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Our desire to synthesize sounds has never seen such a diverse and feature-rich range of options.

Every year more extraordinary machines emerge, glowing with LEDs and tempting our fingers with their knobs, buttons, and controls. Some synthesizers recreate a vintage analog past while others push us into the future with new configurations, ideas, and blends of technology. Welcome to your next synthesizer.

In this roundup of the best synthesizers of 2021, I’m looking at recent synths that really bring something awesome to our fingers and our ears.

Our picks for the best synthesizers of 2021 include:

  • Sequential Prophet-5
  • Behringer MonoPoly
  • Korg Wavestate
  • Arturia PolyBrute
  • Modal Electronics Cobalt8
  • Deckard’s Dream Mk2
  • Roland Jupiter-X
  • UDO Super 6

Want to explore more synths? Check out our previous articles on the best cheap synthesizers under $100, awesome synths under $500, best modular synths, best polysynths, and top eurorack synths.

But first, some FAQs:

How Do I Choose a Synthesizer?

Your first consideration is going to be the cost because the price of a synthesizer can vary from around a hundred dollars, like a Behringer Crave, to many thousands, such as the Sequential Pro 3. Once you have an idea of your budget then the next factor will be the type of sound or synthesis you want to play with.

Do you want classic vintage sounds like the Behringer MonoPoly? Do you want digital sounds with presets like the Korg Wavestate? Are you after monophonic basslines and melody or big pads and multiple layers? Think about the sort of music you like and want to make and let that guide your decision and if you can, go to a music shop and try some out.

What's the Best Synthesizer for Beginners?

Something simple that has the ability to run its own tunes and can be easily expanded. That means a synth with a sequencer so you can enjoy the running of notes while you play with the sound design.

Good examples would be the TD-3 from Behringer (based on the classic Roland TB-303 bassline) or the Modal Craft Synth 2.0 for its unique range of sounds. For something larger with polyphony and a proper keyboard, I’d look at the Korg Minilogue XD as a great synth to start your synthesis journey with.

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How Much Is a Good Synthesizer?

Behringer has released a bunch of great synths from around $150 to $300 which offer a thoroughly decent synthesizer experience, from the TD-3 to the CAT. But the more you spend the greater the depth, the bigger the sound, and wider the possibilities.

Pushing up towards $500, you could snag the Dreadbox Typhon, or a Korg Monologue or Behringer MS-1 monosynths.

You’d need to head above $500 to get into polysynths like the Behringer MonoPoly, Modal Cobalt8, and Hydrasynth.

Once you are past $1,000 then the world is your oyster with big keyboards, fat monosynths, and your choice of varied and astonishing synthesis — but great little synths don’t have to cost the earth.

Best Synthesizers 2021

On to this year’s best synthesizers.

Sequential Prophet 5

There is perhaps a no more iconic polyphonic synthesizer than the Prophet-5. Originally released in 1978 it was the first fully programmable polyphonic synthesizer and shaped the sound and nature of synthesis ever since. 3 versions were built between 1978 and 1984 and it’s become one of the most sought after synths. In 2020 Sequential announced that they are releasing a Revision 4 and no one can quite believe that we might get the opportunity to own such a legendary instrument.

The Prophet-5 Rev4 uses the same Curtis analog oscillators and filters plus a new filter designed by Dave Rossum. It has a simple and classic synthesizer architecture with all the envelopes and modulation you’d expect including the Poly Mod feature and Unison mode of the original. It ships with the original 40 presets plus many more and lots of room for your own.

Taking advantage of modern technology they’ve added velocity and aftertouch to the keyboard as well as a USB and MIDI interface. In fact the way modern components have improved they found that the new prophet-5 was a little bit too clean and so introduced a “Vintage” knob which dials back in the inconsistency and wavering stability that gave the original such character.

The Prophet-5 is the synthesizer other synths try to be and you can have one. Or if you need a few more voices then there’s also the Prophet-10. This is the real deal.

Street Price: $3,599

Behringer MonoPoly

Behringer continues its mission to bring back classic synthesizers with their recreation of the Korg Mono/Poly. It was a groovy and flexible synthesizer offering the potential of some polyphony by using the 4 VCOs in a shared 4-voice mode. It had the vibe, style, and price of a monosynth and those 4 oscillators could generate deliciously thick sounds and crazy sync and modulations.

The size and shape of Behringer’s recreation follow the format of their Poly D, which took the Minimoog and turned it into a 4 VCO synth very much like the Mono/Poly. But the Mono/Poly has a unique quality to it, an exciting filter and some supersaw action by detuning those oscillators. A surprising amount of sound design can be achieved by routing the oscillators into one another through cross-modulation and oscillator sync. It’s a very fun synth.

Street Price: $699

Korg Wavestate

Known as a Wave Sequencing Synthesizer, the Wavestate follows on from the legendary Wavestation that first introduced us to the idea of sequencing sampled waveforms back in 1990. This is a digital synthesizer with lots of polyphony and effects offering entirely unusual sounds that evolve and change over time in unexpected ways.

The Wave Sequencing 2.0 engine in the Wavestate takes the idea to a new level. Sequences of samples can be split apart and individually manipulated, and you can add shapes, gate times, and step values in their own lanes. You can then modulate each lane with regular synthesizer tools, randomize the order and push them so that every note is different and continually evolving.

The engine can feel complex and getting down to wave sequence editing can be quite involved, which is why Korg has pulled out macro controls for the most satisfying hands-on editing and combined it with a number of selectable vintage filters, sequencer, and a load of effects. So even with just the presets, you can have an amazing time shaping and designing the outcome of a uniquely motion-empowered synthesizer.

Street Price: $799

Arturia PolyBrute

Ever since Arturia released the MatrixBrute 3 oscillator analog synthesizer in 2016 people have been wondering what a proper polyphonic version would sound like. Arturia took their time but their answer to that question is the PolyBrute and it’s fabulous.

PolyBrute is a 6-voice analog synthesizer with a raw and exciting sound coupled with an expressive interface that elevates it to a new level of playability. It has a powerful modulation engine that can be patched into anything while offering a limitless supply of tones as you morph seamlessly from one preset to another. And then it pours itself through a digital effects processor, bounced around by an arpeggiator and motioned by a sequencer.

This is not just a synth, it’s an instrument. It has a ribbon controller like on the classic Yamaha CS-80 for slides and stretches and then it has the Morphée touch and pressure sensitive 3D controller for inhabiting sounds and bringing the touch of the virtuoso to your movements.

PolyBrute has 2 analog VCOs per voice, dual filters combining a Steiner Parker filter with a Ladder filter in series or parallel, 3 LFOs, 3 envelopes and a 12×32 modulation matrix for keeping everything moving. It’s not lacking in any area of form or function and will keep you in analog synthesis heaven.

Street Price: $2,699

Modal Cobalt8

The Cobalt8 is the sort of synthesizer that makes you smile. It’s the most easy going synth I’ve played in a long time. Every time you touch it it sounds golden and as you play and move and tweak and get deeper in it rewards you by sounding brilliant.

Cobalt8 is a virtual analog synthesizer which means it digitally recreates analog sounds and waveforms. This means that you can start with more complex waveforms than a traditional analog synth and then morph between, mix and blend together in interesting ways and enjoy the way it sounds. You have up to 8 voices of polyphony with 8 oscillators per voice. The oscillators are split into 2 groups giving you this mixing of algorithms that produces some wonderful tones.

Modal has curated these waveforms for you and included a couple of key parameters to play with that best suit that waveform. So there are elements where you feel looked after and guided rather than being fully open to explore but that’s why this synth is so immediately pleasing. You don’t need to be a Sound Designer or Engineer to discover fantastic sounds, all you have to do is play.

Cobalt8 is great value for money, fun to play, looks fantastic and is available in a 37-key, 61-key or desktop version. Who could ask for more?

Street Prices:
Cobalt8m – $649
Cobalt8 – $749
Cobalt8X – $819

Deckard's Dream Mk2

The Deckard’s Dream is a love letter to the legendary Yamaha CS-80 polyphonic analog synthesizer as made famous by artists like Vangelis and his soundtrack work on Bladerunner. The original version was a bit boxy in form but the redesigned Mk2 is a perfectly weighted desktop or rack-mounted synthesizer that’s calling out for your touch.

The Deckard’s Dream has 8 voices, each with two layers of sound via analog voltage-controlled oscillators, waveshapers, low and highpass filters, noise, and envelopes. Each layer can be addressed independently for MPE-based velocity and polyphonic aftertouch. It’s the sort of synth you perform with and experience like an acoustic instrument.

You mix sounds and blend ideas as you search and explore the endless timbres and fascinating tones. Expressive controls like portamento can cross the layers, as can LFO and pitch bend into the filter and amplifier settings. It is fully MIDI compatible and can store 128 presets into each of the 3 banks. It’s a synth unlike any other.

Street Price: $3,749

Roland Jupiter-X

The Jupiter-X is Roland’s flagship synthesizer that owes much to the legacy of the legendary Jupiter-8. It couples together Roland’s futuristic world of modelled synthesis with the hands-on vintage vibe of their classic heritage synths. It’s a lovely looking synthesizer.

The Jupiter-X runs on Roland’s innovative ZEN-Core synthesis engine which has the power to perfectly model all of Roland’s synthesizers down to the last component and offer them up with masses of polyphony, hyper-modern effects and the finest detail of editing. If you wanted every synthesizer in one instrument then that’s the Jupiter-X and it’s growing all the time.

Combining classic tones with futuristic synthesis techniques results in a very unusual sound generating environment where sounds that never existed before are born and evolve into unmapped sonic territory. You have multiple layers with simultaneous arpeggiators working different things into different places, rhythms and adventures.

The Jupiter-X is definitely a synthesizer for the explorer, for the people who like to experiment and bring creative ideas together in sonic forms. The hardware itself is built to last and would look beautiful in any studio. And with the software editor, you can integrate it fully into your DAW.

Jupiter-X is a super-synth. And if it all seems a bit too much then there’s a smaller version, the Jupiter-Xm with the same ZEN-Core engine in smaller form.

Street Price: 
Jupiter-X – $2579
Jupiter-Xm – $1499

UDO Super 6

My last selection is the futuristic 12-voice polyphonic binaural analog hybrid synthesizer called the Super 6 from UDO Audio. It’s been a long time coming but it’s promised for this year and has been blowing minds wherever it’s demonstrated.

Super 6 looks like a sci-fi adventure in sound synthesis, combining familiar controls with fantastical sound quality and state-of-the-art technology. It’s all based in FPGA technology, which means the entire synthesizer engine operates inside a digital brain while being manipulated and modulated by control voltage and analog controls. It exudes rich and evolving textures filled from the super-wavetable core and sent down a binaural analog signal path with stereo and spatial effects.

You wouldn’t have heard anything quite like it, while at the same time it conjures up dreams of Oberheim and other fat analog polysynths. It has plenty of modulation, an arpeggiator and sequencer, 24-bit digital effects, and 128 presets.

The potential inside this synth is enormous and we’ve not yet scratched the surface.

Street Price: $2,500

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