Recommendations for First Synth

A forum for discussing the pros & cons of buying a particular synth and for advice on buying synthesizers.
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audiocandy
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Recommendations for First Synth

Post by audiocandy » Thu Aug 04, 2011 11:37 pm

Hi all, I would like to purchase my first synthesizer and am in the process of figuring out which model(s) best suit me. I am hoping you can provide me with some direction. A co-worker who pointed me to this site has been helpful, but I'd like a little more input/direction before I splurge!

Background: Previously I've only played piano. Not a pro by any means. No desire to perform for others and not particularly talented at composing. In other words, there are no gigs in my future--although I may subject friends to things at some point. Decided against simply purchasing a digital piano because I'll get bored at some point; this will not happen with the right synth.

Sound preferences: Analog or analog-modeled sounds are ideal, but I'm not wedded to getting an analog synth (in fact, possibly the opposite). Would like to be able to produce sounds that are dark, brooding, repetitious, somewhat experimental, and maybe danceable every now and then. Think Depeche Mode, Front Line Assembly, or Massive Attack but without the full band complement (or skill)...and every once in a while Kate Bush or Tori Amos.

Desired features: Since I'm a beginner, ease-of-use is somewhat important to me. Would prefer to do work on the synth itself, not in a software program. (I'm on the computer enough as-is!) Something that I can get a few years out of would be nice. Preference for more keys (e.g., 61) rather than fewer (e.g., 37), as I don't want to be fiddling around with a MIDI keyboard or junk like that (for now, anyway).

Budget: Thinking of going for something around $400, but am flexible (up to $600 or so) for the right synth. Used or new. Probably shopping through eBay or craigslist (Bay Area edition).

What I've seen/read about so far:
Roland Juno Di - Nice size, bad sound, portability a plus.
Roland Juno G - Okay size, okay sound, a little pricey.
Korg X50 - Nice size, cheap build, okay sound, ugly.
Roland SH-201 - Nice size, appealing layout, good price, only 49 keys, unsure about sound quality.
Roland Alpha Juno 2 - Seems good all around, but not sure if it's missing something due to its age.
Roland GAIA SH-01 - Interface and sound are appealing, not enough keys, can't double as a piano.
DSI Mopho - Interface and sound are appealing, on the expensive side, not enough keys, can't double as a piano, not too keen on the yellow.

It seems I am leaning towards a Roland. (Unless you all tell me otherwise, of course!) Apologies for the long post and/or being a no-nothing forum user.

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Re: Recommendations for First Synth

Post by silikon » Fri Aug 05, 2011 4:03 am

audiocandy wrote:Apologies for the long post and/or being a no-nothing forum user.
There's nothing at all wrong with being specific. In fact, it's encouraged. =D>

After reading your rather voluminous post, I'm having a hard time coming up with a huge list of machines that would fit your requirements..

I did come up with a couple ideas...

Roland V-Synth
Novation KS (49 or 61)
Novation Supernova
Access Virus KC

The one difference is the V-Synth isn't a "one knob per function machine, but I think there are a few folks here that could testify to it's usefulness.

I think for the most part you're going to have a hard time getting a machine within your ballpark of USD$400.--, however $600 seems a little more 'doable' although it may take you some time to secure the a reasonable deal.

...I can't think of anything else off the top that fits your requirements, maybe someone else will chime in with more ideas...

Unfortunately my rudimentary search on eBay for the listed machines was sort of weak... but I did come up with this (example only):

echo 1 > /dev/awesome

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Re: Recommendations for First Synth

Post by garranimal » Fri Aug 05, 2011 4:32 am

Supernovas are nice. Alpha Juno was my first analog with great sound, but the programming interface can make editing a bit tedious. The Juno-106 has a good control panel layout to work with, but you will need to make sure the voice chips have been refurbished/replaced. Have you looked at Roland JP-8000, Korg MS-2000, or Alesis Ion? They should be within your budget.

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Re: Recommendations for First Synth

Post by silikon » Fri Aug 05, 2011 4:33 am

garranimal wrote:Alesis Ion? They should be within your budget.
Nice call. +1 for the ION. Brilliant machine for the money.
echo 1 > /dev/awesome

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Re: Recommendations for First Synth

Post by precarity » Fri Aug 05, 2011 6:52 pm

Just to double-check, what do you mean when you say "can't double as a piano" for some of the synths you considered? I don't know of any synths with both a knob-per-function interface and the ability to create a realistic acoustic piano sound. That said, you could always get an analog / virtual analog synth now and spring for a used midi module like a MicroPiano or NanoPiano (~$200, or ~$100 if you're lucky/patient) later. And this is probably unnecessary, but just to be clear: none of these synths have speakers.

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Re: Recommendations for First Synth

Post by foodeater » Sat Aug 06, 2011 1:52 pm

I know you said no MIDI, but I highly recommend reconsidering. In part because the piano sound in that budget makes it hard. And most synths don't have exceptional key beds! If real piano keys are something you're used to it can be a shock.

Ideas: Kawaii K1(61 decent keys, two mod wheels, + joystick, lofi, but usable sampled piano, dark and cheap!) + Korg Radias(VA knobby, experimental, danceable, electric piano). Should be doable for very close to 600. Rather than radias there is the jp8080 as well, but I think it goes for slightly more. Later on get some nicer keys with better piano sounds. If you have trouble with MIDI please ask!

Vsynth, gaia, sh201 and jp8080 all have very similar synth engines!...IIRC.

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Re: Recommendations for First Synth

Post by silikon » Sat Aug 06, 2011 1:57 pm

foodeater wrote:I know you said no MIDI
I think you misinterpreted the intent...
audiocandy wrote:Would prefer to do work on the synth itself, not in a software program.
audiocandy wrote:Something that I can get a few years out of would be nice. Preference for more keys (e.g., 61) rather than fewer (e.g., 37), as I don't want to be fiddling around with a MIDI keyboard or junk like that
I think the intent was the desire to not have to resort to using a MIDI (only) keyboard controller for doing softsynth work. I could however, be wrong too...
echo 1 > /dev/awesome

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Re: Recommendations for First Synth

Post by crystalmsc » Sat Aug 06, 2011 3:25 pm

audiocandy wrote:Would like to be able to produce sounds that are dark, brooding, repetitious, somewhat experimental, and maybe danceable every now and then.
The Evolver would be nice, it's my number one pick for that type of sound. It will provide both analog and digital sound. But a bit hard to get a used keyboard version for the price.
audiocandy wrote:Desired features: Since I'm a beginner, ease-of-use is somewhat important to me. Would prefer to do work on the synth itself, not in a software program. (I'm on the computer enough as-is!) Something that I can get a few years out of would be nice. Preference for more keys (e.g., 61) rather than fewer (e.g., 37), as I don't want to be fiddling around with a MIDI keyboard or junk like that (for now, anyway).
But if you get a used desktop Evolver ($350 - $450), the X-station 61($250 - $350) is going to be a good controller for it. There's also a dedicated template for the Evolver. Since you play piano, may be a good feeling key will be necessary. I like the X-station keys and it has an aftertouch too. Plus it doubles as an easy to use beginner synth with some very nice electric piano sounds and a capable engine and as an audio interface to record the Evolver sound through a USB connection, and using it as an effect processor. Also the other way around, using the Evolver as an effect processor for the X-station, to add some analog filtering. Hopefully both will keep you busy for years ;)
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Re: Recommendations for First Synth

Post by audiocandy » Tue Aug 09, 2011 1:07 am

Thank you, everyone! You have been helpful in getting me to focus on what I want to get out of a synth as a hobbyist. Sorry I didn't get back here sooner, but I've been out in the wilderness with no power plugs, cell phone reception, etc.

Silikon is right that my preference is to avoid having to use a MIDI keyboard (or software program) to make music. I am as interested in the equipment-using experience as the sounds I can generate with said equipment. Also, having one piece of equipment is easier to manage (store, maintain, etc.) as a beginner and apartment dweller.

That being said, it does sound like I shouldn't write off having two pieces of equipment right away. I will have to think about this some. The Evolver did sound pretty darned good...

Of the one-piece synths (if you will) mentioned so far, the Roland JP-8000 seems to be closest to what I'm looking for. The Korg MS2000 seems fine too, but the JP-8000 looks to be cheaper, in which case I don't see the point of the Korg. The Radias didn't appeal to me because of the price tag and styling. Actually, I am struggling with Korg styling in general, but that is a different subject altogether.

More suggestions welcome! I'd like to get things narrowed down this week so I can make my purchase soon.

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Re: Recommendations for First Synth

Post by wertpog » Wed Aug 10, 2011 2:54 am

It's not for everyone, but might I suggest you take a look at the Alesis Fusion? its got a bunch of different synthesis engines (virtual analog, sampling, rompler, FM, brass modelling), a built in sequencer and multi-track recorder.

The 88 key model really is a beauty IMO, it's my desert synth.
http://modularsamples.com - (public domain samples of classic synths)

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