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Inexpensive synth to learn the basics
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Aaron Cotton
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#1
25th January 2013
Old 25th January 2013
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Inexpensive synth to learn the basics

I did some searching and found no topics on exactly this question, so let me be as detailed as possible to hopefully receive some knowledge from you guys.

Right now, I'm a fully ITB composer, and I wish to more fully understand the ins and outs of additive / subtractive synthesis. The most fully featured instrument I have is Native Instruments Massive. While I really like software (I'm sure I'm in the minority there) I really think it would help to have a hardware synth, with knobs / sliders to more fully understand whats going on.

I don't especially care about the sound quality (although it's a plus) since at first this will be a learning tool only. What I really need is a synth with 1 slider or knob per parameter and they need to be physical controls, so this rules out rack mounts and software. As far as I know this leaves me with 2 possible groups of synths, 1) Analog 2) Virtual Analog. I dont need a workstation, or any sequencing. I probably dont need any sort of patch memory. I would prefer polyphonic rather than mono.

Obviously, since this is for learning, I would like it as inexpensive as possible. Here are some choices I have gathered, if you guys have any additions or comments on this list, I would love to know.

Analog synths:
Juno 60 ($900)
Akai AX-60
Juno 106 ($700)

Virtual Analog Synths:
Novation X-Station ($250)
Korg Microkorg
Roland JP-8000 ($650)
Roland SH-201 ($350)
Alesis Ion ($500)
Korg MS2000 ($500)
Gaia SH-01 ($500)
Korg RADIAS ($650)
Nord Lead 2 ($700)

Mono Synths:
Dark Energy ($500)
Minibrute ($450)
Ms-20 ($?)
#2
25th January 2013
Old 25th January 2013
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Actually your question has been asked before. Perhaps try searching for some of the listed synths by name.

The ones you have listed are decent for your purposes. If you buy vintage gear, research what is most prone to fail, and be sure to check for that during the purchase audition.

You may want to add the Roland Gaia SH-01 to your list, as it was designed to be an instruction synth from the start.

The forum will try to convince you to get an Access Virus TI. Which is a great synth but spendy.
#3
25th January 2013
Old 25th January 2013
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any reason why you prefer polyphonic? i really think you can learn best on a mono with dedicated knobs for each function... i would seriously consider the dark energy, minibrute, or the forthcoming mini-ms20. no patch memory, dedicated knobs for each function, and great price points to boot (probably less than any of the vintage analogs in your list)

save the polyphony for your VSTs.

i can't tell you how many doors to understanding analog subtractive synthesis were opened for me when i got the dark energy.
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25th January 2013
Old 25th January 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by phreak260 View Post
any reason why you prefer polyphonic? i really think you can learn best on a mono with dedicated knobs for each function... i would seriously consider the dark energy, minibrute, or the forthcoming mini-ms20. no patch memory, dedicated knobs for each function, and great price points to boot (probably less than any of the vintage analogs in your list)

save the polyphony for your VSTs.

i can't tell you how many doors to understanding analog subtractive synthesis were opened for me when i got the dark energy.
I like a lot of pad sounds so I tend to play a lot of chords, but thats a good point with monophonic. Thanks
#5
25th January 2013
Old 25th January 2013
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Budget?

Most of what you listed are probably ideal, except for the Microkorg. I have a Juno 106 and it's good for subtractive synthesis basics.

The upcoming Korg mini MS-20 is also probably ideal, albeit with mini-keys. Or a Minibrute, Moog Subphatty... Although those are monophonic.

Korg RADIAS might be another if you're okay with a VA synth.
#6
25th January 2013
Old 25th January 2013
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SH-201, Nord Lead 2.

Though Massive lets you understand a great deal. How do you work with it at the moment? Do you know what's happening in there - tried to start building from scratch, or are you still in the "what the hell are those yellow, blue and green lines for" phase?
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Threads to check out: Chord Generators & Tips | Pop Sound Sources - synthesis tutorials
Aaron Cotton
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25th January 2013
Old 25th January 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shponglefan View Post
Budget?

Most of what you listed are probably ideal, except for the Microkorg. I have a Juno 106 and it's good for subtractive synthesis basics.

The upcoming Korg mini MS-20 is also probably ideal, albeit with mini-keys. Or a Minibrute, Moog Subphatty... Although those are monophonic.

Korg RADIAS might be another if you're okay with a VA synth.
As far as budget, probably around the $600 - $700 range.
#8
25th January 2013
Old 25th January 2013
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I can recommend the X-Station. Multi-functional, and it's possibly one of the cheapest all in one recording solutions. Synth has an adequate sound, but plenty of real time control plus you can use it for soft synths.
#9
26th January 2013
Old 26th January 2013
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As much as I love the Akai AX-60... it's not a good first synth for learning.

I also agree with the mono statement. Far easier to learn. Save pads for digital... IMO they are better at it anyway..
#10
26th January 2013
Old 26th January 2013
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Do you have an ipad?
Aaron Cotton
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26th January 2013
Old 26th January 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stevism View Post
Do you have an ipad?
I'm considering it. Is there an app that would help?
#12
26th January 2013
Old 26th January 2013
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Well not to continue spamming the forum...but I'm a HUGE fan of the JX-8P.

If you've looked at it, you probably were well aware that the hands on factor of it was pretty awful.

There's an app that let's you design midi controllers though, and this is what I came up with: Jx-8p owners! Check this out!!!

You can get a JX-8P for very cheap on craigslist or ebay if you look in the right places, and it's really solid. Nice sounds, really great sound architecture, and amazing MIDI implementation.

A combination of the JX-8P, an iPad (2nd gen is fine, that's what I have), the MIDI Designer app, a usb to midi cable, and a way to connect that to your iPad...would still fall below your budget, based on some of the synths you have listed.

So not only would you have 110% percent hands on control of a classic Roland 2 DCO synth (my design includes some features that aren't on the official roland hardware controller, and the XY pads blow the lid off it's versatility)


...but you would also have a spare iPad as well!

Since I've started using the controller it's felt like I have an entire new synth, it's great! It's technically software but the touch screen is extremely responsive and definitely large enough...the iPad fits perfectly as well
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26th January 2013
Old 26th January 2013
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I would not recommend a Juno 106. They are far too expensive now for what you get if your intention is to learn a decent amount about subtractive synthesis. I have one and they sound good and you can learn how to use them in an hour but you are going to want a LOT more modulation possibilities. Also, you have to watch out for the well documented issues concerning the epoxy coating of the voice chips that makes them eventually die. Not difficult to fix but do you really want that ticking time bomb? I have a 106 and have had the power supply and voice chips all completely redone.

I have an Alesis Ion and I think it may fit the bill for you.The thing I would caution you about is the build quality is not the greatest. There are plenty of posts about the two transistors on the main outputs going bad and needing replacement. I had to do it with mine. It has a lot of great features, though, and you can definitely not only learn on that synth but continue to use it to great effect in your future. It has loopable envelopes which are really great for making interesting pads.

One other synth you might want to consider would be a used Waldorf Micro Q keyboard. Not as great as a Q (and definitely not a Q+) but in your price range and definitely something you could learn a lot with.
Aaron Cotton
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26th January 2013
Old 26th January 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kpsiegel View Post
I would not recommend a Juno 106. They are far too expensive now for what you get if your intention is to learn a decent amount about subtractive synthesis. I have one and they sound good and you can learn how to use them in an hour but you are going to want a LOT more modulation possibilities. Also, you have to watch out for the well documented issues concerning the epoxy coating of the voice chips that makes them eventually die. Not difficult to fix but do you really want that ticking time bomb? I have a 106 and have had the power supply and voice chips all completely redone.

I have an Alesis Ion and I think it may fit the bill for you.The thing I would caution you about is the build quality is not the greatest. There are plenty of posts about the two transistors on the main outputs going bad and needing replacement. I had to do it with mine. It has a lot of great features, though, and you can definitely not only learn on that synth but continue to use it to great effect in your future. It has loopable envelopes which are really great for making interesting pads.

One other synth you might want to consider would be a used Waldorf Micro Q keyboard. Not as great as a Q (and definitely not a Q+) but in your price range and definitely something you could learn a lot with.
I'm assuming the other early analog junos have the same issues then?
#15
26th January 2013
Old 26th January 2013
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The key to learning synthesis is nobs. LOTS of em. The more the better.... and stay away from menu driven synths. Out of your price range but you should consider the still cutting edge dave smith dsi polyevolver. Its got a nob for just about every parameter and sounds fantastic analog. Or prophet 08 or mopho x 4 (a good choice for your price range). The roland sh201 is a good second hand budget choice as well many other va's that dont have hundreds of menu pages to go through. NOBS!!!

Sent from my GT-I9100
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26th January 2013
Old 26th January 2013
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the ms-20 remake at $600 is a NO BRAINER for someone who wants to learn synths.
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26th January 2013
Old 26th January 2013
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honestly i'd just get a minibrute. has knobs/sliders per each function, totally analogue, cheap, will retain its value over time, etc.
#18
26th January 2013
Old 26th January 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JSt0rm View Post
the ms-20 remake at $600 is a NO BRAINER for someone who wants to learn synths.
this man speaks the truth. the mini or dark energy would be like taking a synth class, a really fun one. i know you could get a v1 de for $500. and i don't want to sound like a broken record here, but there was just something about a 1 osc mono with dedicated knobs that really helped me learn. something simple with a logical layout and no menu diving... and i believe that the lack of patch memory, requiring me to start from scratch so often, helped to reinforce everything i was learning.

i already pre-ordered the mini and i am sure it will be a lot of fun, but i would strongly consider the de if you want to learn synthesis in a direct and really pleasing way. it's just so simple. oh, and it sounds pretty amazing too.

ok i'll leave it alone now
#19
26th January 2013
Old 26th January 2013
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I learnt synthesis with an SH-201.

I still have it.
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26th January 2013
Old 26th January 2013
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Good learning combo:

* Kawai K1r (cheap, simple structure but powerful, good for learning basics)
* Doepfer Dark Energy (knobs, ideal learning synth)

And yes, the Mini-MS-20 is a good idea, too - but it is far away from "no brainer". I dislike the sound. For a beginner the patch possibilities are too complicate. The Korg Mini-MS-20 is a very special synth, extremely useful for some special tricks. A MFB Nanozwerg sounds much better imho. Vermona Mono Lancet is worth to mention as a good learning synth.
#21
26th January 2013
Old 26th January 2013
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I learned on a Novation Bass Station.

Minibrute would be the way to go for you probably. It's a cool ass little synth.

Also, I'm sure there are plug-ins that are basically a subtractive synth itb, i just forget what they're called.

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26th January 2013
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Aaron Cotton
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17th March 2013
Old 17th March 2013
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I ended up grabbing a DW8000 as my subtractive learning synth. I already a had a BCR2000 lying around so programming it is super fun. I have learned so much about Sythethis in the last 2 months, I'm hooked!
#24
17th March 2013
Old 17th March 2013
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Cool, thats a great synth. With the BCR hooked up you must be loving life :-)
#25
17th March 2013
Old 17th March 2013
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The key to learning synthesis is learning itjust by a dam synth with nobjlars and be done with it
Stop fussying and gets. One
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