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Looking for a small synth with sequencing and sample playback capabilities

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Looking for a small synth with sequencing and sample playback capabilities

Postby BigRedX » Wed Jan 08, 2020 12:23 pm

The last time I bought a synth was about 20 years ago so I am massively out of touch with what is available now.

I play Bass VI in a post-punk influenced band and I have a need for a small synth (3 octave keyboard will be fine and I could probably even cope with mini keys). Sound is subjective so I'm open to trying anything to see if I can can get the sorts of sounds I like (generally analog-ish).

What is important:

Small and light. I'm sure that there are plenty of "workstations" that will do what I want, but I don't want to have another large item to carry along with my bass and rig, and often when we play live there is limited room on stage.

Built-in sequencing. At least 4 tracks multi-timbral and for the sequences to be retained when the synth is switched off.

Plenty of controls. For the synthesis side of things. The sequencer can be menu driven, but the synth should have an actual knob or slider for all the main parameters.

Ideally some sort of sample playback capability. I can live without this one if the synthesis side is versatile enough, but it's inclusion would be useful. It doesn't have to massive amounts of sample memory, but it must be possible load samples from an external source and for them to be retained when the synth is switched off.

It would be nice if the synth didn't have an external wall-wart PSU, but this is a compromise I'm prepared to make to get all the other features.

Also I'm sure that there are all sorts of computer and tablet-based solutions, but as someone who already uses a computer system with the other band I play in, I need something simpler for this band. A single device that I can take out of it's case, plug into the mains and PA and be ready to go.

I'm currently using a Yamaha Tenori-On which does most of what I need with a little bit of lateral thinking. It looks great live, but nothing is retained when I switch it off and loading all the samples and sequences from the SD card is tricky and time-consuming, and there are times when a keyboard would be better than remembering which button in the grid to push.

Also we have a keyboard player in the band who uses a Nord Wave and Behringer Deep Mind, so something that compliments these sonically would be useful.

Budget? Under £1000.

What should I be looking at?
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Re: Looking for a small synth with sequencing and sample playback capabilities

Postby BillB » Mon Jan 13, 2020 12:51 am

Sequencing: accepting the minimum 4-Part multi-timbral part, do you want workstation type sequencing (polyphonic, full tracks) or monophonic 16-64 notes?

I don’t have any ideas yet, but this question will probably have a strong bearing on what you need.
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Re: Looking for a small synth with sequencing and sample playback capabilities

Postby BigRedX » Mon Jan 13, 2020 11:43 am

BillB wrote:Sequencing: accepting the minimum 4-Part multi-timbral part, do you want workstation type sequencing (polyphonic, full tracks) or monophonic 16-64 notes?

I don’t have any ideas yet, but this question will probably have a strong bearing on what you need.

Thanks.

I think either would be acceptable. Polyphonic and full tracks would be nice, but I have been making do with the Tenori-On which has seven 16 note parts arranged in 16 "blocks" or sequences. I rarely use more than 3 of these 7 parts, and currently only 3 different blocks.
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Re: Looking for a small synth with sequencing and sample playback capabilities

Postby fatbenelton » Mon Jan 13, 2020 1:04 pm

I can't think of many that hit the spot - especially 37 note. Most are mono timbral or occasionally bi. That aside, some that might work:
- Elektron Analog Keys (used only)
- Elektron Digitone Keys
- Sequential Pro 2 (too expensive?)
- Roland Jupiter XM (glorified arp might stand in for a step sequencer but not song)
- Moog Grandmother - mono but can store 3 x 256 note sequences (might be able to output to other gear?)
Korg Wavestate?
Novation Circuit

Other than that, it's 61 note workstations......
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Re: Looking for a small synth with sequencing and sample playback capabilities

Postby BillB » Tue Jan 14, 2020 8:33 pm

Yes, it's a difficult brief to put all of that together in one box
I was wondering about the Elektrons too, but I don't really know them. Reviews on SOS...

One way would be to split the problem, maybe a small sequencer (Akai MPC500's come up quite often and relatively cheap, £150-250) with a synth of your choice. Knobby multi-timbral ones include Novation VA's like the KS4 (4-part).

Or this, just announced
https://www.arturia.com/products/hybrid ... o/overview
with a synth module of your choice.

Or... one of the Roland MC-sequencers (303, 505, 909) plus a controller keyboard.
Or... the Yamaha equivalents, RM1X and RS-7000, the latter being pretty bulky, plus a controller keyboard.
Or.. the new Roland MC-101 or 707, but I have to say I don't understand / have not read into their specs as regards sequencing power and multi-timbrality.

Or Korg EMX2 https://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/korg-electribe plus a controller keyboard.
"With 16 parts and 24 notes of polyphony to share amongst them, the Electribe 2 can rightfully claim to be a ‘Music Production Workstation’."

You probably need to decide what you really need as regards sequencing e.g. 'groove station' - more repetitive shorter sequences, probably with limited track count; or 'workstation' DAW type replacements, for full arrangements. Then see what works around that.
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Re: Looking for a small synth with sequencing and sample playback capabilities

Postby Vox Gnus » Tue Feb 04, 2020 6:20 pm

First time poster, but I've been lurking around here for ages...

Just came across this, and wanted to add my two cents, as a Tenori-on user. Given that you're okay with such an unconventional instrument, have you looked at the Zoom ARQ AR-96 or AR-48?

They both have decent synth engines, sampling capability, and lots of performance control. You can power them from a USB power supply, so battery power on stage is easy. And the AR-96 can be found for well under $200, as it has been discontinued.

Early reviews weren't fantastic, but the v2.2 software and huge price reduction change the math a fair bit. Quite a powerful box, but you have to adapt to it a bit.

Oh, and it looks like a Space Tambourine!

Hope you find something awesome.
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Re: Looking for a small synth with sequencing and sample playback capabilities

Postby Martin Walker » Wed Feb 05, 2020 9:44 pm

Hi Vox Gnus, and welcome to the SOS Forums! 8-)

Long-time lurkers are always welcome, especially when their first post is as helpful as yours :thumbup:


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Re: Looking for a small synth with sequencing and sample playback capabilities

Postby The Elf » Wed Feb 05, 2020 10:25 pm

Interesting tip Mr Gnus! And welcome you are! :thumbup:

I have a Zoom ARQ-96 myself, bought when the stores were tripping over themselves to get the things out of the door!

Although I find it 'interesting' it isn't exactly the friendliest machine. Although the later software updates did help, the lack of many basic features, the small screen, scarcity of on-board controls and sheer quirkiness of the ARQ are hard to overlook. It has a very restrictive list of sample formats it is happy to accept and the naming conventions you have to adopt to see enough meaningful file name on the tiny display is frustrating.

All this said, if you like your instruments to put up a bit of a fight in a TB-303-ish "I haven't a clue what I did, but that sounds great!" sort of way then it would be worth trying to pick one up if a bargain can be found. At least it looks stunning in action - though I definitely would not start waving that ring around on stage if you want to preserve any shred of credibility!

As a bit of a left-field 'only its mother would love it' instrument it's... OK. But as anything other than a bit of a novelty it's a very hard machine to recommend. :beamup:
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Re: Looking for a small synth with sequencing and sample playback capabilities

Postby Vox Gnus » Wed Feb 05, 2020 10:52 pm

Hi again,

Very fair assessment, The Elf. It's certainly not the right instrument for most people (as sales have shown!). But compared to a Tenori-on, you can use modern SDHC/SDXC cards and (a few) standard file formats, the screen is "massive" and colour (!), and the buttons have velocity and aftertouch. Luxury!

And the sequencing capabilities are pretty sophisticated, if you don't smash it to pieces while learning.

As for the Disco Halo, well... :D
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Re: Looking for a small synth with sequencing and sample playback capabilities

Postby n o i s e f l e ur » Wed Feb 05, 2020 11:30 pm

Akai Pro Force maybe?

Not a keyboard but a pad setup similar to what you're using now, but I imagine much more user-friendly when it comes to recall or navigation. I reckon it's probably quite versatile in terms of the sonics it produces too, given the included (virtual, essentially software) instruments and the fact it's a sampler (a streamlined DAW / Workstation really).

Probably takes up less space than a keyboard instrument an' all.

Food for thought . . . or a punk post for a post punk?
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Re: Looking for a small synth with sequencing and sample playback capabilities

Postby Arpangel » Fri Feb 07, 2020 8:29 am

Alesis Micron, or Akai Miniak.
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Re: Looking for a small synth with sequencing and sample playback capabilities

Postby FrankF » Fri Feb 07, 2020 12:59 pm

Arpangel wrote:Alesis Micron, or Akai Miniak.

My Miniak can't load samples, so I'm guessing the Micron can't either.
Nice pads, though! (That's sounds, not square rubber things).
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Re: Looking for a small synth with sequencing and sample playback capabilities

Postby Arpangel » Fri Feb 07, 2020 6:57 pm

FrankF wrote:
Arpangel wrote:Alesis Micron, or Akai Miniak.

My Miniak can't load samples, so I'm guessing the Micron can't either.
Nice pads, though! (That's sounds, not square rubber things).

That’s right, no samples, but it’s still good!
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Re: Looking for a small synth with sequencing and sample playback capabilities

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri Feb 07, 2020 7:02 pm

I bought a Miniak after much research and several questions on here, I'm not sure it's what the OP needs but it is a great bit of kit as you two say. :thumbup:
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Re: Looking for a small synth with sequencing and sample playback capabilities

Postby BigRedX » Mon Feb 10, 2020 12:13 pm

The Miniak does look interesting and I could probably live without sampling features.

However...
It appears to have been discontinued. I'm not really interested in getting a piece of kit that is not readily available.
Is there an editor for it? I'm never going to buy another synth that doesn't have at leat 75% of the parameters as dedicated controls unless it has a really good software editor that will continue to be supported beyond the production life of the hardware.
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