? And do i need a computer with both, or either, of these? Which is preferable? I'm not necessarily looking for the easiest method as i like experimenting - more the better sound. Any advice will be massively appreciated. Many thanks in advance.

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Re: What synthesizer?

Post by Hugo76 » Sun Jan 03, 2010 2:06 am

You may want to go for some software first if you want to be able to do complete productions. There are many great packages, such as Propellerheads Reason, Ableton Live, etc. If you do want to get a hardware synth, I suggest you go for a workstation of some sort, maybe a second hand Korg Triton, Yamaha Motif, Roland Fantom...

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Re: What synthesizer?

Post by CS_TBL » Sun Jan 03, 2010 2:23 am

A rack synth is an instrument without keys. Rack synths are controlled with another keyboard via MIDI and/or with a sequencer via MIDI. Why do people buy rack synths?
- they're typically cheaper than their keyboard versions
- space, depending on the size of the rack you could just put in some 10-like racksynths. Put 10 keyboard synths in your room and you can't shake your a*s without bumping something.
- typically someone has one excellent master keyboard, often with 88 keys and lots of knobs/sliders. Keyboard synths often come with only 5 octaves and not always with enough knobs/sliders. Sometimes there are 88-key versions of synths, but they're usually more expensive than a rack version and another master keyboard together. Add enough MIDI cables and possible a MIDI patchbay, and one masterkeyboard will control all the rack synths!

You can use the synth finder to have a look at the Roland D50 (keys) and D550 (rack), the Roland JV80 (keys) and JV880 (rack), Roland U20 (keys) and U220 (rack). Same machine, but one with keys, one without keys.

As for how to start: if you're on a budget, best would be to just try a DAW (cubase, sonar, logic etc.) and a bunch o' VSTi's. Even the freebies can be practical enough for what you want. If you get the hang of it, then you can always decide to add a few hardware synths. With a tight budget and little knowledge, money is best spent practical rather than idealistic.
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Re: What synthesizer?

Post by stephen » Sun Jan 03, 2010 12:01 pm

Quick way of getting started....


DAW - Reaper (www.reaper.fm) Free to use for a month, and a very reasonable licence fee
Soft synths - there's a few freebies worth getting hold of
Midi keyboards can be purchased quite cheap and when you progress to hardware you keep the keyboard hooked up to your computer. Or you could go for something like a Novation X-Station if you want a hardware synth.

You'll need some kind of audio interface for getting sound out (regular PC sound cards aren't really up to the job). You can get a cheap USB interface such as the Behringer UCA202. It has ASIO driver support which is important (do some research on "latency" and "Asio"). I'm assuming you have a PC rather than a Mac....

You should be able to stretch to this lot on a budget.
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Re: What synthesizer?

Post by the_noodlemeister » Sun Jan 03, 2010 8:46 pm

Thanks guys for your advice - much appreciated. However, i'm still a little confused. Am i right in thinking that, if i go the rack route, i need: A rack, a master keyboard, MIDI cables and a MIDI patchbay? For this option do i still need a PC? And is there anything else i need?
For the software option: my PC, a MIDI keyboard. USB interface, software (ie Cubase, propellerheads Reason, Ableton, etc) - again is there anything else i need (or don't need)?
Also, what is a DAW? And also what are VSTi's? Sorry to sound like a right thicko but i'm starting from scratch.
I think that i've decided against a hardware synth though to start off with, it's just which of the other 2 options i should go for. Again, i really appreciate all the advice and will check out all the recommendations. Thanks again.
One last thing, is a master keyboard the same as a MIDI keyboard?

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Re: What synthesizer?

Post by stephen » Mon Jan 04, 2010 12:55 am

DAW = Digital Audio Workstation. Cubase, etc.

VST is an audio technology. They are software plugins that you can run from your DAW (or a program that supports them). Basically it's software synths and effects.

Master keyboard is the main keyboard you use to control other devices. It can be a synth or a midi keyboard (which doesn't produce its own audio). Whichever you use depends on how you wire up your setup.

If you're reallly new at this, stay away from buying loads of gear. Get a good keyboard synth (and/or software) and start from there. Starting with software is economical and you can still use it if you go to hardware later.

Check out: http://www.reaper.fm

Things you will want to look at:

Midi controller (keyboard)
Audio interface ("sound card" - and check that it has "asio" drivers. USB interfaces are a good place to start)
Decent speakers ("monitors") or headphones
DAW software (see the Reaper link for starters)
Software synths, effects etc.
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Re: What synthesizer?

Post by stephen » Mon Jan 04, 2010 1:02 am

OK, you could start with a Novation Xiosynth (I think it's called a Xio now). It's a midi controller/audio interface and synth all in one so you wouldn't have to buy too much stuff for interfaces (xio worths with USB)

I've already mentioned a DAW, so I'll move on....

A nice software synth to get started (not too many knobs and buttons) is this one:

http://www.kunz.corrupt.ch/?Products:VST_TAL-U-No-62

There's an article here that might be useful:
http://www.rhythmcreation.com/Beginners ... Softsynths
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Re: What synthesizer?

Post by Hugo76 » Mon Jan 04, 2010 1:41 am

Good tips from Stephen there.
You might also want to check out an edition of the magazine Computer Music. It comes bundled with a dvd featuring various free software, including synths and effects. And usually a whole bunch of tips and information for people just starting out.

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Re: What synthesizer?

Post by the_noodlemeister » Mon Jan 04, 2010 11:47 pm

Again, many thanks for all the advice. I think i'm starting to get my head around it now - it looks like the software option is the one i'll go for for starters (although i would prefer to dwiddle knobs etc), but i understand that i've got to learn walk before i can run. Cheers for also getting me to check out the Rhythm Creation website - very helpful. However, i do like the sound of the XioSynth as opposed to a midi controller + audio interface. In this case what else do i need? Does it matter that it's mono-timbral and not multi-timbral? (And what difference does it make?) Do i have to pay for the templates? Is it ok for trance / dance music? One last question: what's a patch?
I really really appreciate all your advice - there seems to be soooo much you need to learn before you even buy a synth!! And this is the easy part! I'll also check out the ComputerMusic mag :D

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Re: What synthesizer?

Post by gtivr6fan » Tue Jan 05, 2010 12:22 am

+1 on the novation xio...I still have my x-station(great key action) as my main midi controller. You can either make your own templates or find them from a user group such as the yahoo.com one. It only matters to the user whether its mono or multi-timbral, meaning it only plays one patch at a time. A patch is a sound setting. Based on your OP, it might be worth checking out the x-station as well. It has more hands on functionality, and would lend itself nicely to "experimenting", with the sounds...more knobs and buttons.

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Re: What synthesizer?

Post by stephen » Tue Jan 05, 2010 12:25 am

Hi,

Monotimbral means you create a single sound and the whole keyboard is used to play that sound.

Multitimbral means you can patch different sounds together into a "performance" and play different sounds on different parts of the keyboard, or stack multiple sounds so they all play at once.

I guess primarily you'll be using your keyboard as a midi controller, so don't worry about it :)
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Re: What synthesizer?

Post by bgf1973 » Tue Jan 05, 2010 1:11 pm

I think that the best choice to begin is the KORG MICROKORG.

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Re: What synthesizer?

Post by Stab Frenzy » Tue Jan 05, 2010 1:26 pm

bgf1973 wrote:I think that the best choice to begin is the KORG MICROKORG.
Everybody else thinks differently.

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Re: What synthesizer?

Post by tekkentool » Tue Jan 05, 2010 1:58 pm

bgf1973 wrote:I think that the best choice to begin is the KORG MICROKORG.
I went with the korg microkorg as my first synth, absolutely 100 % regret it. my vote goes to second hand JP-8000

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Re: What synthesizer?

Post by shaft9000 » Tue Jan 05, 2010 4:44 pm

bgf1973 wrote:I think that the best choice to begin is the KORG MICROKORG.
the microkorg is not bad at all, but I heartily recommend he/she get the MS-2000 instead. same sound engine, but at least you can tell what the h**l is going on. you get ALL the knobs for just a little more money. It can be found used for under $400USD quite often.

imho the MS-2000 is the perfect cheap synth for beginners that really want to learn this synth stuff. Packed with features and easy to get going on.
2600.solus.modcan a.eurorack.cs60.JP8.Juno6.A6.sunsyn.volcakeys.jd990.tb303.x0xb0x.revolution.
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