Synthesizers are getting more extraordinary and more affordable all the time.

At one time you would struggle to find seriously musical machines under $500 but I have a superb range of options to show you. As there are so many great cheap synths I’ve decided to limit this selection to those between 200 and 500 dollars. So these are the ones with a definite intention to be proper electronic instruments. There are no toys or throwaway options here; these are serious machines.

If you are on a super tight budget then I’ve written another article on Cool Synths under $200 which you should definitely check out.  If you have a bit more money to invest, then maybe head over to my article on the Best Synthesizers.

Here is our quick list of the best cheap synthesizers:

  • IK UNO Synth Pro X
  • Cre8audio East Beast
  • Behringer 2600
  • Roland JU-06A
  • Arturia Microfreak
  • Moog Mavis
  • Behringer MS-1
  • Modal Electronics COBALT5S

Cheap synths FAQ

How much does a good synth cost?

Robin Vincent

Synths are remarkably affordable these days and can start at under $100. However, if you had $200 to $500 to spend you could get yourself a really decent synth that would enable you to make music and design your own sounds.

What's a good beginner synthesizer?

Robin Vincent

If you want to learn about how synthesizers work, then get the Mavis from Moog. It’s designed and built by the same people who make the classic Moog synths and has everything you need to start making sounds, understand filters and routing and get into patching.

Is an analog synth better than a digital synth?

Robin Vincent

No, because they can be very different and have different strengths. For traditional synthesis, you can’t beat the warm sounds of analog electronics, but for creative uses of complex technology, digital synths are all over it. The simple answer is that both are brilliant.

IK Multimedia UNO Synth Pro X

IK Multimedia pack an awful lot into their synthesizers. They like to dazzle with the modern, streamlined flair while being solidly analog on the inside. The UNO Synth Pro X is ordered and rigorous with vast sonic potential, performance power and a great deal of punch.

The UNO Synth Pro X has three discrete wave-morphing oscillators that can seamlessly move through tones and harmonics. Your personal mix of source materials then cascades into the filter section that uses two classic designs to generate 24 possible combinations of signal processing. The dual state-variable filters include OTA and SSI chips  that you’ll find in many classic synthesizers.

Other textures can be conjured using pulse width modulation, noise generator, oscillator sync, FM and ring modulation. A 16-slot modulation matrix gives you almost endless possibilities in moving signals around the synthesizer and drawing on a pair of LFOs and loopable envelopes.

It has a very performable 64-step sequencer which can be saved as part of an onboard preset so you can recall your melody as well as your patch. It comes with 256 presets right out of the box. You’ve got overdrive, three effects slots and a choice of 12 studio-quality effects. It’s packed full of rhythmic features, and arpeggiation modes and has both CV/Gate and MIDI connections.

UNO Synth Pro X is a monster mono synth that can be stretched to three notes and sounds completely epic.

Street Price: $499

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Cre8Audio East Beast

The East Beast is a fascinating semi-modular synthesizer. It has a straight forward analog architecture with a great sounding oscillator, devastatingly good filter and then an LFO and envelope for modulation. It’s dead easy to use and does exactly what you expect a little synth to do, until it doesn’t.

Behind the scenes is a really interesting digital control system. It runs an arpeggiator that can evolve into a sequencer, it modulates between oscillator waveforms and modes on the filter, and it provides randomisation and other modulators to wire in via the patch bay.

It’s designed by Pittsburgh Modular, who usually makes high-end modular synthesizers. Cre8audio has enabled them to put their expertise into a funky little desktop synth that’s cheaper than most Eurorack modules. The PGH Filter is particularly good with a smooth sound all the way round without rolling off as you pump up the resonance.

East Beast is a superb little synth. It will get you into patching, and with MIDI, CV and Eurorack compatibility it can grow with you.

Street Price: $249

Behringer 2600

The 2600 from Behringer is based upon one of the most iconic synthesizers ever built; the ARP 2600. Through careful study and reverse engineering Behringer has captured the soul of this classic synthesizer and designed it down into an affordable format. While it’s more compact the original Behringer has managed to retain a lot of the beauty and accessibility of the impressive interface. It’s one legendary replication.

The Behringer 2600 is a three-oscillator monophonic or duophonic analogue synthesizer. VCO1 has sawtooth and pulse outputs, whereas VCO2 and VCO3 also have triangle and sine waves, pulse width modulation and oscillator sync. The original 2600 had different filters depending on the revision so Behringer decided to include both.

For modulation, you can repurpose the VCOs as LFOs, or you can dig into the Sample & Hold circuit, Ring Modulation, ADSR envelopes, AR generator or the dedicated LFO. The internal routing allows you to push all the usual signals to the right destinations, but the 93 patch points lets you subvert that and connect things to all the wrong places for maximum experimentation.

It’s a synthesizer that invites adventure. You’ll find no easy answers or presets here; you’ll have to climb on board and explore and experience it to unearth its beauty. It’s like an electronic work of art waiting to be manipulated.

Street Price: $499

Roland JU-06A

Roland were once the masters of analogue synthesizers but now they are masters of recreating former glories in emulated form. There’s a whole range of meticulously studied synthesizers in the Boutique Series covering classics such as the SH-101, TB-303, JX-8P and JD-800. All of them modelled in software and then injected into a compact hardware interface that captures the character of the original. While they are all delicious, for me it’s the JU-06A emulation of the Juno synths that takes the cake.

With the JU-06A you get a 4-voice polyphonic version of two legendary Juno synthesizers; the Juno-106 and Juno-60. It immediately has that sound, that playability, warmth and vibe of the originals and manages to look the part. The control panel is boiled down to the most important synthesizer attributes and makes it intuitive and joyful to play with.

It has the 106’s resonant highpass filter, it has the 60s envelope-controllable pulse width modulation and it has the legendary chorus that makes everything sound wonderfully chewy. It has a 16-step sequence that can capture notes and movements from the 17 dedicated sliders. And it has an arpeggiator for instant melodic satisfaction.

You’ll probably want to plug in a MIDI keyboard and you can use it as an audio interface to your computer. I would ignore the built-in speaker and just bask in the classic synthesizer sound that comes through your system. It’s an emotional synthesizer, with an epic sound in a compact and interactive form.

Street Price: $399

Arturia Microfreak

The Microfreak is a bit different. It’s a hybrid of a digital oscillator and an analog filter all wrapped up in a weirdly engaging touch-plate keyboard. It looks fascinating and is a lot of fun to play.

The Microfreak can handle up to 4 notes being played at once through the one filter, which can be everything from mellow to on fire. The digital oscillator gives you an expandable range of waveforms, styles and possibilities that are as zany as you want them to be. You’ll find your regular waveforms, of course, but also formants, robots, noise, wavetables, strings and bings. It’s extremely versatile and yet very simple to use, with just Timbre and Shape controls to craft your perfect waveform.

It has a couple of envelopes, one of which will loop as an LFO in addition to the dedicated one. You can route them into all sorts of places via the Modulation Matrix. The arpeggiator and sequencer are excellent and have lots of realtime performance features you can drop in for added variations. The keyboard registers both the placement of the fingers and the pressure, giving you more expressive aftertouch control.

You also get over 300 presets, CV/Gate and MIDI outputs and a whole load of fun.

Street Price: $349

Moog Mavis

If you love that Moog sound, then the Mavis is the most authentic and affordable way to join the Moog family. The Mavis is a monophonic semi-modular synthesizer built by Moog Music. It features a single VCO with a variable waveshape, a VCA, LFO, the awesome ladder filter and, completely unprecedented for Moog, a wavefolder.

Mavis comes in a kit form so you’ll need to put it together first. Don’t worry, it doesn’t include any soldering, just a few screws and nuts to attach before putting it in the case. It comes with some fabulous artwork that doubles as the manual.

In use, you’ve got some nice modulation options that make full use of the ADSR and LFO and can combine them to modulate the oscillator or filter. The LFO can also vary its shape between triangle and square waves. The wavefolder acts as a separate module that you patch into in the patch bay. It comes with a bunch of card overlays that show you exactly how to patch and set the knobs for a number of fabulous sounds. The keyboard comes in very handy but sadly there’s no sequencer.

The Mavis offers a genuinely thoughtful synthesizer experience that radiates that Moog vibe.

Street Price: $299

Behringer MS-1

This recreation of the classic Roland SH-101 synthesizer was one of the first synths that Behringer attempted. They got it about right in both form and function. Where sometimes other recreations of classics make things very compact, the MS-1 has all the space you need to explore those familiar analog tones.

There are no presets or digital control system; what you see on the front panel is exactly what you’re getting. It starts with an authentic 3340 VCO with four waveforms including sawtooth, triangle, square and a sub-octave oscillator. You can mix those to any combination and then add some noise or audio from an external source. From there you dive straight into the low pass filter with piercing resonance and the bounce that Roland is famous for. You can feed the cutoff modulation from the keyboard, envelope or LFO and manipulate the way they fire. For extra possiblities the MS-1 includes the NovaMod FM section for experimental filter destruction.

The keyboard gives you a way to perform some classic leads and if you feel so inclined you can add the mod-grip and guitar strap to strut your stuff like an 80s synth god. Or relive some fantastic synth lines using the 32-step sequencer.

The SH-101 is a classic and overwhelmingly enjoyable synthesizer and Behringer captures that perfectly in the MS-1.

Street Price: $389

Modal Electronics COBALT5S

The Cobalt 5s is a remarkable synthesizer. Based on the sample virtual analog engine as the Cobalt8 it has 5-voices of pure class combined with a simplified interface and decent 37-key keyboard.

The sounds in this synth are brilliant. They have a warmth and liveliness that you’d usually associate with proper analog gear, and the 5S captures it perfectly. The range of tone is amazing. It has 40 algorithms that dictate how the virtual waveforms are put together and then give you macro control over how they interact. You can spend a lot of time designing sounds simply through the oscillators.

But once you venture out into the larger synthesizer, you’ll find a spectacular 4-pole morphing multimode ladder filter and 11 modulation sources with 41 possible destinations. It has a massive sequencer for up to 512 notes and a polyphonic mode for sequencing chords. There are 4 lanes of parameter automation and extensive hands-on control, including an interesting pressure pad for extra expression. There’s even a software app to get you deeper into the details.

The COBALT5S is the closest you’ll get to that big-synth vibe for under $500.

Street Price: $399

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