6 Great Synths Under $1000 – Best Sound and Functionality for the Price!

  • Last updatedLast updated: Jul 12, 2020
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A synth can be a fantastic way to create your own unique sound. Whether you’re already in a band or just want to learn to play, choosing the right instrument is crucial.

Our research team has evaluated 26 synths to discover the best instruments on the market. We’ve created a list of picks and our editor’s choice, the Novation MiniNova has a compact, portable form factor that packs a real musical punch. We’ve also ranked other models at different price points to ensure a top pick for everyone.

Top 6 Synths Under $1000 Review 2020

Our team has dedicated hours to finding the best synth under $1000. First and foremost, we examined both analog and digital models to see if you really can hear the difference in sound. We’ve also looked at the features that impact overall performance including the keyboard, sequencers, connectivity, effects and polyphony. We’ve explored how easy the layout and menus are and whether the model has intuitive programming. After all, there is no point in having an instrument with lots of functions, if it takes hours of menu diving to change the settings. We’ve presented our findings as an overview table with detailed product reviews. However, we’ve also included a buying guide to assist you in making your final purchase decision.

Editor’s Choice

A USB-powered analog modelling synthesizer featuring 37 mini-keys with velocity, 18-voice polyphony, a fully editable Nova-class engine, and Vocoder with unique VocalTune.

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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.
Premium Pick

A digital synthesizer featuring 8-voice polyphony, FM synthesis engine, OLED color display and an easy-to-navigate menu.

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9.6
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 Value

An analog monophonic synthesizer featuring 25 velocity-sensitive mini-keys, 3-waveform oscillators, Steiner-Parker filter, a standard ADSR envelope and 64-step sequencer.

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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 Performance Synth Under $1000

An analog synthesizer featuring 37 velocity-sensitive slim keys, 4-voice polyphony, automatable 16-step polyphonic note and motion sequencer.

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9.3
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 Hardware Synth Under $1000

An analog modeling synthesizer featuring 37 velocity-sensitive mini keys, 4-voice polyphony, five oscillators per voice and an integrated “phrase looper”.

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9.1
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 Mono Synth Under $1000

An analog monophonic synthesizer featuring 25 keys with synth-action and aftertouch, pattern-based step sequencer, two oscillators per voice, sub-oscillator and a separate filter overdrive.

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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.
Features
  • Keyboard: 37 mini-keys with velocity
  • Polyphony: 18 voices
  • Sequencer: n/a
  • Oscillators: three per patch
  • Effects: Distortion, Compressor, Chorus/Phase, Delay, Reverb, Gator, EQ
  • MIDI I/O: In/Out
  • Connectivity: XLR dynamic mic, ¼” jack input, two ¼” jack headphone; sustain pedal, 12V power input, USB B 2.0

If you’re in the market for a smaller synthesizer this may be the best keyboard synth under 1000 on our list. The Novation MiniNova Analog Modeling Synthesizer was intended to be Novations answer to the incredibly popular Korg MicroKORG. However, Novation went much further and created a hugely flexible synthesizer in a compact and highly portable package. If you can handle playing the slimmer keys the MiniNova offers a wonderful playing experience with an uncluttered interface. The filter cut-off knob is larger and ready to tweak and preset scenes can be allocated to rubber backlit buttons.

This is the smaller sibling to the recently discontinued Novation Ultranova, but the MiniNova does not have an onboard audio interface. What you get is a 3 octave mini keyboard that can be powered from the USB port or the included power supply. The style is a futuristic blue color with backlit pitch and mod wheels for playing in dark clubs. The sound patches are easy to find, the genre based interface is simple to navigate and there’s space for 256 onboard sounds. Creating patches can involve a little menu diving, but if you have a computer nearby the free editor software makes the process simple.

Pros
  • Fantastic sound design potential
  • The free sound editor makes sound design simple and fun
  • Excellent portable form factor
Cons
  • Editing patches from the front matrix panel can be a chore for some users.
  • This is a mono-timbral synthesizer.
Features
  • Keyboard:no
  • Polyphony: 8 voices
  • Sequencer: Four synth tracks and four MIDI tracks
  • Oscillators: no
  • Effects: Chorus, Delay, Reverb, Overdrive
  • MIDI I/O: In/Out/Thru
  • Connectivity: Two 1/4-inch balanced audio outs, two 1/4-inch audio inputs, headphones, USB

The Elektron Digitone 8-voice Digital Synth is our premium pick because of its unparalleled flexibility for sound design, the inspirational sequencer and the outstanding build quality. Elektron is a Swedish manufacturer, they are well regarded for their intuitive designs and attention to detail. The Digitone is no exception, this is a digital synthesizer that uses a four-part Frequency Modulation or FM synthesis engine. This is the sound module variant, a recently released keyboard version is now available, but that is considerably more expensive. So, if you want to use this Digitone model it’s likely that you will need a midi keyboard at some point.

In the past, FM synthesis was only the province of dedicated synth nerds with degrees in mathematics. Many older FM synths such as the Yamaha DX-7 had powerful sound engines that were hard to program. But, the Digitone solves all of these problems with a crisp OLED color display and an easy to navigate menu with plenty of control. This is the best polyphonic synth under 1000 on our list because it can create a huge palette of sounds. With clever programming this machine can sound like a vintage analog synth, a piano, bells, drums and anything else you can imagine.

Pros
  • A hugely flexible FM sound engine that’s easy to program.
  • Users enjoy the powerful on-board sequencer.
  • Plenty of connections and a high speed “Overbridge” for computers
Cons
  • No keyboard on this particular sound module.
  • The sequencer takes a little time to learn.
Features
  • Keyboard: 25 velocity-sensitive mini keys
  • Polyphony: monophonic
  • Sequencer: 64 steps
  • Oscillators: ‘Overtone’ sub oscillator
  • Effects: Ultrasaw, Metalizer, Brute FactorTM
  • MIDI I/O: In/Out
  • Connectivity: MIDI/USB, Pitch, Filter, sub-harmonics, pulse width, Metalizer, saw animator inputs; Audio In; pitch, envelope, LFO outputs; 1/4” audio and 1/8” headphone output

The Arturia MicroBrute Analog Synthesizer – Creation Edition may be the best analog synth under 1000 for users that have a smaller studio or need a compact instrument for gigs. This tiny powerhouse brings together a single multi-wave VCO that allows you to mix waveforms, a useful step sequencer, a Steiner-Parker analog filter and the Brute Factor knob to add some grit and distortion to your patches. A small modular matrix is available to introduce more modulation and to make connections with other gear that uses Eurorack compatible CV.

This is a monophonic synthesizer with a simple interface but don’t let this fool you. The signal patch if fully analog, the waves can be shaped and the entire patch can be modulated to create rhythm and interest. This is all provided in a tiny form factor, there are 24 keys which are very playable and it can be carried to a gig in a backpack. All of this functionality is available at an extremely affordable price and this is a fantastic entry point for producers that have never owned a real analog synth.

Pros
  • Users like flexibility of mixing 3 waveforms and shaping them to create new tones.
  • The step sequencer is easy to use and it’s a fun way to come up with new ideas.
  • The modulation matrix is a great entry point into the world of modular synthesis.
  • This is a fantastic value proposition.
Cons
  • As a fully analog synthesizer there is no on-board storage.
4.

Korg Minilogue 4-Voice Polyphonic Analog SynthBest Performance Synth Under $1000

Features
  • Keyboard: 37 velocity-sensitive slim keys
  • Polyphony: 4 voices
  • Sequencer: 16 steps
  • Oscillators: two per voice
  • Effects: Pitch EG, Delay, Sync, Cutoff, Detune, Portamento
  • MIDI I/O: In/Out
  • Connectivity: Headphones, Audio In, Sync In, Sync Out, USB Type B

The Korg Minilogue 4-Voice Polyphonic Analog Synth may be the best performance synth under 1000 on our list. This is a fully analogue synth, it has four note polyphony and it has digital storage to switch patches quickly in the studio or on stage. There is a handy 16 step sequencer to play complex and rhythmic parts and an arpeggiator mode with side chaining. The patches are easy to edit and the most important functions have a dedicated button or knob to reduce menu diving. This instrument is lightweight, but well-built and the silver metal chassis looks amazing.

The Minilogue has a great selection of waveforms to choose from, a small OLED screen provides plenty of feedback and as you play it displays a waveform of each note like a tiny oscilloscope. The waveforms can be shaped to create more complex shapes that really expand the sound palette. The movements of the knobs can be recorded into a motion sequence to create movement making this a great tool for sound design. The minilogue has a 100% analog signal path with digital control and storage for 200 patches and sequences.

Pros
  • Users like the sound design possibilities and the intuitive sequencer.
  • The OLED display is a great way to see the sound as you play.
Cons
  • Some users found the single LFO limiting but being able to record into a motion sequence is a handy workaround.
5.

Yamaha REFACE CS Portable Analog Modeling SynthesizerBest Hardware Synth Under $1000

Features
  • Keyboard: 37 velocity-sensitive mini keys
  • Polyphony: 8 voices
  • Sequencer: n/a
  • Oscillators: five per voice
  • Effects: Distortion, VCM Chorus/Flanger, VCM Phaser, Delay, Off
  • MIDI I/O: In/Out
  • Connectivity: DC IN jack, foot controller, R/L/MONO jacks, headphones jack, AUX IN jack, USB

The Yamaha REFACE CS Portable Analog Modeling Synthesizer may be the best hardware synth under 1000 on our list. This synthesizer has a virtual analog sound engine, 8 notes of polyphony, 37 mini keys and a built-in effects section. With this instrument Yamaha have sought inspiration from previous releases such as the underrated AN1x and the CS1x. However, unlike those other well regarded 90s models the REFACE CS has a smaller form factor and it’s easier to program. The sound can be dialled in using the sliders and there are plenty of waveforms to choose from. Virtual analog fans will love the supersaw sawtooth sounds and the pulse width modulation provides plenty of depth.

Each of the oscillators has three sliders, they are: Type, Texture and Mod, these are adjusted to alter the sound and balancing these sliders dials in the tone. Despite being a virtual analog synth the REFACE CS has an FM oscillator making it a more flexible sound design tool than many other synths in the same price range. The sounds are routed through a low pass pass filter section and either a chorus/flanger, distortion or phaser/delay effect.

Pros
  • Users report that the REFACE CS is versatile and fun to play.
  • The sound engine is deeper than you might think from the simple interface.
  • An integrated “phrase looper” allows the player to jam and come up with new ideas.
Cons
  • Only one of the effects can be used at once.
  • Some users don’t like the minikeys.
6.

Novation Bass Station II Analog Mono-SynthBest Mono Synth Under $1000

Features
  • Keyboard: 25 keys with synth-action and aftertouch
  • Polyphony: monophonic
  • Sequencer: up to four sequences, 32 preset rhythms
  • Oscillators: two per voice + sub oscillator
  • Effects: Distortion, Oscillator filter mod amount
  • MIDI I/O: In/Out
  • Connectivity: MIDI/USB, mono and headphone output, external input, Sustain pedal input, DC power input

The Novation Bass Station II Analog Mono-Synth is the best mono synth under 1000 on our list. This is an updated version of the classic Bass Station keyboard and rack synth from the early 90s. This is a 25 key synth, the case is plastic but the base unit is metal and it feels very sturdy with no wobble in the knobs and sliders. The name may suggest that this synth is only suitable for bass sounds but the name is misleading. The Bass Station II can create screaming leads, sound FX and drum sounds easily. The waveforms are thick and there are two analog filter to choose from, an aggressive 4 pole 24dB low pass filter and a classic “Acid” diode filter for TB-303 fans.

The Bass Station II has a simple sequencer and four sequences can be stored. There is an arpeggiator section that’s fun to play with and slots for 64 preset patches and 64 patches of your own creation. The changes between patches and the envelopes are rapid, if you have a drum pattern recorded in your DAW you can assign a different MIDI channel to different patches to create an analog drum machine if two notes are not triggered at the same time. Novation recently updated the OS for the Bass Station with a new feature designed by Aphex Twin where a different sound can be stored on each key. The Bass Station II is an excellent analog synthesizer that’s capable of creating extremely complex patches that sound great.

Pros
  • Users like the choice of two different analog filters.
  • There are plenty of modulation options to create complex patches.
  • The sub oscillator adds a great deal of weight to the bottom end for monstrous bass sounds.
Cons
  • Users like the choice of two different analog filters.
  • There are plenty of modulation options to create complex patches.
  • The sub oscillator adds a great deal of weight to the bottom end for monstrous bass sounds.

Buying Guide

Whether you’re looking to learn to play or want to gig, the right synth can make all the difference to your unique sound. Unfortunately, with so many models on the market, it can be difficult to choose the right one for you. Here we’ve supplied a buying guide with the things to consider, features to look for and answers to common questions to help you to make your final purchase decision.

What to expect from a synthesizer under $1000

In the not too distant past, buying a synthesizer for under $1000 didn’t get the purchaser much in the way of features. We currently live in an age when you can get far more for your money in terms of sound and functionality. When you think about the best vintage synth under $1000 you will still struggle to buy something great on the second-hand market. However, you can purchase any of the synthesizers on our list for far less and you will have great sounds and lots of functionality.

6 Great Synths Under $1000 - Best Sound and Functionality for the Price!

Features to consider when choosing a synthesizer

With so many synths on the market, it can be a little overwhelming to choose the right one for your requirements. So, here we’ll explore the features you should consider to narrow down the options and find the best instrument for you.

Analog vs. digital

When you decide to take the plunge and buy your first hardware synthesizer, the first choice that you need to make is do you want and analog or digital synth? The core of this choice is the types of sounds that you want to make.

Broadly speaking digital synths have a broader range of tones they can make but analog synths sound warmer.
Many people cannot tell the difference between the two, but it does exist and the final choice has to come down to the buyer’s personal preferences. With clever programming a digital model such as the Elektron Digitone 8-voice Digital Synth can sound warm and analog. But a synth with a 100% pure analog signal path such as a Novation Bass Station II Analog Mono-Synth will sound great but more limiting in terms of sound design.

Keyboard

Some people want a synthesizer with a full keyboard to play the instrument like a piano. These types of instruments are typically more expensive than $1000 and if you want to spend less, it’s likely that you need to make some compromises. The other consideration is the size of the keys, some of the models in the sub $1000 price range use slimmer or mini keys which are harder to play until you get used to them. These types of keybeds make the instrument smaller, more portable and help reduce the price. If you want to play chords a keyboard with more keys such as the Novation MiniNova Analog Modeling Synthesizer will suit the bill.

Polyphony

Polyphony is the number of notes that can be played at the same time and this is necessary if you want to play chords. A monophonic keyboard such as the Novation Bass Station II Analog Mono-Synth can only play a single note at once. Analog polyphonic synths require more engineering and an 8-voice instrument could cost a lot more than a $1000. If you want a polyphonic analog synth in the sub $1000 range, it’s likely that you will need to compromise with a lower polyphony count. The Korg Minilogue 4-Voice Polyphonic Analog Synth is a prime example, it has a 100% analog signal path with digital patch storage but the tradeoff is that you can only play 4 notes at once. If you want the best digital synth under 1000 with 8-voice polyphony there are more choices available. The best example on our list is the Yamaha REFACE CS Portable Analog Modeling Synthesizer which have 8-voice polyphony paired with an authentic sounding virtual analog synth engine.

6 Great Synths Under $1000 - Best Sound and Functionality for the Price!

Sequencer

Most modern synthesizers have some sort of sequencer or programmable sequencer on board. These functions are great for live performances and they can spark many creative ideas in the studio. On some instruments such as the Elektron Digitone 8-voice Digital Synth the sequencer is an integral part of the instrument. That being said, unless you have an extensive sequencer on an instrument such as the Novation Bass Station II Analog Mono-Synth it’s more of an added extra. Many pros sequence their hardware synthesizers from a dedicated sequencer or via their DAW. Every buyer needs to evaluate their needs, if you tend to create your patterns on software these can be used to control your hardware if you choose the same MIDI channel. If you don’t want to use a computer on stage then you may need a synth that has more extensive sequencing capabilities.

Oscillator

The oscillators are the building block of any sound, having more than oscillator allows the user to combine them in interesting ways to create new tones.
Some synthesizers such as the Arturia MicroBrute Analog Synthesizer – Creation Edition only have a single oscillator but different waves can be cleverly combined to create new sounds. Other synths with FM sound engines use an oscillator (known as operator in this case) to alter the behavior of other oscillators and the relationship between them creates the tone. An oscillator can be set to different pitches that determine the frequency and pressing the key triggers the sound. Thicker sounds can be created by using a pair of oscillators with one set at a pitch one or two octave below the other. Different oscillator waveforms can also be combined to create a wide variety of sounds. Understanding how the oscillators on your synthesizer work and how they affect each other is one of the key skills that every synthesist needs to understand.

Effects

Built-in effects are nice to have; they can really change the sound of any synthesizer but generally speaking they are not as good as a dedicated effects unit. The effects included with most modern synthesizers are usable but a pro would use plugins, guitar pedals or rack effects units to get a more polished sound. Think of built-in effects as an added extra, great for ideas and practice but you probably need other equipment if effects are important to your sound.

Filters

The filters on a synthesizer are one of the last stages before the output and they can really affect the sound characteristics. An analog filter is a real circuit that can add a great deal of warmth and a digitally modelled filter can also sound great if it’s well designed. Some synthesizers have multiple filters to choose from and each of them can change the tone in a dramatic way. Generally speaking, you need a filter with multiple options for a broader sound palette. Synthesiser nerds will argue the merits of filter X vs filter Y all day long on forums and different filter makes and types can sound very different. But, to keep things simple every synth on our list have filters that sound very musical and they are fun to experiment with.

6 Great Synths Under $1000 - Best Sound and Functionality for the Price!

MIDI input/output

Many synthesizers have the large 5 pin MIDI plugs on the rear of the instrument and some also have a USB connection that can also be used to transmit MIDI notes and messages from a computer. MIDI is needed to keep all of the instruments working at the same tempo and if you have a lot of hardware more MIDI ports or a MIDI through port will be very helpful.

Connectivity

Most modern synthesizers have a USB port for MIDI (as shown above) and to connect to an editor to store patches or sequences. In a modern studio the computer is the central production hub where most of the project management takes place. In terms of audio connections, the standard ¼” audio jack is still the standard with a single output for a monosynth and a pair of stereo outputs for a polyphonic synth. Some synthesizers also have a ¼” audio input jack which allows the user to process other sound source through the synthesizer. So, if you ever wondered what your guitar sounds like through a filter this is a great option to have.

Size and weight

Every synthesizer on our list is portable and easy to transport to the studio or a gig. If you plan on playing live a more compact keyboard with 49 keys or less is a solid choice. A soft gig bag is a cheaper way to transport your synthesizer but it’s a better idea to invest in a hard case to protect your investment.

FAQ

Synthesizers generate sounds, while keyboards are the devices with black and white keys. Some models of synthesizer incorporate a keyboard, but if you buy a keyboard without a synth, it is considered a controller keyboard and will not produce sounds unless plugged into another device.

This is a matter of personal preference and your individual music goals. However, for complete beginners, it is best to opt for a simple layout and easy to navigate menus, so you can explore the full functionality of the instrument.

Our Verdict

In conclusion, we’ve discovered some fantastic synths under $1000. From the fully analog Korg Minilogue that offers four voice polyphony and intuitive sequencer to the Arturia Microbrute that is not only fantastic value, but provides the flexibility to mix waveforms and shape new tones.

However, the stand out as the best synth under $1000 has to be our editor’s pick, the Novation MiniNova. This fantastic model is supplied with a free sound editor and has superb sound design potential. Despite its compact package, the MiniNova has easy to find sound patches and space for 256 onboard sounds, making it ideal for gigging or jamming at home.

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