Some people prefer vinyl to CDs. Others insist film is better than CCDs. Likewise, if you’ve ever used an analog synth, you are probably someone who can hear the difference. Sure, digital synths can sound really cool, but there’s something organic and warm about true analog sounds. Fortunately, analog synths have become more popular with time. This means that major synth makers have made plenty of affordable yet high-quality models.
Don’t be fooled, despite their low prices, all of these synthesizers offer great sounds and that true analog feeling (knobs, sliders, etc) and sound. Some factors to consider are how complex you want your synth to be and how musical. If you’re a musician, you may want to avoid the more modular synths and stick to the ones that have keyboards. If you’re more into synths and weird sounds, there’s no wrong answers, but in general the synths without keyboards offer more complex routing options and the like.
All that in mind, here’s the top 10 best cheap analog synthesizers.
1. Korg Monotron Duo
Oscillator 2 oscillators, sawtooth | Filter MS-20 Lowpass with resonance adjustment | Keyboard Ribbon | Extras X-mod circuit from Korg Mono/Poly, Accepts AUX input | Mono/Poly Mono |
You ever lost three hours playing with a device that has five knobs? Thanks to the Mini Duo and Korg’s line of cheap synths (my personal fave being the Monotribe [see on Amazon]), that can easily be achieved. Boasting two great sound oscillators, a simple ribbon keyboard which isn’t exactly a grand piano for coming up with melodies, but can be used to create interesting riffs nonetheless, and a nice filter. For some who are kept in creative gridlock overwhelmed by options or complexity, this simple device can be a great tool or simply a fun time. Either way, it undeniably produces some really cool sounds.
- Excellent introduction to analog sounds
- Two oscillators and a juicy filter (MS-20)
- Extremely fun for sound design and creation
- Can be used as a filter for external audio input
- Portable, battery-powered
- Not really practical for composition due to ribbon keyboard
- Some say it’s more of a toy than anything
2. Gakken SX-150 Mark II
Oscillator One osc, LFO | Filter Low pass filter with resonance | Keyboard Ribbon (no discrete notes) | Extras LFO, envelope, line-in | Mono/Poly Mono |
Taking the Korg Monotron’s keyboard to an extreme, this Gakken SX-150 truly cannot be used for melodies or riffs, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a ton of fun. Great for coming up with all sorts of bleeps and bloops, this little guy packs a variety of parameters and a solid sound. PLus you can run sounds into it for use as an effects pedal type of device. If the video below has some sounds you find interesting, the Gakken is a great way to blow an afternoon or ten.
- Bizarre soundtoy makes insane screeches
- Line in feature is a huge perk
- Large variety of parameters for such a cheap device
- Makes interesting and cool sounds
- Not very musical
- Build quality is poor
- Used to be sold for only $30
3. Moog Werkstatt-01
Oscillator 1 oscillator with pulse, saw and pulse width modulation, one LFO | Filter Voltage controlled filter (low pass) with cutoff and resonance | Keyboard 13 Buttons | Extras Adjustable glide, modulation, envelope, LFO has square and triangle shape, glide, complex modulation section | Mono/Poly Mono |
The Moog Werkstatt may look like a tame black box, but this little synth packs a ton of punch. It boasts 13 buttons for playing notes which is considerably more ergonomic than a ribbon synthesizer, but beyond this, there’s a lot of power under the hood. With a pulse or saw oscillator (it’s Moog, so you know it sounds good), an LFO, and an envelope, this synth can make sounds that are very interesting. A couple other things take it to the next level: namely a modulation matrix and a glide parameter. This is a mini synth with a ton of flexibility and a great, affordable intro to modular synthesis, if you’re thinking about dabbling.
- Borderline modular synth for this price is crazy
- Great introduction to advance synthesis
- Juicy sounding filter and oscillator
- Praised as immediately fun but deep as well
- Circuit bending and soldering can be done to create insane timbres
- Some found keys too small to be usable
- Confusing for people not familiar with synth terminology and functionality
- A small percentage of users found build quality unacceptable
4. Arturia MicroBrute
Oscillator Mixer of four waves, with overtone sub oscillitator and shimmering saw waveform | Filter Multimode filter (low pass, band pass, high pass) | Keyboard 25 Key | Extras LFO, Mod Matrix, line-in, envelope | Mono/Poly Mono |
While you may lose the credibility of a Moog, the Microbrute is a real keyboard synth with a very nasty, grimy sound. Some find it to be a bit cheap sounding, but you’ll have to check out the video below; surely no one can say this thing doesn’t create interesting noises. Frankly, the acid sound is great to my ears. On top of this, the Microbrute is easy to learn and use, it’s well-built, and offers a lot of interesting ways to play with one’s sound. Sure, the oscillators and filter aren’t Moog-level, but they’re very decent. Plus, one gets so much more from this device. If you’re on board for its tone, the Microbrute delivers in every other aspect.
Price: $299 (14 percent off MSRP)
- Described as unbeatable for its price range
- Small size and built like a tank
- Easy to learn and use
- Praised as great instrument and synthesizer
- Mod Matrix for complex sound effects
- Edges are sharp, can scratch or damage furniture
5. Novation Bass Station II
Oscillator 2 oscillators with sub-oscillator | Filter Acid filter, original filter, two DB slopes | Keyboard 25 key | Extras Pattern-based step sequencer, arpeggiator | Mono/Poly Mono |
The Novation Bass station isn’t wildly different from the Micro Brute in terms of flexibility, but it does offer a few big perks. Namely, a step sequencer and arpeggiator. That said, you can always run MIDI into the Microbrute and achieve similar results (assuming you have a decent DAW with a MIDI output device). If you don’t, then a step sequencer is a cool feature to have. Beyond this, the best indicator is sound. The Bass Station is a bit more aggressive and harsh sounding, especially with its gnarly acid filter. The Bass Station has a harshness, but many prefer it. As per the other synths, listen to some of its timbres and if you like it, know that you’ll be getting a high quality product cherished by many.
- Can store presets on hardware
- Aftertouch on keyboard for super expressive key touches
- Variety of envelope triggers and modulations
- Built-in arp for cool sequences, plus step sequencer
- Juicy and nasty sounds
- Affordable analog synth that doubles as versatile midi-controller
- Cannot trigger arpegiattor with incoming MIDI
- One user found it too complicated
6. Korg MS-20 Semi-Modular
Oscillator 2 VCOs, one with pulse width modulation | Filter Self-oscillating high and low pass filters | Keyboard 25 key | Extras External signal processing, flexibible patching, | Mono/Poly Mono |
The MS-20 is a famous synthesizer for its lush tones and juicy filters. Needless to say, it also offers excellent routing options which lead to spacy, big sounds. This synth is less aggressive than the Microbrute and Bass Station, but there’s a reason Korg revamped it; it’s still useful. It sounds like the ’80s, but in the best way possible. Frankly, not my cup of tea, but for fans of the ’80s and genres like chillwave, it’s a fantastic choice. Electro house it is not, however.
- Revitalized classic synth with a wonderful spacy sound
- Crisp analog sound
- Patch bay can be used to create amazing timbres
- Classic bass sound
- Robust but simple to pick up the basics
- Keys are a bit small
- On the heavy side
- Complicated to learn
7. Korg Minilogue (Editor’s Choice)
Oscillator Four oscillators with adjustable waveforms | Filter Oscilloscope, step sequencer, programmable, several distinctive modes, envelope | Keyboard 25 key | Mono/Poly Poly |
The Minilogue isn’t really a synthesizer’s synthesizer. It’s polyphonic and some people can’t stand the sound, but it’s the editor’s choice for a reason: a polyphonic synthesizer at this price is crazy. Of course, it wouldn’t be crazy if it didn’t sound amazing. Boasting a hefty set of oscillators, filters, and envelopes plus a few great effects is enough to set this synth apart, but it also has eight different modes and they all add a lot of variety and for lack of a better word, phatness, to the sound. Be sure you love the tones, but this is a synth that has a ton of power in an easy setup. Plus, changing the mode means you can get a really nice sound in one mode, and then an amazing sound in another. For me, it’s not even close, this is an amazing synth for its great sounds, and the fact that it can actually make chords!
- Praised as best analog synth for its price
- Midi knobs have great resolution
- Great for a variety of sounds
- Eight different ways of using its four voices for many different sounds
- Polyphony is rare for an analog synth this cheap
- One user had an issue with clicks in attack of sounds
- One user hated how easily the filter self-oscillated
8. Moog Mother 32
Oscillator One oscillitar with PWM and two waves | Filter Low and high pass famous Moog ladder filter | Keyboard None | Extras External audio input, 5 pin midi input, midi to CV converter, | Mono/Poly Mono |
If you’re looking to get into modulars, the Mother 32 has those classic Moog oscillators and filters with a matrix section that will do well, lots of stuff. It’s great as a piece or introduction to a modular synth or as a stand-alone unit, but it’s not for the faint of heart. Sure, one can get sounds out of it fairly easily, but to really enjoy this unit and get enough value from it, you’ll have to be the type that’s ready to spend a lot of time plugging and unplugging patch cords.
- Tons of options for interesting patches
- Legendary Moog filters at an affordable price
- Juicy pulse wave modulation
- Fits into Eurorack style modulars
- Outstanding build quality
- Moog products tend to hold their value
- A bit tough to understand and use all of the parameters
- More geared toward owners of modular synths
9. Pittsburgh Modular Lifeforms Sv-1
Oscillator Two oscillators with dual sub-oscillators | Filter State variable filter | Keyboard None | Extras MIDI to CV converter, signal splitter, envelope generator, and more |
Offering a ton of patching options, two oscillators and a great sound, the LifeForms SV-1 is a great starting point for a modular setup. One minor issue is that it has some harsh sounding sync (read review here), but beyond this, this synth does a ton of things. Like the mother, it has a robust MIDI to CV converter, which can be helpful in a modular environment. It’s not for the faint of heart; much like the Mother, you’ll need to put in some learning time before you’re able to make the sounds you want. That said, if you’re into modulars, this is a great starting point for a powerful and diverse kit.
- Two oscillators can be used to form nice harmonies
- Recommended pairing with Mother 32
- Oscillators praised as Moog like
- Snappy envelope for great pluck sounds
- Includes digital LFO
- Some of the parameters are annoyingly linear; can’t make fine adjustments
- More geared for the modular crowd than a stand-alone synth
- Filter is nice, but it’s no Moog
10. Moog Sub Phatty
Oscillator 2 Oscillators with one sub oscillator | Filter Low and high pass famous Moog ladder filter | Keyboard 25 Key | Extras Tons of routing options including midi in and out, external audio input, arpegiattor, and more | Mono/Poly Mono |
Closing our list out is truly a performance and stage ready synth. Inheriting a form factor and general vibe of its brother, the Slim Phatty, the sub phatty doesn’t change things up too much, but it does add some distortion and grittier timbres that for some music makers, make it a far more preferable choice. It’s a great instrument and playable as is; it’s meant to be jammed upon. Beneath it’s not-overwhelming exterior, is an array of parameters and controls, some of which are annoyingly buried (arpegiattor rate ugh!), but it’s still wicked fun to jam on, make weird sounds, and get really into some sound design.
- 31 knobs and 13 switches
- Excellent tactile instrument, great for live musicians
- Classic Moog sound with a nasty twist
- More gnarly tones than its similarly priced cousin, the Slim Phatty
- Keyboard is a bit small
- Many parameters hidden in shift mode
- Some users may prefer its bigger brother, the Sub 37, http://amzn.to/2uE5RBL
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