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Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Most Underrated Synths

Update: also check out this post for Sonic State's podcast on the list.
JB thought it would be fun to come up with an underrated synth list in the same vein as The first synth to post. I think this might be a pretty cool idea. I think all synths have something to offer and it would be interesting to see what people come up with. So here is how it will work. Put a synth you chose in the comments with 1 to 3 main points on why you think it's underrated and I'll update the list in this post. Make sure to follow the format below, or it doesn't go up. I need to be able to just copy and paste it in. You can discuss away in the comments, but only the list will get updated in the body of the post. Note the reasons can be a combination of what was cool about the synth in your opinion and what you believe kept it from gaining higher status. And yes, you can cheat by combining small things like I did below. I'll make this a sticky post on the right of the site as well so we can check it out and add to it over time as other posts go up. That said. I'll start with two. The most underrated synth in my book of course starts with:

The Oberheim Matrix-6
1. The modulation capabilities for the price - ramp and tracking generators, release velocity, matrix modulations, etc.
2. It is completely overshadowed by it's bigger brother the Matrix-12.
3. It is a CEM based DCO analog and categorized as one of the lesser sounding poly analogs along with it. It's true to an extent but I still like it's sound and it is the source of name of my alias and this site. : ) My first synth.

The Rhodes/ARP Chroma
1. It's just as incredible sounding as the more popular analog poly monsters like the Roland Jupiter-8, SCI Prophet 5, Oberheim OB-Xa, Memorymoog and so on, but for some reason it never seems to get the same recognition. I found one for US $950 in prestine condition from a shop that usually overprices gear.
2. It has a weighted keyboard and mod settings to die for. It's one of the most expressive and best sounding synths I have ever played. Definitely in a class of it's own.

Elka Synthex
1. the Elka synthex was much underrated too because of its brand. It's a fantastic synth anyway.

KORG Mono/Poly
1. Same goes for the Mono/Poly. sounds great. The AArpeggiator tands for it´s own since u can play all 4 osc at different settings in Polymode, one by one ...
2. Put the lfo waveform between the waveform you wanna chosse and it starts sounding mad.
3. And then there´s crossmod, Xmod and so on ...

Crumar Performer
1. Another underrated synth is the monophonic synth in the Crumar Performer. It really got balls. The bass sounds as thick as my Moog Prodigy. Of cause very limited in parameters, but a great bass synth.

Roland JX-3P
1. For *today's* underrated vintage gear, my vote is and always shall be the Roland JX-3P, provided you've got the PG-200 controller. You can do all the basic analog functionality, it sounds great, and a rig like this can be had for $500 or less.

Sequential Circuits MAX
1. I think the Sequential MAX is underrated, it's usually dismissed as some kind of toy but in reality it has te same architecture as the Six-Trak and has midi cc control over every parameter. The fact that it as no control knobs it the main reason for its lack of appeal, but any midi controller will do the job.

Casio HT-700
1. Casio HT-700. Resonant analog filters, DCO's, chorus, better sounding than the Poly-800 IMNSHO. Also, you can fully program the cheeeeesy presets (rhythm, bass-line, auto-chords) for ultra Casio rock-out sessions.
2. To make it scream, however, you gotta take the leash off those resonant filters by modding it.

Yamaha FS1R
1. Why didn't the FS1R do better? How come nobody talks about it now? Its 8 voice operators (and the 8 unvoiced) represents the most advanced FM spec ever released. I know its hard to program, but SoundDiver fixed that. And, they only cost about $400! Put down your copies of FM7/8 and get one of these!

Akai vx600
1. Analog
2. Polyphonic
3. Cheap
4. matrix modulation

EML 101
1. it has a very industrial science lab sound which hasn't been used on a million albums like a moog, arp, etc...
2. 4 oscillators
3. fully patchable with 1/4" jacks
4. monophonic or duophonic
5. built like a tank

Kawai SX-240
1. Great sounding beast with it's own character.
2. Often compared to the Juno 60 or Akai AX
3. Sweet moogish filter and killer chorus together with the ring mod makes it possible to do some fairlight/wavetable type sounds and lushhhh strings that easily blow the arp omni/solina away.
4. 2x multitimbral, 3 unison modes (4, 2, mono (8 x 2 oscs + sub osc) and neat portamento and glissando effects
5. It's an affordable alternative to Roland's Juno60, Akai's 80, korg polysex.
6. My first digitally controlled analog synth with midi and I really dig this big lcd display with red glowing letters and the LED's for each and every parameter.
7. Overlooked because of Kawai's marketing strategy and timing

Alesis Andromeda
It should be regarded as one of the best analog synths ever made. Why would someone pay $5k for a 8 voice Oberheim?
The reasons are:

1) Analog
2) Polyphonic (16 voice)
3) Extremely versatile: no need for any other polysynth
4) Lot of knobs for real time tweaking
5) You can modulate everything with everything
6) Multitimbral
7) 3 LFO
8) 3 seven stage envelope
9) ribbon controller
10) the best portamento I have ever seen

Sequential Six-Trak
1. Most people say it's sequencer is useless and that it's no fun to program, or that it's thin on bass.
2. I actually like the six monophonic traks that it's sequencer has. I find it useful for sketching out ideas.
3. Latching the arpegiator and then switching to a new patch to play along with is also nice.
4. The stack feature adds 2 patches of unholy unison mono-synth terror.
5. I love the lights that trigger for each of the six voices.
6. Though it's sposed'ly only a single oscilator per voice this doesn't account for the fact that you can turn on/off Square, saw, triangle, individually so they are sort of stacked but not individually tuneable.
7. Like the Max everything is on a continuous controller. Get used to the aliasing though it really is DCO.

Akai AX-60
for it's bi-timbral keyboard and wheel splitting capability and of course all those sliders. If only it had Portamento/Glide.

Korg M-500 Micropreset
1. Dead simple to use
2. Very portable for an 70's analog synth
3. Very fun to use despite it's limitations
4. you can mix the presets, which is kind of a mystery to me since it's just a simple single osc, single vcf synth - how is this possible?? It's a mystery box!!
6. Fat, funky sound

The Waldorf Microwave 1
How much more value for money do you want?
1. The famous wavetable synthese + user definable wavetables
2. Creamy, very useful analog filters
3. 8 voices
4. deep programming possibilities
5. user definable presets
And you find these between 300-400 euro's. That's not much money per voice :)

Yamaha vl70m
yamaha's acoustic physical modelling synth.
1. it models just about every mono/duophonic acoustic instrument on the planet, very well.
2. I use it to create 80% of the sounds i've used in everysong i've ever written. and it only gets better with time.
3. because of its physical model nature, it actually takes practice to master, which means;
a. no two sound alike
b. it becomes easy to play, realisitically, any instrument it models, after a while. it takes practice. which means that not just anyone will be sounding like you.
4. it came with a wx power/midi port built in, so is perfectly matched with the yamaha wx5 this is easily the most powerful synth controller combo EVER. coupled with the fact that it is half rack size.

Korg DS8
because it is special, FM synth but "simulated" subtractive control..

Ensoniq EPS16+
100€ and you are into the digital world of modulating samples and startpoints etc..

SCI Multitrack
1-It is very much like the sixtrack but (sadly) it doesn't respond to midi CC.
2-It can stack up to 6 voices and is really easy to edit even with a single knob and some buttons.
3-As said before the cem3394 synth on a chip seems to contain a vco and not a dco.

Korg DSS-1 and Technics WSA-1
Both very cheap at present and both wonderful. Now I have one of each the truth can be told.



Note there are two comment sections, one for Facebook and one for Blogger further below:

47 comments:

  1. I've always thought that the Waldorf Microwave XT, and original Microwave didn't get the credit they deserved. Unfortunately my Microwave XT is dead, but I still have it and remember it fondly.

    ReplyDelete
  2. the Elka synthex was much underrated too because of its brand. It's a fantastic synth anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Same goes for the Mono/Poly. sounds great. The AArpeggiator tands for it´s own since u can play all 4 osc at different settings in Polymode, one by one ...

    Put the lfo waveform between the waveform you wanna chosse and it starts sounding mad.

    And then there´s crossmod, Xmod and so on ...

    really underrated for no reason ....

    ReplyDelete
  4. I owned a Matrix & for a few years. It was not fun to use it. And the Access programmer didn't helped that much, because the cut-off frequency of the filter is not controlled by a CC but via sysex. And this is not a real time controller at all.
    And the biggest minus is its awful envelopes. They a a latency till they start. You notice this very easy. And there are not many values for short envelope attacks. This is due to bad scalling of the envelope parameters.
    The Prophet 600 is a way better alternative. But it is missing the many modulation possibilities. But most sounds normaly used by the average keyboard and synthplayer do not need more then one LFO.

    Another underrated synth is the monophonic synth in the Crumar Performer. It really got balls. The bass sounds as thick as my Moog Prodigy. Of cause very limited in parameters, but a great bass synth.


    keep on turning these knobs

    Till "Qwave" Kopper

    ReplyDelete
  5. Right! the Synthex is maybe the more powerful poly and surely the most underrated! easy to fix, always screaming.

    the Chroma nice, but it's troubles:not reliable in time.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Chroma's aren't underated anymore.
    I can't find one for $1k

    ReplyDelete
  7. Chromas and Synthexes were underrated when they first came out, but certainly not now.

    For *today's* underrated vintage gear, my vote is and always shall be the Roland JX-3P, provided you've got the PG-200 controller. You can do all the basic analog functionality, it sounds great, and a rig like this can be had for $500 or less.

    This has nothing at all to do with my recent acquisition of CustomSynth's JX-3PG. :o) On the contrary, it's my empirical bias towards the JX that made me lust after the custom one so much. It's the ultimate 3P, and thus the ultimate underdog analog...

    Good company name... Underdog Analog. This name is free to a good home. :o)

    ReplyDelete
  8. I think the Sequential MAX is underrated, it's usually dismissed as some kind of toy but in reality it has te same architecture as the Six-Trak and has midi cc control over every parameter. The fact that it as no control knobs it the main reason for its lack of appeal, but any midi controller will do the job.

    ReplyDelete
  9. The electribes man, the electribes.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Casio HT-700. Resonant analog filters, DCO's, chorus, better sounding than the Poly-800 IMNSHO. Also, you can fully program the cheeeeesy presets (rhythm, bass-line, auto-chords) for ultra Casio rock-out sessions.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Why didn't the FS1R do better? How come nobody talks about it now? Its 8 voice operators (and the 8 unvoiced) represents the most advanced FM spec ever released. I know its hard to program, but SoundDiver fixed that. And, they only cost about $400! Put down your copies of FM7/8 and get one of these!

    ReplyDelete
  12. The Buchla 200e -- everyone keeps calling it a Banjo.

    .. ... for some reason . .. ..

    ReplyDelete
  13. HT700: Very underrated...I bet most owners don't even know it's a synth!

    To make it scream, however, you gotta take the leash off those resonant filters by modding it.

    ...and there's just no bass on it.

    But I still have 3 of 'em!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thanks guys, btw, if you want me to add your synths to the list please put it in this format so I can just copy and paste:

    Synth
    1. Reason one
    2. Reason two
    3. Reason three

    It doesn't have to be more than 1 and I'll put up to 5 to keep things clean.

    Till, regarding "I owned a Matrix & for a few years. It was not fun to use it. And the Access programmer didn't helped that much, because the cut-off frequency of the filter is not controlled by a CC but via sysex. And this is not a real time controller at all."

    THANK YOU!!!!!!! You just solved a synth mystery for me that I've had since probably 1997. I never could get my Matrix-6 to work with an external software editor. I always wondered if the Access Programmer could work for real time control on the Matrix-6. I've asked on AH, and the-gas-station about once a year and never got a straight answer. I should have asked the Waldorf list. : ) Now the question is does it work real time with the Matrix-1000 rack. The lack of knobs is the biggest downside to me for the Matrix-6. I have other synths for snappy envelops.

    BTW, a work around for limited realtime control of the Matrix-6 is to set a modulation source with CC like the pedel and levers, in the matrix modulation to what you want to control. You can then set your knob box to the matching CCs and control the modulation in real time. The manual has a list of the modultion sources that have CC numbers assigned to them.

    ReplyDelete
  15. BTW, I'll go ahead and ad the synths listed below and add the numbers myself so we do not have to repeat them here in the comments, but moving forward if you want it added to the list please put the numbers. It's easier for you to do it once vs. me having to do it 20+ times.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Actually scratch that. That wasn't too bad. Do what you want.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Akai vx600

    Analog
    Polyphonic
    Cheap
    matrix modulation

    Ps:Buchla sounds more like a marimba than a banjo ;-)
    With that price it will it will always be overrated

    ReplyDelete
  18. 3. And then there´s crossmod, Xmod and so on ...


    Crossmod and Xmod are the same thing.
    The X is short for cross.

    ReplyDelete
  19. EML 101

    1 it has a very industrial science lab sound which hasn't been used on a million albums like a moog, arp, etc...

    2 4 oscillators

    3 fully patchable with 1/4" jacks

    4 monophonic or duophonic

    5 built like a tank

    ReplyDelete
  20. Kawai SX-240

    1. Great sounding beast with it's own character.

    2. Often compared to the Juno 60 or Akai AX

    3. Sweet moogish filter and killer chorus together with the ring mod makes it possible to do some fairlight/wavetable type sounds and lushhhh strings that easily blow the arp omni/solina away.

    4. 2x multitimbral, 3 unison modes (4, 2, mono (8 x 2 oscs + sub osc) and neat portamento and glissando effects

    4. It's an affordable alternative to Roland's Juno60, Akai's 80, korg polysex.

    5. My first digitally controlled analog synth with midi and I really dig this big lcd display with red glowing letters and the LED's for each and every parameter.

    6. Overlooked because of Kawai's marketing strategy and timing

    ReplyDelete
  21. The FS1r is a great machine and the eBuyrs know that!
    I can't find one for less than 400 Euros.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Okay, a couple of digital synths that don't get the credit the deserve. At the very least they sound different and for the most part won't get any street cred.

    1. U&I Metasynth, soft graphic synth with unusual features and sound.

    2. Emu Morpheus may not be the best to program but even at the gate it's better at being it's self then most.

    I'd include the FS1R but someone else has. The Korg Prophecy is actually not that bad to program and it plays nice with it's log and who can forget the lovable misfit who tanked Ensoniq: The Fizmo.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Hi Matrix, SysEx is fine for realtime control, it is just a bug in the Matrix reception of that parameter or the CPU is too slow. It is problematic with the Matrix 1000 as well. SysEx reception is fine on MicroWave and K3m for example.

    Georg.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Alesis Andromeda
    It should be regarded as one of the best analog synths ever made. Why would someone pay $5k for a 8 voice Oberheim?
    The reasons are:

    1) Analog
    2) Polyphonic (16 voice)
    3) Extremely versatile: no need for any other polysynth
    4) Lot of knobs for real time tweaking
    5) You can modulate everything with everything
    6) Multitimbral
    7) 3 LFO
    8) 3 seven stage envelope
    9) ribbon controller
    10) the best portamento I have ever seen
    etc, etc

    ReplyDelete
  25. As for the Andromeda, i think its looks kept it and will keep it from being a classic.

    ReplyDelete
  26. The Casio VZ-1. I also agree about the Matrix 6, Mono/Poly and the JX-3P, which has a better range of sounds than the overrated Juno 106.

    ReplyDelete
  27. I have both a CZ-1 and a VZ-10m, and for my money the CZ-1 wins hands down. The VZ-10m may be more sophisticated, but I think that it has a grainy, noisy quality that I don't find pleasing. The CZ-1 has a clean, shimmery sound, and a dead simple UI. I used the CZ-1 as my master keyboard for a long time.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I still think the A6 Andromeda is a nice looking synth. And I agree, it's underated. In 15-20 years most true vintage analogs will die, or have half their components replaced with close or not so closes matches so they won't even sound original. Then the next gen analog addicts will be paying 20k for a vintage A6 ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  29. I love my Sequential Six-Trak

    Most people say it's sequencer is useless and that it's no fun to program, or that it's thin on bass.

    I actually like the six monophonic traks that it's sequencer has. I find it useful for sketching out ideas.

    Latching the arpegiator and then switching to a new patch to play along with is also nice.

    The stack feature adds 2 patches of unholy unison mono-synth terror.

    I love the lights that trigger for each of the six voices.

    Though it's sposed'ly only a single oscilator per voice this doesn't account for the fact that you can turn on/off Square, saw, triangle, individually so they are sort of stacked but not individually tuneable.

    Like the Max everything is on a continuous controller. Get used to the aliasing though it really is DCO.

    I also like the Akai AX-60 for it's bi-timbral keyboard and wheel splitting capability and of course all those sliders. If only it had Portamento/Glide.

    ReplyDelete
  30. The Waldorf Microwave 1

    How much more value for money do you want?

    1. The famous wavetable synthese + user definable wavetables
    2. Creamy, very useful analog filters
    3. 8 voices
    4. deep programming possibilities
    5. user definable presets

    And you find these between 300-400 euro's. That's not much money per voice :)

    Boele

    ReplyDelete
  31. I'd say the Kawai K3 is a good bargian. nice ssm filters.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Korg M-500 Micropreset

    1. Dead simple to use
    2. Very portable for an 70's analog synth
    3. Very fun to use despite it's limitations
    4. you can mix the presets, which is kind of a mystery to me since it's just a simple single osc, single vcf synth - how is this possible?? It's a mystery box!!
    6. Fat, funky sound

    ReplyDelete
  33. Cameron,
    The CEM3394 contains a real analog VCO.
    It is not a DCO.

    ReplyDelete
  34. the MOST underrated synth of all time is the vl70m. yamaha's acoustic physical modelling synth.

    1. it models just about every mono/duophonic acoustic instrument on the planet, very well.

    2. I use it to create 80% of the sounds i've used in everysong i've ever written. and it only gets better with time.

    3. because of its physical model nature, it actually takes practice to master, which means;
    a. no two sound alike
    b. it becomes easy to play, realisitically, any instrument it models, after a while. it takes practice. which means that not just anyone will be sounding like you.

    4. it came with a wx power/midi port built in, so is perfectly matched with the yamaha wx5

    this is easily the most powerful synth controller combo EVER. coupled with the fact that it is half rack size.

    ReplyDelete
  35. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Korg DS8 because it is special, FM synth but "simulated" subtractive control..

    Ensoniq EPS16+, 100€ and you are into the digital world of modulating samples and startpoints etc..

    here's some more + another forum thread feat. the same topic..
    http://www.sequencer.de/blog/?p=1859

    ReplyDelete
  37. SCI Multitrack is underrated too.
    1-It is very much like the sixtrack but (sadly) it doesn't respond to midi CC.

    2-It can stack up to 6 voices and is really easy to edit even with a single knob and some buttons.

    3-As said before the cem3394 synth on a chip seems to contain a vco and not a dco.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Korg DSS-1 and Technics WSA-1. Both very cheap at present and both wonderful. Now I have one of each the truth can be told.

    ReplyDelete
  39. Hey kb- any tips on modding the HT-700? I've got one that's just waiting to have some knobs attached to it...

    ReplyDelete
  40. the korg m-500 micropreset is such a mistery box it has 6 reasons but no number 5 :o

    ReplyDelete
  41. Instead of the Casio HT-700 I'd nominated the rarer and lesser-known Casio HT-6000 which is of the same general technology but vastly superior. It has 4 DCO oscillators per voice (versus 1/voice on the 700), 2x the DCO waveforms to choose from (64 vs 32), and it has 8 independent VCF's (versus a 1 shared VCF on the 700). Each oscillator shares the same waveform and VCF but can have separate tuning, amplitude and velocity curves. Furthermore the 6000 has velocity (which can control the filter too), detuning, key follow (for VCF & DCA), ring modulator and independent noise DCA (all which the 700 lack). It also has 61 fullsize keys (vs 49 mini), a modulation wheel, volume pedal jack, MIDI thru, and real 1/4-inch line-outs (the 700 lacks these and has RCA line outs). Finally the 6000 has a splittable keyboard (upper & lower tones) and a better programmable accompaniment section including more PCM drums (and a half-decent gated snare), more chord inversions to choose from (14 vs 8), an additional accompaniament part ("obligatto"), 4 bass patches (vs. 1 on the 700), intro, ending, and rhythm and accompaniament variation functions. And at 8-note polyphonic with 4 ocsillators/note, the HT-6000 is the only analog synth with as many as 32 DCO's. That all said, the HT-700 was indeed highly underrated and was remarkably advanced for it's time and for the type of stores that sold it (toys'r'us, macy's, etc.). But the HT-6000 even moreso.

    ReplyDelete
  42. re Korg M-500 Micropreset
    > 4. you can mix the presets,
    > which is kind of a mystery
    > to me since it's just a simple
    > single osc, single vcf synth
    > - how is this possible??

    I vastly modded mine - it died later, though - I still have the filter chips (2 of them) in my parts box.

    It has one oscillator, 2 2-pole resonant LP filters (one for the synth preset, one for the brass preset), and four fixed (organ-style) filters. The 2 filters have VCAs built in, and each of the fixed filter circuits had its own VCA and (fixed) envelope generator. The brass voice and synth voice also had their own envelopes. The envelope attack and release controls affected the synth and brass VCA and VCF.

    They could afford 6 VCAs because, for a fixed-voice, fixed-envelope monosynth, they could get away with one-transistor VCAs and RC (NO active component) envelopes, and the VCF/VCA chip I imagine was used in other synths as well.

    OMD used this synth a lot on their first few albums. You can recognize it easily in their stuff before they got into samplers, which you can also recognize (Dazzle Ships onwards)

    ReplyDelete
  43. The Microwave I will never ever leave my studio because it is a historical fantastic machine.

    ReplyDelete
  44. I am glad you mentioned the
    Kawai SX-240.
    Brilliant synth for the money, although they are getting pretty hard to find.
    I have to add the humble Yamaha DX7. Has a certain quality that means it will cut through a mix without being too loud. Some instruments may not sound impressive on their own, but in a mix, they work great. DX7 is one of those and I feel they work better than later and better FM synths.
    Carrying on from this, I'd add the Yamaha FVX1 as being highly underrated (purely because hardly anyone has one I guess) I love mine in any case. 8 operators and very rich sounding. I know that Richard D. James uses one too.
    And here's an oddball.

    The Wersi MK1 S2.

    Extremely weird to use and a pain in the ass to program, BUT some sounds are unique and wonderful. Has a PPG quality to it.

    ReplyDelete
  45. My mini list:

    Roland JX-3P - Love this synth, it's got character.

    Roland JX-10 - Ultra JX, Different sound to the 3p so they compliment each other well.

    Roland D-50 - Yes that's right. It's underated because everyone thinks all it does is 'Enya' Pizzicato strings. Dump the presets/accoustic emulations and dig into the real synth sounds, my favourite DIGITAL synth and costs next to nothing these days if you are patient.

    DX7S (not mk1, not IID/FD) - All the DX7 goodness, better casing but not as expensive as a true mk2 DX7 (and also more pure because of no layers or stereo ;) )

    Akai AX-80, weirdo synth. Like the 'Terminator' of the synth world, evil, dark, shrill, mad - funky lights too

    ReplyDelete
  46. I have an old Casio HT-700. Its beat up but works. Would anybody be interested in purchasing it?

    ReplyDelete