The best desktop synths under $1000 for studio and live performance
When you’re working with loop-based music, a keyboard isn’t always the most practical solution for input. We’ve selected some of the best desktop synths under $1000 that are centered around onboard sequencers and standalone creative possibilities.
Selecting the best desktop synths under $1000
Whether you’re looking for a simple monophonic lead and bassline machine, or a complete sound creation station there are a few things to keep in mind. While some designs aim to innovate around the framework of vintage instruments, others bring something completely new to the table, or tabletop.
A desktop synth could be one part of an extensive setup, being triggered by an external sequencer or a DAW like Ableton Live. Alternatively, it can also provide an escape from the software realm, offering a portable groove-based sound creation tool for use in studio or on stage.
The TD-3-MO is a recreation of the famous Roland TB-303 Bassline with a difference. This design is inspired by the Devil Fish 303 mod from Robin Whittle of Real World Interfaces, greatly expanding the sound design potential of the original.
The pattern sequencer provides a similar user experience to the 303, but the addition of a row of CV ins and outs and several expressive synthesis parameters offer possibilities for more than just creating basslines.
You have the power to control the filter via MIDI, or link the TD-3-MO with other external gear in numerous ways. Overall, its an affordable analogue acid station with all the tweakability you could ever want.
In Roland’s boutique series, the SH-01a is a somewhat scaled-down version of the iconic Roland SH-101 synthesizer. Although the controls are small, the format suits the 101’s layout and the digital ACB engine produces a surprisingly accurate model of the original.
Additional features include 64 patches onboard and 64 pattern slots for storing sequences in the memory. You also get like Unison and Chord mode, as well as 4-note polyphony, which makes the SH-01a a different type of instrument.
While one could argue that the SH-01a is still digital and doesn’t have a pro-grade balanced line output, but it’s still an amazing creative tool for the price. What’s more, it’s expandable with the Roland Boutique K 25m keyboard.
The Mother-32 is a semi-modular analogue synth that is centered around a 32-note step sequencer. It’s also compatible with the Eurorack format, so it fits directly into the rack of your modular system.
The layout is simple enough to understand, even if you’re new to synths. This offers a single VCO and LFO that gives you plenty to work with across the available controls.
Once you get into the modulation matrix on the right-hand side of the panel things really start to get interesting, as you have the power to approach the instrument in a range of new ways.
ASM Hydrasynth Desktop
It might not have an onboard sequencer, but the Hydrasynth Desktop is an incredibly powerful modern synth with huge sound creation potential.
You get 8-voice polyphony and a versatile wave-morphing virtual analogue synthesis engine with endless live tweakability. From macro controls and the 24 Pad grid with poly-aftertouch, to the extensive 32 slot mod matrix with five envelopes per voice.
It’s easily linked with your Eurorack system and you have a wide range of waveforms to choose from, which gives you an extensive sonic pallette to work with.
In typical Elektron style, the Syntakt offers a groove-based approach to music creation. By combining 4 analogue synth voices, 8 digital voices, and an analogue filter, you have a unique set of tools for creating rhythms from scratch.
The design is centred around a very versatile sequencer with several input modes including a very useful keyboard mode. In addition, the intuitive interface and on-screen parameter layout gives you just the right platform for spontaneity.
It is reaching into the upper end of the price range, but as a standalone tool the Syntakt is hard to compete with. A compact desktop unit with so much creative power.
More about Synthesizers:
- All about synths
- Thomann’s guide to Synthesizers
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- Behringer TD-3-MO: Behringer
- Roland SH-01a: Roland
- Moog Mother-32: Moog
- ASM Hydrasynth Desktop: ASM
- Elektron Syntakt: Elektron
I love the SH01A and it’s the only one in the list that feels reasonably priced. Syntak would be better if it had a rounder and thicker tone but it’s very shrill, bright, and hi-fi. That onboard sequencer is amazing on the Syntak.
Hydrasynth. Prefer the Explorer but the module is great too. It’s a different synth altogether, not quite as complex as the Wavestate, but capable of jaw-dropping sounds of just about any style. Two of the 3 oscillators can morph, and all 3 have modifiers. You have the noise and ring mod on top of those oscillators, and 5 step LFOs to apply to them. The mod matrix has 32 slots and is really good. The analoguing functions in the Voice menu give the synth it’s lovely fat, warm sound, if you want that. Nothing wrong with any of the gear in this list, it’s all good gear, but my choice would be the Hydrasynth