9 Dirt Cheap Vintage Synths That Don’t Suck

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Tom at Waveformless put together a fun post taking a look at going vintage on the cheap.

There are a number of really underrated synths that seem to go for consistently low prices. They’re awesome synths, but nobody seems to know about them, which means you can get a great deal.

Here’s the list of synths that he highlights:

  1. Casio CZ-101 (typically less than $100)
  2. Ensoniq ESQ-1 (typically $150-$300)
  3. Moog (Realistic) Concertmate MG-1 (typically $100-$500)
  4. Oberheim Matrix-6R (typically $150-$350+)
  5. Roland HS-10/80 (typically $25-$100)
  6. Roland HS-60 (typically $200+)
  7. Roland MKS-7 (typically $200+)
  8. Yamaha CS-01 (typically $150-$250)
  9. Yamaha TX81Z (typically $50-$85)

See Tom’s post for his take on each of these synths.

Are these great synths? No – but you can get great deals on them and make some great sounds.

As an alternative to the Casio CZ-101, I’d recommend the CZ-1, which has twice the polyphony plus a velocity + aftertouch sensitive full-size keyboard. And is still dirt cheap.

Got other ideas for cheap vintage synths that don’t suck? Leave a comment!


51 thoughts on “9 Dirt Cheap Vintage Synths That Don’t Suck

    • the SH-09 isn’t really dirt cheap.. they’ve been going for around $500 recently, and i’ve seen some listed for $700-800. it’s a pretty fantastic deal for $500 considering the massive sound. wish i didn’t have to sell mine last year. :(

      love the six trak.. i sold mine after getting a prophet 600 because they sound almost identical, but i miss it dearly.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1
    • “Thanks – now every one of these boards will be $500+ on eBay.”

      I know, I second that! – I LOATH those ebay jerks trying to sell things for more than it’s worth!!!- (there, I abstained from using harsh expletives and allusions to cause great physical harm to said ebay scammers)

      If you are going to pay more, than it should be because you bought it from a reputable used synth gear dealer who took the time to repair and test the gear before selling. Otherwise, be patient, avoid ebay and always be on the lookout for a good deal.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  1. I second the Sixtrak. They're extremely easy to repair (socketed components) and it sounds fantastic, a real gem

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
  2. Good synths!

    The Six Trak is a little cheesy since it's got only one VCO per voice, but throw a chorus or reverb on it and it sounds pretty good.

    Love the "Record 6" tuning function!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
  3. I also think the Roland Alpha juno 2 should be mentioned I purchased mine for 200 dollars

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1
  4. the korg poly-800 is great!

    also

    Akai – AX 60, VCO, VCF, VCA + Midi, 6 voices, unison, HPF and one of the harshest most amazing low-pass filters ever

    Plus a fader for nearly everything

    such a good deal and one of the most slept on analogs

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1
  5. I second that vote on the Akai – AX60. Great synth.
    AX80 is also amazing but a bit more.
    They we both very good but at the time people were in love with the DX7 so they we ignored.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1
  6. I think the point here is "cheap" and your Roland Alpha Juno 2 is covered under the banner of the HS10/80 which are the same thing with added speakers for the "home organ" market.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2
  7. Poly800 rules! DX100 is a TX81Z and I wouldn't have said SH09s are that cheap. In the UK they often go for £300 or 500 USD.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2
    • TX81Z is a DX11 in rack, not a DX100. Although its a 8 Algorithm/4-Operator FM synth (like DX9/DX21/DX27/DX100), TX81Z could use one of 8 different waveforms for each operator, while the older 4-Operator synths (and also the old 6-Operator synths like DX1/DX5/DX7) used only a Sine Wave for their operators.
      Great synth, if you can program it, and not an “entry level” synth at all. DX synths are Very capable synths even with today standards, just they need time to learn to program them.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  8. My votes are:
    Casio VZ-10m (same as FM but different)
    HOHNER HS2e (a Casio VZ-10M with a different badge)
    Yamaha SK10 or 15 (string machine)
    Cheetah MS6 (almost a copy of the Oberheim Matrix 1000 but half the price)
    Casio CT-410V (for cheese appeal but a real synth with a filter!)
    Roland D-110 (if you can't afford a D50/550)
    Kawai K4R (for usable nostalgia or a K1 for cheap low-fi dirt)
    Evolution EVS1 (funny little thing but can produce some good sounds)
    Siel Expander 80 (like a Korg Poly)
    Ensoniq SQ-R

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2
  9. Oh, and a Korg Wavestation SR; I know you can get a soft version but it's just not the same for noodling around on.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  10. A bit of a toy, but don't pass up on a Yamaha PSS-570 if you see one – it gives AWESOME FM sounds with both presets and manual controls. (And "awesome" is a word I never use.)

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2
  11. MirlitronOne: Seconded.
    I have a Yamaha PSS-470 that I picked up for $3 at a thrift shop and its pretty impressive for a "toy" (especially with a few well-placed bends).

    The TX81Z is a great entry-level box. I'm glad to see that on the list.

    Roland D-110s usually go for pretty cheap but they're such a pain to program that it kind of forces them into the 'suck' category.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2
  12. Korg X5D rocks my temple…

    Got it for 175 Euro, say 200 $ or something.

    Its newer but can be made to sound analog with some tweaking. ( It has some standard echo/reverb to it, sounds to wet, like a fucking digital cave)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
    • yes the x5d is class, more tweakable than some of the similar devices available at the time, and you are right very sweet fx. Used it as my mother keyboard 1997-2010.

      I have written several tracks just with the x5d search nativ – chocolate star ( bandcsmp )

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3
  13. kawai sx240 best cheap analog synth going. also the k3 is pretty capable of analog sounding patches and some sounds a analog cant do

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
    • Forgot to add: Ensoniq ESQ-1, AKAI AX-60, Korg DW-8000, Crumar DS-2, Crumar Performer for synths I once had and WANT BACK AGAIN!!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2
  14. WOW the prices went up pretty good lately on ebay and even on CL. I used to be able to find a Kawai SX-240 for around $250 or less. Now I see them for $400-600, same with Yamaha CS-01, CS-05 and the Korg Micropreset often pops up for $500, give or take a few (btw all synths I used to have and had to sell due to financial distress) Thanks alot showroom synth collectors for driving the prices to the moon.

    My affordable synths are: Casio HT-6000 4-DCO beast, Casio HT-700, Yamaha PSS-680 fully programmable via SYSEX, Paia Fatman, Korg EA-1 now considered vintage, EMU MoPhatt love the Z-Plane filters.

    Cheap synths I want or wished they were cheap again: Casio CZ1000 because it looks funky, I WANT MY YAMAHA CS-5 BACK!! Multivox MX-2000/Pulser had it, but had a dodgy VCO, Kawai SX-210/240, Teisco/Kawai SX-400 have one sitting around in Germany, collecting dust, Korg Maxi 800DV, Yamaha SK-30, Multivox MX-3000 and many, many more… bummer that I can only fork up around $200 at a time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1
  15. I agree about “showroom collectors” here in Victoria BC Canada there’s one guy who keeps buying up all the used gear and then trys to sell it online for ridiculous prices.

    Anyway, my favorite “cheap” synths are:

    Roland Juno-6: Everyone wants the 60 or the 106 so the 6 is still affordable.
    Moog MG-1: Got mine in 2012 for $100 in mint condition!!
    Yamaha PSS-480: A toy? Maybe, but still a great source of tweak-able FM sounds.
    Yamaha FB-01: FM synth module with great crunchy sounds that can still be found for under $100.
    Yamaha PSR-36: One of the best “home” keyboards I’ve ever owned. FM programming made easy.
    Casio SK-1: I carry this in my bag wherever I go. Mine has MIDI in and sounds great through a…
    Korg Monotron: At $50 a pop I have several of these. Great for adding analog grunge to digital synths.

    Finally, I briefly owned an Akai AX-73 which I sold in early 2012 for $200. It was an AWESOME synth and, as some have said, totally underrated. I would have kept it but with it 6-octave keyboard it’s really wide and I didn’t have a shelf long enough for it in my small studio. On the up side I used the $200 to buy a Univox Mini-Korg which is also a great, affordable synth.

    Cheers!

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0
  16. I’ve only seen the cs-01 for $400 or so. I picked up a cs-5 for the same price. Seemed like the better deal, ignoring portability.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
    • The CS01 that I still have sitting around somewhere in my closet I got that one for about $150 DM (The currency before Euro) in Germany, which I thought was expensive then for a toy. Took it with me to the States and is now in pieces cause I need to fix something on it (and turn it into a semi-modular) Somebody painted it purple-pink XP

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
  17. I’ve owned (and sold) the Matrix 6R and the TX81Z. The Oberheim sounds REALLY great unless you actually want to program it. Even with the awesome sysex controllers we have available now (Behringer BCR, iPad, etc.) it really REALLY sucks. Sweep the filter smoothly with a knob? Forget it. Control the extensive mod matrix from a controller? No chance! Much better off buying the Matrix 1000. You can use it as an analog rompler and maybe just tweak a few parameters. Still has that same great sound for pads and textures.

    The TX81Z I really liked too but again I had trouble programming it with a MIDI controller. Constant ‘buffer overload’ errors. Unlike the Matrix 6, I wasn’t sure if it was an issue with the unit or with my setup. Either way it didn’t really matter as it only cost me $100! So I flipped it.

    I would say the ESQ1 (and the SQ80) is the pick of the bunch. A genuinely great and very powerful synth at a bargain price. Great interface too. But I think the cat is out of the bag now. Prices are steadily climbing! Same with the KORG DW8000 and the Roland Alpha Juno/MKS-50. All great, charismatic 80s analog/hybrid synths!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
    • Make sure you’re using it in the voice stacking mode that gives you two DCOs per voice, and slightly detune them. It’ll dramatically fatten the sound. If that fails, you can sell it to me. :)

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  18. I keep seeing those EMU Proteus 2500 go on Ebay for somewhere between $300-$400, which seems to be a real good deal – Yes it’s a ROMpler but it’s awesome with a lot of realtime knobs, extensive patch programming, a ton of filters, modulators, arpeggiaters, decent FX, 24bit quality, versatile midi sequencer, etc… I might get me one one of these days and add in the audigy, orbit, mophatt, vintage keys, etc, etc.. and have basically all emu sounds in one box.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  19. IMO most things mentioned here are not really cheap

    the Casio HT series is awesome
    the HT-3000 can be found in reasonable price, some times just a bit above the ht-700

    also the CASIO CZ series seem to pop up in affordable prices.

    still havent tried Yamaha pss-390, 470 or 680/780 , but they are pretty cheaper and supposedly pretty interesting

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0
  20. I’m surprised at the love for the Casio HT series here – it was my first synth (from new) when I was about 14 and I loved it at the time, but its been untouched in my studio for over a decade now as I find it too basic (especially compared to my Juno etc) – its sounds are ok, but nothing special, although maybe I should spend more time on it – would love to hear some of your tracks made with it if you have any links??

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  21. These prices he mentions are not what I’ve seen in Austin, TX. 1.5-2.0X the price here. Maybe it’s because we have a pretty synth friendly (i.e. hipster) scene, but they get much higher prices here.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  22. I guess ones man’s meat is another man’s poison..or something like that..there is defo some suckyness in that last..

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  23. It’s not dirt cheap, but a lot less than modern synths – Yamaha SY77. Interesting in that it had both FM synthesis and Sample playback. You could use the FM section to modulate the samples. I bought one new in 1990 and still use it. On ebay they are going for under $400.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  24. The old CAT duophonic synthesizer was really a great synth, and known for being similar to the Prophet 5 as I remember.
    Fantastic keyboard for the price, if you can find one.
    I really love the old Yamaha CP30 electric piano, with the leg case. Not a synth, but a great and underrated replacement for a Rhodes! And super cheap sometimes and way less upkeep.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  25. This is 2014. It should have a huge difference in value.
    Here is the most updated list of synths that can be found cheap in the used market. (Under $200)
    1 Roland Alpha Juno 1&2
    2 Novation Bass Station KB
    3 Roland Juno 106 (with bad voice chip)
    4 Korg Poly800, EX800
    5 Casio HT series (especailly ht700)
    6 Roland JX3P (with out PG200)
    7 Roland EM101
    8 Korg Volca series
    9 Yamaha ED10 (808,909 kick)
    The day of dirt cheap VCO based vintage synths has gone unless you are in dirt luck.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
  26. I Dissagree. Sure, the days of finding a vintage VCO synth at a truly great price are gone (the internet and ebay saw to that) but a new wave of affordable analogue synthesizers has just hit the market. I recently bought a second hand Microbrute for $200 CDN and my wife gave me the Volca Bass for Christmas. Brand new they are $160!

    Here’s a list of contemporary synthesizers available under $300 (here in Canada):

    1. Korg Volca Series, $160 New
    2. Waldorf Pulse, $190 on Craigslist
    3. Meeblip Anode, $140 New
    4. Original Meeblip, $100 Used
    5. Arturia Microbrute, $200 Used – $299 New
    6. Alesis Micron, $200-$250 on Craigslist
    7. Korg Microkorg, $200 – $275 on Craigslist
    8. Akai Miniak, $250 Used

    9. If you raise the bar up to $500 you can get an MS-20 Mini, Minibrute, Bass Station II, Mini-Nova, TB-3 and so on….

    Cheers!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
  27. I played a PSS-380 in a band for a year, and I got some insane sounds out of it.

    myspace.com/hpslashmp

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1
  28. I had a Realistic Concertmate MG-1…it made some fantastic sounds, I have a tape of some video game type sounds from it somewhere, will have to dig it up and post the audio clips…it’s built by Moog, so you know it can make some fat bass sounds like the Minimoog or Source. I’m currently looking for another one, shouldn’t have parted with the one I had!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  29. Hello, I have a realistic concertmate-500 sampling keyboard that I know nothing about. Do know that it works great and is pretty cool. I’m looking to sell it for money to help me and my 4 year old daughter out, it’s hard being a single mother. Anyways, I would greatly appreciate any information about this as well as how much it’s worth if anyone knows. Thank you in advance :)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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