As a keyboard player, the creative possibilities are endless with the right synth. It’s your chance to step away from preset voices and create your signature sound exactly as you want it.
We are taking a look at some of the best synthesizer keyboards available in 2020 and giving each a short review. If you are new to the world of synths, try one.
Top 7 Best Synthesizer Keyboard Reviews for 2020
Here are the best synthesizer keyboards 2020:
- Sequential Prophet X
- Novation Summit
- Roland JD-XA
- Korg KingKORG
- Moog Sub Phatty
- Korg microKORG
- Arturia MicroFreak
1. Sequential Prophet X
The Prophet range from legendary high-end synthesizer builder Dave Smith has been a front runner in this market forever it seems. Formerly known as Dave Smith Instruments, the company is now called Sequential and the Prophet X is the best Sequential synth to date.
The Prophet X combines analog with sample-based synthesis in a collaboration with 8Dio. 8Dio is a company known to be experts in what they call deep sampling.
At the heart of the Prophet X, you have a 61-key, semi-weighted, 32-note polyphony synth with two high-resolution digital oscillators. Although being digitally controlled, everything runs through analog filters for a truly authentic experience.
The synth engine provides the classic sine, saw, or pulse waveforms that you expect from a Prophet, this time with even more flexibility. You can manually change the width of any waveform or use one of 4 LFO’s, 4 loopable envelope generators, or the 16-slot mod matrix to add texture.
The sample engine runs on 150gb of sample content from 8Dio with an additional 50gb of space to upload your samples.
The Prophet X also comes with a poly step sequencer which lets you record 6 notes per step for up to 64 steps. A dual effects engine provides two effects per layer and there are some stunning phase, flang, distortion effects, and much more. As far as connectivity goes, you name it, it’s got it along with 3 OLED displays making it great for studio or stage work.
There is no denying the Prophet X is an absolute beast. It’s impossible to cover all the complexities of this synthesizer in a mini-review.
The collaboration with 8Dio is a success, no one does deep sampling as well as they do. A direct result of that collaboration is that the Prophet X has some beautiful piano voices, something that many synths are lacking.
The 16 slot mod matrix along with the onboard LFO’s and effects are capable of shaping some incredible patches and creating unique rhythms and textures.
Anyone from an EDM producer to a Hollywood movie composer could gain massively from adding a Prophet X to their arsenal. The only issue is that price, it’s not to suggest it isn’t worth every penny but for the average musician, it’s certainly a big investment.
2. Novation Summit
The Summit is a new offering from Novation who are known for making the Peak, a long-time top-rated synthesizer. The Summit, in a nutshell, contains 2 Novation Peak synth engines so it’s massively powerful.
It’s a semi-weighted 61-key, 2 part, 16 voice polyphonic synth with some amazing analog credentials. It has a true stereo analog signal path with dual analog multimode filters, analog VCA’s, and analog distortion.
This is a synth that the purists will love. It uses 3 digital oscillators per voice with a noise generator. It allows 2 LFO’s per voice with an amp envelope and 2 mod envelopes. The state variable filter allows pre-filter overdrive and post-filter distortion.
The Summit offers 16 modulation slots per patch and an abundance of mod sources. The onboard effects are per part and include analog distortion, 3 chorus types, and 16 types of delay.
The Summit is housed in a metal case with wood ends and the front panel is remarkably well laid out for such a complex machine.
Listing the price as the only thing in the con list is because we can’t find anything else. The Summit has some of the very best patches I’ve ever heard, especially the cinematic pads/textures.
The Peak synth was incredibly powerful so an engine running 2 Peaks seems limitless. You could easily, without exaggeration, play this synth every day for a year and create a new sound every time. Even if you aren’t considering buying one just yet please go try one out.
3. Roland JD-XA
The Roland JD-XA is a 49-key analog/digital hybrid synthesizer, max polyphony is 4 voices for analog and 64 voices for digital. The keys are velocity-sensitive with aftertouch that can create some great effects if used correctly.
It’s a great starting point for composition too as it comes with a very nice 16-track sequencer, not all synths have this. Onboard effects are abundant, global and insert, including some lovely reverbs, delays, and EQ so you have full control of your sound.
It also comes with lots of connectivity, USB for MIDI functions, CV/gate outputs, an analog dry output jack, a click output jack, foot pedal jacks, and of course the main output jacks.
This is a modern synthesizer keyboard that delivers beautiful analog and digital performance. One of the best things about this synth is that it brings out the players creativity because there are so many ways to shape the sound.
The 16-track sequencer also inspires creativity when recording/composing or used as a live performance tool. The JD-XA is a synth that any serious keyboard player would love to have. It’s powerful, versatile, inspiring, and beautiful to play.
It’s not outrageously priced for a 49-key synthesizer but it’s not cheap either. As a pure synth, there are some better options but as a centerpiece of your production/studio setup, features like the 16-track sequencer could push the JD-XA to the top of your list. One of the very best modern synthesizers available.
4. Korg KingKORG
The KingKORG is one of my personal favorites. It’s a semi-weighted 61-key analog modeling powerhouse. One of the reasons it’s so good is that it’s cheaper than most of the big-name 61-key synths but still delivers supreme quality. It has a full analog vacuum tube driver circuit and a built-in vocoder.
The sound engine is Korg’s XMT (Xpanded modeling technology) and it delivers a huge variety of tones. There are 3 oscillators and 3 master effects sections. The front panel is very intuitive, everything is clear and easy to use on the fly.
While you do have a lot of sound-shaping options there are around 200 presets which set this synth apart. The presets might be frowned upon by purists but the reality is they sound amazing and the option to turn on the tube amp takes them to another level.
Synthesizers aren’t exactly beginner keyboards but the KingKORG is the best example of an entry-level, powerful synth. It’s not entry-level in terms of quality or sound but it’s the most intuitive and easy to use synth on our list.
For anyone who performs a lot or produces multiple tracks daily (beatmakers, etc) this is the perfect synth. You have more than enough keys to deal with any style without using the transpose button and you can find/edit the highest quality leads, basses, and pads on the fly.
With the KingKORG you don’t need to understand complex things to deliver a complex sound, it’s beautiful. I’d go as far as saying this could be the best Korg synth I’ve ever played and that’s a big statement. You literally will not find another synthesizer under (or around) $1000 that beats this.
5. Moog Sub Phatty
Moog have long been associated with high-end synthesizers. The Sub Phatty isn’t the flagship Moog synth but it’s a little powerhouse that can transform your music.
One of the best things about the Sub Phatty is how simple it is to use with a nice, clean front panel and free editing software. It’s essentially a 25-key analog synth with a 31 knob panel that lets you easily control and shape some of the most classic Moog tones.
The sound engine comes from 2 variable oscillators running through a high-gain mixer. Inside the mixer, you have a pink noise generator and a sub-oscillator, what this does is adds real grit and depth to the sound.
Moog launched their multi-drive circuit with the Sub Phatty, it can either add warmth and round off your tone or turn it into a screaming analog monster. There’s not a whole lot of connectivity on offer but this is as close to a “plug and play” Moog as you will ever get.
The Sub Phatty has some mixed opinions because it’s so easy to use, some more advanced players think that means inferior sound. We can tell you definitively it does not!
The only loss through making it so clean and simple to use is some more precise fine-tuning/shaping capabilities. The sound it generates is 100% authentic Moog and perfect for anyone who just wants to add that sound to their work.
The editor software does let you go deeper into tweaking the sound but on stage, you won’t always want to use a laptop. If you want something that can generate phat basslines and aggressive lead lines with no fuss, this is it.
6. Korg microKORG
The microKORG has been around for a while and it’s not going anywhere for good reason. It’s still a favorite amongst producers and performers because it packs such a big punch in such a small package. Much of the love for this small synth comes from its outstanding vocoder capabilities.
The microKORG has 37 velocity-sensitive mini-keys with split and dual-mode available. The sound engine is built on 4 voices and 2 oscillators with a noise generator and multi-pass filter.
The 8-channel vocoder is the real star of this synth, running on one oscillator and noise generator. Each channel can be panned and leveled individually and a formant shift function adds some extra dirt. It’s a straight-forward synth but it’s now enjoying its 15th anniversary so Korg did something right with this one.
The microKORG is somewhat of a legend amongst keyboard players. This is most likely the best budget synth under $500 that you could find. It’s not the most powerful sound engine by any means but it’s powerful for its size that’s for sure.
Despite not being the best sounding synth it does have an iconic sound which compensates for lack of quality. The vocoder is fantastic and it’s worth buying for that alone.
It’s not going to be the main part of your setup in the studio or on stage but no matter what keyboards you have got already, the microKORG will add something.
7. Arturia MicroFreak
The MicroFreak is a new algorithmic synth from Arturia who usually focus on analog or soft synths. On first sight, it’s a strange-looking instrument and that is a pretty fair assessment. Like the name suggests it’s a mini synthesizer that’s extremely portable.
The flat key-bed has 25 keys with 4-note polyphony when the paraphonic button is engaged. The MicroFreak comes with a single 12-mode digital oscillator. The 12-mode oscillator emulates many classic analog/digital oscillators so you have plenty of range to play with.
The 12 modes are great when searching for a new sound, before you change completely just try hitting the other modes and it might surprise you.
The analog filter is digitally controlled and can switch between low, high, and bandpass modes. It can be further fine-tuned via the cutoff and resonance knobs. There is a single LFO which is quite average but easy to use and works well enough.
The MicroFreak made it onto our list to offer something different. It’s weird, it’s strange, it’s different but it’s a lot of fun! You can come up with a lot of very cool sounds very quickly, that along with its compact size make it very interesting indeed.
This is a synth that you’d buy in addition to other synths or keyboards, I wouldn’t suggest you buy this as your main synth. But it won’t break the bank, it sounds great, albeit not to the level of the larger synths, and it’s just fun to use.
What is a Synthesizer?
A synthesizer is an electronic instrument that generates audio signals that are then converted to sound. A synthesizer can emulate real instruments like pianos and strings or create a whole world of weird and wonderful electronic sounds.
Synths are made up of connected modules like oscillators, filters, loopers, etc. The modules can be used all together or in any variation to shape the final output of sound. A synth doesn’t need to have a keyboard, sound can be created with modular synths just by sending your signal along the desired path.
If you have ever seen a large modular synth rack, with patch cables everywhere it can look quite intimidating. Essentially, all of those cables are just a physical representation of the signal path your digital keyboard would emulate, except you are seeing it now. So it’s not as complex as it may look, although, adding a keyboard makes it much more approachable for many musicians.
How to Choose a Synthesizer?
This is like choosing any instrument, you have to think about a budget and what your end goal is. Think about what you are hoping to create with this instrument.
The biggest difference between choosing a synth and choosing something like a MIDI controller is that with a synth it’s far easier to end up out of your depth. As we mentioned above, synths are not as complicated as they first seem but it’s still a big leap from a digital piano, etc.
If you need something for performing/producing and all you care about is the end sound then something like the KingKORG is perfect. You get the high-quality sound without needing to understand the complexities of oscillators and mod sources.
What are Synth Keyboards Used for?
Synth keyboards are used for a wide range of projects. Some of the most iconic film scores ever made were created on legendary synthesizers. They are widely used by producers, performers, and DJ’s both in the studio and on stage. They are not generally used if your main focus is the sound of real instruments, piano, Fender Rhodes, etc.
Synths are most commonly used for adding lead lines or bass lines to tracks in multiple genres from pop to funk. They can also be used to thicken up a track by adding a synth pad underneath it.
If you like any form of electronic music from EDM to techno to Dubstep then you have heard synthesizers being used.
When you play digital pianos you don’t need to think about LFO’s or analog signal paths, etc. It’s just about playing and let’s be honest, learning your instrument properly is a never-ending journey as it is. When you start to add synthesizers to the mix it opens up a whole new world with endless sonic possibilities.
Our advice would be to keep it simple and walk before you run. In other words, if you are still getting to grips with the basics of the keyboard then don’t dive head first into a high-end synth.
Start simple and learn properly, that way you will develop a stronger understanding of how different modules work, waveforms, envelopes, and so on.
If you feel like your grasp of the basic keyboard is strong enough then don’t be put off by the look of a complex synth. Once you get started it will change how you make music and you won’t stop!
James is a writer and musician with a passion for audio production. He is a lover of all things tech, especially the latest keyboards, synths, DAW’s, virtual instruments, and effects plugins. Musical interests include jazz, funk, hip hop, blues, and rock.