Does the world of electronic music excite you? I know how you feel! The ability to create and playback sounds from electronic devices gives a lot of pleasure, as it fosters creativity in you. This is especially true for analog synthesizers, that you can play right away, without having to connect them to a computer and configure their settings. There are literally dozens of different electronic instruments that one can experiment with. For people who are already somewhat familiar with music theory, synthesizer keyboards combine a well-known instrument (the piano), with other filters and oscillators, making electronic music more accessible to beginners. Besides that, they offer a lot of capabilities for more advanced users.
As a result, synthesizer keyboards have become increasingly popular in the past decades, and there are many reputable companies now that produce various models. If you are looking to buy a synthesizer keyboard, you ‘ll probably feel overwhelmed by the huge variety that exists out there. Additionally, if you are not familiar with certain synthesizer concepts, you might find it hard to understand each model’s specifications, and consequently, which one would be a better fit for your needs. To help you with this quest, I have gathered here the 10 best synthesizer keyboards currently on the market. Each model is presented in simple words, with its advantages and drawbacks, so that you know what to expect from it. If you want to find out more about the top 10 synthesizer keyboards, it’s time to begin!
Best Synthesizer Keyboards Summary:
- Easy to understand & operate
- Compact & portable
- MIDI connectivity
- Highly portable
- USB & MIDI connectivity
- 88 weighted keys
- Great sound performance
- Good for live performance
- Easy to understand & operate
- Compact & portable
- MIDI connectivity
- Highly portable
- USB & MIDI connectivity
Top 10 Best Synthesizer Keyboards 2021
1. Korg MicroKORG
The Korg MicroKORG is a product of a well-known company in this niche, and it has been an extremely popular keyboard synthesizer for many years.
It comes with 37 mini semi-weighted keys, a dual oscillator synthesis engine and an eight-band vocoder that can create many classic synthesizer sounds. It also allows you to edit and customize sounds in real time with five different knobs, and it also features three effects, external audio processing, 128 editable presets and three delay modes.
The knobs and controls are quite easy to use, making this keyboard synthesizer suitable for starters. The MicroKORG is quite small and easy to carry around, and you can use it for live playing.
Moreover, you can record songs without using any other equipment and it comes with two audio inputs. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with a USB port (perhaps unsurprisingly, as it is a pretty old model), but you can use its MIDI capabilities to connect it to your computer.
2. Roland GAIA SH-01
Here comes another product from a big brand: the Roland GAIA SH-01 is a powerful synthesizer with 37 full-sized velocity sensitive keys and three virtual analog engines.
Each of them has a filter, an oscillator, an LFO, and an envelope, while dedicated knobs allow you to control them with ease. The interface is made to be easy and allows you to play live with this synthesizer keyboard.
Additional effects include flanger, low boost, delay, distortion, reverb, as well as a phase recorder, a D Beam, and an arpeggiator. You can stack up to five effects simultaneously, which makes the GAIA SH-01 a really versatile instrument.
This is a very portable synthesizer, as it comes with a compact and lightweight design along with the capability to be battery-powered.
In terms of connectivity, there are both USB and MIDI ports that connect it easily to your computer, but on the other side, the lack of an audio input might be quite burdensome.
3. Yamaha Montage 8
The Yamaha Montage 8 is a premium-quality keyboard synthesizer that comes packed with loads of features for both amateurs and professionals.
It features 88 keys with hammer action, emulating the feeling of playing on an acoustic piano. In terms of sound performance, it comes with the Motion Control Synthesis Engine that controls two engines at once: AWM2 and FM-X, providing you with realistic sounds.
It also features high-quality embedded digital to analog conversion. There is a high level of versatility that lets you both experiment with different sounds and customize the keyboard to your needs. The eight rotary encoders and faders, combined with the LCD screen allow you to control it with ease, and it is actually one of the best models for playing live.
All these features of course come at a price, making this synthesizer an expensive one.
4. Arturia MicroBrute
The Arturia MicroBrute combines the capabilities of a larger synthesizer keyboard (the Arturia MiniBrute) in a smaller size.
It comes with 25 mini keys that might be a little bit too small for those with big hands. Its compact and lightweight design make it very easy to carry around.
It features a high-quality oscillator and a step sequencer that let you create classic analog synthesizer sounds. Controls include a modulation and a pitch bending wheel, along with a bunch of knobs and faders, besides the small size.
The Arturia MicroBrute is an affordable instrument, while its easy-to-use interface makes it suitable for beginners. Its versatility is enhanced by the MIDI connectivity and the audio input, that let you connect it either to your computer, or process another instrument.
5. Korg Minilogue
The Korg Minilogue is a compact synthesizer keyboard that comes with 37 slim keys that are velocity sensitive (note that some people might find them too slim).
It has 4 voices, which is quite a surprising feature at this price level, as well as a 16-step sequencer. The automation feature lets you create patterns easily and along with the intuitive menu make it a beginner-friendly instrument. More advanced users can benefit from functions such as shape control, cross modulation, tape style delay and ring modulator.
A nice thing is its 200 programmable memories and 100 presets that let you store and recall everything you create.
The Korg Minilogue has sturdy build quality that ensures durability. Moreover, its compact design allows it to be easily transported.
In terms of connectivity, it is quite versatile as it features both USB and MIDI connections, along with audio inputs and outputs (both headphone and line outputs).
6. Moog Grandmother
It is impossible to make any list with the top synthesizer keyboards and not include at least one Moog model: this famous brand has created some of the most iconic synthesizers.
The Moog Grandmother is a semi-modular monophonic synthesizer with 32 velocity-sensitive keys and it has been inspired by the big Moog synthesizers, offering high-quality sound performance.
It features 2 oscillators, a 4-pole ladder filter and a 1-pole highpass filter. Moreover, it comes with 41 patching points for analogue synthesizer enthusiasts, as well as a built-in spring reverb.
On the other hand, its interface is not easy to use for those who are just starting out, so this is not a recommended keyboard synthesizer for beginners. Another great advantage of the Moog Grandmother is its looks: it has a vintage design that makes it quite beautiful.
Regarding connectivity, it comes with both MIDI and USB connectivity to hook it up to your computer easily.
7. Roland JUNO-DS88
So, what about those of you who want a synthesizer keyboard that has 88 keys, just like an acoustic piano? Well, there is one!
The Roland JUNO-DS88 is a greatly versatile keyboard that comes with 88 weighted keys that mimic the feel of an acoustic piano, adding to playability.
Of course, the JUNO-DS88 also comes with many electronic features such as a variety of organ and synth tones, vocoder, reverb and auto pitch effects. The sound quality is very rich and detailed, featuring advanced digital processing for its sound synthesis.
Additionally, it features an 8-track pattern sequencer and built-in recording functionality. Besides the keys, controls include 8 pads and a pitchbend/modulation lever.
This is a synthesizer keyboard that is quite transparent, which means that it is quite easy to learn and to operate.
A mic input allows you to plug in a microphone and edit your voice. Unfortunately, it is quite bulky to be carried around, although it is not impossible to transport it.
8. Korg MS20 Mini
The third (and last) entry from Korg on this list is a small version of the bigger Korg MS20 that was first released in 1978.
The Korg MS20 Mini is a powerful synthesizer with 37 mini keys. It incorporates two oscillators with ring modulation, envelope generators, high pass and low pass filters, USB connectivity, and a quieter VCA.
It comes with dual filters that allow for great experimentation: this synthesizer keyboard is highly recommended if you want to explore your sonic identity, as it also features a patchable design.
A great advantage of this synth is the fact that it is very compact, making it easy to store and carry around. The sturdy build quality ensures that the MS20 Mini won’t be easily damaged and that it will last for years to come.
9. Novation MiniNova
Just like the previous one, the Novation MiniNova is a recreation of another model (called UltraNova) in smaller size.
It comes with 256 built-in sounds, while also allowing you to create and store your own sounds. You can stack up to 5 on-board effects such as reverb and chorus.
Additionally, the vocoder comes with autotuning technology that you can use for your voice, as a microphone input lets you pass it through the synthesizer keyboard.
The Novation MiniNova comes with a display with eight buttons that makes using it quite easy, although trying to navigate the menus to activate more advanced features can be a bit of a hassle.
On the other hand, the pitch and editing controls are quite large for easier operation. MIDI connectivity is also provided, if you want to hook it up to another keyboard.
10. Arturia MicroFreak
And now for something completely different: the last model of this list has quite a unique approach regarding both sound performance and its overall design.
The Arturia MicroFreak features 25 pressure sensitive keys with aftertouch and 11 digital oscillators that let you create and transform unique and weird sounds.
This keyboard synthesizer is great for those who want to experiment a lot, but people who want to create more “classic” analog synthesizer sounds might find its sound style not suitable for them. It allows you to save your settings and recall them through the user presets.
The Arturia MicroFreak is lightweight and compact, and it can fit into any bag to be carried around. Moreover, you can either power it with an AC adapter or via USB connection. Another big plus is its low price, which makes it affordable for most people.
Best Synthesizer Keyboards Buying Guide:
Synthesizers form an essential part of the music industry. We have created this best synthesizer keyboards-buying guide with all the required information and a detailed breakup of the spectrum of synthesizers.
How To Choose Synthesizer?
- Intended Use
What synthesizer do you choose or what sound you are aiming for depends greatly on your intended use. Are you going to use it primarily on stage or in a studio? Many features do overlap between the two kinds, but they’re still quite a few genetic differences.
Stage Synthesizers are portable, have higher sonic coverage. These synthesizers are ones with a preset-based operating system.
Studio Synthesizers are generally fixed and have a varied range. These are highly variable and tweakable and are highly specialized and advanced.
- The Keybed Design
The number of keys in a keyboard is defined as a keybed. This, along with the key action of a keyboard, make the keyboard different from others. The number of keys in a keyboard can range from as low as 25 keys. The upper limit is 88 keys. These keys can range from across two octaves to seven octaves. While 25 keys have a two-octave range, 37 has three, 49 has four; each jump of 12 keys jumps an octave.
For full-blown musicians who play orchestrated sounds, they need a high number of keys in the keybed. For a singer or vocalist who needs it for leads or pads, one hand, a small synthesizer is adequate.
- The Action of the Keybed
This is the next most important factor to consider. There are three types of keyboard actions:
- Synth-action – For this action, the keybed is designed as unweighted, resistance-free to any finger pressure. These also tend to be velocity-sensitive. Whereby the harder the key is pressed on the keyboard, the louder the notes sound would be.
- Semi-Weighted action- These are designed to play at various dynamic levels. They have a slight resistance to the keys, mostly from springs, akin to that in pianos.
- Weighted action keyboards- These can range from the ones with resistance added like simple weighted ones. The others have a pivot action like that in pianos. There is also a graded action hammer that comes closest to sound and performs like a piano.
- Size of the Keys
The keys of a keyboard are not standardized. They vary from models and brands. There are mini keys on tabletop synthesizers or portable ones. Then they have slim lines keys that are longer and wider than the mini ones and a wide and full-sized key. The sound isn’t different from either; it is just a matter of comfort.
Choosing Keyboard According To The Sound
Different syntheses have different sounds. Each synthesis varies in textures and complexity. Some of the fundamental differences in various sounds:-
Polyphonic or Monophonic?
Monophonic or mono sounds refer to one sound. They play one sound at a time. They are exceptionally good at playing leads, bass lines along with sequenced ostinato lines. They are small and lightweight and are an excellent addition to the stage. They can also be used as external sound processors.
On the other hand, Polyphonic systems are larger workstation units and have a four-voice to 128-voice. They are responsible for rich pads and help in two-handed playing. This allows those who are looking for chordal accompaniment and complex orchestra harmony.
Understanding the Terms Analog, Digital, Hybrid, Modeling Synthesis
- Analog Synthesis
It is when analog circuits, aka oscillators, use low amplifiers, pass, bandpass, high pass filter networks, and electro-mechanical circuits to modify and manufacture various sounds. The sounds are generated by a waveform that is shaped by different filter networks. They then get modulated and amplified sounds.
- Digital Synthesis
This uses digital technology to create sounds. This technology uses microchip-based digital controls along with digitally generated waveforms. When coupled with presets, it brings out advanced sounds.
- Hybrid Synthesis
This is the new category of sounds which are a combination of analog and digital sounds. The strength of both forms of synthesis makes sounds flexible. This format creates a marriage of digital oscillators, wavetable forms, and the fat, resonant analog filters to create sonic effects.
- Modeling synthesis
This synthesis technology is modern and uses digital signal processing (DSP) chips. The DSP mimics the actions of analog components, which are standard analog components. They also can be used as acoustic sounds.
Other Things To Look Out For
- MIDI Compatibility- The Musical Instrument Digital Interface is used to facilitate recording digitally and make the best of traditional and electronic musical types of equipment. A MIDI controller is needed to record MIDI sounds. A MIDI-compatible synthesizer can import and export sounds and also record them. This increases the diversity in sounds and tones played by the synthesizer. It also helps to have recording capabilities on your synth.
- Connectivity with Computer- Nowadays, no gadget can be useful till they are not connected to the computer. The most common connectivity options are USB, MIDI, FireWire, mLAN and S/PDIF. They are either external or are built in a synthesizer. This helps in editing and customization of the music created on the synth.
- Other features like a sequencer, sampler, arpeggiator, controllers.
- Storage- some of the latest models now come with storage facilities as well.
FAQs About Synthesizer Keyboards
1. What is the best synthesizer for beginners?
The best synthesizer for beginners are Korg Minilogue-
Korg Minilogue is one of the best modern synthesizers. It is a polyphonic synth. It helps get pads that have multiple uses. The dedicated knob function is second to none. The arpeggiator, the sequencer, is second to none.
Arturia Microbrute- This is a highly user-friendly analog synthesizer. It has classic sounds and is more retro than modern. This monophonic synth has four oscillators that have their receptive signal enhancer.
2. Who makes the best synthesizer?
Korg is by far one of the most renowned synthesizer manufacturers. They are known to produce both monophonic and polyphonic keyboards. Their sound is second to none and is preferred by most professional musicians. With user-friendly and power-packed features, they are also designed to be durable and last long.
3. What’s the difference between a keyboard and a synthesizer?
Synthesizers are musical instruments designed for musicians who create original scores and adjust or alter other music sounds. It is for those who are looking for depth and detailing and other controls.
Keyboards have built-in speakers that can play an assortment of sounds like piano, wind instruments, guitars, organ, choir voices, strings, and synthetic sounds. It is automated and doesn’t give much scope to edit.
4. How do I learn to play the synthesizer?
Whenever one tries to learn a musical instrument, it is best to do it by having fun. It is the same with synthesizers. It is relatively easy to understand after you learn the basics. Therefore, you need to start learning from the basics. Enroll in some classes. There are some good online courses as well.
5. Can you play the synthesizer without electricity?
Synthesizers do not use acoustics or vibrations to create sound. They use electrical signals that are generated and amplified to produce sound. Therefore, a synthesizer can’t make music without electricity.
As you can see, all these previously mentioned models are quite diverse. Their differences make sure that you will find at least one that will please you. But since all of them are premium-quality keyboard synthesizers, how will you know which one is the best for you? The answer is simple: the best for you is the one that fits your needs. So, let’s find out which are the factors that will determine your final decision.
The first one is pretty obvious: your budget always influences your decision, as it is hard to go over budget for a musical instrument. However, you can find many low-budget options on this list, which means that the money you plan to spend won’t be too much of a restriction. You should also think about other factors: for instance, do you want your synthesizer to be portable? If the answer is yes, you should look for one with compact and lightweight design. Are you planning to hook it up to a computer? Then, you want one with USB connectivity. If you already own a sound card with MIDI inputs, then MIDI connectivity works fine, too.
Finally, what about your level? Beginners benefit most from easy-to-use synthesizer keyboards. On the other side, more advanced players need versatile keyboards that can help them make true all their sonic ideas. Make a list of what is important for you in a synthesizer keyboard, and then take a look again at those top ten models. I am sure that you will easily find the one that works best for you!