The world of synthesizers can be a confusing place. With so many options, it can be difficult to know which choice will be right for your situation. In my last blog post I talked about the best software synthesizers available for film and media composers to start infusing some synthesized spice into their cinematic compositions (you can find that post here). In this post, I’ll be discussing the best hardware synthesizers for media composition on the market today.
Whether you’re looking for that warm, imperfect analog quality, or just prefer the hands-on experience of real instruments, hardware is a great option for adding synthesis to your compositions, and one that definitely shouldn’t be overlooked. So, let’s take a look at the best options.
5. Dave Smith Instruments Prophet Rev 2
As the founder of classic synth company Sequential Circuits, and the genius behind legendary synths including the Prophet 5 and the Pro One, Dave Smith knows what he’s doing. The Prophet Rev 2 follows on from the Prophet 08, a modern classic in it’s own right, and has become an incredibly popular option for bringing analog synthesis into film composition.
With a rich but clean analog tone, high-quality digital effects and a classic Dave Smith character, this instrument excels at creating luscious pads for layering, and thick, powerful basses while stacking voices in unison mode. Although the factory presets are technically very good but a little difficult to use in tracks, the Rev 2 is incredibly easy to program with a little knowledge of sound design, so there’s a lot of fun to be had.
The Sequential Circuits Prophet Rev 2 is available in a keyboard version or, if you’d prefer to save space and money, a desktop module, both of which also come in 8- and 16-voice options.
Price – The keyboard costs around £1,299 for the 8-voice version and £1,699 for the 16-voice version, while the desktop module will set you back around £1,099 for the 8-voice or £1,499 for the 16-voice.
2nd Hand Price – For an 8-voice you can expect to pay between £900 and £1,100 depending on whether you go for keyboard or module, with the 16-voice costing between £1,400 and £1,600
4. Moog Subsequent 37
From a company who’s name needs no introduction, the Subsequent 37 brings that distinctive Moog sound into the modern age and, with it’s predecessor the Sub 37, can be found in the studios of film and game composers the world over. This is a seriously powerful paraphonic synthesizer with analog at it’s core. With an unmistakably Moog style and sound, and powerful routing possibilities, this synth is perfect for adding deep basses and soaring leads, as well as some interesting effect-style sounds. Moog synths do, of course, come at a more premium cost, so this synth doesn’t have the best power-to-cost weighting, but the Moog sound is something that’s definitely worth the money.
If you’re not looking to buy brand new, then you can pick up a 2nd hand Sub 37 for a very reasonable price. The differences between the two machines are quite minimal, and therefore the Sub 37 is a great option if you’re looking to grab a bargain.
Price – Currently selling in shops for around £1,250
2nd Hand Price – The Subsequent 37 still sells for around £1,150 used, but if you’re willing to buy a bit older, a Sub 37 can be picked up for around £850-900
3. Arturia Matrixbrute
Software giants Arturia surprised everyone when they started making analog synths in 2012 by providing consumers with a way to get incredibly high-quality analog sounds at a reasonable price. The MatrixBrute, Arturia’s flagship synth, is an analog powerhouse, and has become renowned for putting a hugely diverse and flexible monophonic synth into a single, easy to use unit. Even the effects in this synth are analog, which is something very rare in modern synthesizers. The MatrixBrute is built around a distinctive, modular-style routing matrix which, instead of requiring patch cables as in a regular modular set up, or being hidden in a menu on a screen as in many modern hardware synths, is routed through the grid of buttons on the front panel, meaning that playing this synth is a truly hands-on and inspiring experience.
Price – Currently in shops for around £1,599
2nd Hand Price – Can be found for between £1,250 and £1,450, depending on condition
2. Novation Summit
The Summit, a 16-voice polyphonic synth, is a relatively new release, but it didn’t take long for this synth to gain a reputation. Although digital in nature, the Summit is capable of creating incredibly deep, powerful and, most importantly, characterful sounds. Novation have also given it an analog quality, with analog filters, VCAs and an analog distortion circuit. While some purists will still lambast this synth for it’s digital core, for me the most important thing is the sound that comes out of it – and this is truly an incredible sounding instrument. Whether you’re looking to add sweeping, swelling pads or industrial-style weirdness to your compositions, this synth does it all with ease.
While you will find it hard to get a second hand unit for much cheaper than a new one at the moment, those of you who don’t mind desktop modules can opt for the Novation Peak instead – a precursor to the Summit which lacks a couple of features and only has 8 voices instead of 16, but has the same sonic characteristics.
Price – The Summit will set you back around £1,899, while the desktop Peak will be around £1,099
2nd Hand Price – The Summit is very hard to find second hand at the moment due to the short time it’s been on the market, but a 2nd hand Peak will set you back around £800-900
More Info: https://novationmusic.com/synths/summit
1. Modular Synth
Ok, so the ultimate modern hardware synthesizer is not just a single piece of hardware – it’s a playground of sonic possibilities. Since the creation of the Eurorack specification, modular synthesis has slowly taken over the world of synthesizers. Why? Well, what’s there not to like!? Not only does modular synthesis allow for endless sound design possibilities, it also allows you to pick, choose and combine your own choice of modules. And, with a vast array of modules available from well-known modular companies such as Doepfer, Intellijel and Mutable Instruments, to a seemingly endless list of boutique creators, you can easily create a unique setup for your own needs.
As modular synths require you to wire in your own sounds, it’s essential that you have a working knowledge of the world of synthesis. This isn’t, therefore, a good option if you’re only just starting out with synthesizers, but if you have at least a little knowledge of synthesis sound design, then the complexity of modular will reward you with endless inspiration. Just make sure you hit record when you start playing around – you never know what’s going to come out, so you need to make sure that the magic is being captured!
While it would be pointless for me to list modules and setup options here, if you’re looking to get started there are several all-in-one modular and semi-modular (some pre-routed signal flow) boxes available. I highly recommend the Pittsburgh Modular Lifeforms SV-1 Blackbox, an incredible sounding unit which allows for a simple and straightforward introduction to the world of modular.
Warning: Modular synthesis is addictive and expensive. Just try not to spend all your money on it!
More Info: If you’re looking to get started in the world of modular, there’s a great article telling you everything you need to get started over at Ask.Audio
If you’re starting to use synthesizers in your film, game and media compositions then check out my Patch Store, where you can find cinematic patches for a wide range of synths to bring some electronic depth to your tracks!