The Best Synthesizers Under $500 (2023 Ultimate Guide)

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Looking for the best synthesizers under $500 in 2023? Check out our ultimate guide to find the perfect synth for your music production needs. We review the top 6 models, compare their features, sound quality, and performance. Whether you want a digital, analog, or hybrid synth, we have you covered. Don’t miss this opportunity to upgrade your studio with a new synth that fits your budget and style.

1. Arturia MicroFreak

UNIQUE HYBRID SYNTH

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2. Behringer MS-1

AUTHENTIC ANALOG TRIBUTE

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3. Korg MS-20 mini

CLASSIC ANALOG REPRODUCTION

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4. Arturia MiniBrute

POWERFUL ANALOG BEAST

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5. Korg microKorg

VERSATILE DIGITAL SYNTH

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6. Korg minilogue

INNOVATIVE ANALOG SYNTH

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1. Arturia MicroFreak

UNIQUE HYBRID SYNTH

12-mode digital oscillator with versatility.Touch-sensitive keyboard with expressive control.
Powerful sequencer and arpeggiator.Many connectivity options for integration.
Picture by Arturia

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Picture by Alesis

PROS

  • If you’re on the hunt for a wallet-friendly synth that delivers an abundance of sonic possibilities, look no further than the Arturia MicroFreak. This offbeat little synth is undoubtedly one of the top synthesizers available for under $500 in 2023, and it offers a multitude of reasons why it should be on your radar:

    To begin with, the MicroFreak boasts a 12-mode digital oscillator that churns out an impressive array of sounds. From classic waveforms to exotic wavetables and granular synthesis, this versatile oscillator has you covered. Additionally, you can even load your own samples and tweak them using the oscillator parameters. Complementing this, the MicroFreak features an analogue multimode filter, which infuses warmth and character into your sounds.

    What sets the MicroFreak apart from the crowd is its unique touch-sensitive keyboard. Capable of registering pressure, velocity, and aftertouch, this keyboard lets you control a range of sound parameters, such as pitch, timbre, and modulation. Notably, the keyboard also offers polyphonic aftertouch mode, granting you the freedom to play up to four notes simultaneously with individual expression.

    Shining in the realm of sequence and rhythm creation, the MicroFreak flaunts a powerful sequencer and arpeggiator. With the ability to record up to 64 steps, including notes, rests, and parameter automation, you can effortlessly tweak and edit your sequences on the fly. Moreover, the inclusion of the Spice and Dice knobs brings a dash of randomness and variation into your compositions.

    When it comes to connectivity, the MicroFreak excels. It provides multiple options for integrating with other gear, such as a USB port for power and MIDI data transmission, as well as 3.5mm MIDI in and out jacks for connecting to external devices. Furthermore, the CV/Gate/Pressure outputs enable seamless control over modular synths and other analog gear.

    The Arturia MicroFreak is a remarkable, adaptable synthesizer that offers plenty of bang for your buck. It’s an ideal choice for those eager to explore new sonic frontiers and experiment with different synthesis techniques.

CONS

  • The Arturia MicroFreak is a versatile and affordable synthesizer with digital oscillators and an analogue filter. However, there are two cons to consider before purchasing it.

    1. The build quality is not sturdy; the plastic chassis and keybed feel cheap and flimsy. Some users reported issues with keybed sensitivity and calibration. If you want a more solid and durable synth, you may want to look elsewhere.

    2. The raw sound is a bit thin and clean. The digital oscillators lack the warmth and richness of analog ones. The 12dB/oct mode analogue filter may not be enough for certain sounds. External effects or processing may be needed to enhance the sound.

    These are two negative aspects of the Arturia MicroFreak to be aware of. However, it’s a great synth for the price, and exploring its unique features and sounds can be a lot of fun.

2. Behringer MS-1

AUTHENTIC ANALOG TRIBUTE

Three oscillator waveforms, sub-oscillator.Self-oscillating filter for expressive tones.
Built-in sequencer and arpeggiator.Compact and portable keytar.
Picture by Behringer

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

PROS

    • If you’re in search of an exceptional synthesizer under $500, then the Behringer MS-1 is definitely worth considering. This monophonic analog synthesizer beautifully recreates the renowned Roland SH-101 and comes packed with an array of impressive features and sounds, all available at an extremely affordable price point. Let’s delve into some of the notable advantages of the Behringer MS-1:

      First and foremost, the MS-1 boasts a versatile oscillator capable of producing three distinct waveforms: sawtooth, triangle, and pulse. On top of that, it offers an additional sub-oscillator for enhancing the low-end frequencies. Moreover, you have the flexibility to modulate both the pulse width and filter cutoff using various sources, including the LFO, envelope, and noise generator.

      Another standout feature of the MS-1 is its self-oscillating filter. This remarkable function lets you create silky smooth or aggressively bold tones, depending on your desired resonance setting. The filter is also capable of tracking the keyboard pitch, resulting in more expressive and dynamic playing. Additionally, you can incorporate external audio input to further process sounds through the filter and envelope, widening your sonic possibilities.

      In terms of composition and performance, the MS-1 goes above and beyond. It offers an integrated sequencer and arpeggiator, enabling you to generate captivating patterns and melodies effortlessly. The sequencer allows you to program up to 64 steps, while the arpeggiator offers a range of modes and pitches to explore. Moreover, the MS-1 can be synchronized with other devices through MIDI or CV/Gate connectivity.

      The MS-1’s compact and portable design makes it highly convenient for musicians on the move. It’s easily transportable and adaptably fits into various musical contexts. Furthermore, adding to its versatility, the MS-1 can transform into a keytar by attaching the optional handgrip and strap. The synthesizer is available in three visually striking colors: gray, red, and blue.

      The Behringer MS-1 provides an exceptional opportunity to experience the sound and tactile experience of a vintage analog synthesizer without straining your wallet. For more detailed information about the MS-1, visit Behringer’s official website, where you can also explore reviews posted by other users . In conclusion, the Behringer MS-1 has unquestionably earned its place among the best synthesizers under $500 in 2023, and purchasing one will be a decision you won’t regret.

CONS

  • The Behringer MS-1 is a clone of the classic Roland SH-101, a 1980s monophonic analog synthesizer. It faithfully reproduces the original sound and features, including some added enhancements like dual glide function and improved VCF and VCA performance. However, there are a couple of downsides to consider before purchasing the MS-1.

    Firstly, its limited MIDI implementation lets it down. While the original SH-101 had no MIDI capabilities, the MS-1 does have MIDI input and output. However, they only support basic note on/off and pitch bend messages. This means you can’t control parameters, save presets, or sync the arpeggiator/sequencer using external MIDI devices.

    Secondly, the MS-1 has a noisy output, which annoyed many users. There is a noticeable hiss or hum, particularly when using headphones or connecting to a mixer or audio interface. The cause is uncertain, and no official solution from Behringer has been provided yet.

    The Behringer MS-1 is an affordable and enjoyable option for accessing the SH-101 sound, but its drawbacks should be taken into account. 

3. Korg MS-20 mini

CLASSIC ANALOG REPRODUCTION

Thick, powerful, versatile sound.Mini patch bay for versatility.
MIDI and USB connectivity.Compact and portable synthesizer.
Picture by Korg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

PROS

  • The Korg MS-20 Mini is a highly revered semi-modular analog synthesizer renowned for its classic sound and versatile patching system. As a reissue of the original MS-20, a synthesizer released in 1978 that has since become iconic, it boasts a multitude of advantages. Let’s explore some of the key pros that make the Korg MS-20 Mini a standout choice:

    Firstly, the MS-20 Mini impeccably replicates the original circuitry and sound of its predecessor. By harnessing the power of analog oscillators, filters, envelope generators, and an external signal processor, this synthesizer delivers a rich, dynamic, and commanding sound. Despite its relatively diminutive size, the MS-20 Mini effortlessly generates a diverse range of tones, from deep and resonant basses to sharp and vibrant leads.

    Secondly, the inclusion of a mini patch bay empowers users to create complex and distinctive sounds by skillfully routing signals among various modules. This feature also allows for the seamless integration of external devices such as guitars, microphones, and additional synthesizers. By incorporating the MS-20 Mini’s filters and effects into your workflow, you unlock the potential for limitless sonic exploration.

    Thirdly, the MS-20 Mini is equipped with MIDI IN and USB connectivity, ensuring effortless integration into your studio or live setup. You can conveniently control the synthesizer’s parameters using either a MIDI keyboard or a digital audio workstation (DAW). The USB port facilitates the effortless exchange of MIDI data, ensuring smooth communication with other devices in your creative arsenal.

    Lastly, the MS-20 Mini boasts a compact and portable design, occupying just 86% of the space required by its predecessor. This makes it an ideal choice for musicians looking to conserve space or take their sound on the go. Furthermore, the synthesizer retains the beloved aesthetic of the original, featuring a white monotone color scheme and retro-style knobs.

    Ultimately, the Korg MS-20 Mini offers the opportunity to experience the legendary sound and versatility of the MS-20 within a contemporary and affordable package. It stands as one of the finest synthesizers available for under $500 in 2023, making it an enticing option for both newcomers and seasoned professionals in the world of synthesis.

CONS

  • The Korg MS-20 mini is a compact version of the iconic MS-20 synthesizer released in 1978. Its semi-modular design and unique sound make it a favorite among musicians for creative experimentation. However, there are a couple of factors to consider before purchasing the MS-20 mini.

    Firstly, its smaller size may make it challenging to play and patch, especially for individuals with larger hands or using thick cables. Some users have also noted that the knobs feel loose and wobbly, affecting sound accuracy. Additionally, the MS-20 mini’s patch bay uses 3.5mm mini-jack cables, which are not standard in the modular synth world. Adapters or specialty cables are required to connect with devices using 1/4 inch or banana plugs. Moreover, the MS-20 mini does not adhere to the 1 volt per octave pitch control convention, hindering its compatibility with other keyboards or sequencers.

    While these are drawbacks of the MS-20 mini, it also boasts advantages such as its authentic analog sound, versatile filters, and affordable price. If interested, you can find a detailed review on the pros and cons of the MS-20 mini.

4. Arturia MiniBrute

POWERFUL ANALOG BEAST

One oscillator, multiple wave options.Multi-mode filter with unique character.
Comprehensive mini-jack patchbay for connections.Keystep-style sequencer with multiple functions.
Picture by Arturia

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

PROS

  • If you are in the market for a high-quality synthesizer that won’t break the bank, look no further than the Arturia MiniBrute. Priced under $500, this 100% analogue monosynth offers an impressive array of features and flexibility. Here are four standout advantages of the MiniBrute:

    Firstly, the oscillator section of the MiniBrute is a force to be reckoned with. With its ability to generate saw, triangle, and square waves simultaneously, along with the added option of blending them with white noise and external audio input, the possibilities are endless. Furthermore, each wave type has its own modifier control for precise and unique wave-shaping. The Ultrasaw mode for the saw waveform adds depth and richness, while the Metalizer mode for the triangle waveform adds complex harmonics. Additionally, the square waveform has a Pulse Width control that can be modulated by an LFO or the envelope, allowing for even more sonic variation.

    Secondly, the MiniBrute boasts a Steiner-Parker filter that can operate in various modes, including low-pass, high-pass, band-pass, and notch. The filter’s signature smooth and warm sound at low resonance settings, coupled with its sharp and biting sound at high resonance settings, gives the MiniBrute its distinctive character. Moreover, the filter can self-oscillate, offering a sine wave that serves as a second oscillator. The cutoff of the filter can be modulated through diverse sources such as the LFO, the envelope, the keyboard tracking, the aftertouch, or the modulation wheel.

    Thirdly, the MiniBrute 2 is semi-modular, featuring a comprehensive mini-jack patchbay. With 48 inputs and outputs, this patchbay allows for rerouting of the internal signal flow and connection to other modular devices. Users can engage in feedback loops, cross-modulation, and even use the MiniBrute 2 as a MIDI-to-CV converter. The patchbay opens up a world of experimentation and endless sonic possibilities for users.

    Finally, the MiniBrute 2 comes equipped with a Keystep-style sequencer, capable of recording up to 64 steps of notes and rests. With the ability to record eight different sequences and seamlessly switch between them, the sequencer offers a range of playback modes, including forward, backward, alternate, and random. Additionally, users can transpose the sequence in real-time using either the keyboard or an external MIDI device. The sequencer is an invaluable tool for crafting melodies, bass lines, and arpeggios on the MiniBrute 2.

    These four advantages represent just a fraction of the incredible features the Arturia MiniBrute 2 has to offer. For those interested in learning more, I recommend checking out online reviews and demos, or better yet, visiting a local music store to try it out for themselves. Prepare to be amazed by the immense capabilities of this compact synthesizer.

CONS

  • The Arturia MiniBrute is a popular analogue monosynth with great features and sound quality for its price. However, it has a couple of drawbacks to consider:

    1. The MiniBrute’s single oscillator limits its sonic versatility and polyphony. Despite wave-shaping options and a sub-oscillator, it can’t achieve the rich complexity of multiple oscillators. If you desire lush pads, chords, or layered sounds, it may not be your best choice.

    2. The MiniBrute’s small, non-standard keyboard can frustrate players. With 25 mini-keys, they are smaller, less sensitive, and lack the standard MIDI note mapping. This can cause transposed or missing notes when used with other MIDI devices, inconvenient for those used to full-sized keyboards.

    While the MiniBrute has cons, it also boasts pros like a powerful filter, extensive modulation options, and affordability. Ultimately, your decision should consider personal preferences and synthesist needs.

5. Korg microKorg

VERSATILE DIGITAL SYNTH

Powerful synthesis engine, versatile sounds.“Simple, effective real-time editing.”
Flexible vocoder with audio inputs.Good MIDI controller with arpeggiator.
Picture by Korg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

PROS

  • The Korg microKORG is widely regarded as one of the best synthesizers available for under $500. This versatile and compact instrument has numerous benefits that set it apart from its competitors. Here are four key advantages of the microKORG:

    Firstly, the microKORG boasts a powerful analogue synthesis engine that is capable of producing an extensive array of sounds. From classic to modern, warm to cold, fat to thin, the microKORG’s sound quality is incredibly rich and expressive. This is largely due to its foundation on the renowned MS-2000 synthesizer, which is acclaimed for its superior audio capabilities.

    Secondly, the microKORG features a user-friendly real-time editing system. This system consists of five knobs and two buttons, allowing users to effortlessly adjust synth parameters. Additionally, the virtual patching system grants even greater creative possibilities by enabling the assignment of modulation sources and destinations.

    Thirdly, the microKORG possesses a flexible vocoder with external audio inputs. This functionality enables users to process any sound source using the powerful synth engine. Whether employing the microphone included with the device or connecting an external mic or instrument to the audio inputs, the vocoder can generate an impressive range of effects including robotic, metallic, or ethereal vocal manipulations.

    Lastly, the microKORG serves as an excellent MIDI controller, allowing for seamless integration with other MIDI devices or software. Users can utilize the microKORG as a master keyboard and take advantage of its comprehensive MIDI controller capability. Additionally, the arpeggiator function further enhances the musical experience by generating rhythmic patterns and melodies with the synth.

    In conclusion, the Korg microKORG is an outstanding choice for those seeking an affordable, portable, and powerful synthesizer. Whether you are a beginner, producer, performer, or computer musician, the microKORG offers something for everyone. Its exceptional sound quality, user-friendly interface, versatile vocoder, and MIDI controller capabilities make it an exceptional instrument that truly stands out in its price range.

CONS

  • The Korg microKorg is a highly regarded synthesizer priced under $500. Its compact and portable design delivers a diverse array of sounds and effects. Nonetheless, it is crucial to consider a few drawbacks before making a purchase. Here are two downsides to the Korg microKorg:

    1. The mini keys are uncomfortable to play. With 37 keys smaller than standard ones, chords and melodies can be challenging and uncomfortable for some users. Moreover, the mini keys lack velocity sensitivity, failing to respond adequately to different playing intensities.

    2. The editing interface lacks user-friendliness. Though the microKorg offers abundant parameters and sound customization options, the interface is not intuitive or easy to navigate. Its small LCD screen and four knobs necessitate tedious and confusing menu diving. Frequently referencing the manual or employing a software editor may be essential to access all features.

6. Korg minilogue

INNOVATIVE ANALOG SYNTH

4-voice analog synthesizerBuilt-in delay and arpeggiator/sequencer.
User-friendly and intuitive interface.Eight voice modes for versatility.
Picture by Korg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

PROS

  • If you are on the hunt for a top-notch synthesizer that won’t break the bank, the Korg Minilogue is a fantastic option to consider. Priced under $500, this 4-voice analog synth boasts an impressive array of features and exceptional sound quality. Let’s take a closer look at some of the standout advantages of the Korg Minilogue:

    Firstly, the Minilogue presents a versatile and powerful analog engine. With two VCOs per voice, white noise, and a low-pass filter, you have an extensive range of sonic possibilities at your fingertips. Shape the three available waveforms (sawtooth, pulse, and triangle) using the Shape knobs or the LFO, and delve into complex sound design with its cross modulation, oscillator sync, and ring modulation options.

    The built-in delay and arpeggiator/sequencer further enhance the Minilogue’s appeal. The digital delay effect enriches your sounds by providing depth and spaciousness. Meanwhile, the 16-step sequencer enables you to record your own patterns, while the arpeggiator lets you experiment with various modes and rhythms.

    Another major advantage is the user-friendly and intuitive interface of the Minilogue. Its sleek and compact design, 3-octave keyboard, and clear OLED display make navigation a breeze. The front panel features numerous knobs and switches that provide direct access to all parameters, and you can conveniently save and recall up to 200 presets to streamline your creative process.

    One standout feature is the Minilogue’s unique voice mode capabilities. With eight different voice modes to choose from, you have control over how the four voices are allocated and played. Switch between polyphonic, duophonic, monophonic, unison, chord, delay modes, or explore the sidechain mode to modulate one voice with another. Additionally, by utilizing the poly chain mode, you can link two Minilogues together to achieve 8-voice polyphony.

    Considering these reasons, the Korg Minilogue firmly cements its position as one of the top synthesizers under $500 in 2023. Curious to learn more? Check out online reviews and demos for firsthand insight into this amazing synth. Better yet, get your hands on a Minilogue and experience firsthand how it can elevate your music-making journey!

CONS

  • The Korg Minilogue is a superb analog synthesizer with exceptional features and sound quality considering its price. Nevertheless, it has a couple of drawbacks worth noting before making a purchase.
  • Firstly, its slim keys might not be comfortable for players accustomed to full-sized or weighted keys. Some users have even reported noisy and clicky keys, which can be irritating in quieter settings.
  • Additionally, the Minilogue’s waveshaping options are limited, lacking independence for each oscillator. This limitation restricts the mixing of waveforms and waveshaping effects for each oscillator, ultimately diminishing the instrument’s sonic variety and complexity. Despite these downsides, the Korg Minilogue remains a fantastic analog synthesizer to explore. 

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