8 Best Synthesizers for Futuristic Sounds & Retro Vibes in 2021 - Careers in Music
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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 synths that have been released or announced this year that really bring something awesome to our fingers and our ears. I’ll also mention a couple of synths that arrived at the end of last year that are worth considering but didn’t make it on the list purely by bad timing. But do also check out my Best Synthesizer articles from previous years (links below) as many of them are still current and still amazing.

Our picks for the best synthesizers of 2021 include:

  • Korg ARP 2600 FS
  • Behringer MonoPoly
  • Korg Wavestate
  • Dreadbox Typhon
  • Sequential Pro 3
  • Deckard’s Dream Mk2
  • Erica Synths SYNTRX
  • 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.

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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.

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 which is on this Best list, or a Korg Monologue or Behringer MS-1 monosynths.

You’d need to head above $500 to get into polysynths like the Behringer Deepmind, Modal Argon 8, 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.
 
On to this year’s best synthesizers.

Best Synthesizers 2021

Korg ARP 2600 FS

When Korg unveiled their recreation of the classic ARP 2600 the whole synthesizer community went nuts. Korg had tackled the ARP Odyssey a few years ago and came up with a faithful reproduction but was criticized for making it smaller with a mini-sized keyboard. They didn’t make the same mistake with the 2600; this is a full-sized (FS) whopper of a synthesizer that’s meticulously realized down to the last flight-cased and analog detail.
 
The ARP 2600 is considered to be one of the greatest synthesizers ever made. It’s semi-modular, meaning that it’s hard-wired to make sound and work without having to patch anything but if you want, you can completely rewire it with patch cables to forge your own unique sound structure. It’s a beautiful synthesizer that has the sort of sound you can lose yourself in.
 
It has 3 oscillators, a 4-pole filter, 2 envelope generators, sample & hold, noise generator, ring modulator, envelope follower, a VCA, mixer and spring reverb. The filter has all the models available from each version of the 2600.
 
The ARP 3620 keyboard brings some duophonic operation, LFO modulation, and a sequencer/arpeggiator. Korg has added MIDI and USB compatibility and a few refinements to help with tuning and stability. But otherwise, this is the most authentic, awesome and expensive monosynth you can buy — if you can find one. The initial run of 500 units sold out almost immediately and we live in hope that Korg will make some more so the rest of us can aspire to own one.

Street Price: $3,899
korg.com

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.
 
Behringer hasn’t yet provided details on the price or release of the MonoPoly but you can see what it can do via the video below. The Poly D is $698 which should give us some indication. The current state of manufacturing during the pandemic does make it difficult for companies to give guarantees on the arrival of new products but we do expect to see it before the end of the year.

Street Price: TBD

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
korg.com

Dreadbox Typhon

Dreadbox has a gift for capturing your imagination. The Typhon appears to be a regular desktop analog monosynth but somehow they manage to make it more fun and engaging than anything you’ve played with before.
 
The Typhon is based upon a pair of classic Dreadbox oscillators for a familiar fat sound, there’s a 24dB/Oct low pass filter, a pair of envelopes, and VCAs — all good standard stuff. But Dreadbox has reworked the interface into something deliciously simple and engaging so that you can’t help but make great sounds. You have a single knob that controls the wave shape of both oscillators and a tuning knob for VCO 2 to dial in some glorious detuning. It takes all the mystery out of using a synth.
 
But that’s only half of it. The other half is the deep and digital effects system by DSP designers Sinevibes. It comes with 12 DSP effects, including distortion, bit crushing, chorus, delay, and reverb. You can also use Typhon as an effects processor for anything via the external input. There’s also a 32-step sequencer that can be used for notes or modulation.
 
In combination, what you get is an immensely fun synthesizer with loads of movement and possibility. It’s very portable, compact and sounds fantastic. It has some complex internal modulation going on and they’ve prepared 256 presets for you to get started. It’s one of the coolest machines to be released this year.

Street Price: $379
dreadbox-fm.com

Sequential Pro 3

This is a beautiful synthesizer made by the most respected name in electronic instrument design, Sequential. The Pro 3 is a work of art in hybrid synthesis, combining 2 classic Sequential analog oscillators with a third digital wavetable oscillator for an old school vibe with a futuristic flavor. Although the focus is on being a kick-ass monosynth, you can also push it to three notes for added versatility.
 
Along with the 3 oscillators, you get 3 filters, 3 LFOs, 4 loopable envelopes, a large 32-slot modulation matrix, and a sequencer. The filters are based on vintage designs and include a 4-pole low pass from the Prophet-6, a Moog-like ladder filter and a 2-pole OB-6 filter. That’s far too much character for one synthesizer and did I mention that you can add your own wavetables to the third oscillator? At the end of the chain is a dual-channel digital effects engine for delays, reverbs, and other time-based effects.
 
The modulation possibilities are immense, starting with the 4 loopable five-stage envelopes, 3 syncable LFOs with slew, and phase off-set. There are dozens of modulation sources and hundreds of potential destinations. It also plays well with modular synthesizers via 4 lots of CV input and output. The sequencer offers 16 tracks with 16 steps and 4 phrases with ratcheting, variable gates, and multiple playback modes. It also has an arpeggiator.
 
The Pro 3 is a wonderful example of a premium synthesizer that is a joy to play and will stay with you for a long, long time.

Street Prices:
• Sequential Pro 3 – $1,599
• Sequential Pro 3 SE – $2,099 (walnut trim and angled front panel)
sequential.com

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
black-corporation.com

Erica Synths SYNTRX

Based on the classic EMS Synthi AKS which is one of the most sought-after synthesizers from the 1970s. SYNTRX follows its lead in terms of sound generation but also in innovation and inventive ways to shape and modulate sound.
 
It contains 3 highly accurate analog VCOs with octave switching on VCO1 and Sync options on VC2. You can mix in different colors of noise and feed it through a highly resonant voltage controller filter. There’s an ASR/AD trapezoid looping envelope unique to the Synthi, ring modulation, spring reverb, 3 VCAs, and a Sample & Hold circuit.
 
A joystick controller adds some diverse parameter modulation but the magic comes from the digitally controlled analog Patch Matrix. It’s a mixer and buffered multiple matrix that lets you patch multiple sources to multiple destinations with no drop in signal. It’s an incredibly powerful way to modulate and design sound.
 
It’s a beautiful device made from the highest quality components down to the knobs and switches and that pair of integrated speakers which is a throwback to the original. SYNTHX steps outside of normal approaches to synthesis and offers a garden of possibilities to explore and find yourself in.

Street Price: $2,500
ericasynths.lv

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
udo-audio.com

Other Contenders

A few others worth checking out that arrived at the end of 2019 include the Behringer Poly D, Modal Argon8, ASM Hydrasynth, and Buchla Command Easel. Too many synths and not enough time!

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