Whatever other bad stuff happened in 2020, some pretty tasty synths have emerged over the past 12 months that have offered some badly-needed relief.
Prophet 5 Rev 4
It’s a bleedin’ Prophet 5! Dave Smith of Sequential did what we thought was unthinkable and came up with a new revision of that most brilliant of polyphonic synthesizers, the Prophet 5.
It was the sort of announcement that sent studio owners and synth collectors into a tizzy of excitement as they tried to make space for the most desirable keyboard of the year. Except for those who were trying to make space for two because Sequential also released a Prophet 10 which conveniently doubled the voice count. Any synth aficionado worth their salty pads and brassy stabs needs the Prophet 10 for the enjoyment of the polyphony but also the Prophet 5 for the authenticity of the note stealing.
The new Prophets are beautiful polyphonic analogue instruments that would look superb in your creative space. The only snag being the aspirational price tag of £3,199 for the 5 and £3,899 for the 10.
More information: Sequential Prophet 5
Korg ARP 2600 FS
In many ways a modern reissue of the original ARP 2600 that uses the various revisions, some original engineers and some modern interpretations to bring us an authentic 2600 synthesizer. It’s beautifully made and designed to capture the look, feel and experience of playing with this seminal synthesizer as well as nailing the sound.
It comes in its own flight case with the 3620 keyboard and integrated sequencer/arpeggiator. It even has built-in speakers for that immediate and live vibe.
It was released as a limited run for €3,999 and those appeared to sell out really quickly. Rumours of a smaller version have persisted and we can only hope that there may be some truth to it.
More information: Korg ARP 2600 FS
While Korg went for the complete package Behringer decided to capture the sound and the interface in a scaled-down and slightly awkward looking rackable version. Benefitting from their modern factory processes the Behringer 2600 offers that ARP semi-modular sound at the extraordinary price of £555. The first few have just started landing with the first customers in the queue and all reports suggest that it sounds pretty fabulous. There’s no doubt that they will sell as many as they can build.
More information: Behringer 2600
Typhon is a little 2 oscillator analogue monosynth that comes up with a bit of innovation rather than wallowing in the past. It offers a simple and creatively curated interface for controlling the synthesis while packing in an engine of expandable effects algorithms. It’s very controllable, very instant and feels very playful and playable.
There’s a 32 note sequencer built in, everything analogue has a knob, the effects are brilliant and you can route in external audio to use it as an effects box. It’s refreshingly fun while being competent and useful.
More information: Dreadbox Typhon.
A deliciously quirky kaleidoscope of experimental adventures that uses mathematical ratios to tune a series of subharmonic oscillators and forge polyrhythmic pathways. The Subharmonicon is all about intervals and detuning, it’s all about the interplay of two 4-step sequencers and it’s all about taking you out of your synthesizer comfort zone.
It’s the perfect partner for a Mother-32 and/or DFAM and adds a delightfully experimental edge to your synthesizer adventures.
More information: Moog Subharmonicon
Erica Synths SYNTRX
Inspired by the EMS Synthi and designed in collaboration with the Riga Technical University SYNTRX is a homage to the vibe of the legendary synthesizer without trying to replicate or reinvent it; SYNTX is very much its own machine. They’ve pushed the boundaries in the quality and accuracy of the 3 analogue VCOs and in the digitally controlled patch matrix that echoes the Synthi but has a thoroughly modern implementation.
It’s a synthesizer that honours the discovery and experimentation that the Synthi brought to the electronic music world while bringing in patch saving, MIDI and other modern touches. At €2,500 it’s a monosynth for the connoisseur.
More information: SYNTRX
UDO Super 6
Feels like we’ve known about this one for ages. It first appeared at Superbooth 2019 and has teased us ever since with its 12-voice binaural analogue-hybrid architecture built on FPGA technology and Direct Digital Synthesis. The Super 6 manages to be totally modern while retaining the classic vibe of having no screen and all its knobs out on the table. Now that it’s available we’ve been impressed by the sound and the responsiveness to exploration. There’s something about that binaural sound placement and true stereo signal processing that lends it a remarkable amount of space.
More information: Super 6.
Herbs and Stones Liquid Foam
The best thing to come out of the virtual Superbooth 2020. It’s wonderfully different, engaging, creative and sounds fantastic. It calls itself a modular monophonic analog groovebox but it feels like an ever-evolving bass and melody box. The synth revolves around a dual sequencer engine that is designed to encourage complex pattern exploration. It has an analog VCO with two stages of waveshaping, a simple bi-directional envelope and a 2-pole low-pass filter with overdrive. It’s a quirky and entertaining box that’s different enough to use banana cables. Liquid Foam is a load of fun, particularly if you have two!
More information: Liquid Foam.
An impressive synthesizer from Arturia that fulfils many of the requests they’ve had for a proper polysynth. The Polybrute looks and sounds the part with a stunning front panel filled with knobs, lights and buttons surrounded by wood and hidden details. It has 6-voices using 2-oscillators per voice, a pair of filters and plenty of modulation. The oscillators are taken from the MatrixBrute and feature the UltraSaw and Metalizer waveforms along with the usual suspects and you also get half of the modulation matrix.
The hidden elements are in the performance department. A ribbon controller runs along the wooden strip behind the keyboard and on the left is a strange wobbly block of expressive control. It makes the PolyBrute a very playable synthesizer.
More information: PolyBrute.
Modal Electronics COBALT8
The COBALT8 from Model Electronics was a bit of a surprise. It seemed cheeky somehow to take an existing product, the ARGON8, and build an entirely different synthesizer inside it re-using all the same controls, layout and much of the functionality. On first glance it would appear to simply be a different version but actually COBALT8 is a very different animal. And when I say “animal” I mean something warm and cosy that curls up in your lap rather than a monster that bites your insides out. COBALT8 is an immensely pleasing synthesizer that’s easy to program, delicious to spend time with and feels like a warm hug followed by a mug of cocoa.
More information: COBALT8
What do you think of our list? Let us know in the comments if we’ve missed out your favourite synth that became available this year.
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