There are many different synths hitting the market today providing a wide variety of retro sounds, and effects. These specific devices can be pretty costly for any synth enthusiast. Numerous synthesizer novices believe purchasing the “hottest” synth product is what they need to do to acquire and construct a quality sound. However this market runs deep and there is a number of top quality vintage/also recent good beginner synth keyboards that possess that sound your looking for plus are highly rated and come at a “bang for your buck” kind of deal for what you desire.
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Below you will find a full review on the best keyboard synthesizers under $1000 dollars, these synthesizers on this list are our personal preferences, and also are highly rated with positive reviews and still continue to be utilized by many famous musicians today.
The Roland JUNO-Gi has improved upon its predecessor – the G –to a certain extent. It has double the waveform ROM which means a lot of new sounds. It also has a powerful eight track digital recorder instead of the sequencing and sampling of the G. The recorder can record to high capacity SDHC cards for quick and easy access. Also, the sounds are known as live-sets and allow stacking of up to four tones/layers. There is also an option for battery power.
One of the best parts about the Gi is the lightweight keyboard. Hauling it around is certainly not going to be a pain since the lightness means that it can be picked up using only one hand. However, such a light build also raises some concerns, namely those of quality of build. The thin plastic case does not exactly inspire confidence in the durability of the machine and while the switchgear and dials feel solid, the same can’t be said about the sliders for the new digital recorder.
The keyboard does not include analog synth aftertouch and has five octaves. It is stiffly sprung which makes its ease of playing a bit questionable. The front panel is certainly completely populated with no empty space. The USB slot which is meant for a memory stick or to play MIDI files or MP3/WAV/AIFF files is certainly a welcome feature for solo performers. The Gi has a fairly powerful hardware sequencer/arpeggiator which has many modes, the display is large and monochromatic and includes a lot of information.
The Roland JUNO-Gi comes with 1300 sounds of high quality which have been optimized for live performances. It has an intuitive user interface with dedicated Tone category buttons and large display. It also comes with 128-voice polyphony and a full-featured eight track digital recorder on board with Guitar/Mic/Line inputs with 64 tracks. The Gi also has built-in pro guitar effects that have been taken from the BOSS’ GT series which allow you to plug in a guitar and play or record. There is also a high capacity SDHC card slot meant for direct play and data storage.
The Gi’s USB MIDI connectivity allows full computer integration via MIDI Controller mode and built-in audio/MIDI interface. It has a lightweight and solid body with battery power compatibility. The Gi allows for complete mobility when used with a battery-powered PA or amp such as Roland’s BA330 or KC-110. The USB MIDI connectivity Controller mode also allows you to use the Gi as a master keyboard and control external MIDI devices or your DAW.
While its high price and lack of real editing options can turn some people off, those who are looking for current and useful synth sounds will definitely enjoy the Gi. It has a fairly powerful keyboard and with the digital recorder should work great for stage performers and singer songwriters. However, the thin plastic build does raise questions about whether it will be very durable in the long run, especially if you are taking it for gigs.
The Yamaha DX 7 can certainly be considered vintage, with the model being released in 1983. It was the first to introduce FM or Frequency Modulation. While it isn’t an analog machine and can be difficult to program, the sounds that result are excellent. The difficulty in programming comes from unfamiliarity with a non-analog machine more than anything else. The parameters that can be tweaked or adjusted here are completely different from what you may be used to and may even seem counter-intuitive.
However, the sounds that have been created with the DX7 were more unique and intricate than anything that had come before. It certainly was ahead of its time in that the sounds were almost as thick as analog and those sounds are still very popular today. In fact, one of the reasons for its popularity in its heyday was the fact that at the time it was the only synth that had a frequency modulation system and could therefore simulate sounds of a lot of different instruments much better than the analog synths in the market. While the sounds were nowhere near perfect imitations, they were leagues ahead of the previous generation of synths and seemed as close to the real thing as possible.
Another very real factor that contributed to its immense popularity was the price. The synth cost less than £1500 and considering the fact that it had incorporated cutting edge technology, this price was very competitive – even low, according to some. While this amount may not seem small, keep in mind the fact that most keyboardists used to shell out a lot more for keyboards at that time.
The Yamaha DX7 had a 61 key keyboard. It also had a Poly mode with 16 notes and a Mono mode with 1 note. The internal and external RAM memories as well as the external ROM memory were 32 bank and one could plug in external cartridges to provide an additional 64 voices. As such, a player could access up to 96 voices for quick selection. It was also possible to edit these voices and the edited voices could be stored in the machine’s memory.
The DX7 came with four modes, the first of which was the Play-Memory Select mode that was the normal performance mode and that allowed the pre-programmed voices to be selected. Another one was the Function mode that was used to load and save data and also allowed the player to set parameters with regards to the effects of the controller.
The popularity of the DX7 was evident in the fact that it was used by many famous musicians and groups such as U2, James Horner, Toto, Beastie Boys, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Elton John and Enya. This doesn’t even begin to cover the number of musicians who swore by the machine. Its cutting edge technology and relatively lower price for its time make it a synth which became a household name and whose popularity took even its own manufacturer by surprise.
The Moog SUB Phatty is a good starter synth keyboard and has certainly built up on its predecessor, the Little Phatty. The Little Phatty came with a lower price tag than the Voyagers but did not have the fullness and bass that other Moogs boasted of. This is where the Sub Phatty comes in. It still has the classic build and compact design that one identifies with a Moog but the sound includes much more bass for this mini hardware synth.
One of the biggest advantages is that it is easy to find your way around the front panel. The one large knob controls the low-pass filter, giving you the type of sound you’ve often seen imitated but nothing quite as good as the real thing that you get here. The filter will self-oscillate when the resonance is turned above seven making percussive sounds and using the external input for processing that much more interesting feel.
The SUB Phatty also includes a multidrive distortion that happens between the amp and filter sections. The multidrive distortion has a fairly ok range and with the right resonance and filter settings can change sounds really well and as such, makes it possible for you to access many new tones.
The SUB Phatty doesn’t have a digital display and only allows 16 onboard presets. However, this lack is made up for with the Sub Phatty’s software editor/library software that allows you to create, store and retrieve your creations at your convenience. Since there is no digital screen to navigate, the SUB Phatty has a Shift mode that helps you access functions not there on the front panel.
The Moog SUB Phatty comes with 25 semi-weighted keys and has a two octave keyboard. It has a Pitch Bend and a Mod Wheel. The SUB Phatty is monophonic and has 2 variable Waveshape Oscillators, 1 Square Wave Sub Oscillator and 1 Noise Generator. The Oscillator Calibration Range is 22Hz-6.8 KHz and there is a Guaranteed note range at 8’ of Note 18 to 116. It has Square, Saw, Triangle, SH, Ramp, Filter Envelope Mod sources and comes with a Moog Ladder 20Hz – 20 KHz filter.
It comes with 4 banks of presets with 4 patches per bank, giving it the 16 presets mentioned earlier. Using the Shift mode by pressing the Bank 4 and Activate Panel buttons together, gives you access to 51 additional controls including physical control reassignments and other adjustments in parameters such as Glide Type, Amplifier Envelope Gate, Keyboard Transpose and Waveform Modulation Destination. These and more are also explained in the manual that comes with the SUB Phatty.
While the Moog SUB Phatty is cheaper than the Little Phatty and as such is missing something in keyboard size and presets, these missing points are easy to overlook. The SUB Phatty delivers on what it promises in terms of sound and pretty much every parameter has an assigned knob. Old-school meets modern in this machine and the result is quite pleasing, making it perfect for synthesists who are just starting out as well as veterans.
The Dave Smith Instruments Mopho x4 has certainly evolved from its 2010 ancestor. One of the most welcome changes has been the look of the keyboard which no longer features the fairly controversial yellow casing. Instead the x4 comes in a stylish black casing with wood ends. The control panel layout, however, has not evolved from the previous Mopho – something that has caused a bit of consternation. There is a shared set of dials used by the three envelopes and a selector button for amp, pitch and filter which can cause a tiny lag while you’re trying to keep in mind what setting you were at earlier and also can make it annoying to have to keep flipping between them.
The action here feels no different from the Mopho or the Prophet 08 keyboard. The aftertouch is an especially nice touch and responds well. The octave buttons need for you to hit the chord again before the changes in octave take place. The biggest change, of course, is the fact that it is four voice polyphonic. While the feedback circuit for distorting and thickening the sound is present, what’s missing is the audio input that used to be present on the Mopho keyboard.
The Dave Smith Instruments Mopho x4 has 4 voice polyphony and each voice has two sub-octave generators, two analog oscillators, selectable 2- or 4-pole famed Curtis low-pass filter, a relatchable arpeggiator, three 5-stage envelope generators, a 16 x 4 step sequencer and 4 LFOs. The voice also has 50 destinations and 20 modulation sources. You can even FM the filter to create the type of metallic bell-like sounds you’d like and the 44-note keyboard also has aftertouch and velocity sensitivity. There are also powerful full sized mod and pitch wheels that work smoothly and reliably.
All parameters can be accessed from the front panel for programming and editing. The coherent layout of the controls is done so you can make changes without interrupting your work – or rather play.
In addition, the x4 also comes with a Poly Chain sport that can be used to expand its polyphony. You can connect a Prophet 08, a Tetra or a Mopho to the x4 and increase the voice count even more. It is actually possible to connect three Tetras in a chain to the Mopho x4 and produce a 16 voice analog super synth.
The fact that the Dave Smith Instruments Mopho x4 is priced at under £1000 makes it equivalent to a Prophet 08 but at a much lower cost. It is almost half the price of a Prophet. The sound too is different from that of a Prophet. It leans a bit on the side of bass and unlike most of its competition it is polyphonic. Considering all the options available though and the fact that the Prophet has more sonic options and polyphony while the Tetra has multi-timbrality and four voices and costs less than the x4, it is probably a good idea to do a good amount of research. The Mopho x4 will be a pretty good choice though.
Considering the popularity of the Roland AX-7, it was only a matter of time before Roland came out with another keytar and that wait is now over. Enter the very stylish Roland AX-Synth. While the keytar looks great with the white color and the neon blue lights on the preset select buttons, however, the quality of the plastic does let it down a bit.
The Roland AX-Synth has connections for a lot of stuff from jack audio outs to MIDI in and out to even a USB/USB MIDI – something that allows communication with PCs. The USB editor that comes along with this feature allows editing of the built-in synth sounds on the computer. These sounds can be loaded back on to the keytar later. This proves to be a very advantageous option although it would have been better with independent controls for envelopes, effect control and filter resonance/cutoff on the front panel. Right now all of this can only be done on a computer, something that can be a pain.
The Roland AX-Synth is well-balanced and the controls come easily to hand. The neck feels a little thick under the touch controller though and makes it difficult to perform accurate pitch bends. Those with smaller hands will definitely feel the pinch here. The keyboard is a bit too stiffly sprung which impedes faster runs. However, with two different places where you can attach the straps, the Roland AX-Synth allows you to play the keyboard using both hands.
The 128-note polyphonic, Fantom G-derived sound engine is the biggest difference between the Roland AX-Synth and its ancestors. This feature means that you don’t have to plug in external MIDI gear and can instead start playing straight away.
The Roland AX-Synth has the controls for octave up and down, the modulation bar and the touch controller on the front of the neck. It has a pair of jack audio outs, a headphone socket, a foot pedal socket, a MIDI in and out and USB/USB MIDI to allow it to talk to PCs. It also has Shift plus Tone buttons that allow you to change the reverb patch and send volumes.
The Roland also comes with a D-Beam Infrared controller which is accessed using three buttons that control filter or pitch or perform other controller duties such as volume modulation. The keybed isn’t aftertouch. The keyboard is 49-note, velocity C to E design with four octaves. The front panel of the Roland also has the external and internal MIDI patch buttons, a seven segment red LED display and transpose buttons.
The only real issue with the Roland AX-Synth is its price. At a whopping £800, it does give one a bit of a pause when considering buying a keytar. Also, as mentioned earlier, the plastic build of the synth does not look very sturdy and the hardiness of the machine is in question. Having said that, the beautiful and stylish design and the new features make this a model that manages to outdo its predecessors, something which is no mean feat.