The Best Synthesizer Keyboards - Under $500 & $1000

The Highest Rated Keyboard Synthesizers

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Even in the face of so many modern alternatives, hardware synthesizers are still very much in demand. They continue to be integral to mainstream music, from disco, to new wave, to pop, to ambient and many more musical styles.

This guide showcases market favorites from among currently available keyboard hardware synths, divided into two price ranges, sub $500 and sub $1000. These are ideal for those who are interested in choosing their first hardware synth and for musicians who are looking for a unit to add to their collection.

The Best Synthesizer Keyboards

The Best Synth Keyboards Under $500

Arturia MicroBrute - Analog

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 700+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$299
Arturia MicroBrute Analog Synthesizer

The Arturia MicroBrute is a smaller version of the Minibrute with updated features including a new sub-oscillator, Mod Matrix and step sequencer.

Its redesigned sub-oscillator (Overtone) provides additional harmonics that gives a classic sounding lead and a fatter bass. Its Mod Matrix allows you to reroute/patch from three modulation sources- ENV, LFO and Keyboard CV (on the rear panel)- to six modulation destinations on the panel itself.

Similar to its predecessor, it has a single voltage-control oscillator with three-waveforms, and other modifiers (ultrasaw, pulse width, metalizer) for a customizable sound. It also incorporates a Steiner-Parker filter that was used on a Synthacon synthesizer back in the 1970’s.

Specifications

  • Polyphony: Monophonic
  • Keys: 25-note mini-key keyboard
  • Oscillator: 1 x Analog Voltage Controlled Oscillator
  • Filter: Steiner-Parker Multimode filter
  • Envelope: ADSR Envelope
  • LFO: LFO with 3 waveforms (sine, sawtooth, square)
  • Effects: Brute Factor™
  • Additional Controllers: Pitchbend, Mod Wheel
  • Step Sequencer: 8 sequences, 64-steps
  • Audio Input: 1 x 1/4" Line in
  • Audio Ouput: 1 x 1/4” line out, 1 x 1/8” headphone out
  • Other Connectivity: USB MIDI In/Out, MIDI In with 5 pin DIN, CV Gate I/O,
  • Power: 12V DC 1A power supply
  • Dimensions: 12.8" x 8.7" x 2.36"
  • Weight: 3.86 lbs.

Pros
At an affordable price, this small unit is quite easy to figure out with its straightforward layout and controls. Users gave positive remarks for its well-built sliders, knobs and overall construction. Many of them, who were new to synthesizers, were able to effortlessly create beat patterns with its sequencer. Its BruteFactor effect gave that warmth and grit sound found in vintage analog synthesizers. The Mod Matrix impressed experienced users when it comes to patching the modulation sources within the synthesizer and to other equipment, which creates a number of different sound molding possibilities.

Cons
One limitation that has been mentioned is its inability to save patches.

Overall
This is highly recommended as an entry-level analog synthesizer.

Korg Monologue Analog Synthesizer

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 200+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$345
Korg monologue Analog Synthesizer

At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Keyboard Synth Under $500 along with the Arturia MiniBrute 2.

The Korg Monologue is a feature packed analog synthesizer with built-in 16-step sequencer.

While it is monophonic, it does allow for a wide range of sounds with its envelope generators, two VCOs (Voltage Controlled Oscillators) that offer wave shaping, 16-step sequencer and analog drive effect.

This analog synthesizer also comes with a digital brain that allows you to save 20 user presets, and recall 80 factory presets.

It features a 25-key slim keybed, with velocity sensitivity. Other features include micro-tuning, auto-tuning, easy transposition of sequences, and it can run on batteries.

Specifications

  • Polyphony: Monophonic
  • Keys: 25 Velocity Sensitive Slim-Keys
  • Oscillator: 2 x VCO
  • Filter: 1 x LFO
  • Envelope: 3 Envelope Generator Modes
  • LFO: 3 waveforms (square, triangle, sawtooth)
  • Effects: Analog Drive distortion
  • Additional Controllers: None
  • Step Sequencer: 16-steps
  • Audio Input: 1 x 1/4"
  • Audio Ouput: 1 x 1/4" (audio out) with 1/4" Headphones Out
  • Other Connectivity: USB (Type B), MIDI In/Out, 2 x 1/8" Sync in/out
  • Power: 9V DC power supply (sold separately) / 6 x AA batteries
  • Dimensions: 2.99" x 13.78" x 10.87"
  • Weight: 3.7 lbs.

Pros
For its compact size and price, users are mostly impressed with the sonic versatility of the Korg Monologue, which then translates to great value. Aside from its versatile envelopes and VCOs, many are also impressed with its sequencer. Even Paul Nagle of Sound on Sound commends it by saying, "While the Monologue is appealing for its sound engine alone, for me the deal-clincher is the sequencer."

Cons
There are a few complaints about the need to buy the power adapter separately.

Overall
If you're looking for a versatile yet compact synth/sequencer, then this is well worth checking out.

Arturia MiniBrute 2 Analog Synthesizer Keyboard

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 30+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$449
Arturia MiniBrute 2 Analog Synthesizer

At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Keyboard Synth Under $500 along with the Korg Monologue.

The Minibrute 2 is 25-key analog synthesizer with built-in arpeggiator and sequencer. At its core are 2 oscillators that allow for wave shaping, waveform mixing and modulation.

Expanding its sonic options further are two envelope filters, two LFOs and a 4-mode Steiner Parker analog filter.

Another important feature of this synth is its 48-point CV patch, which makes it compatible with other modular synthesizers. It also supports USB and MIDI connectivity, and it syncs with compatible gear like the DrumBrute, Akai MPC Live, and Korg Volcas.

Specifications

  • Polyphony: Monophonic
  • Keys: Analog
  • Oscillator: 2 x VCO
  • Filter: 12dB per octave Steiner Parker filter
  • Envelope: Envelope
  • LFO: 2 x LFO with waveforms (sine, sawtooth, triangle, square, random)
  • Effects: Brute Factor Drive, Sweep Effects
  • Additional Controllers: Pitchbend, Mod Wheel
  • Step Sequencer: 8 sequences, 64-steps
  • Audio Input: 1 x 1/8" (external audio)
  • Audio Ouput: 1 x 1/4" (master), 1 x 1/4" (headphones)
  • Other Connectivity: USB (Type B), MIDI In/Out
  • Power: 12V DC 2.5A power supply (included)
  • Dimensions: 2.3" x 19" x 13.2"
  • Weight: 10.6 lbs.

Pros
Thanks to its 48 CV patch, the MiniBrute 2 is touted as the best value modular synth, and a great entry-way into the complex world of modular synths. Even Music Radar's Si Truss concluded his review by saying: "The patchbay adds flexibility and character that make this a very serious competitor in the now crowded analogue monosynth market".

Cons
There are a few who aired out features that they wish were added like having a digital brain for programmability, and having a more spaced-out interface.

Overall
If you're looking to get into modular synths, then this is a good starting point.

Korg Minilogue Analog Synthesizer

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 300+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$500
Korg minilogue Analog Synthesizer

The Korg Minilogue is a synthesizer that combines 4-voice analog sound synthesis with programmable controls. It has 2 oscillators per voice, with an analog circuit that features 2 VCOs, 2 EG, 1 VCF, 1 VCA, and 1 LFO, which should be more than enough to appease musicians who want to explore more sonic options.

The digital brain of this synth makes better use of the unit's plethora of controls, with 200 program memories and 100 presets.

It also has a 16-step sequencer built-in with motion recording and step programming.

Other features include shape control, cross modulation, oscillator syncm tape style delay and ring modulator.

Specifications

  • Polyphony: Polyphonic (4-Notes)
  • Keys: 37 Slim Velocity Sensitive Keys
  • Oscillator: 2 x Analog VCO
  • Filter: 2-pole/4-pole Lowpass Filter with Keytrack, Velocity
  • Envelope: 1 x AMP EG (ADSR), 1 x EG (ADSR)
  • LFO: 1 x LFO waveforms (triangle, sawtooth, square)
  • Effects: Delay and Ring Modulation
  • Additional Controllers: None
  • Step Sequencer: 16-steps
  • Audio Input: 1 x 1/4" TS (audio in)
  • Audio Ouput: 1 x 1/4" TS (audio out), 1 x 1/4" (headphones)
  • Other Connectivity: USB (Type B), MIDI In/Out, Sync In/Out
  • Power: 9V DC power supply included
  • Dimensions: 3.35" x 19.69" x 11.81"
  • Weight: 6.17 lbs.

Pros
Great sounding and fun to play are two statements that decently summarize market sentiment. While most positive reviews come from impressed first time analog synth owners, there are experienced keyboardists who are just as pleased with the Minilogue. Sound on Sound's Gordon Reid mentions that "it’s a cost–effective way to obtain four genuine analogue voices in a very stylish package". Affordability is also its strong suit, given its feature set.

Cons
With the Minilogue's limited MIDI connection options, those who are looking for a modular synthesizer may want to look elsewhere.

Overall
If fun and expressiveness rank highly in your requirements, then the Korg Minilogue may just be what you need.

The Best Synth Keyboards Under $1000

Korg MS-20 Mini Semi-modular Analog Synthesizer

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 500+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$530
Korg MS-20 Mini Semi-modular Analog Synthesizer

Based on the original MS-20 from 1978, this modern reproduction is more compact and portable, at just around 86% scale compared to its predecessor. Depeche Mode, Chvrches, Gorillaz and Daft Punk are just a few of the long list of big name artists that have put the Korg MS-20 to good use.

Even with its smaller profile, this synth carries much of the same functionality and sound as the original, and it also retains its vintage patchable design.

It comes with 2 oscillators with ring modulation, envelope generators, and improved noise reduction. Other features include high pass - low pass filters, modern USB connectivity, and a more quieter VCA.

Specifications

  • Polyphony: Monophonic
  • Keys: 37 Mini-keys
  • Oscillator: 2 x VCO, 1 x LFO
  • Filter: 1 x Highpass 2-pole VCF, 1 x Lowpass 2-pole VCF
  • Envelope: 2 x EG
  • LFO: waveforms (sine, sawtooth, square)
  • Effects:
  • Additional Controllers: Pitchbend, Mod Button
  • Step Sequencer: _ sequences, _-steps
  • Audio Input: 1 x 1/8" (signal in)
  • Audio Ouput: 1 x 1/8" (signal out), 1 x 1/8" (Headphones)
  • Other Connectivity: 1/8" CV Patching, USB (Type B)
  • Power: 9V DC power supply (included)
  • Dimensions: 8.19" x 19.41" x 10.12"
  • Weight: 10.58 lbs.

Pros
Amazing is a word that seems to resonate with many of today's MS-20 users. Many of whom describe it as fat sounding, even those who have experienced the original find it to be authentic in terms of features and sound. It is also commended for being fun to play with, even Dan 'JD73' Goldman of Music Radar concludes his review favorably by saying: "A faithful resurrection of the MS-20, at a crazily good price. Everyone should own one!

Cons
There are a few who feel that the knobs are not as sturdy as the original release. The price tag can also be off-putting for some.

Overall
With its legacy and market reputation, the Korg MS-20 is a great investment for those who want to take their synth playing to the next level.

Roland JUNO-DS61 Digital Synthesizer

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 125+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$750
Roland JUNO-DS61 Digital Synthesizer

The Roland Juno-DS61 is a digital synthesizer for modern keyboardists, featuring 61 synth keys and 8 pads, all of which are customizable via sampling, so you can play sounds that you've synthesized, or virtually any type of recorded sound for that matter, be it on the keys or on the pads.

It comes preloaded with a wide array of sounds, including various organs and pianos. There's even over 1000 downloadable sounds to further expand its sonic capabilities.

Other features include built-in mic input with dedicated effects (auto pitch and vocoder), 8-track pattern sequencer, and it can record your performances and send it to your computer via USB.

Specifications

  • Polyphony: Polyphonic
  • Keys: 61 Velocity Sensitive Keys
  • Oscillator: Digital
  • Filter: Digital
  • Envelope: Digital
  • LFO: Digital
  • Effects: 3 x Mulit-effects, 3 x Chorus, 5 x Reverbs, 8 x Mic Reverbs and Vocoder
  • Additional Controllers: Pitchbend/Modulation Lever
  • Step Sequencer: _ sequences, _-steps
  • Audio Input: 1 x 1/4" (mic), 1 x 1/8" (aux)
  • Audio Ouput: 2 x 1/4" (L/R), 1 x 1/4" (Headphones)
  • Other Connectivity: 1 x USB Type A (stored trigger samples), 1 x USB Type B (Audio/MIDI)
  • Power: DC 9V adapter, 8 x AA batteries
  • Dimensions: 3.87" x 39.68" x 11.81"
  • Weight: 11.75 lbs.

Pros
Analog synths simply can't compete with the complexity and versatility of digital synths, and the Roland Juno-DS61 packs all that in a compact and portable profile that can run on batteries. Even those who own expensive analog synths have mostly great things to say about the DS61's sound, while others are impressed with how they can fine tune the sounds and control to their preferences and workflow.

Cons
There are still a few who are not as impressed with some of the synth sounds, while some feel that the controls should be a bit more intuitive.

Overall
For a compact battery powered digital synthesizer, the Roland Juno-DS61 is hard to beat when it comes to versatility.

Moog Grandmother Semi-Modular Analog Synthesizer Keyboard

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$999

At publication time this was the Highest Rated Keyboard Synth Under $1000.

Moog is undeniably the brand to beat when it comes to analog synth, and the Grandmother, being the best rated synth in the sub $1000 price range, helps keep them at the top.

This semi-modular monophonic synth features 2 oscillators, 4-pole ladder filter and 1-pole highpass filter. Synth enthusiasts will enjoy its 41 patch points, which is the selling point for analog synths.

For controls, the Grandmother houses a 32-key Fatar keybed with velocity sensitivity. Another important feature of this keyboard is its built-in spring reverb, which works on both the internally synthesized sounds or external sounds.

It also houses a sequencer/arpeggiator with 3 preset locations, carrying up to 256 notes.

Specifications

  • Polyphony: Monophonic
  • Keys: 32-Key Fatar with Velocity Sensitivity
  • Oscillator: 2 x Analog VCO, White Noise Generator
  • Filter: 1 x Analog LFO with Audio
  • Envelope: 1 x ADSR
  • LFO: 1 x Analog LFO with Audio (triangle, sawtooth, square)
  • Effects: Spring Reverb
  • Additional Controllers: Mod Wheel, Pitchbend Wheel, Variable Glide
  • Step Sequencer: 3 sequences, 256-steps
  • Audio Input: 1 x 1/4" (instrument in), 1 x 1/8" (reverb in)
  • Audio Ouput: 1 x 1/4" (main/headphones), 1 x 1/8" (reverb out), 1 x 1/8" (eurorack out)
  • Other Connectivity: USB (Type B), Clock in, Clock out, Reset in, On/Off in, 41 x Patch Points
  • Power: 12V DC 2A power supply (included)
  • Dimensions: 5.5" x 23" x 14.25"
  • Weight: 16 lbs.

Pros
Be it for full sounding lead and bass, or for laying out ambient pads, the Moog Grandmother impresses almost everyone in classic synth patch configuration. As per our analysis, it is currently the best rated synthesizer, and rightly so given the many positive ratings and recommendations that it gets. The ability to use patch points is really its main selling point, allowing for a more old-school hands-on approach to making cool synth tones.

Cons
Since it uses a patch interface, the Grandmother is not meant for beginners, you ought to have good knowledge and experience with synths to make the most out of it. The price tag also keeps this synth a bit out of reach for budget conscious musicians, but most of those who invested in it are happy with what they got in return.

Overall
If you're looking for genuine old school synth sounds and playing experience, and you have the budget, then the Moog Grandmother is perfect for you.

Roland Juno-DS88 Digital Synthesizer

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 150+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$1000
Roland JUNO-DS88 Digital Synthesizer

It may seem unusual to some to describe an 88-key keyboard as portable, but the Roland Juno-DS88 is exactly that. It is a reasonably portable keyboard that can run on batteries, while having a wide keybed with 88 velocity sensitive and hammer action keys.

Like its smaller 61-key sibling, this synth relies on digital processing, which allows for a wide variety of sound options and extensive control over them.

In addition to sound synthesis, it can play samples via its 88 keys, or through its 8 pads. It also lets you plug-in a mic and apply vocoder, reverb and auto pitch effects.

To it wrap all up, Roland equipped this synth with an 8-track pattern sequencer and built-in recording functionality.

Specifications

  • Polyphony: Polyphonic
  • Keys: 88 Weighted-action, Roland Ivory Feel-G Keyboard
  • Oscillator: Digital
  • Filter: Digital
  • Envelope: Digital
  • LFO: Digital
  • Effects: 3x Mulit-effects, 3 x Chorus, 5 x Reverbs, 8 x Mic Reverbs and Vocoder
  • Additional Controllers: Pitchbend/Modulation Lever
  • Step Sequencer: 8-track
  • Audio Input: 1 x 1/4" (mic), 1 x 1/8" (aux)
  • Audio Ouput: 2 x 1/4" (L/R), 1 x 1/4" (headphones)
  • Other Connectivity: USB (Type A), USB (Type B)
  • Power: DC 9V adapter, 8 x AA batteries
  • Dimensions: 5.68" x 55.75" x 13.43"
  • Weight: 35 lbs.

Pros
Playability is the DS88's best trait, and this is reflected in many reviews where users are blown away by its longer 88-key configuration, and hammer action keys. Sound quality is also often commended, with many describing it's tone as detailed and high fidelity.

Cons
This is obviously not for analog synth fans, and it can be a bit too bulky for some keyboardists.

Overall
If you're looking for an 88-key synth with impressive bells and whistles, be sure to check out the Roland Juno-DS88.

Additional Option

Arturia MicroFreak Experimental Hybrid Keyboard Synth

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$299
Arturia MicroFreak Experimental Hybrid Keyboard Synth

The Arturia MicroFreak takes a different approach to compact synths, the most distinct of which is the use of a flat "touch plate" keyboard. It has 25 pressure sensitive keys on a flat surface, that also features polyphonic aftertouch.

The MicroFreak also houses a distinct combination of digital oscillators with analog filters, which together with its arpeggiator and sequencer allows for quite a lot of sonic flexibility. This enables it to have a "paraphonic" configuration, where it can sound multiple notes simultaneously like polyphonic keyboards, but all the notes are processed
via a common oscillator and filter.

Finally you can save your settings in one of the 64 user presets, or you can revert to one of its 128 factory presets.

Specifications

  • Polyphony: Paraphonic
  • Keys: 25 Touch Keyboard with Aftertouch
  • Oscillator: 11 x Digital Oscillators (engine type, wave, timbre, shape)
  • Filter: Analog filters
  • Envelope: 1 x ADSR, Cycling Envelope
  • LFO: 1 x LFO with Sync (sine, sawtooth, square, triangle, random, slew random)
  • Effects: None
  • Additional Controllers: Capacitive Touch Strip
  • Step Sequencer: 2 pattern per preset, 64-steps
  • Audio Input: None
  • Audio Ouput: 1 x 1/4" (master out), 1 x 1/8" (headphones)
  • Other Connectivity: USB (Type B)
  • Power: 12V DC 1A power supply (included)
  • Dimensions: 2.2" x 12.5" x 9.2"
  • Weight: 2.5 lbs.

Pros
Adventurous types who are not afraid to try something different have great things to say about the MicroFreak and its distinct touch plate keybed. It also gets a lot of thumbs up for its overall sound, which many describe as massive and lush sounding. More importantly, those who recommend this synth describe it as fun to play, and a welcome departure from the usual compact synth designs.

Cons
Lack of effects seem to be a downer for a few, and obviously, those who prefer the feel of classic synth keybeds will want to skip this.

Overall
If you're looking for a different synth playing experience, then do check out the Arturia MicroFreak.

Things to Consider When Buying a Keyboard Synth

Polyphony / Number of Voices

Polyphony is defined by the number of multiple notes that can be played at once. There are two main types: monophonic and polyphonic. Monophonic synths are capable of playing one note at a time. A good number of synth enthusiasts tend to favor monophonic synthesizers due to their rich, full and pronounced sound compared to polyphonic synths. These are often used to create full sounding lead or bass synth parts that easily jump out of the mix. Polyphonic synths, on the other hand, let you play multiple notes all at once. Although they sometimes sound a bit thinner, they tend to have the essential options and are capable of letting you play leads and chords.

Size and Portability

Choosing the size depends on where you will plan to use your synth. A small and compact synthesizer with less than 49 keys is recommended if you have limited space. They're also easier to carry around for live performance purposes or if you plan to jam with others in their own domain. Another important portability factor to consider is the ability to run on batteries.

Controls and Interface

Synthesizers come with different interfaces and controls yet they all function in similar ways following the basic signal path: oscillator, filter, then an amplifier. Most synthesizers have the basic waveforms shape for built-in LFOs, envelope generator with ADSR sliders, and at least one control for effects used to enhance the sound. Some synthesizers with more than one modulator have a Mod Matrix, which is a grid that's used to intuitively route modulation sources easily to their destinations (LFO to filter cutoff, mod envelope to pitch, etc). It's highly suggested to get a synthesizer that gives you a straightforward layout of knobs, sliders and buttons without needing to look through menus, or having to do multiple combinations of buttons.

Other Features

A common feature found in synthesizers is a built-in sequencer. This is useful if you want to write and save melodies or bass lines in the synthesizer's memory bank, and loop them while tweaking other parameters. Some synthesizers also have stored percussion and drum sequencers for creating beats.

Value

A lot of synthesizers on the market have numerous functions that may factor in your sound preference and productivity. If you need a full polyphonic synth without breaking the bank, digital synthesizers are the best option. Monophonic analog synthesizers are also great entry level and budget options if you are new to synthesis.

Best Synthesizer Keyboard Selection Methodology

This guide was first published on November 16, 2017 written by Denise Azucena and the latest major update was published on March 7, 2020 written by Alexander Briones.

We first looked at all the keyboard synthesizers available from major online American music gear retailers that have a street price under $1000. And for this update, we ended up with 21 synths on our short-list for closer examination. Next we collected and analyzed over 5,800 ratings and reviews from review websites, retailers, discussion forums and major music gear publications, including the most recent ones up to March 2020. All those data were then processed via the Gearank Algorithm to produce our ratings out of 100 for each synth. We used their resulting scores to rank the synths in a way that closely reflects market sentiments. Finally, we divided the list to 2 price ranges, sub $500 and sub $1000, to better cater to musician's budget requirements. For more information about about our methods see How Gearank Works.

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