In addition to being a private violin teacher, Alecia started writing music-related articles 3 years ago and has been enjoying this experience greatly. Loves quilting and scrapbooking in her free time.
Marcus has a vast experience in digital audio and sound design. Thanks to his knowledge, he actively helps musicians with technical problems, improving their audio quality and even promoting their tracks so that thousands of listeners could enjoy some really good music.
Last updated: July 05, 2021
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If you don’t have enough experience, all synthesizers might look the same. They might vary in design and number of keys, but how different can they really be when it comes to performance? The answer is – their differences can be huge, especially in sound quality and customization. That is why you need the best keyboard synthesizer out there, and we are here to help you find it.
We reviewed the top synths currently available in the market to make your decision-making process simpler, and you can find detailed descriptions below. Our experts covered everything from the signal type to the keyboard layout and presets. We didn’t forget about the additional sound effects and connectivity with PCs and other external devices. Stick with us, and we will reveal more about synthesizers. By the end of this article, you will learn how to find the perfect device for your needs. Let’s get started!
"A fantastic analog pick with 8-band vocoder, chorus/flanger, phaser, and ensemble effects. It also boasts 3 delay modes.37 keys (mini keyboard with velocity.128 editable presets.Interactive arpeggiator with selectable steps."
"Are you looking for a compact and affordable keyboard synthesizer? Check this one with 8 pressure and velocity-sensitive pads.25 velocity-sensitive action keys.128 presets and 10 drum kits.Can run on batteries."
"This premium option will be ideal for advanced musicians. It is an analog, semi-modular, analog synth with 2 oscillators.32 velocity-sensitive keys.37 presets.256-note sequencer with record and playback functions."
"This is another compact monophonic model, which is also a fully-programmable. It features 32 micro tuning settings.25 keys (slim-key, velocity sensitive).80 built-in and 20 user presets.16-step sequencer."
"To get the best of both worlds, you can go for this hybrid synthesizer with a powerful arpeggiator.25-key capacitive keybed with polyphonic aftertouch.160 built-in presets and 256 slots.Digital oscillator with variable mode."
"An attractive design of this unit will impress customers along with 64-voice polyphony and 3 powerful virtual engines.37 keys (velocity sensitive).64 presets and 64 user memory slots.layers up to 5 simultaneous effects."
The Korg microKorg is a keyboard synth that delivers plenty of bang for the buck. The unit comes with 37 keys, and they feature velocity sensing, which is a useful addition. The four-voice synth engine is combined with an eight-band vocoder with a gooseneck mic.
You will find 128 preset settings in this synthesizer, and they are all editable. That means you will have the freedom to adjust everything to your preference. Users can choose between six integrated arpeggio patterns. The adjustable steps allow you to choose the notes’ resolution and length.
It is an entry-level synth, and its build quality could be better. The overall design isn’t impressive, but you will love what the product can do. From three delay modes and multiple effects available to external audio processing, its performance is admirable.
What stands out? The device compatibility is admirable since it supports Windows 98 and newer versions and Mac versions from 10.6.8.
What cons did we manage to find? The overall design could be better since the product doesn’t give away the impression of a premium unit.
The Akai Professional MPK Mini Play is an excellent choice for beginners looking not to overpay their first keyboard synthesizer. The piano-style product features 25 action keys sensitive to velocity. While they could be more responsive, you will get used to how hard to press them quickly.
The product features 128 sound presets, but they don’t seem to be editable. The good news is that you will also benefit from ten drum kits to spread the available sound choices. You can express the desired melody by controlling pitch and modulation with the four-direction joystick. The customization is also available with reverb, filter, chorus, and other effects. If you want to connect the synthesizer to a PC, you can use the premium software package that comes with the unit. The overall product’s portability is impressive, and the keyboard is surprisingly lightweight.
Why are we impressed? Thanks to its portable size, the synthesizer is easy to carry around and move from one location to another.
What negatives must you be aware of? The integrated speaker is of subpar quality and doesn’t have the strength expected from it.
If you are looking for the best keyboard synth in the market, the Moog Grandmother is a synthesizer worth your while. The unit is completely analog, which might make it a bit old-fashioned. But if you are a fan of those synths, you will love this unit.
The product is extremely durable and maintains consistent performance. Also, you can use the 32 velocity-sensitive keys or take advantage of 37 different presets. It is easy to connect instruments and headphones to the unit.
Beginners and veterans will love playing on this device. Next, it doesn’t require any patching but features two analog oscillators with adjustable waveforms. It can memorize three sequences with a maximum of 256 notes each. Overall, this is a premium analog synthesizer that will meet even the most demanding user expectations.
What are our favorite features? You can use the external audio input to connect the desired devices, such as drum machines, guitars, etc.
What could be better? The price tag of this unit is quite high, so some might would like to look for something else.
The first thing you notice about the Novation MiniNova is its distinctive blue color. While its appearance looks attractive, it is a shame there is no alternative if you don’t like the default color combination.
If you scratch the surface, you realize the device delivers consistent and impressive performance. Users can choose any of the 256 integrated sounds. It’s possible to adjust them with “animate” buttons or five knobs, and don’t hesitate to take advantage of the three oscillators.
You will find an input and output jack, and the operating system compatibility is impressive. The device can connect to Windows, Mac, and iOS, so feel free to use any that you see fit. You will find a useful tutorial that explains how everything works, and that includes how to use the vocoder to create memorable vocal sounds.
What makes it stand out? The product is polyphonic and uses up to 18 notes with multiple effects available for each sound.
Which disadvantages must you keep in mind? The product comes with a learning curve, and beginners should be ready to spend some time figuring out how it works.
The Arturia MiniBrute 2 might be the best mini synthesizer keyboard in the market. It is suitable for beginners, but it could be a bit tricky if you are not used to a 25-key synth.
As a miniature keyboard, it is only natural that the product is light and easy to carry around. You can carry the device in your hands or put it in a backpack where it won’t take too much room.
When it comes to performance, the MiniBrute 2 comes with a 48-point CV patch bay. That gives you plenty of freedom when creating the desired sounds. You can also use the two oscillators, arpeggiator, and sequencer that come with the device. You won’t have that much creative freedom because you can’t customize the presets, but at least it comes with USB and MIDI connectivity.
What do we love it for? Thanks to the 48-point CV patch bay, you can create a long list of different sounds without patching anything.
What were we disappointed with? The presets aren’t customizable, which limits your freedom when creating the desired sounds.
This monologue synth might be the best Korg synthesizer keyboard in the market, especially for beginners and fans of mini synths. It features 25 keys that are extremely responsive and capable of sensing velocity. The manufacturer changed the monophonic analog circuitry to ensure better performance.
Users can pick from 100 presets, and 20 of them are free to add your sounds. Don’t hesitate to use the 16-step sequencer that gives you the freedom to create the perfect sound. The Korg Monologue is among the rare synthesizers that support micro-tuning, which means you can create scales that suit your needs. The company added the Drive function for cutting leads and rich bass tones. Although you can connect headphones and speakers to improve it, the product already delivers decent sound quality.
What stands out? You can choose between five different colors, which ensures you will find a design that fits your preference.
What cons did we manage to find? The keys are slim, and that might be inconvenient for users that have large fingers and hands.
If you are looking for a Roland synthesizer keyboard, that means you want a product from a reliable brand. The JUNO-DS unit is a full-sized keyboard that is surprisingly lightweight for its size.
You will love the key responsiveness and other capabilities of this device. For starters, this is a 128-note polyphony synth that features an 8-track pattern sequencer. Although the sequencer is useful, it’s a shame it doesn’t support 16 tracks.
When it comes to presets, you can choose from over 1,200, including drum kits and performance presets. That means you have everything you might need for a gig. If necessary, you can download new waveforms for free and upload them using the expansion slot. The vocoder, arpeggiator, recording, and other options are also there, but you will need eight batteries to run the unit.
Why are we impressed? The product has more than 1,200 presets, including performance presets and 30 drum kits.
What negatives must you be aware of? The 8-track sequencer might not be sufficient for advanced user requirements.
Most keyboard synthesizer reviews will agree that the Arturia MicroFreak is a powerful mini synth packed with fantastic features. Its basic layout has 25 keys, and they come with significant touch sensitivity. It will take some time to get used to that, but the good news is that the tweaking knobs work like a charm.
The MicroFreak is a mixture between an analog and digital synthesizer. You can use hundreds of different presets, and the digital oscillator adds to the unit’s versatility. It features Superwave, Texturer, and other useful modes that can deliver sounds that fit your preference. The real-time option to create sequences is fantastic, and the low latency ensures you can play fast. If you want to add a 25-key synth to your collection, you can’t go wrong with this device.
Why is it special? The tweaking buttons are responsive, and you can naturally customize the tones to your needs.
What are the flaws? The touch sensitivity doesn’t seem to be consistent and can be unpredictable at times.
The Roland JD-XI might be the best keyboard synthesizer under $1000. Allow us to explain our decision – first, you have 37 keys. Although they are smaller than standard, they respond to the touch well, and you will get used to them quickly.
The synth features a crossover between analog and digital sound engines. You can take advantage of analog sounds or import presets of various instruments from the digital library. The four-track pattern sequencer combines drums, analog, and two digital synth parts. Use slicer, bit crusher, and other modes to alter the sound to fit your needs perfectly. Thanks to the gooseneck mic, you can use vocal effects like auto-pitch and vocoder. If you are looking for high-impact beats, you can use pro drum kits.
What are our favorite features? The digital library is full of sounds coming from various instruments, and the copies sound extremely realistic.
What could be better? The analog synthesis is a bit limiting, and it’s not the best choice for learning the details about synthesis. Also, the menu seems to be quite complicated at first.
The Roland GAIA SH-01 is a keyboard synth with 37 full-sized keys. That means you don’t have to bother with slim and mini keys that require additional preciseness. The keys are responsive, and we can say the same for the knobs and buttons on the front panel. You can adjust knobs to the smallest detail, which will ensure all sounds meet your expectation.
It is possible to layer five effects simultaneously, and that included delay, flanger, distortion, and many others. The 64-voice polyphony is impressive and has user memory to save presets. Users will find an arpeggiator, D-beam, and a phrase recorder, but the product misses a vocoder. You can use MIDI and USB connections to save patches to a USB memory stick, which is convenient. The synthesizer is both powerful and portable, which ensures you can easily move it around.
What makes it special? The full-sized keys are perfect for anyone who has previous experience with synthesizers.
What cons did we find? The product could use a vocoder since that would improve the options you have available.
Things to Consider
Picking out a keyboard might be confusing, especially when product descriptions offer a variety of features you don’t understand that well. It is critical not to rush your decision and inform yourself better on the different characteristics of these devices. That is where our detailed buying guide comes into play. We will start by analyzing the crucial synth features but also discuss prices and answer the most common questions asked by the community. Whether you are looking for the best cheap keyboard synthesizer or an advanced unit, our guide will ensure you find the desired unit effortlessly.
How to pick the best keyboard synthesizer?
It is vital not to miss anything when looking for the top keyboard out there. That won’t be an easy task since you have plenty of features to cover when choosing the desired product. Don’t hesitate to check out the factors to consider during the selection process below. We will start with the basics, such as the signal type and the polyphonic capabilities of the unit. From there, we will move to the layout, presets, and other available modes and features. Finally, we will also mention pricing categories for keyboard synthesizers to help you find one that fits your budget.
The first thing you will consider is the signal type in your synthesizer. Now, you have two options here – analog or crossover. Many consider analog to be old school, but you will get the purest and most realistic sound from the device. Make sure to use a high-quality integrated speaker or connect an outdoor sound system to hear the sounds to their full potential.
You can also go for hybrid units, such as the Roland JD-XI. This is not a classic electric keyboard synthesizer, but it utilizes the best of both worlds – analog and digital. You can choose important realistic sounds from the instrument library. A sequencer allows you to layer multiple patterns and combine analog and digital synth sources.
Polyphony means that the device is capable of playing multiple “voices” simultaneously. You could describe these voices as sounds, but the idea is to combine more options. That allows you to experiment with more complex sounds and delivers better performance overall.
You will find that some devices are monophonic, but most of them come with polyphony support. The number of notes supported can vary from as low as 18 to 256 or more. But most requirements should be covered with 128-note polyphony, such as the one present in the Roland JUNO-DS61.
A polyphony works well with a sequencer since it enables using multiple notes per track, and that secures better arrangements.
If you take a look at different keyboards, you might notice that they vary in the number of keys featured on the product. The most basic synthesizer features 25 keys, but you will also find compact-sized variants with 37 keys. Those who want a full-sized synth should go with 61 or more keys, such as the Roland JUNO-DS61.
Apart from the key number, you want to consider their size. Slim keys might be inconvenient if you have big fingers or hands. Additionally, the key responsiveness might vary, but most keyboards are sensitive to velocity.
You will also find different knobs and buttons that serve to add the desired effects and customize sounds to your liking. The knobs should be conveniently placed so that you can adjust everything easily.
Presets could be described as sounds integrated into the keyboard. The preset selection can be editable or non-editable. It is much better if you can adjust it since it delivers more freedom to the user when creating sounds. The option to save your presets will ensure that you can add the desired sounds easily.
You want to consider the number of available presets and editable slots. Depending on the unit, it might have dozens of different presets available.
It is not uncommon for the device to have integrated presets that you cannot change but also empty slots to use for your sounds. That is the case with the Korg microKorg. You want to have at least several editable slots to have more freedom when working with the device.
Effects and modes
A keyboard synthesizer will often come with a variety of modes and effects. The classic effects are present in both analog and digital synths.
Here are the classic options to adjust the sound:
Reverb – it delivers multiple echoes simultaneously, and you can compare the sound delivered to the one you hear in a tunnel or cave.
Chorus – it is a combination of multiple sounds that overlap with a slight tuning variation.
Distortion – it occurs when you adjust the original signal to thicken the sound or make it more harmonic or dissonant. It all depends on your preference.
When it comes to modes, many digital oscillators will feature modes like Texturer and Superwave. That is the case with the Arturia MicroFreak Hybrid Synthesizer, which can be a smart investment if you want multiple modes to use when playing the keyboard.
A sequencer is a critical function because it allows capturing any keys and combinations you play. Once you capture them, it is easy to play and hear them again. That can be perfect for songwriting as it allows a fast way of recording and playing the tunes.
While most keyboard synths come with an integrated sequencer, their performance varies. Here are the critical features to consider:
Tracks – the usual number of tracks supported is from four to 32. The more, the better rule applies, and advanced users will need at least eight tracks.
Notes – the number of notes a device can capture can go up to 256, such as in the Moog Grandmother Synthesizer. If the product supports a high number of notes, you can store a longer sequence.
Do you know what a sound frequency is? Changing it allows you to adjust sound pitches and generate waves to suit your preference. You measure a pitch by using the waveform speed when competing for a cycle in a specific pattern. Experts use seconds to determine spectra. A higher pitch is when the frequency appears more often. You can use an oscillator to determine all that and experiment with various pitches that sound deliver. Many consider it a necessary feature to show their creativity and ensure every tune meets their expectations.
Oscillation is among the first things that beginners should learn when playing keyboards as it paves the way to other adjustments to make when using this device.
As the word suggests, connectivity is the option to connect to other devices. Now, most keyboard synthesizers will allow you to connect headphones or speakers to ensure you have optimal sound reproduction that fits your needs.
But only some devices support connecting other instruments, which gives you more freedom when creating sounds. The experts suggest looking for a unit that supports USB and MIDI for connecting to a PC. Thanks to this, you might be able to save patches on a USB memory stick. While we are talking about connectivity, focus on devices that support the popular operating systems used these days. Those are Windows and Mac, but it is a bonus if the synth can connect to iOS and other systems. Some units, such as the Akai Professional MPK Mini Play, come with specialized software solutions to ensure connectivity is simple.
Dimensions and weight
It would be strange not to consider the dimensions and weight of your keyboard since they directly affect portability. The general rule is that 25-key devices are the smallest, and their dimensions are approximately 12.5 x 7 x 1.8 inches. It varies on the unit, but they should be compact enough to carry them around in your hand.
You will find that 37-key synths are only a bit bigger, and their size can be 20.5 x 10.5 inches. But if you go with a unit with 61 or more keys, be prepared that its size would be 60 x 15 inches approximately.
As for the weight, keyboard synthesizers are not famous as heavy instruments. They usually don’t weigh more than several pounds, but look for exact information in the product description.
The cost of an average keyboard synthesizer is between $300 and $800. But you can get an affordable synth for under $150, and also that premium units often cost more than $1,000.
Here are the main three pricing categories for these devices:
Budget-friendly – the first category covers all products that cost up to $300. You can get real bargain deals, such as the Akai Professional MPK Mini Play, which is priced at less than $150. But the sound quality and performance might be somewhat limiting.
Average – the standard keyboard synth will cost between $300 and $600. The good news is that you can get plenty of bang for the money. Many products even offer an analog/digital crossover at this range, such as the Arturia MicroFreak Hybrid Synthesizer.
Expensive – pricey synthesizers will cost over $600. It depends on the advanced features, but premium devices like the Moog Grandmother Synthesizer can cost more than $1,000. Here, you can expect the sharpest sound quality and most advanced features with these units.
Ultimately, it all depends on your requirements, so make sure to consider which features you expect and how much money you have available in the budget.
If you haven’t played a keyboard synth before, it is vital to identify the best keyboard synthesizer for beginners. As long as you do that, the learning curve shouldn’t be long. These devices are among those that are easy to learn but hard to master. You can rely on instructions and YouTube videos, but don’t hesitate to explore different sounds and effects yourself. You will have fun while discovering endless possibilities of your synthesizer and will become better at playing as time goes. Once you are ready, you can consider switching to a professional full-sized keyboard and start going on gigs and playing in front of an audience.
That depends on the specifics of a particular synthesizer you are using. The general rule is that small-sized keyboards with 25 keys are the lightest and easiest to move around. They don’t take a lot of space in your backpack or trunk, so you have room left for other items. That makes them suitable to carry to gigs and play in front of an audience. While larger keyboards might be bigger in size, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are heavy. If you have the right carrying case, you might feel comfortable taking them with you wherever you go. Those who plan on moving the synthesizer often should ensure the size and weight specifics fit them.
Yes, you absolutely can upload custom presets to your synth using a computer. The key here is to check if your synth supports that connection. Some models feature Windows and OS computability, and it’s also common to find ones with USB ports for your custom presets. Check the manufacturer documentation beforehand to make sure the particular model suits your needs.
If you want a reliable synthesizer, you can’t go wrong with the Korg microKorg. The unit features 128 editable presets and six arpeggio patterns with adjustable length and resolution. You can also use delay and other effects to tailor the sound to your needs, and the 8-band vocoder is in charge of vocal effects.
The Akai Professional MPK Mini Play is an affordable and budget-friendly synthesizer with 25 keys and 128 presets, including ten drum kits. It supports USB and MIDI connections, and it only requires three AA batteries to run. Also, the product is lightweight and easy to carry around.
The Moog Grandmother Synth is another candidate for the best keyboard synthesizer. It is a premium pick that is durable and delivers consistent performance. You can connect instruments and headphones, as well as use USB and MIDI to connect to a PC. The 256-note sequences give you plenty of freedom, and users like the fact the device is entirely analog.