It's no exaggeration to say that we could be living through another golden era of hardware synths. Not so long ago, the market was in the doldrums, seemingly all but destroyed by the rise of software, but as musicians have craved a return to physical instruments, it's risen again.
2019 has been another great year, with fantastic new synths across the price spectrum. Behringer may have dominated the headlines with its numerous clones and releases, but we've also seen plenty from the more established brands.
Speaking of which, the instrument you've voted as the best new synth of 2019 comes from arguably the most famous synth manufacturer of them all...
1. Moog Matriarch
The Matriarch is a new 4-voice paraphonic semi-modular synthesizer. A patchable powerhouse, it comes with a built-in sequencer, arpeggiator, stereo ladder filters and stereo analogue delay.
Being semi-modular, you’re able to able to enjoy the full feature set straight out of the box, but with the aid of 90 modular patch points, you can push your expression and creativity to the max.
The Matriarch is a joyous celebration of all things Moog, and a worthy winner of our poll.
2. Korg Minilogue XD
This new beefed-up version of the Minilogue takes some of the best bits from the existing pile of ‘logues.
There's the digital multi-engine and expanded DSP section from the Prologue, and from the Monologue, a simplified 16-button, 16-step sequencer and microtuning options.
The end result is a nicely different flavour of Minilogue, and its unique personality makes it a hugely welcome addition to the range as a whole.
3. Novation Summit
Novation's newest flagship keyboard is based on two of its Peak synths, with various other juicy improvements thrown in for good measure.
Once again designed in collaboration with Chris Hugget (Chris designed the legendary OSCar), Summit feels just like Peak in as much as it’s a premium product with super-tight rubberised knobs, good quality faders, nice, satisfyingly clicky buttons and a clear OLED screen with adjustable brightness.
This is an excellent synth - if you’re in the market for a 16-voice hybrid poly, this has to be a frontrunner on your list.
4. Arturia MicroFreak
Featuring a 12-mode digital oscillator, an analogue multimode filter and myriad sequencing options housed in a graffitied chassis, the MicroFreak’s unique stylings immediately grab your attention. It’s a bold look.
With so many synthesis features packed into such a small box, it’s hard not to fall in love with the MicroFreak. The multiple oscillator modes cover a near-endless range of timbres; the filter is smooth and versatile; the Matrix invites exploratory modulation; and the performance and sequencing tools are the icing on the creative cake.
5. Roland Jupiter-Xm
The Jupiter-Xm is basically a ‘best of’ Roland analogue emulation and PCM sound module with a keyboard, and its power is quite something.
It can emulate Roland’s analogues authentically; it can vocode; it can cover a wide range of sounds; it has great connectivity, battery-power, and speakers; it’s a five-output USB audio interface; it’s built robustly; and it sounds fantastic.
For anyone who’s looking to travel light with a machine that gives you all the sounds you need, the Jupiter-Xm is just the thing.
6. Behringer Pro-1
Behringer isn't messing about with its synth emulation program, choosing some bonafide classics to revive.
The Pro-1 is - surprise surprise - a clone of the Sequential Circuits Pro-One analogue synth. Featuring a dual VCO design, this is based on the original's circuitry, giving a new generation of users a chance to experience its super-fat charms, and all in a convenient Eurorack-friendly form factor.
7. Elektron Digitone Keys
We were big fans of the standard Digitone FM synth, but one of our suggestions to Elektron when we reviewed it in 2018 was that it should release a knobby keyboard version. Well, hey presto - our wish was granted!
The launch of the Keys version means that the Digitone is now a complete, self-contained instrument. It sounds classy and has a very versatile sound engine, but with the added bonus of lots more live/hands-on parameter control.
Give the Digitone Keys a try and you’ll soon be wondering why anyone thought FM was ever old-fashioned or difficult to use.
8. Roland Boutique JU-06A
As with the original JU-06, the primary synth design here is effectively a straight copy of that found on the Juno-60 and 106.
This new version, however, has a variety of additional features. The most notable of these is the arpeggiator - hence the ‘A’ added to the name - which has a three-octave range and up, up/down and down modes. There’s also a mode switch, to the bottom right of the unit’s interface, for switching between Juno-60 and 106 behaviour.
If you’re looking for a convenient, well-priced source of classic Juno sounds, this may well be the best option out there.
9. Dreadbox NYX2
Already one of the best semi-modular synths you can buy, Dreadbox’s Nyx got a v2 makeover in 2019 that saw it hitting even greater sonic heights.
A paraphonic instrument, this rocks two oscillators, a white noise generator and a flexible dual filter. You also get multiple routing options, three loopable envelope generators and a Drone mode. The modulated reverb is there for your ambient explorations, while 30 patch points give you plenty of scope for broadening your sound design horizons.
10. Behringer MS-1
This Roland SH-101 clone comes complete with 32 full-size keys, 3340 VCO with four simultaneous waveforms, VCF, ADSR, 32-step sequencer, arpeggiator and, of course, the all-important strap and hand grip, dubbed the Live Performance Kit. Keytar action awaits.
It's a pretty faithful emulation of the original, so if you've always wanted an SH-101 but just couldn't stomach those second-hand prices, you have your solution.