Best Affordable Synthesizers – 5 Great Synths Under $300

Welcome to my review of the best affordable synthesizers. One thing to keep in mind here is that because we are looking at budget synths, these machines are not perfect. I decided to set the maximum bar at $300, and that does impose limitations on what you can get for that money in terms of hardware. If you want some synthesizers for no money at all, and don’t mind using software instead, take a look at these great Free Synth Apps for iPad or Free Synth VST Plugins. But if a hardware synth is definitely what you are looking for, read on…

Arturia MicroBrute Analog Synthesizer


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Contents


#1: Arturia MicroBrute Analog Synthesizer


So as you can see, for the low price, this is quite an impressive analog synthesizer. It is easy to use, so even if you are not already too familiar with using synthesizers you can get stuck straight in and start making some crazy sounds. It has quite a distinctive sound and seems to be great for creating harsh metallic or percussive sounds. The versatile step sequencer will come in very handy when performing electronic music live.

It has good connectivity, being able to sync up with either analog gear using the GV gate, or with digital equipment using the MIDI or USB ports. In addition to this, the “Mod Matrix” mini patch bay means that you can rewire the signal pathway either internally or to and from external synthesizers. The keys on the MicroBrute are velocity-sensitive, but unfortunately, this does not have any effect on MicroBrute’s own synth sounds, it can only affect other synths via the MIDI. There is no aftertouch either, and it is only monophonic.

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Pros

  • Solid construction
  • Easy to use
  • Amazing sounds
  • 100% analog synth with modern connectivity
  • “Mod Matrix” miniature patch bay for altering signal paths – internally or externally
  • Oscillator has good range
  • “Metalizer” adds metallic sound
  • Sub-oscillator adds extra weight to the sound
  • CV gate for triggering other analog gear
  • MIDI and USB for connecting to digital gear
  • “Brute factor” for noisy synth sounds
  • Great for percussive and “snappy” sounds
  • LFO can reach into audible frequency range
  • Step sequencer: 8 patterns up to 64 steps
  • LFO can be synchronized with step sequencer
  • Great value for money

Cons

  • Monophonic
  • Oscillator has no sine wave or noise generator
  • Velocity-sensitivity of keys works for external MIDI only
  • No aftertouch
  • Small, cheap keys covering only 2 octaves
  • Only one oscillator

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#2: Korg Volca Keys Analog Synthesizer


This is one of a series of little analog instruments that Korg have recently come out with which also includes the Volca Beats and the Volca Bass. It is ideal for electronic musicians who prefer hardware to software and want to own a series of fun little boxes that you can link together.

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Pros

  • Sturdy body
  • MIDI input – can be played from a MIDI controller keyboard
  • Sync in and out for synchronizing with other similar boxes
  • Good LFO for pitch or filter cutoff
  • Delay adds extra flavor to sounds
  • 3 oscillators that can be combined in various ways
  • Can do mono or poly
  • Good step sequencer
  • Can record your knob movements
  • Change the order of the sequence in real-time
  • It even works well with Ableton Live software
  • Fun to use
  • Compact and portable
  • Good for beginners and experienced synth users alike
  • Great value for money

Cons

  • Can be noisy
  • Tiny plastic knobs
  • Oscillator only does sawtooth wave
  • Filter is not totally smooth (goes up and down in steps)

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#4: littleBits Electronics Synth Kit


So what we have here is something unique. It’s a bunch of tiny little synth modules that you can easily snap together, thanks to the magnets on either side of each part. It is very quick and easy to just get stuck in putting the modules together and seeing what weird and wonderful sounds you can come up with. This is the Lego of the synthesizer world.

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Pros

  • Magnets make it easy to fit the parts together
  • No soldering or wires required
  • Great fun to play with
  • Very versatile – can be configured in many different ways
  • Great sounding oscillator and filter
  • Perfect for making weird sounds
  • Good way to learn how synthesis works
  • Ideal for children and adults alike
  • Comes with a good manual explaining sound synthesis
  • Can buy additional modules to expand it
  • Modules are sturdy and won’t break easily
  • Battery powered – you can’t get electrocuted
  • It is effectively a Korg modular synth for less than $200
  • It will keep you entertained for hours

Cons

  • You can easily accidentally knock modules out of place
  • You quickly end up wanting more modules to expand it
  • Battery runs out quickly
  • No LFO module
  • No scale on the controls
  • Sequencer is rather simple
  • Keys are tiny

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#3: Moog Werkstatt-01 Analog Synthesizer Kit


So as you can see, the Werkstatt is great fun to use, and you can make a lot of crazy sounds with it once you dig in and start really playing around with the filter, LFO, pulse width, etc. It does a lot for the price, and can be used just on its own or can easily be expanded with other analog synthesizers and effects. I have to admit, though, that towards the end of that video I didn’t know what was going on. He was making all these crazy sounds and I completely lost track of what he was doing to produce those sounds.

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Pros

  • Very easy to assemble
  • Fun to use
  • Great sounds
  • Oscillator has a very wide frequency range
  • Modulation possibilities are impressive for such a small unit
  • Mini patch bay allows you to route it however you want
  • Can be expanded and modified in many ways
  • Does a lot for the price

Cons

  • Tiny keys
  • Difficult to get standard notes
  • Doesn’t have MIDI

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#5: Korg Kaossilator Pro+ Dynamic Phrase Synthesizer and Loop Recorder


This does not look like a typical synthesizer, but there is a lot you can do with it. It is very much a performance synthesizer and is all about manipulating loops in real-time. If you want an instantly accessible piece of kit that you can get stuck right into and make some great sounds with, it could make a great addition to an existing live setup, or even as a starting point for those wanting to take their first steps into electronic music making. Some people may miss not having a keyboard to play notes. If that sounds like you, take a look at the MicroBrute above.

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Pros

  • Fun and easy to use
  • Great sounds
  • Nice presets
  • Solid metal construction
  • Larger pad than the original Kaosilator pad
  • Easy to connect with other gear
  • Can play in sounds from other synths and turn them into loops
  • Great for bass and drum sounds
  • Awesome arpeggiator
  • Simple layout
  • Even a complete beginner can sound good
  • 4 buttons for different loops
  • 8 buttons for easy recall of setups
  • Lots of real-time control

Cons

  • Not much room for customization
  • Poor MIDI implementation
  • Loading and saving are slow and stop the sounds completely
  • Can’t do different time signatures
  • No 1/4″ line out jack
  • It’s difficult to play actual notes

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I hope you found this review of the best affordable synthesizers helpful, but if you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them in the comments section below and I will reply as soon as I can.

All the best,
Marcus.

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