Gear, gear, gear. Too many options.

I'm looking to pick up my first synth this month (software or hardware). As you can tell, i'm into creating dirt, gritty soundscapes. I have a chain of guitar pedals for manipulating a sound into something lo-fi, but I need to pick up a synth that will match my needs. I've narrowed it down to this:

Hardware:DSI Desktop Evolver, Waldorf Blofeld, Alesis Micron, Doepfer Dark Energy.

Software: Tassman 4, Reaktor, Omnisphere, Reaktor, Metasynth.

I'm having trouble deciding software over hardware. I'd like to get something that I wouldn't have to spend years mastering. This is why I haven't picked up Reaktor, or indeed Komplete before. So many options, but such a learning curve.

Has anyone any advice, or some recommendations for me?

10 Answers 10


Clarifying what you want to use it for is the essential first step, and if you want polyphonic preset sounds then ignore this.... And my advice could be dangerous but I'd suggest starting a eurorack modular synth - maybe the Dark Energy is a good starting point (depends whether you want to synthesize sound or process it) but I can tell you this, it won't stop there! I bought a secondhand empty 6U Doepfer suitcase planning only to load it with modules for external processing - I started off with 3 modules: A Doepfer A119 Ext in/Envelope Follower, an A136 Distortion Waveshaper and an A105 Moog LPF.. The day they arrived I plugged my fun but crappy sounding Korg Kaossilator into it and instantly could not believe the sounds I could create with just these 3 modules - it could melt speakers! And thats not even using any control voltage... I next added filters that I've always loved and/or wanted eg Korg MS20 filter, Synthi filter etc... and 2 years later I have two 6U cases, 2 x 6U racks and a 3U rack full... Its the deepest instrument I've ever owned (& way more fun than Kyma/MaxMSP/Reaktor etc) You need to do a lot of research as you are really building your ideal synth, one module at a time, which is good (its unique) and bad (it costs) but even those first three modules make any softsynth I've ever used seem so tame & polite... Do some research on the eurorack section of muffwigglers forum.... But be warned, they don't call it eurocrack for no reason!


Have you thought about Zebra 2.5? It is only $200 and there is a free demo to try.


  • @Iain, wow that looks really interesting. Thanks for the link - have you used it? Jan 8, 2011 at 19:47
  • Just popped in to say, I COMPLETELY ENCOURAGE EVERYONE to buy Zebra. (And if you want to get creative, you can apply for the "Dinosaur Crossgrade" and save $50.)
    – MtL
    Jan 9, 2011 at 2:58
  • Sorry, that wasn't very useful and specific. I do own it, and love it. It's so easy to get really really lush, useful sounds from this synth. You can google for articles about Hans Zimmer using Zebra all over Dark Knight.
    – MtL
    Jan 9, 2011 at 3:00
  • It is wonderful and totally underpriced. It was also used on Inception with Howard Scarr programming the sounds.
    – user80
    Jan 9, 2011 at 11:01

I'm on the same boat as you. I'm going to NY in may and I'm looking for a synth.

Have you checked the microKorg? It's a really cheap synth with a lot of possibilities. What do you think? Check this video of the synth paired with a Roland Space Echo (the new version):


And other cool things this synth can do:




  • the microkorg is a fun synth, capable of some seriously subby bass sounds!
    – user49
    Jan 9, 2011 at 5:29

I recommend Reaktor a lot. You have the ability to build your own synths, but it comes packed with a lot of weird, gritty synths and effects, capable of almost any sound you couldn't imagine... And there's a huge user library as well.

You can always start out with the free Kore Player from Native Instruments, it has some Reaktor presets.

As for hard synths, I would recommend everything from DSI. They have a nice, fat sound and lots of interesting presets to start out with.

Just for fun, you could also get the Korg Monotron, and connect it to your guitar pedals. It has an audio input and the same filters as the old Korg MS-10. I love my Monotron almost as much as I love my MS-10.


+1 on not dismissing Reaktor just because you aren't into building your own stuff. Plenty of great machines included out of the box. Granular synthesis, drone-specific generators, weird effects, and of course, the latest 5.5 ships with Metaphysical Function again!

On the hardware front, I find the Blofeld increasingly tempting, I'm a wavetable nut. You can load your own samples now too though. Great sounding little box.


I know this is a little late, but you'd be CRAZY not to go with REAKTOR! Just absolutely unlimited possibilities, and with Reaktor's own "recorderbox"(which you can instantly record your synth improvs to AIFF files) it makes it a breeze to just experiment with different synths - even all going to the same AIFF file, just by pressing pause and changing synths!

Also there are some people out there (including me) that have noise synths to share...


+1 from me on Reaktor and/or starting a modular system like @Tim Prebble suggested.

Starting on a modular, since it's a hands on and very visual and instantaneous experience will help you wrap your head around signal flow, signal processing and synth design much better and it would be a solid intro for something like Reaktor. If you go with Reaktor right now, then you can get ensembles made by other people until you learn how to make them yourself.


I really don't know what I would do without Reaktor. Probably Metasynth if I could find someone to buy my Komplete Package.


Reaktor is my weapon of choice for studio work as well. Pretty much all i use these days pluss Kontakt and Absynth. (and MAX...and...and...:)

Sometimes i bring my Korg MS2000R hardware synth when playing live. Run this through a bunch of pedals and loopers. The fabric presets sounds crap, but i've made a lot of cool sounds with it. It found it's way to a couple of my albums too.


If you have Reaktor, try this ensemble called Monolite: http://nonorder.wordpress.com/

It's not free, but it's only 10 Euro. It's my favourite swiss army knife for drones and experimental sounds.

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