NAMM 2020: It says something about the buoyancy of the current market that a glut of new hardware synths isn’t just something you hope for at NAMM these days - it’s expected. And, the good news is that, for the most part, the big guns have fired.
The likes of Korg, Sequential, Moog and Nord have all delivered the sonic goods. As we type, Behringer has been focusing its attention on Eurorack, but that might change over the next couple of days.
The only notable non-launcher has been Roland, though it has been showing off its previously-announced Jupiter-X, so it hasn’t been a total washout.
Here, though, are what we consider to be the best new synths of NAMM 2020, starting with our award winner...
WINNER: Korg Wavestate
A successor to the much-loved Wavestation, Wavestate manages to be both a faithful tribute to that ’90s beauty and offer cutting-edge sound design tools for the 21st century.
Wavestate sits somewhere between remake and sequel. On the one hand, this is very much designed to capture the sound and feel of its predecessor, right down to classic vector joystick and inclusion of a fair few recognisable waves featured on the original (or one of its expansion cards). However, the Wavestate also expands on the underlying tech in a number of interesting ways.
A fantastic update to a much-loved synth line, the Wavestate is being offered at great price and destined to become a future classic.
Read more: Korg Wavestate review
“In many ways the Pro 3 is the evolution of a concept that started with the classic Sequential Circuits Pro-One,” says Sequential founder and all-round synth legend Dave Smith: “Pack as much power as possible into a compact footprint and make it sound awesome."
That sounds like something we can get onboard with; The Pro 3 is a three-oscillator paraphonic synth that combines both analogue and digital components, and it looks great. We can't wait to try it, and neither, we suspect, can many of you.
Read more: Sequential shows us its latest flagship synth, the Pro 3
Clavia Nord Wave 2
Clavia says that the Nord Wave 2 is its most versatile synth yet, and when you look at the specs, it’s hard to argue. This is a 4-part synth with dedicated volume/pan faders for each part. You can use sample-based, virtual analogue, wavetable and FM synthesis, while performance features including an arpeggiator, a gate for rhythmic effects, and morphing facilities. There’s also a Unison mode for super fat sounds.
Throw in multiple modulation options, filters, effects and a 61-note aftertouch keyboard, and you've got an instrument that sounds great for the studio and the stage.
Read more: The versatile Nord Wave 2 ‘is like four synths in one’
Moog Subsequent 25
As its name suggests, the Subsequent 25 shares a lineage with Moog’s Subsequent 37 and its predecessor the Sub 37, although its closest relative is 2013’s Sub Phatty, which it replaces in Moog’s line-up. It's a two-note paraphonic analogue synth paired with a 25-note keyboard, making it the most compact of Moog’s current crop of non-modular synths. It packs two oscillators, which are accompanied by an additional sub oscillator and noise generator.
Cute and well-crafted, this looks like yet another another killer source of bass and leads from the Moog stable.
Read more: Moog’s Subsequent 25 updates the Sub Phatty for modern studios
Sonicware Liven 8bit Warps
Designed with live performance in mind, the Liven 8bit Warps specialises in retro chiptune sounds, but its creators claim that its sonic potential is wide enough for it to be used in all manner of electronic music genres. It comes with a built-in step sequencer, meaning that it’s a self-contained groove creation tool, and with four wave memory synth engines (Warp, Attack, Morph and FM).
Other features include filters and effects, and there are 16 knobs for hands-on control. The sequencer, meanwhile, offers parameter locks for each step, and there’s also a looper. Techy retro-fetishists are probably going to love it.
Read more: Sonicware’s Liven 8bit Warps is a portable retro synth for chiptune on the go
Korg ARP 2600 FS
Debuting in 1970, ARP’s original 2600 was an attempt to present a complete electronic music studio in a portable, self-contained unit, offering a pre-patched signal path that could be reconfigured using 3.5mm patch cables. Now Korg has reissued and (subtly) expanded the synth for 2020, complete with all its original features and a few modern additions.
ARP’s 2600 was not cheap in its day, and neither is this, yet the price is reflected in the astonishing quality on display. In an industry flooded with cheap, plastic toys, the 2600 is a reminder that synthesizers can be lovingly crafted to offer not moments of distraction, but decades of enjoyment and inspiration.
Read more: Korg ARP 2600 FS review
Available in keyboard and desktop versions, which come with polyphonic aftertouch keys and pads respectively, Hydrasynth is an eight-voice, three-oscillator polysynth that enables you to morph between waveforms using multiple modulation sources. Further tone shaping can be achieved using the four mutators; there are two filters that can be configured in parallel or series; and the effects section comprises four independent modules.
Seemingly coming out of nowhere - and now with MPE support and a vintage-style Warm mode - Hydrasynth could be set to take 2020 by storm.
Read more: Hydrasynth gets MPE support, and it can now sound a bit warmer, too
Korg MS-20 FS
Originally released in the late ’70s, the MS-20 is a classic semi-modular monosynth, prized for its distinctive, aggressive-sounding filters and external audio processing capabilities. It was originally revived by Korg in 2013, in the form of the three quarter-sized MS-20 mini, and while two full-sized versions did follow - in full and desktop module forms - both were released as DIY kits produced in limited numbers.
Now Korg has finally announced another production run of the full sized MS-20 - this time in pre-built, rather than kit format - and what’s more there are four colour variations to choose from. Basically, it's what a lot of people wanted in the first place; snap one up while you can.
Read more: Korg finally goes full-sized with its latest MS-20 synth reissue
Erica Synths DB-01
Few modern synth brands can do grit and aggression quite as well as Erica Synths. That’s why the company’s latest synth, Bassline DB-01, has us especially excited. At first glance this might look like another analogue 303 clone - with a single analogue oscillator and resonant, envelope-controlled filter it’s sure to tick all those acid house boxes - but dig into the specs and there are some interesting and unique features here.
It all looks very tempting to us. The price point does put it above some other analogue bass machines, but we suspect that this Bassline synth will have a character all of its own.
Read more: Could Erica Synths’ Bassline DB-01 be the acid machine of your dreams?