4 Super Hardware Synths for Under $500

Music hardware is officially back in fashion. If you're looking for your next (or first) hardware synth, but want to go easy on your wallet or purse, check out these 4 synths for under $500 USD.  

Got a scratch for a new synth? Low on scratch? Synthesizers are notoriously pricey. Thankfully though, most of the world, if you haven’t noticed, are running a little short on bills. This means that manufacturers are finally coming through with some really solid synths that fit the current budget for most of us. Let’s take a look at some great examples of what’s out there for under $500.

Arturia MicroBrute

Arturia MicroBrute

Nothing beats a small, portable synth with a bunch of knobs. Beyond the hipster street-cred made possible by the stylish retro encasement, the Arturia MicroBrute is not a synth to be taken lightly. This monophonic synthesizer is so packed with value that it really sounds too good to be true, while sounding too good to be true. Not only do you get a step sequencer, multiple oscillators, and a sub, but you also get control voltage inputs, and outputs and the famed Steiner-Parker filter, made famous in the ’70s. The latter was actually approved by Nyle Steiner, himself, for its authenticity in sound. Weighing in at a street price of $299, you will have to look hard to find a better deal.

Novation MiniNova

Novation MiniNova

Geez, there are some big names in this list! The MiniNova from Novation has actually been around for a few years and, it’s held up amazingly. Featuring a synth engine that supports up to 18 voices of polyphony with FX, a Vocoder (and mic) that does the classic sound, as well as Novation’s own VocalTune effect, for some old school Hip-Hop vox. In addition, you’ll also discover an extremely formidable arpeggiator. As there is a USB port, it is important to mention that the MiniNova comes with its own editing software. So, you can create some great patches without having to squint, on dark, lonely nights, when looking into the small blue screen on the MiniNova’s surface. Originally, the MiniNova was going around for $499. However, some retailers are selling them below our $500 limit. Still counts!

Moog Werkstatt-Ø1

Moog Werkstatt-Ø1

Even Moog, the original synth company, has something to offer. Want to build your very own Moog for under $500? Now you can! This single oscillator sports the classic 4-pole Moog ladder filter, an LFO section with square and triangle shapes, and it has a patch panel. This means that you can run control voltages to other synths that you may own and modulate them, or have the Werkstatt-Ø1, in turn, be modulated. Again, this is a kit. But, Moog assures that it’s a quick, painless assembly. And, they also ensure that this ‘kit’ can be easily modified. Granted, Moog’s offering seems a little on the dry side when you compare to the other synths above. Throw that notion out the window, though. A single Moog Oscillator and Filter can add some bottom end to your sound in a way that will definitely bring a smile to your face… and, the face of your listeners. The Moog Werkstatt-Ø1 retails fo $329.

Korg MS-20 Mini

Korg MS-20 Mini

Korg offers several options that are almost within our $500 category. The Korg MS-20 Mini, being on the bleeding edge of this price point, $499. Out of all the synths, the MS-20 Mini offers the greatest possibilities in terms of control voltages, thanks to Korg including all of the route-ability of the original. Unlike the original, though, the MS-20 Mini has USB for easy, and tight integration with your computer… if you’re using one. If you’re going pure hardware, then you couldn’t choose a nicer centerpiece. With two oscillators, two filters, an audio input, which does allow vocoding, hundreds of CV routing possibilities, and a rugged, portable casing, with MIDI… Well, you can guarantee yourself hours of fun and some sick sounds for your beats. 

Conclusion

4 synths for under 5! And, they all rock in their own way. So, budget be damned, go out and give a budget, bad-ass, synth a few moments of your time before you give up and raise your fist in anger. Sure, they won’t fill every niche, but with company names like what’s above, you know you’re going to be blowing speakers and moving people around the dance floor. 

Sound Designer, Musician, Author... G.W. Childs has worn many hats. Beginning in the U.S. Army back in 1991, at the age of 18, G.W. began learning electronics, communications and then ultimately audio and video editing from the Department of Defense. Upon leaving the military G.W. went on to work for many exciting companies like Lu... Read More

Discussion

Sharon Kathleen Johnson
I'm surprised you didn't mention the Microkorg with its onboard vocoder. That was my gateway drug and I learned so much from it. The manual is only an inch thick!
Sam
I'll pick the Ultranova over the Mininova. Same sound engine (soundpaks can be shared between the two), but the Ultranova has full-size keys, aftertouch, touch-sensitive encoders and a built in 2-in/4-out audio interface.

Because of the integrated audio interface in the Ultranova sound will show up directly in your DAW, which is very convenient. If you want to record the MiniNova's audio, you need to plug cables from your MiniNova's Audio Out into your computer or your soundcard, and have a separate Audio track in your DAW to record the synth's audio.

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