Well maybe not life changing but at least its caught your attention. New gear can be a wonderful thing and create excitement and inspiration. It can also be the biggest distraction in the world and divert attention well and truly away from music making. Either way we will always keep looking and checking out gear. This article offers up a summary of my favourite hardware and software synths. Not in any particular order as of course favourites change from song to song and day to day. So lets start with 5 hardware synths in no particular order....
1. Elektron Digitakt
Elektron have really pulled one out of the hat with this wonderful drum synth. With sampling facilities, synth features and the excellent sequencing functions that are synonymous with Elektron devices make this a future classic. The small footprint in this modular synth add to the likability of this great unit. To cap it off the midi sequencing tracks mean that the Digitakt can be central to controlling other synths and gear and you can build your whole setup around this unit.
2. Teenage Engineering OP-1
You cant help but get attracted to this tiny synth. A drum machine, variety of synth engines, sequencing and the quirky and unique animated tape function for recording 4 tracks of audio make this perhaps the most unique synth on the market. The design and form factor is awesome and while an initial look at this synth can lead to a perception of it being a novelty device it truly is a wolf in sheeps clothing and carries so much power and creative inspiration.
3. Nord Lead A1
Of all the polyphonic synths on the market this is by far my favourite yet is one of Nords lesser known synths. Nord have a strong heritage of keyboards emulating organs, pianos etc but this is a pure synth. The real factor for me though is the simplicity in using the A1 and how easy it is to get started. Programming processes don't get in the way of creativity with this synth and while the sound is superb, the creative process is where this hits the right notes. An number of features emulate classics and the digital approach certainly delivers on sound quality and performance. The features in capturing sound design snapshots quickly and easily such as the 'like' function make sound design a breeze. Coupled with the sound design morph, split keyboard and effects section only serve to make this a winner.
Well every studio has a micro korg...... right? There is im sure a reason for this, but this small synth with a fast and easy patch selection function is a well known and popular unit. The added vocoder brings a legacy feature to life. You have to remember that is original release was in 2002 and its stood the test of time.
5. Novation Bass Station II
The original Bass Station was a classic and version II has been worthy successor. This mono analogue synth delivers on all levels when delivering bass sounds and performance. It of course can do much more than just bass but this is its pedigree and purpose.The synth follows a very classic approach and sticks to the basics of a mono synth and does it well. Not a jack of all trades but definitely a master of one.
So these are my hardware synths i have at the top of my hit parade. So what about soft synths and VST plug-ins? A highly competitive area and a forrest of softwanth to navigate in the market. But hey, heres a selection of my favourites.
I love this synth. Im a lover of soft synths with something a little bit off the beaten track. Thorn, a spectral synthesis VST fits this perfectly well. Powerful yet light on the CPU, Feature rich yet simple to use and the most important thing is a great sound. The highlight feature though is the glitch sequencer bringing together the arp and sequencing and glitch features to give a new dimension to this softsynth
7. Blue II
Rob Papen is the godfather of electronic music soft synths and has over time released a number of synths. Blue II is i'm my opinion the best of the lot and is a perfect tool for pads and soundscapes and comprehensive modulation and sequencing add to the great sound.
Vengeance sounds have created a massive powerhouse of a synth with Avenger. Similar to UVI's Falcon this is a Swiss army knife of synths and provides just about everything. Build in drum sequencer, advanced modulation, routing and sequencing and 8 Oscilator modules give an insight into the power that this synth offers. Certainly it pushes the CPU hard but the sound quality and musical output are almost never ending
Native Instruments premier synth has been on a roller coaster ride. While Massive II is around the corner this classic synth has been lauded as an industry standard synth and at the same time criticised as being overused especially around the peak of the dubstep / drum n bass era. However i cant overlook this as a staple part of the armoury. Advanced modulation and routing are the key to this synth and what initially looks a daunting interface is actually quite a simple synth to use....once you get the hang of it.
10. Logic ES-M
I cant conclude this feature without covering a DAW in built synth. There are many to choose from and some very powerful and high quality ones too. However i have chosen one of my go-to synths and one thats perhaps the simplest and most overlooked. This is a perfect synth for layering the sub under kicks and bass. It adds to the sonic frequency balance of a mix. Sometimes a wide function set and innovative features aren't whats needed. ES-M does a great job at basic mono synth needs and is a key part of my toolkit.
So that concludes the summary of my favourite synths.