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Keyboard Synthesizers

Spotlight By Chris Korff
Published March 2012

Arturia MiniBruteArturia MiniBrute

Self-contained keyboard synths have an immediacy that is seldom matched by synth modules or software instruments. There's a great variety of them available at the moment, but how do you know which one is right for you?

Here's a selection of the models we've looked at over the last couple of years, with links to the SOS reviews, to help you decide.

Arturia MiniBrute £429$549

Newly launched at the recent NAMM show, the MiniBrute is a genuine all-analogue monophonic synthesizer with an appropriately approachable set of controls. The MiniBrute can process external audio signals, and even doubles up as a MIDI controller, and you can read our exclusive review of it on page 22 of this very issue.

Source Distribution +44 (0)20 8962 5080

Korg Kronos £3000$4350

Korg KronosKorg Kronos

The Kronos is Korg's most advanced keyboard workstation to date, featuring over 30GB of samples stored on its solid-state disk drive, endowing it with highly realistic acoustic instrument sounds, in addition to extremely powerful physical modelling and virtual analogue synthesis engines. With its built-in drum kits and comprehensive sequencing abilities, there's not an awful lot it can't do! It's not for the short of arm and deep of pocket, however.

Review: /sos/may11/articles/korg-kronos.htm

Korg UK +44 (0)1908 304600

Korg +1 631 390 8737

Roland Gaia £579$699

Roland GaiaRoland Gaia

Although it's a digital synth, the Gaia's control arrangement is very analogue-like, making it convenient for real-time performance tweaking. Features include Roland's optical D-Beam controller, a variety of built-in effects, and a generous 64 notes of polyphony. Emphasising the Gaia's performance credentials is the fact that it can run on batteries!

Review: /sos/aug10/articles/roland-gaia-sh01.htm

Roland UK +44 (0)1792 702701

Roland US +1 323 890 3740

Yamaha MOX £1048/£1614$1199/$1999

Yamaha MOXYamaha MOX

Available in 61- and 88-note versions, the MOX employs Yamaha's Motif synth architecture to generate sounds. Thanks to its USB port, the MOX can also act as an audio interface, and as a highly integrated controller for Cubase and Nuendo.

Review: /sos/jan12/articles/yamaha-mox6.htm

Yamaha Music +44 (0)844 811 1116

Yamaha +1 714 522 9011

Novation Ultranova £600$699

Novation UltranovaNovation Ultranova

The latest in Novation's popular Nova range, this analogue-modelling synth includes a vocoder, and can also act as a USB audio interface. The Ultranova isn't as knob-laden as some synths featured here, but employs a system Novation call Touch Animation to assign to its eight rotary encoders the parameters you're most likely to want to tweak.

Review: /sos/feb11/articles/novation-ultranova.htm

Novation +44 (0)1494 462246

American Music & Sound +1 800 431 2609

Akai Miniak £379$499

Akai MiniakAkai Miniak

Another vocoder-equipped synth, Akai's Miniak combines virtual-analogue synthesis with a built-in drum machine and a host of effects. It's not the easiest synth to program, but the sounds you can coax out of it are top-notch, despite its low cost.

Review: /sos/may10/articles/akaiminiak.htm

Numark Alesis +44 (0)1252 896000

Akai +1 401 658 4032

Moog Voyager XL£4079$4995

Moog Voyager XLMoog Voyager XL

Arguably the Rolls Royce of synthesizers, the Voyager XL is both highly desirable and very expensive. This visually striking synth offers a vast range of modulation possibilities, courtesy of its integrated patch panel.

Review: /sos/jun11/articles/moog-minimoog-voyager-xl.htm

Source Distribution +44 (0)20 8962 5080

Moog Music +1 828 251 0090

Roland Jupiter 80£2499$3499

Roland Jupiter 80Roland Jupiter 80

Though its name is similar to that of Roland's classic analogue Jupiter 8, the Jupiter 80 is a different beast entirely. It's digital and boasts a powerful analogue modelling section, but also offers high-quality acoustic instrument sounds and incorporates audio recording and playback. Some unusual performance features make it well suited to live use.

Review: /sos/aug11/articles/roland-jupiter-80.htm

Roland UK +44 (0)1792 702701

Roland US +1 323 890 3740

Clavia Nord Stage 2 £2999-£3399$3599 - $4199

Clavia Nord Stage 2Clavia Nord Stage 2

Available in 73-, 76- and 88-key versions, the Clavia Nord Stage 2 is something of an all-rounder, combining a synth engine with realistic organ, piano, harpsichord and clavinet sounds. Allowing you to load and play your own samples, and with a comprehensive set of controls for real-time sonic manipulation, it's not cheap, but it covers a lot of bases.

Review: /sos/nov11/articles/nord-stage-2-ha88.htm

Sound Technology +44 (0)1462 480000

American Music & Sound +1 800 431 2609

M-Audio Venom £469$499

M-Audio VenomM-Audio Venom

The Venom is an analogue modelling digital synth that offers tight integration with computers via its USB port, allowing you to tweak the synth from a PC or Mac. The Venom's forté is modern, abrasive sounds, rather than the smoother tones associated with analogue synthesizers.

Review: /sos/apr11/articles/m-audio-venom.htm

M‑Audio +44 (0)1753 653322

Avid +1 650 731 6300