The synth sound, especially the analog synth sound, is coming back into the mainstream in a major way.
Many recent movies, television shows, and pop artists have started to use classic synth sounds as a way of signaling the past or a nostalgic retro feel.
Even the formerly exclusionary world of modular synthesis is finally starting to open its doors and make itself more accessible to a wider audience than ever before.
There is a huge amount of marketplace sites and gear forums that are all vying for your attention, promising that they offer the path to synth heaven.
But as with all other hobbies and interests, the best path is one that you blaze yourself.
If you’ve been asking about the best synthesizer for beginners, you’ve come to the right place. But our suggestions are far from the final word on the matter.
Use these recommendations as jumping-off points, sources of inspiration to explore each of them in detail and decide whether any of them is the right synth for you.
If you’re looking for effects pedals to compliment your new synth, check out this article.
The Arturia MicroBrute is a tiny little synth monster. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at it. It’s a pretty little box of goodies that will teach you a lot about what sound synthesis really is and how you can tweak it 12 ways ‘til Tuesday.
And yes, it’s also fairly expensive, but in the world of synthesizers, this is actually a pretty affordable model.
And while it’s a great synth for beginners, it can also be used in a professional setting as well, and it often is.
You get an oscillator (that’s the part that makes the sound), a filter (that’s a component that modifies the sound), and an envelope (which is a way of shaping your sound).
It also has a host of other features, but you’re going to see these basic components pop up again and again in the world of synths, mainly because they’re the building blocks of every synthesizer around.
Casio SK Series
If you’re on a budget and you just want a bare-bones synth that will be easy to pick up and play straight out of the box, then we recommend the Casio SK series.
The SK series is dated, having originally been released in the 1980s, but it was also the first run of consumer-grade synths to offer basic sampling functions.
This just means that they have built-in microphones that you can use to put your own sounds into the keyboard.
You’ll also get a few more factory preset sounds that are cheap but still funky and completely usable.
Yamaha Reface DX
The Yamaha Reface DX is also based on a synth from the 1980s, but this is a modern and updated version that makes great use of the wonders of technology.
You get a large number of factory preset sounds, as well as the ability to create and save your own unique synth sounds which you can make using onboard effects.
This keyboard also includes a phrase looper, which will let you record basic song ideas and tweak them if needed.
Right now, you can get this synth for a bit less than the MicroBrute, which is still pretty expensive.
The upside is that this synth can be a lifelong friend, one that follows you through different styles of playing and maybe even some live performances.
The Korg Family of Starter Synths
While putting together this list, we noticed that several of our choices just happened to come from Korg, a famous Japanese electronics manufacturer that has been making synthesizers for decades.
We’re not sponsored by Korg in any way. The only reason three of their synthesizers appear here is that each of them is relatively affordable and all are specifically geared toward beginners.
Korg has a talent for creating highly accessible synths, and it’s ultimately to the benefit of musicians everywhere.
Down the road, you may want to buy a more expensive synthesizer that gives you more options and sweeter sounds, but when it comes to getting your start, Korg has you covered.
Korg Volca Series
The Korg Volca series currently has several entries: Volca Keys, Volca Drum, Volca Modular, Volca Sample, Volca FM Synthesizer, Volca Kick, and Volca Beats.
As you can tell, each Volca synth has its own specific set of functions.
And in fact, the Volca Keys was my first real synthesizer. It has the same basic elements as many other synths on our list: an oscillator, a filter, and an envelope generator, as well as a 16-step sequencer and a tiny feedback circuit.
What this all means is that you get everything you need in a very small package.
Each Volca tends to be priced anywhere from $150-$200, leaving them in the mid-range for our list as a whole.
The Korg MicroKORG is a bit more like the MicroBrute than any other synth on our list. But while it features some basic effects and wonderful analog sound, the star of the show is the microphone and built-in vocoders.
Vocoders are essentially a form of synthesis that can turn a human voice into some crazy sounds. It has even been called an early form of Autotuning.
The synth takes input sounds and transforms them. You can even use the built-in arpeggiator to create compelling tunes without doing any of the playing yourself.
One major downside of this synth is that it commands a pretty hefty price, even when purchased used.
We recommend leaving this model until a bit later in your synth journey. But once you get your hands on it, you’ll be reminded of just how much fun songwriting can be with such powerful hardware underneath your fingertips.
As we mentioned above, the best starter synth is the one you like the best.
We highly recommend watching demo videos and getting your hands on floor models of all of these synths so that you can get a real feel.