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Whats the best synthesizer out there?

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Please be more specific. Start with:

* Hardware or software synth, or both?

* Purely synthesized only, sampled sounds, or both?

* By "best" do you mean most realistic, best value, most sounds, "best" for a certain genre?

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As far as synths go, there's many different shapes and sizes for many different songs and styles. Assuming you're talking hardware, you're going to have quite a few choices Here's a (general) look at them:

Cheap, yet powerful synths:


Alesis Micron - I personally own this and I love it to death. Its extremely powerful for its size (a heck of a deal at $400) and very portable. My main complaints are the oscillator wave-types suck (only 3, but ability to waveshape), and the effects aren't that great. The sound on it is fantastic though, very easy to get thick sounding patches. Also worth checking out: Alesis Ion (essentially the same synth but with more knobs and no step sequencer).

Korg Microkorg - I've played around with this, and its pretty nice as well. The mini-keys might be a turn-off though, and the Micron is more powerful, but the vocoder on it trumps the Micron's and the presets are a bit more practical than the Micron. The sound on it is nice, a bit more mechanical than the Micron but it still has some warmth to it. Also worth checking out: Korg MS2000 (essentially the same synth only it has a step sequencer)

Novation K-Station/Xiosynth - Essentially the same thing, this thing packs a punch as it has both the MIDI controller functions that Novation has nailed but it doubles as a synth. The sound is nice and has that distinct Novation flavour to it's sound (which is really kinda digital and cold sounding), its great for trance. Unfortunately its cold-ness disappoints a lot of people, but I personally love that Novation sound. Also worth checking out: Novation Nova (very similar synths and similarly prices, although the Nova is a bit better sounding and more powerful)

Mid-range synths


Access Virus B/Classic - The Virus B and classic are the exact same model, and if you're lucky you can nab a Virus C for around this much. The Virus is basically the big-daddy as far as synths go these days, its fairly basic in its set-up with a pretty deep modulation matrix, but the real beauty comes in its effects. The virus also produces really fat, heavy sounds, its great for leads, subs, whatever. The only downside is its not as warm as some other synths around this price range, like the Nord Lead

Nord Lead 2X/1 - This thing is as close to analog as virtual analog gets. It has a thick, warm sound, even thicker than the virus. It doesn't have the best effects processors and out-of-the-box its not that outstanding but resampled and run through effects its outstanding. Basically, between this and the Virus there is no wrong choice, you just need to play with them yourself.

Novation Supernova - This is the granddaddy of Novation synths. Digital sounding but very wicked sounds come out of this thing, its perfect for trance type stuff.

Higher priced synths


Access Virus C - This is essentially the same as B with a bit more polyphony IIRC and a Moog styled filter. If you can get it its nice but the B is essentially the same thing.

Clavia Nord Lead 3 - A very nice synth, quite a step up from 3, but its still very similar to it.

Korg RADIAS - I've played with this thing and it is VERY very nice. Warm, expressive sounds, ranging from absolutely dirty nasty grimey techno stuff all the way up to soulful electro-styled stabs. Definately worth checking out, absolutely wicked synth.

High-priced powerful "fuck off" synths


Access Virus TI - Oh man this thing is wicked. From wavetable synthesis to the absolutely amazing hypersaw this thing is massive sounding for all sorts of situations. Also, the best part is when you link it up into your sequencer it acts like a VSTi instrument, only its all running on the Virus's internal CPU meaning it doesn't take up any of your computer's processing power. This is an amazing synth.

[u}Clavia Nord Modular G2 - Imagine the Nord Lead with its amazingly thick and warm sound, you got that picture in your head? Ok, good. Now imagine it being totally modular, routing oscillators into filters into LFO's into another Oscillator into another LFO into another filter into whatever else you want. Now you see why the Nord Modular G2 is so good.

Grandaddy fully-analog behemoths


Alesis Andromeda - This thing is incredibly hard to track down, even just audio demos of it, but I've heard it and its *amazing*. It looks almost like it was stolen from aliens and it sounds like pure analog goodness. If you have a spare $3500 lying around this is a good choice.

Moog Minimoog - This is the synth that started it all, if you have the chance to in person, play with it, then fall in love with it, then look at the price tag and realize you'll probably never be able to afford it. But if you can, this is a no-brainer.

However, before you buy a synth, play with it. Each synth has its own characteristics, its own features and flaws, and it all comes down to you, the user. Don't buy anything based off of just what I've said, but go and actually try out synths for yourself, compare specs, and make an informed decision. Once you buy the synth, learn it inside and out so you can use it to your full potential. Remember, a synthesizer isn't just a toy, its an investment.

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  • 9 months later...

Hello. Sorry to ask the same stupid question as the person before, but I would like to know the answer to it. I'm a novice at this. I've been doing music for a long time, but I want to start doing electronic music. Sort of a Euro/Electronic/Modern/Clean sound. And maybe some tekno. Given that I want to do this genre, what would be the best keyboard? I want as many possible sounds/samples, for around $1000. What do you think?

On a side note, any recommendations for computer software? I'm looking at Propellorhead and Fruityloops at the moment. How about other drum/looping software? Sorry to be a bother. Thanks to anyone who responds. Your advice is much appreciated.

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You guys are forgetting the Korg OASYS. 8 Grand and prolly the last hardware synth I would ever want. I was able to play around with it at the Guitar Center superstore out here when they first had it. That thing is SEXY! I even had it for a desktop background for a lil while. But I'd have to say, my Novation X-Station is really good for creating your own presets, even if it does overwrite the original presets. That thing is sexy as well. But if you want software synths; Reaktor is the best, most unlimited synth ever. And its cheap and filled with tons of FX, synths, beatboxes, sound generators and everything else you could ever want. If you have a computer-based workstation, hands down Reaktor is the best synth ever made.

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For $1000, get the plugin Nexus (~$300), Zebra 2 (~$200), and Colossus (~$400). Nexus is a ROMpler, like a hardware keyboard, but oriented towards modern dance sounds. Very high quality stuff. Zebra 2 is a powerful modular synthesizer that is regularly updated and was recently voted in Computer Music magazine to be the #1 softsynt hever. Colossus is a 30gb collection of basically all kinds of instruments, from orchestral sounds, to ethnic stuff, drumkits, pads, and everything in between.

Alternatively you could try to get Komplete 5, by Native Instruments, a set of about a dozen plugins and sample libraries; at least 60gb worth of stuff, all the power you could ever want. But it's really daunting as any ONE of the plugins you get could take awhile to really master.

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Thanks very much. That information helps a lot. I have another question: I'm concerned that if I go with Komplete 5, it may stifle my creativity. I'd want to compose on a keyboard. If I record a keyboard into Komplete 5's multi tracking software, can I just replace the recorded signal with one of the synth engines in Komplete 5? In other words, the sequence of notes and the notes remain, but the sound is completely erased and altered by the program.

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Decide if you want a hardware synth or a soft synth. No one can make this choice for you -- soft synths give more bang for the buck and often have a better workflow with your DAW. Hardware keyboard synths don't take up CPU power and let you tweak using physical controls at the keyboard instead of having to horse around with a mouse interface. Unless you're trying to get true analog gear at the lowest possible price, I wouldn't bother with hardware rack synths.

As far as the hardware synths go, they're pretty much all worth looking at. You generally get what you pay for -- none of them are ripoffs except for maybe some really high end stuff that just doesn't justify the $2000+ price tag. And those usually don't survive in the market for very long.

In stupidly broad terms (and I do mean stupid -- I am generalizing like crazy here), most synths you're interested in fall into two categories:

1. Samplers/ROMplers (Korg Triton, Roland Phantom, Yamaha Motif, and many more), and

2. analogs/virtual analogs (Clavia Nord Lead, Korg Radias, Minimoog, and many more -- almost all of the synths The Vagrance mentioned fall into this category).

As a general rule the latter are better if you want to create electronic sounds with a very high degree of customizability. But the higher end (say $800+) workstation ROMplers are usually very customizable too -- in fact you can do a lot of the same things you'd do with a virtual analog by starting with samples of basic synth waveforms (sine/square/sawtooth etc.), because the good ROMplers provide customizable LFO's, filters, and such. It's just not quite as streamlined and powerful -- but the upshot is that you can more easily get convincing "realistic" sounds like pianos, strings, drums, etc.. A cheap ROMpler (think Casio) will get you the "realistic" sounds for the most part, but not the customizability. I wouldn't bother with them -- soft synths are a much better choice if you're trying to save money. But you CAN get some pretty cool hardware virtual analog synths for around $500, like the Microkorg and the X-Station.

There are also more specialized or quirky synths like the Roland V-Synth, Harmann Neuron (yeah right you're gonna buy one of those, they're like $4k+ :P), or any number of boutique analog or analog/digital hybrids like Doepfer modulars, Studio Electronics ATC/ATX, or my favorite the Dave Smith Evolver. But they're probably not a good choice for your first synth as they're a lot more specialized.

Thanks very much. That information helps a lot. I have another question: I'm concerned that if I go with Komplete 5, it may stifle my creativity. I'd want to compose on a keyboard. If I record a keyboard into Komplete 5's multi tracking software, can I just replace the recorded signal with one of the synth engines in Komplete 5? In other words, the sequence of notes and the notes remain, but the sound is completely erased and altered by the program.

Eer year... just record MIDI of yourself playing and then you can switch the sounds out to your heart's content. That pretty much applies to any synth, hardware or software.

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I'm assuming you're referring to Propellerhead's "Reason" software. While excellent, it is a closed platform - you cannot add new plugins to it. That being said, if you're looking for a pretty comprehensive solution with a wide variey of sounds, and don't mind that you can't record audio in, then go for it.

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May I recommend using either FL Studio or Ableton's Live for the Sequencer. I personally prefer the latter, as the work-flow is more what I'm used to, but FL is probably more common to find advice for around here, since about half of the people composing at OCR use FL in some way, shape or form. I started with Reason, which is also very usable, but not as high of quality sounds (though still quite high, don't get me wrong) as what you would find in Komplete.

As for the synths, I would highly recommend Komplete as well, even though I don't have all of the items in it. I just was able to get my hands on Colossus, and boy do I love it. The sheer amount of incredibly usable instruments is very inspiring. I think Reaktor comes in Komplete as well, and for FX and synths there is no other way to go. It even lets you create your own synths and FX.

All of the other programs that come with Komplete are great too, but if you're hurtin for cash, I would definitely suggest just starting out with Ableton Live (or FL Studio), Colossus, and Reaktor.

If you're worried about losing the ability to play on a piano-like hard-synth, I would suggest a MIDI controller such as the MicroKorg, Minimoog, or the X-Station. They come with some great sounds and you can just use the MIDI input for your own sounds in your DAW (Ableton or FL).

But please, whatever you do, BUY it, pirating the software only makes us have to pay more for it. (sorry for the preachy)

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If you're worried about losing the ability to play on a piano-like hard-synth, I would suggest a MIDI controller such as the MicroKorg, Minimoog, or the X-Station. They come with some great sounds and you can just use the MIDI input for your own sounds in your DAW (Ableton or FL).
Clarification: I'm about 90% sure the MiniMoog cannot act as a midi controller (wasn't it released before the midi specification?). The much newer Mimimoog Voyager probably can though. Regardless, if you're going with Komplete, using the Korg and the X-station as midi controllers is sorta overkill imo, especially for a novice. Take your pick of less expensive dedicated midi controllers from M-audio, Edirol, etc and use them to control the awesome amount of sonic power that Komplete will give you.
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Thanks to all of you for the advice. Don't worry, I don't plan to pirate the software. You're talking about a guy who always uses i-tunes, and never downloads music (I think people should get credit for the work). I'd like to clarify one point: Komplete 5 will not accept a midi controller right?

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Well, with sequencers, it's kind of hard to post examples because you can literally do any kind of music with them. You know? For example, all of my remixes are done in FL Studio, but then again, so are the remixes from the following artists as well:

* Disco Dan

* tefnek

* Rellik

* Tyler Heath (aka Unknown)

* Darkesword

* TO

* sadorf

* Big Giant Circles

* Beatdrop

* GeckoYamori

To name a few. Here are some mixers that use or used Reason:

* sgx

* Star Salzman

* Protricity

* Quinn Fox

* Red Tailed Fox

* AnotherSoundscape

* sephfire

* ambient


With regards to Komplete, again, there is such an insane amount of material that you could devote a whole CD to just a handful of patches from Kontakt (one of the included plugins) alone. Your best bet is to go to the Native Instruments site and listen to demos.

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I'd like to clarify one point: Komplete 5 will not accept a midi controller right?

Just about any sequencer (FL Studio, Ableton Live, Reason, etc) will take input from a midi controller. But that's not the final story, since if you open up your sequencer, hook up your controller and press a key, guess what? You probably won't get any sound. That's because the midi messages from your controller aren't controlling anything! That's where plugins come in. Komplete is just a collection of plugins...stuff that you can control with your controller. Some of the plugins produce sounds (soft synths, samples) and some of them modify sounds (effects).

Although Komplete might include some stuff that can run as a stand alone application, for the most part the idea is to use your sequencer to host the plugins. You play a key on your controller, the sequencer (FL for example) gets the message and passes it to the plugin (for example PRO-53, which comes with Komplete) and then you get sound.

So yes. The plugins in Komplete can be controlled by a midi controller, provided that the plugins in Komplete can be loaded into whatever sequencer you're using.

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  • 1 year later...

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