The 5 best synthesizers of all time
What are the 5 best synthesizers ever? In this article you’ll find 10 synthesizers, all of which have at least one special feature that you can count on.
Sure, here are the 5 best synthesizers of all time! There are many such lists and so far I haven’t found a list that I could agree with completely. Won’t be any different for many of you on this one. But that doesn’t stop me.
Okay, what I’m not doing is setting up a ranking like a top 10. There is almost always the Moog Minimoog in first place, but that’s completely unfair in my opinion, because it’s not perfect either. Rather, I will mention ten synthesizers that all have something very special. You’ll see.
And to make sure that no one is preferred here, the list comes in strict chronological order.
Roland TB-303 (1982)
The Roland TB-303 was just as much a megaflopp in synthesizer history. For Roland, the silver box was such an utter nonsense that it took him 30 years to realize what had actually happened.
The small bass synthesizer with integrated sequencer was actually meant for guitarists who could program such a bass and drum accompaniment together with the small drum machine TR-606. Hardly anyone wanted to. The TB-303 was initially offered for 730 D-Mark and was later auctioned off for less than 200 D-Mark. Cause still nobody wanted to.
But then something happened that is still unique in the history of popular music and the reason why the TB-303 appears in my list of the best synthesizers of all time: A completely new style of music was created with it! Of course, rock music owes its breakthrough to the electric guitar. But it doesn’t matter if you play a Strat, Les Paul or whatever. The DJ formation Phuture from Chicago released the song “Acid Trax” in 1985, which consisted only of drum computer and TB-303. A new style of music was born. Acid had its first peak in the late’ 80s.
With the advent of the techno movement, however, a few years later there was a revival that has continued to this day, at least in the club framework. The significance of the TB-303 is also shown by two things: No other synth has been copied or cloned so often. In the 90s, a new synth was released almost weekly, the manufacturer of which claimed to emulate the TB-303 1:1 – and everyone forgot that the silver box not only had a special sound, but also a unique sequencer. Even Roland himself has successors in the meantime.
And what synth – off the shelf, not just any signature instrument! Here you go, did you manage to increase the value? An original TB-303 costs between 1.500 and 2.000 Euro, depending on the condition! If only I’d have struck out at the 1984 sellout…
Oh yes, the TB-303 is a powerful and extremely groovy bass synthesizer, even if you don’t touch the buttons.;)
Yamaha DX7 (1983)
Back to a real box-office hit! The Yamaha DX7 stands for the sound of the first half of the 80s. No ballad without his e-piano, hardly a charthit without any sound from him. From Depeche Mode to Whitney Houston, the DX7 was heard everywhere.
The reasons for this success: It sounded new with its extremely fast digital envelopes, was 16-part polyphonic and had 32 memory slots plus a card slot for memory cards with a further 32 sounds. His keyboard was velocity sensitive and he already had MIDI that had just appeared. The Yamaha DX7 was programmable for this purpose. At least, as long as you knew how to use FM synthesis and got along with the small display.
But best of all, it only cost about 4,000 D-Mark and thus only a fraction of its competitors at that time! The synthesizer had reached the mass market with the Yamaha DX7 and thus shaped an era.
Korg M1 Music Workstation (1988)
Here comes the mother of all workstations! While the Yamaha DX-7 left its mark on the first half of the 80’s, only the Korg M1 could be heard from 1988 onwards. Everyone knows the factory sounds like the piano, the organ (both still used in house music), various leads or the drums and the legendary finger snippers.
Analog fans turned up their noses: 4 MB of sampled waveforms serve as the base material for the M1, the 12 dB filter without resonance is at best “nice”. But the keyboarders couldn’t care less. So many realistic sounds, plus an 8-fold multimode – where the sounds had to share the two effect processors, which often led to a lot being taken away from the sounds – an integrated 8-track sequencer, velocity-sensitive keyboard with aftertouch: all in one synthesizer? The approximately 4,500 D-Mark were quickly sold over the counter.
The entire following development of Korg’s “big” synthesizers is based on the M1 – from the reamed T-Series to 01/W, Trinity and Triton, Oasys, to the current Korg Kronos. And the other major manufacturers also quickly adopted the workstation principle. With the advent of General-MIDI there were 16 tracks very fast, sounds became more independent of effect devices, own samples could be loaded and so on.
Want some more hits where you can hear the M1? Of course: The organ from Robin S.”Show Me Love”, the Preset Orchestra 2 in Queen “The Show Must Go On”, the piano in Snap “Rhythm Is A Dancer”, all sounds from one of the best synthesizers of all time, the Korg M1 Workstation.
Doepfer A-100 Eurorack (1995)
And another “deputy”, with whom something big started. When Dieter Doepfer introduced the small modular system A-100 to the market in 1995, he would never have dreamed that it would become THE industry standard for modular synths, which makes it one of the best synthesizers of all time.
At the beginning there were only ten modules, but Doepfer made two clever moves: On the one hand there is a complete modular system including frame and the most common modules already for about 1.150, – Euro. If one compares this with the prices that were called in the 70s for the large modular systems, this is practically a gift.
He made all specifications public and invited other manufacturers to create their own modules. Doepfer itself now has over 120 modules, but this is only a fraction of all the modules that have been developed for the Eurorack.
The largest German distributor for Eurorack modules alone lists almost 1,000 different models. And on the one hand, it doesn’t have everything in its program, on the other hand there are new crates from all over the world almost every week. The future of modular synthesizers is guaranteed thanks to the Eurorack standard and many inventors.
Korg microKORG (2002)
A look at the year of release and the knowledge that this synth is still available in its first version on the market makes it clear to everyone how Korg mikroKORG made it into my list of the best synthesizers of all time. It is the longest continuous synthesizer ever built.
On average, synthesizers are built for about four to six years. During this time there are often new revisions that improve something. Then it’s time for a new product, the marketing people start pushing.
But the Korg mikroKORG with its gooseneck microphone inspired by the Korg Vocoder VC10 has decided to stay in the program. And this for 15 years now!
Yes, as the name suggests, it has little keys that are not for everyone. There is no USB port that would have been in there 15 years ago. And the power is supplied by the external power supply, which is despised by so many. Or via batteries for travelling!
And it sounds really good too. The microphone can be used not only for decoration but also for the integrated vocoder. And anyway, isn’t he cute, the kid? It fits on top of every keyboard. And with less than 400, – Euro even cheaper. Yes, there is now an S and an XL+ version. And in general, Korg has expanded its synthesizer range in the last 15 years. But there is no end in sight to this modern classic.