Best Keyboard Synthesizers of 2020 – Buyer’s Guide

If you’re into sci-fi movies or any kind of electronic music, you’ve probably memorized many of the authentic sounds. The chances that they were recorded with a keyboard synthesizer is really high. So whether you’re up to Blade Runner, Michael Jackson or Depeche Mode, keyboard synthesizer made them roll.

Comparison Chart of the Best Keyboard Synthesizers

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • Four track pattern and rhythm sequencer
  • Affordable hybrid digital-analog synthesizer
  • Microphone input for vocoder and auto-tune singing
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  • 6 voice true analog synthesizer
  • Four simultaneous effect processors
  • Full on board sound parameter control
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  • Best for the Money
  • Comes with an impressive digital oscillator
  • Allows real-time sequence creation
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  • Best Keyboard Synthesizer for Beginners
  • Includes unique voice mode settings
  • Offers different rhythm and pattern variations
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  • Best Mini Synthesizer Keyboard
  • Equipped with a Nova sound engine
  • Free soundpacks are downloadable
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  • Comes with a useful built-in vocoder
  • Compact design allows for convenient transportation
  • Has space to connect a microphone
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What is a Keyboard Synthesizer?

A keyboard synthesizer is a keyboard device that generates sound by combining at least two or more oscillators and filters. Oscillators are the base unit of synth sound while filters add up a unique flavor and define overall synthesizer sound character. So, combining a couple of oscillators and passing through the filter is basically what makes a synthesizer sound. 

It’s used not just for electronic music production, however. Many cinematic sound effects as well, especially excelling at creating artificial and “new” sounds, like Terminator 2 main theme. Remember that spooky old horror movie sound? Yep. That synthesizer is called the Theremin.

Roland JD-XI 37-Key Analog

How to Choose a Keyboard Synthesizer

The synth world has a very large playground. You can get lost between the models easily and here are some rough guidelines:

Vintage or Futuristic Sound?

What kind of sounds are you interested in? Some are capable of bringing the warm analog vibe, like old synthesizers, while others provide cold mechanic sounds that you may find in bands such as Rammstein and Laibach.

Mono or Poly

Mono means you’re able to play one note at the time. Poly allows you to play more. So, if you’re looking for a bass and lead sounds only, go for mono as these synths trade their polyphony for a lower price while leaving the sound features uncompromised.

Waveforms

How deep do you want to go with synthesis? If you’re a beginner you will find basic sine, saw, square, triangle oscillators more than enough. But there are more advanced oscillators out there, combining the basic ones or mixing them with different sources to create something authentic and completely new.

Full Control or Menu Diving

Some synthesizers are made in an old-fashioned way where every controller has a dedicated function. Others go for cost-effective solutions and create a digital menu with options displayed on LCD or a button matrix.

Quick Take: 
Top 3 Picks

Review of the Best Keyboard Synthesizers 

We hope we cleared out at least some of the concerns you had before. So, lets go on and check the models we have available:

Roland JD-XI 37-Key Interactive Analog/Digital Crossover Synthesizer, Black

PROS

  • Four track pattern and rhythm sequencer
  • USB cable provides both audio in and MIDI connection
  • Affordable hybrid synthesizer equipped with 37 mini keys
  • Comes with additional mono analog signal and analog filter
  • Comes with gooseneck microphone for vocoder and auto-tune effects

CONS

  • Mini keys might not be for everyone
  • USB port could provide power supply

What Recent Buyers Report

They are in love with how this Roland synth sounds. Drum sounds provided are excellent and simply ask for step sequencer fiddling, especially with the option for up to  64 steps. However, live performers don’t like how pressing shift while playing may result in unwanted transposing though and complain about the menu navigation.

Why it Stands Out to Us

While being a virtual analog synth it offers additional analog mono synth signal ideal for playing lead and bass lines. Gooseneck microphone allows you to sing a bunch of vocoding and auto-pitch vocals while you can record your sound with a single USB cable as it sends stereo audio to the computer, too.

Who Will Use This Most

It was made as an updated version for all lovers of Roland trademark synth sounds. Other players may use the line input and sound effect generator to flavor their instruments for recording. They may even enjoy the mini keys format as it may be easier to record ideas.

Bottom Line 

This is an affordable way to get a grasp on the best Roland synth sounds. And if you don’t know how to play keyboards at all, sing lead and bass lines to the microphone and see how the Auto Note feature works. 

BEHRINGER DEEPMIND 6,Black

PROS

  • Four simultaneous effect processors
  • Total sound parameter control on board
  • Remote control by PC, Mac or iOS devices
  • Comes in 49 keys version (Deepmind 12) as well
  • True 6-note polyphonic analog synthesizer with 37 full-size keys

CONS

  • Could provide Line Input jack
  • Patch selection could be better organized

What Recent Buyers Report

Reports say it was built like a tank and they are mind-blown by the price. They also love the number of stored presets (1.000) and that regardless of the well-made LCD screen they provided a free software editor. Even the keybed seems to be responsive enough.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This is not just another virtual analog that comes with an analog filter. This is the real analog signal path synthesizer. And on top of that - it’s 6-note polyphonic with exceptional build quality. Sonic possibilities are truly endless thanks to a good mod matrix system, analog filter and versatile effect generator.

Who Will Use This Most

This keyboard synthesizer is useful in both live and studio environments and experienced players can have a lot of fun with it. It also can be a great tool for synthesis lessons because it has dedicated sliders so you can have that more than necessary hands-on experience.

Bottom Line

If you ever wonder what’s all the fuss about real analog synthesizers compared to virtual analog, now you have a chance to see for yourself. And the best part is that it won’t cost you a couple grand anymore.

Arturia MicroFreak Hybrid Synthesizer

PROS

  • Interesting “spice” and “dice” sequencing option
  • Unique lightweight design with ​25-key touch plate keybed
  • Decent modulation matrix with 20 modulation slots per patch
  • Affordable paraphonic digital keyboard synthesizer with analog filter
  • 15 filter types and 13 oscillator types with announced update in the future 

CONS

  • No effects generator on board
  • There were enough resources for a stereo line output

What Recent Buyers Report

They are biased with the touch plate keybed. Yet, they love that it provides more than just the basic synthesis. It also comes with FM synthesis and several advanced wavetables. Apparently everyone agrees that it provides a huge sound variety and that “being different” is its biggest trait.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Paraphonic mode makes this monophonic synthesizer capable of performing 4 voice polyphonic. With providing a flat touch keyboard it’s somewhat intuitive to provide an aftertouch feature and we’re glad Artuia thought so as well.

Who Will Use This Most

Composers may appreciate “spice” and “dice” sequencing options as they generate a different melody or rhythmic approach while using the notes you wanted. It can provide you a sudden burst of inspiration. The touch plate keybed will change your playing approach and eventually you will glide over the notes.

Bottom Line

If you’re not sure if you want to get more into keyboard synthesizers, this experimental Arturia might give you a very good hint while not hitting on your budget too much and it won’t take too much of your studio space.

Best Keyboard Synthesizer for Beginners:
Korg Minilogue XD Gen

Korg Minilogue XD Gen Minilogue Synthesizer

PROS

  • 16 user slots for both oscillators and effects
  • Up to 3 simultaneous 32-bit floating effects 
  • Equipped with digital engines such as noise, VPM 
  • 16 step sequencer on board ideal for seamless on-the-fly workflow
  • Affordable 4 voice polyphonic analog synthesizer with 37 mini keys

CONS

  • Joystick may be too small for some users
  • Very tiny LCD screen can be a problem for menu navigating

What Recent Buyers Report

Comments are exceptionally positive. Compared to other models, this unit has the least menu diving. Sequencer is reported to work like a charm and is extremely intuitive. It also allows you to jam over thanks. Some users also say that after a month of use this unit became their favorite synth in the studio.

Why it Stands Out to Us

We like how modern it looks while sending instant “blast from the past” sounds. It’s warm and capable of producing tremendous low-end. Filter sweeps are exceptional and the filter resonance can be very aggressive when needed. It’s also a nice add-on that LCD display acts as an oscilloscope while you play.

Who Will Use This Most

Regardless of your synth knowledge, you can either learn synthesis or test knowledge from such a front panel. It was designed in a retro way where every knob and switch had a dedicated function. This “hands-on knob” method is known as the ideal way for such lessons.

Bottom Line

Korg did an excellent job of making real analog synthesizers at a mid-range price once again. This model has more than enough features for any synth enthusiast and we would especially recommend it to be your first hardware analog synthesizer.

Best Mini Synthesizer Keyboard:
Novation MiniNova

Novation MiniNova Analog Modeling Synthesizer

PROS

  • Sounds categorized both by type and genre
  • Digital 37 mini keys synthesizer with 18 notes polyphony
  • Vocoder effect on board with included gooseneck microphone
  • Animate and arpeggiate features available for instant inspiration
  • 256 sound patches on board with more free sounds available for download

CONS

  • There was enough place for filter resonance big knob
  • Novation could come with a battery operational mode

What Recent Buyers Report

Users are also amazed at how many professional patches are available for free download and that you can test it out in librarian without prior loading. The neon lights of buttons and controllers might be bright for some users and how arpeggiator settings are buried deep into menu interface, though

Why it Stands Out to Us

Unless you’re into deep evolving pad presets, 18 voice polyphony will be more than enough for any synth performances. We also like that you can stack up to 5 different effects and that a gooseneck microphone comes included for instant vocoding effects. And it’s worth mentioning that Novation installed 62 different waveforms.

Who Will Use This Most

Its sound presets are definitely oriented towards modern music. Synth pop, techno, dubstep - you name it. Animate function will be used a lot among live keyboard players as it can store different settings for your sound. And thanks to the USB-MIDI port it can be used as a MIDI controller, too.

Bottom Line

While others tend to pay tribute to the vintage models by replicating their audio or visual parts, everything about this Novation is oriented toward the future - appearance, features, the sound and that makes it unique on the current market.

Best Synthesizer Keyboard Under $1000:
Korg microKorg

Korg microKorg 37-Key Analog Modeling Synthesizer with Vocoder

PROS

  • Vocoder effect with provided mini microphone
  • Digital 37 mini keys synthesizer with 4 voice polyphony
  • Lightweight and battery operational with six AA batteries
  • Two separated audio inputs for instrument and microphone plugging
  • Non-complex menu interface with comprehensive front board instructions

CONS

  • No USB-MIDI port on board
  • Archaic 3-character LCD display

What Recent Buyers Report

They feel that the sound is much warmer and juicier than the rest of current competition and how everything about editing is written on the front board for you. They would be glad if there were more than 128 patches. However, cheap mini keys were a big turn off for some keyboard players.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This synth was definitely ahead of its own time. KORG actually made a professional portable keyboard with mini keys, vocoder and battery operational mode almost 2 decades ago. They even included two separate audio input jacks. And the thing is, the sound it delivers is great even now.

Who Will Use This Most

The diving menu system is designed for more experienced players. Due to its small format and battery operational mode, it is portable enough to carry around as you would do with a MIDI keyboard controller. Other players can plug into microKORG and use their instruments with filters and effects thanks to the audio input.

Bottom Line

It may not be warm as analog gear, but it has a character that can outpace any other synthesizer when it’s needed. And it gives you a nice piece of KORG analog sonic legacy for a bargain, too.

Pros and Cons of Keyboard Synthesizers 

Let’s cover some of the most usual pros and cons of keyboard synthesizers in general:

Pros

The following are some pros of this kind of keyboard synthesizers:

Sound Design

Keyboard Synthesizers provide you with the sonic experience no other instrument is capable. Some may sound like they are not from this world while others may resemble instruments such as brasses or flutes.

Stand-Alone Production Box

It can create all sounds for your song - stabs, pads, groovy basslines, and electronic drums, all within a single unit or two, fully produced. That’s exactly how electronic music started off, actually. 

Space Saver

Keyboard Synthesizers often come in smaller formats. While this can be considered as a flaw because of being unable to two-hands playing, the truth is that a synth player usually has “one hand plays while the other edits parameters” mindset.

Behringer Deepmind 6

Cons

However, it comes with some drawbacks, including:

Acoustic Sounds

If you want a sound of a piano or to play orchestral parts, keyboard synthesizers don’t excel in replicating the authentic sound of acoustic instruments.

Keyboard Interface Limitation

Instruments such as sax, guitar, and violin will always have much wider expressiveness compared to situations when they are played on a keyboard. Such an interface won’t be capable of recreating all the details you would do on those instruments without even thinking about it. 

Conclusion

The more you think about the more sounds that keyboard synthesizers created you will notice. Movies, games, music, even the old static from TV - they are everywhere. So don’t you worry if that leads you to buy one. That’s the most usual way a keyboard player decides to become one!

People Also Ask

It’s the time when we solve some of the most usual misconceptions about keyboard synthesizer. We will try to fill you with some info about how they are made and how they work and what you can expect if you decide to become a synthesizer player.

What is the Difference Between Keyboard and Synthesizer?

Most of the time those two means represent the same thing, especially in everyday talk. But, the thing is that they are quite different terms. Synthesizers use a keyboard interface to send signals. Synthesizer can come in module format or with different controllers, like wind or touch controllers for example.

Is Synthesizer Easy to Learn?

Synthesizer is often more oriented towards sound designing than playing. It requires a different mindset if you want to excel at it and it may look more like science than music learning to others. But, once you put your hands on the keys, it’s very similar to playing a piano.

What is a Synthesizer Made of?

Synthesizers are made from analog circuits and use analog signals to generate sound electronically. Sound can be modified additionally by using filters that allow sound to pass only through a certain frequency range. Further modifications are done with different amplifiers and envelopes, integrated circuits that can modify the sound shape with potentiometers.