Open Mic: What’s The Worst Synth You’ve Ever Played?

Open Mic: Most Synthtopia readers have spent a lot of time thinking about synths – whether it’s daydreaming about the ultimate modular synthesizer, lusting after a vintage classic, debating the merits of the latest keyboards or diving in and learning a new synth inside and out.

If you’ve been into synths for a while, though, you’ve probably encountered a synth or two that you never want to think about again.

Maybe it was a knobless 80’s synth, with an impenetrable menu interface. Maybe it was a almost-great synth that was unfortunately, completely unreliable.

Maybe, in retrospect, those General MIDI Presets just sounded pretty crappy. Or maybe those mini-keys weren’t designed for your grown-up hands.

What’s the worst synth you’ve ever played? And what made it so terrible?

175 thoughts on “Open Mic: What’s The Worst Synth You’ve Ever Played?

  1. Funny, but I sort of “respect” every synth (keyboard) for something. Roland E-36 arranger had the best synth brass patch I ever played. Can’t get that out of my JUNO-G. Playing Hammonds on my FP-5 piano feels awesome, although I know and hear that it’s not the real thing.

    The 10-year old kid next door had this crappy toy keyboard. It made the most marvelous burst of random blips when the battery was dying (or if you hit it real hard). Including a few seconds from the factory demo song “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” 🙂 buried in the “machine dying” randomness.

    Wait, I remember now. I once played a home keyboard that had only 5-10 patches to fill the 100-200 slots. That was the worst. It substituted the piano patch for the oboe!

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  2. I never met a synth that I didn’t like. I am obsessed with synthesizers, and I wish to own every one that ever existed. My friend recently lent me a Realistic MG-1 that was laying around his studio. The thing was covered in dust and it took some TLC to clean it up and get it working properly. I love this little beast, it’s unpredictable as hell and often I don’t end up with the sound that I intended, and that’s awesome! The thing is like R2-D2 on crack and I get crazy with it, feeding it through my Kaoss Pad. Anything that can produce a sound is of use to me.

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  3. I forgot (very easy to do when one considers this tidbit)…Seil Expander 80…never heard of it? That’s the point.

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    1. It is a strange bird. I like mine I had the earlier one too and that one was real whack job. Polysix battery syndrome.

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    2. I love my Seil Ex-80. Every parameter is CC assessable and there is even a patch for the Nord Modulars to control the Seil directly as if it were a bank of the Nord. The sound isn’t fantastic but you can open it up easily and move change the potentiometer on the filter to make the filter much hotter.

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  4. +1 on the Korg EA-1. I really could forgive the aliasing waveforms and the crappy filter if there were more editable parameters or if the sequencer was at least sophisticated enough to support time signatures that aren’t 3/4 or 4/4.

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    1. I had one and loved it for it’s simplicity and tweakability. I sold it to get money for a Virus that I love, but I have almost bought it again several times. It was my first VA synth so it might be nostalgia speaking but i had a great time with that little thing.

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  5. I agree that most synths have a merit somewhere. Yes, my Sequential Sixtrak may sound brittle and harsh but that’s a quality you can use and it’s a great intuitive synth once you’ve hooked it up with a BCR controller. I hated my Yamaha A3000 sampler for a while for it’s steep learning curve but that was just my own inexperience. The Siel Expanper 80 is limited but has two ramped LFO’s that are pretty unique. The microsampler has a flimsy build quality and is limited with what it can do but it’s still a great sound mangler.
    I guess that most gear is usable in some way but that for different people, one synth is more inspiring that otheres. Which might have to do with sheer sound quality, or with the user interface being more benign. Or with your own development: I didn’t touch my EMU Orbit for around ten years but recently fired it up again. Had a great time editing glassy pad sounds and event found a great sub bass that I just might have a use for…

    BTW: the build quality of my 1981 Korg Monopoly is excellent…

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  6. Roland SH 201,sounds like plastic crap.
    Bought it without testing and sold it a week later.
    On the other hand if you got a synth that sounds great but it’s full of bugs……

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  7. Casio CZ10M. Not because of the sound (which I liked), but the programming interface. Convoluted, impenetrable, non-intuitive … obviously designed by engineers for engineers, with multifunction buttons that could change context on you without warning and wipe out patch edits in the blink of an eye. One of the few synths I’ve owned that I could never seem to get my head around. 2nd place: the early memorymoog w/MIDI – again not for the sound (which was utterly fantastic), or the programming interface (which was thoughtfully laid out), but the early MIDI implementation was horrible. Limited to receiving on channel 1 only, and real-time clock data caused it to choke instantly.

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  8. I have a Redsound Dark star that I picked up for almost nothing when they were on close out. The basic built in patches are terrible, but it can make some decent sound if you spend some time with it and add external effects. It’s my least used synth, I should spend more time with it though.

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    1. I had a Darkstar I traded for a CS2X….both sounded great…Wish I still had both, the darkstar was able to do a lot of sounds my Poly61 could do, except my Poly61 was always broken.

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  9. i didnt like Korg Microkorg at all, worst synth i ever bought… i was very glad wen i sold it
    sure… i would like if it cost about 100€ …. but the guy is not worth the money

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  10. I wasn’t particularly fond of the SH-201. The filters were weak. I guess it’s okay for someone who wants to learn, but it wasn’t impressive.

    Another slight disappointment was the Venom. While I liked some of the sounds, I was very disappointed when I learned that I HAD to use the software to make it fully-editable. On top of that, the software would not run as a plugin in my DAW (The UltraNova, for example. It’s fully editable from the front panel, but you can control it from your DAW and it runs just like any plugin.)

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  11. Some of the iPad synths are absolute garbage. While there are some truly brilliant iPad synths like Camel Audio’s Alchemy, Moog’s AniMoog and Korg’s iMS20, some of the others are just plain vile. Some that made me run to delete:
    1. bs-16i. I should have guessed what the ‘bs’ in the name stood for.
    2. Geo Synth. I need a keyboard, not a lesson in how not to make Photoshop diamond gradients.
    3. SongSynth. If the sounds aren’t configurable, it’s not a synth; it’s a keyboard. This isn’t even a good GUI.
    4. SSSSYNTH: Well, it’s configurable. Sort of. Sounds are bland and uninspiring.
    5. miniSynth PRO The random capitalization should have clued me in that the creator was psychotic. Stay away from this boring toy.

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  12. To my long list of synths played or used, I think the worst machine I’ve ever used was a VIRUS (can’t remeber what else). It was told to test it for a local shop and all I could get from it was permanent hang and latency. I’ve been told all this troubles were late solved. Anyway I didn’t have the aim to try again and therefore this is my worst experience ever. I can’t imagine a musician performing with such a lot of rubbish live

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  13. Moog OPUS 3. Easily the worst piece I have ever worked. Not one single sound could be used on its own. There were a few others just like it in the early 80s. To me the the worst part was there was no joy it’s quirky uselessness or impractical interface. For me, it was negative bad, no joy at all. At this point I think it was the bad vibes from the parasitic creeps that ran the pawn shop I bought it at I sold it to someone who made it into a different instrument.

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  14. I was most disappointed with my small Korg Monotron Delay. I don’t know what I was expecting for fifty dollars, but I feel like this wasn’t even worth that. I was hopping to sample some of the bleeps bloops and sweeps but I could’nt even do that. Why? Because the thing is super noisey. There is a constant, tape like hiss feeding through the output. So, its just a fifty dollar toy that I don’t use at all because I have real synthesizers to do that with.

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  15. The Dave Smith MoPho. I was really excited about it when I first bought it. The software interface was buggy and terrible, the patches were poorly constructed and had inconsistent volumes (I had to turn one waaaayyy up to hear it, and the next would practically blow my speakers), and navigating and setting the parameters was a hassle. The overall sound just never sounded good to me, either… too thin or too boomy with no middle ground. Noisy, too. Kind of a letdown. It got me interested in analog synths, though, so there’s that.

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  16. Roland JX8P, one of the first synths with no knobs, no cursors, just a tiny LCD display and digital up/down/left/right keys. From what I remembre, the sound was dull.

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    1. That’s funny because the Final Countdown brass was made on that. I understand the difficulty of the editing though.

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    1. Yes! I was going to add this to the hall of shame but you beat me to it. It was my first bit of “pro” gear. I was so excited when I bought it but it was just completely uninspiring and dull. Completely unintuitive too. The whole thing felt rushed. There was some damn powerful marketing in those days. I could have spent that money so much better.

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  17. I know this is going to be a rather unpopular opinion, but just hear me out on this. The Yamaha DX7 is the worst synth I’ve ever played. As someone who has never used FM before playing the DX7 and will likely never use it in the future, I can say that the DX7’s interface is an absolute mess. I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one that has a lot of trouble trying to program this synth. If I can’t even program the thing how am I expected to get anything decent out of it? Plus, it doesn’t even sound good to me, though I won’t doubt you can get something good out of it. I know many people love this synth and I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong for it, but this synth is definitely not for me.

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    1. The DX-7 was even worse in the 80’s. I could always tell a band with a Dx-7 because you could never hear the thin sound of the thing over the rest of the band. The thin sound wasn’t helped by no EQ of any sort and the fact that the velocity only went up to 119….Can you imagine Spinal Tap “This one only goes up to 8”

      Also the proof that it was hard to program is the fact that before the DX-7 there was not an industry that sold synth patches. The DX-7 was so hard to program w/o an editor that it made the sales of patches a part of the industry that continues for hard to program synths to this day.

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  18. I wouldn’t say it was my worst synth but my most frustrating experience was with my Roland MC 505 – bought from new & used enough to wear out the metal surface ( so must have got my money’s worth) I kept coming up against restrictions & bugs in use that killed it for me.
    Attempting to learn synthesis on a Groovebox was not a brilliant idea to be fair. These days I would have hooked it up to MIDI & worked around some of its limitations. Eventually I got thoroughly bored with it & even now its inherent sound is obvious in anything I have ever heard done with it. Roland’s JP8K & an R70 have more than taken its place.

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  19. Roland D-10 has to be the worst synth ever built. I’ll never forget those sad, thin sounds. I was embarrassed for them. Pathetic. Sadly not much with the Roland name on it inspired me much. The D-50 was probably the best. The s-550 was probably the best entry level sampler in the very early 90’s. Now everything has to compete with Access Virus. Probably the best synth ever built. My studio has two and I’ll never give them up.

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  20. Of all the synths I’ve had I’d say the worst were the Korg M1 due to limited ability to tweak sounds and convoluted interface and the Ensoniq VFX-SD due to it’s bland sound. Usability versus cost was not too great with either of these. While it may be sacrilege, I never liked the Korg MS-20 I had either.

    On the other hand my Ensoniq ESQ-1 / Mirage combo was very productive. My favorite analogs were the Roland SH-1 and Korg Monopoly. FWIW

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  21. Mochika XL v.1

    terrible build quality, full of issues, and pretty boring sound.
    Was happy to offload that thing.

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  22. There has been none that I did not like.
    If a synthesizer sound inspired me then I needed to find out why it sounded like that, that’s how I got into Phase Distortion synthesis, I loved the 8 (!) step Amp and Frequency envelopes on the Casio CZ 1000, with which you could produce sounds that lasted forever while still changing and sounding alive…
    On the Roland MT32’s I loved the possibility to change the sound while the music was running by injecting system exclusive messages (in hexadecimal code!) and making them sound like analogue synthesizers…

    The Yamaha TG series was just awsome… I remember ‘stirring’ in my first Yamaha sound…

    There has been no synthesizer that I would not use again. Actually when I look for another VSTi I look with that knowledge in mind and with the goal to recreate the fun it was trying to figure out how they worked… the good old hardware synths.

    Remember the constraints in those days? The number of voices available? 🙂

    Ahh… the good old days. But today we got what we did not even dare dream of: free VSTis and practically unlimited number of voices… but: TOO MUCH choice! Instead of programming new sound we have the tendency of playing too much with the presets….

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  23. I bought a Korg Monotron on a whim just after it came out; it’s a big part of what got me into synths in general. I already played piano, but that little thing introduced me to the joy of tweaking sounds etc. Got a lot of fun out of it, but as I got more into my music and started recording, I rapidly found that its noisiness was a complete and utter pain, which was such a shame, so I guess that’s my personal worst synth.

    Didn’t stop me from buying a Monotron Delay straight after they hit the shops though.

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  24. It’s funny a lot of us say Microkorg. I generally love Korg’s equipment but the Microkorg was one of the first synths from them I couldn’t wait to get rid of. Sold it about a year after I owned it.

    Roland MC303, typical Roland crappy groovebox sounds
    Roland EG-101, sound was so cheesy and thin. For a groove box it was weak. I loved the look of it.
    Boss SP-555, sent it back almost the next day
    Yamaha DJX-IIB, bought it cheap used, and couldn’t wait to sell it almost immediately. The samples and loops were awful.
    Alesis’s IO Dock, Plagued with bugs, by time they fixed it, too many better options on the market

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  25. Roland sh201 – which had a very cheap sound, though can be a good introduction to sound synthesis.
    Roland new Juno series
    Oberheim viscont. Almost bought it, but after a day of tweaking and trying to get some usefull sound out of it – I gave up.
    Korg radias. Never understood why this thing was made. Even MicroKorg sounds much better for me …

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  26. Actually, the one photo’d here. Found it in a pedicab shop in a barrel. Thing’s are downright awful. It made my day more bleak.

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  27. I was happy to unload my Virus TI. I deep sampled the hypersaw, and turned it into some Kontakt patches, but otherwise I found the sounds uninspiring. It turned into a preset machine for me, as I’ve got analog beasts that give me more lively sounds. The software is buggy OS after OS update, and i had a terrible time with tech support when my TI started freaking out on a big tour, which doesn’t help their case.
    The user interface is nice, but i found the plain oscillators to be quite dull. The granular OSCs we’re a fresh concept, but the emulations of plainer subtractive synthesis was lacking for me. If it doesn’t sound good with a wide open filter and no fxs, i submit you spend half your time hiding them. I found this with the Korg MS2000 as well – great interface, but the raw oscillators are lifeless to my ears.

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  28. Never really met a synth I couldn’t find a use for, if only for a couple of tunes.
    I’ve started with a Yamaha SY35, mind you, which by most standards is a horrid piece of gear, but you could coax some weird industrial textures with it.
    Every time I read a comment about an instrument to the effect of “you can’t do anything musically worth with that junk”, I feel like “wanna bet?”. For instance, I dislike workstations and think the Korg M1 factory presets are awful, but you can always program something personal if you take the time.

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  29. The problem with the question is that any gadget designed for the sole purpose of producing sounds when keys are pressed is inherently awesome. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a korg kronos or a casio vl-1.

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  30. The Sequential Circuits Prophet 5. I had two of them and neither would stay in tune long enough to be able to use them. On paper they seemed perfect but in practice they were much the opposite…conversely the Korg Mono/Poly has been amazing for 28 years despite needing 5-10 minutes warm up time before the oscillators settle in tune.

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