The best budget polysynths for your home studio & playing live
Traditionally, polyphonic synthesizers were priced on the expensive side. Even the DX-7 – which was regarded as more affordable – cost close to $2000 when it was launched back in 1983. Times have changed however and we show you our pick of the best budget polysynths
Budget Polysynths – it’s a term that once upon a time simply didn’t exist! Thankfully in recent years, manufacturers have taken major steps toward making these instruments more accessible. Moreover, the home recording and content creation revolution we are currently experiencing means that the demand for quality at the budget end of the market creates healthy competition.
This means we will continue to see innovation, with exciting new synths being developed in the future at a price that more of us can afford.
Choosing the best budget polysynths
Don’t be fooled by the marketing of synth architecture stereotypes. Analogue oscillators do not guarantee a warm sound and digital or wavetable synths are not automatically harsh in comparison either.
There are plenty of examples of hybrid digital instruments with digital oscillators and analogue filters; they’re equally capable of producing incredible warmth and texture like the famous E-Mu Emulator II sampler.
The key factor to finding the perfect synth is all about how you contextualize it into your musical process, which goes beyond the sound alone.
Yamaha Reface DX
Like the other synths in this series, the Reface DX brings you back to the mid-1980s when the DX-7 dominated pop music. It does have some of the famous patches from the original, but more importantly, it’s a simple way into FM synth programming.
Although you might find the mini keys a little quaint, the overall build quality is surprisingly good. The touch sliders may be limited, but you can easily program and attach a controller of your choice to expand the tweakability.
The Modal Cobalt5s is a smaller version of the Cobalt8, but still a lush-sounding virtual analogue-style synth. It has five-voice polyphony, which is sufficient for basic chord progressions, and the aftertouch produces really authentic results.
The knobs and interface might not be for everyone, but having a polysynth that sounds this good at this price makes it worthwhile. Whether you use the patches or design your own sounds, you will be pleasantly surprised by what is possible with the Cobalt5s.
Behringer DeepMind 6
The DeepMind series may have started off as a modern alternative to the Juno-106, but it has evolved steadily. Rather than simply being a vintage reissue, the DeepMind 6 provides far more synthesis capabilities with an extensive mod matrix.
Overall, the interface is familiar enough to immerse yourself immediately, and the user community has grown enough to allow you to even buy 106-style patches for the DeepMind if you so desire.
ASM Hydrasynth Explorer
The Hydrasynth Explorer is an excellent entry point into the underexplored world of wavetable synthesis. The obsession we have with vintage-style synths often leads us to neglect the overall synthesis capabilities of an instrument, which would be ill-advised in this case.
The Explorer can produce an incredibly diverse range of sounds, and its interface is remarkably intuitive for such an advanced instrument. Equipped with eight voices, organic sounding aftertouch, and excellent built-in effects, it’s a great synth for the price.
Korg Minilogue XD
The Minilogue XD is a powerful analogue polysynth with wavetable capabilities. Although it only has four-voice polyphony, there are several voice modes including, Poly, Unison, Chord, Arp/Latch, and a 16-step polyphonic sequencer.
The effects section has been expanded considerably, compared to the standard Minilogue, with modulation effects, delays, and reverbs. In addition, the multi-engine oscillator allows youto to load your own wavetable presets via the desktop app.
More about polysynths:
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- Yamaha Reface DX: Yamaha
- Modal Cobalt5S: Modal
- Behringer DeepMind 6: Behringer
- ASM Hydrasynth Explorer: ASM
- Korg Minilogue XD: Korg
two words: dreadbox nymphes.
Great choice, but modules weren’t covered in this post.
you mean in the sense it doesn’t have a keyboard? ok I see. In my book it’s still in the “budget poly synth” category (of the “it can fit in my limited space and I definitely don’t want it to have a keyboard as I already have one” variety which is a bonus)
Agreed, the term “budget” is constantly changing. A Juno-106 for example was very much a budget synth compared to the market of its time.
Maybe check out the post on Desktop Synths:
Here we focused on synths with sequencers or some kind of triggers onboard.
It’s more expensive, but for the money, the Korg opsix (which costs the same as the DeepMind 6 on this list) is a far better buy than the Reface DX for FM synthesis.
really missing the minifreak in thus list
Although it’s a great synth, the price makes it slightly out of reach.
“In addition, the multi-engine oscillator allows youto to load your own wavetable presets via the desktop app.” you can load any kind of synthesis engine you can write in 32K combined code+data space; FM, additive, VA, karplus-strong, modal, wavefolders, Phase modulation, anything; not just wavetables – and it’s 32 entry wavetables to be precise.
As real budget DIY alternatives I would recommend two amazing projects: Microdexed Touch and TubeOhm Jeannie. But they are only available for musicians who also have skills in electronics, soldering and little mechanics. But these two polyphonic DIY desktop synthesizers sound absolutely incredible and have rich features.
About right, and as stated above, the now dropped Opsix is probably a better choice for FM than the Reface
I’d rate ’em
1 Hydrasynth (a joy!)
2 Deepmind 6 (unpredictable)
3 Wavestate (many uses)
4 Minilogue XD (very stable)
5 Cobalt 8 (the new Virus)
6 Microkorg (still a fat sounding VA synth 20 years on)
7 Modwave (fiddly but fat)
8 Argon 8 (nice wavetable)
9 Ultranova (cracking VA if you can still find one)
10 Access Virus (still up there)