novation peak

Best Polysynth 2019

With polyphonic analog synthesizers, we tend to think of big chords, evolving pads and huge stabs of sound. A polyphonic synthesizer can be all those things and a lot more. The only real criterion is that they are able to play more than one note or voice at a time. It’s generally accepted that being polyphonic requires at least 4 voices but more commonly they are 8-voice, 16-voice or more. If you consider the action of playing sustained pads you are going to want some overlap between playing one 3-4 note chord and playing the next one so 8 or more voices is really what you need.

In this roundup, you can forget your little monosynths, your basslines, and your lead synths and enjoy the sumptuous sounds of many voices playing together.

Here come the best polysynths of 2019:

  1. Moog One
  2. Sequential Prophet X
  3. Behringer DeepMind 12
  4. Korg Prologue
  5. Novation Peak
  6. Sequential Prophet REV2
  7. Roland System 8
  8. Waldorf Quantum

Best Polysynth 2019

1. Moog One

Moog One 8 Voice Synthesizer$5,999*
Moog One 16 Voice Synthesizer$7,999*

*At time of writing

The Moog One has the habit of turning up at the top of every synthesizer category in which it finds itself. It’s the product of decades of development by Moog Music and their first polysynth since the Memorymoog back in the early 1980s. It’s a proper instrument with three layers of analog synthesis building to 8 or 16 voices of the finest analog sound.

At $6,000, it’s more than a synthesizer, it’s a dreamy instrument that’s epic in every conceivable way. What really stands out for me is how each section of the Moog One is individually crafted to have a life and character all of its own. It’s not just oscillators going into filters, controlled by envelopes. The oscillators themselves have such depth to them that you can get lost for hours messing about with their waveforms. There are two filters per voice, the familiar Moog ladder filter and then another multimode State Variable filter with exceptional precision and articulation. The envelopes and modulation are all out there on the front panel, assignable to any section you’re working on. It even has an entire section devoted to noise.

There are a sequencer and arpeggiator built in, an XY control pad, FM and hard sync, chord memory, ring modulation, and different types of glide. There’s a central computer keeping track of presets and parameters. At the end of the signal chain are a bunch of high-end digital effects from Eventide.

The Moog One is a special and unique polyphonic synthesizer instrument that is an absolute pleasure to play.

2. Sequential Prophet X

 Sequential Prophet X 61-Key – $3,999*
 Sequential Prophet XL 76-Key – $4,399*

*At time of writing

An extraordinary combination of the much-loved Sequential Prophet sound with a comprehensive sample library makes the Prophet X the best hybrid synthesizer on the market. It’s like bringing together awesome synthesizer technology with the sampled soundscapes you’d find in the best software sound libraries.

The Prophet synthesizer side gives you the power of two high-resolution digital oscillators with classic morphable waveshapes and a supersaw. Modulation is available via 4 syncable LFOs with slew and phase offset and 4 loopable five-stage envelope generators.

On the samples side, the Prophet XL gives you two instruments per voice in 8 or 16 voice mode. The sounds are taken from 150GB of content created by 8Dio and cover a widely diverse range of sounds and textures. You can manipulate the loops, stretch the samples and get into some serious modulation.

The sound from both sides then runs through the powerful vintage 24dB per octave analog resonant low-pass Prophet filters. And then it’s onto the dual effects engine for adding two separate effects for each layer. The polyphonic sequencer offers 64 steps and up to 6 notes per step and there’s an arpeggiator with note repeats, latching and MIDI sync.

The Prophet X brings these elements together beautifully in this exciting and controllable synthesizer that’ll please old synthesizer enthusiasts as well as people looking to bring their sound bang up to date.

3. Behringer DeepMind 12

 Behringer DeepMind 12 – $699*

*At time of writing

The Behringer DeepMind 12 has redefined the nature and cost of polysynths. Inspired unashamedly by the classic Roland Juno 106, the DeepMind 12 developed those ideas into something unique and undoubtedly modern.

It’s a 12-voice analog polyphonic synthesizer with 2 oscillators per voice, noise, oscillator sync, and unison modes. Each voice has its own LFO and there are 3 envelopes and an extensive 8-bus modulation matrix. There’s a 12/24dB analog low pass filter per voice and separate global 6db high-pass filter with bass boost switch. A sophisticated arpeggiator keeps things moving and the 32-note sequencer offers a lot of creative control. At the end of the chain, you can run up to 4 digital effects from TC Electronic and Klark Teknik with over 30 algorithms. All of the main parameters are available on front panel sliders that reflect the look of the original Juno synthesizer.

Behind the scenes, there’s a lot of modern stuff going on. There are 1,024 user programs memories, comprehensive MIDI implementation of all parameters. There’s integrated WiFi and access point for easy and deeper configuration and editing via a software app on iPad, Mac or PC.

The DeepMind 12 has become a modern classic by emulating the sound of the past while giving us modern control and effects for a ridiculous price of $699.

What really stands out for me is how each section of the Moog One is individually crafted to have a life and character all of its own. It’s not just oscillators going into filters, controlled by envelopes. The oscillators themselves have such depth to them that you can get lost for hours messing about with their waveforms.

4. Korg Prologue

 Korg Prologue 8 49-Key – $1,299*
 Korg Prologue 16 61-Key – $1,799*

*At time of writing

Beautifully made and designed to tick all the boxes of the classic polysynth, the Korg Prologue should be on everyone’s poly analog short-list. Available in 8-voice or 16-voice versions it’s an analog polyphonic synthesizer with a digital trick up its sleeve.

The Prologue looks immediately impressive. It’s very clean, well laid out and the black with the wooden cheeks gives the impression of a solid instrument. The sound doesn’t disappoint either, just patch after patch of gorgeous sounds. It’s like Korg took a survey of how a polysynth should be and built the answers into the Prologue, even down to the fascinating little OLED screen that shows exactly what the waveform is doing.

Inside there are 2 analog oscillators routing to a smooth new analog filter design with a dedicated drive circuit for adding harmonic richness. You then have 2 envelopes, 1 VCA and 1 LFO to create a bit of modulation. But there’s also a third oscillator called a multi-engine oscillator which is capable of handling noise, FM and wavetables. It brings an entirely digital engine into the mix and not only with the supplied waveforms, but you can also load up synthesis algorithms from third parties or design them yourself. It brings a whole other dimension to the analog sound of the Prologue.

There are plenty of other features like a huge effects engine, multiple voice modes, and arpeggiator. It’s also bi-timbral, meaning that it can load two programs at once in split or layer mode. It’s an elegantly balanced polyphonic synthesizer that offers a lot for a reasonable price.

5. Novation Peak

 Novation Peak – $1,399*

*At time of writing

The Novation Peak is the only polyphonic synthesizer in our roundup that doesn’t come with the traditional keyboard attached. But that shouldn’t distract us from what is a very capable desktop 8-voice synthesizer.

The layout is super-clear and inviting and feels like the workflow of their fabulous Bass Station II monosynth. Take that to mean it’s easy and effortless while being raw and intensely fun to play with.

The New Oxford Oscillators are numerically controlled, giving them a precise analog sound while having the added flexibility of digital wavetables. There are three oscillators per voice with looped cross modulation and one oscillator becoming the FM source for the others. There are three ADSR envelopes and two LFOs for each voice and a 16-slot modulation matrix for intuitive patch and sound design.

One rather neat feature is the ability to switch modulations via two “Animate” buttons on the front panel.

There’s a lot of distortion on offer with three distortion points for each voice, pre-filter, post-filter and global in the analog signal chain. This ends up at the reverb, delay and chorus digital effects.

The Peak is a polyphonic synthesizer that sits well with your other gear and is less likely to dominate your workflow. It sounds great, it’s accessible and is eager to please.

6. Sequential Prophet REV2

 Sequential Prophet REV2 – $1,499*

*At time of writing

There’s always a danger of Dave Smith Instruments/Sequential occupying too much of any list of “best synthesizers.” But I’ll restrict it to two entries, the second being the rather exquisite Prophet REV2. It’s what you imagine a modern version of the classic Prophet 5 would have looked like and there’s plenty of that heritage in here.

The Prophet REV2 is a 16-voice analog polyphonic synthesizer that actually reimagines the 2007 Prophet ’08 as an expanded, enhanced and yet more affordable version.

The 16 voices can be played together or divided into two layered or split sounds working with 8 voices each. There are two digital controlled oscillators per voice with sawtooth, triangle, mix and pulse waves. All of them feature waveshape modulation. There’s also a noise generator, hard sync, and analog VCAs.

The filters are classic Curtis low pass filters, one per voice, with either 2-pole or 4-pole operation. There are 3 envelopes per voice with the first two fixed to the VCA and filter, the third one is assignable and loopable. Further modulation is available from 4 LFOs and routable through an 8-slot matrix with 22 sources and 53 destinations.

A polyphonic sequencer offers 64 steps with 6 notes per step and each layer can have its own sequence. A programmable arpeggiator provides some instant movement. At the end you’ll find the usual sorts of effects we’ve come to expect.

The Prophet REV2 looks completely beautiful, understated and clean with a straightforward and rewarding workflow.

It’s like Korg took a survey of how a polysynth should be and built the answers into the Prologue, even down to the fascinating little OLED screen that shows exactly what the waveform is doing.

7. Roland System 8

 Roland System 8 – $1,499*

*At time of writing

The System 8 is Roland’s greatest hardware expression of their software Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) engine. It’s the circuit modeling technology behind all their recent boutique instruments and Aira drum machines and performance gear. It has taken all of Roland’s expertise and history in synthesis to produce something this extraordinarily flexible.

Ok, you could argue that the System 8 isn’t real. It’s just software dressed up as hardware. But when you play it, all those sorts of doubts disappear as you have a genuinely hardware-based good time creating sounds and patches.

There are 3 oscillators for each of the 8 voices with a range of wave shapes and variations upon those shapes. Oscillator 3 also has a sub-oscillator section. These can also be mixed with pink or white noise. There are a lot of different filter types and variations including a dedicated ADSR envelope. The LFO section features multiple waveforms and Sample & Hold and is routed to modulation depth knobs in most other sections.

Round it off with a huge range of great effects and a 64 step sequencer and you’ve got one decent polysynth. But that’s not the whole story. The System 8 can accommodate completely different synth architectures via its “Plug-Out” facility. Currently the three Plug-Out slots are occupied by an exact replication of the Roland Jupiter-8, Juno-106 and JX-3P. That’s amazing! Only the relevant controls light up on the System-8 when one of the Plug-Out synths is loaded completely, transforming it into a different synthesizer.

If you can get over the luminous green color, then the System-8 is a massively versatile and classic sounding synthesizer.

8. Waldorf Quantum

Waldorf Quantum$4,299*

*At time of writing

There’s no way this synthesizer should be at the bottom of any list. However, the awesome Waldorf Quantum is complex, deep and very expensive and so while it’s a stunning instrument it’s not going to resonate with quite as many people as the others. The Moog One is more expensive but there’s something about that analog behemoth that everyone can relate to. The Quantum is a different animal and brilliantly so.

Quantum is a massive synthesizer with four different types of synthesis running on its three oscillators over 8 voices. You’ve got your wavetables that Waldorf is famous for, you’ve got your regular analog style waveforms, you’ve got granular sampling and then physical modeling in the Resonator. It combines analog and digital technology for some of the most futuristic and unearthly sounds.

The front panel is breathtaking, covered in knobs that glow in different colors depending on the nature of synthesis. The middle section has a delicious screen showing key elements and animated waveforms and modulations.

There are two analog filters per voice and a digital former filter. There are 6 LFOs, 6 loopable envelopes, a weird multistage LFO/Envelope modulator, plenty of effects and a lot of other stuff. You can save up to 10,000 patches and there’s room for 4GB of samples and wavetables.

It’s a monster synthesizer that’s not for the faint-hearted.

Photo via Novation Peak.

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