Arturia MicroBrute by keystation
The Microbrute is roughly the size of a small Mackie mixer, which means it should be able to find a home inside the even most cluttered studio. It is also the ideal size to add some spice to a DJ or EDM stage rig.
This little guy is solidly built, with a combination of a metal control panel and a thick plastic bezel. This does have the dreaded mini keys, but they are well made and have good "synth-style" action. If you need full size keys, there is a DIN MIDI input to plug in your full-size controller. MIDI output is a high-speed USB port, which will also allow for control of softsynths on computers and iPads (as long as you have sprung for Apple's wildly-expensive, "Camera Connection Kit" for your iPad).
Buyer beware: If you buy an Arturia Microbrute, be sure when you first start using it that you don't have any plans, because this thing will absolutely absorb and amuse you for hours. Like a Florida sinkhole, it may look small, but once you dive in, you will find this little analog synth to be very deep.
The Microbrute reminds me very much of my old ARP Axxe, a classic little mono synth that was the keyboard version of the ill-fated Avatar guitar synth (sadly, the Avatar killed off ARP back over 30 years ago). While guitar players struggled to figure out how to use the Avatar, synth nerds (like me) loved the spunky little Axxe, which provided most of the capability of the Odyssey (I had one of those then, too), but at a fraction of the price. The Microbrute stays in the spirit of the Axxe by being affordable, small, highly-programmable and sounds great.
The Microbrute has a nice, clean workflow. Octave buttons (2 up octaves/down 2 octaves) are at the upper left corner. To the right is the single oscillator section, featuring 3 mixable waveforms & a cool "metalizer" knob. Next right is the fabled Steiner-Parker filter section that includes another mysterious knob known as the "brute factor". In the upper right corner is the mod matrix (Arturia includes two mini jumper wires) that allows customizing patches beyond just what is possible with the knobs and switches alone. Going down the right side there is the volume knob. Right above the 25-key keyboard is the step sequencer, which includes 8 preset patterns, or the ability to record your own pattern, along with a rate knob and tap/rest button. Going left are the 4 sliders for the ADSR envelope controller. Left of this is a highly-programmable LFO section. A glide knob and mod wheel selector switch (a choice between filter cutoff or LFO) is next. Then wrapping this all up are two, very nicely-weighted & callibrated wheels for the modulation and pitch bend.
In the back are the I/O and tuning features. This includes the aforementioned MIDI, instrument input (mono), instrument level knob, headphone output, line output (mono), CV gate in/out/pitch and a collapsable tuning knob. The whole thing runs on an included wall wart. For even more control, there is an iOS app called MIDIBrute available (this works with its bigger brother, the MiniBrute, too).
If you are looking to learn synthesis, or are a veteran synth nerd looking to go back to the good old days when monosynths had knobs and required a user's control to conjure up those sweet analog sounds, then the Microbrute, at just $299, is for you.