When you are first starting out with synthesizers they can be very confusing indeed! And finding the best analog synth as a beginner is quite important so you don’t get completely overwhelmed and put off synthesizers forever!
I made the mistake of diving in at the deep end when I started out. I bought a second-hand vintage synthesizer which was covered with so many buttons it looked like the control panel of a spaceship!
For the first few years, I didn’t know what most of the knobs and buttons meant. I would just create sounds by luck and by twiddling nobs and buttons until something sounded cool. Which is fine for a bit, but when you start hearing sounds and wanting to create something similar. Or a sound is almost right but it is just lacking something. Then you are likely to go mad trying to figure it out if you don’t know what you are doing.
For me, the best way to learn anything is to dive in with the physical thing. Yes, you can read a few books or blogs on how synths work, but there comes a point when there is no substitute for trying things out for yourself.
Best analog synth for the absolute beginner?
Korg Volca Keys
Ok, so I have a confession. I bought the Korg Volca keys as a bit of a joke as I thought it would be funny to have a mini synth with a built-in speaker to carry around.
However, I ended up falling in love with it!
After attempting to learn how synths work on some complicated vintage synths and on the verge of giving up. The Volca Keys (available here on Amazon) has just the right amount of features to not be boring and too simple but also not to overwhelm. So why is it so good as a first analog synth?
You are limited to just a single oscillator (many synths have 2 or more). Then you have a single LFO and simple envelope generator functions to shape the sound.
This little thing is also polyphonic allowing you to play chords too, so the functionality for such a small (and affordable) synth is quite amazing.
Another reason (and arguably the most important) why this is such a good starter option is the price. Coming in at under $200 this synth (unlike many others) will not leave you with a huge credit card bill.
3) Size and portability
This synth is tiny, weighing just 2 pounds and measuring just 10 inches in length.
When I was first learning this meant I took this thing everywhere with me. I fully immersed myself in the world of analog synthesis until I began to understand how to shape a sound. I was practicing on the train and even when waiting in line at the doctor’s surgery one time.
And if you craft an awesome sound that you just can’t wait to share then you can play it to your friends through the built-in speaker! Which is a cool feature not present on many synths. Ok, the speaker isn’t great quality, but the novelty value is through the roof!
Yes, the keyboard is tiny. But when you are at home it is really easy to plug in a MIDI keyboard via the MIDI in socket and not have to worry about not having tiny hands.
It may not have lots of inputs and outputs but it is still possible to record the Volca Keys into your DAW very easily (as I explain in this article here).
4) It doesn’t have presets
Yes, that’s right this is a good thing for beginners.
It is comforting when you buy a synthesizer and it comes loaded with a tonne of pre-made patches. You can see what the synth is capable of and start using it immediately. But the problem with comfort is that you can get lazy.
By not having any presets out the box. The Korg Volca Keys forces you to get creative and start crafting your own sounds immediately. You will, therefore, get to grips with what all the nobs do much faster than you might on a synth that had stuff already ready to go.
You also can’t save your patches so no more luckily making a sound and then never having to remember how you made it! With the Volca Keys you have to remember how you made a sound if you want to create it again. Ok so yes you can write it down, but the process of twiddling the nobs to get it back to the required sound will help ingrain the process in your mind even further.
So it may not be the best analog synth ever made. Yes, it is mass produced and not vintage but who cares! When you are starting to learn this little gem will not give you a headache. I can’t emphasize enough how helpful it is to start slow with learning about synths and this is the perfect way to dip your toes before taking the full plunge!
Best analog synth when you are getting more confident?
Disclaimer: I’m not sponsored by Korg they just make great beginner synths for great prices.
If you are feeling a little more confident and the Korg Volca Keys doesn’t quite have enough features for you. My choice for slightly more advanced musicians would be the Korg Monologue (available here on Amazon).
Still very reasonably priced at under $300 at the time of writing. The minilogue will offer you a few more features that above that of the Korg Volca Keys.
For a start, it has an extra oscillator so you can start creating even more interesting sounds. But despite this, you are limited in terms of other effects so in a similar fashion to what I said with the Volca Keys. I actually think this is a positive for the beginner as you can ease yourself in without getting a headache from hundreds of nobs and buttons.
It has a sequencer too like the Volca Keys so you can get used to making loops.
One of my favorite functions of the Korg Monologue for beginners is the little screen which you can see in action in the video above. This actually shows the waveform of the sound when it is playing. So when you are learning the difference between what a square wave and a sawtooth wave. You can actually see it on the little screen. This is great for a beginner as getting to grips with this can be tricky at first.
Korg Monologue vs Minilogue? What’s The Difference?
Korg also produces a slightly more expensive synth called the Minilogue (available here on Amazon).
For the slight increase in price, you basically get a polyphonic synth instead of a monophonic synth. The Minilogue will allow you to play more than one note at once (i.e a chord). Whereas the monologue will only allow you to play one key at a time.
I wrote an article on why here. Which is worth a read to see if it is really a big deal to you when choosing between the two.
Why get a new synth and not a second hand one?
When you are first starting out I wouldn’t splash out on a vintage analog synth for a few reasons.
- They are often much more expensive as they are collector’s items which are mostly out of production and were never mass produced.
- If you buy a second-hand synth and it is faulty this may not be immediately obvious to a beginner.
- They will probably have a lot of features, nobs and buttons that will be overwhelming when starting out.
Once you are comfortable with the basics of how synths work then you can head to eBay and start bidding on some weird and wonderful vintage synths. But my recommendation would be to nail the foundations on a couple of shiny new ones first.