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flac  ·  100 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: 409th Weekly "Share Some Music You've Been Into Lately"

I think KB's probably right - the Monologue's pretty nice, and Behringer ain't too great as a company. If you're looking for a hardware synth, that's a really good place to start.

Ultimately, I think the "right" gear is whatever gets you making the most music, period. I totally get not wanting to be locked into the computer after working on it all day - that's part of what attracted me to hardware synths initially. Now I use sort of a mix of hardware and software, and I sequence it all through my Keystep Pro, which is both the most expensive and by far most useful piece of equipment I own. It's the only piece of gear I own that I couldn't part with without dramatically changing the way I make music.

Obviously, the big benefit of going digital is that there are a STAGGERING number of choices to try out. Even Modular (or, hey, even FREE MODULAR). I have yet to pay for a single digital synth, and I feel pretty happy with my options. And, importantly, I don't believe that there is any sound that you can create on any analog synthesizer that can't be recreated digitally (with a bit of knowledge and the right software). Obviously, I am a huge fan of Helm and Vital, partly because they are really intuitive, and partly because they have no right being as great as they are while still being free. I hear good things about NI, but haven't tried it myself.

The big downside to digital is that, if you only want to play one synth, then it's not quite as "giggable" as hardware. It can be great if you're going to jam with some friends to just grab a synth and a pedal and head out, but it can get a bit more involved with digital. My favorite hardware synth, the Microfreak is super light, and I can just throw it in my messenger bag with a cable and head out. That being said, the more gear you get, the more incredibly time-consuming hardware setup becomes.

On the other hand, one of my favorite bits of tech is my PiSound, a HAT for the Raspberry Pi that can turn the Pi into a pedal or any number of synths. Once you have it all set up, you can just boot up the Pi, plug in a Midi Controller, and run "headless", as it were. I mainly use ORAC, which has a bunch of great synth/effect options, and allows you to run several synths at once (I have done sets with just the Keystep running 3 synths at once on my Pi, and using a drum machine on the last track. Beautifully streamlined). There's also an app so you can use a phone or tablet to change parameters of whatever you're running. You can also run Pure Data patches on it, which gives you access to lots of community-made synth and FX modules. The PiSound is a bit of an involved project to get set up, but it sort of gives you the versatility (and cheapness) of digital, while giving you the portability of hardware. And, if you end up buying a synth, you can set up MODEP (the FX module) to run a midi-synced delay, which is pretty rad.

From a performance standpoint, I find hardware synths a lot easier to manage in a live setting. One knob does exactly one thing on each synth, and that is wonderfully intuitive and hard to fuck up live. Not quite the case when dealing with a computer, and unlabelled knobs on a midi controller (to say nothing of operating a mouse precisely in a high-stress setting). For an example, here's what my Midi mapping looks like when I run three synths at a time on the Pi, as mentioned above (I switch between Midi channels for each synth):

That becomes less of a problem if you are consistent in how you have your Midi controllers set up, and don't use a ton of different synths.

If you're on the fence, I'd recommend buying yourself a pretty nice midi keyboard with lots o' knobs, and messing around with software synths. If you get a midi keyboard, you can assign each of the knobs to control a different parameter of the synth software (ADSR, Cutoff, etc). It's really easy to set up in Helm and Vital, and I'd be more than happy to do a quick video on it. The great thing is that most software synths will remember those mappings, so you can just boot it up and get going right away. This will seeeeriously cut down on your time looking at the screen, highly recommend it.

Second-to-last bit of advice: if you are thinking of just using a synth as a solo instrument, either in a band or recorded, then analog might make just as much sense as digital. But if you think that you might end up want to make whole synth tracks, then I'd really recommend starting with digital. It becomes really unwieldy (and real fuckin' expensive) really quickly if you go the analog route there.

Actual last bit of advice: a big part of why the Keystep Pro is my favorite piece of gear is that, once I have my synths picked out, I can make a whole track without really having to look back at my computer. I can sequence things on 4 separate tracks, and send them to 4 digital (or analog) synths/drum kits. There's also this cheaper pad-style sequencer by Arturia, which has most of the same functionality. In any case, if you decide to go digital, I strongly recommend starting with a nice free synth, and spend your money on a good Midi keyboard with lots of knobs and sliders.

Edit: I swear to god I'm not being paid by Arturia, but I found this deal on their entry level keyboard, which also comes free with the lite version of: Ableton, Analog Labs (a really great sounding synth software), and a grand piano sim. For your consideration.