Best of 2014: Hardware Synths & Drum Machines

2014 has seen the resurgence of music hardware. With plenty of capable hardware synths and drum machines hitting the headlines, we've collated our 7 favorites of the year (in alphabetical order).  
We reviewed an eclectic range of hardware synths, organs and drum machines in 2014. Here's seven we reviewed that, for us, stood out from the crowd.

1: Arturia MicroBrute

We could simply tell you Arturia's MicroBrute is a monophonic hardware synth with analog audio signal path, CV In/Out & impressive sonic ability. But that doesn't come close to describing its beauty.

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Price: $349 / €329

Pros: Affordable, portable, tactile, and sounds fantastic, with rock-solid MIDI via USB.

Cons: No discernible velocity control; glide is more of a global portamento than a true latching or legato glide effect.


2: Elektron Analog RYTM

We wondered if it would be anything like their much loved Machinedrum, but Elektron's Analog RYTM went above and beyond our expectations and proved to a huge hit. Noah Pred sold his Machinedrum and put RYTM through its paces in our in-depth review.

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Pros: Fantastic sounds, inspiring sequencer, great effects and loads of features.

Cons: Repeat mode was not working at time of review, delay line able to generate feedback (both fixable via future firmware updates); velocity-sensitive drum pads slightly stiff at first.

Price: €1489 / $1549


3: Kurzweil Forte

The Kurzweil Forte features well-designed sounds, an easy to use interface and a useful LCD screen. But does this make it the king of electronic pianos in 2014? Matt Vanacoro found out in our review with video.

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Price: $3995

Pros: Well-designed sounds. Clear and concise operating system. Controllers are large and easy to use. LCD screen is utilized well. Hardware master compressor and EQ. Common keyboard controls are well labeled.

Cons: Price is a bit high, sounds cut off on a patch change.


4: Nord Lead A1 Synth

With a unique oscillator section, a big sound, quality keyboard and enormous potential for sound designers and performers, the Nord Lead A1 synth is likely to appeal to most of us out of the box.

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Price: $1799 for the keyboard / $1499 for the rack module

Pros: Wonderfully responsive Fatar keybed. A TON of oscillators to pick from for sound sources. Everything is controlled with your hands'"very little diving into menus. 4-part multi-timbral engine lets you leverage the power of the keyboard four times over.

Cons: Only a single LFO, but countless other ways to modulate just about anything on the keyboard you can think of.


5: Roland System-1 Plug-Out Synth

The new Roland AIRA series initially received a mixed response from critics. But having played with the System 1 Plug-Out Synth for quite a while, Rennie Foster delivered a very positive and in-depth verdict.

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Price: $599.00 USD / £479.00 GBP

Pros : Expandable, with the SH-101 "plug-out" free with purchase. Versatile, for both software, and hardware based setups. Intuitive and fun to use for first time hardware users, but very deep possibilities for pros. Accurate SH-101 emulation. 

Cons: Small keyboard (2 Octave), and limited user sound storage. No aftertouch or velocity. 


6: Roland AIRA TR-8

Roland's drum machines more or less defined the '80s, so we were curious as to whether the TR-8 could do the same for the coming decades. 

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Price: £399 GBP / $499 US

Pros: Sounds amazing. Crisp, heavy drum sounds. Super-tweakable. New Stutter effect is cool. 

Cons: It's digital and not analogue, which may disappoint purists.

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7: Studiologic Numa Organ 2

If you're lusting after an affordable and portable emulation of your favorite Hammond B3 organ sounds, then StudioLogic's Numa Organ 2 will hit the right notes. 

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Manufacturer's Advertised Price: $1299.99 US

Pros: Affordable, lightweight, excellent organ emulations with a lot of flexibility, and a good feeling keyboard. 

Cons: No octave up/down global transposition, no USB flash drive for more presets to access in live use.


Rounik is the Executive Editor for Ask.Audio & macProVideo. He's built a crack team of professional musicians and writers to create one of the most visited online resources for news, review, tutorials and interviews for modern musician and producer. As an Apple Certified Trainer for Logic Pro Rounik has taught teachers, professional... Read More


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