The Best Synthesizer Keyboards for Music Production under $500
No music producer can resist to a “real” analog synth. In 2018 you can be a proud owner of one of the best synthesizer keyboards for music production at under $500.
Synthesizers have been around since the ’60s, but they got recognize and used by musicians widely a decade or two after. When Giorgio Moroder produced “I feel love” for Donna Summer, the synths in his recording studio costed more than the house I live in today. A Recording studio with Moog and Roland Synths seeing on every corner.
How much things have changed since then?.. a lot. The luxury for few has now become available for everyone. The massive drop in prices and the large production of new and more powerful tools didn’t happen from one day to another. In the ’90s, the music industry introduced to Digital Audio Workstations (DAW). Music production software, as many are familiar with the term, take the production process from hardware tools into analog. Tools that costed a fortune to produce a track now you can record an album in your laptop or PC from your bedroom. This idea gave birth to Virtual Studio Technology (VST). The virtual instruments simulate popular digital synthesizers, sound modules, drum machines or actual musical instruments. However, the sound, features, and look might be approximately the same with a synth but does not offer the full capabilities and sound quality of a synthesizer.
If you need free VST to start music production take a look at the best free VST plugins.
What is a synthesizer?
Well, I believe there is not much to tell here that you already don’t know. Synthesizer is an electronic musical instrument that generates electric signals that are converted to sound through your speakers, headphones or to record it to your computer. You can produce the sound of your desire by manipulating filters such as pitch, velocity, pulse, tone, and many more.
Synthesizers might vary but the signal path from “Oscillator” to “Filter” and then “Amp” is always the same. Start with the base waveform (Sine, Square, Triangle, etc.) that is generated in the Oscillator and then into a filter to shape your sound with boosting or cutting frequencies. Last destination at the Amp section to give additional modification with Reverb, Echo, Delay and many other audio effects.
Difference between a MIDI keyboard and a synthesizer
They might look the same, but they are far away different. Synthesizer is an electronic musical instrument that consists of several different modules which work together to produce a synthesized sound or recreate an instrument. In other words, you can create your own sounds and compose electronic music with that one tool. On the other hand, a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) send a series of messages to other instruments so that they will generate a specific sound. The MIDI keyboard doesn’t produce any kind of music on its own.
That is is the biggest reason synthesizers are more expensive than simple MIDI keyboards. Synthesizers include a lot of tones and ways to manipulate them. It takes expertise and knowledge to create these electronic signals.
In case you were also in research for a MIDI keyboard check The Best MIDI Keyboard Controllers for Home Recording Studio in 2018.
Things to consider before buying a synthesizer keyboards
- Digital or Analog: Analog synthesizers offer a distinct, warm, and full old school sound. Digital instruments have developed a quite lovely sound as well. Besides, they are more versatile and cheaper than analog synths.
- Keys (Count and feel): Synthesizer keyboards exist at many sizes. However, for a full 88 or 61 key-count synth, you will have to invest a bit or a lot more. Synthesizer with 25, 37 or maximum 49 keys, are preferable these days because of their compact size and easy portability. That way you will have the place and money to purchase more synths and experiment with new tools and sounds.
- Type of Sounds: Different genres will require different tones and sounds. Thankfully with manipulating the pitch, velocity, pulse, tone, and add filters such chorus, delay and reverb you will be able to create sound closer to your likes and desires. There are also some synthesizer keyboards that are focused on one type of sounds such as bass, synth, strings. Be sure of what music you want to produce before making a choice.
- Extra sounds and features: Synthesizers usually include a variety of tone knobs, wheels, buttons, and other settings that will let you manipulate the tones and create your own sounds.
- Computer interface: I guess in 2018 you don’t want to end up with an instrument without a digital connection. Therefore, I would suggest you, to go for a synthesizer with USB connection. That way, you will no longer have to invest in expensive technology to record and modify your sound, but you can do it right away to your computer in the DAW of your desire. On the same matter, it will also be good to go for a synth with MIDI capabilities. Take a closer look at The best DAW (music production software) and get ready for music production.
Robert Moog said that “You have to be a musician to make music with a synthesizer”.
In 2018 you will find high-quality synthesizer keyboard, sound modules, digital pianos, keyboard workstations and more. It might be an overwhelmed market but can cover the needs of every musician and with any available budget.
After hours of researching, experiment with synthesizers and discussing with other musicians, we found the best eight synthesizer keyboards in the market for under 5600 dollars. We took under consideration the sound quality, sound banks, computer interface, extra features, budget and customer reviews.
8 of the Best Synthesizer Keyboards for Music Production under $500
1. Korg MS20 Mini Semi-Modular Analog Synthesizer
The first synthesizer keyboard in our list will bring you nostalgia and memories. If you have some experience in electronic music production, you have probably already seen the Korg MS20. In 1978, when the Korg introduced the world to the MS-20 analog synthesizer, it was an instant success. Every musician wanted to lay their hands on this tool. Unfortunately, you had to invest big bucks in adding it in your recording studio.
Decades past, the expertise, and know-how have improved, the market has grown, and the iconic synthesizer is reborn in the form of MS-20 Mini.
The new age synth is 86% the size of the original, and not only doesn’t lack sound quality but have been added extra features as well.
This light and portable synthesizer offer 37 keys. However, the keys are small with no touch-sensitive and aftertouch. Korg MS20 mini is a monophonic analog synth but it offers computer integration with USB connection, and MIDI port to connect an external keyboard. It will integrate with the majority of DAWs such as Ableton Live to easily record and edit your tracks and sounds.
The sounds that you will be able to produce with this synthesizer vary. Most electronic music producers will enjoy this tool, as it offers an excellent old school, house, and genuinely electronic sound.
Additional features of the vintage synthesizer by Korg is the self-oscillating high-pass and low-pass filters with distinctive distortion as well, as the external signal processor (ESP) that uses the volume of the external audio source.
Conclusion: Korg MS 20 mini has a sturdy construction, a sound that is hard to compete and such an affordable price tag that it cannot go unnoticed. Definitely a great value for money choice with a quality guarantee by Korg. The nearly perfect reviews on Amazon.com and other online markets will prove our words.
2. Novation MiniNova Analog Modeling Synthesizer
This powerful synthesizer by Novation is a great budget-friendly option. If you can overlook the “mini” size, it will repay you with the fantastic UltraNova’s sound engine.
Same as the Korg MS20mini, the MiniNova is an analog synthesizer with 37 keys. The keys however on that model are velocity sensitive. Furthermore, you will find eight buttons with which you can modify your sounds in real-time. As well, a dedicated filter knob, four further editing knobs and pitch, and modulation wheels. The LCD screen is added to make the navigation through the sounds and samples an easy job.
The great Nova-series synth-engine is capable of creating and editing massive sounds with up to 18 voices. You can also add up to 5 effects for each voice. Effects such as distortion, reverb, chorus/phase, delay, compressor, EQ and ‘stutter’ effect gives you plenty of room to edit, experiment and be creative.
The instrument offers up to 256 sample sounds, but you can also add 128 more of your own.
With plenty of connectivity, such as USB, MIDI in/out, XLR input and audio outputs to connect your headphones or amplifier you will always be covered. An extra feature is the onboard vocoder, with which can recreate hip hop vocal sounds, as well as classic house and techno voice effects. Pretty amazing what you can do with such a small tool.
Conclusion: Novation MIniNova is a great value-for-money instrument and is a great fit for music producers, performers or just play-for-fun synthesizer keyboard. The brand reliability and customer reviews leave no room to doubt that it worth a place in your home recording studio.
3. Korg Minilogue 4-Voice Polyphonic Analog Synth with Presets
Korg and vintage looking synthesizers go together. Minilogue 4 voice is one of these analog synths that most producers has or still use in their music studios.
The sound of the Minilogue is at the known high-quality level of Korg’s instruments. Clean, full and unique. It features up to 100 editable presets and 200 program memories to add your own. Get ready to spend days on that bad boy. Flexible configuration of 4 voices via voice mode, automatable 16-step polyphonic note, and the motion sequencer makes it a versatile synth, to be creative.
Common seen on most budget-friendly mini synths are the 37 keys. Same here with 37 touch sensitive mini keys. The synth keyboard also offers modulation wheel but lacks proper pitch control.
A unique feature on its category is the oscilloscope function that shows you the waveform visually.
Extra features are the 41 dedicated panel controls for immediate parameter access. As well, as a flexible filter, arpeggiator, and delay. It doesn’t lack connectivity, as it offers an audio input for processing external audio, patch storage, MIDI and of course USB to connect it straight to your PC and DAW.
Conclusion: Even if the price tag might be a little over $500, it definetely worth every penny. The sound, features and the build-quality of Korg that you won’t find it even with a bigger budget than that. Highly recommended by musicians and of course it is Amazon’s Choice, as the 2 previous models above.
4. Yamaha MX49 Music Production Synthesizer
I bet some of you got discouraged only by looking at that synthesizer keyboard. Well, it might seem old-school, but the Yamaha MX49 will compensate with sound, budget, and keyboard.
First of all, we leave behind the 37 mini keys and go to the 49 full sized keys with touch sensitivity. You will also find modulation and pitch control on the left side of the keyboard.
The keyboard synthesizer by Yamaha features over 1000 Voices from the legendary Motif series. The preset vary from realistic acoustic sounds such as piano, electric piano, strings, and drums.
We are looking at a synth with universal sound, not only ideal for electronic music producers but all music genres you can think of.
The package comes with Steinberg Cubase AI. A professional DAW that features 48 audio tracks, 64 MIDI tracks, and built-in VST effects to get from first ideas to recording, editing and mixing your productions. The USB Audio/MIDI connectivity will give you the real “plug and play” experience without installing any drivers.
Conclusion: The Yamaha MX49 music production synthesizer is right on our budget and is available in 3 different colors, black, blue and white. If you are looking for a quality, versatile, portable synth and with over 37 keys, then this is probably the best option for you.
5. Korg microKorg 37-Key Analog Modeling Synthesizer with Vocoder
If you haven’t noticed yet, the market of budget-friendly, quality synthesizer keyboards, are dominated by Korg. Just because they have been around since day one, they have the knowledge and expertise to offer an analog sound on a portable digital synthesizer keyboard.
Since its release in 2002, many musicians have embraced the microKorg analog synthesizer for its high-quality sound and features. The 37 velocity sensitive keys is a standard for mini synthesizers, and the modulation and pitch control are not missing from this keyboard.
There are 128 completely editable presets including sounds such as bells, electric pianos, guitars, and basses. Which also you can find categorized in House/Techno, Hip-Hop, Electronica, Trance, Retro, D’n’B, and Vocoder selection programmes.
Korg Microkorg offers analog waves like saw, pulse, sine, and noise, plus more unique choices like Vox wave and cross wave. 4 Voices, 2 Oscillators with Noise Generator, an 8-channel Vocoder, three types of Modulation effects, three delay modes, six types of arpeggiator and the equalizer will all contribute to give you a performance that is unheard of any synthesizer in this price range.
Conclusion: Korg Microkorg is one of the top-selling synthesizers in the world every year since its release. All the above features along with the sweet price tag make it a great instrument for both audio professionals and music enthusiasts.
6. Korg Monologue Monophonic Analog Synthesizer with Presets
The smallest and cheapest synthesizer keyboard of our list is the Korg Monologue. With an interface and design very similar to the previous Minilogue 4voice polyphonic analog synth, it’s a great, more affordable and portable option.
So far we met 37 and 49 key-count synthesizers, but the last 3 of our list offer just 25 keys. Therefore, Monologue by Korg is a next-generation monophonic analog synthesizer with 25 touch sensitive keys.
Korg Monologue offers three analog waves for you to pick between saw, pulse, and sine. You will also find 100 program memory locations (80 presets + 20 user made programs).
You will be able to produce rich sounds such as deep basses, cutting leads, and complex rhythms.
There’s an enhanced step sequencer, which gives you the opportunity to record in real or step time. The 16 physical buttons are re-designed for quick editing and improvisation, while the movements of up to four knobs can be captured with the motion sequence function.
Conclusion: If you have a tight budget, 25 key-count synthesizers will cover you in the studio, plus will offer extreme portability everyewhere you go. Korg Monologue comes in 5 different colors (black, blue, red, silver and gold) for you to pick according your preferences.Check price on Amazon.com
7. Novation Bass Station II Monophonic Analog Synthesizer
Novation Bass Station II is a monophonic analog synthesizer with a unique sound and technology you cannot find in its category and price range.
The keyboard offers 25 velocity-sensitive keys with assignable aftertouch and mod and pitch wheels. Novation Bass Station was built to deliver punchy bass, and with the two oscillators with four waveforms and the extra sub-oscillator, you will be able to achieve that. A flexible modulation with two envelopes and 2 LFOs are also available.
It offers 64 sound presets and 64 user memories to save your creative work. It might not look like many memory slots and presets, compare to other of our list, but don’t forget that this is a bass committed synthesizer.
There are also two filters, one New ‘Acid’ filter, and a ‘Classic’ original Bass Station filter, that will help you deliver great filter tones. You can easily switch the bass station filter from low pass through high pass to bandpass. Furthermore, it offers an Arpeggiator with a programmable step sequencer to store and call up patterns and ideas.
Conclusion: Novation Bass Station II is an analog synthesizer that offers extreme portability and connectivity to your computer, external devices, headphones and more.
8. Arturia MicroBrute Analog Synthesizer
The smallest, lightest and one of the cheapest synthesizer keyboards in the market comes from Arturia. Arturia MicroBrute is an analog synthesizer with 25 velocity-sensitive keys as well as modulation and pitch wheel.
It looks like the Arturia MiniBrute, and in fact, it is a smaller version of it. Arturia MicroBrute offers 100% analog audio signal path. As well, a voltage-controlled oscillator with three waveforms to create your own unique sounds. There is also the bonus of a built-in sequencer and Steiner-Parker multimode filter (LP, BP, HP), with external audio-in.
Furthermore, it comes with Analog LAB 2, which gives you access to more than 5000 presets from the award-winning V collection. IIf you want to connect it your PC, or external devices you can easily do it, as it offers many connectivity options such as USB, MIDI, Line In/Out and more.
Conclusion: Portable, good sound-quality, affordable, and with nearly perfect reviews on online stores, it is definetely worth a place in our list for the best synthesizer keyboards. It also available in red color and bundled with Audio Technica ATH-M40X headphones. A studio quality pair also listed nn The Best Studio Headphones under $100 in 2018.
As long you will research for the best synthesizer keyboard in the market you will find more and more amazing tools to purchase. It won’t take long until you see the one that perfectly fits your needs on sound, features, quality, looks, and price.
All our choices above are perfect for getting your hands on the first budget-friendly synthesizer keyboard. Ideally, you will have to hear each of this instrument and then be the judge and find the one YOU like. That is something we cannot provide through documentation and writing.
Keep in mind that the synthesizers of our list, if for example have a sound sample “grand piano”, it won’t sound just like a grand piano. Even $2000-$3000 synthesizers cannot perfectly recreate the sound of a real instrument.
For alternative keyboard players, check the best digital pianos in the market.
If you found any synthesizer that sounds great to you, share your experience in the comments below and help other musicians to make the right choice.