5 Excellent Modular Synthesizers – Find the Best One for Your Taste and Budget!

  • Last updatedLast updated: Oct 04, 2020
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Today, the market is saturated with a myriad of synths. And for the past two decades, manufacturers have been catering for all tastes and budgets. Even when you’re on a tight budget, you can still get a compact synthesizer capable of producing rich and authentic sounds. Spend some more bucks, and you’ll get better quality, more features and flexibility. The best modular synthesizers are great investments which allow you to customize your music to almost unbelievable degree.

We’ve reviewed five excellent modular synthesizers. And after rigorous tests and consultation from professionals, the Behringer Neutron is our best choice. The Neutron is a flexible, useful, fun, and durable synth. The fact that it strikes a balance between quality and affordability makes it the ultimate editor’s choice. We have reviewed four other synths and outlined the features in each. In the end, we hope this review will make your process of choosing a synth seamless.

Top 5 Modular Synthesizers Review 2020

We based our research on essential features like sound quality and the ability to adjust the synth to your own needs. We also checked additional features some synthesizers offer, like a keyboard. Finally, we picked items that will enable you to be in full control to alter and interact with sounds. More so, you can customize functions to suit your music taste. We have given detailed information on every product we reviewed, including features, pros, cons, and a buying guide. This is to help you purchase the best device.

Editor’s Choice

This Eurorack-ready standalone semi-modular synth offers generous modulation capability and a sizable 56-pouint patchbay for you to create unique sounds

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9.8
PrimeScoreTM
?
PrimeScore is a unique scoring system designed by our editors and experts. With the help of it, we can combine all the rankings based on product’s characteristics, statistics, and even feedback about the manufacturer’s customer service into one, all-encompassing score.
Best Portable Synth

A truly portable semi-modular synth comes with everything you need to make your music on the go, from a range of presets to 20 patch cables included

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9.7
PrimeScoreTM
?
PrimeScore is a unique scoring system designed by our editors and experts. With the help of it, we can combine all the rankings based on product’s characteristics, statistics, and even feedback about the manufacturer’s customer service into one, all-encompassing score.
Best Vintage Style

This vintage-voiced synthesizer is capable of both self-contained programming and interconnectivity with its 32-point pachbay

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9.5
PrimeScoreTM
?
PrimeScore is a unique scoring system designed by our editors and experts. With the help of it, we can combine all the rankings based on product’s characteristics, statistics, and even feedback about the manufacturer’s customer service into one, all-encompassing score.
Best for Synthesis

This semi-modular synth sports the wavefolder that generators an enormous range of timbres as well as a great integration potential

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9.4
PrimeScoreTM
?
PrimeScore is a unique scoring system designed by our editors and experts. With the help of it, we can combine all the rankings based on product’s characteristics, statistics, and even feedback about the manufacturer’s customer service into one, all-encompassing score.
Best with Pads

This synth features 16 velocity- and pressure-sensitive pads and the BeatStep-style sequencer, allowing for ample sound design potential

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9.0
PrimeScoreTM
?
PrimeScore is a unique scoring system designed by our editors and experts. With the help of it, we can combine all the rankings based on product’s characteristics, statistics, and even feedback about the manufacturer’s customer service into one, all-encompassing score.
1.

Behringer NeutronEditor’s Choice

Features
  • Polyphony: paraphonic
  • Keyboard: N/A
  • Sequencer: N/A
  • Connectors: (1) 1/4″ In, (1) 1/4″ Out, (1) 1/4″ Out (headphones)

More features: 56-point patchbay (32 in and 24 out); 2 voltage-controlled oscillators; noise oscillator; 36 controls and 7 buttons; USB/Midi for connection to keyboard/sequencer

The Neutron is flexible as well as a high-performing synth. It’s an updated incarnation of its predecessor with all the original features, and it benefits extensively from its semi-modular design. It’s packed with the ’70s and ’80 tracks for classical music. The pure analogue signal path with the legendary VCA, VCF, and VCO circuits brings out your creativity and helps you recreate incredibly rich and original sounds. Voltage Control Oscillators offers five unique waveforms for sculpting authentic tones. The highly-flexible 12 dB state variable filter is the heart of Neutron’s sound. It allows you to bring out your creativity to produce the perfect sound freely.

The synth is endowed with a filter mode switch, which provides three essential settings – high pass, bandpass, and low pass – for a wide range of tonal options. If you love being in control, then Neutron is your ultimate bet. The onboard modulators feature OSC mix, Pulse width knobs, adjustable tune, and shape. The LFO is the set modulation source for VCF. For those who love numbers, Behringer Neutron comes with seven switches and 36 knobs, laid intuitively for enthralling music creation.

Created to handle severities of life in the studio and on the road, the device can get transferred into a standard Eurorack 80HP- effortlessly. When it comes to unleashing your imagination, Neutron got you covered. It gives your creativity and imagination a voice. Despite all these useful features, the synth comes at an affordable price to suit your budget.

Pros
  • Ideal for exploring
  • Value for money
  • An extremely versatile analog synth with great connectivity
  • Eurorack ready
Cons
  • Easy to saturate the filter section
2.

Korg Volca ModularBest Portable Synth

Features
  • Polyphony: monophonic
  • Keyboard: multi-touch step key
  • Sequencer: 16 steps and patterns
  • Connectors: 1/8″ stereo mini-jack; Sync In and Sync Out 1/8″ monaural mini jacks; CV-IN jack

More features: digital effects; battery-powered; up to 10-hour battery life; 20 patch cables included

If you like challenging your creativity, then Korg is the right gadget to play with. The fully-patchable, analogue synthesizer comes in a compact and portable frame. Like many other instruments in the market, Volca Modular is powered by AA batteries or an optional DC adapter. With the Volca Modular, West Coast influence starts in the oscillator section. The two rotaries modulate the relationship between the two VCOs. Adding value to your purchase, the instrument is endowed with necessary accessories and everything you need come in one box.

A semi-conductor analogue synthesizer makes the modular synthesis easily accessible and understandable. For an amateur willing to learn, this can be a perfect item. Two essential Functions offer modulation. The first function is the attack-hold-release envelope generator for controlling Attack and Release time. Two-stage rise-fall is the second envelope designed with a shape control for manipulating the ratio of attack to decay time. Both functions have inverted and positive outputs, end trigger outputs and gate inputs, as well as modulation inputs for control.

Control-wise, Volca Modular is packed with patchable outputs from a separate CV input, as well as the sequence. The input port is a stereo 3.5mm jack port, to allow the independent transfer of signals.

Pros
  • Compact and light frame for portability
  • Experimental, creative sequencing tools
  • Reasonably priced
  • Endless fun to patch
Cons
  • A bit complex for amateurs
  • Might be less intuitive
3.

Moog Mother-32Best Vintage Style

Features
  • Polyphony: monophonic
  • Keyboard: 13-button, 1-octave
  • Sequencer: 32 steps, 64 sequences
  • Connectors: (1) 1/4″ TRS (Headphone/Audio Out); (5) 1/8″ TS out; (3) 1/8″ In

More features: 32-point patchbay; 2-input voltage-controlled mixer; vintage-style Moog oscillator

With several, well-appointed software and hardware choices out there, Moog still stands out. The semi-modular synthesizer is a distinctive analogue instrument designed to add raw analog sound and sequencing. This expansive tool is handcrafted in NC, Asheville, and it provides musicians with a plethora of creative tools to inspire new music. Fortified with MIDI connectivity, sequencer, and a set of potent switches and knobs, Moog give users the taste of esthetic music. The instrument is delivered with a universal switching plug that can work with any 100–240V AC source.  You don’t require cables for inspired music creating or exploration. When you’re ready to unleash your imagination, enter the vast sonic realms and you’re good to go. 32-note step sequencer allows you to craft ideas and perform in two sequencer modes for live performance.

We can honestly say the sound is rich, buzzy, and incredibly satisfying. For additional sound source, you can use the LFO. The VCF upholds the fine, aesthetic sonic tradition. With the patchbay on the right-hand side of the instrument, no any tangle of cables will interfere with any kind of twerking going on. However, we would suggest having a longer leads to maximize patching in the multi-rack.

Moog is exponentially expansive. By combining several Moogs, you’ll unlock realms of imagination, creativity, and sound. Use Eurorack integration to push your imagination farther.

Pros
  • Fun and excellent sound semi-modular
  • Superior sound
  • The best standalone synth
  • Superb built quality
  • Good value
Cons
  • A bit bulky
4.

Pittsburgh Modular Microvolt 3900Best for Synthesis

Features
  • Polyphony: monophonic
  • Keyboard: N/A
  • Sequencer: 16 steps
  • Connectors: 1/8” stereo midi in; mono 1/8” synthesizer out; dual mono 1/8” headphone out

More features: dynamic VCA technology; external preamp; multi-tasking function generator; 39-point patchbay; 128-note MIDI to CV converter; Sawtooth Core Oscillator

The Pittsburg 3900 is a modern, semi-modular that has taken a new approach with a host of inspirational features. With stabilized temperature and dual VCA oscillator core, the instrument’s audio engine can feed a set of waveshapers from harmonic shaping. Sonically, this creates a fluid filter adding energy and depth to the oscillator. As a result, the synth will scream as much as you want. The new dynamic VCA technology is the heart of Pittsburg 3900’s sound. A typical VCA functions in two dimensions. However, the dynamic VCA technology of Pittsburg 3900 has an additional third dimension. When VCA technology closes, the harmonics are removed and restored when it opens. It’s designed also allows the synth to get plucked, opening a myriad of musical possibilities.

The instrument is patched internally, meaning it doesn’t need patch cables to dial a variety of sounds. It features a 39-point Eurorack for complete signal routing control. A four-stage envelope generator, broad LFO, multi-tasking function generator, and sequencer helps in creating dynamic sounds. Etched around the filter circuit, the unique binary filters utilize a smooth 2 pole to create a smooth frequency.

The output section utilizes a 30x symmetrical overdrive circuit to sculpt the sound. It results in high quality, harmonic bliss. The versatile, periodic control voltage generator can be used in various ways such as a voltage-controlled oscillator or decay-attack envelope generator.

Pros
  • Creative design
  • Harmonically rich sine wave
  • Variable overdrive on output
  • Highly tuned ADSR envelope generator
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Heavy
5.

Arturia MINIBRUTE 2SBest with Pads

Features
  • Polyphony: monophonic
  • Keyboard: pressure and velocity-sensitive pads
  • Sequencer: 64-step
  • Connectors: 1/4” mono jack (audio); 1/4” TRS jack (headphones)

More features: 48-point patchbay; 16 encoders; 2 analog VCO’s; 16 sensitive pads

Closing the list of the best modular synthesizer is this ergonomically designed semi-modular. It delivers massive and rich sound which you can easily add to the synth setup. You also don’t need to patch it to generate massive sounds. The two conventional LFOs offer six waveforms, optional key-triggering and frequency ranger of about 0.05–100Hz. In addition to the gate/trigger switch, there is a loop switch that produces waveshapers ranging from release to the attack.

There is an arpeggiator, which offers eight modes- including repeating and random modes. Create a multi-octave arpeggio by touching an existing pattern. This helps in selecting a new octave, as well as adding notes.  The included sequencer enables you to create, as well as to store monophonic sequences. Real-time recording is seamless. Just press “Record and Play: simultaneously and play from the keyboard.

Given its revised design, we found the MiniBrute 2S flexible and speedy, thanks to the little quirks such as an updated shift button. The semi-modular architecture enhances the use of the external modules. During our research, we discovered the instrument is packed with Cookbook, which offers a plethora of examples ranging from single-oscillator leads to more sophisticated dual-oscillator sounds.

Pros
  • Great value
  • The racks are attractive
  • Enhanced velocity sensitivity offers high performance
Cons
  • The arpeggiator is limited to a single octave

Buying Guide

Today, the market experiences a myriad of synths ranging from brands, features, and prices. Therefore, getting what you need can be unnerving. Especially if you don’t have a clue on what to look for. Getting the best modular synthesizer requires lot’s research and comparison. Fortunately, we have done the hard part for you. This buying guide will answer your questions about synths and most essential to consider.

Modular vs semi-modular: Is there a difference?

Over the years, it has been confusion regarding the difference between modular and semi-modular. Some people confuse a standalone with semi-modular synthesizers. To make it understandable, we have defined both synthesizers.

A semi-modular synthesizer is designed with a hard-wired signal path, which can get disrupted through patching. On the other hand, fully modular synths require patching. For instance, Moog-Mother-32 is a semi-modular instrument. Wiring with semi-modular synthesizer varies in realty. The Moog Mother-32 has a feature that allows it to get hooked directly into the system.

Semi-modular is experimental, provoking your creativity and giving your imagination a voice. More so, they can be ideal for those learning syntheses.

On the other hand, modular synthesizers are into varieties. The modular systems are etched with cabinets or cases where you can place panels or modules. The other category is the standalone modules, which are equipped with necessary components for massive voice. They can also boost portability.

Whichever modular you choose, it’s often about your personal preference, needs, and budget.

Basic structure

Synths are the most advanced musical instruments you can buy. They might be small but with enormous functionality. In fact, if you can play a synthesizer, then you’re capable of playing any instruments. They have widely advanced since the 1970s.

A synthesizer is an electronic music instrument or keyboard which can create or copy sounds. To synthesize means making something new, probably by combining a myriad of pieces. Then we can describe a synthesizer as an electronic device for creating unique and authentic sounds by piecing the old ones.

When two musical gadgets play the same note, and at the same volume, they will still sound completely different. This is because they don’t produce the same sound waves. The waves have shapes which give a different meaning. Wave shapes differ due to how the instrument pumps energy or how it vibrates.

5 Excellent Modular Synthesizers – Find the Best One for Your Taste and Budget!The modular synth features to consider before making a purchase

Buying a modular synth is a substantial financial investment. Hence, you need to evaluate vital features to walk home with a reliable, durable, and highly functional musical instrument. Below, we have outlined essential elements to consider.

Let’s have a look.

Monophonic or paraphonic?

Paraphonic feature means that the instrument can play several independent sound lines simultaneously. These instruments such as the Behringer Neutron use octave divider technology. On the other hand, monophonic instruments can only produce one note at a time. As a result, monophonic are smaller and cheaper compared to paraphonic.

Connectivity

Due to technology advancement, synthesizers are today designed ready for connection. Most of them are more than authentic-sounding synthesizers. A great instrument can work with iOS applications and on PC and Mac.

A MIDI and USB audio compliant device will allow you to record and playback stereo audio on your iOS device or on your PC. This is great for listening to your mixes and tunes via headphone or speakers.

Some devices are fitted with built-in remote control templates to interact seamlessly with the MIDI interface. For this, recording, editing, playing, and mixing bring an enthralling experience.

Keyboard

Synthesizer keyboards are the most distinctive features in a synth. The keyboard is programmed to generate massive and rich sounds. they make music production an effortless, dynamic experience. The sounds produced can manipulate your liking, including pulse, tone, and velocity.

A keyboard will also give you a tactile piano experience. It’s essential to ensure the keyboard can allow you to handle various passages you’ll record and play.

The more the units a keyboard can accommodate, the higher the sequencing and recording capabilities.

When it comes to choosing a keyboard, trigger pads play a vital role. This is if you want to quick access to samples and notes. Some of these devices incorporate a sampler, meaning you can import any given digitized sound.

Sequencer

A sequencer enables you to program a combination of rhythms, effects, notes, and articulations. By designing your patterns, loops and melodies, you’ll be able to experiment with dynamics and mixing with other musical instruments. Thus, making sequencers ideal for exploring new sounds and expanding your music setup.

However, sequencers come in a variety of forms. Software sequencers offer flexibility in terms of displays and parameters. They often have backlit knobs and buttons but displayed on a screen. Hardware sequencers are presented similarly but arranged in time signature groups of 2, 4, 8, and so on. You connect a sequencer to synth via MIDI, CV, or USB.

Patchbay

A patchbay makes it easy to patch into several points of the synthesizer. In simple terms, it’s a gadget that connects all gears in the recording space. Patchbays are available in varying types and amounts of connections. Normally, a recording studio consists of several rooms, and it would be daunting to operate individual cables. Therefore, by using a wall or snake mounted input panel, the mic lines will be together in a control room, connected directly to the patch bay.

5 Excellent Modular Synthesizers – Find the Best One for Your Taste and Budget!Power supply

Every modular synthesizer requires a stable power supply and distribution. It helps in lowering PSU noises, reduces noise floor, and eliminates crosstalk/bleed. A good power supply also boosts reliability and life. And since there are several power supplies systems, it’s up to you to choose what you need and the hardware required. If you have a medium or large system with the ability for future growth, then you must select good power and distribution.

Prices

Price is a core determinant when it comes to modular synthesizers. Typically, these musical instruments are associated with high prices. Fortunately, there are cheap devices which offer quality functionality. But if you want more useful features, durability, and more flexibility, then spend more bucks. However, ensure you select a device that meets your needs and fit your budget.

FAQ

A Eurorack is a specific type of synthesizer based on modules that share the same height but differ in widths measured in Horizontal Pitch. It allows you to acquire racks, modules, and cases from various manufacturers. Eurorack was introduced by a German brand Doepfer in 1996. And more than two decades later, it has outgrown other modular synth systems in the market.

In the Eurorack system modulation and sound, patching is done using a mono or stereo 3.5mm jack. The power delivery is done via a connector. Eurorack modules are extensively based on analog electronics; hence the -12/+12V rails.

Definitely, yes! The beauty of semi-modular synths is the flexibility nature they offer. It’s a paradise of DIY where you can customize your needs. Create new circuits and twist knobs to get personalized tunes.

The DIY builds enable musicians to find an interesting way of incorporating modular into their work. Hence, you can rebuild your semi-modular synth to suit your needs.

Our Verdict

Getting the best modular synthesizer can be unnerving. But we believe this review will significantly help you in your search. Our first choice is Behringer Neutron synth. If features 56-point patchbay and MIDI/USB for a reliable connection to the keyboard. This affordable, paraphonic semi-modular synth can be etched in a Eurorack case for easy integration with a modular setup.

The second choice is Korg Volca Modular which will make you immerse in the experimental ethos. It’s the most portable synth and offers endless fun. Being a semi-modular synth, you can rebuild it and create your tunes.

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