The hardware synth market has been in rude health over the past 12 months. Not only have we seen some great affordable instruments, but a number of new synths in a higher price bracket have also made their mark. Here (in no particular order) are our favourites, starting with Korg's RK1000S.
With the recent ’80s revivalist trends that have been doing the rounds for the past few years and the growing number of electronically-centric live acts, it’s surprising that we only saw one noteworthy keytar released in 2014.
Not that it would’ve mattered if hundreds had been brought to market - we’d still have picked the RK100S as our favourite.
Resurrected in the same three colours that adorned the 1984 RK100 version, the S takes its mid-sized keys from the MS-20 and its sound engine from the microKorg XL. Plus, most notably, it includes not one but two ribbon controllers, one of which spans the entire length of the keybed - shredtastic!
4.5 out of 5
Future Music's Gear of the Year 2014 is brought to you in association with DV247
Nord Lead A1
The initial view on the A1 was that it was a slimmed-down version of the Lead 4, which was possibly due to the proximity in release to the NL4. It is, however, a direct replacement for the Lead 2/2x range which hadn’t seen the light of day for a good 17 years.
First impressions focused on its diminutive size compared to the rest of the Nord stable; the same goes for the price point. The bright red case, sturdy rubberised dials, hard plastic buttons and stone-effect mod wheel/wooden pitchbend are all standard Nord issue. But the A1 was designed to be more compact, portable and easier to program than the Lead 4, and it is.
If you want the Nord sound at a low price then look no further.
4.5 out of 5
Dave Smith Instruments Prophet 12 Module
No sooner had the ink dried on our review of the Prophet 12 last year, than we got word that Dave was already set to release the P12 module.
Dispensing with the knob-per-function ethos, we were a little concerned that there might be similar editing issues to those experience with the Mopho and Tetra, but we were pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to navigate.
4.5 out of 5
Elektron Analog Keys
Gothenburg giant Elektron certainly represents all that is cool about modern synthesizers. Its products' unique and sometimes frustrating workflow hasn’t hampered their popularity, either. And it’s largely down to the fact that Elektron's products sound so good.
The Analog Keys was released at the beginning of the year, and is akin to a keyboard version of the Analog Four module. Aside from the obvious addition of a 37-note semi-weighted keyboard and a few extra performance functions, the real bonus is the plethora of IO. The Analog Keys is perfect for those wanting to control lots of CV-enabled devices, both new and old.
4 out of 5
Dave Smith Instruments Pro 2
Not wanting to rest on their laurels, Dave Smith and crew came back with the Pro 2, a reimagining of the original Sequential Circuits Pro 1, but certainly not a reissue.
This versatile mono/paraphonic synth has more in common with the Prophet 12 than the Pro 1, and is a huge improvement on the Mopho. Better still, the inclusion of superwaves, a sequencer, four-note paraphony, new filters and extensive CV control make this synth a must-have.
5 out of 5
Moog Sub 37
Quite obviously the arch rival to the Pro 2, the Sub 37 is a duo/paraphonic limited edition synth based on the Sub Phatty engine.
Dubbed the Tribute Edition - in honour of Bob himself and his love of education - each Sub 37 sold has a portion of the proceeds donated to Asheville Area School Music Programs.
While both this and the Sub Phatty have their own unique characteristics, for Moog lovers the real boon here is the inclusion of the Arpeggiator, something not even featured in the massive Voyager XL, let alone other Phattys.
4.5 out of 5