Best synths to buy in 2021: 17 of the best synthesizers under $600

From DIY synths to vintage remakes, there are plenty of wicked wave-makers that sit in a reasonable price bracket

Although software synths are outrageously powerful and affordable, getting hands-on with their hardware counterparts is often a more fluid and creative experience. This used to be an expensive affair – a Yamaha DX7 would set you back $1,995 upon its initial 1983 release. But music technology companies have been working hard to abolish the need to save thousands of dollars for a hardware synthesizer. Yamaha’s modern revival of the DX7, the dinky Reface DX, will cost you just $300. That sounds a lot less terrifying than the 1983 price tag, which, adjusted for inflation, is over $5,000 today.

Korg is a renowned affordable synth specialist. Behringer is recreating legendary synths with a legendary price. Roland has created compact, modern versions of its analogue classics. All these companies, and many more, understand that the modern producer can’t always afford to break the bank on a sweet new synth. To show you what we mean, we’ve compiled a list of our favourite hardware synths that sit below $600.

Best synthesizers under $600 at a glance

  • Behringer Odyssey
  • Dreadbox Typhon
  • Korg Nu:Tekt NTS-1
  • Korg Volca Nubass
  • Korg Minilogue
  • Modal Electronics CRAFTsynth v2.0
  • Roland JU-06A
  • Arturia MicroFreak
  • Roland/Studio Electronics SE-02
  • Behringer MS-101
  • Yamaha Reface DX
  • Novation Bass Station II
  • Novation Circuit Mono Station
  • Pioneer DJ TORAIZ-AS-1
  • Behringer 2600
  • IK Multimedia UNO synth
  • Elektron Model:Cycles

Behringer Odyssey

Behringer Odyssey

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ARP’s 1970s duophonic space-age synth, the Odyssey, could be found in studios and live settings for early pioneers such as Kraftwerk, Jean-Michel Jarre and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. It was equally at home with the likes of ABBA and ELO, with a significant following from jazz legends, such as Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. Behringer’s fully-analogue revival of the Odyssey comes with an onboard arpeggiator and sequencer, MIDI via MIDI I/O and USB, a multi-effects section and three filter types with overdrive.

In our review of Behringer’s Odyssey, we said: “It’s a full-blown hats-off homage to the ARP Odyssey and it delivers on many levels as a fully functional duophonic synthesizer, with a build quality which is very good indeed. Far better, in fact, than you would find on a vintage machine nowadays. Is it identical? Well, it’s very close, but there are a couple of minor points that just seem to make it not quite the same. Should this put you off? Absolutely not”.

Price: $499/£369
Synthesis type: Subtractive
Polyphony: Duophonic
Keyboard: 37 keys
Effects: Reverbs, delays and echoes, phasers and other modulation effects

Learn more here.

Dreadbox Typhon

Dreadbox Typhon

In recent years, Dreadbox has introduced a slew of well-regarded music-making products, including modular building blocks, DIY boxes and modules, and portable effects, synthesizers and sequencers. Like the many-headed monster after which it’s named, the Typhon combines many facets into one powerful, noisy, fire-spitting unit – a monophonic analogue synth with digital control, sequencing and effects.

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In our review, we said: “The Typhon is a fun, flexible and surprisingly powerful synthesizer. The core analogue sound engine is strong and the fact that much of the synth is controlled digitally means that thrilling new features can be added along the way. The Typhon might not live up to the cataclysmic might of its serpentine namesake quite yet but we’re confident that this monophonic synth will only grow in power”.

Price: $379/£339
Synthesis type: Subtractive
Polyphony: Monophonic
Keyboard: None
Effects: Three-stage stereo effects

Learn more here.

Korg Nu:Tekt NTS-1

Korg Nu:Tekt

Ever wanted to build your own synth? Korg’s delightful little digital mini synth comes as a set of parts, with tools included for you to piece it together. It takes about 30 minutes to get it fully functional and you’ll feel pretty good when that oscillator starts working. The Nu:Tekt NTS-1 is also surprisingly powerful, with 16 oscillator types, five delay and reverb algorithms and a multi-mode filter.

“For £99, the Nu:Tekt NTS-1 is an absolute steal. Once you get into the effects, you can quickly make massive sounds from mundane beginnings, and this little beast has enough quirks to keep you entertained for a long time. Despite its miniature stature and similarly small price, this is a unit that packs a serious punch. It’s not without its issues but the joy and portability it brings should be enough to overcome them”.

Price: $99/£99
Synthesis type: Subtractive
Polyphony: Monophonic
Keyboard: Ribbon controller
Effects: Reverb, delay

Learn more here.

Korg Volca Nubass

Volca Nubass - Why Bass Matters
Korg’s Volca Nubass is a fantastic example of a hardware synth bass, a fun tool with which to recreate classic dancefloor-friendly riffs

Korg’s Volca series has proven immensely successful since its inception. It turns out that miniature, powerful instruments with an affordable price tag are quite popular. Who knew? One of the newer baby beasts is the Nubass, a monophonic synth that is Korg’s solution to acid basslines. The vacuum tube-equipped synth has a 16-step sequencer, two oscillators, a VCF, VCA, envelope generator, LFO and overdrive.

In our review, we said: “You can get some great and growling acid lines from Nubass, of that there is no doubt, and it’s going to give any other piece of dedicated bass hardware a run for its money. The additional tube is not just a gimmick – it really does drive the sound well. Nubass is a bit of a one-trick pony in some regards though, but it performs that Acid trick admirably. Twenty years ago we’d have been falling over each other for a box this good and at this price”.

Price: $199 / £139
Synthesis type: Subtractive
Polyphony: Monophonic
Keyboard: Touch keybed, step sequencer
Effects: Overdrive

Learn more here.

Korg Minilogue

The sleek and minimal-looking Minilogue is Korg’s pint-sized polyphonic synth with analogue architecture. With a recent firmware update to 2.0, there’s not been a better time to consider getting your hands on one. The synth boasts a 16-step polyphonic sequencer, plus a range of voice modes to change polyphony. The OLED display is a nice way to keep track of parameters and settings, too.

In our review, we said: “If you are in line for a versatile analogue synth, this is an excellent choice, particularly if you have other analogue gear, such as Eurorack or any of the Korg Volcas. I would have to say that the creative possibilities with a Volca Beats and Bass, and a Minilogue could keep you busy for hours, with plenty to explore.”

Price: $375/£359
Synthesis type: Subtractive
Polyphony: Four voice polyphony, duophonic mode, monophonic mode, unison mode
Keyboard: 37 mini keys
Effects: Delay

Learn more here.

Modal Electronics CRAFTsynth v2.0

Modal Electronics CRAFTsynth v2.0

This crafty little synth comes courtesy of Modal Electronics, who is best known for its larger Argon8 and Cobalt8 synths. CRAFTsynth is a monophonic wavetable synth with an arpeggiator and effects engine for distortion and delay. The Modal app is a great way to go deeper with CRAFTsynth, giving you easy access to modulation and parameter tweaking. Not only is it extremely compact, but it is powered by USB or batteries for supreme portability.

In our review, we said: “The great thing about this synth is that it’s open to so many practical placements, by implication. It could be very usable standalone and in a live environment, allowing for triggering of sequences while the sync connections will keep itself in time with other similar devices. The app support makes this excellent within a DAW-based environment, allowing for control on the fly, which is always perfect when programming real-time movement.”

Price: $149/£129
Synthesis type: Wavetable
Polyphony: Monophonic
Keyboard: Eight-note touch keyboard
Effects: Delay, distortion

Learn more here.

Roland JU-06A

Roland JU-06A

The Roland Juno synths are tremendously sought-after pieces of kit, with a plethora of software emulations developed in recent years. Roland’s caught on and made the classic Juno-106 and Juno-60 available in the form of the Boutique JU-06A, with a much smaller form factor and lower price tag. You’ll get many of the frills from the original synths here, including the legendary Juno Chorus modes and arpeggiator. This synth is ideal for anyone looking for a Juno replica with awesome tactility.

In our review, we said: “If you want a module which works well as an all-rounder but whose sound has lots of personality, you’ll find plenty to enjoy. Throw in its hybrid sonic engine, a capable, inspiring pattern sequencer, all the portability you could want (including battery power and an internal speaker) and the JU-06A has plenty to recommend it. It’s a great vibe machine too; when inspiration is low, it’ll get the juices flowing”.

Price: $399/£349
Synthesis type: Subtractive
Polyphony: Four voices
Keyboard: 25 mini keys
Effects: Juno Chorus, delay

Learn more here.

Arturia MicroFreak

arturia microfreak

Getting weird with Arturia’s erratic four-voice freak is a breeze, thanks to its versatile modulation matrix and 11 oscillator modes. The oscillator was created with some help from modular synth brand, Mutable Instruments, and sports subtractive-style waves, a wavetable, an FM-tone generator, among other awesome oscillator modes. This all feeds into a 12dB/2-pole state-variable analogue filter, which is a nice addition to the digital beast. MicroFreak V3 has been recently released, bringing more presets, more oscillator modes and more fun.

In our review, we said: “The MicroFreak represents very good value for money, providing basic synthesis possibilities alongside more complicated and highly inspiring digitised formats. Add this to the included analogue filter and comprehensive routing and modulation capabilities and you have a powerful synth in a highly compact form that is very appealing.”

Price: $299/£249
Synthesis type: Subtractive, with oscillator modes for FM, wavetable and more.
Polyphony: Four-voice paraphony or monophonic mode
Keyboard: 25 touch keys
Effects: No effects onboard

Learn more here.

Roland Boutique SE-02

Roland SE-02

Another one of Roland’s Boutique synths to consider is the SE-02, which comes in collaboration with Studio Electronics. The analogue monosynth boasts three oscillators, plus a noise generator, feeding into a fixed 24dB/octave low-pass VCF with envelope and keyboard tracking options. Three cross-modulators take you into new sonic territories, wildly warping waveforms, along with an LFO for filter and oscillator modulations and a delay section. The SE-02’s 16-step sequencer makes it easy to create patterns, featuring a glide control for smooth transitions.

In our review, we said: “There’s a lovely sonorous depth to the SE-02’s sound, which will just sit beautifully in a mix, but it also has the capacity to shriek in various ways. The filter sounds terrific; add in the levels of distortion available through the Feedback control and X-Mod, and you’ve got yourself a very flexible device full of wondrous sonic capabilities. So much so, in fact, you’ll probably just want to get your hands dirty and create great sounds.”

Price: $399
Synthesis type: Subtractive
Polyphony: Monophonic
Keyboard: None
Effects: Delay

Learn more here.

Behringer MS-101

Behringer MS-101

Roland’s SH-101 was a monosynth that was celebrated for its TB-303-style filter and heavy suboscillator. It also had a grip on the left side to play as a keytar. Behringer has revived the SH-101 in its nicely-priced MS-101, complete with onboard sequencer keytar grip. The synth builds on Roland’s original with a few modern features, such as MIDI via USB and FM capabilities. It has an analogue signal path, too, and is a convincing alternative to a second-hand SH-101.

In our review, we said: “It’s sleek, very well made, sounds superbly fine in detail and depth, but offers that element of teenage fun that we all want in a good monosynth. We also have to consider the price point, which frankly makes the MS-101 look like a total bargain, especially when compared to the exorbitant prices of classic SH-101s on the second-hand market.“

Price: $299/£269
Synthesis type: Subtractive, FM
Polyphony: Monophonic
Keyboard: 32 keys
Effects: None

Learn more here.

Yamaha Reface DX

Yamaha’s DX7 is an FM synthesis pioneer, renowned for its ability to generate unique sounds and for its frustratingly complex programming interface. Four operators and 12 algorithms are featured in Yamaha’s DX reboot, the Reface DX. This is two operators less than the DX7, but a pair of effects processors still lets you create complex tones. A Phrase Looper lets you record up to 2,000 notes or 10 minutes worth of notes, and the screen will help you visualise your FM routing.

In our review, we said: “What it does well is bring easy, hands-on DX sound mangling one step closer to reality, albeit a cut-down four-operator version of FM. We love that it offers a great taste of the original and what you can do with the sounds, especially in such a short space of time, and this overall level of ease of use is something you would never once associate with the letters ‘DX’.”

Price: $299/£269
Synthesis type: FM
Polyphony: Eight voices of polyphony
Keyboard: 37 keys
Effects: Distortion, chorus, wah flanger, phaser, delay, reverb.

Learn more here.

Novation Bass Station II

The Novation Bass Station was a monophonic legend that, naturally, performed outstandingly on bass duties. The second iteration features an analogue signal path under digital control, with two primary oscillators, a sub-oscillator and three other sources: noise, ring mod and an external input. A 32-step sequencer and arpeggiator are onboard for patterns. You’ll also get 64 presets – unless you get the newly released AFX Station. Aphex Twin’s remix of the monosynth comes with 128 new presets and seven new overlay banks made by Noyze Lab, Perplex On, Richard Devine, r beny and Lightbath, plus a sleek Aphex Twin aesthetic finish.

In our review, we said: “The Bass Station II does what it was designed to do exceptionally well. No big pads or digital textures, no polyphony, no chords, no ‘real’ sounds or emulations, just pure, ferocious actual proper analogue synth sounds. Just the sound of the circuit at its raw, dirty, animal-like best. Bass Station II is an exceptional synth. For £399 you could buy a couple of high-end synth plug-ins. Don’t. Buy this instead.”

Price: $329/£329
Synthesis type: Subtractive
Polyphony: Monophonic
Keyboard: 25 keys
Effects: Overdrive

Learn more here.

Novation Circuit Mono Station

If you want a beefed-up Bass Station, you might want to check out Novation’s Circuit Mono Station. It builds on the boxy Novation Circuit, which is reminiscent of another Novation product, the Launchpad. So, with three Novation products rolled into one, is it worth the $500? Well, you’ll get a sequencer, 64 synth patches, high-, low- and band-pass filters, three distortion modes, a 4×8 modulation matrix and two oscillators plus noise. You can also hook this up to Eurorack gear. Oh, it’s an analogue synth, too.

In our review, we said: “Circuit Mono Station doesn’t just make putting patterns and tunes together easily, it positively encourages each and every one of them to be a moving, lively, shifting beast. We’re almost surprised it doesn’t punish you for just leaving notes alone, as there’s just so much you can do to each via the synth controls, the Modulation Matrix and with the drama that Glide and Gate introduce”.

Price: $500/£349
Synthesis type: Subtractive
Polyphony: Monophonic
Keyboard: 32 pads
Effects: Distortion

Learn more here.

Pioneer DJ Toraiz AS-1

Toraiz AS-1

What happens when a globally known DJ brand teams up with a legendary synth maker? Pioneer DJ’s Toraiz AS-1 comes in collaboration with Dave Smith Instruments (now Sequential), crafting a performance-lead analogue synth that is essentially a monophonic Prophet-6. It has a 64-step sequencer, two VCOs, two VCFs, two envelope generators, an LFO and a VCA. Plus, a whopping 495 presets and 495 user sounds and two effects units.

In our review, we said: “It’s almost impossible to resist the unit’s performing charms and even if you don’t DJ, or have never been tempted, a few minutes with this little beauty could give you the confidence to become a live performer. Taken as a pure studio tool, there’s a lot to like, although you’d be missing a lot of the point if you ignored the performance aspects. Still, this has 495 DSI sounds and room for 495 more, which you’ll easily fill with such simple programming”

Price: $499/£479
Synthesis type: Subtractive
Polyphony: Monophonic
Keyboard: One-octave touch keyboard
Effects: Bucket Brigade Delay, distortion and ring modulation, chorus, low-res phaser, high-res phaser, maestro phaser

Learn more here.

IK Multimedia UNO

IK Multimedia UNO

IK Multimedia’s UNO synth might be tiny, but the analogue monosynth packs 10 modes of arpeggiation, 100 presets, two oscillators, a multi-mode filter, two envelopes and an LFO. You’ll be making some big sounds with this unassuming beast. The 16-step sequencer offers realtime step recording and parameter recording, and six effects will let you get even more creative with your performance. The accompanying Synth Editor software for macOS and Windows expands on UNO’s 4×4 modulation matrix to access everything at the same time. You get a full virtual 88-note keyboard at the bottom, plus extensive preset management.

In our review, we said: “There is so much packed into UNO. It’s easy to use, easy to play, and easy to get a good sound and great sequences out of. For a couple of hundred quid, there’s not a lot to argue about. UNO is one of the bargains of the year.”

Price: $200/£109
Synthesis type: Subtractive
Polyphony: Monophonic
Keyboard: 27 touch keys
Effects: Delay, Dive, Scoop, vibrato, wah, tremolo

Learn more here.

Behringer 2600

Behringer 2600
Image: Behringer

The ARP 2600 is the Holy Grail of synthesizers. One of the most notable uses is as the voice of R2D2, but it was also found in the studios of Jean Michel Jarre, BT, Joy Division, Depeche Mode, Weather Report, Chemical Brothers, Stevie Wonder, Vince Clarke, Nine Inch Nails, and so many more. Behringer has brought the semi-modular titan back for under $600, and the synth community can’t believe it.

Although unlike Korg’s reissue, this isn’t a genuine ARP collaboration, Behringer has still kept many features true to the original. The synth offers 83 patch points and three VCOs with FM inputs among other analogue-based features – VCF, LFO and VCA – that promise flexible sound-shaping capabilities. If you manage to get your hands on one of the limited edition Blue Marvin or Gray Meanie models, you’ll also be blessed with the coveted mechanical spring reverb.

Price: $599/£555
Synthesis type: Subtractive
Polyphony: Monophonic
Keyboard: No keyboard
Effects: Ring modulation, digital spring reverb (mechanical in Blue Marvin/Gray Meanie)

Learn more here.

Elektron Model:Cycles

Elektron Model:Cycles Hero

Designed with an instant, hands-on approach to beatmaking, Elektron’s Model:Cycles’ parameters avoid complexity and confusion. It features six FM-based Machines: Tone, Chord, Kick, Snare, Metal and Perc. Each Machine is represented by a pressure and velocity-sensitive pad, meaning you can tap a pad to trigger a sound or press down on a pad to play the sound continuously. This range of instrumentation will have you playing percussive and melodic sounds to create full compositions with ease.

Below the six pads is a series of 16 smaller buttons, which can be played as keyboard notes, or used to set up a sequence of up to 64 steps. Five of the Machines are monophonic, but the Chord Machine features polyphony. Doubling as a groovebox and a synth, this will keep you tinkering for hours on end.

Price: $299/£280
Synthesis type: FM
Polyphony: Monophonic/polyphonic chord mode
Keyboard: 16 playable buttons
Effects: Delay, reverb

Learn more here.

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