See here the list of Top 10 best synthesizer keyboard under 500. Read the buying guide and other important factors before selecting a synthesizer keyboard for you.
The best cheap synthesizer 2019: portable, desktop and keyboard instruments
Affordable synthesizers for those on a budget shares. These days, high-quality yet affordable hardware synthesizers are what we expect. Whether you’re looking for a pocket-sized instrument that can be powered by batteries, a module or a keyboard, you can get a whole lot of instrument for your money.
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You can take your pick when it comes to sound engines, too. Analogue (or analogue, if you prefer) is undoubtedly so hot right now – and well-represented at the budget end of the market – but make sure you check out the digital synthesizers that are on offer, too. In some cases, you do not even have to choose between the two, but we’ll get to that.
Over the past few years, MusicRadar has been reviewing as many affordable hardware synths as we’ve come to get our hands-on, and this round-up brings together the very best of them. Whether you’re a beginner looking for your first synth, or sound design.
1. Korg Volca FM
The best portable and affordable FM synth
Power: Battery or optional AC adapter. More flexible than it first appears. Affordable Only three voices. The Volca FM is a compact, battery-powered instrument, housed in a plastic chassis with a design that gives it a cheeky stylistic nod to the Yamaha DX7 from which it takes its sonic cues. It’s equipped with a ribbon-style keyboard-come-sequencer, built-in speaker, MIDI input and 3.5mm sync in / out. This is the best of the Volca range so far. Where the other models have taken their inspiration from, and the way to add to the sound of their spiritual predecessor, but also adds to the assortment of new and powerful features.
It’s not without its limitations – the varsity of polyphony leaves it lagging behind the original DX7, Yamaha’s Reface DX, and the various FM plugins out there – but the sound of those dark, percussive basses, icy mallets and ’80s-style horns is bang on, and if you start to push the capabilities of this tweakable, hands-on little synth, you’ll find it’s capable of some truly unique tricks.
Read full review: Korg Volca FM
Flexible sequencer section. No battery power option. Yes, it’s an even smaller version of the MiniBrute. Like its bigger sibling, it’s the single-oscillator, multi-waveform design, but there are fewer and smaller keys than full-size ones. There is the bonus of a built-in sequencer, though. The MicroBrute actually includes a range of CV / Gate interfacing options rather than the Mini, and the waveform section is more flexible than you might think. The Mod Matrix panel enables you to patch the envelope and LFO to different locations using the 3.5mm mini-jacks. The MicroBrute packs in more than you’d have any right to expect for the price. It’s not bargain basement, but it definitely offers more than many of the ‘pocket synths’ that do not cost too much less. A fine analogue mono synth that’s both compact and affordable.
Read full review: Arturia MicroBrute
The D-05 offers something different from the Roland Boutique range. Roland’s ACB tech to emulate the electronics of vintage analogue instruments, the D-05 takes as its basis the D-50, an all-digital ‘Linear Arithmetic’ (LA) synth that was first released in 1987. In terms of the basic architecture of the synth, the D-05 is pretty much an exact replication of the D-50. As before, patches are split into upper and lower ‘tones’ each of which comprises two parts. Each partial can be either a PCM sample or a synthesized sound created by the LAS engine. There are fresh features, too, most notably a 64-step polyphonic sequencer and multi-mode arpeggiator. It’s not the easiest instrument to program, but we’ve fallen in love with this compact and beautifully gorgeous recreation of a digital classic, and you might well do, too.
Read full review: Roland Boutique D-05
The Minilogue is a 4-voice analogue polysynth priced at less than £ 500. The Minilogue’s architecture is really versatile, which makes it stand out even against pricier competitors. The Minilogue generally produces a very high-quality sound, though it’ll dirty / hissy when you really crank through the mixer, push the delay or use the cross mod/sync and ring mod. There’s a flexible filter, snappy envelopes, a 16-step polyphonic sequencer, an arpeggiator, an audio input for external audio processing, a very tape-like delay, plus patch storage and MIDI. You have to keep reminding yourself how reasonably-priced the mini-logo is and how it fits into its compact form factor. We can not think of another analogue synth at a similar price point that offers more.
Read full review: Korg Minilogue
The original Minilogue is still a great buy, but if you can afford to spend a little more, we’d go for this pimped-up version of Monologue and Prologue synths as well. More versatile than the standard Minilogue, the XD offers a more powerful sequencer, greater versatility, a customizable digital multi-engine and effects, a joystick for real-time control, user scales/tuning and a vibe that’s generally more inspiring. The keys are of the ‘slim’ variety but still very playable, and the casing, which is made of metal with a wooden back panel, looks and feels great. Despite taking inspiration from elsewhere, the XD has a unique personality and is a hugely welcome addition to the ‘Logue range as a whole.
Read full review: Korg Minilogue XD
The MiniBrute 2 is semi-modular, boasting a beefed-up synth engine, and a comprehensive mini-jack patch bay. As before, the primary oscillator can be saw, triangle and square waves simultaneously, the outputs of which are blended via the oscillator mixer, where they are joined by a white noise source and external audio input. Filter-wise, the MiniBrute 2 keeps the Steiner-Parker-style filter of its predecessor, which offers -12dB low-and high-pass modes, plus -6dB band-pass and notch filtering. On the whole, the MiniBrute 2 is a real success. The analogue grit, interesting oscillator shaping and brute factor control, which overdrives the signal chain using a controlled feedback loop and expands on it considerably. A serious competitor, then, and the same can be said of the MiniBrute 2S, which swaps the keys for a pad-based step sequencer.
Read full review: Arturia MiniBrute 2
7.Ronald System 1
Compact, well-built and portable with plenty of modulation options. The built-in synth and plug-outs sound superb
No velocity or aftertouch. 32-note keyboard would be better. Part of Roland’s Aira range, the analogue-modelling System-1 not only has a built-in synth but can load Roland’s plug-out instruments. These are its trump card, but the standard synth is pretty flexible, too. You only get a 25-note keyboard, and this does not support velocity-sensitivity or aftertouch. There’s very little on the keys, too. Eight user-writable preset slots seem to be few. The system-1 is for people who value ease and use more than having a ‘real’ analogue synth.
Read full review: Roland System-1
8. Korg Monologue
Bonus of a micro tuning feature. Limited envelope generator section. This is not just a monophonic version of the Minilogue, but there is a family resemblance (a real wood back panel, mini keys and the same set of inputs and outputs). This time, though, we have a smaller (and lighter) footprint, with an octave taken off the keyboard and enhanced by the option of battery power. The synth architecture is relatively conventional, but there are some clever functional tricks which extend its range. There’s an enhanced step sequencer, which enables you to record in real or step time. 16 physical buttons are designed for quick editing and improvisation, during which the movements of up to four knobs can be captured with the motion sequence function. There’s a drive to add overtones and distortion, and a more esoteric level, support for micro tuning. The Monologue is great for anyone who wants a cheap and cheerful yet powerful synth, and one that offers a lot of flexibility.
Read full review: Korg Monologue
9. Novation Circuit
Quality sound palette. Not all functions are immediately obvious. Circuit is a standalone, digital instrument featuring a four-part drum machine, two six-note polyphonic synths and a deceptively deep sequencer. In the words of Novation, Circuit is “designed to inspire”, with a heavy emphasis on immediacy, intuitiveness and experimentation. The device takes most of its design cues from the Launchpad Pro controller. Its chassis features the same combination of matt-black top, rounded corners and rubberised base, while its central sequencer grid is built from slightly smaller versions of the Launchpad’s backlit, velocity-sensitive pads. Circuit is an absolute pleasure to compose and experiment with. It has a broad, quality sound palette, inspiring workflow and a sequencer that bests those in four times its price.
Read full review: Novation Circuit
10. Yamaha Reface CS
No preset memory. Only three octaves of keys. Introduced in 1976, and used by Stevie Wonder to Vangelis, Yamaha’s CS-80 has become one of the most desirable vintage synths of all time. In many ways, the compact and lightweight Reface CS could not be more different (the CS-80 weighed more than 200lbs), but its five oscillator types (multi saw, pulse, oscillator sync, ring modulation and frequency modulation) enable you to create an incredible range of sounds, and the instrument can produce both analogue-style and digital tones. The Reface CS is powered by an analogue physical modelling engine, has a simple, slider-centric control set, comes with a phrase and offers eight notes of polyphony. While looking simple, it is actually more than the sum of its parts and both addictive and inspiring to use.
Read full review: Yamaha Reface CS
11. Ronald TB-03
The essence of a real 303. More flexible than the original. Cheaper than the original. No real-time recording mode. The TB-03 is an ACB-powered clone of Roland’s classic TB-303 bassline synth, and borrows its inspiration’s look and feel. There’s a 4-digit display, and you can get hands on using the tuning, cutoff, tune, envelope mod, decay, and accent knobs. Both saw and square waveforms are included and are overdrive, reverb and delay effects. The original 303’s Pitch and Time write modes are joined by a new Step mode on the TB-03, and you also get fine tempo control. You can switch between modes while sequences are playing, and there is a dedicated trigger input to drive the internal sequencer. MIDI I / O, USB and CV / Gate ports are here. The TB-03 captures the essence of the original 303 and adds a twist. Someone could have argued that Roland could have gone further in updating the sequencer and interface – and others want it – but if you want to convince and afford it, here it is.
Read full review: Roland TB-03
12. Ronald SE-02
Decent onboard sequencer. Controls are pretty tight together. The only analogue instrument in Roland’s Boutique line-up, the SE-02 was created in collaboration with Studio Electronics, which is responsible for – among many other things – the Tonestar and Boomstar instruments. It features three VCOs, a voltage-controlled 24dB low-pass filter, and a dual gain-stage amplifier. The oscillators have six different waveforms, which promise the “warmth and complex character” that you hope for. Considering there’s so nicely-featured sequencer onboard, the SE-02 is a very impressive piece of kit for the price. Sonically, it’s high-quality, and it can be warm and smooth to harsh and aggressive. It’s a bit Rolandy and a bit Moogy / SE-ish … but then with all the versatile modulation and shaping onboard it has its own vibe, too, and it’s hard to make it sound bad. Recommended for anyone who wants a great-sounding, portable and versatile monosynth for the studio and stage.
Read full review: Roland SE-02
13. Behringer Neutron
Great value for money. 3340 VCO – a clone of the legendary CEM3340 found in analogue classics of the late ’70s and early’ 80s. Flexible patch bay. Too easy to saturate the filter section. Behringer’s synth arm might be best known for its controversy-courting ‘tributes’, but the German brand also has a couple of excellent original instruments under its belt. Following in the steps of last year’s Deepmind, Neutron is an analogue semi-modular that packs in a lot of flexibility for its very affordable price point. The Neutron has a few flaws, and there are some frustrating design issues, but it does not sound good, and in terms of bang-for-your-buck, you can not really beat it. While it does a very good job creating more sensitive sounds, it also excels at the weird and wonderful.
Read full review: Behringer Neutron