You need a new keyboard synthesizer, either for live performance or studio recording. Which one is best for you?
Here are 11 of our favorite instruments, so you can decide which one (or two, or three…) best meets your musical requirements and your budget limits.
So, let’s take a look at the Best Keyboard Synthesizers currently on the market, starting with the…
Top 11 Best Keyboard Synthesizers You Should Buy Reviews
1 Behringer MS-1 Synthesizer (MS1BK) Black – Best Budget Keyboard Synthesizer
One of Behringer’s specialties is making accurate reproductions of famous audio gear. The MS-1 synthesizer is a faithful recreation of Roland’s 1982 SH-101, with several modern improvements. It’s available in black, red, or blue.
It’s a little shallower than the original and feels more solidly built. The full-size 32-note keyboard can be adjusted across a 4-octave range, and it’s velocity-sensitive. All cable connections are on the back panel. These include USB, conventional MIDI In/Out/Thru, and CV/Gate.
Lots of sound-shaping options…
The MS-1 allows you to blend several waveforms. These are triangle, sawtooth, square/pulse, and white noise. Plus, there’s a square sub-oscillator set an octave lower.
FM capability is also included. So you can create some thick, exciting timbres.
At the heart of the MS-1 is a very versatile VCF. Faders let you adjust cutoff frequency, resonance, envelope, and modulation depth, and keyboard follow. Change the modulation using the ADSR envelope generator, the mod wheel, or the pitch bend controller.
A few more surprises…
The MS-1 has both a multimode arpeggiator and a 32-step sequencer. These can store 64 patterns. This includes accents, rests, and glides.
Furthermore, it excels as a portable instrument. It comes with fasteners for the included guitar strap and an attachable handgrip with a pitch bend wheel and pitch modulation trigger.
Overall, it’s a very well-built machine that sounds thick and detailed and is a lot of fun to play.
- Excellent reproduction of Roland SH-101.
- Very portable.
- Short keyboard.
2 Korg MS20 Mini Semi-Modular Analog Synthesizer – Best Semi-Modular Keyboard Synthesizer
The Korg MS-20 Mini is a semi-modular monophonic analog synthesizer that can be patched with cables. Originally produced from 1978 to 1983, Korg revived it in 2013 in a smaller form.
It’s smaller than the original one. Yet, it maintains a 37-note mini keyboard, 1/8-inch jacks, and MIDI In and Out. Other than the size difference, it’s functionally identical.
Classic subtractive synth…
The MS-20 uses conventional subtractive synthesis with VCOs, VCAs, and VCFs. Also, the large patch panel provides extensive variation in the signal routing.
It includes two VCOs. VCO1 can be set to a triangle, sawtooth, square/pulse waveform, or pink or white noise. Conversely, VCO2 can be a sawtooth or square wave. A “ring mod” setting combines the pulse output of VCO1 and the square wave of VCO2.
There are two VCFs in series. The first is a 6 dB/octave HP filter, and the second a 12 dB/octave LP design. Filter resonance is adjustable but not voltage-controlled.
Versatile modulation generator…
The MS-20 Mini also has an LFO “modulation generator” with rate and shape controls, and pulse and sloped outputs. Two envelope generators with trigger inputs are provided.
EG1 is a Delay, Attack, and Release model. On the other hand, EG2 has Hold plus ADSR. Likewise, there are separate modulate VCA, mod wheel controller, and trigger button.
Connecting to the outside…
Although it has no internal sequencer, the MS-20 Mini can be connected to an external sequencer with trigger and CV outputs, such as the Korg SQ-1.
Finally, it includes a frequency-to-voltage converter, envelope follower, and gate extractor. They can be connected to the VCO CV inputs of the VCOs and envelope generators, so the synth follows your voice or other instruments.
- Two-oscillators for a fatter sound.
- Ring modulator.
- Frequency-to-voltage converter.
- Very flexible signal routing with patch cords.
- Mini-keyboard not velocity-sensitive.
- No built-in sequencer.
3 Moog Grandmother Semi-Modular Analog Keyboard Synthesizer – Best Analog Keyboard Synthesizer
Dr. Robert Moog invented the modular voltage-controlled synthesizer over 60 years ago. His company still produces some of the best instruments available.
The Moog Grandmother is a modern semi-modular analog synth. It incorporates circuits based on their Model 15 and Minimoog.
Fully loaded instrument…
In addition to a 32-note Fatar velocity-sensitive keyboard, it includes pitch bend and modulation wheels, variable glide, a built-in arpeggiator, and a 256-step, 3-track sequencer.
You can connect patch cords to override internal connections. As a result, each section functions as an independent module compatible with Eurorack, DFAM, and other modular systems. An external input jack makes it effective as an audio processor for external inputs.
Waveform variability and white noise generator…
The Grandmother has two VCOs with selectable waveforms, plus a white noise generator. The oscillators can be synced or configured for linear FM. It also includes a classic four-pole 10Hz – 20kHz ladder filter and a patchable 1-pole high pass filter.
The modulation LFO includes a sample/hold output to create some unusual sounds.
Another bonus is a built-in genuine spring-reverb tank.
- Moog quality and vibe.
- Oscillators can be synced or used for FM.
- Built-in spring reverb.
- Limited-range keyboard.
- Premium price.
4 Sequential Pro 3 Multi-filter Mono Synth – Best Monophonic Keyboard Synthesizer
Rounding out the selection of monophonic keyboard synths in the venerable Sequential Pro 3. Introduced in 2021, it builds on the classic Pro 1 and Pro 2 models from the 1980s.
Triple oscillation and classic filters…
The Pro 3 features three oscillators: two traditional VCOs (triangle, saw, and variable pulse) and one wavetable oscillator with 32 tables of 16 waves with morphing.
It also includes classic analog filters like a 4-pole LP from the Sequential Prophet-6, a 2-pole filter from the Oberheim OB-6. Furthermore, this can continuously vary between LP, notch, BP, and HP.
Additionally, it comes with a Moog-style transistor ladder LP filter with resonance.
Multiple control features…
Control features include three LFOs, four loopable DADSR envelope generators, dual digital effects, analog distortion, and numerous internal modulation routings. There’s also a multi-mode arpeggiator that can be synced to a MIDI clock input.
A full-featured sequencer provides 16 tracks of up to 64 steps with multiple playback modes. It can sync to MIDI clock and external audio input, and also inputs/outputs control voltages. And sequence tracks can control any parameter in the Pro 3’s 32-slot, 171-destination modulation matrix.
The Pro 3 feature can also operate in paraphonic mode, with each VCO playing a different note while sharing a common VCF and EG.
On the rear panel are four scalable control voltage inputs and outputs for connection with modular synths.
All these great features make many claim that it is the Best Keyboard Synthesizer you can buy.
- Three VCOs, including a wavetable oscillator.
- Three LFOs and multiple modulation connection points.
- 16-track sequencer.
- Paraphonic mode.
5 Yamaha REFACE CS Portable Analog Modeling Synthesizer – Best Portable Keyboard Synthesizer
The Yamaha Reface series of instruments are tributes to some of their most successful classic products. The Reface CS is a digital subtractive synthesizer, inspired primarily by Yamaha’s iconic CS-80 analog synth from 1977.
It’s based around an “analog physical modeling engine” that digitally simulates analog circuitry, and that provides multiple synth and oscillator types. It features 8-note polyphony and a mono mode that lets you layer all the oscillators to create an extra fat solo sound.
Modeled sounds include pulse and multi-saw waveforms, ring modulation, and FM. Each oscillator type includes flexible LFO and ADSR routing. Texture and Mod control function differently, depending on the type.
For example, with the multi-saw engine, the Texture control adds a sub-oscillator, while Mod layers multiple sawtooth waves.
Built for portability…
Unlike its ancestor, the Reface CS is designed to be light and portable. Weighing just 4 lbs, 3 oz (1.9 kg), it features a keyboard of 37 velocity-sensitive mini-keys and can be powered by AAA batteries, as well as the usual AC adaptor.
Likewise, it includes an internal 2-watt stereo amp and stereo 1.2-inch (3 cm) speakers.
Loop function included…
Reface CS features a MIDI Phrase Looper to capture a performance and play it back. You can record and jam over a bass line or chord changes, or use it as a tool to tweak a sound while the looper repeats a pattern.
In and out…
An aux line input enables playing along with a music player, phone, or other devices. The Continuous Controller input lets you connect a volume pedal. Dual-line outputs can connect to a mixer or audio interface.
Finally, a USB port transmits MIDI to and from a computer or other MIDI device.
- Very portable.
- 8-note polyphony.
- Handy MIDI looper.
- The keyboard is not full size.
- Limited waveforms.
6 Yamaha REFACE DX Portable FM Synthesizer – Best FM Keyboard Synthesizer
The Reface DX is Yamaha’s reimagining of its wildly successful DX synthesizer series from the 1980s. It shares many features in common with other instruments in the Reface family, including the CS discussed above.
Specifically, it has a 37-note velocity-sensitive mini-keyboard, a MIDI pedal input, a MIDI phrase looper, a built-in stereo amp, and speakers.
Work the way you want…
The Reface DX has a 4-operator, 12-algorithm FM Sound Engine. However, this is slightly less than the 6 operators and 18 algorithms on the original DX7.
On the other hand, it allows continuously variable feedback on each operator. A multi-touch control interface provides direct access to four simultaneous parameters.
Lots of built-in FX presets…
You can apply two digital effects from a selection that includes VCM Touch Wah, VCM Flanger, VCM Phaser, Chorus, Delay, Reverb, and Distortion. And you can save and recall your favorite voices in 32 onboard voice memory locations.
- Accurate implementation of Yamaha FM synthesis.
- 32 voice memory locations.
- Continuously variable operator feedback.
- Very portable.
- The keyboard is not full size.
- FM is 4-operator only.
7 Korg Minilogue 4-Voice Polyphonic Analog Synth with Presets – Most Versatile Keyboard Synthesizer
The Korg Minilogue is a 4-voice, 2-VCO (per voice) monotimbral analog synthesizer. It’s a new design from the ground up, not based on any classic model. The keyboard has 37 velocity-sensitive keys.
Variety of distinct voice modes…
The Minilogue offers eight distinct voice modes. In ‘Poly’ mode, it functions as a traditional four-voice polyphonic instrument. ‘Duo’ mode is a two-voice synth with four VCOs per voice.
‘Unison’ mode combines all the oscillators into a single voice. And ‘Mono’ mode operates as a mono synth with sub-oscillators.
Also, it offers Chord and Arpeggiator modes, plus a couple unique to the Minilogue. Delay mode sounds voices 2, 3, and 4 consecutively after voice 1 at a preset delay time. ‘Side Chain’ reduces the volume of a preceding note when a new one is played.
Easy to configure…
The functional modules are configured in a typical analog patch configuration. Each VCO can be selected for triangle, sawtooth, or square/pulse output. Likewise, they can be synced or connected for FM or ring modulation effects.
The low-pass VCF can be 2- or 4-pole and has variable resonance. Dedicated ADSRs control the VCF and VCA.
A 16-step polyphonic sequencer can control up to four patch parameters. There’s also an assignable spring-loaded slider in place of a modulation wheel.
Equipped with 100 presets…
Minilogue ships with 100 presets, with space for an additional 100 user presets. An OLED oscilloscope display provides real-time visual feedback of parameter changes.
- Multiple operating modes.
- Two VCOs per voice.
- Sleek physical layout.
- VCF is low-pass only.
- Only 4-voice maximum polyphony.
8 Roland GAIA SH-01 Synthesizer – Best Polyphonic Keyboard Synthesizer
Roland’s GAIA SH-01 provides analog modeling with three complete engines, each with VCO, VCF, VCA, LFO, and EGs. These can be layered for truly fat textures. With 37 full-size, velocity-sensitive keys, this instrument offers a remarkable 64-voice polyphony.
Classic Roland sounds…
Waveforms available are sine, triangle, square, variable pulse and sawtooth, plus noise. Also included is Roland’s famous Supersaw, with seven slightly detuned, stacked sawtooth waves that provide a thick ensemble from just one voice.
Furthermore, each waveform has three tonal variations. This helps in creating a more natural sound when stacking voices.
The VCF can operate in LP, HP, BP, or peaking modes. It’s also switchable between 12 and 24 dB/octave.
Space to add your own presets…
GAIA comes with 64 presents, plus space for 64 user patches. With a USB memory stick inserted, you get space for 64 additional patches and eight more phrases.
A hidden personality?
The SH-01 also includes a complete General MIDI (GM) sound set. You can’t play these voices from the keyboard, only via the MIDI port.
GM playback is available on 15 MIDI channels, while one is reserved for the SH01. Interestingly, there’s also a single bank of eight sample‑based presets: pipe organ, strings, brass, saxophone, and choir.
Unfortunately, when these patches are selected, the SH-01 analog synth is locked out.
Five effect layers…
You can layer up to five simultaneous onboard effects for dozens of variations. Effects include reverb, distortion, fuzz, bit crash, flanger, phaser, pitch shifter, low boost, and delay. Dedicated control knobs allow you to tweak them in real-time.
SH-01 performance features include Roland’s combined bender and modulation joystick lever, and a D‑Beam motion controller.
There’s also an arpeggiator with tap tempo and a Phrase Recorder. This records both the notes you play on the keyboard and the movements of knobs and sliders. Controller data can be played back independently.
It weighs 9.5 pounds (4.3 kg) and can be powered by an AC adaptor or AA batteries, so it’s ideal where portability is important.
No wonder it is frequently called the Best Keyboard Synthesizer.
- Three analog-modeled voices for very rich textures.
- 64-voice polyphony.
- Full set of General MIDI presets included.
- D-Beam controller is fun to use.
- GM presets are not available from the keyboard.
- Doesn’t sound quite the same as a real analog synth.
9 Novation MiniNova 37-Mini-Key Compact Analog Modeling Synthesizer – Best Beginners Keyboard Synthesizer
The Novation MiniNova is the latest addition to the Nova series. It is a compact synth with 37 velocity-sensitive mini keys. It has the same analog modeling sound engine as the bigger UltraNova.
Also features 18-voice monotimbral polyphony and 256 onboard sounds. Furthermore, these can be modified with up to five effects and saved in 128 user patches.
Analog and digital waveforms…
Each patch contains three VCOs with the usual analog waveforms, 20 digital waveforms, 36 wavetables, a noise source, and two ring modulators.
Also available per patch are six EGs, three LFOs, and two multimode VCFs. Recursive modulation is also supported.
Simple and intuitive interface…
The user interface is clean and sleek. You’ll find an array of multi-function knobs to help reduce clutter. This makes it an ideal choice for beginners.
A 16-character LCD and a detented data-entry wheel make editing parameters a simple task.
This keyboard features traditional pitch bend and modulation wheels. The 33-pattern arpeggiator can be edited in real-time. Unfortunately, there’s no tap tempo button. Channel Aftertouch is supported by the synth engine through the MiniNova MIDI port, but not by the keyboard.
One of the MiniNova’s special features is an onboard 12-band vocoder. This includes their VocalTune pitch correction as well. Additionally, there is a gooseneck microphone included. However, you have the option to connect your mic to the front panel input.
- VCOs have many waveform options.
- Easy-to-learn interface.
- No battery option.
- No arpeggiator tap tempo.
10 Korg microKORG XL+ 37-Key Synthesizer/Vocoder with Expanded PCM – Best Combination Vecoder and Synthesizer
If you’re looking for a combination synthesizer and vocoder, the microKORG XL+ might be the way to go.
An amazing array of sounds and effects…
A combination of analog modeling synthesizer and vocoder. The XL+ comes loaded with 128 programs. Including the piano sound from Korg’s classic SGproX stage piano.
Likewise, you’ll find a Vox organ, vintage “mellow” tape-type strings, and flute synths, to name a few. A program selector lets you choose a sound by type or musical genre.
Fun vocoder talking effects…
The microKORG XL+ also functions as a 16-band vocoder. The audio input creates “talking” effects. Therefore, a gooseneck mic is included.
Furthermore, the frequency, level, and panning of each band can be changed. This allows you to create even more dramatic effects.
Stack, layer, or split…
It features 8-voice polyphony in normal playing mode or four voices with the vocoder. As a result, you can stack two voices together in Layer, Split, or Multimode. Each voice includes two VCOs that can be modulated together (FM or ring modulation), and a multi-mode VCF.
The 37-note “Natural Touch” velocity-sensitive mini-keyboard is augmented by pitch bend and modulation wheels. An arpeggiator provides six modes of operation. However, no sequencer is included.
- Easy to use.
- Many good internal sounds.
- Nice vocoder.
- Not much control over voices.
- No sequencer.
11 Arturia MicroFreak Hybrid Synthesizer – Best Vocoder Keyboard Synthesizer
Among the keyboard synthesizers reviewed, the Arturia MicroFreak is the most unusual. Notably, in place of a traditional keyboard, this instrument sports a 25-key touch plate “flat keyboard.”
It includes three distinct synthesis engines with 8-voice polyphony. As well as a paraphonic mode and a 16-voice vocoder. It comes with 160 factory presets and room to save 256 more.
Analog and additive synthesis…
The oscillator section provides the usual analog waveforms. These include sawtooth, triangle, and pulse. A Superwave option layers up to 9, slightly detuned versions of a waveform. The result is extremely thick textures.
On the other hand, you can use additive synthesis. This lets you build a complex waveform from 32 sine waves with amplitude modulation. Then there’s white and “particle” noise, with the ability to morph between them.
But there’s much, much more…
MicroFreak includes 16 wavetables. And Arturia promises to add more in future updates. Also, there’s basic (2-operator) FM. Additionally, the granular synthesis engine is great for adding a percussive texture.
There’s a speech sound generator that creates vowel, formant, and even simple word sounds. Finally, you get Karplus Strong synthesis, which physically models the behavior of stringed instruments.
Famous multi-mode filter…
All of this is shaped by a 12dB/octave multimode filter based on the famous Oberheim SEM VCF. And there’s an easy-to-read modulation matrix with five sources and seven destinations.
A different kind of keyboard…
This unique keyboard deserves special mention. While it doesn’t feel like a traditional keyboard because it has no moving parts, you can play notes very quickly.
Also, it offers polyphonic aftertouch (separate for each key). As a result, you get an extra level of expressive control. Furthermore, there’s a touch strip to replace the traditional pitch bend and modulation wheels.
Spice and Dice…
MicroFreak’s combination of arpeggiator/sequencer features unique enhancements, called “Spice” and “Dice.” Spice randomly alters parameters of the pattern without changing the pitch, creating new sequencers. Dice works with the touch strip to randomize a sequence by a variable amount.
- Clean, attractive control layout.
- Exhaustive selection of synthesis engines.
- Innovative keyboard with polyphonic aftertouch.
- The sequencer has unique features.
- A small, flat keyboard may not appeal to everyone.
- No pitch or mod wheels.
Best Keyboard Synthesizer Buying Guide
Any of these synthesizers would be an exciting addition to a musician’s arsenal. So many strong contenders make choosing one winner difficult. It’s important to know how these instruments can differ. This should help you decide which is right for you.
Mono, Poly… or Paraphonic?
A monophonic synth is a solo instrument, playing just one note at a time. A polyphonic synth can play several notes. Usually, all the notes have the same sound (monotimbral).
A few monophonic synths with multiple oscillators have a special “paraphonic” mode. This splits the oscillators so they can each play monotimbral chords.
The traditional method of synthesis was called “subtractive synthesis.” This is because sounds were created by filtering a complex waveform. These days, it’s often referred to as “analog synthesis.” It’s still the most commonly-used synth engine by far.
Its building blocks are oscillators (VCOs), filters (VCFs), amplifiers (VCAs), plus low-frequency oscillators (LFOs), and envelope generators (EGs). VCFs can be high-pass (HP), low-pass (LP), band-pass (BP), or notch types.
An EG can have delay, attack, decay, sustain and release (DADSR) parameters, or some subset of them.
Other synthesis types…
Frequency modulation (FM) synthesis was developed at Stanford University. Originally licensed to Yamaha for their DX series of synthesizers. The theory is complex, but it’s easy to create percussive sounds with non-harmonic overtones. Yet, it is different from ring modulation.
Wavetable synthesis became popular in the 1980s. A numerical image of a waveform or group of related waveforms is stored in memory and read back at a variable rate. With large enough tables, complex sounds can be very accurately reproduced.
Finally, there’s the vocoder (VOcal enCODER). Originally developed by Bell Labs for the telephone system. Vocoding superimposes a voice or instrument on top of another waveform. Some very unusual special effects are possible with this technique.
All the instruments reviewed include some kind of keyboard. They range in length from 25 keys to 37 keys. Some have full-size keys, while others are mini keys. One has a special flat keyboard with no moving parts.
Most synths include some kind of sequencer, but their complexity and features vary greatly. Some have as few as 16 steps, while others provide multiple tracks and hundreds of steps. A few offer additional controls to randomize or modify a sequence while it’s playing.
Similarly, many synths include an arpeggiator. This reads all the notes held down on the keyboard and plays them in some specified order.
Preset memory is also an important consideration. A synth will typically provide a certain number of factory-installed presets. Plus, several blank locations where you can save your voices. Of course, more is better.
Not quite what you are looking for?
Synthesizers a bit too daunting for you? Then check out our reviews of the Best Cheap Keyboard Pianos for simpler options.
Do you happen to be a “Kawai Guy”? Find yours in our review of the Best Kawai Digital Piano you can buy in 2021.
So, what is the Best Keyboard Synthesizer?
You won’t go wrong with any of the keyboard synthesizers reviewed here. Each is unique and would make a valuable addition to any musician’s kit. You just have to decide which features best match your needs.
However, we think the best one is the…
It’s simply loaded with options, including the General MIDI sound set and the Roland Supersaw waveform. There isn’t much this synthesizer cannot do.
That’s all for now. So, until next time… Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto.