I was recently in the market for a new synth, primarily for live use. At first I was considering the Roland GAIA SH-01 because of it’s price point, tweakability and features (decent on-board FX, tap tempo delay, 3 filters, etc.). But then I got to thinking… I already own a decent digital synth (Novation X-Station), I use a laptop as part of my live setup and have access to all sorts of digital VSTs, etc.
I decided it was time to go in a completely different direction. Time to go back to the basics. ANALOG.
I knew roughly what I wanted:
- 2 oscillators
- Glide (must-have for leads)
- Real-time tweakability
- Budget: ~$1000
At first I considered vintage analog synths, but obviously there are several caveats with this:
- Often overpriced. For example, the Roland SH-101, a basic monophonic synth can sell for $1000+
- Stability/reliability: older synths aren’t necessarily reliable, may not have automatic stabilization of the oscillators, etc.
Here are a few I did consider though:
- Yamaha CS-10
- Pros: relatively cheap
- Cons: only 1 oscillator, no patch memory
- Roland SH-101:
- Pros: can be converted to a key-tar (!), classic synth with a great sound
- Cons: overpriced, no patch memory
- Juno 6:
- Pros: polyphonic
- Cons: huge, no patch memory, voice chips are known to fail
I then switched my focus to new gear. One of the obvious benefits of new analog synths is that they have modern conveniences like MIDI, patch memory, etc. Not absolute must-haves for me but definitely nice-to-haves.
- DSI MoPho keyboard:
- Pros: patch memory, keyboard
- Cons: “paging” of the controls
- Moog Little Phatty:
- Pros: patch memory, keyboard, Moog sound!
- Cons: only 4 knobs, no noise generator
- Future Retro XS
- Pros: tons of synthesis options, semi-modular
- Cons: no keyboard, no patch memory
- Doepfer Dark Energy
- Pros: good price, small size, semi-modular
- Cons: no patch memory, no keyboard, only 1 oscillator, glide option extra, no noise
- MFB Kraftzwerg
- Pros: good price, semi-modular, 3 osc
- Cons: no glide, no patch memory, no keyboard
After careful deliberation I finally arrived at a winner:
Although it has its limitations (no noise generator, only four knobs), they can easily be overcome:
- I can use an external noise source (Moogerfooger CP-251, my X-Station, etc.) and route it through the external input.
- The 4 knobs can be remapped to anything, internal or external. So between these, the mod wheel, and the filter CV input (i.e. for expression pedal), that should be plenty of real-time control. Further, all of the parameters on the synth respond to MIDI so they can easily be tweaked from a controller.
- Although the Moog does page the controls, like the MoPho, it has LEDs around the knobs which is great for recalling presets. And with the “latch” mode there are no concerns about parameters suddenly jumping to a new value. Very cool.
The last time I owned an analog synth was when I as a teenager. It was my first synth actually, an Akai AX-60. Lots of fun, although not quite as punchy or warm as other vintage analogs. I’m stoked to own a new one, and a Moog no less!