In modern times we’re incredibly fortunate to have a wealth of options available to us when it comes to buying hardware synthesizers. Despite this abundance of choice, it’s incredibly difficult to decide where to place our hard-earned cash. Let’s keep it simple and take a look at our top 10 synths under $500.
Korg Minilogue XD
- 4 voice polyphonic analogue synth with multiple voice modes such as mono and unison modes
- Beautiful FX including delays, choruses and reverbs
- Expandable with third party digital oscillators and FX
- Powerful sequencer which is easy to use and most parameters can be recorded
- CV inputs are a welcome feature for further modulation
Yes it’s right at the top of our budget at $500 at the time of writing, but it’s here for a reason – it’s an incredible polyphonic analogue synthesizer and it’s at an amazing price (If the price changes, check out the original, cheaper Minilogue!). When it comes to functionality, form factor and sound, the XD has our vote as one of the best synthesizers in modern times. It punches well above its price point and can hold its own with more ‘high end’ synthesizers. Featuring 4 voice polyphony, beautiful effects, a deep and easy to use step sequencer and even space for digital oscillators and FX, this one is not to be missed.
View on the Korg website: https://www.korg.com/uk/products/synthesizers/minilogue_xd/
You can hear some of our own presets in our ‘Scattered’ preset pack, available for preview here: Minilogue XD – ‘Scattered’
Novation Bass Station 2
- Easy to use, knob-per-function analogue synthesizer at a great price point
- Can be powered via USB
- Input for processing external sources through its analogue filter and distortion
- Load and save your patches
- Duophonic – split both oscillators across 2 notes
The Bass Station 2 has been around for some time now, but as the old saying goes – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The BS2 is a perfect solution for anyone looking for a fully-featured mono analogue synth that doesn’t break the bank. It’s also been well supported by Novation who recently added extra functionality, including a paraphonic mode enabling 2 notes to be playable the same time. The BS2 has been in our studio since it’s original release and that in itself is testament to how well-loved it is since we’re always swapping out our synths! The BS2 is a workhorse of a synth and should be in everyone’s studio. Great for anyone looking for a fully-featured analogue mono synth with full-sized keys that doesn’t break the bank.
View on the Novation website: https://novationmusic.com/en/synths/bass-station-ii
Modal Argon 8
- Loads of wavetables to choose from and ways to manipulate them, including processors and modifiers
- Rich and detailed FX engine which also comes with functionality for saving your FX presets (reverbs, delays, bit crushers, rotary fx, choruses and more)
- Sequencer is both easy to use and deep, and most parameters can be recorded onto it
- ModalApp application is a welcome addition and provides slightly easier control over parameters and easy to use preset management
- A huge range of potential with 8 voice polyphony, 120 wavetable shapes and deep mod-matrix including 2 LFO’s, aftertouch, MPE support and more
When MODAL first announced the price for the Argon8 series, our jaws hit the floor. In the past, MODAL has been focused on more expensive synthesizers, but have gradually released more affordable synths. The Argon8 is a fully-featured wavetable synth that has it all – a deep mod matrix, lovely FX, great build quality, deep sequencer and most importantly, a huge range of wavetables and ways to twist, warp and modulate them beyond recognition. To be quite frank, at under $500 it’s a steal and is a sound designers dream. Highly recommended, especially to those looking for a synth that excels at pads – check out our preset pack here to hear some examples: Modal Argon8: ‘Serenity’
View on the Modal website: https://www.modalelectronics.com/argon8/
- That classic Moog bass sound
- Simple to use and nice form factor
- Great build quality, typical of the Moog brand
Moog is renown for its premium synthesizers. Although the Minitaur is the lowest priced synth currently available from the Nashville company it loses none of its potency. It packs a real punch and if you’re looking for that Moog sound that doesn’t stretch you to the $1000 mark, the Minitaur is for you. Although it’s a great match for anyone looking for thick, mix filling bass lines, it does have one limitation – it has a limited note range, meaning if you’re looking to create leads, you might want to look elsewhere. That doesn’t mean it’s not capable – just listen to this demo we created, showcasing how it can sound if you put your mind to it. Want the Moog sound but want more note range, and at a slightly cheaper price? Well maybe take a look at the next synth in our list…
View on the Moog website: https://www.moogmusic.com/products/minitaur
Behringer Model D
- A classic reimagined and repackaged at a mindblowing price
- CV inputs and outputs for modular synths
- That price point!
Behringer has had some recent success with revisiting classic synthesizers from the past. They’ve certainly raised some eyebrows in doing so but the Model D is their greatest accomplishment when it comes to the revisits. The Moog Model D is renown for being one of the best mono synthesizers ever, and for good reason. It was one of the first portable synthesizers available and featured a distinctive, huge sound and was used by artists such as Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, Paul Mccartney and Pink Floyd. It’s a historic piece of equipment, and Behringer has done a great job at repackaging this classic into a price point that’s affordable to new musicians and producers. Most importantly, it sounds great and in our experience, pretty close to the original. At a price of roughly $250-$300, you can’t complain!
View on the Behringer website: https://www.behringer.com/product.html?modelCode=P0CQJ
- An experimental key-bed with an easy to use interface which encourages experimentation
- A wide range of sounds available
- Great form factor, slips into your bag with ease, optional USB power
- Powerful sequencer
- Oscillators from Mutable Instruments Plaits
The MicroFreak is a synth like no other – have a good look around, and you won’t really find anything like it, especially at this price. It features oscillators from the Mutable Instruments Plaits eurorack module, which would set you back over $200 itself and is only monophonic, whereas the MicroFreak can play up to 4 notes at the same time in its paraphonic mode. In our time with the MicroFreak, we genuinely enjoyed exploring the interface and seeing what new sounds we could conjure up by experimenting with the unique keybed. So much so, we created a preset pack exploring ambient pads and keys – check it out here. An exceptional instrument which begs for everyone’s attention.
View on the Arturia website: https://www.arturia.com/products/hardware-synths/microfreak/overview
- 2 classic synthesizers in 1 – Roland Juno 106 and Juno 60
- Sounds just like the originals and includes features from both
- USB audio capability
The original Juno analogue synths are a classic and have been used in countless records over the years. Picking up an original Juno 106 or Juno 60 would easily set you back over $1,000, and at a rough price point of $300, the Roland Boutique JU-06A is a no brainer. Small enough to fit in your backpack and on most desks, but isn’t so small that you need tweezers to move the faders unlike some of the other Roland Boutiques. There was clear attention to detail in the design of the JU-06A – features such as the dual chorus mode from the Juno 106 and the unique Juno 60 arpeggiator are all present, meaning you have access to features the originals didn’t. Plus, if you’re using it with a computer you can use just the one USB cable for power and audio, meaning even less clutter.
View on the Roland website: https://www.roland.com/uk/products/ju-06a/
- Fully featured analogue mono synth at a great price point
- Powerful sequencer which is easy to use and most parameters can be recorded
- Versatile yet compact
- Microtuning allows you to create alternate scales and tones
- Can run on batteries for those wanting an ultra-portable setup
The Monologue features the same 16 step sequencer found in the Minilogue’s, albeit with a monophonic engine and slightly reworked filter that’s more fitting for Mono synths. At just over $300 this synth is great for anyone looking for an analogue synth that sounds great but also doesn’t empty your bank account. It can also run entirely on AA batteries which are also provided – the only downside is there’s strangely no power supply in the box, so you’ll need to shell out another $10-20 if you don’t want to rely on batteries.
View on the Korg website: https://www.korg.com/uk/products/synthesizers/monologue/
Korg Volca FM
- A 3 note polyphonic FM synth for under $150!
- Compatible with DX7 presets
- Volca step sequencer and ‘sync’ for connecting to other Volcas
- Small & portable
The Volca range is well known for offering fully-featured instruments at ridiculously low costs. Whether you’re looking for a budget modular, drum machine or synth, there’s something for everyone in this range. We’ve yet to have made a mention for any FM synths in this article, and that’s for good reason – they’re usually over the $600 mark, such as the Elektron Digitone and Korg Opsix which are around $700 at the time of writing. That information alone should tell you how amazing it is to find an FM synth at this price. Korg has also done a great job in honouring the past by allowing DX7 patches to be loaded onto the Volca FM. An original DX7 will cost you anywhere between $300-$600, and then you’ve also got to take into consideration any servicing costs due to age. So at roughly $150, this little guy is a must-have for anyone wanting that classic FM sound.
View on the Korg website: https://www.korg.com/uk/products/dj/volca_fm/
Arturia Minibrute 2
- Semi-modular connectivity for unique sound creation and manipulation
- Encourages experimentation
- Great arpeggiator and sequencer (the former being even better on the 2S)
- Lush sounding filter and ‘Brute Factor’ drive
- Great build quality
For those looking for a synthesizer with semi-modular connectivity, the Minibrute 2 should definitely be on your list. There are 2 versions available – the 2 features a full-sized 2-octave keyboard, whereas the 2S forgoes the keyboard and instead features a deeper sequencer. If you can forgo the keyboard we’d recommend checking out the 2S. Both synths also support Arturia’s Rackbrute system, allowing you to lock and connect a modular setup directly to the synth. This is a synth than really encourages experimentation, and is a great suit for anyone new to modular or a pro due to its deep feature set, ease of use and interconnectivity.
View on the Arturia website: https://www.arturia.com/products/hardware-synths/minibrute-2/overview
- Roland System 1
- Make Noise 0-Coast
- Teenage Engineering OP-Z
- Roland JD-Xi
- Korg Volca’s
- Roland Boutique’s
- Modal Skulpt