Listing the best synthesizers in 2020 isn’t an easy task to make because there are so many deserving contenders. So, our synth reviews don’t just look at the best synths; we look at different types of synthesizers.
Our top 10 list includes keyboard synths, desktop synths, semi-modular, digital/analog hybrids, granular synthesis, and more. We chose a mix of some extremely high-end instruments and some more reasonably priced synths. There is something for everyone; enjoy, and good luck choosing just one!
Here are the best synthesizers 2020:
- Sequential Prophet X
- Waldorf Quantum
- Arturia MatrixBrute
- Moog Grandmother
- Novation Peak
- Nord Lead A1
- Elektron Digitone
- Studiologic Sledge 2.0
- Korg Prologue
- Behringer DeepMind 12
1. Sequential Prophet X
King of the hill
If you have any experience with synths at all, you will be familiar with legendary synth builder, Dave Smith. Formerly, this company was named Dave Smith Instruments but reverted to its original name (Sequential) when Yamaha returned the trademark to Dave Smith (fun fact).
The Prophet X is like all other Prophet synths at heart with an incredibly powerful analog synth engine. Where the Prophet X comes into its own is in its partnership with deep sampling masters 8dio. That partnership sees Sequential combine its tried and tested synth engine with flexible sample-based synthesis. The result is a new sound engine, powering two 16-bit, 48 kHz sample-based instruments. It also features two high-resolution digital oscillators, all running through stereo analog filters.
Sequential has developed (with 8dio) a 150 GB sample library that includes stunning acoustic/electronic instruments, and ambient effects. The Prophet X also comes with 50 GB of additional storage for housing your own samples and libraries. If that isn’t enough, there is a Prophet T8 add-on pack with over 3800 samples.
The synth engine offers the expected sine, saw, and pulse waveforms, but with far more flexibility than previous Prophet models. There are multiple LFOs, Loopable envelope generators, and a 16-slot mod matrix to add texture to any patch. To add to the vast sound collection available, Sequential has added a pretty sophisticated poly step-sequencer. It allows 6-notes per step, up to 64 steps.
The standard model has 61 semi-weighted keys with aftertouch (32-note polyphony), but an 76-key version (Prophet XL) with hammer-action keys is now available, too.
|Image credit: Sequential Check Sweetwater||
For a synth to wear the Prophet name, it has to be something quite special. Sequential seems to have done everything right with the Prophet X, and it’s deserving of its place. If you are getting into deep sampling, there is no one better than 8dio; combine that with the Prophet X vast sound-shaping options, and it’s a match made in synth heaven.
Any synth freak will love the Prophet X, but for you composers out there, this is for you. The soundscapes you can create for film/video, are unlike any other, and the acoustic pianos are just gorgeous. For all those reasons, the Prophet X is the pound for pound best synthesizer money can buy at the moment.
2. Waldorf Quantum
Waldorf are true pioneers of the synth world, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible for decades. Their latest flagship synth, the Waldorf Quantum, is a hybrid polysynth beast. This 61-key monster sports a premium Fatar TP8 keybed; one of the best you will play on any synth.
The Quantum is an eight-voice synth; each voice has three oscillators and two filters. That means you have a combined 24 oscillators with 16 analog filters. Voices can be split or layered, and a pair of AUX audio outputs are available specifically for multitimbral mode.
Each of the stereo oscillators has four synthesis algorithms available; wavetable, classical, granular sampler, and resonator. There are also six LFOs and six Loopable envelopes with multistage modulation. The Quantum is designed to inspire creativity, and with space for up to 10,000 preset voices, the possibilities are endless.
Adding to the sonic possibilities are some lovely master effects, like reverb, flanger, and drive. Every effect has a separate section for each timbre. The built-in arpeggiator has seven algorithms and multiple sort orders, which are great for creating random patterns. As a sequencer, the Quantum is capable of step recording, scale-based pitch quantization, and parameter automation.
Sampling is also a big part of the Quantum, especially with functions like granular sampling. You can record samples via live input or upload from storage; SD card, USB. The thing that ties everything together is a beautiful multi-touch display that shows every aspect of your sound design in stunning detail.
|Image credit: Waldorf Check Sweetwater||
Whatever way you look at it, the high-end Waldorf Quantum is an absolute beast. It does just about everything, and it does it all very well indeed. As far as sound design goes, the Quantum goes more in-depth than any other synth on our list. The analog filters are gorgeous, but that’s evident in the fact that some other manufacturers choose to use Waldorf filters, too.
In any synth review, it would be difficult to take any points away from the Quantum. The only legit downside is that it’s so expensive, but if you can afford it, it might be the best hardware synth you ever buy.
3. Arturia MatrixBrute
Matrix madness made easy
Arturia has a talent for taking the essence of vintage sound and delivering it in a modern package. That’s precisely what the Arturia MatrixBrute does.
The MatrixBrute is a 49-key synth with velocity-sensitive keys and aftertouch. It is the combination of Arturia’s Brute series analog power and a rather innovative routing and sequencing matrix. One of the most noticeable things on the top panel is the massive array of matrix buttons. These buttons let you easily route the signal, instantly recall presets, and set up sequences.
The front panel is quite busy, relatively speaking, but it makes for simple, hand-on navigation without any menus or shift functions. What gives this synth its Brute sound is a pair of VCOs with Arturia’s sought-after Metalizer and Ultrasaw. The sound is then shaped via the Steiner-Parker or ladder filters that provide a broad range of tonal character.
You can be as expressive as you like; the MatrixBrute functions in monophonic, paraphonic, and duophonic modes. There is a built-in 64-step sequencer that adds motion to your patches and can create some very complex rhythms. Those features have you covered for both stage and studio, and there is MIDI plus CV/Gate connectivity to hook up to the rest of your gear.
|Image credit: Arturia Check Sweetwater||
The MatrixBrute from Arturia is a fantastic little synth. At first glance, it looks like it’s a rather complicated bit of gear. There are buttons, knobs, and faders everywhere. But, once you get to grips with it, you soon realize that having physical controls for everything rather than menu diving is a blessing.
In that sense, it’s a perfect synth to learn on and sharpen up your sound-shaping skills. The MatrixBrute is a flexible synth with all the warmth and dirt of analog, and the convenience of digital control. The sequencer is capable of creating intricate patterns, and the overall sound is nice and aggressive, living up to the Brute family name. All in all, it’s one of the best hardware synths around.
4. Moog Grandmother
The newcomer with vintage pedigree
Could we even consider putting our list together without including a Moog synth? Absolutely not! We have gone with the newest of the lot, the Moog Grandmother, maybe a surprising choice for some. But, the mix of affordability and quality is why we picked it out. Not to mention, it’s one of the best analog synths available under $1000.
The Grandmother is a semi-modular analog synth with a 32-note Fatar keybed. The first thing you will notice is the colorful interface, and it’s not just for show, it makes the interface far easier to navigate. There are dual analog oscillators with triangle, square, and saw waveshapes. The utility stage features a bipolar attenuator and a patchable 1-pole high-pass filter.
Moog’s classic 4-pole ladder filter comes with a key-tracking switch and oversized controls that are easy to find even on a dark stage. Modulation options come from the analog LFO and ADSR envelope generator. It generally follows a typically Moog pattern, but the addition of a dedicated envelope sustain fader is a lovely touch.
As a semi-modular synth, there is no patching required, but there are 41 patch points. So, it’s ready to integrate easily with your Eurorack gear. The Grandmother comes with built-in spring reverb, not an emulation, a real analog spring reverb. It’s something that Moog hadn’t ever done previously, and as good as some emulations are, there is no comparison to the real thing.
As well as the 41 patch points, connectivity extends to DIN MIDI in/out and thru ports, as well as USB MIDI.
|Image credit: Moog Check Sweetwater||
The Moog Grandmother is the only Moog on our list, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best. But, don’t be fooled by the somewhat budget price, this is a legit Moog synth, and that’s why we love it.
The Grandmother brings the Moog sound to a new generation of desktop producers who maybe wouldn’t spend thousands of dollars on a synth. It’s easy to use but has the flexibility of a modular instrument. Best of all, it sounds like a Moog, and that built-in spring reverb is the icing on the cake. You’d struggle to find a better modular synth under $1000.
5. Novation Peak
The desktop demon
Novation is well-known for making beginner-friendly and budget-friendly gear. So, it may come as a surprise to some people that they are masters in the serious synth world, too.
The Novation Peak is an eight-voice polyphonic desktop synth with immense creative power. It’s most known for its warm analog sound that comes from three New Oxford Oscillators per voice. Each oscillator utilizes the traditional waveshapes as well as 60 digital wavetables. The numerically controlled New Oxford Oscillators provide a wealth of options to run through the gorgeous analog multimode filter.
Modulation is key with the Peak; you can assign 16 direct modulation instances to make your patch more interesting. On top of that, you have a 16-slot modulation matrix to use in lots of creative ways. For example, you could use aftertouch to control the waveshape of a particular oscillator.
The onboard effects include high-quality delays, reverbs, and chorus. Distortion can be applied pre or post filter per voice, which makes it more versatile than the average distortion. There is also a master distortion that works independently.
The latest firmware update for the Novation Peak has come with some important improvements. Envelopes now feature a hold stage (up to 500 ms) as well as being able to loop the attack and delay stages. It also comes with lots of new preset sounds that showcase the power of the Peak and the latest firmware.
|Image credit: Novation Check Sweetwater||
Novation’s Peak has a few massive plus points, like the Oxford Oscillators and incredible modulation options. It then has one somewhat polarizing characteristic; it has a very distinct sound. For us, the distinct sound is positive, but like anything else, some will love it, some will hate it. If you produce electronic music that leans towards the darker side, we think you will love it. If you are looking to make brighter, happier, pop music, you might hate it.
Aside from how it sounds, the question you need to ask yourself is, do you need a keyboard? Many people feel more in-tune musically when they have a keyboard. If you don’t need a keyboard, the Peak is one of the best portable synths around. Despite not being rack-mountable, it looks great on your desk if you have space!
6. Nord Lead A1
The workflow wizard
No matter which Nord instrument you are talking about, it’s always considered to be amongst the best in its class. The Nord Lead A1 is no exception and could be their most intuitive synth to date.
The Nord Lead A1 is an analog modeling synth that delivers authentic analog warmth in a digital machine. The Lead A1 comes with a 49-note Fatar keybed (24-note polyphony), which is extremely playable.
The most impressive thing about the Lead A1 is the workflow. It is purpose-built for creating, selecting, and loading patches as quickly as possible. One of the simple but effective features that help you do this is the ‘Like’ list that stores your liked patches. Nord’s unique eight configuration oscillator block makes shaping your sound a breeze.
From swirling pads, thumping synth bass, to 80s synth brass, and soaring leads, the A1 does it all. As well as a keyboard split function, the A1 is 4-part multi-timbral, so you can create some gorgeous layered patches. Onboard effects such as chorus, phaser, and drive are available individually per section.
Unison Mode and Extra Fat Unison Mode thicken up any sound, making some insane voices. An LFO with five waveforms is available, as well as low-pass, high-pass, and band-pass filters. Rounding off the filters are transistor and diode ladder filter emulations of Mini and TB-303. If you are still stuck for inspiration, the Mutator function lets you adjust specific elements of your patch by set percentages to produce quick variations.
It should be said that the A1 is not a budget version of the A4; it delivers high-end sound; it’s just the workflow that has been streamlined.
|Image credit: Nord Check Sweetwater||
The Nord Lead A1 is a worthy addition to Nord’s stellar lineup of instruments. It over-delivers on sound quality and range of sounds. The speedy workflow takes everything tedious out of the process and gets you straight to the fun part of making music. If you are someone who performs live regularly, the Lead A1 will save you time and effort in preparing for a set.
The onboard effects are great, Unison Mode unleashing some monster sounds, and it’s not limited to one or two genres of music. It might not go as deep into sound design as it could, but it was never intended to; it does exactly what it was made for and does it very well.
7. Elektron Digitone
A serious sequencer
When it comes to sequencing in the synth world, few do it better than Elektron. The Digitone might look like a simple groovebox, but this is a genuine FM synthesis powerhouse.
Fm synthesis can be a somewhat complicated area, but Elektron’s Digitone delivers it in a user-friendly package. There are four synth tracks, each of which has its own 4-operator Fm synth engine. Each synth engine has eight algorithms, and function in a typical subtractive synthesis workflow that is fun and intuitive.
The polyphonic sequencer is extremely powerful and offers creative ways to put sequences together. Four MIDI tracks for sequencing external gear join the four synth tracks, so you have plenty of space to work. Parameter locks allow you to lock not only different sounds to each step but also different parameter values. It also allows for adjustable micro-timing to add a more human feel to your pattern.
There are two LFOs available per voice and one arpeggiator per track. Some nice built-in effects, including panoramic chorus and saturator delay, add to the creative sound-shaping options.
The Digitone integrates with popular DAWs thanks to Elektron’s Overbridge software. It allows you to route audio to and from the hardware with a single USB cable. It also provides a superb graphic interface that essentially turns your Digitone into a plugin.
|Image credit: Elektron Check Sweetwater||
The Digitone from Elektron is surprisingly good, in the sense that it looks like a simple groovebox, but it’s so much more. On the other hand, if you are familiar with Elektron gear, you will know that they don’t mess around when it comes to sequencing. The attention to detail in small features like parameter locking and micro-timing makes all the difference.
Elektron has made a synth that deals with complex things in an effortless way, that’s what the Digitone is. The smooth integration with DAWs makes it a must-have for many bedroom producers. This modern machine is the best portable synth sequencer you can get.
8. Studiologic Sledge 2.0
Studiologic’s Sledge 2.0 is a synth that probably wouldn’t be on everyone’s list, but it should be. It’s a synth that flies under the radar a little, but it’s rare to hear anything negative about it.
The Sledge 2.0 is a 61-key virtual analog synth with 24 voice polyphony; it has semi-weighted keys with aftertouch. The polyphony increased from 16 voices found on the original Sledge. Other enhanced features include Auto Dual mode, which is a speedy way to set up layers and splits. When you are using layers and split zones, you can even set up the pitch and other controls to affect each sound independently.
Sampling is a big part of the Sledge 2.0 with an expanded internal memory of 60 MB. Sample editing is pretty straightforward and made even easier via the Sledge Spectre Software. It’s not just about triggering samples; it’s about creating entirely unique patches through clever mapping.
Beyond sampling, Sledge 2.0 features the usual lineup of oscillators like square, saw, triangle, and more. It goes one step further and includes 66 digital wavetables, taken from the much-admired Waldorf PPG. In terms of sound-shaping, Sledge 2.0 is capable of everything from smooth hip-hop synth bass to growling dubstep leads.
Despite being relatively simple to use, the Sledge 2.0 can create pretty complex sounds. Oscillators can be stacked to make huge aggressive tones, and oscillators two and three can be hard synced. Add to that two LFOs per voice, filters from Waldorf, and a 10-octave multimode arpeggiator, and the Sledge 2.0 starts to look like a mighty machine.
|Image credit: Studiologic Check Sweetwater||
Studiologic in general, fly under the radar a little for some synth/keyboard lovers. But, they make great sounding instruments that are well thought out and easy to navigate, so what’s not to like. The Sledge 2.0 isn’t drastically different from the original, but the changes that have been made are substantial. It’s easily one of the best feeling synths to play, and easily one of the best digital synthesizers under $1000.
9. Korg Prologue
The performers polysynth
The 61-key Korg Prologue is a modern 16-voice analog polysynth made for demanding performers. As impressive as a polysynth as it is, the Prologue has four voice modes that offer a broad range of creative possibilities. The four modes are polyphonic, monophonic, unison, and chord. Unison mode gives you an all-unison monosynth, while chord mode triggers chords from a single note. On top of the four modes, there are split, layer, and crossfade functions that allow you to create stunning textures.
The Prologue comes with a brand new analog filter design. The new silky-smooth filter sports a dedicated drive circuit that adds rich harmonic detail. It also comes with a low-frequency compensation switch to ensure you never lose the bass no matter how hard you overdrive the signal.
Three oscillators are available per voice; two analog and one digital FM/wavetable. Creating custom patches is exceptionally intuitive, and 43 digital effect types are available to shape your sound even further. If you don’t want to dive straight into custom patches, there are over 200 performance-ready presets, from pads to plucks, to basses and leads.
The Prologue has a built-in arpeggiator that is useful for both the studio and the stage. Connectivity isn’t as plentiful as it could be, but it has MIDI in/out along with Sync in/out for synchronizing with other Korg instruments.
|Image credit: Korg Check Sweetwater||
Korg advertizes the Prologue as a polysynth that’s ideal for the studio and the stage. That’s true to some extent; it’s good in both areas, but it definitely more suited to the live performer. The preset sounds are gorgeous, and you could easily play hundreds of gigs just using presets. However, creating weird and wonderful patches is a joy with this synth, and the filter is beautiful. Other little touches, like chord mode, add more versatility to your performance.
If you are after a studio synth with a sequencer and lots of connectivity, this isn’t it. If you want an awesome synth for the stage, the Prologue is one of the best polyphonic synths available in 2020.
10. Behringer DeepMind 12
The sounds of the 80s
Behringer’s DeepMind 12 is widely-regarded as one of the best polysynths around. That consensus opinion is based on a combination of sound quality and price.
It’s a 49-key, 12-voice polysynth with aftertouch, and it can recreate just about any iconic synth sound you’ve ever heard. Behringer has loaded the DeepMind 12 with their top of the range analog VCFs and stereo VCAs with adjustable resonance per voice. The 12/24 dB filters are dual-slope-selectable.
So, you’ve got two oscillators and LFOs per voice, an 8-channel mod-matrix, three ADSR envelopes, and a 32-step sequencer. A useful LCD screen displays everything that’s going on, so you never get lost in your own creation. Complete control over all features is enhanced via USB/Wi-Fi connection to your Mac, PC, or iPad.
Where the DeepMind 12 comes into its own is the FX engines. There are four digital effects engines with over 30 types of effects. Effect types include studio-quality reverbs, chorus, delays, and distortion. The DeepMind 12 runs a very low-latency operating system, so you can crank your effects without worrying about performance consistency.
The best thing about the four effects engines is that the effects are modeled on iconic hardware processors. Thanks to Behringer’s True Physical Modeling, you get stunning effects from industry giants like Lexicon and TC Electronics.
|Image credit: Behringer Check Sweetwater||
The Behringer DeepMind 12 is a top-rated hardware synth for any performer who plays a wide range of music. It captures classic synth bass sounds, pads, and leads with incredible accuracy. So, if you want a synth that’s ready to hit the ground running, the DeepMind 12 is perfect.
Recently, Behringer has been releasing a lot of synths that appear to be emulations of classic hardware synths (mostly from Roland). While the DeepMind 12 is its own instrument, it’s definitely more suited to players who want to recreate rather than create.
There isn’t a synth on our list that any genuine synth-head wouldn’t love to own. The downside is that once you get started, you want to buy them all, and it’s a costly habit. We have everything from stage-ready presets to complex sequencers to granular synthesis, and something to suit varying budgets.
So, as always, make your choice based on what you need versus your budget. Find the synth within your price range that ticks the most of your boxes, and have fun, these synths are insane.
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.