Synthesizer for a Beginner

A forum for discussing the pros & cons of buying a particular synth and for advice on buying synthesizers.

Synthesizer for a Beginner

Postby tindrum » Thu Jul 10, 2014 7:55 pm

Hi,

I'm interested in buying a synthesizer, but I know literally nothing about synthesizers and how they work etc. As it stands I'm a complete newbie/newcomer.

My reason for buying is I'm a big fan of a lot of the late 70's/early 80's new wave and eletronic bands such as Japan, Heaven 17, The Human League, Ultravoxx, John Foxx, Gary Numan etc. and I would like to play this type of music, or try and create my own synth based music in the same vein.

I did try to play guitar at one point but I never became particularly good, I didn't have the patience to learn guitar. I'm saying this as I fear spending money then ending up putting it in a corner and forgetting about it, which was the fate of the guitar until I sold it. But I feel synths may be easier to learn in the sense that it's not as 'technical', requiring just button presses rather than chords and fretwork etc. which I could never get my head around (not to make it sound like synths are easy by any means as I assume they wont be and will still require patience and learning).

But I'm basically just looking for some advice on where to start out, based on the information provided above. I hear people say 'buy a program on your computer and use a midi keyboard' which is fine and I assume this is the cheapest way in, but I feel like it won't be the same as actually owning a proper, tangible synthesizer unit. I'm prepared to spend some money on it, thats fine.

Any help/advice/recommendations are much appreciated.

Thanks
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Re: Synthesizer for a Beginner

Postby CS_TBL » Thu Jul 10, 2014 8:18 pm

As it's probably your first piece o' kit, I recommend a workstation-like machine, or an otherwise meaty multi-timbral synth (Roland XV, Roland Integra etc.). Single-purpose synths (no matter how legendary) such as analogue bass synths, 80's samplers, Moog'ish lead synths etc. are all fine, if you have a shitload of 'em. I would advice against those for starters who have yet to build up a gear list.

A good sound designer (it can be learnt, really!) gets decent sounds from any reasonable synth, let no one lure you into a limited though popular 80's model only because you seek 80's stuff. For a first synth, better be complete. Pick something modern, with tons o' effects, voices, parts, sounds etc.
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Re: Synthesizer for a Beginner

Postby silikon » Thu Jul 10, 2014 8:36 pm

Along that line of thinking, I would probably suggest a synth like the Novation KS4 or Alesis ION; they both have plenty of presets which you can tweak and begin to understand what takes place when you change this or that, and they're not so expensive that you're laying out a ton of cash initially. They're both good sounding machines, they both have a fairly intuitive interface, and should get you to where you want to go with reasonable ease.

I'd also suggest finding a decent text on synthesis, or delve into the other online options available to learn about the different modules that form basic subtractive synthesis, and dedicate time to learning how they all interact with one another. Oftentimes the journey in creating new sounds (versus composing complete works) alone is highly rewarding.

If you decide it's not for you, you'll likely be able to re-sell either one of those synths for essentially the same price you paid for it (within reason).
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Re: Synthesizer for a Beginner

Postby max badwan » Fri Jul 11, 2014 12:49 am

buy a USB keyboard and download some soft synths, there's plenty of free ones available. If you really want hardware, Korg Volca or Arturia Mini/MicroBrute are cheap and cheerful ways of getting your GAS started.
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Re: Synthesizer for a Beginner

Postby tindrum » Fri Jul 11, 2014 7:13 am

Hi,

Thanks for the responses all. Would something like a Korg MS-20 Mini be any good? It does seem quite in-depth for the beginner though. There is that, or a Microkorg XL. On the Moog side of things, they seem to be more expensive, the lowest costing that I could pick up would be the Sub Phatty. And then finally, as mention above there are the Arturia Mini/MicroBrute.

From looking at demo/jam videos on YouTube, I do like the look of the MS-20 Mini as it seems to have a lot of those 70's/80's sounds I'm looking for but then I don't know how versatile it would be if I want to branch out at some point (which I imagine I would).

Out of the few listed above, any advice on which to go for and pros/cons?

Thanks again.
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Re: Synthesizer for a Beginner

Postby Ashe37 » Fri Jul 11, 2014 7:23 am

And to throw another one into the ring, the Bass Station II
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Re: Synthesizer for a Beginner

Postby sol-bass-rec » Sat Jul 12, 2014 8:43 pm

Bass Station II. You can find them cheap on ebay used.guitarcenter, forums.

It's a nice mono synthetic with loads of presets and empty user spots.
$300 - $400 used.

I love my Dave Smith Instruments Mopho 4.
Retails for $1200-$1300
Find them used between $800-$1000
4 banks of 128 presets with loads of empty user patches.
Poly synth.
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Re: Synthesizer for a Beginner

Postby nuketifromorbit » Sun Jul 13, 2014 1:04 am

Judging by your fondness for early synth pop any of the recent analog mono synths would be a great starting point. Personally I think starting out with a rompler workstation would ultimately kill any interest in sound design. In my opinion starting with a unit that immediately presents how signal flow works is crucial to understanding synthesis. My first synthesizer was an Alesis Micron which featured a very hands off user interface and required a ton of menu diving to edit a vast array of parameters. I really wanted to love it, I even picked up Jim Aikin's Power Tools for Synthesizer Programming, but ultimately I failed to grasp how a synthesizer worked.

It wasn't until I bought an ms2000br that I finally started to understand what exactly an LFO does, how an envelope generator works, what happens when you modulate the pitch of an oscillator synced to another, what a filter does, and so on. In short If your actually interested in programming your own sounds start with something relatively simple, that has lots of knobs, and few if any menus. I've yet to try a ms20 mini, but i think it would be a great option, as would a Arturia micro or mini brute (I currently own a micro-brute). Keep in mind the ms20 mini and microbrute lack full sized keys.
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Re: Synthesizer for a Beginner

Postby ninja6485 » Sun Jul 13, 2014 1:16 am

After software, I started with the korg radias. Best of both worlds, since it's setup like an Analog mono, but has the benefits of something like a workstation.
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Re: Synthesizer for a Beginner

Postby mpa1104 » Sun Jul 13, 2014 4:06 am

Hi tindrum,
If you're still serious about wanting to get to grips with the basics of analogue synthesis, personally I feel you'd be best served by a synth that has plenty of knobbage for parameter control. Silikon's KS-4 suggestion is a good one for example, and you could do a lot worse than pick up a cheap Roland Juno 60 - yes, it's only a single oscillator, but you've got one slider for each function and an immediate interaction in terms of knowing how simple waves interact with each other, how the filter and envelope generators affect the sound, etc, etc (not to mention a particularly 80s sound!). Then you'd probably quickly want a 2-Osc synth for the richer, detuned sounds, and/or the more flexible semi-modular approach of something like the MS-20.
Just my 2 cents FWIW :)
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Re: Synthesizer for a Beginner

Postby SeventhStar » Wed Jul 16, 2014 9:49 am

mpa1104 wrote:Hi tindrum,
you could do a lot worse than pick up a cheap Roland Juno 60


He said the most expensive Moog he could afford is a Sub Phatty.. If that is so, a Roland Juno 60 is outside of his budget. The Juno 60 is a $1K to $1.5K synth (what people are paying for them) these days on Ebay. Not exactly what I would call cheap.. Sounds like his price range is more like $500 to $900.
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Re: Synthesizer for a Beginner

Postby mpa1104 » Wed Jul 16, 2014 11:41 am

Wow - I'll admit to never really thinking of the 60 as fetching that much. Mind you, I guess I've never thought to check anyway since I've never let mine go (or am ever likely to). 2nd-hand prices down here tend not to reflect the global market that much :)
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Re: Synthesizer for a Beginner

Postby Swayze » Wed Jul 16, 2014 11:28 pm

It sounds like you're more interested in learning synthesis than how to play piano. So an affordable and reliable monosynth would fit the bill. You don't need polyphony to learn synthesis. As others have said, some good monos to check out would be Minibrute/Microbrute, MS20 mini, Mopho, Bass Station II. There are others out there but if you want a knobby synth to learn on, these are all great for the money. If you want a decent poly synth later that won't break the bank, check out the Nord Lead 1, An1x and JP8000. For 80's analog, look into the Roland JX series.

Watch a lot of demos, read the specs, you'll find the right synth for you.
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