Choosing the best synths of 2022 is no mean feat! 2022 has been a year of new synthesizers, mixed-up bold ideas, nuanced pathways, reissues and vintage vibes. Choosing the stand out synths from this year has been no mean feat, but with that said, here are my top 5…
The Best Synths of 2022: Synth highlights of 2022
But first, some of the highlights that didn’t make the list. The predicted avalanche of Behringer synthesizers didn’t materialise, but plenty of other manufacturers were able to come up with some very interesting machines.
Moog got very nostalgic this year with the reissue of the Minimoog Model D and great big cabinets of modular. We saw interesting machines from Artisan Instruments and were fascinated by the motorised knobs of the Melbourne Instruments’ Nina. The Synthux Academy wants us to design our own synthesizer, while ST Modular has the Buchla-inspired Euphoria ready for your soldering iron. Dreadbox got into kits and nostalgia with Dysmetria, and the return of Erebus and Hades. And Roland gave us the ultimate JUNO and some very cool battery-powered boxes to play with in the park.
So here’s my top 5, and I’m aiming for those which became available this year and come from a range of budgets and intentions.
The long-hoped-for return of Oberheim to the world of polyphonic synthesizers happened in May of this year. Having reclaimed his name, Tom Oberheim, with the help of Dave Smith of Sequential, set out to celebrate the legacy of Oberheim. The OB-X8 brings together elements from the OB-X, OB-Xa and OB-8 in a modern and beautifully made synthesizer.
The layout is clear, simple and very playable; it looks like a classic before you even touch it. It’s an 8-voice polyphonic synthesizer with two VCOs per voice based on the SEM/OB-X. Filters then come from all the machines and the SEM to offer you a wide range of loveliness in the tonal department. It’s bi-timbral, letting you play two sounds layered or split and comes with 400 crafted presets to melt your heart.
It’s the synth that Tom was destined to make, and it’s every bit as juicy and gooey as you imagine it to be.
You were not expecting that were you? This project seemed to capture everyone’s imagination. The idea that with a cheap little microcomputer, you could construct not just one, but a whole bank of DX7s just blew our minds. MiniDexed is an Open Source project created by “probobopd” but it was brought to our attention by YouTuber Floyd Steinberg in a video where he showed us how to put it together.
MiniDexed runs on a Raspberry Pi with the Audio+ V2 shield and GPIO expander. You’ll need an LCD display, breadboard and encoder. The rest is dealing with the software that runs up to 8 instances of the DEXED VST plugin.
It was an extraordinary thing, and I think it just edges out the also excellent Korg Volca FM2. The FM2 upped its game to offer 6 voices of DX7-compatible FM synthesis in a tiny box with a usable interface and fun sequencer.
- MiniDexed Github page.
An unexpected development on the fun and quirky MicroFreak gave us the synth we didn’t know we needed. The MiniFreak takes the playful and slightly bizarre engine of the Microfreak and fills it out into a proper-sounding polyphonic synthesizer. Where the Microfreak was fun, the Minifreak is fluid and full of zest, where it was quirky, the Minifreak is versatile, innovative and experimental. It’s the best synth I’ve played in ages.
MiniFreak is a 6-voice polyphonic hybrid synthesizer with 2 sound engines that can run any of the 20 diverse and fascinating digital oscillators. These are shaped by analogue filters, an ADSR and function-style envelope, two LFOs and a very spicy sequencer/arpeggiator.
It’s enormous fun to play, sounds fabulous, it’s compact and affordable and if you like the security of computer music making then it comes with a virtual version of itself for your DAW. The MiniFreak is the synth everyone should have.
Cre8audio East Beast
Cre8audio gave us two awesome little synths this year in the shape of the East Beast and West Pest. While the West Pest is probably more innovative with its emphasis on wavefolding, the East Beast is such a fun and rewarding monosynth that it has to be on this list.
The star of the show is the PGH Filter from Pittsburgh Modular. It is a riot of smooth butteriness smashed into a vat of treacle. It’s then poked into a fury by the digital control system that can randomise through filter modes and oscillator waveforms to make it spit and fart at you with alarming inconsistency. It’s a beast that you just want to cuddle.
Synths don’t have to be mighty and complex. They can be compact, fun, cheap and sound brilliantly familiar while giving you new places and themes to explore. The East Beast pulls this off magnificently.
cre8audio East Beast
Black Corporation ISE-NIN
While we hear a lot about potential or forthcoming Roland JUPITER-8 clones, Black Corporation has already done it, and done it beautifully. The ISE-NIN is a work of art in synthesizer form. It captures the heart and essence of the classic Roland polysynth and delivers it to you in an exquisite desktop synthesizer.
ISE-NIN is an 8-voice polyphonic dual oscillator analogue synthesizer. It follows the JUPITER-8 layout with high and lowpass filters, noise, two ADSR envelopes and a VCA. It’s bi-timbral so you can layer up two sounds and each has its own velocity, aftertouch and MPE settings. It also has an arpeggiator and sophisticated microtuning. It sounds phenomenal and gives you the whole Jupiter experience through the front panel.
It’s beautifully made (and also available as a kit to build yourself), although they have been thin on the ground. Black Corporation has also produced a very limited run of 5 with a different colour scheme that is being sold in aid of non-military related charities working in Ukraine.