Analogue Performance Synthesizers


Published in SOS March 2013
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Reviews : Synthesizer

The recent resurgence of brand-new analogue synths means that there's never been a better time to invest in one. We round up some of the more 'hands-on', performance-oriented models on the market, with links to the SOS review where available.

Oberheim Two Voice Pro $3495$3495

Oberheim Two Voice Pro synthesizer.Oberheim Two Voice Pro synthesizer.The Two Voice Pro combines two of Oberheim's much-loved Synthesizer Expander Modules, plus a 37-note keyboard and a sequencer. Up to 99 sequences can be stored in the instrument's flash memory, and sequences can be chained together to make up songs. You can even play two sequences at the same time, or play one while noodling away on the keyboard! It's not available yet, but Oberheim expect to be shipping the Two Voice Pro in the next couple of months.

Schneiders Buero +49 (0)30 9789 4131

Audio MIDI +1 866 283 4601

Arturia Minibrute £429$499

Analogue Performance Synthesizers

This cute monosynth caused quite a stir when it was released, not least because Arturia had previously only been making software! It's a decidedly 'old school' instrument, however, with every function having its own control. There are four waveforms available (sawtooth, square, triangle and noise), each of which can be mixed in via sliders. A multi-mode filter is on hand, as are two ADSR envelopes, two LFOs, a 'Brute Factor' (distortion) control, and an arpeggiator.

Review: /sos/mar12/articles/arturia-minibrute.htm

Source Distribution +44 (0)20 8962 5080

Moog Sub Phatty £819$999

Analogue Performance Synthesizers

Moog are arguably the most iconic name in analogue synthesis, and their brand-new Sub Phatty promises much of what gives Moog synths their distinctive sound (including the four-pole filter), while benefiting from distortion circuitry that aims to give it a more modern flavour. It has two variable-shape oscillators plus an additional sub-oscillator, separate envelopes for the filter and the ampliifier, and MIDI I/O on both standard DIN and via USB, allowing it to be controlled from other MIDI devices, or a computer.

Source Distribution +44 (0)20 8962 5080

Moog Music +1 828 251 0090

Analogue Solutions Telemark K £1319$1935

Analogue Performance Synthesizers

The eye-catching Telemark K has a patch panel built in, allowing you to hook it up to CV (Control Voltage) compatible equipment for severe sonic mangling. The design is based on that of the classic Oberheim SEM, with extra features such as Sample & Hold, a square-wave LFO, ring modulation and a noise generator, plus a plethora of extra modulation options. You'll find video demos of the Telemark K in action on YouTube.

Dave Smith Instruments Mopho X4 $1299$1299

Analogue Performance Synthesizers

This 44-key synth is essentially four Mopho monosynths rolled into one, and as such has four-voice polyphony. It's not the most control-laden synth — many of the knobs are multi-function — but there's a lot going on under the hood. There are two oscillators, two sub-oscillators, a filter and three envelopes per voice, as well as an arpeggiator and even a step sequencer. And if four voices isn't enough, you can connect it to DSI's own Mopho, Tetra or Prophet 08 synths, for a maximum of 16 analogue voices!

Review: /sos/aug09/articles/davesmithmopho.htm

Korg MS20 Mini £499$599

Analogue Performance Synthesizers

Korg stunned visitors to this year's Winter NAMM show by re-releasing one of their classic synths. The original MS20, with its three-octave keyboard and combined control and patch panel, has earned something of a cult status since it was discontinued in 1983. The new 'Mini' version is identical to the original (even the manual is the same!), except that it adds MIDI connectivity, and has been shrunk to 86 percent of its original size. Keep your eyes peeled for an SOS review sooon!

Korg UK +44 (0)1908 304601

Korg USA +1 631 390 8737

Buying a vintage synth is not for the faint-hearted — especially with so many great new instruments around...

When digital synthesizers became affordable in the 1980s, their analogue counterparts were widely perceived as yesterday's instruments: dated, limited and often unreliable. Many of the synths we consider classics today were sold off for peanuts, if a buyer could be found at all! Today, of course, vintage analogue synths can command exorbitant prices, while digital models often expend considerable DSP power trying to sound like them. But what exactly is it about this older technology that makes analogue synths so desirable?

Analogue Vs Digital?

Just as with analogue outboard gear, much of what people like about analogue synths is that they're not perfect: envelopes sometimes don't behave as predictably as they're supposed to, filters distort, square waves are anything but truly square, and oscillators aren't always perfectly in tune with one another. Some say it's these imperfections that make analogue synths seem like 'real' instruments, at least compared with the sterile sound of some digital synths.

Of course, manufacturers cottoned on to this sentiment some time ago, and have been emulating these traits in digital instruments and software synths for a long time. Some of these are now extremely good and, if perhaps not always indistinguishable from the originals, they do actually have some advantages. For starters, you'll never do your back in carrying a software licence up a flight of stairs! Digital synths also have the boon that their settings can be saved and recalled instantly, whereas many analogue synths require that you note down each knob's setting with a pen and paper if you ever want to repeat a sound you've come up with.

Vintage synths can be wonderful things, but finding one in good condition — and for a reasonable price — may be tricky...Vintage synths can be wonderful things, but finding one in good condition — and for a reasonable price — may be tricky...

Talking of knobs, one of the other features that is widely valued in many analogue synths is the provision of a control for every parameter. Simple user interfaces make it child's play to create and adapt sounds without having to delve into menus or use buttons and data wheels. This, too, is a lesson that modern digital synth manufacturers have taken on board, and if you're working with soft synths, it's possible to use MIDI controllers to the same end, but even so, some feel that these are no substitute for the real thing.

Brand New Or Second Hand

If you've decided that nothing but an analogue synth will do, the question is whether to go for a new instrument, like those described on the previous pages, or something second-hand. An obvious advantage of new synths is reliability: they're unlikely to suffer from crackly pots, temperamental switches or, worse, failing components, which can be remarkably difficult to get hold of for older instruments. Some modern analogue synths also have the ability to be controlled via MIDI or USB, which makes it possible to control them from a computer, and thus integrate them into a modern DAW-based studio.

And then there's the price tag to worry about! While it might still be possible to pick up a bargain on an online auction site, the days of the fabled boot-sale bargain are gone. Second-hand synth-shoppers can expect to pay around £1000 for an original Korg MS20, for example, while the slightly smaller re-released version mentioned on the previous page will cost half that — and it'll still have that new-synth smell! If you do decide to go for a second-hand synth, it's important to try to look at it in person before handing over your money. Some such synths are decades old, and you could find yourself landed with an expensive repair job before you even get to play a note.

It's not all doom and gloom on the second-hand market, however. Aside from the obvious joy of being able to conjure up iconic sounds heard on countless records, provided you've bought a decent example at a reasonable price, you may well find that your synth's value goes up over time, which is less likely to be the case for many modern instruments.  

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Roland GR55

Guitar Synthesizer

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Roland have put elements of their two very different approaches to guitar synthesis in a single box. Could this be the best guitar synth ever?

Moog Minimoog Voyager XL

Analogue Synthesizer

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There’s no more revered name in the history of synthesis than Moog, and the Voyager XL aims to cement their reputation for top‑flight instruments. Is this the Rolls Royce of the synthesizer world?

Dewanatron Swarmatron

Analogue Synthesizer

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This is a synth like no other, eschewing conventional controls, nomenclature and even an ordinary on/off switch. Is it destined to become a cult classic?


Software Synthesizer

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The original was a diamond in the rough — so is PolyKB II a highly polished gem?

Spectrasonics Omnisphere 1.5

Software Synthesizer

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Spectrasonics bring yet more goodies to the Omnisphere party, aiming to make their highly acclaimed synth even better.

M-Audio Venom


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M-Audio's debut synth may have a pristine white exterior, but it hides a sample-based synthesis engine capable of getting down and dirty...

Waldorf PPG Wave 3.V

Software Synthesizer

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PPG's Wave series were sadly beyond the budget of most of us, but, through the miracle of software, the powers of these innovative synths may now be within our grasp...

Novation Ultranova


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The Ultranova may be a return to Novation's roots, but it's still a very forward-looking synthesizer...

Yamaha Motif XF7

Workstation Synthesizer

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Yamaha's long-lived Motif range continues to go from strength to strength. Could the latest model be the best Motif yet?

Mode Machines Xoxbox

Analogue Synthesizer

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Everybody, as Fatboy Slim so wisely notes, needs a 303. However, with originals becoming ever more scarce and expensive, the dream of universal 303 ownership was starting to look unlikely — until now...

Vermona Mono Lancet

Analogue Synthesizer

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The peculiarly named Mono Lancet is an analogue synth of the old school, boasting two oscillators, a filter with a debilitating debt to Moog, and knobs galore!

Tom Oberheim SEM

Analogue Synthesizer

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Tom Oberheim has returned to the analogue synth fold with a revised and updated version of his classic 70s monosynth, the celebrated Synthesizer Expander Module.

Korg Monotron

Analogue Synthesizer

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Its their first analogue synth in 25 years, but is Korgs Monotron a toy or a tool?

Roland Gaia SH01

Analogue Modelling Synthesizer

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If you don't like programming synths via obscure two‑line displays and arcane menu systems, the Roland Gaia SH01 could be just what you're looking for...

Moog Taurus 3

Bass Synthesizer

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The resurrection of Moogs stellar bass synth has caused a considerable stir. Can the Taurus 3 live up to the venerable reputation of its ancestor?

Doepfer Dark Energy


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The latest product of Doepfers modular know-how is the Dark Energy: a compact, powerful and hands-on desktop analogue synthesizer.

Cwejman Synthesis Modules

Modular Synth

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Wowa Cwejman is already in possession of a fine reputation for esoteric synth modules, but he hasn't run out of ideas yet. Join us as we take a tour of his latest creations...

SMS Planet 7 System

Modular Analogue Rack Synthesizer

Thumbnail for article: SMS Planet 7 System

Synthetic Music Systems have a unique approach to designing modular synths that are both high in quality and, wait for it, low in price. Let's investigate...

Analogue Systems Synthesis Modules

RS420 Octave Controller • RS100 MkII Low-pass Filter • RS370 Poly Harmonic Generator

Thumbnail for article: Analogue Systems Synthesis Modules

Analogue Systems' modules continue to develop and evolve. We take a look at a selection of the latest designs.

Cwejman Synthesis Modules: Part 3

DLFO Dual LFO • RM2S Stereo Ring Modulator • VCEQ3

Thumbnail for article: Cwejman Synthesis Modules: Part 3

We conclude our three-part exploration of Wowa Cwjeman's new range of exclusive analogue synth modules.

Cwejman Synthesis Modules: Part 2


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Part 2: We continue our exploration of Wowa Cwjeman's new range of exclusive analogue synth modules.

Cwejman VM1

Analogue Voice Module

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Swedish designer Wowa Cwejman has built a reputation for exclusive analogue synths. Now he's going modular, starting with the VM1 Voice module...

Buchla 200e: Part 2

Patchable Analogue & Digital Synthesizer

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We conclude our look at synth pioneer Don Buchla's extraordinary new 200e modular synth.

Buchla 200e: Part 1

Patchable Analogue & Digital Synthesizer

Thumbnail for article: Buchla 200e: Part 1

Alongside Bob Moog, Don Buchla is one of the founding fathers of synthesis, and yet much less is known of him and his instruments. With this two-part review of Buchla's latest synth, and a history of some of his pioneering work, we hope to redress the balance...

Analogue Systems RS370 & RS375

Polyphonic Harmonic Generator & Expander

Having built their reputation on knob-heavy modular synths, British manufacturer Analogue Systems surprise everyone by bringing out a menu-driven additive synthesis module! But don't worry — the optional expander is covered with things to tweak and turn...

Cwejman Sound S1 MkII

Semi-modular Analogue Synth

Swedish company Cwejman have recognised that there is no way to build a cheap semi-modular analogue synth for mass-market sale these days (if there ever was). Enter the premium, but meticulously crafted S1 MkII...

Doepfer A100 Modular

Synthesis Modules

Since the launch of their A100 modular synth in the mid-'90s, Doepfer have been quietly adding modules to the system, some fairly simple, others splendidly esoteric. We explore some of the latest...

Lassence µVentury II

Patchable Analogue Modular Synth System

Belgian company Lassence are seeking to gain recognition as a small modular synth manufacturer with their new patchable µVentury II system. But there's plenty of competition in the homegrown analogue market these days. Does the µVentury II have what it takes?

Vermona Perfourmer

Four-voice Analogue Rack Synth

Formerly the East German state synth company (a great concept in itself), Vermona re-emerged last year with the MARS monophonic analogue synth. Clearly determined to win back their reputation, they've already returned with the four-voice Perfourmer...

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