2009 has been a great year for electronic music gear and software. Never before have you been able to get so much power for so little money.
The year has seen an explosion of free music software, cool new MIDI Controllers, updates to popular software sequencers and the introduction of Propellerhead Record, the rise of iPhone music software and some great new virtual instruments.
While 2009 was a great year for digital music, it was an incredible year for keyboards and synths.
Here’s our take on the 10 coolest keyboards and synths from 2009, in no particular order:
First up, the Roland V-Piano:
The above videos offer Roland’s official introduction to their new V-Piano – a stage piano that gives you an amazing level of control over how its piano sounds are modeled.
The Roland V-Piano lets you play a variety of preset keyboards, but also lets you edit details like Unison Tune, Hammer Hardness, Cross Resonance, Tone Color, String Resonance, Damper Resonance, Soundboard Resonance, Key off resonance, Damping Time and Damping Noise Level.
We saw this at the Winter NAMM Show and it sounds great, offers tremendous power and is very practical for live work.
The JUNO-Di Mobile Synthesizer is an entry-level synth, but Roland has packed a lot into the synth for its $799 suggested retail price.
- Over 1,000 instruments onboard
- Battery operation for mobile use (supports Ni-MH AA-size rechargeable batteries)
- MP3, WAV, AIFF, and SMF playback capability via optional USB memory
- Microphone input with dedicated reverb and vocoder effects
- PC/Mac Editor software included
The video lays it on a little thick – but the Juno-Di actually delivers a lot for the price.
The Korg SV-1 Stage Vintage Piano is designed to capture the look, feel and satisfaction of performing on a vintage instrument. It offers vintage electric pianos, clavs, classic and cult-fave organs, string machines, analog/digital electronic contenders and acoustic pianos in one instrument.
The SV-1 provides a streamlined front panel where each knob serves a single function and LED indicators that cue you to each knob’s current setting. Pressing any knob recalls its original saved setting. Eight Favorites buttons work like car radio buttons, bringing up “favorite” sounds.
And – it’s pretty sexy, too.
The 73-key SV-173 will has a MSRP of $2700.00; the 88-key SV-188 has a MSRP of $3000.00.
The Korg microSampler offers unique styling.
Some say it’s ugly. Some hate the recessed knobs. And we’ve heard some WTF reactions about the iPhone sockets.
But with the microSampler, Korg is doing something different – something not obvious – and something original.
The Korg microSampler offers sixteen-voice polyphony, reverse playback, editing operations such as Normalize and Truncate, and a Time Stretch feature that lets you change the tempo without affecting the pitch.
Sonic State’s Nick Batt does the dirty work of checking out the microSampler in the video, which gives you a great overview of the microSampler and its capabilities and limitations.
Jean Michel Jarre jams on the Roland AX-Synth in Koblenz.
The Roland AX-Synth wasn’t an obvious choice for this list, because many readers would have preferred a less expensive, controller-only keytar.
We were also a bit puzzled by Roland’s insistence on calling the AX-Synth a “shoulder synthesizer” instead of a keytar.
Seriously, guys – it’s a keytar! Nobody is going to call it a shoulder synthesizer!
And calling it a “shoulder synth” isn’t going to do anything to combat the curse of Herbie Hancock.
Nevertheless, the AX-Synth has a lot to offer:
- Built-in sound engine with voices from Roland’s latest synthesizers.
- Ribbon controller, D Beam, modulation bar, knobs, and easy-to-see display for stage.
- USB MIDI for easy connection to PC.
- Dedicated V-LINK button for video/visual control.
- Innovative “bender mode” for expressive solos.
- Longish battery operation (approx. 6 hours).
The AX-Synth was 2009’s best reason to strap on a keytar. It has an MSRP of $1,349.
The Akai Miniak is another 2009 introduction that seems to inspire love/hate reactions.
Love it or hate it though, the MIniak packs a lot of punch into a tiny synth.
The Akai Miniak lets you create programs with up to eight multi-timbral voices, each with three oscillators. You can create complex sounds using the Miniak’s two multimode filters, three envelope generators, two LFOs, stereo effects and 40-band vocoder with gooseneck microphone.
The MINIAK also has a sequencer with step and dynamic real time phrase sequencing, a drum machine/rhythm sequencer and an arpeggiator.
It has an estimated street price of $499, too, which means you get a serious amount of synth power at a fair price.
The $519 Moog Etherwave Plus theremin isn’t a keyboard or a synth per se, but it features control voltage outputs:
- Pitch & Volume CV Outputs – so you can control a different CV parameter with each hand
- Gate Output – so you can trigger envelopes and other events
Control Voltage outputs mean that the Etherwave Plus is destined to become part of your ultimate control-voltage based monster synthesizer.
And it’s still one of the best theremins that you can buy.
At the 2009 NAMM Show, Roland introduced the VP-770 Vocal & Ensemble Keyboard.
The big keyboard manufacturers have put out a lot of uninspired keyboards over the last few years, but the Roland VP-700 isn’t one of them. It’s a unique synth that targets a specific niche: real-time vocal synthesis.
The VP-770 lets you create realistic backing parts, futuristic electronic vocal textures and even emulations of large-scale gospel choirs.
It’s not limited to that though, as Ed Diaz demonstrates in the official Roland intro video.
While the big gear manufacturers put out some great synths in 2009, it was a excellent year for the smaller synthmeisters, too.
In 2009, Dave Smith, above, introduced his new Tetra synthesizer.
The Tetra retails for $799, which isn’t cheap for a four-voice synth. But the Tetra packs an amazing level of power into a tiny box. The Tetra offers four great-sounding voices, multitimbral control and individual outputs.
If you think of the Tetra as a modern take on the class Sequential Circuits Prophet, but with an updated architecture, that $799 starts sounding like a deal.
Finally, 2009 brought the Doepfer Dark Energy analog synthesizer.
The Dark Energy is an analog semi-modular mini synth that features both USB and MIDI interfaces.
The sound generation and all modulation sources are 100% analog, only the USB and Midi interface contains digital components.
It’s available for 400 Euro as a synth module. You can also get it as a module for a Doepfer modular synthesizer.
Check out the video introduction from Angelspit’s Destroyx, above.
Can 2010 Top 2009?
Those are our picks for the 10 coolest new keyboards and synths of 2009. All-in-all, a good year!
We’ll have to wait until the 2010 NAMM Show in January to see if 2010 has a chance of beating 2009.
In the meantime – let us know what you think of our picks. Do you think any of our picks shouldn’t have made the cut? Did we miss any great new synths?