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The best synthesizers in 2024 for every budget and taste

Synthesizers come in all shapes and sizes, and they are capable of doing many weird and wonderful things. In this article, I’m looking at the best synthesizers in 2024, or at least my favorites, anyway.

The world of synths is vast and diverse, but this list has something for everyone, from first-timers to experts.

Quick recommendations

The Yamaha Montage M8x is a sound design powerhouse and the best Montage to date. I love it because it does everything a keyboardist needs for any gig.

The UDO Super Gemini is a beautifully expressive synth that is a joy to play. The scary thing is that I think we’re still only seeing a small taste of things to come from UDO.

The Korg Volca Modular has been around for years and has been fantastic value for money from day one. Now, it’s even cheaper, almost making it a must-have.

Why you should trust me

I came into music as a student studying piano and composition, and for a while, my focus didn’t stray beyond the piano. But, while still in my early days, electric pianos and keyboard synthesizers got my attention, and I wanted to play anything with keys.

James Nugent, author and contributor at Higher Hz

A little further into my journey, after being introduced to desktop and rackmount modules, anything with keys became anything that makes a sound.

Fast forward 20 years, and I’m an avid synth enthusiast and a permanent fixture at synth tradeshows every year.

I’m typically working in some capacity, but when given the chance, I love to wander around events for fun and the sheer self-indulgence of being surrounded by synths.

The pianist in me still wants to gravitate toward synths with a keyboard, but if it makes noise, I’m there to find out what it does and how it works.

How I chose

Synthesizers can be very expensive, and even if they are worth the money, they aren’t always accessible to everyone.

I want to list the best synthesizers available for all budgets to avoid excluding anyone based on price or requirements.

Before shortlisting any instruments, I defined four price categories:

  • under $500,
  • under $1000,
  • under $2000,
  • over $2000.

I haven’t categorized my list by price but used those ranges during selection to ensure I included something for all budgets.

I considered the best keyboard synths, Eurorack modules, desktop modules, portable synths, and more.

Once I shortlisted instruments that fit the above forms, I started to pick out my favorites based on other defining qualities, like the best analog synths, best hybrid synths, best wavetable synths, and so on.

The result is a list of contrasting synths that are all the best in their class in one way or another.

I should add that I took the easy way out, and the list isn’t in order of best to worst; they are too different to compare directly.

Here’s a quick list:

Best all-rounder: Yamaha Montage M8x

The Montage M8x is my favorite synth for performers who want to do everything with one keyboard. It’s a genuinely outstanding synth, but if you need a world-class stage piano for a gig, it offers that, too.

playing the Yamaha Montage M8x
Image: Yamaha

Yamaha’s Montage M8x is the best and most ambitious Montage to date. This 88-key powerhouse boasts three sound engines, nearly 4000 presets, and a GEX hammer-action keyboard with polyphonic aftertouch.

It features the 8-operator FM-X engine, the AN-X engine (16-voice, three oscillator 90s AN1x synth), and a much improved AWM2 engine. The enhanced AWM2 engine means iconic sounds, like Yamaha’s CFX concert grand, are better than ever. With a max polyphony of 400 notes (three engines combined), the sound design capabilities of this synth are massive.

The Montage M8x is everything that previous models could have been and more. The difference-maker is the overhauled interface, which now provides a quicker workflow and easier programming.

The speedy workflow with a quick-edit screen allows you to harness the full power of each engine. Features like the Super Knob (with more morph points than ever), Motions Sequencer, and Envelope Follower let you create sonic landscapes you couldn’t with another synth.

Read my full Yamaha Montage M8x review to find out more.

What I like

  • Huge max polyphony.
  • Produces massive soundscapes that most synths can’t.
  • Great interface.
  • Three outstanding sound engines.
  • Polyphonic aftertouch.

What I don’t like

  • Expensive.
  • AN-X engine only 16-voice.
Buy Yamaha Montage M8x at: SweetwaterAmazon

Best hybrid synth: UDO Super Gemini

The Super Gemini is one of the most expressive and tactile synths I’ve ever played. It’s built like a tank and produces some monstrous sounds, but this bold machine can also be soft, sweet, and subtle.

UDO Super Gemini hybrid keyboard synth
Image: UDO

The Super Gemini is a 20-voice (or 10-super-voice) synth that uniquely combines the best of classic analog and modern hybrid synths.

This dual-layer synth offers the ultimate hands-on workflow by providing dual synth-control levels rather than A/B banks. It’s this unique workflow that makes the Super Gemini a highly-expressive instrument.

As well as making quick adjustments on the fly, you can apply different arpeggiator settings per layer to create intense evolving soundscapes.

The Super Gemini has a 61-key semi-weighted keyboard with polyphonic aftertouch, adding even more control over expression. In addition to the aftertouch, there’s an extra-large custom-designed ribbon controller not unlike that of the iconic Yamaha CS-80.

With a true-stereo Binaural signal path, dual FPGAs, and twin effects processors, the Super Gemini offers a sonic palette unlike any other. More importantly, it creates a connection between the player and the instrument that very few synths do.

What I like

  • Incredibly expressive.
  • Dual control levels.
  • Polyphonic aftertouch.
  • Outstanding build quality.
  • Per-layer arpeggiator.
  • Unique evolving soundscapes.

What I don’t like

  • Expensive.
  • It’s a big unit (but it has to be).
Buy UDO Super Gemini at: Vintage KingB&H

Best Eurorack module: Instruō Cš-L

The Cš-L might take a little getting used to, but it perfectly showcases the Instruō way of doing things, which is to take you beyond the expected and offer some creative sidesteps along the way. It sounds incredible, perhaps especially in the realm of West Coast synthesis, but it’s more than that.

Instruō modular setup including Cš-L
Image: James Nugent, Higher Hz

The Instruō Cš-L is a complex oscillator that builds on the typical West Coast standard for generating complex waveforms, much like the 70s 259 (Don Buchla) module or the much later DPO from Make Noise.

The Cš-L then strays from the typical by having two oscillators that can each act as the carrier or modulator rather than an oscillator defined for each purpose.

The oscillators are normalled to each other and can modulate each other, but have contrasting cores (top – Saw/bottom – Triangle capable of running at LFO speeds), taking the sonic capabilities beyond reasonable expectations.

Although the Cš-L takes a little getting used to, it offers more than most similar modules before patching any cables, thanks to its internal routing and modulation bus. When you start patching, the Instruō Cš-L is a sound designer’s dream. The module also features a wavefolder per oscillator and classic/contemporary (double pulse) PWM.

A less important but inescapable feature of the Cš-L, and all other Instruō modules, is that it looks fantastic.

What I like

  • Independent wavefolder per oscillator.
  • Three types of audio modulation.
  • Goes beyond the expectations of a typical complex oscillator.
  • Sub-oscillator.

What I don’t like

  • Slightly fiddly layout for large hands.
Buy Instruō Cš-L at: InstruōPerfect Circuit

Best monosynth: Moog Grandmother

I’ve owned a Moog Grandmother for some time and still find the blend of simplicity and flexibility incredible. The Moog Grandmother is a touch of the classic Moog Modular sound on a much lower budget; it’s more than meets the eye, and I love it.

Moog Grandmother analog synthesizer
Image: Moog

The Moog Grandmother is a semi-modular synth with an eye-catching retro interface. This classic-inspired mono-synth is surprisingly heavy for its size, but that’s a testament to the outstanding build quality. All of the controls feel great, as does the 32-key Fatar keyboard.

The semi-modular nature of the Grandmother allows an impressive range of sounds without the need for any patch cables. Of course, there’s lots more fun to have when you get the cables out.

There are two oscillators (derived from the Minimoog): Oscillator 1 offers selectable ranges from 32′ – 4′ (octave), and Oscillator 2 from 16′ – 2′ (Oscillator 2 has an independent frequency adjustment knob).

The oscillator module offers oscillator sync and six patch points, including Pitch In, Wave Out, PWM In (Osc 1), and Linear FM In (Osc 2). It’s also possible to patch the LFO as a third oscillator.

Other modules include a mixer, VCA, filter, envelope generator, and spring reverb, all based on circuits from vintage 1960s Moog modules. The filter, as expected, is the classic Moog 24 dB transistor-ladder filter.

The spring reverb is lovely, and a 1/4-inch instrument input allows you to feed external sources through the Grandmother’s reverb unit.

Read my full Moog Grandmother review to find out more.

What I like

  • Value for money.
  • Spring reverb.
  • Classic Moog Modular sound.
  • Flexible.

What I don’t like

  • Some features aren’t immediately obvious.
Buy Moog Grandmother at: SweetwaterAmazon

Best reinvention of a classic: Oberheim OB-X8

Reinventing or reimagining a classic is usually met with skepticism, and since the OB classics were so iconic, I was one of those skeptics. Still, I had high hopes, but after hearing the OB-X8 for the first time, I had doubts. Then, I heard Nick Semrad play it, and the sound blew me away.

Shortly after getting my hands on the OB-X8 for the first time, I wanted one; unfortunately, I didn’t sound like Nick Semrad, but I can’t blame Oberheim for that.

Oberheim OB-X8 polyphonic synthesizer
Image: Oberheim

The first thing to say about the OB-X8 is that, while it’s true to the Oberheim sound in many ways, it isn’t just an OB-X, OB-Xa, and OB-8 crammed into a single unit.

Oberheim’s OB-X8 is an eight-voice analog synth with two SEM/OB-X lineage oscillators (sawtooth, pulse, and triangle waveforms) per voice. It also features genuine Doug Curtis filters (CEM3320) with three unique analog configurations.

The OB-X8 is a tactile synth with sensibly marked and arranged sections, making it easy to shape your sound on the fly.

It has a Vintage knob that adjusts the variability of different components to mimic the sometimes unpredictable behavior of vintage synths. The Vintage knob, along with the core elements of the synth, delivers the classic OB sound that defined hits like “Jump” and “1999,” but the OB-X8 brings a modern twist.

The Modulation section provides ample LFO routing destinations for classic effects like filter sweeps, vibrato, etc. A useful OLED display allows access to Page 2 functions, like changing the LFO speed depending on where you play on the keyboard, which is an exceptionally creative tool with the right sound.

In true Oberheim fashion, the bi-timbral OB-X8 is a hefty machine with lovely real walnut cheeks. Desktop module and 61-key models are available.

What I like

  • Modern and classic OB sounds.
  • Intuitive interface.
  • Modern creative features.
  • Genuine Curtis filters.

What I don’t like

  • Expensive.
  • Page 2 functions can become tedious to access.
Buy Oberheim OB-X8 at: SweetwaterAmazon

Best budget desktop synth: Behringer Neutron

Behringer’s Neutron is outstanding value for money; there’s no better way to describe it. If money was no object, it’s not the best desktop module, but at under $350, the pros far outweigh the cons, and it’s an excellent buy.

Behringer Neutron and DeepMind 12 synths
Image: James Nugent, Higher Hz

The Behringer Neutron is a budget-friendly semi-modular analog desktop synth that looks and sounds great.

Behringer is a brand that continues to divide the opinions of synth enthusiasts due to its many tribute/clone releases. I personally think some of them are very good, and provide a cheaper alternative for many people. However, the Neutron is a Behringer original, and as such, comes without controversy.

The analog monosynth module has two oscillators and an impressive 56 patch points. Although it’s an original synth, it includes a nice clone of the classic CEM3340 VCO that was famous in the 70s/80s.

The filter section (12 dB, LPF/HPF) is pretty good but can sometimes become a little unintentionally harsh. Despite some flaws, the Neutron delivers some great sounds, and you can push it into more experimental realms, which is great. It’s hard to top for the money.

What I like

  • Value for money.
  • 56 patch points.
  • Classic and experimental sounds.
  • CEM3340 clone.

What I don’t like

  • Filter section can be irritating at times.
Buy Behringer Neutron at: SweetwaterAmazon

Best budget portable synth: IK Multimedia UNO Synth

I’ve loved the UNO Synth since its release because it’s everything you want from a budget synth and more. It’s cheap, lightweight, portable, fun, and, most importantly, it delivers some serious sound.

IK Multimedia UNO Synth
Image: James Nugent, Higher Hz

IK Multimedia’s UNO Synth is a relatively cheap way into the world of analog synths. It comes with a 27-note touch keyboard that’s surprisingly easy to use. This little monosynth is fun and quirky, but it provides some lovely features, and produces very usable sounds.

You can use the touch keyboard for live playing or to program the onboard sequencer and arpeggiator. The sequencer and arpeggiator are more flexible than the price suggests, making the UNO Synth an ideal instrument to inspire new ideas.

The UNO Synth also has a handy scale mode that you can use to create genre-typical patterns or something more unusual.

If there is a downside, it’s that it feels a bit flimsy or cheap because it’s plastic, but after some use, most will soon forget. I like the retro design, and the fact it has optional battery power means you can take it anywhere.

What I like

  • Punch analog sound.
  • Value for money.
  • Portable.

What I don’t like

  • Underwhelming construction.
Buy IK Multimedia UNO Synth at: SweetwaterAmazon

Best wavetable synth under $1000: Korg Wavestate Mk2

I could easily look to something way more expensive here, like a Waldorf Quantum, but Korg’s Wavestate Mk2 is excellent value for money.

It was a slow-burner for me; I didn’t like it immediately, but I came to love it in time. It’s the best wavetable synth under $1000, although the Hydrasynth Explorer provides stiff competition.

Korg Wavestate Mk2 synth
Image: Korg

The Korg Wavestate Mk2 is a digital wave sequencing synth. It has a 37-key, velocity-sensitive keyboard, and it’s full-size keys, not mini.

In an impressive upgrade from the first model, you now get 96 voices of polyphony instead of 64. This upgrade takes the sequencing potential of the Wavestate to a new level; you can get lost for days in it. Other upgrades over the original include additional presets and more memory.

Along with the increased polyphony, there are four sound layers that you can blend using the vector joystick. The ease with which you can blend layers makes the Wavestate one of the most diverse-sounding synths on the market, considering how much variation you can achieve from a single patch.

You also get four arpeggiators, one per layer, so the sound design potential of this little synth is massive. It features sample content from some of Korg’s best keyboards and modeled MS-20/Polysix filters. It takes a while to get around everything, but it’s worth the effort.

What I like

  • Massive sound design potential.
  • Vast modulation options.

What I don’t like

  • Slightly tedious learning curve.
Buy Korg Wavestate Mk2 at: SweetwaterAmazon

Best portable West Coast synth: Korg Volca Modular

The Korg Volca Modular is well under $200, and there’s no way to describe it that doesn’t make it sound like an absolute bargain. If you want a touch of that Buchla West Coast sound on a budget, this is where to find it.

Korg Volca Modular
Image: Korg

The Korg Volca Modular is one of several Volca units, and according to many users, it’s the best of the bunch. There are a couple I haven’t tried, so I can’t go that far, but I love it.

The Volca Modular is a pocket-sized (if you have a large pocket) semi-modular synth with a 16-step sequencer. Like other instruments focusing on that West Coast synthesis approach, the Volca Modular is more experimental and random than traditional.

You build your sound around the oscillator section featuring two VCOs (Triangle), Functions, which act as versatile envelopes, and dual LPGs. The dual LPGs act as filters with individual cutoff controls. As a nice finishing touch, the Volca Modular has a built-in space reverb effect.

Beyond the main elements mentioned above, other features like Woggle (sample and hold), CV in connectivity, and 50 patch points (20 cables included) are worth highlighting. It really shouldn’t be this cheap, but I’m glad it is.

What I like

  • Value for money.
  • Great sequencer.
  • CV in.
  • Experimental sounds.

What I don’t like

  • It’s not for users who want straightforward subtractive synthesis.
Buy Korg Volca Modular at: SweetwaterAmazon

Honorable mentions

These are synths that didn’t make the list but could have.

  • Novation Peak. The Novation Peak isn’t new, but if your budget doesn’t stretch to a Novation Summit, it’s a powerful alternative and one of my favorite desktop synths.
  • Modal Argon8. On paper,  the Argon8 may not look better than many others, but there’s something about it; I love playing it.
  • Roland Fantom 8. The Fantom 8 is a monster, an all-rounder, and an alternative to the Yamaha Montage M8x.
  • UDO Super 6. A cheaper, less expressive, but superb alternative to the Super Gemini.
  • Korg Minilogue. The Minilogue might be getting old, but it’s still excellent value for money.
  • Korg Monologue. Not quite as impressive as the Minilogue, but if you want some Moog-like bass on a budget, it’s fantastic.
  • Sequential Prophet-5. If the OB-X8 weren’t on the list, I’d have the Prophet-5 as my favorite modern classic.
  • Arturia MiniFreak. It’s the best of Arturia’s Freak series and a surprisingly versatile hybrid synth.

Conclusion

The world of synths is weird, wonderful, and addictive; if you’re like me, you’ll find reasons to want every one of these synths (if only it were that easy).

I hope you find something that not only fits your budget but inspires and enhances your creativity because these synths are all awesome.

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