Gear Of The Year: Vote for the best hardware instrument of 2019

The hardware synth is very much back with huge releases from the likes of Novation, Behringer, Waldorf, Modal and more. Help us to decide who wins the honour of Best Hardware Instrument

Waldorf Quantum

There have so many super synth releases this year, that having to pick just one will be like choosing our favourite child. Help us make what could be the most difficult decision of 2019 by casting your vote.

1Waldorf Quantum

This trailblazing synth is leading the polysynth renaissance with its inspiring technology and huge sound. Boasting eight voices, a five-octave keyboard, wavetable, granular, subtractive and resonator synth engines, plus enormous modulation capabilities and two analogue low-pass filters, Quantum is a real beast.

In practice, we loved the excellent, touchscreen user interface, the striking design and build quality and the fact that you can get lost forever in sound creation with its wealth of presets and nuanced sound engines.

Read the full review here.

2Modal Electronics Skulpt

Modal Electronics Skulpt

A little virtual analogue synth designed for your desktop, Skulpt offers four voices of polyphony, with a huge eight oscillators per voice making thick unison patches a dream. What’s great about Skulpt is how immediate it is out of the box and how much extra functionality you can get out of it when used with the included Editor software.

The two-pole resonant filter can morph from low-pass, through band-pass to high-pass and has built-in distortion and delay effects, too. Factor in the four LFOs, two of which operate up into audio rate, and a powerful 256-note sequencer and you can see this pack a decent punch for the price.

The market for cheap synths is truly at boiling point and, while there are even more affordable models, our reviewer described this as “one of the best-sounding and most inspiring.”

Read the full review here.

3Arturia MicroFreak

Arturia MicroFreak

Inspired by the West-Coast style of synthesis pioneered by Don Buchla, the MicroFreak is pretty gosh-darn freaky. From its capacitive keyboard, affording polyphonic aftertouch, to its digital oscillator with 11 modes of sound generation from Mutable Instruments, it’s designed to surprise.

Up to four voices are available, along with a state-variable filter and built-in arp and sequencer, and it’s also ready to talk to Eurorack with CV/MIDI connectivity.

We loved how flexible it was, and its monophonic and paraphonic operation, remarking “this is an exceptionally brave new design from Arturia” and noting it has the potential for “sonic brilliance.”

Read the full review here.

4Studio Electronics Boomstar MKII

Studio Electronics Boomstar MKII

Not exactly one synth but a range, the Boomstar MKII range comprises five monophonic synths each with a different classic filter from the likes of ARP, Roland, Moog, Oberheim and Yamaha.

We were taken by the oscillators themselves, saying “the sheer breadth of how these can be exploited is truly beguiling”. These superbly built synth modules aren’t the most affordable on this list but they do pack an enormous sonic punch and offer a great variety of choice.

Read the full review here.

5Korg Minilogue XD

Korg Minilogue XD

A major update to the original, the Minilogue XD is part souped-up original Minilogue and part cut-down Prologue. Offering four voices of polyphony, and the analogue oscillators of the original, it has also inherited the digital Multi Engine also found on Prologue which acts as a third oscillator. With that comes three more types of sound generator – noise, VPM (Variable Phase Modulation) and a user oscillator slot.

In use, this means edgy, metallic FM sounds are now available in this small form as well as a morphing wavetable oscillator. All this equates to a sound that’s characterful, lush and at times, immense. We especially enjoyed how hands-on it is and how its invites sonic experimentation – a dream for sound designers.

Read the full review here.

6Dreadbox Nyx 2

Dreadbox Nyx 2

Greek synth-maker Dreadbox has made another device that’s beautifully out of the ordinary with the Nyx 2. Sitting somewhere between the original Nyx and the larger Erebus 3, the Nyx 2 is an analogue, two-oscillator mono/paraphonic synth festooned with Eurorack patch points which are there to invite sound adventuring.

While it might look straightforward to operate, Nyx 2 is made to turn freaky with the flick of a switch or the smallest twist of a knob. The updated version keeps the excellent digital reverb of its predecessor, loved by drone fans, and has a dual filter, and impressive modulation capabilities. For sheer weirdness, this is a great pick.

Read the full review here.

7Modal Electronics CRAFTsynth v2.0

Modal Electronics CRAFTsynth v2.0

If you’ve ever wanted a wavetable synth that’ll fit neatly into your laptop bag, you’re firmly in luck with CRAFTsynth v2.0. With its eight oscillators and virtual analogue (with wave morphing), digital and generative waves onboard, the CRAFTsynth 2.0 a sonic powerhouse on a minuscule budget. Like the other Modal synth on this list, you can delve deeper with the accompanying app, and can even control it from your DAW with neatly integrated VST/AU plug-in.

This vibey little synth delivers a unique sound on a small budget and could be used in live scenarios or in the studio.

Read the full review here.

8Behringer Odyssey

Behringer Odyssey

The first of our Behringer picks on the list, is the company’s excellent recreation of the ARP Odyssey. Keeping the full-sized keys of the original, Behringer has made an instrument that’s a joy to play, capable of the same bass, lead and sci-fi sounds of its forbears. As far as vital stats go, the Behringer Odyssey is duophonic synth with three different, switchable filters – to correlate with different filters used in the original three revisions of the ARP-produced synth.

Where Behringer’s recreation deviates from the original is with the inclusion of onboard effects from Klark Teknik. Reverbs, delays, phasers and other modulation effects are present, and welcome additions for performance. Plus, there’s a 32-note sequencer and arpeggiator.

Controversy aside, our reviewer found “brilliance in sonic colour and oodles of creative potential, just like the original”. And, for the price, it’s very compelling.

Read the full review here.

9Behringer MS-101/MS-1

Behringer MS-101/MS-1

The original Roland SH-101 is loved for its monophonic grunt and simplicity of operation, and Behringer’s MS-101 (now sold as the MS-1) is a fine homage. As well as playing exactly like a vintage SH-101, making it a lot of fun, it also gets some updates such as a triangle wave shape that you can blend in, along with an external input.

The inclusion of FM sets this distinctly apart from the original, and that’s no bad thing – it yields some “incredibly exciting” sounds, according to our reviewer. Just like the Odyssey, the MS-1 adds a 32-step sequencer and arpeggiator.

Behringer has put its own stamp on a classic design here, and made a synth that’s incredibly fun to play in the process, but will it garner the most votes?

Read the full review here.

10Novation Summit

The follow-up to the Peak, Novation’s Summit is a 16-voice, bi-timbral hybrid polysynth with high-resolution digital oscillators and analogue dual filter, overdrive, distortion and digital effects. The bi-timbral nature of the synth means you can either huge 16-voice patches, or have two 8-voice synths that can either be split across the keyboard or layered.

The Summit is more than just two Peaks, adding an arpeggiator and the whole synth sounds phenomenal. From huge, atmospheric pads to dance leads and basses, and through the world of FM, there’s a lot to discover. It’s hardly surprising we called it “the company’s best-ever synth release and a landmark in Novation product releases.”

Read the full review here.

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Check out all the Gear Of The Year 2019 categories here.