Open Mic: Which Synthesizers Are The New Classics?

new classic synthesizers

Open Mic: Get any group of synthesists together, and discussion eventually turns to the classic synths of past.

Synths like the original Moog modular synthesizer, the Minimoog, the Korg MS-20, the Yamaha CS-80,  the Roland Jupiter 8 and many others.

While it’s easy to recognize classic synths of the past, we sometimes take for granted the great synths of today.

The world of modular synthesizers has exploded in the last few years and there are a growing number of manufacturers making interesting keyboard synthesizers, too.

Just this year, we’ve seen a number of really interesting synths introduced, like the Schmidt Analog Synthesizer, the Korg Monotribe Analog Ribbon Station, the Roland Jupiter 80, the Yamaha MOX 6/8, the Elektrokosmos Kosmonaut and the M-Audio Venom synthesizer. Everything from inexpensive synths to boutique monster synths.

Which synthesizers that are being made today do you think are modern classics? And what do you think of the state of electronic music gear at the end of 2011?

97 thoughts on “Open Mic: Which Synthesizers Are The New Classics?

  1. Well…. with all the stuff available and Moog snobs opinions rampant its easy to overlook some of the cheaper easy to find but soon to be classic hardware. One future classic that is easy to find is the Korg Electribe MX its a solid great performer often overlooked.

    1. Interesting suggestion. The Electribe’s are marketed as grooveboxes, but they’re synth modules, too.

      The MX has kept its value pretty well, unlike the EA, which makes me think that you’re not alone in appreciating it.

      1. i kept my EA over the EMX,i wanted the EMX so badly but didnt like to play it that much,i’ve owned all the ‘tribe range and the EA rules! hooked up to keys its a different beast!

        1. The MX is a beast and there is a plugin that lets you go polyphonic with it. When I think of fat sound, stuff like the roland Juno series comes to mind and many other old school synth’s but the surprising one that I think of is the Korg MX. I also owned the SX but it wasn’t anything I wanted so it was sold. The MX will be in my collection forever.

          1. i went looking for this plug-in that you said could get the emx to polyphony but i couldnt find it, could someone direct me to this? are you talking about direct emx?

      1. I would presume that digital synths would naturally be easier to replicate with soft synths that an actual analog synth which would be impossible. Im not an analog snob just that I love how analog synths just feel not clinical. That being said, I love my sylenth and massive too.

  2. I own a JP8000 that I have had for about 3 years. A friend of mine owns a Jupiter6. I really prefer my JP8000 over it. That synth is so under rated. A modern day classic! (who cares if its not true analog ya snobs!)

    1. Agreed re JP8000. When I look at the years the like of Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream (if you don’t know him, do a search) has used this synth for years, and the same goes for the Korg Radias (of course he does carry a Moog Voyager around too and a warehouse full of analog modulars back at home). Both of these, The JP8000 and the Radias are fine examples of modern day classics. They have all the right ingredients to do things right, when you program them accordingly.

    2. I have a JP-8000 and will never get rid of it. Part of its appeal for me is the UI, mostly because my first synth was a Juno-6, but also because I just love working with sliders. Programming it is a breeze, and it still sounds great.

    3. I agree, I have owned many analogues. I got rid of a moog voyager cause I thought it was crap. I would not swap my jp 808 for any other synth.It is a work horse synth.
      I have had ,106’s,alphas,cs15,jen’s,korg mono poly,303’s etc
      Jp is the synth.

  3. The Future Retro XS and Revolution, Elektron Machinedrum and Monomachine, Korg Z1, ER1, EA1, and MS2000, Roland JP8000 and 8080, Dave Smith MonoEvolver and Tempest, Moog Little Phatty, Cwjeman S1, Metasonix wretch machine, Wiard 300 series modulars, any Macbeth synths…

    If you REALLY want a good investment, BUY THE NEWER BUCHLA STUFF. It will never go out of style, and Don won’t be around forever. Same with the new OB SEMs… Excellent synths.

  4. I’d agree about the Mopho, and the Tetra too. I think some of the boutique stuff that is around at the moment will become much more sought after, as they are (relatively) short runs. I the the Analogue Solutions Telemark and Leipzig are already classics, and there are a few other things like that that will get more and more well regarded and wanted as the word gets around about how good they are….

  5. With all the new eurorack modular manufactors i would go for some custom frankensteins there…
    Classics are hard today, because most of it is digital, but i would say DSI or some of the Analogue solutions, the red square is already popular on ebay.

    And don’t forget the Synton Fenix, i mean he has been building some this year, and maybe next year some will be available too

    1. I agree, Eurorack is what really interests me these days. Some manufacturers like Makenoise and Harvestman are making great stuff. I pretty much don’t care about keyboards any more.

  6. The Akai Miniak will go down as an overlooked classic. Is it just a tougher Alesis Micron? To an extent, yes. But I love how it looks, I love how it sounds and I think it’s still the best value today (retailers are trying to get rid of them for as low as $300, new).

    The number of features under the hood is ridiculous: Synths, drum machines, an arpeggiator and a fully programmable sequencer. The Ion engine sounds wonderful, especially for old school, analog synth tones. It also has analog drum machine tones (like the DR-55). This is a big deal for me. Most synths are filled with weak sounding, over produced hip-hop “workstation” drum patterns. The Miniak gives you the freedom to tweak and program drum patterns to your liking.

    Let’s not forget the full sized keys, two mod wheels and one pitch wheel, and quality encoders. With a metal base plate, hard plastic shell and jacks that are retained with washers and nuts, it’s built to take some abuse. (Dear Roland [and every other manufacturer of cheap, plastic synths], please take note: it’s fucking annoying and cheap when you have jacks that are held in place by solder joints alone).

    The best part about the Miniak is that synth geeks were obviously behind it. Normally, a new VA synth has few if any good sounding factory patches. The Miniak is filled with great sounding defaults and synth geek approved patch names ( like ” OB can I be?” and “Wakeman Mogue”).

    I know some people may say you don’t buy a synth for presets. I don’t either. But when they sound good, you are more tempted to go in an tweak with them — rather than start from scratch because all the patches were junk.

    My 2 cents.

    1. Without hesitation, the Miniak and Micron are modern day classics (in the subcompact category). The people behind them gave people with smaller budgets a huge amount of capabilities. Certainly the fact that there are few knobs as turned people away. But anyone that spends just a little while creating multis/setups on these will appreciate how amazingly easy it is to build up powerful sets. If anything, a super tool for prototyping your ideas before you port to your larger rig. The synth engine is very well thought out and feature packed. Just look at the midi implementation for this thing! There is still an amazing amount of untapped potential which can be realized by adding additional control surfaces such as the BCR2000.

  7. It’s hard to define a classic, for me it breaks down to versatility, function and of coarse sound. I do not pretend to be bias so my pics are…electron machine drum Sps-1 uw… The korg prophecy-korg z1 depending on you preference…nord g2…and though not really a synth persay but I think a exciting platform for future synth programs and tools, apple iPad.

  8. Agree with many of the peeps above. It’s kind of a blur now, isn’t it? I am always happy to hear when small boutique manufacturers are “Selling out” of product, because people are buying them. The Mopho is a revelation, and I have the desktop version, which is one of my favourites. I hope that the Arturia Origin is well-remembered, as its modular architecture allows you to emulate all the “classic” synths, as well as a helluva lot more. The Virus and JP8080 are destined to be classics, just because everyone uses their presets on their records. The microKorg is just a great little instrument, indeed, and will always be a part of my arsenal.

  9. I forgot one! I only add this as I recently got one and I have to say this machine if not an instant must have classic, it will be soon… The electron octatrack! Simply a must for everyone! Similar to roland’s variphase vp-9000( had one for a minute a classic in it’s own right ) but modern and accessible. This baby will change how you think about your sound, live set up, home studio, you name it. But trust me once you’ve got one you’ll want two of them…

  10. I bought a brand new Novation X-Station a couple of years ago, just weeks before Novation discontinued it. I still use it as my master controller and it still surprises me how much this brings to the table. I dont know of any other piece of kit that combined a decent midi/usb interface with a fairly decent synth engine, onboard (albeit limited) effects and the level of control it offers when hooked up to Propellerhead’s Reason, all for uder €500!!!. It is the best allrounder in recent memory.

    If i had a blank cheque though…I would buy two of each of Dave Smiths synths(and two of everything else his name is on). For me, nothing sounds as awesome as the mopho.

    And to the guy talking bout the electribes…the Emu XL7 and MP7’s were way better than any of the electribes with maybe the exception of the latest SD Card models.

    The Novation UltraNova sounds awesome too…cant wait to have a go on one!

    1. “I dont know of any other piece of kit that combined a decent midi/usb interface with a fairly decent synth engine, onboard (albeit limited) effects and the level of control it offers when hooked up to Propellerhead’s Reason, all for uder €500!!!”

      Novation’s Ultranova fits the bill. 2-in/4-out USB interface with S/PDIF out, 37 full-size keys, VERY NICE synth engine (replicated in the Mininova), and tons of control. And the editor is a plugin for any DAW. I got mine a year ago in the USA for €399 ($515)

  11. Well, I must say that the MicroKorg is amazing. However, for some true ear-candy, I prefer my Andy (Alesis A6 Andromeda), or my Dave Smith Poly Evolver. For some goosebumps, I combine my MS-20 with my Little Phatty and my Waldorf Pulse to produce some absolutely wonderful sonorities that wash all over you. Next, for added effect, I like the Arturia V-Collection and the Gforce imPosCar. Just amazing soft synths. For realism, add in the Nord Wave paired with the Roland VS-M1. Just great stuff.

  12. No love for the jupiter 80? It is much betterer and way way much gooder by a factor of 10 and has a bigger screen too…

    Please buy my synth?

    1. I’m sure this was meant ironically, but to give an argument why not: leaving the (SuperNATURAL) rompler stuff aside, the VA synth engine of the Jupiter-80 is less powerful than the Gaia’s (no sync, for example).
      Furthermore, the synth architecture itself is non-classical, featuring 3x(Oscillator-Filter-Amplifier) instead of 3xOscillator-Filter-Amplifier.

  13. I’m forward looking for something really new. The concept of the synthesizer is about 50 years old, okay we have sampling, drummachines, but where is a really new sounding instrument ??? Mr Spocks Harp !?

  14. I’m only considering synths which are “made today,” as the entry states. Otherwise, I would have to give a nod to some of the boards listed above.

    My two choices would have to be the Evolver and the Blofeld.

    I own both the Evolver and the Mopho, and if you’re gonna mention the Mopho, why not go all the way with the prophet 8. I suppose the same thing could be said with the evolver and the poly evolver, but the two sound different.

    The Blofeld is such a joy and a pleasure to use, and it is derived from the esteemed Waldorf legacy, I don’t see how it could NOT be deemed a classic.

    I chose both an analog and VA, because I feel the whole analog vs. digital debate is so tired. If you don’t know where both belong in a track, well, that’s your loss….


  15. Future classics still prdocued today:

    – Oberheim (new) SEM and SO4V
    – Minimoog Voyager
    – Cwejman S1
    – GRP modular monsters (A8/A6…)
    – Roland V-Synth
    – KORG Radias (in productioin until recently)
    – DSI stuff, probably all of them

  16. virus ti has to be up there, amazing synth on so many levels, i have owned the Jp8000, dsi evolver and mopho but I prefer the virus, not only has it got great sounds but i love the pc integration too, classics dont have to all about sound, ease of use and just sheer fun have to be factors, the virus range having these in spades.

  17. The Mopho is another good example of engineers who have come up with a formula for providing the excellent value for the money. With some of the prices I see on the used market for a module (I got mine at $200), they’re a no brainer (except maybe if you already have a prophet 08). Focus on the sound (and not the bells and whistles) and this is a modern day classic.

  18. The modern-day tributes to the classics are classics in their own. If you accept softsynths into your home, then the Korg Legacy suite should be there. They have extracted such an amazing wealth of history into this suite! Just make sure you have a good pre-amp/amp and suitable controllers hooked up. A more recent contribution to this has to be the Korg iMS20 – If you loved the MS20, I don’t know how you can’t enjoy this app! If you can’t afford to either get these old classics, or keep repairing them, then these modern-day tributes should be considered.
    Note: One thing about the notion of classic – Available today, but got tomorrow – so it’s value is in it’s scarcity. This is certainly not the case for iMS20 at this time, however, The Korg Legacy suite may become trickier to get. If you don’t already have it, just explore the process of trying to get to it today… On the softsynth side, part of keeping a classic can also be to sacrifice (i.e.: set aside) a computer in a configuration that works with the synth, strip it down to its bare essentials so its ability to run doesn’t get corrupted by OS upgrades, unplug it from the internet, and take care of it as you would a hardware synth.

  19. The Waldorf Blofeld was my first ‘proper’ hardware synth, and It’s still the most fun I’ve had with one. The interface taught me how synthesis works, and the sound is like nothing else.

    I also wish the Use Plugiator sold more – quite simply the best value-for-money in a hardware synth you’ll ever find. The range of sounds is extraordinary.

  20. The Alesis Ion, a lovely synth and so user friendly compared to the Micron. Also Analogue Solutions Telemark, DSI Evolver, Waldorf Blofeld, and Doepfer A100 being personal favourites.

  21. I wonder if hipsters in 2030 will be buying old quad core computers and ancient MIDI interfaces to play with NI’s Vokator and Reaktor…. Hacking PS3s for their “vintage vibe”… Lol

    1. Could be.. I see subcultures of people tending to old win 98 systems where drivers stopped evolving for the likes of old yamaha SW1000XG boards and then there are the chiptunes crowd with the sid machines or C64s. If not for the vintage softsynths, maintain a few old computers to keep old synth editors alive and working.

  22. Dave Smith and Novation are busy building the future classics. Still a Waldorf fan also. I’ve seen some really cool synths out there with amazing sonic potential. The biggest issue I see with some of the most recent equipment is cheap construction. Jacks, switches, and pots consistant of Wal-Mart Casiotone quality. Hang on to the rotten tomatoes……I’m not slamming Casio. Just disappointed that the build quality is not always in line with the price. I guess that is to be expected if the company hopes to survive. Gotta reach the masses. I just wonder how many of these so called future classics will stil be in playable condtion 20 years down the road. But then again…..miracles do happen, look at the SH-101.

  23. I’ve bought the JoMoX X-Base 999, Moog Little Phatty and Taurus III in recent years because I expect them to be instruments that I will still happily be using 25 years from now.

    I have a Korg M1 and Triton that have outlived their usefulness, and I’m doing my best not to dump my hard earned cash into more mistakes like them.

    1. This might be a strange contribution, but maybe the Tenori-On? I know that it’s not really a synth, but it is pretty unique. I could see it being memorable in 20 years.

  24. I’m always surprised when people mention the Micro Korg, but give no love to the MS2000, or a matter of fact even know that the MS2000 exists. I really do hate the Micro Korg and think it cripples the synth engine’s real power. I’m still sad I parted with my MS2000, I’ll get another one some day.

  25. Korg Z1 – masterpiece with almost endless possibilities – not well known, underrated, but today’s synths are just a piece of Z1. 😛

  26. I agree on those synths that are typically overlooked, but will undoubtedly get more recognition as time goes by. Korg Z1, Korg Radias, Alesis Andromeda, Alesis Ion, and Roland V-Synth.

    For pie-in-the-sky expensive stuff dreams are made of – definitely the Hartmann Neuron. Time will tell if the John Bowen Solaris ends up in this category too.

    microKORG and Virus are definitely classics, but there are plenty out there and they’ve been anything but overlooked.

  27. I guess it’s all goning to come down to what you need them for. For instance, I’ve had an Virus TI Snow. It was great, but redundant considering what I’m using now. So I got rid of it. Microkorgs will be the Squire Stratocasters of yesterday in a few years, if not now. Everyone bought one, it did its job, but people with trained ears want more. In my opinion, the Moog Voyager, and all the modular stuff coming out will reign in a few years time. Also, the Mopho, I like some Alesis products, and the Electribe series. The korg micron might also go down as a great little starter synth that kids can get their feet wet with. Who knows? There are so many out there!

  28. Having gone through a lot of synths, the ones I have kept & reckon to be individual enough to stay desirable in the future are: KORG Z1 (Multiple synthesis options & first x-y pad in a synth + very powerful mod matrix), Kawai K5000s (additive with 100’s of partials, knobs & killer keyboard), Elektron Monomachine (nothing else like it), Yamaha TX81z (cheap, punchy sound, flexible fm synthesis & lately bass) , Waldorf Microwave XT (chameleon + wavetable synthesis + great control surface), Dave Smith Evolver (analog + digital synthesis… nowhere else can u find this in one unit except spectralis). I don’t own the Roland V-synth but reckon thats another take on sample/synthesis that has endless possibilities. The other one is the XOX box (as tb303 prices climb further, the XOX will become the adopted heir)

  29. Waldorf Blofeld for great synth engine, great interactive graphical UI, user wavetables, 60M of non-volatile sample RAM, aftertouch/release-velocity keyboard, Waldorf wavetables and filters.

    Novation UltraNova for it’s touch encoder interface, great FX, ability to process audio both as an oscillator source or through the fx engine, integrated sound card.

    I don’t own them but think that Virus, Little Phatty, and Mopho/Tetra are new classics as well.

  30. Going back to the Nord Lead, think that the first Nord Lead was born to be a classic.
    Needs a decennia more to appreciate in price value.. Great va synth and got the body of a red Ferrari 😉

  31. Yamaha EX5 had 5 types of synth engines in 1999 and still creates sounds no other synth can produce.

    I would like to see dedicated synth control panels to compliment software ie CS80v reproduction of yamaha CS80 panel only compact.

    Arturia are already making hardware for the new minibrute synth (sliders knobs etc) and could make a dedicated controller for the products .


  32. I think the minibrute has all the character to become a new classic. Another surely is the Access Virus A, B, C , everyone wants one of those used one nowadays, and the TI doesn’t seems to have the same mojo. Doepfer also can become a modern classic because it has made the modular affordable to everyone. I love the DSI evolver series (i own the desktop evo) but i don’t think they will be iconic of our age, it’s more probable that the Prophet 08 will become a new classic . The Moog Minitaur also has the possibilities of becoming an icon.

  33. Arturia Minibrute for several reasons. Doepfer because many are getting the modular itch and they are among the most affordable. Korg Monotron series, analog for the people, will be a classic cheap analog FX source and popular among DIY circles.

  34. Prophet 08 PE.
    The only mainstream analogue poly available at the moment.

    It gets a lot of flack for sounding cold – I say spend a bit of time getting to know it and it’s a monster of a synth. It can scream and shout if you want it to, but it CAN sound SO thick and warm and massive, too. And the modulation possibilities are endless.

    Beautiful synthesizer, and destined to be a classic, I think.

  35. Oddly enough, to be a “classic” a product needs to both have something uniquely useful about it, and also be affordable/available to the masses. That puts the minibrute in the running, and the monotron. It’s questionable if many hardware products will hit that sweet spot due to so many people using software these days. And on that note, I think there are some software classics, like Massive, but they won’t live on as long due to inevitable changes in operating systems. I wonder if the future inaccessibility of older popular software like Massive will result in it gaining even more cred than it would deserve?

  36. In addition to what’s been said above – and noting that these discussions are probably of little real value beyond the fun of talking about equipment – I would say that the Korg MS-2000 is worthy of some sort of list. Its synth engine is what powers the microKORG after all, it has extensive tweakability (and dedicated knobs for a lot of things) and great virtual modular / processing options. I believe it’s already something of a modern classic, and certainly the most intuitive and nice sounding virtual analogue synth I’ve come across.

    It’s hard to go past the Teenage Engineering OP-1, too – not least because of the extensive discussion it’s generated, and its unique and highly iconic approach to soundmaking and interface.

    I am not very familiar with it, but would Waldorf Blofeld users nominate their synth for recognition? Considering that they profess to include the synthesis possibilities of the old Microwaves, that seems pretty significant to me in an affordable $750ish desktop unit.

  37. i would love to get my hands on a minibrute. Until then, i have had a lot of fun with the korg monotrons. I think they have the potential to be to electronic music what the harmonica was to the blues. Cheap, portable,

  38. Do we have to restrict ourselves to hardware? ‘Cause I’d really really really like to nominate a few of the apps in my iPad.

    I bought my first synth in 1984. I’ve owned Casios Korgs, Kurzweils, Rolands, Yamahas and Kawais. I’ve had real analog, VAs, ROMplers, additive, FM, vector (that SY22, love it) and V.A.S.T., which is too good for words. And I think the biggest thrill I’ve ever had with a synth was playing Animoog for the first time. But that was until I started using Alchemy Mobile.

  39. Underdog alert….
    M-Audio/AVID Venom – Distinctly abrasive sound, good software editor, inexpensive. Great combo IMHO. The poor man’s Access Virus…??

  40. Of course, the recently launched Korg MS 20 Mini seems to lead the path for other manufacturers to re-launch their beloved past synths!

    Another evolutionary step is the DSI Prophet 12. Have not been able to try it yet…….we will see how it performs in terms of new soundscape…..

  41. Given our trying economic times right now, I think the MS2000(B), Elektron Analog Four, DSI Mopho Keyboard, DSI Tempest, and the Moog Sub Phatty will be clearly defined as modern classics.

    All of these are extremely versatile and cost effective synths that don’t mimic anything before them.

  42. Throwing in another vote for the MiniBrute. I love mine for somehow being new AND making me feel like I must have scored something sweet on eBay. It is rare to find synths at that price point that I develop such a rapport with- but the MiniBrute is in there.

    It doesn’t seem as widely beloved as it could be, but I can’t say enough good things about the oft overlooked Gaia SH-01 from Roland. Polyphony and top level controls at that price point help one quickly forget that it is a modeller… Run it in mono and through a decent tube pre and suddenly it’s keeping up with the all analog kids in the studio… or at least enough so that I call on it for more tasks than I ever would a plug in.

  43. For me it has to be the Analogue solutions Leipzig-S. Fantastic true analogue sound with fat filter and tight envelopes, but the built in step sequencer/modulator lets you do things you just can’t do on other synths.
    truly awesome synth

  44. Almost anything DSI makes, but I nominate the:

    Mopho x4


    Teenage Engineering OP-1 (nothing else like it, except the VL-1, maybe)


    Doepfer Dark Energy

    There are others, but I really believe these will be sought after classics at some point.

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