It’s time to look at six of the best hardware synths that we have featured over the last few months in MusicTech. These are all-in-one synths of the non-modular variety (which we’ll feature in a future Six of the Best soon)…
Best Acid Like: Novation Circuit Mono Station
One of two entries for Novation this time around, and it’s fair to say that the UK synth manufacturer has been so busy that it could have had three, including the original Circuit. The Mono Station version of that unit is the one we’ve chosen, however, and for a very good reason. It is made up of the easy music making that makes Circuit such a popular computerless music production format and it’s combined with the Bass Station 2 sound engine and hands-on control.
We said: “Mono Station is a great partner for the regular Circuit – get your best bass and lead bits from Mono Station and the rest from Circuit. It’s a great unit that brings a lot of fun and energy to that great Bass Station world. You may not have thought your Bass Station needed Circuit but one play with Mono Station, and you’ll wonder how you managed without it.”
Best Mini Analogue: Roland/Studio Electronics SE-02
Roland has been just as busy as Novation, so it also gets two entries. The SE-02 was developed with analogue synth experts Studio Electronics and the results is a synth with a pure and classic nature, but with the convenience of the Boutique format.
We said: “With the Boutique SE-02, Roland has delivered a sonically stylish product, thanks to some guru-like expertise from Studio Electronics. Don’t forget, this is a fully-formed analogue synth – it’s just that it happens to reside in a Boutique case, the latter point possibly being the only stumbling block for some, in which case, you’ll just have to bite the bullet and buy a bigger keyboard – because once you’ve heard the sound, I suspect you’ll want one.”
Best DJ Synth: Pioneer TORAIZ-AS-1
Like the SE-02, TORAIZ AS-1 is another collaboration of sorts, this time between renowned DJ experts Pioneer and Dave Smith Instruments. It features a mono version of the Prophet-6 synth sound and filters and Pioneer’s excellent hands-on control and DJ mix features. Essentially, AS-1 allows you to bring real-time analogue synth sounds alive in any DJ set or you simply choose to play it as a gloriously easy-to-use mono synth.
We said: “If you want to get the DSI sound into your space, there’s no cheaper way. It’s another successful link up with DSI for Pioneer, this time with a lot more input and features from the synth company. AS-1 is for both DJs and producers but, importantly, it’s also for anyone who wants to have fun with music making.”
Best Overall: Novation Peak
Peak is an outstanding synth from Novation – a sort of 8-voice BassStation and a lot more besides. It’s not truly analogue but as near as can be and features three voices and 17 core waveforms. However, it’s the flexibility of the on-board LFOs and Modulation Matrix that shifts Peak’s sound up a few gears and makes this one of the best synth releases in recent years. The effects are a great addition, too. We were stunned at how good the reverb is. Put it on maximum time and level and you have a tail that creates instant ambience.
We said: “Novation always seems to price its products competitively in whatever markets they are in, and while Peak is more expensive than any other Novation product, you could argue that the company has again priced it well as it sits within a high-end synth market in which you could easily spend a couple of grand on a synth. It has excellent and varied sounds and effects and more than enough options to synthesise, create and modulate your own. It’s years of fun and creativity in one box.”
Best Digital All-Rounder: Korg Kross 2
The digital workstation synth concept has been overshadowed both by the revival in analogue standalone synths and the popularity of modular synths, but Kross 2 very much keeps it alive and kicking for 2018.
We said: “You have over 1,000 sounds here, and you can pretty much manipulate them, mix them, compose with them, effect and affect them, record them and perform with them in any way, shape or form that you can possibly imagine. Kross 2 will appeal to songwriters, composers on the road, gigging musicians, studio producers after great workhorse sounds, and pretty much anyone else who wants a lot of technology for not much outlay. It proves that there are plenty of people who could benefit from a good workstation. So in 2018, we may be analogue, we may be mono, we may be modular, but there is still plenty to get Kross about.”
Best Re-Imagined Classic: Roland Boutique SH-01A
Roland’s Boutique series is essentially the company’s classic synth and drum machine range re-imagined for the 21st century… and smaller fingers. It’s compact, light, cheap and sounds very good indeed. This is the pick of the bunch of more recent releases.
We said: “Reaching for my trusty original SH-101, I placed them side by side and ran through some tests. The waves are absolutely identical, the only discernible difference being that the filter on the Boutique has a little more high-end fizz. This is an impressive reworking of the much-sought-after classic, with the added bonus of polyphony and patches. Choose your favourite colour and you’re away!