Synth Gems 1 review

Dr Mike has unearthed a veritable treasure trove of vintage synths for this landmark book

  • £53
Synth Gems 1
(Image: © Future)

MusicRadar Verdict

An exquisite book that delivers on both style and substance in equal measure. Weighty but never heavy going, it’s a must-read.


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    Gorgeous images.

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    Beautifully written.

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    Accessible even for non-nerds.


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Synth Gems 1: What is it?

Mike Metlay’s Synth Gems 1 chronicles iconic synthesisers from 1970 to 2000 in glorious colour and extraordinary detail. It offers insights into more than 60 vintage synths, lovingly documented more than 320 pages with hundreds of stunning images and thousands of well-chosen words.

Vince Clarke provides the foreword, which sets the tone for the entire book. “I definitely believe,” writes Vince, “that the whole electronic music scene has made it possible for people to have ideas, to express and record those ideas and to make sounds and to write songs without necessarily needing to be technically brilliant. It’s very liberating and democratising – much more than punk turned out to be.”

Synth Gems 1: Performance and verdict

Synth Gems 1 is similarly accessible. What could quite easily have been a dry inventory of electronic kit is instead a celebration of musical instruments, a book that will satisfy musicians and music lovers as well as circuit board geeks. 

Many of the usual suspects are here – Moog, Oberheim, Roland, ARP, Sequential, Yamaha and Korg are all well represented. But this is more than an A-Z of famous synths. Rather cleverly, Mike has woven in the ‘rare, the odd and the awesome’ too, so for every Jupiter or Prophet there’s a Murom Aelita, Technics SX-WSA1 or Casio VL-Tone. These quirky inclusions add an additional dimension to the book, and it’s all the richer for it.

Every sumptuous photograph was commissioned for Synth Gems 1, so thankfully you won’t find generic, fuzzy black and white period shots here. Instead, photographer Peter M Mahr and the team at the EMEAPP museum in Pennsylvania, USA, have done an incredible job documenting each synth with a generous hero shot and numerous detail images. In all, there are well over 300 beautiful photos to lust over.

Synth Gems 1

(Image credit: Future)

There are some obvious omissions, no DX7 for example, but it was never Mike’s intention that Synth Gems 1 should be comprehensive. As the book’s title suggests, Danish publisher Bjooks promise that this is just the first of a series of Synth Gems, so it will be interesting to discover the direction the second volume takes.

Mike Metlay is uniquely qualified to write this book. He holds a PhD in nuclear physics, hence the affectionate moniker Dr Mike, but has spent most of his working life as an editor of the US pro audio magazine Recording. Speaking from his home in Colorado, he told us what sparked the idea for the book and how it evolved.

“The core idea for the book,” said Mike, “essentially ‘a big book of synth pictures for enthusiasts to drool over’, came from publisher Kim Bjørn. We had many long discussions about the book’s format and intent, and I gradually shaped it into what it is today.

“Synthesiser enthusiasts have a deep-seated appreciation for the synth as a physical object, not only as a creator of beauty but as something beautiful in and of itself. They delight in the beauty of the utilitarian – like an elegantly-designed automobile, building or chair. What I have done is focus that feeling into a book that is timeless, inspiring, informative and, above all, beautiful,” says Mike. 

MusicRadar verdict: An exquisite book that delivers on both style and substance in equal measure. Weighty but never heavy going, it’s a must-read.

Synth Gems 1: The web says

"A unique publication that serves as an historically accurate document, both written and visual, and will, no doubt, find itself on the shopping lists of the synth nerds amongst us."
Sound on Sound

Synth Gems 1: Hands-on demos


Under the Big Tree

Synth Gems 1: Specifications

  • 320-page hardback book for anyone who loves synths, or even just great photography
  • CONTACT: Bjooks
Simon Fellows

When Simon's childhood classical guitar teacher boasted he 'enjoyed a challenge', the poor man had no idea how much he'd underestimated the scale of the task ahead. Despite Simon's lack of talent, the experience did spark a lifelong passion for music. His classical guitar was discarded for an electric, then a room full of electrics before Simon discovered the joys of keys. Against all odds, Simon somehow managed to blag a career as a fashion journalist, but he's now more suitably employed writing for MusicRadar and Guitar World. When not writing or playing, he can be found terrifying himself on his mountain bike.