A quality budget synthesizer can be one of the best ways to inject inspiration into your productions. With a host of brand-new sounds at your fingertips, you can start experimenting with new approaches to composition and arrangement. Synthesizers are amazing creative tools, even if you’re not a keyboard player yourself.
Can an Affordable Synthesizer Still Sound Good?
If there’s ever a persistent trend in the right direction, it’s that music-making equipment continues to become more and more affordable and still retains its quality. A straightforward “yes” would answer the question here. You don’t have to shell out thousands for a good sounding synth. For a few hundred bucks, you can have a nice tactile device to generate new sounds and flesh out your songs, and it’s arguably a lot more fun than using a plugin.
Also consider the fact that all of the synths listed here are made by trusted names in the industry. So just because it’s a budget synthesizer doesn’t mean that it’s a knockoff or something unreliable. The versatility of software is amazing, and obviously there’s a ton of convenience with virtual instruments and MIDI controllers. But having a real synthesizer at your disposal is just a different experience, and it can be a wholly inspiring one at that.
What to Look for in a Budget Synthesizer
One of the first distinctions to be aware of is analog versus digital synths. The former utilizes “real” circuitry and electrical components, whereas the latter usually takes advantage of digital signal processing. As far as sounds go, which is the important thing, analog synths do classic and more “traditional” synthesized tones very well, while digital synths are a bit more versatile and can get into some really strange and experimental territory.
You’ll also want to consider whether a synth is monophonic or polyphonic, in which the latter can use multiple synth voices at the same time to generate a chord. Apart from those two major distinctions, it’s generally a good practice to mull over the features and specs in order to make a final decision. You might prefer something more streamlined and less feature-rich than another, for instance, or you might want to go all-out on something incredibly versatile. At the end of the day, the best budget synthesizer is whichever inspires you to make music!
The 6 Best Budget Synthesizer Options for Your Home Studio
If it’s your first synthesizer and you’re feeling a bit adventurous, you can dive headfirst into the Behringer Neutron semi-modular analog synth. There’s really no better lesson than just getting your hands dirty, and with two oscillators and 56 patch points, the Neutron could be one heck of crash course in synthesis. Red-hot leads, crushing basses, and ambient pads are all on the menu; the Neutron by Behringer is an incredible value.
2. Korg NTS-1
Fans of DIY will love the Korg NTS-1. This is a highly approachable and fun kit that lets you piece together your own monophonic synthesizer with just a few parts and no soldering whatsoever. The NTS-1 is powered by a singular digital oscillator alongside a complete effects engine including chorus, flanger, phaser, reverb, and more. Building your own synthesizer may seem a little unconventional, but it’s the best way to get to know your gear inside and out.
Roland’s Juno-60 is one of the most celebrated synthesizers of all time, and it’s that same heart and soul that drives the Compact J-6. We’re looking at a portable four-voice synthesizer with a 64-step chord sequencer, arpeggiator, built-in effects, and a whole lot more. Even though it’s small, the J-6 has no shortage of sound-making capabilities, and it makes an excellent entry-level budget synthesizer.
The Akai Mini Play3 is hybrid MIDI controller and synthesizer workstation. Its compact frame sports 25 synth-action keys and its own audio engine which generates over 100 different drum and instrument sounds. Technically it isn’t really a synthesizer in the truest sense, but it’s still a cool piece of gear for any music producer. Use it to play virtual instruments in your DAW or use its own built-in sounds for any level of creativity.
The MiniBrute 2 by Arturia is a hugely flexible 25-key monophonic analog synthesizer with semi-modular capabilities via a 48-point matrix. The synth features two oscillators, an analog filter, two envelopes, a sequencer, an arpeggiator, and USB/MIDI connectivity. Arturia did a fantastic job with the MiniBrute, making an accessible synthesizer with a wide array of features for any sort of sound creation.
This is likely the most versatile budget synthesizer on the list. Internally the UNO is an analog synth controlled digitally, placing it somewhere in hybrid territory. It’s thoroughly impressive for its price and sonic capability. IK’s UNO has no problem acting as the centerpiece of a music production station; it would take a significant amount of time and experimentation to tap all of its potential.